Cloud Storage for Photographers

Hole in Clouds

Everybody is talking about The Cloud – it is on television and radio, in magazines and newspapers, and has been flooding the Internet, presented as a revolutionary technology that will shape up the future. For most people, cloud computing means nothing, since the words “cloud” and “computing” sound very confusing and only make it seem like something overly geeky and out of reach. While the actual technology behind the cloud can be complex, the concept of cloud computing is actually quite simple to understand. In this article, I will explain cloud computing in very simple terms and talk about cloud storage for photographers – what it can offer to us now and in the future, and whether we should be taking advantage of it today.

Hole in Clouds

Whether you backup your photographs to an external hard drive or a storage device, you should regularly back up your photographs to an offsite location as well. There are many cases when photographers foolishly assume that their data is safe just because somebody told them it is. No matter how redundant your storage is, there is always a threat of theft, misuse, various accidents and natural disasters that might cause data loss. Imagine losing everything you have worked on so far – all of your clients photographs, your portfolio images and your photo libraries you spent countless numbers editing and organizing. Are you prepared to lose it all? If you are not, then you should be evaluating a good backup strategy. I frequently get questions from our readers about backing up large photo libraries without breaking the bank. Some are thinking about investing in locally attached storage solutions from companies like QNAP and Drobo, while others are wondering about online backup solutions that seem to be getting more and more affordable every day. “What should I invest in now?” seems to be the question. Large locally attached backup storage solutions can get rather expensive to buy and maintain overtime. Is online storage a good alternative to local storage? I will try to answer this question shortly, but first, let me talk about cloud computing and explain what cloud storage technology is all about.

1) What is Cloud Computing?

Here is an oversimplified explanation of cloud computing. Imagine a large company that employs many contractors, ready and available to work for you any time you want them to. You can hire only one contractor if you are not busy, or you could hire many contractors at once during your peak season, without having to employ them on a permanent basis. Just like your electricity bill, your costs stay low when your business is slow and increase on demand automatically when you get busy, so you only pay for the contractors you actually use. The contractor that you release from work goes to work for somebody else, so his time is not wasted doing nothing. A single contractor could work on several jobs for you and other companies simultaneously and his employer takes care of him, making sure that other contractors help him out if he is overloaded. The company is happy, because it uses their staff efficiently through resource sharing and you as a customer is also happy, because you only pay for what you actually use. You do not know or care about how those contractors are employed, what their shifts and schedules are and how much the company is paying them. All you know is that they are available for you any time you need them at a flat rate. If the demand for contractors grows, the company that employs them can get many more on their payroll to match the demand. So if you are successful and your business expands very rapidly, the company will be able to provide enough resources to match your growth.

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Lens Filters Explained

Wide-angle lens polarization

Camera lens filters can serve different purposes in digital photography. They can be indispensable for capturing scenery in extremely difficult lighting conditions, they can enhance colors and reduce reflections or can simply protect lenses. Filters are widely used in photography and cinematography and while some only use filters in rare situations, others rely on filters for their everyday work. For example, landscape photographers heavily rely on various filters, while street and portrait photographers rarely get to use them. Since digital photography is all about the quality and intensity of light, lens filters are often necessary to modify the light before it enters the lens. Many photographers think that some of the built-in tools in Lightroom and Photoshop can simulate filter behavior, making filters redundant in the digital age. As I will demonstrate below, some filters in fact can never be simulated in software and some actually help in getting even better results during post-processing. In this article, I will talk about the different types of lens filters available, what they do, when and how to use them.

Lee Filter Set

1) What are filters and why should you use them?

Why do you wear sunglasses? Because along with other benefits, they help you see better in intense light, protect your eyes from harmful UV rays/wind/dust and reduce glare. Filters also serve a similar purpose – they can help reduce reflections, protect your lenses from potential damage, fully or partially reduce the amount of light that enters the lens and even enhance colors. At the same time, filters can actually hurt photographs if they are not properly used. A good analogy would be wearing sunglasses in a dark room. Therefore, not only do you need to know what filters to use, but you also need to know how to use them and in which situations. There are many different kinds of filters out there – from cheap UV filters to very expensive filters worth several hundred dollars, which can make the process of choosing the right filter type rather challenging.

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Case Study: Bird Photography

Bird with distracting BG

I have finally been able to more or less clean up my mailbox and sort through most of the emails that keep pouring in from our readers. The case studies that our readers are sending have been piling up in my mailbox and my to-do list, so I will try to do a better job in posting these on the blog from now on. Let’s start with a case study from our reader Gaurav Rajaram, a bird lover and photographer from Bangalore, India. Here is what he sent me:

I use a Nikon 300mm f/4 paired with a Nikon D200 for my bird photography. While shooting, I notice that I do not get a clean background, which I would expect from a prime lens. I have got such a background in one image of mine, however, the subject is a little too soft for my liking (the picture is attached). Is there any way to get a clean background so as to help the viewers’ focus remain on the subject (the bird in this case)? Could you share a tutorial with us? I’m attaching sample images for this case study in JPEG format with full EXIF info.

