December 1, 2012

December from Seasons of Montana 2012 calendar

"December" from this year's calendar featuring the seasons of western Montana. Watch for the announcement of my 2013 calendar this month!

November 1, 2012

November from Seasons of Montana 2012 calendar

"November" from this year's calendar featuring the seasons of western Montana. Look for my announcement of the 2013 calendar in the coming months.

October 19, 2012

Simple Ways to Enhance Your Fall Photos

It's the time of year when Mother Nature puts on her most colorful clothes (in the northern hemisphere, anyway) and tempts all photographers out of their warm houses to record the fashion show. Here are some quick digital camera tips for getting more colorful shots of autumn foliage.

Use Scene Settings
Many cameras have a variety of Scene settings to automatically improve the photos of specific subjects. (If you've never used the scene settings on your camera, review my article on the topic here.) While I'm not aware of any scene choice specifically for fall colors, look for a Foliage setting, which intensifies the colors in your pictures. If you don't have a foliage choice, try the Sunset setting. It will also adjust the colors in your photos. Remember to take a shot on regular Automatic so you can compare the difference and see which one you prefer.

Taken on Automatic Setting

Taken with Foliage Setting

If you don't have such scene settings on your camera (as is true for many digital SLRs), then switch your camera to Program mode (letter P on the exposure dial) first. This is still an automatic setting but you can override the camera's choices and frequently end up with better photos using some of the following options.

Use Daylight or Cloudy White Balance
In automatic exposure modes, your camera's color correction feature is usually set to Automatic White Balance (AWB). Just like automatic exposure, the camera is making an educated guess about what the colors in your photo should look like. Unfortunately, this frequently results in dull colors of vivid subjects like sunsets and fall leaves. If you change the white balance from automatic to Daylight or Sunny (a sun icon), the camera will not need to guess at the colors and will give you a more vibrant picture. If you want to help Mother Nature along, you can try the Cloudy white balance choice (a cloud icon) to add more orange to the picture.

Automatic White Balance

Cloudy White Balance

Daylight White Balance

Adjust the Exposure Compensation
Another technique to use with your camera in Program exposure mode is changing the Exposure Compensation to darken the picture just a little. Using -1/3 or -2/3 Exposure Compensation is just enough to bring richness to the colors.

Regular Exposure
-1 Exposure Compensation,
a little too dark for me

Try a Different Picture Style
Most cameras allow you access to different picture styles (Canon), picture controls (Nikon) or parameters (both) where you can adjust how the camera records the intensity of colors. This is called different things depending on your camera brand & model. Nikon cameras have a Vivid picture control choice that makes all colors more saturated. Canon Powershot models have a My Colors menu where you can also choose Vivid colors. You can also try the Landscape picture style, which enhances blues and greens in most cases. (NOTE: This choice is NOT the same as the Landscape Scene setting, though you can experiment with that one, too.)

Older and more basic digital SLR cameras may not have these named picture styles. But they all have a Parameters setting or a similar menu where you can manually change how the camera records colors. In this menu is a choice for Saturation. If you increase this, then all colors in your pictures will be more vibrant.

Normal Saturation setting
+2 Saturation setting
Use with Caution
There are some drawbacks to changing the picture parameters, though. For one thing, you may not like the appearance of people in your photos. The enhanced colors tend to make skin tones look too red (a sunburn effect). And too high a setting on Saturation can cause the intense colors to "bleed" and destroy fine details like the veins in autumn leaves. So use these settings appropriately.

Mother Nature doesn't hold her show over if you procrastinate! So grab your camera, try some different settings and get out there making photos before wind, rain and time take their toll for another season.

October 12, 2012

Finding the Correct Order of Ink Cartridges in Your Printer

If your printer runs out of one color of ink, it's an easy matter to take out the empty cartridge and replace it with a full one. But if your printer runs out of multiple colors at the same time, and you remove all of them at once, you may not remember the proper order of the colors. If you load the wrong color in the wrong slot, the printer will not work.

The quickest way to find out the correct order of the ink cartridges is to access the ink levels information. The following steps are for an Epson printer, but you can follow similar steps for other printer brands. (Consult the printer manual for more information.)

Be sure your printer is on and connected to the computer before you start.

