Tuesday, October 6, 2009

AutoStitch a must for the iPhone camera bag

Right before my trip down to see U2 at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, I stumbled on the AutoStitch app for creating panoramas. Right off the top, let me say it is worth the $1.99.

As of this writing, I've only created two images with it, the top from the aforementioned U2 show, and the bottom from the Bruins opening night at TD Garden:

U2 Panorama

Bruins Opening Night panorama

Click on each of the images to get a fuller view over on my Flickr site.

AutoStitch is dead simple to use and makes creating panoramas easy. Take multiple pictures with the iPhone's regular camera app, open AutoStitch, select the photos and bang, you have a panorama.

AutoStitch's maker recommends roughly a 30% overlap between each image, but this is not a hard and fast rule. I took mine in dark situations to getting the perfect overlap was not easy. Didn't matter, AutoStitch did the job. The only clean up I did was to crop the edges of the image since AutoStitch didn't create a perfect rectangle.

If you take lots of pictures with your iPhone, AutoStitch is a must-have application.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Mt. Washington sunrise – beware of Fog!

With an opportunity to experience and photograph sunrise atop Mt. Washington, the highest peak in the Northeast, a 1am departure time from Amherst was a no brainer. Watching the weather all week, my buddy Mike and I, along with his 7-year-old son Peter, figured a forecast of clear skies in the Mt. Washington Valley meant prime photographing opportunities.

We departed Amherst on time, made it to the Auto Road early, which worked out well since it opened a few minutes before the scheduled 4am start time. Stars remained visible the entire ride up to the North Country and most of the way up the mountain – well past the tree line. Things were looking good for a 5:19am sunrise.

The highest peak in New England?We knew it would be cooler at the top (41 degrees with wind chill reported) and were prepared. The one thing we hadn't counted on: FOG! Pea soup fog with a driving wind, which made for a tricky ride for the first 1000 feet of decent. Turns out, the summit is covered in fog some 60% of the time so prime sunrises are not an everyday occurrence. One of the museum attendants (yes, the museum is open at 4am on those three days a year they open the Auto Road early) told us the night watchman will wake the observatory residents early if conditions merit a spectacular sunrise.

However, the staff directed us to head back down the road to a slightly lower elevation where the fog would be lessened and the chance of seeing the sun come up greater. We moved down to just below 5000 feet, to a spot on the eastern side of the mountain and above the treeline. Fog still blew down the mountain at us and a front moving in created some clouds, but every once in a while things cleared up just long enough to get shots like this:

Sunrise on Mt. Washington

You can see fog and clouds in the valley below. Leading up the trip, part of me was hoping we'd ascend the mountain and come out on top of the clouds, providing a cool plane-like vista. It wasn't to be, but the clouds didn't completely disappoint:

Valley clouds and fog

While it's not the summit, the trip was not a complete loss. I got a few good photos and memories that will last a lifetime.

The Auto Road is open again on August 30 for sunrise. There's a 1 in 3 chance that the weather will cooperate at the top of the mountain. Might have to role the dice, forgo some sleep and make the trek again.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Here's to a brighter second half of '09

The first half of 2009 is officially in the books and I have to say, it will be a memorable one for all the wrong reasons.

First came what seemed like endless snow followed by a washout of June (I think it rained 33 of the 30 days – that's how bad it was). On the personal front, I lost my grandfather to cancer and my job to the utterly crappy economy. Both happening within 24 hours of each other.

Obviously, things could have been worse. I have great health, wonderful family, the best dog in the world and a nice roof over my head. But, let's face it – the first half of 2009 sucked.

Beginning today, I am hoping things are upward and onward from here – both with the weather and on the personal front. To help change my luck, I am switching up my “avatar” that I use on all my social networks. Like a batter switching to a new piece of lumber, I am hoping the new avatar will bring good luck. So be on the lookout for this photo, taken by my talented photo buddy Karl, cropping up on a social network near you:

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Photographing a model is not a easy as it looks

Yesterday, I got the chance to photograph a few of models as part of the New Hampshire Flickr Group's Natural Light Workshop at Stark Park in Manchester. Wow, it's not an easy task capturing a person at just the right moment as they give the perfect pose.

KatieA couple of things that I learned from yesterday's gathering: making eye contact with the model makes a huge difference and custom white balances can really give an image that perfect color right in the camera.

As we were snapping away, fellow photog Karl mentioned he finally got the statement about making eye contact with the subject and the photographer/camera. Up until that point, I hadn't really though about it, but I realized as I was taking pictures, the ones I like the best came when the model was looking directly at the lens. It makes the picture click, pardon the pun.

As for the custom white balance, I thank our organizer Tim for the suggestion to switch the camera from Auto White Balance (AWB) and use one of the other preset balances. His first suggestion was to try the “cloudy” setting, since we were shooting under a tree on a sunlit day. The results were staggering:

Using AWB:

Using "Cloudy" WB:


While I liked my first few shots on AWB, I was amazed at the warmer color that came from switching white balance modes. The rest of the day was spent shooting in either the “Cloudy” or “Shade” presets on my Canon Rebel XT. It's definitely something I'll use going forward when shooting different subjects, be it people or nature.

Photography is just a hobby for me. Something to take the mind away from the everyday grind of work and life. It was nice yesterday to get out and learn some new tricks, hang out with fellow photographers and take some photos. My set from yesterday's shoot can be found on here.

Thanks to Katie, Krista and Laura for helping us out yesterday. They were funny and patient while the group of us learned new techniques, talked shop and had a fun time in the park.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

My name is Jason and I am Bejeweled Blitz addict

Hulu's great commercials featuring Alec Baldwin and Denis Leary claim the online TV service is really an a plot to turn America's mind to mush. While that may be true, I believe the real threat to our productivity and well-being is the Bejeweled Blitz Facebook game. It's got me hooked.

Before you ask what Bejeweled Blitz is, please make sure you have the time to suck out of your life in order to play. Once you play a single game, 30 more are soon to follow.

Bejeweled Blitz is a cousin to the regular Bejeweled game, which I had played off and on in the past (even downloaded it to my iPhone). But Blitz adds a twist: The game only lasts a single minute as you try to score as many points as possible. There's a leader board showing how you fare against your other Facebook friends that play, adding to the competition. That's all well and good, and the addiction would probably end once the Top 10 players were established and the chances of cracking the list were slimmed.

But, Bejeweled Blitz's creators, PopCap Games, ratchets things up by clearing scores every couple weeks and starting a new tournament. Now you have have chance to be Number One, starting from scratch!

Though each singular game is quick, the minutes can quickly add up as productivity slides, chores remain undone and work is ignored. For procrastinators such as myself, it's a Godsend to putting off doing the things we hate doing.

I'm sure there will be addiction centers and support groups springing up around the country – or at least a Facebook Fan Page – soon. For productivity's sake, I hope so.

I am Jason and I am Bejeweled Blitz addict.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Why do companies neglect their customers? Yes, you Canon (and AT&T)

What happened to the customer is always right? As the cliché goes, you would think given the circumstances, companies would go all out to keep loyal customers happy. But no.

When it comes to photography, I am a Canon guy. I love my little Rebel XT and would love to add some new higher-end “glass” (aka lenses) once I get back in the job market. But, the company is giving me some reasons to re-consider them as my vendor of choice.

I just upgraded my home machine to a new Dell Studio desktop running Vista (yes, I know...). Problem is, I seem to have misplaced the original software CD that came with my Rebel. The box, packing materials and all the manuals are in my closet, just not the CD I need to get the transfer utility and photo tools on to my new PC. No biggie, I thought, I'll just download what I need from the Canon site. Wrong, all that's available are “updater” programs that require a previous version be installed in order to use them. As they like to say on Twitter, Fail!

E-mail to Canon's customer support were equally frustrating. While I did get a quick response and the company did say, “We value you as a Canon customer and appreciate the opportunity to assist you with the Digital Rebel XT,” they were of no help. They did confirm that one can only get updater versions from the Rebel XT support page and that a replacement copy of the Solutions CD can be purchased from the Canon Sales and Accessories Department via an 800 number.

Why on Earth can't they just provide this software to download? Put it behind a registration wall if you want. It's not of much use to non-Canon users. I've got my serial number, box, everything. Not like I am trying to pull a fast one here. It's ridiculous that I have to pay (not sure how much, but that's not the point) for a replacement CD.

Quick Google and Flickr searches uncovered a number of other people complaining about the same issue. There are some workarounds available that include messing with the Windows registry and downloading the software from a peer-to-peer network. Neither seems worth it.

My workaround is to use Picasa as my photo browser (replacing Canon's ZoomBrowser) and the built-in card reader to grab photos instead of the EOS Utility. I haven't shot RAW yet, so I'll cross that conversion bridge when I get there.

As for AT&T, I am not sure what they are thinking by not having MMS ready for the iPhone 3.0 OS launch next week. I could send MMS with crappy LG Chocolate phone three years ago on Verizon Wireless. Why can't I with my mighty iPhone? They've known this is coming for a while and yet are the only carrier out of 30 that won't be ready in time.

I partially understand the delay in allowing tethering. That could really eat up precious network resources, but AT&T definitely dropped the ball on MMS.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Sometimes a form letter can be reassuring

No one ever wants a form letter of rejection, but in the case of job seekers, a form letter just saying your resume/application was received would be nice.

For me, it feels like I am working in a vacuum as I look for a job. I send out resumes by the handful, but hear nothing in return. Did my e-mail reach it's destination? I use GMail, so I have know way of knowing for certain my message arrived at its intended destination. (There's no IT department to bug.) So, I sit here wondering - is it me they didn't like or did that not even get my message? That is the most agonizing feeling of all.

Why can't perspective employers turn on an auto-responder to their job inboxes? All we seekers need to know is that you received our e-mail and it's in your system. Just a little assurance that we're not sending our finely crafted cover e-mails and resumes into the cloud of cyberspace.