Tag Archives: digital

BOOK REVIEW: Jerod Foster’s Storytellers

Storytellers cover

There are two types of photography books: the nuts-and-bolts variety with detail on apertures, lenses and lighting setups, and the artistic variety that attempts to explain the ephemeral aspects of photography like creativity, inspiration and storytelling. Storytellers by Jerod Foster is in the second category and the book contains almost 300 pages devoted to the art of photographic storytelling.

There’s lots of beautiful photography in Storytellers and I found myself enjoying the pictures as well as the writing. The photographs are not just Jerod’s either but other photographers who are profiled and interviewed in the book. Note that Jerod and several other photographers in the book are based in Texas, so there is a noticeable emphasis on Texas photography in Storytellers.

The test with any artistic photography book is to transcend the mundane aspects of photography and describe the creative photographic process in a way that rings true. Storytellers doesn’t always pass the test—it’s a fun read and I learned some things, but some of the processes Jerod describes in the book are typical things like shot selection, composition and the use of light. These are all important topics and certainly related to storytelling, but I felt that it danced around the heart of the art of storytelling.

I studied and wrote on creativity back in my college days and I’m convinced the most illuminating writing on creativity can be applied to all creative art forms and be made to “fit” with minimal changes. Storytelling techniques apply to writing and music as well as photography. While reading Storytellers, I had a hard time applying some of its lessons to those other art forms and so the lessons appealed to photographers and not always to storytellers.

Storytellers is still a very fine book and fine art photographers will certainly enjoy it. It’s well-written and contains some very nice shots. I think the book will also help photographers understand how their craft builds stories and how to hone their storytelling craft. My main complaint is the lack of focus on storytelling and overemphasis on nuts-and-bolts photography topics that are probably covered in more detail in other books.

Storytellers
Jerod Foster
Published by New Riders
US $44.99
Rating: 8/10
Buy on Amazon.com

REVIEW: Adobe Digital Publishing Suite

The Overlay Creator

The Overlay Creator panel is the DPS component that InDesign designers will spend most of their time in. The Overlay Creator panel, a plugin that works with InDesign CS5 and later, is the interface for adding multimedia and interaction to InDesign files for inclusion in digital publications. You can add a variety of interactive features to InDesign documents, not all of which are new to InDesign:

  • Image Sequences display multiple images, which has a variety of applications including time-lapse sequences, animated clips and 360-degree views. Image Sequences can auto-play or respond to user “scrubbing.”
  • Audio & Video insert audio and video assets into InDesign documents. Thanks to the multimedia features that have been added to InDesign in the past few years, adding audio and video is easy to do and the media controls generated by InDesign are good.
  • Hyperlink overlays will add links to your digital publications that link to online content, articles within the publication and more. Quick tip: Apple provides a method to write hyperlinks that send SMS text messages. Apple has a URL Scheme Reference that explains how to build these links.
  • Like the Image Sequence, the Slideshow overlay displays a slideshow in digital publications. Think of Slideshow as a traditional slideshow, incorporating InDesign elements including text and graphics, while Image Sequence is more of a “flip book” slideshow format with only images.
  • Pan & Zoom is one of my favorites, allowing users to pinch and expand images in digital publications. The designer has to think ahead when using Pan & Zoom and insert large images in their graphic frames. These can be scaled down to the desired default view, but the digital publication will retain the full-resolution image so it can be blown up when the user enlarges it. The DPS does not enlarge images on its own.
  • Panorama will combine multiple images into a panorama. This can be tricky because the user needs to load six photographs into InDesign with the right angle and order so it can be stitched together automatically. There are also some esoteric settings in the Overlay Creator including field of view and limit vertical pan. Reading through the instructions and a little playing around with the controls will help users grasp the Panorama overlay, and there are tutorials online for shooting images to be stitched into panoramas.
  • Web Content, which used to be called “Web View,” will embed online webpages or an HTML file within digital publications. It’s really surprising and very cool to see a webpage loaded in an InDesign publication, but it works and users can even interact with the webpage. The process is actually fairly easy to implement.

