Digital Innovations
What Color Is Your Umbrella?
Going Out? Don't Forget To Take Your Gray Card

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I've been a fan of fire trucks long before 9/11 gave firefighters the recognition they've long deserved. When SVI Trucks in Loveland, Colorado, asked me to photograph some of their trucks, I jumped at the chance to create a dramatic image of a rescue truck ready for delivery.
Photos © 2003, Joe Farace, All Rights Reserved

"Black is the color of my true love's eyes."--traditional English song

Making photographs in a factory presents lots of technical challenges. Obviously, there are lighting problems posed by working in a big building with 50-foot high ceilings and mixed-color light sources. When shooting digital images under weird lighting conditions, the most obvious solution is to create a custom white balance using the flip side of a Kodak Gray Card. (It's white in case you've never noticed.) That was an acceptable solution up to a point. At this factory, the color balance varied within 10 feet of the last place I'd shot. Just when I thought the camera's white balance was perfect, I'd take a few steps to the left and the color, especially skin tones, would look sickly.

My next solution was to play with the camera's built-in color balance settings until I found one that worked, which wasn't often. I finally used auto white balance, which all the digital gurus tell you never to use. It worked better than you might expect, but wasn't perfect. Then I had an idea that I wondered why nobody (at least to my knowledge) had thought about before: Since the Canon EOS 10D and other digital SLRs, including Olympus' E-1, let you set the actual color temperature in degrees Kelvin, I used Konica Minolta's (http://konicaminolta.us) Color Meter IIIF at my last shoot and was able to get almost perfect color balance. I read the color temperature and changed the white balance settings using the camera's "K" setting every time I moved around the factory. This was faster and quicker than constantly producing a custom white balance, but obviously is an expensive solution that's not for everyone.

Since the Canon EOS 10D and other digital SLRs, like Olympus' E-1, let you set the specific color balance in degrees Kelvin, I used a Konica Minolta Color Meter IIIF at my last shoot. I was able to get almost perfect color balance by reading the color temperature and changing the camera's white balance settings.

For digital photographers on a budget but who still want correct color, the ExpoDisc (www.expodisc.com) is an easy, inexpensive way to get good white balance and accurate exposures on the first shot. It's a diffusion filter sandwiched with compensating filters that are individually tested on a color analyzer to correct the white balance before final assembly. You make an exposure with the disc in place and select that image file for your custom white balance and let the camera make the adjustments. This is a faster and probably more accurate procedure than using a gray/white card.

ExpoDisc is available in 49mm, 52mm, 55mm, 58mm, 62mm, 67mm, 72mm, 77mm, and 82mm filter sizes but there are no threads; it just slips onto the front of your lens. The 58mm model I tested costs $89.95 but prices range from $17.59 up to $159.95 depending on the size of your lens. For many photographers, ExpoDisc eliminates the need for gray cards and can replace even your lens cap.

Color Tricks With Photoshop
Wanna learn some neat tricks? Gavin Phillips' (www.photoeffects.biz) instructional CD contains a set of QuickTime movies that show you, click by click, exactly how to apply his special effects using custom Actions and tweaks. Each movie takes between 2-5 minutes and you see exactly what Phillips is doing as he works on different images. The disc contains 45 custom Actions, and with a little experimentation there are dozens of more effects you can create. The custom Photoshop Actions that are included take you part of the way, but normally there is some layer blending tweaks necessary to complete the effect.

I photographed a model using the available (mixed) lighting at the fire truck factory using the Daylight setting of a Canon EOS 10D. Obviously this is unacceptable color balance.

The package also includes 15 custom filters that are currently only compatible with Microsoft Windows. To run the Actions, you'll need Adobe Photoshop 7 or CS. Most will work on Photoshop 6, but I didn't test each one so can't guarantee which ones will work or not with that older version. To view the movies, you'll need the QuickTime player that's available free from the Apple website (www.apple.com/quicktime/download). The CD costs $65 plus $3 shipping and handling within the US.

Fiber-Based Prints From Digital Files
Sha-zam! San Miguel Photo Lab (www.bestlab.com) is making black and white fiber-based prints directly from digital files. Using a DeVere 504 digital enlarger to expose a digital file onto traditional photographic paper, a computer is used to produce a virtual negative on a high-resolution LCD panel that is then projected onto an easel, just as when working with any other enlarger. You can FTP (File Transfer Protocol) your image files directly to the lab or send them on a CD. The lab converts the file into a black and white image using three possible formulas, choosing the conversion method that they think bets suits the photograph. Then the image is cropped and sized, adjusted for contrast and density, and may even be burned and dodged before being sent over the in-house network to the enlarger. There it's exposed onto Ilford fiber-based paper and processed, including a full archival wash sequence. It is then air dried before being flattened and spotted. The lab also offers toning services, including selenium. San Miguel Photo Lab is the first lab in the world to offer this service. Sounds like the best of both worlds to me and yet another reason to shoot digital.

Then I slipped a 58mm ExpoDisc over the EF 85mm f/1.8 lens and made an exposure. Using the Canon EOS 10D's built-in custom white balance function and the ExpoDisc exposure, I made this exposure just a few moments later. Whether reproduction shows it or not, her white shirt is white and her skin tone is much better.

Wireless Keyboard & Mouse
I am a wireless dude. I have a wireless computer network and I've been using Bowen's wire-free radio trigger to trip my electronic flash units. Now I'm using Belkin's (www.belkin.com) Wireless Keyboard and Optical Mouse with my eMachines' Windows XP computer to keep my desktop free of unnecessary cable clutter. This attractive bundle costs $69.99 including batteries. Yes, kiddies, you need two AA batteries each for the mouse and keyboard. One of the package's best features is the keyboard's excellent ergonomics, including a built-in, foldaway wrist rest and enhanced wrist support on the hand fitting, scrolling mouse. What I especially like is that the Optical Mouse delivers twice the accuracy of ordinary mice and is more precise not just for digital imaging but also for even navigating through something as mundane as Microsoft Outlook.

Belkin's software lets you set up customizable instant-access hot keys that permit one-touch access to websites, e-mail, applications, and files. Power Management keys can be set to toggle Sleep, Wake Up, and Log Off functions. The Optical Mouse SpeedWheel allows instant access to frequently used web functions and your favorite sites. With connection via USB or PS/2, the Wireless Keyboard and Optical Mouse is compatible with PCs and Mac OS computers and setup takes less time than reading this paragraph.

Gavin Phillips' instructional CD contains a set of QuickTime movies that show you, click by click, exactly how to apply his special effects, using custom Actions and tweaks.

Image Cleaner
Magix (www.magix.com) Photo Cleaning Lab includes everything you need in one powerful, easy to use program: image editor, browser, photo manager, digital album, viewer, and CD burner. This Windows-only program has an overview window that displays individual photos or entire folders with a mouse click. Adding, deleting, and managing photos is quick and easy. And you can organize images automatically, or catalog them within custom categories. It has an accelerated search feature that locates photos based on category, favorites, keyword, creation date, or storage location. You can automatically fix individual photos or correct an entire collection. Photo Cleaning Lab lets you create an interactive photo album, a desktop show, screen saver, photo e-mail, or print to share your images with family and friends. For under $40 it's a nice little program, especially if you don't already own any kind of image management software.

San Miguel Photo Lab manager, Lee Dubois, adjusts the lab's DeVere 504 digital enlarger while making a fiber-based print. The enlarger can print digital files from wallet-sized up to 20x24" onto real black and white Ilford paper, fiber based or RC.

Belkin's Wireless Keyboard and Optical Mouse is not only practical and makes you more productive, but is sleek, comfortable, and powerful with a metallic silver design produced by Belkin's award-winning Industrial Design Group.

Magix Photo Cleaning Lab includes everything you need in one powerful, easy to use program: image editor, browser, photo manager, digital album, viewer, and CD burner.

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