Review, Adorama Flashpoint 180 – Portable Flash Unit

I have a new portable flash unit in-house for testing. It is the Flashpoint 180 – a highly portable, lightweight unit that produces up to 180 watt/seconds of output. It comes complete with portable battery pack and charger, a diffuser dome, a reflector, a shoot-through white umbrella, a brief instruction manual, and a carrying case.

180 1

According to the manufacturer’s specs, it is capable of up to 700 flashes at full power. Flash duration ranges from 1/400 to 1/1100 of a second, depending on power output selected. Specifications state that color temperature is 5500k +/- 200k, which is reasonable.

The battery pack consists of two Sony rechargeable units housed in a plastic case; these are removed and charged via external charger. The manufacturer provides two charging units. Good news is that 700 shots should get you through a full day’s shooting. If you are shooting consistently outdoors in bright light or direct sun, depending on your needs you may want to get two of these, one of the 180 model, and another of the 400 model, using one for key lighting and the other for fill or add-on.

Overall, this is a lightweight unit, favoring portability over bullet-proof construction. The controls are sturdy and well made, and should hold up over time. Most of the flash body is aluminum, and a diffuser dome does double duty protecting the flash tube and LED-based modeling light. This is definitely not water-proof, so I would take care outdoors in mist or rain.

180 2

Power output is controlled via a stepless rotating knob, providing about 5-stops range. A slave sensor is also provided, along with an on/off switch for a triggering audio signal.

An LED modeling light is provided, but it’s anemic at best. Not too surprising, as many people will leave it turned on throughout a shoot, and that will drain batteries quickly.

Adorama also provides a short padded handle which can be inserted into the mounting socket – it’s easy to carry the unit around in the field – you would just clip the battery pack to your belt or carry it in your off hand.

Like any other studio flash unit, time to recycle depends on power output selected. This ranges from 1-5 seconds; not surprising at all on a battery-powered unit supplied by a lower-voltage power pack.

I also like that the unit is Bowens-compatible. As I own some Bowens gear, that’s a big plus in my book. I can use their light modifiers on this flash unit, for example.

Overall, a good, lightweight unit, highly portable and suited for use in the studio or just about anywhere you want to go.

Link to the Adorama page: http://www.adorama.com/FPBPLB.html

Fuji X-E1 review by David Saffir, published in Photo Technique Magazine

Full text of the review I wrote published on Photo Technique web site: http://phototechmag.com/the-fuji-x-e1-print-sized-photo-powerhouse/

From the E-X1

From the E-X1

Photoshop CS6 Beta test started today…

I just downloaded the CS6 Beta version. Going to be working with it this week and next. Stay tuned as I report my ups and downs, likes and not-so-likes (?!?) in the next week or so. My goal is to post something interesting at least every other day.

PS – one observation: sure looks like Adobe continues to move toward harmonizing the editing controls and tools in Photoshop and Lightroom….

Answers About the New iPad and Color – from David Tobie’s Blog

After receiving an iPad3 today, I tested its color gamut, whitepoint, brightness, and screen detail against an iPad2. The graph above shows the increased color gamut. It also represents what I would call a “normalized” color gamut, in that the primaries are now more closely aligned to what we expect red, green, and blue to be.

read more on David Tobie’s blog here

Workshop – Basic Landscape Photography

Basic Landscape Photography

Tuesday, January 31st – 6:30pm to 9:30pm
David Saffir instructor $79
Location: Santa Clarita Valley Center for Photography

Go beyond snapshots and lets get into photographs that really get that “wow” reaction! This workshop is about learning to make the right selection. Whether it is picking the correct location, the right time of day, or just the correct camera settings. We will also discuss basic composition guidelines and what might be the best angle or point of view. Please bring your camera, but it is not required.

TO REGISTER: Call Mell Carll, 661-904-2092

Photography Quote of the Day – June 28

……..

A photograph  is a full expression of what one feels about what is being photographed in the deepest sense, and is, thereby, a true expression of what one feels about life in its entirety.  ~Ansel Adams

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Join us in our upcoming workshop:

Photoshop Selections and Compositing Made Easy
Wednesday, June 29th – 6:30pm to 9:30pm


New Free Webinar: David Saffir’s End-to-End Workflow for Creative Photographers

New Free Webinar: David Saffir’s End-to-End Workflow for Creative Photographers

from the press release:

“Join X-Rite and Nik Software for an hour with David Saffir, internationally recognized, award winning portrait, commercial photographer and fine art printmaker. He is the author of the book Mastering Digital Color: A Photographer’s and Artist’s Guide to Controlling Color, published by Thomson. His second book, focused on his photography, is titled The Joy of Discovery, and was published in Spring 2009.

This webinar will teach fundamentals of end-to-end workflow for creative photographers, from pre-visualization through color management, capture and selected image editing techniques.

We will focus on landscape and scenic imagery.  Using the latest tools from Nik and X-Rite,

© David Saffir

David will demonstrate his workflow using X-Rite i1 Pro solutions and his techniques with Nik’s Viveza 2 and Silver Efex Pro to achieve the best quality from his images.

Who Should Attend:

• Landscape and Nature Photographers

• Commercial Photographers

• Environmental Portrait and Wedding Photographers

• Fine Art Photographers

• Anyone interested in a creative, color managed workflow

Two sessions will be held on the same day.

Register for your choice of times. Be sure to register today and arrive early for the webinar. Space is limited and they will fill up quickly.

David Saffir’s End-to-End Workflow for Creative Photographers

Wednesday, July 13, 2011 9:00-10:00 AM PDT (check your time zone!)

REGISTER HERE:    https://www2.gotomeeting.com/register/316251139

Or….

David Saffir’s End-to-End Workflow for Creative Photographers

Wednesday,  July 13, 2011  11:00 AM – 12:00 PM PDT (check your time zone!)


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Learn more about David Saffir at http://www.davidsaffir.com

Photography Quote of the Day – June 17, 2011

We take language into our minds; we read words in the same internal voice with which we think, remember, pray. But when we look at paintings or photographs, the reverse is true. If the image corresponds to our most intensely personal, yet archetypal, yearnings and memories, we don’t take the

© David Saffir

image in, we move out of ourselves into the image, as though it were another world, a hologram whose forms of light are ghostly angels, or a dream whose physical reality is suggested by what we see on the surface of a canvas or a page. We connect with the image as though we had lost it within our own memories and are now surprised to find it represented outside ourselves, vital and luminous, charged with energy.

Jayne Anne Phillips

Use this link to see details about my upcoming workshop “Photoshop Selections and Compositing Made Easy”

Nik Silver Efex Pro 2: Review and Basic Workflow

by David Saffir

Whether you’re considering using SEP2 for the first time, or upgrading, you’ll find that the software is well-designed – it has an intuitive interface, good balance between presets and customization, improved editing options, runs faster, and produces excellent image quality.

Some might say that the presets and other tools available in programs like Lightroom or Aperture are sufficient to create good black and white images – but I can’t agree that they are the best choice.

The high level of control and customization available in Silver Efex Pro 2 (SEP2) make this an excellent tool for serious photographers. And even if you’re only occasionally converting a color image to black and white, you’ll find the software to be well worth the investment in time and money.

Here’s the original color image that I worked on for this article:

Highlights

The opening screen, launched from CS5. Note that SEP2 always starts out applying the default “Normal” preset (outlined in orange) – and in this case the image looks a bit dark to me. That’s going to change, of course. (click on any screen shot to enlarge)

Silver Efex Pro 2 has a great lineup of pre-sets – one click on a pre-set converts your image into your selected black and white “look”. (left side of screen shot).

There are some new ones, and all have been organized into categories for easy reference. You can use presets for a one-click conversion, as a starting point for further edits and adjustments. You can also save your own adjustments in a custom preset.

Brightness – previously had one slider adjustment. Brightness can now be adjusted in highlights, midtones, and shadows. A “dynamic brightness” adjustment has been added (the Dynamic Brightness slider automatically adapts the brightness applied to each area differently – more detail later in this review).

Contrast – Now provides three sliders: Amplify Whites, Amplify Blacks, and Soft Contrast.

Structure adjustment (quoting Nik Software: “Increasing contrast within the objects without affecting the edges of each object. The result is the increase of apparent detail throughout the image without unwanted artifacts”.): This has been expanded/upgraded – adjustments can be made highlights, midtones, and shadows. There’s also a new adjustment for “fine structure”.

Selective adjustments: uses Control Points to make local changes to brightness, contrast, structure, amplify whites, amplify blacks, fine structure, and selective colorization.

Color Filters – you can apply color filters to the image, which are the digital equivalent of using a similar filter on-camera.

Film Types: provides 18 presets for applying the “look” of a particular black and white film. There are also adjustments for grain, color sensitivity, and a levels and curves adjustment.

Finishing Adjustments: toning/split toning, vignette, image borders, and burn edges. The toning tool set is particularly sophisticated, and even includes controls for things like silver toning.

Loupe, Histogram, and Zone System tools – more on these later, including the Zone System.

History Browser – records all of your adjustments, step by step. Similar to Photoshop. You can roll back and forth between steps. Very useful tool and a great improvement.

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Workflow

This section provides a more detailed review of features, and an example of workflow, using SEP2. There’s more than one way to approach image editing – its relatively easy to work through your options and get the best result.

Most reviewers jump right into using the software, but I’d like to suggest a different starting point: convert your first layer in Photoshop into a Smart Object. Smart Objects “remember” your adjustments in SEP2.

Once you convert the layer, you can adjust via SEP2, close it, and later click on the Smart Object – this will re-open SEP2 where you left off, and remember all adjustments from your earlier session. Very efficient and powerful.

Here’s how you convert a layer to a Smart Object in Photoshop: Layer>Smart Objects>Convert to Smart Object:

Note: I’ve inserted a second layers palette into this illustration. The palette marked “1” shows a standard background layer. The palette marked “2” shows a background layer converted to a normal layer, and then to a Smart Object. A Smart Object is identified by the square icon lower right in the layer thumbnail (see arrow).

To launch SEP2 from Photoshop (assuming you’ve installed it), go Filter>Nik Software>Silver Efex Pro 2.
Here’s the opening screen again.

(click on any screen shot to enlarge)

The opening screen is organized into three columns. On the left, the column shows the presets I mentioned earlier in this article. The red rectangle includes a toggle button to hide the presets column, and a second button to reveal it.

There are many presets. They range from “normal” to some impressive special effects. A single click on any preview thumbnail temporarily applies the pre-set adjustments to the image. They are not finalized until you click OK at bottom right.

I frequently test a few presets at the beginning of an editing session to see if I can shorten my work cycle to a finished image, or at least get to a starting point for customized adjustments. Inside the green rectangle, the first button shows a single image view. The second button displays a red line down the middle to show “before” on the left and “after” on the right as a split preview.

You can move the line where you wish, or change the orientation of the two previews. The third button creates two smaller images showing a “before” and “after” side-by-side. In my own workflow, I usually use the line tool. It’s also possible to zoom in and out for closer inspection.

The third column, on the right, has a wide range of image adjustment and editing tools.

Global Adjustments

I generally make global, or image-wide adjustments first, and work on details second.

I may go to the Color Filter or the Film Types first. These are similar to on-camera filters we are all familiar with. For example, the red filter is a good choice with this model’s skin tones. Note that the filter can be adjusted for intensity and hue – click on the Details triangle icon and the submenus will appear:

Red filter applied, before/after view.

These are non-destructive edits – they are not applied to the image until I press the “OK button. If I find that they are not fitting into the workflow at the beginning, I’ll probably return to them later on.

Film types

Another global adjustment. The film types tool provides 18 different black and white film types that do a remarkable job of emulating some of the more popular black and white films. If you mouse over them you’ll see a preview of its effects.

You have a couple of options here. Like the presets provided in the left hand column of the software screen, you can use these as a quick path to a finished, or nearly finished image. In my workflow, I usually use them as a starting point for further editing.

Note the Grain adjustment panel, right under the film type drop-down. This is a highly flexible adjustment, and it does an excellent job of emulating actual film grain – it is very natural in appearance. Left side shows “before”. I’ve used a fairly intense setting for demo purposes – you have complete control on-screen.

If you select a film type, you’ll see changes in both the Sensitivity and Levels/Curves panels. These are adjustments in the response of the “film” to the color in the underlying, original image. (Also note the change in the grain adjustments, which are part of the “look” of the film selected.)

Both of these can be adjusted further to suit your needs. One can adjust Curves and Levels as well – in fact, one could say that there is rarely a reason to leave SEP2 and return to Photoshop for adjustments.

I usually move through the next part of workflow in the order provided in the global adjustments panels.
Brightness/Contrast/Structure adjustments. Note that each adjustment slider can be expanded by clicking on the triangle next to each tool name:

This division is a welcome improvement. For each segment:

Brightness

Divided into highlights, midtones, and shadows. This is more or less self-explanatory. There is a fourth adjustment, Dynamic Brightness. Quoting Nik Software “intelligently applying different brightness values to different areas of the image. Moving the slider to the left will darken the image overall, while keeping highlight detail. Moving the slider to the right will brighten the image overall, while keeping shadow detail”.

Contrast

Amplify Whites and Blacks – moving the whites slider to the right selectively increases tonal values of brighter areas, which can be adjusted without blowing out highlights. Moving the blacks slider does the same for tonal values in darker areas.

The Soft Contrast tool is one of my favorites. It quickly applies a “softer” look to the image – when I see the change, I think “smooth” – in terms of overall contrast and transition areas. In this case, I’ve applied a Soft Contrast adjustment at 25%. “Before” view to the left of the red line.

Structure

The structure adjustment is a pretty unique tool. Quoting Nik: “(Increases) contrast within the objects without affecting the edges of each object. The result is the increase of apparent detail throughout the image without unwanted artifacts”. An example of a structure adjustment in the shadows area (I made a modest adjustment. Note the structure slider. “Before” view is to the left. You can click on  screen shot to enlarge)

Fine Structure is pretty self-explanatory – it works on the smaller details in the image.

