I’m Friends With Some of My Favorite Photographers by Simon Abrams

Ask any photographer who they’re influenced by, or who their favorite photographers are, and chances are pretty good that they’ll list some of the titans of the genre: Henri Cartier-Bresson, William Eggleston, Ansel Adams, Bruce Davidson, Diane Arbus. Makes total sense; there’s a reason these photographers are seen as the epitome of the form.

Typically, people lavish praise on their favorite artists when they’re dead (just to be clear, Bruce Davidson is not dead). I decided that I want to acknowledge some of my favorite photographers, who are not only living, but who I also have the good fortune to know personally, even if only as acquaintances. I’m not trying to be too effusive or fawning here; just stating out loud to some photographers I respect greatly that I’m a fan.

Also, I was thinking about the way we consume photography today. Because of the sheer volume of photography being created, it has inevitably become a really thoughtless exercise in swiping and double-tapping to show surface-level appreciation for an image, so I’m doing this as an exercise in forcing myself to slow down and articulate why I consider these photographers some of my favorites.

Clay Enos

@gal_gadot is THE #WonderWoman

A post shared by Clay Enos (@clayenos) on

A post shared by Clay Enos (@clayenos) on

Website | Twitter | IG

If you’ve seen a poster for a superhero movie in the last 5-10 years, there’s a strong possibility that Clay Enos shot it. But that’s not all he does. I met Clay when we both worked at AOL’s internal media group way back in the early 2000s. I first fell in love with his work through his Street Studio project: a brutally simple idea, consisting of a white backdrop on a street corner, and an invitation to passersby to pose for a photo. That’s it. This project is inspired by the work of Richard Avedon, one of Clay’s favorite photographers. The project initially started in the five boroughs of New York City, but Clay eventually brought it across the country and the world. Taken as a whole, it connects the viewer instantly, and intimately to a huge cross-section of humans. One of the reasons I love this project so much, is because of my own shyness and inability to approach strangers on the street, much less connect with them the way Clay does.

Other things you should know about Clay: he's one of the least gear-obsessed photographers I've ever met. He once rode a Vespa from New York City to Vancouver, and then to Central America, documenting the state of sustainable food production along the way. And When not working as a still photographer on the set of a major film, he spends much of his time photographing and sharing the stories of coffee farmers in places like Eastern Congo, Rwanda and Guatemala.

 

Scott Witt

@migos at @lollapalooza day 1 // #leica #concertphotography

A post shared by Scott Witt (@scottwitt) on

Kyan. Rocking. Everything. // #leica #makeportraits #kids

A post shared by Scott Witt (@scottwitt) on

Website | Twitter | IG

When I think of Scott’s work, I think of impeccable technical execution coexisting with a kind of loose, artistic spontaneity that shouldn’t be possible. Scott’s also a perfectionist, and has impossibly high standards (whether we’re talking about his mixologist tendencies, or his love of Spanish jamón, or his preference of camera gear), and it’s clear that this also applies to his photography. He works relentlessly towards honing his craft. Aside from the high profile stuff he shoots at events like the iTunes Festival (some of which you’ve seen without realizing it, if you’re an Apple Music user), some of my favorite of his work is the spontaneous moments he captures in the streets of various cities late at night, and, of course, the fantastic images he makes with his family.

 

Lev Kuperman

Website | Facebook | IG

I worked with Lev when he was still working a 9-to-5 in the world of advertising, and I’ll always remember the day he came over and announced that he was quitting to go and be a wedding photographer. The idea of doing something like that still strikes fear deep into my core (I have some issues I need to work out), but I was really happy for him, and it has certainly worked out in his favor. His work stands out in a crowded field of me-too wedding photographers, whose work all seems based on the same playbook (and the same batch of Photoshop filters). It’s clear from his work that he connects intimately with the people he photographs; that he’s genuinely invested in helping them make lasting memories of one of the most important days of their lives. I really hate the generic, watered-down meaning the word “curate” has taken on in our modern usage, but Lev really does curate everything that’s included in (and excluded from) each frame he shoots — the framing, the shadows, the light — everything there is totally intentional.

