Thursday, October 23, 2008

Photo Plus Expo in the Big Apple

My 2nd Photo Plus Expo in Gotham City with Nik Software. Typical first day settling in to the prattling pitchman mode, dogs barking, throat scratchy, wondering what I'm picking up with every handshake and smile. Lovely industry the photographers have created though - mainly workin' folks, keen on their craft. Some egoists, but that goes with the territory I suppose.

The Nik Software booth was steadily jammed with attendees wanting to check out the latest from the firm, or just take a load off their backs in our comfy-seated theater. Sales OK as those things go, but more is better - we'll be fired up for the whole show. Some of us were true "Rock Stars" as this picture of Herr Haftel clearly indicates!

I did enjoy meeting a long time correspondant of mine named Xenophon Beake in the flesh so to speak. He and his wife Frances were very pleasant, and he showed me some nicely rendered images of his excellent black Crown Vic automobile. Tony Corbell and Xenophon go way back...they both claim "oh, we got stories..." ;-)

After the first day, I decided to take a lazy walk-through Times Square (which you already know if you follow my Twitter feed) and have a relaxing dinner at an Irish Pub off Broadway. Got a fun shot of a Times Square cop hassling a photographer for using a tripod with his DSLR - apparently that's not cool without a permit.

Walking back was a tiny bit chilly, but not bad given the Gap coat I lugged out to the East coast.

On Day 2, it was more of the same from the show standpoint, but we hooked up with the good folks from Mitsubishi Imaging & Pictorico Japan for a most excellent meal at Ruby Foo's, an Asian "Fusion" restaurant a few blocks from our hotel. There were 14 people total, including some C-level cats from Tokyo, but $1100 later all was good. ;-) My German co-worker Christian Grosse and I walked around Times Square (2nd time for me) with Michael Gilbert, a professional photographer who is doing a seminar with us next week. Michael is one of our Team Nik shooters and does good work from the studios he maintains in Hawaii and Paris (tough, eh?).

Day 3 was a little more low key - booth was jammed at times and we continued to amaze folks with Silver Efex Pro, Viveza, and our Capture NX 2 demos. Several people asked about Lightroom 2 compatibility, so we'll probably have to take a closer look at that soon.

Speaking of Capture NX 2 (which we developed, but Nikon sells under their own name), it was all over the place at the show. Very strong showing with continuous theater demos in the Nikon booth, free Trial versions for EVERY attendee, and some good-looking literature pieces. Hopefully there is some good recap press coverage coming from the show.

On this final evening several of us went to Don Giovanni's restaurant to celebrate the end of the show and wind down. The food was a gut-pleasing delicious, there was good conversation among work comrades, and a friendly waitress from Israel. I had an amazing lemon-chicken dish cooked to perfection, with capers that set the taste-buds tingling!

Tomorrow I plan to hoof it on over to Central Park for some sunrise shots if I can get 'em - Tony Corbell turned me on to a good location that should yield some amazing reflective shots into a still pool on the south side of the Park. Then, it's off to JFK and a short 5-hour flight back on Jet Blue, my new favorite airline on the strength of their in-flight entertainment systems. Cheers.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Unleashing (amateur) power with Nik Software

I'm a bit of a digital tinkerer, I admit it. Hey, a guy's gotta dabble now and then! Sometimes in goofy GarageBand compositions, other times video. Occasionally building web sites and blogs, but since I started working at Nik I keep coming back to images.

Up at the Digital Imaging Conference '08, sponsored by InfoTrends, I found myself with an extra hour in the hotel room after the festivities and decided to "tinker" with an image of my son Ethan. Putting Photoshop CS3 and some of the Nik Software plug-ins to work, here's what I came up with - bear in mind, I definitely belong to that not-so-exclusive club of AMATEURS! ;-)

The original image wasn't too bad, but the face is muddy, the background distracting and there's simply no "life" in the colors of the face. Believe me, there IS life on Planet Ethan!

