The New Manual DSLR Project

Hi, and welcome to my blog. The Manual DSLR Project was started March 30, 2010 with the intent of devoting one year to learning how to use my Nikon D300 in manual mode. I invited you to join me as I took this journey. You celebrated with me as my fingers began to remember which wheel adjusts the shutter speed and which controls the aperture settings. I was brutally honest in sharing my mistakes.

A year passed quickly...and I achieved my goal of demystifying the manual operation of my camera.

While the Manual DSLR Project was intended to be bound by time (one year), I am eager to keep the conversation going. So look for additional posts on anything related to photography. And interact. Let me know if you are reading the blog and find it useful.

All the best...

Monday, January 31, 2011

Postal Pix Discount Code

I recently wrote a review of the Postal Pix iPhone app on the Current Photographer web site. The Postal Pix folks liked the review and offered readers a 25% discount on their first order. Just use the discount code, "current" to receive your discount.

Check out the review here by clicking here. 

In the interest of full disclosure, this is not an affiliate agreement and neither Current nor I receive any money if you order from Postal Pix. You simply receive a one-time discount.

Hope you enjoy. I've tried this service and like it. Mike

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

ZaZa Gallery Canvas Prints

A couple of weeks ago I was offered the opportunity to receive a free 16" x 20" canvas gallery wrap in exchange for a review and link on the blog. Always happy to add to my collection of prints (especially for free), I emailed my image to the ZaZa Gallery folks late in the evening of January 3 and yesterday I received the canvas. The image that I chose is a shot of my son, Lane sitting on the banks of Little River in the Great Smoky Mountains. That photo has been posted here before, but I decided to tone it down a bit by adding a vignette. The result is what you see here.

So how did our friends at ZaZa Gallery do? I should first say that I have only ordered canvas gallery wraps from one other company, so that is the only comparison I can make.

What can I say? It looks just as good as or better than the other canvas wraps we own. Can I honestly say it looks a hundred times better? No. However, I can say that I cannot tell the difference in the quality of this print and any of the others I have had made. With that in mind, it seems to come down to price and service.

It is a little hard to talk about service since I simply emailed my image to ZaZa Gallery and they sent the wrap to me. I didn't use their order entry system although I did walk through an order up to the point of ordering and found it very easy to navigate and use. I was most impressed that on the upload page there is an actual phone number that you can call if you have questions or difficulties in uploading the image. The wrap was packaged well and even though the box was a little crunched on one corner when it arrived, the print was in excellent shape.

So what about prices? I decided to look up prices on what might be a typical order for me and compare the bottom line pricing. For the sake of example, let's assume that we plan to order a 3/4 inch 16" x 20" gallery wrap, and a 1 1/2 inch 20" x 30" gallery wrap of two different images. The entire order from another supplier of canvas gallery wraps (from which I have previously ordered) would cost $254.95, including shipping. The same order from ZaZa Gallery would cost a total of $221.99.

So...what is my recommendation? Based on the quality of the gallery wrap I received from ZaZa Gallery I would not hesitate to entrust them with the printing of my favorite images. In fact, I expect that my next canvas order will go to ZaZa Gallery. I encourage you to check them out. You'll be happy you did.

My thanks to ZaZa Gallery for inviting me to review their product. I am pleased to provide a link to their site and am even more pleased to become a customer.

All the best... Mike

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

iPhone Photo Apps

For the past several weeks I have been reviewing iPhone apps for Current Photographer. While I am having some great fun writing the reviews, there is a bonus advantage to writing these reviews...Because I am purposefully looking for new apps that are helpful for photographers, I download a lot of photo apps and take some time to play with them--and many of them are lots of fun.

While I will not republish the reviews here, I will occasionally share examples of what I am doing with the new iPhone apps I am using as a result of this experience.

The first one was taken and edited on Camera+ photo app. It was taken at about 3:30 pm in Scottsboro Alabama as we crossed the Tennessee River. (I wasn't driving, by the way). You can't really call it a sunset, but the sun was low in the sky and there was a layer of fluffy clouds that really filtered the sun. I applied the vibrant effect and the vignette frame in Camera+. I like the results.

The second photo was actually taken by mistake but I liked it so I kept it. I was out in my front yard while we still had a layer of ice over several inches of snow. As I walked across the yard I found that the ice had cracked. I squatted on the ice to try to get a photo but couldn't see the phone screen because my auto-darkening eyeglasses were so dark. The front-facing camera on my phone was active, so instead of taking a shot of the ice, I took a pic of myself. However, once I took my glasses off (ouch! it was bright) I found that the front-facing camera had captured a shot of me with some cool clouds in the background. My hair is a mess, but it had promise.

Enter iPhone apps. I first cropped the image using Camera+ and then added an additional effect with Pic Grunger. The third photo is the final result. Again, this is not exactly what you are going to use for a portrait, but I think it is a fun photo. Did I just reach the top of Everest? (Yeah, right...) Perhaps I just got out of my vintage WWI airplane? (I wish). In reality I just got off my Kubota tractor, but Pic Grunger makes it look like I just did something much cooler.

I hope you have as much fun with these apps as I have. Click here to check out my reviews on Current Photographer.


Saturday, January 15, 2011

Workflow Using Lightroom 3 - part 4 File Structure

We have been talking a lot about digital workflow lately, but realized that I might should have talked about file structure from the start. Oh well, there's no time like the present so let's jump right in.

My file structure is pretty straightforward and makes good sense to me. However, the most important thing about selecting a file structure for your photos is that it makes sense to YOU! This is how I do it.

I start a new folder each year on my hard drive. With the exception of my backup files, all my photos for the year are located within that folder. From there, I create a folder for each month. Under that folder, I create a folder for each photo shoot.

My camera makes the next two folders, one of which is handy when a shoot runs for more than one day. These, of course, could be removed. You find all the RAW files in the main folder and I make export folders (800 pixels or PRINT) to hold my finished images.

I always retain the original file number, which helps me to find the original file later should I need it. For instance, if I want to go back to the original RAW file from Cody's haircut, I can search for 3736 and easily find it. Since hard drive space is not unlimited on my computer, I archive my files about twice a year on a separate hard drive from the original backup. 

I hope this has been helpful as you develop your workflow systems. My system is certainly not perfect, but it is a start. Perhaps you can use something we have talked about here.

All the best...Mike

Friday, January 14, 2011

Workflow Using Lightroom 3 - part 3

If you have been keeping up with recent posts you'll find that we have discussed importing, backing up and initial weeding of photos in part 1; and post processing steps in part 2. In part 3 we will discuss exporting files in JPG format and saving for print and/or web use. Again, there are a number of ways to do this. I am just sharing one way to do it. You may choose to adopt my methods or adapt them to suit your needs.

We have been snowed in all week and my son Cody wanted his mom to trim his hair. So while he was confined with the scissors, I got out my 24mm 2.8 and took a few shots. Let's use this one to discuss exporting.

It is in Lightroom and all I have done with it is to decrease the sharpening and to apply a bit of noise reduction since I shot it at ISO 640 (f2.8, 1/30 sec).

At this point I will export a copy of
 this image without applying any presets or effects. Since it will be for web use I will save it at 800 pixels on its longest side. Let's look at how that will look. I go to File and then to Export, which brings up the Export dialog box. I always save the file in the same folder as the original photo and place it in a subfolder labeled "800 pixel" for typical photos that I will post online or "Print" for those that I will print. I will rename using "Custom Name - Original File Number" with the custom name being something descriptive of the photo shoot, perhaps something like "Washington DC", "Miller Family", or "Christmas Lights".

