Archive for 'Tips'

How you can make better photographs of snowy scenes!

It is mid-February and it seems there is one snow storm after another in the news lately. So it seemed a good time to offer some tips that might help you to get better photos in snowy scenes.

Don’t trust your camera’s exposure meter!

The one thing that can help your snowy scene photos more than anything else is to override your camera’s exposure setting. It might help to understand that your camera’s exposure meter is programmed to do one thing, determine the proper exposure settings to give your image a medium tone result. Specifically, exposure meters attempt to make everything neutral 18% grey. When you are photographing a snowy scene, you do not want that! So, what do you do?

Camera automatic setting results in underexposure.

Camera automatic setting results in underexposure.

Here is an example which shows the result you would get by letting your camera simply choose the exposure settings for you (auto exposure). As you can see, the photo looks dark and grey. Sort of “murky”. This is because the camera meter analyzes the scene and sets an exposure to make everything the average medium tone I referred to earlier. In a scene full of bright white snow, the camera makes the image darker than it should be. The meter is fooled by the scene and mistakenly underexposes the image. So how do we go about fixing this?

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Are you a "Megaphone" or "Hearing Aid" Twitter user?

TwitterLately I have had the opportunity to observe two competing organizations, both of which use Twitter as a tool in their business communications but who do so in very different ways. For me this has been a living example of two opposing approaches to using Twitter, one good and the other really NOT. Here is one way their approaches differ which helps illustrate my point.

Megaphone or Hearing Aid?
With one of the users in my informal case study the organization is using Twitter as a Megaphone. They speak but do not listen. It is easy to recognize a Megaphone Twitter user by simply looking at their totals for “Followers” vs. “Following”.
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Answer Your Questions Instantly with Google SMS

If you are anything like me you are a heavy SMS text message user. Sending a message limited to no more than 160 characters may at first seem a bit senseless, but you soon find it to be very useful and even a bit addicting. It is the perfect solution for those moments when you need to share some information, a thought or idea, but it really doesn’t require a conversation.

Here is a great little tip to a tool you can use to get information in return. Google offers their Google SMS service which is like having almost any information search right there in the palm of your hand. All you need to remember is the Google SMS texting number which is “GOOGLE” (“466453″ on most mobile devices). What could be easier?

Here is how it works. Just send your inquiry to Google SMS at “466453″ and in barely a minute or less Google will send you a response, usually an accurate answer to your question. To make this work even better Google has optimized the system to easily handle certain types of inquiries. Try these for example.

Current movie listings – text “Movies 54321″ (using your zip code)
Latest sports scores – text “Score Yankees” (name your favorite team)
Current weather conditions – text “Weather Chicago” (name your preferred city or zip code)

For a more detailed list of the optimized Google SMS inquiry options go to the Google Mobile SMS web page and text away. Google will answer virtually any of your questions instantly as simple as that! Best of all, this service is a free product from Google (your standard text messaging rates still apply as they say…)

What is a Favicon, Why Would I Want One?

favicon exampleA favicon is sometimes referred to as a bookmark icon, shortcut icon, favorite icon or website icon. In most modern web browsers you will see the favicon displayed in the browser’s address bar next to the url of the Web site you are visiting. On this blog site you should see a red “ST” logo in the address bar of your browser window, similar to what you see highlighted in the graphic above.

Most browsers that support the display of favicons will also show the icon next to entries in your bookmarks or favorites lists. If you are using a browser which offers tabbed browsing, you will typically also see the favicon shown in each tab next to the web page title.

There are two very good reasons to be sure your Web site includes a favicon.

  1. It makes your Web site user friendly
    If your browser supports the display of favicons then you already know this to be true. The favicon makes it much easier to recognize a particular Web site you may be looking for in your tabs, bookmarks or favorites lists.
  2. Establishing and reinforcing brand/organization identity
    Statistics vary but most agree that it takes some repetition before people will remember your company or organizations visual identity. Use of the favicon is an effective means of building on that recognition.

