April 28, 2011

Bonus - How to save three seconds a day.

Here’s a weird thing about me.

Just about the most fun I have on is when I can find a way to save three seconds. I’m a creative professional with a growing business, plus six kids. Anytime I can find a way to squeeze even the tiniest bit of extra time out of my day is a worthy investment.
So I have crazy customized toolbars in Microsoft Word so that I can save time hunting for commands buried in menus. I put all my most recent files on Dropbox so that I can access everything anywhere, anytime. I use Simplenote to constantly update my To Do list when I’m waiting for streetcars.

Most importantly, I’m hyper organized.

I got a call from a former employer about a decade back that went something like this:  “Hey man. Just wanted to say thanks for keeping your files so organized. It’s been a year since you worked here and I was still able to find a file on your old computer in less than two minutes.”

Look at me, all blushing and stuff. Being organized to me means finding what I need when I need it, instead of digging through piles of unfiled stuff in hopes that I didn’t chuck it away in the recent past.

Whether you’re a photographer, a small business owner or a mom, you can use extra time in your day too. Here’s five things you can do with your computer right now. Do ‘em all and extra those seconds will start piling up before you know it.

Keep everything in one super folder.
Don’t waste your time with your system presets like “My Videos” and “My Documents.” Take total control by creating a deep, easy-to-follow structure in one folder that sits in the upper right hand corner of your desktop.  Mine’s called “01 Data” and opening it up shows a simple tree for things like “Creative Mercenary,’ “Frame One,” “Personal” and “Media.” Easy to find, easy to back up.

Create consistent sub folders.
If you peek into my work files, you’ll see they all have the same type of sub folders – “Finance,” “Scripting,” “Background.” That way I automatically know where to look for just about anything.

Keep Start Menus and toolbars simple.
When was the last time you pruned your Start Menu? When I was on Windows, I kept mine ultra simple – with apps divided into only four or five categories. I’m on a Mac these days and I only keep my dozen most important apps on it at any time – plus I use this trick I found on Lifehacker for giving me easy access to the rest of my apps. I also make smart use of the “Login Items” settings, so that my computer opens the same six critical programs every time I restart .

Create a “file it” folder.
I see it on the laptops of friends and it makes me cringe – too much junk on the desktop. And while it’s important to stay streamlined to save time (less stuff in a few categories helps), there are going to be times when you can’t deal with a file. My trick is to create a “file it” folder on the desktop and deal with it once a month. Takes me 15 minutes to empty it out and everything is ok with the world again.

Get a second screen
The fastest way to more productivity for me is more real estate. I’ve got a nice big 24” monitor in the home office for everyday work and use the iPad as a secondary screen when I’m on the road (you need the app Air Display). Being surrounded by screens lets me look for information lickity split – no clicking required.

Find some smart utilities.
I use loads of helpers to keep me organized and save time. I mentioned Dropbox and Simplenote. I also use on screen widgets for regular reference – like a dictionary and a what’s it called … uh, thesaurus. I’m also a big fan of “Spaces” on the Mac, which allows you to organize open windows into different virtual windows. I keep all my business stuff (like Word docs and Keynote presentations) in one window. All my web stuff appears in another. When I click on the Space, everything appears all neat and tidy.

And neat and tidy is just about the best way I stay organized.

Want the chance to win a bunch of prizes courtesy of Intel and Staples? Check out the "Build Your Dream Cave" contest at Intel's Facebook page.

April 27, 2011

#17 - Understand shutter speed.

Ever wonder why your photos sometimes look blurry?

You can probably blame your shutter speed.

When it comes to taking photos, you’ve really got three ways on the camera to get more light into the camera. ISO is one way. Aperture is another way. Shutter speed is a third – and it’s really  really easy to understand.

When you press that button on the front of your camera to take a picture, what you’re really doing is opening a pair of panels called the “shutter.” Opening the shutter lets light in and light is a good thing when it comes to capturing a photo. The more light, the brighter the image.

“Shutter speed” then is just the amount of time those panels open up. The longer they’re open, the more light gets in. If your picture is a bit dark, you can change the shutter speed for longer increments of time to lighten things up.

And this, of course, is where the problem can creep in.

If you open the shutter for too long it can make things look blurry. An open shutter sees everything that happens in front of it. If your shutter is open long enough to see something move, it’ll show it moving. That also goes for camera shake – that’s where the shutter is open long enough to sense you moving while you’re holding the camera. Your pictures are blurry as a result.

