Tag Archives: photography

BOOK REVIEW: The Nikon Creative Lighting System

nikoncls

After reviewing The Hot Shoe Diaries, I have lighting on my mind and another lighting book to review: Mike Hagen’s The Nikon Creative Lighting System. Unlike Diaries, this book is a nuts-and-bolts compendium on Nikon’s lighting gear combined with chapters on how to get the most out of the gear and case studies for real-world instruction. It’s very well done and I think photographers working with Nikon speedlights should consider picking it up.

Definitive directions

What I like (and don’t like) about this book is the extensive coverage of Nikon’s speedlights, including the SB-600, the discontinued SB-800 and its replacement, the SB-900. Also covered in detail are the Speedlight Commander Kit (R1C1) and Speedlight Remote Kit (R1). The bulk of the book is devoted to the operation of these five products, which is good for those who sometimes need instructions for all these products in the field. However, it’s not such a good thing if you only own one speedlight—the rest of the pages are fairly useless in this case. I’ve owned a SB-800 for a few years and just picked up a SB-900, and I’m using this book to help master my new gadget.

The rest of the book—which doesn’t constitute many pages—covers general flash knowledge such as flash theory, how to successfully use wireless flash, white balance, using gels and case studies that really help apply the theory to practice. These case studies are really helpful because they are written so each one applies to a particular kind of photography (travel, portraits [outdoor and indoor], events) and lighting setup (one light with cable, pop-up flash, commander and remote, multiple remotes and more). However, while they are helpful they do suffer from a lack of space (each scenario has only a few paragraphs) and might not necessarily present that one scenario a reader really wants to figure out. For a real wealth of real-world experience, The Hot Shoe Diaries is a much better selection.

Take it for what it is

The Nikon Creative Lighting System may not devote enough space for using flashes in the field, but as a comprehensive overview of the Nikon Creative Lighting System it is well-done—clear, well-written and complete. Some readers may feel a glorified book of instructions is not what they need, and if that’s the case then steer clear of this one and use the instruction books that came with the products. But for that particular type of reader who uses several Nikon flash products and can use a book that covers it all, The Nikon Creative Lighting System is very well-done.

The Nikon Creative Lighting System
Mike Hagen
Nikonians Press/Rocky Nook
US$34.95
Rating: 9/10

REVIEW: Bokeh Makes A Mean Bokeh

bokeh

At the end of last year Alien Skin Software released Bokeh, a Photoshop plug-in designed to recreate the “bokeh” effect that’s commonly used when photographers want to blur or tone down a background. I was a beta-tester for the software and was included in the Case Studies page for some Bokeh-improved images of mine. But now I have to remove by beta tester hat and put on my reviewer’s hat, and what I see in Bokeh is a very handy plug-in for photographers retouching with Photoshop.

The Bokeh effect

Bokeh can apply a wide variety of effects to an image:

  • Radial and planar bokeh, applying the effect in a circular or gradient fashion.
  • Aperture effects: areas affected with bokeh can reveal a diaphragm shape of anywhere from three to 11 blades, or a circular or heart-shaped diaphragm. Blades can also be curved inward or outward.
  • Bokeh can have varying amounts of creaminess.
  • Highlight boosting, which can create hot spots if you’re not careful but punches up the image pretty well if you’re judicious with the settings.
  • Vignettes: vignette shape, color, intensity, size and feather are all controllable in Bokeh.

If you’re a photographer, the vast majority of your work with Bokeh will be in creating true bokeh: soft backgrounds, sharp foreground or subject, and possibly some aperture effects or vignetting. For this purpose Bokeh does its job exceedingly well: everything I’ve seen Bokeh produce looks like it was photographed that way. If you’re a mix of photographer, artist and designer like I am, you might find Bokeh useful for more than just recreating bokeh. I found that with a combination of colored vignetting and creamy bokeh I was able to age photos in a very nice way. For the bald eagle photo you see below, I played around with the aperture diaphragm settings to create some five-sided stars. A blue vignette and a little highlighting on the eagle’s head (done in Photoshop—Bokeh can’t do such spot retouching) made the image into a patriotic one.

This bald eagle image was created with Bokeh's standard effects plus some out-of-the-box application of vignette and other effects.
This bald eagle image was created with Bokeh's standard effects plus some out-of-the-box application of vignette and other effects.

More flexibility

If you’re hoping to use Bokeh for artistic effects like I did, be prepared to run into a few obstacles. Bokeh is designed for photographers, and so the plug-in isn’t designed to create a wide variety of effects. I loved using the “Heart of Hearts” diaphragm shape—it’s included with the plug-in—but there’s no way to create other shapes unless they’re based on a circle or conventional bladed diaphragm. Also, Bokeh cannot do anything to an empty layer, which would have been helpful if one wanted to mask or modify it later. Bokeh does allow you to duplicate the current layer when applying bokeh (click the “Create Output in New Layer Above Current” checkbox) but it flattens the effect with a copy of the original.

Conclusion

Bokeh is another well-designed plug-in from Alien Skin and for photographers who need to recreate true bokeh it’s an excellent tool. I recommend it for any photographer who falls in this category. Creative photographers and designers who want to play with the effects will find a lot of useful tools in Bokeh but keep in mind the plug-in was not really created for this kind of work and there’s sometimes more flexible ways in Photoshop to create the same effects. But Bokeh can do a lot, and I know from personal experience that it can make good photos great.

Bokeh
Alien Skin Software
Rating: 9/10
US$199.00

BOOK REVIEW: The Photoshop CS4 Companion for Photographers


Companion

Derrick Story’s The Photoshop CS4 Companion for Photographers is an interesting book, in that it strives to be a slim “companion” book for photographers out in the field but still aims to cram itself with all the information pertinent to a photographer using Photoshop. The end result is something in between, a book I enjoyed for its compact size and portability but ended up questioning whether it simply has too much information.

Great book for the studio

Don’t get me wrong—I’m the type to encourage information overload. And with that being the case, I’m impressed by the amount of information the Companion packs into its pages. Like many other books, this one focuses on workflow at the beginning and spends a chapter discussing importing images with the Photo Downloader, a component of Bridge that I’ve not found much use for until now. Derrick considers it a very powerful tool for importing photos, and I agree although there are other solutions (I personally use Photoshop Lightroom) and I would doubt most photographers are shooting in the field without an importing strategy already in place.

The book continues with a chapter on rating and keywording in Bridge (again, I use Lightroom for this—but Bridge is the next best thing) and two chapters on Camera Raw, and then the book moves into Photoshop territory with coverage of a variety of tools (Clone Stamp, Levels) and techniques (blemish removal, sharpening, hue/saturation, panorama stitching). The book ends with a small chapter on printing, which (like workflow) seems a little out of place because one would expect a photographer to worry about printing only after returning from the field.

Not enough Photoshop

Out of the eight chapters in Companion, only two cover Photoshop itself. This bothers me—I know Derrick wanted to avoid packing every Photoshop tip into this book, but I think more could have been done. Since this book is about Photoshop CS4, CS4-specific information would have been helpful: not much is said about the Adjustments and Masks panels, two of the most noticeable changes in Photoshop CS4. A photographer out in the field might want a comprehensive overview of these panels handy when he/she is working on images. There’s also plenty of other tips and tricks a photographer may want to reference in a companion like this book.

A lot of copy

When I think about companions, handbooks and pocket guides—whether they are travel guides or Photoshop books like this one—I hope to see the right mix of imagery, copy and information design. These small books get too jam-packed without white space and visual aids like headings and such. Companion does a pretty good job of mixing images in the right place but the copy is served in huge blocks that are rarely broken up with callouts, boxes or other aids. This makes the book somewhat difficult to use when looking up a particular bit of information, which is often the case out in the field. As I alluded to in my subheading above, this book works best in the studio—or reading room, where one can read the book cover-to-cover. A photographer in the field who has to find out fast how to apply a photo filter to an image for a client will be hard-pressed to find the information in Companion.