Those seem like two compelling reasons to be sure that your Web site offers a favicon to its visitors. Your Web site developer should be able to install a favicon for you. If you need help you can of also look to SteadmanTech for help with this and any other web development needs.

Photoshop Tip: Reset Your Dialog Boxes Quick and Easy!

Photoshop logoHere is a quick Photoshop tip that might save you a bit of time. Some of Photoshops dialog boxes can get a bit busy and before you know it you are thinking you want to go back and start again from square one. It is simple enough to just dismiss the dialog box using the Cancel button then start over. But you can get there quicker and easier. Here’s how.

From almost any active Photoshop dialog box which presents you with the OK and Cancel buttons you have another option. The option that I speak of is the Option key (Alt on the PC) on your keyboard. No kidding, bad play on words I know. Reset-buttonWith your dialog box active just press-and-hold the Option key (Alt on the PC) and Photoshop will instantly change the Cancel button to read “Reset”. While still holding the Option key, click on the Reset button. You are now reset back to where you began when first opening up this dialog box and you never had to leave the dialog box to get there! Now you start over changing your settings and adjustments as needed.

Why Your "We Were Here" Travel Photos Fall Short

We all have the best of intentions in taking photos as we travel the country or even our own neighborhood. You just want to grab a photo of family or friends in front of a significant landmark, something we want to remember fondly in the coming years. Unfortunately, in a great majority of these situations the photos people take could very easily be much better and with very little effort to do so.

Here is a great example I created while on a recent family vacation to the Kennedy Space Center on Florida’s Atlantic coast. One highlight of our visit to the Space Center was seeing the Apollo/Saturn V rocket up close. It was natural to want to get a few photos to remember the visit and to share with friends. All too often I see people taking photos of this type and making some unfortunate mistakes as they do so.

Mistake #1This photo is an example of the most common error I see people make time and time again. This is a picture of my son standing in front of the Saturn V rocket’s Service Module, or is it? You can see the Service Module of course, but can you actually see my son? He’s there with a beaming smile on his face, but you cannot really tell that from this photo.

The mistake we’ve made here is that he is standing too close to the landmark element of the photo and gets lost in the photo. You would find yourself explaining this photo to your family or friends. I’m sure it would go something like, “Here is my son when we visited the Saturn V rocket. That small blob is him. He was very excited, trust me.”

Mistake #2Here is a photo which does make some improvement, but still misses the mark by quite a bit in my opinion. Some might actually argue that this picture is even worse depending on what you would rather see in the photo, my son or the rocket. Here you can certainly see the enthusiasm on my son’s face, but can you tell that is part of a Saturn V rocket behind him? Not really, it could be almost anything to be honest.

So this picture like the first, still does not tell the story very well. Now you would be explaining this photo by swearing that it really was a Saturn V rocket in the background, really. On the plus side for this photo, I’ve come in close enough that you can see my son in the photo and actually recognize him. On the minus side, the background could be anything at all.

Now let’s make a much improved photo. It is really very simple and requires only a wee bit of thought and a slight change of camera angle to create a vastly superior photo. Below is the photo as I would much rather see it done. I think you can see that this is a great improvement.

Nice camera angle and result

I made two simple changes to get this greatly improved photo and it took only a few seconds to do so. First, I had my son step away from the background subject. It only required moving 20 feet, that’s all. This is a mistake that I see people make probably 90% of the time when making photos of this type. I don’t really know why, but as soon as someone decides to get a picture taken in front of some notable subject, they walk right up to it where they will be dwarfed in the resulting photo.

Get away from the background subject! The larger your “landmark” background element is, the farther away from it you should be to get a great photo. If this were a picture of my son in front of the Lincoln Memorial for example, we probably would have been a good 50-100 yards away from the steps of the memorial.

Second, I moved the camera closer to my son which brings his happy face more into the foreground of the photo. Again a very simple adjustment to make when setting up the photograph and it takes but a few seconds. Bringing the person in the photo closer to camera really forces them into the foreground of the picture and separates them from the background behind them.

So next time you are out and about and setting up a photo to show family or friends in front of some notable background subject, remember two things.

  • Move the person in your photo away from the background subject
  • Bring the camera closer to the person in your photo

With these two things in mind you can come home with some really great travel photos. Photos you will be proud to show off to family and friends, and you’ll have a lot less s’plainin’ to do!

Change Adjustment Layer Intent While Retaining Layer Mask

Change Layer Content menu itemIf you have come to appreciate Photoshops adjustment layers and layer masks, then you are probably also aware of their remarkable power when used together as a team. The great benefit of an adjustment layer lies in its non-destructive nature. So too with the layer mask. Both tools can be used and adjusted over and over without any destructive effects on the original image they manipulate.

So imagine now that you have created an adjustment layer in your image and also added a complicated layer mask to it. You’ve spent a considerable amount of time fine-tuning this layer mask to limit the adjustment layer effects to specific areas of your image. Now you realize that you need the adjustment layer to apply a different intent. What you thought should be a Curves adjustment would be better suited as Hue/Saturation instead. Do you really want to recreate that complex layer mask again? I certainly wouldn’t.

One approach to solving this problem might be to create your new Hue/Saturation adjustment layer then copy and paste the layer mask from the old to the new. But there is an easier solution. Here’s what you do.

First be sure that the adjustment layer which contains your carefully crafted layer mask is active, by clicking on it in the layers pallet. From there, simply choose the Change Layer Content submenu found in the Layer menu. In the submenu just select the intent you wish to change the adjustment layer to apply. In this example we would be choosing Hue/Saturation. You are done. The adjustment layer is now applying a Hue/Saturation adjustment instead of the original Curves, and the complex layer mask remains in tact! Now you can make changes to the Hue/Saturation applied by this adjustment layer until you are satisfied with its effects.

More information about Photoshop adjustment layers.
Here is a basic tip on using Photoshop layer masks.

How to Avoid Getting Your Photography Gear Stolen

You’ve spent countless hours finding just the right photography equipment. You’ve researched online, you’ve visited your local photo shops and found just the right mix of cameras, lenses, strobes, tripod and all the accessories. Now, you wouldn’t want to see all of that work turn into a payday for your local thief would you?

Here are some tips and ideas that just might pay off in keeping your latest and greatest photo gear purchases under the radar and off the thieves target list.

vanity-license-plateVanity plates, do you REALLY need that? – This is like a big bold invitation to any thief. You might as well leave a note on your car saying, “Here’s your next payday! Rob me!” If the owner of this vehicle winds up the victim of a break-in, I must admit I will have no sympathy for them. They’ve invited it.

UglifiedCameraMake it look worthless – A thief doesn’t want to waste their time on stealing something they cannot turn around and sell for cash. If your equipment appears old or undesirable, it is of little interest to the thief. So how do you go about doing this? Here is an interesting approach someone used to make their digital camera look like an older film camera, he uglified it.

Make it look like something else – Maybe we can take a tip from our military here. When they do not want their airplanes shot out of the sky what do they do? They make them invisible, they make them stealth. You may be able to do the same with your photo equipment. Make it look like it isn’t even there. Instead of carrying your gear in an expensive camera bag, try something else. Consider a students book bag/backpack, a duffle bag or even a diaper bag. What thief would steal a diaper bag?!

Keep it hidden – Generally speaking, it is a good idea to carry as little as possible. The more gear you’re lugging around, the more likely you are to become a target. With so many very capable consumer level digital cameras on the market today, it is a very easy task to find a camera capable of offering great results which is also small enough to slip into a shirt or pants pocket. Check out ScotteVest for some great garments designed to carry all of your portable technology without looking like it!

