Monthly Archives June 2009


I’ve talked about before (which is basically a site that does a very clever job of gathering blogs about specific topics and it puts them all on one handy page, but that’s just part of the story). They call it, an “online magazine rack” that they update every hour.

Anyway, just recently, they introduced a feature called “MyAlltop” where you can set up your own Alltop page, with your own favorite blogs on it. So, I put one together with blogs about Photoshop, Photography, the Mac, and other stuff I check each day, and of all the things like this I’ve tried (various RSS readers, blog aggregators, Google-this, Yahoo-that, etc.), this is the quickest to use and easiest to set up.

One of my favorite features of Alltop is that you can move your cursor over a headline and it shows you the first paragraph or so from that post, so you can quickly decide if you want to click the link and read more.

It’s free to sign up, and once signed up, you just search by topic (Photoshop for instance), and it shows you a list of the Photoshop blogs they follow. To add one of those, you just check the box, and keep on choosing blogs until you’ve got your own custom page set up. You can also reorder the blogs in the order you want them to appear by just dragging and dropping. Anyway, it’s free, and quick, and definitely worth a try. Here’s the link to set-up your own page.

Let me know what you think after you’ve tried it for a few days. (If you want, you can check out my own page by going to


Hi folks. Before we get started you can see that standing in for “Embarrassing Photo Thursday” is “Embarrassing Photo Friday.” The shot above was taken in Corfu, Greece (an island near the coast of Albania) when I was 19-years-old, playing in a funk band called “Loose Change,” (You can see the “Loose Change” t-shirt under my way cool sweat jacket that we all wore back then for no apparent reason). I spent the summer of 1980 playing with Loose Change at an outdoor rooftop lounge atop the Regency Hotel in Corfu (not a bad gig for a teenager). Pictured left to right are Loose Change’s bass player Alan Carmen, lead vocalist Marshall Gillon, and yours truly (on keyboards).

But before we get started…..
The award for most supportive Guest Blogger ever has to go to my buddy, sports photographer Mike Olivella, who spent most of Wednesday and part of Thursday personally answering follow-up questions posted here by readers, and answering personal emails from people who visited his Web site.

I’m just so impressed, not only with this excellent Guest Post (which garnered more than 60 comments), but with his commitment to my readers, and for both I’m very grateful. Mike really captured the spirit of what guest blogging is all about by sharing some inside info that few in the industry would divulge. My hats off to Mike, and a big thanks for all his time and involvement. Now, onto the news:

There’s a New Blog in Town
Larry Becker, NAPP’s Executive Director, has launched his own personal blog called “phaim” (pron. Fame), dedicated to “Street smart marketing, photography, and smart phones.” Larry is incredibly savvy at getting the most from his equipment, for finding deals on equipment, and for getting pro results using DIY gear and inexpensive solutions (his recent post on how he utilizes his inexpensive SB-600 flash is already making some noise), and I suspect his blog is going to become a must-visit for an awful lot of folks. Here’s the link—take a quick minute and check it out.

Free “Budget Safari” Online Seminar Coming June 16th
This sounds pretty cool; it’s a free online seminar (called a “Webinar”) called: A Budget Safari: Wildlife Photography at your Local Zoo—a roundtable with Julie Larsen Maher. The seminar is produced by Bogen Imaging as part of their “Bogen Cafe” series, and the seminar is free and everyone’s invited. Here’s the link with details and sign-up info.

Cut Off Day For Adding New Photo Walk Cities is June 18th
The final day to register to have a Photo Walk in your city as part of my Worldwide Photo Walk is Thursday, June 18th (about two weeks from now). After that date, we can’t accept any more requests from leaders for walks in new cities, but of course, you’ll still be able sign up to attend your local walk. By the way, here are some quick stats:

  1. We’re currently have over 9,000 photographers signed up for local Photo Walks
  2. There are now 676 active Photo Walks (contrast this with last year, when we had 236 cities by the official walk date. Just amazing!)
  3. We are proud to welcome Wacom, and B&H Photo as official Photo Walk sponsors.