Creating interactivity with the Overlay Creator does a good job of condensing extensive interaction into a panel with a few settings, but I think Adobe’s development team can make the process more intuitive, particularly with bringing multimedia onto the page. The current InDesign has a lot of panels to sift through and the Overlay Creator adds quite a bit more chrome to the package. Keeping track of all the user interface elements involved with Overlay Creator was my biggest challenge, not bugs or a lack of interactive features.

The Folio Builder

The other component of DPS that resides in InDesign is the Folio Builder panel, where users combine articles into .folio files for publication and also finalize the document’s orientation. Working with articles and folios can be a mundane task but this part of the process is where designers can see their work on a tablet for the first time through the Content Viewer, an Adobe app available on the desktop or on the Apple App Store, Android Market, BlackBerry App World and for webOS.

Articles can be pulled from multiple documents, so you can build a horizontal and vertical version of a publication and combine it into one app in the Folio Builder. Creating two versions of a publication is not ideal, but it’s necessary if you want a publication that changes orientation properly. Adobe seems to be at least on the right track in creating “liquid layouts” in InDesign that will re-orient themselves depending on the orientation, which would be a wonderful new feature. Here’s a demo of the technology at Adobe MAX.

Adding articles and pushing folios up to the Content Viewer is most of what the Folio Builder does, but there are also some sharing features which I think is very important in a production environment. The Folio Builder panel’s menu has a Share option which will let users share a publication with other users who have an Adobe ID. You can also append a subject and message to the share notice. This is very useful but I would also like an interface in the DPS website where you can set up groups of multiple users so you can grant rights and share folios with groups of people at once. This is what I do when developing Facebook applications. Even though you can share to multiple individuals at once in Folio Builder, groups and shared rights make collaboration easier.

BOOK REVIEW: Digital Alchemy

Most technical photography books—the ones that are more about producing images than about creative expression—deal with pixels and the digital photography medium. These books discuss Photoshop techniques, speedlight setup, working with lenses or any number of other hardware or software topics. It’s pretty rare to read one that discusses denatured alcohol, emulsions and other hands-on techniques that bring back memories of the darkroom.

Digital Alchemy by Bonny Pierce Lhotka is just such a book, and I really enjoyed reviewing it. Digital Alchemy is more about digital printmaking than digital photography, but producing the initial transfer images involves photography, Photoshop and whatever digital tools are needed to realize the artist’s vision. Bonny produces her own print transfer products (such as the SuperSauce medium that is used often in the book) and has done extensive testing and experimentation to formulate the techniques in this book. Her pedigree is a strong foundation for the book.

A lot of the book is made of printmaking tutorials. Most require creating an inkjet print on transfer film, applying a transfer medium and then the actual transferring of the image to one of a variety of surfaces—including metal, wood, stone and even metal leaf (including aluminum foil!). Bonny has created techniques for all of these projects and Digital Alchemy really feels like a cookbook—follow the instructions, play with the techniques, and in the end you’ll have a finished product in your hands. This combination of printmaking craftsmanship and digital creation is very satisfying and fun.

I don’t always view DVDs that come with books because they usually contain images and photos from the book’s tutorials. In Digital Alchemy‘s case, however, the DVD contains an hour of well-produced video tutorials showing Bonny in action on a few different projects. I thought they were clear and well-done, and nicely complemented the book. I have seen worse video tutorials being sold by themselves for a lot more money. Here, you get the video and a book for a fair price.

Digital Alchemy is not for everyone: if working in a darkroom sounds messy and unappealing, then you probably aren’t one to apply smelly solutions to film and materials you get out of the home improvement store. However, photographers who started in film photography or even started out as painters and printmakers will absolutely love it. I highly recommend it.

Digital Alchemy
Bonny Pierce Lhotka
Published by New Riders
US $49.99
Rating: 10/10
Buy at Amazon.com

REVIEW: Karen Sperling’s Painting for Photographers: Landscapes

Karen Sperling wrote the first Corel Painter manual when the program debuted in 1991 and can be considered one of the very first evangelists of that product, which is still the gold standard of digital painting applications. So I was excited when she contacted me to request a review of her Painting for Photographers, Volume 2: Landscapes DVD.

This two-hour set of lessons covers watercolor and oil painting techniques as well as bonus lessons on oceanscapes and cityscapes. Karen has been painting in Painter for a long time and her training and technique are smooth and confident. She has a painting method that works very well and is based on painterly techniques like building up color and developing the whole canvas first before focusing too much on specific regions. All the lessons are begun from photos rather than en plain air and the photos are included on the DVD, so users can train with the same material after watching the lessons.

I also appreciate the inclusion of art history into the lessons. Karen explains basic painterly concepts by showing works by Hopper and Cézanne, among others. Digital painting straddles the fields of digital art and traditional painting, and you can’t achieve your best work without being versed in both fields.

There are a few aspects of the lessons that I think can be improved. The lessons provide a variety of techniques and examples, but I also some repetition: for example, there’s not a lot of difference in technique between cityscapes and oceanscapes. Also, the paintings that Karen creates in this DVD don’t seem to have much detail. For example, one lesson has a dockside scene with various boats. The final painting is missing almost all of the boats’ masts and rigging, as well as details on the buildings in the background. I would like Karen to demonstrate how these details can be created in Painter because I think they enhance the final quality of the work.

While the content and the delivery is good, I think the production quality of the DVD can be improved. Here are some of the things that bothered me:

  • The lessons feel like they are in a PowerPoint format, with title cards often cutting into the flow of the video. Text overlays and more use of the lower third of the screen would be a better solution.
  • There is a lot of background music being used, and it was louder than Karen’s voice so I had to use volume control quite a bit. She acknowledged the unbalanced sound and plans to correct it on future releases.
  • I also thought some of the music was distracting and would like to hear something less obtrusive.
  • Sometimes Karen would use graphic elements like a color wheel to demonstrate techniques and principles. I think this is very good but it looks like Karen illustrates her points by literally drawing on the graphic in Painter with a hard brush. It looks pretty cheap—a more slick presentation can be created in After Effects or even Photoshop with not much extra effort. I think top-notch production quality is particularly important for digital artists.
  • A lot of the lessons consist of Karen painting in between her lecturing. This is where users get to see Painter in action, but most of the time it is sped up and Karen lets us see only a quick progression of the painting process. We can see Painter settings and the color panel dart in and out of view but can’t discern much other than that. Showing the entire painting process in real time is obviously not feasible, but I would like to see more focus on Painter and how to work with the application.

Painting for Photographers, Volume 2: Landscapes
Karen Sperling
Artistry
US $139.95
Rating: 7/10

Day 1 Announcements From Adobe MAX: TypeKit, PhoneGap, WoodWing and DPS Single Edition

Adobe Acquires TypeKit and PhoneGap

Adobe has bought TypeKit and made the web font service a part of their Adobe Creative Cloud’s services. Jeffrey Veen came on stage and talked about the challenges of fonts on the web but showed how some websites are achieving very professional typography now through Adobe technology. I’ll agree to that—I use TypeKit on my own websites, and it’s easy to deploy and works across all browsers.

Jeffrey also said almost 60 foundries contribute to TypeKit. This includes Adobe, but they don’t offer the entire 2,300-font Adobe Type Library. Maybe that will come later. Jeffrey demoed some new features of the TypeKit website, such as rendering previews to show how fonts will look in different browsers and easier search tools.

I wonder what will happen to current TypeKit customers. Will they have to buy the Adobe Creative Cloud to maintain their websites’ fonts? I hope not, and I don’t think that would be practical for TypeKit’s users.

Adobe also announced the acquisition of Nitobi Software, which produces the popular PhoneGap platform for building mobile apps for multiple platforms including Android and iOS. PhoneGap leverages HTML5 and JavaScript, so I expect this would be rolled into Dreamweaver, Adobe’s HTML-editing software.

WoodWing Moves Users to Adobe Digital Publishing Suite

This announcement might have surprised me the most today. WoodWing Software, whose editorial workflow products allow for digital publishing to tablets and devices, has entered an agreement with Adobe to incorporate their Digital Publishing Suite with WoodWing’s Enterprise Publishing System. The Digital Publishing Suite will now be the only option for WoodWing customers to publish to tablets.

It sounds like WoodWing’s editorial and designer workflow will remain pretty much the same: users will use their Content Station and InDesign plugin to build the digital editions. At that point, .folio files will be created and uploaded to Adobe’s Digital Publishing Suite platform for packaging, distribution, monetization and analytics. WoodWing’s Reader Application and Content Delivery Service are ended effective immediately. Customers will transition to the Digital Publishing Suite by November 2012.

Digital Publishing Suite Now Available In Single Editions

If you’ve wanted to publish a one-shot digital publication or a book, you’ll be happy to know Adobe today announced the Single Edition in the Digital Publishing Suite. The service, which takes interactive InDesign documents to the iPad, has until now been an enterprise-priced service for large companies and big periodical publications. Now companies can pay for just a single publication and get all of the Digital Publishing Suite’s features, including distribution through the Apple App Store, monetization and analytics.

It will cost $395 per publication, which immediately establishes it as a business product. Single Edition is not for people wanting to publish a family memento or maybe a church cookbook—but niche publications could very well benefit from its features.

Adobe MAX: Android, AIR, Edge, HTML5 and jQuery

Adobe MAX provided several news items and inspiring developments, but of course some of it is out in the wild now while others are only in the rough stages. Here are my impressions of several announcements made by Adobe at MAX.

Android and AIR

The strong penetration of the mobile marketplace by Android proves that Adobe was wise to develop for that operating system. Adobe announced AIR 2.5, which supports Android as well as Apple’s iOS and BlackBerry Tablet OS, and this really sets them apart as a platform-inclusive service provider. A more comprehensive news article on this can be found here.

AIR 2.5 is available today, as is the BlackBerry Tablet OS SDK. I can’t tell yet if AIR 2.5 will boast strong performance, but it’s important that it does. Since Apple banned Flash from iOS, some people have said online that Flash is a buggy and cumbersome technology that should be eliminated everywhere. I don’t see that myself, but if AIR 2.5 runs the same way then it will get the same criticisms.

The Edge prototype and HTML5

One of the most interesting early sneak peeks for me happened in the first keynote, when a prototype application codenamed “Edge” was demoed. Basically, Edge converts simple timeline-based animation to HTML5. A good demo can be found here on Adobe TV. Adobe also demoed a rough Flash-to-HTML5 export in its sneak peeks.

It’s important to notice Edge is not Flash: its focus on transitions and animation looks a lot like Flash Catalyst, which can produce Flash content but is not as robust as Flash Pro. My review of Flash Catalyst CS5 is here. I see Edge being rolled into Flash Catalyst at some point, perhaps as an HTML5 export feature in Flash Catalyst CS6. It performed well but, like Flash Catalyst, Edge only produces a subset of the what’s possible in Flash.

Again, Adobe is wise to push hard to get its content production tools on all platforms. Flash Player is still ubiquitous—CTO Kevin Lynch reported Flash Player 10.1 has the best market penetration ever seen with Flash Player—but the design community has its eyes on HTML5 as the next standard and device and software manufacturers need to follow their lead, whether or not it’s the best option for developers and consumers. I think it’s ironic some people criticize Adobe for sticking with the Flash Platform, while the things they demoed at MAX revolved around the adoption of HTML5 as an alternative.

jQuery

John Resig, the creator of the popular jQuery framework, sat in on one of the keynotes as Adobe touted some internal development happening with jQuery and jQuery Mobile, the latter of which is still in the alpha stages. There was some vague allusions to how Dreamweaver might integrate with jQuery in the future, and if that’s the case I would be curious how it combines with—or replaces—the Spry framework Dreamweaver already has. But details were scarce and there’s not a lot to report on this front.