When it comes down to it, if you just use a little common sense about when, where and how you use your photo gear, you won’t have any trouble keeping it all out of the greedy hands of your local thief. Keep shooting!

Is Your Domain Name About to be Slammed? Be Careful!

It’s late at night, do you know where your domain name is? It might not be where you thought it was. If you are not careful you may wind up as the customer of a company you’ve never heard of before, and they’re ok with that. Read on for five tips to protect yourself from domain name scams.

Domain SlammingSteadmanTech has offered domain name registration services for many years now. Over that time this business has had its changes, opportunities and challenges, but one thing has always remained consistent. There is always someone trying to trick my clients. Most notably, there always seems to be someone taking shots at Domain Slamming my customers.

Domain Slamming is a technique used by less than reputable domain name registrars who wish to trick registrants into switching from their existing service provider. The scam is almost always initiated through the mail and comes to you in the form of an official looking letter. These letters are very carefully crafted to look like an official notification that you are about to lose your online identity. It’s a technique perfected by the Canadian company “Domain Registry of America” who was eventually barred by the Federal Trade Commission from continuing these misleading practices.

Just as bad or maybe even worse than being the victim of Domain Slamming, is another common domain name related scam I would call a “Domain Switching Scam”. Once again you are usually approached through the mail with a very official looking letter warning that you need to protect your online identity. The pitch is that you need to secure your domain name before it expires and is lost for good. The scam here is that the document you’ve received is actually an order form for a completely different domain name. One you never owned to begin with!

Five Tips to Avoid Domain Name Scams

  1. Know Where Your Domain Name is Registered — Be sure you know who your official domain name registrar is so you know which solicitations are legitimate and which are not.
  2. Check Your Domain Name Registration Details — By running a Whois search on your own domain name you can verify all of the registration details including who the registrar is, who is listed as the domain name registrant (owner), when the domain name is set to expire and more.
  3. Keep Domain Registration Contact Information Current — This is very important to assure that you do not lose control of your domain name. It is especially important to keep your contact email address(es) up to date. These addresses are usually the first line of communication your domain name registrar will use to contact you and are sometimes used to verify your identity as the true domain name registrant.
  4. Never Respond to Solicitations Via US Mail — In every case that I am aware of, current domain name registrars first line of communication is always via email, NOT by US Mail (it used to be different). In at least 90% of all scam solicitations I have ever seen, the communications are sent via US Mail. Some used to come via your fax machine, but that practice has largely faded away.
  5. Renew Your Domain Name Well Before Its Expiration Date — Most domain name related scams are initiated in the last six months of an active domain registration period. Remember that you can renew your domain name registration at any time and you DO NOT LOSE ANY OF THE CURRENT REGISTRATION PERIOD. Anytime you renew a domain name registration, the renewal period is added to the existing registration period, extending the registration from that point forward.

Drag & Drop Your Drop Shadows!

Photoshop logoPhotoshop makes so many things so very easy we sometimes take if for granted. Adding a drop shadow for instance, on any layer which contains some transparency, is as easy as pulling up the Layer Style dialogue box (Layer —> Layer Style —> Drop Shadow…). Then customize that drop shadow to your hearts content with all of the options offered.

But, it may be even easier than you realized! Once you have the Layer Style dialogue box available on your screen, move your cursor outside that box and into your image window. You will notice that the cursor turns into the move tool! Now just click in the image window and you can drag and drop your new drop shadow into the exact position you would like it to be! Simple as pie!

Drag and Drop Your Drop Shadows

As you drag the drop shadow around your image window, Photoshop instantly updates both the Angle and Distance settings for you. Once you’ve tried this out you will never again go back to manually typing the numerical information into the settings text boxes!

Would you like to see more Photoshop tips like this? Let me know you found this helpful and I will keep adding more right here. To get even more insight into Photoshop, consider membership in National Association of Photoshop Professionals, it’s worth every penny!