Maybe a Handy Tool or Two…Other Thoughts….

Yesterday, I was doing a little instruction thing for my wife and needed to point out some buttons and things on our TV/DVD controllers.  I decided to use my Panasonic GX1 and create the instructions in Word.  Once I took the photos, though, the question of  “which tool” to do the annotations.  Most photo applications use apps that are designed to manipulate the photo, not necessarily be able to annotate a photo from what I’ve been able to see. It’s not that it can’t be done, just a bit of a pain the butt to me.  I like things to be simple 🙂

In my other life (:-)), I’m an IT Consultant – Business Analyst, to be precise, and depending on the assignment, I’m using some diagramming tool or another.  Business Process, Enterprise Architecture, Project Management, and on and on…..  The occasional assignment, though, involves software development and with that comes GUI (Graphical User Interface) design or User Interface Design.  In this space, there are several tools that are designed to shorten the design process.   The are called screen annotation tools.  Generally speaking, as the name implies, these tools are used to annotate screen shots during the design process.  There are more advanced tools that actually can animate the screen navigation (such as Balsamiq) as well – all in the quest to shorten the interface design time.  I won’t go into anymore details here. 

There are a few tools that I’ve used – one called Skitch and the other one is Screenpresso.  Both of them, of course, do slightly different things :-)  One of the things I like with these tools is that they are fast and easy to learn and use.  Though they are designed to be used for screenshots, for the most part, they work surprisingly well for photos.  Skitch is free for Windows 8.1.  There are some neat apps that can do this as well via my iPad, but I”m not going to go there :-)  That’s too much work moving stuff around.  As much as I like my iPad and my Apple products, they don’t talk nice w/Windows for what I do so Apple is out of my world in photo.  Many people swear by them, but I tend to swear at them.  My world as a consultant is Windows.  I may try Apple one day, but not in the foreseeable future for me.  Here’s a quickie example:


For me personally, I’m one that constantly looks for various things that can make my  life easier :-)  I’m not too scared to try new technology and at the same time, I try to use certain things across as many areas as possible.  In the world of photography and coupled in the IT space and being a consultant ( I do have my own company), skill transfer has been an invaluable “skill”.  My photography, for instance, covers not only the hobby aspect of things, because I have my cameras with me all the time, I have them available for any photos that might be required for me for my work.  Last week, I was developing a tutorial on how to hook up live equipment for the test lab and took photos of the backs of the various video devices so I could incorporate them into my tutorial.  Because I have a camera with me most times, I also take photos of houses as a future purchase or perhaps a future renovation idea.  For my blogs, I always have a camera within reach ( do have a few ….), so for the shot above, I took the shot, pulled it into Skitch, saved it out and put into this entry.  Simple and easy 🙂

For most people, tools like this probably wouldn’t matter.  In fact, I would venture a guess that most in the photo game are more in Adobe PhotoShop or LightRoom space to deal with exposure, etc.  For me, at this stage anyway, I simply don’t have that kind of time.  It’s easier for me to get the shot right the first time, and not bother with too much software.  I do a bit in software, but in reality, I’m quite happy with the photos that I’m getting.  I might get pickier as I get into paid gigs, but you know – even then, the plan is to have the knowledge and the correct equipment so I don’t need to spend the time.  Tools just don’t just stop at software though.  Let’s talk about other tools to make life a little easier.

Spare Batteries – I guess this is a bit of a “depends” thing.  There are two areas where batteries come into play.  The first is for your camera.  If you find yourself in situations where you are constantly running out of battery power, it’ might not be a bad idea to have a spare one.  In saying that, I have spare batteries for my DSLR’s, Compact System Cameras and Advanced Cameras like my Fuji X10 and LX7.  They are my work horse cameras.  For my Fuji XF1 and others, I normally don’t. I find that when I have my travel cameras, I very rarely find myself in situations where I need over 100 flash shots, give or take.  I tend to always have a couple of cameras with me and for most things I do on a casual basis, say landscapes, etc., I don’t take more than that.  If I’m at an event where I know I’m going to taking a lot of shots, I’ll have one of my other cameras with me.  For flash – I’ll always have some spares. 

