Category Archives Reviews


After I posted my video review of the Elinchrom BXRI-500 strobes earlier this week, I was contacted by the folks at Bogen Imaging (who distribute Elinchrom gear here in the US), and who watched my review and saw that one of my few minor “dings” about them was the fact that you needed to keep the instruction manual around for assigning groups.

They let me know that they had created a downloadable quick chart (in PDF format) that BXRI users can now download, which has all the programmable controls laid out in a very simple and easy-to-use format (plus, the chart includes more than just how to assign groups). You can download their free quick chart right here.

My hat’s off to Bogen for making this available so quickly (I’m going to print and laminate two of them, then attach them to the lightstands so they’re right there when I need them).

NOTE: If you’re new to studio lighting, and you go to Bogen’s Web site, these will be listed under the heading “Monoblocks.” All that means is that strobes don’t require a separate power pack to power them—they plug directly into a regular wall-socket like any other electronic device.

I’ve been working with the newly introduced Elinchrom BXRI-500 studio strobes, and I did a video review for you guys (below) to look at the pros and cons of this new mid-level set-up.

Here’s the link to the complete Elinchrom BXRI 500 kit at B&H Photo (They currently show it selling for $1550, with two 500 watt strobes, two 20″ softboxes, two 9′ light stands, the wireless transmitter, two cases, etc.).

Here’s the kit with 1-500 and 1-250 (but still includes all the other stuff).

Here’s the kit with two 250s. (also includes all the other stuff).

NOTE: There’s only a $200 difference between the two 250s and two 500 watt system. There’s only $100 between the one with one 500 and one 250, and the two 500 watt kit. In short; spend the extra money and get the two 500-watt strobes system.

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At Christmas I got a very cool new electric guitar from my wife (that’s not the accessory, by the way), and she wanted to make sure I got a guitar I really liked, so I went to the local music store to find one I liked, but while there, I walked by the drum department and that’s when I saw a small, specially designed fan for drummers that mounts right on a cymbal stand.

Well, I took a look at how it was mounted and realized that it would fit perfectly on a lightstand, which would make it an ideal fan for people shooting fashion, because you can easily control the height and angle of the wind (rather than having it sitting on the floor, where it’s harder to access and aim).

Anyway, the fan is called the “BLOWiT Personal Cooling System” (OK, the name needs some work), and I tried it in the music store, and it seemed like a perfect fan solution for portraits since you could mount it up high so easily. So, I got home and ordered one (it was only $69.99). It’s pictured here below mounted to a light-stand in our studio.


Anyway, I did a shoot week before last and I got to try it out for the first time on a real job, and I have to say; it totally rocked! (sorry about that lame pun). But seriously, it worked out amazingly well. The shot below was taken using that fan on its lowest setting.


Below are two set-up shots (taken by Brad Moore) so you can see the fan (and the lighting, in case you care) in use during my shoot.



Lighting Info: I used two Elinchrom RX-600 Strobes for the shoot, one beside the subject with a 40″ Elinchrom softbox, and one behind on the opposite side with a Elinchrom strip bank softbox. Both are triggered by Skyport wireless triggers.There are no lights on the gray background, so it pretty much fell to black. The photo directly above is just to show more detail of the fan, but there I’m using an Elinchrom 53″ midi-octa softbox on the same RX-600 strobe.

Camera Info: Shot with a Nikon D3, with a 70-200mm f/2.8 VR lens, at 105mm. The ISO was 200, and the exposure was f/8 at 1/160 of a second. I shot in Manual mode. The post-processing was done in Lightroom (exposure, white balance, tone, etc.), and then over to Photohsop for some retouching (removing some minor blemishes, brightening the eyes, some dodging and burning, and I enhanced the highlights in her hair.

Fan Info: Usually, doing something like this (taking a fan made for drummers, and using for something entirely different), doesn’t work out, but here it worked just like I hoped it would. I let the subject be in charge of the angle and intensity of the fan, and during the shoot she would reach over and adjust the angle or speed (it has three speeds). Although we used it on the lowest speed most of the day, if I could add one improvement, it would be for the higher setting to be even higher (I’m not sure that’s possible with its light weight and size). Anyway, I’m pretty psyched about it and wanted to turn you on to this new discovery. You can order your BLOWiT Personal Cooling System direct at their Website (here’s the link).

