Monday, June 29, 2015

All Done Pimping My Website

Designing the new cover page on Squarespace
My original Squarespace site
For a few weeks now I've been working on unleashing the Gods of Websites on my poor old tired site. They say change is good so I dove in and gave the site a completely new look - new template, new logo, new fonts, new image display, and even new images. The new design was the brainchild of my female offspring unit who I decided to bring into the process to take advantage of her brand new degree from Florida State in Digital Media and Graphics Design.

The more recent site before its renovation
It's was hard for me to let go of my affinity for all thinks tacky and gaudy but slowly, patiently, she persuaded, cajoled, and nudged me to a new design that was much cleaner than anything I had dreamed up by myself in the past. I wrote about the design process recently (here) so I won't go into that aspect of the process again.

After the site was redesigned, I thought the hard work was over since Squarespace converted all of my portfolio galleries into the new format seamlessly. Then I came up with the notion that maybe it was time to put some new images on the site so I could include stuff that came out of my camera bodies over the past year or so, maybe even throwing in a few other images that had special meaning to me but I had never processed.

Little did I know that going through thousands of images and then trying to select, re-process, and limit the number of images would be light years more difficult than redesigning the site. But it's all in the rear view mirror now as it's finito.

New shot in the "Football" gallery
New shot in the "Football" gallery
New shot in "The World" gallery
At first I was just going to add one gallery with a few sports, studio, scenic, travel and people shots. As I poured through my desktop hard drives copying and pasting possibilities into a portable hard drive I paid no attention to quantity. As images popped up on my preview screen, if they caught my attention for one reason or another they were copied and pasted for processing. When I was all done, I opened the hard drive only to find that I had copied and pasted well over 1,000 images. Yikes. Talk about a big gallery. I realized there was no way to reduce that number to a manageable gallery of 30-35 images so I went to Plan B - multiple galleries with images grouped into the same themes in my Portfolios. I created folders on the portable hard drive for each genre - Sports, Studio, Black & White, etc. and funneled the images into the appropriate folder.

One of my new Studio shots
Now, the gallery format on the new site initially displays images in a large grid, but clicking on any image transforms the gallery into a full page view of each image, allowing a viewer to click through them full size. So, I had to make sure each image would not only look good in a grid but also when enlarged to full size. Night after night, hour after hour over the past week I sat at my desktop working on images, organizing them, discarding anything that I didn't think was worthy, and putting them into their respective folders. When I was through I still had way too many images but at least the number had shrunk down to less than half of the original number.

A new shot in "The U.S.A." gallery

New shot in the "Other Sports" gallery
To make a very long story short, I started to create the new galleries by uploading all the images that remained. That opened up a new cans of worms. I had way, way too many sports images. Go figure. I didn't want my sports gallery to be dominated by football, baseball, and basketball because I wanted to include images from other sports but I also didn't want to sacrifice some of the football or baseball images just because of a numbers issue. That caused me to gravitate towards breaking down the sports gallery into several galleries - one for football, one for basketball, one for baseball, etc., giving each major sport its own decent sized gallery with a catch all "Other Sports" gallery. Problem solved? Hah. Adding all those galleries made the navigation list at the top of my web site pages look like a book. On to Plan C - figure out a way to condense that navigation links into something readable and easy to follow.

New navigation menu
Going back into the Squarespace design menu I figured out a way to create a "New Images" page with folders, each folder containing the gallery for each genre of images. Hovering on the navigation link resulted in a drop down menu listing Football, Basketball, etc. for easy peezy selection. Not stopping there, I did the same thing with the Portfolios. Much to my pleasant surprise I killed a flock of birds with one stone - a navigation menu that was even cleaner and simpler than before and easy to follow.

New shot in the "People" gallery
I finished up by renaming the galleries and translating those names to the Portfolio galleries. That meant moving images around in the Portfolio galleries since I got rid of "Black & White" and went with a gallery titled "People". I also got rid of the color and black & white travel image galleries and reshuffled images into a galleries for images from the U.S. and images from abroad. I still have too many images in many of the galleries but I just don't have the fortitude to take them down. Supposedly the rule is to keep the number of images on a photography web site gallery to 20 and certainly no more than 30. Maybe someday I'll bite the bullet but for now it is what it is.

New "Football" gallery
New "Other Sports" gallery
New "The World" gallery
New "People" gallery
New "Studio" gallery
New "The U.S.A." gallery
New "Baseball & Softball" gallery
So, here they are. Each new gallery was limited to no more than 35 images. You gotta try to follow the rules at least to some extent, right? That's 7 new galleries containing well over 200 images that are now on my website. Too many? Maybe. I'll live with it for now. I know that's my gaudy, tacky self rearing its ugly head but it's good to let the beast out every now and then.

Friday, June 26, 2015

I'm Not Mac'ing This Up

What would you say if I told you I picked up a new-used 20" iMac, refurbished by Apple certified technicians, for the whopping sum of $259.00 plus sales tax (because I live in Florida) and $35 for shipping (because I didn't want to drive to Tampa to pick it up)? It may be a mid 2007 model but this bad boy has a lot of life left in it and will be just the ticket to replace an old, tired Windows XP PC at our cabin in North Georgia.

Every time we have headed up for down time at our cabin, we've powered up the PC and lived with its slooooow internet capability and Photoshop PS2. It got to the point where everyone took their laptops with them because using the PC was just not worth the trouble. No more. We now have an inordinately functional desktop that will serve our purpose and then some; and its a Mac.

The specs on the $259 iMac
I chose this particular iMac because it was upgradeable to 6MB RAM (it came with 2MB RAM) and I had some spare RAM memory laying around after I upped the memory a couple of years ago on my home based iMac. 6MB of RAM is more than enough to run Photoshop CC smoothly and handle an operating system upgrade from Mountain Lion to Yosemite.  For $259.00 it was light years better than any PC I could have gotten.

Mac of All Trades web site
$20 Off Banner that rotates with other banners
I normally don't sing the praises of any particular vendor but I break this rule when a vendor comes along that offers great products at great prices, provides prompt shipping, and most of all sells me exactly what I bargained for. Mac of All Trades is everything I hoped for and a bag of chips, and its  where I found my new-used iMac. I stumbled across their web site a few days ago and began looking through its offerings. When I saw the $279.00 price on the 2007 iMac, I was seriously considering pulling the trigger on it. When the web site banner changed and I saw that I could get $20 off simply by being a new customer and signing up for their newsletter, so much the better. I used a catch-all Yahoo! email address I have just for stuff like that, signed up, got my email from them to verify the address, and in a couple of minutes the price dropped to $259.00.

Some of the iMac offerings
A few of the 15" Macbook Pro offerings
Some of the 13" Macbook Pro offerings
I've posted some examples of the Macs available from Mac of All Trades above. They pretty much have every Mac you could possibly want, including  all manner of Macbook Pros, Macbook Airs, Mac Minis, iMacs, and towers. In the way of Mac accessories, they carry most everything like keyboards, mice, and displays ranging from 20" to 27". Need an iPad or an iPhone? They have those too. All products come with a 90-day warranty but you can purchase extended warranties of 1 and 2 years.

Some of the Deals of the Day
If you decide to pay Mac of All Trades a visit, don't forget to check out their Deals of the Day page for additional savings. Had I needed a Macbook Pro, I could have bought a 13" Mid 2009 model for $229.00. That's a lot of laptop for $229.00.

So, if you're looking for any kind of Mac and you'd rather not cough up the big bucks, you may want to check out Mac of All Trades.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Houston, We Have A Problem… A Stale, Dated Website Design

My old website design
It was time. Way past time. My photography website needed a face lift and I have been putting it off and putting it off and putting it off. I'd much rather spend my time shooting images rather than dealing with what I consider to be tedious design stuff. Give me a couple of monolights, a soft box, and a couple of pieces of foam core, throw in a model and a white seamless background and I'm all up for an afternoon of shooting. Or send me out to a baseball game, give me a couple of camera bodies, a 400mm f2.8, and a 70-200mm f2.8 lens and I'll think I've died and gone to heaven.

But sitting in front of a computer trying to decide whether to use a white or black background, choosing between Kozuka Gothic Pro EL or Adobe Heti Std R fonts, or testing templates to see which one looks best is not my idea of a good time.

But like shaving or mowing the lawn, it has to be done. My website generates a lot of work for me. When Fill-In-The-Blank University is coming to town to play FSU in fill-in-the sport and they need a photographer to shoot the game/match/series and I'm not on tap to shoot it for FSU, my website is what gives a sports information director the comfort level of knowing that I will do a good job for them and am worth what I've quoted them as a fee. Or when a magazine needs a cover or images for a photo spread, my website gives the photo editor a chance to compare my work with others under consideration.

Getting To Work

Summer is the best time for me to take a break from shooting and buckle down for a website refresh. For the most part, my sports photography obligations are on hiatus until football season begins in the fall and I have a lot more time to devote to pouring over the past year's images for possible addition to the site, tinkering with page design, and yes, font selection.

I use Squarespace to not only host my website but to design it using their quick, simple features
Before diving in to the redesign process, I thought it would be a good ice to do some reading about website design trends for 2015 and more specifically the designs of photography portfolio sites. Prevailing suggestions included using a clean, simple, uncluttered design with white or a very light background and using a cover page as a precursor to actually getting into the nuts and bolts of the site. It also seemed that a new trend was getting away from the single-image, full bleed photo galleries that popped up when navigating to a portfolio page, replaced by a grid style layout that would transform into a large image gallery with a click of the mouse on any image.

Squarespace's template selection page
So off to races last week, I dove into Squarespace's template selection page to test out various templates in demo fashion concentrating on the templates that used grids. Squarespace has a feature that allows you to demo each template before settling on the one you decide to use and after a lot of template installations to sample what was available I settled on "Avenir". None of the templates had everything I thought I wanted but it had the overall look I was trying to achieve. The biggest thing it lacked was a true cover page. Other than that, after playing with the design features inherent to the template, I felt like I could make it work. 

Then, by accident, I discovered that Squarespace was way ahead of me. I guess with the trend of using cover pages on websites becoming more entrenched, the folks at Squarespace added a new feature to its design options - creating a cover page and adding it to any of the templates. Bumbling and stumbling my way through the process of designing a cover page, I went through several permutations and ended up with…. Ta dah, my new website cover page.
New cover page
I also spent some time creating a new logo to include on the cover page and at the top of each of the pages. Here's the final product (L).

So How Does The New Page Design Look?

Sports portfolio page
Studio portfolio page

Squarespace automatically incorporated all of the existing images from my old website portfolios into Avenir's grid styled gallery layout so that was easy enough. Until I'm completely through with the website I'm going with the same images but some will no doubt be replaced with newer images.

Clicking on the first image in the Sports portfolio page opens a full size gallery that you can scroll through.

Full size Studio portfolio gallery

Until now I've never been a big fan of the grid styled gallery layout opting instead to go with the full size style of galleries on my pages. But I now see why the trend has shifted. Not only does the grid style allow a viewer to immediately get a view of several images (and you can adjust the size of the images in the grid to taste), a simple click of the mouse on any image converts the gallery to a full size version that enlarges the images. Viewers now have the option of a quick peek at a large sampling of images or a more detailed view of each image. Best of both worlds, in my mind. I'm diggin' it.

Another change I was able to make with the Avenir template is incorporate all of the portfolios under one navigation link (PORTFOLIOS) instead of each portfolio having a link in the navigation menu at the top of the page. Hovering the mouse over the PORTFOLIO link triggers a drop down menu that lists all of the portfolio pages. This method reduces the clutter in my navigation menu with only four links (for right now). Much cleaner and simpler.

The new Americana gallery still under construction

The new People gallery

The new Black & White gallery
 You may have noticed that I added a caveat to the number of links in the menu - "for right now".  That's because I'm now working on a new page that will be similar to the Portfolio page and will feature new images as I create them. I've started on creating the new pages which right now includes "Americana", "People", "Black & White", and of course sports, studio and travel/scenic images - "All Things Sport", "All My Bags Are Packed", and "Stu-Stu-Studio". All of these pages are under construction as I go through the process of selecting images to include.

What About The Blog?

Old Blog design
With a new website design, I couldn't very well leave my Blog looking shabby. It was also time to give its design a face lift and I wanted to make it more consistent with the new website design. So, enter the new Blog design.

New Blog logo

It got a new logo using the same image I used on the website cover page and a new template. I kept some of the old Gadgets, added some new ones, and reconfigured them. 

The new Blog design
So, it's been a time consuming, painstaking process but I like how everything looks. Looking forward to adding the new pages and offering clients a chance to see new, different images as the construction process winds down.

Cheers, and Happy Father's Day to all you dads out there.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Multiple Exposures Exposed

At the end of every baseball season, I receive a number of emails and Facebook messages from folks asking me how I create the multiple exposure images I post on line. It's no coincidence that these questions are posed after baseball season. I always seem to shoot multiple exposures during  baseball games and so those are the ones folks see. 

Why baseball? Hmmmmmm. Maybe it's because games last several hours and there's a lot of down time in between the action. Also, after the first few innings of a game I've usually gotten all of the basic shots out of the way - hitters swinging at balls, fielders making plays, et cetera. With several innings left in a game, the only shots to get are of big plays that might change the outcome of the game. So, with a lot of time on my hands I find myself experimenting with my cameras. 

Baseball also lends itself to some multiple exposures as generally speaking the subjects remain within the frame throughout the several exposures needed to create an image. But rather than ponder on the meaning of life, let's chat about how it's done. A little background is in order before delving into the nuts and bolts.

The Good Old Days…Well, Maybe Not So Good….
I've been shooting multiple exposures for a loooooonnnnng time. Believe it or not, there was a time when images were created with something called film, a plastic strip that was coated with a gelatin emulsion that was light sensitive. Housed securely inside the bowels of a camera, images were recorded by the shutter allowing light to pass through the lens and onto the emulsion. Many of my old film bodies had a feature that allowed you to shoot as many images as you wanted to on the same film frame. I would set the film rewind button (normally used to rewind the film back into the canister after shooting up a roll) to the rewind position, push the film advance lever forward as I normally would after snapping an image, and presto - the shutter was reset and ready to take anther image. Because I had set the camera to film rewind, the film would not advance. Pressing the shutter again would therefore record a second image on the same frame of film. This process could be repeated as many times as I wanted.

Unfortunately, you couldn't see what the image looked like until the film was processed, so shooting multiple exposures with film involved a lot of trial and error and a good dose of hope and prayer. I would shoot the same general image several times using different exposures hoping that one of the multiple images was exposed correctly. You see, when shooting multiple exposures, there is a necessary exposure balance that has to be achieved between acceptably exposing each of the multiple images while not overexposing the overall image.  Repeated images on the same frame of film meant letting more and more light hit the film emulsion and we know what can happen when an image is exposed with too much light.

Two Methods For Creating Multiple Exposure Images 
Ah, but the Dark Ages have long since passed and we now have cameras with built in mini computers that do all this work for us. We also have software like Photoshop that allows us to create multiple exposures through layering multiple images on top of each other.

Yep, nowadays a multiple exposure image can be created using two methods - in the camera and in post processing. Which method you decide to use is up to you. You can let the camera do the work and create a multiple exposure image in the camera using its multiple exposure feature, or what I call the easy way. Option 2 is to shoot several images of the same subject in various poses and layer them into one image using Photoshop, or what I'll call the hard way but with much more final-image flexibility. The two methods definitely create different final images so which one you choose to employ will depend on how you want the final image to look and how much time you want to devote to creating it.

A brief caveat - Most Nikon DSLR camera bodies, especially all the ones I use (or have used) have a Multiple Exposure setting in the Shooting Menu. I can't speak for Canon or any other DSLR manufacturer's products. I have heard that until recently, Canon's digital DSLRs did not have a multiple exposure setting but that possibly some of the newest bodies do. If that's the case, you non-Nikonites may or may not have the option of generating multiple exposures in-camera and will be limited to Option 2. Nikon shooters, you're golden.

The Difference Between In-Camera and Post-Processing Multiple Exposure Images
In-camera multiple exposures have a dreamy, ghost-like quality that is difficult to overcome if it's not what one desires. If you want to minimize this you must spend some time in photoshop playing with layers, levels, curves, and contrast. 

The image above was an in-camera multiple exposure with some quality time spent minimizing the dreamy, ghostly quality. The pitcher is still a bit transparent, though, with a bit of the background visible through his body.

Here's a different in-camera multiple exposure without as much of that post processing or ghostly elimination.

Compare the two and you should be able to see what I'm trying to describe. The pitcher in the second image looks a little more dreamy or ghostly. He is much more transparent to the point where you can really see some of the background through his body. Not so much in the lead image, right?

Multiple exposures created in via Option 2, or in Photoshop, can also be made to have this same dreamy, ghost-like look by reducing the opacity of the various layers. But this "look" can be avoided by not reducing the opacity of the layers. With Photoshop, you also have the flexibility of reducing the opacity of some of the layers but not of others, creating a whole different look. 

The Photoshop Method
Let's take a look at a multiple exposure I created by layering several shots into a background and keeping each layer at 100% opacity, creating one final multiple exposure.

Even Tiger has gotten the Photoshop
Multiple Exposure treatment
As you can hopefully see, all of the layers have the same opacity as the background. No dreamy, ghost like quality exists as to the various players yielding a much more contrasty, final image. Basically, what I created is nothing more than a composite image using a background shot with multiple player shots (taken during various games throughout the season) layered onto the background. I chose images of players in poses that would mesh well with each other in the montage and in Photoshop, I followed these steps: 1) "selected" a player from an image using the select tool to cut the player out from its background; 2) created a layer with mask for the selection; 3) dragged that selection/layer into the background image as a separate layer: 4) repeated the process for every other player; 5) moved the selections (layers) around to get them to fit where they looked the way I wanted; 6) adjusted the size of each player via the "Free Transform" feature to proportionally size them and then refined that with some perspective adjustments using the "Transform - Perspective" feature; 7) processed each player layer separately for an even color balance, exposure and sharpness; 8) fine tuned each layer to remove any part of the selection that was outside the lines, so to speak; 9) flattened the layers; and 10) made final adjustments to overall tone, color, sharpness, et cetera of the flattened image.

Whew. It took me almost 20 hours of work to create the image because of the numerous player layers and my obsessive compulsive need to remove every last pixel that was outside each player's "lines".

The next two images illustrate the flexibility you have using the Photoshop method. These are also composites except all of the images were shot in one burst during the same game and during the same pitch. For each one, I used one image as not only an image of the player but also as the background for the final image. After that, creating the overall image followed the same recipe as the basketball image, i.e. selections and layers. Since there weren't as many layers to fine tune, the two baseball images "only" took 7-8 hours apiece to create.

What the two images above also illustrate is the flexibility of using the composite method. In the first image, I chose to reduce the opacity of all but one player image and removed all saturation in the others  to create a black and white backdrop. One image selection, the one I really wanted to stand out, was left at 100% opacity and full color. You can accomplish the same basic effect with an in-camera multiple exposure but it's not as easy. "Selecting" a player that is somewhat transparent is way more challenging so I've always used the composite method to achieve this effect.

Had I wanted to do create the same effect in the second image, only with all the player images in color, I could have easily reduced the opacity of all but one of the player images and left one at full opacity. I just chose not to do that.

The In-Camera Method
One day, when trying to find some God-only-knows feature on one of my camera bodies, I was scrolling through the menus and stumbled across a setting called ... yikes - Multiple Exposures. Huh? You mean I can avoid hours of eye-bleeding, monotonous Photoshop work to create a multiple exposure? No way.

Way. Once I found this little gem in the menu, I was able to navigate through the settings and experiment with them to create multiple exposures. It's beyond easy. It's a snap (actually, multiple snaps if you pardon the pun).

In case you have any trouble navigating through the menu, simply fall back to something that never fails - read the destruction manual. The camera manual for each Nikon body (above, p. 202 & 203 of the Nikon D3S manual) contains a detailed description on how to shoot multiple exposures. Follow the steps and holy moly guacamole....a multiple exposure.

Let me walk you through the various steps in setting the camera as I usually do.

Navigating Through The Menu

Step 1 - Go to the Shooting Menu and scroll down to Multiple Exposure. Use the Multi Selector (press on R side) to activate the next screen.

The default setting is "Off". Scroll up to "On (series)" and press the OK button.
Activate the number of shots selection by pressing on the R side of the Multi Selector. 
Using the Multi Selector, scroll up or down and choose a number between 2 and 10. I usually select 3. Press OK after deciding on the number of shots.
Pressing OK in the prior step takes you back to this menu. Make sure "Auto gain" is on or else you'll have to underexpose your images in order to avoid overexposing the overall image. General rule of thumb is underexposing the image by one stop for each image, so if you select 3 images, underexpose by 3 stops to start out and then adjust from there. I take my chances with Auto gain.
The last step is to simply hit the OK button and the Shooting Menu should pop back up showing that Multiple Exposure is on.

To get the best image, I would suggest you use a fixed platform from which to shoot, i.e. a tripod or a monopod, and try to avoid things or people that move in the background. A tripod works best but it's not impossible to get a decent multiple exposure with a monopod as I did in the images above and below. The reason for a stable platform that doesn't move and not having things that can move in the background is to give you a constant background in all of the exposures. If you notice in the image above, I was not able to keep the background constant. The players in the background are exposed in different poses from my movement of the monopod, their movement during the sequence, or both. Since I was shooting at f2.8 with very little depth of field, they're blurred, I don't think it's any big deal but you may want something more constant. If so, just use a tripod. But bear in mind that the background people may move during the sequence so even a tripod will not guarantee a constant background when people are in the mix.

As I mentioned previously, depending on how much contrast and adjustments you employ in final processing of the camera-made multiple exposure (through Photoshop adjustments like levels, curves, contrast, etc.) you can improve the amount of definition of the multiple-exposed subject has in the overall image and reduce the transparency. In the first image above (batter), I opted to go with a lot of definition so I made several adjustments that accomplished that. In the image directly above (pitcher), I went with a more artistic, softer overall effect so I did not use a lot of adjustments.

After experimentation with the camera, I've decided that for sports images, using a three-shot camera-made multiple exposure is just about right. I've tried more (5-7) and the images look too busy for my taste but you may find that you like additional exposures. As for actually shooting the images, I've used  the Continuous Low burst mode and set it to 5 frames per second as well as the single shot mode and pressed the shutter each time I wanted to freeze the subject. You can decide which way works best depending on how fast the subject is moving and go with what you see fit. Most of the time I'll push down on the shutter to initiate the multiple exposure when the pitcher (or batter) is set and then fire away as the throw/swing began. After 3 exposures, the camera knows it's all done and a quick peek on the back of the camera will show you the final, multiple-exposed product.

Some camera bodies will revert back to standard shooting mode after the sequence is finished so if you want to give it another go you must go back to the Menu and re-enable the Multiple Exposure mode.

Also, while shooting in Continuous mode, you don't have to hold the shutter down once you initiate the first exposure. You can release the shutter and re-engage it any time you want as long as you haven't shot all of the images in the sequence. You choose when you want each of the exposures to be recorded by pressing/releasing the shutter any time you want. For example, you could shoot one frame when the batter steps to the plate, wait until he's set and then fire the rest of the frames as he swings; or you could fire a second frame once the swing is initiated and then wait until the swing is completed to get the third frame off. The camera will stay in Multiple Exposure mode until all of the exposures you selected have been shot.

Could it possibly be any easier? Nope. Experimentation will allow you to come up with your own recipe for images. Now just go out there and try it. But let's keep how easy it is to create multiple exposures our little secret. We don't want anyone to think that it's this easy to create some pretty cool images.