You can do some pretty nifty things with a shutter that’s open for too long, but we’ll cover those off in another post. For now, a good rule of thumb is to never go below 1/60th of a second if you’re holding the camera for a portrait or landscape. You’ll need a longer shutter speed for someone who is walking (1/125th of a second) or running (1/250th of a second).

The best way to figure out what works? Try stuff out. Shoot a picture and if it’s blurry or dark, adjust the shutter speed. You don’t need to know the numbers that well to figure out what works and what doesn’t.

When to use a faster shutter speed.
·      Bright light.
·      Fast moving subjects.
·      You can’t change the aperture.
·      You can’t change the ISO.

When to use a slower shutter speed.
·      Not a lot of light.
·      Slow moving or non-moving subjects.
·      Using a tripod.
·      Using an external flash.

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April 23, 2011

Step-by-step: ISO

How to get ISO working for you (also, a small boy poking me with the Space Needle.)

April 21, 2011

Bonus – Lightroom vs. Photoshop. Fight!

Taking a great picture these days is really only half the battle.

You set up. You frame it right. You get everything just so. And when you press the shutter – Click – you’ve only just begun. Now you have to get the shot onto your computer to tweak the colours, sharpen up the balance and get rid of that weird guy in the background.

The thing is, you don’t have all day to manually adjust all your photos. You just want to import ‘em, tweak ‘em and send them to Nana for oohing and ahhhing. Of course, there are a few shots you want to tweak for specific reasons (Hello Markham Fair prizing committee!).

So what do you use when? And how do you make the best use of things?

Lightroom – Everyday fixes.
Lightroom (actually it’s “Adobe Photoshop Lightroom”) is designed to give you end-to-end control over your entire photo library. Importing. Tweaking. Sending to websites, slideshows and printers. All my photos get imported, catalogued and corrected in Lightroom – even the ones I take on my cameraphone.

How it works.
Lightroom uses a series of modules to guide you along the path to editing pictures. You can correct just about anything major – exposure, white balance, cropping, even editing out little distractions. Everything works with simple slider bars. You can get as simple or as technical with the software as you want.

What you need.
I won’t lie. Lightroom loves to eat your resources. If you want the latest version, you’d better be running a reasonably new system. I upgraded to the Macbook Air this January and the SSD hard drive has made a major difference to my work. Because the Air has an SSD hard drive, it imports faster and processes faster. That said, I’m ready to immediately jump to the next Air if it has Intel’s Thunderbolt and Second Generation Core processors – those two elements will save me hours of work a week. Don’t skimp on RAM either!

Resources to make it better
I get Lightroom humming in a few different ways:

·      Book: Lightroom Book for Digital Photographers by Scott Kelby. Simply the best resource out there. Breaks out the program in simple to use tasks that make it easy for even a new photographer.
·      Website: Lightroom Killer Tips. A simple tip a day. Great site with loads of simple insights to make my favourite photography program even better.

Photoshop – For the special stuff.
Trying to lose a few wrinkles in the portrait? Want to get super moody on the sky? Want better sharpening? For specific tasks I do basic editing in Lightroom then export to Photoshop for the heavy lifting. There’s a good reason this program’s the industry leader – it does everything and a little bit more.

How it works.
If Lightroom is a linear three-course meal, Photoshop is a buffet of choices. You invent your own workflow and do things in your own way. If you can imagine it visually, Photoshop is your software (even better – Photoshop tools are available on tablets as of next month so you can “touch” edit your photos).

What you need.
RAM. Photoshop is actually reasonably forgiving on resources depending on the version you use and the size of your photos. Extra RAM always helps, but it’s not as awful as it was in the old days when the program slowed to a crawl if you didn’t treat it juuuuuust right.

Resources to make it better
I don’t play with Photoshop enough to get heavy duty into resources, but I will say this – Scott Kelby is some sort of Photoshop machine. He publishes and blogs and does seminars that can teach you just about everything you need to know. I like his Photoshop Book for digital photographers because I don’t actually have to read it – I only reach for it when I need to learn how to work on a specific problem.

Lightroom for every day. Photoshop for fancy occasions. Who wins? You do.

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April 20, 2011

#16 – Turn up the ISO for more light.

Don’t freak out.

