The many uses of chroma keying

What is chroma key? It is a technique for mixing two images or frames together in which a color (or a small color range) from one image is removed (or made transparent), revealing another image behind it. Still, a visual technique is better explained in visual terms, so watch this video, which explains it much better than I ever could. The technique is also called color keying, colour separation overlay, greenscreen and bluescreen.

[via Holger on FB]


Join MP4 files with Front End Digital Media Workshop

Want an easy way to join MP4 clips together? Front End Media Workshop, a nifty piece of Mac software published by the now defunct K-werkx, can definitely help you out. While the folks that put it together aren’t online any longer, the app is still available for download from CNET.

FE_DMW makes it really easy to join video clips

FE_DMW makes it really easy to join video clips

The app (it shows up as FE_DigitalMediaWorkshop in the Apps folder by the way) is meant to do a bunch of other things, but I found it most useful to join together several MP4 clips from my video collection.

For example, I’d purchased a DVD of “The Curious Adventures of Mr. Wonderbird“, a re-titled version of the 1952 original, La Bergère et Le Ramoneur. The film is little known, and features the dramatic escape of a pair of lovers from the claws of a despotic ruler. A curious bird helps them escape and orchestrates the toppling of the ruler’s oppressive regime, which mirrored, at the time, what was going on behind the iron curtain of Eastern Europe. Peter Ustinov voices the bird and also narrates the story.

At any rate, I’d copied the DVD to my computer only to later realize that I’d done it by chapters instead of copying the entire movie as a single file. Front End Digital Media Workshop allowed me to drag the five or six clips for each chapter onto its main window, drag and drop to arrange them in order, then, within minutes, join them together as a single file. The output was saved to the desktop in a folder (one for each join operation), where I could review, rename and archive it.

Sure, if you have Quicktime Pro, you can join video files there, or you can also import them into iMovie, but a small, single purpose app that does it faster and without a lot of fuss scores higher in my book. I may even use it later to snip clips from the beginning and end of some of my other video files, since I see that it has that feature built in as well.


Three classic movie duds

If you follow along with my classic movie reviews, you may think I have only good things to say about them. Truth is, I don’t usually choose to write up movies I don’t like. But I’ve recently seen three classic movies that were so bad I needed to point them out. I’ll look at each in the order I’ve seen them.

Chicken Every Sunday (1949)

Made after a book which can still be found in print (at least the book was good), this movie is a convoluted, drawn-out, syrupy mush that does not entertain. It only frustrates.
One good thing is that it has Alan Young, one of my favorite actors, but he’s stuck in this horrible, lily-livered role that has him meowing and crying his way through the movie, and it’s just sad.

Individually speaking, the actors are good. They’re talented, they can play good parts when they get them — but this movie’s script doesn’t have a single good part in it. It just plain sucks. Stay away from it. Did I mention it’s long and you’ll be sorry if you’ll watch it?

Platinum Blonde (1931)

This is one of Frank Capra’s earlier movies. Any movie by Frank Capra ought to be good, right? WRONG. This movie is a real stinker. The direction is off. The dialogue is slow. The editing sucks. The script is pathetic. There are long, dead pauses, and the chemistry between the actors is non-existent.

As if that’s not bad enough, the movie’s principal roles were miscast. We have Jean Harlow playing the part of an aristocrat. Excuse me? JH?! A platinum blonde best suited for the more tawdry, tough roles, playing an innocent, educated, mannered, high class lady?! That’s a riot… Every move Harlow makes is a verdict against the part she’s playing. Every sway of her hip convicts her, calls her a liar. She simply wasn’t made for that role. It’s the antithesis of her.

Then we’ve got some dude I’ve never seen before in the principal role. Who he is, I don’t know, and I don’t really want to know. He’s not likable, and he’s not meant for principal roles, end of story.

The movie’s saving grace is Loretta Young, who’s stuck as Gallagher, the office girl men see as one of them, until the dude in the principal part gets things right in the last scene. You’ve got to be kidding me… Loretta Young is NOT a man and you can’t look at her that way. Frank Capra was cuckoo to cast her in that part, sorry — although she made the best of it and was the one shining actor in the whole movie.

How can I put it? This movie stinks. Don’t watch it.

Second Chorus (1941)

Here we’ve got another example of a movie that should have been good, but it’s most definitely NOT. You’d have to get a really crappy writer and director to mess up a movie with Fred Astaire and Paulette Goddard. Guess what? They found both “geniuses” for this movie.

The plot is just pathetic. Two guys fight for the affections of one girl. Should be good, under the right circumstances, but it’s horribly complicated, and the plot devices are terrible and amateurish, the sort of stuff that made me cringe. The writing, the lines: yuck.