If you haven’t signed up to be a part of this photographic history-making event, why not? It’s free, and I really want you to join us on Saturday, July 18th. Here’s the link to get on board.

Catch my Photo Walk interview with Shawn King
Last week I did a radio interview with Shawn King of “Your Mac Life” (Shawn hosted a Photo Walk in New York’s Greenwich Village as part of last year’s World Wide Photo Walk), and the interview gives you some insights and background details surrounding the upcoming event (plus Shawn just always makes the whole thing fun, so you’ve gotta check it out). Here’s the link.

That’s it for today my friends. Here’s wishing you your best weekend of the year so far. I hope you take some shots, do something creative, hug somebody you love, and sing your favorite Bon Jovi song like nobody’s listening (well, at least that’s what I’ll be doing).

After my review here on the blog of the Lucis Pro 6 plug-in (link), I had a number of readers asking if I had tried the Topaz Adjust plug-in, as they felt it gave a similar high-contrast look for a fraction of Lucis Pro’s nearly $600 price tag (Topaz Adjust sells for $49).

So, I downloaded the Topaz Adjust Photoshop plug-in a few months ago and have been using it when I got the right type of image to edit, and I wanted to share my thoughts on the plug-in and give some examples.

DISCLAIMER: If you hate this high-contrast, under saturated, over-sharpened looking effect, please just skip this post altogether.

Initial Thoughts
When I first started using Topaz Adjust, it was still on version 2 and while I liked the effects themselves, the interface was….well….it needed some work. Luckily, the latest version (version 3), is a big improvement when it comes to Interface issues and most of my gripes from the previous version have been addressed.

While I know that both Lucis Art’s plug-ins and Topaz Adjust do numerous effects, what people seem to be buying these for primarily is the extreme contrast, almost illustrated, hyper-sharp look that’s so popular, so I’m going to focus on that area of the plug in.

The Results
Taking the plug-in through its paces:


First, let’s look at our unretouched original (above), then let’s open the Topaz Adjust plug-in (shown below).


The resizable filter window (shown above) has a number of presets along the left side, and it has a decent-sized thumbnail so you can see a preview of how a particular effect will look before you even click on it. (You click on the thumbnail to apply a look. You can scroll through the effects and see them applied in the larger preview window using the Up/Down arrow keys on your keyboard, which is very handy.)

If you find a preset you like, you just click OK, and the filter is applied (it took 24 seconds to apply the filter on a 12-megapixel image on my MacBook Pro laptop).


The image above has the preset “Psychedelic” applied, which I thought looked fairly close the same effect you’d get with the Lucis Pro filter.


The effect seemed a little over the top, so after I applied it, I went immediately under Photoshop’s Edit menu and chose Fade, then I lowered the intensity to just 60% (as seen in the image above).

If you want to tweak the settings, there are a row of tabs under the main Preview window where you can tweak the Exposure, Detail, Color, and Noise.

Once I saw how the effect looked, I thought it would be interesting to see how the Topaz Adjust effect compared to the Lucis Pro plug-in look, so I went back to the original unretouched image and tried the Lucis Pro 6.0 plug-in (shown below).


Here’s the Lucis Pro 6.0 Interface window. I lowered the Enhance Detail amount to 60 and clicked OK.


You can see the effect looks fairly similar (shown above). I also wanted to compare the effect using the same image I had used in a previous article (the image is of rapper 10-Minute).


Here’s the original image (above), right out of the camera.


The image above has the Lucis Pro 6.0 plug-in applied at that same setting of 60.


Here’s the same original image but with the Topaz Adjust filter applied (using the same Psychedelic preset). You can see the obvious green color cast on this image, so I hit “undo” and then went back to the filter to tweak the settings.


Here’s the same filter with just one setting tweaked: I clicked on the Color tab and lowered the Adaptive Saturation amount to zero. How did I know which slider to adjust? I didn’t. I just dragged each one back and forth until I found one that did it. I know—pretty high-tech, eh? ;-)

The Bottomline
While the underlying mathematical algorithm in the Lucis Pro 6.0 plug-in will probably produce a technically better image with less noise, they both create a somewhat similar effect. However, in my opinion there are three big advantages that the Topaz Adjust plug-in has that really tip the scales in its favor big time.

