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June 12, 2010 / A Surviving Father

Aperture 3 Workflow

As promised in a previous entry, what follows is an example workflow for postprocessing with Aperture 3.  One of the great things about taking up photography is that I get to work with some of my favorite subjects- my children.  So here is an untouched photo taken of one of my daughters in our backyard straight out of the camera:

Untouched image straight from the camera

Not a terrible photo- there is some nice backlighting, but it could use some correction.  Now the possibilities are endless, and a lot of what you do depends on your goal for the photograph.  Are you converting to black and white?  Do you want a vintage look?  How about pop art?  Muted or sepia?  Like I said, the possibilities are endless.  For this example, we’ll focus on just making a decent color photograph for sending to friends and family.

Within Aperture 3 there are ready-made preset adjustments which you can try, but I like to experiment with the settings manually.  Sometimes I get an unintended look that I really like, plus it helps me feel a little more comfortable with what each adjustment really does to a photo.  If you find a group of settings that you really like, you can always save them as a preset to use on additional photos.  You can also lift adjustments from one photo and apply them to other photos, but I digress.

The first step for me is to crop the photo which allows me to improve upon the original composition.  In this case I wanted to focus more on my daughter’s face.  I also avoided centering her in the image- her face is about two-thirds of the way from the left edge of the photo.  There are probably entire dissertations written about the “rule of thirds” but suffice it to say, it is aesthetically pleasing.  Here is the image after cropping:

Cropped image

I am not an expert at post-processing, but almost everything I’ve read recommends starting with noise reduction.  It is typically not a noticeable adjustment except at high magnification, so I did not include a picture, but it helps remove noise artifact that degrades image quality.

The next step is to adjust white balance and overall exposure.  The white balance in this photo is fairly good, so I did not need to perform further adjustment; however I thought I would boost the exposure to lighten the face without loosing too much detail in the highlight areas, such as the tip of the nose.  I didn’t worry about the highlights around the hair, as increasing the exposure actually adds to the halo effect:

Exposure adjustment

Next I play around with the ‘curves‘ panel.  Now I have no idea what exactly is happening when I make curve adjustments, but I push and pull curves until I see something that I like, such as this:

A little curve adjustment

Not too bad.  The next couple of steps are mere details, but they can really enhance a portrait.  First, I brush in selective highlights, or reflectors, on the eyes using the dodge (lighten) brush.  You don’t want to overdo this step, as it can make the image appear artificial.  Before and after images are below:

Before

After selective dodge highlights

Next, I sharpen the entire image, but I also selectively sharpen the eyes by brushing in the effect- a nice feature of Aperture 3.  Sharpening the eyes draws more focus to them, which really is the point of a portrait- it’s all about the eyes.

Before

After selective sharpening of the eyes

Finally, I add a vignette adjustment, which slightly darkens the corners of the photo to again bring focus to the face.  This completes the post-processing for this particular image- it is grandparent-ready!

After post-processing

June 9, 2010 / A Surviving Father

Aperture 3

As a new photographer, I admit that I have been somewhat disillusioned.  I thought that all I really needed was the “right” camera and all of my pictures would turn out looking like those from National Geographic.  Obviously it takes much more than just the right equipment, and although a lot of the work associated with getting an amazing photo needs to occur before hitting the shutter button, an incredible amount of effort goes into post-processing.

Since I am new to the world of photography and I have always been a Mac person, I thought I would trust Apple in helping me out with organizing and post-processing my photos.  They make a robust but easy to use program called Aperture 3.  After playing around with it for a few weeks, I am very impressed.  I have Adobe’s Photoshop CS3 that I use in conjunction with Illustrator for graphic design, but I now prefer Aperture for most of my photo processing needs.

In my next photography post I will give a run through of a sample workflow approach to processing a photo with Aperture 3.

June 8, 2010 / A Surviving Father

The Cost of Becoming a Physician

I had a conversation today in which I was again confronted with a stereotype about physicians- that we are rich!  Everyone knows that doctors are rich, right?  That is a prevalent assumption which is rarely accurate (especially if you have seven kids).  I should preface this by saying that wealth is relative and I don’t expect anyone to feel sorry for me or other physicians; by and large we are not a struggling breed.  I acknowledge that physicians are among the top earners across all fields, but I think it is important to realize that looking at salary alone is insufficient to provide an informed assessment of wealth.

Becoming a physician is a huge investment in time and money. After four years of college and four years of medical school, most physicians graduate nearly $200K in debt, if not more.  That is not trivial.  But wait, there’s more.  Earning the M.D. degree is not sufficient.  To become a practicing physician, you have to then undergo residency training in a specific field of medicine- surgery, pediatrics, radiology, etc.  A residency runs anywhere from 3 to 6 years.  As a resident you do finally get paid a salary- currently starting around $45,000 a year.  Doesn’t sound too bad, until you consider that residents work 70-80 hours a week, if not more (which is now technically illegal), which works out to be a little over minimum wage.  In the meantime, interest is accruing on those student loans, since most residents cannot afford to start paying them back during residency.

Finally after residency (11-14 years of higher education), you can become a practicing physician.  But wait, there’s more.  Many doctors find it necessary to subspecialize through fellowship training.  A fellowship ranges from 1 to 3 additional years.  Excluding college, that can mean up to 13 years of post graduate education- compare that to 3 years to become a practicing lawyer or 2 years to obtain an MBA.  When it comes down to it, becoming a physician isn’t about being smart (although that helps), it’s about perseverance.

June 7, 2010 / A Surviving Father

Unforeseen Use for Disposal Diapers

Disposable diapers are a brilliant invention.  I know that some people are purists and go for natural organic cotton cloth diapers, but the utility and convenience of a Pamper is undeniable, as long as it is limited to its intended use.  Unfortunately, my trail-blazing five-year-old daughter found a new potential application for a wet, used diaper- a projectile.

Our two-year-old had one of those wet diapers to the point that it was weighing down her pants and would swing from one side to the other as she ran down the hall.  Needless to say she was changed, but the old, wet diaper somehow didn’t make it into the trash and was left on the bedroom floor.  Now I won’t lie, finding a bundled wet diaper on the floor is not a rare occurrence in our home.  What is unusual, is that our five-year-old daughter decided to throw it around like a beanbag until it exploded into thousands of urine-filled diaper gel pieces!  There were shouts of delight and horror from her siblings.

After the room was evacuated I was brought in for damage control.  Mind you it was tough for me to keep my cool and I did raise my voice.  We just moved into a new house with nice new carpet and my daughter’s flagrant abuse of a wet diaper was almost incomprehensible, but you can’t get very far with a five-year-old asking her, “What were you thinking?!”

The obvious consequence was that she should help clean up the mess, but she didn’t want to touch the stuff, and I couldn’t blame her.  So she only had to pick up the largest bulky remains of the diaper and I did the tedious dirty work… but I did make her watch, in the event that she has a moment of clarity in the future and actually does think before doing something rash, she will hopefully remember this day.

In the end, no harm done, except maybe psychological… to me.  She spontaneously apologized after watching her daddy clean up the mess.  This was followed by hugs and kisses, and she went to bed knowing that her father loves her.

June 7, 2010 / A Surviving Father

Amateur Photographer

An important aspect of being a father is maintaining and cultivating personal interests, and I mean beyond watching ESPN.  Since my job is very time intensive, activities that take me away from the family are frowned upon.  I therefore decided to delve into photography.  This hobby has had several benefits:

  1. I get to buy stuff!  Let’s face it, guys like to spend money, especially on gadgets.
  2. Family time.  I mainly take pictures of the kids.
  3. We save money.  Yes, the camera is an investment with a high upfront cost, but it is essentially the cost of three sessions with a professional photographer.

Future posts will explore the camera, composition, and post-processing.  Just remember that I am an amateur, so hopefully the photos will improve over time.

June 6, 2010 / A Surviving Father

Why a Blog?

So what is the blog all about?  Quite honestly, it is about me.  Not because I am selfish or narcissistic, it’s just that I can’t imagine anyone being all that interested in what I do.  So I imagine this blog being a chronicle of life as I see it.

And I see quite a lot.  Nothing exotic; I don’t travel the world or live a life of rich and fame, but I do find a lot to enjoy in simple things.  I am the father of seven (yes, seven) children- two boys and five girls.  Being a father is amazing.  It is exhausting but very rewarding, but you can easily miss out on the wonder of it all if you don’t take time to reflect and appreciate it, which is one purpose of this blog.

In addition to being a father, I am a physician- a cardiothoracic radiologist to be precise.  I truly do enjoy my job.  I work with wonderful people at a premier university and can’t really imagine doing anything else.  One of the challenges of loving your work is striking the appropriate balance between profession and family.  These two things can completely consume an individual, so it is important to also make some ‘me’-time.  Back in the day before I was married, had kids, and was a busy doctor, I actually had time to pursue other interests.  I studied architecture, built furniture, played the piano and organ, and enjoyed drawing and painting.  Obviously I had to let some things go, but I needed to hold onto some interests and develop others in order to maintain a personal identity.

Which again brings me to the purpose of this blog- it is about me- what I like to do and how I incorporate a career, parenting, and my personal interests into something that, well, works.