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Life After The Google Nik Collection

June 1st, 2017

Life After The Google Nik Collection

Hi Folks,

Much has been said in the photography community in the past week regarding Google's announcement that they have no plans for future updates or additions to the Nik Collection of plugin tools. Much of these have been focused on how sad this is with statements such as "how could they", "If Google was not going to advance these tools why did they purchase them in from the original developer?" and even erroneous statements that Nikon should re-acquire the software for further development. I would like to offer a different perspective to consider. Along with that a bit of factual history is in order.

Nik Software, originally Nik Multimedia, was founded by Nils Kokemohr in 1995. That is the company who developed the Nik tools. Nikon never owned the company or the software. This is a mistaken association based partly on the name but also because Nikon used the "U Point technology" in their original Capture NX software which was developed by Nik Software. The U Point technology was later renamed Control Points within the Nik Software set of tools. At the time they were revolutionary and designed for pin point accuracy in color and tonal adjustments. I pre-ordered the Nik Software tools prior to the release of them back in the late 1990s and to me they were fantastic tools that were well worth the original price of about $500.00 or could be purchased individually. When Google bought the software in 2012 I will admit, though skeptical, it was my hope that they would continue to advance the power and future of the tools. In fact they not only continued to do so with regular updates but made those updates free for all those who originally purchased the tools. Not only that, but the software went way down in price to $150.00 for the whole collection.

In March 2016 Google made the entire collection available free. Rightfully so there was much speculation at the time that doing so would mean Google would not be developing the software in the future. This brings us to the news recently that it was in fact true. This should not have been a surprise to anyone. I have been an enthusiastic supporter and regular user of the software for many years. That being said, I have been using it and quite honestly all software plugins less and less over the years. The reasons being, as Adobe has continued to make great advancements in image editing I have also increased my own proficiency in using those advancements. Frankly, though the Nik Collection has remained very good software, it has met its limitations. What was revolutionary some fifteen to twenty years ago is outdated by today's standards. There are simply far better, more precise ways to do those things that the Nik Collection of tools originally were designed to do. Google is one of the most advanced, creative and forward thinking companies in the world today. As such they simply recognized when certain technology was no longer worth further development. It is worth noting that Nikon abandoned the use of U Point technology in later releases of their Capture NX and other software.

The Nik Collection is still very usable on both current Mac and Windows based operating systems. It just does not make sense to continue developing it to be used on other operating systems to come. My own conclusion drawn from this is that it is time for me to keep advancing in my knowledge of the tremendously powerful and precise image editing tools of our times. I encourage every advanced photographer to do the same. Don't get stuck using old technology. Adobe has continued to be the leader in developing those tools for image editing in a non-destructive way through their raw processing engines within both Lightroom and Photoshop. One of those most advanced tools is the use of luminosity masks. Even my use of the Nik Collection, Tonal Contrast tool, which I have always loved, in the past year has been greatly improved for in conjunction with the use of luminosity masks. Now I have taken that a step further by accomplishing the same Tonal Contrast qualities by simply using luminosity masks with the advanced tools already found within Photoshop.

In summation I am suggesting rethinking the eventual demise of tools like the Nik Collection as an opportunity for further personal growth and development.

Consider JPEG Your Final Output

June 10th, 2015

Consider JPEG Your Final Output

Photography by Mark Myhaver

Hey Folks,

I just want to share a couple of things with you that have come up in recent conversations I've had with other photographers. Quite often when I get together with other photographers sooner or later the conversation turns to workflow. Now I began teaching digital workflow to professional photographers fifteen years ago. A lot of things have changed in those years, with RAW files being the biggest and on to tools like virtual copies, history snapshots and smart objects if you are working in an ®Adobe environment. However there are a couple of hard and fast rules that still hold true since many more years ago when I was teaching film to digital workflows.

Now this is primarily directed towards photographers who like to have a lot of control over their image processing, so if you prefer to shoot with a point and shoot camera, on fully automatic, camera phones or the like that is fine but this is probably not an article for you. If you are happy with what you are doing and pleased with your results keep on doing what is working for you. Just know that the camera is processing the image for you and all is good. One thing that I believe it was, John Paul Caponigro once said was “In art there is no right or wrong there is just different”.

There is an exception to every rule but those two hard and fast rules are; #1. Save Regularly and Save Often and #2. Never, never, never do your edits on a JPEG file. Now these two go hand in hand. Someone smarter than me once said, “If you know the why, the how will be there”. So let me give you the why first even though I am sure most of you have heard this before. JPEG is a lossy compression file format. One of the beauties of a JPEG is that it is a compression format but because it is lossy, every time you re-save it you are losing quality and degrading your beautiful image. So if you are following rule #1, well I hope you get the picture. In my opinion a JPEG file should always be considered a final output file only.

Now if you truly want to have the most control over your image processing, my recommendation is to shoot in a RAW file format. This will enable you to work with the raw data captured on your camera image sensor. Even if you want to process the RAW file in camera you can have some control over that processing. Though I have used cameras by dozens of manufacturers over the past 56 years, I have been shooting mostly with ®Nikon cameras for about twelve or thirteen years now. If you are using a ®Nikon with an ®EXPEED 3 or ®EXPEED 4 processor there are some mighty fine tweaks you may do to fine tune your in camera raw processing. If you haven’t checked them out you should. It won’t give you the full power that post capture software will but it still beats just letting the camera apply its own algorithms without any input from you. I am sure the other major brands have similar options. Once again, if you are not into doing your own processing and are happy with allowing your camera to process the raw data to JPEGs then keep on doing what you are doing. However if you are doing any post processing edits at all, even if it is just minor cropping, you do not want to be doing that on an original JPEG file.

So with all the above scenarios in mind I have provided a graphic outline of the basic workflow for each that will provide you with the best results while not destroying your beautiful images by editing your JPEG files. This outline is created based on my own workflow using ®Adobe ®Lightroom, ®Photoshop and ®Nik plugins (now ®Google Nik Collection) but should work just as well with most other image processing software available as well. It is by no means an in depth workflow and not intended to be. There are many options and variations available to the discerning photo artist today. I hope some of you may find this helpful.

Have Fun and Stay Creative,
Mark Myhaver

Back To Basics

June 10th, 2015

Back To Basics

Photography by Mark Myhaver

pho•tog•ra•phy [fuh-tog-ruh-fee] noun ~ The process or art of producing images of objects on sensitized surfaces by the chemical action of light or of other forms of radiant energy, as x-rays, gamma rays, or cosmic rays.
As defined by most dictionaries. Today I am writing about producing with light specifically.

With all of the automation available to us with the great cameras and lenses today it becomes easy to forget the basics and for some of us not to even have learned them. Whether you shoot in automatic modes or not it is important information to know and keep in mind. To paraphrase the great Cosmic Muffin, “It is a wise person who rules the camera. It is a fool who is ruled by it”. :-)

Let’s go back to a few basics about camera settings. Even if you have learned these things it is always good to review the basics now and then. All we are doing with cameras is capturing light through the lens and recording it on a sensor. (I began with it way back when it was film we were recording it on.) So it is all about looking for the light. Just like life ;-)

There are basically three settings that help us control the light with a camera. The aperture or f/stop which is the size of the opening we are letting light through the lens. The larger the opening the more light will get through, so the smaller the opening the less light will get through. It seems backwards but the larger the f/stop number the smaller the opening and the larger the opening the smaller the f/stop number. I won’t get into why this is so because it really isn’t important to you at this point. You just need to know that larger f/stop = less light and smaller f/stop = more light.

The shutter speed is the length of time the light is allowed to get through the lens to the sensor. So the longer the shutter is open the more light will be recorded and the shorter the shutter speed the less light will be recorded. Cameras today have shutter speed settings that go from 1/8,000 of a second to 30 seconds or possibly greater depending on the camera. 1/8000 of a second is pretty darn fast so allows the least amount of light to go through while 30 seconds is quite a long time for light to travel through the lens and to the sensor. You also may have a bulb setting which allows you to keep the shutter open for an indefinite amount of time till you close it again. We’re not going to concern ourselves with that at this point as even 1/4000 – 30 seconds is plenty of range for you to work with in the photography many of the folks reading this create.

The ISO which originates from film speeds which were rated first by the ASA or American Standards Association which then evolved into the International Standards Organization. Basically films were rated with a number based on the ability each had for recording light. The higher the ISO number the more sensitive the film was to light which meant the higher the number the less light was needed to record an image on it. So you can think of ISO as the equalizer if you like. I’ll come back to that.

Along with controlling how much light is being recorded each of these setting have other characteristics that come into play. The aperture, f/stop or size of the lens opening also controls how light rays are focused on the sensor. A simplified explanation is that as the light is traveling through a small opening it is spread narrower (more concentrated). The result is the light provides a greater Depth of Field (DOF) on the sensor. This means more of what you are photographing will be in focus near and far from the main subject that you have focused on. A larger opening, (aperture or f/stop) will have just the opposite effect as the light coming through the lens will spread wider on the sensor (less concentrated). So a larger f/stop will record less DOF meaning less will be in focus near and far from the main subject you are focused on. So the f/stop also allows us to control how much of our image is in sharp focus. Very important if you are shooting a macro shot or portrait that you want the subject to pop out of the background and leave the background soft, or a landscape where you may want as much of the image in as sharp focus as possible. Though you may think that if you shoot a landscape with the smallest f/stop you will record the sharpest image possible throughout the field of view. However due to the nature of glass other factors come into play that can actually degrade the light (image) being recorded. In the interest of keeping it basic, I am not going to go into details at this time.

Just know that one thing you must also consider is that every lens even the best lenses available today has a sweet spot. Usually it is in the midrange of f/stops in which the lens will record images that are the sharpest overall throughout your field of view. Again, several other things come into play here and entire articles can and have been written on just those facts but I am intending to stay as basic as possible here. Trust me I have tried to push the limits of some pretty darn good quality lenses in determining each ones sweet spot. It is worth the exercise with your own equipment or you can take the easy way out and read lens reviews. I firmly believe in doing both. Read the reviews and also do your own testing if possible before buying. Whether possible to test a lens before buying or not it is still a good thing to do after the fact. Even with the highest and strict standards used in the production of lenses today, each lens can be different when accompanying different camera bodies.

Shutter speeds, in addition to controlling the amount of light reaching the sensor also by their nature control our ability to freeze motion or allow it to blur. Both are useful depending on our intentions when recording an image. Ironically both have their own unique way of presenting the feeling of motion in an image. This being a piece on basics, I will not get into the various techniques one can employ to present the feeling of motion in an image. The important thing to know is that shutter speed affects the amount of time light will be recorded on the sensor and the ability to control motion. If you are shooting handheld this may include your motion of the camera as well as the motion of your subject. Many lenses today have ‘vibration reduction’ or’ image stabilization’ abilities built into them which greater enhance our ability to shoot handheld at slower shutter speeds. It is a fantastic feature that I highly recommend considering on any future lens purchases. That being said, I am a firm believer in shooting with a tripod whenever possible if you are doing macro or landscape work. Doing so allows you to shoot at slower shutter speeds and provide a better choice of f/stops. It also slows you down to fine tune your composition, and feel what is being presented to your view as well as seeing it. That being said I am speaking about a certain type of shooting. Hand held shooting certainly lends itself better to say capturing a party or street photography for instance. One thing to remember when shooting with a tripod is to turn off the vibration reduction as it can actually have the reverse affect when the camera is locked down.

So now that we know these two ways of controlling the amount of light recording on the camera sensor and the other benefits of each, it becomes a balancing act of using the right f/stop combined with the right shutter speed to record the type of image we have presented to us or conceived in our mind. Ah, but what about the ISO setting? I call ISO the great equalizer. Back in the days of film which I mentioned is where ISO originated, if we could not get to the f/stop and shutter speed combination we wanted our next option was to select a film with a different ISO rating. Remember the higher the ISO the less amount of light is required to record the image.

One of the great things about digital capture that I love is that we can adjust that ISO on the fly for each image as we are shooting. I am sure my great wedding assistant Amy, would have loved it if back in the day instead of changing film backs on a moment’s notice and always having backs loaded with different ISO films I could have just instantly change a camera setting and lesson her load. Thank you so much Amy for always having my back and keeping the equipment organized and ready for whatever direction my mind went. Amy, was the best and got to know me and what I would need when I needed it better than I did I think. I will never forget the day I was shooting the wedding reception action on the dance floor and the panic I felt when all of a sudden I was cranking the film wind knob around and realizing I was out of film or all of a sudden needed to change lenses. (Can you imagine only having 12-24 frames on a roll of film? Not to mention that each time you clicked the shutter a dollar sign clicked in your head.) Amy would be right behind me with a tap on the shoulder and just what I needed in her hand. I’ll get back on topic but I needed to take a moment and give recognition and appreciation where due. I had some great assistants back in my studio days but I repeat, Amy you were the best!

As each of the other settings for controlling light have their caveats, so too does the ISO. In the days of film, that caveat meant increased grain with the increased ISO speed. Today it is translates to increased digital noise when you increase the ISO. Built into the digital cameras of today we have features that allow us to somewhat tame that noise. We have that control even greater with processing software. However it remains that the best results will be gained by controlling the most variables we can at the point of capture. So other than for possible artistic reasons we generally want to reduce the noise we record on the sensor at the time of capture. The best way to do that is by using the lowest possible ISO during capture. That having been said, today more than ever the ISO setting can be very beneficial to help us get the correct f/stop and shutter speed we require to capture the image we perceive from what is presented to us. That is why I call it the great equalizer. Sometimes a slight tweak in the ISO setting may just enable us to get the balance of shutter speed and f/stop that we require.

Please note, these basics are in reference to using available natural light. They do not begin to address augmenting our exposures with artificial light. That will have to be a topic for another piece. If anyone is interested in that let me know and at some point I will see what light shines upon me in that regard and focus on it.

This article was inspired by a few people that have either reached out to me or I have felt the universal tug to reach out to them to help them improve their photography. Thank you for that inspiration. You know who you are.

Many thanks to my ever present writer and friend for helping me edit this piece and keeping me somewhat focused. Eno Dedraeb – A man of reflection, forever seeking wisdom.

To Master Your Tools Is To Master Your Craft

June 10th, 2015

To Master Your Tools Is To Master Your Craft

Photography by Mark Myhaver

“In the art of photography as with any work of art, it matters not how the artist rendered it or with what tools, but only that it is a true and skilled representation of what that artist visualized and felt at its conception. In the end it is the resulting piece of work that justifies the method in which it was created.” – Mark Myhaver

Recently, I came across a wonderful photograph by another photographer that was in my opinion a fine piece of art work. The accompanied article went into some detail as to how it was produced from a composite of images blended using software to render most accurately what the photographer visualized. The image when posted lead to some discussion in social media circles as to what is considered acceptable practice today in contrast to that which was acceptable in the past. It is a conversation that has taken place many times over more years than I am able to calculate properly. Indeed it does resurface any time new methods or technologies come along. It begs the question, is it not a sign of a true master of an art to keep abreast of the new tools that become available and to master those which one sees fit to improve upon ones work. If by embracing new tools & technology that when applied skillfully, enhance the artist’s ability to render his or her vision and feelings when conceiving the creation, does it not ring true when the viewer is able to grasp those feelings or even perhaps invoke the viewer’s own emotions by the finished work?

Is an artist who works strictly with pencils or oil paints or watercolor, or a sculptor with clay, metal or any other material, or an illustrator who uses ink or software any less of an artist than the other? Is a musician who plays a guitar or one who plays the saxophone, drums or piano any less of a musician than the other? Certainly one may argue that a musician who has truly mastered several instruments may quite well be a better musician than one who has mastered but one. The same argument may be made for the visual artists. Provided that each one has mastered their own tools in such a manner as to present to the viewer that which is coming from their heart and soul and perhaps provokes in the viewer something from his or her own heart and soul, is that not the true measure of one’s art?

This is not to say that a skilled artist who is the master of his or her tools should or will be appreciated by all of his or her peers or by all who view their work. Art like beauty, as we all know is in the eyes of the beholder. Why one work of art is appreciated by some as opposed to others, while certainly is affected by the talents and skills of the artist, is most certainly also a matter of one’s own tastes. That however, shall be left to the subject of another discussion.

To illustrate my point, this image is a composite image based on the image "Eden 38" When I 1st shot that image I felt it needed a person lost in the beauty of the scene just as I was. I turned around to find that person before me and shot the image of the girl with the sole purpose in mind of placing her in the image which you see here as "Alice In Wonderland".

As a side note, it is quite often when I am in the zone of photographing (I like to call it the Zen of Photography) that I feel the tug of nature pulling me to turn around or turn a corner only to be presented with another image to capture. Enjoy and have a great day.

The Power of Sharing On Social Media

June 10th, 2015

The Power of Sharing On Social Media

Photography by Mark Myhaver

Though this is primarily written based on Facebook and Google+ the same principles apply to most social media platforms.

So I want to talk about the power of sharing a bit. Sharing is caring…yeah, yeah, yeah you’ve heard the pretty cliché, I know. But hey this is social media so indulge me a minute if you will please? I am fairly new to this whole thing but here are some things I have learned. Do you ever notice that some things get a lot more attention than others? Now without doubt the biggest reason for that is Quality of Content. But still haven’t you seen some great content that you like and wonder why it doesn’t get more comments or likes.

A few days ago It was my pleasure to share what I felt was an exceptional piece of art. No I am not talking about my own work here, so skip that thought. It was an even greater pleasure to see it constantly being liked and commented on throughout the day. So follow this through if you will. I liked and shared that image publically, and never even commented on it. I did however credit the person who created it. Don’t get me wrong, comments are great in so many ways and given the time my preference would be to ‘Like’, ‘Comment’ and ‘Share’ with a comment when I see something that impresses me or moves me in some way. After all isn’t that what socializing is all about?

But wait! Here is what happened and is still happening at this very moment. Friends of mine saw the image and also liked it; some even shared it as well. Some actually paid attention to who else did so, looked up some of those people, liked what they had on their pages and new friendships were born. Yes, I am sure many of you who have been doing this a lot longer than I have are aware of how all of this works. Are you really! Do you recognize that a ‘Like’ has one affect; a “Comment” has another and a ‘Share’ has a much broader reaction? All, combined together just multiply upon each other. But here is the biggest most influential part of them all. When you actually use a person’s name on social media along with your comments it goes into search engines and then the real magic happens in exponential numbers.

When a name is mentioned anyone who is active in that person’s circle of friends gets notified in one way or another. I used the word active to imply someone who regularly engages on social media and so also has at least some notifications turned on. Now what happens next is that person decides to act or not. If it is from someone they normally socialize with anyway, chances are they are going to check it out. If they like it and are motivated to action by it they may in turn cause the chain reaction of sharing it with another friend or even better, folks in there public circles. If they do so making a point to also share the name of the originator it came from, well I think you see where I am going with this. It is not rocket science although there is certainly a basic mathematics aspect about it.

So though all of us may know these things are we keeping them in mind and using them to everyone’s advantage in our day to day social media interactions? Now, am I suggesting that we share everything that we see? Absolutely not! That actually can have the opposite of the desired effect of increasing our social circles. Let’s get back to the Quality Content piece of the equation. If we were to continuously saturate our own pages with anything coming down the stream regardless of our own opinion of quality we will probably watch our audience go down the drain with our credibility. Be your own content curator. If it doesn’t have a positive affect on you it probably won't on your like-minded friends either? There are some things that we ‘Like’ as a form of acknowledgement. There are others that we truly like for one reason or another. It may not be something fabulous or earth shattering but we like it. Then there are those things that provoke us to ‘Comment’. So my personal feeling is if it is of the content quality for me to comment on is it not then also of the quality that I want to ‘Share’? Perhaps not always for one reason or another but if I ask myself that question and do it often enough it becomes second nature. If it is top Quality Content why would I not want to share it so others may benefit from it? Isn't that part of being a good sociable neighbor?

Along with that, go the extra mile, give credit where credit is due and mention the author, artist, etcetera, by name. Did you know to most people there are few things more wonderful then the sound of their own name? We love seeing it in writing too. If nothing else it grabs your attention. You just may gain a new friend or two or a few hundred the way Social Media works.

If you like this piece and find it of value, by all means (you got it) Share it in my name. Thank you so much to the talented author and sharer of great content, Gregg Braden for unknowingly inspiring me to write this.