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Product Review: Digital Anarchy’s Beauty Box Photo Plug-in

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By Diane Berkenfeld

Digital Anarchy today released a new skin retouching program for still images, Beauty Box Photo. A Photoshop plug-in, Beauty Box Photo is compatible with Photoshop CS5 and earlier versions. The software is a follow-up to the company’s popular video retouching tool for After Effects CS5.

Beauty Box Photo skin retouching software automatically identifies skin tones and creates an intelligent mask that limits the smoothing effect to skin areas while keeping facial details sharp. You can use the software for batch processing too, which really helps speed up your workflow.

In Use Review

I had the opportunity to review a beta version of Digital Anarchy’s Beauty Box Photo, using it with Photoshop CS4, and love the software. It has the power of high priced programs, yet the GUI or graphic user interface is simple to navigate and easy to use.

One of the great features of Beauty Box Photo is that it provides subtle yet visible retouching. Whether you use the automatic retouching or manually tweak the settings, the skin smoothing is subtle, so your portrait subjects look normal—skin does not look plastic or over-retouched. Pore structures and wrinkles are visible but softened.

(l. to r.) Screenshot showing 100% view before, and after. Photo ⓒ Diane Berkenfeld.

I found that the automatic mask did a wonderful job of masking the skin tone, not just on a face, but shoulders, arms—all visible skin in a photograph. You can very easily tweak the mask too, if necessary. Once you have the mask, you can fine tune the skin smoothing to your liking.

(l. to r.) Final portrait, and screenshot of the Beauty Box Photo mask. Photo ⓒ Diane Berkenfeld.

The software lets you take up to three snapshots of different amounts of smoothing, and you can toggle between each of them to choose which looks the best, and then apply that one. I personally would have liked to see a before/after button instead—although to the software’s credit, it lets you see up to three different settings which is more than a simple before/after or split screen would provide.

When it comes to retouching, sometimes less is better, meaning that Beauty Box does what it says it does—providing powerful skin smoothing without going overboard. And it is not overwhelming to use, like some software programs can be. This is great for the non-techie photographer or beginner digital imager.

The software is also very intuitive. I tested it out with a portrait of a 6 month old, a 4 year old and a 30-something. Each time the automatic settings provided a pretty good starting point. Less smoothing for the kids and more for the 30-something. Although I did tweak the settings, most folks would probably be happy with the program completely running on auto.

(l. to r.) Close-up view of the original non-retouched image (file open in Photoshop), and after (image in Beauty Box Photo's dialog window), using the automatic settings of Beauty Box Photo. Note the smoothing of the baby's blotchy red skin on his cheek. Photo ⓒ Diane Berkenfeld.

I definitely see Beauty Box as an addition to my retouching workflow. It makes it really easy to smooth skin for a pleasing look while leaving the skin looking realistic.

The photographs of the baby and child were for an actual job I was working on. I originally used a Photoshop action on the portraits, which while smoothing the skin also added a soft-focus glow that really was overboard for these images. The Beauty Box Photo skin smoothing was perfect—just enough to smooth out blotchy skin without overkill.

Beauty Box Photo works in Photoshop versions 7.0–CS5 and Photoshop Elements versions 6–9; on the Macintosh, running on OS 10.4, 10.5 and 10.6; and on Windows, the software supports Windows XP Home, Windows XP Pro, Vista 32-bit, Vista 64-bit and Windows 7. In the next few months, Digital Anarchy will have a version compatible with Apple Aperture, and in the future (date tbd) with Adobe Lightroom.

Beauty Box is regularly priced at USD $99. The product is on sale for $79 through June 21, 2010.

For more information, to try out demo filters and view samples, go to www.digitalanarchy.com.

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Product Review: Foto Fashionista’s My Foto Vest for Ladies

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By Diane Berkenfeld

I am a woman with a camera—a professional photographer.

When shooting personal projects or working on location, I don’t always want to carry a camera bag, nor do I always want to have a gear belt full of pouches that resembles Batman or Robin’s utility belts. Thanks to fellow photographer Marla Holden, I won’t have to do that anymore. That’s because Marla decided to design a photo vest for women.

