Two of my favorite teams here at Microsoft have teamed up to deliver an exciting new way to explore panoramic photos: Microsoft Research Image Composite Editor and Photosynth. You can now create stitched panoramas in Image Composite Editor (ICE) which can be uploaded to Photosynth to get ‘buttery smooth gigapixel panoramas’ (using Silverlight, my new team -- bonus).

The best part is it’s wickedly simple…

  1. Drag and drop your photos into Image Compositor Editor.
  2. Click the Publish to Photosynth button.

Click on the image below or here to be taken to a gallery of panoramas created with this new feature.


Here is my result on the Photosynth site:

For the photography buffs here are the details: Image taken near the Rim Village Visitors Center and historic Crater Lake Lodge this image is a composite panorama of 53 images. | Equipment Used: Canon 5D Mark II Camera | Canon EF 24-105mm Lens | Manfrotto 055XPROB Tripod | Manfrotto 804RC2 Pan Tilt Head | Canon TC-80N3 Remote Shutter Release. Image Details: ISO = 100 | Aperture = f/18 | Exposure = 1/125 | Focal Length = 24mm.

Categories: 5D Mark II | Canon | Photography | Silverlight | Travel | Comments [0] | # | Posted on Friday, March 19, 2010 5:52:26 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)   

While perusing the rack of photo magazines at a local bookshop I came across a (new to me) publication called PhotoPlus, described as follows: “PhotoPlus is dedicated to helping Canon EOS users to get the most from their digital SLRs. It's full of tips and inspirational pictures – as well as tutorials on how to get your best from your pictures using Photoshop and other software.”

A quick glance revealed it appears to be aimed squarely at a weekend photographer rather than professionals. I purchased (stiff price: $13 at the bookstore for a single copy) to go deeper at home. After reading the May 2009 issue cover-to-cover I found it to be filled with people that look like me and take pictures like me! The magazine really appears to go out of the way to involve their subscribers / readers – including cover stories. I’ve become hooked on a single issue and subscribed (although it wasn’t cheap due to airmail costs since it’s a UK publication – about $115 per year).

Chris George is the associate editor of the magazine and has an article (pages 52-53) titled “Recreate Moody Lith Film Effects” using Photoshop Elements (MSRP =  $139.99 US). I would link directly to the article but I cannot find it online – the resource appears to be print only. I wasn’t able to find a better explanation than his so I’m going to excerpt the first two sentences from the article itself:

“Lith film was the secret ingredient in many of the most spectacular darkroom effects. This super-high-contrast film was originally designed for the printing industry, getting its name from the lithographic process that was used to print magazines and books.”

I love the result of lith effect – the high contrast monochromatic look can give photographs (especially portraits) a very powerful, gritty, emotional tone. Here is an example…





Here are the detailed instructions to get a lith film look and feel with your photographs using Windows Live Photo Gallery (MSRP= Free!). The entire process described below will take you about 5 minutes the first time. Once you get the hang of it the time investment really goes down: it now takes me about 60 seconds (or less) to get the desired output – very, very fast! Click on the screenshots to view full size in a separate window.

1) Launch Windows Live Photo Gallery

2) Select the picture you wish to edit and click the Fix button in the ribbon. (Shortcut: Double-click the picture with the left mouse button).

2) Select Black and white effects in the task pane. The task will expand.

3) Select the effect you find the most pleasing. In this example I used the Red filter to dial back the rust color, primarily for the front of the mail box.

4) Select Adjust exposure in the task pane.

5) Note the Histogram which provides information about the overall levels of brightness in the photograph.

6) Adjust the sliders on either end of the Histogram to your liking. I typically bring them just inside either end of the curve. Moving them closer will generally drive contrast up and remove levels of gray within the photograph.

7) Select Adjust detail in the task pane.

8) Windows Live Photo Gallery will automatically zoom in to 100% so you can more accurately preview the results of this particular task.

9) Adjust the Sharpen slider until you are happy with the results.

10) Click the Back to gallery button in the ribbon. Windows Live Photo Gallery will automatically save your edits. Note: It does so in a non-destructive manner – more on that in a later post.


And you are done with the updated image now in your gallery.

This post is actually the first of three – in the second I’ll outline how to use layers in Paint.NET (also MSRP = Free!) to get a hand tinted look, and in the third I’ll demonstrate how to use the Revert feature in Windows Live Photo Gallery to restore your original photograph.

Categories: Lith | Photography | Windows Live Photo Gallery | Comments [1] | # | Posted on Wednesday, June 17, 2009 7:08:54 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)   

[Hat tip to Thomas Hawk] I'm heads down on Windows 7 but will definitely want to come back and read this when I get a chance: The pictures are simply stunning so if you are a photography fan be sure to click through! My favorite...

Hindu Ascent

Categories: Photography | Comments [0] | # | Posted on Friday, February 20, 2009 4:09:09 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)   

I’ve been playing around with a new toy for the past couple of days. After shooting with a Canon EOS 10D for just over 5 years I’ve upgraded to the new Canon EOS 5D Mark II in the kit along with the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens.

Canon 5D Mark II + 204-105mm Lens


Some folks love to see the unboxing so, steeling myself to resist the urge to quickly get everything unwrapped, I methodically took pictures each step of the way. This seems a bit titillating in a geeky sort of way, but family safe nonetheless. ;)

Canon 5D Mark II Unboxing 01

The box.

Canon 5D Mark II Unboxing 02

Flaps open with the camera registration card on top left and the lens registration card in the cardboard tray, top right.

Canon 5D Mark II Unboxing 03

Here I’ve pulled out the registration cards and cardboard tray. Lens and accessories are in the white inner box on the left, camera on the right.

Canon 5D Mark II Unboxing 04

Lift up the flap and pull out the camera body shrouded in bubble wrap. (The Canon 10D packaging had much more protection around the camera body in form fitting styrofoam end caps which placed much more ‘dead air’ between the body and the box.)

Canon 5D Mark II Unboxing 05

After pulling off the bubble wrap and the body is further protected from dust and scratches by a protective layer of unwoven fabric.

Canon 5D Mark II Unboxing 06

The body revealed – looks great, and instantly recognize it will feel very, very similar to the 10D in my hands.

Canon 5D Mark II Unboxing 07

Beside the inner box containing the camera body are the manuals and two of the three software discs (more on these resources later).

Canon 5D Mark II Unboxing 08

The inner box containing the lens and other accesories.

Canon 5D Mark II Unboxing 09

The accessories in their shrink wrap.

Canon 5D Mark II Unboxing 10

Accessories out of the shrink wrap, clockwise from the left: USB cable, combination audio + video cable, charger, battery and strap.

Canon 5D Mark II Unboxing 11

Revealing the lens in protective wrap and foam end caps.

Canon 5D Mark II Unboxing 12

Lens unwrapped: hood, lens, leather lens case. The case was a pleasant surprise and will come in handy as additional protection when storing the lens in the camera bag. It doesn’t have any padding though so won’t be appropriate for storage otherwise (like in luggage or loaning to a friend).

Canon 5D Mark II Unboxing 13

Lens placed in the case – feels like a one size fits all rather than specific to the lens -- there is a lot of extra room.

Canon 5D Mark II Unboxing 14

Lens placed on the camera. The first thing I notice is the setup is extremely solid and well built – it definitely feels like a step up. The flipside: The lens is much heavier than anything else I have in my bag, making it pretty front heavy by comparison. Something I’ll have to get used to carrying around – and think my monopod is going to get used much more as a result.

Canon 5D Mark II Unboxing 15

Battery, cover and charger. The charger was a pleasant surprise compared to the one which came with the 10D.

Canon 5D Mark II Unboxing 16

Instead of a separate corded plug, this charger has the plug built into the charger itself…

Canon 5D Mark II Unboxing 17

…which conveniently folds away making for a wonderful improvement in portability and storage.

