Monster Mash at ADIM 11

Yesterday we kicked off the ADIM conference here in San Jose California! ADIM is the Art Directors Invitational Masters Class. This annual event brings together some of the most creative minds in the world for 3 days of hands-on instructional courses dealing with photography, illustration, design and more. Each year there is theme and this year it’s Classic Monsters. The master mind behind this event is none other than Adobe’s Creative Director, Russell Preston Brown (pictured above to my right).

I had a great day teaching Acrobat 8 shared reviews, Acrobat Connect and retouching techniques in Photoshop CS3. I also want to thank all the great people I met in my class!

Instructors and attendees really getting into the theme :)

My favorite on location lighting setup

One of the most difficult things to do these days is travel with expensive photography gear. The problem is that you can only have so much carry on luggage and we all know that checking your expensive gear is like putting a sign on it that says "steal me now". So that means that I either travel with minimal lighting or rent my lighting gear once I get to my destination. Sometimes if the situations permits I can ship stuff back and forth, however, I’ve seen stuff disappear that way too leaving the hotel and the shipping company pointing fingers at each other.

My trusted travel light is the Nikon SB800. Any photographer that knows anything about lighting will tell you that the key is getting the light off of the camera. You typically want directional, diffused, soft light whenever you can get it. The Nikon SB800 speedlight system is great! With a couple of these, you can pull off plenty of jobs that you would have thought impossible. I love them because they can be triggered wirelessly from my Nikon D300 DSLR camera and I can even control the power output directly from the back of my camera without ever touching the speedlights themselves.

Although the SB800 can be fired wirelessly, the problem is getting it up off your camera and positioned over your subject. This requires either masterful use of "the Force" or a light stand. While there are some pretty compact inexpensive light stands out there, none of them were small enough to fit in my suitcase until my buddy Scott Kelby turned me on to the LumoPro 5-Section 6ft Stand. This puppy folds down to a mere 21.6 inches which fits perfectly in my carry on suitcase.

The next problem is you’ll need a mount for the speedlight itself. For this I use the LumoPro Umbrella Swivel w/ Hot Shoe Adapter.

The SB800 has a diffuser cap, but I want soft light whenever I can get it and while umbrellas are OK, I don’t really like bouncing light off of them. It’s light throwing a "light" grenade into room. However, I don’t mind shooting through a translucent umbrella (the next best thing to a softbox). For this I use the Westcott 43" Collapsible White Umbrella. This umbrella is small and takes up very little space in my bag. I could stop here, but I also like to have a fast recycle time on my flash as well as shooting for hours uninterrupted. For this I got the Nikon SD-8A Battery Pack, which takes 6 AA batteries reduces my recycle times by 60-75% and extends my shooting time.

Currently I have two of the stands, two of the mounts, one SB800, one SB600, and one umbrella. I like this setup so much that I’m going to get another SB800, battery pack and shoot-through umbrella.


The Results

With this setup I was able to take some nice shots of Marianne here:

Navigon 2100 1.2 Update

Although I’m a fan of Garmin GPS units I keep coming back to the one feature I like best about the Navigon 2100 and that’s the 3D Reality View (pictured above). With the Navigon there is no guessing about which lane I should be in.


Good just got better

Navigon quietly released their 1.2 firmware update which provides the following fixes/new features:

  • Improved routing
  • Updated ZAGAT SURVEY Ratings & Reviews
  • Improved user interface
  • Revised voice prompts for highway entrances & exit ramps
  • Improved accuracy of ETA information
  • Updated Maps

The 1.2 update weighs in at a hefty 2GB’s! However, it’s very worth the effort and time to download. I noticed right off the bat the Navigon 2100 is now more responsive and while I’ve used it this week while traveling in Portland, it’s been a real joy. You can download the 1.2 update by logging in to your My Navigon area of their website. Be sure to backup your existing SD card data first!


With the update and performance I’ve been getting so far this week, this little low cost GPS unit may just become my first choice when I travel!

You can buy the Navigon 2100 for $151.71 at

JBL On Tour Rocks the House!

When it comes to gadgets I’m always looking for the smallest gear I can find that has the most impact or features. However, when it comes to speakers, usually smaller means sacrificing sound quality, bass and volume. Is it too much to ask to have a speaker system that’s small enough to fit in my laptop bag, yet loud enough or clear enough to enjoy from across the room? JBL doesn’t think so.

