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photo of dunes in provincetown massachusetts.

A photo of beach dunes taken with a Canon EOS 10D digital camera.

My OpenSky store is alive and kicking! So let’s get started. I want to introduce you to a product that is a perfect solution for someone who loves shooting photos, and wants more versatility and creative options than a point and shoot camera offers.

I am a huge fan of Canon cameras. I purchased my very first Canon SLR (SLR=single lens reflex, it means you’re looking through the lens rather than a viewfinder) camera at the beginning of my first year of college, it was a Canon TLB film camera with a 50mm lens. I don’t believe I consciously chose Canon at the time for any reason other than that’s what the store I shopped at offered. Thankfully, the decision to go with Canon cameras and lenses, many, many, years ago, has proven to be a good one. I’ve owned lots of different Canon cameras since then. As Canon developed new technology, and my budget allowed, I upgraded my current Canon camera. I gave in and went digital only when Canon made the first digital camera I could afford. That was the good old Canon EOS 10D. I still use it, and it’s nearly 10 years old and going strong. I can honestly say I have never had a single problem with any of my Canon cameras or equipment.

All of the photos on my site, and this blog, were shot using Canon cameras. From my Canon F1n LA Olympic Edition film camera, my Canon PowerShot SD630 (point and shoot), which I purchased 5 years ago and carry around in my handbag, to my most recent Canon purchase, the incredible Canon EOS 5D Mark II.

Check out this Canon EOS Rebel XS 18-55IS Kit, it’s a perfect entry level Canon SLR digital camera. Get lots of the same features the pros enjoy with this incredible camera, which is Canon’s lightest and most compact EOS Digital SLR to date. Visit my OpenSky store at my website,

canon eos rebel xs digital camera image.

The Canon EOS Rebel XS Digital Camera

If you’re looking for a great way to get into working with a SLR camera, and all of the cool creative options that go with using one, then start out with this kit, it’s a perfect setup to get you shooting right away. Since it’s a Canon product, I can whole-heartedly assure you that this is a high quality product. If you have questions about this Canon EOS Rebel XS 18-55IS kit, or any other Canon lens or accessory, send me an e-mail at If I don’t know the answer, I’ll certainly make every effort to get the answer for you.

Now back to the Canon EOS Rebel XS 18-55IS kit, it comes fully loaded with many of the features offered on much, much higher priced cameras. From its 10.1-megapixel CMOS Sensor, Canon’s DIGIC III processor, simple, easy-to-use controls, compact design, huge 2.5-inch LCD monitor, and Live View Function (this cool function lets you see the image you’e shooting right there on the monitor so you don’t have to hold the camera to your eye), to the Canon 18-55 IS zoom lens, the IS stands for image stabilization, it’s totally a beginner’s dream come true. If you’re on the edge about whether or not to purchase this camera, I say, go for it, I chose Canon many years ago and I have not looked back. I recently got a Nikon advocate to switch to Canon once I showed him all the great things that my Canon EOS 5D Mark II can do!

Just look at this impressive list of facts and features.

• 10.1-megapixel CMOS Sensor
• Canon’s DIGIC III processor
• simple, easy-to-use controls
• compact design
• a 2.5-inch LCD monitor, and
• Live View Function
• Auto Lighting Optimizer for highlight/shadow control
• Picture Style settings for in-camera color, contrast, and sharpness control
• High-speed, wide-area 7-point AF with center cross-type sensors
• Excellent performance with 3.0 fps continuous shooting and burst rate up to 514 Large JPEGs (until memory card is full)
• Large 2.5-inch LCD monitor with Live View Function
• EOS Integrated Cleaning System
• Compatible with compact SD and SDHC memory cards
• Compatible with over 60 Canon EF/EF-S lenses and most EOS System accessories

Included: EF-S 18-55mm 1:3.5-5.6 IS Lens, Wide Strap EW-100DBIII, Video Cable VC-100, USB Interface Cable IFC-200U, Battery Pack LP-E5, Battery Charger LC-E5, EOS Digital Solution Disk and Instruction Manuals.

Special! 25% Off! From August 10th through August 16th, use coupon code EXCITE25 and you’ll receive 25% off any product on OpenSky! Visit my OpenSky “Candy” Store today! Michelle’s OpenSky Candy Store

Feel free to e-mail me with questions, the products that I endorse are products that I think are high-quality, and are worthy of taking the time to share them with you. Best of all, when you buy at my OpenSky shop, each and every purchase you make is completely GUARANTEED! You may return any purchase, for any reason, in its original condition, within 1 year for a FULL REFUND. And we’ll pay for the shipping! What could be better than that!?!

Don’t forget, order by August 16th, and use the special coupon EXCITE25 to save 25%!

By the way, send me your Canon camera photos and stories. E-mail me at Not only would I enjoy them, but I’ll post your shots and stories here on my blog to be enjoyed by all!

Happy shooting!

Click above to be eligible to win, but I can’t tell you what!

In a few days my store with The OpenSky Project will open. The OpenSky Project is a new, innovative way to shop. My shop will be stocked with all kinds of cool art, photo and design products. As a consumer of design software, computer equipment, art supplies, cameras, photo equipment, lenses, lights, flashes and the like, I will be making products that I use and fully believe in, available to you. I will be sharing my personal experiences with the products to help you decide which product is best for you. I love to research products and make an informed decision when making a purchase, and I want to share that with you. What better way to shop? People that you trust, that you care about, that care about YOU, bring you products they believe in.

Best of all, when you buy at my OpenSky shop, each and every purchase you make is completely GUARANTEED! You may return any purchase, for any reason, in its original condition, within 1 year for a FULL REFUND. And we’ll pay for the shipping! What could be better than that!?!

ENTER FOR A CHANCE TO WIN TODAY (tell them I sent you)! … and look for my new OpenSky shop in a few more days!!

If you’re a supplier, and want me to try your products and share them with my world, just let me know!

For me, I found it to be easier to choose a home and buy it, than it has been to try to choose decent, long-lasting studio/location monolights for photography!

How on Earth is one to make a decision?

I really had to walk away from the computer and stop looking at all the variables, and information and comments out there on this subject. It’s a very, very personal subject for many photographers. After all, it is the paintbrush one uses in photography. I know I like to have the best watercolor brushes I can afford to create my watercolor paintings.

I have been so busy for the last four days, yes—four days, researching studio lighting. Lighting that isn’t too much light, or too little for my needs. What do I need them for you ask? To shoot my watercolor paintings, so I can make giclées, to create unique fine art photographs, to shoot product, and stock photos, with the occasional studio style portrait, one or two people, head and shoulders, or outdoors with pets. The lights need to be portable. I’m not ready to get batteries to take them to the beach, but down the road I want that to be a possibility.

I’m looking at purchasing two monolights, total 1000ws or less for now. I want something I can grow into, rather than out of. That said, I talked to a few photographer friends, got their opinions and I headed off to check out what I could learn but doing research on the web. Good idea, and huge mistake. I am now, totally undecided.

By the way, I have only looked at opinions from buyers in comment sections at retailer sites, or at reputable photography forums and the like. I also watched a lot of the lighting demo video on the web made by some real pros, that helped me see many of the products in action. I checked my pro photo mags reviews and such too.

I have narrowed my choices down to Elinchrom, Photogenic and Calumet monolights, and the kits offered. There are many more great lights out there, but for me, these work. I did manage that much after reading as much info as I could absorb in my four days of research. Let me say first off, the kits that include the lights, umbrellas, stands and all, according to the comments and reviews I’ve read, leave people wanting more. They don’t seem totally satisfied with their purchases. Some portion of the kit is sub par in almost every case, and will need to be replaced. I also didn’t really want the umbrellas that most of the kits offered, I would replace them with octagonal and rectangular softboxes anyway.

So that leaves one to go out there and look for the best lights here, and the best softboxes there, and the best studio stands and backgrounds from over there. Now that’s all good too, but can you do it for a price close to that of the kits? Not really, but you can get close. Being a member of the National Association of Photoshop Professionals (NAPP) helps a lot here too. $99 a year, gets you a great informative magazine and access to product discounts, tutorials and way more. Info from Scott Kelby’s blog helped me a whole lot in this decision-making process too.

After about a good 30 to 40 hours of research, here’s what I’ve decided. I want something that has consistent color output, something that will last a long time, is durable, not too heavy, something that offers enough power, but not too much power for my space, and I want a decent modeling lamp, I read that 100 watts just doesn’t cut it. I do not want to be one of those that realizes about a month into the purchase that I should have spent that extra $500 bucks on what I really wanted, rather than settling for “affordable”. Nothing is a deal if you want to replace it six months after you buy it.

That decided, I went on to read about radio slave systems for the lighting, now I’m real interested. No cords for “Gracie” to trip over, that’s me, of course, ten years of ballet lessons and I’m still a klutz. It’s a good thing that all three of the manufacturers I looked at offer radio control of some kind.

One manufacturer offers a unit mounted on the hot shoe of your camera that apparently has too high a profile and it sticks up in your line of view. Remember now, this is according to consumer comments I came across. Range is another issue, I don’t need to shoot from 1500 feet away, or the next town over, so I think I’ll be good without that. So now I want to find the biggest bang for the buck in a quality, well-designed,  built in radio control unit, without having to buy more transmitters and transceivers, and adapter cords and so on. So, in my humble opinion, and for my needs, the EL-Skyport from Elinchrom wins for ease, design, and dollars. Although I do think the LiteLink radio option with the Calumet Travelite lighting is to be considered as well. It plays well with the PocketWizard too. Decisions, decisions.

I went on to look at the flash variability specs on these brands because it’s important to me to be able to have the widest range I can get because I plan to use these lights in lots of different scenarios. It seems to me that the Photogenic Solair wins in this category with the widest range. 8 f-stops. I really wish there were more comments and reviews from users out there about the Solair lights.

I then looked into how well each of the brands were for color consistency as one reduces the output of the light, according to the comments out there, even though I found a lot of people very happy with the Photogenic lights, many more were really happy with their Elinchrom Style 600RX lights. Again, I did find it hard to find a lot of comments and reviews about the Photogenic Solair lights. I don’t know why that is, but they do seem to be a contender. The “constant color” sounds so nice to me as I have spent hours with color correction people when working for clothing catalogs and doing color correction myself, and I know how long that process takes. I’d rather have my original shot consistently “right there” from the start, rather than having to spend hours in Photoshop “fixing the color”.

One more thing, the Photogenic Solair lights at 500ws weigh a little less than the Elinchrom Digital Style 600RX lights. Both are just under 6 lbs.

After vacillating back and forth, I’ve decided, I think, to buy the Elinchrom Digital Style Combo 600RX two monolight kit that includes only the lights, and EL-Skyport system.

Now on to the stands. There are millions, really just way too many! I like those rolling light stands, Avenger makes one called the “Baby Roller”.  Now this looks like one that ole “Gracie” might not be able to trip over. With the radio controlled lights, there will only be one wire, the plug. Yes! I chose the Avenger Century C stand for the other light. The C stand is another to keep “Gracie” out of trouble.

On to light control. I read that the Elinchrom Rotalux Octa softbox rocks, I also read that some don’t like it. It’s not too expensive so I think I’m going to get the Mini Octa softbox, which is a 39″ model. I also like the 14″ x 35″ Rotalux Mini Recta softbox from Elinchrom. I did learn that Chimera makes some fabulous light banks and when I’m able, monetarily, I’ll look into those too.

Reflectors are a necessary accessory too. I haven’t put any time in on researching them, that’s next. For now I will make due with white foam core and black cardboard.

Last decision….a good light meter. I really like the Sekonic L-358. Lots, and lots, and lots, of good comments out there about it. They say it’s accurate and reliable and well made. I’m sold. For fans of the PocketWizard, compatibility is easy. You can add an accessory that will let you fire your lights without removing your transmitter from the hot shoe of your camera each time you want to meter your lighting. The Sekonic looks like it’s fairly straight forward and intuitive to work with to me, and many buyers say the same. Now, when : ) I have an unlimited budget, I will go for the Sekonic L-758C Cine Light Meter, that’s really hot!

Oh and backgrounds, I think I’m going to go to Calumet for these, they have a good looking heavy duty stand for paper. I don’t have a space to use a wall mount or I would go for that. I did find stronger seeming background stands, but for my needs the stands Calumet offers should do just fine. Or maybe I’ll do a bit more research. I’m over it, but obsessed. For now, I think I’ve made my decisions, or I hope I have, until I run into a devastating comment regarding one of my choices, and the indecision will start again.

I just thought I should throw this out there for anyone else that might be suffering the anxiety associated with the purchase of a decent, quality lighting system and the necessary accessories. I really hope the time I put in can help others too!

And if any of you out there has anything to tell us all about this, go for it, we’re listening. Knowledge is Power!

Now back to doing what I love, enough research. I’ll let it all marinate for a few days.

Take care all!

High Dynamic Range Photography gives you the power to produce perfectly exposed, noise-free images. You can capture and output a broader range of light than is currently possible using any other of today’s photographic techniques.

I promised to show you some high dynamic range ( HDR ) photography. Are you ready?

In order to produce a good HDR image you will need several things. First, you’ll need a high contrast scene in which you would like to capture the full dynamic range, or as close as possible. You’ll want to choose a scene without too much movement, ie. water, clouds, foliage in the wind. People are challenging to shoot for HDR images, but it can work if they stay still. You should use a tripod for the best results, hand held shots are challenging at best. Change only the shutter speed to achieve the EV’s you’re looking for. You don’t want to change the aperture because that will change your depth of field and that variable needs to be constant for your HDR image to work.

You’ll need to shoot three images, with different exposure values, although you can use less, or more images. The easiest way to do this is to use your camera’s auto exposure bracketing to capture the same image at varying exposure levels, to include all of the tones in your image. For example, use Auto Exposure bracketing to capture 3 images of a scene, one at -2EV, one at 0EV, and one at +2EV. You may need to include more exposures than this for your image. For instance, I used 4 shots to produce the image below. The images used to produce the HDR image below were shot with the following EV’s, +1EV, 0EV, -1EV, and -2EV. I found that adding a +2EV image was too much, that blew the highlights out, it really takes a judgement call as to how many images, and at what EV range you’ll need to capture the full dynamic range of your scene. I learned that sometimes less is more in this case.

An HDR image produced with Photomatix Pro and Detail Enhancer

An HDR image produced with Photomatix Pro and Detail Enhancer

Here’s the 0 EV image processed in Canon’s Digital Photo Professional software. I tried to get as close to the above exposure as possible. As you can see, no comparison.

This is the raw 0EV image processed in Canon's Digital Photo Professional

This is the raw 0EV image processed in Canon's Digital Photo Professional

If your camera has Auto Exposure Bracketing (AEB) that allows you to predefine the number of images and exposure variation for your set of images, and if your camera offers continuous shooting mode, all the better because you’ll just need to press and hold the shutter release once to shoot all the exposures for the set.

Once you’ve captured the images for your soon to be HDR image, you’ll need to combine those images into one image. You can use several different apps to do this, including; Photomatix Pro, FDR Tools, Dynamic Photo HDR, Adobe Photoshop, or Artizen HDR. Many offer free trials. Today I tried Photomatix Pro, to process my HDR images. In addition to the fact that they offer a video tutorial, I found the program to be intuitive, and it produced good results, once I figured out what each image needed. I processed various images of different exposures until I got something I liked. You do have to get familiar with the process. You get out, what you put in.

Using Photomatix Pro, I chose to generate one HDR image to begin with. It will allow you to batch process, but I’m not there yet. Producing one HDR image is easy, just press the button for one image (Generate HDR Image), a dialog box comes up allowing you to drag and drop your images, or to browse for the images you want to use to generate your HDR image. Once you’ve loaded your images, and you have chosen the appropriate options,  press Generate HDR. In a few seconds, it really doesn’t take that long on a newer machine, you’ll have your results. They WILL be disappointing at first. You see, the tonal range captured is too great for your monitor or printer to render, the image has to be “tone mapped”. Photomatix Pro offers several options for tone mapping your image. One option is to use the Details Enhancer, and the other is to use the Tone Mapper. The results you achieve with each will be quite different, see below for examples. The Details Enhancer will give you a more detailed, or painterly, or even surreal version of your image. The Tone Mapper will give you a more realistic photographic effect. The one you use will depend on the effect you’re after and the image your using.

If you save your “raw” HDR image you can then process it in different ways to see which results you like the best. I’m really excited about the possibilities available to photographers with this new technology. It can only get better.

Here are some examples of today’s experiments. I call them experiments. because I believe the possibilities are endless.

The same image using the Photomatix Pro Tone-Mapping.

The same image using the Photomatix Pro Tone-Mapping.

Two images combined and tone-mapped in Photomatix Pro.

Two images combined and tone-mapped in Photomatix Pro using Detail Enhancer.

By combining three different exposures in Photomatix Pro’s Exposure Fusion, I got this result. This is easier than producing an HDR image and it doesn’t require the tone-mapping step that’s necessary with a true HDR image.

I used Photomatix Pro's Exposure Fusion to create this image.

I used Photomatix Pro's Exposure Fusion to create this image.

This scence was very contrasty. Photomatix Pro did a good job.

This scene was very contrasty. Photomatix Pro did a good job using Detail Enhancer.

This shot of Tyler was made from three exposures. The scene was backlit and very contrasty before the HDR image was produced.

My friend Tyler stayed still for the three shots for his HDR image.

My friend Tyler stayed still for the three shots for his HDR image