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Urban Thought

Tuesday
Feb282012

Lets Stay 2gether

Saturday
Jan072012

Filterstorm Pro-A Very Exciting ipad Photography App

The ipad 2 has shown itself to be an incredible, magical device that can do so many things, the mind boggles.  But in the area of photography, it has especially shown its truly outstanding ability as an editing, creating and viewing tool.  Its seems like every day a new photo app arrives at the app store and one can be overwhelmed by the sheer numbers to chose from.  However, in my opinion, there is one editing tool that stands head and shoulders above the rest.  That would be Filterstorm Pro.  

   Filterstorm Pro, by designer Tai Shimizu, has arguably been called "photoshop for iOS".  And that it is to be sure.  But in the ipad, it is so much more.  Because of the special properties of the ipad-the ability to pinch and expand by a simple finger movement, the ability to enlarge to reveal minute details in a picture, and the vivid screen display, the editing capabilities of this deep app shine through like no other format.  

   I use FP in conjunction with iphone 4 which enables me to take a picture with a pretty good pixel camera and using icloud, that photo automatically shows up in my ipad's photo stream via wifi.  From there it is a simple thing to copy it, open the app, and paste it into the clipboard.  It then shows up in a 'collection'.  It is this collection/folder that is the starting point for your editing, and lets you store multiple versions of one image.    

   And now is when the magic begins.

   When the image is loaded into the editing window, it appears in vivid display on the right, and to the left there is a series of options on a panel- crop, scale to fit, rotate, straighten.  That is the canvas tab.  There are 2 others, history and filter.  Selecting the 'filter' tab reveals an inclusive array of editing filters.  These are brightness/contrast, curves, hue/saturation, white balance, sharpening, blur, black & white, clone, to name a few.  You can also add text to your photo as well as put a vignette around it and posterize to give it that 'painted by Monet' look.  

   One of the coolest attributes of these filters is that you can apply any effect selectively as in a mask, applying the effect to a portion only of your photograph.  And you can blend this in as well.  

   One filter I especially like is 'curves'.  You are presented with a small window showing a color graph and a line across it with a dot in the middle.  You pull the dot around with your finger and see the exposure and color changes in real time on the image.  This works real well for right brain types like me who sometimes operate by shooting from the hip and feeling with the gut.  I'll pull the dot around until it 'feels right'.  Unscientific yes, but totally sensible for an artist.  You also have the option of seeing the editing on either side of the image, viewing the effect on one side and the original on the other, or going full screen.  You may also 'batch edit' a collection of images, applying whatever effect/enhancement you like to an entire collection and then upload them to whatever medium you desire-Facebook, Photobucket etc.  

   Filterstorm's export features are very impressive.  You can export back to your photo library, send images to DropBox, or upload straight to Flickr.  

   I have barely scratched the surface of this incredible app.  It is designed for the photo-journalist and/or professional, however, for anyone who wants to create art out of their photographs, share their pictures and make something 'stand out' I highly recommend this app.  It does have a bit of a learning curve however it is very forgiving and after a few go's, anyone who is familiar with iphone photo apps or has a desire to learn can be up and running in no time.  

   Filterstorm Pro can be purchased in the App store for $14.99.  A pittance for such a great tool! 

Sunday
Apr242011

Video for my song "Paris, Only You"

This is a promotional video for my song "Paris, Only You", about a man who meets a girl in Paris and has a love affair.  But its really two love affairs, one with the girl and the other with Paris, the city of Romance and Light.  One love affair ended, the other continued, but whenever he thinks about Paris, he thinks about her.  If you like this, hit the 'like' button! 

Thursday
Apr212011

Pro Hdr and ProCamera, 2 Awesome photo apps!

   In the smart phone world, technology is doubling and doubling again exponentially.  Every day hundreds of new apps are submitted and added to the  iphone's portfolio.  Currently, as of April 2011, there are over 350,000 of them.  There are literally hundreds of photography apps doing everything from creating vintage photo booth effects to full on editing.  The state of the art in photography is HDR.  Professional photographers have always rolled their eyes when they hear about the latest app touting HDR.  This is because true HDR is produced by either using two cameras, or two shots using different light settings and blending them together.  An app has never been able to faithfully recreate that.  Until now.  Instead of raising their eyes, Pro Hdr is raising eyebrows.  And here's why.

    Pro HDR, $1.99, takes an amazingly good facsimile of an HDR photo using the iphone’s camera.  HDR stands for High Dynamic Range Imaging.   What that means is the camera takes two pictures, a light one and a dark one, and then blends the two, combining all the range of light in the image.  What is produced is a shot that contains all the ranges of available light.  Ansel Adams invented the first true application of this discipline in the Zone System.  His black and white photographs contained the entire spectrum from pure white to pure black and all the shades of gray in between.  HDR does the same with color.  And Pro Hdr does it with the iphone.  A direct shot can be taken using the app instead of the iphone camera, or pictures can be loaded from the iphone’s photo library.  When the screen is tapped to take a photograph, the photographer must remain still while the app analyzes the exposures.  It then takes 2 shots and processes them together.  This is the Auto Mode.   Once the shot is taken or chosen, Pro Hdr gives  you  5 tweaking options- brightness, contrast, saturation, warmth and tint.  You then have the option to save.  You can also load from your camera roll, clicking twice on the picture and the app creates the same process.  The shot can now be edited the same way.  So though the app takes a good HDR image, direct or from the camera roll, a person still has the option to edit. 

    ProCamera, $2.99.  ProCamera has 2 modes, expert and regular. Regular steps the complexity down for the average person that just wants to take a nice shot with their phone.  ‘Expert’ is for the person who wants more control and more features.  The controls are intuitive and meld with the central template of the iphone.  You can adjust the 'white' balance, which is basically exposure, as well as the focus by dragging 2 boxes around with a finger swipe.  Once the desired look is achieved, you use the white balance button and it locks in.  A shot can be taken by touching any area on the screen, as well as fast multiple shots.  You can also shoot video with the exposure you desire by using the same locking boxes.  Some of the features are antishake, selftimer, multishot, power zooming and fullscreen trigger.  There is also an ‘album’ option where pictures can be loaded from the iphone camera roll.  Editing such as cropping, rotation, color and light adjustments and effects like sepia and other vintage modes can be applied there.  There are so many things a person can do with this app; it’s really like having a professional studio inside the iphone. 

    All the photographs created by using these 2 great apps can be saved to the iphone camera roll, emailed, or uploaded to facebook.  Your artistic imagination is the only limitation to what you can do.  You can even take a shot with Pro HDR, save it, and then upload it to ProCamera where you can tweak it, edit it, colorize it with the ‘special effects’ and re-save it.  If you want to kick your photography up a notch, if you are an “I” journalist, a professional photographer or someone who wants the simplicity of not having to take your SLR or point and shoot with you everywhere, you need to check out these iphone apps.  The smart phone camera has finally entered the realm of serious photography with Pro HDR and ProCamera. 

 

 

Sunday
Apr172011

Some tips on increasing traffic to a blog

   People start a blog for many reasons, personal satisfaction, a way to keep friends and relatives informed on what they are doing,ie, staying in touch, as a way to make money, a creative challenge. Most of them however, have one thing in common-they want traffic.  And most of them experience the same maddening frustration, the same rubix cube challenge, how to get it.  Because traffic is the holy grail, the bubbling wellspring for blogs and bloggers that opens doors, gives validation and may end up paying the bills.  Even if you are doing it for the simple reason of publishing your thoughts for friends to see, it soon becomes apparent that blogging is a lot of work and and if you don't put in the work, no one will come, even your friends. Little traffic soon becomes no traffic and the blog dies.  No one wants to go to work in a museum vault unless one is a scholar or a well paid janitor.  On the other end of the spectrum, if you blog to make money, traffic is a huge consideration.  So how does one get it?  

