'Digital Files' Category

Baby Shower Bingo

I don’t play shower games.  I avoid them like the plague.  Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for parties and presents for special events. Just hate the standard games that go along with them.  However, I wanted to do something special for my niece (as I am her favorite aunt).  As with many things, my thoughts turned to pictures.  I have many baby photos of her and my original thought was to make a soccer ball shaped centerpiece for her.  That idea failed miserably.  Since her name has 5 letters, I thought of something with Bingo.

I had the general idea of bingo and photos, but it took a little time to work out the details: I would use a standard 5×5 bingo card with pictures instead of numbers.  The mother-to-be would draw pictures of herself from a pile and the players would mark off the square.  For some extra fun, my niece would be challenged to identify each of the pictures (she did pretty well).  The first to get a traditional bingo run (up, down or diagonal) would win.  The winner would, of course, say my niece’s name instead of “bingo.” This last part is optional and does run dangerously close to your average shower game, but I had to give the purists something.

Now the big problem: making the cards.  I needed 30 cards with different photos in different spots (it wouldn’t be a contest if everyone had the same card).  While I could make each by hand, I really didn’t want to.  It was time for an Internet search.  I finally found the program that would generate random cards using pictures; a website I’ve used before – SourceForge.net.  SourceForge.net is a wonderful collection of open source projects that are all available for free download without ads and safe from malware.  BingoCardMaker.SourceForge.net  was developed by a language teacher to generate cards for his students.  It is easy to download and use and allows you to customize your cards completely (you can even include the free space in the middle).  The cardset is generated for you and stored in a folder.  Each card is saved as a different image file and can be viewed before printing (so you don’t waste ink if you need to modify the cards).  I did discover that cropping the photos to a square before I uploaded them made the cards look more like traditional bingo cards. To make the game a bit more interesting, I decided to upload 30 photos and any given card used only 25.

FYI – I still didn’t play.

Bingo Card 04            Bingo Card 01

Bingo Card 02           Bingo Card 03

My Photo Resolutions for 2014

Welcome 2014 – it’s time to get my ducks in a row. My photo ducks, at least.  Here are my five photo-related resolutions for 2014.  I’ll let you know at the end of the year how well I did with them.

Back-up.  Don’t get me wrong, I DO back-up all of my work.  Unfortunately, I usually go overboard and save different versions often in multiple places. Now while this means that I generally don’t lose anything, it also means that it can take me a while to find something (and it uses a lot of space).  So I resolve to back-up my work and delete earlier and working versions when I have completed the project.

Process and delete.  I usually shoot in RAW and shoot more photos than I want to keep.  This means that the files are quite large and many are extra.  To process my photos I need to convert them to JPEGs, delete what I don’t want and make any edits with color or cropping.  Photos can sit on my computer (and back-up) for months before I get to this.  So I resolve to process and delete my photos in a timely manner and then delete the original files.

Share. We learned to share in kindergarten and I’m not, not sharing. I first have to get the files ready (see above resolution) and then second actually do it.  Perhaps the biggest misconception about digital photography is that it makes it easier to share photos.  While this is technically true, I always found that I gave more photos and got more photos when we had them developed.  Towards the end of film it was cheap to have another set of prints made and most people did just that.  So I resolve to burn discs and share them with family and friends no later than one month after the event.

Print.  I haven’t printed photos in years.  Sure, I’ve made many individual photos for frames, but my photo albums are woefully out of date (another casualty of digital).  So I resolve to print or, better yet, create photo books in a timely manner.

Scan.  I have been made the official archivist of my family and as a result have literally boxes of old photos.  I need to get them scanned.  So I resolve to scan, process, share and create photo books of all of my family photos.

I guess I’m going to be fairly busy this year!


Photoshop and Duct Tape

Photoshop is a wonderful tool that even the great Ansel Adams would have embraced.  But like any tool, it can be used properly or improperly.  With improper use, we run the risk of turning Photoshop into the digital equivalent of duct tape. Sure, duct tape might work, but wouldn’t it look better if it were done properly from the beginning?

Start with a great photo. Photoshop is not an excuse for poor or lazy photography. Get as much straight out of the camera as possible.  Do not rely on the blur tool to create a fake bokeh, learn how to do it by adjusting your aperture. Lighting changes (sources rather than exposure) are particularly difficult to adjust in Photoshop.  Learn photography basics and your camera.

