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An Australian scientist has calculated how many frames you need to record during a group shot to give you the best odds that at least one image will have everyone with their eyes open. In the article, Picture Perfect: How to Make Blink-Free Holiday Photos, physicist Piers Barnes calculates the average number of times a person blinks (10 per minute), how long a blink lasts (250 milliseconds), camera shutter speed (8 milliseconds in a typical setting), and the number of people in the group.

The article goes on to provide some rules of thumb for shooting in both good light and bad. It's interesting stuff, and the formulas work out to about the same as experience has taught me over years of working weddings -- I average about 5 frames for most group shots.

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Those eagle-eyed shooters at Popular Photography have identified 25 great products from 2006 and recognized them with Pop Awards. This is a terrific list including many products I've covered here on The Digital Story, such as Apple Aperture, the Epson R2400 printer, Canon PowerShot G7, and the Lumix DMC-LX2.

I also read with great interest other items in the Pop Awards that I wasn't familiar with, and now have some new gear to investigate further. There's lots of good stuff here, and it's really worth spending a few minutes perusing the list.

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Sponsor Note...

ExpoDisc Custom White Balance -- Simply Better Color. Simply Better Pictures. Visit www.expodisc.com

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The December 2006 photo assignment, pool of light closes at the end of day on Sunday, Dec. 31. You still have a little time to send in your entry.

Participating is easy. All you have to do is attach your assignment photo to an email and send it in. Title your subject line: Photo Assignment [month, year]. Attach your entry making sure that it is no wider than 600 pixels. Include a few sentences about why you took this approach, the camera you used, and any setting details that you think are important. Address your email to: derrick@thedigitalstory.com.

If you can, don't remove the EXIF metadata as you prepare your image. I like to list this information with the picture when it's displayed in our gallery.

As an example, this image of Apple CEO Steve Jobs was captured in Oct. 2005 when he unveiled the iPod 5th Gen video at a press event. Steve is standing in the pool of light while others mill about in the shadows.

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I've been testing fine art papers for Epson and HP "B" sized printers, and I've come across a real diamond in the rough. Epson's Watercolor Paper Radiant White costs less than half as much as their Velvet Fine Art Paper, but produces comparable results with a higher archival rating.

Both papers have a bright white surface that produce vibrant images, feature texture and weight that feel good in the hands, and dries instantly for easy handling. I've done many side-by-side prints with both stocks, and the watercolor images come very close to the vibrancy of those printed on Velvet Fine Art. The kicker is, you can get 13" x 19" (Super B size) sheets of Epson Watercolor for about a $1 a sheet, and the Velvet Fine Art runs about $3 a print.

Another interesting note is that the archival permanence for the Watercolor is 92 years compared to 61 years for Velvet Fine Art. I can use the regular sheet feeder on an Epson R2400 for the Watercolor, but had to use the manual sheet feeder for the Velvet, which is a heavier paper stock.

No doubt, the Epson Velvet Fine Art paper is fantastic. It is heavier than the Watercolor and has a better D-Max rating. But when I put large B&W images next to each other (printed on both papers), I'm thrilled by how well the Watercolor prints hold up to those on the Velvet Fine Art... for about a third of the price.

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Gorillapods Are Great!

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I'm a big fan of portable, sturdy tripods, and I have a decent collection of three-legged critters that I use regularly. During the holidays, I received a new addition to my stable, my first Gorillapod -- the original model. And I'm having a blast with it.

The original model, which is also the smallest, is perfect for my Canon PowerShot SD 700IS. It's a 150mm tall (6") and only weighs 45g (1.6 oz). Yet this little creature can steady your camera (up to 275 grams - 9.7 oz). in just about location -- from table top to tree limb. The legs are constructed of 10 flexible joints that enable you to quickly position your camera in just seconds. You even get a nifty quick-release head so you don't have to screw and unscrew every time you want to mount the camera.

You can purchase the original Gorillapod for $21.95, and the larger sizes for DSLRs for $40 and $50 each. The Joby site has a fun photo gallery of Gorillapods in action. In fact, there's even a flickr gallery called Gorillapod Love dedicated to these little beasties. Good pictures and good fun.

