Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Scotland Trip: Basking Sharks and Puffins

I just returned from a trip to the Island of Mull, part of the Inner Hebrides Islands of Scotland.  I was very pleasantly surprised by the the wildlife that I encountered.

Five of us (Howard and Michele Hall, Marty Snyderman, and Steve Ando) traveled to Tobermory, on the Island of Mull, and stayed there for six nights.  Tobermory is a charming small town, and it is the gateway to the wildlife and scenery of the Hebrides Islands of Scotland.  It is about a 2.5 hour drive from Glasgow and involves a ferry ride from Oban on the mainland to the island of Mull.

We traveled to these islands hoping to see and photograph basking sharks -- the second largest fish in the ocean.  Nearly all of us had seen and filmed basking sharks off the California coast, 25 years ago.  However, since then, no one had seen any basking sharks off California.  The popular belief is that these magnificent animals had been fished to death, caught by open ocean driftnets off the California coast.  Basking sharks are, however, a known and relatively common sight off the coast of Scotland and Cornwall.  (True to form, while we were sitting out bad weather in our cottage in Tobermory, we heard that a group of 50 basking sharks had been sighted off the Big Sur coast -- in my backyard!). 

Our first four days were blown out due to bad weather and winds.  We were able to spend two afternoons on the Island of Lunga, where there is a wonderful puffin colony.  One morning, thanks to our friend Leigh Cobb, who saw and dove with 3-4 basking sharks the day before, we spent a windy morning with a few basking sharks.

The last day of our trip was the best -- as often happens.  We had encounters with several sharks, which were intent on feeding on swarms of reddish copepods.  You can see those small copepods in my photograph. 

Thanks to Henderson Aquatics, yet again, for making their Aqua Lock line of wetsuits.  I own a 3mm Henderson Aqua Lock wetsuit, and it is the warmest wetsuit that I have ever had.  It's thin, warm, light, and flexible -- all good.  I wore this wetsuit and an old hood instead of bringing a drysuit.  The water there was a cold 55 degrees F, but I was just fine in the water.  I was in a group of four other professional divers and underwater photographers - - all of whom wore drysuits.  I was just as warm as these folks for a good three hours in the water, on the one day that we had so much time with the sharks.  I did give myself a good wash of hot water that was on the boat, and I was able to swim much faster than the others on the group since I was not encumbered by a drysuit (as always, I must add the caveat that Howard Hall swam and free dove better than me, even though he was in a drysuit).  That guy is too much -- a true underwater filmmaking artist, and a superb free diver and diver.

I came home to Monterey, and the surf off Asilomar Beach was going off pretty well.  I jumped in, the water is 60 degrees, and once again -- I have to thank my Henderson Aqua Lock suit for making this morning's boogie boarding session enjoyable and fun rather than cold and miserable.

Thanks to my diving friends for hanging out and making this trip so enjoyable: Howard and Michele Hall, Marty Snyderman, Steve Ando, and Leigh Cobb.  Thanks to James and Rona of the Hebridean Sea School for letting us get close to both the puffins and the basking sharks.  Thanks to Andy Murch for serving as a trip leader for a few days.  Thanks to Henderson Wetsuits for making their truly awesome Aqua Lock line of wetsuits.  And hey, thanks to United Airlines for actually providing comfortable travel to and from London Heathrow Airport from San Francisco.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Solution: My MacBook Laptop Charger Won't Charge on on a Plane

I recently flew in a business class seat from  San Francisco to London and back, on United Airlines.  On the way over, I could not get my MacBook charger to charge my laptop.  United's new lie-flat business class seats have standard US 110V power outlets under the seats. 

I thought that perhaps my 85W MacBook power adapter was drawing too much current.  However, after browsing some online forums like flyertalk, I decided to use an adapter.  Voila! with the proper adapter, my MacBook charger started working 

I bought an international travel adapter at Heathrow airport.  It has a "Euro" style plug that has round pins, but fits deeply into the power outlet beneath the seat.  I could tell that this adapter was getting power, because a light for the USB ports turns on when the adaptor has power.  This was very helpful.  I then  plugged my MacBook power brick into the international travel adapter. 

