Argh! Hosting Woes

I do have lots of pics to share from NYC. And a couple of stories. But I’ve been having some technical difficulties that are driving me crazy.

Over the past couple of months, I’ve noticed that my host ( has been REALLY slow. Painfully slow. So slow, that blogging here has become quite a pain in the ass.

It’s sporadic, but has become more and more frequent of late.

Any of you notice any slowness here? Or is it just me and the admin access?

I think I am ready to find a new host. Anyone have any recommendations for a good WordPress host?

There is one picture I have to post. My male readers won’t enjoy it nearly as much as all of the girls who tune in. But I’m going to post it anyway. Because I can.

It’s just an ad I saw while sitting in traffic in New York City. Actually, it was a fairly large billboard-type thing affixed to a building.

Urban Distraction

I don’t usually shoot images for the purpose of photoshopping them. But when I saw this guy, I thought it might look cool to over-saturate (add lots of extra color) the red bricks.

I sort of like the end result. How about you?

There’s NOTHING Easy About Photoshop

It only took a few comments on yesterday’s post to convince me that I had been misunderstood. Perhaps dangerously misunderstood.

My intention was not to provide a tutorial as much as a glimpse at the many steps involved in photo editing. Trust me when I say there’s nowhere near enough detail in that post to help you reach my end result.

It has taken me quite a few years, and quite a lot of frustration, to figure out how to use Photoshop. It is not user-friendly. It has taken a lot of reading and a lot of trial and and error for me to figure it out. And I am one of those people who can typically open up a computer software program and figure it out for myself.

There’s nothing easy about Photoshop. Really. Even people who think and/or convince others that they are pros bungle things. Check out the fun Photoshop Disasters blog if you don’t believe me. It’s a bit of an exercise in “what’s wrong with this picture” that sometimes I don’t even get, but it can sometimes be entertaining.

If you have used Photoshop and were thinking of buying it for yourself, I would definitely steer you toward Photoshop Elements, which is really just the layman’s version. But, if you have never used it, it is not something I would ever recommend as a first step image editor. Especially if you are not tech savvy and/or don’t have hours to spend visiting other people’s blogs and Web sits to read the myriad tips and tricks that are out there. Not to mention hours on end practicing the various techniques.

I’d been using Photoshop for several year before switching to Elements a little over a year ago. I was able to start using Elements pretty much out of the box, but only because I was already familiar with the various tools as a result of my previous Photoshop experience.

A couple of my readers say they use something called GIMP. I’ve never used GIMP, but they both have. And they seem to like it.

The most compelling reason to try GIMP first is that it is FREE. As in, it doesn’t cost a cent.

Also free are the basic editors built-in to Flickr (sponsored by Yahoo) and Picasa (a Google product). Many cameras come with software you can use for image editing, too.

Now, I am not going to download and try GIMP because I don’t need to. I already have Elements and am perfectly happy with it.

But I would try it if I were considering the purchase of that sort of software. Does free software scare you? It shouldn’t. Not all free stuff is bad. I know that goes against the “nothing is really free” mantra, but there’s lots of stuff out there, good, quality software, that you can get for free. It’s known as Open Source.  Simply put, it is software programmed by people who share their programs AND programming code so that other like-minded folks can use the programs and/or tweak and improve upon the code.

This is not a technology Blog, so I’ll leave it at that. But first, I should also tell you that I use an open source version of the MS Office suite, which Hubby discovered, and it works just fine. I can open and manipulate Word and Excel files. I can create Word and Excel files to share with others. It’s called OpenOffice, if you’d like to check it out.

Anyway… I just wanted to make sure I wasn’t misleading anyone into thinking I meant to say Photoshop and/or Elements are easy, go buy it today. They’re both hard to learn how to use. There are lots and lots of tutorials out there to help, but there seem to be plenty of GIMP tutorials, too.

If you’re a GIMP user, I’d love to hear about your experience.

Take Your Images to the Next Level

One of the cool things about participating in You Capture is not only getting to look at other people’s pictures, it’s also having other photographers see what you have done. Let’s face it, if you are not “into” photography, you have no idea what it takes to make a good picture. Can you capture great images if you know nothing about photography? Absolutely. When and if you are lucky. But there’s actually a lot of thought that goes into capturing good pictures. So it’s nice when people appreciate your efforts, the thought that went into getting a certain shot, etc.