  1. Click on the Start button and choose Devices and Printers
  2. In the window, right click on the printer and choose Printing Preferences.
  3. Click on the Maintenance tab.
  4. Click on the Status Monitor icon.
  1. Open a Finder window.
  2. Choose Applications.
  3. Select Epson Printer Utility and then your printer model. 
  4. Click on the Status Monitor
You'll see a graphic displaying the ink cartridges and how much ink remains in each. These appear in the same order as they are in the printer. Replace the cartridges in the correct order.

Windows 7 Devices & Printers with Epson printer selected

Epson Printing Preferences main screen
Epson printer maintenance screen
showing Status Monitor at the top
Epson Status Monitor showing ink colors in order

In the future, when you need to replace multiple ink cartridges, take out only one cartridge at a time. That way you won't get confused about which cartridge goes where!

October 5, 2012

Getting the Exposure You Want for White or Black Subjects

One of the challenges of photography is creating an exposure that accurately depicts the subject. Most of the time, our digital cameras' automatic metering and exposure systems do an excellent job. But there are two types of subjects that our cameras need help with to create the best exposure: anything white and anything black.

Properly exposed white building at +1 2/3 stops

The problem arises because all light meters are designed to select a shutter speed, aperture and ISO to produce a medium brightness exposure. This is sometimes called a "middle gray" or "18% gray" exposure. All it means is that the brightness of the picture overall is halfway between pure white (without detail) and pure black (with no detail); hence, the short-hand of "middle gray".

But white subjects that take up 90% of the picture space or black subjects that fill 90% of the image area are NOT medium brightness. White subjects are much brighter than medium and black subjects are much darker than medium. So our job as the photographer is to add light to brighten the white subjects or subtract light to darken the black subjects. You can do this using the Exposure Compensation feature or manually adjust the shutter, aperture and/or ISO to achieve the same effect. (For more about Exposure Compensation, see my previous blog post here.)

But how much more or less light do you need for white or black subjects? This depends partly on personal taste, but the visual guideline is as bright or dark as you can and still see detail in the subject. You can do your own test for white and black subjects ahead of time and then know exactly how bright or dark to make each one. Here's how:

Testing for the Best White or Black Exposure
  1. Find an all white (or all black) subject outside. It should be large enough that you can completely fill the frame with white (or black). It should also have details in it to help you judge when your exposure adjustment has gone too far. The side of a building, a coat or shirt, or similar subjects with fine texture are perfect. (I don't recommend cars or trucks because the smooth metal does not provide enough visual texture for you to judge the results.)
  2. Be sure the subject is evenly lit. There should be no dappled light or large shadows falling on your subject. And the light should be constant while you take the entire series of photos. So avoid partly cloudy days in favor of completely clear or completely overcast weather.
  3. Set up your camera on a tripod and adjust the camera position and/or zoom setting to fill the frame with white (or black). There should be no other colors in the photos. If you are using a smaller subject, you may need to supply a white (or black) background.
  4. You can capture either JPEG or raw files. Choose the format you most commonly use.
  5. Set the camera to Program exposure mode. You can use other exposure modes as long as they give you access to the Exposure Compensation feature. These are normally the "letter" settings (P, M, A or Av, and S or Tv) and not the "picture" settings (portrait, landscape, action). Or you can carefully adjust your manual settings, preferably changing the shutter speed.
  6. Choose the camera's lowest ISO setting (usually 100 or 200). Do not use Auto ISO or the test won't be accurate.
  7. Change the camera's white balance to automatic (AWB).
  8. Make a series of 7 to 10 pictures, varying the exposure compensation by 1/3 steps.
    1. For a white subject, start with the Exposure Compensation set to zero (0) and take a photo at every plus 1/3 stop up to +2 (or +3 if your camera allows).
    2. For a black subject, start with the Exposure compensation set to zero (0) and take a photo at every minus 1/3 stop down to -2 (or -3 if your camera allows).
    3. You should see your photos get brighter or darker as you change the Exposure Compensation amount.
Series of 10 exposures of a white subject
starting at 0 compensation and
getting brighter by 1/3 stops to +3