 I use JPG format with a quality of about 74 and use the sRGB color space. I will resize the long edge to 800 pixels at 240 pixels per inch for the web. For print, I would save in full size at 100 quality. Here is where I will apply sharpening presets for either screen or print settings and add a watermark, if appropriate.
 At this point I am ready to export this one. So what if I want to add a preset in Lightroom and offer another look to this photo? All I do is to select the develop preset I want. In this situation I chose Seim Effects Old Holga BW preset so I exported it as Cody's Haircut Seim Holga BW into the same folder that holds the other exported photos from that shoot. In case you want to see what the photo looks like, here it is.

The preset gives it a vintage haircut vibe, I think, and I can easily find that photo whenever I need it. So how do I find these photos, the original RAW file, or the backup file? Look for that in part 4 of this series.

Until then...All the best...Mike

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Workflow Using Lightroom 3 - part 2

Okay, if you read the previous post (part 1) you know that we have imported our photos, backed them up on an external hard drive, did preliminary ratings, and are now ready to begin to edit in Lightroom 3. I will now share the workflow that I use to get to the finished product. I must say that I have not always been consistent on this process. In fact, part of the purpose for writing these posts is that I will remind myself of my workflow and commit it to (subconscious) memory in the same way that my fingers have learned how to increase shutter speed and change aperture settings without really thinking about it. In addition, there is no perfect way to do post processing. By this time next year I may change my methods considerably. The biggest point is this...

I have a method. It's almost like having a budget. Sometimes you stray from your budget, but without one you would constantly be straying. Think of a post-processing methodology in the same way.

Let's use this photo as an example. It is decidedly not one of my best images. I was drizzling rain, foggy, and cold. But we were determined to see the sights of coastal Oregon on this day and we went out to take some photos.

So here it is...Let's see what we can do with it.

White Balance - I first look at white balance to see if what I shot looks right for the scene. The eyedropper tool is a great place to start. If the color temperature does not look right, simply hover over a white or gray area of the scene to see if the color temperature needs to be changed. If so, click on it to adjust. Though this is not a practical part of your workflow, it is not a bad idea to slide the color temperature slider from one extreme to the other to see the effect of color temperature on your image. Again, not part of workflow, but a good exercise in seeing the extremes of color temperature. Once you see these extremes in your image you are more likely to recognize them in future images. Based on the color of her jacket and hat, I think the white balance on this one is correct as shot.

Exposure - Next I will look at exposure and tweak this where needed. Thanks to the Manual DSLR Project I typically nail the exposure I am looking for, although the image may be purposefully under- or over-exposed. If adjustments are needed, however, they may be made here. More times than not I will add a bit of fill light to bring out detail in a properly exposed image. In this case, we will leave the exposure as shot.

Sharpening - I have made it a habit to NOT apply sharpening at this step. Rather, I use sharpening presets when I export. I learned the hard way that if you sharpen a little here and sharpen a little on export you can get some really cruddy looking images. For that reason, I make it a point to turn down the sharpening here, which I have done for this image.

Composition/Layout - Next I look at the composition and layout. Do I need to straighten the scene or crop? If so, this is when I do this. I should note that I rarely crop in this step except to straighten or to remove a distracting element. I usually wait until I upload into my ROES program to send them to my printer. On this image, I will do neither.

Noise Reduction or Grain - Here I may choose to add noise reduction or grain to the image, depending on the image and its future use. I have done neither to this image.

Creative Tweaking - We are almost at the last step in the process. This is where I add any creative effects to the photo. Here is a short list of (many) possibilities:
  • Develop Presets (my favorite) 
  • Saturation or Color Tools
  • Vignettes
  • Spot removal
  • Graduated Filter Application
On this image I added a preset called Boost by Sarah-Ji Presets. Once I did this I realized that it might look a little better if I crop the image and then add the preset. So a couple of Command Zs later, a crop and the application of the Boost preset, here's what we have.

Again, not one of my favorites, but it's a decent photo to portray what we were doing on this rainy day in Oregon.

To recap, here is my post-processing workflow:
  1. White Balance
  2. Exposure
  3. Sharpening
  4. Composition/Layout
  5. Noise Reduction/Grain
  6. Creative Tweaking
The perfect workflow? No!!! A good guide for my work? I think so. So weigh in... Let me hear about your workflow in Lightroom. Look for part 3 to learn about how I export files from Lightroom.

From the Great White North (Alabama)... MK

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Lensbaby Pics in the Snow

Okay, so I've been snowed in since Monday and there are only so many ways you can organize your sock drawer...But, I'm not griping. We have plenty of food, water, electricity, heat, etc. Much better than the blizzard of '93. So much better. No complaints. It's all good.

Yes, it's Wednesday and the roads are not yet clear. I just got a text that the college where I work is closed again tomorrow. So I have had a good deal of time to do things around the house. I found a rather large piece of plastic in our workshop today and we "sledded" down a slight hill in our yard. Here's the problem. There's not much of a hill in our yard. Oh well. It just made us more creative. I did post videos on my Smugmug site. I must warn you though. They are not very interesting. Mostly just a little sad. I'm fairly certain we would rock if we had an adequate hill. The one of me is after I got bored with jumping on the plastic with my knees so I tried to do it standing up...surfing style. How do you think that went...

Speaking of creative, I also had time today to go outside with my Lensbaby and take a couple of shots. Since the look I was going after was to break a few rules, I added some effects in Lightroom. I know that this is not a style that everyone likes, but I kind of like them. Hope you enjoy...

In the meantime, let it snow...(It is again, by the way). Imagine what would happen if we got a real snow like the Northeast is getting. We would all just go to the Caribbean for the winter. Sounds like a plan to me.

On another note I've added a new domain name: that points to this blog.

Workflow Using Lightroom 3 - part 1

We are 288 days into the Manual DSLR Project and I am feeling pretty good about my ability to use my D300 in manual mode. The adjustments are becoming more natural. Muscle memory is taking over and it is almost like the camera is becoming an extension of my body. Okay, that sounds a little weird, but you know what I mean. I am no longer having to think about "increase shutter speed" or whatever. In the true spirit of Nike... I "just do it". Mission accomplished? Yes. To some extent at least.

Like any self-improvement project, overall improvement is the goal. And since I have been shooting more I have fine tuned my editing workflow as well. This process started when I watched a Chase Jarvis video outlining his workflow. Suffice it to say that I am not Chase Jarvis, nor do I have have his budget. So I adapted my own workflow based on my needs and resources. We will take a few minutes to talk about that today.

Once I have images on a card, I use a CF card reader to plug the card directly into a USB port on my MacBook. There is already an external hard drive hooked up to the computer with a Firewire 400 connection. I open Lightroom 3 and tell it to copy the files on the card to my hard drive. In addition, I have it to send a duplicate to a folder on my external hard drive.

Once all the files are imported, I go through my first weeding process. Since I have it set to automatically eject my card after import, am free to remove the card and set it aside. I will format it in the camera later.

I now move from the Library module to the Develop module in Lightroom. I now go through a quick rating of the images. If they are usable, I mark them with a 3. If they are no good at all and I plan to delete them, I do not rate them. If they are part of an HDR series of bracketed shots, I mark them with a 1. While this is different from most rating systems, it works for me. It it is a marginal image that I might use in a pinch, I'll mark it with a 2.

I can now filter for 3 stars for higher and begin to select the best images by upgrading them to a 4 or 5 as appropriate. Once I have the photos that I am going to post process, I will begin to tweak them as needed. More about that in part 2 of this post.

For now here is a photo of our cat, Zeke, who was kind enough to model for me as he took in the sun through the library window. If you look closely in his eye you can see a reflection of me taking the shot. (See photo below).

This image was shot in Aperture priority at f5.6, ISO 400, 1/6 second. After I took a few of these at slow shutter speeds I changed to ISO 1600 to shoot the rest. Again, while this project is about learning manual mode, it does not stop me from using whatever set of tools I feel necessary to get the shot. In this case, a jittery cat calls for Aperture priority.

Hope you enjoy. Look for part 2 coming soon.

All the best...Mike

Saturday, January 8, 2011

My Favorite Photos of 2010 - Number 1 - My Dad

Here it is! I have been posting my ten favorite photos of 2010 and we've come to my favorite. Although I took some good trips this year and got some cool photos, my favorite is little more than a snapshot. It was unplanned with all natural lighting and I just happened to have my camera in my hand.

I had spent the day at my parents' house helping to replace a roof on a workshop that was damaged in a storm. At the end of the day I was at my truck preparing to leave when I noticed one of their kittens playing on a tree that had been downed in the same storm. The tree had been cut but not yet removed from their front yard. As I took that photo I noticed that my dad had walked up to the edge of the carport where the evening sun washed across his face, though he was still very much in the shadows. He was watching the kitten so I turned the lens from the kitten to him. Here is the result.

This photo shows a kind, gentle, hard-working man who dropped out of high school to fight in World War II then returned to complete high school after the war. He retired several years ago but remains very active. At age 84 he and my mom raise cattle, grow a gigantic garden that benefits half of the community and remain very active. You might say that I am prejudiced in selecting this as my favorite of the year. And you would be correct.

I hope you enjoy! MK

Friday, January 7, 2011

My Favorite Photos of 2010 - Number 2 - North Head Lighthouse & Cove

Continuing with my top ten favorite images of 2010, here is number 2. This one was taken at Cape Disappointment State Park in Washington. I hope you enjoy!


Thursday, January 6, 2011

My Favorite Photos of 2010 - Number 3 - Times Square Police

Continuing with my favorite images of 2010. This one is an HDR image that I took in Times Square during our June trip to New York City. We were on the way back from dinner one night when I saw this line of police motorcycles. I didn't have a tripod with me but was able to steady my camera on a police barrier.

Hope you enjoy. MK

My Favorite Photos of 2010 - Number 4 - North Head Lighthouse

I am continuing to count down my favorite images of 2010. This is one from our October trip to coastal Oregon and Washington.

Hope you enjoy.

My Favorite Photos of 2010 - Number 5 - Rock City Barn

This is a continuation of my countdown of my favorite images of 2010. This one was taken at Sequoyah Caverns near Valley Head, Alabama. For many years Rock City has advertised on barns across the Southeast countryside. This one is in better shape than most.

I was at a church picnic when I took a walk and took a pic of this one.

Enjoy! MK

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

My Favorite Photos of 2010 - Number 6 - Lane in the Smokies

I am counting my top ten favorite images of 2010. This is number 6, a photo of my 14-year-old son in the Great Smoky Mountains.

Hope you enjoy! MK

My Favorite Photos of 2010 - Number 7 - Lensbaby Flower

I am counting my top ten favorite images of 2010. This is number 7. I took this photo of a fresh cut flower on our table at dinner with a Lensbaby Composer. 

Hope you enjoy! MK

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

My Favorite Images of 2010 - Number 8 - Little River

I am counting my top ten favorite images of 2010. This is number 8, a shot I took at Little River in the Great Smoky Mountains.

Hope you enjoy!

My Favorite Images of 2010 - Number 9 - From the Ground Up

I am counting my top ten favorite images of 2010. This is number 9, an HDR shot taken at Beacon Rock State Park in Washington.

Hope you enjoy!

My Favorite Images of 2010 - Number 10 Midnight Flower

I am counting down my top ten images of 2010. This is number 10. I call it Midnight Flower.

The date on this one says 2009, but it was actually taken in the Spring of 2010. I just made an error when I exported from Lightroom.

Hope you enjoy! MK

Monday, January 3, 2011

Top Ten Photos of 2010 - Didn't Make The Cut - Buildings

As we enter the new year I am reviewing some of my favorite pics from 2010. My plan was to select my top ten. However, I found that narrowing to ten was more difficult than I had anticipated. My ten favorites are still coming, but here are a few that didn't make the cut. In fact, they didn't make the top twenty...but I still like them. I hope you do too.

Check out the captions to learn the story behind each. I hope you enjoy! Look for more to come later in the week.

All the best...MK

This is an old schoolhouse in rural Oregon (or perhaps Washington). We were driving from Oregon to Washington when we drove by it.

This is the Steiner Building in Birmingham Alabama. We had just left the Amtrak Station in Birmingham when we stopped at a red light and I took this out the open window.

This is an old church that we stopped to photograph during our October trip to Washington and Oregon. As we drove around to the back to park I found that sunlight was shining through the back window, providing an interesting glow.
This is an old house in downtown Louisville Kentucky. I took this as we were driving by.

This is a barn located at Sequoyah Caverns in Hammondville Alabama. I took this at a church picnic this summer.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year!

It's official! 2011 is here. Wow, I'm feeling old. This time of year is ripe for football, parades, and resolutions. While I am not making a resolution I am beginning to think about what I'll do when the Manual DSLR Project concludes. I didn't start until April, so I still have a few months left. I'm having so much fun that I plan to continue along a similar vein.

Here are some of my ideas for next year's self-improvement project:
  • Manual operation of my flash (Nikon SB-600). I could really use this as my knowledge of flash operation is limited. I might even find a reason to get a second flash. :-)
  • Working through each project outlined in David Ziser's book, Captured by the Light, something along the lines of Julie and Julia, only I can't have dinner parties and eat David's recipes. The tough part of this one is the models. Anyone have a bride and groom manikin you'd like to donate? I don't think my kids or my cats would tolerate being dressed as a bride and groom. I haven't bought the book yet, but have seen it in the stores and it looks like great fun to work through.
  • Really digging into subtractive lighting techniques. When I was a kid I remember riding by Leon Kennamer's studio oblivious to the genius who worked inside. Frankly, I couldn't afford an SLR so my photography was limited to a Kodak 110 and about a dozen cartridges of film per year, so I wasn't thinking much about photography at that time. (In case you wonder, Leon was not a close relative, but all the Kennamers in our area were related, so I can claim him as a relative.)
  • A 365 project with specific assignments for different days of the week. For instance, Mondays might be "Outdoor Mondays". Tuesdays might be "Alphabet Tuesday" where I would rotate through the alphabet and photograph something that starts with "A" the first week, "B" the second week...
This is a shot from our October trip to Portland, OR.
If you have other ideas I'd love to hear them. I'm still thinking. Thankfully I have until April to decide.

Though I said I wasn't going to make a resolution I suppose I should resolve to print my photos more often and to back up my images religiously. I use an awesome photo processor called Meridian Pro. They always do a great job, have an excellent selection, and I have received terrific customer service. I am about to try a new canvas print service (Zaza Gallery).  The prices look good. I'll let you know more about the quality after I receive my first order.

So, Happy New Year! I look forward to interacting with you on this blog and through Twitter throughout the next year. I might even break down and do a Facebook page. Or not!

All the best...Mike

Happy New Year! and

Just a quick post to say Happy 2011 and to thank those who read this blog and follow me on Twitter. Tonight I captured a screen shot from to show where all my Twitter followers live. Here's what it looks like.
This is a cool app and lots of fun to see where your friends are. You can click on any of the dots and it will show the person's details. Somebody sent a message on Twitter earlier asking for a great photographer in Kansas City. I just pulled up this map, clicked on Kansas City and though I didn't have a photographer from KC who follows me (shame on KC photographers) I did find that there was a photo lab and was able to pass that along to the person looking for a photographer. Very cool.

Well, I've made it to the new year and my head is about to drop onto the pillow. Good night all.

All the best in 2011...Mike