Original NEF file coming up in Adobe Camera Raw (naturally, I click "open image" without any adjustments - I'll be using Nik Software for that, thank you!).

Default window showing the Nik Selective Palette with each of the plug-ins, ready for action!

Decided first to ensure there was no noise in the image by invoking Dfine 2.0. Dfine analyzes my image automatically and all I do click one button to "make it so." There are controls to more selectively apply noise reduction, but the tool does such a great job at NOT dorking up an image (i.e. making it softer where it shouldn't), I usually just tell it to de-noisify the whole image.

After a Nik filter has been applied, a new layer is automatically created.

Next, I thought I'd brighten Ethan's face, give it a little warmth, redden his lips, blue up his eyes and darken up the backdrop a bit with Viveza. About 6 clicks and 30 seconds!

Here's the same image with a split screen and showing a U Point powered Control Point over Etho's right eye. Control Points are ultra-easy to use: click the mouse on the area you want to enhance and move a few sliders. U Point "automagically" selects the area without any complicated selections or layer masks.

Now that I have Noise and Color/Light corrected, I'll turn my attention to (2) Color Efex Pro 3.0 filters, each accessed through this handy-dandy tool palette.

Ahhh... Glamour Glow, one of my favorites. It produces an other-worldly feel of glow and comfort and wisdom. Note the controls for Glow Temperature, Saturation, the upper right. Again, move a few sliders to get the look I want and I'm outta there.

Back in Photoshop, you can see the the Dfine 2.0, Viveza, and Color Efex Pro 3.0 layers are visible in the Layers palette on the lower right.

One of my other fav filters is the Bleach Bypass filter, giving Etho a look from the movie "300." How cool is that?!!

Finally, I decided that this picture merited a trip into our Silver Efex Pro, winner of the Best Imaging Software of the Year at Photokina 2008 (awarded by Chip Foto Video Digital magazine, one of Germany's largest). Note the handy presets on the left side for quick results and a myriad of choices on the right that give you infinite control.

In this screen shot, I'm choosing a venerable Kodak B&W film type. The software will actually recreate the image using the grain of the film I select - cool!
With a few clicks and sliders, I've been able to dramatically enhance the photo pretty quickly in (4) distinct ways, starting with Viveza which I used as the basis for the following (3) images. Here are the "before and afters:"

Before and after with Color Efex Pro 3.0 (Glamour Glow)

Before and after with Color Efex Pro 3.0 (Bleach Bypass)
Before and after with Silver Efex Pro

Editing images of people I love is very satisfying. It's definitely a new hobby for me and one that any family "memory-keeper" can dig - the investment in cost and time can pay off ten-fold (ego satisfaction, great prints, greatimages to share, etc.).

The Nik Software tools are free to try at The free versions work for 15-days, and can be used in Photoshop, Photoshop Elements and Aperture.

Monday, October 06, 2008

First Dirt! (road, that is!)

On Sunday last DR650 Mark and I took off mid-afternoon for sights unknown (well, some of them unknown). This was to be our first post-600 mile tune-up ride, with enough miles and road-learnin' to satiate. The route was one I'd been thinking about a lot in the last 10-11 months - the dirt roads west and north of Sutherland Dam road outside of Ramona.

The day was mid-80's inland as we jetted from his house to our mainstay Highland Valley road. A lovely piece of engineering work, HV meanders and carves through some beautifully craggy orchard land, up into the hills towards Ramona. We flitted through the curves, leaning and throttling up and down through gears joyfully meshing their songs for all the world to hear!

We took a break at the Dam, gazing over the receded reservoir and making up our minds then and there to head northward wherever possible to try and mate up with Mesa Grande road (leading to Santa Ysabel, and Julian). At first gingerly, then with a bit more confidence, we motored down the graded dirt road until reaching the Black Canyon bridge, built in 1913. It headed north and upwards, so we headed that way too... Recapturing some of the elevation lost when cruising down to the Dam, we climbed back up to the ridges and continued the journey. The dirt road was sweet and by the end of the 15-20 miles I felt more comfortable on the "fire-road" quality dirt. The bike felt stable and I rode up on the pegs leaning in towards the tank wherever possible. We ended up above an Indian Reservation where the signs posted made it very clear we were not welcome, and onward towards Mesa Grande.

