Category Archives: Photography

Mastin Labs – Film Or Lightroom Presets?

I love making Lightroom presets. I have created them for a few years now.

I also love trying other Lightroom presets, which I did not create.

I use some from friends, as well as ones made by companies like Get Totally Rad (the Replichrome presets), VSCO, The Photo Frontier and Mastin Labs.

Presets, for any photo editing software, should never be used as is. I always tell people who when purchasing my presets, or others.

Presets are designed to be inspiration and starting points for you to edit your photographs.

Sometimes, presets are designed so perfectly for a purpose that you can’t help but to use them over and over and over.

I have discovered some that I find myself using more often lately.

Mastin Labs Presets

These Lightroom presets come from Mastin Labs. The are film replication just like VSCO and Replichrome. But from what I can tell, they are created using the most advanced film replication methodology possible.

“Mastin Lab Presets are made by film photographers, for film photographers. Above all, they are designed for accuracy.”


Currently Mastin Labs is selling three different preset packs, both for Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Camera RAW (ACR files). That means you can use them in Lightroom or Photoshop. The three packs include the following film replication:

  • Ilford B&W
  • Kodak Portra
  • Fufi Pro

Currently the presets are designed for Nikon and Canon cameras only. But as mirrorless cameras continue to emerge from competing camera manufacturers I imagine we will see more camera support in the future.

The presets are also intended to be used with RAW/DNG files. So if your camera is set on JPG then I suggest switching to RAW to take advantage of these film replication.

I’m a huge supporter of Mastin Labs and I cannot wait to see what other replication they plan on doing in the future.

Sunrise at Thunder Hole

As a photographer who doesn’t make his living off photographic services, I strive to make photographs that I am extremely happy with.

Although I offer photography services, It’s not my full-time job. So I do not have to take on new projects or new clients. However, one of my favorite things is when a landscape photograph of mine is hung on someone else’s wall.

That, to me, is what I love most.

Because to me that means I have created art that others will enjoy.


The photograph here was made during sunrise at Thunder Hole in Acadia National Park in Maine. It’s a beautiful view where you can see the ships go by, headed to Bar Harbor (aka, Bahh Bahhbahh) to unload passengers for sightseeing.

What’s really neat about Thunder Hole is the enormous cave under the rocks I’m standing on. During high tied the water would go into the cave, splash off the back of it and then spray out onto the rocks making a huge thunder sound.

During sunrise the tied was not high, so we did not get to experience that. But the beauty of Thunder Hole’s sunrise view is one that I was so happy seeing.

I walked away with two photographs that I consider my best and favorites of the year. They are even up there in my all-time favorites from my collection.

New canvas trio hung #photocrati #APCub #nxnw2014

A photo posted by Scott Kivowitz (@scottwyden) on

The Instagram photo above is one showing the photo hung on someone else’s wall. You can see that the photo is split into three separate canvases. It was done that way because the wall is very large and I needed to fill the space. So the tree canvases are 20 inches by 40 inches each making the full photo 60″x40″.

In the end I was very happy, and the new owners of the canvases were happy as well.

That’s all that matters.

For 2015, If you’d like landscape/seascape photos for your home, please check out my portfolio or send me an email.  I’m happy to chat.

How I Get More Done When Working From Home


I have read many articles about getting things done, and have tried software specifically created for GTD, but I find myself sticking with the basics in order to stay productive.

As you might know, I work for a company who develops WordPress software for photographers. Since the company is all online, all employees are distributed. That means we are scattered around the world, and everyone basically works from home or from coffee shops when a change a scenery is needed.

Working from home has its challenges and drawbacks. Not only for getting work done efficiently due to distractions, but also related to mental and physical health.

Physical because if you sit at a desk all day you are putting more strain on your back, and lessening your lifespan.

Mentally because you aren’t sitting in the same room as your coworkers as you might in a “normal” work environment. There is human interaction, but it’s not as much as the typical environment either. At Photocrati we chat via Slack and Skype and sometimes Google Hangouts when Skype is acting up. So there is always a dialog, just not always voice and rarely video.

With that said, I thought I would share some of what has helped me stay productive when working from home.

Reminders / To do Software

Ever since Apple created the Reminders app for iPhone and then Mac (sync’d with iCloud) I have used it. I have multiple reminders lists:

  • Reminders (shared with Melissa)
  • Photocrati
  • Business
  • Family (shared with Melissa via iCloud Family, but not used now)


Whether you use Reminders or something more advanced, it’s important to have your calendar and your exact “to do”  software separate from each other.  That way you can really keep an eye on what’s most important and due first.

Start Early

The school Melissa teaches at is roughly 45 minutes away from our house. So we have to get up around 6:45am for her to get ready (I make her lunch) and leave. I find myself starting work as soon as she leaves in the morning, although I technically don’t have to.  I wind up working longer days typically.  But I am so much more productive first thing in the morning than I am if I wait until 8am or 9am to start the day.

Space Matters

My home office is basically a bedroom.  However, I have converted it into a more creative space, with my photographs on the walls, a white board, photography and marketing books and much of my photographic equipment throughout.

I also use a standing desk from Up Desk (I used to use my DIY standing desk), to sit or stand throughout the day.

The space you work in matters because if it’s dull and boring then you won’t be productive.

But at the same time, you want to make sure the space isn’t distracting.  So keep the door closed if people are in the house.  Put on music that has no words (like Jazz), which can make you more productive.

Your Desk

Clear your desk of anything not essential to your work.  For me I have my Wacom tablet, my laptop, second screen and that’s about all.  At times I have photography accessories, card readers, etc.  But for the most part my desk is clear so I have nothing distracting me from getting my work done.

Dress Up

I always get dressed in the morning, as if I was headed into the office.  I don’t wear a suit or anything that fancy to work at home. But jeans and shirt and even socks and sneakers can make you more productive than sitting in pajamas all day.

Most Important First

Along the same lines is prioritizing by importance.  The most important tasks of my day get done first, and then the less important are done after or put off until the next day.


Also going along with prioritizing, comes Mailbox.  It’s an email app which is owned by Dropbox.  The iOS version of the app is perfect for me, but the desktop version has a long way to go as far as Alias usage.  But even so, I only use Mailbox to keep my emails in check and under control.  With it I can swipe to “snooze” an email for a day, a week, a month, or really any time frame of my choosing.  Important emails to be read and answered that day are done in Gmail.  But anything I need to forget for whatever time, I snooze using Mailbox.


Break Time

It is extremely important to know when it is time to take a break.  In a typical day I am taking an hour lunch break at noon.  Sometimes, depending on the day, I might take a few more breaks to clear my head.  If the weather is right I will grab my camera and go on a 3 mile photowalk.

Scheduling Social

Part of my job includes social media, so I can’t turn it off.  Sometimes I wish I could.  There are times where the “alert” queue on social media is so deep that I get overwhelmed and avoid it for a while.  So I force myself to handle those once a day.  I don’t mean the random reply or mention here and there. But when I log into Google Plus and see 14+ notifications or something along those lines, it’s another story.  Those I will get to when all the important work is done.  This happens a lot due to The Arcanum, Vision Path and other endeavors.

Drink Water

This is too easy to ignore.  Heck, working in an office you can also overlook the value of water.  Aside from the obvious health benefits to drinking water, there is a less obvious reason. If you drink a lot of water you are likely to have to have to use the bathroom more often.  That means having to get up and move around, potentially walking up and down stairs to a bathroom.

Distraction Free Writing

WordPress has a distraction free writing mode, but it’s not 100% distraction free as you can still see what’s happening on your computer outside of the browser.  That’s why I use ia Writer whenever writing content whether for myself, for Photocrati or anything really.  There are many alternative to ia Writer, but I find it the simplest without any unnecessary features. It also allows me to save in iCloud and pick up documents on my iPhone or iPad.

If you are wondering what distraction free writing means… imagine a completely blank screen with nothing but a curser prompt.  Think MS DOS or Doogie Howser.


The beauty of this is having no choice but to focus on what is right in front of you. In this case, the words you are typing.

When I am done with whatever I’m writing, I simply copy/paste the text into wherever I need, like a WordPress post, an email or a Word Doc or iBooks template for an eBook.

An alternative to ia Writer which connects to many blogging and social platforms is Desk.  However, I haven’t spent enough time with Desk to recommend it as strongly as I do ia Writer.  Desk is also only available for Mac via the Mac App Store.

Organizing Thoughts

This is another area which has many alternative software choices.  I hate a love/hate relationship with Evernote, for silly reasons that aren’t work talking about.  But for the most part I love using Evernote for keeping track of different projects I am working on.  I can organize each project into a Notebook and then add individual notes for different things.

I can also send websites to different Notebooks related to the topic.  Or I can grab a snippet of text, or an image, from a website.

