Graphics Reviews Software Workflow

The Pixelmator Challenge: Dr. Roach

While teaching a recent Photoshop workshop, a local Community College recruited me to conduct a sort of ‘finishing up’ workshop for students at the end of their second year of Photoshop classes in a strictly Macintosh lab. I was charged with showing them that while they had two semesters of Photoshop behind them, that there were a lot of subtle things yet to be done and which hadn’t been covered in their coursework.

Sure enough, at the end of the session a question arose, just as I had expected “What do we do when we no longer have access to school machines and software?” A good question. Even though Adobe’s Academic Pricing Policy deeply discounts Photoshop for students, in these economic times, even that price is beyond the means of many students.

Usually when asked about an alternative to Photoshop I recommend Photoshop Elements from Adobe, but our webmaster suggested that I also look at Pixelmator ( which is an image editor with a similar look to Photoshop and is touted as “… image editing for the rest of us” and at $59.00 US it just might be. It runs on Macintosh OS X 10.5.5 and later. So I downloaded a copy and tried it out.

Pixelmator weighs in at a 121.2 MB in size download (56.6 MB compressed) for the basic application and an excellent 81 page manual can be downloaded separately at the website.

Pixelmator reminds me of what I remember Photoshop 3 (or perhaps 4) was like (I’ll have to depend upon memory here as I no longer have copies of the older versions of Photoshop before the CS versions, and I no longer have a computer that would run them even if I did) but, in their day they were the state of the art, and with it I did some fabulous work. Pixelmator can do equally as well and is a bargain at the price.

Visually, it resembles Photoshop though it is slightly limited in tools and abilities. The learning curve is minimal. Any student who has had an introduction to Photoshop should have no trouble picking up the operation of Pixelmator.

For the student on a limited budget but who does own a Mac computer, I now have an additional suggestion for a Photoshop substitute. It isn’t Photoshop but it will do a good basic editing job and is neither as daunting nor as expensive as Adobe’s flagship product.

If you are a Mac user on a tight budget, Pixelmator is definitely worthy of consideration.

Read Alicia Vogel’s review of Pixelmator here.

Graphics Panels & Gutters & Zip Ribbons Reviews Software Workflow

The Pixelmator Challenge: Alicia Vogel

I really love Pixelmator as a painting program.  It has Photoshop-like brushes and a Painter feel.  I popped a sketch I had started in Painter in and was able to fully block it out and have a decent detail pass in a matter of hours.  For me, its simplicity is a big plus. With Photoshop and Painter,  I get dazzled by all the options and end up forever tweaking all the tools. 

In the future I’m going to do all my pre-painting in Pixelmator and then tweak either in Photoshop or Painter.  I’ll see how December’s Al works with it.

It does lack the gazillion brushes that either program has, so I did have to rehash some old tricks back when Photoshop was 3.0.  But it’s just plain fun to work in.

I would say this piece took me around five hours, and it’s more than decent groundwork. I did a similiar type piece using a combination of Painter and Photoshop, and it took twice as long.  The traits that Pixelmator has in common with Photoshop and Painter combined with it’s simplicity makes it a joy to use and keeps me concentrated on the actual painting instead of being all fidgety with the brushes and options.  I also realized yesterday as I was putting some refining moves on it that the final results look like my non-digital acrylic paintings.

On the negative side, I really missed my palette knife tool.  And I couldn’t find a use for Pixelmator’s "starry" brush.

Books Photography Reviews

Mastering the Nikon D300 By Darrell Young

I didn't really need a Nikon D300. I already had a perfectly  wonderful Nikon D2x with only about 15,000 actuations on it, plus a great Nikon D80 with about 12,000 actuations. But, when a friend upgraded to a Nikon D700 and decided to sell his two D300's with only about 7,000 actuations on one of them, I bought the latter. I already knew the operations of the D2x pretty thoroughly so I figured I'd breeze right through the D300 set up. In a way, I did, but there were a few distinct differences.

As luck would have it, a new book from Rocky Nook fortuitously appeared just in the nick of time. Darrell Young's Mastering the Nikon D300 is a 219 page  paperback that takes the pain out of setting up your new Nikon in a friendly and informative manner, that, to quote the  book blurb, "…makes the reader feel as if a friend dropped in to  share his experience and knowledge while explaining the hows and whys  in simple terminology." I have to agree with the blurb. That's exactly the way it reads. I just wish that the engineers who write Nikon's camera manuals would write for photographers instead of other engineers, and try produce a readable camera manual.

