People laughed at us for using the word magical. But you know what? It turned out to be magical.
    Steve Jobs

For several years I've been posting on this site a Picture of the Day (PotD). This started as a way to show the folk back east (Ohio) what things looked like around our new home in northwest Montana. The “rules” I made up for this were simple: I'd point the camera out a window, or step outside but never far from the house, point the camera, and snap the shot. No tripod, no cable release, no filters; just simple. I'd then post the picture on my site, usually with no editing except to date it, size it, and sharpen it. There'd be no elaborate processing. Indeed, if I had to spend more than a few minutes processing and posting the picture, it wouldn't happen. The next day's picture would replace the previous; I had no interest in creating a Web archive.

Friends and family loved it. For about two weeks. As expected, the novelty soon wore off. Yet I keep doing it, knowing my regular audience for the picture is something around two people. I do occasionally hear from snowbirds, people who spend the summer months here, but flee from our gorgeous winters for warmer and sunnier days in Arizona, Nevada, Florida, or other southern locales.

Getting the Shot

Picture of the Day for 29 November, 2005, Montana, U.S.

The first Picture of the Day, 29 November 2005 (smaller than the originally posted size).

Step with me into the Wayback Machine for a trip back to 2003. On 2 November my wife and I arrived from Ohio to live in Montana. Three weeks later a small box appeared at the back door of our rented double-wide. Inside I found a digital camera and a note, “Take pictures. Send them.” The camera, a five megapixel point-n-shoot, had recently been released by Canon as the Powershot S50. The senders were my parents, who were eager to see where we lived and the surrounding area. I had film cameras then; it would be another three-and-a-half years before I got my first DSLR. Dad decided this little digital p-n-s was the only way he'd get to see what we'd gotten ourselves into.

The S50 is small, built like a tank (heavy!), and surprisingly capable. As described in the review linked above, the S50 isn't perfect, but it does a lot of things right. In 2003 it seemed like a nice little piece of kit. As directed, I took pictures. I emailed them. I suspect some of those enticed Mom and Dad to visit us here in June, 2004.

The S50 can shoot raw files. Eager to learn and understand raw shooting and processing, that's what I did. I used PaintShop Pro 8 as my image editor. PSP, a Windows-only program, had no raw-file processing capabilities. (Paintshop Pro become a Corel product and is now available in several versions. I don't use any of them.) To convert the camera's raw files to .tif, I used Steve Breeze's BreezeBrowser, which did a fine job. I could then complete my editing in Paintshop Pro.

Picture of the Day

The idea for a PotD on my Web site came in 2005, a year after we'd moved to a house in the woods north of town. We had lovely views of hills and trees, and often-beautiful sunsets. My workflow: take the picture; put the camera's Compact Flash (CF) card into a card reader, copy the file(s) to the PC (Windows XP). Convert the raw file to a .tif using BreezeBrowser. Open the .tif with Paintshop Pro 8, add a date and time stamp, and then save the result as a 600 pixel by 400 pixel (or vice-versa) jpeg. Finally, post the jpeg via FTP to the Web site.

Soon after starting the PotD I dropped Paintshop Pro and BreezeBrowser in favor of Photoshop CS, which included Camera Raw 2.0 for processing raw files. This simplified the workflow slightly.

With the S50 I've made 2,500 pictures of the day. The camera's total shot-count, as of late December, 2013, is in excess of 11,000. It's surely proven to be a durable little camera. It's showing its age, however. In particular, the sliding lens cover, which also serves to power the camera on and off in shooting mode, has become balky, sometimes requiring considerable tinkering to close. On more than one occasion I've simply removed the battery to shut it down, but this leaves the lens exposed.

PotD Today

Photographing with the iPad Air

An awkward camera; making a PotD capture with the iPad Air.

I'd been contemplating replacing the camera, when, in November, 2013, we purchased an iPad Air. The iPad has a five megapixel camera and decent optics. Perhaps it's a reasonable replacement for the S50; a little testing would answer the question.

The iPad is, at best, an awkward camera. Its size and shape make it a challenge to hold steady while tapping (gently!) the shutter release. It acts like a sail in high winds, nearly impossible to hold steady. I'm aware of tripod mounts and other support accessories for the iPad. The tablet is fun and cool and even useful; we enjoy using it. It will not, however, become a part of my fine-art photography toolbox; I won't be adding gear to support it. Low-light performance is simply terrible. It has an HDR mode, which I don't completely understand yet. It can shoot “normal” and square formats. It shoots only jpegs. Finally, how does one get pictures from the tablet into the computer for the necessary Photoshop work?

After some trial and error, I've found ways to overcome most of the limitations, and a good reason for doing it: getting the day's photo onto my Web site is quicker and easier. In part this is because the image starts as a jpeg; I no longer have a raw file to process. I could have done the same with the S50, of course. The iPad has no CF card or other removable memory. Instead, with the Dropbox app installed and its Camera Upload folder enabled, the tablet becomes a wi-fi-enabled camera, sending the picture to my Dropbox space, where it's instantly accessible on my desktop Mac (I've used Apple Macintosh computers since 2008). I'm sure there are several ways to accomplish this, among them Apple's iPhoto. But I don't have iPhoto and wouldn't buy it for that purpose when Dropbox is free.

Picture of the Day for 30 December, 2013, Montana, U.S.

Picture of the Day for 30 December, 2013 (reduced)

I shoot the picture in the square format. With the S50's normal 4x5-aspect-ratio format, I needed two Web pages, one set up for vertical (portrait orientation) images, another for horizontals (landscape orientation). Each day when I uploaded the new picture, I'd also upload the “other” page format if necessary. With the square iPad capture, I need only one page, since there's no vertical or horizontal to deal with.

The workflow is quite simple: take the picture. Start the Dropbox app if it's not running. Seconds later, the jpeg is available on my desktop Mac. Open and size the jpeg with Photoshop CC, add a date and time stamp, and then save the result as a 550 pixel square jpeg. Finally, post the jpeg via FTP to the Web site.

What's Next?

We'll still use the little Canon for various odds-and-ends photos, but it's getting much less use now. Since I don't “need” it as I once did, I may take a stab at repairing the cranky lens cover/power switch. If I destroy the camera in the process I'll consider it the cost of my on-going education. Mom and Dad surely got their money's worth either way.

Capturing the PotD with the iPad is simple and fun, and I have to admit, after making thousands of them, the PotD process could use a little fun again. I expect to learn more about photographing with the iPad, which may or may not affect how the PotD is made.

I've considered putting up a Web cam, with either live capture or an intervalometer to snap new images every few minutes. Automating the PotD is an attractive idea, and one I may pursue someday when I have time. For now, iPadography does the job nicely.

December, 2013

Update: In April, 2015, we posted a brief update for this article.

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