I had another conversation recently where someone compared my photos with someone else’s. That someone else essentially has the same camera that I do (Canon Rebel). But according to the person I spoke with, this other person’s pictures aren’t nearly as good.

Because it’s not the camera.

And you know what? Sometimes it isn’t just the photographer, either. MANY of the pictures you see nowadays in magazines, on Web sites, in galleries, etc. have been enhanced with image editing software. This is commonly referred to as post-processing.

Photoshop is the most widely recognized name in image editors. It costs about $700. There are other high-end editors out there, but there are lots of less-expensive options, too. Photoshop Elements is what I use. It costs about $80. And it is soooooo worth it. (If you’re interested, read this interesting article about the Photoshop vs. Photoshop Elements debate.)

When looking through the work done by other You Capture participants, it’s cool to see the SOOC images (straight out of camera, i.e., no post-processing) some people show, while others post processed shots. Some images are obviously processed. With others, the processing is more subtle.

Why use post-processing? Because it’s fun to take an otherwise ordinary picture and enhance it however you like. It’s like the difference between serving Hamburger Helper prepared strictly according to the package directions with the ingredients provided and serving Hamburger Helper that’s been spiced up a bit.

I decided to show you a high-level overview of the steps involved in post processing. How an ordinary shot gets turned into something that’s more a work of art (in my opinion). This is just one example of what you can do.

I started out with this otherwise ordinary picture. I mean, it’s cute. But it doesn’t really stand out for me.

The first problem for me is that it is too bright (over-exposed). Some people like bright pictures. I tend to prefer darker tones.

So I used the Filter/Render Lighting function to make it darker. Yes, I know it is now too dark. Bear with me here.

The important thing to note here is that I made a copy of the original image. The original becomes the background and the copy is the duplicate layer. It’s the duplicate layer that I made dark.

Next, I wanted to add some texture. So I added a texture layer and pasted a texture onto the shot.

I wanted to change the lighting on the texture, so I applied something called Color Burn. I cannot possibly explain all of these steps in great detail here. Color burn makes the colors darker and more intense. This was the result.

That looks pretty messed up, right? To fix it, I changed the opacity (degree of transparency) of that layer, which makes the underlying layer more visible. I still get the burn effect I am after, it’s just not nearly as extreme.

Even with my texture/burned layer at 20% opacity, it’s still dark. So I added a fourth layer so I could reapply the same texture. I got this again.

Instead of color burn, I adjusted this layer using Soft Light. I could see the image again.

But it was still a bit dark.

To lighten it up a bit, I did not add another layer or adjust the light on that layer, I adjusted the opacity of the underlying layers until I got the result that I wanted. Not only can you adjust the opacity (how strong or weak that effect is), you can also turn a layer off.

I like the way it looks around the edges, but my subjects are still too dark. Since it has consistently been too dark, I’ll turn the lighting layer off.

Too bright again! So I turn the lighting layer back on. And just use my eraser tool to selectively erase the lighting layer that is making my subjects too dark.

Much better, right? But there’s still one problem. I notice that my texture layer has resulted in a splotch of unwanted color smack in the middle of Joey’s nose.

I zoomed in so you could see what I mean. I tried the eraser on a couple different layers, but didn’t like the result. You gotta love UNDO! Instead I used something called the healing brush, which corrects little boo-boos like that one.

No more ugly splotch. I zoom back out so I can see the whole picture and realize I’m liking what I see. My editing is almost done.

Looking at the whole picture now, I realize I don’t like seeing the back of that car or the signpost. So I crop those things out. Cropping is basically resizing the image to remove unwanted stuff around the edges.

Much better, right? Cropping alone is a very powerful tool. Especially if you are the type who can’t compose shots through the lens, while shooting. You can compose at your computer.

I decided to get even more creative and add a frame. I tend to favor white frames with thin black lines around them (like this one), but I didn’t really like the way it looked. So I added some little corners (a basic Photoshop Elements effect).

None of this is rocket science. It is all simple stuff. You just need to do some homework to learn how to use these functions and techniques. And you need to practice. It does take a lot of time, but I think it’s worth it.

Or, you can take the easy way out, and use something called actions. Think phone apps. Actions are effects where all of the steps I described here are pre-recorded and applied to your photo with a simple double-click of the mouse.

Here are some examples of the same otherwise ordinary picture with three different, free, Pioneer Woman Actions for Elements applied.



Fresh Color

You can learn all about using Photoshop Elements, applying actions, image editing in general, etc., at various places all over the Web. If you want me to point you in the right direction, let me know and I’ll do a future post on the topic. My goal, really, was just to show you what post-processing can do and the different steps involved.

Here’s the end result again.

Now that I see what it looks like on the Blog, I’m not all that crazy about those dark, black corners. But it’s just an example, so I’ll leave it at that for now.

ToadMama’s Capture of the Week – 28 January 2010

Remember, one of the reasons for this new blog is to highlight my journey toward becoming a better photographer.

One of the best ways to make sure I do that is to take on assignments. Not paid assignments, unfortunately, creative assignments. Those assignments come by way of Beth at I Should Be Folding Laundry. who came up with the cool idea of You Capture, a weekly photo challenge for her followers. This week’s assignment was color.

I continue to be enthralled with the COLORs in the winter sky.

I did not make many adjustments to this shot.

I happened upon this park the other day as storm clouds were being replaced by blue skies, which made for some good, dramatic COLOR. It just so happened some Snow Geese were still hanging around, too.

I like the contrasts in this shot. Grey sky/clouds vs blue sky and white clouds. The yellow marsh grass adds extra interest, I think.

My girlfriend, Carol, has six cats. So, when I was at her house the other day, I had lots of subjects to experiment with. It was a great exercise for adjusting the ISO, shutter speed and aperture. I really wanted to get shots without the flash.

Lily has amazing green eyes. It was tempting to enhance the green with Elements, but I didn't do it for this post.

Natural COLOR is a bit hard to come by this time of year, at least as far as plants and birds are concerned. I noticed this bit of green on our honeysuckle bush the other day. I honestly don’t know if it has been holding on since last year or if it is new growth. I sort of think it’s holding on.

You have to look hard for natural green at this time of year.

I wanted to post the image first and then the image after I’d applied a dry brush effect, which I really happen to like.

Picture with dry brush effect applied.

I hope you enjoyed the results of my COLOR challenge.

Check out what the other You Capture participants have done.

I Got to Hold TWO Puppies

The family that served as K’s foster family while she was still in rescue are fostering a young French Brittany mother and her two pups. I have always wanted to see a Brittany puppy. Other than Max, a friend’s yellow lab, I’d never held any puppy, much less tiny little 4-week-old puppies like these!

Comet (shown on left) is the bigger of the two. He’s a boy. Dancer, shown on right, is a girl.

I like Dancer’s little freckled nose. Here she is all wrapped in a towel after I rocked her to sleep.

The first time we went down to see the puppies, we left K upstairs. She was not happy. She cried the whole time I was gone. So, when we got back upstairs, she wanted to hang out with me. Emily sat on the floor, too, and soon we were surrounded by critters. Other than me spinning K around to face the camera, this shot was not posed. Isn’t it hysterical that even the cat got in there?

K was such a good passenger. On the way home, after stopping at my parents’ house, I stopped at a pit beef stand to get dinner. I asked if I could have a couple of little scraps for K. They gave me a bag with at least a pound and a half of beef, ham, turkey and corned beef scraps. Thanks to K, all of the dogs ate well last night!

I created a slide show using some of the pix from yesterday. I did it with Photoshop Elements, and it was super-easy. If you are looking for an inexpensive but powerful piece of image editing software, that’s the one I would recommend.

I had hoped to stop at Conowingo Dam on the way home for some eagle pix, but, as you’ll see in the slideshow, it was ungodly cold. Most have left the dam to head for their nests. Eagles lay their eggs in mid-January. Wanna see some Eagles nesting, laying eggs and hatching the chicks? Follow the Eagle Cam link I just installed in the right navigation bar at the bottom.

NOTE: There’s an error in my slideshow.

The picture of two dogs labeled Hannah and Brandy
should read Bella and Brandy. Sorry, Jenn!

At a Loss

I’ve been quite busy with work. And I didn’t sleep at all (literally) Tuesday night. So, not a lot has happened. I’m going to take the easy way out and post a picture I doctored a bit with Photoshop.

I think it looks sort of cool and retro, don’t you?

I actually took it on an unplanned stop in Mystic, Connecticut last year on my way to Maine.

No training yesterday due to a combination of work and no sleep, which are directly related by the way. But that’s a whole ‘nother story. I hope to get out there today.