These are a few of my favorite contemporary photographers that I also call friends (I picked three, but there are many more.) Who are some of yours? Go beyond double-tapping or liking, and let them know you dig their work.

Editing RAW on the Go with Lightroom Mobile by Simon Abrams

I had an awesome time at the Afropunk Battle of the Bands at the Knitting Factory the other night. All of the performances were incredible and dynamic (of course I think my friend Gbenga's band, Olu Bliss should have won, but I’m biased like that).

Anyway, it was a fun opportunity for me to indulge in a little bit of concert photography in an intimate, low-pressure setting. I got some great images, and I thought I’d use this as an excuse to write a bit about how I use Lightroom Mobile to begin processing a shoot like this on the go.

Lightroom Mobile is Adobe’s free mobile companion to the desktop version of the software. It has a ton of powerful editing features, and If you’re a Creative Cloud subscriber, it syncs back to the desktop, so you can continue editing on the big screen when you’re back at your computer. There are a lot of plusses about this workflow, but there’s also at least one significant downside, which I’ll get into later. With that said, let's get into it.

Import and Review

The show was in Williamsburg, which meant that I had time during the longish subway ride home to download my photos to my iPhone, using the handy SD to Lightning adapter that’s usually in my bag. I popped the card in the reader, connected it to the Lightning port, and opened the Photos app, (which is the only way to get images off an SD card onto your phone). Next, I tapped Import, then Import All. Boom - done.

Once the images were downloaded from the card (it took a while; I entertained myself by people-watching on the train), my next step was to open up LR Mobile and create a collection to hold the images from the event.

Now that I had those images in Lightroom on my phone, I was able to easily swipe through and do a quick review of my shots from the event, adding “Pick” flags to the shots I liked the most, and then filtering the view to focus on just those flagged images. Just as I was finishing up, I got to my stop. Nice.

One of the major advantages to a workflow like this is that I can now easily share a couple of my favorites from my fancy mirrorless camera (with its big sensor and great low-light performance that few mobile phones can match - I'm sorry, but them's the facts) on social media in a very immediate way. And since I’ve already done some initial rating/triaging of images, when I get back to the desktop, a big chunk of the work is already done. I can then spend a little more time and process the rest of the images from the shoot more carefully. Plus, it's a great way to kill time while traveling. Sweet!

The Caveat: Color Profiles

Okay, so this part is gonna get a little technical, but I feel like I have to talk about it. We all know that RAW images are great, because they give you more control over how you expose the highlights and shadows of your image. Lightroom has a default recipe called Adobe Standard that it uses to apply specific color, hue, saturation, etc. to every RAW file you import. On the Desktop, you can choose from a range of built-in profiles; you can even go as far as to set a specific RAW profile to be applied on a per-camera basis, but this option isn’t available in LR Mobile.

Okay. Stay with me; I realize that I'm off on a tangent here. The preview image you see on the back of your camera when you’re shooting is generated by a built-in, secret-sauce profile that your camera automatically embeds in the RAW files it saves. Why this matters, is because I’ve noticed that sometimes when I import images into LR Mobile, the second I start tweaking sliders and making adjustments, LR’s default profile (Adobe Standard, remember?) gets applied, and suddenly my image looks dramatically different than it did a second ago. Whaaaaat!?

Note the solarization, aka distorted colors, in the performer's face. It looks kinda cool, but that's not what the scene looked like when I shot it.

This happens to me especially with low-light images, with funky lighting—aka concert lighting. As far as I know, the only way to fix it, is to hop over to the desktop version of Lightroom and apply a profile other than Adobe Standard to your images. In the Develop module, scroll down to the Camera Calibration panel and choose something other than Adobe Standard. If I’m using my Fuji X100S (as I was the other night), I usually choose PROVIA/STANDARD, because I believe it’s similar to the internal profile Fuji cameras apply, so it should bring it back to something close to what that original preview image looked like. Phew.

Lightroom's built-in camera profiles.

Lightroom's built-in camera profiles.

Oh look - no more solarization! 

The good news is, this change in profile syncs back to LR Mobile, so you can continue editing there if you like. I know it makes for a clunky workflow, but judging from the complaints on Adobe’s forums, this seems to be a known issue. I really hope they figure out a way to fix it in a future version of the app.