Series of 10 exposures of a black subject
starting at 0 compensation and
getting darker by 1/3 stops to -3
  1. Download the photos to your computer and view them large on the monitor. I recommend you enlarge the photo to 100% view and look at all parts of the picture.
  2. Determine which exposure for the white subject is very bright but still retains details and texture. This is your ideal exposure adjustment for a white subject.
  3. Determine which exposure for the black subject is very dark but still retains details and texture. This is your ideal exposure adjustment for a black subject.
Best white exposure at +1 2/3 on the right
compared to loss of detail at +3 on the left

Best black exposure at -1 2/3 on the right
compared to loss of detail at -3 on the left

Now when you face a white or black subject, you will not have to guess about how much to adjust the exposure in order to get a photo with appropriate brightness. You may still need to make minor changes to the settings, depending on the shot and your intentions. For example, you can usually expose a black subject darker and a white subject brighter when they are in the light of an overcast day or the shade than when they are in direct sunlight.

Completing this little test should take a lot of the guesswork out of exposure! Try it for yourself!

October 4, 2012

October from Seasons of Montana 2012 calendar

"October" from this year's calendar featuring the seasons of western Montana. Look for my announcement for the 2013 calendar in the coming months!

September 28, 2012

Nikon EN-EL 15 Rechargeable Li-ion Battery Recall

Nikon has announce a voluntary recall of certain EN-EL 15 rechargeable batteries because they can short circuit and overheat, potentially deforming the battery. This battery model came with Nikon D800, D800e, D7000 and Nikon 1 V1 digital SLR cameras and is also sold separately.

The affected batteries are only models EN-EL15 with a Lot Number containing E or F as the 9th character.

If you purchased one of these spare batteries or a related camera model since March 2012 when they were first distributed, you can exchange the faulty battery for a different one by filling out a form and sending it along with the battery back to Nikon.

For all the details, visit the Nikon web site.

EN-EL15 Rechargeable Li-ion Battery Pack Recall

September 21, 2012

How to Make Your Nikon Coolscan Film Scanner Work with Your New Computer

If you've been working with digital photography for more than 10 years, then like me, you started out by scanning slides or negatives to develop them in Photoshop. In those days Nikon's line of 35mm film scanners called Coolscan (and later Super Coolscan) were the cream of the crop. 

However, with the success of digital SLR cameras, scanning film fell by the wayside and Nikon stopped supporting new computer systems like Windows 7, Apple OS X 10.5 (Leopard) and later, or any 64-bit system on either platform. (See the Nikon web site at That left a lot of us photographers with a library of film images out in the cold.

pine trees frame distant view of Bitterroot Mountains in Montana
Scanned from 35mm color negative film
with a Nikon Super Coolscan 4000
running on Windows 7 64-bit

After doing some research on the internet, I discovered a low cost, easy solution for both Windows and Mac owners. It is a program called Vuescan by Hamrick Software. This program comes in two editions: the Standard edition costs $39.95 and provides 1 year of free updates; the Professional edition costs $79.95 and provides unlimited free updates as well as additional features like raw scans and IT8 film calibration. A single license allows you to "use VueScan on up to four different computers that you personally use, with any combination of operating systems, with any number of scanners, both x32 and x64". 

Pine tree leans over Salmon Lake in the Seeley-Swan Valley of western Montana
Scanned from 35mm color slide film
using NikonScan software
with a Nikon Super Coolscan 4000
running on Windows 7 64-bit

I originally purchased the Standard edition of Vuescan to use with my Epson Perfection Photo 3200 flatbed scanner. (No, Epson does not supply a full-featured driver for this scanner either.) Vuescan works flawlessly with my Epson scanner for color or black & white prints, books, and magazines. The software includes the ability to select scan resolution, bit depth, and output file formats (TIFF, JPEG, PDF). There are also levels and curves controls allowing you to adjust the tonal results and a color balance section to adjust the color rendition.The software includes the ability to automatically save scans to a specified folder with an incremental file name, a big time-saver when you're scanning a strip of negatives, for example.

Black & white silver gelatin print
scanned using Vuescan with an
Epson Perfection Photo 3200 flatbed scanner
running on Windows 7 64-bit

Having been satisfied with the program's performance with both my Epson 3200 scanner and the scanner on my HP all-in-one printer/scanner/copier, I recommended it to a colleague who was trying to get her Nikon Coolscan to work with her new Mac. Complete success for her too!.

