June 30, 2006

Photoshop, Layer Masks, and You

A couple quick tips to correct something that drives many people nuts!

The topic du jour is layer masks. Very powerful stuff, but widely misunderstood or not understood at all.

The idea of a layer mask is that you can "block out" a portion of a layer from being visible. This is incredibly useful if you're using an Adjustment Layer, for example: you may only want the levels or curves layer to apply to a specific part of the image. Using a mask, you can do just that.

Tip #1: Black blocks.
Layer masks are easier to understand if you have a wet darkroom background, but even many film photographers have tried to "White Out" the portion of a layer they want to mask out. Paint black where you want to hide the layer. Paint white where you want to let the layer apply completely. Paint shades of grey where you want something in between.

You're effectively painting your own opacity settings for the layer.

Tip #2: Show Your Mask
There are many cases where what exactly you've painted in the mask won't be immediately obvious by looking at the image itself.

Adobe knows this. So flip over to your Channels palette and turn on the "Layer Such-and-Such Mask" channel. Et voila—a red overlay that represents the mask!

Tip #3: Tip 2, Faster
Going to the Channels palette over and over can be a pain in the butt.

So don't do it if you don't have to.

Instead, just hit the backslash (\) key on your keyboard to toggle the mask channel.

Note that it's mislabeled in the Mac version of CS as being toggled with Command-\, but you can press that key combination all day and nothing will happen. It's just backslash, on both Windows and Macintosh.

Posted by Colin at 11:13 AM | Comments (0)

June 17, 2006

Shoot Film!

I'm headed up to the Grand Canyon and the Painted Desert for the weekend, and accompanying my trusty digital SLR will be my disregarded film SLR.

I don't know when I'll make the trek again (or how much longer transparency film will be easily found on the market), so I figure it's worth it to pack along some Velvia and tried-and-true FP4 and go nuts with the hyper-color and the black-and-white.

Granted, neither of my camera bags is particularly well-equipped for two bodies and three lenses, but I'll make do...

Posted by Colin at 11:01 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 14, 2006

Pure Beech Sheets, Revisited Again

In the past, I've discussed the Pure Beech sheets I bought from Bed Bath and Beyond a couple years ago. I've also fielded several questions from visitors to this site about their comfort and durability.

Today, the better part of two years after purchasing them, and having used them as my only sheets for that entire time, they're finally due for replacement.

They had begun to get a little thin toward the middle a couple months ago, but yesterday morning I noticed "threadbare" had turned to "hole" in one tiny spot. $30 for 2 years of non-stop use and laundering is more than reasonable to me, and I'll be down at BB&B this weekend to buy a new set.

So here's the final answer to durability for the Pure Beech 100% Modal Jersey Sheet Set: Two years daily use.

Posted by Colin at 5:04 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Develop with caffeine or C!

Film photography is so magical. You can do all sorts of bizarre things to get differing results.

For example, today I learned that you can develop black-and-white film using caffeine or vitamin C. It's almost enough to make me run out and buy a developing tank, a couple rolls of film, and some fixer concentrate.

About the only downside seems to be the insane development times; 25 minutes for coffee. Compared to around 8 minutes for a 1+1 solution of D-76. And I thought the development time for pushing FP4 two stops was lengthy...

You can find out more in the Shutterbug article Coffee, Tea, Or Vitamin C.

Posted by Colin at 1:35 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 13, 2006

Nutshell Guide to 90% of "Indie Rock"

Sit down. Compose a beautiful song.

Ruin it with schmaltzy lyrics and off-key "bedroom voice" vocals.

Posted by Colin at 12:18 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 10, 2006

Security through unusability

I've spoken with several other people running the Windows Vista beta released this week, and we've all come to the same conclusion: Microsoft's new approach to keeping Windows secure is apparently to ensure the user never uses the computer more than is absolutely necessary.

User Account Control is just so completely annoying and interruptive that users will either (a) get fed up and walk away or (b) if they're advanced users, hunt for a way to turn it off, thus defeating the purpose of Microsoft having created it in the first place.

But hey, if you get fed up and walk away, you're not installing malware or viruses!

Posted by Colin at 4:23 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 8, 2006


You know that problem Bausch and Lomb was having with one of their contact lens solutions? Where it would rot your eyes out? That little problem?

Their P.R. solutionóand not a bad one on the surface, I must admitówas to offer their customers a coupon for a free bottle of non-fungal-infection-causing contact solution. But their approach to solving this problem fails on two fronts.

Failure One: One coupon per customer. Many contact lens wearers, myself included, purchase multi-packs or multiple bottles at a time. So only one bottle of the infection-friendly contact solution will actually be replaced. You're soaked for the cost of the rest of your now-useless product.

Bausch and Lomb was briefly allowing customers to return bottles to them for a full refund, but your option was coupon or refund, and you had to have the original sales receipt, and even that was limited to a single bottle. The information on returns has since been removed from their press materials.

Failure Two: Despite the seriousness, inconvenience, and cost of the problems associated with the ReNu with MoistureLoc solution, Bausch is looking out more for their bottom line than the satisfaction of their customers. The coupons they're mailing out are only good through the end of July, and most customers (myself included) are only receiving them now, approaching the middle of June. So not only are you still out the money for your additional bottles of ReNu with MoistureLoc, but now you have to run right out and buy ReNu MultiPlus before next month ends.

What a fiasco.

Posted by Colin at 4:29 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 5, 2006

Sony not innovative, not a threat

People are falling over "Sony's" finally-about-to-be-introduced Alpha digital SLR camera. They're making all sorts of wild assumptions about how Canon and/or Nikon are going to get their rear ends handed to them, how the quality will be astounding, how it will drive down the price of digital SLRs...

It's really quite interesting to watch.

I saw one person proclaim that Canon should be terrified, because the Sony Alpha is launching with a stable of lenses nearly as wide as Canon's. If they can have that many lenses ready for a brand new product, he argues, Sony's going to shake up the industry.

Except they're not going to shake up the industry because they're not new lenses, just as the Alpha isófor the most partónot a new camera. The lenses are Minolta's but with a new nameplate slapped on them. The Alpha body itself is a repackaged, rebadged, somewhat upgraded KonicaMinolta digital SLR. That would be, after all, what usually happens when you buy a manufacturer wholesale for millions of dollars: you're not going to throw out their entire product range and start from scratch.

If the Alpha drives down prices at all it will be for Sony customers, as Sony cameras have long been (as with most of Sony's product lines) overpriced and undercompetitive. With the introduction of a full-featured DSLR that is rumored to be selling for $999 with a kit lens, Sony will (or would in a sane universe) have to reprice their often-outrageous point-and-shoots.

But the rest of the industry? Don't hold your breath. All the Alpha's bringing to the table are KonicaMinolta's existing DSLR technologies, which didn't revolutionize the industry when they were actually new. Canon and Nikon have huge sums of money invested in their existing vibration reduction technologies; they're not going to suddenly do image stabilization in-camera. It's just yet another moving part in the body, as well, and many people are concerned (and rightly so) about it in spite of its novelty.

If the Alpha makes any dent in Canon and Nikon's business, it would be a minor price reduction in vibration reducing lenses. But even that's a long shot, as neither company is going to start losing professionals (who are willing to pay the prices as they are for time-tested, well-backed products) to Sony.

Posted by Colin at 2:44 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Heat Wave!

What a summer it's been.

Beautiful, comfortable weather one week... and then all of a sudden the oven popped on and we're in the triple digits. To add insult to injury, it even looked like relief was in sight: storm clouds were gathering over the East Valley a couple days ago. I was hoping for rain.

All we EV folk got was disgusting humidity and a whole lot of disappointment when the clouds eventually dispersed.

No fun.

No funner: Jury duty this week. I'm hoping my group doesn't get called in, as I really have nothing to wear, don't want to go shopping just for court, and I've been dog tired lately.

Posted by Colin at 10:42 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack