Friday, July 29, 2011

Blue Mikey 2G - a sweet way to record on the road

Getting CD quality recordings with a device you can carry in your shirt pocket.

Many serious photographers have come to realize that recording ambient sounds can be a great way to create a background audio track for their slideshows. The challenge however is to record a quality track without hauling microphones, xlr cables and recording decks onto location. Enter Blue’s Mikey 2G  for iPod.

The Mikey 2G is a compact solution, small enough to fit easily within the palm of your hand and weighs less than three ounces. Made to clip into the bottom of your iPod, it turns your device into a high end cardioid recording device, capable of 44.1 kHz/16 bit recordings. 

There are three gain settings (via a simple slider) that adjust for any environment. Many devices I’ve tried have such a slider, but the difference is often unperceivable. With Mikey, the difference is very noticeable and works exactly as you’d expect. Now you can record that guy who never speaks above a whisper as well as the heavy metal rock star with his 16 giant amplifiers.

In addition to its own microphone, it features a pass-through 3.5mm line-input for direct recording of other audio sources such as your guitar, CD player or soundboard.  

The recording head is pivoted so it can be directed at the sound source whether you are hand-holding the unit or laying it down on a table/shelf. There are seven distinct detent points to give you a range of angles.

Blue makes a recording app (Blue FiRe 1.5) for your iPhone or iPod that is free on the iTunes site. They also offer a paid app (FiRe 2) with significantly more features, including file sharing with iTunes, SoundCloud and Dropbox. 

But, now the good/bad news:  Mikey 2G is an analog recording device and does not work with the latest version 4 iPhone or the iPads, which switched to digital recording technology. The good news however is that it is a perfect way to utilize those old iDevices that you had set aside when you upgraded.  It will still  work with  iPod touch 1G, 2G, 3G; iPod nano 2G, 3G, 4G, 5G; iPod classic; iPod 5G. It gave me a reason to pull my 3G out of the closet and carry it on all my photo shoots. (Stay tuned however, rumor has it that a digital version is in the works.)

Check out all the details on Mikey 2G for iPod at the Blue website and start collecting some serious, quality background tracks. Mikey 2G, MSRP $79.99, is available at and For local retailers, visit .

Monday, July 25, 2011

How to edit digital photos for free using Gimp 2.6

Got digital photos? Want to edit them? Got $699 or more for Photoshop CS5? Ouch.
Let’s try that again.  Got photos? Want to edit them for free? Thought so.  Enter GIMP v2.6, a free software package for anyone that wants to edit their photos without breaking the piggy bank. While the software may be free, it isn’t exactly intuitive, but neither is Photoshop. You are going to need some help getting started.

Enter Gimp 2.6 for Photographers, another Rocky Nook book by Klaus Goelker. With this book in hand, you will be up to speed editing your photos in short order.  This book is not intended to be a reference guide to Gimp 2.6, but rather a series of “learn-by-doing” examples that show the reader the most frequently used features of photo editing. 

You’ll learn the basics of opening or converting file formats, scaling, cropping, setting contrast and levels… all the basics. But then it gets good. Goelker give instructions on using the clone tool for touch-ups, masks for combining images, as well as rescuing over and underexposed images. 

Just because Gimp is free, don’t dismiss it as a lightweight in the photo editing world. Anything but. Goelker goes on to show to how to use it and other free plug-ins for HDR, collages, perspective cloning and hand coloring B&W images.  There’s even a way to use Gimp Animation to do video editing.

Just like Photoshop and Adobe’s Raw Convertor, in the Gimp world you have your choice of UFRaw or RawTherapee – both for free.  Yes, free is good and if you know what to do with the software, it’s priceless. 
Gimp 2.6 for Photographers is your price of admission. 

Light up your life (photos) with the Lightscoop

  • ·         Harsh shadows?
  • ·         Red-eye?
  • ·         Unflattering hot spots on the skins?
No, these aren’t diseases, but rather symptoms of on-camera flash. While on-camera flash is handy and a no-brainer to use, it’s typically not the most flattering to your subjects. And well…isn’t that what photography is all about…taking beautiful photos of friends and family?

Well now there’s help, thanks to Professor Kobre and his ultimately easy-to-use Lightscoop. If you’ve got a DSLR with built-in flash (think Nikon, Canon, Pentax, Sigma, Sony, Olympus or Fuji) then you are a candidate for the Lightscoop.

This little plastic accessory slips in your camera-top hotshoe and by way of a mirror, reflects your flash 90 degrees. The light can be bounced off a ceiling or wall to provide a wide, soft, attractive illumination. Gone are the harsh shadows and red-eye so often encountered. 

To use the light reflection capability to its best advantage, take the following steps:
  • ·         Pump up your ISO to 800
  • ·         Use your widest f-stop – f2.8 preferably
  • ·         Set flash exposure to +1 or +2 if possible
  • ·         Look for a 8’ or lower white ceiling
  • ·         Alternatively, look for a white wall and shoot vertically
What you’ll discover, is a softly lit portrait with none of those annoying hard shadows just off to the side of your subjects face.