Stay away from making size changes when combining photos. I like to call this “The Anne Geddes Effect”.  Mind you, I have nothing against Ms Geddes. She is a skillful photographer who found a hugely marketable niche.  Unfortunately, many people try to copy her with Photoshop and most do it very badly.  Please keep your butterfly photos and your baby photos separate from each other.  Both are lovely the way they are!

Don’t turn everything into black and white.  Lately I’ve noticed a trend to desaturate every photo in the thought that it makes the photo more dramatic or important.  While certain photos lend themselves to black and white, like some portraits and scenes with high contrast, most should be left with their color in them.  If you do convert a photo, make sure to use all of the Photoshop tools (not just the auto setting) to customize the monochromatic image.

Experiment, but delete it if it’s not up to snuff.  Choose your filters and effects wisely and know when to stop.  Just because they are there doesn’t mean you have to use them.  If it’s not perfect, delete it. Nothing makes a photo look worse than a bad Photoshop job.  Make sure to make your changes to a copy or on another layer so you can return to your original image.

10 Ways To Be Photogenic

Does the camera really add 10 pounds? Well … yes and no.  Unflattering lighting, lens issues and bad angles combined with the inherent problems of transferring a 3D object to a 2D medium can lead to some pretty awful photos.  The other problem is that a photo is not what we see in the mirror, it’s what the mirror sees (the aptly named mirror image). This is why we are often harder on photos of ourselves than of others.  So what can we do about it? Remember, there are two players in any photograph – the subject and the photographer and both can work together to improve a photo.

Rules for the Subject:

#1 – Don’t sabotage the photo. You hate to have your picture taken and it shows.  You offer up what you know to be a weak smile or stupid look and then remark – “See, I told you I take awful pictures!” Please stop doing this and just let me take the photo.


#2 – Spend some time at the mirror. Since no one is perfectly symmetric, one side of your face looks better than the other. Determine which your “best” is (remember right and left are reversed in a mirror). Turn your face and see at what point you look your best (a ¾ view is flattering for most people). Work on your “picture smile” in front of the mirror. This may seem like the height of narcissism, but you will look better in photos.

#3 – Hide what you don’t like. A strategically placed bag, arm, couch pillow or child can go a long way. Just make sure that you don’t look like your hiding. If you don’t like the way your teeth look in photos, perfect a pleasant toothless smile.

#4 – Strike a pose. Have you ever liked a photo of yourself that it taken square-on with your arms flat at your sides? Probably not, so try these moves: Turn slightly away so you are not square-on, move one foot in front of you pointed at the camera and rest your weight on your back foot.  Shoulders back, chest out and stomach muscles tight (but don’t look like a soldier at attention). Move your arms slightly away from your body and bend them gently and relax your hands.  Force your face forward just a bit (this will feel very unnatural, but it will avoid a double chin). Add that smile from the mirror and – bingo – we have a good photo.


#5 – Look your best. With cell phones it is arguable that every day is “picture day”; however there are times when you know there will be a camera around. On those days (think holidays and weddings), be sure to wear an outfit that flatters you or at least avoid what you know doesn’t work for you. For women – keep the shine away, moisturize and at least wear mascara (this is so much more important as we age).

Rules for the Photographer:

#1 – Watch the lighting and your angles. Avoid the midday sun, it will leave harsh shadows. If you have no option, get into the shade or use your flash to get rid of the shadows.  Never shoot people from below. Granted, they may look taller but the other distortions will not be appreciated. Shooting from eye-level or slightly above is your goal. Take a step or two back and zoom in a bit to fill the frame. If you are too close with your camera on wide, it will distort their faces.


#2 – Try to get candid shots. Many people freeze when they see a camera; try to catch them unaware. Most of my favorite photos are stealth ones.

#3 – Gather people close together. Photos always look better when the subjects are close to each other, but avoid the line-up. Also, keep an eye on the background and avoid the clutter.


#4 – Delete awful photos. You are bound to take some terrible photos now and again.  Please use that delete button and in the name of all that is holy – DO NOT POST THEM ON FACEBOOK!

#5 – Edit a little. If you are familiar with an editing program, make a few minor adjustments.  Just keep the changes very subtle. An over-edited picture usually looks worse than the original.

Protecting Your Photos from Disaster


The tornadoes and downpours of this spring and last month’s Hurricane Issac have gotten me thinking about disaster planning.  In this part of the country we don’t have the luxury of the advance warnings that usually come with hurricanes and wildfires.  Our disasters tend to happen quickly – tornadoes, house fires and floods.  After confirming the safety of our loved ones, the next thing that most people think about is the loss of important personal items including photos and movies.

Water damaged photos can be salvaged, but one needs to work quickly.  If the photos are allowed to dry or grow mold, the damage is probably irreparable.  Traditional photographic prints should be cleaned by dunking them into tanks of clean water (rather than running water) and placed on something absorbent to air dry (plain paper towels are fine, just blot any excess water away first).  They will curl but can be flattened out later. Photos should be removed from albums while still wet to prevent them from sticking to the plastic cover.  In the case of heirloom photo albums, take apart the album and clean and dry each page following the same steps listed above.

While this is the ideal method, you may not have the time, space or desire to clean and dry everything immediately.  In this case, you’ll want to freeze your photos in a Ziploc bag.  Be sure to place a piece of waxed paper between the photos in stacks so they don’t adhere to each other.  Removing prints from albums and then freezing them is better, but you can freeze a whole album if you need to.  Remove the photos from the bag to thaw them and follow the above steps.

As they say – the best defense is a good offense.  A salvaged photo will never look as good as it once did and in the case of fire, may be missing parts.  A qualified photo restorer can do wonders, but it’s easier and cheaper to have a digital copy to begin with.  All of your digital photos and movies should be backed up on an external hard drive and stored off-site or in a fireproof box bolted to the basement floor.  Analog items (traditional prints, films and VHS) should be digitized and stored.  Yes, it is a time consuming and often pricey solution; professional scanning costs but it saves you time and energy.  For a faster alternative to scanning, take a digital photo of the print.  For best results, don’t use the flash and make sure the print and your camera are level.  It won’t be as good as a scan from a quality scanner, but at least it’s something.

The Photographer’s Ephemeris


I know that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west and that the positions and times differ throughout the year.  I know that the moon does the same throughout its 28 day cycle. I also know that the full moon will rise exactly where the sun did six months prior.  My knowledge of astronomy isn’t bad for a psychology major; but somehow, I never could wrap my mind around it. I’d take charts with me on vacation and end up looking in the sky and guessing.  Those days are gone thanks to The Photographer’s Ephemeris (TPE) – a graphical sun and moon calculator developed for photographers by a photographer.

Unlike many online ephemerides that force you to choose from a set list of places, TPE uses Google Maps to search for and plot any place in the world. As such, a data connection is required to display the maps, but it will hold your last place and display the basic information without a connection.  That basic information – moon phase, sun and moon rise and set times and the angles for these events would be enough to make TPE a useful tool, but there is so much more.  A slider tool displays the paths of the sun and moon over a 24 hour period or a one hour period for more detail.  In other words, you can plot where the sun (or moon) will be at a given time, at a given place, on a given day with little effort.  In addition to the path lines, the azimuth and altitude are listed for precise placement.  Azimuth is measured in degrees and might not be a familiar concept. Just think of a circular map – the very top is North (0⁰), East is straight right (90⁰), South is the very bottom (180⁰) and West is straight left (270⁰).  Azimuth combines with altitude (how far above the horizon something is), to give you the exact position of the sun or moon. The feature that puts TPE in a tie for the title of coolest app ever (Star Walk is the other), is its ability to adjust rise and set times for changes in elevation.  When and where will the sun rise over this mountain? When will the light of the setting sun hit this meadow? When and where will the moon come into view over these buildings? TPE can make these calculations for any day of the year. Granted, this requires some work, but there are tutorials on their website and on YouTube.

The Photographer’s Ephemeris has become an integral part of my outdoor photography. The usefulness for landscape photography is clear, but I use it for weddings too.  Never again will I have to drive to a location a few days early to “see where” the sun is. TPE can be downloaded to your computer for free from photoephemeris.com and is available for iPad ($8) and Android ($6).  The tablet versions are optimized for touch screen and gyro sensors for increased functionality and worth it at three times the cost. Now all I have to do is reconfigure the camera bag for my trip to Acadia National Park; I’m sure I’ll get the iPad in there somehow.

Graduation PhotoShows


The graduation slideshow has become de rigueur for the late afternoon, hosted by your parents, no you can’t leave yet, party.  While the embarrassment of your student is, admittedly, one of the desired outcomes; you want that embarrassment to come from potty training photos and bad haircuts, not from watching a boring slideshow.  Here are some tips to make yours memorable for the right reasons:

It will take longer than you expected – a lot longer.  It’s not brain surgery, but it does require skill and creativity.  Be prepared to spend some time learning the software you decide to use. Most of the programs you can purchase are similar; Windows Live Movie Maker is a pretty good free program.  If you do not have a working knowledge of computer file types, plan to spend even more time.

Consider hiring someone to make it for you. In addition to taking skill and time to create, it will be emotionally draining.  Trust me, I’ve made these for family members and cried the entire time.  It plain wears you out.  As a bonus, when someone else makes it, you get to be surprised with everyone else.  Sure, you know what photos and songs will be used, but you haven’t seen it put together.

Decide which photos to use before you begin.  Don’t waste your time scanning photos you won’t use. Go through your photos several times and weed out unwanted and similar shots. In general, close-up photos work better than group or distance shots.  Be sure to include “milestones” like the first day of school.

Establish a working plan. Most shows display the photos in chronological order, but I’ve seen them grouped by subject matter too.  It is easiest to scan them in the order of display and give them a meaningful filename.  If you borrowed photos from other people, scan one person’s photos at a time for an easy return.

Use the effects sparingly.  A common rookie mistake is going overboard with the effects and the captions.  We are all happy that you learned a new skill, but too much can distract from your show.

Don’t obsess over the timing or ordering.  It’s alright if you end up with a few photos out of order.  Most people won’t even notice and those who notice won’t care (if they do, they are perfectly awful people and shouldn’t be invited to parties).  Don’t try to match every photo with a lyric; it will just add time and most people won’t notice.  That said, having a few is kinda cool (I was very happy with myself when I matched up “blowing out the candles on another birthday cake” with a photo of the same.  I pointed it out to several people; they were not as excited as I.).

Choose the songs wisely. Go easy with the slow, crooning ballads; overused, overly sentimental songs can drag down a show. Use some up-tempo tunes and be sure to include some new songs.  Here are 10 songs from the last 10 years:  My Wish, Rascal Flatts; September, Daughtry; Raise Your Glass, Pink (it’s Pink, so use the clean version); My Best Days are Ahead of Me, Danny Gokey; Unwritten, Natasha Bedingfield; Times Like These, Foo Fighters; 100 Years, Five for Fighting; We Are Young, Fun; Say Goodbye, Skillet and Time of My Life, David Cook. Whatever music you use, put it in after the photos are arranged.

Edit frequently and keep it short. Your goal is a 10 to 20 minute show; after that people start to get bored.  Most photos need to be displayed for only 4 or 5 seconds (detailed or captioned photos will be longer).   Playback your show repeatedly and delete or change anything that slows it down.

Test it early on the player you will be using at the party. A burned DVD will work in most players, but you still need to test yours beforehand.  It will take longer, but select a slow burn speed to improve player compatibility.

When it’s over, see if the men are holding back tears; if they are, you did well!

Organize Those Digital Photos!


For those of us who remember taking photos on film, the embrace of digital photography has certainly been a change in kind rather than degree.  It may surprise us to hear that many brides do not want the traditional wedding albums that their mothers had (last year I didn’t sell a single one!).  Our photos do not live in albums anymore; they live in our computers and the city is in desperate need of some urban planning.

To continue the metaphor, the first thing to do is get rid of the eyesores; do this without mercy. We take many, many digital photos, but taking them should not necessarily mean keeping them.  Start by deleting the blurry photos and continue onto the duplicate shots.  Keep only the best.

Next, create multiple, self-contained neighborhoods to minimize sprawl (separate folders in My Pictures). Take some time on this step; you are designing the street hierarchy of the city.  I think that big events make the best folder categories (Holidays, Vacations, Graduations…).  Within each broad category, include meaningful sub-folders (Holidays à Easter àEaster _2012). When you get down to the street name (the lowest folder in your hierarchy), give your photos an address (rename the files).  So my photos from this Easter will live in the Easter 2012 folder and be named: easter_2012_01, easter_2012_02 and so on. To rename all of the photos at once, look for a “batch rename” option in the software that accompanied your camera.  In Windows: sort all of the files by date in ascending order (this is probably your default setting), select all of the files, right-click on the first file and choose “Rename.” Give that file the desired name and press enter; Windows will give that name to all of the photos with a number (1, 2, 3 …).