And speaking of camera manuals, how about a manual that would remain open on my desktop when I put it down? Such a simple request. The manual that comes with a Nikon (and just about everyone else's cameras as well) is bound tighter than a virgin in a volcano and barely stays open with a brick simutaneously placed on each opposing page.

While Rocky Nook's books won't quite stay open by themselves, they  have come a bit closer toward that goal, having only to anchor down  one side of the dual pages while you handle the camera. (How they managed that I'll never quite understand.) It always pleases me to open one of Rocky Nook's books and see the line "printed on acid-free paper" somewhere around the introduction or  table-of-contents pages.  It gives me a feeling that the book is an  investment for continued use and enjoyment rather than an expendable pile of paper that will fade and crack and become birdcage liner. My wife and  I both retain most of our books. The shelves in our house  overflow with volumes that, like true friends, remain long after their initial  introductions have past. Colleagues often come to me to when they seek outdated reference volumes that still contain just the information that they need to  know. I have a feeling that this volume will attain that status in a  few years, but right now it will prove invaluable to the new owner of  a Nikon D300.

Darrell Young (that's Digital Darrell if you hang around presents you with not only the what when setting  up your D300, but also the why and how behind the information. He  does it in nine well-organized chapters, beginning with

  • Chapter 1,  Using the Nikon D300, in which he gives us the background on the Nikon  D100, D200, and finally the third generation—the camera that  interests us—the D300. 
  • Chapter 2 – Exposure Metering, Exposure Modes, and Histogram  gives us the background on both the photographic techniques involved  and the way the camera delivers, and at the same time tells us what  we can expect from the system that drives the D300.
  • Chapter 3 – Multi-CAM 3500DX Autofocus explains how the focus  works in the Nikon D300 and the various ways it can be configured to  work for the photographer.
  • Chapter 4 – White Balance begins with the explanation of what  white balance really is and how it effects photograpic images and  then continues with the ways to control white balance in everyday  shooting.
  • Chapter 5 – Shooting Menu Banks explains the variety of ways  that the camera can be customized to perform exactly what the  photographer wants under a variety of conditions.
  • Chapter 6 – Custom Setting Banks gives us the ability to program  the camera to respond in different ways by simply switching from one  of five preprogrammed banks to another. This makes it easy to have  settings stored and ready to access for a number of potentially  changing shooting environments.
  • Chapter 7 – Playback Menu allows you to control the way(s) that  images can be previewed, hidden, deleted, rotated, shown as a slide  show, or sent to a printer.
  • Chapter 8 – Setup Menu, Retouch Menu, and My Menu covers how the  look and the feel of the camera can be controlled.  Formatting the  compact flash card, setting LCD brightness, controlling the loudness  of the camera "beep" and the time and language your computer uses as  well as other functions are controlled by the setup menu.  The amount  of in-camera retouching can be controlled via menu choices as well.   Finally, menus that need to be changed often can be grouped in a  readilly available spot in the My Menu category.
  • Chapter 9 – Nikon Creative Lighting System, the last chapter,  while not directly D300 controls oriented, is rather about what the  D300 can do when it is teamed up with additonal accessories such as  the Nikon SB-600 and SB-800 speedlights and the SU-800 Wireless  Speedlight Commander Unit.

Tips and tricks are not given a chapter all to themselves but are  spread nicely throughout the volume when appropriate. One of the real  advantages of  Darrell Young's approach to writing is that as he  discusses each characteristic of the menus and settings he gives you  the relevant pages in the Nikon manual itself. This way, you can  check Nikon's version against Darrell's explanations. When you do  this I think you will find Darrell Young's version as the better of  the two.

Since I had previously set up my Nikon D2x and it uses a similar menu  system I thought I would have minimal changes to implement; however,  Darrell Young's explanations and tips caused me to rethink a few of  my settings. The improvement in my image exposures proves this out.

For me, the bonus in the book was the chaper on Nikon's Creative  Lighting System. I had a Nikon SB-800 flash unit, but on the advice  of another photographer friend of mine, I purchased two more to make  up a rather complete system of SB-800s.

My usual shooting is with available light or around continuous  lighting situations such as is found in film and television work. The  only real flash work I have needed to do is with on-camera flash or  an off-camera hand-held unit attached via a remote cord. In the case  of the continuous lighting—"hot light" as it is sometimes called, the only real adjustments that I've needed to make were with the color  balance of the light and proper exposure.

