What’s In My Camera Bag – My Travel Photography Gear

It’s been over three years since I published the list of my photography gear. What I recently realized is that the contents of my camera bag have tremendously changed over that period.

Since I changed camera brands by switching from Sony to Fujifilm, I think this is the perfect time for an update.

It took me about three months to sell all my Sony equipment and acquire new Fuji gear. At this point, I am fully equipped and ready to give you the breakdown of what’s in my camera bag!

What’s In My Camera Bag - My Travel Photography Gear

Read moreWhat’s In My Camera Bag – My Travel Photography Gear

Review: The Art of Photography by Jimmy McIntyre

Review: The Art of Photography by Jimmy McIntyre

If you’ve been following PhotoTraces.com, you know that Lightroom is a central piece of my digital photography workflow. I use it for nearly every facet of the entire photography process from organizing and selecting the best images to editing and publishing.

If Lightroom is central to my photography workflow, then the RAW image format is the cornerstone of my editing philosophy. I strongly believe that the RAW format is the most flexible because it allows me to achieve my artistic vision in the shortest amount of time. I stay in a nondestructive RAW environment as long as possible and only go beyond RAW if and when it is absolutely necessary.

But, even with the latest developments in Lightroom’s advanced tools and features, it is not always possible to achieve the desired result in Lightroom alone. Sometimes, you need extra help.

This is when Photoshop comes into play.

I rasterize the RAW files by converting them to a pixel-based format like TIFF, PSD, JPEG and finish my editing in Photoshop.

Read moreReview: The Art of Photography by Jimmy McIntyre

WD My Passport Wireless Pro Review

After purchasing and integrating the WD My Passport Wireless drive into my travel photography workflow last year, I’ve noticed a drastic change in the way I travel and take photos. The drive made the whole process much simpler and more reliable. I outlined my experience with the drive in detail in “WD My Passport Wireless for Travel Photographers.”

WD My Passport Wireless Pro Review

Recently, Western Digital (WD) released the second edition of the drive and, after taking it on a variety of trips, I am ready to share my experience and give you my feedback.

Read moreWD My Passport Wireless Pro Review

Book Review: Mastering Composition by Andrew S. Gibson

Book Review: Mastering Composition by Andrew J Gibson

What makes photography unique is that it has two components that are very different and, sometimes, even contradict each other. One element is technical and the other is artistic.

The technical component involves an understanding of some mechanics, optics and physics and, at a lesser extent, the chemistry that was replaced by electronics.

The artistic components include understanding and mastering the concept of composition, color theory and design.

As a photographer, you cannot excel in photography unless you master both components. They are both equally essential to the ultimate goal of photography—creating impactful images.

Read moreBook Review: Mastering Composition by Andrew S. Gibson

CreativeLive: Free High Quality Photo Education

CreativeLive Review: Free High Quality Photo Education For All

The online education market has exploded in recent years. You can learn pretty much anything online now and even earn a real degree.

Photography is no exception. Today, photography education is more accessible to people than ever before. Even for my photography business, education is an essential component.

But, when Chase Jarvis launched his new project called CreativeLive, it immediately caught my attention.

Read moreCreativeLive: Free High Quality Photo Education

REVIEW: WD My Passport Wireless for Travel Photographers

It has been almost a year since I purchased the WD My Passport Wireless 1 TB hard drive. Now, I am ready to review it and reveal how it has impacted my photography.

REVIEW: WD My Passport Wireless for Travel Photographers

It is rare when a piece of equipment that is not directly related to photography actually affects it on such a profound level.

Read moreREVIEW: WD My Passport Wireless for Travel Photographers

18 Best Photography Books for Travel Photographers

Travel photography is, without a doubt, one of the most demanding ways to create images. Together, travel and photography is a beautiful combination of complexities that include photography skills, social skills, travel planning, schedules, and so much more.

18 Best Photography Books for Travel Photographers

The complexity of travel photography comes from the need to excel in different situations and types of photography such as landscapes, wild life, architecture, street and portrait photography (to name a few), all of which are exposed to the limitations that travel brings.

As if that wasn't enough, many photographers love to make their travels count (a very reasonable thing, indeed) and get involved in various styles of photography during the same trip. Therefore, giving your workflow the input of technical knowledge is crucial and wise. The following list of 18 Best Photography Books for Travel Photographers will help you make your workflow leaner and more organic to make every resource count when you are traveling.

Read more18 Best Photography Books for Travel Photographers

Topaz Software Review – How I use Topaz Plugins

If you follow my blog, you know that I am pretty open about my editing as I reveal the processing steps for almost every photo I publish. You also probably noticed that every photo posted on this blog was edited, at some point, with at least one or two Topaz Software Labs plugins.

Topaz Software Review - How I use Topaz Plugins

Not surprisingly, two of the most common questions my readers ask me about the Topaz products are: “What plugin should I incorporate in my editing workflow and when do I use it?”

Topaz Software Review or Cheat Sheet for Choosing the Right Topaz Plugin

I have to admit that Topaz Labs has one of the most confusing structures of its products. They have a total of 16 different plugins and, in most cases, their functions overlap with each other. Needless to say, it took me a long time to figure out what product to use and when.

Do not get me wrong; I love and value the Topaz Plugins, but I wish that instead of 16 products they had three or four, combining different plugins together.

In order to help photographers who are just starting to use Topaz software, I have listed the plugins I use in the order of importance for my photography.

Topaz DeNoise

If I had to choose only one Topaz plugin, it would definitely be Topaz DeNoise. This is the only plugin I use with every single image I post on my blog.

Any Photoshop or Lightroom plugin is a simple “shortcut” or time saver. Typically, it is possible to achieve the same effect of pretty much any plugin using Photoshop; however, DeNoise is one of those plugins whose effect I cannot completely replicate using either Photoshop or Lightroom. Even though both applications have noise reduction tools, nothing comes even close to mirroring the effect of DeNoise.

If you are interested in learning more about DeNoise, check out the dedicated review that I published previously TopazLabs DeNoise – My Favorite Digital Noise Fighting Superhero.

My favorite aspect of using DeNoise is that I do not have to use masking in Photoshop after I apply the noise reduction.

In a majority of my photos, I only need to reduce noise in the “flat” areas (sky, water, skin) because, at the same time, I also want to preserve as many details as possible in the “pattern” areas (architectural elements, grass, trees, mountains). Before I started using DeNoise, I had to apply noise reduction to the entire image and later use Photoshop to mask areas I wanted to keep sharp. Somehow, DeNoise detects those areas automatically and eliminates them from the application.

Below is the photo I took in Yosemite and I processed it for HDR it had excessive noise. It took me 15 sec to eliminate it in the area of the sky and to keep details of the mountains intact

This powerful and simple tool saves me an enormous amount of time.

Topaz Detail

The name of this plugin is self-explanatory. It enhances the details of the image and gives you absolute control over the entire process. It also allows you to sharpen the image.

There is no magic here compared to the power of DeNoise. Topaz Detail always requires masking after applying its effect to the image. This is especially true because it significantly increases the noise in the flat areas of the image (sky, water, skin).

I typically use Topaz Detail in tandem with Topaz DeNoise. First, I enhance the details in the “pattern” areas and, later, I reduce the noise in “flat” areas.

Topaz Clarity

Topaz Clarity gives you complete control over every aspect of the image contrast. Even after years of using this plugin, it surprises me again and again especially when I am trying to recover low contrast or foggy photographs.

The second module of the plugin is color enhancement. When you adjust the contrast, it always affects colors, mostly the saturation level and I really like to have control over the colors. Normally, I increase the contrast and boost the colors at the same time. But, if I see that one particular color is oversaturated, I always have the ability to adjust only one selective color.

Ideally, I would love to see Topaz Clarity and Topaz Detail as a single plugin. The functionalities of two plugins overlap by 60-70%.

The first three plugins I listed above do not create any specific looks in your photographs. Rather, they only help to enhance different aspects of the images.

The next three plugins are more on the creative side and help to creatively explore the art of photography by achieving a variety of effects ranging from very subtle to fully blown surrealistic.

Topaz Adjust

Topaz Adjust is probably the most popular plugin from Topaz Labs. At the same time, it is also the most complex and sophisticated.

With Topaz Adjust you can control the image exposure and colors, extend the dynamic range of the single image, recover the shadows and the highlights, as well as enhance the details. The possibilities here are endless.

Also, to add more confusion to its complexity, its functionality overlaps with the Topaz Clarity and Topaz ReStyle features.

After I found myself wasting far too much time with Topaz Adjust by playing with its endless sliders, I created a simplified workflow and am trying to stick to it.

My Topaz Adjust Workflow

  • I always start by applying one of the presets from the Classic Collections. The rest of the collections that comes with Topaz Adjust produce too surrealistic effects for my taste.
  • I switch to the right editing panel and work with Global Adjustments. I only use the Adaptive Exposure, Details and Color adjustments.
  • I never use Local Adjustments because I find it more effective to use Photoshop for dodging, burning and masking.
  • The last step is the Finishing Touches adjustments. I always use the Transparency adjustment where I can blend the Topaz Adjust effect with the original image. I also use the Warmth adjustment quite often, especially with sunset/sunrise photographs. I use Tone adjustments less frequently and only when I want to achieve a Cross Processed effect.

Topaz ReStyle

Topaz ReStyle is an unusual plugin. On the first view, it does not even make sense. Typically, I consider any plugin to be a timesaver as I generally expect them to streamline my editing process by reducing the time I spend in Photoshop.

When I opened ReStyle the first time, I saw that the plugin came with more than 1,000 presets. That’s right! I’m not joking! In addition, each preset can also be modified and tweaked with endless controls and sliders. Immediately, I thought to myself, ‘No way I am going to use this.’

But, over time, I developed a different workflow tailored specifically to Topaz ReStyle.

Initially, I invested a bit of time cutting a number of the presets to a more manageable level. I went through most of the presets, found the ones I liked, saw their potential, and tagged them as Favorites.

Now, I have a library of 128 favorite presets.

Every time I open Topaz ReStyle, I switch from Editing Mode to Grid View and visually go through big thumbnail previews of my 128 favorite presets to try and pinpoint the one I like.

Topaz Software Review - Topaz ReStyle

In most cases, the default effects of the presets are too strong for my taste. After I select the effect I like and switch back to editing mode, all I do is reduce the Opacity of the effect and blend it with the original image. No editing, adjusting or masking is required.

The whole process is fast and I can always find an interesting effect.

Topaz Star Effects

You probably know or heard about the shooting technique where you select the smallest possible aperture (f20-f22) and shoot directly into the sun or another light source to produce a starburst effect. The small aperture exaggerates the rays of light making them more visible and prominent.

The Topaz Star Effects allows you to create a starburst effect after shooting and in the editing phase.

I do not use this plugin on a daily basis but, sometimes it becomes an extremely valuable tool that helps me to achieve my creative vision without going back and re-shooting the scene.

The plugin has all of the possible adjustments and controls to make the starburst effect the way you want it.

Conclusion

I hope my short review of Topaz Labs plugins will serve as a roadmap for you. Over time you will find your own ways and establish your unique workflow based on your personal style and artistic vision. And when you do, I hope you take a minute and share with the rest of us your unique ways of using Topaz plugins.

Topaz Labs Coupon Code

Once again, if you know what TopazLab product you want and are looking for Topaz Labs discount code, use PHOTOTRACES at the checkout to get 15% off any Topaz plugin or complete Topaz Labs bundle pack at Topaz Website.

Review: Sony A6000 & Switching From a Canon DSLR to a Sony Mirrorless

At the end of 2014, after shooting for a decade with Canon, I completely switched to a Sony Mirrorless.

Sony A6000 Review & Switching From a Canon DSLR to a Sony Mirrorless

Just before the Christmas holiday, I sold all of my Canon equipment and ordered the Sony A6000, Sony 10-18mm f/4, and Zeiss 16-70mm f/4 in one shot. I paid $2000 in total. Sony lenses are always pricy but I found that the price of the complete kit was very reasonable.

The switch surprised some of the readers on my blog, my followers and even a few of my fellow photographers.

To address these issues and explain the reasons for the switch, I wrote the blog post titled, Top Reason Why I Switched from Canon to Sony which became one the most popular articles on my site. It looks as if the topic of switching from DSL to Mirrorless is on the minds of many photographers.

I also promised to put together a full review of my new Sony gear. After six months of using my new equipment and, after taking about 10,000 photos, I am ready to give you comprehensive feedback on my experience in switching to Sony.

Read moreReview: Sony A6000 & Switching From a Canon DSLR to a Sony Mirrorless

Lightroom 6 Review – New Features

Sometimes it feels like the good folks at Adobe can read my thoughts and feel my pain. Every time I start to experience difficulties with my photo processing workflow they tend to solve it in the next version of Lightroom.

Lightroom 6 Upgrade Review

Actually, my first encounter with Lightroom began in a similar way. It happened the year I started to take photography more seriously and I was shooting more and more. Over a period of 12 months I accumulated thousands of new images. On some occasions, I felt as if I was drowning in digital images. Photoshop was my main editing tool at the time and 100% of my processing was done there. But Photoshop was not designed to manage high volumes of photos.

When my frustration was at its highest possible level, Adobe announced Lightroom. I jumped on board with the beta version, embracing it immediately and I’ve never looked back.

If I analyze how my process of editing photos has changed over the years, the Lightroom pattern is obvious.

In 2006 100% of my processing and editing was done in Photoshop, but with each new version of Lightroom the program became more powerful and versatile, taking bigger bites from the Photoshop pie. Now, 90% of my photo processing is conducted in Lightroom and only 10% in Photoshop. I think I could even increase the share of Lightroom to 95% but I do love Photoshop and it feels good to waste time there sometimes.

The latest source of my frustration had nothing to do with the tools or features of Lightroom. The problem was the performance; or lack of it. I have about 100,000 photos in my main catalog and Lightroom 5 could not handle them properly, it was painfully slow. I ran Lightroom 5 on a decent desktop with the plenty of memory, but it did not help.

When Lightroom 6 was announced and I had a chance to look at the list of new features, the first things I noticed were the Performance Improvements and GPU Enhancements, and I knew right away that this update of Lightroom was tailored to my needs once again.

Below is my initial review and feedback on Lightroom 6’s new features and improvements after using it for a week. The items listed below are organized according to their importance for me personally and dictated by the style of my photography workflow.

Performance Improvement

In Lightroom 6, you can use the Graphics Processing Unit (video card) to speed up image processing, but I don’t think it’s only the hardware acceleration that makes the difference. I tested Lightroom 6’s performance by switching the Use Graphics Processor feature off and it was still night and day compared to Lightroom 5. This means you can run it on a laptop that has no dedicated video card.

Adobe claims that, depending on your hardware you can speed up Lightroom 6 by a factor of 10.

HDR merge

I do a lot of HDR processing. I use various HDR applications to produce natural looking and balanced photos. One of my favourite HDR techniques is to use a combination of Lightroom and Photoshop; where Photoshop is used to merge multiple images to 32-bit HDR files, with Lightroom used for editing, giving the photo the final look. I outlined this technique in detail in my popular tutorial: Natural Looking HDR Guide.

Now you can completely bypass Photoshop and do your entire HDR processing inside Lightroom 6.

Lightroom 6 has its own HDR Merge module with the very basic Merging and Ghosting options, less advanced than in dedicated HDR programs like Photomatix but way more advanced than in Photoshop HDR Pro.

There are some differences though. Compared to Photoshop HDR Pro, Lightroom 6 produced 16-bit DNG HDR files compared to 32-bit TIFFs in Photoshop HDR Pro. The file size difference is huge. The DNG files produced by Lightroom HDR Merge are on average 3 times smaller in comparison to the 32-bit TIFF monsters. In the case of my Sony A6000, the 16-bit DNG file is around 90Mb, and the 32-bit TIFF is about 280Mb.

Also, Lightroom HDR Merge produces brighter HDR images compared to Photoshop HDR Pro. Below are two HDR images I created using Lightroom HDR Merge and Photoshop HDR Pro. In Lightroom, I applied one of my presets from Landscape Collection (preset: Point Lobos).

It looks as if I can recover more details from the 32-bit HDR image created in Photoshop HDR Pro. I still have to do more tests.

Lightroom HDR Merge

Photoshop HDR Pro

Filter brush

This is a minor addition, but it can be a very useful and time saving feature especially if you do lots of landscape photography. It allows you to mask a portion of the effect produced by the Graduate Filter and the Radial Filter.

For example: when you apply the Graduated Filter to the sky area of the photo, and you have a tall building, an object or a person in the foreground obstructing the horizon, you can use the Filter Brush to remove (mask) effects from foreground objects.

Panorama merge

This is another bite from the Photoshop pie. The whole process of stitching panoramas becomes much simpler.

Lightroom checks the exposure of all images you intend to combine into a panorama and automatically exposure-matches them. In the Panorama Merge module, you have 3 options for stitching images: Auto, Spherical, Cylindrical, and Perspective. In 90% of cases, the Auto option produces a great result.

Facial recognition

Now we can assign names to faces and Lightroom automatically finds and tags people in the entire catalogue.

This is a very cool feature. Even though I only use it for my family photos I can see how it could be very useful for event and wedding photographers.

Conclusion

Lightroom 6 is not a groundbreaking update and if not for a major improvement in image processing speed, I would probably have skipped it. At the same time, I would be willing to upgrade just for this one feature.

The good news is that all your development presets from Lightroom 4 and 5 will work in the latest version.

My Wishlist

What I would like Adobe to do next in order to improve my photography workflow, is to integrate Lightroom with the main Backup Platforms, like Crashplan, Carbonite, Amazon… I would love to be able to schedule and control my backups from inside of Lightroom.

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