My new E-Book has finally arrived!

Many thanks to the wonderful people at PHOTIGY (www.photigy.com) – with their support, my long-awaited e-book on copyright is finally out into the world and on the virtual “bookstore shelf” here. Come check it out!

This book is different from most other books you will find out there. First, it is not just legal talk – and, to the most part, I tried to speak “plain English” and avoid the “big words” as much as practical. But that’s not what makes it different. The major difference is that this book is written by a photographer for photographers and it discusses things that are rarely covered in the volumes you will find on your local bookstore shelf: it talks about such things as whether your website is covered by copyright, how to submit your work to the US Copyright Office, how to set up the submission process in the way that it does not become a painful chore and many other things. It is a very practical guide and that’s why it is called a “Field Guide to Copyright”.

Please take a moment to take a look at the full book description and read the sample pages here. Enjoy the reading!

Cheers
Alex Stepanov, Photographer

www.astepanov.com
www.smallbigplanet.com

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It’s a “mistery” – the sequoia rainforests of North California

It's a "mistery"

Or maybe "foggery" 🙂 The sequoia rainforests around the Crescent Bay area. A spellbinding experience straight out of some unbelievable fantasy novel, where the ocean fog drapes the thousand year old trees…

#foggy #landscapephotography #sequoia #wp  

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Travel & Art Photography: www.smallbigplanet.com
Behind-The-Scenes and articles on PHOTIGY are here

“To Flash or Not To Flash” – why is it even a question?

There are certain debates that never die down. They may subside for a period of time, only to come back with new vigor after a few months (or sometimes years). With time, each side in those debates gathers almost religious following and amasses a formidable amount of arguments, facts and cool soundbites, only to unleash it all when the next tide comes to the shore.

One of those perennial debates is the all famous “Flash websites vs. Non-Flash websites”, or rather “Pros and Cons of Flash”. Since my “big” website uses Flash-based presentation, I was automatically thrown into the “Flash” camp (quite against my will) and now hardly a week passes without one web designer or other commenting on my website, specifically on the fact that it’s core is based on Flash. With the upsurge of the iPhones, iPads and other i-things, the comments have gotten on a new twist: “Flash needs to be avoided because it’s not iPhone-friendly” (read: “does not work on iOS platform”).

One web designer, who is also doing consulting (helping other people improve the “curb appeal” of their websites), offered me the following insight: “I’m not sure I would recommend using Flash at this point, unless you have a ghost site for mobile phones/iPads. If you’d like some more detailed instructions and recommendations on what we would suggest changing with your website, we could consult with you at our hourly rate. We can also create a custom website for you that would run on WordPress, and would be full HTML/CSS

Oh dear…

Leaving aside the whole “WordPress” nonsense, let me ask you a simple question: What is the purpose of your website?

That’s right – tell me in a couple of sentences, what is the purpose of your website and why do you have one? To show your work, right? WRONG! Not just “to show your work” but to present it in the most beautiful, glorious, dazzling way humanly possible. That’s the real goal of the website (and I’d be the first to admit that mine fell short of the mark on this one).

Now, let’s move on to the mobile platform argument. Have you ever tried browsing your big and beautiful website on iPhone? Or Android for that matter? If you haven’t done so recently, I strongly urge you to do it right away. Your eyes will open. When I saw my site on Android tablet (which supports Flash by the way), I was ready to cry. Yes, it was that bad. Which made me rethink my entire approach to what website is and how it works in the modern world. It is very simple actually – if you keep in mind the “big picture”, the big goal of your website existence (see the bold text above) then it becomes almost a no-brainer: you cannot expect your “desktop” site shine on the mobile platform.

The mobile platform is not just smaller – it is entirely different in every aspect, from small form factor to navigation, to how users engage and how they control the site (pinches and twists vs. mouse clicks for once) and the list goes on and on… Which makes it rather obvious: you need to have two separate web sites, each one is tuned to the specific platform it is intended for. I know, it’s not what most folks would like to hear but that’s the reality of it – you have to have a separate “shadow” site developed specifically for mobile devices. Your “big” desktop site will never look good on a handheld device and you have to dazzle the mobile users just as you do the “desktop  and laptop” crowd.

