I will get around to writing my article about WordPress – honest! It’s just that this week I’ve been obsessing a bit about my photography. And when I say obsessing, I mean it.

Looking back over time, I’ve bought lenses on a whim, because people said they were the best, because I thought it would improve my photography, and various other reasons. However, when it comes to my next purchase, I want to buy something I need rather than want.  So I began to wonder whether there was a way to look at my images and see what focal lengths I was shooting at. After all, no point in getting a 400mm f4 if I never shoot over 35mm.

After a fair bit of Googling, I found out how to do it. And I discovered that out of the 2,200 images I’ve shot since January, 39% have been with my 50mm/85mm primes, 22% with my 10-20 wide angle, 14% with the 70-200 & 25% with my 24-105. This is interesting in itself, and I find myself wondering whether the 70-200 f2.8L – as the most expensive lens in my bag – would be better off traded against a better lens in the shorter focal length ranges.

Further analysis based on this shows that 85% of my shots are taken at 105mm and below – and with my 10-20mm having just come back from three months away at Sigma, I can only see this rising. Maybe the 16-35 f2.8 would have been a better choice!

I pulled this data from the Lightroom database. Every shot you take and import into Lightroom is catalogued in an SQLite database. That might not mean much to most photographers, and to be honest, it doesn’t need to mean much. But if you get curious, it means you can extract useful information from that database.

All you really need is a working knowledge of Excel (or some similar program) and half a brain. Best of all, it’s free!

Here’s how to go about it.

The Lightroom Database

First up, you really don’t want to mess with your live database. Unless you know what you’re doing I STRONGLY urge you to copy it to a safe location.

Lightroom stores all your photo information in a Catalogue. You can find out where this is by opening Lightroom, and going to Edit>Catalogue Settings>General tab. This will show you the location of your catalogue file – which is really a database.

The Lightroom Catalog Settings window

Open windows explorer and navigate to that location. Right click and COPY your catalogue then paste it to another folder somewhere safe. Don’t drag it, as it may just move the location rather than copy it.

You then need to download a program that can read SQLite databases. I use this one. It’s free. If you don’t want to use this, Google search for “SQLite Browser” or somesuch.

Extract the downloaded zip file to the same safe folder you’ve got your copied database. Within the extracted files, you’ll find an executable (.exe) file. Click this to run the program.

Once it’s open, you can then do File>Open Database and navigate to the COPY of your Lightroom database. Click “Open”

Reading the SQLite Browser for Lightroom

So now you’ve got a window of what appears to be nonsense. And this is what a database looks like. The good news is that the browser makes navigating through the database quite easy.

Every photograph is catalogued with a series of numbers representing various things. Understanding this matrix allows you to extract an awful lot of information about your photographs. Go to the “Browse Data” tab and look at the dropdown menu next to “Table”. Pick AgLibraryCollection. Here you can see some things that begin to make sense.

SQLite view of the Lightroom Library Collection Window

Any image you have tagged with “5 Stars” for example has a local id of 6. So you could query your database to see how many images you’ve 5 starred.

So how does this help?

Well – if you export a table to a .csv (comma separated variable) file, it can be opened in programs such as Excel, where you can then filter, count, analyse and graph your photographic habits.

The tables I’ve found of use are:

AgInternedExifCameraModel

Here you can see the local id assigned to every camera that has taken a photo that is in your database. I have imported stock images from magazine cds, as well as images taken by other people in my Lightroom Catalogue, so there are a lot of shots from different cameras. As you can also see, there are two entries for a Canon 50D in there. One of them is mine, one of them is someone elses. So this is a good place to start looking at your database, as each photograph will be embedded with the local id of the camera. My Canon 50D has a local ID of 1950. (I know this because 2,158 of the images in my database are taken with it)

AgInternedExifLens

This is the lens data. So your own lenses will be on here, as well as any lenses you’ve tried in a shop (as long as the image was imported into Lightroom) and also any lenses used to take stock images from magazine cds. As you can see from this list, a 300-800 lens is in there! It was used to take a stock image of the moon for a photoshop tutorial illustrated in a magazine. By making a note of the local ID of the lens, you can now query the database for that too.

AgHarvestedExifMetadata

So this is what it’s all about (click the thumbnail for a larger image). This lists all your images along with all the EXIF data stored alongside it. This includes things like focal length, shutter speed, lens used, camera body used etc. As you can see, under CameraModelRef and LensRef, only a number is presented. But that number correlates to the local id of the camera and lens in the above two tables. You can see now that by exporting this table to a program like Excel. You can filter against a particular body and/or lens to see which is more popular. You can also graph all the focal lengths to discover which focal length you shoot at most.

