Power To The People; Enlightening Experiences

“All power corrupts, but we need the electricity”—Anonymous

It was a dark and stormy night… Mary and I were watching a DVD when the house was hit with a massive power surge. For a second I wondered about my computers but quickly forgot about them until turning them on a few days later. My Mac Pro and peripherals that are connected to a hefty APC (www.apc.com) uninterruptible power supply were fine. My iMac didn’t want to start but eventually did and that’s when I noticed that my Western Digital (WD) network drive did not show up on either computer. I handed the drive to technical guru Kevin Elliott (www.digitalmd.com) who, working with WD’s tech support, was unable to resuscitate it. The common denominator was that it and the iMac were plugged into a power strip built into a computer desk. In a massive display of locking the barn after the horses escaped, I obtained a large, sleek Belkin (www.belkin.com) 12-outlet surge protector and unplugged all the devices from the desk’s power strip along with the equipment connected to a cheapo surge protector and plugged them all into the new Belkin unit that provides 4000 Joules of surge protection. What happened to the drive? To be continued…

Plug-In Of The Month
Bokeh is an optical buzzword that describes the pleasing quality of an image’s out-of-focus areas. A little more subjective than the Richter scale, most photographers know good bokeh when they see it, even if they don’t know the term. Alien Skin Software’s (www.alienskin.com) Bokeh 2 is a Photoshop-compatible plug-in that simulates the depth-of-field effects of specific camera lenses and can be used to create a narrow depth of field after a photograph was captured. You can also simulate depth-of-field effects by importing selection masks from Photoshop.

Bokeh 2 now includes the ability to create zooming, spinning, and spiraling effects, allowing you to add an element of fun to your photographs. The plug-in lets you create distinctive bokeh highlights using different diaphragm shapes and lets you produce natural vignetting to simulate lens effects à la Holga. A combination of blurring and vignetting effects like burning and bleaching lets you shift a viewer’s attention to specific parts of a photograph. Bokeh 2’s built-in radial and planar region shapes can be used to create tilt-shift effects similar to shooting with a Lensbaby, but all done after capture. This latest version adds grain matching, lets you use multiple regions of focus, and has a super-fast preview. The older version of Bokeh was really good but this one’s great. You’ll want to upgrade.

© 2010, Joe Farace, All Rights Reserved

Puffer The Magic Diffuser
Gary Fong’s (www.garyfongestore.com) “Puffer” flash diffuser is now available for Sony and Konica Minolta SLRs, in addition to the existing models that fit Canon, Fuji, Nikon, Olympus, Panasonic, Pentax, Samsung, and Sigma cameras. The unique body shape of Sony and Konica Minolta SLRs required Fong to rework the Puffer to attach to these cameras. The inexpensive ($19.99) Puffer softens the harsh light of on-camera flash and minimizes or eliminates shadows to produce diffused lighting that’s perfect for portraits or close-up photographs. It slips directly onto the camera’s hot shoe and is easily adjustable for center positioning on all Sony, Konica Minolta, and all of the aforementioned cameras equipped with a pop-up flash, regardless of size. The Puffer allows photographers of all levels to create softer lighting using their camera’s pop-up flash and belongs in your camera bag.

Paint It, Just Paint It!
Corel’s (www.corel.com) Paint it! is the little brother of the company’s powerful Painter program that I never could seem to wrap my head around. All I wanted to do was turn my photographs into paintings and Paint it! is just want I wanted. It lets you turn your photos into paintings in a few easy steps: just choose a painting style and press Start Photo Painting. You can quit right there or use multiple painting styles, brushes, and realistic effects to add a personal touch. You can start and stop painting at any time, restore details from the original photo, and play with the Fire Brush, Fairy Dust, Pattern Pen, Leaf Brush, and other fun effects to spice up your painting. While it can run in Automatic mode, Paint it! can also use your input, putting you in control of the photo-painting process while encouraging your creativity. Much more than all the photo-painting filters I’ve unsuccessfully tried, Paint it! is more useful and only costs $40.

Free Online Retouching
PicTreat (www.pictreat.com) is an online retouching product that removes skin flaws, like blotchiness and blemishes, redeye, and even auto-corrects the image color to produce the best possible portrait. PicTreat is compatible with photographs of any size and resolution—bigger files take longer—and is useful for retouching images for posting on social media sites. That’s why PicTreat integrates with MySpace and Facebook, allowing users to pull pictures from online albums, retouch them, and then upload them back onto a MySpace or Facebook page. You can also save a retouched image as a JPEG file that can be printed. Hard as it is to believe, PicTreat is completely free and no registration is required, although you can if you like. There’s even a free iPhone/iPod touch app for photo retouching on the go. You’ll find it on the App Store.

© 2010, Joe Farace, All Rights Reserved

Digital Contracts
Photographer’s Contract Maker by Michael Andrew (www.michaelthemaven.com) sells for $2.99 and if you use it only once when forgetting to bring a model release it’ll pay for itself immediately. Designed for the iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad, Photographer’s Contract Maker includes four built-in contracts: Photo Shoot, Model Release, Copyright Release, and 2nd Shooter-Work for Hire. The Screens feature allows you to enter all of your information, including signature, that’s automatically embedded into templates you can edit and change. An auto-embed feature automatically inserts photographer and client information into template contracts. All you need to do is select which client you want and the app will feed info from your iPhone contact list. Clients and models can sign using their finger on the touch-sensitive screen. Placeholders lets you create custom templates and still retain the auto-embedding features. Contracts can be converted to PDF documents you can archive by e-mailing to yourself, client, or model. Thanks and a tip of the Farace chapeau to reader Chate Nauth for this tip.

DVD Of The Month
Hopefully Digital Innovations readers know who Henri Cartier-Bresson is, but if not, get your Google on. Even better, pick up a two-DVD set called Henri Cartier-Bresson: Collector’s Edition (www.newvideo.com). While many of us think of Cartier-Bresson as the father of modern photojournalism, he was more than a still photographer and shot documentary films from the 1930s into the ’70s using a medium he saw as “an alternative to photography in the way it sees the world and captures its movement.” This collector’s edition includes a series of documentaries about the artist; five films directed by Cartier-Bresson and restored by Françaises du Film du Centre National de la Cinématographie, Ministère de la Culture; and a 32-page illustrated book containing reproductions of his legendary photographs. If you only think of using DVDs as a way to learn about a certain technique or tool, think again.