The wonders and horrors of post-processing

Post-processing your photos is actually just editing them. If you’re on Instagram, you know what it’s like: Select the photo, choose an oddly-named filter, maybe tune up the contrast to bring out your eyes, and you’re done. But there’s actually a lot more to it than that.

To post-process a photo is to fine-tune it to your liking, or just make sure everything in the photo is balanced if it is not already. It makes your images look professional, or it can be a life saver if there’s a little splotch in the photo and you don’t want it there. I’ve used it in many ways- to crop out a little blade of grass, to make the image look sharp, or to give it that bright and cheery feel. Post-processing has saved me from so many boring, underexposed photos that don’t look right, and I’m sure it has for you, too.

Of course, there are so many to choose from, which one do you pick?

Pear treeSince I don’t really like to spend money when I can save it, I’ve never dabbled into things like Photoshop – although part of that is probably because the only computer I own is a Chromebook. But there are free quality alternatives to this, including web-based ones and full-fledged software. My favorite one is Polarr, which is free on the App Store, the Play store, and the Chrome Web store, as well as their version for Mac and Windows. Polarr does not let you do things like select one color in an image or heal, but instead it filters images, give them a distorted effect, and other things like that. The only catch is that you can buy a pro version for $20, and some good features like batch export (save multiple images at a time) are only available through it.

Another one I like is Pixlr Express/Touch Up, which is web-based (Touch Up is a Chrome app version) by Autodesk, and it was a good starter for me. I still use it for that “splash” effect – where the photo is black and white except for one object – but otherwise, I use Polarr now. I like the fact that it’s chock-full of features, including filters, overlays, borders, text, splash, heal, and more. Of course, the web version (Express) has ads, so that’s annoying. But Touch Up is really good! It also comes as an iPhone app and an Android app – both free. I still use the mobile app, and rarely the desktop one.

Now I’ve talked about the benefits of post-processing and two of my favorite editors. But what about the problems?

Chickadee looking in birdhouse BWThe thing I hate most about post-processing is the fact that almost all web-based services and mobile apps will compress your images horribly. (Thanks for being a bro and not doing that, Polarr.) This is especially bad for someone like me who loves the quality of his camera and hates to see his images in such poor quality. This is also why I hate cropping. Another bad one is the fact that if your computer isn’t super fast, dedicated software can be slow as a snail to upload your photos.

In my opinion, the advantages outweigh the problems, so I’m going to keep on using photo editors. As for you – I’ll let you decide that yourself. Even though you’ll probably still use them anyway.

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My pets

I have pets. Three of them. One dog, two birds. They get along pretty well, even though they’re actually afraid of each other. Their names are Louis, Jane, and Casey.

Louis and Jane are my birds. Louis is green with a yellow head and Jane is teal with a white head. They’re both really adorable, but they can be flighty (haha) and irritable at times. We’ve had them since July 2013. I think they’re both about three and a half now.File_000 Louis is pretty mild and is afraid of most things, except me. He doesn’t really bite that often, and when he does, he’s not really that angry or scary – he’s just afraid of whatever fleshy thing with large grasping appendages that’s cornered him in his cage. The weird thing with him is that he’s so heavy. Jane is pretty light, and she can fly around easily. My aunt’s bird was about as light as Jane. But Louis is really heavy, and not super great at landing.

File_004Jane is adorable – don’t get me wrong. Sadly, she’s not mine – my brother bought her when I bought Louis. She will perch on your hand and chirp quite a lot – unless you upset her; then she will bite your hand until you almost shake her off. She doesn’t do that a lot anymore, but she used to, and it was really scary. Now the only problem is getting her out of her cage. She’s pretty spunky and really adept at flying around the room and landing on the trim on the top of the door. We actually used to use a glove to get her down since he liked it so much and didn’t bite it, but now that I’ve been letting the birds out more, she is getting used to me.

