Smarter Guides

By Mark

A few weeks ago I posted a clip from Julianne Kost demonstrating yet another cool new Photoshop CC2014 feature which they had just rolled out-- http://adobe.ly/1DYHX03 .  I was really thrilled about the new guides feature, but was surprised when Roger said that he “never used them”.  I have always found them useful for laying out my documents, especially when I am doing more creative work like posters, logos or collages.  They used to be a bit frustrating until I learned a few tricks.  Now with the new capabilities, they are super powerful.

First things first, what are guides anyway?  Guides are straight lines, either vertical or horizontal which you can create and place anywhere to define and divide your image.  They stay “above” your layers, so they remain visible as you work.  Of course you can toggle them off if you need to. They don’t print unless you specifically toggle that on. You can choose their behavior as well.  By default, objects will automatically align to their edges. 

Menu with lots of new options

Menu with lots of new options

You find them under the <View<New Guides Menu at the top of the page.  It opens up this not very friendly panel.  

If you change nothing else, and just hit OK, you will see a vertical blue line appear in your document on the left margin.  If you grab the move tool, you can just drag it where ever you want.   Of course you can specify the exact position you want by inputting a number.  In the bottom panel you can change it to pixels, or feet or whatever you want.  The most helpful trick I learned is that you can also change it to percentage.  Just put in 50% for vertical and then horizontal and it will automatically find the center of your document.  

But wait, that’s not all.  If you chose one of the selection tools, the guides act as a boundary.  If you want to draw a perfectly centered circle all you do is <Alt-Shift while dragging out from the crossing point. Cool, right?

Centered circle, with a 10 pixel black stroke

Centered circle, with a 10 pixel black stroke

Well the new features expand on this in some great new ways.  Say you want to create a box around a shape you have created.  Let’s take our circle and save it as a path.  Now go to the Guide menu and select <New Guide from Shape, and wow!  It works with irregular shapes just as well. 

New Guide from Shape

New Guide from Shape

Previously, making rows and columns required a lot of calculations.  The <New Guide Layout menu choice makes that incredibly simple.  You can now create grids and control the width, number and the spacing between them.  

For making your own contact sheets—for those who still know what that means, this is a lifesaver.  It also makes text even easier to manage.  

4 by 3 matrix

4 by 3 matrix

As always the best way to learn about these new features is to experiment with them.  Have fun.  

Change Your Approach

By Roger (23 October 2014)

When you shoot the same subject frequently, you can find many of your photos beginning to revert to a norm. Things begin to look too similar. Your photographs may not lose their quality, they just don't excite you as much. If you find this happening to you, it's time to change your approach to the subject – explore different facets of the subject; do something, anything, you haven't done recently. You don't want your photography to become boring to you. That is a sure sign it may be boring to your viewer.

One of my long-time projects, for the last couple of years, has been photographing the Civil War sesquicentennial re-enactments. The project continues until April 2015, when I will join the re-enactors at Appomattox, Va., where General Lee surrendered to General Grant, 150 years ago. As a guy who loves history and genealogy, this photo project has been lots of fun for me. However, over the last 24 months, I've shot many battlefield re-enactments, and I was beginning to become less interested in the results. I was making the photographs for my project, not for my enjoyment.

I realized I needed to do something differently. So, at this weekend's event at Cedar Creek Battlefield, near Middletown, Va., I concentrated on photographs other than the actual battle re-enactments. Not only did I get a better variety of photos, my fun meter slammed back into the green zone.

Formation on the ridgeline, Cedar Creek, Middletown, VA

Formation on the ridgeline, Cedar Creek, Middletown, VA

I arrived at the rolling hills of Middletown early, while the re-enactors were practicing their close order drill, prior to the arrival of regular visitors. With lots of clouds keeping down the light, I shot these guys up on a ridge from a much lower angle and got this nice silhouette. It isn't an extraordinary shot, but I got what I saw in my head, and that is always a kick.

Once I had my plan for the day, there were photographs everywhere I turned.

Young Re-enactor

Young Re-enactor

For many, these events are a family affair, and some of the re-enactors start a very young age. I had a chance to shoot several shots of this cute, little girl, waiting with her mother and friends. I sat on the ground to keep at her eye level and made this shot as she noticed me. She turned shy and hid behind her mother.

This was a big gathering of almost 7,000 re-enactors. Cedar Creek was an important battle, pitting Union General Philip Sheridan against Confederate General Jubal Early. The Confederates were eventually defeated, and the Union controlled the Shenandoah Valley until the end of the war.

On Saturday, before the battles, the Union boys held a mass formation and a pass in review. It was an impressive site. It took almost an hour for all of them to parade by. The reviewing general looked more like General Sherman (not possible because he was in Georgia, threatening Atlanta), but he cut quite a figure, just the same.

The General for the Review

The General for the Review

There were too many soldiers to fit in my lens, but I made many photos of parts of the formation and during the pass in review. For an old Army guy, they were just too good to pass up.

Pass in Review, Cedar Creek

Pass in Review, Cedar Creek

After the Union pass in review, it was time to head over to the Confederate camps to see what I could find there. The folks there were busy preparing for the upcoming battle. Women in the camps were mending uniforms; preparing for wounded that were soon to arrive; and discussing bits of the day's news.

In the Confederate camp

In the Confederate camp

The re-enactors live in period-correct tents and cook their meals over fires during the event. When they aren't engaged in the battles, they will happily give living history demonstrations of camp life. We discussed the facts and personalities of this battle. As always, I had no problems getting permission to make photos of them.

Confederate Infantryman

Confederate Infantryman

The camp included a photographer who was taking authentic tin-types and ferro-types, with a replica camera. He had a long line, waiting for the opportunity to pose. He developed the photos in the tent with the same type of chemicals Matthew Brady used 150 years ago. I watched several of the photo sessions.

After Mark's blog, last week, I had to make at least one toned photo to look like it was taken 150 years ago. I'm quite happy to create the effect in Lightroom, but it was impressive to watch the re-enactment photographer create the real thing.

Tin-types and Ferro-types while you wait

Tin-types and Ferro-types while you wait

North Carolina Confederate

North Carolina Confederate

The day went entirely too quickly. I wish I could have made it there for Sunday when the Confederates were going to conduct their parade. The different approach brought back my enthusiasm to see this project through to the end in April. I began this project with the idea I would photograph the battles, but it needed a more comprehensive approach. The Civil War impacted Americans far beyond the battlefields, and the re-enactors do a great job of showing us how life was lived in those times.

And I found some humor on the edges of the battlefield. Keep the fun in your photography.

We didn't have these kinds of rations when I was in the Army.

We didn't have these kinds of rations when I was in the Army.

Defying Gravity, but Not the nearly Purple Haze

By Mark

Last Saturday, my friend Jeff invited me to go flying with him.  I leapt at the opportunity and so we headed up, up and away into the VA and MD skies. 

I learned quite a bit about trying to shoot in a small aircraft.  The first thing that I learned is that there is not a heck of a lot of room for a big lens in a small cockpit.  I wound up taking off my lens hood and really wished I had one of the rubber ones. You will see that not being able to press my lens to the glass means that for some angles, you get to see your own reflection in the image. The second thing which I learned, or at least recognized, is that most plane windows are a little bit tinted, which helps keep the plane cool, but which does add both a tint and reduces the light a bit.  Next, it was very interesting to see the level of haziness that hangs over this region.  Here is an untouched image as we approached Baltimore. 

Baltimore?

Baltimore?

It’s that greasy smear in the left center.  Last week at Adobe Max, they showcased some new technology which may appear in future releases—it is called Dehaze and man, do I wish it was out now. http://prodesigntools.com/adobe-photoshop-defog-dehaze.html  All of these pictures required the clarity slider be pushed almost to the max. 

There are a lot of airway restrictions around this area-which is no surprise. With 3 major airports and the Nation’s Capital they control the air pretty tightly. For some reason they don’t want people flying over the White House???  It was impressive to watch Jeff communicate with all of the ATC zones and not get us shot down.  What is pleasantly surprising though is where you can fly. 

Inner Harbor

Inner Harbor

We headed east and fly right over the inner harbor of Baltimore.  We looped around so I could get shots of both Raven Stadium and Camden Yards. 

Foosebal

Foosebal

Still one of the best fields in baseball

Still one of the best fields in baseball

We then checked to see that “our banner still waved” over Ft. McHenry before heading over to the Eastern Shore of MD.  

Mid day sun, not the dawn's early light at all

Mid day sun, not the dawn's early light at all

We stopped for lunch in Cambridge, MD.  Although I didn’t get a shot-something about whacking Jeff in the head while we were on final, didn’t sound smart; we were accompanied for a little bit by a Bald Eagle.  

One other thing about flying over a city, is that your cell phone keeps looking for the towers, which are all below you.  This eats your battery.  I had been using an app-Motion-X GPS to capture our track.  That stopped at lunch time when I had no power Captain.

Half of our track.  Note the loop around B'allmer

Half of our track.  Note the loop around B'allmer

Flying back we cruised over the picturesque waterfront towns of Oxford and St. Michaels.  Sailboats and powerboats out enjoying a glorious day.  

St. Michaels, MD

St. Michaels, MD

We headed over the Naval Academy in Annapolis and then found the winner of the best house award.  

There a lot of huge, gorgeous, really, really expensive houses out along the water.

Finally we headed back to Leesburg and found the only spot of real turbulence for the day.  It was a blast and we are going to do it again—Maybe even at night.   

Lined up, with a bit of rough air

Lined up, with a bit of rough air

Final approach

Final approach

Why Are Old Photos Brown?

By Mark

Roger wrote about our very successful Photowalk in Harpers Ferry last weekend.  Since there was a huge Civil War reenactment ongoing, lots of our group have been processing our photos to look older.  I started thinking that we all know what images from then look like, but wanted to know why?   

Courtesy Library of Congress

Courtesy Library of Congress

Photography was still a relatively new art and science at the beginning of the war.  People had to sit really still for a very long time under very bright light for any kind of image to take hold.  The first “easily” replicated process was done by Daguerre in France.  A glass plate was coated with chemicals and exposed to light.  Mercury vapor then fixed the image.  It created a bright image, but only one.  There was no way to reproduce them.  Starting in the 1850’s they created the Ambrotype.  

It was easier to produce, but also used dangerous chemicals.  It too only could produce one image.  Finally a relatively inexpensive process which printed the image directly on to a metal plate-a tintype was introduced and soon everyone had pictures in their pockets.  These tended to be fairly dark, but were relatively stable

Tintype effect

Tintype effect

Now the great Civil-War photographers like Gardner and Brady used a different wet-plate process, which did produce negatives and could make prints. Gradually during the war, this process largely replaced the others for fine photography.  Unfortunately the prints made from these negatives had problems all their own.  The silver nitrates tended to crack and turn all black when exposed to sun.  Photographers discovered that they could use different chemicals which would replace the silver salts, and which would add new tones to the image, but preserve the relationships between the lights and the darks in a picture.

Cuttlefish ink, or sepia added to the image imparts a nice warm brown tone, while selenium adds a cooler bluish tint.  Because these colors are stable they became the standards for what we think of in old photos.   

It's fun to play with these and see the history come to life.  

From now looking back to then.  Reenactment Family at Harpers Ferry

From now looking back to then.  Reenactment Family at Harpers Ferry