I was doing a seminar one day and one of my colleagues had the JBL On Tour Speaker System. I couldn’t believe how small it was, yet it was delivering enough sound for a room of about 100 people to enjoy. So I made a mental note and said to myself, the next time I need to take some speakers on the road with me, I’m going to have to try these out. That day came! I took the JBL On Tour Speaker System with me to California last week. I drove it with an iPod nano and the sound was better than I expected. It was certainly loud enough and clear enough. However, I’m a fan of bass and the bass just wasn’t as good as I would have hoped. Don’t get me wrong, very few if any small speakers have enough bass to satisfy me, so there wasn’t a whole lot of disappointment here. Other than that, this speaker system more than fit the bill for what I was looking for.



How small is small?

When you’re not using the speaker, it folds down to about half the size. VERY COMPACT to say the least. Although it’s not battery powered, the supplied power adapter is small enough that it fits into the sleeve with the speaker. Although I used it with an iPod, there is no iPod dock connector. So no iPod charging or line out audio. I simply connected the supplied cable to the headphone jack of the iPod nano. If you’re looking for an iPod only speaker, then you should probably look elsewhere. I got this speaker because it would not only work with an iPod, but also with my laptop.

It also works on batteries. I didn’t try it yet, but the On Tour works with 4 AAA batteries and is rated to play for 24 hours on a fresh set.

Dimensions Width: 7" (175mm) x Depth: 3.5" (88mm) x Height: 1.4" (35mm)
Weight 12 oz (350g)


The Bottom Line

If you need a SMALL travel speaker system for your presentations and personal enjoyment, you can’t go wrong with the JBL On Tour Speaker System. Amazon has it for $53.62.

OWC answers my storage needs

After my laptop debacle last weekend I started really thinking about having a backup WITH ME when I travel. Sure I backup religiously when I’m at home and now even automatically with Time Machine and Time Capsule. However, if something were to go wrong on the road I would be kinda screwed. So I decided that I should have a bootable backup with me. I was already carrying a mini G-RAID which houses all my demo files. It’s a very fast drive being a RAID and all, but it’s kind of bulky and not large enough to house a complete bootable backup AND my demo files. So I wanted something with more capacity and the timing was perfect!


Introducing the NEW OWC On-The-Go 500GB External Drive

I’ve always been a fan of OWC’s On-The-Go drives and have used them for years. They just started shipping the 500GB 5400rpm version. So I got one. This drive connects via Firewire 800/400 or USB 2.0. They provide a neat little carrying case, all the cables as well as a power supply if needed. I usually run on Firewire 800 bus powered, so I have a stack of these power supplies collecting dust. I partitioned the drive into two partitions. One to equal the size of my main boot drive and the rest for my demo and other misc. files. I used SuperDuper! to do the clone last night and all is well. Granted, this drive is only 5400 rpms (as opposed to 7200 rpms) and it’s not a RAID, however, it’s smaller in physical size and should still work out just fine for my needs. Oh and yes, I did label the drive too :-)

The OWC 500GB On-The-Go drive goes for $360.

Take that Hi-Key shot the easy way

Because it opens on all four sides you can either use it in a portrait and landscape orientation.  I have one Interfit strobe pointed into on the right.


I got an early birthday present! The Lastolite HiLite Background totally rocks. Think of it as a giant 6×7′ wall of light to put behind your subject. Although I’m getting better with my lighting all the time, it’s still a pain to get a white background to be perfectly and evenly lit. Well that is no longer a problem for me. The HiLite Background is a collapsible, portable background that takes about 5 minutes to setup. Once it’s setup it’s about 1′ wide. All four sides can be accessed via zippers, but the idea is that you stick one or two strobes on the end(s) and fire right into it. The beauty is that the strobes don’t have to be that powerful or expensive. I even tried it with an Nikon SB800 speedlight and got good results. However, I did buy a dedicated low end Interfit strobe that I run on a very low power setting (I need to turn it down even more now that I look at the histogram/clipping warning of my latest shots).


Here’s the shot I got of Model Ada from the above setup


Lastolite also sells a vinyl train so that you can create a semi-seamless background. Although the HiLite background is 7′ tall, that may not really be quite tall enough depending upon your subject. So you may want to use it for portraits of people that are seated or on a posing stool.

Lastolite makes a smaller version of this background that is 5′x7′, but trust me, you’re going to want the bigger one. It’s interesting that I’ve now used it 3 times and the first and last times I was able to fold it down in about 2 minutes. However, the second time I wrestled with this thing for 15 minutes to get it back into the bag. Go figure!

If you’re looking to do easier Hi-Key, this is your answer! It goes for $473.99 at B&H Photo.

I had internet access in my car!

Actually it wasn’t my car, it was my car service. As you may have read in yesterday’s post, I’m in San Jose California this week on business. I usually fly into SFO because it’s a direct flight. I’ve used the same car service for years now. El Paseo Limo has never let me down. They are always on time, courteous and hassle free. However, when I got into the back of the car this past Saturday, I decided to do some email using my iPhone. As soon as I fired up the iPhone it detected a Wi-Fi network called "elpaseolimo9". I’m so used to blowing off networks that I don’t recognize (many of them being fake) that I dismissed the dialog box immediately. After a couple of minutes I started thinking about it and thought, "why would someone create a fake network at the airport called "elpaseolimo9"? So I went back to my network settings and sure enough it was still there! I asked the driver, "do you guys actually have internet access in your cars now?" He said, "yes!" He then pointed to the back window and low and behold there was a Linksys wi-fi router sitting back there. For a split second I thought I was on a episode of Pimp My Ride.


There was no additional cost or passwords. No login pages either. It was also fairly speedy and I was connected the whole way from SFO to downtown San Jose. My guess is that this router was connected to some type of 3g network such as Verizon’s EVDO service. However, I was impressed by just how seemless and well it worked. El Paseo, way to stay ahead of the competition and to keep your business customers productive/happy!

Did you forget something?

A funny thing happened on my way to San Jose this week. Well actually the last thing I was thinking about on Saturday was laughing. I left for Detroit Metro Airport early Saturday morning. I got to the airport with my usual two bags. My suitcase and my large laptop bag. Since I planed on doing some shooting once I arrived in San Jose that afternoon I also had a fair amount of camera gear too.
I’m no stranger to TSA "bag checks". In other words I have a lot of electronic gear, batteries, etc. that sometimes triggers the x-ray person to call for a "bag check." Normally I can predict which items are going to cause problems and I take them out ahead of time and put them in a bin. So I had two bins. One with my jacket and misc. electronic gadgets and one with my laptop all by itself. Well apparently I didn’t take out enough stuff and I got pulled aside while they performed a detailed search of my laptop bag. So this meant gathering up my two bins and walking over to the TSA desk. Since I didn’t have enough free hands to carry the bins separately, I stacked them on top of each other.



Red Alert!

You know how they swab your bag/items with the little cloth and put it in the machine to check for explosive residue and other elements? Well mine turned red and the alarm went off! I just knew it would be a matter of moments before two guys came up and hauled me off to some dark room. However, that didn’t happen. I did get a pat down and continued checks on my bag. The TSA guy was nice but a little freaked out and even went to his supervisor for advice. They tried another machine and everything came up green and I was on my way. So I put all the stuff back in my bag from the bin.


Nice flight

The flight was uneventful and I just watched a movie on my iPhone, read a magazine and listened to music. Once I got to San Francisco I used my regular car service to get me to downtown San Jose.


That sinking feeling – 40 minutes of panic!

Once I got to my room (about 5 1/2 hours later from leaving Detroit Metro). I decided to pull out my MacBook Pro and do some testing with my lighting while shooting tethered. I unzipped it and looked down and didn’t see my MacBook Pro. My immediate thought was, "oh I must have taken it out already and it’s on the desk behind me – right?" So I slowly turned around to see that it wasn’t there! Then I thought, "oh it’s on the bed behind the bag!" It wasn’t there either. My heart sank! I started freaking out wondering if at any time did I not have control of my bag. Then it hit me that I never put my laptop back in my bag at the TSA desk 5 1/2 hours ago! OMG! It was in the second bin on the bottom of the first one.
I pulled out my iPhone and called information frantically seeking the number for the Detroit Metro Airport. I got the number and of course NO ONE ANSWERED! No recording, no busy signal, just NO ANSWER! I called back 3 times and it just rang! Then I called information again and asked if they had a different number. They did, I called it and got a FAX tone! GREAAAAAAT! WTF! I called and asked for the number to TSA. "What’s TSA?" OMG! You’re kidding me right? I was really freaking out at this point! So now I called Northwest Airlines and begged for them to either give me a number for the airport that someone would answer or call them for me. Luckily I got a NWA rep that felt my pain and went out of her way to try to get a human being at the airport. She did reach one person who informed her that when items like laptops are left at the security check points, they are turned over to the police. She then found the number to lost and found. I thanked her and called that number only to hear and I kid you not – "our office hours are Monday through Friday from 9AM-5PM, please call back during those hours!" I was dying at this point! So I remembered what she told me about the police and I called and got the number to Michigan State Police and called them. Mike answered the phone and checked his computer log and yes someone turned in an Apple laptop around 8:30AM that morning!!! I had already asked my wife to head to the airport because I wasn’t getting anywhere on the phone. So I called her and had her head to the police station instead.


A happy ending

My wife picked up my MacBook Pro that evening from the Michigan State Police station. One of my colleagues was heading to San Jose the next day for the same conference I’m attending and he met with her to pick it up so that he could bring it out to me. I’m typing this blog entry on it and all is well. However, besides actually forgetting to put it back in my bag, it really reminded about some common sense things that we should all do:


What you should do besides not being forgetful

First and foremost I had done a complete backup the night before I left. So I had a backup at home. However, now I’m thinking I should also travel with a backup drive too. Even if I had lost my laptop for good and was willing to go out and buy a brand new one that day, my backup would have been at home (on my Time Capsule) and I would not have been able to restore until I returned home days later, which would have meant a very unproductive week! Also before I leave the house I just close the lid and let my MacBook go to sleep. So if someone had stolen it, all they would have had to do is simply OPEN THE LID and they would have access to everything! I do have a password set for login/boot up, but I didn’t have the feature enabled that requires a password upon waking from sleep/screen saver (I do now!).
Lastly, I plan to tape my business card to the bottom of it. The police had no way to know who was the owner and who to call? There was nothing on the outside of the laptop itself that identified the owner! Mike from the Michigan State Police told me that they get 3-4 laptops a day! – WOW!

Lesson learned and it will NEVER happen again!

Adobe TV is here!

One of my favorite Adobe people, Julieanne Kost has her own show (The Complete Picture) on Adobe TV showing tips in Photoshop and Lightroom.


You may have seen the announcement last week that Adobe has released the FREE Adobe Media Player. This Flash based player allows you to watch all kinds of streaming content from the internet right on your Mac or PC. You can also build your own favorites list. Well that’s cool, but what you may have missed in the announcement is in addition to the Adobe Media Player, Adobe also rolled out Adobe TV. This is content that is produced by Adobe evangelists, solution engineers, product managers, product specialists and partners. This content is PACKED with useful tips on all of Adobe’s creative tools which of course includes the Adobe Creative Suite line. As a mater of fact episodes of my very own (insanely popular) Adobe Creative Suite Podcast are there for your viewing pleasure.


Adobe TV features four channels, each targeting a specific audience: Photographers, Designers, Video Professionals, and Developers. Each channel features programming from Adobe evangelists, leading trainers, subject matter experts, and luminaries who pull in the crowds at industry events around the world. More than 200 videos are currently available on Adobe TV, with programming that mixes how-to information, case studies, personality-driven shows, and workflow deep-dives. The first set of videos offers secrets about Photoshop® software, podcasts and design tips for Creative Suite, techniques for Photoshop Lightroom®, tips on Adobe Flash® Professional software for beginners, approaches to taming the Web, and information about video and audio production.


How do I get the Adobe Media Player?

Well that’s easy, just download it from this link.

How do I get content from Adobe TV?

There are a couple of ways. You can do searches right in the Adobe Media Player (AMP) or you can go right to the Adobe TV page and watch the content in your browser. It is Flash based after all.

Controlling the whole studio from my laptop

As you know, I’m a big fan of shooting tethered right into Adobe Photoshop Lightroom (which by the way just came out with a 1.4.1 update) when I’m in the studio. Also as my buddy Scott Kelby mentioned during his Lighting Gear Week, that I recently switched to the Elinchrom strobes with the Skyport RX Wireless System. Well last night I took it up a notch with their USB RX module and EL Skyport app. When I first switched over to the Elinchrom strobes and Skyport wireless triggering system (in place of PocketWizards which are still cool and all), I thought it was extremely cool to be able to control the power output of each strobe directly from the unit on top of my camera (with this unit:).

I figured that would be enough (it’s never enough by the way is it?). Then while I was ordering a bunch of gear at Photoshop World, I decided to complete this setup by ordering their Skyport RX USB module.

The USB module and the FREE to download EL-Skyport app takes things to a whole new level. It gave me something I hadn’t considered before. It gives me not only the ability to control the power output of the lights remotely, but it also does it visually. Each strobe’s control panel shows up as a little floating window. So as you can see in my shot above, I was able to see and control each strobe (including the modeling lamp, sound, etc.) while looking at my shots in Lightroom as I took them.


I was in lighting heaven last night!

The Elinchrom system is NOT cheap. I never thought I’d be spending this much money on lighting for my "hobby". However, I was also tired of trial and error and I don’t want to have to keep buying lighting over and over again. So this was it! I wanted to buy a good set of studio lights ONCE and not have to think about it for a very long time (if ever again). I’m still learning about lighting and with each shoot I get better and feel more confident, but with this system it’s almost like cheating :-)


Here’s my Elinchrom setup:

2 Elinchrom 600RX heads – $978 EACH (it’s like a big ‘ole Band-Aid – just yank it)

1 Elinchrom 53" Octa softbox – $307.95

1 Elinchrom Strip Bank softbox – $197.95

1 Skyport RX Radio System (1 hotshoe transmitter, 2 receivers) – $259.95

1 Skyport USB RX Radio Slave Tranceiver for your computer – $104.95

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