Canon 5D Mark II Unboxing 18

The documentation, From top to bottom, left to right:

  • Barcode for shrink wrapped manuals (I wanted to be thorough), Manual (English), Manual( Spanish), advertisement for Canon printers in multiple languages
  • Movie playback addendum, advertisement for the Canon Digital Learning Center, Pocket Guide (English), Software Instruction Manual CD (Multiple Languages)
  • Canon Software Summary Sheet, Essential Products and Solutions CD, Canon Software CD, Pocket Guide (Spanish)

Then came the wait for about three quarters of an hour for the battery to charge, checking the flashing light on the charger often to see if it turned a solid green. Finally it did and I could start playing!

The new gear is simply stunning and the full frame sensor has already allowed me much more flexibility using my current gear. Compare these shots taken with an EF 50mm f/1.4 USM lens from a distance of approximately 2.5 feet and identical settings…

10D + 50mm 5D Mark II + 50mm

Left = 10D and Right = 5D Mark II. besides the obvious overall increase in resolution of 6 to 21 megapixels, one of the biggest reasons I went with the 5D Mark II instead of the 50D was the full frame sensor. It really allows you to leverage the full range of capabilities in your lenses. In this example, the 50mm feels much more like a wide angle lens whereas before sometimes I could not get far enough away to include the entire subject due to the 1.5x field of view (FOV) crop on the 10D and others in the series (20D – 50D) – very common when shooting indoors at family + friend events. I also like the slightly more ‘widescreen’ aspect ratio of the new camera for its creative possibilities.

I debated going camera body only but ultimately decided on the kit which includes the lens because it’s effectively the equivalent of getting a rebate of $160 compared with purchasing them separately. Plus, all of the lenses I’ve bought in the past 5 years have been primes (i.e., not zoom) and I’ve been missing the flexibility of zoom and the 24-105mm gets universal high marks based on the reviews I’ve read recently.

I’ve been snapping a bunch of pictures and got a few other bells and whistles – hopefully I’ll have time in the coming weeks to share likes + dislikes which might be helpful to other x0D owners thinking about an upgrade of their own.

Categories: 5D Mark II | Canon | Lens | Photography | Comments [3] | # | Posted on Sunday, January 11, 2009 1:25:49 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)   

Update: First of all, thanks for all who commented or sent me an email. I finally narrowed this down to some sort of issue with the USB ports on the machine. Uninstalling the drivers, then allowing Windows to find them again resolved the issue. Totally weird, but now everything is working great.

I took a bunch of pictures at a friends baptism this evening, over 75% turn out like this (though not all the same pattern).

I used two different lenses with the same result, shooting both in full automatic and 100% manual. When I open directly from the Compact Flash card in Photoshop I get: "This document may be damaged (the file may be truncated or incomplete). Continue?" I noticed it earlier this week on a few images out of hundreds, so formatted the card before taking the photos tonight. Update: Tried a different CF card -- probably 1 out of 33 images non-corrupted. Yikes!

Any photography buff have answers? Is there any way I can recover these files? Luckily I usually shoot at least 3 frames of each pose, so *believe* I got enough of the event, but it was very discomforting to know I might not catch any of the next one.

Categories: Photography | Comments [5] | # | Posted on Sunday, December 28, 2008 3:37:39 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)   

Right Curb Right Curb 2

This Old Truck1 This Old Truck 1 Redux


Based on Thomas' recommendation I downloaded the trial of Adobe Lightroom 2.0 and I think this is going to become my favorite new editing tool replacing Photoshop. It's pretty easy to get some nice results very quickly -- see above before and after. While the toolset is more accessible to mere mortals compared to Photoshop the user interface still needs some work, though (starting with the Import dialog -- Windows Live Photo Gallery still has the best, IMO). I've got 29 more days to make a decision but based on some quick run throughs this is a keeper.