Casey on the couchEven though my birds are adorable and I love them, the first pet I ever had is Casey. Casey is seven years old. Her birthday is probably January 6th, which is what the guys at the pound estimated. Honestly, I don’t remember much about getting her. It was March 2009, and me and my two brothers and my mom went to look at dogs at the pound while my dad was at work. We looked through a couple rows and came to a cage of four or five puppies. She was the only girl. Her mom was found in an alleyway (or something like that) with a litter of puppies. Though she died, her pups lived. The four boys were black-and-white, and really rowdy and excited when we brought one into the little room where you get to see the dogs. We decided not to get any of the boys. There was a little black girl puppy, though, which was a lot more shy than the boys. When we brought her into the room, she was inexplicably covered in her poo. Even though she smelled up a storm (and can still manage it), she was really shy and scared. We decided to get her. So after my dad arrived and we signed the proper paperwork, we brought her home. We borrowed up a cage from our friends and brought her inside our house. The first thing that happened was that she went right down the stairs with my dad and got a long, thorough bath. We named her Casey.

Casey is part black lab and part beagle, along with a bunch of other stuff. She loves people now and barks incessantly at everyone, which gets on everyone’s nerves at times. When we forget to feed her once in a while, she gets really gassy and ends up making weird stomach noises and upchucking. That’s never fun. She can still run like the wind, and when we bring her to the park, her nose is like radar. She puts it low to the ground and walks around, following whatever trails she can find.

When you put her around other dogs, she gets terrified. My grandparents have a little cockapoo, and when we put them in the backyard together, mayhem begins. That little Lacey will chase Casey around the yard in circles. The funny thing is, Lacey is half Casey’s size! Casey really doesn’t like dogs for some reason.

Casey, Louis and Jane. My three pets. They’re little balls of feather, fur and fun, and I love them.

So long, winter

Finally, no more snow. Finally, the birds are singing. Finally, allergy season has started (wait a minute) – And I’m ready for it all.

Ever since Christmas ended and my grandmother gave me a longboard, I’ve been dying to get out there and go for a legit cruise. I think it’s kinda funny that my board looks so dirty and I’ve hardly ridden it. Besides on Christmas day and a few days in between then and now, I haven’t done much of it. But finally, it’s getting warmer and I’m pumped.

Today is March 20, 2016, the first day of spring. I think the reason spring doesn’t start tomorrow is that it’s a leap year. But I’m glad. Though it’s really not, it feels like it’s a day earlier than normal.

And that’s awesome.

That means my constant staring out the window during school can end. I can finally just finish it up and then actually go outside. And this morning, I saw the first rabbit of the year. For me, that’s cool because rabbits are… rabbits. They’re adorable. Of course, everyone else hates them for their crop-and-plant-destroying tendencies, but I just see them as cute and fuzzy. I also saw two blue jays, a robin, a chickadee and two juncos. And a squirrel (eww).

Because all of these furry and feathery creatures are practically showing up at my doorstep, that means I can grab my camera and take pictures of them. I really love doing that. But even without my camera, birding is still one of my favorite things to do. I love the way they sing and flit about in the trees, and I love watching the hawks take to the sky with the thermals in the afternoon.

All in all, springtime is pretty good. So happy spring, everyone.

The joys of printing photos

I recently printed some of my photos. When I received them, I was astonished at how exhilarating it was to hold one of my own photos in my hand. I don’t know why, but for some reason it was really exciting. Holding a physical copy of that in my hand was really awesome for some reason.

But printing photos doesn’t really appeal to everyone. If your phone has a really crappy camera, then it’s probably not worth it. If you’re using a new iPhone, a Nexus or a legit camera, then you might want to look into it. Especially if you have memories that you want to look at a long time from now.

I haven’t been doing photography super long, so I can’t really print photos from a long time ago. I print my best photos to show people and to frame. It’s really nice to have your room adorned with a few cool photos. And I can give them to people if they’d like a copy, too – that’s always nice.

