Life at the Beach

Following in the tradition created on previous trips to Sydney, our first stop after landing was the Balmoral Bathers Pavilion for a proper Aussie brunch overlooking the golden sand. Sipping great coffee in the strong bright sunshine, and listening to the gentle surf, whilst being cooled by the breeze through the open full-height windows, makes this one of my favourite holiday spots.

Our base for this visit was the suburb of Paddington. Colourful period terrace houses interspersed with boutique shops and hip cafés give the area a unique character, plus it has easy access to the ocean beaches near Bondi. Our second day started overcast so we planned to walk the cliff path from Bronte to Bondi. The sea was thick with surfers at every beach we passed, and there were some real experts putting on a great show of skill in the huge waves that eventually crashed into the beach—no swimmers were being allowed into the water such was the force of the waves. At Bronte we prepared for our walk with an Aussie fry up (familiar, but with added avocado) and delicious banana bread slices the size of door stops. Since it was Good Friday, we had spicy and fruity hot1 cross buns as a mid-morning snack while we sheltered from a light rain shower at Tamarama.

Back at Bronte, the rain had blown away and although it remained overcast this made it a perfect temperature for just sitting on the foreshore, watching the world go by, and enjoying a fabulous toasted B.L.A.T. sandwich and more good coffee. Refuelled, we decided it was time for a quick dip in the sheltered rock pool. The water was a little bit cool, but refreshing after our long walk and at water level the giant waves were even more awesome, and could cause quite a surge even through the sheltered pool.

Our final day began with browsing the arts and crafty Paddington markets, then we took a trip to Watsons Bay to admire the majesty of Sydney Harbour from South Head. There was a great family atmosphere here with lots of children enjoying the sunshine and the placid water. The famous fish and chips from Doyle’s lived up to their reputation too—beach life is pretty good when it is this civilised.

  1. “hot” because they were served cold [back]

Photo Editing Apps for Mac

As a follow up to my previous post, I have been evaluating some of the many photo editing apps available for Mac to see how they might fit into my post-Aperture workflow.

For the problem of comparing sets of images the best tool I have found so far is MacPhun’s Snap Select. Although it can only display two photos side by side and not the 8 that Aperture can display simultaneously, I have found it to be effective at picking a single “best shot” from a selection of similar ones, which is my usual use case.

The majority of other apps appear to be focussed on editing and not managing a collection. On1 Photo 10 has a ‘browse mode’ which supports star ratings but it lacks side-by-side viewing and can only display thumbnails—the main focus of the suite is editing. It includes an easy to use portrait editing as well as a versatile effects module with a flexible masking option to apply effects to only parts of an image. I originally came across them because they offered a free set of presets for Aperture which I have used quite a bit. Having purchased this app on the Mac App Store—where it is currently much cheaper than direct from their website, and apparently the same full version although this version does not integrate with applications other than Photos.app. I also found the Resize module to be very useful in making a high resolution 30×20″ print from an older photo I only had as a 16:9-ratio jpeg. I had always thought that up-scaling an image in this way was bound to lead to poor quality but it turns out there are clever algorithms that can be applied to maintain quality. Resize also supports generating an extra border for the image which is then “wrapped” around the edges of a canvas. Without this “gallery wrap” feature, an image can lose a substantial section from the edges when the canvas is 3-4cm thick.

The power of On1’s Effects can be seen in this video. I have yet to really explore this module but initial experiments showed that while using smart layers brings some file format compatibility with photoshop, the resulting files are around 200MB each. This is not relevant if the module is used as a plugin to Photos.app because Photos does not allow edits to be modified further once the plugin has exited, but for advanced work a more compact file format is needed to avoid making the user decide whether they want to ever revisit a set of edits again in future.

My favourite Photos extension so far is definitely DxO Optics Pro. It only offers a small number of enhancements, including noise and haze reduction, but the noise reduction is excellent and worth the money alone. It works best with RAW files, but I have achieved some pleasing results even with camera phone photographs. Highly recommended, and on the strength of the extension I will be trialling their full DxO Optics Pro software when I next have a good batch of shots to process.