July 4, 2016

The Lightroom/SmugMug Super Combo

I've been working hard on getting my image library into pristine condition since switching from Apple's Aperture to Adobe Lightroom/Photoshop a while back (see previous posts). This last winter I did a bunch of research on backing up my ever-growing and precious bank of images, and man, there so many options. Hard drives? RAID array? Cloud? Discs? Well, no, not discs - that's so old school!

Hard drives are certainly getting affordable - 2 TB models are a sweet spot at around $100 or less. But they can fail. So I knew something online would be best. I settled on using my long-time SmugMug account (alwpics.com), since I already pay for a subscription to keep the site alive as a showpiece. Since they offer unlimited cloud storage and use an iron-clad backup process, I reasoned that SmugMug just makes sense.

So I set up the excellent Lightroom plug-in from SmugMug, started creating Smart Galleries to capture keywording, and developed a relatively simple process to store all my photos on the site, not just the ones I considered worth sharing (I can make folders, galleries or images private).

So now I have a great process. I store all my images on my iMac, back them all up to a small external hard drive, and back them up to my SmugMug site, all with Lightroom as the primary tool. It's great, generally simple, and even fun. And I can access my site on all my devices, from my Kindle Fire, Android phone, or even the kids' iPads. Great combo, and what nice age to be living in!

Oh and on these posts about digitizing my old "analog" photo albums - 1991 is done, 1992 is in progress and 1993-2002 are still in queue. Many more hours of that to come!

February 27, 2016

Digitizing Old Images

I'm finally started!
After a few attempts, I settled on a method to digitize our many old images, most of them from prints, and now the first album is done (about a dozen to go).
The Setup
It's really low tech. In my basement studio I'm using a table, 60w incandescent clamp light at a 45 degree angle, and a piece of 11x17 low glare picture framing glass I found in one of my old art frames.
I used Scotch Blue tape to border the edges of the glass, and made a small rectangle on the table to easily place photos in the same spot. In this image, a photo is laying on the tape spot. Using my Canon G15's live view, I fine tune the placement and gently lower the glass onto the photo. Then I make sure the camera is still (bumping the tripod causes vibrations so I wait 3-5 seconds) and snap the picture with the remote cable release.

Now the things are set up this way, I'll spend an hour or two a few evenings a week to work through our other albums.

Why not scan or some other way? I tried scanning on my flatbed and didn't like the images - contrast was extreme, among other things. This method allows me to adjust white balance in-camera, and by shooting RAW, I get large files that I can adjust in Lightroom. Many of our negatives are lost, so this is the best way I think I've found to digitizing from prints, besides expensive professional scanning.

How do they look?
On screen, just like the prints! The ones I'm doing now are from 1991-1993 and were shot with really inexpensive cameras (one was a 126, for those who remember!). Here's an image from summer of 1992 of my dad, with only a few exposure, contrast, color and clarity adjustments (no noise or other cleanup done yet):
And now to do about 10 more years' worth of albums, including our wedding and honeymoon in 1994. Looking forward to permanently preserving these priceless images!

January 31, 2016


Many hours of work are behind me as I close in on the finish line. Of the 17,000 images I've been sorting, some 3,300 dupes and out-takes are gone, leaving the pristine collection at 13,264 images. Of those, 10,065 are family pictures and 2,659 are personal (all the nature, travel and other stuff). These are just the images taken since January of 2003, when I switched to digital.

Next, after I load the remaining 5,000 images or so onto alwpics.com to back them up, I'll start digitizing the images from my film days, going back to around 1991. I have no idea how many there are, but guess around 5,000 or so. Many are slides, so digitizing will be an interesting endeavor, to be sure.

Lightroom is turning out to be a great tool. I like the clean and efficient way it links to my web site, making it easy to manage the folders and images there right from the application. I resisted switching from Aperture for some time but can say now I'm even more glad I did!

January 9, 2016

Major Site Refresh Underway!

Now that the holidays are over and I have Lightroom set up, it's time to dust off the galleries and clean up Alwpics.com. I'm fast at work with Nature and other galleries. If you browse through, you'll notice a simpler layout (e.g. Nature will have just four galleries, one for each season) and lots more images. New galleries will also appear for special subjects, like trips, interesting things, and animals.

For family, I tend toward privacy and password protect most images. For you family members, I'll share more as I take down old galleries and add more over time. It'll be really big - I'm going to be setting up the site to be my permanent online backup, so most of the 14,000+ family images will end up there.

More to come as I make progress!

December 20, 2015

Switching to Adobe

It had to happen sometime. Early in 2015 Apple let us know that our beloved Aperture would no longer be updated or supported going forward. I was so happy with the Aperture and iMac combo, but had to make a decision - keep using Aperture as it slowly became obsolete, or take the plunge and start over with the Adobe Suite.

Rather than wait, I took the plunge. $9.99/mo is more than I care to spend (Aperture was $80 when I got it) and I was satisfied with On1's Perfect Photo Suite for the more complex editing Aperture couldn't do. But Lr/Ps is the standard, there's tons of support and learning content on it, and it's always kept up to date and upgraded free on this plan. So Adobe it was.

Since July 2015, I've been adapting. On and off over months, I moved 17,000 images from the old library to a pristine new one, cleaning out dupes, organizing better, and keyboarding many as I went. I'm actually glad now for that. My collection has never been in better shape.

Lightroom is fantastic, too. It was pretty easy to get the hang of it. It's got a nice mobile syncing feature and also syncs with my SmugMug site well. So I'm definitely happy I made the switch. Now for the winter of 2015/16, I'll be using Lr to help me overhaul my online presence. You'll see a better web site layout and certainly many more images. Time to move forward!

October 9, 2015

Back to It?

It's been quite a while since I posted on the blog, or for that matter update alwpics.com. Much as been happening, but as Autumn 2015 creeps in I'm planning to get back at the PC more often and add more images.

In other news, I'm starting a second blog called Learning by Al Whicker. Inspired by my boss's advice to publish a recent accomplishment, I'm thinking it would be nice to contribute to my field of professional learning and development. Link coming soon!

August 6, 2013

All-New Website

I'm thrilled! SmugMug, my website provider, recently overhauled their design tools and site functionality. Besides a better user experience and fresher look, this also allows us "tweakers" to customize our sites much more easily, and not have to learn nearly as much code to do it. It's fantastic.

After a week of editing, I just unveiled the new site, at www.alwpics.com. Now that the site is so much nicer, I plan to add many more photos and will provide updates here on the blog.

Check it out and feel free to leave comments on this post with feedback on the look and feel.

July 22, 2013

Who says a cloudy summer day can't produce beautiful images? I took this one at Sharon Woods Metro Park in Columbus a couple weeks ago, and jazzed it up using Perfect Effects 4. Even seemingly droll days offer so many opportunities - all we have to do is look. :-)

June 15, 2013

Only 2 years for an iMac to quit?

Unreal. At just two years old, my favorite piece of equipment has failed. I'm lucky I backed up the 12,000+ images I have, but if they can't recover them, I may have lost a few recent ones along with recent documents. I'm also really glad I bought the Apple Care protection plan - I'd hate to try to fix this myself.

Lesson of the decade: back up your files, no matter how good or new your computer is! You can bet I plan to enhance my backup routine, that's for sure.

The Canon G15

Just a couple months ago I traded up from a Canon SX10is to the newer G15 for my portable carry-every-day camera. At 18MP and with 1080p video, it's a great little shooter. It also pockets well, has a flash shoe, and shoot RAW images; all requirements for me.

So far the images are great, and I'll soon post some samples. Great camera!

March 31, 2013

I've been experimenting with OnOne's Perfect Photo Suite 7, and it's just fantastic. Tools like this can unlock so much creativity!

March 11, 2013

How Does It Look?

It's been a while since I tweaked the web site and blog. I've added slide show to the main web site, showing nature pictures, and changed the blog over to a white background for easier reading. Feel free to leave comments and suggestions!

February 20, 2013

Amazon's Really Heating Up

I recently got my first tablet, a 7" Kindle Fire HD. What a screen! Not only did it quickly replace my iPod Touch as my primary "PDA" and all-things digital tool of choice, it's also a lot of fun for games and videos, too. 

I have to give Amazon one special compliment: the email client on this device is wonderful. It works in real time with Hotmail, meaning that I don't have to recreate all my folders; I can access them exactly the same way I do at a computer on the web. Of course, I can work with emails offline, too. 

Another handy surprise was the syncing of contacts and calendars with Hotmail (I use two accounts, and the Kindle lets me sync them as I choose). Very nice! 

It won't do everything a full-featured tablet like the iPad can do, that's true. And the selection of apps in in Amazon's limited store is tiny compared to the greater Android market and Apple's App Store. But for $199, the Fire HD is definitely worthy of your first entry into the tablet world. It's a hit with the kids, too!

July 9, 2012

The SPACE Rule

Wayne Gretzky once said, "You miss 100% of the shots you don't take." How often have photographers stumbled upon a great photo op in the course of just another typical day, and wished they had their gear? I'm sure it happens all the time.
Lately, I'm working on applying a simple rule I call SPACE; Smart Photographers Always Carry Equipment. Tucking at least a basic camera, small tripod, and a few accessories into my work bag (an inexpensive backpack), and keeping a monopod in my car are couple ways I'm trying to make sure I don't miss shots by not taking them. Now to catch that next great photo op!

February 10, 2012

iCloud is OK by me

Once I upgraded the trusty iPod Touch (3rd gen) to iOS 5 some time ago, I took a chance and activated iCloud. To my surprise the next time I went to the iPod's Photos app, there were over 500 very-viewable-quality shots, synced to my library in Aperture. Very nice! Today it's over 800. I haven't explored fully using iCloud yet, but so far its nice to have some key items sync up. I hear DropBox is better for heavy duty document storage, so it's worth a look, too. Seems like the future of file storage is uh, cloudy. : -)

October 15, 2011

Managing Images the Modern Way

Anyone who shoots a great number of pictures will agree that this thing we call "workflow" can become quite an endeavor. Workflow is the process by which a photographer moves images from capture to storage, editing, backup, and output (print, online display, etc.). It can get complicated, especially when you switch computers, and even more when you switch platforms (e.g. PC to Mac), as I did this year.

I like the system I've found this year, so I thought I'd share about it briefly. After switching from a PC to an iMac, I started over from the old system. Before the switch I was using Picasa and Canon Digital Photo Professional, plus GIMP and Photoshop for editing. I had three methods for uploading and sharing images, and several workflow paths for editing. It was, needless to say, a bit sloppy.

Today I use Aperture on the iMac to catalog and manage my photos (over 11,000 so far) and do basic adjustments and editing. A plugin allows easy uploading to SmugMug, where I display and print images. Like Picasa, Aperture is a photo management app, but it also includes far more advanced editing tools, and a good selection of third party plugins for additional features. By way of comparison, it's chief competitor is Adobe Lightroom. The main reason I chose Aperture was the price, and the integration with Apple's OS, though from what I hear, the Adobe product is fantastic, too.

If you haven't begun using a photo (and/or video) management solution like Aperture, Picasa, or Lightroom, you're probably working too hard on managing your images files. You may also be like the many folks who find it all too complicated and don't really manage the files at all. In either case, an app like one of these is greatly helpful, and can be learned pretty easily. Picasa is an especially user-friendly solution for starters.

But sorting, editing, uploading, printing, and socializing our images isn't all there is to do. We also need to make sure they stay safe. For permanent backup, I use two methods (so far). One is the iron-clad protection of my SmugMug site, alwpics.com, and the other is a combination of automatic (Apple Time Machine) and manual backups on two external hard drives. This latter method is for my whole library, while SmugMug just backs up the images I upload to my site. While this is not as advanced as many serious pros and enthusiasts get (like RAID arrays, etc.), it does provide reasonable assurance of safe storage and long-term image protection. I also plan to explore iCloud and other services, as well.

Wow. Photography sure is different than 15 years ago. The vast majority of us shoot exclusively digital now, and in some ways, this has made things a lot more complicated than back when film and prints were king. But even with the added complication and endless options for editing, online hosting and display, sharing, and more, it's still a whole lot of fun, no matter how much or how little time and effort you put in.