The next few posts are going to cover the three things that tend to scare people who don’t understand them. I’m talking about “ISO,” “shutter speed” and “aperture.” By the end of these posts, you’re going to be a master of all three and they won’t scare you one little bit.

The reason? Each of these three is designed to do just one thing – get enough light into the camera for you to take a decent picture. That’s it. You don’t need to know fancy math or weird photo techniques to make it all work. All you need to know is: more light into camera.

The first way you get light into your camera is with a higher ISO. “ISO” is how sensitive your camera is to light. On point-and-shoot cameras, it’s usually measured in numbers like 100, 200, 400, 800 and 1600 – with a few numbers in between here and there. Look at the top of today's post and you'll see images at each of those settings.

First, the good news. When you shoot with a higher ISO, you let more light into the camera. Go from 100 to 200 and you’re letting in double the amount of light. It’s really handy for shooting indoors and at night.

Now the bad news. The higher the ISO, the more grainy your shots. Take a close look up above. You’ve probably seen pictures you’ve taken that look all noisy and grainy. Those have an ISO that’s too high. Most point-and-shoot cameras are pretty good in the 100, 200 and 400 range – sometimes even 800, depending on your camera.

And really, that’s all there is to it. Open your manual, find out how to switch your ISO and you just added a really useful tool to the next photo you take.

When to use a higher ISO.
·      In darker settings.
·      No tripod.
·      You can’t change the aperture.
·      You can’t lower the shutter speed.

When to use a lower ISO.
·      Photo looks too grainy.
·      Lots of light.

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April 15, 2011

Bonus - "What accessories should I buy for my new laptop?"

There’s pretty much only one thing in the world that makes my blood boil.

Getting up at five a.m. to write and then waiting for 25 minutes for my laptop to boot up. This actually happened to me on a business trip back in February and it took every fibre of my being not to chuck the thing through the window of my hotel room.

Instead, I got back, did a little research and bought myself a shiny new Macbook Air. Everything’s running a whole lot faster now. And while the laptop is the central hub to my work, it’s the accessories that really, truly make it everything I need it to be.  I’m away from the office a fair bit so the accessories are the “must haves” I need to work, photograph and play just about anywhere in the world. Here’s four I buy and how I use them:

iPad 2 – Second monitor, viewscreen, video editor.
Tablet, tablet, tablet. Blah, blah, blah. I may sound like an Apple Fanboy, but I use my technology to be better, faster and smarter. The iPad’s a good example. I use it for a whole lot more than Tiny Wings:

·      Monitor. I use it as a second monitor for the laptop (using the Air Display app) for more screen real estate.
·      Viewscreen. When I photograph professionally, I connect to the laptop and to DSLRemote on the iPad. I can show off photos as I take them. It also helps me see any flaws in the lighting, composition or faces.
·      Video Editor. I recently started shooting blog posts on the iPad and edit them in iMovie on the iPad.

Invisible Shield – Neurosis controller.
I’m a little crazy about keeping my gadgets look shiny and new. Part of it is because it helps resale value, but I also like my stuff looking newer, longer. The Invisible Shield is a military-grade sticker that goes overtop of most cameras and gadgets to protect them from scratches and nicks. I wish they made them to cover my kids.

Simplenote – The app I can’t live without.
I govern my personal and professional lives via To Do lists. Problem is, writing a list on a virtual sticky note means the list stays on the laptop. I want something I can update on my phone, tablet and laptop. That’s where Simplenote comes in (there are different clients for Mac and PC). I write a note on my PC and it syncs to everything. Make a change at the grocery store? It’s instantly reflected everywhere you use it.

Extended warranty – The one time I buy it.
If it’s good enough for Consumer Reports, it’s good enough for me. The first name in consumer goods reporting says to get AppleCare (extended warranty) for my Mac – and that’s exactly what I did. With my previous Pro, AppleCare helped out when I had problems with batteries and DVD drives. You can even find cheaper versions of it for sale on eBay.

Get more insider information on buying accessories for your next gadget, plus more insights from Frame One. Join us at the Intel Canada page on Facebook.

April 13, 2011

#15 - Change your white balance to fix colours.

Your bathtub isn’t supposed to be orange.

Your living room shouldn’t be green. The sun shouldn’t shine blue. So why do they look that way on the back of your camera?

Blame the colour of your light.

Different types of light are different colours – actually, they’re different temperatures that get expressed as different colours in a camera. Flourescenets are green for example. Sunsets can be orange. Your camera knows this and can compensate so everything looks nice and white. That compensation is called “white balance” and it’s available on every single point-and-shoot digital camera made today.

Problem is, your camera can mess up and assign the wrong white balance to the wrong scene. If you’re shooting in a room with windows (daylight) and fluorescent lights, you’re going to have two competing colours. If your camera is set to “Auto” white balance, it might choose a daylight setting for the windows, making the fluorescents look weird. It might pick the fluorescents, making the daylight look weird. Or it might get creative and pick something else entirely to make everything look weird.

So how do you make everything look better? Here’s how:

Set your own white balance.
Your camera comes with built-in white balance settings for all sorts of situations – tungsten, fluorescent, cloudy, etc. Crack open the manual and figure out how to set the right one for the right lighting instead of defaulting to “Auto.” white balance.

Pick one colour.
There are going to be lots of times that you’re going to have to deal with a couple of different light sources. You have a couple of options here. You can pick one as your dominant light and be ok with the other one looking different. You can turn off the offending lights so you’re dealing with fewer colours. Or you can convert everything to black and white – voila, no more colour problems.

Remember your flash.
Using your flash? It’s going to be a different colour than just about anything other than daylight. You can turn it off – or you can put a piece of coloured acetate over top (called a “gel.”) that’s the same colour as the light in the room. This makes all the light exactly the same.

Try messing things up yourself.
Weird colour can be funky colour. Play around with your white balance and see what kind of combinations you can end up with.
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April 8, 2011

Step-by-step - How to get a new perspective.

Get up high. Get down low. Zoom way out. Zoom way in. When you try taking a different perspective you’re making your photos a whole lot less traditional – and a whole lot less boring. Here’s how to make it happen:

1.     Prep. Take a good look at your scene and think about what might work best in terms of a new perspective. Taking a picture of a baby? Get down low – to the baby’s level. Trying a crowd scene? Break out the ladder and get above.

2.    Camera. P Setting. No flash if you’re somewhere bright. Turn on those gridlines.

3.    Position. Look at the subject in your screen. How’s it look? Need to get lower? Move to the right or left?

4.    Click. Take your picture – in fact, take a few from different positions and angles.

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April 7, 2011

Bonus - "Where do I go to research new tech?"

I call it my “ugly pile.”

It’s a small stack of gadgets sitting in a darkened corner of my basement. This is where all my failed tech goes to roost – the stuff I bought that didn’t quite work out the way I hoped. The Rocket eBook reader that was before it’s time. The X10 media streamer that couldn’t stream. I’d throw it all away, but I can’t really admit defeat.

You see, I’m a bit (ok a lot) of a gear head. Cameras. Laptops. Media thingies. I love it all because it makes my life easier or better. Crying child? Read a book on the tablet. On the go? Stream a movie over the Internet to my phone.

I keep the ugly pile small by doing a whole lot of research, whether it’s a new laptop or a bag that holds everything. Before I hit retail, I want to know everything I can. Here’s where I look:

Researching gadgets.
With gadgets, I’m trying to find out every last detail of the user experience – how does the gadget feel, how does the interface work. Here’s where I look:
·      Start – Google Search for reviews
·      Forums – Retailer Forums like Amazon and Future Shop
·      Retailers – Future Shop, Best Buy, Newegg
·      Blogs – Engadget, Gizmodo, Mashable
·      Social Media: Ask a question via Twitter or Facebook

Researching camera equipment.
I come armed with specific questions about cameras and camera accessories. How does it do this? How does it do that?

·      Start – My favourite photographer sites/blogs like strobist.com, joemcnally.com/blog, blog.chasejarvis.com/blog
·      Forums – Digital Photography Review (a must), Google Search for reviews
·      Retailers – B&H, Adorama, Vistek, Henry’s, Camera Canada
·      Social Media – Flickr is a great place to ask questions of professionals
·      Other – Ask people who know cameras – friends, photographers, etc.

Researching computers.
After figuring out what I need it for, I look for what’s going to be important in next generation stuff (no $399 laptop specials need apply) and what little extras exist to surprise me.
·      Start – Search gadget blogs like Gizmodo and Engadget for new trends
·      Forums – I love Google Product Search. I search for products, then read retailer reviews
·      Retailers – Depends on what I find in my forum search
·      Social Media – I’ll use a Facebook forum like the Intel Canada page
·      Other – Friends, friends and friends. Call ‘em up and ask for their experience

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