Photo of the Day: Subway Train Milan

Subway Train Milan

Subway Train Milan

I was surprised at how efficient the Milan subway was.  It was very efficient.  So much so that you could almost set your watch by them.  Lots of trains running on time made it very easy to get around Milan at any time of day.  We used the subway all day to get around.  Yes, it’s covered in graffiti but even the graffiti had a color and style.  The word graffiti is derived from the Italian language.

If you are in Milan don’t hesitate to use the subway.  Yes, it can get busy, but that is the same in every major city in the world.


Happy Birthday America!

Photo of the Day: July 4th, Happy Birthday America

Happy Birthday America!


July 4th, Happy Birthday America

So it’s the Fourth of July and what could be more American than Mickey Mouse?  So here’s a photo of a refrigerator magnet I have of Mickey.  I thought about a photo of a flag but I’m guessing that’s been done.

A lot of people get confused about Disney Land and Disney World, and which one is in California and which one is in Florida.  Here’s an easy tip so that you never show up at the wrong one.  Disney LAnd is in LA and Disney wORLd is in ORLando.  Simple, right?




Photo of the Day: Deck Chairs in Hyde Park

Deck Chairs in Hyde Park

Deck Chairs in Hyde Park

It was an overcast all-but rainy day in London sometime in late April when I was walking through Hyde Park on my way to the Royal Albert Hall.  There were these two deck chairs just randomly sitting there just staring out over the Serpentine.  No one sitting in them and no one even near them.  They looked like they there in preparation for something that hadn’t quite happened yet; perhaps just sunlight would have been all it would have taken.

Any way they stood out and I snapped them.

Photography Techniques: Your Camera Dial Explained


What do all of the selections on your camera dial mean?

There are a bunch of letters littering your camera dial. What do they all mean and why are they there? There are too many cameras and settings to cover every camera so here are various settings that can be found on many of the Canon cameras on the market today.

Scene Intelligent Auto Mode (AKA the “Green Zone”)

This automates everything. Auto Picture Style, Auto Focus, Auto ISO, Auto Shutter, Auto Aperture, Auto White Balance, etc. When you need something quick and don’t want to worry about settings this may be a good choice. When you want to reproduce a point and shoot, set it and leave it then this may give you worry free shooting. One caveat is that it will only save JPG files in this mode.

Program Mode

By choosing this mode you are once again giving the camera the ability to automate all of the functions. The difference between this and A+ is that now you do have the ability to make adjustments. You can adjust your focus points and should you need to raise or lower your exposure then you have that ability using the camera’s main dial to change exposure and the camera will factor in any change needed to get the right shot automatically.

Neither A+ or P may be right for you or for any given situation but they are both there as ways you can broaden your options and quickly get the shot you need at any time.

Shutter Priority or Time Value

In situations where the shutter needs to be given priority over the other settings you can turn to TV on your dial. This gives you complete control over the speed of your shutter. Say you are shooting a sporting event outdoors and there is a lot of very fast action that you want to capture. With a very fast shutter speed everything can look like it is standing still which is not ideal for some sports. You want to be able to feel the speed and yet freeze the parts of the action that make sense like a race car, runner, speed boat, etc. On the other hand a slow shutter speed may introduce too much time for you to be able to reasonable capture the action without everything becoming blurred. So many sports require a very specific shutter speed to capture the best of the action. With TV you have that control. Sports are just one example of where TV can be a good choice on your dial. TV stands for Time Value and this name comes from the fact that you are prioritizing the shutter time opening and closing.

Aperture Priority or Aperture Value

This mode gives you the ability to drive all other settings around your aperture. You choose where to set your aperture and the camera will make the necessary adjustments to the other settings to get the best shot. For example a good use of AV mode may be that portrait shot where you need to be ready and in a position to take a shot quickly without needing to make a whole lot of adjustments. Point, adjust your aperture and shoot. On the Canon 5D Mark III the speed dial on the back of the camera is easily accessible and right there when you need to make quick finite adjustments to the aperture.

Manual Mode

Everything is adjustable, all of the time. My best suggestion when using Manual mode is to plan ahead. Set up your camera in advance for the type of shoot that you are going to be doing and make minor adjustments as you need to on the fly. If you get to a shoot and have nothing prepared then you can waste time having to run through settings and changing things. This can mean that you can miss shots. If what you are shooting is not staged; like a sporting event for example then great shots can be there and gone by the time you get set up. Plan ahead and let Manual Mode work for you by making a comprehensive set of options available to you, but by preparing you are limiting the work needed to get the most from the camera.

Bulb Exposure

This mode will allow you to take long exposure shots up to and beyond the standard 30 secs built into the other modes. As long as you hold down the shutter button the shutter will stay open. On the Canon 5D Mark III the length of the exposure time will be displayed on the LCD panel. However be aware that you should not use the light on the an LCD panel as the camera will pick up that light and potentially ruin your shot. It may be best to have another way to time the length of your exposure.

Here are a couple of other tips when using Bulb mode: Most cameras will recommend that you turn your lens Image Stabilizing mechanism off. Bulb mode is best used when you have the camera mounted on a tripod.

C1, C2, C3
Custom Shooting Modes

In order to use C1-3 effectively you will need to register your settings in the camera menu. These three modes allow you to store settings for various types of shoots. For example if you are are a portrait shooter but also shoot sports and landscapes you can set up your camera for your portraits and then in the camera menu store that to C1, and then set it up for sports and store in C2, etc. As I mentioned earlier when using your manual Mode one of the best ways to help the camera to help you is to plan ahead. By storing settings appropriate for different types of shoots you can quickly give yourself a starting point to work from. Think of Custom Shooting modes in the same way you think of Bookmarks in your browser. Rather than having to Google everything your browser allows you to save links to the websites you use most often as a convenience. Your camera is allowing you to save your settings for the types of shoots you do the most.

The above settings are from one of my Canon cameras. Each camera and each camera manufacturer provide different settings but there is a lot of overlap (with perhaps some differing nomenclature).

For reviews and more information on some of the Canon equipment I use please visit my YouTube channel here. I hope you found this useful.




















Photo of the Day: Sforza Castle

Sforza Castle

Sforza Castle

In the heart of Milan, Sforza Castle is lit nightly to showcase it’s beauty.  In the fashion capital of the world it fits right in.  Bathed in light the green grass, the brown walls and the blue light in the turret coordinate and contrast with the straight lines, curves and delicate random texture of the walls.

Milan is a big city and the castle may well be one of the oldest parts and consequently sits in the heart.  It’s a gem to look at in the front and during the day the gardens in the back provide a wonderful respite from the hustle and bustle outside.


Crime and Temperature

Travel Tips: Crime and Temperature

Crime and Temperature

Crime and Temperature

Recently we took a look at the language barrier and how if you are an English speaker you really should have very little trouble traveling the planet and being able to communicate to people. If you make any attempt whatsoever to speak in the local language then you will be way ahead of the game. This week how about your safety? Which countries are safer than others? Well here’s some data and some observations.

Back in the early 80′s Siouxie and the Banshees released a song called 92 Degrees. It was written around the premise that when the temperature in any place reaches 92′ Fahrenheit the murder rate shoots up. Just how safe are the places of the world and how does temperature affect our sensibilities??

I compared data on the crime rates of countries to their average yearly temperature. Well, yep there were some surprising results. Now bear in mind this is all pop-data and just me having a look at various information. I’m not a statistician and so this is not scientific and it doesn’t consider all of the facts, etc. However it does appear that there is a big correlation between temperature and crime.

To test this theory I divided the countries into groups based on their average yearly temperature. I ended up with six groups:
>5′C, <10′C
>10′C, <15′C
>15′C, <20′C
>20′C, <25′C

Then I averaged the crimes rates for countries by their respective groups and it was interesting. Of course not in any way scientific but from a pop-data perspective interesting. There is a clear differentiation between those countries in the top three groups versus those countries in the bottom three groups:

<5′C = 56
>5′C – <10′C = 52
>10′C – <15′C = 62
>15′C – <20′C = 94
>20′C – <25′C = 99
>25′C = 91

So instead of 92′ Fahrenheit it seems that actually 15′ Centigrade is the new crime demarker! The crime rate in countries with an average temperature of below 15′C is almost 30 points better than those countries with an average temperature greater then 15′c! 30 points! that’s significant. Having said that as you will see below there are countries in the top 10 most dangerous and safest (By Intentional Homicide Rate) from all climates!

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime the Top 10 most dangerous countries by Intentional Homicide Rate are (per 100,000 population):
Honduras 91.6
Venezuala 79
El Salvador 69.2
Ivory Coast 56.9
Belize 41.4
Jamaica 40.9
U.S. Virgin Islands 39.2
Guatemala 38.5
St. Kitts and Nevis 38.2
Zambia 38

And the Top 10 safest countries by Intentional Homicide Rate are (per 100,000 population):
Monaco 0
Palau 0
Singapore 0.2
Japan 0.3
Iceland 0.3
Hong Kong 0.4
French Polynesia 0.4
Bahrain 0.6
Austria 0.6
Guam 0.6

I hope this information is useful.

Chinese Lanterns

Photo of the Day: Chinese Lanterns, Italian Style Hotel in the USA?

Chinese Lanterns

Chinese Lanterns in an Italian Style Hotel in the USA?

Yes, as odd as it sounds; but hey it was Las Vegas so perhaps I should have expected the unexpected. The Venetian during Chinese New Year, natural light coming from a skylight and the lanterns contrasted against the blueish light.

Co-joined with it’s sister property The Palazzo, this particular section is on the long indoor section that connects the two hotels.  It is filled with high end retail, restaurants and let us not forget the gambling!  No reason to leave the hotels complex whatsoever as there are convention facilities, first rate entertainment and even a gondola ride!



Photo of the Day: Food Truck Italian Style

Food Truck Italian Style

Food Truck Italian Style

Last week I talked about the way Italians seem to have an innate sense of style.  Style that they have brought to many things over the centuries.  That’s not to say that everything Italians do has great style.  Just look at this food truck sitting outside Duomo Cathedral in Milan.  It’s like a box on wheels and they are selling hot dogs of all things.  Of all the great food in Italy and they have hot dogs.  It definitely stood out and that’s the reason I snapped it.



Can I Fly Direct?

Can I Fly Direct?

Have you ever wondered why it is that (unless you live in Atlanta and are flying to Dallas) you have to fly through one or more US cities in order to get to your destination?
It’s more efficient for airlines to consolidate passengers so they have set up cities all over the country that act as a distribution point for their flights and passengers.  Most of the major hubs are also the home of the particular airline:
American – Dallas
Delta – Atlanta
United – Chicago
United (Continental) – Houston
Southwest – Dallas (Love Field)

But there are other smaller hubs that are simple good jumping off points:
American – Chicago
American – Los Angeles
American – Miami
Delta – Detroit
Delta – JFK, New York
Delta – Salt Lake City
United – San Francisco
United – Washington, Dulles

So flying direct can be a quicker way to get to your destination but sometimes it’s just good to break up an extremely long journey by changing planes.  For a full list of destinations and the airlines that call them home/hubs click here:

If you do have to stop over somewhere here are a few tips on how to make your airport transition easier.
Airlines food may not have gotten any better but Airport food certainly has.  Now many airports features the best of local cuisine.  For example my home town airport Austin Bergstrom has satellites of some of the best restaurants in town.  Amy’s Ice Cream, Salt Lick. Take advantage of some of the local food delights.
It is a great for people watching, if not the best place to people watch.  People from all walks of life now travel by plane for leisure or necessity.  Airports have a front row seat to view the global village.
One way to get a little extra space is to avoid the throngs that sit right at the gate.  Sit across the aisle from your gate.  Somewhere you can see the progress as the your gate gets ready to board people, people departing from the previous flight, announcements and gate changes.  But with a little extra space to spread out, power outlets, etc.
Here is Travel & Leisure’s List of Best US Airports.  I noticed that none of the airports on the list are major hubs.

So hubs making flying less expensive.  At least you can check your bags all the way through now unless you are going through customs.

RAW versus JPG

Photography Techniques: What Are RAW Files?

What are RAW files?

RAW is the general name for any image file that a DSLR creates that has not been processed. For example, point and shoot cameras will typically apply a blanket picture style to your photos before saving them in the JPG format. That picture style can increase saturation so that the colors are more vibrant. This helps to reduce any post processing and works just fine for most people with a point and shoot. In DSLRs you can choose from a myriad of options to get the result you want. RAW is just one of those options and it delivers what the camera sensor sees, unaltered.

RAW is not an industry standard file format like JPG for example. The JPG format has a set of specifications created by a governing body.  This means that JPG files can be shared, edited and read in any number of applications that conform to the JPG standard. RAW files and the specifications that define them are all uniquely the property of the individual camera manufacturers. So a RAW file created by a Canon camera is not the same as a RAW file created by a Nikon camera. Canon currently creates a .CR2 file extension and Nikon creates a .NEF file extension, although both are considered RAW. Both are loosely based on the TIFF format (Tagged Image File Format) which is widely accepted as an extremely strong and comprehensive image format. But both Nikon and Canon’s RAW files are tweaked specifically for their cameras. In fact the RAW files created by these manufacturers have been known to vary from camera to camera.

Adobe has their own RAW format called DNG (Digital Negative). Their argument is, because RAW files created by Canon and Nikon for example are proprietary you may be held over a barrel at some point in the future. DNG is an open source format and so available for anyone to use. A lot of the smaller camera manufacturers have adopted DNG. Sony uses the ARW format. Personally I don’t see any of the larger manufacturers using their RAW format in a negative way at anytime in the near future.

Why do we need RAW?

Unlike the majority of image file formats that are most commonly used PNG, JPG, etc., RAW files allow us to work with natively with the highest quality image. RAW files are non-destructive meaning that you can’t actually save in RAW. There are no applications that allow you to save changes to a RAW file. You can open them and you can edit them. In Photoshop when you close a RAW file after making adjustments it will create an XMP file, also known as a sidecar file, which is associated with the RAW file. Any adjustments you make to the RAW file are saved in this XMP file and when you reopen a RAW file the XMP file open with it and allows you to continue to make adjustments where you left off. However at no time is the RAW file changed. Therefore it is non-destructive and you can always return to the original without fear that you may have lost something. Both files are associated but the RAW file is in no way dependent on the XMP file. You can delete the XMP file and all that will be lost is the metadata. When you reopen the RAW file it will have the original settings.

In fact in the Camera RAW software that Photoshop uses to make adjustments to RAW files the sliders are always set to the middle and if you move a slider in error you can double click it and it will automatically be reset to the original, middle setting. You can see from this screenshot that the title bar specifically calls this software “Camera RAW 8.4 Canon EOS 5D Mark III”

What are RAW files?
We can tell from that information that this is version 8.4 of the RAW processing software and because it knows which camera was used to take the photo it knows what to expect from the file.

RAW files are typically lossless images meaning that they store ALL of the information that the camera sensor picks up. Point and Shoot cameras will typically want to modify the file when storing it and in doing so they create a ‘Lossy’ file which ultimately means bits lost and in one way or another a degradation in the image. Also RAW files come with the benefit of a higher dynamic range and the ability, in the right software, to make adjustments that just feel more native to the image.

That said RAW files typically are going to want at least some minimal processing outside the camera.

More about the XMP “Sidecar” file.

XMP (Extensible Metadata Platform) is a trademark of Adobe but is a widely adopted open source industry standard, but again it is a sidecar file and so needs a parent file association.

What are the consequences of using RAW?

With all of the information that is packed into RAW files, they are big. Most DSLR cameras make RAW an option when saving images and not the default. You can set most DSLR’s to create any combination of RAW and JPG files (RAW or JPG or RAW and JPG). The reason DSLR’s give you both is because you need special software to make adjustments to RAW files, and also for most people JPG files are just fine. If you need something quick to use and yet you want to retain the power of a RAW image then you may just want to have your camera create both. In that way you can deliver the JPG immediately and yet still have the RAW to work with as needed.

However, all of this comes at a cost. RAW files are larger than JPG. For example this image in RAW format is 25.94 MB and without any processing it’s JPG counterpart is 11.26 MB.

RAW versus JPG
Creating both can eat up your storage and take more time to process in-camera. Which means that they are going to slow things down. A lot of DSLRs now provide specifications on how many images you can shoot in burst mode before you should expect the buffer to fill. Here’s a link for Canon users.

If there is no need for speed (subliminal Top Gun reference) and because storage costs are still shrinking, your trade-off differential may be negligible.

FYI: Be aware that out of the box Windows will not display a thumbnail for RAW files in Windows Explorer. Microsoft have not made photography part of their core business so it’s not a format Windows understands. If you create only RAW and want to sort through your photos you will need to have another application like Adobe Bridge in order to be able to view RAW thumbnails. There is a Viewer plug-in for Windows 7 called the Microsoft Camera Codec Pack. It can be downloaded here:

If you really need to view thumbnails of RAW files in Windows Explorer then this might be a way to do it. Personally, as a photographer I rarely consider Microsoft products because there are so many other companies doing great work and generating good software that are more dedicated to this specific industry.

Should you use RAW Files?

Yes and No. I mostly shoot in RAW to give myself the most flexibility after the shoot. On occasion though, I have worked events where they need the photos immediately and in a relatively small size. In that instance I’ve shot exclusively in JPG. What is the end result you are looking for and what might you want to do with those images down the road? This will help you determine whether to shoot in RAW or otherwise.

Once you have a RAW file open you can of course save it to any one of the existing formats in order to be able to use it as needed, on the web, in print, etc.

Lots of options to consider. DSLR camera manufacturers have been very good at providing options. Instead of forcing an opinion on us they continue to deliver great flexibility.

Travel Photography Blog by MACH

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