Evernote for iOS also integrates seamlessly into the operating system so I can add to a Notebook from practically any mobile source.

Wrapping Up

To not overwork, I tend to end the day at 4pm, wind down for an hour or so, make some dinner and then start over the next day.  With a child on the way, I’m not sure how my schedule will change.  But I am certain that if I stick with my organization that I will be successful managing the changes.

As I think of more things I do (the less obvious things) I will update this post.  Until then, thanks for reading and good luck finding what works for you.

If you have any questions about working from home, please comment below.


Sunset from Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park

We tried to photograph sunrise from Cadillac Mountain, but the fog that morning didn’t work out in our favor.

You see, Cadillac Mountain is up thousands of feet and it overlooks Acadia National Park in its entirety. So capturing the scenes from those heights at sunrise would be amazing.

If only it worked out…


But at least we got sunset photographs from there that night.

A bunch of us gathered in this open field looking at this scene, and taking it all in.

Turns out the field we were standing on was a septic field, which explained the bad odor.

Oh well, it was worth it!

Perception Pro from Think Tank Photo – My New Favorite Camera Bag

My New Favorite Camera Bag - Perception Pro from Think Tank PhotoThere is a reason why I said this is my new favorite camera bag.

For the longest time I have been using Think Tank Photo’s ShapeShifter as my main camera bag.

Think Tank Photo has been amazing to me over the years, and I have had the pleasure of trying and reviewing and advocating for their products.

More recently I had the chance to try their Airport Commuter which is fantastic, holds tons of gear, but I had a slight issue with where the tripod is connected.

But when I was told about the Perception series I had to check them out.

Sorry for the cut off video, but it’s more about what I’m saying that what you see.  Because you can see detailed photos of the bag on the Think Tank Photo website anyway.


My reasons for loving this bag so much can be summed up with this list:

  • It’s super light, and about 3 pounds lighter than my other camera bags when empty. That means with equipment it’s still 3 pounds lighter.
  • It doesn’t open 100% so I can keep it on my shoulder and open it in front of me without feeling my equipment will fall out.
  • It’s compact and has limited pockets so I don’t overpack.
  • At the same time, it holds a lot of gear.
  • The pouches are as easy as regular bag dividers.
  • The camera pouch holds my DSLR with a prime lens and L Bracket attached.
  • The trip is held in place perfectly and centered on the back.

Like always the Think Think bag comes with a rain cover, just in case I get caught in something harsh.  Which happens.

So if you have a compact system, use prime lenses or a mirrorless setup then definitely check out the Perception bags.  But if you only use long lenses like a 24-70 f/2.8 or larger then this likely not the bag for you.  But you could probably still make it work.

You can also pick up a Think Tank Photo bag from Amazon

View on Amazon

The Drift in Jordan Pond

There is so much driftwood in Jordan Pond.  So much so that you walk 5 feet and find a new one floating above the water, or sitting at the pond floor.


This fallen tree was likely once much larger.  But over the years I’d imagine that the weather, animals and bugs are slowly decreased its size.

It sits perfectly on a bunch of rocks, perfectly still.

I could not find a way to get out to the tree without getting into the water up to my waist.  So instead I positioned myself to capture the tree and the surrounding landscape.  In the distance you can also see another photographer capturing a photograph of the bubbles.

Acadia National Park has stunning colors.  Click on the photograph to enlarge it, and take it all in.  Enjoy the beauty of Acadia.  Then write it down on your list of places to visit, because it is well worth the trip.



Best & Favorite Photographs of 2014

In 2014 I had the pleasure of meeting so many new people, traveling to a variety of places in the USA and prepare for my first child.

It was an amazing year, and I am so happy to share my best and favorite photographs of 2014.

cape may lighthouse

We visited the Cape May Lighthouse, and although the light wasn’t bright due to the extended sunset, It was pretty. I added the light during post processing.

How I Quickly Removed An Outlet From Hundreds Of Photographs

I photographed more Karate sparring photos. This was challenging for light and speed.


I photographed more maternity photos in 2014 then I have ever before.


I visited the Cape May Zoo and came across a scene which did not fit in.

Night Vision Photographers

I went camping with my brother and his friends. This was made during the dark of night.

Family Portrait Posing

My niece and nephew are getting older and so fast.


My younger brother got engaged!


I went to Acadia National Park with a group of friends and we made photographs nearly non stop for 4 days.


I photographed my friend Bob sitting in an art gallery where his photographs were hanging.

I made some sick photos of my brother and his fiancé.

