Wednesday, 18 November 2015

The new G+, well it's red now...


Well, it's here. The new G+. I want to love it, but the truth is that I don't. It's not polished. It's not ready. The User Interface (UI) is smooth and pretty and is the epitomy of material design, but the User Experience (UX) doesn't live up to the shiny face. But that's ok! Why? This is an early experience, a community preview if you like of what is to come.

These are likely to be some frequently asked questions:

Why can't I see the opt in yet?
The update is rolling out very slowly across the world. Be patient it will come.

Why is the release being previewed given it has some shortcomings?

This release is a foundational effort. It's not the final release by a long shot. What we're seeing is a preview.

Why can you switch back and forth at will between Classic and New?

You can jump back and forth between the Classic and New versions easily without losing your context so that your experience is not hurt by missing functionality.

Why are Google making these changes to Google Plus? I notice that the User Experience (UX) is very similar across the Android device app and desktop now?

This is one of the key foundation stones of this release. Getting a consistent experience across web, Android and iOS for the first time in Google+! This really matters, for users who are using multiple devices and screen sizes like me. I use it across different desktops, browsers, a android phone and several tablets.

I've noticed that the new User Interface (UI) is simpler and cleaner? This is a massive change, why the shift?

Speed of rendering on the web is the main reason this is a completely new codebase, slimmer and faster, and the load and run times are so much quicker. This will have a substantial positive impact on those running slower machines, with low bandwidth connections and expensive mobile data plans like most Aussies.

Where is Google Plus Going?

I feel its about simplifying and focusing the experience, it's still about your interests, sharing and celebrating them, it's about Collections and Communities more than ever. As a Google Plus user since the public beginning it actually pleases me no end that Google are making forward statements about Google Plus. Every single day there are the nay sayers who imply the Plus is short lived and won't last. This is a significant investment by Google and bodes well for the platform's future. For myself my Plus is almost an extension of me, it's a place where I connect socially with my real friends, where I mentor and help people learn photography, and where I can gallery my work and enjoy the responses I get (both positive and negative - they help me learn).

The Elephant In The Room

A lot of the changes are good, but there is an elephant standing in the corner. You probably are not going to like all of it and I'm going to talk about the things I don't like first, because I feel they will be common dislikes and it's important to know there is a future while understanding what the pitfalls of the New version are. Remember Google really do want your feedback. Put your thoughts into it and give feedback via the desktop and app functionality.

Columns

Oh and where did my other column go? Why are we back to two no matter how wide the screen? Is this 2005? Bring on responsive! You had it before Google! Please!

Common Functions are Click Buried

Common functions like commenting on a post; and replying to a comment are click buried under a menu or simply gone! You have to open a post to interact with it. At least you can plus a post without opening it. I fear that this is the death of interaction, it's only one extra click you say, well, no it's actually two and that's too many in a modern web.


Let's step through commenting on someone else's post. First we see the post arrive in our stream on the Landing Page. It looks remarkably like it did before but now it's got red bits. Here's one from +Tobias Sargeant a photographer I follow. I love the image, it's of a place I find very photogenic and have experienced personally so I want to comment. In classic I just had to put my cursor in the existing comment box and start typing, well not anymore.

The first thing you see is that the comment pane is missing. What? Well, actually it hasn't got any comments yet. That's ok. When it does get some, they will roll through the space of a single comment like a continuous ticker. That is kind of cool. Makes the landing page change so you keep watching.

Ok, so now I've seen it I want to comment. Let's click on that comment icon to the bottom right of the post, that'll open up the usual comment pane won't it?


The comment pane has opened up on clicking the comment icon after some time. It seems to take between half and one second for me. I've tried it in Chrome, Edge, IE. All the same.


This experience isn't a disaster, but it's certainly different. Before you simply dropped in the cursor and started to type. Now you have to click the comment icon, at least your cursor does end up in the comment field. Burying the comment under an icon will reduce comments, it's the same number of clicks, but you have to click and wait. Remember in Classic? You just jumped into the field and started to type. It was right there in your face and encouraged you to interact. I reckon how it's done now is going to get plenty of plusses on posts but less engagement through comments. At least the share button came back.


Here is the next difference, in classic to reply to a post you just put your cursor over it and hit the Reply link that appeared.


That was intuitive and simple. Now you have to hover and click the elipses to reveal the pop out menu...


Here's a post in the New with comments, see that little panel at the bottom of the post, all of the comments cycle through that on a ticker. To see them all, or to reply to the one I can see right now I have to click on the post to open it.


Now the post is open and I have to admit it looks nice and clean and the individual comments are easy to read. What if I want to reply to one of them? Granted I'd mostly do this on my own posts so apologies to +D Jones for using his post in this example.

Well first I have to hover over the comment with my pointer to reveal the elipses

See the three little dots to the right of the comment? Well, no I don't blame you they're hard to see... but we'll get used to that. This ellipses is a control that reveals a pop up menu to let me plus or reply to a comment...


Wait! What? No Reply! I can +1 the comment (now two clicks, Classic was one) or I can report it. Where is Reply? I love Reply. It's the only way to plus mention people in a lot of circumstances. So engagement blown. It's now hard to reply so will I? Often, no I probably won't because now I have to manually plus mention the person. If they don't allow people outside their circles to notify them then you can't plus mention them the manual way, reply got around this. I really really hate this I want to be able to reply. One of the main differences between my experience with Evil Blue and Big Red here has been engagement. It is so easy to reply to a comment you're encouraged to do so. I hope this one comes back.


Weirdly this isn't consistent because Reply is still there when you're looking at a post in the notification pane.

For now you can switch back to Classic.














Posting Into Albums Is Gone


You won't see this anymore! You can no longer post images to existing albums, in fact you can't add images to albums at all. There is a work around, you do it in Picasa then share to g+ - but why oh Google do you take away functionality we already have? I really hope this just hasn't been done yet. Please be so.

Ok, enough whinging, on to the things I actually do love.

Collections

The presentation for collections with the collection leader down the left hand side of the page and the collection content in two columns is actually fantastic. It is also quite easy to find and follow new collections.


Now this layout is really cool, but the operation is clunky. I sometimes see images rotate themselves and appear sideways. Sometimes they scroll weirdly or draw four or five times. This is stuff that needs polish but the idea and form are good. BUT, don't you use your back button - when you get back to the collection of collections screen most of the time nothing is clickable anymore quite often. Not always, but often. Using the collections link always seems to work.

Circle Streams


These are quite cool, but are they much different to viewing the posts from a circle in Classic? No the functionality is about the same but the way you get there is much more intuitive and works better.

These are exactly what the name suggests they are the combined streams of the people in your circles. In the G+ early days these were front and foremost and useful but they got relegated deeper and deeper. 

They've finally come back.

One big ask Google - bring back the Nearby Stream from days of old. That was the best way to find and interact with people who were physically near you without being creepy and searching them out. Nearby Streams was how the Melbourne Photowalkers community began. It's how we found each other.

You'll not only some of your circles appear here. You can configure the circles that are most important to you by ordering them on the people screen which influences what appears here.

New Profile View


I really like the layout for the new profile screen it tells you a lot about what that person has to offer and your existing relationship to you.

Same Experience No Matter What Platform

Those of you who use mobile devices will have noticed that the new G+ looks and behaves remarkably like the Android App. That's deliberate, and I can appreciate the consistency.

There is a BUT though... The App has the user experience it does because of the limitations of touch devices. Why make it ubiquitous - it's certainly cheaper because you have a single HTML5/JS codebase for all your platforms, browser, container and app. BUT why limit the UX of the users on a more capable platform? Why oh why don't we learn from the failure of Windows 8? They tried the same thing and look what happened. The menu came back (mostly) in Windows 10. They gave up. Tiles are relegated to the background on desktop. I'm hoping for big things here, after all this is a foundation not a final end goal.

Why The Change?

My gut feel is that Google have grown tired of the G+ that is just drifting along. They want to grow or kill like they do with all their products. Drifting products no matter how popular go away at Google. They only want expansion and growth of data and influence. They want our information and metadata. You didn't really think G+ was free did you? They take a bit more of you every time you use it. I understand and accept this price. I'm cool with it. In fact I actually like the targeted advertising that results because it is less spammy. G+ has got plenty of users, it's been quite phenomenal but it's never caught up with Evil Blue which is always taunting G+ from the distance down the road. Can G+ ever catch up? Maybe, but it will take big changes to do it. It's always harder to be the underdog and while the platform is huge, every day there is a new social network snapping at it's heels.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Using Google+ Collections Effectively

Now that Collections have been with us for a while I figured it was time to update this post on the latest features.

So what are these collection things anyway? 


You have probably noticed Google+ promotes collections now

When you see them, you see those that are featured, the ones you're already following and those that you've created each separated into their own tab.

Featured collections come from people all throughout the Google+ family. They may be members of the Crea+e program,  or they've been chosen based on their excellent well curated content. Looking through featured collections is probably the best way today of finding new content in the plus. They are a great way for new users to build a quality stream and for oldies like me to reinvigorate what they see every day through new and interesting people and the topics they most like to share.

The Following tab has the collections you already follow. You can be following collections in two ways, in fact you're probably already following some even if you've never looked at Collections before, how? When people make a collection they can choose whether people who follow them automatically follow their new collection or if they need to explicitly follow it. This is a very cool feature and has one more facet. You can follow one or more collections from a person without following the person, you can also unfollow collections without unfollowing the person. Perhaps there is someone you follow who posts really interesting art drawings into a drawings collection and you like those posts, but they're also posting a lot on politics into a politics collection and you don't enjoy them. Simple unfollow the politics collection. No more politics.

Yours is probably self explanatory. To cover all the bases, this is where the list of your collections that you've made is shown and is the place where you can edit them.

Making your own collections

Collections are a group of posts that you have selected to combine for some reason. They might be a common theme, they might be things you love, they can be anything you want to have in a collection. They can be your posts, they can be other people's as long as they're public. They're handy for most people and the ultimate dream of the obsessively compulsive among us. Remember collections is about posts not about images. If you want to collect images, you have to collect the post which contains the images or make one that does into your collection.

Collections can be

  • private only you can see its content;
  • shared with your circles anyone in your circles can see it;
  • custom  you choose which circle or circles can see it; or
  • public anyone can see it.
Think carefully because once you've made a collection you cannot change its visibility scope.

Where do I start?


Open the Collections page and then open up the Yours tab. To get started, hit that big plus button on the Collections tab. Next you'll be prompted for a name and scope of visibility.

Have a think about what you want to collect, for me as a photographer, they naturally become collections of my favourite areas of photography. Does that mean I post photos or albums to them? No you can't do that, collections are about posts remember? Of course you can share your album or photos into the collection as new posts but take care - everything you add to a public collection also appears in your home stream unless you move it. If you've already got existing posts you want to collect then you can move them instead of share them.


Let's make a collection called "Test" and have a bit of a play to work out what's going on.

Let's make this one public. Go ahead and hit the big button and create your first collection now.

Your collection will default to being automatically followed by your followers. You can edit this later.

The collection needs two things, a short meaningful name and a tagline of up to 80 characters to describe the content.

Hit the create button at the bottom of the pop up.

Our collection is now created with a default background and cover photo.

Collections are flexible and agile. You can change just about anything about your collection at any time such as

  • Cover photo
  • Name
  • Tagline
  • Colour
  • and whether people automatically follow if they follow you.
The only unchangeable is the visibility, once you've made a collection that sticks.



When you choose a photo, you can select one of a number of free to use stock images, or if you prefer your own you can choose one from your Google Photos or upload an new image.

Go ahead and do that now if you wish, or just cancel out and do that bit later if you want.

Start collecting

There are basically three ways to get content into your collection:
  • Share a new post directly to the collection
  • Share an existing public post (can be anyone's as long as it's public)
  • Move an existing post of your own
Why three options? At first you'll likely mostly use Move and Share to manage your existing content and categorise it.

Making a new post in a collection

Lets do a little experiment to see the difference. First up, lets make a new post. Go ahead and use the normal post feature from inside your collection to make a post within this collection.



There, now you've done your first Collection post. Note that since this is a public collection it also appears in your home home stream? Its there AND in the collection but it's only one post. There is no copy. More on that later.

You can also share a new or existing post directly into a collection from your home stream. Lets take an existing post from our profile and share it into the collection. This will make a new copy of the post and it will also appear again in your home stream. I find sharing is most useful if you're collecting other people's posts. Use the normal share functionality, when you choose who to Share With (I really hope this nest of popups is cleaned up soon) you'll notice that your collections are top of list for destinations.



This makes a new post just like any other share.

That's great for new posts, but what about collecting my existing posts?


If the post is yours and public you will be able to move it into a collection. This will collect the post and leave it visible in your home stream without making a new copy and without it showing up in your home stream again. Click on the post in your profile stream (or anywhere else you see it) to get the three dots menu.


Open the three dots menu and select Move Post to Collection



A new pop up opens for you to choose the destination


That's it. The post is still in your home stream and is now part of the collection.

Can I collect other people's posts?

Yes, but there are restrictions. You have to share them, they cannot be moved (after all they're not yours). You can share public posts and posts from public communities into public collections. You cannot share private posts or posts from private communities into public collections.

When do I share and when do I move?

Always move any existing posts of your own. When collections first came out I collected all of the significant photography posts I made since I first came to g+ in 2011. Moving them meant only I knew about it, could you imagine if I had shared those thousands of posts again? All my followers would have muted or blocked me! If you want to collect someone else's posts then you have to share it again and this will appear in your home stream.

The Visibility Scope

Now one last thing for this beginners exercise - remember how collections have a visibility scope? This is really important and powerful and is the difference between collections and similar things on other platforms. You can
  • Follow a person and all of their collections (this is the default)
  • A person but none of their collections
  • A person and some of their collections
  • Just collections without the person
As an example, there is a person I know who shares lovely photographs that he makes, but he also shares a lot of information about SEO - something I could care less about. I can (and have) followed just his photography collection. Basically I uncircled him then followed his collection. Now I can see just his photography posts in my stream without the other stuff which is awesome.

As they say in the movie... "...one more thing..." DELETE!

Don't delete a collection which contains posts you want to keep without moving them out into another collection first as deleting the collection deletes all the posts in the collection.



Now get out of here and play


The options are many. Experiment, play the world is yours. Enjoy. Send feedback on Collections to help shape the future of this powerful feature. Collections sets g+ apart from other social platforms as none of them have this concept.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

My Workflow... Digital Asset Management

The Beginning

I used to have a very simple workflow that most amateurs probably use; I simply copied the photos off the camera cards into a series of folders named for the activity I photographed. This reflected how I used to manage my film based photography. Stick the negatives into bags in a folder and organise the prints in boxes. This suited me fine in those days simply because the cost of film photography made you choose your images carefully. Any one activity would probably generate only four or five images.

Around 15 years ago I converted (almost) exclusively to digital photography. My image habits have changed from four or five images per activity to hundreds and sometimes thousands. Most professional photographers will shoot between 500 and 1500 images per activity. I don’t (generally) earn an income from my images, nor do I intend to but l follow professional practices and also generate huge numbers of images.

This was simple while I only had a few thousand images. Once I reached 100,000 (you'll be surprised how quickly this happens!) I had generated a nightmare for myself. It became very hard to find images I wanted (that I remember taking) for some particular purpose and keeping backups in sync became more and more problematic. I made the situation even worse by managing pictures on more than one computer.

It took nearly 10 years of digital photography I have nearly six terabytes of image files. I have three different camera RAW formats and have JPEGs ranging from lowly 320 by 160 from my first digital camera to the 21 megapixel images from my current camera of choice my Canon 5D mk II.

Modern photographic techniques such as High Dynamic Range where you take 3 to 20 (or more) images from a tripod with various bracketing, white balance and other settings to be merged into a single image worsen the problem.

The problem really came to my attention this year when I simply could not find an image that I needed. I knew it was there, but fruitlessly scanning through hundreds of folders left me drained and wasted a great many hours with no outcome at all.

I decided that I needed a management plan for my images so I started to seek what others had done, I read some blogs and personal web sites of photographers, I researched other online sources such as www.dpbestflow.org but they only scratched the surface. I was a member of the Australian Photographic Society. These organisations regularly distribute information and member only offers and include magazine subscriptions. One of the offers was for Peter Krogh’s “The DAM Book”. I had read the information on Peter’s website previously but wasn't all that convinced the book would help me, this time it came with a complimentary license to Phase One’s Expression Media 2 (formerly a Microsoft product).  This swayed me because I knew I would need some decent catalogue software. The available free products like Microsoft Pro Photo Tools and Bridge that came with Photoshop really didn't cut the mustard. Not to mention that Microsoft have recently dumped their image meta tagging, geo-tagging and image management software.

The book arrived and I read it from cover to cover – I skipped some parts such as the explanations of how computer storage works and the available options because, well, I do that for a living. I digested Peter’s suggestions and constructed a workflow that is part way between what I had before and the extremely rigorous practices suited to a professional who is earning their bread and butter from their photography. In generating my workflow I took into account that storage is extremely cheap and that external drives can be purchased for around $25 per terabyte at the time of writing. This has lead me to the point of deciding not to backup to digital offline media such as DVD-W or BluRay. With hard disk storage being extremely cheap and reliable and archival quality media still being expensive and an unknown quantity for lifespan I have built my model around multiple online and offline hard disk storage. Update 2011: Ironically I no longer use EM2, I outgrew it very quickly. Today I use Adobe Lightroom. The cataloguing and editing facilities are excellent. It is now rare for me to need to visit Photoshop because I can do it all in LR.

Will my workflow work for you? Only you can answer that question. All I can say is that it works for me and that I’m writing this article to make it available to other people.

My Workflow


I have tried to keep my workflow as simple as possible while still following the principals of good digital asset management. I have balanced being anal retentive about backups and keeping copies and the costs of time and money in doing so.

To construct my workflow I determined what my basic requirements would be:

Need to be able to create images in any format supported by my cameras both today and into the future
  • Need to be able to ensure my images are available in the future
  • Need to be able to view, edit and update my images in the Microsoft Windows platform
  • Need to be able to manage my images both in a master repository and on the move
  • Need to keep a backup of my images as they came from the camera before I work on them
  • Need to be able to find my images easily and quickly
  • Need to be able associate metadata with the images to interpret them for the future
  • Need to be able to surface my best work
  • Need to support post processing of my images
  • Need to support publication of my images
  • Need to support delivery of my images to other people

Your requirements may vary so you should start the process of determining your own workflow by writing down your requirements and thinking about how you will measure your success when you have “finished” creating your workflow.

Each of my requirements has dictated elements of my workflow. Some elements satisfy one requirement, some satisfy several at once. Let’s take them one at a time and interpret what they mean.

Need to be able to create images in any format supported by my cameras both today and into the future


Over my digital image taking experience I’ve had several cameras, initially they either had a proprietary version of an open standard (e.g. Casio had their own JPEG) or supported the open standard directly (e.g. Sony FD Mavica supported JPEG) or had both their own RAW format and JPEG support (e.g. Canon 300D, 40D and my current Canon 5D mk ii and my baby Olympus EPM-2).

Those of you who have been around computing for a while will be aware that file formats change over time. It can become challenging to handle and old format in a modern computing environment, particularly if that format is proprietary and requires tools from the manufacturer to work properly.

I don’t intend to enter the RAW vs. JPEG debate, but for my purposes I have changed my position – I used to shoot exclusively in JPEG because it was easy and open. Today I shoot in RAW because my photographic talents and my requirements for post processing have outgrown JPEG – I simply demand higher quality of my own work than I used to. The problem that this causes is RAW formats are proprietary and usually brand unique and often body unique.

Because I need to be able to use my images in the future and I choose to use a RAW format I don’t want to be locked into to any manufacturer or have to keep out-dated software on my modern computer that might impact its ability to work properly I choose to convert my images to the “open” image format known as Digital Negative (DNG) by Adobe. While this is still a proprietary format in that it is owned by a commercial organisation, Adobe has promoted it as a public archiving standard and has published the file content and format to allow other software vendors to utilise it without having to use Adobe’s software.

DNG conversion appears to be faithful, but to mitigate the risks involved in file format conversion I back up the camera RAW files prior to conversion. A secondary reason for retaining the original RAW files is to enable use of new software that appears from time to time that requires the original RAW format to work correctly. Examples would include updates to Canon’s RAW utilities to reduce noise reduction.

Need to be able to ensure my images are available in the future


This requirement both crosses over into the previous requirement and dictates that I need rigorous backup of the images. To ensure my images are available I have to consider:

  • Protect from software change
  • Not be locked into any one software vendor
  • Not be locked into any one operating system
  • Not be locked into any one camera platform
  • Protect from destruction by fire or other natural event
  • Protect from theft
  • Protect from hardware failure
  • Protect from software failure
  • Protect from myself (problem between brain and keyboard)
Use of DNG covers the first four points and my insurance and backup strategy covers the others. My backup strategy is a little anal (but does not go as far as some people do) and would work well in any enthusiast or studio setup where there is only one main photographer.

My desktop computer is my primary or master image store. I have it configured to use several sets of two drives together so that if either of them fails the data is intact on the other one and it is a simple matter of replacing the failed unit and the computer itself will copy the data to the new unit. This configuration is called Raid 1 (mirror) and is managed in hardware.

During ingestion the images are backed up, converted to DNG then copied to a working area.

Post ingestion I backup my images to an internal mirror set and to offline portable drives. Note if you’re not a computer geek you could purchase network based file storage or use an additional portable drive in place of the server. The point is to have your master and THREE backups to cover you from various problems that could occur. I'm not going to go into why three here as there are plenty of articles on the Internet you could read.

The portable drives are kept offsite. I have two that I use in rotation and perform a full backup weekly. At least one of the drives is always offsite.

Need to be able to manage my images both in a master repository and on the move


In its simplest form I want to be able to access my images at home or at work. I also travel around and often want my images to be with me. With nearly 6 terabytes of images this is not really practical – even with the affordable drive storage available today.

However, what is practical is the use of cataloguing software in which thumbnails are stored. This same cataloguing software has other uses that meet other requirements.

I currently use Adobe Lightroom but keep an eye on the improvements in other available software. Don’t get too wed to any one software tool, just make sure your choice has the ability to export and import in common formats and you’ll be ok with any choice.

Need to keep a backup of my images as they came from the camera before I work on them


This requirement is met by the backup strategy of keeping the virgins, both of the camera RAW and of the converted DNG. Keeping both means that I can edit my DNG files to my heart’s content and do not have to be concerned if I use an editor that is not parametric (in other words it changes the actual image file) because I always have the originals to go back to if I need to (and I have needed to from time to time).

Keeping all these backups would be onerous if done by hand, so I use Ingestamatic to manage this process (along with metadata). Ingestamatic is produced by Marc Rochkind http://basepath.com/site/detail-Ingestamatic.php

Need to be able to find my images easily and quickly

There are people working on being able to search for an image by describing the image or by giving the search tool a similar image. These tools are a way off. In the meantime text based searching is all we have. But where is the text in an image? That is where metadata comes in.

Metadata is the secret to finding anything when you have a lot of things. Metadata is defined as being data about data, in my case data about images, when, what and how they were taken. There are four sources of metadata that I care about in my quest to quickly find images and there is other metadata that is useful during image use.

  • Metadata recorded by the camera with the image – e.g. the camera records details such as the date and time, the camera settings, the file name, and sometimes the attachments used
  • Metadata recorded during the ingestion process by the computer – e.g. File dates and file location
  • Metadata recorded in bulk against a set of images by me – e.g. import of a GPS log to geotag, bulk metadata such as the location, the event or activity being recorded
  • Metadata recorded both individually and in small groups by me – e.g. metadata particular to the image such as people’s names, a description of the image, a rating (out of 5)
  • I use Light Room for these tasks. I keep a single catalogue for all my images. I have to keep my computing hardware up to date to manage this successfully. 


Need to be able associate metadata with the images to interpret them for the future


After searching, the next use of metadata for me is to interpret the image for the future. This usually means recording the names of the people and places in the image. It can also mean describing the image so that you know what it is later in life through text and keywords. As an example, if you take a series of abstract macro photos and want to refine or reproduce some element of them again in a few years’ time then you need to know that the source of the yellow abstract was in fact a daffodil.

Need to be able to surface my best work


Another (and final in my workflow) use for metadata is to make it simple to locate your best work on a particular subject when you need to. You might be searching for an image to enter into a competition or you might be fulfilling a family request for an image from an event or providing it to your model. In my case it also supports my web activities so that I never need to purchase stock images from someone else to go with my articles.

The ability to locate your best work from an image stream cuts down on the amount of time you spend on images in post processing. Why waste time on poor images that you may never use. If it comes about that you do use one you have not lost anything but not immediately post processing – just do it later.

To achieve both, I use a system of ratings – most cataloguing software supports ratings, whether it be numeric or by stars. For me:

Stars
Meaning
Percentage
Low quality image
5
☼☼
The image is mediocre but useable
20
☼☼☼
The image is good – the composition, lighting and subject are ok
60
☼☼☼☼
The image is exceptional – the composition, lighting and subject are all great
10
☼☼☼☼☼
The image is amazing – everything is just right – it could not be better
5

Why do I have the bulk of my images falling into two and three stars - am I that poor a photographer? No I'm not but I would be kidding myself if I said most of my shots were exceptional or amazing. Even top notch professionals have plenty of mediocre photographs. I will do detailed post processing putting possibly hours into perfecting a four or five image. I put in a few minutes on the others and nothing on the 1’s. Some of my images don’t even make it to 1’s. If during rating I think an image is so bad that it would never have a use then out it goes. Remember this is not gone – I still have the virgins hiding in the wings if I ever really need it back. It is probably worth nothing that the post processing could promote an image in the stars rating. If I think it is deserving after PP up it goes - it could also go down when I discover it isn't as sharp as I initially thought. There are some things you don't see in thumbnails!

Need to support post processing of my images


I choose to post process all the images that get two stars or better. I won’t spend much time on two’s, each three gets a little more individual attention and the fours and fives get much more.

I keep the working copy and manage all of the post processing on that copy – either through scripts or manually. The better the rating the more manual the post processing gets.

This is where my workflow departs from the really anal retentive ones; they will talk about derivative images and will take great pains to not modify the original working copy making only parametric changes. This means the original copy stays true and that the post production is a set of adjustments to be applied to the image and not an image in its own right. This work method does not suit my practices. It is rare for me to generate a true derivative that I would keep alongside the original – not just as an adjustment. When I do, that new image is manually copied into the virgin backup manually. I also cannot see the point of keeping the working copy true when you have at least two copies of it in the virgin backup anyway.

Need to support publication of my images


I publish a great many of my images on my website www.steamengine.com.au and this blog and on social media such as Google+.

My images are huge. I'm not going to put huge images up on the Internet – even if you want to, most upload image systems resize it on the way – all you do is waste your bandwidth.

To publish my images I resize them, (generally) strip the meta data, apply a watermark (I've had images stolen and used commercially – the watermark IS necessary) and save them as an 80-90 quality JPEG depending on the use. Remember when I said I don’t make derivative works? Ok, so I lied. Generally speaking I do NOT keep these derivatives which are why I don’t consider them to be derivative works.  Once they are uploaded to whatever gallery they are going into I consider that they’re no longer managed.

I've been publishing on the Internet and in magazines for many years and while I've had occasion to replace lost images from the website after a server corruption the workflow to create them is automated and quick. Having to do some rework also forces me to consider what I'm publishing – is it still current – do I have better images of the same object/activity/event? Could I do a better job post processing them again from the virgins now that my skills have improved? And of course… is it actually worth my time to republish? Some articles on my site are a given – yes, I’d always replace them and republish but the little news blurbs that are only useful for a couple of months (e.g. locomotive G42 returns to service after an overhaul) are simply not momentous enough to keep!

Need to support delivery of my images to other people


From time to time I deliver images to other people for various uses and these images I do want to keep a copy of. I normally deliver via Cloud services such as Google Drive. My cataloguing software needs to support to copying a selected set of images to the archive\delivery folder then uploading them. On the same folder I will drop a copy of a boiler plate license agreement that I've filled out for their use. 

Examples of the situations where I will give out images:


My model wants a copy – if I'm photographing a human I will always give them a copy of the images for their own use (e.g. their portfolio or on social networking sites) if they ask. This could be a professional model or just someone I've casually photographed.
I'm photographing an event run by a not for profit organisation (e.g. a preserved railway) and they ask for a copy of the images.
Someone sees me taking an image or images and wants a copy – e.g. the property owner or someone with a related interest.
To reduce the hate mail I'll get from professional photographers who charge for their images: I'm not reducing the work available to you by handing out images. Puffing Billy Railway for example, has a professional photographer who they engage for their major events but they simply could not afford to engage someone to work on the railway every single day capturing every little moment. They depend on people like me. They may never use my images or they may use them in a book supporting the railway. This is one of the ways I support them.

My workflow does not need to support


When you read about workflows you'll discover that a lot of them talk about archiving the working copy of an image. I don’t do this – I keep all my images online (both the master and the backups) and I expect that this will not change. Too many people fail to recognise that storage is becoming cheaper and more reliable over time. My first hard disk was 2MB and that was only about 25 years ago!

Why put yourself through hours of effort and pain to burn media and remove images from your master collection into a secondary collection with the risks inherent in doing so when you can simply buy more storage? Both the Windows and Macintosh platforms make it simple to move the entire system to larger storage when you need to.

If you do choose to do this then you have several considerations

Digital write once media (e.g. DVD and BluRay) have an unknown life span – even the archival quality ones may only last a few years. They can claim anything they like, but the extent of their warranty remedy is to give you another disc if they’re still in business when you make your claim. But what about your images – they’re gone!
Moving files from one location to another is dangerous. All sorts of failures in hardware and sometimes even those found between your brain and your fingers can cause you to lose the files or store them some place you would not expect to find them. This means you need a tool to verify that the move is complete. They usually work by doing a copy, verify then delete.

Copyright Support


I don’t require support in the workflow for Copyright. In Australia, all works are automatically copyright to the author. You do not need to register them. It is advisable to place a copyright notice and use instructions in the metadata or within a watermark on the image when publishing – this is covered during my publishing. I use and recommend Creative Commons license tailored for your needs. If you live in a country where it is advisable to register your images to ensure that you do hold the copyright then you should include this step in your workflow.

Backup


In my main photo workflow computer I have two RAID 1 (Mirror) arrays. I have three arrays
Array 1: 2TB Windows and non photographic stuff and all software
Array 2: 6TB Main photography working store
Array 3: 6TB Main photography in machine back up
Portable Drive 1: 6TB Offsite backup
Portable Drive 2: 6TB Offsite backup

I keep one off site away from my workflow computer and the other is connected. At the end of every major session I backup my catalogue using LR and my images using Microsoft SyncToy to both the internal backup and the external backup drive. Six monthly I format and do a complete copy. Roughly once a month I swap the external drives - ensuring the offsite copy is always reasonably up to date. If I do a big editing session or work on images particularly important to me I will swap the drives sooner. When I swap I take the onsite drive off site and bring the other one back so I am never in a situation where all copies of my images are in the same place. As my catalogue grows I ensure the storage keeps pace. Storage is cheap. At approximately AU$25/TB you can afford to have plenty.

When in the field on an extended trip I use a laptop and pair of USB 2 portable drives for the backups. The primary copy is on the laptop and this is synced to both of the portable drives. If I need to ensure a copy is safe I will send it home.

Note that a lot of people hit the fashionable and sometimes limitless cloud backup solutions. I believe these are fine for documents and the like and I use a service for that. However, for high volume I suggest you read the fine print. You can certainly store an enormous amount on a lot of cloud services but there are three common issues that I've seen discussed:
  1. It can be slow to establish a backup of a large existing library
  2. The safety of your backup is only as good as the business model of the company you use - what will you do if they go broke?
  3. Often (always?) to get a large restore you need to have the company create and ship media or drives to you. They usually (always?) charge quite a fee for this activity.

Tools


I use a number of tools in my workflow. I used to have quite the collection but I've cut this down over recent years.

  1. Lightroom (via Adobe Creative Cloud)
  2. PhotoshopCC (via Adobe Creative Cloud)
  3. Adobe Camera Raw
  4. Adobe DNG Converter
  5. Spyder Monitor Calibration
  6. Ingestamatic
  7. NIK Photo Tools Collection
I'm always open to new tools and processes and download tons of them to try but I always seem to come back to my favourites. You'll hear people suggest that there are better raw engines than Adobe blah blah blah. The truth is I want a seamless experience where the tools simply work. I don't want to spend time and disk space transferring giant image files between tools and avoid it wherever I can.

Folder Structure

My structure is really simple

Working
--- YYYY
      --- yyyyddmm shoot-name
Each shoot has its own folder. These folders are created by Ingestamatic and used by LR for its photo store (I synchronise rather than Import).

Backup - same as working

Exports
--- social - files for social media go here 
--- printing - large files to be sent to my print house go here
--- share - large files to be sent to my model go here

Make Your Own Path

Please don’t implement your workflow based on my say so – it works fine for me, or at least it does today. I'm sure I'll change it again. Change is constant. Change is one of the reasons I wrote this document – while it will help other people to make choices, it also helps me to remember why I made particular choices to help me evaluate if a change to my workflow will be beneficial.

If you follow my workflow and lose images then all you will get from me is sympathy! Don’t come chasing me because you followed my practices verbatim without first choosing if they meet your needs. When you implement a workflow make it yours. Put your own stamp on it.

Monday, 23 March 2015

Testing Depth of Field on a Lens (Understanding DOF)


When I first acquired my dedicated macro lens I wanted some idea of what it could do. I picked a simple subject which had some depth to it to experiment with the different apertures. The purpose was to learn what the lens could do, how its DOF improved as the aperture opened up and what happened to the colour and other characteristics such as sharpness changes.


I chose an overcast windless day for this series so the light would not change too much during the exposures and the subject flower would not move around in the frame. I placed my camera on a tripod, composed and focused then used aperture priority (Av) and took one shot for each available aperture the lens offered.

I strongly encourage you to do the same experiment with each of your lenses so that you can see how they behave with your camera. Even if you have a point and shoot this is worth doing. You will learn the capabilities of your equipment and can consider its advantages and disadvantages at various settings on the images you are composing.

Testing a lens when purchasing
When I purchase a new lens I will do this within a day or so as most retailers will swap a bad one if you get it back to them quickly enough. With a second hand lens I'm a bit lazier but will do an abridged version just to see if I'm willing to pay for the lens. If you're buying second hand from a photographer they will understand and allow you do to this.

This series of images shows the lens from f/5.6 (large aperture, limited DOF) right up to f/40 (tiny aperture, deep DOF).


f/5.6
f/6.3
f/7.1
f/8
f/9
f/10
f/11
f/13
f/14
f/16
f/18
f/20
f/22
f/25
f/29
f/32
f/36
f/40

Monday, 23 February 2015

Going smaller... downsizing without losing features and quality

If you're getting fed up with the weight and size of your big DSLR and are thinking of going to something lighter and smaller with similar capabilities then read on...

I normally don't discuss the brand of gear that I use because I really do believe it does not matter. But today, this time I'm going to talk about it. I use a Canon 5d with a selection of L and non L lenses. I total I have more than 25kg worth of body and glass. As I get older I carry less and less - granted some of it like the fish eye and the macro lenses are special purpose and don't always come out to play but my staple lenses that I use the most weigh 10kg between them.

Canon 5d from the canon.com.au website


For some time I've been watching the development of mirrorless and micro 4/3 format machines and more recently the mirrorless full frame interchangeable lens cameras and I reckon the days of DSLR for the average consumer, prosumer, very serious amateur and even professionals are numbered.

I'm used to the stunning quality I get from the 5d, I'm used to its versatility and capabilities, I've been in this brand stable for so long that I know it's controls with my eyes shut - right from my film days. Most importantly I know what I can do with the machine and how it meshes with my own level of talent and needs. They've never really changed the control format.

I love photography, I'm not involved in any one genre and play in many including street, urbex, theatre and performing arts, trains, sports, motorcycles, landscape, seascape - you name it I've probably photographed it. Much of my photography has two things in common - the need to handle low light and the need to handle movement.

I've reached a juncture - do I keep what I've got or head down a new smaller, lighter path? I've examined this question every six months or so for the last few years. Until this year the answer has been a resounding stick with the home team... until this year, there are some offerings that really muddy the waters for me and the decision is no longer obvious. I'm writing this blog because I've been involved in some very good discussion on the topic on g+ (you know, the ghost town where there aren't any users - oh shut up and try it - you'll find out) and I think it is worth gathering those thoughts here because if I'm thinking it then plenty of others are too.

The big boys have lost the plot


I really think the big boys namely Canon and Nikon have lost the plot. Every model is bigger and heavier than the one before it. This is fine in the studio pro market where their top end models now equal or even better a number of the medium format machines. But for those of us who don't live in a studio, it means carrying more and more weight around with us.

When you purely review their specifications you dive into a world of numbers and statistics, but what does it really all mean? It's like shopping for insurance, telephony or electricity - they're all different and all incomparable for one reason or another - yet we have to choose. Surely brand loyalty isn't the way to do it.

First up, I'm only going to talk about two other brands in this particular blog because imho they are the front runners at the time of writing. I have played with quite a few and while each has its merits none have really excited me. The brands I'm going to talk about are Olympus and Sony. The two organisations are tightly intertwined anyway. Why them? Because of their current offerings.

Olympus OM-D EM1


Olympus OM-D EM1 from the olympus.com.au website


When Olympus brought out the OM-D EM5 I was in lust with it, but I held off, I didn't buy it. It had lots of great features but I'm used to some serious resolution and I really like full frame - I'm a 35mm boy from way back and I have trouble adjusting to the crop sensor. Now that the OM-D EM1 is out I'm in lust again. It is a very good camera except it is only 16 mega pixels and is Micro 4/3 format. This shouldn't rule it out for me and I'm going to try one.

The lens collection for these machines is enormous and is well supported by third party manufacturers such as Sigma, Tamron, Samyang and many more. You will not go wanting for lenses. They range from cheap to very expensive and from very light to quite hefty. The very cheap lenses are generally of good and reasonable quality with the more expensive ones being somewhat heavier and of amazing optical quality.

Olympus are financially incompetent and had to be recently bailed out by Sony but as friend +Ananda Sim says they are a photographer's company, they're marketing is brilliant and they've attracted a set of followers so dedicated and willing to say it that they're almost a cult. Their current marketing tag of #olympusinspired  has thousands of photographers posting to all the social networks and a search reveals some amazing work. There is a lot of good news for Olympus in that it is good for people who know their stuff, but is also very good for people who have no idea. This is the single biggest selling point in this brand for the average person - you can have the fun and usefulness of interchangeable lenses but not need to know what you're doing.

A lot of people will tell you that the Olympus struggles in low light and dark, and it's true that for focus it's a shocker but the outcomes are amazing. Features like a progressive live view that shows you how the photo is coming together as the exposure progresses is  simply priceless. This feature first turned up in the EM5 and is present in the flagship EM1. It's range of ISO is not brilliant and for some of what I do, I really do need some serious sensitivity. When you are shooting the actors in a play while they're in motion on stage under stage lighting conditions you can't do a long exposure. That said I've seen perfectly acceptable results on the photo community groups I've taken into plays and they've used the EM5 or EM1. I do see from their faces that they're working hard for the outcome and most of the time they do use a tripod. Ananda is often an exception to this but I reckon he's got the hands of a rock because his shots are lovely and usually hand held.

Sony A7


Sony A7 from the sony.com website


I've been a player with Sony for ages, going right back to my second, and third digital cameras the FD-83 and the FD-93. Their sensors have always been good in the dark and they've always been top of the pack imho in the small camera market. Now they're in the full frame mirrorless with the A7R and this is a seriously attractive package.

Sony I think have taken a couple of interesting paths, they've evolved from the traditional DSLR shape and incorporated a lot of design features of the more design focussed brands such as Leica. This yields a fairly attractive set of machines, they're also smaller than the traditional DSLR. The lenses are pretty hefty but still lighter than the comparison from my home brand. The other interesting path is that they seem to have ignored the all rounder and taken a new tack (which you could argue is all about money - but I think is about technology and space) - you can have your low light capabilities, you can have your really fast auto focus, you can have your huge megapixels, BUT you can't have them together. Sony seem to have the idea that like you would choose a set of lenses to suit the task you were going to undertake you'd also choose form your set of bodies for the one with the most capabilities. This means that at the moment I probably need at least two of the A7 series bodies to cover the different situations I would find myself in which means this outcome is expensive, but it's comparable with the current 5d pricing and I'd have two cameras for that money not one - meaning I don't need to buy a backup body that spends most of it's time asleep in the bag too.

As good mate +Peter Sherriff says you need to buy into the roadmap with the A7 series because the E mount is very new and there are not a lot of lenses available at this time but that is quickly changing and there are signs of offerings from third parties if they've not already started to materialise as I write this.

What others are doing and thinking

Where I've paraphrased I've used normal text, where I've quoted I've used italics

+Margaret Wong has upgraded from the OM-D EM5 to the EM1 and isn't looking back. She's enjoying the new hardware and is continuing to work with the lens collection she has.

+Jason Baker who uses Canon and has a Olympus is leaning towards Sony for the next upgrade.

+Peter Lavender suggests staying where I am as he has difficulties getting good bokeh from the Olympus.

+Ananda Sim says Olympus is a photographer's company. They will sacrifice profits, choose unpopular paths to innovate, and if they survive each year their product becomes sweeter. Sony is an all guns blazing company using shock and awe approaches. They have cheap gear as well as expensive gear and different models competing with each other from the same stable just because they can. So far due to the large size of the Sony empire the money has not run out. I perceive that they care for the big wallet customer, and that's not where I am.

The E-M1 is full featured and has a stable of of lenses that bridge cheaper to quite expensive. Primes would be good if they work with your style. As a general purpose option, it's well placed. It has its constraints and not all of them the obvious ones that trolls pick on.

Sony, being what they are have more than one pot cooking. The A7s has the high ISO. The A7ii has an early design IBIS. The A7r has the sheer resolution (but with Canon upping the ante, I expect the key Sony sensor business is already in overdrive for the Mark2). The A6000 actually focusses fast. There is not one pot but several pots tuned to different aspects.

And lastly, your trusty Canon 5D2 keeps on doing great at sports AF, tele shots, you know the grip, ergonomics, the AF response, the OVF and asset value well. the body and lenses don't need any new money.

With regard the cameras, it's reconciliation of expectations and negotiation with oneself to accept a particular compromise. And they have to be compromise designs like any engineering thing. As a designer you have to take a punt and damn the complaints by the customers who think they know otherwise.

The glory of the A7 series is a full frame sensor (formerly expensive) in a thin, small body with mass, inertia. You have to contend as a designer with a larger mechanism causing higher noise level, shutter shock and the IBIS has to be heaps more powerful to manage the same results as a Micro Four Thirds sensor. Optics is physics you have to find some way to deliver brigĥt f/no, good optics, image circle, compatible AF performance - all not changed from the DSLR and yet still keep result levels with CDAF reduce size / weight. Some customers even expect you to make a 70-200 f/2.8 L sharper at half a weight and price. 

With so many conflicting design parameters, it is age old and classic solution to have several biased designs instead of one integrated design until the tech gets it rigĥt.

The Micro Four Thirds way is to first make the sensor one quarter smaller, therefore all the constraints become much less painful and evolve the sensor over time to lift it's performance.

+Shari Mattox - Sherriff is using the Sony A7R and has come from the same 5d model I have and is using an A7R... and highly recommend it. Converting from a 5D myself for basically the same reason as you mentioned, it is much lighter and results are outstanding. I haven't let go of my 5D yet and use an adaptor so I can still use my Canon lenses. It's not ideal but until I get the Sony lenses I want...gradually, it works just fine. Good luck... It sux getting old ;-).

Richard Gay who is an EP-M2 user (the little brother of the OM-D EM1) notes that the mirrorless lenses are much lighter than those for the big DSLR.

+Peter Sherriff As most people that know me are aware I'm a long time Sony user having migrated to Sony DSLRs from my trusty Minolta cameras after Sony bought the business and I made the switch to Sony Mirrorless with the NEX-7 after my neck and back started giving me some serious problems. I'm currently using the a7R and whilst it's not the answer to everyone's prayers when it comes to small, light equipment it certainly has plenty of things going for it.

I'll start with the negatives - there's no getting away from what is currently a fairly short list of lenses for the a7 range. There are some truly fantastic lenses out there, especially when thinking of the size and weight of them in conjunction with the body but to a certain extent you're buying into a roadmap at the moment. Many users, myself included, are using one of many adaptors out there to use lenses with different mounts to plug the gap in the meantime. The a7R doesn't have the quickest autofocus out there, it can play a bit of hunt and peck sometimes to find the right spot. The high pixel count also means that if you're viewing at 1:1 you'll often find that images look a little out of focus, this is true for both images taken using autofocus and manual focus. More than any other camera I've owned the a7R highlights even the slightest of movement in the camera when taking your shot.

From here I'll switch to the positives and I'll start with image quality - it's just fantastic. Assuming you covered off the focus and stability side of things then the image quality really is superb, detail is amazing and the colours are just beautiful. The sensor technology in the Sony a7 range is absolutely at the top of the market at the moment - there's a reason several other manufacturers are using Sony sensors for their cameras and if/when you look at the higher quality Medium Format sensors then Sony pretty much have that sewn up.

Far from seeing Sony's range as being "shock and awe" I see the top end of their mirrorless range (a6000 and a7 range) as more of an acknowledgement that today's sensor technology is still something of a compromise and that different styles of photography have different requirements. To that end I view the a7R as being the best camera of its ilk for situations where you have decent lighting, good stability and the time to check your focus accuracy - landscape images for example. The a7S is staggering, and I do mean staggering, in what it can achieve in low light and if dingy clubs are your thing it's got to be on your shortlist. The a7 and a7ii are more all-rounders with something to offer everyone, the a6000 slotting into the spot where cropped sensor with very fast autofocus is beneficial - sports photography for example.

Ultimately, whilst I'd be happy recommending the Sony cameras to anyone prepared to listen to me, cameras are very personal things and what suits one person may not suit another. I am bought into the Sony roadmap for both lenses but also what I see as a bright future for their developments in sensor technology - more than any other camera company I see them pushing the boundaries of what's possible and for that I'm happy to give them my money.

+Christopher Cohen reminds me that feel is as important as specifications and trying them is critical - Christoher uses one of the other body brands I had considered but don't think would suit me but is one you might be interested in from Fujifilm and should be considered alongside the EM-1 and A7. He turns out beautiful images and knows his machine well. If you're looking at that one then he's a good source of information.

+Alan Warren I've got the A7S and it's perfect for me, everything I want in a camera. The A7ii would be my next choice (because IBIS) and I've never been a fan of the A7R due to the far higher resolution leading to less sensitivity in low light. If you don't want the higher resolution of the A7R or the greater dynamic range of the A7S the I think the A7ii is the way to go.

+Jason Boyes I was pretty focused towards the Sony A7r I must say, even with its limitations; and didn't even consider the rest of the A7 stable.

Since reading Peter Sheriff's reply this has changed. After having checked out the rest of the Sony A7 range, as well as a few Youtube clips I think I now have more questions than ever.

One has 5 axle stabilization and fast hybrid autofocus allowing for rapid accurate subject tracking (A7II). Is this a good all-rounder for all conditions?

Then you have the acclaimed full framed 36.4 megapixel beast in the A7r. As good as the reviews and images are, it does suffer in a few areas as we've heard.     

Then of course, there's the A7s. Having watched a few youtube clips on this camera, it's low light capabilities are beyond staggering...and I do mean beyond!
This thing is basically a pair of night vision goggles made into a camera, don't believe me, check a few of them out for yourselves lol.
But, for all this night-time goodness, what is this camera like as an allrounder I wonder?

+Jessica Hendelman and I had an ad hoc discussion on her switch from the Nikon stable to the Sony and she reinforced my thinking that Sony expect their users with wide ranging needs to actually purchase two bodies. She picked up the A7R and the A7ii for their different capabilities and a number of the Sony lenses and finds she gets all of her gear into less space with less weight and is enjoying the outcomes in her photography.

Where to from here?


Fortunately I know quite a few people involved in my photography circles that have the hardware I'm interested in and being able to go out on a play date to try the hardware is pretty easy to arrange, even better that they'll be right there with me so I don't have to learn the platform to achieve a reasonable review outcome. Stay tuned to see if I stay with the safe and comfortable or go out on a limb sell all my gear and go down a new path, I do not know the answer at this point. It may be that the results of my research, discussion both online and in person and playing with the equipment leads me to the point where I am today. I'm ok with that, for now. There hasn't been any significant break through in photography for many years, oh sure there are big changes inside the existing spectrum but there is no new quantum leap.

I do note that I'm not in a hurry and if the outcome of these discussions and playing with machines is to wait, I'm ok with that. Right now I have a good all rounder which suits my every need except weight which is getting tedious on the longer walks. Last night I walked with the 5d, a Samyang fish, Canon's 24-105L, and an 85mm prime. Great combo for what I was doing, but that's a pile of kilos which by the end of the night despite the awesome wide padded strap of the Think Tank Retrospective 7 bag I still had a sore shoulder and back. I'm also finding after years of use that the Black Rapid strap I use is very hard on gear (knocks) and a wrist strap or chest mount would be much better for the machine but the 5d is so heavy I don't think that's manageable (I know some people who do it, but they are at least ten years younger than me).

Probably the most important thing whether you love your current machine or not is to keep an eye on the market because you simply don't know what other hardware is capable of if you never try. I agree with Ananda that it's all about compromise and conflicting needs and capabilities.