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.

August 17, 2012

Tips for Setting up Your Digital Camera

Every time I teach a beginning class about using digital cameras, I'm always asked, "How do I know which button to set first? There are so many choices!"

It's a very good question, and my usual answer "you'll learn with experience" may be true but isn't very helpful. While I was enjoying some summer reading on photography, I came across a couple suggestions that are more practical.

Balsamroot Flowers & Mission Mountains, Montana

The first comes from Canadian photographer Freeman Patterson. In his book Photography for the Joy of It, Patterson says to remember the letters C, D and E, in alphabetical order. They remind you to
  1. Start with Composition (C).
  2. Decide next on Depth of field (D) (how much of the photo you want in sharp focus).
  3. Then adjust the Exposure (E). 
I follow a similar process when I'm photographing scenics, macro, or still life subjects such as the balsamroot flowers in the picture above. But these steps may not be appropriate if your subject is constantly changing, such as photographing children at play or rodeo action.

For getting a quick shot of developing action, try the advice of photojournalist Steve Simon. In his book The Passionate Photographer, Steve says that before he puts the camera back in the bag, he resets it so he's prepared for any unexpected opportunity. Here's what Steve sets on his camera:
  • Aperture Priority exposure mode (Av or A on the exposure dial)
  • Widest aperture (lowest number: f/2.8 or f/4)
  • ISO 400 or Auto (helps achieve a fast shutter speed to freeze motion)
  • Continuous (tracking) auto focus
  • Continuous shooting (frame advance)
  • Exposure Compensation at zero 
  • UV filter on the lens instead of a lens cap (so he doesn't have to remove the cap before shooting)

Bull-doggin' at the Wilsall Rodeo, Montana

So there you go...two different answers to "where do I start?" when setting up your digital camera. Give them a try. Make adjustments as needed for your photographic subjects and camera controls. And make some great photos!

August 10, 2012

How Do I Pick the Best Photo?

One of the biggest challenges we all face as digital photographers is how to sort through the hundreds (and sometimes thousands) of pictures we take for each shoot or subject.
Best Image Selected from Lightroom Contact Sheet below

When we used black & white film, our first step (after developing the film) was to print a contact sheet. This produced thumbnail images the size of the film frame from one roll of film on a single piece of photographic paper. Then using a magnifier (called a loupe) we would carefully examine all 36 frames for the sharpest, best exposed photo that also had the best expression and gesture, if a person or sports subject, or lighting and composition, if a landscape or still life subject. When we decided on the one we liked the best, we circled it with a red grease pencil. 

Contact Sheet from Black & White Film

If we were working with color slides, we put the slides in a slide page holding 20 frames and examined those with a loupe on a lightbox. (Some photographers loaded their slides into a tray and projected them instead.) Then we put a mark on the slide mount (edge) to designate our favorite frame.

Slide page with loupe

(If we shot color negative film, we just used the small 4x6 prints we got back from the lab to base our selections on. Not many photo labs were able to produce a true contact sheet of color negatives.)

Nowadays we use photo organizing programs like Picasa, iPhoto, Lightroom, or Aperture to display electronic versions of a contact sheet on screen. Or we can even just view thumbnails shown by the operating system (Windows Explorer or Mac Finder). But we're still left with the challenge of selecting the best of several similar shots. 

Lightroom Library as Electronic Contact Sheet

Brooks Jensen of Lenswork magazine has made available a free video in which he narrates how he selects the best image from about 40 total frames he took of a Chinese woman (in 98 seconds!). It's very interesting to hear and watch his process.

The Contact Sheet – Old Woman of Hainan by Brooks Jensen of Lenswork magazine