Sunday, March 28, 2010

GIMP - The GNU Image Manipulation Program

Since even before I got back into photography in a serious way, I still had a need from time to time to edit images or make graphics from scratch. Being somewhat cheap, I did some looking around to see what the open source and freeware community had come up with as an alternative to Adobe's Photoshop. That's when I found GIMP - The GNU Image Manipulation Program, a program I continue to use.

It is sometimes called the poor person's photoshop, but to me it really is a good alternative. And it's free. You can use layers, manipulate tone curves, saturation, do all the sharpening you want, decompose to RGB and LAB, and the list goes on. Thanks to its open design, there are scads of plugins available, many of which offer pretty advanced features. I often use:

If you're a photographer shooting RAW (in my case, Nikon NEF), GIMP integrates with UFRAW. UFRAW is, I guess, the poor person's equivalent of Adobe Camera Raw.

Like many advanced software products (and I guess imaging products in particular), it has a pretty steep learning curve but there are many tutorials and resources out there to get you going.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Nikon SU-4 Wireless Slave Flash Controller

I've lately been doing a lot of messing around with off-camera flash in my photography.

I have bought and used the Nikon SC-28 TTL Remote Cord to take the flash off the camera, but you're limited by the length of the cable. Since my Nikon D60 will not act as a commander for the Nikon Creative Lighting System, I was looking for some other way to get some distance from my camera to the flash.

After a visit to Henry's, I picked up a Wein Hot Shoe Slave. It has a slave sensor and is supposed to fire the flash when it detects another flash (in my case, the on-camera flash set to low power). Well, that's the theory. The damn thing didn't work. It would fire an old (60s era) Sunpak from the PC cord, but nothing would fire from the hot shoe. Thinking it was perhaps a bum unit, back to Henry's I went. We tried another Wein unit but with no luck at all. We tried a "peanut" slave unit and a PC to hot shoe converter, but also no luck. The things generally look like a piece of junk and seem to perform that way as well. Thinking that was the end of the line until I get a Nikon D90 (which can control my Nikon SB-600 flash remotely), the sales guy mentioned he had a Nikon SU-4 Wireless Slave Flash Controller in their used gear section. We tried it and it worked. It worked well. And was less expensive than the silly Wein hot shoe slave.

I've had it for just over a week now and I'm pretty happy with it. It's hard to find out a lot of info about them on the internet, since they've generally been used with pre-digital flashes. Most hits in a Google search or a Flickr search lead to discussions of the Nikon SB-800's "SU-4 Mode", which fires that high-end flash as though it's on an SU-4 unit.

So to help anyone who is looking for info on this unit, here is what I've found out:

  • It is not a dumb slave, in that it just sends a fire signal to the slaved flash when it sees another flash. On Auto mode, it tells the slave flash when to start firing and when to stop. If you put the included diffuser over your built-in flash, it does a reasonable facsimile of TTL.
  • In Manual mode, it will just send the fire signal so you can use full manual controls on the slaved flash. I expect you can use this as a slave for any other brand of flash.
  • It is very small and easy to lug around. The feel of the thing is pretty solid.
  • It is very adjustable: since you need to have the sensor point in the direction of the master flash, the hot shoe rotates and the sensor rotates.
If you're looking for more info on the SU-4, check out Nikon SU-4 Notes and you can get a copy of the manual here: Nikon SU-4 Manual.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Brunch in Halifax

When I was growing up, brunch always meant expansive buffets and eating until you burst. You can find that in Halifax, particularly on days like Mother's Day. But for every week, "brunch" means a late breakfast.

Most Sundays for the past year, I've gone for brunch with friends. We started going to the Old Triangle, mainly because a friend of one of the brunching friends works there. The food is generally good, but it didn't take long to figure out they're really not that interested in feeding people brunch. One week, we got there and were told there would be no eggs because they were expecting to be busy and eggs take too long in the kitchen. Umm. Ok. Then that became a tradition of not being able to get the best items on the menu. That ended our regular attendance at the Triangle. Haven't been back since.

Next, we tried the The Argyle Bar & Grill. Popular spot, good food, nice variety of draught beer but some serious issues with the service. Our experience culminated with atrociously slow and pretty rude service on our last visit. Scratch The Argyle.

Then, we headed to Your Father's Mustache for a couple of weeks. The brunch was good (though the hollandaise sauce on the eggs Benedict sucked), but the place was too crowded and loud.

Most recently, we've been gong to the Armview by the Rotary. Good breakfast, good lunch, good service. All 'round a good spot. The only downside is that the place is pretty busy, but worth the wait.


Orange tulip petal on white lit from belowIf you're interested in creative use of flash in photography, you definitely need to bookmark Strobist and the companion Flickr group Strobist.

The website/blog has regularly updated content and also has some great tutorials to get you started. Check out Lighting 101 and Lighting 102 for a complete overview of taking the flash off the camera and exploring what you can do with small flashes.