A satisfying and pleasant end to a trying day.

You’ve got to hand it to Apple. They do look after their customers well – at least this one they do!
You may remember I’d been having trouble with the boot-up of my 2013 iMac – yes, it’s at least 5 years old. It’s a powerful machine which I bought to do photo work and it’s been a delight, but the problems reported here …
I’ve now had an introduction to the SBOD
… had come back this month. After a couple of attempts to fix the problem myself, which I had assumed to be software problems, which involved me re-installing the operating system on a completely clean disk (ie I had to re-install all my data and applications from backup which was painless and automatic, but took a bit of time), I contacted their support via online chat, and after Traci had exhausted everything she could remotely, I was referred to the Genius Bar in the local Apple Store for an appointment that same day (actually 18:45 in the evening). A very competent and pleasant hardware technician (David) did “triage” on the machine and announced that the Fusion Drive was in fact faulty – it was a hardware problem.
And … they offered to replace and repair it at no cost to myself as I’d bought it from Apple, not elsewhere.
That’s the way to create brand loyalty. Thanks David. Thanks Apple Store, Cardiff.

Is it time to move to more paid subscription services?

I have to admit, the events of the past few weeks have made me look much more seriously at paying more for the IT services that I’ve taken for free up until now. Of course they’ve never been free, I’ve had to put up with the adverts and the email messages I don’t really want – alerting me to this deal, or that deal, and I’ve willingly put up with that as a price worth paying for the service I’ve been receiving. But two events have changed my mind, and moreover I feel the IT world is actually changing slowly as a consequence of the mistakes (to be exceptionally generous) of Facebook and Google; and the decision of Apple to switch more attention to Services, targeting this as their  main income stream for the future, and not relying on Hardware alone.
So what were the earth-shaking events in the Harrison-IT-world? Well the first was Google’s announcement that having hidden the news of a potential security weakness in an API, for several months (presumably to secure their stock-market price at the time Facebook was struggling, and presumably also after ensuring that the potential breach was secured) they used this as an excuse to kill-off (sorry “sunset”) Google+ next August. Now this service was not the success Google hoped it to be, and most definitely has not generated the revenue they hoped it might, but for me, my family and for many communities (particularly of photographers – because of the close linkage to Google Photos) – it was a hugely valuable tool. Now, we have to look for another social media platform. It could be Google Photos – Google may have plans to “enhance” it to take on features from Google+, or it could be another platform, but it’s just a pain in the neck having to move off something we’re used to! Google have real history with “sunsetting” tools that people get used to using [Thanks to @MrSimonWood for this link.]
The second was Flickr’s announcement that they were going to limit their Free account to 1000 imagesexcluding those that were licensed under Creative Commons, which a lot of mine are. They are encouraging users to take out a Pro subscription to remove restrictions and allow more and larger images to be uploaded. This didn’t meet with the same “horror” feeling. I immediately felt that this was a decision that would secure the future long-term of the service under the new owners – SmugMug. [A feeling that I didn’t have when 500px made changes to their platform which led me to delete my account.] So I immediately subscribed and took advantage of the first-year discount price (still available for a few more days I believe).
So what am I saying. I’m saying that if there’s a service that I really want, and I really need some feeling that it’s going to be around for a while, I should pay for it. I wasn’t given that option by Google – shame on them; it appears I’ll never be given that opportunity by Facebook. Both of them are essentially marketing and advertising platforms. I don’t see either of them being able to develop a hybrid model as Flickr has been able to do.
This all makes Adobe’s Creative Cloud Photography Plan and Microsofts’ Office 365 seem so much more sensible. I’ll continue with the former, but decline the latter as my roots are now firmly planted in the Apple world where I look to see how they will develop their Service offerings in Music, TV, Home and Car fields.
Interesting times.

I hate iTunes!!!

It’s that time of the year when Apple give us a new version of iOS for the iPhone and iPad, and also sometimes releases a new version of MacOS, the operating system for their laptops and desktops. A few other things creep in such as this “upgrade” – more like a wholesale change – to iTunes which may impact upon your use of your iPhone/iPad.
I’m honestly not sure what difference it will mean to me, or to anyone else, but just alerting you to the fact that if you have automatic updates on for iTunes that things might not be the same as they were. That’s why I don’t allow automatic updates. I want to hear from other people about the impact of an upgrade, and for the software developer to release a couple of “bug fixes” before I do the upgrade manually, in my own time, and hopefully better informed and aware.
In the case of this one, I did the manual upgrade, as I didn’t think it would impact upon me too much and then spent a lot of the rest of the day sorting out my iTunes Library. I know my setup is a little complex – I’ll share that story with you another time – but iTunes must be my most hated piece of software. I just wish they would re-write it from the bottom up and get their database functionally correct and usable.

