The Photo (Vendor) Wars Have Heated Up

Yes, it’s been a month and a half since I threatened promised a post with photos.  That’s longer than I anticipated, largely because trying to combine a work schedule with the time needed to catalog and edit some 1,100 photos takes longer than I’d hoped.  My full-time work schedule isn’t 24 hours a day, and neither is my photo editing.  I’m also playing a lot of guitar of late.  😄

I did manage to make a first pass through the entire batch and uploaded the majority of them to my Smugmug account.  I created a gallery named Greek Island Easter Odyssey 2022. It’s still a first pass, as I expect to be adding/updating it further.

So, what is this post all about?  It’s a revisit to the photo tools I’ve used over the years.  I’m a bit of a hoarder collector, and the photo processing software companies are in business to capture dollars like any other business.  I’ve collected a bit of freeware as well as commercial products, and that’s likely where my troubles lie.

Every photo editing tool has a set of core features and its own user interface which attempts to make the program easy to use.  The first problem I have is that they all include capabilities that I either don’t understand, or behave the same way.  For example, I have Photoshop, the granddaddy of all photo tools, but the program baffles me with its use of layers and masks.  And since these feature intimidate me, I tend to shy away from them.  Some are feature-specific, such as easyHDR, which does a terrific job on single photos, turning them into high-dynamic resolution images.  It’s apparently a one-man labor of love which has been around since 2006.  There is a single cost (about $33US) for lifetime upgrades, which makes it a terrific value, in my opinion.

But where my frustration (or anxiety, perhaps) occurs is trying to determine which of the “big three” are the best tools for the job.  For purposes of this article, the Big Three are the various products offered by Adobe, Skylum, and ON1.

Adobe is the market leader and is the target for all competitors.  However, it takes a master craftsman to produce usable photos in Photoshop, so I’ll limit my discussion to its companion program, Lightroom.  Adobe positions Lightroom as a photo cataloging tool, but it has a superb set of editing tools in its own right.  Skylum’s flagship product is Luminar, the latest iteration now called Luminar Neo.  ON1’s premier program is ON1 Photo RAW 2022.5 (as of this writing).  I own all but the Neo program, but I might fork over the money to upgrade to it, as well.

Luminar advertises its Neo program as working as a standalone program, or as a plug-in for Photoshop, Lightroom and Apple Photos.  ON1 provides a means to “pass off” editing to Lightroom, and Lightroom reciprocates by incorporating other programs into its capabilities.

I’ve never found using one program as a plug-in for another useful.  I pretty much get the results I want by using features of one program.  And this is where the real difficult issue comes in for me.  Both Luminar and ON1 are now offering “AI” (artificial intelligence) features, which purport to automate certain tasks.  Luminar is boasting portrait background removal.  ON1 has noise filtering and sky swapping that are quite impressive, as well as an “intelligent” resize capability that allows one to enlarge an older or smaller digital image.  Pretty nifty!

I might not have shaken the tree had it not been for the fact that some of the images I took in Greece appeared a bit lackluster due to the clear skies everywhere.  I started to play with the Sky Swap AI feature in ON1 and it changed my whole perspective on photo editing!  This is the first photo I shot that I tinkered with.  No, it’s not realistic in a very critical sense, but it has a dramatic effect that can’t be denied:

Temple of Athena Nike

The original image, which is yet unpublished, was a bit underexposed and the sky was an even blue.  The second photo I modified was a bit more realistic appearing.

Dusk at the Acropolis

So, now my juices are running and the vendors have done their job:  They have found another way to separate me from my money. Sigh.

But if I can improve even more than above, it will be worth it!

Pics Are Coming…

I have just completed what I think is the longest (in terms of duration) vacation of my adulthood.  Eighteen days aboard a smallish cruise ship, stopping each day at a new Greek island (and a couple of forays into Turkey as well).  As I’ve been telling folks, “Three weeks traveling, and three months of curating the photos!”

Detail from The Erechtheum, Acropolis, Athens, Greece

So, this is the first sample.  Combining three cameras (Nikon D7500, FujiFilm Finepix D45 and iPhone 12 Mini) I shot nearly 1,100 photos.  I will likely be adding the cream of the crop as I go on.

One thing I’m contemplating is creating an album on my Smugmug account of just photos I took of the marvelous little alleys and walkways that are ubiquitous on the Greek isles.  “Μονοπάτι” is one of the words in Greek for “path” (the Greek language is unique and marvelously expressive — no wonder Biblical translations abound — so there could be other words better suited.  For now, I’m going to use “Monopati,’ which translates literally to “one step path.”  Stay tuned!

The Most Expensive Photo I’ve Ever Taken

I was going to title this post, “Worst. Vacation. Ever.” But that only begins to hint at the experience I had. Not given to whining, I’ve already put it in the past, but I want to post The Most Expensive Photo I’ve Ever Taken. Ready? Here it is:

Not much, is it? It’s a pleasant enough scene of a tropical location, looking out into the ocean. But it will never win any photo prizes. Or any other prizes, for that matter. Why it’s The Most Expensive Photo I’ve Ever Taken is the rest of the story.

My plan was to scout out Barbados as a potential remote “work from home” location. To that end, I made the most horrendous travel plans and chose to go while there is a global pandemic scaring everyone. I’m going to blame my temporary insanity on my own cabin fever brought on by working from home for the past six months. But I only have myself and COVID-19 to blame.

The first inkling things were going sideways was when I learned (on my own, no thanks to no notification from the airline) that Air Canada had canceled one leg of my return flight. Wanting (needing) to get home for work, I had to reschedule, and that cost me two days of my trip. No reduction in an already high-priced air fare. My itinerary took me through Toronto, where I had to spend the night in the terminal, because to leave the premises would have required me to quarantine for 14 days. 12 hours in a terminal is preferable. But not comfortable.

When I arrived in Barbados, I had my medically ordered COVID-19 test results in hand (negative) and I showed them to the airport authorities. “These are too old,” I was told. The time needed to obtain the results, plus the long layover in Toronto had caused them to pass the expiration time required by Barbadian authorities, which is within 72 hours of arrival. Not to worry though, I was told. We’ll give you a free test here. You’ll have to wait here for the results, but that should take only 8-10 hours. At least they were kind enough to bring me some food while I waited. And, as I expected, the results were once again negative.

But, I was told, you come from a high-risk country, the U.S.A. So even though you test negative, you may still be asymptomatic, and so we require you to be quarantined for seven days at minimum. And, that quarantine has to be at either a military base, which costs nothing, or at an approved hotel, which I would have to pay for. I didn’t like the sound of “military base,” so I opted for the Marriott, which was one of their approved hotels. They made the reservation, arranged a taxi, and I was taken directly to the hotel, where the desk clerk told me that at least I would have a room with an ocean view. The photo above, is the only scenery I saw for the next four days. It’s out the hotel room window!

Calculating the cost. Well, I’m not going to itemize every little expenditure; that would just as insult to injury. Airfare, lodging, plus non-refundable hotel reservation, pre-paid rental car, room service meals, taxi fare, airport parking as well as the cost to comfort (having to spend two nights in the Toronto airport, having to wear a mask except while eating. As well as while waiting in the Barbados airport and during flights).

That makes it The Most Expensive Photo I’ve Ever Taken.

I Dunno. Alaska.

Starting out with a silly pun (“I don’t know, I’ll ask her”) is probably not the best form to use when writing an online blog, but hey, it’s my blog, and I’ll write the way I like!

Which is a less-than-clever way to introduce my latest missive: My vacation trip to Alaska.

I’m not sure how I came across the cruise deal, or what prompted me to look into it in the first place, but since Alaska was the only state I have never visited, I was interested for that reason if nothing else.

So, on March 29, I booked a stateroom, made flight reservations, and sat back and watched the days on the calendar pass.

I could make this post a lot longer, but I won’t go into the travel issues, so on June 12 I stepped aboard the MS Coral Princess, one of the Princess Cruise Lines ships. My first pleasant surprise was the stateroom. I think my package awarded me an automatic upgrade, so I found myself in a mini-suite, complete with separate seating area, large porthole/window and two TVs!

Caribe Deck (10) Forward 201

For the next week, the ship cruised the “inside passage” making ports of call at Ketchikan, Juneau and Skagway, followed by leisurely rounds of Glacier Bay and College Fjord, finally arriving at Whittier, Alaska. Along the way I visited Creek Street in Ketchikan, the Mendenhall Glacier near Juneau, rode the White Pass & Yukon Route railroad in Skagway (coupled with a bus trip to the Yukon Territory for lunch and photo ops) and roamed the decks as the ship navigated the glacial waters.

Smith (left) and Harvard (right) Glaciers in College Fjord

All in all, it was a very enjoyable trip. The food was great (and I gave myself permission to “cheat” — but still avoided sugary foods, breads, and the worst of the dietary “bombs”), the service was great, friendly and prompt, the weather was terrific (given it was Alaska, so a jacket was handy) and the scenery delightful.

Oddly enough, and I don’t mean this in a negative way, now that I’ve been to Alaska, I have no desire to return. It’s a big world, and there are other places I’d like to see!

Woohoo – NGD!

For those not into the lingo (or the acronyms), NGD is shorthand for “New Guitar Day.”

Yep, I did it again.

Stratocaster XII

Fender Stratocaster XII – 2018 MIJ 12-string

This is a new (2018) Fender Special Run (FSR) Made in Japan Stratocaster XII.  If you didn’t notice outright, look again – it’s a 12-string Stratocaster. That’s what the XII denotes in the model name.

The first guitar I bought brand new was a 1971 Framus 12-string acoustic.  That guitar is now 47 years old.  I played it both as a 12- and as a 6-string for years.  But it’s 100% acoustic, which means no onboard electronics as is common with acoustic guitars today.

1971 Framus 12-string

1971 Framus “Blue Ridge” 12-string acoustic guitar

There is something about the sound of a 12-string guitar. The Byrds, back in the 1960s, used Rickenbacker 12-strings on a number of their songs, which helped give them their “signature” sound.

As I played with the church band recently, I used my acoustic 12-string to add that “chiming” sound to the songs we played.  But I had to sit near a microphone that picked up the sound and broadcast it through the P.A. system.  Sitting, while more comfortable than standing, limits one’s ability to sing.  Especially when also using an electric guitar for other songs.

This is a lower-end Stratocaster 12-sting.  Its body is basswood and the pickups are standard single-coil (Fender makes a slew of pickups for a variety of sounds).  The neck is maple with a rosewood fingerboard (all my other fenders have maple boards, although my Gibsons use rosewood, too).  The neck is a “U” shape, with a 7.5″ radius.  Compare this guitar with my Eric Clapton Artist Series Stratocaster, which has an alder body, a “soft V” neck, 9.5″ radius, and “Vintage Noiseless™” single-coil pickups.  And more features, which add to the cost.

The only colors available for this FSR guitar are Olympic White and Sunburst.  I have an unexplained aversion to ‘bursts, and my EC Strat is Olympic White, so I dithered a bit before buying.  But the seller announced he was accepting offers on the OW, so I offered and we negotiated a price.  Deal!

So now I have two Olympic White Stratocasters.  They aren’t twins, however, as the photo below show.  The difference in neck color as well as the color of the pickguard (it’s listed as “3-ply eggshell,” but it looks Mint to me.  Perhaps when I remove the plastic protector? I consider them “brothers.”  The EC Strat is the older, the 12-string the younger.

two strats

Brothers. Eric Clapton Artist Series Stratocaster and FSR Stratocaster XII

I Sold A Photo!

On Tuesday I received an email from a woman whose email address I did not recognize.  She wrote, “I’m [at the exhibit] and interested in the canvas, Keanae Splash.  How much is it?”

She added that she and her family were visiting from out of town, and “it’s beautiful.”

I replied to her that I hadn’t posted prices on my photos as selling them wasn’t my primary intention.  But that I was open to discussion.  I calculated my cost of printing, mounting, shipping and taxes, added a percentage, and asked her if that was acceptable.  It was.  Deal done.  I asked her to write a check to the church, or to just pay the folks at the coffee shop, which is what she did.

The photo, above, is the piece she purchased.  It was an 11″ x 14″ canvas wrap (sans copyright watermark).  It was taken on my trip to Maui three years ago, and remains one of my favorites from that trip!

One nice thing about photography is that I can make another.  I ordered a replacement canvas from my original source, and it should be arriving today.  I’ll take it to the exhibit and hang it back in its original space, which right now is being occupied by another of my favorite shots.

I confess, I never thought anyone would be interested in buying a photo.  If someone likes one or more and compliments me on it, that’s an ego boost in itself.  But to actually pay for one with the idea of hanging it somewhere?  That’s just out of this world!

A Week Of Firsts

Okay, it’s time for a little chest-beating and peacock preening.  I can do this, of course, because this is my blog, and no one reads it, anyway.

I am happy to report that the past week saw two personal firsts. On Wednesday, August first, my first photography exhibit made its debut.  Fifteen pieces that I curated, had professionally printed, framed (except for the stretched canvas pieces) and mounted went on display at Ridgetop Coffee and Tea, a community gathering place, and a coffee shop in the old, traditional sense.  I had been asked as late as last winter if I would be interested in a show, and my time slot arrived.  The exhibit will go through the end of September.

Many of the photos in the show were taken last year during my photo tour of southern Utah.  I added a couple of others that I think represent my best work, and I have a few that I might rotate out/in as time passes.

Creating the labels for the photos was one of the hardest parts.  I finally found a template in Apple’s Pages page-layout program that worked with Avery labels, and from there it was easy.  I do not have prices listed on the photos, as it isn’t my intent to sell them, but I’ve said I will entertain discussion if it comes to that.

The other first of the week was my performance debut on stage playing guitar with the worship band at Riverside Presbyterian Church.  I credit the band with re-igniting my interest in guitar playing, so after chasing them for a while, and being frustrated by my schedule not permitting me to practice with them, that all changed when I stopped working at the running store.

A short back story:  The band/worship leader was recently burned in a grilling accident, suffering first and second degree burns over a lot of his body.  That put him out of commission for several weeks.  At the same time, one of our pastors is on sabbatical, and the other on a mission trip to Kenya, so church has been running short-staffed.  It was fortunate that I was able to step up to fill in for Sunday’s three services.  I had a ball!  I’m looking forward to doing it again.

Yay, yay, Vacay!

I leave for Costa Rica in two days.  I’ve never been there before.  I decided on this trip a few months ago, and didn’t really get a sense for it until recently. Titled, “A Taste of Costa Rica,” this is a multi-destination adventure with a lot of photo opportunities.

Most of my travel destinations have been to U. S. national parks, or cities (for work, mostly) or for European points of interest (given that I spent much of my youth there).  For a change, I’m headed to Central America; I’ve only been to Mexico and the Caribbean to date.

This will be my fifth trip with Road Scholar.  I have thoroughly enjoyed the previous trips, always having some trepidation before the start, and then having a fabulous time! I now have faith that the trip will be utterly satisfying!  I heard a story a few years ago that demonstrates the passage to faith:

Having trouble with his car, a man asks his neighbor for advice. His neighbor recommends a mechanic. Uncertain, the man takes his car to the mechanic, hoping he will repair the vehicle.  The mechanic indeed, fixes it.

Later, he once again has car problems, and takes it to the same mechanic, hoping once again that the man can fix it.  He does.

The third time he has car trouble, he takes it to the same mechanic, this time with faith that he will fix it.

Due to work considerations, I need to report every time I travel outside the country.  Having to provide hotel names and addresses, I needed to look them up, and the results I found depict outstanding facilities.

Hotel Balmoral, San Jose

Selva Verde Lodge

Hotel Arenal Monoa

Hotel Montaña Monteverde

Wyndham San Jose Herradura Hotel and Convention Center


The first quarter of 2018 is past.  Time to take some time out and recharge the batteries.  And take some good photos, I hope!

Never Enough Dalí

I took my now-annual one-day trip to St. Petersburg, Florida last week.  As a Knight of the Order of Salvador, it’s incumbent on me to attend the annual Investiture and Elevation Ceremony, which takes place every November. It’s also an opportunity for me to view the current exhibit.  This year, it’s Dalí and Schiaparelli.  Elsa Schiaparelli was a fashion designer (1890-1973) who collaborated with Dalí and other artists of her day.

The House of Schiaparelli continues to this day, and some recent designs were on display as well as some of her original Dalí-inspired works.  Unfortunately, the layout of the gallery was such that photographing items was challenging, to say the least.

But there were also Dalí works on display, from the museum’s own collection, some of which I had not seen in years.  And I had never seen the Zodiac.

I found humorous Schiaparelli’s commandments for women.

(Sorry about the awkward angle and distractions.  I couldn’t find a way to photograph this without trampling other exhibit items – which I’m sure the museum wouldn’t appreciate!).

The weather was great, and I managed to do everything I’d set out to.  Lunch at Casey Key Fish House, purchase salami and landjäger sausage at Geier’s, and a last-minute trip to Old Miakka to visit dad.

Puhan Headstone, Old Miakka Methodist Church

Then I attended the Order of Salvador ceremony, and went for dinner. My hotel manager had recommend a Vietnamese “fusion” restaurant, La V, where I had — what else — pho!


Pho at La V

Sometimes the quickest trips are the most satisfying!

A New Appreciation For The iPhone Camera

While I sit in the airport lounge on a four hour layover, I thought I’d take a little time to put down some recent impressions on the iPhone.  You see, for the past two weeks I have been traveling without a camera.  As such.

Yet I still have my phone.  And I found numerous photo opportunities, and the only recourse I had was to pull out my phone.

As has been my experience with cameras (both film and digital) in the past, I have found that activating the shutter is only the second step in photography.  The first is composing the picture.  The third is developing the photo.

Right now, software developers are releasing next-generation photo editing programs, and it’s almost hard to keep up.  Just recently, new and beta versions of ON1 Photo RAW, Aurora HDR and Adobe Lightroom have seen updated versions with new features (and new licensing schemes, in some cases).  Both have released beta versions, and ON1’s beta is public, meaning anyone can download it for free!

My recent travels have taken me to major cities:  New York and Boston.  Armed with only my iPhone 6s and a laptop with photo editing software, I managed to capture some very nice photos.

Fort Point, Boston, MA at dusk

Taken from the Evelyn Moakely Bridge.

Artist Gianna Stewart created this foam “iceberg” that “floats” in the water.

In the photo above, I used Adobe’s new Lightroom CC (the old version is now named Lightroom CC Classic). When shooting a wide shot, Apple’s iPhone exhibits pronounced barrel distortion. I used the Geometry tool in Lightroom to straighten everything — with a single slide and a click!

Manhattan Skyline in Black and White from the original color photograph.

Another example of straightening (I may need to adjust this one a bit more).

Boston Financial District

Finally, an “arty” photo I snapped on the spur of the moment. What two streets typify New York City? (well, maybe Madison Ave. But you take what you can get).