Saturday, January 25, 2014

Imaging USA 2014 - Phoenix, AZ

One of the great things about my job is traveling to new places and having the opportunity to photograph the area. A few weeks ago, the Macphun team was in Phoenix, AZ for the Imaging USA show sponsored by the Professional Photographers of America (PPA).  It's a good show with a lot of energy, although attendance was down this year.

We were joined by Pro photographer Lance Sullivan who shoots commercially and lives in Naimo, BC, Canada. Great guy with a sense of humor that will leave  you in stitches most of the time, esp. when bantering back and forth with my Macphun partner Morneé Sherry.  The first morning we were all together, Morneé convinced us all into getting out and shooting at dawn.  Although everyone was tired, this turned out to be a VERY good thing (thanks Mo!).  We drove up to South Mountain park, which overlooks Phoenix.

Below are some of the shots I liked.  All were touched by Macphun's Intensify Pro, plus some additional tools where I thought they were needed.  Enjoy!

Image processed in HDR Efex Pro 2.

Morneé's bad-ass Leica M9

Leading lines...

Love the angle of the hills, horizon and clouds offset against the rock house.

Morneé setting up a Giga-Pan. Image processed in Analog Efex Pro.

Black & white processed in Intensify Pro.

The Macphun team: me, Morneé, Lance, Matt & Riley.

Phoenix, straight on.

Friday, December 27, 2013

First Exposure to Long Exposure

Several years ago I was fortunate enough to work on the team bringing Nik Software's Silver Efex Pro 2 to market. Our product manager Josh Haftel was a huge black and white fan and saw the potential for the software to help photographers interested in long exposure photography really turn out world-class work.  We often created inspirational videos for brand new products, and he recommended that we work with a Dutch photographer named Joel Tjintjelaar on the Silver Efex Pro 2 product intro video.

Joel was a lawyer by trade (if my memory serves), but very passionate about long exposure photography. What started out as a hobby for him has actually earned him 'round the world recognition. View his exquisite work on the website.

Watching Joel take the image of Crystal Pier here in San Diego that would come to be emblematic of the product planted a seed in my brain ("I really want to do this someday"). At some point, my friend and work colleague Laurie Rubin mentioned that the finest 10-stop filter for crafting long exposures is the Lee Filters Big Stopper.  I had investigated them and determined they were simply too expensive for this lad.

Until Christmas 2013. I was given a Big Stopper as a company gift from the gents at Macphun Software - it's something I would never have bought myself, but recall casually mentioning it at the office as something for which I'd lusted. Lo and Behold, it ended up underneath my tree (thanks guys!).

My first image, above, was a re-imagining of that first shoot by Joel out at Crystal Pier. I used Macphun's Snapheal Pro (as a plug-in from Lightroom) to remove some dust spots and then converted to black and white in Lightroom.

Long exposure photography is by nature a bit experimental. Once you've framed the shot and determined your shutter speed, you sort of multiply that time by 10 (if using a 10-stop filter) and fire away. I used a locking remote and also covered my viewfinder to limit any light leaks.

However, by the time I got things dialed in, there was a lot of light being thrown out by the Sun. The shot below was a long-ish exposure from this morning, only about 40 seconds. I left it in color because I liked the way the water on the wave and beach look like will-o'-the-wisps... darting and cavorting in the morning light. ;-)

The shot below was processed using Lightroom, Macphun's Snapheal Pro and Macphun's Intensify Pro with the "dreamy" preset. Intensify just earned one of Apple's "Best of 2013" honors.

I'm absolutely enthralled with the results of the Big Stopper and plan to use it and experiment further every chance I get. 

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Recent Macphun Software news

As many of you know, earlier this summer I took a position at a company called Macphun Software, founded in 2008. Macphun originates from Kiev, Ukraine and was the brainchild of Paul Muzok and Dima Sytnik.  Along with Alex Tsepko, in June 2013 they reached out to me and several others formerly of Nik Software inquiring about whether we'd be interested in helping them open up U.S. operations for their company.

What an opportunity!  To try and "capture lightning twice" was a real gift and at the same time a challenge. The guys from Macphun had experienced tremendous success in the Mac App Store which was a great foundation upon which to build. Along with my good friends Morneé Sherry and Matt Cummins (both from Nik), it's a dream come true and we're having a lot of fun.

As I type this, our products occupy 5 of the top 10 spots in the photography category of the Mac App Store. Intensify Pro - our latest - has garnered a 5-star reputation and won over many Nik advocates.

I plan to update my friends and family via this blog as significant news comes along, and I would consider the following local San Diego coverage cool enough to mention.  ;-)  Without further ado:

San Diego Union Tribune:

San Diego Business JournalClick here to download and view the scanned article.

Channel 10 TV news:

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

R.I.P. Bella Bellisimo

Whew - today will go down as one of the tough days for sure. Though she'd been steadily slowing down over the past year, sleeping a lot and yelping for no reason, over the last couple of weeks Bella our 9-year old Viszla really just hadn't been herself. At all.

Reaching down to pet her pretty little head recently, I felt a neckful of mass under the skin and alarms bells went off. After a trip to the vet and a biopsy, the diagnosis was Stage 3 or 4 Canine Lymphoma. At that level, for all practical matters, incurable and fatal w/in a month or so. She had been having trouble breathing and recently was losing control of her bowels so today my wife, son Ethan and I made a really hard decision...

Bella came into our lives through a chance conversation I had with the owner of a Tierrasanta Dog Wash here in San Diego. I'd taken our first Viszla, River, in for a bath and was asked whether I'd ever considered getting another V.  One thing led to another and we ended up "rescuing" an 18-month puppy who was way too much for her elderly owner.

Bella was quickly a pal to River, game for anything. She became super-attached to Ethan, sleeping in his bed almost every night for the past 7 years!  I was proud of him for being with her at the end, their eyes locked on one another.  I may have been the Alpha male in the house, but Etho was her human soul-mate.

I know she's romping in Heaven's rockin' dog park now with River.  Goodbye sweet girl - we miss you!

Update: 12/1/13 — my daughter Emily expresses herself via Instagram.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

FX Photo Studio Pro

If you've followed my "Missives" blog for any length of time you know I'm a bit of a Photography nut, in the enthusiast sense.  I've recently joined a new company called MacPhun Software and one of my favorite products of theirs is a powerhouse collection of filters and basic editing tools called "FX Photo Studio Pro."  It's got over 170 one-click filters that are a blast to browse. Once you pick one to apply, it's easy to experiment and riff from there.  After you find a look that you like, save it as a Custom preset to use on future images. 

Fx Photo Studio PRO is Mac-only and just $19.99. Give it a try. 

Hope you like the images below and give the software a try!

Original image shot on Moonlight Beach, San Diego

Color Pen Sketch effect!

Interface shot of adjusting effect (Ancient Canvas)

Black & White Glow effect

Interface shot of the Adjust panel. Note that you can crop & rotate too.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Halligan's Special Seasoning & Gourmet Rub

In October of 2012, I had the distinct privilege of meeting Robert Halligan II. Bob was the leader of a photo walk at La Jolla Cove as part of Scott Kelby's annual Worldwide Photo Walk experience. An easy-going fella, he was joined by his lovely wife Kathy, several friends and a cadre of strangers who would soon become lovely acquaintances—photo walks have a marvelous way of creating that effect on people! 

Bob on the "working end" of the camera!
I was working at Nik Software at the time and had attended a couple of photo walks in the past.  They're almost always fun and free software never sucks. I offered to bring a couple of raffle prizes for attendees. Being our most recent release HDR Efex Pro 2 seemed to be the hot ticket, but I also gave away a copy of the über-flexible Color Efex Pro 4.

Construction took 7 months.
During the course of the walk Bob and I talked a bit about his background as a restauranteur and an independent financial professional with LPL Financial. I was particularly struck by his stories of opening up his own restaurant in Pacific Beach back in the '70's called Halligan's 4 Fish.

It sounded like a terrific joint that I just missed by a few years (having moved to PB back in early 1987, my house was only a few blocks from Halligan's). The famous Eleanor Widmer—notoriously a tough-minded food critic from the San Diego Reader—even gave it high marks.

Opening Night!
Bob and I talked a number of times after the photo walk and one day he stopped by the Nik office in Mission Valley with a gift for me:  A zip-lock bag with some of his special seasoning, a recipe nurtured and improved on since his restaurant days. It smelled wonderful and I couldn't wait to try it on a London Broil the upcoming weekend!  He confided that he was retiring from financial services soon, and it became clear that he still had fire in the belly for the food business. Bob gave me a couple of additional recipes and, with a twinkle in his eye asked me to let him know what I thought. He was pretty sure I'd like it...

He wasn't kidding! I rubbed the seasoning into the steak, covered it with cling wrap and let it sit in the refrigerator for a day.  Pretty simple, especially for a Neanderthal like me. What emerged from my grill was a steak that somehow had deliciously been transformed into meat that was far more moist and delicious than I'd experienced before. Bob was a genius! 

As time went on and he kept me supplied with his seasoning, Bob mentioned that he was interested in selling the it in retail stores and online. Naturally I offered my wife Kim's design services for graphics and a website, and mentioned that I'd be happy to help him set up a blog and shopping cart as part of the website.  In February 2013, Bob again swung by the Nik office and we called the good folks at GoDaddy. In about 45 minutes, we had transferred his domain, purchased a hosting package and shopping cart, and installed WordPress. In the meantime, Bob worked with Wells Fargo to establish a merchant account and also swapping recipes with a seasonings formulator out of the Midwest to handle production and packaging. This thing was coming together!

