Back to the future

The best computer UI (User Interface) that I have ever experienced is that of the Compaq Concerto I used to own. This computer, which was decades ahead of its time, was powered by Windows for Pen computing and by, as I just found out, Wacom pen and screen hardware. Hardware that today looks like this:

Not surprising. The intuitiveness was amazing. I regret that this disappeared: we lost 20 valuable years.

But we are back: back to the future. The Wacom tablet I mentioned the other day gets me back there. The pen feels the same, and the functions are even better now than in the Compaq days. Like the radial menu:

I assigned this to a pen button, so now by clicking that button I get this menu (where I can set functions for each of the pie segments)—and what’s more, it pops up where my pen is at that time. Ridiculously simple, and such a time saver. I grabbed that picture by selecting the “Capture Selection” segments. That’s one way to have me remember those combined buttons (try to remember Command-Shift-$). You can even assign hierarchal sub-menus.

And what’s even more: the pen and button functions can be set differently for each application. The tablet senses which app you are in, and you get the applicable settings for that particular app.

I think it is a good bet you will be hearing more about this particular piece of hardware here.


Workflow, again

Another note on workflow.

You need to rate your images, to separate the good from the less good. But this only works if the process is:

  1. Quick.
  2. Unequivocal, objective.

Lightroom helps in both cases. The “quick” is addressed by the following process. First, you rate all images to a standard, say 3 stars, namely the standard that most of your pictures will be; and now you only mark the exceptions. That takes half the work away. And to actually mark those exceptions, you simply use the number keys on your keyboard (“1″ for one star, “2″ for two stars, and so on) combined with right arrow (“next”) and left arrow (“previous”) in the negative strip.

This only works, as said, if your system is clear. A system that needs you to indicate “how much you like an image” will not work: it has to be more objective.

My system is as follows:

  • One star: this image is technically bad; too bad to fix in post-production editing. It is out of focus, or too under= or overexposed, say.
  • Two stars: this is technically OK, but it is not an inspiring image. A snapshot. Something you’d rather not use of you do not have to.
  • Three stars: this is an image that meets my standard; i.e. one that I would be willing to share with a customer. (That does not mean I will share it).
  • Four stars: this is one of the best shots in this shoot.
  • Five stars: this is a portfolio shot.

Note that the ratings indicate the end status; i.e. after editing, not the way it looks now.

Your system may be different, but be sure that like me, you design a system that is simple and objective in the sense that it is not open to interpretation.

As a result of the system described here, I can rate a shoot in a few minutes, even when I have hundreds of images.


Work. Flow.

Your workflow needs to be exactly that: a flow. A logical sequence of actions.

In my case, that means:

  1. Import the images.
  2. “Asset Manage” them: add keywords; rate them 1-5; backup.
  3. Then from the ones marked 3 and over, pick the ones to actually use.
  4. Edit only these.
  5. Mark the edited ones as finished.
  6. Select the finished ones and output them for use.

So it is basically “input – handle – select – edit – use”. And whether you are a pro or an amateur, it is going to be the same flow for you.

And that flow is where you need to save time: you do not want to spend an hour making photos, followed by two hours in Photoshop.

That is where Lightroom comes in. Lightroom is a one-stop workflow tool. It handles all the steps above: ingestion—asset management—editing—using. And it does it in an amazingly efficient way.

Evidently, if you can save time in Lightroom, it saves time overall. And that is where Wacom comes in. I now also use a Wacom Intuos tablet, which I find very useful; much more useful than I would have imagined. Part of the reason is better quality than the last time I looked, years ago. And part is new functionality. Like customizable buttons per app.

This tablet is especially useful when editing, and especially because of its pressure sensitivity. When using the brush, the harder I press, the more brush effect I get.  Very cool. Skin fixes and other local edits are now much quicker—and that saves me a lot of time. This functionality is simply not available on a mouse.

In the next weeks I will keep you up to date as to how I am using the Wacom tablet. I will start with customizing the buttons: how do I do it? What functions are most useful? As I sort it out, I will give you my recommendations. Stay tuned.


Workflow and Lightroom

I talk about Lightroom a lot, as you will have noticed. The reason is that Adobe Lightroom is hands down the best workflow tool I know. Workflow meaning “what happens between arriving home with the camera to the finished product”.

Lightroom 6, as you will have seen, is a step forward. It has its issues—for now, the speed of the face detection module is way below par—but you can work around those, and they will be fixed.

But you do need to learn how to use it. Thank God it’s not Photoshop: it takes days to learn, not years. But it does take days.

Enter some help.

On May 30, I teach a workshop at Vistek: Lightroom and Workflow”. In it, you will learn backup strategies, computer strategies, Lightroom workflow and editing, and much more. Seating is limited, so sign up soon.

The same is true of the Flash workshop this Saturday in Oakville.If you missed the Vistek workshop, come on Saturday: 1pm, see Seating limited, so be quick if you want in.

Now, a (repeat of) a little flash tip.

If your flash looks too dark in the photo, why is it? It could have two very different reasons:

  1. Metering is wrong; the TTL circuitry decided on too low a level.
  2. With the current ISO and aperture, you simply do not have enough power (eg the ceiling you are bouncing off is too high).

To know which one: set your flash to manual mode, full power (1/1). Shoot. If the picture is overexposed, you had reason 1; if not, you had reason 2.

To solve the issue: For reason 1, go back to TTL and use flash compensation. For reason 2, go back to TTL and lower the f-number and/or increase the ISO.

That’s all – pretty simple, but often overlooked.



Lightroom 6

Lightroom 6 is the latest and greatest in the version history of Lightroom, the best thing since sliced bread. Asset management, editing, and production all rolled into one.

LR 6 is a worthwhile upgrade; as I mentioned in an earlier post, it has lots of new stuff. For me, the main features for me are:

  1. Face recognition. You can now recognize faces, so that all photos that feature uncle Bob can be quickly found. Remarkably accurate
  2. Panoramas. Stick together 2, 3, 4, or more overlapping photos that you have shot.
  3. HDR. Stake one normal shot, and one more more darker and one or more lighter, and pull them together to get either artistic “paint” effects, or just more dynamic range (i..e. the detail in the dark areas will be visible, as well as detail in the light areas).
  4. Brush in filters: you can now use a graduated filter and remove it (or add it) in specific, brushed areas:

(The graduated filter here has the new BRUSH activated in ERASE mode, so I can delete part of the filter)

There’s more, especially the Mobile functions and the reputed speed increase, but I cannot comment on that since I have not observed or used them.

So, how to go about upgrading?

First, make sure that you have backups. And I mean good, verified backups. You never know. Don’t ever lose all your work… make backups and store them off site. Backups of both the photo originals and the work you have done on the (the catalog file, named <something>.LRCAT).

Then, the upgrade. Under “Help” select “check for upgrades”. Make sure that if you have the app, you keep getting the app, and not the “creative cloud”. Adobe really, really wants you to get the Cloud version, which works out much more expensive even in year one if all you use is Lightroom; and after year one the price will go up.  You will have to search the Adobe site; look for “All products”, and look for the price of around $80 for the upgrade. Not the $3-10 per month Cloud price. (Think about it: if the next upgrade is two years away, and I only use Lightroom, I pay $80 for those two years. Cloud users would pay significantly more: 24 times something is something big.)

Before you start, you will need to log in to Adobe, and under “My products”, find the serial numbers for previous versions. You will need the previous version’s serial number to qualify for the upgrade.

When, armed with the login and the serial number, you perform the upgrade, your catalog file will be converted. This takes time. On my catalog, with around 200,000 photos it took most of the overnight that I let it run.

At the end, when you can use Lightroom, you will have a new catalog. But your old catalog will also still exist. Just in case. I advise you keep that around for a little while. Just in case. You never know.

Also, make sure that when you want to use Lightroom you start the new app, not the old one. The new one is called “Adobe Lightroom” and lives in your app folder, inside a folder called Adobe Lightroom.

After the upgrade you will see that Lightroom works as it did before. But new functions have been added. Under “Photo” you can now, after selecting two or more photos, select Panorama or HDR (high dynamic range). Try!

And more importantly, in the grid view you see a new face symbol as one of the following views. Bottom right:

When you click that, you will see the faces Lightroom recognizes. Give them names. Over time, Lightroom gets better and better at naming faces. After you name them, you see:

Initially, of course, all faces are unnamed.

You can turn face recognition indexing off (paused) or on by clicking on the Lightroom Logo on the very top left of your screen. You see:

During this time, the application may be slow, not just when you are looking at the grid view, but also when exporting a picture, printing one, and so on. Allow plenty of time for the indexing to finish, and you can pause the indexing when you need speed. You can index per shoot, or per year, or all at once (though I would not recommend that when you have a large catalog, like mine).

I am still discovering new things, so there will be more blog posts about Lightroom 6. For now, though: recommended!


I also coach privately: bring me your laptop and I will not just teach you, but we will set up your own Lightroom installation in the optimal way. See