Phoster App Review – One Step Closer for Designers

The biggest complaint I have about the iPad/iPhone is that there still isn't a streamlined solution for designers to make something from nothing. For these devices to supplement laptops and desktops there needs to be a one/two app solution that allows users to create 100% start to finish. Phoster, an App by Bucket Labs, is a step in that direction. Phoster's purpose is pretty simple: Make a poster using your iphone or iPad. With the iPhone you can use the camera or a photo from your photo library. Naturally with the iPads lacking camera one can only use the photo library. Pretty basic concept, which falls in line with most effective iOS applications - basic and useful. As someone who makes posters for a concert promoter at least three times a week I certainly can feel the strain of a creative block. After nearly designing one hundred concert flyers, it can be very easy to get into a habit of using the same elements or similar design techniques to simply get the job done. I'm always trying to keep things fresh with my designs and since I've been using the Phoster app I can admit that it has been an invaluable tool in prepping my designs. Right out of the gate, Phoster comes with some pretty useful and trendy templates for you to manipulate. These templates are pretty spectacular, especially for an app that is only $1.99. The templates range from very commercial (such as the I heart NY template) to very elegant and 'indie' looking - if I can steal an industry term. While many may think that thirty plus templates can be limiting but my challenge to that would be that the possibilities are even wider with that many templates. I know there is a community of users growing for this app whom regularly share their phosters on Flickr and other sites. However, I believe the potential for working designers to use this is extraordinary. Everyone's use of this app will vary. The common user will think this is a cool way to make a trendy and stylish poster from their iphones to share between friends or on a social network. For more serious designers, specifically those using iPad, Phoster is a great tool for layout out basic design elements and quickly producing a layout. One of the promoters I work with usually sends me everything he wants to see in the flyer, the band photo that agents want to see and the copy mandatory for the flyer. Recently I've been whipping up quick proofs for him to glance over so he has an idea what the end result is going to look like. I think, with a few enhancements, this app will be incorporated into my daily workflow for specific design projects and can easily see the app gaining popularity in the mobile design community. I can't speak highly enough about this app. I think the simplicity of the interface combined with the ability to incorporate text and photos with very elegant and original design templates makes this app a grand-slam out of Fenway. I wouldn't change anything about the app, I think the interface is very intuitive and suits the needs of the app. From this point I would only add features. The big feature I would add is the ability for designers to submit custom templates - both free and premium for users to download. I think the ability for user sumbitted content further establishes a community based app and everyone involved feel part of the development process. The second option I would incorporate would be an export resolution option. I think it's great that users can easily share content between the big social networks (Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter) but I think designers would find this even more useful if they could select their export resolution - whether that be pixel or inches. Overall I think Phoster is a superb app for the budding mobile design community. I'm very excited to see the potential of the app and how far it will go in the coming months. Kudos to the crew over at Bucket Labs, they have a hit on their hands and with continued development they will have a superior lead in the mobile design market with the Phoster app.

Review: Mastering Canon Flash Systems – Canon Shooters now have Holy Text

Attention Canon shooters tired of hearing about how great Nikon Flashes are. Attention Canon shooters looking to understand the fundamentals of Canon Flashes and do all "that cool stuff." You now have a holy grail - protect it with your life. Rocky Nook, a great publishing house that dabbles in all things photography are the people responsible for Mastering Canon EOS Flash Photography - written by NK Guy. Frankly, up until this book was published trying to educate oneself about Canon flash systems was like trying to find Bigfoot in the desert. Even finding information on the internet was scarce and you usually wound up on a forum that instead of being helpful was just a whose the more obnoxious know it all that belittles those who seek knowledge. It's not that information isn't out there, it's just overshadowed by the notion that Nikon flash systems are better. Sure, they are in some regards, but by simply owning Nikon gear or Canon gear doesn't make you better than another photographer - it's what you do with these tools. The book starts out with a fantastic forward by David Hobby of Strobist fame. To sum it up, he basically says this: We spend out time trying to be great photographers, getting the best gear, getting the best lenses, so why shouldn't we spend the same energy learning about lighting? I won't spoil the forward because I ultimately want you to buy the book and discover it for yourself. My job is to simply inform you of the nuts and bolts. David's forward is pretty consistent with the views he shares on his blog. The book reads very quickly, even if it is four hundred nineteen pages cover to cover. I'm in the midst of my third read through and still finding enjoyment from the lessons this book shares. The book, like most of this genre, begins with an overview of camera techniques, lighting 101, what hobbyists should use to what pro-ams should use. Those quick bits take up the first two sections and the third section was a bit of a surprise to me. Right off the bat, practically, the book gives you section called Top Ten FAQ's. The FAQ questions are pretty basic, but for someone starting out with flash I completely understand having those questions so early on - why have folks asking something basic over the course of four hundred plus pages, get it out of the way now. As an overall history afficionado, I really appreciated the section related to the history of flash and flash technology. This section should be mandatory reading material for all aspiring photographers. I say that because if any of them complain about their gear not being good enough they could look back at the history and realize that it could be a lot worse - you could be dealing with magnesium ribbons. The entire book covers absolutely everything you'll want to know about using Canon flashes. Everything from single flash setup, multi-off camera flashes, stroboscopic lighting and other advanced flash techniques are covered. The book reads like a conversation between two photographers and I think in an era of instant information a book that flows like that is important. Many books I've read go on and on about theory and why you should never light a certain way, or never use 'x' camera setting to get 'y' result. If you asked me "Hey Nate, I'm trying this, do you think that works, how should I do it?" I wouldn't lecture you about why you should or shouldn't try a technique. I would tell you "Oh, set your flash power to this, camera to that, position light here, and boom goes the dynamite you're good to go." I wouldn't, most of the time, tell you why you shouldn't try something with your camera or lightning equipment because the honest answer is why wouldn't you? I think so many people, especially form my generation, are so afraid to fail that they won't try anything; or they'll try to be so cutting edge and 'new' they won't try any technique that is 'old'. You can't be afraid of failure. You learn from failure. Had you never touched a hot toaster you'd never know not to do it again, right? This book tells you the answers your looking for and explains the reasons why you get the results your getting. It's a perfect example on how photography books should be written. I feel that educating oneself is necessary. The only person you can rely on is yourself and you have to trust yourself to learn new things everyday. Whether or not you succeed or fail is not important - what's important is that you learned something through your success or failure. If you don't learn anything from this book then my hat's off to you. You're a budding genius who will change the world someday. However, the knowledge I took away from this book will be with me for a lifetime, and I expect the same results for anyone who reads it. I know in my case this book will always be mandatory reading before and after shoot. The book ideal for looking at your work, comparing the techniques you used to the information Guy wrote down and learning from the experience. I can't imagine a situation where this book wouldn't be useful for any photographer or lighting designer or art director. Wrapping this up, here are my final thoughts. If you shoot Canon and have struggled with flash in the past, buy this book. If think you know a lot about Canon flash systems, but want to know even more - buy this book. If you think you know everything, believe me you do not, so - but this book. This book should be on the nightstand next to every single Canon user on planet earth and any other planet we someday may or may not inhabit. Ultimately, as photographers, we want to be successful. For me success is being able to do what I love everyday of my life and having the knowledge to do it effectively. That being said, I leave you with this: Mastering Canon EOS Flash Photography by NK Guy, through Rocky Nook, will help you succeed. Bottom line. -Nb

Tuesday’s Typo #1

Tuesday's are a rough day of the week. It's the second day of the work week and its just shy of Wednesday and a distant relative to Friday. For the sake of rhyme scheme and to get in the habit of posting some interesting Typefaces and Fonts to share. Someday, and that day may never come, I'll design my own. In the mean time please enjoy these samples from the pro's. To download from source please click the image. - Nb