I made some sick photos of my brother and his fiancé.


I photographed my favorite maternity photo ever.

My cousin had his first baby.

My cousin had his first baby.


I met two of my apprentices from The Arcanum. This is one of them.

Faces in 35 - Jeremy

I started a new project called Faces in 35.

In 2014 I also had 3 eBooks published.  Here are the topics:

It’s been an amazing year and I’m looking forward to what 2015 holds.

Mango Smoothie

Meet Armando, a fantastic photographer from Colorado.  He is a professional retoucher as well and from what I understand his work is printed throughout Colorado on billboards. Neat stuff!

During our recent trip to Maine a waitress accidently called Armando the name Mango.  It turns out that when Armando was younger that people would call him Mango.  We got a good laugh. But then we all realized that Armando’s personality is very smooth and to the point.  So it hit us to start calling him Mango Smoothie.  The name stuck.  I don’t know for sure if he likes it, but he laughed as well the first time we said it.


Armando is also one of the two photographers who run The Photo Frontier.  There he and Justin Balog publish educational and inspirational ebooks, workshops and also very useful Lightroom presets.

This photograph was made at the Lawrence mills.  I asked Armando to pose as if he was making the best photograph he has ever made.  As you can see, he is fixated on the scene in front of him.


Do Photos Have To Be In Focus To Be Good Or Interesting?

What do you think?

There are thousands of photographs from the history of photography that are not in focus.  So why do people get upset when a photograph is out of focus?

It really depend on the photo. That’s my opinion at least.

Photos don’t have to be perfectly in focus to be interesting.

Out of focus photo

This photo from a NYC subway is soft because I did not want to look like a creepy dude making a photograph of the dude standing that close to me.

So I did the fake “looking at my screen” quick framing and capture. The photo is super interesting and a fun “street photograph” although it’s in a subway stop. But as I said, it’s not perfectly in focus.

If this photograph was of someone I was hired to photograph then focus would matter.

If this photograph as a loved one then I would want it in focus, and it would matter.

So focus priority is a matter of perception, desire and need.

For this photo, it’s unnecessary.

Thanks for reading,


Thoughts from Padawans – Kyle Van Etten

I decided to start a series of articles from my apprentices at The Arcanum. It’s a way for them to get their work out there, and at the same time share their thoughts from their experiences learning in The Arcanum. With that said, read on to learn from my apprentice. Kudos to you if you caught the Star Wars reference. – Scott

I have to say since joining The Arcanum and taking on the challenges as I level up, I find myself trying new things constantly, making bolder processing decisions, experimenting, looking things up, figuring out how someone did something, recreating, revisiting, reprocessing, and in general thinking about my work in new and exciting ways.  And in all of it I feel more free, free to produce great images, free to produce some that flop, and to learn from both.  Free to have fun, to learn, to expand my “style,” to try new things, and I am loving it!!!


The opportunity to have feedback on your work and to be able to have a field test of how other people see a photo you have created is both artistically valuable and technically valuable.  Not only does it help you to improve the current image you are working on, you learn to watch out for pitfalls, find shortcuts to a faster more efficient workflow, and learn lots of new processing techniques and tricks.  And, the best part is you will always have your safe community to try things out in before blasting them to the world of social media and the internet. This gives you the freedom to experiment, and in an environment like that I believe true growth is fostered.


Another piece of the Arcanum that has been amazing is the constant inspiration I get from seeing the work of my fellow apprentices. Other apprentices are trying things that had never even occurred to me, seeing places in ways that I would have overlooked, and making wonderful art out of subjects that I would not have considered. Nearly every time I check in to my cohort and to the larger Arcanum community I get inspired to try a new thing or to see the world differently. One of the best parts about it is the community itself is a learning community. Instead of being intimidated or feeling like I need to compare myself to other apprentices, I feel like we are on an adventure together.


In many ways the structure of the Arcanum is fairly flat – the level of engagement is often peer-to-peer, and even the masters are not set on pedestals high above the apprentices, but walk with us and get to know us and our artistic journey. Though I don’t want to speak for them I do like to think, and do get the impression that at times we also provide the same kind of inspiration for them. Ultimately I feel like The Arcanum is not something you simply join. Instead a more accurate way to describe it is as something that you get caught up in or swept away by. Each time someone produces some amazing piece of art the community is launched forward and elevated by it. It has been an incredible way to learn and grow and I cannot recommend it highly enough!

by Kyle Van Etten | SmugMug | Facebook | Google Plus

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