Closing the books on 2011...

There are a few milestones all coming at me at once that are cause for me to pause... The new year starts tomorrow, my birthday is just days away, and we will hitting blog post number 1,000 in the next few weeks.

1,000 posts, who'd a thunk it. This blog started out as a way for me to inform my photography friends of the cool photo stuff I would find on my (endless) internet wanderings, I thought a blog was much kinder than stuffing their inbox's with photo related emails day after day.

This blog was not the trip I had planned on when it all started back in July 2007, but I could not be happier about where it has led.

And as I think about the posts that have meant the most to me (and our readers), they have little to do with photography. Like the images I created to memorialize local boys lost in Vietnam, birthdays (my daughters here and here, and my moms), and fathers day.

But the one post that stands out the most (to me) was about Mary Lake. Mary is a retired grandmother who makes by hand (on average) a dress a day for little girls in foster care or living with people other than their parents.

As if that alone wasn't amazing enough, Mary sews those pretty little dresses on an antique manual Singer sewing machine (meaning no electricity, you operate it by a treadle using your feet).

You can read the original posts about Mary and her wonderful work here and here.

What made me feel so good about these posts wasn't just Mary's heartwarming story, it was how you, the readers of Weekly Photo Tips responded. Mary has received gift cards (to buy sewing supplies), much needed material, and one of our readers even offered to buy her a brand spankin' new electric sewing machine.

I was blown away by your generosity (as was Mary).

Mary continues to make dresses, as of the last count she is up to 700 dresses. She sent me two (along with matching bags) as a thanks for a recent "care package" I sent her (I am looking for special little girls to give them to).

If anyone out there is looking for a good cause drop me an email and I will put you in touch with Mary.

Funny (coincidental) thing is that while I was planning this post I received an email from a reader:

"Most of your posts are very photography oriented (which I highly enjoy), while others are more heart-felt. I just wanted to let you know that because of your blogging I've accomplished quite a few things this year (including volunteering for a help-portrait event, giving my time to local pet shelters to take photos of their adoptable pets, and taking free photos of graduating college students). I've noticed that I get a lot of joy from sharing my photography expertise (although limited) to others. I just wanted to thank you for your thoughtful posts and I look forward to seeing more in 2012!"

This reinforced that I am in fact on the right track and that we have great readers.

Let me close out this post (and 2011) with my hopes and wishes for you.

If I could make a wish for all of us it would be that we not squander that most precious commodity, time.

In 2012 don't wonder "what if?", put it all out there.

Live, laugh, love, be loved, and gobble up life up with both hands.

Don't assume that the people in our life know how we feel about them, let's tell them, leaving nothing unsaid.

Be slow to anger and quicker to forgive.

We should put more effort into being happy than we do into being right.

Be the kind of friend we wish we had.

And as often as we can, let's perform an act of kindness for someone who has absolutely no way of paying us back.

Thank you for spending some of your time here in 2011, your presence has enriched my life, and I look forward to seeing you back here in 2012.

A very happy, hopeful, and healthy New Year to you and yours!

Weekly Photo Tips 2011 product of the year...

Today we have the pleasure of announcing that Lighting in Layers from David Hobby of Strobist fame is our product of the year for 2011.

Several factors went into making our selection.

Quality of content: Lighting in Layers starts out with the absolute basics, shooting with a single window as your only light source and then builds in small steps until you are shooting high speed action with multiple lights.

Quantity of material: You get 7 DVD's that contain over 9 hours of learning. The first 6 DVD's are the 16 different on location shoots in hi def, DVD number 7 is the entire course in low def for use on your mobile device and will make your learning portable.

Appeal of the product: Lighting in Layers has information that people new to photography will be able to easily learn from, but there is also plenty for those folks who have been shooting for years, you'll find tips, tricks, and techniques that will help advance your craft. Bottom line, there is something here for everyone.

Price: You get the entire 7 DVD course for just $159 (with free shipping), which puts it into the price range that (almost) everyone can afford. If you want to understand (and control) light you really can't afford not to get this.

We reviewed Lighting in Layers back in September and you can read the entire review here.

If you would like to dig a little deeper into what Lighting in Layers contains before you buy, you can check out the complete gear list for each and every shoot right here, the final images shot at each shoot here, and the Flickr discussion thread here.