Bob wanted to create a brand for his seasonings that exuded high-quality, yet positioned it for everyday use and versatility. Kim did a great job on the label design and the overall site design. The learning curve with the site in terms of hooking up the back-end pieces was moderately steep since I hadn't done it before, but relatively quick. I never hesitate to call live tech support to get advice from the Pros, so I think the GoDaddy people were getting to know me by name after awhile. We had some issues with the nameservers which wasn't our fault, but in other cases it was helpful to call for clarification and best practices. Overall, GoDaddy gets high marks for service.

The site went live in early April.  You can read the story of Halligan's, pick up some great recipes from his blog, and of course purchase the products. Bob reports sales to friends and family are steady and he's already in talks with several meat shops in town (even a restaurant or two). At just $4.99 for a 4oz. package, it's an easy sale. Bob and his wife pack and ship the seasonings from their house to yours. I'm confident the versatility and taste will keep people coming back for more—give it a try and let me know what you think in the comments section below!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Laguna Mtns PCT Training Hike

Sunday, April 14 - 5:30pm:  I wanted to write this post while I'm still conscious. Sitting at the computer isn't too much of a strain, but the two balls of meat at the end of my legs are throbbing incessantly, reminding me that merely standing up would be painful.

Just 3 hours off of a 2-day backpack trip, I'm more sore and have more blisters than I can literally ever recall in my life.

It all starting out innocently enough: Two gorgeous weekend days on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), mostly downhill from the Burnt Rancheria campground in the Laguna Mountains to Lake Morena back down at desert altitude. About 22 miles.

We would be self-contained, carrying tents, sleeping bags, food, stoves, and water in our 35-45lb. packs, but it all seemed to fall into place. One of our ASMs (asst. scoutmasters) would take the drivers & cars down to the rendezvous point at the end of the hike (and bring them back to the start). We were committed. ;-)

The point of the trip was to continue training for our mondo Philmont Scout Ranch trek taking place starting in late July for 9 days in Northern New Mexico, near Cimarron, NM

Then reality set in: The original campground was closed on Friday night, despite several assurances by government officials.  This prompted us to camp at the Laguna/El Prado campground, some 3 miles downhill from our original starting point.  The crowded campground was a bit noisy and the ground was a bit "slopey" there, but most of us reported getting some sleep.

On the trail.
Our legs were fresh the next morning so the uphill climb was merely, *ahem*, invigorating. Then the downhill stretch came into play. Dave, the hike leader, had met the night before with some of the ASMs to re-route us to a new campground for Saturday - Cibbets Flat campground - then downhill on Sunday winding by Kitchen Creek Falls to the cars at a new location - Boulder Oaks off of Old Highway 80. I was familiar with some of the latter area having motorcycled through it a lot over the years.

Rest stop.

I knew the downhill portions were going to result in sore knees and quads, and probably some blisters, but didn't think too much about my toenails. I had left them a little too long and my big toes were smashing into the front of my boots just enough to be a real problem. I had purchased some high-tech teflon powder for my socks and toes to keep the blistering to a minimum, but these mostly failed. I'm going back to sock liners.

Just what you want to see...
We arrived in Cibbets Flat about 4pm after nearly 13 miles on the trail - long day!  My favorite sign was the one about avoiding "unexploded ordinance."  We'd also passed a lot of hikers who were planning to hike major portions of the PCT as well as trail runners traveling fast and light.

Arriving in the afternoon gave us plenty of time to set up camp, relax, eat dinner and commiserate about our various injuries before retiring. I think my head hit the sack at about 7:30pm and other than a couple of twists and turns in the mummy bag I didn't wake up until dawn!

On Sunday, the plan was to do an easy 8 miles down to the cars with a side trip to the Falls. The state of my feet though made this segment anything but easy. The toenail on my right foot was in miserable pain, while my left foot had a massive blister on the sole behind the big toe and a pinky toe looking a bit like hamburger. It was going to be a long day. ;-/

Video: On the trail!

On these hikes, we designate a pace-setter (hike leader) and a navigator. The rest of us just fall in line. So... with the rapid recovery of the boys after the previous day, they set a torrid pace coming right out of the blocks. Several of us old guys were hard pressed to keep up, probably resulting in the additional knee pain I'm feeling right now!  The sights and skylines over the desert were beautiful however and compensated somewhat.

Ethan showing off his bouldering skills.

Meal time at Cibbets Flat campground.

Gorgeous coastal desert vistas.

After a short side-trip to Kitchen Creek Falls (which I passed on), in the end we made it to Boulder Oaks Campground. Everyone was relieved and talk quickly turned to milkshakes and hamburgers in Pine Valley. As usual, Major's 50's style Diner did not disappoint!

Trailing down towards Kitchen Creek.

Coming away from this, it's clear that if Philmont is to be enjoyable for Ethan and I much more training is needed. Stamina wasn't a problem, but making sure the feet are in good shape over the long haul will be critical. It will come down to simply putting training miles on our bodies *with pack weight* as often as possible.

Dave memorializes the trek.

Me and Lewis on the trail.

Da Boys.