41cezb03rl_ss500_I don’t normally do book reviews, because I don’t think it’s right for me, a Photoshop and photography book author, to publicly criticize another author’s Photoshop or photography instruction book. It just ain’t right. Luckily, with this book I don’t have to (which is why I’m making an exception and doing a book review).

I just got a copy of “Footprint Travel Photography” by Steve Davey (published by FootPrintBooks), and I have to tell you, I’m very impressed. Here are seven things I love about this book:

  1. The author is a great travel photographer, and this book is loaded with this beautiful images.
  2. It’s got a nice, clean layout that makes you want to read the book
  3. It’s broken down into short, digestible one, two, and four page sections on a particular topic or idea.
  4. The author writes in a very conversational style, and gives lots of detail without getting overly techie, or trying to sound like he’s smarter than you (he is smarter than me, but he doesn’t rub it in your face).
  5. Although there are lots of small photos in the book, the layout does allow for a decent number of large photos, and they really have an impact.
  6. I love the smaller form factor of the book. Not too big, yet wide enough to accommodate a lot of photos.
  7. But perhaps what I love best about this book (and what made me want to write this review), is that he did something I find very valuable. For every photo in the book (and it’s packed with photos from exotic locales around the globe), he tells you exactly where the shot was taken. Often times, more than just the city, and country. Sometimes, he’ll tell you exactly where at the location he took the shot (from across such-and-such a river, or from a plane flying over, etc.). It drives me nuts when I see a great shot in a travel photo book, and there’s no mention of where the photo was taken, so I was particularly delighted to see how well he covered this thoughout the book. Also, after mentioning the locale, he usually adds a few lines of background info or a tip.

I could only find one thing that I would change about the book, and that is the font size for the regular text is really small (and I’ve had a lifetime of being accused of using too small a font size, so small sizes don’t normally bother me) and the caption-sized text (of which there is quite a lot) is crazy small (either that, or I’m getting really old. I’m probably getting really old). But that wouldn’t stop me one bit (in fact, I’m having to nit-pick to get to that).

I’m going to be spending some more time with the book this week, but since I was excited about it, I wanted to share my first impressions on this new book. Here’s a link to it on and Barnes & It’s around $20. Totally worth it.

OK, today in Part 2 we’re looking at the Post Processing I did to yesterday’s image, and for that I used the new Lucis Art Pro plug-in (which I’m going to mini-review in this same post).

DISCLAIMER: If you hate the Dave Hill look, or you’re tired of it, or whatever…do me a favor—just skip this post. The reason I did the post in the first place is that this is the #1 most-requested technique I get from readers, and I thought I’d give it a whirl. Obviously, this was a huge mistake on my part, because apparently it just mostly made people mad at me (I don’t know why it always has to come to this—it’s just a Photoshop technique for goodness sakes). But since I did part one and promised to show the post-processing, I feel like I should finish it, so I’m going to. However, it’s mean comments like the ones I received yesterday that make me think I should stick to safer topics, like the Nikon D3x pricing and more Lightroom conspiracies. ;-)


Step One: Before you run the Lucis Pro 6.0 plug-in, you’ll need to do something to soften your subject’s skin, because the hyper-sharpening the plug-in adds will greatly magnify every blemish, spot, or skin irregularity and it looks pretty bad. So, I started by using the Healing Brush. I Option-clicked [PC: Alt-clicked] in a nearby area that didn’t have a blemish (to sample that skin texture), then I chose a brush size just slightly bigger than the blemishes I wanted to remove, then I moved over the blemish and just clicked once to remove it. So, I went through the image and did that first.

lucis-21Step Two: Next, you’ll need to do an overall softening of the skin. What I did for this picture is apply the same type of skin softening I might to a portrait of a woman, but I used a higher amount of blurring than I would normally use. I started by duplicating the background layer. Then I applied a 25 pixel Gaussian Blur, then I lowered the opacity of this layer to 50%, as shown here (so it’s half as blurry). Then I held the Option key [PC: Alt-key] and clicked on the Layer Mask icon at the bottom of the Layer panel. This hides the blurry layer behind a black mask (as seen here). Then I changed the foreground color to white, and I took the Brush tool and painted over just his skin. I avoided the edges of his skin or any areas that were supposed to have detail (like his eyes, eyebrows, lips, etc.). This left the rest of the image sharp, but his skin very soft.