The item on the bottom right is the international travel adapter that solved the problem.  The "Euro" pins stick out a bit further than the flat blades of the MacBook charger, as you can see in this photo.  These pins make a connection to the airline power sockets in the seats.  I plugged in the MacBook charger on the opposite end of the adapter. 

Other suggestions from forums:

Bring an international travel adapter with you (e.g. use the 3 pin UK plug on the power brick, and attach it to an adapter for the US 2-pin style -- if your adapter is a standard size, it's likely to fit into the recessed socket).

I've had that poor charging issue since the lie flats were introduced; my solution is to use a cheap 3 prong to 2 prong adapter - it seems to ensure a good connection that the apple power bricks cannot achieve. Or, bring along the long AC cable that comes with the MacBook power adapters.

The below suggestions could still be an issue, but I can confirm that once I got my MacBook charger to work, it definitely charged my MacBook Pro laptop.  I had no cycling or shut-off problems. 

I have had one instance (on a 777) where the plug didnt work. It kept cycling on and off like every second.

I carry an Apple 45W MacBook Air charger specifically for aircraft.

The common MacBook Pro 85W charger seems to overwhelm in-seat power systems; I've seen it super flaky on older UA, CO, and AA aircraft.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Keeping Under Your Data Limit -- Finding My Data Hogs

I spent a couple of weeks at our vacation house in Washington State.  We don't have wired internet access there (Comcast kept raising the rates) so this time, I relied on a wifi hotspot.  I only had 2 Gb of data to use in the two weeks that I was going to be there.  I was there a few months ago with a friend for a few days, and we used up 1 Gb of data way too fast -- I had to buy more. 

We weren't streaming video or doing anything data-intensive, so I was surprised.  I did not have time to figure out which of my devices and applications were the data hogs, but this time I tried to figure out who was sucking up the data. 

Here are the programs on my MacBook that were using a lot of data.  I recommend turning off these applications -- or preventing them from uploading updates -- if you are in a similar situation, where your data usage is a concern. 

I am not an expert on how to gauge network traffic.  I browsed some tips on the web and used Mac's Activity Monitor to see what processes on my MacBook Pro were most active.  I wish that there were a tool for me to see exactly how much data my various applications are using.  

Disable all updates on the Mac in System Preferences.  Otherwise, your Mac will try to download the entire new operating system while you are asleep, and BAM! all your data will be used up. 

Dropbox: Dropbox is a huge user of data.  Just turn it off and don't use it.  I have Dropbox on my Mac, iPad, and my smartphone -- so it used data to sync across all these devices.  

Programs and applications:
Adobe Reader is a data hog.  It is constantly uploading updates and doing other stuff.  I recommend simply closing it down and not opening or using it.  Use Mac's Preview instead. 

Firefox and Chrome browsers, from what I read on the internet, can be data hogs. 
In Firefox for the Mac, one goes into Preferences to dis-allow updates. 
In Chrome for the Mac, I found that the easiest way to disable updates was to use Terminal.  There's a good article on the web about this:
If this is a temporary change, make note of your current settings first by executing the following in the Terminal application:
$ defaults read checkInterval
To change how frequently Google Software Update checks for updates, execute the following in the Terminal application:
$ defaults write checkInterval
where  is the elapsed time in seconds between update checks.
To disable Google Software Update from checking for updates, execute the following in the Terminal application:
$ defaults write checkInterval 0
To re-apply the current settings (after changing it to something else) execute the following in the Terminal application:
$ defaults write checkInterval
where  is the value from the read command above.

So here's the short note I have for myself before and after a trip:

For Chrome: enter in Terminal:
$ defaults write checkInterval 0

Upon returning home to an unlimited data plan: 
enter in Terminal: 
 $ defaults write checkInterval
 (my frequency was 18000)

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Quick and Easy Ways to Improve Your Digital Photographs: Photoshop Tips from Geri Murphy, Part 4

This the final episode of Geri Murphy's Photoshop tutorial that she sent to me recently.  It is a summary of what she discussed in the past three parts.

Here is Geri's contact information in case anyone reading these tutorials would like to contact her for information on her trips, private tutorials, etc.

Geri Murphy:

Hi Norb -

Here is the order that I usually tackle the chore of Photoshopping images.  I normally do these steps in order... Then I don't find myself second guessing whether or not I did a step.  Because then you start double sharpening (bad) and doing steps over and over by going back and forth.  If that happens, or you don't like the results, you have TWO options.... UNDO and FADE (whatever the tool). 

I only recently found out that the FADE tool is available for everything you do that is "AUTO"  For example,  Auto color, you can fade it...  Auto sharpening, you can fade it.  Even the HEALING BRUSH can be "FADED"  Amazing control.

Anyway, the steps are:
1)  Convert from RAW to JPG (in BRIDGE)
4)  SHARPEN - start at 2, 2 and 100% then slide the % bar higher
5)  SATURATION - Use the sliders SATURATION or increase HUE as needed.
6)  SAVE, SAVE, SAVE... I usually add the letter "E" to the name creating a new file so I have the Original untouched and I know for sure which one was "Edited".

Of course there are many, many other tools, but if you master just these few you will go a long way.  I do not use Layers.  Takes too much time and for what I do, I just don't need it.  This makes it simple.

TIP:  The center wheel in the middle of your mouse is very useful when using the healing brush.  Pushing the wheel up or down, ENLARGES or DECREASES the size of the photo.  When you are doing something delicate, blow it up so you can see it easily.  It's fast and it is at your fingertip.

AUTO TONE - Sometimes the Auto Tone does not change the photo at all.  But when it does, it is usually dramatic.  If you are shooting at a high ISO (600 and up) it does not work well.  You will get a lot of magenta.  This happens also when the animal is far away.  The closer you are to the animal and the more shallow you are, the better.  But when the animal is far away, Auto Tone usually just darkens the photo a little bit.  So, think Close & Shallow for the best results with Auto Tone. 

Also, sometimes Auto Tone is good topside.  I shot a dolphin leaping out of the water once and did not have a polarizer.  Using the Auto Tone was magic... It looked like I used a polarizer.  Some times it helps with skin tones, but as I said before, decreasing SATURATION will take the red out of skin tones.  Awesome tool - I use it on almost every single photo of H&S of people.

Here are the fives steps I used on your photo.  There was a lot of 'dust' or spots in the photo, but I took my time to make it perfect.  After I made it perfect, I increased the size by more than 200% and found all kinds of spots that I did not see when the photo was at normal size.  While some people can't figure out why the photos I work on are so perfect, it is because I take the extra step of really cleaning up the photo.  The results speak for themselves. 

Here are the photos in sequence.

1)  RAW to JPG (using BRIDGE)

2)  USE AUTO TONE (use fade if too strong)


4)  SHARPENED 120% - & HUE 7%


...After you Sharpen, you need to go back and do some more healing brush work (most times).  What happens is that you also sharpen any dust spots in the photo.  And sometimes they pop up after the sharpening tool.

...Once you have mastered these tools, the others will be simple and they will grow as you try different things.

Quick and Easy Ways to Improve Your Digital Photographs: Photoshop Tips from Geri Murphy, Part 3

This is part 3 of Geri Murphy's Photoshop tutorial:

Here is Geri's contact information in case anyone reading these tutorials would like to contact her for information on her trips, private tutorials, etc.

Geri Murphy:
email: gerimurphyimages@earthlink dot net

from Geri to Norb:

I cannot open the RAW (RW2) file either in Photoshop.  You are using a Lumix camera and they have their version of Raw.  I went on line and discovered that you can open the .RW2 files in BRIDGE which comes with Photoshop.  So that solves that problem.  When you go BRIDGE you can see all the raw files and by simply clicking on the photo, it will open it in RAW PHOTOSHOP.  Then you just go to "OPEN IMAGE" which converts the photo to a JPEG in Photoshop. 

Then you hit EDIT - AUTO TONE.  OK.  When you see the photo changed by Auto Tone, you will often say, wow, that looks better, but it is a little too much tone.  So, go to EDIT (pull down menu) and click on "FADE AUTO TONE".  You will have a slider to move the tone down from 0-100%  I found with this photo, 65% is about right.  Just move the slider and stop wherever you see it looks best on your screen.  Now it pops but not too much so it looks over done.  This is a much better way to do it than fooling around with tiffs, sliders with red,blue,green, tints, white balance, etc.  Think of Auto Tone as a Polarizing Filter for underwater.  It is one step (2 if you use the slider) and your done.

Next Step is the clean up with the healing brush & stamper.  We did that yesterday.

Today, if you have done all of the above (go back and do it that way for practice) we move to the final steps.  Almost done.

You have to SHARPEN the image.  Go up to FILTER (at the top) and pull down MENU.  Go down to SHARPEN and then click on UNSHARP MASK.  Click on it.  You have 3 sliding numbers.  The bottom one is Threshold.  I usually set that for 2 (levels) the next is Radius: set that for 2 (pixels) and then slide the AMOUNT to about 120%.  That is what I used for this photo.  You will see the preview and you can move the % of sharpening to any amount you need.  Just don't OVERSHARPEN.  Like anything, too much can ruin it. 

One LAST thing I did to this photo is to increase the "HUE" because I thought it looked a little too light.

It did not change the photo a lot and you may not want to do it, but I am giving you all the stuff I did so here it is.


Again we have sliders.  I moved the HUE slider to about 7%.  Play around with those controls.  They are important for other stuff.  Many, many times people have too much red in the skin tones of their faces.  I almost always have to go to the SATURATION slider and decrease the amount of saturation.  By moving the slider to the left and looking at the Preview you can see the redness leave from their face.  Otherwise they look like they have Radiation Poisoning and not flattering to them.  Don't go too far or their face will turn yellow and green.  Just move the slider a little bit at a time and watch your preview picture to see the results. 

Finally you get to put in your photo credit.  I assume you know how to do that. (?)
....I am self taught and while I keep buying tutorials, they remain unopened.  When I get stuck on something I want to do, I will look it up on line for info and tips.  That is how I found out how to open your particular camera Raw settings.


Quick and Easy Ways to Improve Your Digital Photographs: Photoshop Tips from Geri Murphy, Part 2

This is part 2 of Geri Murphy's Photoshop Tutorial.

Here is Geri's contact information in case anyone reading these tutorials would like to contact her for information on her trips, private tutorials, etc.

Geri Murphy:

Geri to Norb:

We have gone from 1)  RAW to JPG to   2)  AUTO TONE 

Next Lesson - 3)  Spot Healing Brush and Stamping Tool

You are going to make your photo look like this....

This Step will take you about 1/2-hour.  So turn on the TV while you do this to combat boredom.

Go to the Toolbox on the Left Hand Side.  You will see a little icon that looks like a Band-Aid.  Right Click on it to be sure you have chosen SPOT HEALING BRUSH.  Click on it. 

You will see a circle  that represents where your cursor or mouse is.  You want to put the little circle on top of a piece of "debris" (junk in the water) and click it.  The little circle takes pixels on the outside of the circle and transplants them on the inside, thus covering up the "spot".  You want the circle to be slightly larger than the junk size.  To make the circle bigger, right click the circle.  You will see a slider that allows you make the circle (healing brush) larger or smaller.  You change the size many times throughout the process.  If your circle is too big and too close to another color, it will pick up the other color too.  You see, it is cloning the area around it, into the area that you want fix.  So, it is best to have your healing brush just slightly larger than the junk size. 