The vests fit a woman’s shape, unlike the baggy, oversized photojournalist’s vests that have been available for men for years. Marla’s company, Foto Fashionista, offers female photographers a more fashionable choice for carrying necessities while shooting, the My Foto Vest, in four styles: Nantucket Stripe, Casual Friday Khaki, Saturday Blue Jeans, and Midnight Denim. The vests are made of comfortable cotton materials, and are machine washable. They’re available in small, medium, large and x-large.

One of the great features of My Foto Vest is that the back is made of a stretchable lace, so it breathes. A zipper lets you wear the vest closed or open. On the inside of the vest, you’ll find pockets that are made of a stretchy neoprene-like material. The right side features five pockets, one for a pen, and four more to hold accessories. The left side has two pockets for accessories, with three smaller pockets to hold media cards higher up near your shoulder.

Pockets are stretchable. The My Foto Vest is comfortable to wear even when you've got the pockets full and the vest zippered closed.

Photo accessories, such as a light meter, flash, lens caps, filters, white balance devices (i.e. Spydercube), extra batteries, and more will easily fit in the pockets. So will a cellphone, keys, ID and money, or a small wallet. I like that when wearing a Foto Fashionista vest, I don’t have to stuff everything in my pant’s pockets. This is important, because, except for denim jeans, not all pants have pockets that are large enough, or shaped correctly to safely hold much of anything. I would like to be able to fit a lens in the vest, and wasn’t able to with the lenses than I own. The material that makes up the pockets is stretchy, but I couldn’t get the lenses to pass through the seams at the top of the pockets—which also speaks to the durability of the vests’ construction.

I like the ability to keep my full media cards on me. I don’t normally put shot cards in my gear bag in the event that it disappears on a shoot. My camera gear is replaceable, but the photographs I’ve taken aren’t.

Overall, I found the vest could replace a small purse, which I would find helpful on its own. If I was going out shooting with only one lens, I would definitely wear the vest instead of carrying a small camera bag. Being able to easily and comfortably carry accessories I use all the time is great. Because I shoot events, I would definitely like to see a more formal looking vest in black. Marla has said she’s working on a formal design for photographers to wear while shooting events, and I can’t wait to try it out.

MSRP of the My Foto Vest is $139.99. For more information, go to www.fotofashionista.com.

Product Review: Canon Pixma Pro9500 Mark II printer

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By Carrie Konopacki

I recently had the opportunity to try out the Canon Pixma Pro9500 Mark II inkjet printer. I was looking forward to seeing how the printer would perform and increase my workflow productivity.

To give you a little background on myself, the first true experiences I had in the photo world began with my Canon AE-1. The ability to have complete control over your picture from start to the final print became a quick addiction. I loved my Canon. Through the digital years, I dabbled with various other makes and used your standard printers. Was this Canon going to be a “love affair rekindled?” Could be.

Printer Specs and Features

When the printer first arrived, it was very overwhelming. Lets just say you need to find ample desktop space. The printer is 26.0″(W) x 7.6″(H) x 13.9″(D). It can handle output up to 13×19-inches. My first challenge was finding the printer a workspace. With the front and rear trays open, the printer will need around a 30”x40” area. The 1.6mm steel body adds to the overwhelming appeal and speaks “rough and tough.”

After taking the printer out of the box, I just needed to install the 10 single ink cartridges: Matte Black, Photo Black, Gray, Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Photo Cyan, Photo Magenta, Red, and Green. The driver now installed on a Dell Inspiron 530 Intel Core 2 Quad PC, it was finally time to print. Or in my case, select the images to test print.

The Pixma Pro9500 Mark II printer utilizes a 4800×2400 dpi FINE print head, two separate paper paths, and a new printer driver. The printer is compatible with Mac OX X v.10.2.8 to 10.5.x and PCs running Windows XP/2000/Vista/7. The printer connects to computers via USB 2.0 and direct printer ports—no FireWire and no Ethernet. The printer can output 16-bit files.