   The first place I launched my blog was Facebook.  After some research, I found that at this time, it is for most people as well.  If your blog is a commercial/business blog, Facebook has a unique business page dedicated to talking about your business.  Here, you can add links to your site.  Facebook was the first place that came to my mind.  And why not?  After all, its the number one social network site in the world, siting a half a billion active users.  As a newbe blogger, I assumed that I would post my brilliant content and ALL my friends, a paltry 92, would come there for pearls of wisdom and scintillating entertainment.  And they would share it with their friends and so on.  It would start a chain reaction of sorts.  In that vein, I also 'friended' friends of friends, (they all accepted) and they would of course be interested in what I had to say.  Unfortunately my initial optimism was quickly dampened.  

   The problem with Facebook is that you can only get so much traffic from it, even if you had 597 friends.  And you have to work for that traffic.  I would post my content on someone's wall with a catchy comon to attract them, I would send personal messages with content I thought someone might like etc.  My real friends have supported my blog, but very seldom did the 'friends of friends'.  And even if they did, you cannot rely on them passing on the word.  So, though Facebook is a fine place to launch a blog, establish a brand and work out the kinks, it is not the place that is going to get you increased traffic.

   Another way is if you are a member of a message board.  I am a member of long standing in a biker board.  So I have used that place to post entries on my blog.  But, though they are all great long time friends, there are limits.  You must target your viewership.  My blog is a city-centric theme and my most popular section is food and cooking.  And though bike riders love to cook and eat, they might not be that interested in reading about the virtues of a fine French wine.  So unless I write about motorcycles, or a great steak, I will get traffic, but only modestly.  

   What you need is traffic from all over the net, from all over the world and direct uniques.  And you want it coming in 24/7, not just when you post a new entry.  You want to wake up in the morning and view your stat page and see that during the night while your were sleeping, 60 or 660 people visited your site.  You want your blog to become a vortex of energy and information that people you don't know come to YOU.com to see what you have to say and to offer.  It has been said that one doesn't get respect in their hometown and unless you are happy being a small fish in a small pond, you must find a way to reach people in other ways.  You must venture out to 'other towns' and you must let other sources do the heavy lifting.  

   I have found that submitting articles in article hubs like EzineArticles.com and Articlebase etc is a very good way to increase traffic to a blog.  As a matter of fact, at this time, I can think of no better way.  I have seen my stats double and triple in no time at all by simply submitting to these sites.  What they do is act as a hub where sources all over the world come to find pertinent articles on any given subject and re-publish these articles on their sites.  They are useful in other ways as well.  Because of their editorial standards, they tend to hone your skills as a writer and increase visibility of your content on the World Wide Web.  On many of them, such as EzineArticles, you cannot post the link to your site directly in the article body, however, they do allow you to in the author bio section, and it is from that section that readers will click on your site if they like what you are saying or what you may offer.  One thing they do not do is attract web crawlers, robots or 'bots'.  The reason is that when you submit to a hub site, that counts as 1 submission on the web.  So, when your article is reprinted, the site that publishes it receives the subsequent bot attention.  Robots are useful in that search engines like Google use them to index sites and content.  A lot of crawlers lets the engines know that people are interested in your site and eventually a person only has to type in 'JohnSmith.com' and many of your posts will come up by themselves.  This will result in more direct traffic, and will also call up articles submitted to the hubs.  

   So robot traffic is very important in blog building and that IS where Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites do help because your link posted there is always direct to your blog.

   A couple of other ways are to ask friends who have sites to add your link to theirs, in a quid pro quo. The more linkage, the more robot attention.  Posting on other sites has also been mentioned as a way to establish community and reputation.  I have not used this method myself but I intend to.  I hear it works very well.  

   The idea is to do whatever it takes to get your name out there.  You must write good content, you must have interesting ideas or a good product to sell, but you must always pay attention to the other part of blogging which is promotion.  Even if you have nothing to sell, the very idea that hundreds of people every day from all over the world are listening to what YOU have to say, validates your dream of being a writer.  Follow your dreams, but do what it takes to make them come true.