Andrew, a photographer from North Royalton, tried out my Lightscoop and said he was very satisfied with the immediate improvement. He liked the fact that it fit very securely into his hotshoe and had no worries about it coming loose.  He also liked the soft-touch protective pouch that came with it. His biggest concern was finding a spot for it in his already crowded camera bag.

You can order a Lightscoop directly from the manufacture in one of two models – either standard (clear mirror) or a warming type (with a tinted mirror) from the Lightscoop website. For $29.95 its one of the bigger bangs for the buck you’ll find in photography. $55 gets you one of each.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Road rally - Mongolian style

If your idea of adventure is flying first class, followed by five nights in a spa resort, you’re in the wrong story – move on. However, if driving 10,000 miles, through the toughest terrains, with no support team and no sag wagon sounds like fun…read on.

Each year, The Adventurists put on an automobile rally that’s truly pushing the limits for reasonableness.  The course is any route you want to take that gets you from London to Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia . Each team’s vehicle is limited to a 1.2 liter maximum engine size. (Think Honda Jazz, Hyundai i10, Volkswagen Polo or something equally inept at climbing mountains and crossing deserts.)

There are no routes suggested. Just get there however you can. There are no prearranged border crossings, visa applications or interpreters provided. Just deal with it when you get there. There are no prescribed pit stops for maintenance or parts. Who knows, your car could be towed across the finish line by a yak.

But it’s all for a good cause. In order to compete, each team agrees to raise at least £1,000 for charity, and some are doing much better than that. Half of the money can go to whatever charity the individual team wishes to support, but the other half of all the entrants’ monies goes to Christina Noble Children’s Foundation in Mongolia. The foundation supports Blue Skies Ger Village, a home for Mongolia’s orphaned or abandoned children.

Stay tune for updates as the 300+ cars push off from England on their 10,000 mile trek around 1/3 of the world. Some won’t last the first week, but hopefully a good number will cross the finish line  in Mongolia sometime in August.  The first finish line party is scheduled for August 20th.

For more information about the rally and its contestants:

Thursday, July 21, 2011

500 GB on one Blu-Ray disk - coming soon

Holo disk technology from GE
You can never have too much data storage. In the old days (say five years ago) it was great that I could back up all my photo shoots for a week on one DVD disc (4.7GB.)  Now, with hi-res cameras, I can easily shoot 16 to 40 GB of photos in one day, which equates to 4 to 10 DVD's worth of data.

Well, for the folks at GE, that wasn't good enough, so they have now figured out a way to cram 500GB of data onto one standard size DVD disk.

From their press release: "Traditionally, DVDs stored data on a thin metal layer applied to the disc’s plastic hull. Recent advances upped storage capacity by adding up to four metallic layers, each densely packed with data in a way only a blue-laser optical reader could un-compress fast enough. GE’s micro-holographic disc will differ from forerunners in that it will embed data directly onto virtual layers within plastic, stacking 20 blue-laser readable layers one atop the other to realize 500GB capacity. Ultimately, a cross-functional team comprised of researchers from the GRC’s Applied Optics and Functional Materials labs is working toward micro-holographic discs that can store 1,000 GB, or 1 terabyte, of data. That’s enough capacity to store all the X-ray films of a large hospital on a single disc."

I'm putting my order in for a couple right now.

Monday, July 18, 2011

A book review of "Adobe Photoshop CS5 - one-on-one"

You’ve got a photo shoot in Cleveland with a great looking model (or maybe your wife) and you’d love to have a photo of her standing in front of the Washington monument. That’s all in an easy day’s work if you know how to use Photoshop.

Unfortunately, for most beginner’s, the learning curve for Photoshop is much steeper than they realize. Luckily however, with the right training, you can jump in and learn what you need on a project-by-project basis and leave all that other training for some time in the future. 

In Deke McClelland’s new book, you’ll find the perfect instruction manual. Instead of a laborious “this is the text tool, and when you click it, you can type text” method of instruction, you get practical real work examples. With plenty of illustrations and screen-shots, it’s easy for the beginner or the advanced Photoshop user to follow along and duplicate the results.

To continue with our text analogy, in chapter 11 on text, Deke goes on to explain:
·         why text may or may not look like you planned when you create it in Photoshop
·         how to generate drop shadows
·         how to add the shape tool to your text layout
·         how to bend and warp text to fit your design
·         the difference between raster and vector artwork

These are all things that are immediately applicable in real world projects.

Flipping through the book even experienced Photoshop users are bound to pick up new hints or tricks on selections, layers, color, transforms, masking, and print & web output. 

In addition, Deke has packed this volume with five hours of video training online. You can access it with a link mentioned in the first chapter of the book. If that’s not enough, there’s a special complimentary training link to for even more subject matter.

Look for Adobe Photoshop CS5 – one-on-one in most good book stores or online at O’
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