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Sponsor Note...

ExpoDisc Custom White Balance -- Simply Better Color. Simply Better Pictures. Visit www.expodisc.com

Canon G7

In a recent review on Photography Blog, the Canon PowerShot G7 earned high praise, with the reviewer commenting that "Though I'd hate to use the word great, in almost all aspects the Canon G7 is certainly very, very good. If I had to choose a back up compact for an SLR, the Canon PowerShot G7 would currently top the list. Superb. If you haven't yet submitted your list to Santa, or want a new toy to play with to beat those post-festive blues, seek out this sophisticated contender for some serious results."

The G7 is a 10-megapixel beauty that fits in your coat pocket, but offers big features such as a 2.5" LCD, 6X optical zoom, image stabilizer, DIGIC III processor, 80-1600 ISO range, and just about every camera control you'd find on a standard DSLR.

As I've mentioned before, there is no RAW mode, and the LCD is now fixed to the back of the camera: two features that I miss from earlier models in the Canon G series. But I've talked to two photographers who own the camera, plus have read a handful of reviews such as the recent one on Photography Blog, and this camera is resonating with users. I can tell you one thing, it feels good to hold. And the images it produces are terrific. But I have to say, I really want RAW mode on a camera of this caliber.

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Hot off the press with over 3 hours of tips and tricks, Aperture 1.5 Beyond the Basics is now available from lynda.com. I team up with Scott Bourne to cover Aperture workflow, importing images, using image previews, wrangling with metadata, output, and plenty of new features including edge sharpening, centered loupe, and referenced libraries.

Lynda has made a couple of the chapters available for free so you can see if they're your cup of tea. If you find them helpful, you can subscribe to the service for as little as $25 a month (for unlimited access to all titles), or you can purchase the Aperture title on DVD for $99.95.

We had a lot of fun recording Beyond the Basics, and I hope it proves helpful for all levels of Aperture users.

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Sponsor Note...

You're Not Ken Burns -- But FotoMagico slideshows are so good that people will believe that he helped you.

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I've just stumbled across five terrific video tutorials on new Photoshop CS3 features created by Russell Brown, Photoshop Master. The tutorials cover Smart Filters, Photomerge, converting color to B&W, Auto-Blend Layers, and the new Clone Source feature. You can watch them now for free by visiting Russell Brown's site. And of course, you can download the public beta if you're a current CS2 registered user.

Some pretty cool stuff here by one of the best Photoshop guys on the planet...

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What can you say about a full-featured 6MP DSLR for less than $600 US... with lens? Well, the folks over at Imaging Resource have lots to say, and they put it all in their latest review of the Nikon D40.

"Intermediate photographers wanting a camera to start a business on a budget should look to the Nikon D80 or Canon 30D, as these are more suited for professional photography. Those who already own a bagful of Nikon glass should also look to the D50, D70s (before they disappear), or D80, because you want to use that fine Nikkor equipment as long as you can. But if you're just getting started in SLR photography and want a light, sweet, competent, and simultaneously friendly digital SLR, the Nikon D40 is a superb choice."

Solid Nikon quality at a very affordable price... If you haven't made the DSLR jump yet, this is a camera worth looking at.

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Next Podcast Focuses on Indoor Sports

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It's that time of year when indoor photography suddenly seems so appealing (and warm). In my upcoming Tuesday podcast (Dec. 19, 2006), I talk about sports photography under the lights and the lens selections and lighting challenges that go with it. Indoor sports are great fun to cover... provided you're prepared.

This image was captured with a Canon 5D, 85mm f-1.8 USM lens set to f-2.8 at 1/180th of a second. I set the ISO to 800 to deal with the relatively low light and fast moving objects, and the while balance was set to "custom" and measured with an ExpoDisc. No flash!

I'll get into all the details in Tuesday's podcast. Be sure to tune in. You can subscribe to The Digital Story podcast via iTunes.

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