You know who else is in this movie? Rocky’s trainer — Burgess Meredith. He looks pretty much the same in 1941 as he did in 1976 for Rocky, and for the sequels. He was like George Burns. Looked old from his youth. And he’s unlikable in this movie.

There’s one scene that’s good in this movie, and it’s when Fred and Paulette dance together. Why couldn’t they do more of that throughout the movie? Why did they stick Fred Astaire, a dancing man, in a trumpet player role? Why do they have him trying to conduct an orchestra while dancing and playing the trumpet?

The movie is full of hair-pulling questions like these. It made me want to get a bunch of rotten tomatoes and start throwing them at the director and the other people responsible for making this idiotic waste of time.


The next stage for Lightroom

Adobe LightroomI am a happy user of Adobe Lightroom. It has helped me get a handle on my growing photo library. While it largely replicates the functionality of Adobe Bridge, it does so with a much better interface, and includes extra functionality that makes its price worthwhile. I do most of my photo processing in Lightroom these days, and don’t go into Photoshop unless I absolutely need it.

There are a few things that need to change in order for Lightroom to become a truly valuable addition to a digital photographer’s tool set. Sure, there are some small features that could be introduced here and there, and there are some bug fixes that need to occur as well. By and large though, what I see as the biggest needed improvement can’t be explained in a few words. It requires a more detailed explanation.

Say someone starts getting into photography in a serious sort of way. They begin editing their photos on their computer, and soon find, as they get into the several hundreds and thousands, that they need something to help them organize and manage their photos. Right? Well, say they get Lightroom. They’re happy campers now. They take more photos, and then even more. They can edit the meta-data, batch process photos, export for web and print, put together photo galleries, etc. It’s great!

Here’s where things start to get tricky though. As that photo library gets bigger, it needs to be moved off the primary computer, be it a laptop or a desktop machine. Its sheer size demands a large external device, and hopefully one that stores the data in redundant fashion, to guard against hardware failures. Well, no problem, they get a huge drive and move their photos onto it. That drive is connected via USB or Firewire, and they continue to work with Lightroom. Things are just peachy.

Guess what: at some point, that photographer will need to shoot on location. They’ll take a trip either out of town, or out of the country. If they don’t have a laptop already, they’ll need to get one, because every digital photographer knows they’ll very likely need to process some photos on location, away from home.

But guess where their photo library is? It’s at home, of course. So what do you think happens when you open Lightroom while you’re away from your photo library? Why, you can’t! It tells you drive X is not available. (I should specify this occurs when the Lightroom library is stored on an external device. You can, of course, store the library locally and the photos externally, but as the library gets bigger, you’ll run into space problems. I did.)

So what can you do? You can create a new photo library, import the photos into it, and work with them that way. But wait a minute? Where’s all that beautiful meta-data that you worked so hard at? Where’s your keyword database, with its hierarchical structure, so you can tag easier without having to remember all the keywords you’d want to use? Where are all your locations? Where are your collections? Nowhere. You have to start fresh, and then when you get home, you have to re-import those photos into your main library, then reconcile keywords, locations, etc. It’s just not pretty, and it’s not practical. And on top of that, you may run into certain import bugs

What Lightroom needs is the ability to have a two-part library: a portable, main library, that travels with the machine where Lightroom is installed, and an archive library that can sit on an external device, or multiple external devices. This is NOT the same as the Vault concept one finds in Aperture. No, it goes far beyond that. The Vault concept is meant for backing up the photo library, but doesn’t address the problem of running out of space in the main library. It simply allows you to back up your work on multiple devices.

Hear me out, because I realize the concept I’m introducing is a bit complicated. The Lightroom user needs to have the ability to have access to all of their meta-data from all of their photos while traveling or while away from their main photo library. It doesn’t matter whether that person uses a laptop or a desktop. If they separate their computer from the external device that hosts their photos, they should still be able to have access to their photo library — everything but the actual photos which are to be found elsewhere.

Huh? Stay with me on this one. This isn’t the same thing as having your photo library on the laptop itself instead of the external drive. In that case, should you have your laptop with you, only the photos stored on the laptop will show up in the library, while the ones to be found on an external drive will not show up when you open Lightroom. But this points out two problems.

One, you’ll run out of space on your laptop very soon if you have a large library, even if you store the bulk of your photos elsewhere, because Lightroom builds either full-size previews, or fairly large ones (you decide this in the Preferences). Those previews are stored with the photo library, and if it resides on the laptop, the drive will fill up pretty soon.

Two, simply making those photos stored externally unavailable when Lightroom is separated from the external device doesn’t help you much. You need to be able to see at least the thumbnails, and have the meta-data available for searching, not crossed out or grayed out.

Let me outline the main points of my proposed functioning for the Lightroom library. Perhaps this will make it easier to understand:

  • A two-part library. A local/portable one, that holds all of the meta-data and thumbnails, plus a portable collection of photos that the photographer would like to have ready for processing and use no matter where they are. And the main/archive library, that holds a backup copy of the library’s meta-data and thumbnails, plus all of the photos that have been moved off the local/portable library.
  • Obviously, the ability to move photos freely from the local/portable library to the main/archive library, as needed. This would allow the photographer to decide which photos to keep local and portable, and move others to the archive in order to save space on the laptop or desktop that they’re taking with them on location.
  • The two-part library syncs the meta-data and thumbnails automatically and perhaps offers choices for conflicting data when the external device that holds the main/archive library is reconnected to the laptop/desktop.
  • Just to make things clear, the local/portable library would hold meta-data, thumbnails for all of the photos in the library, plus whatever group of photos the photographer decides to keep local. This would keep its size small and portable while allowing the user to view thumbnails for all of the photos in the library even when away from the archive library. They would even be able to do searches on the meta-data and update it as needed. The changes would sync when the archive would be re-connected. The photos stored in the archive would be marked by a special border or icon to let the user know they’re not available in their full size while the archive would be disconnected.

This is the sort of functionality I will expect from Lightroom. It would make it a truly powerful and portable piece of software. I know some people say that Bridge does the same things, but I’ve used both, and I like the Lightroom interface a LOT more.


Photography, take two, part five (finis)

I have completed the work of replacing photos hosted with third-party services. All of the photos that are published on my site are now hosted locally. If you’re not familiar with this effort, which took me a few months to complete, you might want to have a look at parts four, three, two and one. The main reason was to gain independence for my photographic content. Depending on third party services that might go down or go out of business for photos used in published articles is not the kind of strategy that can hold up in the long-term.

There were LOTS of posts I re-edited this time. Not only did replace the original images, but I also introduced new ones as well. This means that if you take the time to go through some of my old posts, you will see new photographs.

I’m not going to list all of the posts I modified. The list would be huge and it would dilute my message. Instead, I’m only going to point out the more significant ones. This post is the culmination of countless of hours of work. As a matter of fact, I’m going to have a little celebration. Enjoy!

If you’d like to see all of the posts that I modified in this last round of updates, just have a look through the Photography archives, and go all the way back to April 1st of 2007, starting from August 31st of 2007. Don’t worry, this is no April Fool’s joke…


Photography, take two, part four

I continued my ongoing effort to replace photos hosted at third party services with self-hosted ones, in order to reduce the dependence of my content on others. As part of that effort, I’m also re-processing some of the photos, and editing some of the posts to make them read better. Here are the posts I modified:


Wedding Present (1936)

“Wedding Present” (1936) is a wonderful romantic comedy made toward the end of the great depression. Cary Grant plays an ace reporter named Charlie Mason, in love with his partner in “crime”, Rusty Fleming (played by Joan Bennett). Cary would reprise the role of an intrepid reporter/editor in “His Girl Friday” (1940), opposite Rosalind Russell, although his role in that movie would be somewhat darker.

The “Wedding Present” starts with Charlie attempting to get a wedding certificate but mostly goofing around, which leads to Rusty calling off their engagement. The tagline is “We’re almost married… and we want to stay that way!” Of course, that doesn’t work, so the tension builds up as Rusty is wooed by a pilot, then by a well-known writer of success books, called Dodacker, played by Conrad Nagel.

Seeing Conrad Nagel in the role of Dodacker, one wonders why he had been a matinee idol in the era of silent movies. Not much here endears him to the viewer. Then again, his role in this movie was meant to be unlikable, so who knows… Joan Fontaine certainly saw something in him, since she had an affair with him not long after this movie was made — she was barely 20 while he was well over 40.

There is a wonderful optimism that pervades this movie. It seems nothing can go wrong — except Charlie and Rusty’s relationship — but even that’s rescued in the end. Charlie and Rusty both act as if their jobs don’t matter — and I suppose when you’re both award-winning reporters, you can get a job anywhere you like. They slack off, they skip out on work, but since they always get the first-page stories, things work out alright for both of them.

Although there’s some awkwardness between Cary and Joan, they complement each other very nicely. It’s a lot of fun to watch Joan on screen. She manages to appear charming, intelligent and sexy, all while fitting the part perfectly. It’s hard to imagine that she didn’t want to go into acting when you watch her on screen. She’s so natural — but then that should come as no surprise considering she’d been born into a family of actors with roots in that profession going back to the 18th century.