With the new wireless set up and the three Nikon SB-800 flash units,  I first checked out Nikon's manuals that accompanied the SB-800 flash  units and found that they were apparently written by the same people  that did Nikon camera manuals.  That meant that they were quite close  to being incomprehensible, as usual.  It's a case of, way more information  than you need, spread over too many different sections of the manual.

Back to Darrell Young's chapter on the Nikon Creative Lighting System  and I found clear, concise, and precise set up instructions to get  the SB-800s into the configurations that I wanted.  So off I went to  my wife's work studio to set up some test shots with a few figure  manequins, some drapes, and a wig or two that are all items in her  vast repository of art items.  It's going to take a little work to  get this all figured out, but it's too cold to go outside and I have  time and a good mentor in Mastering the Nikon D300.

Rocky Nook and Darrell Young ("Digital Darrell") have produced a well- written and helpful book for the new owner of a Nikon D300.  I find  that I have several dozens of paper tags attached to pages that I  want to be able to find easily again.  It's a reference that will go  in the bag with the camera (I forgot to tell you they physical size  is such that it will fit down the back slot of any medium or larger  camera bag).  In paperback, and 219 pages, and at 6" x 9" in size  it's bigger than the manuals that come with the camera or flash, but  not the full 8.5" x 11" or larger that comes with the usual full-size  book.

If you have a new Nikon D300 and are pondering over the accompanying  manuals you need Darrell Young's Mastering the Nikon D300.

Mastering the Nikon D300 by Darrell Young, Rocky Nook Press, ISBN:  978-1-933952-34-5, US $39.95 CAN $39.95.

Gadgets Hardware Photography Reviews Workflow

Ray Flash: The Ring Flash Adapter

Ray Flash, a portable ring light for your Canon or Nikon DSLR camera system

Tonight I was making whipped cream for my wife’s dessert. It brought back fond memories of my mother making whipped cream, usually at Thanksgiving or Christmas, and I almost always got to lick a beater from the mixer. That was worth running from anywhere in the house – getting a beater with the thick, sweet whipped cream on it. Ah, those were the days. That is, until now.

A few weeks ago I got a box in the mail… the box was bigger than the hand mixer my mother used, but what it contained was sweeter than whipped cream. It was the Ray Flash attachment for my Nikon SB-800 flash unit, designed to transform an ordinary flash into a ring flash. This model was specifically for my D2X or D3, although it would also work on my old D1X. Ha… Christmas came early this year. And, I didn’t have to fight my brother for it.

Ring flash has an almost mystical following in the fashion and photography world. Ring lights are generally expensive, heavy, dedicated units that fit one manufacturer’s brand of flash pack. They can be very cumbersome to use hand-held. Oh, but that light… the wrap-around quality of shadow-less light is hard to create with any other equipment. The light produces a crisp catch-light in the model’s eye, with very even illumination and quick falloff.  The light that you can now, with your existing equipment, mount on your Nikon or Canon camera!

Imagine if you will a ring light that mounts directly to your camera mounted flash unit, and redirects the light into a perfect circle of light surrounding your lens.  Now imagine that it works totally TTL (through the lens metering with your camera’s exposure system)… finally imagine that it only costs about $300, not closer to $1,000 or more. OK, quit dreaming… it is here, in a real product that you can use now.

Let’s look at what you get in the box. First, you find the ring flash itself, with a head specifically designed for your model of flash (Nikon SB-800 or Canon 580EX). The ring slides on over the lens and the head cover slides onto the head of your flash and with a quick twist of a knob on top, locks securely to your flash. Second you will find a small Ziploc bag of shims… the shims are provided for the head if your flash head tends to droop under the weight. Finally, a short instruction manual. Do you need the manual? Probably not, but it is nice to have.

So far I have shot with two lenses, the Nikkor 24-120 AF VR and the Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 AF. I shot the 24-120 without the lens hood, as it stuck a couple of inches in front of the ring light. I kept the lens hood on the 50mm, as it was much shorter. Here is what I found… first, on the 24-120, it isn’t easy to zoom… the zoom ring is pretty close to the body of the ring light. It is possible with nimble fingers, and I think it could be learned with a little practice. The 50mm had no such problems. I think an ideal lens is my 85mm f/1.8, although I have currently loaned it out to a friend.

So, what do I like about the Ray Flash? Well, for what you are getting, it is relatively lightweight. It stays easily mounted to the camera, and doesn’t get in the way of the camera straps or camera controls with a couple of exceptions… the controls that are a little blocked are the mirror lockup, autofocus mode selector switch, and lens mount button. With the 50mm, I could simply swing the whole assembly carefully up and make needed adjustments, but the 24-120 wasn’t quite as easy. All the exposures are TTL reliable, with all your adjustments being easily controlled from the back of the flash. You do have to use either TTL or manual flash modes, as the Auto mode won’t work… the photo receptor on the front of the flash body is blocked by the Ray Flash. I can’t remember the last time that I used Auto mode on a flash… probably more than 10 years at least. Want to turn vertical from horizontal? Well this is complicated… just turn the camera. Ha. No more rotating the head of the flash – it’s round!
Teen model Lindsay photographed with Nikon D3 with SB-800 and diffusion dome… note the telltale shadow on the wall. Surely we can do better for such a pretty girl.


Same location but photographed after removing the diffusion dome and installing the Ray Flash ring light on the SB-800.

I found several nice uses for the Ray Flash. First and most obvious, I had to find a pretty young lady to photograph for my testing. Lindsay was as easy to work with as the Ray Flash. First we did a test shot with my normal flash arrangement (turning the camera to portrait mode and rotating the SB-800 flash head to match). This usually works well, but if you have a wall or other object fairly close to the back of your subject, you will normally get a rather objectionable shadow on the side of your subject. Next I installed the Ray Flash, and shot the same photo – presto, magico… the shadow went away, and Lindsay’s face was beautifully and evenly illuminated. We shot at a couple of locations, both in open shade and then the lowering gloom of a late fall post-sunset evening. The shots turned out great. I played with the adjustment on the flash to get the illumination level correct with the changing ambient light.

Lindsay posing about four feet from the turquoise garage door… this shot was in open shade just as the sun was going down.

Did somebody say wireless? Commander Ray, front and center! Yes, the Ray Flash works with the Nikon wireless TTL system – program your other SB wireless compatible lights as slaves, set the one on your camera as master, and prepare to make some really funky cool photos. As long as the photo eyes on the side of the slaves can see the ring flash go off, you should be in business.

Lindsay posing about four feet from the turquoise garage door- this shot was in open shade just as the sun was going down.

Another nice use is fill flash on close-up subjects, like flowers. I even did a shot of a couple of my trusty, if dusty, F2 to see what it looked like – worked just fine. I set up a second SB-800 as a background light to make it interesting.

Until I looked at this shot in Photoshop’s Camera Raw  module, I had not realized how really dusty my trusty  F2 camera is. Another use for the RayFlash is shooting  quick photo illustrations like this one to use for online  auctions. This was shot with the RayFlash mounted on  my SB-800 plus 1-2/3 stops with a Nikkor 60mm  Micro lens. In the full-sized version of this photo you  can see every glorious scratch and dent of this 1972  camera.

Ok Britt, you say, there has to be some kind of downside, some trade off with the Ray Flash. Well, there is – the Ray Flash is only as powerful as the flash you mount it on.  An SB-800 has a guide number high enough to be very useful, but you do lose some light in the Ray Flash. On the D3, that is not a big deal – just go up from ISO 200 to ISO 400 and shoot away.  (I found my best results for portraits were shots done within about 8 to 10 feet of the subject. For exact information, refer to chart on the Ray Flash page at  HYPERLINK "" It is somewhat bulky, and does block some camera controls, but no more than any other ring flash I have seen short of the small macro photo ring flashes that Nikon makes. And to be fair, the $300 price is a little steep for some people, but let’s be completely fair and say that the ring light attachment for my studio strobes costs about $1,400 and you have to lug a $3,000 pack with you that weighs 25 pounds. Oh, don’t forget that you have to have AC power or an expensive battery pack unit to actually use it. Is the studio strobe ring flash more powerful? Absolutely. Is it more convenient for fast-moving location work? Not a chance.
This shot is cropped to show the catch light in Lindsay's eye from the Ray Flash ring light. This is typical, although it seems that the further the subject is from the flash, the less defined the dark spot in the center of the catch light is. Love those freckles!

The bottom line is, if you shoot Nikon or Canon DSLR’s and want ring flash capability out in the real world, get a Ray Flash.

Oh, yeah… after I made the whipped cream, I got both beaters. What a day – playing with the Ray Flash and getting the beaters. Gotta e-mail my brother. He he he…

Ray Flash is imported to the United States by ExpoImaging, the same folks who bring us the ExpoDisc. It is available from select photo dealers or directly from ExpoImaging at or 1-800-446-5086. ExpoImaging stands behind their products and offers free telephone technical support from 9am to 5pm Pacific Time Monday through Friday.

Books Photography Reviews

PRACTICAL HDRI: High Dynamic Range Imaging For Photographers

Jack Howard should be a familiar name to many of you photographers as he is the Editor of Photography & Imaging where he tests and reviews cameras, lenses, software and a multitude of camera gadgets. 

HDRI photography (high dynamic range photography) is a growing phenomenon of interest in the photography field.  Simply put, it is a method by which the photographer produces an image that has more dynamic range than that which is possible with normal film or digital processes.  In extreme, it produces a surreal image; however, used judiciously it opens up the shadows and recovers highlight detail in an image.  Briefly, the process involves taking a series of images at varying exposures while keeping the f-stop and focus constant and varying only the shutter speeds.  This procedure produces a range of exposures that at some point expose correctly for the shadows but not the highlights, a “normal” exposure, and at another point exposures for detail in the highlights but not the shadows.  Once done, the selected software chooses the correct exposure for each area in the image and mixes the areas to produce an image that has a wider dynamic range than is possible with a single exposure. Finally, tone-mapping pulls the assorted areas back into a luminance range our eyes and our perceptions consider to be more normal.

Obviously, this normally involves using a tripod and having a stationary subject, as any movement between each exposure can only contribute to blurring and the failure of the image.  Surrealism is easily achieved in HDRI photography through a number of software and procedural choices.  Making the photograph look “right” with tone-mapping is where a discerning eye and more than a bit of art comes in.

Getting a new book from Rocky Nook Press is always a joy to me because of the high quality of the reproduction of images in their volumes.  As a photographer, the quality with which a book image is reproduced is extremely important to me.  First comes the quality of the original reproduction, and then I’m concerned with the lifespan of the paper it is printed on.  With these volumes printed on acid-free paper I am comforted by the thought that if I return to one of their publications in a year or three or more I can expect to see and handle pages and images that will be as fresh in reproduction as they were on my first look.

Jack Howard begins by explaining that on our regular computer screen or on the printed pages of a book, we cannot actually see the full scope of high dynamic range imaging.  Very few individuals possess the quality of computer screen to actually take advantage of the total product of HDRI; instead, we view a tone-mapped version that attempts to cram or compress all the brightness (luminance) into a smaller space that can be managed by either the screen or the printed image.

With that in mind he explains that even with the most basic DSLR equipment it is possible to do HDRI work.  Even basic DSLR’s have the manual capability to set exposure in such a way that the f-stop and focus can remain fixed while adjusting the shutter speed which provides the variables in the exposure range from under to over exposure of the subject.  Most point-and-shoot cameras lack this capability.  In addition, because the process of HDRI photography depends upon several images being in the same position or focus, then a tripod becomes a necessity, and bracketing burst capability in the DSLR a highly desirable function.

With the tools explained and in hand, he devotes a bit of time to the basics of photographic composition, and then discusses the best lens types for HDRI work.  Each lens type produces a distinct “look” to the photographic image and choosing that “look” can very well be part of the developing style of the photographer.

The subject of whether to shoot in RAW or .jpeg is covered. Each has it’s advantages and disadvantages, so the basic recommendation is that if the photographer’s camera has the capability, the basic images in the exposure bracket should be made with both simultaneously.  Metering for an HDRI bracket can be tricky and Jack Howard discusses the various methods of metering and the advantages and disadvantages of each type.

Download sites for a number of HDRI software programs are given, but the programs are not included as a CD with the book.  The reasoning is that based on the length of time it usually takes to produce a book, the software will have been revised during the production period.  Having the photographer download the software guarantees that the latest version is what the photographer works with.  A number of software types are mentioned and demonstrated. They include Photoshop CS3, Photomatix Pro 3.0, FDRTools Advanced 2.2, and Dynamic Photo HDR 3.x.  Not all of these are available in both Mac and PC versions, so the appropriate software should be chosen to match the photographer’s computer platform.

Once the photographer has created an HDRI version of their selected image, then tone-mapping should be applied to their product.  This is necessary to make it possible to handle the image with conventional viewing and printing media because the image will otherwise have problems with over-saturation, hyper-vividness, and out-of-gamut warnings.

Of particular interest to me were the set-up procedures for Photoshop, Bridge, and Adobe Camera Raw as the easiest methods for correcting tone-mapped images that have an initial flat appearance and lack either a real black point starting or white point ending.  This legitimatized the process I had worked out for myself while using an earlier version of PhotoMatix Pro while previously experimenting with HDRI photography.  It also encouraged me to update my PhotoMatix Pro 2.4.1 to version 3.0.3.

If you are looking for a straightforward introduction to HDRI photography–and can do it without the necessity of a precise-step-by-step procedure where both you and the instructor have identical sets of variably exposed copies of the same image to work with–then Jack Howard’s book is an excellent choice. As an author, Jack Howard seldom applies an aesthetic judgmental qualification to the result of a decision you might make in the adjustments of the software.  Rather, his approach is that “if you do A, then B is going to happen, and that may or may not be what you want.”  He demonstrates HDRI techniques on a multitude of different images producing results from surreal to extended-normal.  He allows the photographer to decide which approaches best fit their philosophy of imaging. He encourages the photographer to experiment and to apply his or her own aesthetic judgment to the product.  This volume is 170 pages, well illustrated, beautifully printed, and is in paperback format; it is a good addition to the bookshelf of both the beginning and intermediate photographer.


Digital Lifestyles Media Photography Reviews

It never fails.

Just as I get rolling on something I need to finish, someone emails me something which completely catches my attention and takes me away from whatever it was that I was doing.
(what was I doing?)
Distraction du jour:
There are several online tools which allow you to have fun with images, Dumpr and Gooifier are two free sites that I’ve used in the past, but Photofunia, also free, offers a more sophisticated selection and I like their interface better. Using face detection technology and offering 50 different templates which allow you to apply funny, creative or artistic effects on your images with just a few clicks, Photofunia can help you transform your everyday photography to something you can have fun with and even frame and give as a gift. The results are that good. There is no need to have any deep knowledge of photo editing. No program download or registration is required. Just upload your picture or graphic, select your desired effect from the comprehensive assortment of image thumbnails, and viola! Then, just click and save.
I had such a good time with this program that I sent my kids all the funny and cool photos I made of them on Photofunia. After about the seventh or eighth photo, I received an email back from my 19 yr old son who is away at university. That, in and of itself was a miracle.
"Dear mom, Get a hobby. Love you. =)"
"Dear Bobby, I found a hobby. Have you found a job?"
I haven’t heard back…

Graphics Reviews Software Workflow

Review: Jumsoft Templates and Clipart for iWorks Pages

I recently added iWorks Pages to my arsenal of design tools. I would like to suggest some add-ons that I recently included in my collection…

These babies are available a the Jumsoft Online Store. Jumsoft’s packages range in price from $29 (for individual templates) to $ 59 (for The Template Pro Pack). At these prices, they easily add value to your IWork collection of templates and clipart. I have to say my favorite of the three is the very random yet whimsical collection of images in clipart 2.0  

I mean I have never had a need for an image of a beaker but by golly I plan to find one! Cool stuff.

Both template collections also offer a unique style of pieces ranging from complete brochures to one page invoices.  Definitely inspires me to “spruce up” my billing process… A few samples from these collections are shown below…

Installation is easy, Simply open Pages Templates 2.0 folder and double-click on any template. Pages will automatically open the template. Or you can install templates so that they appear in Pages Templates menu. To install Pages Templates 2.0 copy   "Jumsoft templates" folder to Home>Library>Application Support>iWork>Pages>Templates folder.

So all that to say, even though I will always be partial to Adobe and a bit of a software snob, it’s okay to branch out every now and then. You never know, it might just be a fun answer to a not so exciting project dilemma.

Graphics Reviews Software Workflow

iWork! I swear!

Okay, so I am a bit of a software snob. I can’t help it.  I come from the “right before computers were cool” generation.  My first experience with a computer was looking up the Dewey Decimal system on the library computer in High School.  Then after flirting with a few PCs in the public lab while writing a few last minute papers for English Lit I moved on to my first Mac in the art lab.  After that, there was only one true love in my life.  The Apple!

With that came the software.  I skipped Office and Works and started typing my papers in Freehand.  I mean why not? It was cool, and I could, right? Honestly after being introduced to Adobe and Macromedia, there was no other! I became quite arrogant as people asked me over the years if I built my sites in Front Page or Publisher.  What an insult.  I have always been a pretty humble gal.  At least I think so–except when it comes to my job and what it takes to do it.  I think the greatest insult I have ever received was a friend who nonchalantly said “Hey one day when you aren’t busy can you sit down and show me how you do your job?  I am thinking about doing it on the side to make some extra money.”  Invisible flames came out of my ears! How dare they just assume they can learn what I do in a 30 min sit down?  Huh! Anyway, that was a very long way of saying I take what I do and the education I have gained very seriously not to mention the tools I use to do it.  So therefore – I am a snob.  

Up until recently there where only 2 major food groups in my mind;  Adobe and Macromedia. Now those have even become one. I have used (only when necessary) Word from time to time – mostly because clients send data to me in Word or Excel.  THEN I made a beautiful discovery.  First of all let me state that had it not been an Apple product and had the free trial not come on my new iMac, I would still be a “one software” kind of girl.  But you know how it is when you get a new computer. The first 48 hours is spent playing with all the new bells and whistles and even when you must work, you are taking the “scenic route” as you maneuver through your daily routine.  

During this most recent time of discovery I found iWORK.  I know it has been out for two generations, but like I said I have always ignored all things Non-Adobe.   So I opened it up not really expecting much and have to admit the further I browsed though the templates of Pages the more impressed I was by the minute.  My brain was on overload trying to think of projects I could use these for. They were fantastic.  Not only the clean layouts of the templates, but the artwork used was very appealing to me.

 I got my first real taste of Pages a few weeks later. I had a long-time customer come to me with the desire to pull their monthly newsletter from their printer’s in-house designer and have me “spruce it up”.  Now I have to admit that newsletters normally are not my thing.  They can be limiting and most always full of too much copy–not enough pages, and there are usually color restrictions. They can be pretty cheesy.  But I would do anything for this customer and I saw it as the perfect opportunity to utilize the templates Pages had to offer. I very quickly PDF’ed a few of my favorite templates, sent them to the client to get her thoughts and BAM.  I hung the moon! How easy was that. It was so easy that I almost felt guilty for charging money for the work.  The client was pleased and I put together concepts in less than 10 minutes! Later that afternoon they chose a template, and after collecting data the newsletter was built and sent to the printer within days.  With my schedule being as packed with work as it has been for the last year, this was such a HUGE blessing.  

The tools in Pages are so ridiculously user friendly that anyone could pick it up and build their own collateral themselves. This is actually software, which I am not insulted to say I could teach someone in an afternoon. So I lovingly welcomed iWORK into my exclusive group of design tools.  It was well worth its reasonable price and that just considering Pages.  I’m still hoping for that day when I have the extra time to explore Numbers and Keynote.  I feel like I will be equally impressed. 




Visit for to take advantage of the 30 day trial for iWork 08


Graphics Reviews Software Workflow

Review: Jumsoft Keynote FX Series (pt2)

iWorks Keynote by Apple is an excellent presentation application program for backgrounds and templates for text and images. The finished product (movies, reports, etc.) can be exported into QuickTime, PowerPoint, PDF, Images, Flash, HTML and iPod versions. Apple ships Keynote with thirty-six standard themes, providing the end user with a strong foundation and giving you plenty room to expand your library.

Jumsoft is just one of a number of companies that supply add-ons to use in Keynote. We recently reviewed Keynote Themes 7, Keynote Photos 2, and Keynote Stills 3.

Due to the nature of the Keynote FX series, we have created FLV video presentations to review these products. But first, an introduction to these products:

Keynote Themes FX 3.0

Keynote Themes FX 3.0 consists of seven new and visually innovative themes: These themes provide a delicately animated background style and plenty of slide layout options. These small background actions will liven up your presentations without distracting your audience from your main point.

Keynote Themes FX

Even if you already use Keynote Themes FX you will discover that your presentation will come alive with a new verve and sparkle when you apply the new visuals that are available in the ten new backgrounds in BackgroundFX 2.0. These backgrounds can be used in conjunction with any of your themes as they do not come with basic slide layouts.

ObjectFX 3.0

If you are unfamiliar with photo objects, they are images of objects with a transparent background.  they are a very effective way to “isolate” a visual to support your presentation or bullet point. Jumsoft ‘s ObjectFX 3.0 are 70 detailed 3D images  that are easily pasted into presentation pages. Optimized for 1024 x 768 frames these cleanly cut objects  suit a number of ideas and concepts.  Keynote Objects is only $39 and the upgrade from Keynote Objects 2.0 costs just $19.

Keynote Animations 5

Finally, for my own usage, the last of the Jumsoft packages that I find powerful is the Keynote Animations 5 package.  Priced slightly higher ($45) than the other add-ons, these animations allow the addition of eye-catching movement to an otherwise “pedestrian” static frame. There are 180 animated images that can be used to attract attention or produce emphasis in your presentation.  These images can be cut and pasted, resized and looped in Keynote’s QuickTime option.

Keynote Quartet FX bundles together  the latest versions of Keynote themes FX, Keynote Animation, Keynote Objects FX and Keynote Backgrounds FX at a discounted price of $99 (or as an upgrade from Keynote Quartet ’06 for $45). That’s great buy.

If you are an Apple iWorks Keynote user, check out Jumsoft’s offerings at to invigorate your next lecture, sales meeting or presentation.

Madbadcat’s Note: The road from Keynote to QT to FLV to WordPress is a long and winding one. I decided that the most important thing was to focus on the animations- not the transitions, or interactivity- so each slide holds for 5 seconds then moves on. There are many reasons for this. Mostly its because I don’t think Keynote was ever meant to “publish to the web”. It might be an option they should consider for a future version.

Keynote Background FX 2.0 (11.5mb streaming; no sound)


Keynote Objects FX 2.0 (3mb streaming; no sound)


Keynote Themes FX 3.0 (10.4mb streaming; no sound)


Keynote Animation FX 5.0 (8.2mb streaming; no sound)


Digital Lifestyles Media Reviews The Write Stuff

Review: Young At Heart

While preparing dinner at my kitchen counter the other day, I saw a commercial for an Eagles concert at the local Hard Rock indian casino. I immediately conjured a visual of what they looked like back in the seventies, when I was in high school and listened to their music. (which I still do, and which my kids grew up listening to on my car radio set to classic rock and NPR.) I glanced up from my chopping block fully expecting to see long hair and an attitude, and there on the TV screen was a group of old men. My age-peers.
Do I look like that? I grinned as I usually do when the old rock bands from the 60’s, and 70’s come into town and play at either the racetrack or the indian casino. My husband and I always opine that you know you’re considered "Classic" when you no longer play the stadiums but rather at the racetracks and the casinos. Still, the music is gold, as are the memories they ignite.

Reviews Software Workflow

Review: Jumsoft Keynote Series (pt1)

If you are a user of Apple’s iWorks Keynote program for producing lectures, then you know it is an excellent program with thirty-six basic themes. (I have to admit I still call them slideshows and always seem first to think of 35mm slides and a Kodak slide projector rather than my laptop computer and a video projector) Each theme includes backgrounds and templates for text and images for easy layout. The finished shows can be exported into QuickTime, PowerPoint, PDF, Images, Flash, HTML and iPod versions.

But there is always room to expand the offerings for backgrounds, text, images, templates and animations to provide even more variety to choose from.  There are a number of companies that supply additional material to use in Keynote, and one of those companies with an excellent selection is Of the twenty programs or modules that they offer, some seven of them are applicable to Keynote. Keynote Quartet FX is a package deal of four of the seven modules.

In keeping with the spirit of the products, here are interactive slideshows reviewing Keynote Themes 7, Keynote Photos 2, and Keynote Stills 3.







Books Digital Lifestyles Photography Reviews Software

Complete Guide To The Nikon D300 By Thom Hogan

On User Manuals, Digital Books, Travel, The Importance of eBooks and The Foresight of Thom Hogan

I like physical books.  By that I mean I like a book I can hold in my hand, feel the texture, and maybe even revel in the smell of the paper and the ink.  I like to consume well-done images that inspire or instruct.  I like books that open themselves flat and allow me to look at them without having to hold down both sides of the tight binding of a signature in the book without being afraid that the book would snap closed if I turned lose with one or both hands.

But then I have to say that there is a “but” that goes with all of that.  The bigger a book gets the less likely I am to have it along when I want it.  Big books in heavy bindings don’t fit easily into the weight requirements of modern-day air travel.  They’re, well, “big” and “big” and “ease of travel” are oxymorons.  They just don’t work interchangeably.