Step Three: Now I applied the Lucis Pro 6.0 plug-in (shown above). All I did in this plug-in was to drag the Enhance Detail slider over to 65, and then I clicked OK. Simple enough.


Step Four: Now, the key part of this is Dodging and Burning the heck out of the image, in other words, over exaggerate the highlights and shadows, so the photo almost looks cartoonish (basically, you’re going to make the darkest parts darker, and the brightest parts brighter). If you have Photoshop CS4, you can use the Dodge and Burn tools, because they’ve been greatly enhanced. We’ll start with Burning; after you choose the Burn tool, go up to the Options Bar, set the Range to Shadows (so it just effects the shadows), and lower the Exposure amount to 20%. Now paint over the shadow areas in your photo (like in the folds of his shirt, his pants, on his hat, etc.). You have to really exaggerate the shadows, so you’ll have to paint over the shadow areas a few times, and let it build up a bit.


Step Five: Now switch to the Dodge tool. Up in the Options bar, switch the Range to Highlights, and paint over the highlight areas in his shirt, pants, and along both side edges of him, where the brighter light is hitting. Again, you’ll probably have to paint over these highlight areas a few times to really exaggerate the look.


Step Six: Lastly, you’ll finish off by darkening the edges (kind of an edge vignette effect). I did mine by duplicating the background layer and switching the Layer Blend mode to Multiply. Then I made a rectangular selection that’s about 1 inch in from the image borders all the way around (as shown above). Then I added a 250-pixel Feather, and then hit the Delete key, which knocked a hole out of the darker layer, which gave the darkened edge vignette look. That’s how I did the final image you saw yesterday (and the final shown below).


Lucis Pro 6 Plug-in Review
I had reviewed the previous version of this plug-in, called LucisArt2, last year, and while I liked the plug-in, there was a problem (one problem for Mac users, one for Windows users). On the Mac, to use the old plug-in you had to launch Photoshop in Mac OS X’s “Rosetta” mode, which is a much slower (but more compatible) mode. This slowed Photoshop down quite a bit, but I’d only run in Rosetta when running this plug-in (unless, of course, I forgot to quit Photoshop, turn off Rosetta mode, and relaunch Photoshop, which I did all the time).

Well, luckily, in the new Batch of LucisArt plug-ins, they all run in regular Mac OS X. On Windows, they completely rebuilt the interface, and now it’s dramatically better. Besides fixing OS stuff, there are a lot of improvements, including a new algorithm that gives better, cleaner results, a better more streamlined interface, much more control over how the affect is applied, and in Lucis Pro 6, you can run the plug-in on 16-bit images (the other, less expensive, and less featured LucisArt3 plug-ins can only run on 8-bit images). So, overall—lots of improvements to the effect and functionality.

That being said, in my opinion there are two really huge problems with this plug-in.

  1. It’s crazy expensive at nearly $600 ($595 US). That’s twice what Lightroom costs and nearly as much as Photoshop CS4 itself (you can buy the full version of CS4 from for $639), for a plug-in that is essentially a “one trick pony.” There are less expensive versions of the plug-in (like LucisArt3), but of course, they have less features and can’t run on 16-bit images, but you can get one of those for around $300 (about the same price as Lightroom). Now, the case can be made that if your clients are willing to pay for this look, then it may be worth the investment, but outside of that, I would have a hard time justifying the high price.
  2. I think Lucis Pro 6 has a bigger problem than the price. It requires a USB hardware dongle. To me, this is the deal breaker. I absolutely would not buy the plug-in because of this requirement (Note: the cheaper LucisArt3 does not require this dongle).  I know they’re doing this to cut down on software piracy, but this isn’t penalizing the pirates—it’s penalizing their highest-paying customers. Plus, if I need to use the plug-in on a laptop and my home machine, now I have to carry the dongle in my case. If I leave it at home, and need it at work; I’m out of luck. If I need to use more than one USB port on my laptop, now I can’t use the plug-in. Ridiculous! I don’t know of a single software product in our industry that has become a success while using a hardware dongle (just ask Quark, who added a hardware dongle to QuarkXPress for a very short time), and I hope the people at LucisArt will rethink this going forward

The Bottomline
While the plug-in does a very good job at what it does, I would have a hard time recommending the product for the two reasons I just listed above. While Lucis Pro 6.0 is a big improvement over its predecessor, LucisArt 2, in just about every way, I think the 400% price increase is way off the mark, especially with the limited looks this plug-in can provide (Though the market will ultimately decide if the price is too high). As for the hardware dongle; for me–it’s the deal killer.

Here’s a link to their site for more details, complete pricing for all three plug-ins with a list of each product’s features, and a comparison of how LucisArt 3 compares with LucisArt 2.

I had a lot of questions and comments from the MacBook Pro review I posted last week, so I thought I’d address a few of them of them here.

Q. Why don’t you just use a mouse?
A. The reason I have a MacBook Pro at all, is because of travel (as I said in the review; I have a MacPro at home, which is my main machine for doing photography, retouching, and editing). You can’t easily use a mouse on a plane, or in a taxi, or in the airport, or in all the places I bought a MacBook Pro for in the first place, like where I’m sitting writing this right now, where my “laptop” is in my lap.

Q. How can anyone seriously use Photoshop with a trackpad?
A. I’ve been doing it for years now, and  while I’m not a trackpad fan to begin with, I was starting to get Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, and was having to sleep with arm braces on all night, and take other measures. When I stopped using the mouse, and only used the trackpad or a Wacom tablet, it all went away, and I haven’t had a problem since.

Q. While I feel I should be the last person to give you advice about color correction, here goes: if you are relying on your screen to determine how your prints will look, you're doing it wrong.
A.  When I send prints to a printing press,  I go by the numbers. When my output is the Epson on my desk, or to a photo lab, I go by my screen. That’s why they make hardware calibration devices in the first place.

Q. A number of people posted really nasty comments about your review, including a number that include swearing at you, racial slurs, calling you stupid, a loser, and much worse. This stuff usually doesn’t happen on this blog—-why now?
A. It happens anytime you write something negative about Apple, no matter how minor.

Q. I also noticed that a number of PC users posted angry anti-Apple comments. Why is that?
A. It happens anytime you write something positive about Apple, no matter how minor.

Q. Where are those comments now?
A. I deleted most of them, but if you really want to see what a huge stupid loser I am, read unedited cussing, and references to my mother, (and much more), go check out the 209 comments about my review at Here’s the link (for your convenience).

Q. Don’t they know you’ve been an Apple supporter for many years?
A. It’s doesn’t matter—no one is allow to criticize Apple. Just ask Terry White (who runs MacGroup Detroit—if he posts the most minor criticism of an Apple product, he gets slammed). When I criticize Adobe, nobody gets upset, and I hope it’s because they know I’m not an Adobe-hater; I only point these things out because I want Adobe to keep improving their products, which they do. Adobe listens. When I criticize Apple, it’s for the same reasons, (In this case, I want them to give me a preference to turn off the gestures, or I want Adobe to give me a preference to turn off Rotate View”) but when you criticize Apple “All bets are off.” I’m not an Apple-hater on any level. But I’m hatin’ that trackpad. Whoops—I did it again.

Q. Have you gotten your prints back from MPIX yet, to compare screen to output?
A. Not yet (it’s a long story why), but I won’t have them back until next week. More on this then.

Q. Anything else?
A. Nope. I await your angry responses. In all caps, if possible, and don’t forget to use a fake name and anonymous email address.