Categories: Photography | Comments [3] | # | Posted on Tuesday, July 29, 2008 9:06:23 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)   

I believe Thomas is one of the best candid portrait photographers out there. I love this image he posted to Zooomr...

Charlie by Thomas Hawk on Zooomr


And by contrast, my picture taken at the same time -- notice the huge artistic gulf which separates us...? :-)

Double Thomas


I can't wait to see what he does with the pics he took of Media Center team members...!

Categories: Photography | Photowalk | Comments [0] | # | Posted on Friday, July 25, 2008 3:59:31 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)   
Typical Pose Reflection

Typical Pose Reflection

I drove down this morning to hang out with Thomas Hawk (and Missus Hawk) and about 30 other photographers to walk around Portland taking pictures. This was my first photowalk and I had an absolute blast. I'll have to put one together for Seattle soon! That's me on the left and Thomas on the right.

You can find my unedited Flickr set here: I'd love to get links to the pics others took to compare notes on subject matter, so if you attended please leave a comment here or get in touch with me at

Categories: Photography | Portland | Photowalk | Comments [1] | # | Posted on Sunday, March 2, 2008 7:54:34 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)   

Thomas Hawk did a really nice thing for his friend Robert Scoble by taking a of 'first day' pictures of Roberts newborn son. Thomas, we should think about how we form some sort of volunteer community that does this free of charge for families just because we love to take pictures. I personally know I would have loved to have someone come take snapshots when our kids were born while we celebrated the birth with friends and family.

[Idea forming...]

Aw, heck, I've been meaning to play around with Facebook more. So, I just created a group called Photography Volunteers at with the following description:

Photography Volunteers is a group of photography enthusiasts who like to volunteer their time to take special occasion photos. It's focus is on taking pictures for the sheer love of photography, and helping others celebrate rather than a business model. If you want to make money at this sort of thing this probably isn't your group. If you are a hobbyist photographer who would like to hone your skills while doing something nice for someone by helping them create memories of their special day, well, this might be the place for you.

A first thought: I'm willing to bet there are many families who really can't afford to create these types of memories but would be very appreciative of a volunteer who would do so.

Anywho, if it sounds like a fit for you, join up. Let's see what happens.

Categories: Photography | Comments [1] | # | Posted on Saturday, September 15, 2007 6:29:23 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)   

I love taking pictures and am a stickler for quality, sharpness and detail in the pictures my family enjoys on our walls, scrapbooks, computers and devices. It's not uncommon to find me retouching an image for days until I get it just the way I like it. My recent acquisition of a Zune had me pretty excited about the ability to showcase pictures to family and friends. I loaded up a few hundred images and started viewing slideshows and selecting images for the background. The quality was fine, but in comparison with the sample images which ship on the device mine looked out of focus and not quite as crisp. I knew some of my originals were every bit as sharp and detailed. So I decided to run a few tests to see if I could figure out how to tweak my images for maximum enjoyment.

I wanted to share my images with the general public, so no copyrighted material or people for which I would need signed releases. The quandary here is that humans (generally speaking) tend to notice quality issues with faces more easily than any other type of image, especially if we know the individual personally (as will be the case with many of the images on my Zune). Therefore they can be the best subjects for evaluating quality. So I tried to pick a couple of images which would give me enough detail to mimic what I observed with crisp closeups of people. I evaluated about 15 images total and selected these as representative of the overall results:

Test Image 1 is of a hat sold in the company store about a year ago. It has lots of fine threads which don't travel in straight lines, and the intricacies of the weave lends itself nicely to mimic the wisps of hair, the eyelashes, eye details, facial hair and other details you commonly see in faces. Things for which a single pixel missing or out of place can mean a world of difference in perceived quality. This particular image is particularly sharp around the stars and R.


Test Image 2 is a picture I took while hiking the Badaling section of the Great Wall of China several years ago. This picture has and incredible amount of fine detail both in the inorganic (building) and organic (stone work, trees, snow in the distance). This picture provides interesting challenges for resizing because of the detail (and the type of detail, as we will see).


Cropping and Resizing

There were three individual tests with each image and in my tests the end result was a typical (and some might say predictable) good, better, best paradigm...

  • Good: Import pictures at their original resolution and aspect ratio and allow the Zune software to crop and resize during the sync process. This is the out of box experience which I describe above as OK but not quite as good as the sample images provided.
  • Better: Crop originals to a 4:3 aspect ratio (keeping original resolution) before importing into the Zune software and syncing with the Zune device. There was a noticeable uptick in perceived quality taking this approach.
  • Best: Crop and resize to the optimal resolution and aspect ratio outlined below in a third party tool like Digital Image Pro, Photoshop or Paint.NET. I used Photoshop for all of the tests except the first where I compared all three programs to see if there were large differences in their resizing algorithms (which there really wasn't except if you went looking for the differences). For each export of the JPEG the highest quality option was used (12 in the case of Photoshop) to try and keep artifacting to a minimum).


The best resolution for most pictures (especially those involving faces) is going to be 640 x 480. While not a face, the image for Test Image 1 shows distinct differences at the pixel level between 320 x 240 and 640 x 480 on the Zune device, closely resembling my observed results with actual faces. You can test this out for yourself by copying these images to your Zune and playing a slide show -- look for pixels to appear which provide more definition in the weave of the embroidery. For faces the difference between the two resolutions can be a glimmer in the eye (or not) and the other nuances we observe in the human character. Also, 640 x 480 is going to look better if you are using the TV out functionality on the Zune.

However, there are always exceptions to the rule. If a picture has many hard edges or patterns involving straight lines 320 x 240 may be perceived as better due to moire' patterns. In Test Image 2 the bricks in the building at 640 x 480 introduce an unpleasant moire' pattern on the device not observed when the 320 x 240 resolution was displayed.

It does NOT seem to make a difference what DPI you use for display on the device. I tested at 45, 72 and 96 DPI and could not discern a difference on the device between the three at comparable resolutions. As a result I'm only posting the 96 DPI images for you to download and test for yourself, because...

Even though this was a test of pictures on the device you have to go through the Zune software to get the images to the device. So why not take a look at the results there. So I did and observed the following:

It DOES make a difference what DPI you use for the Zune software for when it generates thumbnails. 96 DPI renders better in the Zune software than others and in some cases beat the thumbnail generated by the Zune software from the original high resolution image.

Resolution also seems to matter in the Zune software, and it seems somewhat at odds with what is optimal for the Zune device in most cases. 320 x 240 @ 96 DP Iooked best in the software but 640 x 480 (no matter the DPI) generally speaking looked best on the device. I guess it's hard to have your cake and eat it too. :-) For comparison look at the suite of images in Test1. Again, this will be highly dependent on images -- it's hard to tell the difference between the various choices in Test2. Judge for yourself...


Aspect Ratio

You will want to maximize use of the pixels on the Zune. Slide shows look best when all of the pictures are landscape (640 width x 480 height). Otherwise the portrait images (480 width x 640 height) are displayed significantly smaller in a horizontal letterbox format. Here is some ASCII art which hopefully illustrates the differences...

[ || ]O vs. [|  |]O

It's nice not having to swivel the Zune 90 degrees while cycling through a slide show -- but you are using only 1/3rd the amount of pixels you could be for portrait images. The only time you would not want to do this is for images you plan to set as the background -- the Zune device will automatically crop the landscape picture on the sides to display as the background, perhaps obscuring important information (like those faces).


If you want your pictures to look their absolute best on the Zune device always use third party software to crop and resize to the following specs before importing into the Zune software and syncing to the Zune device:

  • Slideshow Pictures: 640 x 480 (Landscape)
  • Background Pictures: 480 x 640 (Portrait)

...and by all means use the highest quality JPEG export setting your software provides.

I hope you are enjoying your Zune as much as I am. :-)

Categories: Photography | Zune | Comments [2] | # | Posted on Wednesday, May 16, 2007 5:45:28 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)   

I returned home from Tokyo this morning to find my latest issue of American Photo waiting on me. On pages 15 and 18 is the work and interview of Jill Greenberg featured as the most controversial photo exhibition of the year. I agree with Thomas on this one (see Jill Greenberg is a Sick Woman Who Should Be Arrested and Charged With Child Abuse and More Thoughts on the Jill Greenberg Controversy). I remained silent on this topic UNTIL I read the article in American Photo -- the quotes attributed to Mrs. Greenberg were saddening to me, at the very least.

Here are the quotes by Mrs. Greenberg in the article I found to be disturbing, and why...

"Maybe getting kids to cry isn't the nicest thing to do, but I'm not causing anyone permanent psychological damage."

My wife is a child psychologist with a specialization in child development, and I have learned from her some of the most formative years of a childs life are between the ages of 1-6. Does Mrs. Greenberg have the expertise to know whether or not she is crossing a boundary with these children? Nothing in her official website bio indicates she does.

"Kid models aren't very expensive -- not as expensive as monkeys, for example."

It seems to me it boils down to maximizing profit for Mrs. Greenberg, regardless of the consequences or moral obligations she has to her subjects. I don't believe it's right to provoke animals in this manner, much less children, for the sake of making a buck. This dehumanizing of the children -- making them merely a commodity -- is sickening.

"Some would just cry for no reason -- my daughter did that; she didn't like standing on the apple box I used for a platform because it was a little wobbly."

Mrs. Greenberg, your child was not crying for no reason. She was crying because you put her in a position where she felt unsafe. This hit a particular nerve for me. We have professional pictures (by Karen Goforth) of our two children at six months old sitting on a turtle stool built by my grandfather. The stool is not wobbly -- it sits about three inches high, has a very wide base and therefore a low center of gravity.

Both children had learned to sit up unaided for 1-2 weeks before the pics were taken, so were naturally still a bit wobbly themselves at the time the pictures were taken. Because of this, I was mere inches away during the session, just out of camera range or within the periphery of the frame edges. The minute my children became the least bit distressed or started to sway a little bit I scooped them up and ended the session. Granted, my goals were very different from Mrs. Greenberg -- we wanted happy, smiling pictures.

I can't imagine intentionally making my child uncomfortable or unsafe to provoke them to tears. I'm baffled as to why Mrs. Greenberg as a mother would do so to her own children, much less those of friends or complete strangers.

"At the end of the day I was not in a good mood. I don't like making little kids cry."

Earlier in the article Mrs. Greenberg states she photographed 'around 35' children in groups of '12 or so for one day'. If she dislikes provoking children in this manner, why did she do it for approximately 3 days (35 children divided by 12 per day)...? The actions in this case seem to speak much louder than the words.

"The emotion you see is just so compelling, yet they're beautiful at the same time. That was one of the things that interested me about the project -- the strength and beauty of the images as images."

These images are not beautiful, nor do they depict any sort of beauty. To attribute any sort of beauty to these images is shameful in the least, and speaks volumes about the distorted perspective of the viewer.

"I also thought they made a kind of political statement about the current state of anxiety a lot of people are in about the future of the country. Sometimes I just feel like crying about the way things are going."

The pictures by Mrs. Greenberg might be indicative of psychological projection. I'm not a psychologist, but I remember enough from my undergraduate studies in psychology to recognize the behavior. There are many, many ways to constructively deal with a negative personal outlook of our culture, political or socioeconomic environment without involving children, or causing a negative impact to their lives. Talking with a friend or spouse is a good start, and much more healthier than imposing our unhappiness upon the precious little ones in our lives.

As a result of their feature of Mrs. Greenberg I'm canceling my subscription to American Photo. I hope in the future they will decline to feature children in their magazine in this manner. There are many, many other controversial photo exhibitions they could choose to highlight which do not resort to exploiting minors.

Categories: Photography | Comments [5] | # | Posted on Sunday, June 25, 2006 2:31:11 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)   
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