Finding Focus: a Photography Ebook That’s Pretty Damn Good

There’s a funny middle area in photography… and it’s a hard area for finding learning resources. If we rank a photographer’s skill on a scale of 1 (total newbie) to 10 (expert), it can sometimes be hard to find material that will educate and inform the photographer who’s between three and seven. There are lots of “getting started” resources, and lots of things for those who’ve mastered many techniques, but what about the middle?

Finding Focus Photography Ebook coverFinding Focus is a new photography ebook by Nicole Young (better known online as Nicolesy). Finding Focus is a book about applied photography knowledge when it comes to focus. One might think that focusing is a basic subject, and while the basic act of making the camera focus is relatively straightforward I was excited to see the various related topics tackled in this book.

What the Heck Will You Learn?

Here are some of the topics covered in the book… things you might’ve heard about but weren’t sure why you needed to know them. Or maybe you haven’t heard of the term but you’re missing out because with a bit of learning you could make your photos even better. Inside you’ll learn about:

  • How lens selection (and lens compression) affects both the camera’s focus and your viewer’s perception of a subject.
  • How that lens selection affects the appearance of a person’s face in a portrait (hint: the wrong lens can be quite unflattering).
  • How to make a star-shaped pattern when photographing lights in the dark.
  • What is back-button focus (and why should you care)?
  • What’s that “DOF Preview” button on the camera for?
  • What’s hyperfocal distance, and should I care even if I haven’t eaten too much sugar?

In addition to the gear-related and technique concerns of how to best focus, there’s a good discussion of using focus as a storytelling element when making a photograph.

Finding Focus Photography Ebook by Nicole S. Young - inside

What About Post?

While a majority of Finding Focus looks at focus technique in-camera, it would be remiss to not also speak to focus-related subjects in the digital darkroom. Three bits of software are discussed. First, the author explores how to apply sharpening in both Adobe Photoshop Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop (including how to understand what all those darned slider controls do). This is followed by a quick look at onOne Software’s Focal Point, and how it can be used to add creative focusing effects.

So Is This Book any Good, or What?


Oh, you wanted more than that? As I said earlier, I think this book fits an oft-neglected place in that it offers information for those who have started to take their photography seriously but still have much to learn about focus and related techniques. The author assumes that one knows how to operate their camera (such as how to put it in aperture priority mode) but doesn’t presume that someone has already mastered the implications of such configurations. I like how the book was written and I think it’ll be of a great value for that audience.

You can buy Finding Focus for the usual Craft & Vision ebook price of $5… and as usual, the content is much more valuable than that amount. I’m an affiliate for Craft & Vision because their stuff is, as the cool kids say, the shizz.

Post-Storm Fort

One of the old concrete military installations at Fort Stevens, Oregon.

Last year our family visited Fort Stevens, Oregon, and explored some of the old military installments. At the time we were here the skies were stormy but there were some nice breaks in the clouds which occasionally let through some great sunlight. This photo is a result of one of those moments.

I processed this image using one of Trey Ratcliff’s new presets he’s made available for Lightroom users. I purchased the presets yesterday and have been having some fun. There are three groups of presets which can be purchased for about $10 each or you can grab the whole set for $19.99. If you use Lightroom and enjoy post-processing, grab the presets and have some fun!

Top Camera & Photo Bestsellers: August 2012

Happy August! As we enter the new month, it’s time again for my roundup of the bestselling camera & photo items as measured by sales over at, where they sell pretty much everything.

What the Duck?There’s nothing too crazy about this month’s list but it’s interesting to see Panasonic filling almost 1/3 of the slots.a

  1. GoPro HD HERO2: Outdoor Edition – Jumping up to the top spot on the list this month, GoPro’s compact HD video cameras are a big hit. They’re pretty small, which allows the camera to be mounted or worn in any number of ways… on a helmet, strapped to a chest harness, on a racecar… the possibilities are amazing. This particular one is the outdoor package. I’ve previously written about my GoPro dogsledding story.
  2. Panasonic Lumix TS20 TOUGH Waterproof Digital Camera – dude, it’s orange! This looks like a great casual fun camera, waterproof to 5 meters so it would be great for those summery photos around the pool, at the lake, and so on. It has a 4x optical zoom and will also record 720p HD video. The price is right.
  3. Sony DSC-RX100 Exmor CMOS Sensor Digital Camera – This camera arrives again near the top of the bestseller list… when something is a strong seller for month after month, we know that it’s a decent unit. This is a fixed-lens camera from Sony, with a Carl Zeiss lens and 1080p video. Seems like this one’s aimed at serious shooters.
  4. GoPro HD HERO2: Motorsports Edition – the same GoPro camera as the top seller, but this is the “Motorsports Edition” which comes with different mounting accesories (namely, a suction cup).
  5. Canon Powershot A2200 Digital Camera – This is a slightly older model but a great value at just over $100. Canon’s Powershot A-series offers nice compact cameras (I’ve used a previous model) with decent image quality. If you’re looking for something compact and affordable to throw in a purse or otherwise carry on the go, you could do a lot worse than the A2200.
  6. Panasonic LUMIX DMC-ZS15 Digital Camera – Panasonic has been producing some good little compact cameras, giving Canon and Sony a worthy competitor in this space. This one has a 16x optical zoom which is great to see in a sub-$200 camera. If you want a camera that’s going to offer better photos than your smartphone but isn’t going to break the bank… look here.
  7. Nikon COOLPIX L810 Digital Camera – the “superzoom” body style is popular and allows a manufacturer to put a big zoom lens into an affordable camera. This offering looks like a good one and it’s priced appropriately ($200).
  8. Nikon D5100 CMOS Digital SLR Camera with 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 AF-S DX VR Nikkor Zoom Lens – Down here in the latter half of the bestseller list we find our first DSLR for the month. The Nikon D5100 is a step above entry-level, but not quite up to what I’d consider “prosumer”. It does offer a nice feature set in a package that comes with a lens for just under $650. This camera is positioned in an interesting place as it has a few nicer features than the entry-level 3000-series cameras, but it’s definitely lacking in several areas (such as image quality and autofocus system) when compared with its big brother the D7000.
  9. Panasonic Lumix ZS20 High Sensitivity MOS Digital Camera – It’s Panasonic month on the bestseller list… this compact camera features a 20x optical zoom lens which allows for some great photos of objects that are far away. At a price near $250, this unit is aimed at the casual shooter who wants to make decent images without having to futz with a bunch of controls or options.
  10. Canon EOS Rebel T3 CMOS Digital SLR with 18-55mm IS II Lens – Don’t fear, Canon shooters, Nikon isn’t the only one with a DSLR on this month’s popular cameras list. Canon’s popular T3 once again returns to our list and I’d choose this over the D5100 if I wasn’t already invested in a particular manufacturer’s system. It’s a hell of a deal on a great entry level camera. You’ll get decent still photos, 720p HD video, and have your foot in the door of Canon’s EOS system.

If you use the links above and end up purchasing through Amazon, a small commission will be returned to me that helps fund the operation of this site. Thanks for your support!

How to Embed SmugMug Photos into WordPress Blog Posts

I get asked this question a lot1… so it’s becoming a blog post.

Here’s how to insert a photo from SmugMug into a WordPress blog post:

  1. Browse to the SmugMug gallery and photo that you’d like to use.
  2. Above the photo, click the Share button, then Get a Link
    SmugMug Sharing to WordPress - Get a Link
  3. Click the Embeddable Links tab, then choose which size image you want and click the Copy button to the right of the code.
    SmugMug Sharing to WordPress - Embedding a Link
  4. Paste that code into your WordPress blog post in the HTML editor – if you paste into the Visual editor it’ll likely muck things up.
  5. There is no step 5.

  1. Likely because I keep pimping SmugMug and WordPress. That’s a SmugMug referral link – if you use it you’ll save $5 off a new account and I’ll get a few dollars of SmugMug credit as well. Win-win, as they say. 

Dodge & Burn: Photo Processing Ebook Review

Dodge & Burn - photography ebook by Piet Van den EyndeAny serious digital photographer (and even some analog ones) realizes that the in-camera capture isn’t the final step in creation of a photo; after capture there are post-processing decisions to be made about how to complete the image. Dodging and burning are two important processing techniques and Piet Van den Eynde’s new book Dodge & Burn: Leading the Eye with Lightroom and Photoshop explores this subject from a variety of angles.

There’s one big difference between Dodge & Burn and your typical Craft & Vision photography ebook: this one is offered in two packages. You can either buy the “Lite” option which contains the ebook along with a free “lite” version of EasyDodge, a custom Photoshop panel for easy dodging and burning. There’s also the “Full” package (which is what I reviewed) which contains the ebook and the full version of the Photoshop panel – we’ll get into the differences below.

Perhaps you’re wondering about the subject…

What is Dodging and Burning?

The author said it well:

If photography means painting with light, then dodging and burning is painting with light in post-production.

Don’t let the “post-production” there let you think this is something new… dodging and burning techniques were a staple of film photographers such as Ansel Adams. The book however focuses on the best ways to dodge and burn using Lightroom, Photoshop, and some plugins.

The Lightroom / ACR Scenarios

A tiered approach is taken to digital dodging and burning, looking at it first gobally across an image using Lightroom or Photoshop, then with local adjustments, and finally with plugins. After explaining the techniques in detail, the shortcut panel provided with the download is introduced.

For global adjustments, techniques are discussed for both Lightroom and Adobe Camera Raw (included with Photoshop). While global adjustments aren’t really dodging and burning (which by definition is selective) it’s important to look at global exposure and contrast adjustments with respect to how they’ll provide a base for local changes.

As the discussion moves onto local adjustments, Van den Eynde focuses on two important tools within Lightroom: the graduated filter and the adjustment brush. Explanations of the analog past lead to how-to information for these digital tools. Unlike many Lightroom overviews or introductions, these tools aren’t glossed over or left at a superficial level… rather the author dives into the various nuances of each, explaining what some of those obscure switches and sliders do… and why you should care.

The explanations of tools and configurations are great, but what really makes this section work is a detailed, 17-step fully explained walkthrough of the processing of an image from beginning to end. It’s great to see what steps the author takes (and in what order) and what settings are used to produce a given result.

After exploring local adjustments with Lightroom, some discussion covers a few different plugins from Nik Software. Viveza and Silver Efex Pro are noted for their ability to do selective dodging and burning, but mention is also made of how Color Efex Pro has a great neutral density filter that’s a bit more full-featured than the one in Lightroom.

And Yes, Photoshop

After working through the Lightroom and Adobe Camera Raw scenarios, attention is paid to Photoshop. I was pleased to see that the author isn’t a fan of Photoshop’s destructive dodge and burn tools, but rather uses an apporach involving layers and brushes which allows for finer control and the ability to make changes in a way that doesn’t destroy pixels.

Photoshop Panels

At the conclusion of the Photoshop portion of the book, the shortcut panels are introduced. Regardless of whether you have the “Lite” or “Full” package, you’ll get some tools for making easier dodging and burning moves. Buy purchasing the Full package, you’ll get the contrast and clarity portions of the panel that really add some nice effects.


Dodging and burning aren’t necessarily sexy topics like off-camera flash or HDR, but they’re an important pair of tools for a photographer. I found the material in the book to be a good foundation for post-processing and making interesting images. Like other Craft & Vision ebooks, it’s priced quite affordably. I recommend adding it to your collection of photography education materials.

Buy the Full version of Dodge & Burn using this link or purchase the Lite version of Dodge & Burn with that link.

As a Craft & Vision affiliate I get a buck or two if you buy via my links and that helps support my writing. Thanks!

Expedia Travel Photo Contest #ExpediaFindYours – Massive Rights Grab

Earlier today I saw a friend tweet a nice photo along with the #ExpediaFindYours hashtag. I replied to ask what that was about and he pointed me to a travel photography contest being run by Expedia.

Before you get all excited about entering, note section 7 of the contest rules:

#ExpediaFindYours - Rights Grab

By participating, you: (a) irrevocably grant Sponsor, its agents, licensees, and assigns the unconditional and perpetual (non-exclusive) right and permission to copyright, reproduce, encode, store, copy, transmit, publish, post, broadcast, display, publicly perform, adapt, modify, create derivative works of, exhibit, and otherwise use your photo as-is or as-edited (with or without using your name) in any media throughout the world for any purpose, without limitation, and without additional review, compensation, or approval from you or any other party; (b) forever waive any rights of copyrights, trademark rights, privacy rights, and any other legal or moral rights that may preclude Sponsor’s use of your photo, or require any further permission for Sponsor to use the photo; and (c) agree not to instigate, support, maintain, or authorize any action, claim, or lawsuit against Sponsor on the grounds that any use of the photo, or any derivative works, infringes any of your rights as creator of the photo, including, without limitation, copyrights, trademark rights, and moral rights.

Simply by entering the contest, regardless of whether or not you win any prizes, you’re giving Expedia and the other sponsors a full license to use your photos for any purpose, anywhere, forever, and you’ll receive zero compensation.

No thanks.