The 10-color PIXMA Pro9500 Mark II printer uses Canon’s professional Lucia brand pigment-based inks. The printer was designed to output great B&W prints as well as color. Its ink system includes gray, black and matte black cartridges for printing of monochrome photographs on both fine art paper and glossy photo paper.

The printer comes with both Windows & MAC OS X: Easy-PhotoPrint Pro, Easy-PhotoPrint EX, CD-LabelPrint and Adobe Photoshop Elements 6, however most professional photographers are likely to print from whichever version of Photoshop they are using. Using the included software allows you to print directly from Photoshop and also print RAW images. These options allowed me numerous options to choose from with my inventory of prints.

Test Use

Ali. Photograph ⓒ Carrie Konopacki.

My goal was to find the most luminous, vibrant color photos and the black and white images with high levels of contrast, shadows and depth of field. And also throw in some sepia. For my printer tests, I used a variety of media, including: Canon Inkjet art & photo paper,  Fine Art paper “Museum Etching”, Fine Art paper “ Photo Rag”, Fine Art Paper, Premium Matte, Photo Paper Plus Semi Gloss, Hahnemühle Matte FineArt, Kodak Premium Photo Paper (Matte), and Kodak Photo Paper (Gloss).

Arizona Cacti. Photograph ⓒ Carrie Konopacki.

For my first print, I chose the Museum Etching media to print an image of a Cacti from a 2009 trip I took following Imaging USA. Once my enhancements were made to the image, it was time to print.

For me, the most difficult process to figure out was how to successfully operate the front feeder for the heavier and larger sized papers. After a few miss attempts and unsuccessful interpretation of the online owners manual, by sheer frustration, it became clear.

Bumblebee on Flower. Photograph ⓒ Carrie Konopacki.

I truly thought the printer had come with a malfunction. Mind you, not having used other Canon large or wide-format printers before, it took me some time to figure out exactly how the paper feed worked.

When I reviewed the online owners manual, which does give you a walk-through, with pictures and descriptive directions, I was able to figure out what to do. The front output tray needed to be placed into the feed position and paper manually fed into position from the back. Once you figure this portion out, everything else is pretty self-explanatory.

While Printing

Now that the printer was all set up, sending images to print was my next task. The printer handled anything I threw at it without any real complaints. You can even print regular documents on the printer, which I did in a pinch.

My only concern is that printing of photographs was slow.

Photo of Jake Konopacki by Herff Jones.

Using the Kodak glossy media I printed some school pictures, 2 (5×7)’s, 8 wallets, and 4 (3×5)’s in about 3 minutes. The quality was great. And the colors were representative to the true.

I was using Photoshop CS3, although I did try using Canon’s printer software to see how it would render my images. For the school images, I used the print package that was a part of the Canon Solutions menu options. Because the printer would be used by prosumers as well as pro photographers—and to see how well it printed—I didn’t use ICC profiles. The colors were spot on with the Jake’s school photos.

I did use the print screen option to make sure the picture I wanted had more of a vibrant color, with certain images.

The printer offers ICC capability, and can print both 8 bit and 16 bit images. The Pixma Pro9500, the predecessor to the Mark II was only able to print 8 bit image files.

The printer was remarkably quiet even without being in “Quiet Mode”, had great color and B&W image reproduction and was user friendly. There is also an easy one-click help button from the On-Screen Manual, which will help you diagnosis and resolve issues and/or questions.

With regards to the various papers that I used in testing the printer, I liked various ones for different prints. The goals is to make sure you like the final look on the paper you wanted, hence with the school picture, I knew the people I was handing them out to would be accustomed to glossy prints, so I used glossy media. For my cactus picture, I wanted to “soften” the look so I went with the Museum etching.