Now you need to create a city directory (add metadata to make your files searchable). As we discussed last month, metadata is in the “Details” tab of the “Properties” listing (right-click on the file). Your camera will have added quite a bit of information about the photo, the most useful are the time and date (check your camera regularly to make sure it’s right). If you want to add a description of the photo, make sure it’s additional information.  For example, don’t waste your time adding “Easter 2012” to the comments and title sections, that’s already in the filename.  Add something extra, like where the photo was taken or who is in it.  For Windows Live Photo Gallery users, tagging photos (adding keywords) is the way to go (every computer running Vista or newer should have this factory installed).  Its biggest selling point is the ability to save custom tags; this increases the chances of using the same keyword each time. I find it preferable to use tags with new photos and comments/titles with older (scanned) photos; I tend to write in complete sentences for the older photos rather than use keywords.

Finally, now that you have established the statutes of your photo city (Picturopolis?, Jpegville?, Tifftown?), you must abide by them.  Follow the same steps each time you import photos from your camera and you’ll be winning public design awards before you know it.

Family Photos in the Digital Age

Family Photos

Your family has elected you “Keeper of the Archives.” There are several ways that this could happen, the most likely are: you have an advanced degree in History or Library Science, you are the oldest child, you own antiques, you have a ton of photos on display, you show any amount of interest in your great-grandparents, and/or you have the skill or interest in preserving old photos by scanning them. Some of us meet all of these criteria; we never had a chance.

You have two choices: buy a scanner, software, read up on digitizing photos and spend hours doing it yourself; or save yourself the headache and hire someone to do it for you.  Either way, you’ll have one jpeg file for each photo.  The good news is that you can burn the files on a disc and share them with all of your cousins, display the photos in a digital photo frame and post them on Facebook. The bad news is that you lose the back of the photo or album with all of the information.

Enter metadata. Metadata is data about data that is a part of the file, in this case, it’s data about the jpeg file that resulted from the scan.  Windows provides the easiest way to edit the jpeg’s metadata. Simply right click on the file, select “Properties” and then select the “Details” tab.  You will see that you can enter a title, subject, tags, comments and the date taken. Date is easy; overwrite the scan date with the actual date of the photo.  Tags are keywords used to describe the photo; if you add any, think general subjects like birthdays or holidays (more on these next month).  The rest is a little weird.  Different software will display the remaining information differently, so put the same information in the “Comments” and “Title” fields (you can copy and paste); click on ”Apply” and then “OK.”  This will allow Windows users to view the information in the easier to read “Comments” field and PhotoShop users to read the data in the “Description” field.  Conversely, if you are scanning the photos yourself, use the “Description” field in PhotoShop and the information will display in the “Title” field in Windows. To edit multiple files in Windows, select the desired files and right click; follow the above steps.

If you’re thinking that this is going to take forever – well, it is time consuming.  Just remember that you’ve spent much more time on the earlier aspects of creating a family archive; now you’re in the home stretch. Next month we’ll discuss organization methods of photo files.

Toys, SD Cards and iPads

Eye Fi Card

I am a geek.  I’m not sure when it happened; maybe I always was.  Maybe I was waiting (unbeknownst) for the digital revolution.  No, that isn’t it.  I have analog roots.  In the 80s, friends and family would ask me to “fix” their VCR that kept flashing 12:00. The more adventurous would have me set it up to record something that they wouldn’t be home to watch (probably an episode of Cheers). Among geeks, I rank fairly low.  I don’t own a soldering set, never built my own Tesla coil and can’t fix my son’s RC car.  I can, however, crimp a network cable, work with most computer hardware and software with confidence, create a passable website, program my DVR and set-up my mother-in-law’s photo frame.  What I really like are toys; the kind of toys that are displayed at the International Consumer Electronics Show each winter in Vegas.

Imagine my thrill when I discovered that I could get two of my newest toys to work together!  Last November, I got an iPad. I love my iPad, but its main problem is getting stuff on it.  It’s easy enough to download a book or an app, but your own pictures are added by synching it from a computer; a small, but extra, step in displaying your photos.  For Christmas, I got an Eye-Fi camera card.  Using your home wifi, it can be set to upload your pictures to Facebook or some other social networking site without a computer.  Fast forward to April – iPad 2 is released with a camera. But it’s only a cell phone quality camera and that’s not nearly good enough for me.  However, Eye-Fi releases a firmware update that turns all of its cards into mini-wifi networks.  In other words, my iPad and my Eye-Fi card can talk to each other anywhere, not just at home.  The setup is a little tricky (detailed instructions are on their website), but once it’s setup, it works well. You take a photo and then it appears on your iPad.  It is by far the coolest thing that I have seen in awhile.