Wrap it Up

Okay, this turned out to be a lengthy, tech-heavy post, and it has quite a large caveat, so take that into consideration. But I can definitely recommend this workflow as a way to get a jump-start on importing and triaging images while on the go. And it's a great way to quickly share some favorite shots on social networks - as long as they don’t need to have a different color profile applied (which you can only do on the desktop).

Good ➡️ Better: Food Photos by Simon Abrams

I recently had dinner with my wife and friends at a great restaurant in DUMBO, and like basically, everyone these days, I wanted to document the delicious food I was eating. For posterity, or whatever.

That night, I happened to have my fancy Fuji X100S with me, but as is often the case, it was just more convenient to use my iPhone. Here's a picture of my entree:

Smoked Long Island duck with daikon radish, lavender, roasted apricot and duck jus

Smoked Long Island duck with daikon radish, lavender, roasted apricot and duck jus

It was the duck and it was delicious. You might even actually believe me, just from seeing that photo, but... let's just be clear, here: food photography is an art, and requires tons of skill and preparation, and at minimum, proper, balanced lighting to make it look good. It's really, absurdly easy to go from appetizing to nauseating when taking pictures of food, particularly with a mobile device, in dim restaurant lighting, which is one reason I rarely post my food shots on social media in the first place. Be realistic with your expectations, y'all.

That said, here are some steps you can take to set yourself up for success:

  • First things first: give your lens a wipe with the corner of your t-shirt before shooting. That's an easy win - your image will be much clearer if there's not a schmear of crap on the glass (that's photographer-speak for "lens").
  • Also, know your equipment. I'm shooting with an iPhone, and no disrespect to Tim and Jony, but iPhones (and most mobile devices) are happiest in bright sunlight, not the carefully curated ambience of a restaurant. Because of that, in low light situations, make sure to hold your phone as still as possible to avoid camera shake before tapping that shutter button.
  • Speaking of avoiding blur, make sure your subject is in focus. Soft edges on food = a pile of gross mush. On iPhone, tap to focus and expose a region of your scene; tap and hold to lock in those settings so you can recompose the shot if necessary. You can slide up or down on the screen to brighten or darken your image.
  • Lastly, composition is crucial. Frame your photo at an interesting angle, being sure to keep the clutter out of the frame, and create some depth.

Okay, now that I have my photo, as seen above, there are some basic tweaks to be made in my editing app of choice. If you have an iPhone, you can start with the built-in editing features in the Photos app (bonus: the edits you make will be synced with iCloud, so you can call continue to edit in Photos app on the desktop or other iOS devices).

Tap here to edit! 

Tap here to edit! 

One of the first things to do is boost the exposure of the image. Almost any image can benefit from a little pop of exposure and/or contrast. Be judicious, though.

The Photos app tries to automatically help you out by offering a "Light" slider that, in many cases will figure out the right combination of exposure, brightness, shadow  and highlight tweaks to make your image look good. Just by moving that slider to the right, I'm already in a better place than where I started.

IMG_2673.PNG

I could stop here, but there's still room for improvement. By tapping the list icon on the right, I can edit individual properties of the image, and have more fine-grained control. Awesome. 

IMG_2674.PNG

Indoor lights — usually incandescent — can make everything yellow, which isn't great for food photos. A quick tweak to the white-balance, or color cast, under the Color slider,  should help.

IMG_2675.PNG

So here we are, just using the built-in tools that come with iOS:

FullSizeRender.jpg

Again, miles better than where we started. Now, because I'm a fancy photographer-dude, I sometimes like to go beyond the default tools in iOS, and use one of the myriad editing apps that are available in the App Store. One of my favorites is Lightroom Mobile, because of its advanced editing tools and desktop-syncing features (the app is free on iOS/Android, but a Creative Cloud subscription is required for syncing and some of the editing tools). Snapseed, free on iOS and Android from Google, is also a fine choice.

Lightroom Mobile's interface

Lightroom Mobile's interface

Here's where I ended up, after correcting the white-balance, performing a Curves adjustment and cropping out some of the distracting highlights on the bottom of the plate: 

I also messed around with the hue and saturation of some of the individual colors. Another thing to remember is that, much like a skilled chef cooking a meal would never use every spice in their cabinet, we must resist the temptation to be heavy-handed and use every slider available when editing our photos. Less is very often more.

Anyway, still not quite ready for Bon Appétit, and there's certainly areas that could be improved, but I think it's way more share-worthy than before. And before you ask, yes, I did snap a quick shot of my caramelized banana dessert:

So there you have it: while you probably still won't get hired as a food photographer based solely on tweaks like the ones I've made here, these simple steps you can take to get your food pictures from Good ➡️  Better.

Moment by Simon Abrams

I got a nice little surprise when I got home today - the new Moment Wide lens and Photo Case that I backed on Kickstarter arrived in the mail today, rather than on Saturday, as i was expecting.

Moment Photo Case, Moment Wide Lens (V2) and Moment Tele (V1 with adapter) 

Moment Photo Case, Moment Wide Lens (V2) and Moment Tele (V1 with adapter) 

IMG_2406.JPG

I've only just gotten this kit, so I don't have much of to say in terms of performance yet. I do like the new case - it's slim, and textured on the back, which gives it a bit of grippiness. Once the lens is attached, though, the added weight tweaks the balance of the phone a little, and could make it a somewhat spill-prone. The case does have a spot to attach a wrist or neck strap—several styles of which are available for purchase on Moment's online store—which is something I might consider getting. 

The V1 Tele lens with the adapter

The V1 Tele lens with the adapter

One other thing: my first-gen Tele lens never fit well on the Moment case I got for my iPhone 6. It always seemed like it was on the verge of falling off, since it never locked into place, but rather kept spinning, as though the bayonet mount was stripped. Luckily, the new adapter that came with my Kickstarter reward (also available at the Moment store, for $5), was easy to attach and provides a nice, firm connection to the case. 

 

Shot with Moment Wide, V2 on iPhone 7

Shot with Moment Wide, V2 on iPhone 7

I'm looking forward to spending some time with these two lenses, and will definitely post again with updates once I've had a chance to do that. 

Buying Apps in the Age of Free by Simon Abrams

You know you wanna buy some apps...

You know you wanna buy some apps...

When I like stuff, I'm the worlds goofiest, most enthusiastic evangelist of said stuff. I'm always recommending an app, a restaurant, a piece of camera gear, etc.

Often, especially when I'm talking about a mobile app, I get stopped mid-spiel with the same question: "is it free?". If the answer is no, then the pitch usually fizzles shortly thereafter due to loss of interest.

So many people have a strict "I don't pay for apps" philosophy, which I really don't understand. I mean, yes, who among us couldn't stand to be a little more fiscally conservative, and even small sums add up. But on the other hand, our devices - specifically our mobile devices - are such an integral part of our daily lives now, so expecting to only ever pay once (outside of the monthly cost of whatever the carrier's charging for your plan) to effectively extend the value of those devices is perplexing to me.

Let's take a mobile app that costs $5 as an example. If you're going to balk at the cost of the app, ask yourself a few questions first:

  1. How will that $5 impact your quality of life in the forseeable future? If the answer is "dramatically", then forget it - discussion over, don't buy that app.
  2. In your day-to-day life, how many other goods or services can you name that would you spend $5 on, and expect to have support and upgrades for, continuing in perpetuity? If Chipotle changed the recipe for their carnitas burrito tomorrow, would you expect an upgrade to the one you had yesterday? Maybe a better comparison would be a Starbucks latte, since that is probably closer to $5 in value.
  3. Speaking of value, do you think you would get any value from the app in question if you bought it? How much value? Would you use it once? Daily? If you ammortize that value over the amount of uses you expect to get out of it, or over time, doesn't it seem like a better deal?
  4. Will using this app/software in any way help you to earn your income, and thereby keep the lights on and a roof over your head? Will it in any way contribute to your peace of mind? How much do you value peace of mind? How about entertainment? $5 seems a small price to pay to be entertained, even a little bit.
  5. The most obvious question to ask yourself is, if you made that app - if you had worked hard, stayed up late, researched new techniques, pulled your hair out and bashed your head against your keyboard squashing bugs and figuring out new API's and cross-platform compatibility issues, and sacrificed time spent with your spouse and kids and pets, and skipped out on going to current movies in the theater to create this app - would you not want to be compensated for your effort?