Drobo 4 Bay Array Review

I love my Drobo and if you don't know what a Drobo is let me fill you in. Drobo is your Savin grace, Drobo is your last line of defense, Drobo is your miracle in a box....this is starting to sound like an iPad commercial. Without getting too technical, Drobo is a self managing, automated backup system that ensures you never lose your data. When, not if, one of your hard drives fail you don't want to be up the creek without a paddle - Drobo is your paddle. You simply backup your data to a drive housed in your Drobo array and automatically Drobo will back up that data yet again to a second drive within the array as a secondary backup. Because I'm a freak about losing files I tend to buy an abundant amount of drives, especially when I'm working on a clients work. For example, one of my clients I have a three year archive of photography and video from various performances and events. I have three drives dedicated to this client - one (1tb) for photography, one (1tb) for video and a third (2tb) that automatically backs up data from the other two drives. I'm able to judge the health of my drives from the very easy to understand Drobo Dashboard software that comes with the Drobo Unit. The dashboard charts out how much data you have available, how much is reserved for expansion, how much is used for protection and how much overhead you have left. To determine if your data is protected, you can simply click into the advanced controls window (which truthfully aren't very advanced, for any common user) and under the data protection window displays the message: Your data is protected. When I backed up about 900gb at once, the data protection window said: Your data is currently not protected - which at that point additional information was given basically suggesting I leave Drobo alone and let it do its thing. Drobo is a  certainly saving grace, especially from a time management standpoint. I use to dedicate several hours a week/month to managing my backup drives and making redundant back ups that would take me hours to replicate. Drobo does everything on the backend so I don't have to worry about spending all that time manually doing everything which in turn allows me spend more time assisting client with their projects. Who is Drobo for? Drobo is for everybody who takes backing up seriously. However I know many people won't want to spend $600 for a 4-bay Drobo Array. So realistically who is Drobo for? Drobo is for any freelance photographer/Designer/Video editor who want to focus on their craft, not the science of backing up data. Drobo is ideal for every small business in any industry. Small businesses should be worrying about the day to day operations, not the long nights of backing up years worth of data. Drobo is virtually a worry free device that needs little attention. The only thing that would make Drobo the absolute perfect peripheral for your workstation is it occasionally talked to you in the Hal 9000 voice, I mean the lights are already there. Drobo really should come out with a Hal 9000 special edition array, just throwin' that out there.  To avoid any confusion or any angry letters to the editor, you'll need to buy additional hard drives from Drobo's site, Amazaonl, ect. You can buy Drobo packages, but if you simply buy the Drobo array you'll have a fancy black box that lights up on your workstation. So make sure you go buy those drives for your array. Those are my six hundred words on the Drobo. For more information please follow them, or visit their website.

Do It Tomorrow

I'm terrible at staying on top of things, and the first step to recovery is admission. Even with a MacBook, iPad and iPhone I consistently lose track if what I should be doing. I've tried using iCal, Bento and Things; I just can't get into them regularly. They are great applications, I'm just too lazy most days to update them. So how does a lazy man keep up to date with the things he needs to accomplish. Well as I tell my wife, I'll: Do It, Tomorrow. See what I did there? I used the name of the app in the sentance. Much like Hot Tub Time Machine. At any rate, Do It Tomorrow is a fantastic, simple app that makes even the laziest of men stay up to date with all the things they need to finish in a day. The interface is easier than opening a door - you simply tap 'Add New Task' - type your task, tap return and it adds your task to your  daily task list. Piece of cake. The really beautiful thing is is that when you want to be lazy for the day, not if, you simply click the arrow to the right of the task and your task is pushed to tomorrow. I've had tasks in my Do It Tomorrow app for over three months - I keep telling my wife that I don't want to hang new curtain, she doesn't get it. I use this app daily to keep my life in order. I'm not important, or anybody significant so this app really does a fine job of keeping my important tasks at bay. Again, like many apps I tend to favor, there's nothing earth shattering about it. It's very much a one trick pony that is reliable and useful on a daily basis. The one thing that I really like about it is the resemblance of a physical moleskin notebook. Speaking of which, they're coming out with iPhone and iPad covers - cant wait to get my hands on one of those. Screenshots below, the App can be downloaded here and it's free so there's really no reason not to have it.

Photomatix Pro 4 Review

I've been a long time user of Photomatix Pro 3 and it has been the ideal HDR solution for me. I know there are other applications out there, Nik come to mind, as well as plug-ins for the common photo applications - but I find for a start to finish application is the best way to go and I was thrilled to notice that HDRsoft has updated their HDR application to Photomatix Pro 4. The improvements from Photomatrix 3 to Photomatix 4 are staggering. I'm using a Core 2 Duo MacBook Pro Circa early 2007 and it's running this program like a champ. Photomatrix 3 allowed me to create HDR shots, but Photomatix 4 allows me to productively create HDR shots and that's a huge improvement in my workflow. There's obviously some features under the hood that make Photomatix 4 faster and more efficient than Photomatix 3 - in my experience, specifically with the jump from Aperture 2 to Aperture 3, I notice a plethora of new features but a slower workflow experience. This is not the case with the transition from Photomatix 3 to Photomatix 4, everything under the hood has enhanced my experience with the program. Aside from noticing a faster application, right out of the gate there are some really nice UI changes that really showcase the usability of the application. Before Photomatrix 4 the application was very functional, but you had to find things. The Photomatix 3 UI wasn't set up for a user starting out with HDR or unfamiliar with the Photomatix software, you really had to know your way around photo applications and stab your way through to get decent results. That's no fault of HDR soft, it's a professional level application that hobbyists shouldn't have had a need for. However, HDR Soft, likely getting feedback about their user interface have progressed leaps and bounds with the new Photomatix update. The UI of Photomatix 4 reminds me of looks and features that can be found in Lightroom 3 or Aperture 4, which will certainly help new users get adapted easier. Everything the user is going to need to produce a quality HDR image is laid out in front of them with this redesigned interface and allows for a very fluid workflow. The presets while tone mapping are a plus, especially for users who are use to programs like Lightroom and Aperture who might need a starting point with their HDR editing. I won't get into a debate about whether a user should apply presets because that usually gets old school photographers in a tizzy and the newer generation photographers get bent out of shape because their getting oppressed by the old ruling class. The presets Photomatix includes are incredible and cut a lot of the work one would have to do in Photomatix 3 in half and, again, provide a very fluid workflow. I have created images with not adjusting any presets and have made images without the help of the presets and the conclusion were very similar. I've gone as far to look at images created with Photomatix 3 and reprocess them in Photomatix 4 and compare the results. I will admit that there are some significant improvements in Photomatrix 4 in handling ghosting effects caused by the HDR process. An image that I wasn't able to submit to a client in HDR due to a significant amount of ghosting was good to be submitted and had little to no ghosting effects. The improvement of handling ghosting effects alone is worth the price of admission with the new Photomatix update. To sum it up, Photomatix Pro 4 is a superb update. Ultimately, a great application is now even greater. The updated user interface will welcome new comers looking to dabble in HDR photography, as well as the inclusion of presets that will appeal to new users and the significant updates under the hood that professionals will love to improve their workflow. If you're looking to take the next step with your HDR photography, then this is update is absolutely essential. If you have a license of Photomatix Pro 3 then you will be able to update to version 4 for free. If you're new to photomatix then a license will cost $99 which includes a plugin for Lightroom. For $119 you can purchase the Photomatix Pro bundle which includes the desktop application and plugins for Lightroom, Adobe CS2 - CS5 and Apple's Aperture software. Please visit HDRsoft's website for more details and purchase Photomatix  Pro 4.

LehrerDance Studio Photo Shoot Recap

I've been photographing and providing content for Buffalo's own LehrerDance since August 2007. The story is actually quite interesting, at least for me. My roommate at the time was (still is) of the company members and the day of their Buffalo Premiere on a hot, muggy August day he called me in a panic. Long story short their media crew that they hired had bailed on them last minute and Jon (the Lehrer of LehrerDance) needed someone to come video tape the pieces for archival use and promo work. Not having anything to do that day I grabbed my gear and saved the day for them. Since that day I've been working with this great company providing them photography and media content.

Up until recently though I hadn't done a studio shoot with them, only live photography. Mainly because I lacked a studio and the minimal gear required to perform such a worthy task. So I have three years of live photography and video but nothing from the studio. Luckily for me LehrerDance has a partnership with the University at Buffalo's Department of Theater and Dance and they rehearse in their black box theater daily. So I was able to round up some white seamless and three flashes (two 430's and a 580) and went to town with them.

Now, admittedly, I'm not a great studio shooter. Mainly due to not having any space, and prior to 2009 no more than one off camera flash unit. I know basic lighting techniques due to my background with lighting for video. Turns out, while very similar, lighting for still is like riding a horse through a carwash. However I stabbed my way through the shoot and made it out alive, just barely (the company members tend to pride themselves in leaping and nearly lept through me and my gear).

My setup was basic. Canon 580 unit on camera, one Canon 430 unit 45 degrees to my left @ 1/16 power and the other Canon 430 unit 90 degrees to my left @ 1/32 power providing side fill on the dancers. After some brief tests I went with this setup for a couple reasons.

• It provided my white seemless some texture and varied gradient of grey, especially in the foreground.

• The side fill @ 90 degrees provided me a nice sharp highlight on the bodies of the dancers.

• The 430 unit to my right at 45 degrees provided me an interesting shadow that I kept in. It made the dancers look like they were moving too fast too shoot, in the sense that their shadows were ahead of them. I could have lowered the power to 1/32 or 1/64 and still snapped crisp action shots but the shadow worked for me that day. Would I do it that way again? I'm not sure.

For my first studio attempt with the company I thought, and Jon did as well, that the shots turned out well. We've already begun planning the next one which we're shooting at a gymnastic center so the dancers will have more room to dive and jump with a softer landing.

I will say, and i'm completely bias, that the company is fantastic. They're very athletic, yet organic at the same time. I urge anyone to look into them or even go see them when they travel to your local performing arts center or university. You'll likely see me with them as I travel with them often.

Cross Process – still the iPhones gold standard photo app.

Even with built in HDR, and even with a dozen or so worth iPhone camera apps, Cross Process is still the favorite son on my mobile device I think the reason why I enjoy using Cross Process the most is because the app knows what it does. By that I mean it's a one trick pony, in the positive sense. The app cross processes a photo. I believe this is why the app is successful because what it promotes itself to do the app does well at. I believe apps that try to do too many functions at once end up failing at all of them. Many apps allow users to use ten or twenty different effects, crop, shoot stunning 8fps video (/sarcasm) and so on. Yet these apps cut corner in algorithm development to give the users an 'okay' effect instead of a stunning effect. Users want to be stunned and they want to be able to replicate their results time after time and do so quickly. This is why I appreciate apps that know what they do. If ask a Cross Process user about cross process they will tell you it's an app that effectively allows them to make an authentic cross process photograph with their iPhone. Ask the same user what an app like hipstamatic does they will say: "well allows you emulate this but you have to find this other thing to do that. Oh and you can buy this pack to do that," and so on. Nothing against hipstamatic and the people behind the development of that app, I just feel the message is lost in the main purpose of the app. I'll share more thoughts about Cross Process further down the road. But for now I'll sum it up with this - the best apps tend to be the apps that know what their purpose is. For me, wanting to cross process photos, the Cross Process app is the standard.

Not sure if you heard:

I'm very much alive, and finally have stumbled my way through a WordPress theme in order to update my website on the fly and keep it fresh. My content will be updated over the next 48hrs, but for now the sites up. What can you anticipate here now? More content, more often - things of interest, reviews of everything from food to apps to ancient cookie jars from the Ming dynasty. In all seriousness I'm going to be providing a lot of fresh content, such as new photo content, app reviews, current video projects and general topics of interest. Really looking forward to this layout and the  ability update from mobile devices (really advanced for 2010).