Short Takes

Short Takes for August 17th

Why aren't you using an SSD?I've had conversations with a couple of friends recently asking whether an SSD is a worthwhile investment. Both seems hesitant for fear of horror stories of data loss. My answer to both of them was, "Wait, you're not using and SSD now? What the hell is wrong with you?"  Seriously thought. Using an SSD as my boot/apps drive was the most noticeable upgrade I've ever made to my computer, and that includes upgrading to a new computer. Boot times, application launch times, general responsiveness of the interface, the complete lack of noise, seriously it's a no brainer.

When my friend Amy had her brand new 15" MBP shipped to me to setup for her I got the chance to see how it felt next to my new 13" Macbook Air.  The MBP had a spinning HD and the Air has an SSD. For crunching video, which is what Amy needed it for, I'd take the MBP and it's quad core i7. But for pretty much anything else, the Air felt WAY faster. I won't ever own a computer without an SSD again. It's that big of a difference. When you go back to a spinning drive and you're waiting for your browser to launch after a reboot, you'll think there's something wrong with it.

I'm currently still using the 80GB Intel x25-M G2 that I bought a couple years ago and have had zero problems with it at all, except that MacOS doesn't support trim (well it does on it's OEM drives with Lion from what I understand). Of the 80GB I've got about 25GB free at the moment, but I'm careful about what goes on there and I don't store much at all in my main user folder.

As for what to buyThe drives based upon the Sandforce controller (Most OCZ, OWC, Crucial, etc) tend to have better benchmark scores than the Intel drives, but I've also heard more weird compatibility issues. Either way, any modern SSD will tear the tar out of any spinning disk, especially at small random reads/writes which is what your computer is doing much of the time behind the scenes. If you've got a decent machine that's less than 3 years old but it's starting to feel slow, try installing an $200 SSD before you go spending 10 times that on a whole new machine.  Here's the latest 80GB Intel drive for $160 at Amazon for the love of Pete.  OK, preaching done.

Disallow Flate plugin problem A couple months ago I wrote a post about a great plugin Adobe released for Photoshop which turned off compression in their PSD file format. This was great because most of the time it took to save big files was not in the writing to disk, but in the compression. So your files are bigger, but you can save in less than half the time.  This isn't a big deal when you're working with a couple of layers, but start doing major retouching on 16bit 25MP files and those 30 seconds feel like a year.

Well I've been happily using it for a while now, but have hit a bit of a snag the past few days.  My files are failing to save, it's not like they're THAT big, only 25 layers or so <wink>. PSD files have a file size limit of 2GB and if you go over it you get a "Could not save your document" dialog box.  This is a known problem and a few versions ago Adobe introduced a new format called PSB (PhotoShop Big) which could handle the large files.  Ok you say, just save it as a PSB. Well I did, only then did I realize that Lightroom, yes ADOBE Lightroom doesn't know what the hell a PSB is so it doesn't include them in it's database.  So now I have to remember what projects final files were PSB files and manually find them in the Finder.  Seriously Adobe, you make these things to work together, that's a pretty big oversight.

Improvised Light

drabblePrintSizesGet the opportunity to take a picture and missing the right light?  A nice big softbox would be perfect, but that's back at the studio. Maybe you've got a speedlight, but you stupidly left your diffuser at home?  Well where there is a will there is a way. Though there are entire sections of the B&H catalog with all kinds of expensive ways of manipulating your light, you don't need to spend a lot of money or any money at all really.  And in a pinch, your imagination can do good things. In it's most basic, light is either diffused or it's not. And that has everything to do with the size of the source of light. Front of speedlight is small and therefore very directional. Sky is big, therefore diffuse. And where there are a ton of ways to make your light bigger, from umbrellas and shoot through umbrellas and softboxes and octabanks and beauty dishes and parabolic reclectors, among many others; For the most part, they're usually pretty subtle variations on the 'make the light bigger' motif.

So there I was at my friend's Hardin and Jenn's this weekend and wanted to take a couple of portraits of them, but didn't have a diffuser with me.  Could have used a nice window of course but instead I tried a technique I've read about on the intertubes. So I grabbed a big white plastic bag from under the sink and cut it into a nice 2x4' white plastic sheet.  Had one person hold the plastic and I or another person held the flash pointed through is and voila, basically I had a softbox. drabblePrintSizes The light hitting his left shoulder and side of his face was from a window behind him.  So, two soft lights for the price of one speedlite.

Is it as soft as a big box with an extra diffusion panel?  No not quite.  But for free and in a pinch, it'll do.  If you zoom into his eye at 100% you even see what looks like a softbox to his right. This is the same lighting that I used on yesterday's 365.2011 of Jenn. In that shot I had the panel and light above the camera looking down as opposed to the side, but that just shows the versatility.  Sites like Strobist and the like post this kind of stuff all the time. And while I wouldn't rely on a plastic bag as my main diffusion source on a big ad shoot, it's handy to know it's an option.

Film or Digital? Quick Update

Per my discussion of film/digital a couple weeks ago, here's a quote from the British Journal of Photography in 1890:

"This newfangled idea of ready-made plates takes all the fun out of photography. The next stage might be a shop to produce prints and lantern slides to order -- but that is too distressing to anticipate."

See?  Stuck in their way curmudgeons have been around forever.