One of the reasons I don't mind paying for an app, is because part of what I'm paying for is an implicit agreement with the developer. If I'm not happy with the product, or if the quality or functionality (aka value) changes after an update, then I believe my payment for the app entitles me to voice my opinion at least a little bit. Well, maybe a little bit more than if I'm just some free user. I could be wrong though. Conversely, I feel that having paid for the app, I'm probably more invested in its continuing evolution and improvement, so I'm more likely to offer reasonable suggestions and feedback to the developer - and they will probably take me more seriously, because they realize that I'm invested. Again, I could be wrong.

I totally understand the impulse to get the free version of an app that's "just as good". If it really is just as good, then sure, why not. But a lot of the time it's not just as good. Or there are ads, or your giving up privacy in exchange for "free", or the developer might just abandon the app.

Incidentally, I guess my exception is that I will almost never pay for any of those god-awful in-app purchases for games like Clash of Clans, or even my beloved Real Racing 3, where they make the game suck and hold your fun hostage, but oh, look - if you just cough up some doough, you can play some more. Eff that. I'd rather pay for the game outright (eg. Super Mario Run).

Here's an incomplete list of apps and services that I happily pay/paid for, because when I ask myself some of the questions listed above, at bare minimum, the answer is that I would easily get value for my money, whether in the form of peace of mind (Backblaze, 1Password), or saved headaches (iCloud, or even pure entertainment (Netflix):

Of course, my financial situation is different from many people. I don't have kids, and my wife and I both work full-time jobs. Our rent is reasonable (by Brooklyn standards), and for the most part we live below our means. Being the more responsible of us, she doesn't have any credit card debt, but I'm almost there too. Her student loans are paid off, and I never had any (because, being an international student, I wasn't eligible for them - at least that's how it worked in the olden days, I'm not sure how it works now). We don't have a car either. I think the point I'm making is, the next time you come across an app or service, and your knee-jerk reaction is "It's not free? I ain't paying for that", ask yourself why.

2016 Year in Review by Simon Abrams

The crowd reacts to the Roots' performance during Advertising Week at Webster Hall.

The crowd reacts to the Roots' performance during Advertising Week at Webster Hall.

2016 was a remarkable year, to say the very least. Not only on a national and global level, with events like Trump's unprecedented election victory, Russian hacks, and the Syrian war, but it was remarkable for me personally.

My wife was diagnosed with cancer late last year, so much of the early part of this year was dedicated to her recovery. Happily, she's healthy and cancer-free now, and she'll just have to be vigilant about getting checkups regularly to make sure she stays that way.

Aside from that, we took quite a few trips this year—some smaller trips to visit family and friends in Concord, New Hampshire and Atlanta; and some bigger trips like the one we took to China to celebrate our 10th anniversary. We also did an epic 9-day road trip through Upstate New York and Niagara falls with our nieces Gigi and Leila. It was a great way to experience New York (although I still have much of the state to see), as well as a fun way to spend time with our nieces as they grow into young ladies.

Overall, I'd say it was a good year for me. Professionally, I think I need to get really introspective and answer some questions about where my career development should be headed. As a photographer, I think I need to continue to push myself to make better images, and to keep working to refine my creative voice.

I had fun looking back over the past year while making my selects for this post, and in spite of the challenges that we face with Trump's administration, I feel optimistic about the year ahead.

Happy New Year!

MacSparky on Apple AirPods by Simon Abrams

A reasoned first take on Apple's AirPods from David Sparks, aka MacSparky. His take confirms my expectation that they won't work for me, as the current EarPods that Apple ships with every iPhone fall out of my ear with the slightest movement of my head, so I never use 'em. Plus, I like something that has a little noise reduction, if not noise cancellation, so I can block out the annoying chatter on the subway.

I'm still bullish on the tech, though, specifically Apple's W1 chip, which improves pairing and wireless sound quality. I have personally tried the new BeatsX wireless headphones, which also feature the W1 chip, and will probably get a pair of those when they're available.

Phife 4 Pres by Simon Abrams

simon-abrams-phife-4-pres

I ran into Phife on a flight to Savannah 20 years ago. I guess I hadn't mastered the indifferent-New-Yorker-that-doesn't-get-star-struck thing, because I asked him for an autograph, and he was gracious enough to sign my sketchbook.

RIP Phife.

2015 Year in Review by Simon Abrams

Who the hell does a Year-in-Review post in March? I do, that's who. 2015 was a hell of a year, with some big changes - both good and bad - for me and my family. I've referenced some of those changes here, but some of it... well, I've chosen to keep that stuff to the close friends and family.

Anyway, good or bad, my wife and I can once again look back and be thankful for the life we have, and appreciate how fortunate we are compared to so many in this world.

Happy Easter/St. Patrick's Day/whatever you celebrate in March.

Thoughts on Flash* by Simon Abrams

David Evans in an article on AdAge, once again heralding the demise of Flash:

In short, the "Flashpocalypse" is coming, and it's up to you to decide what your agency is going to do about it.

Sound familiar? This time, though, there might be something to it. Starting in September, Chrome will be the third of the Big Three browsers to idle Flash content by default on load, meaning Flash ads will be paused until the user voluntarily clicks to play them (hah!).

As one who (mostly) still keeps the lights on by creating new things with Flash, I have a couple of thoughts.

Firstly, this was only a matter of time - nobody's really shocked by this, although I think we in the advertising industry have become, as the article says, very comfortable with Flash. People have been proclaiming that Flash is "sunsetting" for years. Fine, we've all accepted that premise, and yet – during those intervening years, I’ve been an interactive/Flash developer at two premiere New York ad agencies with scores of blue-chip clients on their rosters, and I've only worked on one HTML5 banner campaign. I guess media teams just aren't buying it for desktop campaigns? Maybe that's where the education needs to be happening. Even for mobile, the default has been to deliver static images, rather than even the most basic HTML5 animation.

Say what you will about Flash, it does have the advantage of being well-known by a pretty solid number of devs, and we’ve learned to accomplish an awful lot within those absurdly archaic 40k file size specs. On the other hand, the author is right: to this day, I still can't get a straight answer as to what the file size spec is for an HTML5 banner, and you simply can’t replicate the kind of rich animation and interactivity that Flash is capable of in HTML5 in less than 100k (the latest version of jQuery alone is almost 30k, and that’s minified and gzipped).

And then there's QA. There’s no question that we have been spoiled with the ubiquity and predictability of the Flash plugin. Usually, the QA process for most standard banners is to check file size, check that it doesn't exceed the :15s animation limit, and make sure it clicks through to something. HTML5 ads bring with them all the complexity of cross-browser/cross-platform compatibility testing. Also, most of the exacting creatives I know aren't going to be satisfied with what you can get out of the existing ad building platforms (fade in, fade out, slide in, slide out...), so roll-your-own is pretty much the only real option, which means extensive QA time.

It might not sound like it, but having said all that, I'm glad this is happening. It'll force me to get deeper into the vagaries of HTML/JS/CSS, which is a good thing. And, there's really no need to shed a tear for Adobe and the Flash platform either - after all, the Flash plugin might be on its way out, but Flash Professional is still a perfectly viable prototyping tool, able to publish JavaScript animations using CreateJS, export animations as sprite sheets, produce WebGL content, and much, much more.

In short... Flash is dead. Long live Flash.

*With respect to Steve Jobs

Pepperpot by Simon Abrams

I was scrolling through some of my recent pictures on Flickr and came across this:

 Processed with VSCOcam with c7 preset

If you ever find yourself at a Guyanese restaurant and you see pepperpot on the menu, don't hesitate - do yourself a favor and get it. Rich, savory, spicy - this dish defines Christmas Morning to most Guyanese people (although it can be consumed any time throughout the year).

Preparation often begins several days in advance, and the dish slowly simmers until it is ladled out into bowls to be sopped up with fresh, crusty, warm, home-made bread.

There are cloves, cinnamon, and big, bony hunks of mostly unglamorous cuts of meat -- the ones with lots of fat and cartilage, like cow-heel. Of course, as you'd expect, given the name, there's also plenty of hot pepper. But the signature ingredient, which gives pepperpot its rich color and savory flavor is called casareep (we pronounce it "CAHS-rip"), an extract of the cassava (or yucca) root.

It's not uncommon, as the pot begins to dwindle, that it is freshened up with more meat and casareep to extend its enjoyment over the course of several days during the holiday season. It is one of my absolute favorite foods on the planet.

Note: This post would have been best shared around Christmas time, but I think I was too preoccupied with eating this than writing about it at the time.

Flash Photography techniques explained with slow-mo by Simon Abrams

This video from The Slow Mo Guys is cool and informative on its own merit, but it's also one of the best illustrations of how and why some crucial flash photography principles work.

Sync Speed

Have you ever seen a dark strip across the lower portion of your photograph when shooting with an external flash? (There's a great example on this page.) Well, that dark strip is a result of shooting above your camera's sync speed - ie, the maximum shutter speed the camera is capable of syncing up an external flash at. The sync speed varies, and and for most SLRs, is usually somewhere between 1/160th and 1/250th of a second (check your manual, or Google your camera model). Some SLRs won't even let you shoot at a shutter speed that exceeds your max sync speed, but if you inadvertently manage to make it happen, you'll know it from the nasty black bar you'll see towards the bottom of the resulting photo. That black bar is actually that same rolling shutter that's clearly visible in the video, casting a shadow as it passes over the sensor.

So what do you do if you want to shoot some high-speed action, using a flash, at a higher shutter speed than your camera can technically work with? Or if you want to shoot with a wide open aperture to get really shallow depth-of-field in lots of bright daylight? Well, many external flashes have high-speed sync mode, which lets you do just that. This flash mode doesn't actually fire a single burst of light; rather, it fires many low-powered bursts of light as the shutter passes over the sensor, thus avoiding casting that shadow. Cool, right?

That third button puts your flash in high-speed sync mode, and also toggles and 2nd-curtain sync

That third button puts your flash in high-speed sync mode, and also toggles and 2nd-curtain sync

The down side of high-speed sync is that it's not as powerful as your regular flash output, so you'll just have to move your flash closer to your subject, or use multiple flashes.

1st-Curtain and 2nd-Curtain Sync

Setting the shutter sync settings

Setting the shutter sync settings

If you've spent any time shooting with an external flash with your SLR, you might have seen these settings on your flash and not fully understood what they do. But if you take another look at that video, from the way the rolling shutter works, you can probably guess that the "1st curtain" refers to that first cluster of blades that passes in front of the sensor, and the second cluster is the 2nd curtain.

What does that mean, with respect to your flash? Well, imagine that you're shooting a moving subject: 1st-Curtain sync (the default mode of the flash) means the flash will fire freezing your subject at the beginning of the shutter's movement, leaving motion trails moving away from the subject as it keeps moving. Conversely, 2nd-curtain sync will freeze the subject at the end of the shutter's movement, with motion trails following behind your subject.

2nd-curtain sync leaves trails behind your subject, creating dynamic images

2nd-curtain sync leaves trails behind your subject, creating dynamic images

I often use 2nd-curtain sync at parties and events where people are dancing. I'll slow the shutter speed and actually move or turn the camera while the shutter is open to create light trails and blurs in the scene. No joke - it makes parties and wedding receptions look epic.

One thing I should note: all my photos, and some of my terminology might be Canon-specific, but the same principles apply no matter what camera brand you prefer.

There are plenty of articles on the internet that explain these topics in far greater detail, but this video is such a great illustration of what's actually happening in the camera, that I think it should really help to solidify your understanding of these highly useful concepts in flash photography.

Thoughts on 1Password and MacID by Simon Abrams

MacID unlock's your Mac using your fingerprint via a connected iOS device

MacID unlock's your Mac using your fingerprint via a connected iOS device

Now that I have two TouchID-enabled devices, entering passwords by typing them feels like what I imagine it would be like having to write prose with a chisel and tablet after getting used to using a pen - especially now that iOS 8 allows for 1Password integration throughout your i-device. Quick recap: 1Password is a password manager that securely stores all your passwords to everything, obviating the need for you to remember - or even come up with - any passwords except for the one that protects its database. It's cross-platform and works with all your favorite browsers. Amazing.

Anyway, before extensions allowed for 1Password's iOS integration, if you're like me, and don't know any of your passwords to anything, logging in to a website or app on an iPhone or iPad went something like this:

  1. Open site/app that asks for a password
  2. Grit teeth and sigh resignedly
  3. Go back to Home screen and tap 1Password
  4. Enter your long and secure 1Password Master Password
  5. Find password to app in question (or create a new entry in 1Password for said app, and let it generate a suitably secure password for you)
  6. Copy password
  7. Hop back over to the app in question (yay, multitasking!)
  8. Type in your username, paste the password, and try to remember that despite your current state of annoyance, we're still living in an age of technological miracles and wonders. Everything is amazing.

Now that iOS 8 Extensions are a thing, the process goes something like this:

  1. Open site/app that asks for a password
  2. Tap Share button and swipe right to 1Password extension
  3. Tap the icon, then use your finger to unlock 1Password
  4. Oh look - 1Password knows your credentials for the site/app you're trying to access. Tap to fill in your credentials, and be on your merry way.
Treehouse's app has 1Password support built-in. Amazing. More like this, please.

Treehouse's app has 1Password support built-in. Amazing. More like this, please.

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It is a downright joyous experience compared to the old way, and it's no exaggeration to say that simplifies my life a lot, especially since I am doing more and more with my iPhone and iPad. I tweeted the good folks at AgileBits a few months ago, wondering if something like this was possible on the Mac - ie. could I use my iPhone/iPad's TouchID to unlock an app on the desktop. It turns out, it is at least partially possible: MacID lets you designate an iOS device as a touch-enabled "key" for your desktop machine, and unlock a password-protected lock screen when you return to your computer. Sweet!

I've only just tried it a couple of times, but from my first impressions it seems really promising. I'm not quite paranoid enough to be able to thoroughly think through any negative security implications of this. MacID never connects to the internet, so the chances of your login password getting hijacked that way are zilch. I can't wait for this to grow into a fully-supported technology that becomes something baked into iOS 9/OS X Big Sur (or whatever the next OS X ends up being called).

The current state of computing and devices still forces us to choose between security and convenience, but apps like 1Password and MacID, and technologies like TouchID are at least getting us part of the way towards the convergence of those two ideals.

Year in Review by Simon Abrams

I decided to do my own Year in Review - one that I think is a little more personal than the one that the Facebook algorithm generated for me - by selecting 24 images (two for each month) that represent my 2014.

I started off the year with a teaching gig at Miami Ad School's Brooklyn outpost, which gave me a good excuse to roam around DUMBO with my then-new Fuji X100S. In February, I went on an absolutely fantastic trip to Morocco with my wife. This trip was one of the highlights of the year for me (another great opportunity to road-test my new camera), and I can't believe it's already been almost a year.

I spent Memorial Day with my family at my sister's place in Virgina. It was right around that time that I noticed a funny, squishy bump on my elbow that turned out to be bursitis. It eventually led to me needing surgery, and being stuck in a pretty gnarly brace for a total of five weeks this summer.

I made my annual pilgrimage to the Brooklyn Hip Hop Festival, which, to my chagrin, moved to Williamsburg this year. It was co-headlined by Jay Electronica and Raekwon, and featured a very special guest named Jay-Z.

In the fall, a group of us rented a place upstate via Airbnb, and went ziplining at Hunter Mountain to celebrate my good friend's 40th birthday. I was also lucky enough to take not one, but two trips to California -- one for the ADCOLOR conference, and one to reunite with my two closest friends from high school.

Overall it's been a good year, and it has ended with some promising developments (more on those later) which should start 2015 off on a strong note.

With that said, here are 24 images that recap my 2014.