Yes I said mouse!
Photographers are used to talking about or reading about pen-tablets – and they have their place – however I personally tend to see this largely as being when you need to do fine detailed work such as cleaning up skin or hair on studio shoots, or table-top product shoots. But for the most part I don’t need to go down to this level of detail – events being the most common example for myself. It may be because I’ve not totally got used to the tablet as yet (I have a Wacom Intuous 5 small).
Before getting my tablet I’d customised my Photoshop so that my most used functions were assigned shortcut keys. I had to assign these in a couple of instances but Photoshop makes this easy as almost anything can be assigned a shortcut key.
My most used actions when editing photos like event photos are:
- Maximize image
And on the whole – that’s it. There will be a few instances when I do other work but those are by far the most common.
As I use layers a lot of these were shift-key combinations i.e. you had to press the shift key down and a letter key to operate the shortcut. These are the shortcut keys I set up, or were in place. Not a lot of thought was put into these initially but it’s what I got used to eventually.
- Levels Layer : Shift-, (shift and comma)
- Curves Layer : Shit-M
- Sharpen : Shift-F (This is the default shortcut for re-doing the last filter done)
- Flatten : Ctrl-Shift-F
Although shortcut keys do certainly quicken the workflow (rather than selecting the item from Photoshop menus or sub-menus) it’s still a bit of a break in the flow – hands need to move, find keys, press them etc. This is especially so when the key-combination isn’t simple to do with one hand and both need to move (this is where I think I should have assigned simpler short-cut keys). So I had the idea of looking to find a mouse that has assignable buttons. Not sure now but I knew they existed – maybe just noticing one in a computer shop when doing something else.
There’s a whole wealth of mice out there with more than the usual 2/3 mouse buttons – a huge amount in fact. They’re called gaming mice. Of course these are directed towards the gamers as they want to do certain actions quickly without swaping hand in case they get blown up ;)…… where’s that key to change weapon *BOOM* – damn game over…. and such like.
They come in all shapes and sizes – some even have customizable shapes ! But their price range also vary significantly.
I had a brief look around and decided on some main requirements:
- At least 3 definable buttons in addition to standard 2
- Wired (don’t see the point of having wireless if it’s never leaving my desk and don’t want to waste batteries)
- Optical (rather than laser – seen some iffy reviews)
- Affordable (I’m not a gear freak in terms of PC stuff so didn’t see the point in spending £100 on a mouse!)
In the end (after looking at specs and reading reviews) I decided to go for the Logitech G400.
I bought it for something like £25/27 (probably Amazon) rather than the £35 listed on the Logitech site.
In addition to the usual 3 buttons (left, right, roller-with click) it has an additional 5 buttons. Two at the side that are assigned to anything and three at the top which are usually assigned to precision/speed.
In the software that comes with it you can assign these to different actions, e.g.:
- Keystroke (single)
- Mouse function
- Media (e.g. play, pause)
- Hotkey (e.g. windows operation e.g. open/close a window)
- Function (e.g. Open windows “My Computer” window)
This picture shows the interface and what I’ve assigned them to/called them:
So they are :
- Levels (New levels layer)
- Curves (New Curves Layer)
- Flat-Filter (Flatten the image and then Sharpen – or last filter)
- Full (Maximise image window)
- Saturation (New Saturation level)
Each one refers to a “Multi Key” combination and one does two things (Flatten + Sharpen). You can do these using the tool/driver to record what you press – so it’s just a matter of clicking record and then doing the key presses. This also records lifting the keys after you’ve done. But one important thing to remember is that on the New layer combinations you also need to press Enter if you want to accept the default name of the window, which I usually do, else you’re left with the new layer prompt. If I want to rename it for a longer edit I can do that later.
So here’s the combination for new Levels Layer as an example (usually Shift-, on the keyboard):
Rest is fairly simple really.
As seen in the first image you can set different button settings for different applications. It does come with some suggested configurations but almost all of these are games …. which I don’t have or have the time to play. Of late I have found that it can struggle to pick up which application I’m using sometime, especially when going from Bridge to CameraRaw and then to Photoshop. I’ll press a button to do something but instead of my assigned function something else will happen e.g. instead of maximising the image the mouse will get more sensitive (quicker). This can be solved by doing a windows alt-tab to swap away and then again back to Photoshop. Annoying sometimes but on the whole the mouse is saving me a lot of time. Very glad I bought it even though I now have a Wacom tablet too.
Eh what ?
Ha – ok some will know what this is about and so you can skip this but thought I’d post for those that don’t.
What I’m talking about is traditionally known as a Grey (or is it Gray…?) card, althought they now come in several different formats. Yes – this is a piece of grey card – but it’s a very specific luminescence/lightness of grey – 18% grey. (PS I’m using “Luminescence” or “lightness” rather than “shade” as that suggests colour and grey has none – it’s just part way between white or black – which are not colours…. penadtry over for now) Allegedly this is what all cameras from early-ish light meters were built to consider a middle and average tone. [I say allegedly as Thom Hogan a well know photographer/blogger says otherwise]
The story goes that someone (possibly Kodak ?) went through thousands of correctly exposed pictures and took an average, overal light value and found this to be 18% grey – and so built cameras/meters to try to achieve this. This is why sometimes taking picture of light things in snow will under expose (pushing it darker towards grey) and dark things on a dark background will over expose…… although modern cameras have got a lot better … anyway I digress..
So the main/original purpose of grey cards was to assist in obtaining the correct meter/exposure value in tricky scenarios. You can hold the card infront/next to your subject and take a meter reading from it which should be correct.
BUT another use for them (and the point which I have been getting to in a very round-about way) is that they can be helpful when trying to get the correct White Balance. (If you don’t know what White Balance is – err – it’s the measure of how warm or cool the light is – our eyes automatically adjust for it but cameras sometimes need to be told – especially with different kind of light bulbs)
Usually modern cameras can do a fairly good job of getting the right white balance – but sometimes they need some help. This weekend I was helping a friend out by taking pictures of her bags which she’s producing and will be selling. As part of this shoot I was taking product shots – the bags on a plain white background – over exposed so that it would be white, using studio lights at a friends studio. I realised that I’d forgotten my grey card – so although I have a rough idea what temperature/tone the studio lights are I didn’t have a proper value to go by. What I’ve done instead is to find a patch of shade that isn’t influenced by other areas and taken a value from that. (You can’t take values from pure white – most of my background – as it has no colour) But one of the bags is proving tricky – the purple one. It just won’t look as it should. Not sure if this is due to my White Balance measurement (in Camera Raw) not being correct or the camera having an issue with that colour. Either way – a grey card would have been handy – I think I’ll cut off part of the card I have and keep a bit in each of my camera bags.
As well as standard cards there are some newer formats as I mentioned.
small and portable:
BUT grey cards are not the final word on full/correct colour management. Although they are a quick and easy method – they only correct the picture based on one sample shading. Theoretically it’s possible that either the light source or your camera’s colour characteristics will vary according to shade i.e. the light might be a little orange in the darker shades, but it is less so when it gets lighter. Other colours might come out more there – in essence – the colour variation of the light or the sensitivity of your sensor may not be linear. So for a comprehensive calibration you’ll need something with more sample points. Something like the X-Rite ColorChecker passport:
As well as a grey card it has a section with many different colours to sample from. There are various others on the market but this seems to be the main market leader at the moment as it comes with software that you can install that will help you create a calibrated colour profile for your camera/lens/light setup and then you can apply it to all images in a batch.
Here’s a video from X-rite on its use:
I do not have one of these – I would like to have one of these 😉