SD Cards – This is basically your film :-)  A lot will depend on your camera as to what size one should have, but then again, they are cheap, so having several never hurts.  I have a bunch of hem and I have good ones.  SanDisk is one of my favourites but I also have Sony & Lexar.  I have something like 12 cameras, give or take, so to say I have a lot of cards is an understatement :-)  I also use Class 10 cards to ensure I have the highest write speeds.  Size?  Depends on the shoot.  My smaller cameras have either 4 or 8 GB.  The rest use 8 GB or larger.  If I’m going to shoot a lot, 16 GB or 32 GB.  There’s nothing worse than having a card blow out on you.  One thing I have learned – always format your cards in the camera. 

A lot, for me, depends  on time available but I don’t always have time to off load my cards, though it’s always a good idea to do that at every chance.  For my wife’s volunteer work, I make the time to unload her cards as soon as possible.  Her work gets published, so it’s critical.  For me, it depends :-)  If it’s a volunteer shoot, yes, they are off loaded right away.  Other stuff – not so much.  Another thing, if you are shooting a lot of various things, and taking a fair number of photos, it’s easy to just swap out a card.

Cameras and Lenses – This is always a dicey area :-)  I’m an equipment junky and do have a lot of gear.  My approach is a little different than most as I decided to have cameras instead of say a camera and a pile of lenses.  A lot of this, I attribute to the path I took getting to DSLR’s.  I like to have a camera or two with me at all times but want to stay mobile and light.  That basically means my travel cameras.  If I’m doing a paid shoot, or a volunteer event for my wife, then the big stuff comes out.  Mobility goes out the window here – equipment, and good equipment is the order of the day.  I do about 5 events per year where my photos are going to be used for publication.  Over the last couple of years, I’ve started to get back to where I was in the 35mm days.  Not to where I’m paid, so much, but where the shoots are starting to become very much like what I used to do. Over the last few events, I’ve been steadily adding to my DSLR arsenal.  I’m now at a point, where I feel I have the equipment to handle most shoots with confidence.  I used to have two bodies and pile of lenses.  This time around, I have fewer lenses, but I now have two bodies.  With two zooms I don’t have to worry about swapping out any more. 

I think each person getting involved in this craft has to make a decision on just how much gear one needs.  For me, I decided to invest over the long haul knowing it was going to not only going to cost a bit of money, but I had to re-I earn a few things.  Acquiring the 2nd body has gotten me to a “comfortable place” so to speak.  I’ve still got a bit to learn, but at the same time, I don’t have a lot learn :-)  The craft itself hasn’t changed, the tools have.   When I started to dive back in, one of the things that came up consistently was about learning your camera before upgrading.  What didn’t get addressed at the time, was “What if I already had a good handle on the craft and just wanted to get gear to meet my objectives?” 

Bags – OK – this can become a bit of a challenge to me.  I’ve been acquiring more than a few bags over the last little while to address certain things I want to carry on any one given day.  I’ve been focusing on the DSLR’s but still always carry something smaller.  Now, with an extra body, the world has changed again :-)  I doubt I’ll get another bag at this stage, though.  I’ll stay with what I have for now.  I’ve got a bit of thinking to do:-) 

Flash Units – Up until recently, say in the last 6 months or so, I’ve relied on the in-built flashes.  For what I was doing at the time, this was ore than adequate.  Once I started to go beyond the “casual” stuff, the need for an external flash started to become more and more of a requirement.  .  When I first got the D3200, the flash was the last thing on my mind, but then so was the larger zoom:-)  What started the chain of events was a fashion show I shot last year.  I had gotten the Panasonic GX1 and felt that it would be adequate for the event.  I did a lot more scrambling than i thought – I had to swap batteries and ended up using my Fuji X10 towards the end.  The biggie here was battery power.  This year, for this event, I had the D3200 and decided on getting the SB400 for the event.  It actually worked fine, but it would have been nice to have a longer zoom.  I got the SB700 shortly after and then the 55-200mm.  I hadn’t worked with TTL and had balked at what the units cost, but in the end, it was worth the money.  The SB400 is a nice unit but the extra power and control of the SB700 takes me to a whole new level.  Having the new units is now an essential.  For others, it depends on where you take it 🙂

Tripods – Whew!! Almost forgot.   Depending on the type of work or just for having around, a tripod, for most of my things is almost a non-essential.  Note – I said almost.  BUT, for certain things, they become very necessary – big zoom stuff, product photography, etc.  When I went looking for a tripod, my thoughts tended toward mobility.  The problem with getting a good tripod that’s mobile AND being able to hold up a DSLR reasonably well, meant a bit of compromise.  The one I got was the ProMaster Carbon Fibre 5 section.  Not cheap and still had to add a decent ball head, but so far works a treat.  If I needed to take it on trip, I could easily do that.  For most things I’ve done so far – more than adequate.  If I get more serious, there’s no doubt I’ll need a better one, but we’ll see.

The other one that I’ve gotten and it’s been super handy at times, is the mid range GorrilaPod.  I got this one specifically for our Hawaii trip and soooooo… glad I got it.  At the time, the heaviest unit on it would be the Fuji X10 – and it probably will like that the next trip as well.  For me, I looked at the clone ones – not nearly as well built.  My general thoughts are to deal with things as I foresee them.  Do I use this one a lot?  Not as much as you would think, but enough that its paid for itself.  It actually paid for itself on our vacation – use it for some street shots and sunsets from our balcony :-)  I miss Hawaii……….

Computing Power  and Software – Because I am an IT Business Analyst as well as having revenue properties, I have a fair amount of computing power at home.  Storage is always an issue and I use servers on my home network.  I’ve had a system board and drives go out in my time, and the “data” has always been key, of course.  I have one machine that is typically used for my photography.  Separate machine for our accounting.  A notebook that I use primarily for traveling, journaling and blogging, For software, I opted for Corel Paint Shop Pro X6 on my main system and Corel Photo Impact X3 for my notebook.  What, you say – No Light Room or PhotoShop?  No.  Quite simply, I was dead against it.  I might end up having to go there, but for now, not essential.  I’m a firm believer in getting the correct shot the first time. 

This is one of the big things I’ve noticed between the people coming from 35mm and the ones coming in from digital.  The Digital ones, to me, tend to rely on post processing to finalize their images.  The ones form the world of 35mm tend to keep post processing to a minimum.  I’m in that space.  If you get the shot right the first time, there’s not need for post processing :-)  To get better, to me, one needs to be taking photos, not playing in software.  To me, one learns by taking photos and studying those photos to learn about exposure, color, composition.  Also, instead of studying software, looking at other’s work to see what you can do to “see” better.  The other side of this, of course, is to understand your gear to know what it can and can’t do or how to “work around” certain situations.  Understanding how that combination of ISO, Shutter Speed, and aperture is critical. Understanding depth of field, composition all come into play on the quest for those good shots.  Lots and lots of shots – different settings to see and ultimately know what those settings need to be for a given situation. 

Other Accessories – depending on what I’m shooting, I have other accessories.  Remote control, a light box for stills, a reflector.

Putting It All Together -  As I’ve probably alluded to, if you start to take this craft in a more serious light, there’s a lot to learn, and depending on WHAT you plan to do, there’s can be a lot gear (read  – expense).  I’m perhaps a little luckier than many as I have a lot of experience from my days in 35mm, so it’s more fitting gear to what I want to do than learning the craft, but then again, I learn something each time I’m out with my gear about my gear :-)  This craft is something that evolves over time. I lot of my friends are surprised at what I do with my travel cameras, for instance.  For that matter, even what my wife shoots with them.  To me, this is not rocket science :-)  For what they are designed to do, they do a pretty darn good job.  Pixel peepers will poo-poo  these cameras, and they are right in the fact that won’t hold up under commercial use, but you know, my wife uses one virtually all the time, and her stuff is published constantly :-)  The reality of this is – one needs to assess their own circumstances.  I personally wouldn’t rely on someone’s opinion unless they have the experience to back up their comments :-)  I have a lot of my friends come to me BECAUSE I have the experience with the cameras they are thinking about.  Not just something I read out of a review. 

About those reviews – For the most part, reviews are helpful in the fact that they can provide a bit of guidance if you are heading in a particular direction.  Those “Best of” reviews, I feel provide some of that guidance.  Understanding what YOU do or want to do, to me is VERY important.  The reviews will then provide the information to match.  I take the image quality piece very tongue in cheek as most probably don’t have the knowledge to  take advantage of that anyway :-)  Also pay attention to feature explanations.  Then, go find someone who either owns one or get to a camera place and “touch and feel” before making a decision.  You may or may not decide to buy online too, though, for a new camera, I want to take it home and shoot.  Personal.  If one is new to the craft, just about any digital camera will produce a reasonable quality image.  It’s not the quality of the image, BTW – it’s what you see and most cameras will deliver that very well.  We have digitals that are 6 or 7 years old and they are still chugging along and still get used.  One thing to remember, and this is something that seems catch a lot of folk – when you take photos for publications and in today’s world, that will be the web, you need a good quality image, image yes, but it’s going to be small.  Let’s chat about this from a more technical standpoint.

What I do for stuff like this – the original shot will always be shot at the maximum resolution that the camera provides.  If there is a JPEG Fine setting, it’ll get used.  If there is a vivid setting, that’ll be enabled if needed as well. I default my cameras to vivid, BTW :-)   What this does, is guarantee the best quality and best color.  At lets say 10 megapixel, you will likely get an image in the 2 to 3 mb range. For the most part, to have an image load quickly, one needs to get the image size down – in fact, most publications will probably re-size anyway :-)  What I do, once my wife finishes editing, is re-size the image down to 640×480 so they can be emailed.  That shrinks the image down to somewhere close to 100K in size.  Easy to email, easy to push on the web and very high quality.  I use Fastone Resizer for this. 

Other publications or events that I do, though, do require pretty high quality and that’s where my Fuji X10 and bigger gear come in.  To me, getting the correct shot the first time is absolutely critical on these events.  Do I shoot a lot of frames – absolutely.  For the most part – there’s no time to fiddle with settings – you need to nail it right away.  If you need to change settings, you better know what they are.  If you have experience here, getting those settings early is a no brainer.  If you watch how the pros do it, there’s a HUGE lesson to learned there for prepping for a shoot. I watch them to this day, to see if they do anything different. to what I do.  I’m usually the backup so I also chat with them to see where they will be so I don’t get in their way – they get paid, I usually don’t. Those photos also  don’t get emailed – they are pressed to CD/DVD or on a USB drive depending on who is going to receive it. 

Post Processing – Just how much do I do?  As I’ve implied before, as little as I can :-)  This depends, actually, on the shoot.  Most of  the things I do for these types of events does require a bit of cropping as there are a lot of candid shots.  Sometimes a bit of color correction, lightening or darkening.  For formal group type shots, where I have to set up – typically almost nothing aside from maybe a little cropping.  Even with my wife’s work, she’s knowledgeable enough that  I don’t really need to do much with them either.  For me, I have too many other things to do, to spend very much time in post, so I don’t :-)  I try to get that shot right.  From last years fashion shoot to this year – my post time was probably half because I had better gear.  Next year, it’ll half that again as I have even more better gear 🙂

You know, if one set their mind to it, you COULD spend a lot of time in the post processing space.  For most people, they probably won’t as the interest isn’t at that level, but as one gets more serious and you gain knowledge, I feel that post processing may or may not be a necessary evil, but I prefer to minimize it as much as possible.  I might if I had the time, but I have too many other things on the go, so I personally try to get right the first time.  Much easier.


About gkamitomo
IT Busines Analyst

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