History Browser

This is a good time to introduce you to the new History Browser. Move the slider up and down your editing steps to either change your workflow, or review the impact of changes step-by-step. This tool is toggled on and off using the third button from the left in the panel (button outlined in red, arrow points to slider):

Note that unlike Photoshop you can’t delete an individual step from the middle of an editing stream and leave the remainder intact.

Selective Adjustments

Nik Software created the Control Point (they also refer to this as U-Point technology). Control points are highly adjustable tools that provide brightness, contrast, structure, amplify white, amplify black, fine structure, and selective colorization.

One creates a control point by first clicking on the “Add Control Point” icon. Then, you click again on the part of the image you want to adjust.

The size of the adjustment, or “area of influence”, is provided in the first slider on the control point:

Note that the Control Point is a very smart tool: it analyzes the area it is controlling, using the place where you first clicked (orange dot) as its reference. Adjustments made to the control point will generally affect only similar tones, textures, etc within the circle of influence. Adjustments made here would have minimal effect on the model’s hair.

Control points can be placed at will in the image. You can also place multiple control points – these can be controlled individually, or they can be grouped. When grouped, an adjustment made to one affects all in the group. They can also be adjusted from the right hand control panel, turned on and off, and more.

Control points are very sophisticated tools. There are many more ways to mix and match them.
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Finishing Adjustments

Nik provides a number of tools for enhancing and finishing your image.

These include:

Toning/Split Toning
Silver Toning
Paper Toning
Vignette
Burn Edges
Image Borders

One of my favorites among these are the toning tools.

If you click on the toning drop down you’ll see something like the screen shot below. When you move your mouse pointer over each one you’ll see a live preview on screen.

Note that I’ve selected sepia toning; there are many others to choose from. Note the inclusion of cyanotype and ambrotype adjustments. The strength of the toning is adjustable.

If you choose silver toning, you’ll see color in parts of the image that would, if this were a darkroom print, have silver on them. White areas obviously do not. It’s a different look: (remember – you can enlarge any screen shot by clicking on it)

Paper hue and toning are more or less self-explanatory.

The vignette tool is very flexible. There are presets available through the drop down, you can control the intensity via a slider control, you can adapt the vignette from a circle to a rectangle, and adjust its size.

A burn edges tool is provided. There are presets available, you can apply the effect to 1, 2, 3, or all four edges, control the amount, shape, and size.

(click on any screen shot to enlarge)
detail of the breakout box:

The image borders tool is one of my favorites. Presets are provided in the drop down menu, and you can adjust size, spread, and whether the effect is “clean” or “rough”. There’s also a “vary border” tool which provides nearly random variations on a set of adjustments.

I’ve provided a split-screen view here so you can see one pair of options. (I previously applied one effect). The right side of the screen shows an image border resulting from maxing out the sliders to the right.

Last but not least is the part of the palette column that provides a loupe viewer, a histogram, and a zone map, or zone system- based selector.

The first two are pretty basic, so I’ll move on to the zone system selector. If you mouse over a particular step (here I’ve hovered over step 3) the corresponding areas in the image will be highlighted by red shading. (see the zone boxes in the red outline lower right)  You can also click on these and mark more than one zone.

This is useful if you want a particular area of your image to be in a particular zone – identify the zone, and make global or Selective Adjustments to suit.

Wrap-Up

When I drafted this article in Word, it stretched to almost 20 pages. That’s pretty unusual – I still feel like I scratched the surface and a bit more – and you have to ask, how could that be?

Silver Efex Pro 2 is NOT a complicated application – but it is truly fully-featured. It incorporates the best of both worlds – darkroom and digital – and the results can be outstanding. The folks at Nik come from a variety of backgrounds, including film and darkroom processing, hard-core digital, world-class lighting, and more. The variety of tools available, and their accessibility, make it a “must have” for those of us who are interested in digital black and white photography.

The results you can get from this application will speak for themselves. Get the free trial, and put it through your toughest challenges.

For more info, go to Nik Silver Efex Pro.

DISCOUNT: If you decide to purchase Nik Silver Efex Pro2 or any Nik software product, including upgrades, use this code on the order page: DSAFFIR. You’ll get a 15% discount.

For updates on my workshops use this link.

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Disclosure: I have been a beta tester for Nik Software. I did not receive compensation for this article.

Butterflies Alive! Exhibition at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History

Butterflies Alive! Exhibition at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History

May 21-Sept 11, 2011

The Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History hosts one of the best live butterfly aviaries in California. Quoting from their announcement:

“The magic of Butterflies Alive! flutters back to the Museum. Walk through a beautiful garden full of flowers and greenery, surrounded by more than 1,000 free-flying butterflies. Watch as the butterflies flutter past you, and see them as they drink nectar from flowers.”

This is a photographer-friendly venue, and it is usually not as crowded as some others.

http://www.sbnature.org/exhibitions/673.htmll

Portrait of one of the residents (taken previously)