Cary is still in his pre-polished era. You can see his youthful enthusiasm here, and some of his slightly rough, unpolished edges still show through. Although he looks great in a suit, he’s still not quite comfortable in it, not like in his later years, when his suits became an integral part of his screen persona, a part of who Cary Grant was and always remain. But the youthful Cary is a lot of fun to watch. There’s a sense of unpredictability about his next move. One wonders, how will he handle the next line, the next scene? Much like throwing a pebble in a pond and watching the ripples disturb the water’s surface, watching the young Cary act, one can see the little ripples that belie the thought process behind the role’s mask. This would later solidify into a shiny, pristine, glamorous and timeless surface. In his later years, Cary reached perfection. Cary was the role and the role was Cary.

Although the movie is somewhat anticlimactic in some scenes, and some judicious editing could have fixed it, it’s really wonderful. It’s relaxing to watch and it’s quite entertaining. The ending is spectacularly wonderful, and it alone makes the entire movie worth watching. When you add in everything else — the comedy, the superb acting, the gags, the dialogue, the interaction — you can’t help but realize that you get your money’s worth here. Give it a try, you won’t regret it!

More information


Photography, take two, part three

This is Part 3 of an ongoing series of posts that outlines the work I do behind the scenes to improve my blog’s content. You can read Parts 1 and 2 as well.

I continued my work of replacing photos hosting with third party services with self-hosted ones. Here are the posts I modified:

This last post doesn’t use any photos, but I did re-edit it to make it easier to read:

As a matter of fact, all of the posts included here were either re-edited or re-written. I said it plenty of times in the past, and I’ll say it again: I want to have top notch content on my blog. I only wish I had more time to go through all of my older posts and delete, combine or re-write as needed. When I look back at some of my earlier posts (from early 2006), I cringe. They’re very short, mostly linking to other things or quoting extensively. That’s not the kind of writing that represents me. I’ll do my best to edit them as time goes on.


Patterns in everyday objects

I really like to find patterns and shapes in everyday objects. Whenever I get a few free moments, I look around me to see what I can spot. It’s fun, and it’s oddly relaxing. There I am, frowning, concentrating, making sure I get the right lighting, angle, exposure and focus (or lack of, depending on my preference), yet I’m relaxed. I tune everything else out and focus on the little patch of something in front of me. I even adjust my breathing, sometimes not breathing for 20-30 seconds while I get the shot.

This is a polished aluminum drawer handle:

Speed of light

This is the mesh vent above our stove top:


This is a detail from a painted, handmade earthen vase:

Well rounded

These are the spindles of a lamp shade. The center black knob is visible in the top right corner.

Game on

This is a macro of a bamboo leaf:

The dream

We all know what this is. The cool thing is that I shot this at 1600 ISO, and yet there’s no noise. The Canon EOS 30D does a really good job, doesn’t it?


This is a ceiling lamp, and I love the patterns of light and shadow it projects onto the ceiling:

Those dark shadows that haunt us

Finally, this is a detail from a neon light cover:

Tired is as tired does


The Watergate Hotel and the Kennedy Arts Center

Back in February, Ligia and I plus good friends of ours took a photowalk through downtown DC. Our objectives: the Watergate Hotel and the Kennedy Arts Center. I used my Exakta EXA Ia to take the photographs. It was a lot of fun to use it, as always. I still love to shoot on film, even though it’s fairly expensive and time-intensive to get the photos in digital format. I say expensive because I’m used to shooting a LOT. I’m not satisfied with a few photos. I use up rolls of film during a session. Then I have to develop them and spend hours scanning them in. It takes about two hours to scan 24 exposures at the quality I want. And then I spend extra time editing them. But the results are worth it, and of course, the experience of using a fully manual, quality-built, metal camera like the Exakta is a treat in itself.

Here are a few photographs from that photowalk. We started down by the marina, walked up the street alongside the Watergate Hotel, then passed the Saudi embassy (which is quite an ugly building btw) and crossed the street to reach the Kennedy Arts Center. It was a cold, windy day and we froze, but I really like the photos I got, so it was worth it.

The Watergate Hotel

Political rhythm

Change of historical perspective

I see, you see, we all see

A modern interpretation of Don Quixote adorns the front of the Kennedy Center, and may I say what an ugly beast it is… Looks like whoever designed it was out to scare people, not inspire them.

He’s at it again

A clear day

Sit, sip, stare

Do, don’t talk

To scale

The day ended with a beautiful sunset over the Potomac River.

Potomac sunset