Getting started with Digital Photography: Part 1

A new venture for Thought grazing …
This article starts from the assumption that you already have a digital camera, or smartphone, and doesn’t pretend to give advice on how to proceed to purchase one except to say that I would strongly recommend buying from a camera shop for the after-sales service you would get. In buying a digital camera you’re buying into a system – Canon, Nikon, Sony, Fuji, Panasonic etc. – it can be a painful (and expensive) decision to change later, so it’s worth talking to someone who can talk about their experiences, or who can match your needs to what is available.
So therefore this article focusses on the software and in later posts – the processing of images using software.

Photography is a hobby that cries out to share its results (images) with other people and so therefore it’s best to work back from answering the question – what are you going to do with the images? By answering that question, the rest of the toolkit and the workflow you adopt is easier to answer. Typical workflows might be …
I just want to take a photo and print it.
I want to take a photo and possibly share it on Facebook, Instagram.
I want to take photos and make them into photobooks.
I want to take photos and post them to a website.
… of course it could be all of the above. One thing tends to unite them however, you need a place in the cloud to store your photos, from which you can then share them. If at all possible you should adopt a platform t
hat provides the maximum flexibility to allow you to do all of the above, and more, so that you don’t need to keep changing your systems as you develop your hobby. I’ve written about my workflow here.
So apart from the local USB disk-storage I use (with its backups, of course) to store and post-process my images, I use Google Photos as my main way of sharing photos in albums eg Orchids from Changi Airport, linked to the free storage (as long as you don’t store images at high resolution) you get on Google Drive. I do have other cloud storage/sharing platforms, but this is the one I use for photographs. I do also have a flickr account to share images – and I use it occasionally, as I do Instagram. As you develop your interest in photography, you may wish to have a more professional platform (I have used 500px), or the sharing platform that may be provided by your preferred software supplier (eg Adobe).
If you’re starting-out (or don’t want to spend any money) then you can use the editing software available within Google Photos, or if on a phone, or tablet, use Google’s Snapseed apps. You can still get Picasa for Windows 
and the Mac, which is software Google bought and supported for a while, but it is probably better to bite the bullet and use their Photos app in a browser, as it integrates well with Drive and Google+.
Then of course you might (like me) be an Apple user, and could of course use their Photos app and iCloud, but at the moment the editing facilities offered in the app are not (in my humble opinion) as good as Google’s. You can sync your smartphone “camera roll” to Google Photos automatically which is nice.
Other free photo-editing options are available. I will however after reviewing the other possibilities, only mention and discuss Google Photos on this blog.
If you’re a bit more sure that you want to invest in digital photography then there’s no better (imho) software than Adobe Lightroom. I’m not going into a whole set of reasons why you should invest in Lightroom rather than Photoshop Elements, or Apple’s Photo app, Paintshop, or even full-blown Photoshop. However for me these are the main benefits …

  • It doesn’t matter where your images are stored; you don’t have to import them into a database, but you can choose to import new images into a single location of your choice which is unconnected to the software.
  • It employs a catalogue which references where the images are stored. You can have multiple catalogues referencing the same set of images.
  • All changes (edits) to the images are stored in the catalogue. 
  • The original images are left untouched. This is called non-destructive editing.
  • You can go backwards and forwards through your edits, and can even create multiple virtual copies that allow you multiple versions of the same image, but only one actual (original) image.
  • You can store your images in Collections which equate to virtual albums unconnected to the actual folders the actual images are stored in.
  • You are supplied with a huge range of Plugins to allow you easy publishing to social media sites (eg flickr, Instagram, Dropbox), in addition to publishing to photobook websites (eg Blurb) and print sites (eg Smugmug).
  • You can apply presets to your images at import, developing or export so that the same look and feel can be achieved.
  • It integrates well with a whole range of other software such as WordPress (for blogging).

… I just feel that (for me at least) Lightroom is the best at the moment and it integrates with Adobe’s other software. It also now has a mobile version that allows editing on your iPad (or iPhone) if you subscribe to their Photography Creative Cloud Plan. This costs c.£9 a month and gives me both Lightroom and Photoshop, storage space in the cloud, and more besides, plus all the upgrades.
If you decide to go down the Lightroom route then here are a couple of resources you might wish to reference …

Laura Shoe’s Lightroom – http://laurashoe.com/
Lightroom Killer Tips – http://lightroomkillertips.com/
Adobe Training – http://tv.adobe.com/product/lightroom/ and https://helpx.adobe.com/lightroom/tutorials.html

… and for Lightroom tuition, you’ll do well to beat  …
Scott Kelby’s Lightroom books for digital photographers, New Riders