(click on any image to view larger in a a new screen)

At Weekly Photo Tips we have the good fortune of getting to test and use some pretty outstanding photography products and without a doubt, because of the quality of information and its affordability Lighting in Layers is head and shoulders above everything else we used this year.

A year end deal on a Canon Rebel T3i with lens...

Adorama has a phenomenal deal on a Canon EOS Rebel T3i DSLR Camera / Lens Kit that comes with a Red Giant software bundle AND FREE shipping and you'll get it all for about $350 less than any other camera store out there!

Let me tell you what you will be getting for just $839 (not $1130 plus shipping others are charging):

* Canon EOS Rebel T3i Digital SLR Camera

* Canon EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS Lens

* 16GB SD Memory Card

* Slinger Camera Bag

* A second LP-E8 Lithium-Ion Rechargeable Battery

* USB 2.0 SD Card Reader

* Digital Camera & Lens Cleaning Kit

* Red Giant Adorama Production Bundle for PC/MAC (a $599.00 Value)

If you would like to take a tour of the Canon EOS Rebel T3i along with a 360 degree view just follow this link.

If you want to check out everything this deal has to offer take a quick trip over to Adorama, if you decide you want to purchase use the coupon code "S1234567" to get the special pricing of just $839.

Inspiration, motivation, determination...

This is one of those year end, looking towards the future kind of a post. It was "born" after watching the Ted Forbes Christmas Eve video post over at The Art of Photography.

Here it is:

Videos aren't pushed through to subscribers, so you folks can find the video at this link.

Ted talks about being "remarkable" but it's not uncommon to get in a "rut" for many reasons, the holidays cut in on your photography time, if you live in paces like here in the northeast where the weather restricts your mobility as well as your ability to go outside and shoot. So you might need to put in some extra effort to break out of that rut, so I want to give you just a few resources that might help.

The first resources is from Ted himself, if you head over to The Art of Photography you'll find some wonderful learning opportunities, like his Master Class Live and his podcast.

Another resource worth investing some of your time into is Adorama TV, where you will find folks like Joe McNally, Chase Jarvice, Kevin Kubota, and David duChemin covering gear, techniques, and lighting. You name it and chances are really good you'll find it there. In their latest video offering you will find Bryan Peterson in a junk yard making the point that you can take pictures anywhere.

This next resource is not specifically photography related, but it is all about doing something everyday that will allow you to move closer to your dream, it's the 30 day challenge. It will give you everything you need to run a successful online business, teaching you about social media, keywords, market research, tracking visitors, and more. And it's broken into 30 days so that it comes in small easily digestible bites and it will help you create the positive habit of doing something everyday to "make it happen". You can download it for your iPhone, iPod, or iPad, and yes, it's free.

Lastly, if you want to be inspired by the work of others and get your own creative juices flowing I don't think there is anyplace better than 500px. You will see some pretty stunning work.

From their website: "500px is a photographic community powered by creative people from all over the world that lets you share and discover inspiring photographs."

You can signup for a free account which will give you a portfolio, a photo blog, and will also make your portfolio iPod and iPad ready so you can share it with clients (you can get the free app here). The paid version gives you this and soooooo much more.

So, I hope this is enough to spark you to move forward, to be remarkable.

A very Merry Christmas to you and yours!...

Yesterday was Christmas cookie making day at our house, the sound rolling from the kitchen was the laughter of my wife and three daughters and it was a beautiful as any music I've ever heard.

Though it was only after I walked into the kitchen to fulfill my obligation as "taste tester" that I realized things are "different".

When my girls were younger it was simple, they would pile as much frosting, sprinkles, M&M's (and whatever else they could find) onto freshly baked cookies. How those delicate little cookies ever stood up under the weight of all that sugar was simply amazing.

And now it's... well, it's less sugar and more "let's see if we can embarrass dad". Yes, my daughters cookie decorating skills have definitely changed.

It is my hope that you and yours have a warm and loving holiday season.

I hope there is always food on your table and those you hold most dear sitting around it.

That your home is warm and your heart is always happy.

That as you look back over this past year you see happiness, and as you look forward to the new year you see nothing but hope.

In closing, a picture from a not to distant Christmas past... when my girls were believers... and they left goodies for the big guy and his reindeer.

Merry Christmas everyone.

My top five Christmas movies..

Here I sit, listening to Christmas music (Johnny Mathis), our Christmas tree is dominating the room, and I'm really waaaaay more into Christmas than photography at this very moment so thought I would share my "top five" Christmas movie list.

Number one on my list is "The Bishop's Wife" with Cary Grant, Loretta Young, and David Niven. It's the story of an Episcopal Bishop who is losing sight of his family and why he entered the church as he becomes engrossed in having an elaborate new cathedral built, that is until an angel enters his life and helps him refocus on what is really important.

Second on the list is "A Christmas Carol"... don't really think I have to tell anyone what this movie is about.

Third is "It's a Wonderful Life", a story about how George Bailey spent his entire life trying to get out of Bedford Falls but for one reason or another never succeeds. Feeling his life has been wasted he has the rare opportunity to see what the lives of those he touched would have been like had he never been born, it's then he realizes he is the richest man in town.

Fourth is "Scrooged", a remake of A Christmas Carol set in modern days with Bill Murray. It is as heart warming as it is funny.

Fifth, and last on my list is "The Shop Around the Corner", another movie with Jimmy Stuart and is not really a Christmas movie, more that it takes place at Christmas time. If you've seen the movie "You've got Mail" you already know the plot line.

These are my favorites because they beautifully demonstrate love that we (should) have for each other and the better side of mankind. If you like sentimentality at Christmas (like I do) you just can't go wrong with any of these movies, if you haven't seen them I would strongly encourage you to do so.

Please, I would love to hear what movies have made it to the top of your Christmas list.

This camera is going to change everything...

Have you ever taken a picture, pulled it up in your editor and though it was perfectly focused, wished you had focused elsewhere within the frame?

Now you can.... I kid you not.

The new Lytro light field camera will let you do just that.

Once the image has been captured you can change where the focus point is after the fact, either in the camera or on your computer. If you visit their image gallery you can try it for yourself.

(click on either image to view larger in a new screen)

Instead of capturing just the info where your camera has focused, the Lytro captures all the light, all the information, throughout the entire image area.

In fact you don't (can't) even focus with this camera.

I am not going to try to explain everything about how the camera works, as it takes a bit to wrap your head around it (at least it did for me), and their explanation (with representative images) will do it far more justice that I can. So follow these links to their website and their blog and be prepared to witness a game changing camera.

It will be interesting to see how this new way of taking pictures develops and grows as technology progresses at the speed of light.

In the mean time, check out the video below from C|NET, it will give you an idea of what the future holds.

Have I got a deal for you...

Actually it's not my deal, it comes to you via Peachpit, but I wanted to make sure you knew about it.

We recently reviewed the book "Food Photography: from Snapshots to Great Shots" by Nicole Young and I can sum up the book in three words "A Great Book".

If you didn't buy the book then you may (will) want to take advantage of the offer Peachpit has going on now, you can get the eBook version and a 1 1/2 hour webinar Nicole recently did for the (very) low price of just $9.99.

Even if you don't buy the book you can get the webinar for free here (you can either watch it online or download it for future/offline consumption), in it Nicole shares lighting techniques, shows you her setups, shares tips & tricks, as well as answers questions.

But I promise you, after you watch the webinar you will want the book, so save this link so you can go back and get it, because she gives some outstanding photography advice that is applicable to whatever you may shoot.

(click on either image to view larger in a new window)

Some of the most useful sites on the web...

As with many things I find on the internet, I'm not quite sure what I was looking for or how I got there, but I came across the list of "101 Most useful Websites" from Digital Inspiration and wanted to make you aware of it as well as share a sampling of what you'll find there.

One of my favorites on the list is Wordle (cuz it's purty), it allows you to make a word cloud of your site (or somebody else's). It's can be created in three different ways, inputting your own text, entering a URL and letting Wordle read keywords from the website, or by putting in a user name and having Wordle read the tags.

The above cloud was created via the URL option, You can click on it to view larger and in a new window.

Here is that partial list, but not to worry you can find the rest here, and even better you can get a downloadable PDF here so you can save it to your computer and share it with your friends.

01. – record movies of your desktop and send them straight to YouTube.

02. – for capturing full length screenshots of web pages.

03. – a better search engine for twitter.

04. – the best place to find icons of all sizes.

05. – print web pages without the clutter.

06. – the best place for searching web videos.

07. – quickly determine the font name from an image.

08. – a good collection of fonts – free for personal and commercial use.

09. – share you screen with anyone over the web.

10. – for sharing really big files online.

11. – work on the same document with multiple people.

12. – planning an event? find a date that works for all.

13. – the perfect tool for measuring your site performance online.

14. - chat with your buddies on Skype, Facebook, Google Talk, etc. from one place.

15. – quick summarize long pieces of text with tag clouds.

16. – get color ideas, also extract colors from photographs.

17. – send an online fax for free.

18. – setup a private chat room in micro-seconds.

19. – create text notes that will self-destruct after being read.

20. – find whether a photo is real or a photoshopped one.

21. – download stock images absolutely free.

22. – create custom Google Maps easily.

23. – quickly setup email reminders for important events.

24. – find if that email offer you received is real or just another scam.

25. – an online audio editor that lets record, and remix audio clips online.

26. – preserve complete web pages with all the formatting.

27. – your virtual whiteboard.

28. – – an excellent layer-based online image editor.

Once you finish going through the entire list, you'll need to check out their categorized listing of the "Best of the Web".

Between the two lists it should keep you busy until the first of the year.

You people blow me away...

Here are just a few of the images submitted to our Flickr group by our readers for the UPstrap giveaway.

Some pretty cool stuff.

Click on any image to view larger and in a new window.

Winner of the 12 days of Christmas...

The winner of the V Gallery 12 days of Christmas Extravaganza give away is....

Kyle and Jennifer Stevenson, Kyle (or Jennifer) if you forward your email to me I will pass it along to good folks at V Gallery so you can start collecting your goodies.


I dun got me a Twitter thing...

Yup, I have moved into the 21st century and added Weekly Photo Tips to Twitter.

What pushed me over the top was the V Gallery 12 Days of Christmas Extravaganza, as I wanted to share with folks each item as they rolled out over the 12 days, letting them know why they should signup.

Speaking of the Extravaganza, you have until noon today to sign up for just $19 (with $5 being donated to charity), at noon it jumps to $39.

Today is day one and the product is the "Winter Card Set"" which normally sells for $55.

Here are all the details and signup information.

We will be giving away free 12 day package to one of our readers later today and you still have time to enter, just comment on any 0f our blog posts and upload an image to our Flickr group and your name will be thrown into the "prize" hat.

Also, if you want to get bonus content that won't be on our blog, head over to our Twitter page and signup.

Our UPstrap contest winners are...

My posts usually come very early in the morning, not this late at night, but I wanted to keep my word to announce our contest winners today.

So, our two winners of the UPstrap contest, drawn randomly from all those who entered are....

Half Blind and Anika Alonzo!

Congratulations to you both, you each will need to email me your snail mail address and I will get your UPstrap out in time for Christmas.

Don't forget to come back Monday morning and see who wins the "12 Days of Christmas Extravaganza"!

Whew, got this post up with 56 minutes to spare...


A phenomenal deal AND another giveaway!...

The good folks over at VGallery are having a 12 days of Christmas special that starts on Monday December 12th.

Before I tell you what you get, let me tell you what it costs... $19!

And from that $5 will be donated to the The Aasha Fund which is tasked with helping the neediest of children and families around the world.

So back to the 12 days, starting this coming Monday (and for 12 consecutive days) you will get a a download one of the products from V Gallery.

On Monday the price goes up to $39 and you can sign up after that, but regardless of what point you sign up you'll get all 12 downloads.

But wait, there's more!

Every day during the 12 day extravaganza there will be a drawing from all those registered for incredible giveaways, that have a combined value of over $5,000.

Follow this link for all the details on the 12 day giveaway.

I've signed up and will be letting you know each day what I got to download.

But wait, there's still more...

V Gallery will be giving a free 12 day package to one of our readers, I will pick a person who entered our UPstrap contest and announce the 12 day extravaganza winner on Monday morning (12/12).

Just a bit about V Gallery, they may sound familiar to you as we reviewed their products in the past (like here and here), shared their free textures here, learned a great technique for photographing people with glasses from Jed, and V Gallery even had our very first product of the year.

Vicki and Jed are great people with products to match. You just can't go wrong doing business with them, I promise.