Conclusion

The Photoshop CS4 Companion for Photographers is a good book, and I would recommend it for beginners or amateurs who could use a small, easy-to-digest guide to workflow, Camera Raw and a few Photoshop techniques for photographers. It is not a complete Photoshop guide or a full survey of new CS4 features, and I might stick it in my camera bag for “just in case” situations but the lack of Photoshop-specific information and ease of use out in the field might keep it unopened.

The Photoshop CS4 Companion for Photographers
Derrick Story
Published by O’Reilly
Rating: 7/10
US$24.99

BOOK REVIEW: Closeup Shooting and Low Budget Shooting

I was impressed enough with Cyrill Harnischmacher’s book Digital Infrared Photography to request two more of his books to review, Closeup Shooting and Low Budget Shooting. Cyrill’s writing style is clear and he has a strong grasp of digital photography so I found both books to be well-written and packed with good information.

Closeup Shooting: Complex information, good results


Closeup Shooting

How hard can it be to shoot closeup photography? As you read Closeup Shooting, you’ll learn it’s harder than one thinks. The book begins with a survey of basics, such as magnification ratios, depth of field measurements, focal length and how they are all intertwined with aperture, shutter speeds and so on. This is mind-numbing information for anyone other than a serious photographer, which is probably the way it should be. There’s also sections on the kinds of cameras suitable for closeup photography (not al of them are), equipment such as stands and filters, and flash (which can be essential).

The second half of the book is what I think is the most important: discussion of various closeup photography situations, such as shooting during travel, seasons, underwater, product shots and more. Here the reader can learn how to work the camera during situations that fit their needs, and Cyrill does a good job of showing stellar examples and listing the aperture, shutter speed, lens and flash information. These details are probably the most important part of the book.

Ironically, you’ll also find a few pages in the back of the book that outline some do-it-yourself projects pertinent in closeup photography, such as a split-level box, reflector card and hot shoe softbox. The split-level box is really the only one that’s not found in Low Budget Shooting. And if you’re a creative photographer who likes to play with subjects, the “Imaging Techniques” section in the back will teach you how to use lighting and backdrops to create totally black or white backgrounds, freeze motion, make translucent light, fake window reflections and more. I really enjoy this kind of stuff, and there’s just enough information to stoke readers’ creativity.

Creative solutions with Low Budget Shooting


Low Budget Shooting

It always surprises me how some of the most spectacular lighting effects and compelling images are borne from simple, do-it-yourself tricks. Joe McNally, in his book The Moment It Clicks, seems to get a lot of mileage out of an old sheet he uses to diffuse light sources. Low Budget Shooting takes it a step further with recipes for a variety of fabricated photography equipment such as backdrops, light sources, reflectors and diffusers, and softboxes and striplights.

In the introduction, Cyrill states, “Please do not view this book as a mere collection of building instructions, but rather as an inspiration to develop your own gear.” This is why the book rarely offers any measurements for constructing equipment: readers are given a rough materials list and sometimes a generalized blueprint of the project, but nothing approaching the detailed directions usually found in do-it-yourself project instructions. I think this was the wrong thinking: I appreciate Cyrill wanting to make the book inspirational and not a simple recipe book, but I’m sure many readers would be happy just to get the instructions to recreate what’s shown in the book, without having to formulate measurements and plans on their own.

Other than the lack of detailed plans, Low Budget Shooting really is an impressive collection of a wide variety of photography equipment. The lightboxes shown are particularly impressive, and I am also happy to see photography throughout the book that demonstrate the effects achieved with this equipment. A lot of amateur photographers have a nice camera but rarely put the same kind of investment in studio and lighting equipment. With Low Budget Shooting, a trip to the hardware store and some ingenuity can be just as good!

Conclusion

I strongly recommend both books for photographers who may not be professionals but are serious about their craft. Closeup Shooting, in particular, will require some devotion and knowledge of photography—it’s not for amateurs with cheap cameras. Likewise, Low Budget Shooting is perfect for a photographer with a great camera but no lighting equipment. Both books require some study but they’re worth it.

Closeup Shooting
Rating: 9/10
US$24.95

Low Budget Shooting
Rating: 8/10
US$19.95

Both by Cyrill Harnischmacher
Both published by Rocky Nook