This picture has a lot of flashback so be prepared to spend some time on it.  It is good practice for the next photo, and the next.  When the healing brush does not work, because it is too close to another color, you can use the clone stamp tool.  If you don't know how to use that tool, let me know.  To get this photo perfect, I used the clone stamp about 15% of the time.

Questions?  If yes, let me know.  If no, we will move to the final steps.  It is a beautiful photo, so it is worth the effort. 


Photoshop Tips from Geri Murphy, Part 1: Quick and Easy Ways to Improve Your Digital Photographs:

I recently went on a liveaboard trip to Mexico's Revillagigedos Islands (known to most divers as "Socorro").  I highly recommend the liveaboard -- the new Belle Amie, brought to you by the folks who own and operate the well-known and well-respected Nautilus Explorer liveaboard --and the destination. 

I met longtime underwater photographer Geri Murphy on the boat.  I've seen Geri's work for years and years, since the days when I was starting out as an underwater photographer.  Geri's photographs graced over 1000 Skin Diver Magazine covers, so she really knows what she is doing as an underwater photographer. 

Geri is producing a book on the trip, which consisted of a bunch of friends of Ernie Brooks II, who is an acknowledged master of black-and-white work underwater.  For the book, Geri graciously took a couple of my images for this book project, and processed the images so that they looked better.

I have never learned how to post-process my images well (I always say that I already spend way too much time in front of the computer to want to spend more time Photoshopping my images).  I was so impressed with how Geri had improved my images that I asked her to give me suggestions on how she performs her post-processing magic.  Geri was kind enough to send me very long, detailed instructions on how she processed my images in Photoshop.  With her permission, I share her (edited) tutorials here.  Any mistakes and typos are mine; but the ideas and writing are Geri's!

Here is Geri's contact information in case anyone reading these tutorials would like to contact her for information on her trips, private tutorials, etc.

Geri Murphy:

Norb to Geri:
HI Geri:

The images look so much better now that you processed them.  I think that they look great, and your photo of me is also fine. 

I was worried that the manta ray in the Cabo Pearce shot was not quite sharp.  You've really brought out the manta in terms of sharpness.  I also tried some color correction to bring out the clarion angel's orange color. 

I wonder if you can give me some tips on what you did to post-process this image.  I use Aperture and only do global corrections like levels, saturation, etc.  I don't go to the trouble to do layers and that sort of thing.  I just adjust sliders.  My results never come out that well.  Can I ask what some of the steps were that you did to process this image?  As always, if you don't have the time, no need to reply.  I need to sit down and do some Photoshop tutorials one of these days, and unfortunately will have to switch to Lightroom. 

Thanks Geri!
Best, Norb

Here's the initial image.  It is flat, there is a lot of backscatter, and the orange clarion angelfish don't look that orange.

Original image of manta ray with Clarion angelfish.  The image does not "pop" as I had hoped.  The colors are too muted, I wish that the orange color of the angelfish would pop out more, and there is a lot of debris and backscatter in the water. 

Geri to Norb:

I feel your pain.  It has gotten so complicated.  I do not have Aperture, I use Windows with Photoshop.  ...

I have a great system that I can turn flat, fair photos into stunners.  I only use a few tools.... resulting in fast results.  I do not know why everyone does not use these 4 or 5 simple tools, but they don't. 

Below are three photos.... the Original jpeg you sent is step one.... and the after photo.  I used a single tool in Photoshop to get this result. 

Step One - Open the photo - If you want the maximum resolution, just open the file in RAW and then go straight to "OPEN IMAGE" in the lower right hand corner of the raw window.  Do not move any of the sliders.... just OPEN IMAGE.  When you click on that, the photo will open in Photoshop as a JPEG.  This is the photo....

The next step is the best one.... Simply go up to the tool bar in Photoshop and Click On the pull down Menu of IMAGE (to the right of Edit) and then click on "AUTO TONE" 

WALAA!!  S-U-P-R-I-S-E !!!!

Tomorrow, I will take you from here to finish the photo-shopping of this photo into this: