Thursday, March 31, 2022

LUT's from Ukraine


I received an email yesterday from Skylum Software, a Ukraine based company that's produced two of my favorite apps, Luminar AI and the new Neo.  The email announced a special offering of LUT's called Land of Freedom that according to the email is "dedicated to all the beautiful cities of Ukraine, our homeland, that are now being destroyed by Russian invaders."  The LUT's are compatible not only with Skylum products but also a wide array of other apps, among them apparently, Photoshop, Lightroom, On 1, and Affinity (though I'd first check on the specifics with Skylum before ordering).

I don't really use LUT's very often myself, but I think purchasing the pack is an excellent way to support a Ukrainian company and thereby the Ukrainian people themselves.

Land of Freedom LUT's

For those wondering what it's like to be working in the Ukraine during an ongoing invasion Skylum employees are publishing their own blog detailing their day to day experiences.

 Skylum Blog

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

New Photo Software from Mediachance


Mediachance is a little known software company located in Ottawa, Canada that nevertheless, at least according to its website, numbers a staggering array of big name tech giants among its customers, everyone from NASA to Adobe to Canon to Microsoft.  It offers an interesting line of offbeat inexpensive apps, most of them to do with graphics, that are obviously aimed at niche markets.

A couple of years ago, while locked in during the height of the Covid pandemic, I purchased from Mediachance an app called Dynamic Auto Painter 6 that with only one click transforms photographs into simulations of fine art paintings in a number of styles inspired by famous artists, all for only $49.  I'll discuss the app in greater detail in a future post; for now it's enough to say it works well and is fun to use.

Yesterday, I received an email from Mediachance announcing the release of a new product, AI Photo & Art Enhancer, with such a variety of functions that it's a veritable Swiss Army knife of digital tools.  I won't bother listing them all here since Mediachance has already done that for me on its website.  And again the introductory price is extremely low, only $28. For that price, I certainly had only limited expectations.  For example, I did not, and still do not, expect those functions increasing photo resolution or reducing image noise to work anywhere nearly as well as on dedicated apps sold by Topaz Labs and On1 Software.  I was much more interested in the function that promised to "elevate paintings made with Dynamic Auto Painter into a gallery-print level" by adding "micro details" that would enhance brush strokes and texture.  The other function I found of interest was that which would simplify photos into vector-like graphics.  I decided that if only those two features worked reasonably well, the app would be worth its $28 price.

The system requirements listed by Mediachance on its website are extremely vague ("Widows 8, 10 with a fairly recent video card") but the site goes on to caution: "The neural network AI processing is a computation heavy process that uses GPU, therefore you need a good video card such as NVIDIA GeForce or AMD Radeon." Accordingly, I downloaded the trial version of the software as recommended, ran the benchmark test included with it, and found the NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2060 (with 6GB of VRAM) on my Acer Concept D7 scored 87% which proved good enough to run the software without problem.

The only difference between the trial and paid version of the app is that the former leaves a watermark on processed images.  Satisfied that the two features in which I was interested worked as advertised, I paid my $28 and received the serial number and unlock code that enabled me to process photos without the watermark.

I obviously haven't had time to work extensively with the software, but so far I'm satisfied with my purchase.  Besides, for such a low price it's hard to go wrong.

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Printing Service for NFT's


To give readers a break from my series of reviews, even though it's hardly begun, I thought I might post word of a new service offered by Fine Art America.  For those who are unfamiliar with the site, the company is essentially a printing service for photographers and artists that allows clients to purchase framed prints and assorted items (know anyone who wants to buy a shower curtain with one of your photographs printed on it?) directly from its website, thus freeing photographers from the need to print their work themselves or, for that matter, even to own their own printers.  Each photographer has his own page; and I have several examples of my work, such at the flower photo shown above,  available for sale on my own page.  I'll write about the site more fully in a future post, but for now I only want to mention that it has announced in an email I received today a new service it will be providing to creators - printing and selling NFT's.

The text of the email is as follows:

Fine Art America Launches Platform for Printing NFTs

2021 saw a surge in popularity and general public awareness of NFTs.  If you're an artist, you've probably heard of NFTs by now.  If you haven't, the acronym stands for non-fungible tokens.

An NFT is a digital object that's stored on a public blockchain.  If that sentence makes your head hurt, the easiest way to understand NFTs is to use an analogy.  NFTs are somewhat similar to collectible items like baseball cards.

People are interested in buying and selling baseball cards because of their affinity for baseball players and due to the limited supply of certain cards.  Similarly, people are interested in buying and selling NFTs because of their affinity for the artists who create NFTs and due to the limited supply of NFTs.

The big difference between baseball cards and NFTs is that baseball cards are physical objects, and NFTs are digital objects that exist only online.

Here's an article that goes into much greater depth explaining what NFTs are and how they work.

Article: What is an NFT?

In March 2022, we launched a new service to help you print your NFTs and turn them into physical products.  If you own an NFT click the button below, and you can transform your NFT into canvas prints, t-shirts, greeting cards, puzzles, and more!

Print Your NFTs

All you have to do is copy and paste your Ethereum wallet address onto the webpage, above.  Our system will then retrieve all the NFT artwork from your wallet and use the artwork to generate 3D, photorealistic previews of each available product from Fine Art America.  Simply select the products that you want to purchase, complete the checkout process, and your products will be on their way to you in 3 - 4 business days!

As NFT's become increasingly valuable sources of income for photographers, the importance of such a service as that offered by Fine Art America should be self-evident. 

Monday, March 28, 2022

Acer Concept D7 Laptop


Before beginning any discussion of photo apps or camera equipment I first want to mention the computer on which I do my editing, in my opinion the digital photographer's most essential tool.  In December 2020 I purchased at B&H Photo the since discontinued Acer Concept D7 specifically for the purpose of editing and no other.  It's a powerful machine driven by a 2.6 GHz Intel Core i7 6-Core Processor and has an NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2060 GPU with 6GB of VRAM as well as a 1TB NVMe PCIe M.2 SSD hard drive.  Its one drawback as far as the specs are concerned is that the machine came installed with only 16GB RAM and could not be upgraded.  I would much have preferred to have had a minimum of 32GB.  On the other hand, the D7's great selling point, at least as far as I was concerned, was its 15.6 3840 x 2160 4K Pantone validated display.  I strongly feel that an HD display is crucial in accurately judging image quality and tonal values.

In the year and a half that I've used it, the D7 had performed superbly and fulfilled all my expectations.  Despite the limited amount of RAM, it has easily handled large files and worked perfectly with all my apps.  I also appreciate the portability of a laptop that I can take with me when traveling.

Sunday, March 27, 2022

Reviews, or Lack of Same

In my next series of posts I'll be discussing first the software apps I routinely use in processing my photos and then the equipment on which I shoot them.  I want to make it clear at the outset that what I will not be doing is providing fully informed reviews of these products.  Much as I would like to, I simply don't have the time or resources to do an adequate job.  Instead, I'll note here two resources that I've found from personal experience to be generally reliable and to which I myself refer before making purchases,  The first is PC Mag, one of the oldest computer magazines around - I fondly remember subscribing to the bulky print editions in the late 1980's when I purchased my first personal computer - and whose reviews, though not particularly lengthy or in-depth, I've found myself in agreement with on almost every occasion on which I've consulted them.  I'd recommend these reviews primarily to those seeking a broad overview of the product.  The second resource is DPReview which has become one of the most trusted sites in the industry for its exhaustive testing of products.  Though I've once or twice disagreed with its conclusions, DPReview provides its readers with all the relevant stats with which to make up their own minds.

In addition to the above, it can also be instructive to browse user reviews on Amazon and B&H Photo.  The problem here is that these reviews, while often helpful, are for the most part only first impressions and may be biased by problems the purchaser has encountered with the vendor rather than with the product itself.  In addition, many purchasers lack the knowledge and expertise needed to write an informed review.  In any case, it's best to read as many reviews as possible on these sites rather than only one or two to get a general sense of how purchasers view the products under discussion.

No matter what the source of  review, it must be remembered when reading equipment reviews that those authoring the reviews are almost always writing of brand new products straight out of the box.  That's fine, except that some problems with equipment only appear after it has been use for some time.  When a friend asked me about a consumer-level camera he had been thinking of purchasing, I found the reviews were all generally positive.  When, however, I Googled "problems with ____" I found a number of posts on various sites complaining that the shutter had failed after a few months or a year of use.  As a result, I now Google "problems with ____" before making any equipment purchase.  Caveat emptor.

What I will be doing in the following series of (very) brief posts is providing my own impressions of the products under discussion and how useful I've found them in my own photography,  They shouldn't be taken as anything more than that.  At most, readers may learn of products with which they had previously been unfamiliar and decide to investigate further to learn if they may be of use in their own photography.

Saturday, March 26, 2022

Panasonic Announces Firmware Updates


I received an email from B&H Photo yesterday advising that Panasonic, apparently spurred by the recent release of its long awaited GH6, has announced a series of firmware updates for the Lumix G lenses compatible with that camera.  The link referenced in the email is of interest even to those Panasonic camera owners who have not yet purchased the GH6, or don't intend to, since it contains a comprehensive listing of updates for all Panasonic cameras and lenses.  As I own the G9 and several Panasonic MFT lenses, I've bookmarked the link for my own reference and recommend other Panasonic owners to do the same.

List of Panasonic Firmware Updates

Friday, March 25, 2022

More Street Photography

I shot the photos shown here as well as those displayed in the preceding post this past autumn as New York City was once again returning to normal after months of disruption caused by the Covid pandemic.

Thursday, March 24, 2022

Street Photography

I'll from time to time be posting here examples of my own photography to better illustrate the points I've made.  And of course, posting my photos will provide me with yet another venue at which to display my work.

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

What Is Digital Photography 2.0?


For those wondering why I've chosen to subtitle this blog Digital Photography 2.0 an explanation is probably in order.

Whenever a new technology or mode of expression is first introduced it almost always begins by mimicking the older form that it is replacing.  Consider, for example, the earliest motion pictures.  The camera in these first attempts at cinema was stationary and placed at the exact spot where the audience would normally be seated.  The entire movie was then filmed from a single point of view as if it were a traditional stage play .  It was only with the arrival of such innovative directors as D.W. Griffith that the properties of the new medium were fully exploited in such devices as close-ups and montages.

The situation was much the same when digital photography was first introduced.  At first it was used to simply record whatever happened to be in front of the lens in the same manner as in analog photography.  And the cameras themselves were also essentially the same.  The only real difference between an SLR and a DSLR was that the film strip in the former had been replaced with a digital sensor.  It took camera manufacturers years to envision camera models in which an electronic viewfinder would render the DSLR's mirror obsolete and even longer to refine the technology to the point that mirrorless cameras became a practical choice for the professional photographer.  But even then camera manufacturers were unwilling to abandon the technology that had proven so successful for their businesses.  Nikon, the industry leader whose preeminence had been hard won in the 1960's with the introduction of the legendary Nikon F, lost a huge amount of market share due to its reluctance to fully commit its resources to producing a mirrorless model that would serve as its flagship camera.  It was only this year that the company was able to reverse its fortunes and astound photographers with the release of the revolutionary Nikon Z9 that has been hailed by many as simply the best camera now available.  One review I read in PetaPixel went so far as to term it "the comeback story of the decade."

It's really in the development of the newest software apps, however, that the differences between traditional and digital photography can most clearly been seen.  When I first began using Photoshop 3.0 in the early 1990's it was principally a tool with which to process photos so they would most closely approach what the photographer had seen through the viewfinder.  In other words, its function was basically to achieve a "correct" straight photograph through the use of tonal adjustments and other tools.  Although Adobe did eventually add several "artistic" filters after its acquisition of Aldus, these were never taken seriously or improved upon.

The real revolution in photography software, that which led me to add 2.0 to the blog's subtitle, has come with the advances made in only the last few years in artificial intelligence (AI).  And once again it was newer smaller companies that led the way while established giants like Adobe lagged behind and arrived fairly late at the party.  In regard to the newcomers, I'll only mention as one example Skylum Software, a company whose products I had never taken very seriously until its release of Luminar AI.  That app, and even more the newly released Neo, have freed me to fully reimagine my photographs to an extent I had never before thought possible.  (I also mention Skylum, a Ukrainian based company, for the tremendous job its employees are doing in continuing work under the most adverse circumstances even as their country bravely fights off Putin's monstrous invasion.)  And Skylum is not alone.  There are several other companies - such as DxO, Topaz Labs, On One, and Corel, to name only a few - that are also  making great progress incorporating AI into their software products.

As an example of what can be accomplished with AI, the above photograph was actually taken on a bright sunny afternoon in New York City's Greenwich Village.  Simply applying a template in Skylum's Luminar AI and then a sky replacement, I was able with only a few clicks to transform the scene into one seemingly photographed at twilight, a feat that only a few years ago would have been difficult or impossible to achieve.  Not that the photo is any masterpiece, but it does illustrate very well the ease with which substantive changes can be made with the assistance of AI.

Monday, March 21, 2022

Support Ukraine

Although I have no intention of turning this into a political blog, I've always strongly believed ever since my college days protesting the Vietnam War that it's vitally important for people of good conscience to raise their voices in protest against unjust wars and to affirm support for their innocent victims.  There can be no excuse for Putin's horrific aggression in Ukraine and the threat he is posing to world peace.  The unlawful invasion of Ukraine must end now!

Sunday, March 20, 2022

The Intruder


Before beginning any discussion of digital photography, which will be the true content of this resurrected blog, I first want to take the opportunity to shamelessly plug my new novel The Intruder that I only completed this past week. 

My creative writing has become an important part of my life.  Although I majored in English lit in college and had always dreamt of becoming a novelist, it was only when I was already in my 60's that I finally found enough time to begin.  It was a much more difficult process than I'd imagined, even more difficult than when I first began teaching myself photography almost a half century ago.  I've found, however, that as I persevered I attained greater mastery of my abilities - which is not to say I don't still have a long way to go - just as I became more proficient at working in the darkroom through continued practice.

The Intruder is my sixth novel but one of only three currently available for sale online as an ebook.  I've found that self-publishing allows me to treat my written works in the same manner as a photography portfolio in that as I add new works I can at the same time pull older pieces that I no longer feel best represent my talents.

As for the content of my novel, here's the synopsis I posted on the sale pages:
In a story set in New York City at the height of the Covid pandemic, Chance Wentworth, having taken a DNA test on nothing more than a whim, is thoroughly shaken when he discovers he had actually been switched at birth in a Brooklyn hospital.  Now, facing a lonely old age, he must set out in search of the family he never knew.  Meanwhile, his best friend Brian, once one of New York’s most successful photographers, is forced to deal with his own crisis in a devastating encounter with the new “cancel culture.”  As his reputation is ravaged by accusations of sexual harassment he learns who among his friends are truly loyal.  On the verge of losing everything, he at last finds true love but is left wondering if it isn't already too late for happiness.
If anyone has an interest in reading the book - and I would greatly appreciate it if you did - below are the links at which it is available in either Kindle or Nook format for only $2.99.