Conclusion

I think that compared to last year’s MAX, this year touched on more platforms and runtimes. This is a response to the fragmentation of the developer marketplace due to HTML5 penetration and also the number of mobile operating systems coming out all at once.

This could be a great thing for future development but I personally worry that developing for iOS, Android, BlackBerry and HTML5—and possibly XHTML—will get us away from the standards-based mindset that has worked well in the web design community. The idea of “write once, publish everywhere” may still be possible, but it’s hard to see how it will work in practice.

Adobe MAX: Digital Publishing Suite

The unveiling of the Digital Publishing Suite (DPS) at Adobe MAX interested me more than any other news, since I am a developer who’s also a print designer and I’ve worked heavily with print publications in the past. Unfortunately, we’ve known about the DPS for some time—having had a sneak peek of Condé Nast’s WIRED Reader and The New Yorker months ago—and we still need to wait for the DPS to actually be available to buy next spring (you can use it now through the prerelease program though). However, Adobe revealed a lot and I’ve been looking at the material from both the designer and developer perspective.

InDesign has changed little

I had expected more tools or changes to the publication designer’s workflow, but this isn’t really the case. Everyone should note the Digital Publishing Suite is a set of new services and AIR applications, and there’s just one plugin to add to InDesign CS5, which is required. The best demo of the DPS/InDesign workflow I’ve seen is this one from Terry White, and there is really no changes to InDesign itself. The main points to remember are:

  • Design for the iPad’s 1024×768 screen. This is already available when a document’s Intent is set for Web in the New Document dialog box.
  • Build one InDesign file per article, and horizontal and vertical versions for each if you want it to change with the iPad’s orientation.
  • InDesign’s interactive features are supported, such as hyperlinks and rollovers, but not its rich media features such as video. An AIR app, Adobe Interactive Overlay Creator, can be used to generate this media and the resulting SWF files can be placed in InDesign. These SWFs are converted to iPad-friendly media when the document is bundled.

Creating horizontal and vertical version of your publications is a mild nuisance but it is optional—the Adobe Content Viewer allows for single-orientation publications. Having to create a document for every article and ad seems very cumbersome. I think segmenting one document into sections—already an InDesign feature—would be a great way to keep everything in one file and still separate articles and ads for use on the iPad.

After a document is bundled and prepared for iPad, it will be viewed on iPad with the Adobe Content Viewer. It should be noted this is designed to work with several tablets, including Android tablets and the upcoming RIM Playbook (shown in the MAX Day 1 keynote) as well as the desktop via an AIR app.

The rest of the suite

The meat of the Digital Publishing Suite is in its various services:

  • Production Service takes the InDesign document and makes the final assembly, including the addition of metadata and export to a variety of formats including HTML5. This includes the Adobe Digital Content Bundler app, which Adobe plans to integrate into the hosted service.
  • Distribution Service stores documents in the cloud and distributes the content to the Adobe Content Viewer. This includes a dashboard for library content and reader notifications.
  • E-Commerce Service monetizes the enterprise on retailer platforms or mobile marketplaces such as the Apple App Store or the new Adobe InMarket (also announced at MAX).
  • Analytics Service, supported by Adobe SiteCatalyst/Omniture, provides an impressive analytics dashboard including not only general page views and trends but also the way readers view and read the publication.

A full list can be found in this PDF.