Love that road, MG. Been on it many times on the K75, but the F800GS was magic on it: Smooth, swoopy, sure-footed. It doesn't have the lowest center-of-gravity in the tool shed, but sweet nonetheless. Shot around the corner where Yoberdude slid out on a sandy apex - funny how memories come back!

We carved down the side of the hill until Lake Henshaw reared. And, before you hear it from anyone else, I did in fact run over an indecisive squirrel - weird thump-thump. MG let us off at Center Loop; a right turn and we were at the Hideout Steakhouse and amidst a PILE of Victory bikes on a ride down from L.A. Wahoo - the dual-sports have arrived! ;-)

A nice crew, cool and friendly. Mark and I took their "group photos." However, I was surprised how so many were sipping beers. I mean, I'm no prude in that area as some of you know, but piloting a two-wheeled horsepower machine like a loaded $25k Victory back through some of the windiest roads in SD County on home via the super-slab to LA didn't seem like such a good idea.

Minutes later, on the way to Julian we were re-routed near Springview road off the 78 about 3 miles out of Santa Ysabel. We'd seen the medi-chopper in the field behind Dudley's and I grimly thought the worst. The paper later reported a 21-year old sailer lost control of his cycle and hit a tree. Gotta keep yer head screwed on straight with this motorcycling stuff!

We'd come this far, and Julian was in our sights. Surprise of surprises - I wasn't looking for a slice of their famous apple pie, but rather some good home-cooked chile to beat back the chill in the late afternoon air. Alas, none was to be found where we settled in to eat, so a BBQ Pork sandwich and cole slaw was the order of the day.

After a quick gas-up, the ride home - 79 to 78 to Old Julian Hwy to 78 again to Poway road and on to Ted Williams Parkway to Hwy 56 - was fun, but not as fun as it could have been: too many cages on the road, esp. on my favorite sweepers between Santa Ysabel and the turn-off to Old Julian.

All told, a successful first long trip on the bike - a bit over 100 miles methinks. My odometer ticked over the 1000mi mark.

So many roads, so little time.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

First F800GS Impressions

I'm sure my regular and loyal readership is sick to death of the F800GS musings, but it truly is a gem of a bike thus far. Plenty of power, handling fine for a 21" front wheel, lovely luggage, nice exhaust sounds, and the like. I don't have a problem with the bulbous, wobbly brake reservoir that others have, and I'm not complaining about the vibrations (hey, it's a Twin after all!) or the wind-noise (pussies).

On the down side, the digital fuel gauge is driving me nuts - filling up at a gas station and having the gauge read 1/3 of a tank is maddening. I'm kicking myself because I forgot to mention that issue at the 600 mi. service... duh!

Speaking of the service ($180, btw), I was able to swap out the lowered seat that came with the bike for the standard (higher) seat I'd ordered. Whoa - definitely is taller and oh what a PLANK! My butt was numb from the git-go. Still, after a week or so, it's getting softer or I'm just getting used to it.

Last weekend I had a terrific ride - those of you in San Diego will know whereof I speak: Highland Valley eastbound to Bandy Canyon, Hwy 78, Old Julian Hwy (with a stop at Michelle & George Welsh's house), back to the east side of Highland Valley heading west back to Hwy 15. Fun stuff; just like old times. Bike did everything I asked of it, including the sharp 15mph curves on HV and Old Julian. I definitely felt rusty, but a lot of street smarts are coming back quickly. It will take a while to grow into this bike. My biggest challenge will be slow-speed maneuvering on the beast - hey, practice will make perfect.

Trying to dig up some Sunday morning riding partners this weekend; otherwise, I'm off to the races on my own.