At Home with Tech

Figure out which consumer tech you need, the right gear to buy and how to use your new gadgets.

Why Cropping into your Photos can Save your Shots

When editing your camera’s photos, you might need to look for the shot within the shot. Here are some examples.

After you snap a photo, you may have a good sense whether you’ve captured the image you want. Instant digital review certainly is a wonderful thing. But I would recommend not immediately deleting a photo that didn’t catch the moment or missed its intended focus point. Perhaps there’s a different element in the shot you’re not aware of that is in focus.

If you take a little time to study these photos, it’s amazing what you might find hidden in plain sight. And thanks to those many millions of pixels that are crammed into photos, you can usually crop deep into the image to pull out a detail with clarity.

No, it’s not quite like that scene from “Blade Runner” where Harrison Ford’s Deckard closely examines a digital photo and tells the computer to “move in and enhance.” But it’s amazingly close. You may not be able to print a large poster of your super-cropped photo, but it’ll likely still look great on your smartphone or computer screen.

Follow the Focus
I enjoy snapping flower shots with my Panasonic Lumix LX10. I prefer using manual focus in the attempt to make the flower pop out of its blurred background (bokeh).

But since the area of focus is especially narrow, it’s easy to miss the mark.

Instead of discarding these three pics that missed their focus targets, I followed the camera’s focus and then cropped in to save the shots.
(I use Adobe Lightroom.)
Yes, I missed the center of this flower, but the crisp edge of the petal is still interesting.

Much of this alien-like plant looked blurry, except for the tip of the back blooming stem. So, I zoomed in super tight to center on those crazy red sprouts.

Most of these fallen tree blossoms on my driveway ended up out of focus, but I cropped in tight enough to locate a few that weren’t caught in the blur.

Find your Needle in the Haystack
Even if focus isn’t a problem, you may still want to crop into a portion of a photo to give it some punch. If the entire shot isn’t that special, perhaps there’s a strong section to highlight.

I’ve been doing a lot of hiking with family and friends over the past year, and I’ve discovered that stunning views in nature don’t always translate into a quickly snapped photo. That usually happens to me when I try to take shots of a bubbly stream in a forest. It’s difficult to capture that sparkly view. So, when editing those pics, I sometimes explore the motion in the water.
In this cropped image I snapped with my iPhone, I was drawn to the linear patterns in the water created by the stream’s rush over rocks.

Show a Piece of the Puzzle
Beyond using this photo-cropping technique as a fix, you may find ongoing enjoyment in intentionally creating cropped shots that represent a piece of a larger story. (I certainly have.)

Sometimes a taste is all you need to fill in the rest.

I’ll give you a hint: My 5th grader’s science experiment using salt, hot water and a piece of string

If you’re still left with a mystery, is that so bad?

Less is More
I often like to say that “less is more” in visual storytelling. This perspective comes from my professional experience in video content creation and has certainly held up throughout my personal photography work.

Enjoy your own exploration of all of those smaller spaces in your photos.

Desk-Friendly Gear to Create Better Zoom Shots

If you’d like to improve your look during Zoom meetings, here’s my list of support gear I’ve added to my home office during the past year.

I’ve blogged frequently throughout the pandemic about Zoom meetings from home. I’ve found that applying my knowledge of video production best practices has been useful in maximizing my own Zoom shots. However, miniaturizing the standard gear of a TV studio to use in a home office environment can be tricky proposition.

That said, there’s plenty of compact consumer gear out there that can help improve the look of your video conferencing feeds without overwhelming your desk.

Here are five key pieces of relatively affordable gear I’ve put in place to help with my own Zoom shots:

1.
Key Light

Sometimes, there’s not a window nearby to offer illumination for your face. Instead, you need to provide your own front-facing light.

I use this soft LED as my main lighting positioned behind my iMac. It’s been performing great for over a year now.

2.
Fill Light

This battery-driven LED is perfect as a side light or for a more portable lighting solution.

It’s more expensive than other pocket LEDs, but it’s powerful and the light output levels are adjustable.

3.
Desk Stand to Elevate Laptop Webcam

This stand almost magically levitates your laptop, bringing the computer’s webcam closer to eye level.

The resulting height adjustment for your laptop will prevent the dreaded Zoom ceiling shot that looks up your nose!

4.
Tabletop Tripod for your External Webcam

It’s sturdy, but small enough to not take over your desk!

You can pop any webcam onto this baby tripod as long as it uses a standard 1/4” screw mount or GoPro mount.

5.
Smartphone Tripod Adapter

Sometimes, you may have to unexpectedly take your Zoom meeting to another room. A simple way to accomplish that is by using your smartphone.

Mounting your device to a tripod using this grip adaptor will negate the need to hold your phone throughout your meeting.

Zoom Away
Putting in place a few pieces of valuable support gear will go a long way to help improve your image for your next Zoom meeting.

It’s worth the effort.

How to Permanently Elevate your Laptop to Create a Better Zoom Shot

Do you suffer from ‘ceiling shot syndrome’ when using your laptop for video conference meetings? This solution will fix the problem.

If you’re Zooming all day from your laptop on your desk, your computer’s little webcam is probably looking up at you during your video conference meetings. That’s not good, because it’s an unflattering shot. The telltale sign of your up-angle live stream is when your viewers can see your ceiling behind your head instead of a wall.

I like to refer to that unfortunate webcam positioning as ‘ceiling shot syndrome.’

One way to fix the problem is to pile some books under your laptop to help elevate your webcam. Then, it will be able to point at you more horizontally. But that unstable solution is hardly a permanent fix.

It may be time to create a consistent and steady platform for your laptop’s webcam to see you at eye level.

Levitate your Laptop with a Desk Stand
Of course, a standing desk can do the trick. But if your laptop is stuck on a standard desktop, you need another way to bring your laptop up a foot or so.

The solution is to add an adjustable-height laptop desk stand to your home office equation.

It’s important to find a stand that will reposition your laptop’s webcam high enough to meet your face. So, get a ruler and measure from your desk’s surface up.

In my own research, I found three choices that provide more height than most stands out there:

The Right Design
All three have a similar Z-frame design with a relatively compact base, a tilt-forward surface and an expandable mid-section. I like this design, because it gives you flexibility on how high you can position your laptop. And it doesn’t make a massive footprint on your desk.

Plus, it’s nice that they all can fold up for portability and storage.

They all have received really good reviews. So how do you choose? Well, I simply went with the lowest price.

It’s the Nulaxy.

Click.

Say Goodbye to Ceiling Shot Syndrome
Over the past fifteen months, I’ve been using an old printer stand that I’ve had for years. Its sturdy but clunky design appears inspired by 1940s technology. The bigger problem was that it was only able to elevate my laptop a mere six inches.

So, my printer stand was never quite able to succeed in its new mission. And though it gave my laptop some height, I still suffered from ceiling shot syndrome. (Yes, I admit it.)

My Nulaxy will be a big improvement, as the stand will more than double my laptop’s elevation.

It’s always important to be able to look at someone eye to eye… and on a level plane. With the right stand for your laptop, it’s much easier to do that during your Zoom meetings.

%d bloggers like this: