Scam Alert: Google Free Listings

SCAM ALERT! Does anyone else get calls where the automated recording always says this same thing when you pick up? “Our records show that you have not updated your free Google listing. Press 1 to verify or press 9 to be removed from this list.” I’ve automatically hung up so many times on this auto-dialer robo-call service that I hardly hear what they say after the first phrase. The first time I received the call years ago, I listened with some interest, since I was just starting my photography and computer repair business. However, something about the call sounded like a scam, so instead of following their instructions, I went ahead and just got my “free Google listing” on my own. You can view it at https://www.google.com/+Kennethphotography and if you’re interested in creating one for your business, you can visit Google Places for Business. You should never have to pay anything to update this listing!

Anyway, now that I know for sure that my free Google listing is up, it’s all the more suspicious that this other company keeps calling me, especially when it doesn’t appear to be even affiliated with Google. I’ve tried blocking them, but the worst part is that it’s ineffective because they seem to have a huge pool of phone numbers to call from. Here is a partial list of all of the numbers from which they have called me over the years to try to get me to sign up for my “free Google listing” through them:

425-320-5138 (Bellevue, Everett, Renton, WA)
206-397-1159 (Seattle, WA)
417-800-2538 (Springfield, MO)
360-633-9322 (Bellingham, Vancouver, WA)
631-904-6109 (Babylon, Brentwood, Brookhaven, NY)
310-299-0131 (Los Angeles, CA)
323-844-8184 (Los Angeles, CA)
951-221-6113 (Corona, Hemet, Riverside, CA)
541-257-1328 (Bend, Eugene, Pendleton, OR)
323-844-8185 (Los Angeles, CA)
213-603-9078 (Los Angeles, CA)
360-322-6166 (Bellingham, Vancouver, WA)
458-201-1318 (Eugene, OR)

Since “pressing 9″ only seems to confirm that you are a human on the phone, and blocking a number only gets you so far, I’ve changed my strategy, and decided to keep adding these new numbers to the address book on my phone as yet another number belonging to the “Google Creeps”, and setting the ring tone to Silent. That way I can still get a sense of how often they’re calling (at least once a month).

Have this robo-dialer called you? Do you have additional numbers to report? Please leave a comment!

Contact or book me now for your next computer training or photography lesson!
Or check out details about the gear I use at http://www.kennethphotography.com/gear

Removing Camera Dust

We met at Lower Antelope Canyon last month and both got the photographer’s pass in the morning. What was the blower you were talking about for removing dust? Also, how do you clean your sensor?

I had a great time meeting a fellow photographer during my adventures last month in Page, Arizona, and while we were exploring Antelope Canyon, our camera gear naturally got covered with a fine layer of sand and dust. Not only did I hate that gritty feel of the particles in my lens when I turned the zoom ring, but it can do some serious damage to your gear if left in there. So one of the first tasks I attended to when I returned to my car was to perform a quick cleaning, followed by a more thorough cleaning once I got back to the hotel, since it was so incredibly dusty.

To remove typical amounts of dust and other foreign matter that lands on my camera and lenses, I usually use the Giottos rocket air blower, which is a simple but effective hand-powered blower that shoots puffs of air with a good amount of pressure. The rocket blower comes in different sizes, but I just use the large one. I will use the puffs of air very liberally across the outer surfaces of the camera and the lens to cast off dust. I’ll often do this for a lens before I put the lens cap back on.

To answer my new friend’s second question, I’ve never had the occasion to actually clean my sensor, other than to let the camera go through its automatic sensor cleaning routine when I turn the camera on and off. For the most part, I’m guessing I would do more harm than good when trying to clean my sensor manually. Instead, I try to practice the art of keeping dust out of the sensor chamber in the first place, which involves being careful to point the face of the camera downward when changing lenses, so that loose dust and particles will not just drift into the sensor chamber. If I truly suspected something was wrong with the sensor surface (such as noticing the same blemishes or dead pixels on every photo I take, even after cleaning or switching lenses, I’d probably send it in to Canon for a cleaning. Here’s a link to Canon Professional Services, which offers several levels of membership: http://www.cps.usa.canon.com/repairs/repairs.shtml

Finally, check out the photos I took at Lower Antelope Canyon. Dust or no dust, the trip was well worth it!

WordPress Nav Menu Text vs. Page Titles

How do I make the title of a WordPress page different from the text of a menu button that links to that page?

When you create a new Page in WordPress and want to add it to one of your menus, the default behavior is for the title of the page to become the text of the menu button that links to it. Many people are happy with this behavior, but occasionally you may want to customize the button text, especially if you have a very long Page title and want a shorter phrase to show up in your navigation menu. Here is a way to work at it without any plugins:

Give your page whatever title you want and give it whatever custom URL that you want. Publish your page and copy down the URL for it.

Wordpress Page with Custom URL

In the WordPress Dashboard, under Appearance > Menus, now add a Link to your navigation menu, which will require a URL as well as custom link text to display in the menu. After you fill that in, click the Add to Menu button, then click Save Menu in the Menu Structure section to commit the changes.

Wordpres Add Link to Menu

If the page was already added to the menu structure for your site, you may now have one extra button with the page title in it instead of the custom link text. If you don’t see this issue, you’re done! Otherwise, find that menu item in the Menu Structure section and click the Remove function. Remember to click Save Menu again when you’re ready.

Wordpress Menu Structure panel

Here is what the final product looked like in my test, where the “Short Title” menu button linked to the page with the long title:

Wordpress page with long title but short link text

 

Contact or book me now for your next computer training or photography lesson!
Or check out details about the gear I use at http://www.kennethphotography.com/gear

Stray Cats Invaded Our House

About a month ago, I discovered evidence that at least one animal had infiltrated the downstairs storage areas of our house, having apparently fallen through the fiberglass insulation overhead and broken a few glass jars that were in storage. Without thinking much about it, I used a broom to stuff the insulation back in the crevice above. A day or two after the discovery, I observed a curious cat entering the same storage area by way of a cutaway hole in the paneling that allowed water pipes to enter the house. I immediately chased the cat out, and hoped that the message was clearly conveyed that this intruder was not welcome in the house.

However, I was not successful in this attempt, and over the past three weeks, neighborhood cats have been observed roaming about freely in our yard with increasing frequency, with greater numbers of distinct animals, and with increasing aggression, particularly in the evenings. Additional inspections of the two adjacent storage areas revealed repeated disturbances to the insulation and more broken glassware, which was unfortunately left in abundance on the shelves of this space by the previous residents. The past week has also been marked by the daily chasing of stray cats with a broom away from the house, followed by confirmation in the evenings that the intruders had found their way back into the house, as evidenced by the unsettling sounds of cats meowing, running about, and fighting, all emanating from the ventilation system in our living room, which is directly above the heater unit installed in the storage area. I have no doubt that the outdoor cats have found the space near our heater to be a pleasant location to hide away during a cold night, but this progression of unruly feline behavior, property damage, the growing stench cannot continue.

Today, I was prepared to investigate the situation in earnest, and I believe my efforts were rewarded, as today’s discoveries were the most significant to date. I have taken the opportunity document my findings through the following photos. The first photo shows the back of the house. Each photo contains labels so readers can stay oriented as they view the image series below.

A. Front door of downstairs unit.
B. Back door of upstairs unit.
C. Picnic table where stray cats like to lounge around.
D. Storage Area that contains heater and vents overhead.
E. Workshop that is behind a padlocked door.
F. Empty area under the house where stray cats like to hang out. 

House photos by Kenneth Chan Photography

This morning, I spotted two cats on Picnic Bench C and managed to capture them with my camera. Behind them are Storage Area D & Workshop E.

Surveillance photos by Kenneth Chan Photography

I soon discovered that there were in fact more than two cats on the picnic table, and it is clear they had been expecting some privacy at this early hour.

Surveillance photos by Kenneth Chan Photography

I was surprised and annoyed by the boldness this morning, as this clowder glared at me while continuing to do their business, perhaps confident that the wooden posts between us would provide them adequate time to make a quick escape should the occasion arise.

Surveillance photos by Kenneth Chan Photography

Without further warning, three of the cats suddenly bolted away, leaving the biggest cat alone in my sights. The cat looked intently in the direction of the empty Alcove F where I have observed other cats vanish during their escape.

Surveillance photos by Kenneth Chan Photography

That indeed was the direction at least two of these cats darted, though again they seemed to mock me by looking back to see if I was still in hot pursuit.

Home repair photos by Kenneth Chan Photography

Undaunted, I decided that this time I would follow them into the dark, perhaps to their dismay.

Surveillance photos by Kenneth Chan Photography

Here is a wider shot of this alcove, which contained dusty pipes, loose rocks and concrete, and the musky smell of cats that were not my own. I proceeded forward into this narrow space, hoping for an absence of scorpions and spiders.

Home repair photos by Kenneth Chan Photography 

Here the nook reaches a dead end, save for some broken boards and pipes which clearly did nothing to stop the cats from slipping past. I, on the other hand, would have to find another way past this obstacle.

Home repair photos by Kenneth Chan Photography

I retraced my steps and exited the alcove, and decided to investigate the storage rooms next. Here is the area directly outside of the two storage room doors. Alcove F is located directly behind this way, and the cutaway panels created for these overhead pipes were one way the cats were gaining access into the storage areas. Workshop E is to my left and Storage Area D is behind me.

Interior photos by Kenneth Chan Photography

Here is the entryway to Storage Area D. The exit door is the one with the word “LIGHT” scrawled on it, and the heater is the metal object directly above the door.

Home repair photos by Kenneth Chan Photography

Here’s a closeup of the pink fiberglass insulation that I have tried to cram back into the crevices rather unsuccessfully due to the way they have been shredded up by the intruders.

Home repair photos by Kenneth Chan Photography

Here is the back section of Storage Area D. Through the mesh screen, you can see through to Workshop E and back to the Alcove F, as labeled below.

Home repair photos by Kenneth Chan Photography

Here you can also see that the pink fiberglass insulation has been disturbed.

Home repair photos by Kenneth Chan Photography

At the very end of Storage Area D, I discovered what appeared to be the connection between all three areas infiltrated by the strays. This hole in the mesh screen, designed to allow the pipe to pass through, has been enlarged to allow the cats to roam freely into Workshop E.

Home repair photos by Kenneth Chan Photography

Here is Workshop E from the other side of the mesh screen. Label D indicates the hole that allowed the cats to traverse to and from this room via the shelves. All of the goodies in this workshop were left here by the previous resident.

Interior photos by Kenneth Chan Photography

With my newly-found discoveries, and with high confidence that I had temporarily scared off all of the intruding cats, I proceeded to block up the holes between areas D, E, and F with cardboard boxes and other junk that I found lying around. Will this be the end of our troubles, or have I underestimated the determination of these freeloading felines? Only time will tell.

06_resize_navigator

How to Resize Photos and Images for the Web

Don’t you hate it when a webpage takes forever to load? I do too, so let’s look at one quick technique for reducing the load times for the webpages that you contribute to or manage so that your viewers will not suffer the same frustration. One of the reasons for slow-loading pages is that the images on them have not been optimized for online display. This common problem occurs when we post photos straight out of the digital camera onto the web without resizing them first, even if we will not need to view them at full-resolution online. Fortunately, many websites (e.g. Facebook, Flickr, WordPress) already make it a point to automatically resize and compress your images at the time of upload so that you don’t have to think about it. However, there remain many circumstances when having a basic knowledge of resizing will be useful, especially if you are working on your own website or want to control how large a version of a photo file you want to give to someone else (and to reduce the time it takes to email it to them). What follows is a brief tutorial on how to do this for free using any Windows or Mac computer with an Internet connection, using the free Photoshop Express Editor, which is part of the Photoshop Online Tools.

1. Launch a web browser and visit http://www.photoshop.com/tools to load the Photoshop Online Tools homepage. It should look like the screenshot below. From here, click the “Start the Editor” link, which is indicated in red. (If all you needed was a quick recommendation on which online tool to use for image resizing and you can take it from here, feel free to stop the tutorial and take it from here!)

01_photoshop_online_tools

2. You should be prompted to select a photo to edit. Click the Upload Photo button to proceed. (If you are prompted to install Adobe Air for your browser to enable this web-based photo editing application to run, visit https://get.adobe.com/air to download and install Adobe Air, and then return here to complete the rest of the tutorial!)

02_select_photo_to_edit

3. You may get a warning that, “the Photoshop Express Editor currently only supports JPEG files.” (So if your camera creates Raw image files, you will need to find a way to save those as JPG files first. We’ll leave that tutorial for another day!) Click the Upload button as shown below to open up the file browser. Select your photo file and then click OK.

03_jpg_only_warning

4. Your photo will load in the main editing window. As you can see on the left side of the interface, Photoshop Express Editor has many photo editing functions, and we will focus just on the Resize function in this tutorial. Click the Resize button to enter that module.

04_basic_interface

5. The box indicated in red is the Navigator window, which allows you to see a thumbnail of your entire image even if you are zoomed into the image. The smaller gray box in the Navigator window can be clicked and dragged to see the selected section in greater detail. Try out this optional step to get a feel for how this handy tool works. It will be particularly useful when you use the other editing functions available in Photoshop Express Editor.

05_resize

6. At the top of this same window, you will see some common resizing presets for Profile photos, Mobile devices, Email, and Website images. If you click on any of these, the maximum pixel dimensions will be set for your image. For example, the Website button will constrain the image to 800 pixels on the longest edge, which is generally as large an image as you would want for display on a website, since you need to account for users with browser windows of all sizes, including tablet users. Here is how each of the presets will constrain the longest edge of your image: Profile (150 pixels); Mobile (320 pixels); Email (640 pixels); Website (800 pixels). If none of the presets are appropriate for your needs, click the Custom button to set your own constraints for the pixel height or width. In this example, I clicked the Website button to constrain the image to 800 pixels.

06_resize_navigator

7. Once you define the pixel dimensions, you may notice the Navigator window update to show you a representation of the scale of your image. Click the Done button when you are ready to save a copy of your photo with the new edits.

07_resize_for_website

8. The application will ask you what you would like to do with your edited photo. Click the Save button to proceed.

08_click_to_save

9. You can now create a name for your new file. For photos that I am submitting to a publisher or someone else’s website, I prefer to list my name or initials, a short description of the image, and the longest edge of the image in pixels. In this example, the name of my new file is therefore kenneth_chan_venice_800px.jpg. Notice that the application will report how large the new file will be in kilobytes (KB) or megabytes (MB). The smaller, the better, so long as it serves your needs. Click the Save button to proceed.

09_rename

10. You will get a confirmation once the Save function is successful. Click the Done button to proceed.

10_confirmation

11. That’s it! Here’s my resulting photo, which has been constrained to 800 pixels so that it will display quickly for the web.

kenneth_chan_venice_800px

Ready to work on another photo? Visit http://www.photoshop.com/tools or click the Start the Editor link again!

Additional Considerations

Some of our readers may have some additional questions not covered in the basic tutorial above. They will be addressed below!

Q. What about dots-per-inch (dpi)? How come this resizing app doesn’t seem to address this parameter?
A. DPI is primarily relevant for printed materials. Whether you set your image to be, for example, 72 dpi or 300 dpi, it would still display the same nearly every display device (unless you’ve gone out of your way to configure your display device already, in which case you probably don’t need any help from me!). Most apps designed to help you create web graphics will automatically set images to be 72 dpi.

Q. Okay, so DPI doesn’t affect the image size on an electronic display, but my publisher still wants the file “at 300 dpi” for printing, so what do I do?
A. This is actually not too tricky, but does involve just a little bit of math. The main question you must first ask is, “What is that largest size that the final image will be printed?” Then you just multiply the target print dimensions by the dpi requirements. So if you need to print an image at 4″x6″ at 300 dots-per-inch (dpi), then your pixel dimensions need to be 1200 x 1600 pixels. If you need an 8″x10″ as your final product at 300 dpi, you would need to submit a 2400 x 3000 pixel image. Typical dpi requirements are 72 dpi for screen display only, 180 dpi for basic-quality prints, and 300 dpi for high-quality prints. (Incidentally, this accounts for why a lot of images look great on the web, but look blocky and pixelated when printed — they probably didn’t contain enough pixels to be printed well.)

Q. What if I’m required to submit an image that’s a maximum of 800 pixels on the longest edge, but I’m also told that it will need to be printable at 300 dpi? Can I do that in the same file?
A. It’s rare for a publisher to require both constraints so rigidly defined for a given image file, and here’s why: Let’s say the image was a total of 800 x 600 pixels in order to meet the pixel requirement. At 300 dpi, that image would print at 2.7 x 2 inches — barely bigger than a postage stamp! That’s probably not what the publisher really wants, and the awkward wording of the requirements likely stems from a misunderstanding about the relationship between pixel dimensions and print resolution in dpi. If you were preparing an image for both web and print media, it would be ideal to submit two versions of the image — one smaller version for the web, and one that is much larger for printing.

Contact or book me now for your next computer training or photography lesson!
Or check out details about the gear I use at http://www.kennethphotography.com/gear

Gear Recommendations for a Photography Student

Many people have a basic camera phone or point-and-shoot camera these days, but if you are going to take a photography class or otherwise get more serious about improving the craft of photography, you may want to consider the kinds of equipment you will need to be able to experiment more in-depth with the technical and creative sides of photography. There are an overwhelming number of camera models on the market to choose from, but in this guide I have tried to boil it down to a select few for those who have never shopped for a more advanced camera before. The approximate prices listed are current as of January 2014.

Whether we are looking at the models below or considering other options of your own, my criteria for evaluating cameras starts with some very important requirements:

* The camera must allow Manual control of aperture and shutter speed. This is most easily confirmed by the presence of an “M” mode on the main shooting mode dial.

* The camera should have an interchangeable lens system. Basically, you want the option to switch out lenses (wide angle, telephoto, macro, etc) for different photography subjects.

* If you are planning to use an older or used camera, make sure the battery is reliable or get additional backup batteries. There’s nothing worse than everything and everyone being ready for a shoot and your camera running out of batteries!

Budget Cameras ($300 or less)

Cameras in this section are going to allow much more creative control than camera phones and most point-and-shoot cameras, and will be adequate for many basic photography classes. But they will be more limited in functionality than more expensive cameras, making you want to replace them sooner with an upgrade as you get serious about photography. The units I have listed belong to the compact mirrorless class of cameras, which allow for interchangeable lenses while still remaining very portable and affordable. The tradeoff is usually that they will be slower than more expensive cameras, and they will also tend to be noisier or grainier than higher-end cameras due to the size of the image sensor.

Nikon 1 J1 with 10-30mm lens: $270
This is one of the most basic digital cameras with an interchangeable lens system, and probably the least expensive option at the time of this writing. However, even though the price is very attractive, keep in mind that the image quality will suffer in low-light situations, and it’s fairly possible that you will outgrow this camera sooner as you delve deeper into photography and desire greater control and lens selection.

Olympus PEN E-PM1 with 14-42mm lens: $299
This is a capable camera that conforms to the Micro Four-Thirds standard, which means that you will easily be able to acquire additional lenses from a number of manufacturers when you are ready to expand your craft. In my opinion, the versatility offered by this model over the Nikon 1 J1 is well worth it if you are shopping in the sub-$300 range.

Entry-Level Digital SLRs ($500 or less)

Cameras in this section are true digital SLR (DSLR) cameras will be very good for many photography applications, have lots of lens and accessory options, and will last for a long time if you take care of them. It’s astounding to see how a $500 camera today can outperform even $2000 cameras from just a few years ago!

Nikon D3100 with 18-55mm lens: $430
This is Nikon’s entry-level DSLR, and it offers great performance for the price. It is a very capable camera that will offer everything an aspiring photographer needs to create exciting images. One bonus feature is that in the video recording mode, the camera can continuously refocus on your subject, just like a camcorder.

Canon T3i with 18-55mm lens: $440
Canon has since replaced the T3i with newer models, but this camera still offers amazing value for the price. It is easily the camera I have most often recommended to budding photographers, and for good reason. Of the models listed on this page, I have the most personal experience using this camera, which has proven to be a winner in terms of image quality, features, and price. One bonus feature is the flip-out LCD screen which will allow you to shoot from extremely high or low angles to get unique perspectives.

Worthwhile Accessories

Consider adding the following equipment to your photography supplies:

A very good tripod at the $50 range is this Dolica tripod. It’s reasonably lightweight for travel, while having enough stability for most consumer DSLR and smaller cameras.

Blow dust and other particles off of your lenses and gear with this Giottos air blower for less than $10. This is much better than blowing with your mouth and getting spit on your lenses! I rarely bother to wipe my lenses with cleaning solution, but I frequently use the air blower as a simple and effective part of camera maintenance.

I have many different backpacks and camera bags over the years, but the one that I have continued to use all these years as a travel pack is the $60 Lowepro Slingshot 102 AW (technically I had the 100 which was the older version). It’s just enough for me to hold a camera with lens attached and two or three other lenses and a few small accessories. The main design innovation is that you do not have to take off the backpack to get to your gear, so it’s great for traveling. It also has straps for securing your tripod to it, but I’ve never used that feature before. If I have a very important professional shoot, I will of course use my bigger case, the Lowepro Pro Roller x200, but for basic photo trips, I turn to the Lowepro Slingshot.

Finally, if you’re looking for an external flash, please see my Basic Flash recommendations page!

Higher-End Cameras and Additional Gear

There are a whole lot more options out there in terms of cameras, especially if you are willing to spend more than $500 for a camera and lens combo. For example, you can see what I use in my professional photography work on my Gear Page.

If you are looking for a camera that is even more powerful or has even more advanced features than what is discussed in this article, please send me a note at kenneth@kennethphotography.com so I can get a better idea of your requirements and make a custom recommendation for you! I can also provide suggestions for many other kinds of camera gear.

Contact or book me now for your next computer training or photography lesson!
Or check out details about the gear I use at http://www.kennethphotography.com/gear