Instagram effects with Picnik (Google+ and Picasa)

Do you like the retro/old-school filters like those used by Instagram?  You can use Photoshop actions to replicate similar effects to your photos.  If you’re like me and don’t want to spend the money on Photoshop, give Picnik a try.  There are other options to Instagram you might want to take a look at.

Several effects are available on Picnik.  I like to use the Vibrance effect when colors are flat and I’d like a bit more contrast.

Recall that Google acquired Picnik a little while ago and incorporated Picnik’s features into Picasa Web albums.  Now you can also use Picnik’s features in Google+.

I’ve always been a fan of Picasa.  I only wish that Google incorporates Picnik’s filters into Picasa’s desktop application.  Editing photos online can be a bit slow.  I doubt that Google will add Picnik effects to Picasa since they’re pushing to do everything in the cloud, but one can always hope.

Fleet Week and the USS Carl Vinson

It was Fleet Week in San Francisco recently, and the USS Carl Vinson came into town.  The Carl Vinson gained a bit of notoriety recently as the ship that carried Osama Bin Laden to his burial at sea.

My wife’s friend from undergrad at Cal is currently serving in the JAG Corp on the Carl Vinson, so we were extremely fortunate to have a personal tour of the aircraft carrier.  We got amazing access to the ship and really got an intimate look at what life is like on a carrier.  It was also an honor to meet all of the servicemen and women.

My wife’s friend graduated from Columbia law school and probably could have worked for any big law firm but instead chose to  join the Navy, sacrificing a high paying job, friends and family, and many of the comforts that we normally take for granted.

Even with the rank of a Lt. Commander, she shares a small state room, essentially the size of a dorm room, where she gets the top bunk.  Some officers have to share four people to a room.  The enlisted are much more cramped than the officers.  Keep in mind that this is on a carrier, the largest ship in the fleet.  The heads (bathrooms on a ship) are much like bathrooms in college dorms, just more cramped and dark if you can imagine.

Despite the sacrifices that she’s had to make, she’s still not ready to leave the Navy.  Even after 10 years of serving her country, where work days average 12 hours or more and not being able to see the sun for days, she continues to enjoy her job.

I’m ashamed but very grateful that I have such a comfortable life.  It’s always good to be reminded of this.

NYC 10th Anniversary of 9/11

I was very fortunate to be able to return to NYC on the 10th anniversary of 9/11.  I was living in NYC when the 9/11 attack occurred.  My office was about 1.5 miles north of the WTC.  I can’t believe that it’s been 10 years already.  After all this time, I still don’t like to look at any photographs or watch video footage regarding that day.  It’s hard to truly describe what NYC was like right after 9/11.  The streets were empty like a ghost town – no cars, no people.  If you’ve ever lived in NYC, you’ll appreciate how crazy that sounds.  Ten years later, NYC is as vibrant as ever.  I really miss “the city” sometimes.  Regardless of how NYC has recovered since 9/11, the families who lost loved ones 10 years ago probably continue to suffer in one way or another.  I hope we never forget the sacrifices that were shared on 9/11 and continue to be made to this day.

Free Online Photography Class

Check out the article on Wired: Free Online Class Shakes Up Photo Education.  I really love how online education is growing, especially high quality free education.  I’ve always been a big fan of the Khan Academy.  I hope this trend continues.  The cost of education can’t continue to increase indefinitely (see chart below from Business Insider) – no one will be able to afford an education.  Hopefully, social media will change this.

Panoramas with the Sony NEX

One of the really cool in-camera features of the Sony NEX camera is the sweep panorama mode.  Just hit the shutter button and move your camera from left to right.  It’s so simple and fast and requires no post-processing on your computer – very cool.

I took the following photo of AT&T Park with the sweep panorama mode.  Before having a camera with the built-in panorama feature, I would have used Autostitch on my PC.  Now, I can create panoramas without a PC.  It’s definitely a nice feature to have when you’re on the road or on vacation.

500px – The Next Flickr?

As I mentioned previously, I believe Flickr needs a makeover and adopt new features.  Otherwise, Flickr risks becoming the next Myspace.  The photo-sharing space is evolving with services like Instagram, Color, etc.  Is 500px a viable alternative to Flickr?  In time, it just might be.

500px just raised $525K in venture capital, and the number of users has spiked recently.

The site is relatively new, so there isn’t as much content as there is on Flickr.  I did a search for “San Francisco” and got 139 hits.  The same search on Flickr resulted in almost 7 million hits.  The quality of the photos on 500px, however, is absolutely amazing.

Unfortunately, there are features that are missing from 500px: no geotagging, no face detection, no groups.  I’m sure this will eventually improve, especially now that the company has more cash.

HD Video with the Sony NEX

One of the features that attracted me to the Sony NEX-3, in addition to its relatively compact size, was the ability to do HD video.  Unfortunately, HD video recording with the NEX-3 is limited to 720p  (vs. 1080p with the NEX-5) at 30 fps.  Basically, this means that my videos won’t be as nice when shown on a big screen TV, but on the web, they should look just fine.  Apparently, editing 1080p videos can be a pain since they can take up a lot of memory anyways.  Take a look at the enclosed videos to see some amazing work being done with the NEX cameras.