  1. The affordable $49 price tag. That’s nearly $550 cheaper than the Lucis Pro 6.0 plug-in. Yikes!
  2. The fact that it doesn’t require a hardware dongle (like the Lucis Pro plug-in does), is huge. In fact, the whole hardware dongle thing with Lucis Pro is a deal killer for me right off the bat, and I know a lot of people feel the same way.
  3. The thumbnail previews, and ability to toggle through them live, is a big advantage and makes the tool that much more usable.

Thus far, the plug-in has performed flawlessly for me (not a single problem on two different machines), but as I mentioned; it’s not the fastest plug-in in town. That’s really shouldn’t be an issue, unless you’re applying this look to a few hundred photos (and I’m praying you don’t).

NOTE: The most common way I use this plug-in, is to duplicate the layer; apply the filter on this duplicate layer, then hide this layer behind a layer mask (Option/Alt click the Layer Mask icon), then just reveal the effect where I want it by painting in white with a soft-edged brush.

While both plug-ins will do much more than I’ve outlined here, if you’re looking for this particular look, and you want a plug-in to do all the heavy lifting for you, it’s hard to beat what Topaz Adjust offers at such an incredibly affordable price.

You can download a free fully-working trial version from the Topaz Labs website, and give it a try yourself.

Data Volatility

>> Dead MacBook Crisis: Day 14
Howdy folks! That’s right, I’m still battling with the massive hard drive crash I had the day before my Lightroom Tour in Denver last month, but after jumping through a few hoops (and with some help from Apple), I believe that by the time you read this my MacBook Pro will have been fully restored from my Time Capsule backup, and my work life will be somewhat back in order.

There are half a dozen reasons why this restoration took so long, most of them are my fault, but I’m just glad it appears to be behind me (for the most part), and I can get back to full speed.

>> The Review That Could Have Been
I’m still working off a stripped machine for this post, so I don’t have my review of the Topaz Adjust plug-in for Photoshop that I hoped to have for you today, but if all goes well, I’ll have it for you on Thursday, so keep your fingers crossed for me.

>> The Crazy Numbers Continue for the Worldwide Photo Walk
I am just amazed at these numbers, after only two weeks:

  • 665 Worldwide Walks are now active
  • More than 8,000 photographers have already signed up to participate in their local photo walk.

I don’t know what to say, but “Whoo Hoo!!!” This is going to be a blast!!!! (here’s the link to a list of active cities).

>> Online Gear Guide for Photo Walkers
If you’re going on the Photo Walk, B&H Photo put together a brief Photo Walk Gear Guide with some tips, and links to accessories used by photo walkers. Here’s the link.

>> Auto ISO for Sports Shooters
On last week’s episode of D-Town TV (the weekly show for Nikon DSLR shooters) I did a little tip for sports shooters on how to use the Auto ISO feature for making sure you’re able to freeze the action no matter what the lightning conditions (well, within reason, anyway). This tip is especially helpful for anyone shooting night games, and we’ve gotten lots of great response from that tip. In the same episode Matt has a great segment on our #1 most asked about feature from the past few weeks—Active D-Lighting. You can watch the episode online right here.

>> Moose on “Nikon’s Best Kept Secret”
When I was out shooting in Portland, Oregon a couple of weeks ago with Laurie Excell, I saw Laurie shooting with Nikon’s 70-300mm f/4.5 – f/5.6 VR lens, and I was surprised to see her shooting such an inexpensive lens (around $500) because Laurie owns about every high-end fast lens known to man (after all, she runs ““). Anyway, she was raving about how incredibly sharp the lens was, how surprisingly lightweight it was, and that it worked with the new full frame cameras without cropping the frame, and so she let me shoot with it for the rest of the afternoon, and as soon as I got back, I ordered one myself (it came in yesterday). Anyway, so I’m on Moose Peterson’s blog tonight, and I see a post called “Nikon’s Best Kept Secret” with a video clip from Moose himself, and son-of-a-gun if it wasn’t about this very same lens. Take two minutes and watch Moose’s video (here’s the link), and check out the shot he got of the Thunderbirds using that lens. Amazing!