Currently I use Snapfish to print my photos. Right now they have a new customer deal – join now and you get a hundred 4×6 photos free each month (besides shipping). I’ve taken advantage of that, and let me tell you – It’s worth it!

How to take photos & what to do with them

I have a collection of photos that I have taken. I have it available to the public (as none of it is copyrighted) here – But what do people do with my photos? Over the past few weeks, I have been delighted to learn that word is getting out about my photos. All of the photos on BFSK (…which is what you’re reading) are taken by me unless specifically noted. Recently, a teacher at my school asked to borrow some of my printed photos and bird books for their ornithology class. My brother has a snow photo of mine as his wallpaper (above). It’s quite exhilarating!

Some people ask how I take my photos and what stuff I use. One of my relatives even said I have an “artist’s eye.” I have a Canon PowerShot SX520 HS which I got at a pawn shop for a pretty good deal. It’s in perfect condition and I am very happy with it! As to how I take my photos: I don’t really know why they turn out – in all modesty – so good.

I guess two of the main things I do are blurring the background by zooming in, and putting the subject off to the side, like the above photo. I’ve also gotten good at holding the camera still and judging whether I have enough light to make the shot. An also – if you want really good photos, do not use flash. That’s how you can kill the shot – though sometimes it works. And another warning: Pretty much never use Auto mode. If there is a Program mode or a semi-auto mode, use that. It gives you control over white balance, flash use, auto or manual focus and some other things. And fully Manual mode is generally complicated and should only be used if you have a lot of time to get the shot right.

“There is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept.”

Ansel Adams

Like he said but in simpler words: Don’t take photos all willy-nilly without thinking about the composition first. That’s what I do, except when I see a bird. I guess I just see everything as a photo-op and look for a way to take a good picture. If you look at photography books constantly, you could do it too.

After you take photos, you probably wanna do something with them, other than show them to extended family and social media. First thing to do – print your photos and show them to people, but don’t be the person that comes up to his friends and shows them his photos, waiting for approval. That would be a wee bit odd. What I do is make an album on Google+ Photos (first you need a Google account) and share that on social media and text it to people. Another thing to do is enter your photos in contests. I’ve entered some of mine in the Audubon 2016 Photo Contest (which is now closed) and the BirdSpotter contest by Cornell, which is also closed. I didn’t even make it onto the honorary mentions column on either of them, but it was worth a try. Another thing you can try is selling your photos to people or stock photo companies. I’m not sure how to do this, so you’d have to figure it out on your own, or just follow this handy but sarcastic link.

Well, there are some ideas on how to take photos and what to do with them. Happy shooting picture taking!

A photo session with the robins

Yesterday, a flock of about twenty-five American robins flew into our neighbor’s yard and started eating the berries on their tree. A few of them were huddled away in nearby trees, where I got some good shots (in all modesty) of them.

Spring is coming… probably

Ever get that feeling that winter is never going to end? That the snow will never melt? I am sitting in my living room, looking outside at the gray clouds, the dirty snow, the utter inactivity, and I have the same feeling. It’s almost agonizing.

As a birder (look it up, it’s a real term), photographer, and all-around outdoor enthusiast, I cannot stand the couple weeks before spring. Spring means birds singing again, no more perpetually cold weather without snow, blue skies. Spring is warm, relaxing, bright. But the last few weeks of winter are just this dreary, gloomy cold snap with no sun, no animals, no noise. No matter how still it gets out there, I just sit there, waiting for something to happen.

I feel the heat blowing on my feet right now and I just think, I wish my feet could be this warm outside. But that’s not how winter works. It’s February now, and that means it will go up a couple degrees. We might even get a partly cloudy day. But nothing can replace the wind rushing in my face as I go speeding down a hill on my longboard. Nothing can replace staying outside for hours during break and running around, chasing after birds. Nothing can replace that but spring itself. So I will now proceed to write down a bushel of haiku.