(click on the above image to view larger in a new window, will be much easier to read)

Photoshop and the law...

Yesterday we talked about photographers and the law, which for the most part is pretty cut and dry, black and white (a slight pun intended).

But when it comes to Photoshop it's far more gray, being legal doesn't necessarily make it right, and as my mom says "just because you can do it doesn't mean you should".

The part that isn't gray is photojournalism, if you are presenting images as news, real life, real events, you can't manipulate them in Photoshop, to do so is dishonest and will likely cost you your job (like it did here, here, and here).

Follow this link and you'll see 10 news photographs so badly hacked in Photoshop you have to wonder how they ever made it to print.

What about advertising, is it okay to "bend the pixels" in advertising images or does that run contrary to "truth in advertising"?

When a product claims to remove fine lines, how do you know if it was Photoshop and NOT the product that was responsible for their disappearance?

England and France don't think it's okay, in fact they are considering legislation that would require a labeling system for digitally altered images.

They both even banned Maybelline and LancĂ´me ads for "excessive air brushing".

And in the United States some are working on "The Self-Esteem Act" in an effort to protect young women from unrealistic (and unreal) body imagery presented in advertising.

Here are more "interesting" links:

Is she really that skinny? Really?

How 'bout her? This one was so bad Ralph Lauren had to give a public apology.

What was the purpose of moving these two people closer together?

This actress is suing a magazine for taking off her clothes with Photoshop.

Be sure to check out the site "Photoshop Disasters".

PLEASE don't get the impression I am some kind of purist, I 'm not, in fact I LOVE Photoshop.

I heard Vincent Versace say that Photoshop should be used like an emery board but too many folks use it like a hammer. I try to take the emery board approach.

Now some folks might think me hypocritical... why?

Remove acne from a senior portrait, yup, I do that. In the years to come I want that man to look back and see his youth, not his bad acne day.

"Hide" moms bra strap, do that too. I want mom to see a happy family moment and nothing else.

That little extra that is coming over the top of a brides dress, I will "push" it back. When she shows her children (and grandchildren) the images of her wedding I want her to bask in the joy if that special day, not to focus on her weight.

I am not a photojournalist, I am not presenting these images to the public as reality, or the way life really was at that very moment. My purpose is to leave my client with something they will look back on with joy.

And I love the phenomenal "fantasy work" created with Photoshop, and imagery with "that certain look" (like the work from Dave Hill and Joel Grimes).

But (I think) there is no comparison between folks who edit an image for a bride or create art vs. those who present lies as news or advertisers who deceive by presenting fictional imagery with the message "this is what you should look like".

Photographers and the law...

One of the topics hotly debated in photography forums (besides Canon vs. Nikon) is what are the rights of photographers, the do's and don'ts of what we can do with our cameras and where we can do it.

So instead of speculating or listening to the well intentioned (but misinformed) advice of a someone on a forum I thought I would give you the information that will arm you with the (real) facts.

Here is a link from the ACLU that spells out clearly what you can and cannot do with your camera and where you can do it.

The important thing to know is: "When in public spaces where you are lawfully present you have the right to photograph anything that is in plain view".

It is also important to know your rights when photographing the police, this link spells out pretty clearly what those rights are.

My favorite resource for photography and the law is "The Photographers Legal Guide" from attorney (and photographer) Carolyn wright, it's packed with useful (and important) information regarding our rights as photographers, it's an easy read and just as easy to understand.

You can buy it as a PDF for only $9.95 or in print for just $14.95 here, a little to pay for a lot of information.

One of the important things I heard Carolyn say during in interview was that when we as photographers cave in and stop taking pictures when we clearly have the right to do so WE are giving away our rights (they are not be taken from us), and will have no one to blame but ourselves when those rights are gone.

Be sure to check out (and bookmark) her blog "The Photo Attorney", not only is if full of great info, she takes a darn good picture as well.

Want a free UPstrap camera strap?...

If you answered "yes" to that question then you've come to the right place because we are giving away not one, but TWO UPstraps!

I shot the second half of "wedding season" with this strap attached to a heavy camera (Nikon D3) as part of my review and absolutely fell in love with it.

And the folks who make UPstraps were kind enough to send us two to give away to our readers.

If you want to enter our "UPstrap giveaway" it's pretty simple, here's what you need to do:

1. Leave a comment on any blog post or any of our YouTube videos.

2. Upload any image that you shot to our Flickr group.

That's pretty much it (see, I told you it was simple).

You can find detailed information on how to join our Flickr group here.

This contest starts right now, it's open to everyone, and the two winners will be chosen at random from all of the qualifying entries.

Those winners will be announced here on the blog next Friday (December 9th).

Good luck everyone, looking forward to seeing your images and reading your comments.

Below is our video review of the UPstrap, subscribers (and you know who you are) will need to return to the blog or head directly to our YouTube channel to watch it.

The small print (literally):

All rights and ownership of submitted images remain with the photographer who took it.

You can enter the contest as many times as you like, 1 image upload + 1 comment = 1 contest entry.

Winners outside of the US will need to cover the cost of shipping.

DIY paint can light stand part II...

Over the weekend I received an email from a reader that reminded me that not everyone is fortunate enough to have high speed internet access so viewing videos is, at times, not an option.

So here are the details on a very low cost DIY light stand/support project, I did buy a new can but used a wooden dowel and Plaster of Paris I had left over from other projects.

Here are the steps (that I used) to make a light stand in a paint can along with several images.

1. The paint can was bought at a local paint store, it was a quart size can for $1.50, new gallon size cans were $2.99, if you have any old paint cans laying around that will save you the cost of a can.

2. Close to the bottom of the dowel that was going into the paint can we pre-drilled three holes and nails were slid into/through through the holes, I always pre-drill holes when working close to the end or when the wood is small because if you don't the wood will most likely split. The nails were used to help stir and to give the shaft stability and prevent it from working it's way out as chances are extremely good that you will lift and move the "light stand" by grabbing the upright, NOT the can.

3. Plaster of Paris and water were mixed directly in the can and stirred, it will thicken quickly so have a level (and what ever else you might need) close at hand.

4. The can came with a cover and I used it to give a more "finished" look to the end product. I drilled a hole in the cover and then used the shaft of a screwdriver to expand the hole to fit. The metal is soft and you can easily work it.

And that pretty much covers it, you can find the original post (with video) here.

If you make one of these please let us know how you do by dropping us a email and uploading a picture of your paint can to our Flickr group.

(click on images to view larger in a new window)

DIY "light stand in a paint can"...

I got this idea for the paint can light stand while watching the episode "Studio Product Lighting" over at Pro Photo Life.

There was a shot in the corner of about a dozen of these DIY stands made from paint cans and sticks, different size cans with different length sticks.

If you watch episode 4 they setup for a studio portrait shoot using nothing but these DIY stands, they used them for the backdrop, light stands, supports, reflector stands, you name it and they used these DIY stands for it. In this episode it looked like everything they used for the setup was DIY, including some pretty cool looking diffuser panels. Be sure to check it out, it's less than 5 minutes long so you'll get a bunch of great ideas in very a short period of time.

Be sure to go check out Pro Photo Life, you'll find dozens of well done and informative videos chock full of no cost/low cost photography ideas.

Now, back to the stand that I made, there are a couple things I did not mention in the video but will now:

1. I used a round dowel when making my stand, but I would suggest using a square or rectangular piece of wood. With a round dowel you run a higher possibility of having your clamp slip out of position, a problem you will not have if you use a piece of wood with flat surfaces.

2. In my paint can light stand I used Plaster of Paris, but you could just as easily use cement, plastic resin, or anything that solidifies/hardens. You could use sand or gravel, but it would require you to bolt the stick to the paint can, which adds work to the project and you would also run the risk of spilling the contents all over your studio floor if the cover dislodged. Chances are you will move your paint can light stand around by grabbing it by the stick which increases the likelihood that the bolts would eventually work their way through the side of the can.

If you make one of these please let us know how you do by dropping us a email and uploading a picture of your paint can to our Flickr group.

With out further delay, here is our video on making a "light stand in a paint can".

(yes, I know I screwed up at the end of the video)

Lowepro camera bags at Black Friday prices...

All the bags you see below come with free shipping, so the price you see is the price you pay, nothing hidden, no surprises.

You will need to enter the coupon code "S1112323" during check out to receive the Black Friday price.

And though it is a "Black Friday" sale, these prices are actually good until November 30th (or until the bags are sold out).