The price

The big news should be the large price tag associated with the Digital Publishing Suite. The cheaper Professional Edition is US$699 per month on top of a per-issue fee that is based on volume. The Enterprise is a totally customized solution that gives publishers total access to the API and integration with back-end services like subscription management, but it’s a negotiated cost with Adobe and constitutes a multi-year agreement.

I think a lot of people hoped to build iPad publications with InDesign when they saw the WIRED Reader hit the Intenet a few months ago—imagine using File > Export > iPad just as easily as exporting to PDF! It would have probably been that easy if Apple allowed Flash on the iPad. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case and along with the iPad conversion there’s also the leveraging of Adobe’s purchase of Omniture and the inclusion of its analytics in the DPS. All this makes the suite far removed from the cheap and simple export some people might have hoped for. Instead, it’s priced for serious publishers and its focus on analytics, distribution and e-commerce shows it’s been developed for the business side of publishing.

Adobe tells me they expect to put a reseller program in place so DPS customers can resell the service to smaller publishers and independents at a cheaper price. There’s no details on this yet but it’s good to see Adobe at least thinking about how to penetrate the small and mid-sized publisher market. I know there’s a lot of potential there, as the publishing business in general is full of small publishers and self-publishers.

Participate now

If you want to try the Digital Publishing Suite now, visit Adobe Labs and download the package. You can also learn more by visiting the Digital Publishing page on Adobe.com.

BOOK REVIEW: The DAM Book, Second Edition

dambook

Peter Krogh‘s The DAM Book: Digital Asset Management for Photographers, Second Edition is a fabulous resource: 500 pages encompassing all aspects of digital asset management (DAM) for photographers. Software products like Lightroom serve to control most aspects of DAM (and, in Lightroom’s case, publish digital photos as well) and many Lightroom books I’ve reviewed are surveys of digital asset management options. However, The DAM Book stands out because of its depth, knowledgeable author and full coverage.

Sorely needed and still relevant

Digital photography has changed radically in the last five years and a book like The DAM Book needs a new edition now and then to stay relevant. The second edition has several important changes in its content and Peter does a good job of drawing attention to revised recommendations and techniques. Digital photography has changed enough in the last few years that I would recommend buying The DAM Book even if you already own a copy of the first edition.

It’s also refreshing to note that The DAM Book has several chapters that remain timeless and rooted in the fundamentals of digital asset management. Topics like image storage, backup and validation, cataloging and data migration change very little no matter what hot gear is in the latest issue of your photo store catalog. I’m a reviewer who has a lot of stale and outdated books on his shelf, everything from two-year-old Lightroom books to Photoshop 7 Down & Dirty Tricks, and I appreciate the books that earn a place of the shelf every year.

Good visuals and writing

The DAM Book nails the three crucial elements of photography book design: good writing, good photography and good graphic design. I was pleasantly surprised that there are many diagrams in The DAM Book: file organization, photo workflows, archive systems, RAID, hard drive backup systems and more are all charted clearly and supported by Peter’s clear writing style. I referred to these diagrams often when I was developing my own backup strategy and system.

The DAM Book is a little out of the ordinary in that Peter’s photography is not emphasized in favor of prolific text and charts. This goes against the usual strategy of publishing large photos in photography books—Scott Kelby’s books often cover the majority of its pages with photos and screenshots. But I’m very happy that Peter made the writing the primary content: his photos are beautiful and he lists the keywords catalogued with each photo, but the written content is properly emphasized. And while not everyone will find his recommendations to their liking, Peter makes sure to list as many options as possible and explain the pros and cons of each one.

Conclusion

The DAM Book is a timeless resource—I’d put it on par with Dan Margulis’ Professional Photoshop for its depth, its breadth (almost 500 pages long) and thorough assessment of digital asset management techniques. This is the book I’ve used to help catalog my own digital photos, and I will be going through the book again to refine my system. It’s an excellent buy for any professional digital photographer.

The DAM Book: Digital Asset Management for Photographers, Second Edition
Peter Krogh
Published by O’Reilly
US$49.99
Rating: 10/10