Home » Archive by Category "Digital Recording"

Video Conferencing Options in 2014

In late 2012, we began expanding the Digital Workshop to include more online training options. Since that time, we have held online training classes across the country and continue to improve the way in which we deliver our training. I spent a lot of time researching various video conferencing options to ensure we provided the best online training experience possible. First, I explored some of the free options out there. Being a Google power-user, I started with Google Hangouts. Hangouts is an amazing tool that comes for free with any Gmail account. Hangouts has video chat capabilities for up to ten people, while allowing hundreds more to watch at the same time. Hangouts integrates nicely with your Gmail and Google+ account to allow easy setup and delivery. While Hangouts is extremely easy to use and user-friendly, one of my main concerns with it is that all attendees have to have a Gmail account to attend the online conference. I decided this was too limiting for my audience and continued to search. Join.me is another solid option for video conferencing. Join.me webinars can be attended by anyone and it is very inexpensive for their pro version. It allows full screen sharing and the ability to switch controls as the presenter. Join.me is a great choice for the simplest webinars, but it also lacks some of the pro tools that I was looking for. After a lot of testing, I finally settled on GoToWebinar from Citrix for our video conferencing solution. GoToWebinar is an upgrade from their core product, GoToMeeting, and provides a whole host of video conferencing features including presentation tools, chat rooms, polls, questions, and much more. GoToWebinar works on all platforms including mobile and tablet devices. After a few trial runs, I found that GoToWebinar is just as user-friendly as Hangouts, but with a lot more power behind it. There are numerous options that I can turn on or off for each webinar, depending on the audience and their needs. While it does cost a little more to keep a subscription, I feel that the overall experience far outweighs the additional cost. Since implementing GoToWebinar for our online training classes, we have received overwhelmingly positive feedback from our students. We have continued to improve the experience by upgrading to a High Definition(HD) webcam and HD audio headset, and we are always looking for new ways to improve how we present our classes online. This year, we started renting out our online training classroom to other groups for their online meetings. We have had professional groups and law firms use our classroom to better serve their clients. In a few months, the Entreprenerds group will be using our classroom to provide a virtual book discussion to members across the country. By renting our space, these groups have a low cost way to reach new audiences, all within the comfy confines of Fort Collins. [Originally posted in the Coloradoan on...

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How to Photograph Birds in Flight

Looking to take your bird photography from the beginner to intermediate level? We can help! Photographing birds in flight is very exciting and when you get a great shot you’ll surely say “Wow!” Successfully capturing flying birds requires improving on techniques we introduced in the post Basics of Backyard Bird Photography. We’ll define the intermediate approach with this post and get you all set to step it up a notch with great pictures of birds in flight. Ethics of Wild Bird Photography When photographing wildlife, it is important to approach animals, including birds, respectfully. This is one of the first things we teach students in our “In the Field” photography class along with “leave no trace” ethics. Please do not approach a bird and cause it to react – especially off of a nest – in an attempt to capture a great photo. Even though we know most of you would respect your local wildlife, a friendly reminder never hurts.   Manual Mode For best results when photographing flying birds, embrace manual mode. In this configuration, the camera does not automatically set the exposure – it lets the photographer control the exposure settings. Follow these guidelines: Aperture – use the lowest F/stop your lens will allow, which brings the most light into the camera. Only with a lens of 400-500mm+ will you need to consider bumping up the F/stop to increase depth of field. Shutter Speed – 1/1000th of a second is the minimum, if lighting conditions allow, use 1/1600th or faster. This range will freeze wings in motion. Metering – Spot Metering is key with this intermediate technique. It allows the metering to be based on the bird and disregards the background. It is OK to under- or over-expose the surroundings if the exposure of the bird is just right.   Adjusting ISO To get started with this approach, consider setting the parameters defined above as constants and then tweaking ISO. For example: Aperture F/5.6, Shutter Speed 1/1600th, and Spot Metering – then vary ISO as follows: ISO – values between 100 – 1250 are recommended. On a sunny day, set ISO as low as possible and enjoy sharp images. If there’s a shortage of light, adjusting ISO up to 1250 will let you keep the three previous settings intact to capture the bird in motion with slightly less sharp results, which can be improved in post-processing. For the example image above, the Red Tail Hawk was photographed using ISO 1250 during cloudy conditions. Using manual mode and adjusting the ISO to match the ambient light for this photo was very important such that it rendered in focus during flight.   Auto-Focus Lock Focus is one thing we’ll let the camera do automatically, and it is an essential setting. Today’s cameras are able to keep rapidly moving birds in focus. This is achieved by using an auto-focus lock button usually on the rear of the camera body (Nikon AF-L, Canon AF). Pushing this button tells the camera and lens to keep the bird in focus as the camera is panned to track the bird’s flight. Consider this example with a pair of Snow Geese: The flying birds are sharply in focus while the background is not. Auto-focus lock allows the photographer to pan the camera and still make the most of its intelligence to focus on a moving subject. Additionally, consider investing in a lens that prevents blur while panning. For Nikkor lenses, this feature is call Vibration Reduction (VR); for Cannon lenses, it is Image Stabilization (IS).   Continuous Mode   By this time you may be asking...

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Digital Photography: Leading Lines

A leading line draws the eyes into a photograph and creates a greater sense of depth for the viewer. Leading lines are an element of landscape composition that create a 3D-like feel to a two-dimensional image. It takes practice to develop an eye for composing with leading lines – this technique is more artistic than, say, working with a camera itself. By introducing this compositional technique, we will give you an artistic and creative tool for your photographer’s toolkit.     Lead by Example Consider the above example with the fence and its shadow. Where do your eyes move as you briefly look at the picture? A marked-up version of the image is below that highlights why your eyes move in the direction they do. You can see several different elements walking the eyes to the same area of the image, giving a strong sense of depth. A Little Art History Leading lines in landscape composition have been used for hundreds of years. Let’s take a look at how Claude Monet used a leading line to create the feeling of a path into his painting. The image below shows a side-by-side comparison with and without the leading line. Notice the version on the left has a much flatter feel than the one on the right. The path through the field encourages the viewer to look down the path, and visualize themselves walking towards the poplar trees. Monet has created a feeling of movement. Opposing Lines For our third example, we’re going to introduce an advanced approach to composing with leading lines. Looking for opposing lines – those that draw the eyes in different directions – can create even more depth in your photographs. We’ll consider this picture of Azure Lake and demonstrate the opposing lines. Let’s start by looking at the right-hand side of the image. You can feel the eyes moving towards the lake and off into the horizon. Now consider the lines on the left-hand side – the eyes can follow multiple paths to the left edge of the photo. These lines oppose those on the right. This is especially clear looking at the two lines at the front of the lake. Look back at the original image for 20 seconds. Notice how much your eyes move around the scene? This is encouraged by the variety in lines which create a different feeling than a scene where the lines all head to one point (such as our first example). Including opposing leading lines creates a more complex artistic feeling in your composition. Lead On Keep your eyes peeled for leading lines while out with your camera. Once you recognize them and practice including them in your compositions, you will find it easier to add to your photographs. Be creative and enjoy this new artistic tool that will lead your photography to another...

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Adventures in Long Distance Digital Recording

  [Originally published in The Coloradoan on 8/3/12] As a kid, some of my fondest memories are of my grandfather playing piano when I walked into his house. He was one of my biggest musical influences. The music he played then still shapes my musical tastes as an adult. After Gramps decided to sell his baby grand piano because it needed a lot of work done on it, he invested in a digital piano and some high-end speakers. His idea was that he would use his Mac desktop computer and software called Finale to transcribe music he had written years earlier, along with some new arrangements of classic jazz standards. Finale is used by orchestral composers and can not only record any instrument but can transpose the music to a different key and/or instrument. So, after a trip to Florida to help Gramps get this all set up, we had the digital piano connected to the computer through a MIDI interface, and Finale ready to accept what he decided to play. As this isn’t an easy setup for anyone, let alone a non-techie in his mid-90s, Gramps and I went through the necessary recording process several times to ensure he had it down. To my amazement, he was able to grasp what needed to be done quite effortlessly. I sat back and watched a musical idol of mine finally record on the piano as he had always wanted to, and then transpose it for his clarinet friend so they could both play together. It was truly amazing to see in action. Of course, many weeks after I returned home, Gramps had some technical issues. Something had gotten off in his Finale setup, and, after many phone calls to try to fix it, he was getting frustrated. So, using my super-nerdy skills, I had him use a Web service called LogMeIn, which is a free service that allows someone to login to a remote computer from anywhere. Soon, I was controlling Gramp’ Mac from across the country, acting as his recording engineer so he could focus on playing the piano. It was an amazing example of how far technology has come. We would talk over speakerphone, and I would instruct him on when to start or stop, and he would give me feedback on what he needed to edit or redo. I was able to fix his issues with Finale and get him rolling again so he could do it himself. Since then, Gramps has hit a few more snags while trying to record, but using the same methods we work through them each time. It was one of the most fun and rewarding experiences demonstrating the power of technology that I have ever been involved in. Stu Crair is the owner and lead trainer at The Digital Workshop Center, providing digital arts and computer training instruction in Fort Collins. Reach him at (970) 980-8091 or stu@fcdigital...

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More Options to Break into Digital Home Recording

[Originally published in The Coloradoan on 5/31/12] Being a musician and computer guy, I often face a difficult dilemma when listening to studio music recordings. On one hand, I’m a music purist who loves the sound of analog recordings. There’s a certain warmth to the sounds of the older ways of recording, pressed onto vinyl and reel-to-reel tape. Some of my favorite music comes from eras when instrument tracking was a crazy, new technology. On the other hand, I love what digital technology has brought to the music industry. It has revolutionized how music can be recorded and listened to. Between portable music players such as iPods, and unbelievable software like Pro Tools, there are new opportunities for everyone to create and listen to music like never before. The methods available for recording are also more intricate, while the cost of recording high-quality work has dropped significantly. So, how does one get started with some home recordings today? To balance the old and the new sounds, it’s important to find a way to use analog equipment to capture the older warm tones that analog provides, but ultimately store the music digitially. For the average musician, there are now more opportunities than ever to try home recording. One great example of this is the M-Audio M-Box. The M-Box is a simple, user-friendly piece of hardware that allows a musician to plug in a few channels depending on the size and model of the M-Box directly into an input. It typically comes with some simple recording software such as Pro Tools LE or Ableton Live. You can use MIDI, XLR or quarter-inch input channels with the M-Box, which allows you to connect a variety of instruments or outboard equipment. The M-Box is an amazing tool for anyone looking to get started. But, you may ask, “How do I record so the music doesn’t sound so digital?” Well, this goes back to my original problem. You need to find a way to incorporate some analog equipment before it gets to the M-Box and, therefore, the computer. Using analog pre-amps, compressors, and mics before you send a signal to the M-Box should give you a nice blend of the analog and digital. Of course, the more you’re willing to spend on high-end equipment, the better it will sound. The M-Box is a great way to get started with home recordings, so find one today and get started! Stu Crair is owner and lead trainer at The Digital Workshop Center, providing digital arts and computer training instruction in Fort Collins. Call him at (970) 980-8091 or send email to stu@...

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