Overall, the Canon Pixma Pro9500 Mark II is a great 13-inch printer with excellent Black & White printing capabilities. The wide color range make your color prints pieces of artwork. Ink usage was within expectations of desired print quality and quantity. In addition, the quietness of the printer allows you to continue to work in the same room you are printing in with minimum distraction. I would definitely recommend this printer for those in the market.

For more information about the Canon Pixma Pro9500 Mark II printer go to the website www.usa.canon.com.

♦ Carrie Konopacki’s passion and expertise in photography began at the age of 16 when she took a job as a receptionist at Olan Mills Portrait Studios. From there she began a 15-year adventure as a photography professional. First as a photographer for Olan Mills, then in college, where she planned to become a photojournalist. Learning the roots behind her passion for photography, Carrie received a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism. She has done freelance commercial photography as well as family portraiture. Most recently Carrie worked for Studio Photography magazine.


Product/Service Review: Your Photo on Canvas/Pro

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By Diane Berkenfeld

WPPI was the location for the debut of a new-to-the-photo-industry canvas printing company, who’s parent company has been in business for over 20 years, providing artists with high quality giclée and canvas printing—Your Photo on Canvas (www.yourphotooncanvas.com).

The company has a consumer facing retail website and also a pro website section where professional photographers are able to order canvas gallery wraps at wholesale prices. Pros receive custom branded product and packaging, an online order history, ICC color profiling, and quick turnaround with shipping in 2-4 days, with low, flat rate ground shipping ($9.95 per order).

The website’s pro area (www.yourphotooncanvas.com/pro) has an easy to use uploader for images and your logo. You upload your logo and the company outputs it to the back of each of the canvases you order, which is a great marketing tool for your studio. Canvas sizes range from 8×10 through 40×60 in a wide variety of shapes/sizes. Another great feature of the site is that the price list includes both the wholesale and MSRP of each size, so its easy for you to mark up your work to an appropriate amount.

Each canvas is coated with a UV protective layer that is specifically designed for the company’s combination of canvas and inks, ensuring the longevity of each print.

Image files only need to be 150 DPI, as the company has found that resolution combined with the latest RIPs allows them to produce extremely sharp prints. The file uploading system allows you to choose your image to wrap around the stretcher bars, 1.5-inches deep, or for you to choose a black border for the sides of the gallery wrap. When uploading files, the website shows you a visual of your image, so you can choose exactly what part of the image will print on the front of the gallery wrap, so you can make sure the cropping is correct before ordering.

The company also offers an affiliate program for businesses that want to offer such services to their customers.

My Photo on Canvas

diane berkenfeld picture-soup blog photo

Original image Ⓒ Diane Berkenfeld

Diane Berkenfeld picturesoup blog photo on wall

An image of the canvas hanging on the wall. Although the color of the canvas print is exact to the image file, the ambient lighting has added an overall slight red cast. Photo Ⓒ Diane Berkenfeld.

To be honest, I actually had an image printed via the company’s consumer facing side but the quality of the output is the same whether you’re a consumer or a professional photographer—high quality, crisp, vibrant, sharp canvas gallery wraps. When I received my canvas and opened the box, I found it to be packaged well, with a claw hanger already attached to the rear of the wrap, ready for hanging. The image looked absolutely beautiful [if I do say so myself].

I was definitely impressed with the quality and will likely be using the pro services to output canvas gallery wraps for my clients’ images.

For more information on Your Photo on Canvas, go to the website www.yourphotooncanvas.com/pro.

Product Review: ExpoImaging’s Ray Flash Ring Flash Adapter

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By Diane Berkenfeld

The Ray Flash is an adapter that fits over the head of your DSLR’s accessory flash and turns your flash into a ring flash. The Ray Flash uses the power of your flash—redirected through the adapter’s body—onto your subject. The Ray Flash has a center diameter of 4 1/8-inches and can accommodate most professional 35mm interchangeable lenses.

A range of models are available so you’ll want to check the ExpoImaging website for your DSLR/flash combination to see which one will work for you. The reason behind this is that there are differences in the height of different models of flashes sitting on various camera bodies. Originally the Ray Flash was designed to work with Canon Speedlites (580EX and 580EX II) and Nikon Speedlights (SB800 and SB900) but they will work with a range of other camera/flash combinations including cameras/flashes from Olympus and Sony; as well as flashes from Metz and Sigma.

The question is, when so many camera manufacturers and some lighting equipment makers make dedicated ring flashes, why would you go with an adapter instead? Price. The price ranges start at around $225 to $400 or so for dedicated ring flashes from camera makers and companies including Sunpak and Sigma; and upwards of $1,000 to $1,800 for ring flash heads from companies like Lumedyne, DynaLite, Comet, and Elinchrom. The ring flash heads average 3,000 watt seconds (w/s) of power. And if you own a lighting system that isn’t compatible, you’re out of luck—unless you’re willing to go out and spend thousands of dollars more for a full system of lights.

But when you’re looking for portability, a smaller unit is necessary. Street price for the Ray Flash is $199. which is a less than the cost if you were going to go out and buy a dedicated ring flash. And, by design, you’re getting more versatility out of your equipment, since you can most likely use a flash you already own.

Using the Ray Flash

(l. to r.) Installing the Ray Flash on a flash is quick and easy. Just slip it on, and turn the locking mechanism (on the top of the Ray Flash) to secure the adapter to the flash.

(l.) Final image; (r.) Close-up in Adobe Lightroom. Note the distinctive Ring Light highlights in the eyes. Photos © Diane Berkenfeld.

You will lose one stop of light from your flash by using the Ray Flash adapter. Because of the design, you can still use TTL modes with the Ray Flash adapter. Depending upon your shooting situation, though, you may want to use the flash on manual instead of TTL, to compensate for the light loss. A locking mechanism secures the adapter to your flash head, so it won’t slip off. And there is no change in color temperature.

Another example of the soft lighting from the Ray Flash. Photo taken with the Ray Flash on a Sigma EF 530 DG Super flash, Nikon D300s. Photo © Diane Berkenfeld.

The lighting from a ring flash is distinctive—virtually shadowless lighting on the front of the subject with a soft halo of shadow around the edges. The further away your subject is from the background, the harsher the shadow behind the subject will be. With other lighting methods, it is usually the opposite, in that you’ll get softer shadows the further your subject is from the background.

The Ray Flash, or any ring flash for that matter is ideal for Macro photography, however you can use the Ray Flash for wider compositions such as portraits too.

I tested out the Ray Flash (model #RAC 175-2) with a Nikon D300s body, AF-S DX Nikkor 18-200mm F/3.5-5.6 G lens and Sigma EF 530 DG Super flash. I also decided to try it out with the Lensbaby Composer and Fisheye optic on the D300s and the Sigma flash.

Using the Ray Flash adapter is very easy, it just slips over the head of the flash. I had no problems using it, in fact, when using the Nikkor lens, I held the D300s body with my right hand, and zoomed the lens with my left. When I tried taking photographs with the Lensbaby, which was much shorter than the Nikkor, I found it a little more difficult to shoot, but not impossible. Because I was using the Fisheye optic, I could see the back of the Ray Flash adapter in the viewfinder. For the image of Mardi Gras beads (below) that I shot with the Fisheye Lensbaby, I actually liked the circular crop that I ended up with.

(l.) This image was captured with the Lensbaby Composer on a Nikon D300s, using the Fisheye optic. The black ring is the back of the Ray Flash - visible because of the Lensbaby's shallow physical size and Fisheye's wide field of view; (r.) Final cropped image, exposure adjusted slightly, bringing out the blacks. The outline around the circle was created in Photoshop. If you look really closely you can see the reflection of the Ray Flash in the highlights. Photos © Diane Berkenfeld.

If you’re looking for an economical ring flash lighting solution the Ray Flash adapter might be right for you.

For more information, go to the website www.expoimaging.com.

Product Review: M-Rock 671 ♦ McKinley Photo Backpack

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Article & Photos By Kristin Reimer

With the newly arrived M-Rock 671 McKinley bag filled with gear and packed into the truck, we set off on our expedition and drove into the wild. The temperatures were in the single digits, the blizzard blinding us as our truck veered precariously on the icy road. The rapids of the river below us was roaring. Would the McKinley’s “water resistant exterior zippers” withstand the maelstrom and protect my gear? As we made our way I had confidence my equipment was tucked away safely thanks to the reinforced interior of my new M-Rock bag.

Okay. Well, the reality of it is, coming from Brooklyn, Pennsylvania is indeed wild country and the Delaware River can get some um, well, mild rapids. And there was snow! That I was on my way for a holiday family reunion, can that be counted as an expedition?

In any event, I had the perfect opportunity to test out a new camera bag. Like many others, I love camera bags, so I was excited that this would be my first review here on Picture-Soup.com.

As a wedding photographer, I rely most heavily upon my roller bag. My typical kit consists of three camera bodies, three Speedlights, and about five lenses. I usually have a smaller bag to carry various accessories. My current bag tends to stay packed and it’s always ready to go. In the frenetic pace of the day, this bag will receive a nice beating as I rush from place to place. So when applying for the job of the Photomuse (my studio’s name) gear bag, your qualities had better be: spacious, portable, easy and strong. Good looking is always a bonus.

The McKinley was a hopeful player. I received a large number of dividers, a removable accessory bag that could be tied around my waist if desired, in addition to multiple compartments both inside and out. I could fit a 15” laptop in a soft pouch in the bag (or an optional hydration pack for those extra special weddings!) and there was a nifty little “wire port” that would allow headphones to pass through should I decide to turn this bag into a backpack.

The McKinley was a charm to customize to my tastes. The bag seems to be constructed very well (though I lost several of the nylon zipper pulls quickly), the size was decent and I managed to get in most of my gear. Once I began to fill in the outside compartments (batteries, chargers, card wallet and cords) I found that I was pretty stuffed and use of the inside compartments would not happen.

This bag is designed to be flexible which is a great thing. Its portability is from the added trolley that you can remove and thus turn it into a backpack when desired. The removable accessory bag can further be added onto a modular belt system. The concept is brilliant. The M-Rock’s interior is fantastic, the cushioning is thick. The flaw I found in it is because the bag is not a part of the trolley, once I had it filled up, the bag itself would slip away slightly from the trolley and I could not get it to stand upright, it kept tilting forward and almost falling on top of itself. The trolley aspect needs to be more sturdy and secure to support the weight inside of the bag.

Overall, this bag wouldn’t work for me on my wedding jobs, due to the way I like to work. The quick access to the lenses is nice, but I find myself switching between camera bodies and lenses often and I like to have quick access to the entire bag’s contents by opening one zippered compartment, not multiple ones. For a travel photographer, it might be your fit. It’s flexible and tough. When you are no longer in transit, remove your trolley, slip it onto your back, slide your tripod into the bungee cords on front and head on out! You can drink from a hydration pack while hiking with it on your back and you can hook into your tunes. What a way to tune out and focus in.

For specs and more information, be sure to check out M-Rock’s website at: www.m-rock.com.

♦ Upon graduating with a BFA in photography from Pratt Institute, Kristin went on to become the studio manager for the esteemed Magnum photojournalist, Elliot Erwitt. Under the tutelage of Elliott, Kristin acquired a more capacious understanding of the history of photography and of the unique and diverse contributions of those who define the field. Her work with Elliott also provided a forum from which to create and develop her own artistic style.

In 2002 Kristin founded Photomuse (www.photomuse.com), a fine art/documentary style wedding company. Kristin is an award-winning member of the Wedding Photojournalist Association (WPJA), a professional organization composed of photojournalists and wedding photographers from around the world as well as the Artistic Guild of Wedding Photography (AGWPJA) and the International Society of Professional Wedding Photographers (ISPWP).

Look for more articles from Kristin here on Picture-soup in the future.

Written by PictureSoup

January 16, 2010 at 5:11 pm