Which brings us to the initial argument – “avoid Flash because it doesn’t work on iOS”. Now, how come it is even a question? Your Flash (if you use it) belongs to your “desktop” website and your mobile web experience needs to be completely re-thought and re-engineered from ground up anyways. Stop trying to drive a square peg into a round hole – it won’t go. Stop trying to make your “desktop” site “work” on iPhone – even if it does, it will scare people. Stop making bogus pseudo-technical arguments and just give yourself a moment of quiet time and think: what is my goal? And then everything will start falling into its place.

Cheers,
Alex Stepanov, Photographer.

When in Washington DC, try to free up an hour…

When in Washington DC, try to free up an hour or two and make your way to the Library of Congress – specifically, to the Old building. Even if you are not big on history and museums, the interior itself never fails to "wow" anyone who comes here. In my personal roster, this building is easily #1 just for the magnificent ceiling ornaments alone… Not to mention everything else.

#wp #architecturephotography #libraryofcongress  

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Commercial work: www.astepanov.com
Travel & Art Photography: www.smallbigplanet.com
Behind-The-Scenes and articles on PHOTIGY are here

Is it not amazing how different the same city looks…

Is it not amazing how different the same city looks by day and when the sun goes down? That's the ever-changing and never changing New York for you, folks… The city that looks "same old" yet changes every second (sometimes, every "New York second").

As a friend of mine, a native New Yorker, put it – "it's crowded, dirty, noisy and smelly. It's perfect!"

Enjoy!
www.smallbigplanet.com

#wp #newyorkcity #newyorkcityphotography #panoramicphotos  

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“Twice-cooked HDR” – Dealing with extreme contrast

I am sure you know what “twice cooked pork” is (if not – here it is). Basically, the pork is cooked once (boiled), then diced and cooked again (fried in the Wok). If you approach “cooking” the HDR image in the same way as cooking a dish, then it is only logical to try to cook different “ingredients” in different pots and then mix, slice and dice them just before serving the final dish to the table. At least, that’s what I attempted to do with the following image.

Final “twice cooked” HDR

The above image is the interior of the Memorial Church in Stanford, CA. Beside being quite interesting from the architectural point of view, it is also quite challenging to photograph because of the skylight in the cupola. On a sunny day (which is the most typical day in Stanford), the difference between the brightest part (skylight) and the darkest area (deep in the naves) can easily reach about 6 stops, which is not only outside of the physical capability of a single frame capture but also exceed the “plus/minus two stops” bracketing range of my Canon. So… to deal with the situation, I had to “cook” my image twice. Here’s how.

Gathering the ingredients

First, I took 6 frames with 1 EV step (as shown below). This particular location allows tripods (which is rather uncommon but since they do allow it, there was no reason not to take advantage of it).

Why six? Because it allows me to pull much more details in the shadows while keeping the noise in check. Also, the final image is not as “contrasty” as it would have been otherwise. Just for fun, I processed two HDRs using the same parameters – one with all six frames and the other one with only three (the brightest, the darkest and the “normal” one). The difference is fairly obvious:

Cooking the “ingredients”

Now that we have the raw frames, let’s take a brief look at them. Almost immediately, we see that the skylight is almost entirely blown out except for the two darkest frames, and the light ones have some considerable halo around the skylight (and the dome in general). It is fairly obvious that we will need two different sets of parameters to deal with the skylight (and the dome) vs. the interior of the church and the naves. So I got into my “digital kitchen” and started cooking. For HDR processing, I almost exclusively use Photomatrix, which gives me quite a bit of control.

First, I wanted to get a good “base” image with details in shadows. I didn’t care much if the skylight didn’t look good, I just wanted to have as much details in the shadows as I could get without getting too much noise and without creating those ugly “HDR-ish” halos. For the curious, on the left you can see my parameter settings in Photomatrix (I use version 4.2.2). As you can see, I went rather conservatively on the Midtones Adjustments and Saturation. This parameter set resulted in the “base” image below. Not too bad overall, I can see quite a bit of details in the shadows; the contrast is quite low but it does not bother me all too much because the overall image is usable and it is much easier to increase contrast than to decrease it. Also, I am thoroughly unimpressed with the look of the dome – much as expected.

Now that we have the base, let’s go back and “cook” another HDR, this time emphasizing the dome and the skylight. I loaded the source frames back into Photomatrix and dialed in the same parameters, then started playing with the sliders, increasing the contrast and decreasing the highlight brightness. After a short while, I had the following image – my second part for the upcoming “dish”:

As you can see, the details in the shadows took considerable turn to the worse but the dome looks much better now!

Well, now that we have the ingredients, let’s mix them and serve the dish! Here we leave Photomatrix and jump into Photoshop.

Merging the HDRs

This part is probably the easiest one: I simply put both HDR’s on separate layers (the “base” one on top) and start masking, slicing and dicing.

I bring the cupola from the “contrasty” second HDR and while at that, adjust the curves on it to give the image more “pop”. Also, I fix the “vignette” on the floor (bottom left and bottom right corners). My Photoshop layer palette looks like the one on the left – basically, I pick up the entire skylight and a bit of the contrast on the pillars from the second “contrasty” image, while the details in the shadows come from the first “soft” one.

Once I’m done mixing, I drop the image back into the Lightroom and add just a touch of “Clarity” adjustment and sharpening and voila! We have our “twice-cooked HDR” ready. Of course, there are still some issues to be fixed – there are some traces of the original halo around the skylight for example, but overall it is not too bad and I’m satisfied with the outcome – the image is quite usable and the problems are rather minor and another half and hour in Photoshop could easily fix all the remaining issues.

So here it is folks – enjoy and never stop experimenting!

Cheers,
Alex Stepanov, Photographer

Wonderful…   Jeffrey Sullivan originally shared this post: Belt of VenusThe shadow…

Wonderful…

Jeffrey Sullivan originally shared this post: Belt of Venus
The shadow of the earth follows the sunset light into the sky as darkness creeps over the landscape below.  The planet Venus is often visible close to the horizon at sunrise and sunset when this colorful effect can be seen, so it’s often referred to as the “Belt of Venus”.

These conditions at Mono Lake, the ultra-calm lake and intense sunset color, most frequently in the late fall and winter, when the sun is low in the sky and the heat, convection and winds of summer are practically nonexistent.

#NatureMonday +Rolf Hicker

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I am the road

For some reason, I only feel at home while on the road. Don’t ask me why… I think, it must be something related to the ancestry – while everyone else was busy trying to descend from the apes (please direct your comments to certain Mr. Darwin), I took the shortcut and descended from a gipsy dog who wasn’t very busy at the moment 🙂 Seemed like a good idea at the time… Now I’m bound to ramble. Luckily, there is no shortage of open roads in California and each one is beautiful in its own way…

#wp #travelphotography #california #landscapephotography #landscape

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For some reason, I always look up. I’m not sure…

For some reason, I always look up. I'm not sure why. Most people look down to watch their step; I trust my feet to take me wherever they are inclined to walk to, while the head (and the camera) are otherwise occupied. Here we have one of those rare moments when both the feet and the head happen to work together so that they brought me up to this fantastic building in downtown Montreal. The rest is… um… history.

#wp #architecture #architecturephotography #montréal  

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Canon is jumping into the “mirrorless camera” pool! At long Alex Koloskov originally shared this post: In case you are…

Canon is jumping into the "mirrorless camera" pool! At long last…

#wp  

Alex Koloskov originally shared this post: In case you are looking where to spend some $$, I just updated Photigy.com deals&discounts page:
http://www.photigy.com/hot-deals-for-photographers
Looks like B&H has a pretty good ones, and some of them expiring in 3 days.

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