Topaz FX Labs

I have fallen in love with an old program that is fairly new to me; Topaz FXLabs, I received this in a bundle I got a little while ago from Topaz Labs. Sure I regularly use other programs in Topaz; Adjust, Denoise, B&W, Impressions, just to name a few. Some of them seem to crash while trying to use them and I eventually gave up. FXLabs didn’t really seem to make much sense until I watched an eye opening tutorial by Jai Johnson at Daily Texture.com. Once I learned just how amazing and powerful this program could be, I could not wait to start playing with it.

Now my first few tries, weren’t exactly a huge success, but it did not take long to get use to it. It has built in layers and masking and scale, and adjustments, you can open multiple images from Photoshop or without, but the beauty is you can then access all the Topaz plugins directly, and so far………..NONE of them crash while inside FXLabs.

The control and ease of use of the program as become a go to for me, sure there are some things I still do in Photoshop and Camera Raw and basic editing I still use Lightroom, but I must say I am adoring this cool new (to me) program. It can be used with other editing software, like Paintshop Pro as well.

I must admit I have done several YouTube tutorial by Jai now and they are mostly quite long, but very informative on this subject, her backgrounds and overlays which can be purchased are truly stunning as well, and yes I have purchased a few to play with.

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I was concentrating mostly on animals, birds in particular, but have branched out and used it with people with equally stunning results.

There is something so sumptuous and earthy about these textures and this technique, I love the end results I am achieving. There is a 30 day Free Trial available on Topaz Labs if you want to check it out too, it’s not on special or anything and quite frankly the whole bundle is expensive, but if you can get it on sale or afford just a few of the kits, FXLabs, Clarity, lens effect, Adjust and Impressions……….it’s a great start.

~ Julz

Tech Review – Camfi, Update

OK so a month or so again I wrote a review on the Camfi wi-fi adaptor my kids bought me for Christmas. Now in general I rated it pretty well, but I did note a few Cons against it….

  • A bit glitchy with my old Samsung Note 1.0 tablet…….possibly due to the older software on the tablet?
  • Occasionally freezes on Sony Smartphone as well, especially if trying to arrange a bracketed shot.
  • When freezes sometimes locks the whole camera up.
  • I found that sometimes my Home Wi-Fi kicked me off the Camfi…….but that could just be my system and not the camfi?

As it turns out this may not be the Camfi product in itself but a dud that I got. You see mine stopped working altogether a few weeks ago (only used it for a month) and it just died, would not connect via WI-FI to ANY device. I contacted the distributors who asked me try a few things (reset etc) and then to send it back……so it has been duly returned, replaced with another unit and posted back to me. I turned it all on and hooked it up, so far so good. Hopefully this one lasts a little more than one month and is glitch free from now on.

I’ll keep you updated…

~ Julz

 

Nikkor 16-85mm Lens Review

Another early Christmas present was another new lens………..now I know what you are thinking, really? another new bit of glass? But it was required. Moth got one for his Birthday/Christmas and we were so impressed I kept stealing it for my camera instead of my horrible 18-200mm lens which allows every bit of dust onto the sensor. I hate it with a passion. So after a few weeks of us fighting over it, I bit the bullet and ordered one for myself for Christmas.

AF-S DX 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR

Now this is not a new lens, it is an older model and took a bit to find it on Nikon’s website, but it did make it dirt cheap from DWI! Don’t get me wrong it is a fabulous bit of kit and my new go to lens. It is fantastic for low light even if the aperture only goes up to F/3.5 (down to F/22); beautiful for still life, portraits, landscapes, just about anything. I have used it for macro, light painting, sunsets, newborns and concept shoots. It is tack sharp every time!It has a lovely range on it……….ok it isn’t perfect; at the Zoo I wanted something more than 85mm for the zoom.

It is small, compact and lightweight (well when compared to the 18-200mm), it gives such a lovely clear, crisp image. It is 67mm diameter so it is a standard size for filters.

This lens really is my new workhorse, it is reliable (as most Nikon Lenses are) and so versatile. Apparently it also has a better performing VR and less distortion on the wide angle as opposed to the 18-200mm as well – Ken Rockwell

Oh and did I tell you I love this lens? seriously it really has become my favourite lens. If you are looking for a very versatile all rounder, and you can still find one, you just might be able to grab a bargain!

And remember old stock isn’t bad stock…….as long as it still comes with a warranty you are all good.

~ Julz

 

Portrait Perfection Photoshop Actions Review…

I was recently approached by the wonderful people at Sleek Lens whom asked if I would like to try and review their Portrait Perfection Photoshop Actions Collection. Now I spend a great deal of time in Photoshop and I frequently use actions to as a tool to speed up my workflow, they do not stifle creativity and if used well, can really make an artist life so much easier.

For starters they have a couple of great tutorials on how to use the actions to the best effect here and here. They were easy to understand and follow along and gave great tips on using the actions.

So what do you get? 56 actions in total; base colour, base tones, colour correction and enhancement and retouching, love the Candy Store actions for quick and speedy face edits. Nice, simple and easy to work with, also completely editable, go ahead and play with opacity and brushes……..the sky is the limit. As everything is done on a layer you can alter blend modes on some and of course change the opacity and fill. Each action usually comes with a pop with instructions or there is suggested opacity and such within the action name or layer name.

Even if you have never done retouching or frequency separation, these tutorials along with the built in tool can have you on the way to fabulous portraits.

Now there is also All in One Actions, which I played with but for my money I prefer to alter each image to my own taste as I go. Even with the Frequency Separation in Portrait Perfection I found there was no glow or halo (around the model) that seems to be present in some other actions, It handles that quite well. You can change the amount of blur you would like to use in the Low Frequency as well. There seems to not be anything for hair, I have asked,  hopefully they can point me in the right direction. Below is three before and after images, including a newborn which I have created a video for, visit my YouTube channel to view Part 1 & 2, as well as the actions I used

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Portrait Perfection Photoshop Actions Collection is available from sleeklens.com

The cost is a reasonable US$49.00 for 56 Actions set, they have various other action collections as well as Lightroom Presets as well. There is also some freebies, so check them out too. I was quite impressed, how the LR Presets compare I am not sure, and I must admit to doing quite a bit of my portraits in Lightroom. These actions will make things quicker and easier in PS, once I am used to it all. I also recommend watching the videos a few times to get a feel for what the different actions do.

If nothing else the Portrait Retouch Actions are amazing I love how you can really make the eyes POP!, love love love the eyes.

P.S. In offering complete transparency I was not paid any money for this review, it is therefore unbiased.

 

For more info visit
https://sleeklens.com/product/portrait-perfection-photoshop-actions/
https://sleeklens.com/product/professional-photo-editing-service/
https://sleeklens.com/product-category/photoshop-actions/)

~ Julz

Tech Review – CamFi

I asked for some very specific gifts for Christmas, and I was lucky enough to get most of them 🙂

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The first cab off the rank is Camfi, it is essentially a Wi-Fi adaptor for your camera, but is is so much more. I first saw it on a Studio session with Kim Klassen and it allows you to take complete control over your camera, remotely. You can adjust the EV, aperture, shutter speed, bracketing, focus point, ISO……..etc, etc, etc. It is quick and easy to set up and use.

PROS

  • It small and light weight, not much bigger than a smartphone (but it is a little thicker)
  • Quick to connect and set up
  • not much more in cost than a traditional wi-fi adapter for say Nikon D7100 (AUD$135.00)
  • works with lots of different brands and models
  • connects via you tether cable (the one to connect to PC to grab photos)
  • you can see live view on larger screen
  • focus is far superior (especially for macro) as you can zoom right in and focus and see better on larger screen
  • once set up there is no need to touch your camera, therefore NO Camera shake
  • allows you to put your camera in really awkward spaces and not yourself
  • Works with great App IOS and Android…….nice interface and easy to use
  • Look, share and work on images directly from the camera

CONS

  • due to being lightweight and small, occasionally blows around and the hot shoe does not fit the D7100, so I hang it from my tripod; it comes with a lanyard.
  • EV took a bit to figure out, you still need to eyeball it
  • A bit glitchy with my old Samsung Note 1.0 tablet…….possibly due to the older software on the tablet?
  • Occasionally freezes on Sony Smartphone as well, especially if trying to arrange a bracketed shot.
  • When freezes sometimes locks the whole camera up.
  • I found that sometimes my Home Wi-Fi kicked me off the Camfi…….but that could just be my system and not the camfi
  • User manual pretty useless
  • Not much technical help available if required
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Camfi dangling from tripod, interface on tablet to the right, me sitting BTS taking it easy 🙂

It is possible that the glitches are App based and may be fixed in time, but in general they are a small annoyance outweighed by the sheer freedom this device allows you, not just in the studio. I can’t wait to really get out and about with it. This below Sunset shot was taken with Camfi as well. No more aching back for me 🙂

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CONCLUSION

So is it worth the AUD$135.00? I say yes. I have used other apps, like the Nikon but it was clunking and glitched ALL the time and didn’t do half the stuff the Camfi can do. Sure it can be a little annoying, but in general it is a valuable tool, for someone with mobility problems, like me. I cannot sit or lay on the ground, but I can put the camera on the ground and use either my tablet or smartphone for my live view, and change all the settings without using my camera.

You can view photos on your tablet etc too and send, share and receive as well, all via the App.

Cheers, til next time happy snapping…

~ Julz

Nikon AF-S DX 35mm f/1.8 – Lens Review

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A few weeks back I got a new Nikon AF-S DX 35mm f/1.8 lens for my Birthday, there are several reasons why I bought it, even though I did put it off for quite a while trying to decide if it was a good buy and ‘right’ for me.

I already have a 50mm Prime lens that I adore, so do I really need a 35mm? The answer in short is Yes. I predominantly use my 50mm for still life & portraits, or I would use more often for portraits, but on a cropped sensor frame I just can’t get back far enough in the studio to get full body shots with the 50mm, or even much more than a head shot. So I invariably have to switch to another lens, mainly my 18-55mm. Now 18mm is too wide, but I have noticed that 95% of my shots in the studio sit at around 35mm. I adore the sharp focus of my 50mm and the F/1.8 aperture, so logic dictates I would love the 35mm……….and I do.

So why this lens? I could get the Upmarket Nikon 35mm F/1.4 or the Sigma Art 35mm lens, which I have actually tried and thought was quite good too, but they are both over AUD$2,000.00. I cannot justify that kind or money. If the specs of my 50mm AF-S lens are fabulous for me, again logic dictates the 35mm would be good too…..and it is.

Now fixed or prime lenses are not for everyone, I can truly understand the lure of a zoom, and a dedicated wide angle, I have a 18-200mm and a 10-24mm I use when travelling, but they are big, bulky and heavy. They are not the same as using a Prime lens, I knew that from the first time I used one…….but it does take a bit of getting used to, as you need to move yourself and not just the lens. You can be limited but at the same time it is strangely liberating. I truly ‘feel’ more creative with a prime.

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Nikon 35mm Prime

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Nikon 35mm Prime

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Brilliant for Expansions shots as well – this is approx 9 shot expansion – 35mm

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Shot with Sigma 35mm Art Lens

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Nikon 50mm prime

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Nikon 35mm Prime

So how do I rate a relatively cheap (AUD$200.00) lens? I love it, great for portraits, head shots and full body shots.

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Nikon 35mm Prime

Would I prefer the (F/1.4)  AUD$2,000.00 possibly, but what I saved on that lens also bought my new strobe light kit…………but more on that another time!

~ Julz

Mumma’s been a bad, bad girl…

In fact I have been very bad………..but in a good way, well Myself and the Studio think so, possibly not my credit card or Husband 😛 ! Mind you it’s all his fault anyway……but let me explain.

One Saturday morning he suggested we go on a bit of a shopping expedition, he had found a new shop he thought I would enjoy for some props and things; Schots Emporium, oh my…….WHAT A FIND! Glorious, old stuff, new stuff, weird and wonderful stuff and reproduction vintage stuff. I was in heaven 3 floors of STUFF. Lighting fixtures galore, bathroom fixtures galore, nik naks and bric-a-brac. I grabbed a reproduction coal scuttle (yes I have one but it is much larger and painted), 1 x large and 2 x small cotton reels (been wanting them for ages) and a cute little timber box. PLUS……..there was a 10% sale, bonus.

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Next Hubby took me to a place and to meet a guy who is a musician and makes office furniture, you see I have a bad back and sometimes in the studio bending over and leaning down etc, really is quite difficult, I have a stool, but I need to pick it up and move it, where as my thoughtful hubby discussed an adjustable stool with wheels would to the trick, as a drummer (with a back issue also) the other guy agreed and made me a special order stool, we picked it up on Saturday…….oh I’m in heaven.

 

Then as my light stands are not brilliant my Hubby suggested as we were in the city anyway we should have a look at a Photography store we have been told about but had never been. They were actually a lot smaller than my usual shop, and also a bit more expensive, however they did have a sale on so I got two new sturdy tripod stands for the studio. Hubby also wanted a boom arm (which said store had but very expensive), so he suggested that we visit our usual photographic supplier, as we were sort of nearby anyway. Well we found the boom arm, quite reasonably priced too. I was discussing some Strobe lighting Kits with both stores actually and they agreed that the cheaper Kit I had been looking to purchase would do the job, but perhaps only for maybe 5 years and could not be serviced locally, I was in agony over the decision about spending so much on a big professional system, but my hubby, ever patient, understanding and loveable M.O.T.H. convinced me, that both myself and my art are worth it……….so I did, I purchased the new Strobe Kit and the New Boom arm. Bowens Gemini 400rx.

It is BIG, it is HEAVY, and probably will never leave the studio, but it is GORGEOUS, the light….oh be still my beating heart.Well once I figured out HOW to use it, honestly the manual is useless, tells you where everything is, but not what it does. Also the sync cable will not plug into my camera……..need yet another adaptor. But I was given a trigger to use instead, so all good.

Even the modelling light that comes with it is more powerful than my old continuous lighting, which will still be used from time to time……..my Still Life and Product Shoot workshops if nothing else, as my new babies I wont be sharing any time soon!

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I can dial in the required light; harsh, soft, one two, modelling light, flash etc. Oh the soft, dreamy, moody and dramatic shots I got with just a few hours of playtime. It only came with 2 x umbrella, I really want to get some softboxes, as my old ones don’t find (and are falling apart), and of course a strip box and maybe a beauty dish and another snoot………..oops I need another job, or the lottery! Sure, I don’t NEED any of this stuff, but; oh my it DOES make a difference if you have it. Can’t wait to do another model shoot! I can play with rear sync motion flash and other cool stuff now too.

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Sorry, I am rambling again aren’t I? Sorry just so excited by my new toys, add this to the new racking system Hubby just installed and my huge 6m long backdrops (black and white) My Studio looks more professional than ever.

~ Julz

Home Made Snoot

I recently did a post, where I featured a few images taken using a snoot on my light source, thinking back on it, I thought perhaps some of you do not know what a snoot is……….I only heard of it about six months ago (it might have been longer, but I didn’t know WHAT it was lol), and I had used one a few times for rim lighting and even back lighting, but never for such directional lighting.

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A Snoot was used here for highlights or Rim lighting, for her hair and feathers

So what is a Snoot?

In photography, a snoot is a tube or similar object that fits over a studio light or portable flash and allows the photographer to control the direction and radius of the light beam. These may be conical, cylindrical, or rectangular in shape. Snoots can isolate a subject when using a flash. They help by stopping “light spill”, or when lighting falls in a larger footprint than intended.

-Wikipedia

Some have been making Snoots out of Pringles can over a Speedlight; great idea, as it also has a reflective inside and I might jump up to one of those next time too.But My Snoot used in the above shots, is just a cylinder of cardboard, placed over a continuous light….

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Basic Continuous Light

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Cardboard Snoot

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shot without the snoot

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shot with the snoot

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Final edited shot

I have to admit I love the directional effect and it gives a fabulous mood. I find I am using it more and more.

~ Julz

P.S. I have just purchased some studio equipment and was given a free snoot…….make sure it actually fits your model speedlight or standard light properly……..I didn’t double check I assumed if it fits the 900 model speedlight it would fit my 910 speedlight………..guess what it does not! Colour me stupid for not double checking.

P.P.S. Sorry some of the images are a little blurry, I took them in a rush to write the post and didn’t take my mind in set up etc as I normally do, apologies

To sell or not to sell, and other questions

Grass is greener_SmWhen you create art, whether that be a photograph, fine art print, digital art, painting, sculpture, clothing, poetry even………..etc. Do we do it to fulfil our own internal desire for creation, or do we create to fulfil our desire to be acknowledged? Sensitive subject, true, but let’s be honest most of us get a real kick out of everyone telling us that piece is amazing; don’t we?

I mostly create art for the fun of it, not every piece of it is that great. The ones I really hate never see the light of day, and I guess that is normal. Sometimes, the ones I am not sure about I offer up for Constructive Criticism by peers. Every now and then I create something I am so inspired by, I can’t wait to show everyone, anyone. I mostly started doing portraits as a way to learn, then because I truly enjoy taking portraits. I started a portrait studio as a way to make a bit of money to buy more gear, each sitting I did I bought new stuff; lenses, backdrops, props, lighting, speedlights etc.One of the courses I am doing states that if you create something, anything then you are an artist, whether it is sold commercially or not. I create, therefore I am.

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If it’s good enough to get published (So far I have had two pieces published in Photo Artistic Life Magazine), is it good enough to sell commercially? And if it is good enough, where or what to sell? There is the likes or Zazzle and RedBubble where your work can be printed on T-Shirts, Phone cases and gift cards. Or do you stick to your guns and only sell prints? Where do you sell them? I know of some photographers who print heaps of images and sell at markets, but that involves a cash layout and quite a bit of time, with no guaranteed results. Selling online does not guarantee results either, but it is less time consuming, open to a potentially larger audience and does not require large financial outlay.

Perhaps I am overreaching, there are various different camera clubs, groups and associate member groups for advice, mentoring and peers; AIPP (Accredited Professional Photographer), for instance. I have deemed 2016 the year of learning and have already come so far, between the Photoshop Artistry, Creative B&W and Awake Courses. I have also enrolled in a University Certificate in Photography program. Does this mean I should not endeavour to sell my digital art? Because I am still really learning my art? Do we ever truly stop learning? Or will that give me an outlet and incentive to create more?

Artistic Self

I am not kidding myself here either, there is no real money in art for most of us; very few hit the jackpot. Many of us can achieve respect and recognition, but very few make enough money to life on. I don’t see myself as being the exception to the rule, but if I can make a little to help pay for my hobby, then isn’t that realistic? Or is selling a means to keep score? The more people buy your art the more they like it? Or is it only selling because it is quirky? I have seen art I believe to be absolute rubbish, but people pay exorbitant amounts of money for it, and others which were so beautiful I felt like weeping, as they sold for almost nothing.

Which then brings on the question, how much is too much? A piece of art is only worth as much as someone is willing to pay for it, but HOW do you know? There is a supposedly simple formula to work out how much it cost; time x material costs x production costs x 2 or 5 or whatever (well something like that). How much do I charge for labour? $10 an hour, $100 an hour. Working on that theory a 1 hour photo shoot, with a 2 hour edit time, and 1/2 hour set up, (at $50 an hour), 20 6×4 images (@ $0.15 cents each), a USB Stick (@$5.00 each), maybe throw in $5.00 for electricity and PC usage etc. and I am at $188.00 and I usually charge $100.00 for a 1 hour shoot (plus more for travel and larger photo sizes). So I am already behind in the rent. There are people out there charges $50.00 for basic shoots (under cutting everybody) and people complaining I am undercutting them. And that is just for Portrait sittings, not works of art! If you truly ask for much more than that, you don’t get any work. Most people are happy with the snapshots off their smart phone and don’t want proper portraits.I used to offer free sitting to build my port folio, now I am charger slightly more with gradually increasing recognition.

Many artists work on a theme, a single subject, a catalogue or gallery of sorts, most of my art does centre around the beach and people, but not all. Many have a fantasy element, and are often dark and moody. Perhaps I should strife to make a themed exhibit……….B&W body imagery? Light and shadow and shapes? I’m just not sure what. Or is this perhaps because I am still on my journey I don’t have a ‘THING’ as yet?

Well I think I have babbled on enough on this topic……..what are your thoughts, do you sell, if yes where? Do you create just for you? Do you participate in any peer groups or Affiliate Programs in your State or Country? Drop me a line, I’d love to hear

-Julz

 

Tech Talk – Nik Analog Efex

I don’t often review PC Software, I have done Smart Phone Apps, but Lightroom and Photoshop have been well and truly done, and by people who know far more than me. I while ago I trialled some Nik Software, HDR Pro 4, Silver Effects Pro 2 and Colour Efex Pro 4. I adored them, HDR only got used a few times, but it was fabulous, especially the B&W HDR effects! However when my trial ran out, I did miss them, but they were expensive and money only goes so far, right? Then I had heard that it been bought out and taken over by Google (is it me or are they spreading their wings, this isn’t a bid for world domination is it? ), and they have re packaged it as the Google Nik Collection, you get everything by Nik for one reasonable cost AUD$169.00, but there is a free trial if you are not sure.

Anyway, I recently decided to spread my creative wings and play with one such Program I had never used Analog Efex Pro 2. There is a brief blurb and some videos about it here. Wow, this is such a cool program, I had no idea. This gives me access at my fingertips to really old style camera effects, wet plates, blur, double exposure, light leaks and other cool stuff.

It is loaded into Photoshop or Lightroom as a plug in and then you can access add filters to the image from within those programs. This is what it looks like once launched. There are presets, tools, tool combinations (that also had presets) and then on the right is all the additional adjustments you can make; noise, light leaks, dust & scratches, lens vignette and more.

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One you have the effect you like (ie Wet Plate) you can select various pre sets, add additional elements (Light leak) and then you can adjust elements and filters, so you can for instance choose from various different Dust & scratches, they each have a drop down mean and you can adjust the strength of each as well, making a truly unique filter; which you can then save as your own preset.Nik_2

Now I get these are not for everyone, but for anyone interested in digital art, or adding some cool FX to an otherwise possibly boring image, then this maybe for you. Below is a sample of just a fraction of the hundreds of FX you can achieve in this program; Motion Blur, Double Exposure, Multi Lens, Wet Plate. You can also add film types and frames too

DSC_3473Here is one I did, using all custom settings………….I think I used most of them!

Wet Plate, Blur, Motion, Light Leak, Lens Distortion, Bokeh, Photo Plate, Dirt and Scratches, and a film strip frame. It kind of looks like a photo from the 70’s huh? That damaged Kodachrome from a bad instamatic camera……….OK so it does kind of ruin the original image, but it is a lot of fun!

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Well I have had fun and I am sure you will see plenty more images using this program in the future, I loved it. Til next time, happy snapping…

-Julz