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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

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.

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More Options to Break into Digital Home Recording

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.

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