And here are the two images Gaurav attached:

Bird with clean BG but too soft

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How to Watermark a Photo in Lightroom 3

Big and Ugly Watermark

In this article, I will show you how to watermark a photo in Lightroom 3 using the standard, available tools. Adding copyright watermarks to photographs in Photoshop can be a very time consuming task. Although you can create a batch job for watermarking multiple images in Photoshop, it is a rather slow and cumbersome process that involves recording actions for different layouts. Embedding watermarks in Lightroom 2 was also painful, because you had to use a separate plugin that had to be installed and configured. Gladly, Lightroom 3 now has an integrated functionality to embed watermarks that you can use in batch action while exporting your images. Let’s go over the new method of embedding watermarks and how you can use Lightroom 3 to watermark all of your vertical or horizontal images during the file export process.

How to watermark a photo

1) Why Watermark Your Images?

The first question you might ask yourself is – should you or should you not watermark your images? There are many opinions on this matter. Some photographers argue that watermarks prevent theft (which I and many others disagree with), allow self-promotion and help build brand recognition, while others argue that adding watermarks spoils the viewing experience and does more harm than good. Let me quickly point out what I think about watermarks and when they should and should not be used.

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How to Store Memory Cards

Nikon D7000 Dual Slots

After losing a memory card with the best pictures from a trip I took across the western USA, I decided to write a quick article on how to store memory cards and how not to lose photographs during long trips. It was a lesson learned the hard and painful way, so a couple of days after the loss, I came up with a plan to protect my data going forward and try not to lose it any more in the field. Below you will find my plan and my recommendations.

Losing images from a long-planned and expensive trip can be very painful. After it happens, you realize that it is not the financial aspect of it, but the effort you put into creating those images instead that hurts the most. We as photographers have to work with the best light during the day, which happens at sunrise and sunset times, no matter where you are located. In Glacier National Park, the sunset times in summer can be as late as 10 PM and as early as 5 AM in the morning. Northern Canada and Alaska are even worse, with sunset times close to midnight in July and sunrise in less than 5 hours. Add +1 hour after sunset and -1 hour for sunrise to get back and to the location, and we are talking about less than 3 hours of sleep at night. In addition, those late hours are also the peak and active time for wildlife, making it dangerous to hike to get to a good spot. And I am not even talking about the weather, which can go against you in those twilight hours. In addition, you carry the heavy weight with you and spent a lot of time tweaking your equipment and composing your shots using different spots and angles. So with so much effort put into making those images, the last thing you want is to lose them. What’s worse is, if you have been shooting for a while, you know if you got a great photo right at the time you take it. You take a look at the camera LCD and you know it is a keeper, a potential for your showcase portfolio. Once you lose photographs, you start to remember those keepers and deep regret hurts even more. So, why even take the chance? Take all the steps you can to protect your photographs when traveling and working on the field.

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AjRichard – Beware of buying gear from unauthorized sellers

AjRichard Order

I recently witnessed how a friend of mine got robbed by an online camera store called AjRichard based out of New York, USA when he purchased a Canon 5D Mark II. The camera was out of stock for a few weeks in every single local and online store he trusted and he could not wait any longer. That’s when he decided to expand his search and see if he could find an Internet store that had the 5D MKII in stock. He eventually ended up on Nextag.com looking at a list of merchants with “in stock” indicators. The top sellers all had very high ratings and he noticed that some of the sellers were advertising the 5D MKII at lower than the $2,500 “normal” rate that everybody else sells for. The top result was AjRichard.com and with over 1,000 reviews, 5 star rating and a “Trusted Seller” status, he decided to take the plunge and order the camera at just $2,350 – a really good deal he thought he was getting. The sad part is, he felt something was not right while making the purchase and still did it, thinking that his credit card company would protect him in case something went wrong. Next day, he got a call from AjRichard sales rep, who told him that camera battery and charger were not included in the $2,350 price and convinced him to buy those, along with some accessories he did not need. The order went up to $2,629 and he was promised free three day shipping. He needed the camera ASAP, so he agreed to complete the transaction and paid in full. Here is what his order looked like:

AjRichard Order

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How to Create a Photography Blog – Part 4

WordPress Update

This is Part 4 for the “how to create a photography blog” series of articles. In Part 1, I gave some brief history of the blogging platform, showed how to purchase a domain with a web hosting account through GoDaddy and how to create a database for WordPress. In Part 2, I showed how to get WordPress installed and configured with the most basic settings. In Part 3, I went through some basics of using WordPress and how to get the initial site structure going, along with using WordPress plugins. In this final part, I will show you how to use themes to manage the look of your WordPress blog.

18) WordPress Themes

Now that you have WordPress installed and configured, it is time to make your blog presentable by utilizing a theme. The true power of WordPress lies in its ability to use highly-customizable themes that can be tuned to your needs and taste. Thousands of free themes are readily available for you to download and use and you can install them directly from WordPress. However, free themes are rarely good and the ones that are good are used by many bloggers. If you want to have a more or less unique feel to your blog, your best bet is to get a commercial theme. Let’s go over the process of installing free themes first.

19) Installing Free WordPress Themes

Let’s navigate to the currently installed WordPress themes through “Appearance” -> “Themes”. Here is how the screen should look like on a default WordPress install:

Manage Themes

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How to Clean SLR Camera Lenses

When it comes to cleaning SLR camera lenses, photographers use different methods that work for them. In this article, I will show you my way to clean DSLR camera lenses. I often get emails and comments from our readers, who ask to provide detailed information on this process, so I am including a detailed article along with an accompanying video to thoroughly explain the process. Cleaning lenses is a fairly straightforward process and is almost risk-free, as long as you are using proper tools for the job. If you are impatient and want to see the video where I show the entire process of cleaning a lens, skip all the way down. I hope you find the below article and video useful.

1) Why Clean Camera Lens?

Besides the obvious answer “because it is dirty”, keeping your lenses clean will ensure that you get the best and highest quality results from using your gear. During a Photo Walks that I led a couple of years ago, a novice approached me with a question about his camera. He told me that his images look cloudy and he had no idea why it was happening. I asked if I could take a look at his camera to see if I could find anything wrong with it. As soon as I opened the front lens cap, I knew exactly what the problem was. The front element of the lens was very dirty and had oily fingerprints and other stuff all over the place. I showed him the lens and asked if he knew about the problem. He told me that he had a toddler that likes his camera too much and apparently, that’s how the lens ended up getting all the stuff on it. He did not know how to clean the lens properly and after spending so much money on the camera gear, he was too scared to clean it himself. Gladly, I always carry my cleaning kit with me, so I took a picture before and then another after cleaning the lens. We compared the images and as expected, the first one indeed looked cloudy, while the second one was clear and sharp. This is one example of how dust, dirt and oil can affect your images.

Another important reason to clean your camera lens is keep your images free of particles that might show up in background highlights and other parts of the image. Take a look at my earlier post on “the effect of dust on lens bokeh” – you will see, that dust on the rear element of your lens will show up in your images, especially if you have large specks of dust there.

Dust is a normal part of a photographer’s life. While it is a good idea to prevent dust from landing on your gear, whether you like it or not, you will eventually end up in a dusty environment some day. So, it is not a matter of how, but when. If you see a beautiful sunset on a windy and dusty day, are you not going to take a picture? Some photographers say things like “do not get your gear dirty in first place”, which I consider to be a ridiculous statement. I would never want to miss an opportunity for a good picture, just because I wanted to keep my gear clean. Every time I go to places like Sand Dunes, I know beforehand that it is most likely going to be windy. Take a look at this shot:

Great Sand Dunes #13

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The Effect of Dust on Lens Bokeh

Bokeh with clean front element

Do you want to find out how dust affects your lens bokeh? I ran some tests today on my Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II to find out exactly what happens to bokeh when there is dust on the front element of the lens and also when it is on the rear element of the lens. Take a look at this image crop:

Bokeh with dusty front element

See that large speck showing up in every background highlight? That certainly looks annoying to me. Here is how the lens front element looked like before I took the above shot:

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What To Do With Dust Inside Lens

Nikon G Lens Aperture Open

One of the most frequently asked questions that I get from our readers, is what to do with dust inside a lens and whether it is something to worry about. I decided to write an article on this subject, because lens dust and flecks are a very common issue not only for camera sensors, but also for lenses. When I first discovered dust inside my brand new lens that I only used for a couple of days, I was very disappointed and I remember how I started searching for a solution online in panic mode. If you are frustrated with a similar issue and do not know what to do, keep on reading.

1) How to Inspect Lens for Dust

So, how can you find out if you have dust inside your lens? Actually, let me rephrase this question – how can you find out how much dust you have inside your lens? Because even brand new lenses normally do have some foreign particles in between lens elements. A quick visual inspection of the lens front will often reveal large dust particles behind the first lens element, if there are any. Just make sure that the front is thoroughly cleaned beforehand and any protective filters are removed. Look straight and then inspect the lens at an angle and you might see some dust behind the front glass element. Now if you really want to see dust, and I promise you will, here is the best way to do it. First, find a very bright LED flashlight. You can find those pretty much anywhere nowadays, even in a grocery store. Next, you will need to open up the lens aperture (the lens obviously needs to be dismounted from the camera, rear lens cap should be removed). If you have an older lens with an aperture ring, you just need to set the aperture ring to the smallest value (which is the largest aperture) like f/1.4 or f/2.8 and you are ready to go. If you have a modern lens like Nikon “G” type AF-S lenses, then you will need to push up a small metal lever to open the lens aperture as seen below. To keep the lens aperture open, you will need to keep pushing it with one finger:

Nikon G Lens Aperture Open

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