So I highly recommend Vuescan by Hamrick Sofware to bring your old scanners back to life!

There's even been a book published on how to get the most from your Vuescan software: The Vuescan Bible by Sascha Steinhoff from Rocky Nook Publishing.

Note for Windows Owners

If you still would like to use the original NikonScan software that came with your Coolscan scanner on your new Windows computer, you may want to read the suggestions of Bob Johnson at Earthbound Light. He offers a copy of some computer code that he successfully modified to get his Nikon scanner to work with his Windows Vista computer. Later he updated it successfully to work with his new Windows 7 system. Following his instructions, I also got the NikonScan software and Windows Vista driver from Nikon to work with my Windows 7 64-bit system.

BE WARNED! This process is not for the faint of heart. If the sight of computer code or delving into system files makes you twitchy, this technique is probably not for you. (But might be for your computer geek support person.) While it really only involves some copy and paste work as well as finding and renaming old files, you do need to proceed carefully. If this idea makes you nervous, take the Vuescan route. It's affordable, painless and works!

September 14, 2012

Learning to Use the New Sliders in Adobe Camera Raw 7 and Lightroom 4

With the release of Photoshop CS6, Adobe also unveiled Camera Raw 7. Adobe has made major changes to the sliders in the Basic panel of Camera Raw 7 (ACR) to reflect the improved software "engine" called Process Version (PV) 2012 that's under the hood. Considering we've been using the same set of sliders in ACR's Basic panel (and Lightroom's Develop module) since 2003, it's definitely a mindset shift! How often do you change the habits you've developed over nine years??!!

Martin Evening, the guru of Adobe photo editing products, has written an article for Digital Photography Review that offers a great before and after comparison of the previous Camera Raw sliders with the new ones. Check it out to see the potential in the updated software.

Extreme Contrast Edits in Lightroom 4 and ACR 7 by Martin Evening

I also watched an excellent online class on Photoshop CS6 by Ben Willmore at Creative Live. There's a free sample video on the tonal controls in ACR 7 that is also very iniformative. And you can purchase the entire clas for $99! An amazing deal!

Camera Raw: Exposure and Contrast by Ben Willmore

Note that I am not affiliated with either Martin Evening or Ben Willmore in any way. I just like these tutorials!

September 7, 2012

Visually Size Your Photos for Email and Facebook

Are you confused about how to size your photos for sharing by email or on social media sites? Do the terms "resolution" and "pixel dimensions" keep you up at night? Now you can ignore all that math and shrink your photos visually! No numbers necessary! Here's how using Photoshop Elements or Photoshop (any version).
  • Open your image in Photoshop or Elements.
  • Open the Navigator window (Window menu, Navigator).
Image open in Photoshop Elements 10
with Navigator window open on the right
  • Using the slider in the Navigator, adjust the photo on screen to be the size you want it out in Web land.
Image reduced on screen using the Navigator slider
  • Look at the percentage next to the Navigator slider.
    REMEMBER this number.
Navigator window showing
reduced percentage circled in upper left
  • Open the Image Size dialog box.
    In Elements choose Image, Resize, Image Size.
    In Photoshop choose Image, Image Size
  • Be sure Resample Image is checked (turned on).
  • Select Bicubic Sharper as the method (if available).
  • Change the measurement unit from "pixels" or "inches" to "percent". Change either pixels or inches; you don't need to change both.
  • Type in the number you got from the Navigator slider.
  • Click OK.
Image Size window with percentage resize at top
and Resample Image using Bicubic Sharper at bottom
  • Your photo will shrink on screen (a good thing).
  • Use View, Actual Pixels to see the photo as it will appear on screen.
  • Choose File, SAVE AS a new photo in JPEG format (e.g. IMG_123-email.jpg). I keep my web images in an Email folder on my desktop.
  • Upload/email/etc. as desired. 
Windows 7 Save As screen
 You're done!

If your photo editing program has similar abilities to adjust the size of the photo on screen using a slider AND tell you at what percentage you are viewing it, you can use this technique too. Thanks to Ben Willmore's Photoshop for Photographers class broadcast at Creative Live.

September 1, 2012

September from Seasons of Montana 2012 calendar

"September" from this year's calendar featuring the seasons of western Montana. Look for my announcement for the 2013 calendar in the coming months!

August 31, 2012

Viewing Raw Files in Windows Explorer

If you shoot raw files with your digital camera and you are using Windows 7 or Vista, you have probably noticed that you can't see previews of your pictures in Windows Explorer. Windows just shows you a generic picture file icon (sometimes an orange flower). But there's a solution available. Microsoft has just released a free program called the Camera Codec Pack that you can download and install. It enables Windows Explorer to show you previews of raw files from many digital cameras (including DNG format) as if they were JPEGs.

Windows 7 Explorer showing Canon raw file previews

Download the Microsoft Camera Codec Pack here.

Note that there are two versions of this program, one for 64-bit systems and one for 32-bit systems. Be sure to download the correct version for your computer.

You can even double click on an image thumbnail and see a larger, full-screen preview in a separate window.

Large preview of Canon raw file in Windows 7 Explorer

Because new models of digital cameras are constantly being released, if you have a very new camera, this program may not be able to display its raw files yet. Microsoft lists the supported camera brands and models on the web page, so be sure to check for your specific camera before downloading. Hopefully, Microsoft will provide updates along the way to add new cameras to the supported list.

August 24, 2012

Backing up Collections in Bridge CS5 and CS6

One of the best things Adobe did for Photoshop owners was to add the versatile Collections feature to Bridge beginning with Photoshop CS5. (Bridge is included when you buy Photoshop.) Collections came to Bridge from Lightroom (and Photoshop Elements, which calls them Albums). They are "virtual folders" that organize thumbnail images without needing to duplicate the actual file (and thus saving hard drive space).

Bridge CS6 showing a collection of images

However, unlike your actual images, collections in Bridge are stored with the program (application for you Mac owners), not with your pictures. This presents a problem in two situations:
  1. When you upgrade to a newer version of Photoshop & Bridge (i.e., from CS5 to CS6).
  2. If you need to reinstall Photoshop & Bridge, such as after purchasing a new computer or a hard drive failure. 
In both cases, you "lose" your collections. I've experienced both scenarios and was dismayed to discover that my backed up photos did not save my collections!

What can you do? The best thing is to create a copy of your collections and save them outside of Bridge, such as on the same hard drive where your photos live. That way the collections get backed up along with your pictures. (You ARE backing up your pictures, right??) And it's a relatively easy matter to copy these collections to the proper place for a new version of Bridge.

The tricky part is knowing where the collections live in the first place so you can make the backup copy. A little judicious searching on the Internet produced the answer to both questions. 

Bridge CS5 & CS6 Collections Locations

For Bridge CS6, use the same path but change "CS5" to "CS6".

  • Windows XP: C:Documents and Settings\user\Application Data\Adobe\Bridge CS5\Collections
  • Windows VIsta/7: C:\Users\"username"\AppData\Roaming\Adobe\Bridge CS5\Collections
If you can't see the AppData (Application Data in XP) folder under your user name, do the following:
  1. Make sure you are logged in as Administrator.
  2. Open the Control Panel.
  3. Choose Folder Options.
  4. In the Folder Options window, click on the View tab.
  5. Under Hidden files and folders, choose "Show hidden files, folders and drives".
  6. Click the Apply button.
  7. Close the window.
Show hidden files option selected in Folder View Options for Windows

Location and Contents of Bridge CS5.1 Collections in Windows 7
  • user / Library / Application Support / Adobe / Bridge CS5 / Collections
Now that you've found the location where Bridge keeps your collections, you're ready to copy and save them to a backup location.
  1. Quit Bridge. 
  2. Copy the Collections folder (either from CS5 or CS6, depending on the version you are using). 
  3. Paste it in a new location that you back up regularly.
    I copied mine to my dedicated pictures drive.

Now you can uninstall or upgrade your copy of Photoshop & Bridge safely. When that is complete, locate your backup copy of the Collections folder. Open it and copy all the collections inside. Return to the proper location on your main hard drive (see above). Paste your collections into the Collections folder. When you next start Bridge, your collections will be there ready to use.

Windows users: After you have made a copy of your Bridge Collections folder, I recommend that you return to the Folder Options and turn off the feature to show hidden files and folders.

Hopefully, in the future Adobe will provide an automated way to transfer collections from previous versions of Bridge to new ones.