Photograph Settings for Posting to Instagram

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I’m quickly discovering that Instagram has a file size and resolution limit and if I’m over that limit then it compromises the quality of the photo as it appears on IG.

Up until now I’d been exporting my photographs from Lightroom at the highest settings possible to ensure that they looked crisp and clean, which they do on my laptop, but once I upload it to Instagram it loses its integrity and it ends up looking messy and blurry. Which is not ideal.

So, a quick search around the internet revealed that Instagram has a resolution limit of 1080ppi by 1080ppi and file size of 1.6MB, and that I need to export the photograph from Lightroom in a specific way in order to optimise it for use in Instagram.

I played around with the settings based upon what I found, and for me these settings were optimal when using the Export function in Lightroom:

  1. The Image Format should be set to JPEG
  2. The Colour Space should be set to sRGB.
  3. The Quality setting should be set to 50%. You can set this to 100% if you limit the file size to 1.6MB as noted below.
  4. Set both Width and Height to 1080 pixels per inch.
  5. Limit the file size to 1.6MB in the file settings window.
  6. Cropping the photo was incidental to the process as long as you used one of the 4 native aspect ratios (1:1, 1.91:1, 4:5, 4:3/3:4).

As always, you should check the photo before and after export to ensure that it looks clear and crisp, even when zooming into the photograph. As an extra step, I even view the photo on a handheld device after uploading it to Instagram to doublecheck that it looks okay. Once I’m satisfied that it looks acceptable then I’ll go ahead and add the hashtags and narrative to the photo.

I also discovered an alternative way to do this in the Microsoft Windows Photo app. These are pretty easy steps:

  1. Export the photo from Lightroom using the highest settings for maximum clarity, ensuring that it adheres to one of the 4 native aspect ratios (1:1, 1.91:1, 4:5, 4:3/3:4).
  2. Open the photograph using the pre-installed Microsoft Windows Photo app.
  3. In the top right-hand corner is a drop down menu. Click on that.
  4. Close to the top of the drop down menu you’ll see an option labelled “Resize”. Click on that.
  5. You’ll then be provided with an option to resize the image from the current file size (which it gives you) to either Small, Medium or Large. I typically select Large, which reduces the file size considerably while maintaining the integrity/quality of the photo.

Again, check the photo before and after resizing to ensure that it looks clear and crisp, even when zooming into the photograph.

On that note, one process was not better than the other. The end result of having a clear photograph on Instagram was the same for both processes.

So, there you have it. Lesson learned. Another step in the process of learning photography!

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Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007) – Movie Review

fantastic four silver surfer

When I was very young, my Mom bought my comics when she did the weekly grocery shopping. One day, mixed in with “The Flash”, “Superman”, “World’s Finest”, and “Action Comics”, was this weird thing called “Fantastic Four” # 35. She somehow bought it by mistake, and it changed my life. The Kirby art, the bickering between the heroes, the romance between Reed and Sue…I had never read anything like it in DC. A few months later, I was making my own weekly trips to the local drugstore, buying Spider-man, FF, and Sgt. Fury off the spinner rack for 12 cents each. Slowly, Supes and Batman faded away for me, they just could not compete with the Marvel stories.

Fast forward: we live in a post-Image Comics age. Fanboys raised on steroid freaks and chicks in thongs. Yet, somehow, these two FF movies are NOT cynical, they are NOT dark, the heroes are NOT blood-thirsty maniacs, they are ordinary people. The Urban Dictionary defines “cheesy” as: ‘sentimental, maudlin, melodramatic, corny’. Well, guess what? The old Lee/Kirby Fantastic Four WAS ‘sentimental, maudlin, melodramatic, corny’. I liked FF1, I LOVE FF2. Why? Because the SPIRIT of the comics is right there, right up on screen.

I am going to be very specific when discussing “FF:RotSS”, so what follows will contain SPOILERS. All issue references concern the original run of the comic, which began in 1961.

The movie adapts the events of two famous story arcs from the period (1965-1968) considered to be the pinnacle of the collaboration between Stan Lee (writer) and Jack Kirby (artist). Those stories are in issues #48-50 (known as ‘the Galactus trilogy’), and #57-60 (Dr. Doom steals the Surfer’s power).

Tim Story and crew have made a much better movie this time out. The team members themselves are now very comfortable with their powers, and that translates on-screen into them having FUN. The FF always has featured bickering and corny jokes, and that is highlighted early on, without getting too over-the-top. The action really kicks in once we get to the wedding, and the Surfer appears.

All of the FF’s power effects are very, very well done, most notably Sue’s invisibility. The Surfer looks just outstanding, his visualization is believable in the way that Gollum from LOTR was: we forget quickly that this is a special effect, and engage with the character. His backstory is presented intact, and he slowly starts to reclaim his lost humanity. Sue is presented as the catalyst for his change of heart, in a way that Alicia was used in the comics.

A note about Chris Evans: he is the swaggering, exuberant heart of these ‘FF’ movies. Johnny has a definite character arc in this movie, and Evans has a good time showing us the more aware side of the Torch, along with the bravado and self-promotion that is the source of much humor. He never allows Johnny to be anything less than likable, and he gets some of the best scenes, including a very satisfying, Super-Skrull style trashing of Dr. Doom late in the movie.

Galactus…the original “Galactus trilogy” was a 3-issue meditation on the meaning of “Evil”, moral relativism, and the significance of Life itself. The events pivoted around a character called The Watcher, who is cosmically powerful, but sworn to non-interference. Stan Lee had spent 4 years slowly creating the “Marvel Universe” that the FF inhabited, and FF #48-50 was an expansion of various concepts he had already touched on previously. A feature film introducing THREE humanoid all-powerful cosmic beings (Watcher, Galactus, Silver Surfer), and prominently theorizing about the absolute value of life in the cosmos might be labeled “pretentious” by some, especially when the source material is a comic book. I would love to see that story myself, but I am critiquing “FF:RotSS” based on what it IS, not what it IS NOT. What we get is a streamlined story of global destruction that builds tension to a decent payoff. Galactus DOES appear at the very end, but his headpiece is engulfed in the film’s equivalent of “Kirby dots”, which were the artist’s trademark way of illustrating random, seething energy.

The movie quotes numerous scenes and images from the books of 1961-1967, too many to list completely here. Notable examples of this are:

> FF #60 p. 5: Doom uses the power cosmic to create a cyclone, just like in the film;

> FF #49 p. 10 pnl 1-2: visualization of a world destroyed by Galactus, similar to the movie’s opening shot;

> FF Annual #3 (1965) p. 23 pnl 4-6: Stan and Jack are barred from Reed/Sue’s wedding reception, and Stan is kept out in the movie;

> FF #59 p. 14 pnl 1: Doom deliberately causes freezing weather while flying overhead, in the movie the Surfer does the same thing unintentionally.

My one serious criticism of “FF:RotSS” is the total absence of Kirby’s signature crazy machinery. The FF comic book became stuffed full of elaborate gadgets and vehicles early on in the series, and the movie lags far behind. We get the Fantasti-car, but there is no Pogo Plane, Jet-cycle, etc.

I take issue with those who decry “FF:RotSS” for its PG rating. I read these very stories when I was 10 years old, and I just do not understand people complaining about a comic book being made into a family movie. The jokes are not adolescent gross-out humor like “Shrek”. The scene in the disco early on is typical, where the script has fun with the iconic image of Reed as a stuffed-shirt. This is done playfully, and is not a betrayal of the character. In fact, Reed declares a “Nerd Manifesto” later on that should warm the hearts of brainy, socially awkward teenage boys everywhere. The important thing, to me, is that THE MOVIE WORKS on its own terms, and remains terrifically entertaining from start to finish.

 

7 out of 10 stars

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Fantastic Four (2005) – Movie Review

fantastic four 2005

Fantastic Four is one of the superhero films from the 2000’s, that I can recall, which wasn’t insufferably bleak or incredibly serious to a point where any shred of humor was seen as obtuse to the film’s narrative. Yes, Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy is an indisputable breakthrough in superhero films, but it also made the seriousness of superhero films standard, something that would follow into the late 2000’s and early 2010’s as Marvel built up The Avengers. Fantastic Four reminds of the quirkiness superhero films were once predicated upon, and while it may get a bit too corny at times, and its focus can never really settle, it’s also a very commercial film that satisfies on some level of entertainment when it gives every card in its deck a fair time to shine.

We open by looking at a physicist named Dr. Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd), who is convinced evolution was triggered millions of years ago by stray elements of cosmic energy in space, some of which will pass near Earth very soon. His pal, astronaut Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis), works by his side on this potentially revolutionary discovery by helping him convince their old classmate Dr. Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon), the CEO of Von Doom Industries, to allow both of them access to his private space station to further experiment with the effects of these cosmic energy particles. While Doom agrees, he winds up walking away with most of the profits that this experiment will bring, affirming Reed’s desperation to make his project work.

Still, he persists on and brings his close friends Susan Storm (Jessica Alba) and her brother Johnny (Chris Evans) along for the ride. However, when a trip to outer space goes awry, exposure with the cosmic energy results in the four receiving deformities and enhanced human abilities that have never before been seen: Reed possesses the ability to stretch every limb of his body, Susan has the ability to disappear and reappear at will, Johnny can engulf himself in flames, and Ben turns into a hideous, orange rock monster.

Following the four’s mutations, writers Michael France and Mark Frost focus a great deal of their time on the agony that these mutations bring, particularly The Thing, who experiences his wife leaving him shortly after revealing his deformity. While this agony is a solid angle (one I’d argue is necessary in most superhero films), too much of the time is spent profiling The Thing and not enough on the remaining characters of the film. Reed and Ben, who are ultimately the film’s main focus, wind up monopolizing too much of the picture, and any time we see Johnny it’s when he’s right in the middle of making a smug comment or being his typical, flirtatious self.

The action in Fantastic Four has a colorful commercial look to it, brilliantly bold and very vibrant in a way that makes many of the scenes pop with life. It manages to achieve a comic book aesthetic without resorting to picture-in-picture editing. One particularly involving scene takes place on a suspension bridge, where The Thing is seen pummeling everything in his sight and the remaining three members of the team must resort to either relaxing him or protecting drivers and innocent bystanders.

The goofiness in Fantastic Four, however, in an age of dark superhero films that come with slick aesthetics and brooding characters, is a delightful change of pace. Yes, there is a point when one wishes director Tim Story, France, and Frost would command a tighter grip on the seriousness of the writing, but the pulpy fun of Fantastic Four, in addition to the effects and the neatly choreographed action, keep it a moving, satisfying spectacle that is more than just colors flying around on screen, trying to find their place.

 

7 out of 10 stars

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So You Want to be a Writer?

gray scale photography of typewriter

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I can’t take credit for this list, it’s courtesy of Matt Hawkins at Top Cow Productions Inc. Link here: https://topcow.com/

I have, however, made a few edits to the list as I think this is relevant to most if not all writers and types of writing.

So, you want to be a comics pro? If you’re interested in becoming a professional writer here are a few things to consider in order to make sure that this is the right move for you:

1) For the most part, writing is a solitary experience and you can expect long periods of isolation while doing the creative work;

2) Most writers have editors and they also do work-for-hire, which means you will be forced to change your creation in ways that you may not like. You’ll need to find a way embrace and work past this disagreement in order to complete the piece (and get paid);

3) You’ll need to learn self-marketing in order to sell yourself (and your work); publishing companies market characters/titles for the most part, however you’ll need to market yourself. And yes, driving 4 hours to a book signing where 3 people show up is no fun, but it’s happened to everyone.

4) Unless you have a day job, you need to have enough savings to cover your living expenses for 6 to 12 months. Freelance writing jobs aren’t always readily available, so don’t become too comfortable in your current economic status. There are countless freelancers who went from making 60-80k a year to 20k the next.

5) You have to become comfortable talking to people and selling yourself and your stories at cons. Unless you’re on a name brand book it won’t sell itself.

6) Either have something to say or don’t say anything at all. Social media is a bitch, so either have a message and stick to it which can help build you a following (and potentially alienate others) or don’t discuss controversial things at all. If you aren’t comfortable and good at it, don’t do it.

 

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Superman Returns (2006) – Movie Review

superman returns

Like many other people, the character of Superman has always been a firm favourite of mine dating back to my childhood. Christopher Reeve’s Superman made me believe a man could fly, with the light-hearted ‘Lois and Clark’ series seeing me through the Nineties.

‘Superman Returns’ is set five years after Christopher Reeve’s ‘Superman II’ (thankfully ignoring the events in the lacklustre ‘Superman III and IV’). Superman, after five years of searching for the remains of his home planet Krypton, has returned to Earth to resume his life as Clark Kent only to find things moved on without him. Lois Lane is now mother to five-year-old son Jason and engaged to Perry White’s nephew Richard. She is also thoroughly disenchanted with Superman although it soon becomes clear there is much unresolved feelings between the two. But between juggling his conflicting emotions for Lois and his duties to protecting the population, Superman has to face his arch-enemy Lex Luthor, who has stolen the crystals from the Fortress of Solitude and is intent on using them to rule the world.

It was never going to be easy Brandon Routh to step into Christopher Reeve’s shoes but he takes it in his stride, managing to capture the bumbling but kindly nature of Clark and the strong, reserved demeanour of a Superman who strives to find a balance between his alien heritage and the life he has made for himself on Earth. He makes the role his own yet does well in succeeding where Reeve left off. Kate Bosworth was also another surprise. I was very disappointed in her casting initially but seeing her perform in the film left me realising that she was perfect for the job as she portrays the cocky and determined yet vulnerable Lois to a tee. Kevin Spacey was great as the obsessive, slightly unhinged Luthor who possesses a real hatred for our hero while Parker Posey gave us a nicely-portrayed ‘shades of grey’ character in Kitty, a villain with a heart. Even the little moppet who played Jason gave a decent performance without being wooden or grating.

What I loved most about the film is that it delivered an interesting storyline that didn’t reject the first two ‘Superman’ films, which are classics in the heart of any Superman fan and had already done a good job in covering the origins story. But at the same time, it didn’t shirk in giving us deeper insights into the character of Superman, the solitary hero and the man who just wants to fit in. What was a pleasant surprise was that the film also refused to dumb down to small children in the audience, which is a growing problem with many Hollywood films that over-dose on infantile humour to appeal to kids resulting in boredom for anyone over fourteen. There was humour, some on a level to make children laugh, but overall there was a nice mix of action, romance and darkness aimed more at an older audience. They even avoid the clichéd pitfall of portraying Lois’ love interest to be a sanctimonious twit and instead he came across as a genuinely nice guy who shows that it’s understandable why she has problems choosing between him and Superman

In fact, my only real problem was that there wasn’t enough interaction between Lois and Clark, which would have been nice as Clark’s jealousy towards his alter-ego and the attention Lois lavishes on him is a large part of the story yet in the film, you felt as if Clark and Superman really were two different people with Clark just being some rather random guy. However, it can be over-looked by the fact that Clark was so happy to just have Lois’ attention that he didn’t care whether it was projected onto himself in his real personality or on Superman.

For anyone who has yet to see the film, I do recommend it and don’t allow yourself to be put off by nitpickers complaining about the actors’ being too young (better they be a shade on the younger side than going the ‘Smallville’ route where you have adults in their late twenties and thirties prancing around pretending to be teens and just looking ridiculous for it) or that the film is too long (even the eight-year-olds in the audience sat quietly, glued to the screen, for the entire film) or that it’s bland (no more so than ‘Spiderman’). I, for one, thoroughly enjoyed it.

 

9 out of 10 stars

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Doctor Strange (2016) – Movie Review

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“Doctor Strange,” in my opinion, is Marvel’s first step into the uncharted. Sure, “Guardians of the Galaxy” was a bold undertaking, but the concept of gods and aliens had already been explored in “Thor” and “The Avengers.” “Ant Man” may have given us a glimpse into the Quantum Realm, but at the end of the day, it was little more than a comedic heist film with a taste of “Honey I Shrunk the Kids.”

Helmed by horror director Scott Derrickson, “Doctor Strange” invites us into Marvel’s world of magic and mysticism. Benedict Cumberbatch stars as Doctor Stephen Strange, an arrogant neurosurgeon acclaimed worldwide for his medical achievements. After losing the use of his hands in a car accident, Strange desperately searches the globe for anything that will give him back what made him great. Strange’s search leads him to the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), a sorcerer who introduces him to the mystic arts and sets him on the path to becoming the “Sorcerer Supreme.”

While magic itself is a new element in the Marvel cinematic universe, “Doctor Strange” is still, at its core, a superhero origin story, meaning that all of Marvel’s tropes are ever present. There are several attempts at humor. Some of them work; some of them don’t, and the villain, albeit portrayed very well by Mads Mikkelsen, is once again underdeveloped.

In spite of this, Marvel made an ambitious move with this film, one that I believe paid off in dividends.

The bizarre visuals, dialogue and character interactions of “Doctor Strange” would not work without strong performances, and for this film, Marvel was able to enlist a plethora of quality talent. Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Mordo – an experienced, collected, yet damaged sorcerer studying under the Ancient One – compliments the sarcastic and ambitious nature of Strange well. Benedict Wong and Rachel McAdams as Master Wong and Nurse Christine Palmer, respectively, also have some nice character moments and provide a few laughs along the way.

The “white-washing” controversy surrounding Swinton’s casting as the Ancient One (who, in the comics, was a man of Asian descent), left my mind the minute she stepped into the room with Strange. Swinton’s acting choices bring her character to life, and her expert delivery adds dramatic weight to certain lines of dialogue that may have otherwise come across as poorly written.

Cumberbatch’s performance is already being compared to Robert Downey Jr.’s in “Iron Man” because of the similarities between the origin stories of Stephen Strange and Tony Stark. However, what separates Strange and Stark from the beginning is the charisma and humanity that shine through Stark’s arrogance before becoming Iron Man. He was a likable jerk. The same cannot be said for Strange.

In one scene, Strange tests his music knowledge with other hospital staff while performing surgery. He chooses his operations based on their level of difficulty, discarding ones that he deems unworthy of his time. Even after his accident, he pushes Nurse Palmer, the one person who truly cares for him, away as a result of his pride. The fact that Strange is so unlikeable at the beginning of the film makes it all the more satisfying to watch his transformation unfold on screen, and, as always, Cumberbatch brings his A-game to develop this character.

Scott Derrickson’s background in the horror genre benefits his direction immensely. From the villain’s makeup design to certain visual imagery in the final act, Derrickson’s touch is evident throughout “Doctor Strange,” and the work that he and his team put into the film’s special effects is impeccable, visually and conceptually.

“This doesn’t make any sense,” Doctor Strange says to the Ancient One.

“Not everything does. Not everything has to.”

“Doctor Strange” could easily be viewed as typical Marvel fanfare. It takes a hotheaded protagonist and sends him to the darkest depths, only to have him rise from the ashes to claim his destiny. It sacrifices the villain’s character development to ensure a shorter run time and throws away potentially impactful moments for the sake of comedy. Overshadowing the film’s shortcomings for me, however, are excellent performances, visual flair and a bit of magic.

 

8 out of 10 stars

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Avengers: Infinity War (2018) – Movie Review

avengers infinity warAnd so begins the end of an era. Everything that has happened so far in Marvel’s shared universe that began in 2008, everything has led to this moment. Avengers: Infinity War is where this decade’s worth of narrative & world-building is supposed to pay off. And that makes this film more than just another instalment in the franchise. It’s an epic moment, no less than a cinematic event.

The 19th instalment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and first of the two planned Avengers films that will conclude their Phase 3 plan, Avengers: Infinity War follows the all-powerful Thanos as he travels across the universe looking for infinity stones that would grant him the strength to impose his will on all of reality and finally faces the Avengers in a battle that would decide the fate of all existing lives.

Directed by Anthony & Joe Russo, Infinity War begins where Thor: Ragnarok signed off and what unfolds in the opening scene sets the tone for the rest of the story. It’s no doubt an ambitious undertaking by the Russo brothers but Captain America: Civil War proved that it’s them who were best suited for tackling this massive assignment than anyone else. And for the most part if not all, they do a pretty neat job at it.

Having been teased only in small doses until now, Infinity War puts Thanos front & centre as if it’s his movie. There is more at stake here than previous entries and in Thanos we have a supervillain who lives up to the expectations. His motivation for the sick fantasy that he wants to turn into reality isn’t as strongly appealing but it’s still serviceable. However, the film actually lacks that smooth, perfect balance the first Avengers film exhibited in all aspects.

The VFX team deserves the maximum credit, for everything from the set pieces to numerous locations to changing backdrops & settings to characters’ appearances & outfits is an end result of their work. There are plenty of moments that will make the audience cheer at the spectacle they are witnessing but it could also be exhausting, for CGI-laden action segments don’t carry that lasting effect and may become tiring after a while, which is exactly what happens here.

Cinematography is splendid, utilising IMAX cameras to capture the images in sharp detail & crisp clarity, but it also fails to make the most of the available technology by operating them in conventional fashion. Editing is brilliantly carried out, making sure the action keeps surfacing regularly to keep the interest alive but there were several scenes that it could’ve trimmed from its already demanding 149 mins runtime. And Alan Silvestri contributes with a rousing score that effectively uplifts the film’s larger-than-life aura.

Coming to the performances, barring a few exceptions, the entire ensemble of the MCU return to reprise their respective roles of the Avengers, the Guardians & their allies but it’s Josh Brolin as Thanos who impresses the most. The years of careful threading that underwent into hyping him as the biggest & baddest overlord of villainy & darkness ultimately works out in the film’s favour, as Thanos makes up for one formidable supervillain who’s far more intimidating than past Marvel antagonists and Brolin’s conquering voice makes him stand out even more.

As for the rest of the cast, Robert Downey Jr. returns as Tony Stark (Iron Man) with all his charisma & magnetic charm in tact and delivers a confidently assured input. Chris Hemsworth is even better as Thor and is bestowed with the most interesting arc of all Avengers. Chris Evans as Steve Rogers (Captain America) is no slouch either and carves his own moments to shine. Tom Holland is effortlessly captivating as Peter Parker (Spider-Man) and steals almost every scene he appears in. Others do well with what they are given but every single one of them is overshadowed by Thanos’ imposing presence.

On an overall scale, Avengers: Infinity War is an enjoyable, entertaining & satisfying extravaganza that somehow manages to live up to its enormous hype. There are plenty of unexpected surprises & unforeseen tragedies in store, plus the ending is going to hit the fans hard, but all of it would’ve left a more powerful & unforgettable impact if we didn’t already know that much of it will be undone in the next Avengers film. All in all, Avengers: Infinity War nearly pays off 10 years’ worth of investment with an exhilarating action-adventure spectacle and signs off by setting up a perfect stage for the grand finale.

 

10 out of 10 stars

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