>> Tomorrow’s Guest Blogger is…...
…a guy who’s taught me a lot about shooting sports, and about getting access to shoot professional sporting events, my buddy (and pro sports shooter), Mike Olivella.

Mike has picked a topic that I’ve had so many requests for here on the blog, and it’s something you’re not going to see just about anywhere else, so make sure you’re back here to see what Mike’s got up his sleeve tomorrow.


That’s it for today, folks. Thanks again for stopping in, and I hope I’ll catch you back here on Thursday. There may well be a photo there that will give you a flashback to a simpler time, when there was no Internet so we didn’t know we weren’t supposed to wear parachute pants or thin ties.


Hi Everybody!
It’s a beautiful Monday and I’m back and totally refreshed thanks to a few days off doing nothing but playing golf with my big brother Jeff (that’s him shown above).

We headed out to the West Coast last Thursday for a long golf weekend (to celebrate his 60th Birthday), and we had such a great, relaxing, fun-filled time. I took a lot of photos; none of which are worth a darn, because we had gray foggy weather every single sunrise and sunset, but luckily during the golf itself—it was beautiful (plus, I probably had my best round ever), so it was about as much fun as two golf-loving brothers can have. Now I’m ready to get back to work!

Thanks For Your Ideas
First, a big thanks to everybody who shared your thoughts about my “Down & Dirty Dilemma” on Friday. It gave me a lot to think about (including that maybe I should consider writing a “Down & Dirty Tricks Book for Photographers”), but of course I hoped that part of the audience for the current book would actually be photographers (after all; nearly every effect starts with a photo).

There are some things I will change going forward (certainly with how we market the live tour), and some things I can’t or shouldn’t change (based on your comments), but I did read each and every comment and want to thank you all for taking the time. I really consider it a privilege to be able get your unbiased input, and it’s something I never take for granted, and am always very grateful for. I think it really helps me write books that are better tuned-in to my readers, and I think you can see your handprints on my books as they have evolved in the past few years.

The Landscape Photographer’s Roll of the Dice
This week out West reminded me of what a “roll of the dice” it is trying to find great locations for shooting landscapes. In the past month I’ve done landscape shoots at dawn and dusk now in Portland, Oregon, the Outer Banks of North Carolina, and along California’s Big Sur coast, and I’ve yet to have a single decent image, even one time. But that’s OK—I know it’s coming. It has too. It’s just a matter of time, right? (Sigh). ;-)

Seriously though, this is just part of the process, and part of shooting landscapes. Finding that spectacular light, at just the right time, isn’t something that happens every day, or every time you go out, which is why you have to go out again and again and again until you catch it. The odds favor the photographer who doesn’t give up, so I’m not giving up, and I’ll be shooting a lot this summer in an unrelenting search for that golden magical light. I know that it’ll be hit or miss, but I also know that even a bad day of shooting landscapes is still an awfully great day.

A big welcome to three new Photo Walk Sponsors
Just a quick shout out, and a word of thanks, to three new official sponsors of my Worldwide Photo Walk. They are:

OnOne Software
Developer of cool award-winning plug-ins for Photoshop (link)

Digital Academy (by Panasonic Lumix)
Digital Photography Educators with a nation-wide tour (link)

Bogen Imaging
Distributor of Gitzo, Elinchrom, Lastolite, and lots of other cool photo gear (link)

Thanks to these fine companies for being a part of the world’s largest social photography event. Great to have you on board!

Quote of the Week:

“Photography is like this addiction. Every day you try to get another great shot to add to the collection.”  (Read the full article)

–Jared R. Milgrim

I wish you all a beautiful Monday, and I invite you back tomorrow when I’ll be all stressed out from being back at work. ;-)