Unabashed Geekiness

10 Years On Flickr

at Flickr's 4th birthday party in San Francisco, March 2008

at Flickr’s 4th birthday party in San Francisco, March 2008

The internet 10 years ago was an entirely different space than what we’re used to now. The big players were AOL, AskJeeves, and MSN Messenger — can you believe it? 10 years as a user of any website is like 50 human years… or something like that. A really long time. Services come and go, gain popularity and fizzle out of the public consciousness in no time, only to be replaced by yet another service. 10 years ago I remember setting up my first gmail account, which was only by invitation back then, and then giving out invites to other people. I remember people trying to auction invites on eBay!

Another major web player that took a big hit to the solar plexus over the years is Yahoo, which bought the photo-sharing service Flickr in March 2005 from the founding company, Ludicorp, a Vancouver software company that was building an online game. At that time I was living partly in Vancouver, which is how I ended up at the going-away party. Flickr was still developing its service, and Yahoo’s purchase caused such a ruckus amongst the anti-Yahoo crowd that people wondered whether Flickr would survive the inevitable changes. By this time, Flickr had built up the community features (comments, groups, contacts) to the point where people became very invested not only in its photo-sharing features, but its value as a social network.

mostly Caterina

with Flickr founders Caterina and Stewart, May 2005 (Flickr’s Going-Away Party, Vancouver)

Through Flickr I’ve made both real-life friends and online friends, and met a ton of people. I cannot say for sure how many, but it was at least a hundred people between all the places where I met up with Flickr users (Vancouver, New York, Paris, San Francisco, and more). I happened to be in San Francisco for Flickr’s 4th birthday party in March 2008, and the last Flickr meetup I attended was a couple of months later in Toronto. Some were serious photographers, most were hobby photographers, some went from hobbyist to professional in just a few years. I saw a bunch of people become very famous through Flickr and were offered commercial opportunities for their work.

It’s quite amazing to track all the changes in photography over the years and the changes in people’s lives through the images they upload. In 10 years of uploading I’ve now got more than 35,000 photos on Flickr’s servers and although the latest ones are far better quality, I still enjoy wandering through the archives and seeing more than a decade of my own life via pictures.

Two years ago I wrote about my 8th Anniversary on Flickr, including my first pictures which were uploaded months after I joined (June 2004). Today I had a look at my archives and stats to see which pictures have been viewed the most, and they’ve been the same for years and years, which leads me to thinking the stats feature is broken, but nevermind. It’s a curious list — all of these pictures were uploaded between 2004 and January 2007, except for the cake picture which was uploaded in January 2009. I’ve uploaded at least 10,000 photos since then!

Screen shot 2014-10-16 at 1.50.47 AM

Anyway, numbers aside, the reason why I continue to use Flickr is this: All Rights Reserved, by default. Unlike Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks, the ownership of the photo belongs to the photographer, not the service. There are other reasons I prefer Flickr, but that’s the big one, and the tools I use for it (eg., Lightroom plugins). I’ve used other services like 500px, but they have their downsides, too. Most of my blog links to Flickr because it kept the domain bandwidth usage low for years, but it’s less of an issue now. Now, it’s a matter of finding files, and it’s much easier to find things if I have them in one place. With 35,000+ images stored in servers with tags and metadata, searching by tag makes it faster to dig through the archives.

At the end of the day, using multiple services is time-consuming and everyone wants their workflow to be as short as possible. 10 years on, so many things have changed and online services have become more competitive, which is good for the consumer. But the caveat is that the features must be over and above what’s already available — a user simply isn’t going to move a huge archive to another service unless there are major advantages and incentives on the other side. So far, I haven’t seen enough reasons to move (yet) and disrupt this entire site by breaking the image links and hyperlinks. The amount of work involved to repost the images doesn’t even bear thinking about, unless I want nightmares. I’m hosting more photos on my domain’s servers these days but the albums are large, so I keep them in Flickr (which has unlimited storage).

I doubt there are many of us super-early Flickr users around, still uploading at the same rate as the beginning, 10 years ago. The internet is a fickle place. Or rather, internet users are a fickle bunch. I’ve been on Twitter for over five years and even I’m surprised it’s been that long. After a 10-year relationship with Flickr, they should be buying me a tin anniversary ring on Etsy!

a Flickr a day keeps the doctor away

Serra do Pilar By Night

Serra do Pilar in Vila Nova de Gaia (Porto, Portugal) (1)

Last month we were at Serra do Pilar in Vila Nova de Gaia to see fado singer Gisela João perform on the first night for Cais de Fado. By day, Serra do Pilar is a facility of the Portuguese Army and closed to the public, but on occasion it opens up to serve as an event venue. If the name Serra do Pilar sounds familiar, it’s also next to a monastery which has a terrace with the best view of Porto over the Luís I Bridge. I only started shooting from that viewpoint last month, and since then I’ve been back at every opportunity for more.

I carried two cameras with me the night I took these photos, switching between the two depending on the lighting conditions, using the FX body for the performance and the DX body for the wide angles. Night shooting is a real challenge, and the only time I’ll bump up the ISO from its lowest position. If the ISO is above 400, I’ll typically run the photos through a noise reduction program. Event night shooting is especially tricky: mixed lighting throws off the white balance, motion blur has to be controlled, lights and shadows are constantly moving around. I shoot manually 100% of the time, and it’s tough to get the settings right every time, in-camera. Yet, I get such a kick out of it, because when it works it is really gratifying. (I sound like such a masochist!)

Enough tech talk, back to the photos. You’ll find more in the growing Cais de Fado album.

Serra do Pilar in Vila Nova de Gaia (Porto, Portugal) (4)

Serra do Pilar in Vila Nova de Gaia (Porto, Portugal) (2)

Serra do Pilar in Vila Nova de Gaia (Porto, Portugal) (3)

Serra do Pilar in Vila Nova de Gaia (Porto, Portugal) (5)

Serra do Pilar in Vila Nova de Gaia (Porto, Portugal) (6)

July 24, 2014
Album: Cais de Fado 2014

Contest Winnings: My Moo Luxe Minicards Arrived!

my new Moo Luxe minicards arrived

Full disclosure: this is not a paid blog or promotion for Moo or Mohawk Paper, this is just me excited about winning a giveaway by Felt & Wire (Mohawk Paper’s community website) for a US$100 credit for Moo product and free shipping. Using the credit, I ordered 400 Luxe minicards, paid the small difference in cost ($9) above the $100 credit and I also paid duty ($15 and change) on the total when I picked up the package at the post office today. I am quite impressed the offer of free shipping included Canada!

my new Moo Luxe minicards arrived

Xena snuggling up with the box

Here’s the giveaway, on July 24, 2013.

The deadline was July 31, and I only discovered the giveaway that day through a retweet on Twitter by Moo’s account. Entries for the contest were comments about a user’s favourite Moo product and why, the deadline was at 3pm, and my comment was posted at 10:23am:

Posted by Gail at Large on 07.31.13 at 10:23 am

I’ve used Moo.com for cards ever since they launched with a mini-card promotion on Flickr way back in 2004. (Flickr also started in 2004.) Moo gave 10 free minis and people would get each card printed with a different photo and trade them for other people’s cards.

Moo’s cards have always stood out, whether I gave out minis or the full-size business cards. I got the ones with rounded corners, which were a new feature then, and had their custom-made stickers to add to stationery. Moo’s come a long way since 2004, but they have always been very consistent in quality and customer service. I hope they stick around for a long while!

It’s a great feeling to win a product I already use!

I didn’t get around to putting in an order until August 10, but Moo turned it around in four days and shipped it on August 14, with an estimated arrival date of August 30. It was held at the post office overnight for duty, so it actually only took a week between the order shipping from Moo’s U.S. location in Rhode Island and delivery to Toronto. Pretty good for free shipping. Another win for Moo, and thanks to Felt & Wire for the swag!

my new Moo Luxe minicards arrived

Luxe by Moo

my new Moo Luxe minicards arrived

Designed By Moo and You

my new Moo Luxe minicards arrived

diagram at the bottom of the box

my new Moo Luxe minicards arrived

upon closer inspection, AWESOME is an acronym

my new Moo Luxe minicards arrived

Xena getting cozy with paper

my new Moo Luxe minicards arrived

the 10 pictures I ended up using (I ordered 400 minicards, so there are 40 of each)

My Eyes Are Becoming Rectangular

by the glow of the computer screen

By the glow of the 21″ Sony CRT, circa 2004.

(1920×1080, specifically. I currently use a 21″ iMac.)

I reek of Starbucks. Client meeting. Another wedding delivered. Biggest print job ever: 742 photos. (The photo lab handed it over to me in a box.) Downloading a movie to forget about editing for one night, except that when I watch I know what will happen: my brain will launch Photoshop and my mouse will be editing the actors’ faces onscreen.

Is there a name for this disease? Repetitive Editing Eyestrain? Autopilot Mouse Hand?

The Photo Editing Toolbox

Beano (RIP), Mastermind

Beano (RIP 2011), Master Mouse Handler

As new software gets released and upgraded and digital processes (and hardware) improve, the virtual toolbox of software grows. My workflow is constantly changing to speed up the process and achieve the look that I want. This is what I use, currently, in general order from RAW file to the final JPG that goes to the client:

  1. Photo Mechanic by Camera Bits is the fastest application for managing RAW files, especially at the selection stage; once I download a card, I view all RAW files first in Photo Mechanic and send to other programs from there;
  2. Nikon Capture NX2.3: native RAW file editor for Nikon’s NEF RAW files (best for exposure and colour edits, much better than Adobe Camera Raw); convert file to TIF;
  3. TIF files are edited in Photoshop, the industry standard; I’m still using CS3 (Photoshop 10); all detail work and fine-tuning happens here;
  4. Within PS, I use Rad Lab by Get Totally Rad for their filters, which I tweak for each shoot (can also create a PS action that includes Rad Lab);
  5. Within PS, I use Pro Retouch 2 actions (for skin work), also by Get Totally Rad;
  6. I use Photo Ninja by Picture Code for those noisy images that need help;
  7. Edited image is opened in Lightroom (I’m on LR4), where I may do some final tweaking, but I use LR mainly as a catalogue/library and exporter to various end points such as Flickr, web galleries on my server, or print sharpening. I never let LR manage the native RAW files, only TIFs and JPGs. First of all, it’s slow with the NEFs, it doesn’t preview them properly, nor does LR handle major exposure or colour correction fixes well. There’s a reason why Lightroom is cheaper than Photoshop.

That’s seven different pieces of software. I don’t always need to use Noise Ninja or Pro Retouch 2, but I use the other five programs on nearly every image. Two of those programs belong to Adobe, which really dominates this industry between Creative Suite (which Photoshop is part of) and Lightroom.

Art Fusion Event @ The Foundery

Art Fusion Event @ The Foundery

if you’re a musician you’ll find something to play, even a tree

Feel free to skip this little preamble which has nothing to do with the event…

You know, sometimes you ask yourself whether leaving the house at all was a good idea. This evening I discovered that:

  • I left my main flash (SB-900) at home
  • I only had one little flash (SB-400) with me, which has a fraction of the power and a much longer recycling time
  • I had to make a trip back to the car to fetch the light stand
  • I had to make a second trip back to the car to fetch the hotshoe mount adapter for the light stand

It’s a wonder I didn’t just give up and go home after item #1. I never forget this stuff. And how was I going to shoot this event with just one little flash? Somehow, I made it work. I would’ve thrown in the towel if I’d forgotten the Pocket Wizards, though. Trying to trigger CLS through all those bodies would’ve been futile.

Feeling crappy earlier, I decided to try and sleep off some of this bug, which made me question whether leaving the BED was a good idea. But I’m a bit tied to this event, and I made myself go. I figured even if I was there only briefly I could take enough decent photographs to make it worthwhile. In the end I was there for less than two hours, but took enough photos to make a set before I called it a night.

And so goes the photographer’s dilemma. I thank my lucky stars I haven’t been ill on someone’s wedding day, and I hope it doesn’t happen because it would be a miserable struggle.


Art Fusion Event @ The Foundery

sax man

If there was one thing I would say that made it worth dragging myself out of the house even when I could’ve (should’ve?) stayed in bed was watching a man play a tree branch. That’s right, he played music using a branch. I didn’t shoot video, but maybe someone else did. I guess you’ll have to use your imagination with this, because sonically, I can’t explain it. Just hollowing out the branch (not sure if it’s fully hollow or just partially) looks like a major undertaking because it’s not very big, but as you can see he’s also strung it for a bow and there are other doodads attached. (Can you tell I’m not a musician? Ha.)

Art Fusion Event @ The Foundery

I have the utmost respect for anyone who builds their own instrument. My friend Kim is building one and she could write a book just on the process.

Art Fusion Event @ The Foundery

He coaxed sounds out of the branch from blowing, playing strings, pulling a piece of fabric, tapping, and various other movements.

Art Fusion Event @ The Foundery

Eventually some other musicians joined him and it became a jam… a tree jam?

Art Fusion Event @ The Foundery

The drummers outnumbered everyone. One drummer even used the floor.

Art Fusion Event @ The Foundery

This is a new venue for the Red Moon Music Collective after outgrowing the space at Edward Ambrosius’s loft on Adelaide Street. After this event, I’d say even 2,000 square feet isn’t large enough for all the performers, instruments, and other equipment. The next event is at Halloween, I’m sure it will be an even bigger spectacle and I hope I’m bug-free to photograph the whole thing next time. I missed most of this event — the roomful of art on the side, stuff happening at the back, dancers and other performers.

Art Fusion Event @ The Foundery

through the glass

The full set can be viewed the following ways:

[full-screen slideshow] – best for viewing

The Pen Is Mightier Than The Sword

ArtScienceCamp2 photobooth

ArtScienceCamp2 photobooth

Wish I had more energy to post pictures from Day 2 of ArtSciCamp2, but I went to a birthday gathering afterward and now I’m about ready to pass out. The picture is from the photobooth I set up at ArtScienceCamp, which had some kickass props like space suits. More to come!

ArtScienceCamp2 – Day 1


swag table

Quick post as Day 2 is fast approaching and it will be a full day of activity. In other words, will need a proper sleep break…

A few photos from this evening, the rest from Day 1 will autoplay in a slideshow below:


Hart House




Jen Dodd, Managing Director


science, meet art



Raising My Nerd Cred

ArtScience Festival 2012: Red Head Gallery opening reception (May 24)

This weekend I shoot my first unconference, which surprisingly should’ve happened a long time ago considering how much I love nerding out the commingling of art and science. But I’d only heard of this conference from a Couchsurfing friend who introduced me to the event, and the organizers of Subtle Technologies who needed a photographer.

I love shooting events, especially the ones that raise my nerd cred. Fashion shows? Meh. Give me theatre, opera, a kids’ concert, anything else before a fashion show, unless it’s centred around recycled materials or maybe space. Someone asked me once many moons ago what I’d love to do or be if I’d excelled in another area of study. My answer was I’d be a scientist. Biology, chemistry, physics — I’m fascinated by the esoteric nature of science. I just chose a different path, away from academia. It was no coincidence that at the time (January 2002) we were standing at the top of the Griffiths Observatory in Los Angeles.

But what is ArtScienceCamp?

ArtScienceCamp (#artscicamp) is an intense but informal gathering of artists, scientists, students, engineers, architects, designers, and many others. A Friday-night party is the venue for collaboratively creating a program of events to take place the next day. Everyone is encouraged to bring a crazy idea, a work in progress, or a vital topic for discussion, and to organize a session around it.

ArtScienceCamp is based on an unconference model that has taken off around the world, with events like DemoCamp, SciBarCamp, and many more. Successful Camp events bring together people who would not normally have conversations with each other, and create a space for surprising, serendipitous connections.

Friday 7:00pm – 10:00pm: planning session & party
Saturday 10:00am – 5:00pm: unconference events

ArtScienceCamp1 presentations included:

  • Mass Collaboration in Science
  • Scientific Imagery in Life & Art
  • Design Charrette: Models for Community Art
  • Rebranding Science
  • Science Tarot
  • Proteins Are Beautiful

This event is brought to you by Subtle Technologies and Hart House. Join the Subtle Tech mailing list to hear about our other activities.

So stay tuned for some interesting event photos — I’ve been told there will be structures created with marshmallows!

Giving Aperture Another Go

I was given a copy of Apple’s Aperture several years ago, but after trying it out for a while I found it even less intuitive than Adobe’s Creative Suite applications (which aren’t particularly intuitive to begin with) and uninstalled it from my computer. One of the problems is that I found it CPU-intensive, and it wasn’t managing the libraries very speedily. This was before I bought the iMac and was still relying on my now 7-year old PowerBook G4 (running Mac OS 10.4 Tiger), which was buckling under the CPU strain of running Capture NX2, Photoshop, and everything else that is part of my editing workflow. I moved my photo libraries over to Lightroom from iPhoto (a program which I use only for uploading small galleries to MobileMe as there is a 500-photo limit per gallery), and have been using Lightroom the past couple of years to manage the libraries and export photos once they’ve been edited. I didn’t bother with Aperture after I moved full-time to Lightroom.

However, I was reading in a wedding photography forum this weekend that some photographers liked the slideshow features, so I downloaded a trial version of Aperture 3 to see if those features were useful and worth buying the program if that’s all I was going to use it for. I’ve not been making many slideshows lately because I don’t like what’s available in Lightroom or iPhoto and I’ve been searching rather unsuccessfully for software that would give me more control but would integrate with my photo workflow. I’m all for templates but at least let me customize them. There is software out there made specifically for slideshows, but I hadn’t found anything that was reasonably priced or wouldn’t bloat my hard drive. Slideshows are a small part of what I do, so I don’t want to spend a lot of money or time on them.

I made a slideshow in Aperture today for a bride’s parents and so far, so good. Looks like Apple has really improved it the last few years. Because Aperture is an Apple product, it resembles iPhoto — which I’m familiar with, but it’s more advanced. I outgrew iPhoto years ago, but I am still using it in conjunction with MobileMe (Apple servers). I can stop using iPhoto altogether since Aperture also works with MobileMe. The reason why I use MobileMe for small galleries is because it has a faster interface for the end user compared to the web galleries I upload to my server, and it gives the user more control for viewing and zips all the files for download in one shot.

I have also read from users that Aperture handles colours better than Lightroom and I tested that today, too, but with no discernible difference. I’ll have to try it with a larger sample size of photos to see for myself. I’m using a 30-day trial of Aperture, but after using it today I’m pretty sold on adding it to my bundle of software at the end of the trial.

Editing Faces

click to enlarge

I gripe talk about editing all the time, but I really should explain some of the stuff I do in case it helps someone out there who wants to learn. It’s not that I don’t want to share, but my editing techniques are constantly changing to speed up my workflow and because I’m forever trying to improve the way my photos look (in camera and post-production). If I ditch one technique in favour of another, I’m never going to remember to revise my post about it to reflect the change. What to do…

… well, I will give an example of how I edit faces. It’s different for each face because, well, each face is different, and the photo conditions vary, too. The lighting can be less flattering in some situations, sometimes the expression makes it challenging. Some people have flawless skin but dark eye circles, sometimes blemishes crop up, teeth tend to look a bit yellowish next to fair complexions (which is why the darker-skinned folk like me appear to have whiter teeth but it’s really just contrast), eyes get redder the later it gets in the evening (and the more booze is consumed), and so forth.

The three areas I concentrate on are 1) eyes, 2), skin, and 3) teeth. I don’t change people’s sizes, or mess with body parts. I don’t touch scars or things that are permanent on people’s faces, like moles. Sometimes I’ll clone out a bra strap or something very distracting, but I generally leave things alone. Also because editing is pretty labour-intensive, anyway. Don’t let all the beauty advertising fool you — everything you see in ads is heavily processed! Nobody is perfect, but I have a limit to how far I’ll apply digital makeup because I still want people to look like themselves.

David didn’t really teach me Photoshop, it was something he used all day at his workplace and he helped other people with the program; subsequently his interest in it waned close to zero after 5pm. I used to try and learn from watching him but I was too green, I couldn’t keep up with what he was doing. In 2004/2005 video tutorials were either scarce or by subscription, but today much can be learned from the internet. If I need help with a technique, I can usually find what I need online. I also buy Photoshop actions and Lightroom presets from a variety of sources and tweak them. Sometimes you’ll hear them called recipes because it really is like cooking — everyone has their own way of preparing food, and you have to try a bunch of recipes with different ingredients before you find the ones you love the most. You’ll probably tweak those recipes and make your own, too.

Anyway, back to the face editing. First of all, this isn’t my photo or camera. Jan, who helped me second-shoot this wedding in March of last year, took the photo with his Canon DSLR in RAW format, which is the only way to go if you want to process images properly. These are the steps I used to edit his file:

  1. Edited for exposure in ACR (Adobe Camera RAW), which is the RAW converter of choice for Canon users. (Nikon’s RAW format, NEF, is best processed using Nikon’s RAW file handlers. I have processed NEFs in both ACR and Nikon’s Capture NX and there’s no contest, CNX wins for colours and sharpness. The only advantage for ACR is that it’s much faster for processing.) Save as TIF, open in Photoshop.
  2. Skin: I sampled nearby skin tones and used a soft brush to de-redden the inside of her nose. Used a combination of Healing brush and Patch tools to clear the skin. I like to use the healing brush for spots and the patch tool for blemishes — it does a better job than the Healing brush for areas of skin larger than a spot. Everyone uses the tools in different ways. Like I said, my own techniques have evolved over time. For example, I used the Clone tool a lot more before but I’ve found more natural methods since then and use it now for things other than skin work.
  3. Hotspots: this is definitely subject to your own personal tastes, but I prefer matte skin in photographs. Well, all the time, really. I’ve got oily skin myself, which means hotspots drive me bananas and I notice them more than the next person. I’m always trying to diffuse my flash because it reflects off the shiny spots on people’s faces — and I include bald guys in this category. I’m sure they don’t want reflections off their heads, either! I learned this hotspot technique from a book Socar bought for me years ago. Take the Clone tool and change the mode to ‘Darken’ and sample the parts of the face next to the hotspot. The Cloning tool in Darken mode will darken the light spots so they’re closer in shade to the sampled skin. It has the effect of powdering the face. The photo above has only the lightest of hotspots from the flash around her nose, but I matted those out, anyway.
  4. Eyes: I have a couple of Photoshop actions for processing eyes, one being a quick-and-dirty one-click action while the other one has many more steps. If I’m further away from the subject I’ll use the shortcut action, but if it’s a close portrait where the eyes are featured prominently I’ll take the long road because it’s more subtle. The goal is to brighten the eyes in a natural way, and it’s a little tricky because if you go too far the person looks like a drug addict or a little insane or an alien. (That’s because you can’t just brighten the whole eye evenly, you have to adjust the irises as well.) The brightening should be done on a separate layer where you can reduce the opacity with sliders to reach a more natural state of brightness.
  5. Teeth: I didn’t do any teeth editing in the photo above, but when I do work with teeth (generally when the subject is facing me), I try not go overboard because overly-brilliant teeth looks fake. I usually sample a lighter part of the tooth and brush that shade to the rest of the teeth. There are a variety of ways to lighten/brighten teeth, but I prefer to treat it like skin: take a colour that is already present and use it, rather than lightening the selection using ‘screen’ on the layer or similar.
  6. Once the editing is done on the facial features, you have to take a step back and decide whether the face could use a bit of smoothing. This is entirely up to your own taste. I’ve applied a bit of smoothing to men’s faces, not just to women’s. My goal is not to erase wrinkles (the action doesn’t touch the eye area, mostly just the cheeks), but to make pores and skin bumps less distracting. It also has the double effect of making the eyes stand out more because they’re sharper next to the smoother skin. Sharpening the eyes a bit also helps in this regard.
  7. Lastly, my last step of editing for this photo was to apply something that’s called a ‘wash’, which is basically a tone that tends to even out the skin tones that in this case was made uneven by the flash. Remember, you always have to evaluate each face individually. You also have to see how the subject is lit (flash? ambient light), and decide whether you want a more dramatic effect (night-time, bright lights, deep shadows) or something less contrasty and more daytime pastel. Just like with shooting, everything depends on the light and the feeling you want from the photo. You can edit a single photo a multitude of ways.

I hope this is more helpful than confusing!

On Why Bigger Isn’t Necessarily Better

southern Iceland in a Super Jeep Weekend Outtakes

When people talk to me about buying a digital camera, there’s one point I stress more than anything else:

Do not let the number of MPs (megapixels) convince you that the camera is better.

Sales people will try and impress you with numbers because most people don’t know what those numbers mean. I’m convinced that many sales people don’t know what those numbers mean, either, but since the MPs are stamped right there on the camera, they will try and tell you more is better in the hopes that you’ll believe them. Don’t believe them!

Here’s a pretty good article that showed up in my Twitter stream that explains why the megapixel count is more than a marketing ploy, it is a scam:

The Great Megapixel Swindle: An Example:

Let me give you my own example, comparing two cameras, one with a low megapixel count and one with a high megapixel count. (As you can see by the side-by-sides above, the cameras have slightly different aspect ratios, but it won’t affect the argument, which is megapixels overall.)

southern Iceland in a Super Jeep

This was shot in Iceland with the Pentax K100D, my first DSLR, which I sold last spring (reluctantly, because I loved that camera — the straight-out-of-the-camera JPEGs were great). It is an entry-level 6.1MP DSLR, with a maximum resolution size of 3008×2000 pixels. It was a sunny day, the ISO was relatively low (200), and the focus was for the entire landscape (infinity) so everything should be in focus. Click on the picture to view it at full resolution in a new window.

Exposure: 0.001 sec (1/1000)
Aperture: f/5.6
Focal Length: 33 mm
ISO Speed: 200
Image Width: 3000
Image Height: 2000

Weekend Outtakes

Now, here’s a photo taken by my brother, Allan, in Vancouver with his Canon G10, which is a point-and-shoot with a whopping 14.7 MPs. It wasn’t shot at max resolution (4416×3312 pixels) — which is another beef about marketing, and I’ll get to that in a bit — but the important point is that it was shot at a resolution GREATER than the 1st photo, specifically 3753×2814, or 17.55% bigger. Ignore the colours and contrast, just look at the sharpness and detail. Click on the pic to view it large in a new window.

Note that the ISO (or film speed) is 80, which means the sensitivity is lower and therefore the noise level should be lower than the Iceland shot, for which an ISO of 200 was used. In basic terms, the Iceland shot should theoretically be grainier, or “noisier”, than the Vancouver shot. The Vancouver photo was taken at half the shutter speed of the Iceland photo, but 1/500 is still fast and there should be no shake.

Exposure: 0.002 sec (1/500)
Aperture: f/4.5
Focal Length: 30.5 mm
ISO Speed: 80
Image Width: 3753
Image Height: 2814

I’ve sliced away some parts of both photos to do another side-by-side at 100% (Iceland left, Vancouver right):

See the difference? Which do you find grainier? The Vancouver photo on the right side was shot by the 14.7MP Canon G10, which is more than double the MPs of the Pentax K100D at 6.1MPs on the left side. Now, part of the difference in quality is the lens glass. I am fairly certain that I took the Iceland photo with my Pentax kit lens, the 18-55mm, and a kit lens is the lowliest of all lenses in a brand line. Kit lenses aren’t always terrible, but it’s comparable in quality to the stock stereo you get with your car — for the average person it’s bearable, but people who enjoy music are going to replace it, anyway. On a camera, a kit lens is soon to be replaced, too.

The major factor in the difference is the sensor. If you were to go and read the sensor specs for both cameras, this is what you’ll find:

Canon G10: 1/1.7-inch type Charge Coupled Device (CCD), which is 7.17 mm x 5.31 mm
Pentax K100D: 23.5mm x 15.7mm CCD sensor

Now here is where size does matter! As you can see, the Pentax K100D has a much bigger sensor than the Canon G10 — around 3x bigger. DSLR lenses are bigger because their chip sensors are bigger. It is the one of the reasons why point-and-shoot cameras are more compact, even with a zoom, because it requires less glass to bring light to that little sensor. When companies try and cram more pixels into a small sensor, it actually reduces the quality of the photo.

This article by digitalcamerainfo.com puts it this way:

Fitting more megapixels in the same small amount of physical space means that all the receptor sites on the sensor must be smaller, which means that each site has less light hitting it. Less light per pixel means images that are less clear and sharp.

However, between two different manufacturers making CCDs that are the same size, there’s no way to know which produces better-quality photos using spec numbers because they use different computations when capturing and processing pixels. At that point it is a qualitative difference rather than quantitative. The only way to compare is to compare their photos, and that’s where personal preferences come in. But if you compare any DSLR to any point-and-shoot, the DSLR will always come out on top when the photos are displayed larger — because of the sensor, and because of the glass.

What’s that beef you were talking about?

I mentioned that Allan didn’t take that Vancouver shot at full resolution, which is what I was hoping for in my example. Actually, I couldn’t find any Canon G10 photos in his Flickr collection taken at full resolution. This is actually very common, and most people don’t think about it when they buy a point-and-shoot: if megapixels are such a good thing, why don’t people take advantage of them?

For one thing, the file sizes are way too large. My Nikon D300 is a 12.3MP camera, and the largest photo I can make is 4288×2848 pixels with a JPEG-format file size of around 4-8MBs (depending on what I’m shooting) and that’s plenty. (My RAW files are much bigger, at 9-12MBs.) Why would a point-and-shoot, with a sensor roughly a third of the size, need more pixels than a DSLR if it can only capture a third of the detail? Because it’s a gimmick! You’d never email a full-size snapshot around, and it’s far too big for a web page, Facebook, or any social media site. That size is really useless unless you’re considering enlarging it to hang over your fireplace.

Which brings me to my next point: you’d never want to enlarge a point-and-shoot snapshot, anyway, because even at the size I showed you, which is probably at least 75% of its resolution capacity, it has purple fringing and artifacts. You can barely make out the trees on the mountains. The level of detail is less than ideal; the cost of enlargement would not be worthwhile. The shot itself is good, the colours are set to vivid (that can be toned down in Photoshop), but the detail can’t be increased because Canon’s sensor is too small. It’s about pixel quality, not quantity.

But what about the price?

When you take away the bulk of the DSLR, there’s usually a gripe about the price versus a compact camera. It’s true, they can be pricey, but if you’re an amateur or a beginner, the prices of entry-level DSLRs are actually lower than the higher-end compact cameras. Using the same cameras in my example, I bought my Pentax K100D in May 2007 for about US$500, including the Pentax SMC-DA 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens. The Canon G10’s suggested retail price today is US$500. Which means that if you scout for a used Pentax K100D on Craigslist right now, you could probably get one with the kit lens for about half of what the Canon G10 costs currently, and make better-quality photos for much cheaper.

I try and tell people that for the cost of the new compact cameras, they could invest in an entry-level DSLR and even get a lens, but I think people are reluctant to learn how to use a DSLR. I would be willing to teach ANYBODY how to use their DSLR, if that would convince them to make the move.

It’s not that I dislike compact cameras or even Canon, not at all. In fact I owned Canon compact digitals for five years (2002-2007) before I bought my first DSLR, which was a Pentax. I still recommend Pentax for its value, especially for entry-level users. My current DSLR is a Nikon. (As you can see, I’m not particularly brand loyal. There is no need to be except that switching an entire system is expensive due to the lenses and bodies being incompatible between brands; each brand has strengths and weakness across all their lines.)

I learned composition on compacts, which is an important skill regardless of equipment. I still shoot with compacts on occasion, for video and some snapshots. I think it’s very possible to take decent photos with point-and-shoots if the settings are used properly (and displayed small so their flaws don’t show), and I have actually sold photos taken by compacts. But the newer point-and-shoot models mystify most people because they have a lot of bells and whistles. Nobody likes to read the manual (I generally don’t, either, I only use them as reference tools but usually I go online), but the manuals are written by technical writers and they don’t tell you how to take a good photo, they only tell you about settings and specs.

I think this is the longest post I’ve ever written on the subject of photography, but I wanted to take the time to write it out because photographic equipment at the average consumer level is rife with confusion and misleading information. People are bombarded with features that they don’t understand. At a professional level, sales people have less sway with buyers because pros have the technical knowledge and a more watchful eye on the industry. Professionals are pickier about their equipment and view it as a business investment. However, the consumer market is big money and companies like Nikon, Canon, Sony, Olympus, Panasonic, Samsung, Pentax, Casio, Kodak, Konica, and all the rest sell point-and-shoots every day to people who don’t know what to look for in a camera. If you want to compare them, I suggest the side-by-side comparison table feature over at DPReview.com’s buying guide section. There are also comprehensive reviews if you want to go more in-depth, and summary-length versions of the reviews if you just want to get their rating.

My recommendation is to do all your research before you walk into the camera store, then try out a few cameras that are your top picks to see how they feel in your hands, if the controls are in logical places, and if the way you would use it requires digging around in menus versus the settings at your fingertips. Better yet: borrow them from friends or let your friends show you their cameras. It’s also a good idea to read some reviews and ratings, but ultimately, you should look at the photos you already take — portraits? low light? action? landscapes? — and base your search criteria on the style of your shooting rather than gimmicky things like megapixels and dozens of “modes” (eg. snow mode, beach mode, museum mode). Hmmm… I’m getting into another topic (buying), so I’d better stop here.

And if I’ve confused you even more, I take full responsibility and welcome any questions to clear it up!

The Return Of The 50mm f/1.8

from the houseguests

I’ve probably mentioned this before, but I use the 17-55mm f/2.8 all the time — I almost never take it off the D300. Aside from my gripes about barrel distortion, I am in love with this lens. It’s responsive and sharp, just like anything that deserves my adoration (haha).

Anyway, I switched out the 17-55mm for the 50mm on Thursday night at the end of my shoot with Shamim in High Park as the streetlighting conditions were too low for the 17-55mm. The 50mm is a fraction (we’re talking less than a tenth of the price) of the 17-55mm, but it performs decently with enough light. This shot was taken with the 50mm, and it looks a lot brighter than it was in reality.

Today I decided to leave the prime lens on the D300 to shoot a couple of details around the house before I tackle the monumental cleaning job that comes after having company for over a month. I don’t know about you, but the last thing I want to do with houseguests around is heavy-duty cleaning. The lovely flora above is from K&E, who left yesterday. K is Xena and Beano’s catsitter from Ottawa, but this trip was a holiday rather than a sitting stint.

Having the place to myself again meant I could whip up balanced meals such as hash browns, corn on the cob, and coffee in my underwear, and leave the bathroom door open for the cats to harass me directly after a trip to the litterbox (ew). Stay tuned for more writing, more photos, and more musings now that summer is mostly over. The House of Fielding is returning to its regularly-scheduled blogging — while I’m at home, anyway. We know this won’t be for long.

perfect summer food

Learning Lightroom

I finally got around to installing Adobe Lightroom 2.3 last Monday after Dax hooked me up over the weekend, something I’ve been meaning to do for a while… I’m talking years, not months. Practically everyone I know who shoots professionally uses Lightroom, and the people I buy Photoshop presets from have been nudging me in that direction by including Lightroom presets in the action bundles. There are now so many tiny program icons at the bottom of my Mac desktop that they cover it from end to end, and I have a 17″ screen.

I’ve been wrestling with slices in Photoshop this week (I swear, I’ll be slicing in my sleep), but let it be known I’m not actually wielding a knife blade but a mouse. Hopefully I’ll have some time to get back to Lightroom soon and master it. Here are a couple of images using Lightroom settings:

Chris dela Fuente, Pixel 3 Photography

A shot of Chris dela Fuente of Pixel 3 Photo Photography from last November, using a LR preset called “Cold Tone” with some further adjustments.

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Barrel Distortion Strikes Again

Toronto Irish Famine Memorial

The barrel distortion of the Nikon 17-55mm at the wide end is REALLY bugging me, but even after trying to fix it in FOUR programs (CS3, Capture NX, LensFixCI, and DxO), I can’t make it look right! ARGH! (This is the original photo, not the attempted fix.) I’ll replace this photo later if I can fix it. Barrel distortion doesn’t always bother me, but seeing the CN Tower look more like the Leaning Tower of Pisa just won’t do! Especially since the Nikon 17-55mm f/2.8 lens is not cheap glass.

It’s what’s holding me up from processing my pictures from yesterday’s photoshoot at the Toronto Irish Famine Memorial. That, and the work that’s been piling up over the holidays like a snowbank that taunts shovels.

Nikon’s Capture NX

Last night I downloaded Nikon’s Capture NX software to demo it for the NEF (RAW) files I’ve been working on, and I LOVE it. The only thing I DON’T love, however, is how long it takes to render the files. My word, it’s brutal… it takes so long to render I can’t tell if I somehow missed a setting change or if it’s still rendering. I read about the slowness in forums, but I wasn’t expecting it to be quite this slow.

It’s worth the wait, though — the amount of detail I get back is amazing. I just hope it doesn’t get too frustrating.

Here’s an example of the detail I’m talking about. A photo processed by Capture NX:

Lauren and Matt

Now, view it larger: View On Black

Here’s a photo processed from RAW in Adobe Camera Raw, then edited in Photoshop:


Now, view it larger: View On Black

The top photo looks sharper, no doubt about it. My shutter’s slow in the top one, too, but it still looks sharper. In the bottom photo the slow shutter gives a bit of motion in Lauren’s hand, but there’s far less detail in the foreground and overall.

I think my trial period lasts for 60 days, but I’m pretty sure I’ll buy the product key to own it at the end of the trial. I’ll still use Photoshop, but Capture NX will likely replace Adobe Camera RAW for me.

I am SO GLAD it’s Friday. This week has been incredibly work-intensive and I am really in need of a break. Bring on the weekend!

You Will Travel Far and Wide (And Wrestle With Colour)

You will travel far and wide.

Jose-Jose’s fortune cookie is right — he is travelling far and wide. Actually, we all are, but he’s going the third-soonest after Anf and Rosie, who are leaving next week. That’s one thing I love about the CSers: everyone is either catching a flight soon or just got off a plane. Everyone’s on the move — road trips, day trips, camping trips, photo walks, cross-country trips, international trips, you name it, someone’s doing it. That’s the spirit!

A bunch of us gathered at Full Moon Restaurant on Dundas Street West for some nosh, and of course I showed up last since I work the oddest hours. There are always some leftovers, though, and I got my fill of Chinese veggies while I gabbed on about cameras and lenses and whatnot. I mentioned in conversation that I believe equipment and technical skill isn’t everything; good results come largely from creativity, and technical skill can (but not always) overcome equipment limitations.

Just how much processing is happening, you might ask? Well, I’m going to put my money where my mouth is and show you. Here are some photos from the evening produced with a $400 (Pentax K100D entry level DSLR) camera, a $200 lens (Pentax 50mm f/1.7), and Photoshop 10 (CS3). Images were shot in JPEG, mostly processed in Adobe Camera Raw, with a bit more processing in Photoshop. I’m going to post links to the original files, which are uploaded to Flickr but not public, so you can see how much processing is going on.

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My Current Crop of Favourite Photos

Howe Sound at night

Thursday morning


cotton candy summer

Royal Wood (i)

Addie & Seuss in Ocean City, NJ


Paula Wirth

Jose and Nicole (BW)

oh, were you sitting here?


the accordion busker

after the father-daughter dance

Marina, glowing on her big day

a long way down


the road less travelled

sudden brake

sometimes I get lucky

somewhere only we know

close to you

watch out, Bugsy Siegel

on the outside looking in

Who? Me?

midnight wheeling

I am not a morning person


by the light of the silvery moon

Feliz Año Nuevo! Viva Cuba!


Ambler glow



London Bridge tube station

Neuer Zollhof

near Achelse Kluis, Belgium

Bente the Bouvier

The City

"Deep roots are not reached by the frost"

pigeon underbelly

"You brought me to the vet. I hate you with the fire of a thousand suns."

a family on Nassau Street, U.S. Thanksgiving

glow of the city

coaster landing


ageing gracefully

everybody's tired

AviatorDave & Bill King

David, still smiling

beggar in a tuxedo

sunset over Lake Tobyhanna


Van Dusen Gardens

the secret world of lily pads

cheeky Dave

Gabriola Island

Rachael's Red Series

Illuminares 2005

Illuminares 2005

¡Feliz cumpleaños!

where the Filipinos hang out

snake guy

leafy vortex


sail away with me

Buntzen Power Station


Burrard Bridge 6/9

Melissa discovers a typewriter

Rat B's big ol' nose

skydiving veteran

tandem skydivers

the light of day

the beauty of photosynthesis

Washington DC metro 4/4

inside the Pacific arch

come along

water dance 3/3

drip - 3/3

grass legions 2/4


baby romas

Good Friday at Grand Central Station

sunset over Philadelphia

rotunda fountain

leaf embrace for efatima

is there a tutorial for this thing?

oil pan reflection


heavens open

in need of hydration

sun dancing through glass

light from above


lady of the light


City Hall breezeway arch, Philadelphia



pigeon pit stop

There are some wonderful applications using Flickr’s API. These are from my photoset called (you guessed it) some faves.

Colour Differences Between Browsers

photo by Ben McLeod

Left: Safari
Right: Firefox

I don’t know why I haven’t noticed this before. I was looking at this gorgeous photo in Ben McLeod’s photostream in Safari while in David’s Flickr account (Ben is one of David’s contacts), then pasted the URI into Firefox, where I use Flickr with my own account. Flipping between the two browsers, I noticed a huge colour difference between the two. In Safari, the colours are richer, more saturated, while in Firefox the shades are rather dull by comparison.

Thing is, I use Firefox probably 60% of the time, but more importantly, I use it to access my Flickr account and have calibrated Photoshop to match the colour settings. Now I wonder — was this a good idea? I know colours look different from monitor to monitor, Macintosh to Windows to Linux, so there is never going to be one universal setting, but if I use Firefox to calibrate my colours, does that mean the colours look supersaturated, i.e. ridiculous, in Safari or Internet Explorer? Maybe I should check that out.

A Geeky Observation: Laity Farm Revisited

Michael at Laity Farm

OK, I go on and on about Flickr on this site, but for the sake of comparison let me demonstrate how superior the Flickr compression engine is versus Blogger’s.

Have a look at this photo of my nephew Michael, taken in October 2002, when he was 2 years old.

Now, take a look at the same image (opens in new window), uploaded originally to the Blogger site in 2002 via Picasa/Hello!/Blogger. It looks pretty muddy, doesn’t it? Exactly one year after I took Michael by himself when he was two, Allan and I took Melissa, Michael, and Maddy to Laity Farm: October 6, 2003 — and the image looks no better there.

Now, if only Flickr would pay me a commission! What can I say? –I’m a happy customer.

Speaking of geeky, I’ve been re-jigging and re-organising my hard drive over the past couple of days and it’s a never-ending project. I’ve had my 17″ 80GB PowerBook for a year now, and I managed to get down to less than 10% of capacity. The photo and video files from May-July ALONE were nearly 8GBs! Yikes! I was shooting almost every day in Vancouver this past summer; it was probably my most prolific shooting spree ever.

I’ve got an external firewire drive that I’ve been schlepping back and forth across the continent, backing up directories in Vancouver, Toronto, and here — basically whenever I dumped a lot of data on the computer and was on the move. But much of that was done in a hurry, not in the methodical way that I prefer, so I’m taking some much-needed filing time to deal with it before I tempt fate any further. The prospect of hard drive failure without proper backup makes me twitch just writing about it.