You may have noticed that the Aperture and Shutter Speed refer to something other than the actual shutter speed and aperture in a way you understand it. This is because the EXIF data is represented using APEX values rather than real ones. I invite anyone with a stronger grasp of mathematics than I to read the Wikipedia article on this here or have a browse through this pdf by Doug Kerr. If you want to skip all that stuff though, these can be calculated back to real numbers in Excel using the following formulae:

Real Shutter Speed = 1/(2^s) where “s” is the shutter speed given in the EXIF data

Real Aperture = (SQRT(2))^a where “a” is the Aperture value in the EXIF data

Adobe_imageDevelopSettings

This last table is mainly for a bit more fun if you like this kind of thing. It will show you how many images you’ve cropped (in Lightroom). On it’s own, it’s of limited use, but if you tie the local id of the image, to the EXIF data above, you could begin to see how you shoot. For example, if you’re cropping a lot of shots with a 50mm lens, maybe you want to take an 85mm out with you more often. You can even work out the percentage reduction to get a more in depth analysis of your own shooting habits. In this example, rows 743 & 744 have cropped images. You can see the original size as well as the cropped size.

Analysing the Lightroom Database

So all of this is very interesting, but how do you go about analysing it? If you know SQL, the browser program allows you to write a query, but I don’t so I export it to play around with in Excel.

Initially, you need to export the AgHarvestedExifMetadata to a csv file. To do this, in the SQLite Browser program, simply choose File>Export>Table as csv. You then get a pop up asking which table you want to export (chose the Exif metadata one), give it a filename (not forgetting to add the .csv extension!) and save it to a folder. You can then open it in Excel.

Once it’s in Excel, depending on your knowledge of the program there are several things you could do.

– You could simply Find & Replace instances of the CameraModelRef with the real camera name (for example, replace all instances of 1950 with “Canon 50D). Same goes for the lens.

– You could do “CountIf” statements to count how many images (and subsequently what percentage) were shot with a particular lens.

– You could just select the whole “focalLength” column and put it in a chart to see what focal lengths you shoot at. (If you’re anything like me – with a zoom lens, you’ll find the majority of your shots are at either end of the zoom rather than in between)

– You could look at the Date columns to determine when you shoot more photographs.

I am currently working on a macro driven Excel sheet (above) to pull data based on a series of option boxes. It will probably have graphs, charts and a lot of analysis. But that’s just my idea of fun. This may not be for everyone! I can now turn out graphs like this!

 

Mildly exciting!

If you are interested in a copy of the Excel workbook (and macros) when it’s finished, please pop along to the Facebook page and leave a message. If I get enough thumbs, I’ll post it up for download.

Have a good weekend!

-Sc

Posted by: In: Computers 08 Sep 2011 1 comment Tags: , , ,

So you want your own website, do you?

Why?

Seriously. That is the very first question you have to ask yourself before you begin. Why do you want a website? What do you want to achieve? Without knowing where you are trying to get to, you stand a poor chance of getting there. It sounds stupid, but it isn’t. Once you have a firm idea of what it is you’re trying to achieve, you can get cracking.

I like to tinker. I like to be in control. So I do it myself – and so can you!

A couple of years ago, I went on a course at college to learn how to build a website. I learnt a bit of code, I had a play on Dreamweaver, and then I sat down and realised I didn’t want to spend my life tweaking a website. I like to write, and I like to take photos. I looked at WordPress – a free, open source blogging platform. And here’s how I did it.

Finding The Right Domain Name

A website name is not the be all and end all of everything. It’s a lot about brand these days. Look at some of the biggest brands out there. Orange, O2, Red Bull. Do their names say anything about what they do? Nope. Do you know what they do? Probably.

Having a memorable website name always helps – it’s not always easy to remember the full URL of a website, so something which sticks in the mind is a bonus. For example, you’re unlikely to remember the extension of a URL (the .co.uk or .com or .org), but simply saying to someone, “Just Google Shuttercount and you’ll find the site” will allow visitors to find you straight away.

So if you’re unsure, how do you know what name to use? That’s where Google Adwords comes in. Set up an account with them (which is free), and you’re presented with the following UI

Screenshot of the Adwords menu

Go to the Keyword Tool as shown above, and enter a keyword. In my example, I entered “Event Photography”. Now set aside about an hour to browse the results. I say that, because this tool is very absorbing once you get going. The bizarre phrases people search for always amuse me. You can sort the columns by the keywords themselves, as well as the number of searches made against a particular word.

Screenshot of an Adwords search result

By playing with search terms, you can have an idea of what sort of names you could use that would be relevant to your site. Ideally if you want people to find your site through search engines, you will want at the very least to have a domain name that reflects a little bit about what you do. This is not essential. Getting your site to rank highly in Google searches is an art form. Indeed, a lot of people make a lot of money getting sites onto page 1 of Google’s search results. If it was all about the domain name, then they’d be out of work!

Whilst you’re doing this, open another internet window with a site that allows you to buy domain names. I bought my domain name from 123-reg. Their website is clear and easy to navigate, and it’s quick and easy to search for domain names. When you get an idea, type it into the Domain Name vendors site and see what’s available. Usually, you’ll get a list like this.

A screenshot of doman name search results

In most cases, you’ll be able to get a version of your name with a suffix (.co.uk, .com, .org etc) that’s available. The next question is “Is the name more important, or is it the suffix?” Do you want a .co.uk address more than you want greenbubble? Or do you want the .com address? Or are you happy with .me? I’m not sure what the latest rumours are regarding how important the suffix is, but if you’re reading this, chances are you are starting on your web-presence road. Go with what you like. From the example above, you can see how the more common extensions are taken, and the less common ones (.tv, .uk.com etc) aren’t. Have a look at the site that is taken. If it’s a massive site with a huge web presence, having the same name (with a different suffix) will get you caught up in all their traffic. And unless you’re an expert, you’ll always be in their shadow.

When you’ve settled on a name, or if you’re like me, and have a few ideas, grab a few suffixes. Fill your shopping basket by checking the tick boxes. If you end up with a huge list – don’t worry too much. Brainstorm a few names, then go through your shopping basket and just remove the ones you don’t like. Within a short period of time, they’re yours. Well done! Now what?

Finding A Good Domain Host

So you have a name. What happens if you type it in on the browser address bar?

It’ll go to a landing page at the company where you bought the domain name. Probably, that company has put ads on there. They have basically “pointed” internet traffic to that name at a one page website that has ads on it. You need to get that traffic pointed at your hosting space.

Hosting is different to domain names. The two are completely separate. Buying a domain name is a bit like joining the library. Your domain name is your library card, but you’re not forced to go back to the same library to use it. You can use that card anywhere (within county boundaries – but this is an analogy!).

You can usually get hosting from the same place you get your domain name. I wouldn’t recommend it, but some people swear by it. If you do go down this road, it’s likely the Domain Name company will point your name to your hosting account for you. Job done. If you go with someone else for hosting, all you need to do, is change the DNS setting at your domain name company website. This may sound complicated, but it isn’t. In fact, if you Google “how to point my 123reg domain name to xxx” (where xxx is your hosting service) chances are you’ll find a way. What you are basically doing is this: When someone types your web address into a browser, the internet knows that your name is registered with (for example) 123reg. So off goes the query to 123reg saying “where is this website?”. If your site is hosted by 123reg, they reply saying “It’s here!” and the page is served up. If it’s hosted elsewhere, you need to make a change at 123reg saying “if someone comes to you looking for my website, point them here…” That’s it.

So why would you not have your domain names and hosting under one roof?

Check the internet!

There are a LOT of people who have problems moving their hosting if their needs change. Let’s say the hosting company gets too expensive? Let’s say you want a subdomain, but your current host doesn’t provide them? Let’s say their customer service is really bad and you want to move! If you have a complaint and it isn’t resolved, the only way I know to hurt the company is to stop paying. So guess what happens to your domain traffic if you stop paying! Usually – account blocked. So now, not only is your access to your site blocked, but you can’t access your Domain Provider to point your domain name somewhere else.

If you are hosting with someone else, and you have problems, you can set up the hosting somewhere else, switch your domain name to point at the new site and you’re still up and running. If they shut off your hosting, your site is still live.

So, if you choose to have a separate hosting account, you may have to remember 2 logons and passwords. You may have to search the internet to find out how to point your Domain Name somewhere else, but you’ll figure it out. In about 5 minutes. Maybe less.

So, with that out of the way, how do you choose a host?

For me, I knew I wanted WordPress. I’d run it before, and I hated having to upload stuff to the host, I hated having to go through complex WordPress updates – in fact, I hated the complexity of it all. Then someone told me about cPanel.

I won’t go into this in detail right now. Suffice to say that cPanel makes managing your hosting a complete breeze. So if you’re planning to have WordPress, I would seriously recommend choosing a host that offers cPanel.

When choosing a host, there are going to be a lot of different factors. All of these depend on what it is you want out of your website. Most hosts offer priced packages based on the following:

  • How much hard drive space they give you (This is like your computer hard drive)
  • How much bandwidth you are going to use (This is in terms of people surfing your site downloading stuff. This could be just pages of text, in which case your bandwidth is likely to be low, or you could be allowing people to download full rez images, in which case it may be high)
  • How much you are prepared to pay up front (Pay for 2 years get a discount for example)
  • How many websites you can have (You may want to have multiple websites with different domain names)

Your requirements are likely to be wildly different depending on what your site is trying to achieve. I can’t help you choose the right provider. What I can do is say that this site is hosted by Vidahost. I chose them because:

  • They were value for money in terms of disk space and bandwidth
  • They allow multiple websites on a single hosting. My wife and daughters can have their own sites now without me having to buy anything else (apart from domain names!)
  • They have cPanel
  • Their customer care seems very good
  • They are UK based

This last bit is important. Your website is sitting on your host’s computers (servers). When someone types in your address, the packets that make up your website need to be delivered to them. If my hosting is in Australia and my readers are in the UK, it’s physically further for those packets to go, hence the page may take a while to open. We’re only talking about a second at most, but that can be important. Lastly, if I have any problems, I’m calling someone in the UK.

So for £30/year I get up to 6 websites, 2Gb disk space and 25Gb downloaded data per month. For me, with a blog based website, and images saved for web format (i.e. much smaller in filesizes than a huge RAW file) this suits me perfectly. I spoke to customer care about what happens if I exceed things etc, and they were very helpful. I find this is a good way to evaluate customer service before you buy. Ask some questions – even daft ones. The best, is “How do I point my domain traffic to you?” You’ll need to know that!

Once you decide on a host, you’ll likely get an email with a username, password, and all the information you need to get going. I just checked my email, and it even tells you where to point your domain name to. Bonus.

If you do decide to use Vidahost, they allow me to offer a 10% hosting discount. Use the code “shuttercount” if you decide to take them up. They have some great user forums too!

How To Navigate Your Hosting – cPanel Explained

Still with me? Jolly good!

Before I shut up for now, let’s get WordPress installed.

Your provider should also give you a cPanel logon. It may be the same as your hosting logon – it may be different. It’s a good time at this point to get yourself sorted out with usernames and passwords. You’re going to have a few. Good security would be to have different usernames and passwords for each system, but I work in IT and I know what most people do. One username – one password. If you do go down this road, at least choose something different from your bank logon, your gmail accounts etc etc.

When you enter cPanel, you’ll get a screen a bit like this. You should be able to access cPanel either through your Hosts web pages, or have a dedicated link.

A screenshot showing the cPanel screen

First: down the left hand side, you can see your disk space and your bandwidth use. Keep an eye on this over time. The next bit you will use a lot is the “File Manager”. Click it. It won’t break.

A screenshot of the cPanel File Manager interface

This is a slightly different looking interface to your “My Computer” file structure. This is how you upload/download files to your site. Yep. You don’t need ftp. If you don’t know what that is – smile. You don’t really need to know… Yet…

Your hosting provider should send you instructions on where to put stuff. But all I need to know, is that I put anything I want on my website in the public_html folder. Realistically – once you get WordPress up and running, you won’t need this screen. WordPress can manage uploads for you and puts them all in the right place.

So how do you get WordPress running?

Close the file manager window and scroll down your cPanel. You should see an icon called “Softaculous”. Click it.

A screenshot showing the Softaculous icon

You then get a window open with a big list of all sorts of things. Feel free to have a look at the other stuff. Google will likely be your friend here. To install WordPress, open the Blogs folder (top left) and you can see WordPress. Click that. Then click the “Install” tab.

A screenshot of the WordPress install screen

There is very little you should need to alter here. Leave the installation directory blank. If you’re messing around with add-on or subdomains, this is not the tutorial for you. I’m assuming one site, on one domain name with one installation of WordPress. Your Site Name and Site Description can be changed later within WordPress, so don’t worry about this right now. Change it if you’re feeling daring though.

Change your admin username and password. Do not forget this. Seriously. Don’t.

If you want to put your personal email in the box so you get a notification, that’s fine. Click install.

It’s done.

If you type your web address in now, it should take you to the basic WordPress landing page. You can log in with your Admin username & password.

You now have a WordPress site on the world wide web with your very own URL. Congratulations!

My next tutorial will walk through the basics of WordPress. I’m too tired right now!

Bye!

(2013 Updated review for BWEffects 2 here)

So it’s been a long while since an update to this site, mainly because of work commitments, and the summer holidays.

With the kids heading off back to school next week though, I thought it time to actually sit down and absorb my emails.

And one email in particular caught my eye. Topaz Labs produce plug-ins for Photoshop (amongst others) and I recently purchased their Topaz Adjust plugin for general tweaking of my images. However to hear that they had a Black & White plugin coming up certainly caught my attention.

Now, I understand that some people feel that Photoshop’s Black & White conversion tools are more than capable, but as I used to do a good deal of black & white work, I spent a good bit of time hunting down plug-ins to do the job. Also, I spent a lot of time reading other people’s reviews of these plug-ins.

To most, Silver Efex Pro is the king of B&W plug-ins – however it has a rather prohibitive price tag for the enthusiastic amateur. Currently, it’s showing as about £140 which is a lot of cash for something that could be argued is do-able in Photoshop (or even Lightroom). At the other end of the scale is BW Styler for $50 (about £30) which is pretty good, but lacks the finesse of the Nik version UI (User Interface). There really isn’t much in-between, and for most, it’s a case of messing about with the various options Lightroom and Photoshop have to offer.

BW Effects is an excellent mid priced tool, and may even have the edge over Nik’s offering. Let’s take a look at what it has to offer…

Overview of the Topaz interface.

A view of the main plug-in window

When launching this from Photoshop, it is best to duplicate your image (CTRL+J) into a new layer first. Then click on “Filter”, “Topaz Labs”, “Topaz BW Effects”. This launches the above window. Creating a duplicate layer allows you to make changes without altering your source image, and is always good practice before making any changes.

This interface window maintains continuity with other Topaz products (in particular Topaz adjust) which makes everything a little easier to understand. 1, 2 & 3 are all areas dealing with presets. 2 being a “top level” menu with 3 showing the expanded versions underneath. If you hover over a preset, you can see the effect in the preview window (1). And there are a LOT of presets! What I tend to find though, is that presets are great to give you a launching point, and by selecting a preset, you will change all the sliders buried in the menus (6).

4 is the main window where you get to see your edits and changes as you make them. Left clicking on this image (with no tools selected) will reveal the original image underneath, but if you prefer a split screen view you can click the option in the top right corner of the window. 5 will show you your original image.

6 is where all the business happens. Clicking on a menu header will open up a series of sub menus underneath. Each of these “options” can be toggled on or off with the check box –  a handy feature for turning off an effect quickly.

An expanded view of the main menu windows

So here you can see the screen with the menus exploded. And there are a lot of controls!

Every time you click on a preset, these controls will change, allowing you to “fine tune” the preset to your own preference. You can then go on to save your tweaked settings as your own preset. No doubt over time, the Topaz community will create new ones…

I’m not going to go through each tool here, as it’s probably best to play around with them as you go.

BW Effects – The Verdict?

It’s $60. However until September 18th, there is a significant reduction on this to $30 with the code “bwandbeyond” entered during the checkout stage. This is an awful lot cheaper than Silver Efex Pro – especially if you buy it before 18th September.

But even after that date, $60 for a plugin of this quality is really very good value for money. My pros and cons below all benchmark this plugin against Silver Efex Pro, which is over five times the discounted price!

The Cons…

I’ll do these first, as they are really nit-picky.

– My biggest bugbear with this program is that as you move the sliders, you have to “let go” of the left mouse button before you can see the effect on the screen. Silver Efex Pro makes the changes as you move the slider, so you can get realtime feedback with your mouse moves. BW Effects has to calculate the effect of the change before presenting it on screen, making it relatively slow in terms of seeing your effect.

– The “extras” aren’t brilliant. The borders are fairly plain (black or white, just a simple extended canvas, no fancy border effects), the “Creative Effects” are of limited use and can be easily replicated within Photoshop. Also,I have been really struggling to get the “Quad Tone” feature to work intuitively, although that could just be comprehension fail on my part.

The Pros…

– Controlled masking. The “Local Adjustments” allow you to really selectively edit/retouch areas of your image with Dodge, Burn, Detail and Smoothness sliders. Whilst this is all available in Photoshop, it’s very handy to have in the plug-in itself. Even Silver Efex Pro doesn’t offer this level of control (although it does have selective retouching – it’s just a circle though).

– I love the duo tone functionality. It can be really really subtle and is one of the few B&W plug-ins that makes subtle duo-toning easy.

In closing, I only really asked myself one question. Is Silver Efex Pro five times better than BW Effects? No. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s right up there with it in terms of functionality and useability. The slider issue (which is really just me being grumpy) is the only thing that lets it down.

So. Head off over to Topaz Labs and download the trial. Don’t forget though – if you decide to purchase, and it’s before September 18th, use the code “bwandbeyond” for a $30 discount.

Thanks for reading! Here are a couple of finished images…

Example image for Topaz B&W Plugin

Example image for Topaz B&W Plugin