Category Archives: Advanced Stacker

Adobe Customer Dis-service

Recently, a customer reported a problem installing Advanced Stacker PLUS.  The customer indicated that there was no “Place” in the menu so the ASP did not work with their Photoshop. The Place option is used by the action almost exclusively for adding a watermark, and we have observed the issue with some Mac installations and have a published workaround.

We thought perhaps the absence in this case was due to the new CC 2015 release, which by default REMOVES content when upgrading – specifically all ACTIONS will need to be reinstalled unless the customer does NOT follow the default upgrade process. While looking into the customer problem, I, Steven, decided that I did not need to keep paying the $50/month for the full suite on Creative Cloud when in fact I only use Photoshop and Lightroom.  So…Angry

I went to my account on the Adobe site to downgrade my license.  Not possible. The options are to Cancel or to UPGRADE to an even more expensive plan.  So I clicked “Cancel” which took me to a FAQ where I had to search for Cancel again.  Then I selected “Cancel product” and typed “I’m disappointed, I wanted to DOWNGRADE to the Photography license, but can’t find the option on my account page. I am not using the full suite, so I want to switch to the Photography Package“. After 3 minutes Ankan came on to the chat and typed “Welcome to customer service”. Ten seconds later “Hi Steven”, how can I help you”.

You can probably guess where this is going… downhill, fast. Wait, downhill very slowly.  40 days prior my “Full CC” had automatically renewed for another year, and now Adobe insisted that I was on the hook for an early termination fee should I change plans. And there is still no way to indicate you “DO NOT WANT AN AUTORENEWAL”.  How very convenient for Adobe!

After 50 more minutes of very slow responses from Ankan I had been offered “2 free months”, and the CC suite for $29.99.  I kept reminding him my goal was very simple: downgrade to Photography license: NOT to create a new contract, not be on the hook for another year, and not to pay a fee for an auto-renewal I didn’t see or authorize (my email had been broken).  I finally had enough and told them I was canceling.  Whether I sign up for a Photography CC license again will require a week of thinking about the horrible customer service, and a clear indication that Adobe had STOPPED charging my credit card.  I’m still thinking about whether I want to continue. Indeed… if I did not need to continue to support and develop Advanced Stacker PLUS, I would retreat to my PS CS5/CS6 perpetually licensed products.

My experience with Adobe left me with some clear takeaways for you, our reader:

  1. Chat or call Adobe and tell them you want to cancel (even if you are not planning to!)
  2. Explain your reason for wanting to cancel, is you do NOT want to auto renew for another year and there is no option to disable autorenewal (or that you want to downgrade to another package and there is no option for that).
  3. Stick to your guns until they offer you a better plan.
  4. Remind them that under their “auto renewal, can’t get out” scenario, if you do not take action on exactly the right date, you’ll end up on the hook for $240 in “early termination fees” – or worse.
  5. Also remind them that having to contact customer service to cancel is wasteful of your valuable time.  You can certainly cite my 55 minute ordeal if you like.
  6. Warn them that additional charges will be disputed with your card carrier.

About Advanced Stacker PLUS and CC 2015

The customer was incorrect. The Place option is present in CC 2015.  We are checking further, but we are not finding any issues… HOWEVER you may have to REINSTALL the Advanced Stacker PLUS for the reason we gave earlier… Adobe doesn’t migrate when upgrading – at least not by default and not everything you would expect.

We did notice a problem installing on our Mac (running Yosemite) which has CS5, CS6, CC, CC2014 and CC2015. The problem occurred when installing CC – it said it could not synchronize color. Whatever that means. Seemed fine after reinstall – though we doubt many of you have so many versions of Photoshop installed on your computer.

The Transcript (aka The Shady Underbelly of Adobe)

Below is the unedited transcript of my chat session with Ankan.  I wonder if it is Adobe’s plan to wear down every customer who tries to cancel their plan with 50 minutes of drivel.  And I didn’t start with the intention of cancelling! Make note of the time delays.  That was perhaps the most frustrating part.  Do notice that I had to twice request to Cancel my plan – and that it took 40 minutes for “customer service” to supply the requested service.


 

Your case number: 0215924254
Creative Cloud change
Membership, account, payment change
Cancel your membership change
Hi, we are currently helping other customers in line ahead of you. We’ll be with you as soon as possible.

While you wait, you can try our community forums where experts are online 24/7.

12:02:11 PM Ankan: Hello! Welcome to Adobe Customer Service.
12:02:21 PM Ankan: Hi Steven .
12:03:03 PM ME: Do I need to retype my request?
12:03:40 PM ME: Hello?
12:03:45 PM Ankan: No.
12:03:48 PM ME: Are you there?
12:03:53 PM Ankan: Yes.
12:03:59 PM Ankan: I am sorry for the delay.
12:04:13 PM Ankan: I have received your request.
12:05:12 PM ME: Can I assume that you’re switching my plan now?
12:05:51 PM Ankan: I see that you have Creative Cloud membership (one-year) registered with your account.
12:07:33 PM Ankan: I am sorry, we don’t have option to downgrade the current plan to Photoshop. However, I will help you with the link to purchase the subscription and once you place the order, I will cancel the current subscription for you.
12:08:33 PM ME: Wait, are you implying that I will be on the hook for another year by purchasing the Photography plan?
12:09:42 PM ME: Ankan?
12:10:24 PM ME: Hello?
12:10:34 PM Ankan: Yes.
12:10:40 PM Ankan: I am checking your account.
12:11:06 PM Ankan: Once you purchase the subscription, it will be valid for one year.
12:11:15 PM ME: Yes, what? Are you answering my question that I will be on the hook, or are you indicating that you’re partially paying attention?
12:11:35 PM ME: So is there a PENALTY for terminating in less than a year?
12:12:06 PM Ankan: If you cancel the subscription in the mid of the year, there will be an early termination fee.
12:13:00 PM ME: I see. So your policy is to stick the long term customer with ANOTHER penalty.
12:13:44 PM Ankan: It is an annual subscription which offers lower monthly payments and requires a one-year cycle. This plan is ideal for someone with an ongoing need to use Adobe’s Creative software.
12:14:49 PM ME: Nice try. But I have a plan, I’ve fullfilled the contract. And you’re telling me I have to have a NEW plan with a NEW contract. That’s evil. Plain and simple. I suppose you’re going to also tell me that if I UPGRADE my plan, the same hook applies.
12:16:26 PM Ankan: Steven, we don’t have option to change the plan to Photoshop from the current subscription.
12:17:09 PM ME: Oddly, you have options to UPGRADE plans, though.
12:17:33 PM ME: This is another reminder to me of the unpleasant experiences I’ve had with Adobe. So I will just cancel my plan.
12:18:54 PM Ankan: I can understand why you would feel that way.
12:19:28 PM ME: Doubtful. So is my plan cancelled yet? Or do I need to call my credit card company and report fraud?
12:20:02 PM Ankan: I have checked and see there would be an early termination fees if you cancel the subscription now because you are under one year annual commitment.
12:20:32 PM Ankan: I see that subscription was renewed on May 16, 2015 .
12:20:44 PM Ankan: I like to inform you that, all Adobe subscription renew automatically, if you don’t cancel the subscription in 12th month you will be moved to next year cycle.
12:21:16 PM ME: Great, then I will use the 30 day opt out. And you’ll extend me 10 grace days.
12:21:56 PM ME: Or I’ll call and my credit card company and dispute the charges.
12:22:29 PM ME: Since I never received ANY notification that annual plan was going to renew.
12:22:43 PM Ankan: We have sent the notification email regarding the second year commitment for the subscription as we send a notification email for every renewal of the subscription.
12:24:15 PM ME: Just searched my mailbox. Last email from adobe was 11/5/2014.
12:25:33 PM Ankan: I am sorry if you missed out the email. The email will be sent at the 11th month that is one month before the renewal.
12:25:47 PM Ankan: Steven, if you are willing to continue the membership till the end of the commitment, I can help you with two month’s free service so instead of paying for 10 months more , you will pay for the 8 months and cancel the subscription between May 16, 2016 and May 16, 2016 without fee.
12:26:09 PM ME: By the way it says “One year payment” which is incorrect since it’s actually a MONTH’s worth of payment.
12:26:57 PM Ankan: Steven, Creative cloud month to month subscription will cost you $74.99 per month and you can cancel it anytime.
12:27:09 PM ME: I am willing to cancel my account with no penalty. My second choice is to dispute the charge with my card carrier. Your choice.
12:27:29 PM Ankan: Just to confirm, may I know the reason for the subscription cancellation?
12:28:50 PM ME: Isn’t it obvious? I tried to change to a Photography plan, you told me I cannot without a NEW contract. Then you told me I’m under an annual plan that I didn’t authorize. (Apparently had to opt out last month but never saw a notification).
12:29:46 PM ME: You left me with no choice except to dispute charges.
12:30:33 PM ME: Oh, and this has taken exactly 30 minutes longer than it should have. So you’ve also wasted that much of our time.
12:30:55 PM Ankan: Steven , please allow me a minute . let me check what best can be done regarding the issue.
12:31:10 PM ME: Why didn’t you do that 25 minutes ago?
12:31:41 PM Ankan: I am really sorry to see that you are not happy with the Adobe policy.
12:31:49 PM Ankan: Can you allow me a moment while I walk to my supervisor and check for the exception to cancel the subscription with no fee ?
12:33:43 PM Ankan: Just to confirm, would you be willing to continue with complete Creative cloud membership for next year, if I offer you at $29.99 per month?
12:34:45 PM Ankan: Also, avoid the early termination fee.
12:34:46 PM ME: Really? So I go through this again a year from now? Why didn’t you just try to do what I asked to begin with? Switch me to a Photography plan without extending the contract!
12:38:35 PM ME: FYI: Adobe pulled similar crap over a year ago. I actually HAD a photography plan because adobe said only those who had PS 5/6 would qualify, and the plan would end in December. Guess what. They then opened it up to EVERYONE no qualifications.
12:39:36 PM Ankan: Steven , there is no option to downgrade the plan to Photography plan. However, once you purchase the subscription, it will be for one year contract. Even, if there was a option with me , again the commitment would be for one year only.
12:41:23 PM ME: So let me get this straight… I get smacked for an early termination fee of a plan I didn’t willfully extend. Then get ANOTHER annual contract under a different account? In what world does THAT make sense except to racqueteers and criminals?
12:43:39 PM ME: While I can sign up entirely online, apparently I have to waste 40 minutes to CANCEL a plan I didn’t ask to extend. Another ZERO for Adobe.
12:44:06 PM Ankan: Steven , In that case, I will make an one time exception for you to cancel the subscription without fee.
12:46:04 PM ME: So YOU do have the power to make an exception. How about we do it this way. You make the exception cancel the plan with no penalty and TRUST me to sign up for a Photography plan (which I stated 45 minutes ago was my intention!)
12:47:42 PM Ankan: Thank you for your patience.
12:47:44 PM Ankan: I have successfully cancelled the subscription for the Creative Cloud membership (one-year) . However you will have the access to the subscription till: Jul 16, 2015.
12:47:59 PM ME: And there is NO penalty?
12:48:02 PM Ankan: I will provide you the link to purchase the Photography plan.
12:48:20 PM Ankan: Yes, I will waived off the early termination fee.
12:49:17 PM Ankan: Please click here to purchase
12:51:06 PM ME: Ok. I am going to sit on this for a few days to decide if it is worth trusting Adobe any further, because frankly I have had zero positive experiences with Adobe.
12:51:41 PM Ankan: I sincerely apologize for any inconvenience that may have caused to you.
12:52:36 PM ME: It’s not just you, of course, it’s a whole company that seems to care more about $ than customer service.
12:53:04 PM ME: By the way, is it STILL the case that 1 year contracts AUTOMATICALLY renew and the only way to cancel is to go through this nonsense?
12:54:32 PM Ankan: Steven,you can cancel the subscription in the first month and at the last month before the renewal of the commitment.
12:54:32 PM Ankan: Once again we apologize for any disappointment caused and hope to serve you in future.
12:54:46 PM Ankan: Is there anything else I can help you with?
12:55:28 PM ME: But not via the web. Can only cancel by “contacting customer disservice”… sigh.
12:56:06 PM Ankan: I am happy to inform you that you can stop the renewal of the subscription from your Adobe account after the last renewal of the contract.
12:56:15 PM ME: Thank you for canceling the contract. I suppose I’d be much more grateful if it didn’t take nearly an hour.
12:56:44 PM Ankan: I am sorry for taking much of your time.
12:56:56 PM ME: Good bye.
12:57:02 PM Ankan: It’s my pleasure assisting you today.
12:57:06 PM Ankan: Have a nice day!
12:57:06 PM Ankan: Thank you for contacting Adobe. We are available 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. Goodbye!


 

Look What You Did!

First we really appreciate the mastery of Matt Molloy who has been using the Advanced Stacker PLUS to reach creative new heights in “TimeStacks”.  This is one of his images below in which he stacks part of the image with Comet mode, and the rest with lighten mode. Click the image to read more.

Reach for the Clouds by Matt Molloy

Reach for the Clouds by Matt Molloy

We invited users of the Advanced Stacker PLUS to give us feedback on their experiences with our Photoshop Add-in. We asked folks is if they had an image that they made with the software that they’d like us to see. Wow. We are impressed! Take a look for yourself. We used the links provided so none of the images shown are on our server. In other words, if an image does not load properly, there is nothing we at StarCircleAcademy can do to fix the issue.  Where possible, clicking the image will take you to the photographer’s site.

Version 14E is available now, by the way.

If your image appears here and you’d rather it did not, let us know and we’ll remove it.

Exit Criteria

Exit Criteria by Steven Christenson (channeling Matt Molloy)

'Aurora Star Trails' - Trwyn Du, Anglesey

Aurora Star Trails by Adrian Kingsley Hughes

Rocky Mtns

Rocky Mountains by Bob Gibbon

The Chalice by John Mu

The Chalice by John Mumaw

Gulf of Mexico

Gulf of Mexico by John C. Struck

Church by Bob Edwards

Church by Bob Edwards

OG PIER 1 by Daniel P Studios

OG PIER 1 by Daniel P Studios

Lassen Campfire Pano 1

Lassen Campfire Pano 1

Red River Camping Spot Star Trails by Jeff Stephens

Red River Camping Spot Star Trails by Jeff Stephens

Milky Way Star Trails

Milky Way Star Trails by Beau Liddell

Stow Time Stall by Brian Drourr

Stow Time Stall by Brian Drourr

Starflight over Pointy Land

Starflight over Pointy Land by Steven Christenson

Chapel in Starlight by Keith Doucet

Chapel in Starlight by Keith Doucet

Philosophy of Advanced Stacker PLUS

ASP14e-500

Coming soon…

Our 14e release is imminent. But after looking at our survey results and the most recently reported issues, we thought it wise to provide some hints to help you use the current software and to help you understand tradeoffs we made.

Our most commonly reported issue is something we struggled with. In an attempt to help users understand features we caused confusion. What are we talking about?  There are pop up windows: some of which should be Continued some of which should be Stopped. The only notification tool that works across all versions of Photoshop reliably doesn’t allow much customization, so when confronted with each of these dialogs, its understandable why some people click Stop when they should Continue and click Continue when they should Stop. The pop-up window below was the worst. We added highlighting to make it easy to see the difference, but we can’t use color or graphics on the actual pop-up without creating compatibility problems.  Do you notice the difference?

ASP14d_NotStop

This dialog indicates that the Watermark Alignment is not set… click CONTINUE

ASP14d_DoStop

If you stop on the first dialog, the layers needed to do stacking are not created and you will get errors the first of which is usually “Move is not currently available”

Move Not Available

Move Not Available

Once there is any kind of error it’s time to Stop and restart because manipulating layers in Photoshop is a little fragile.  The good news is the first pop-up can be turned off. The better news is that in 14e we have already turned it off for you. In fact in 14e we’ve trimmed down interaction as much as possible but still kept the awesome extra features.  Here is how to turn off the first pop-up (the one regarding Watermark Alignment) in version 14d and earlier.

Stop the Pop

Stop the Pop – disable the “Stop” step in Align My Watermark

Power of the Batch

The Advanced Stacker PLUS derives much of it’s power from two key things: Photoshop’s ability to batch process images AND Photoshop’s ability to open just about any image format on the planet.  Batch processing works because it is possible to use File -> Automate -> Batch to hurl a handful or a folder full of images at customized scripts and actions.  While Adobe Photoshop Elements has a “batch processor” there is no way to do operations other than those that are built-in to the software and that’s why ASP doesn’t support Elements.

One of the weaknesses of using Photoshop’s captive power is that it requires exploiting the tool in ways that are “allowed”.  While we like Adobe Photoshop CC, there are still many people who are very happy with older, non-cloud versions of Photoshop like CS3 or CS4.  We chose to not abandon that 35% of our customers so we support ALL CS versions of Photoshop on both Mac and PC. and that means we limit our actions and scripts to features that are common across all those versions and platforms. Readers may not be aware, for example, that while Adobe has published tools for customizing the interface, those tools have generally only supported the “latest” version of software. Indeed one of the most used tools (Configurator) has been abandoned and is no longer supported.

Another tradeoff has been in how we document our features. For example the File -> Automate -> Batch method of stacking a folder full of files is workable, if inelegant. But we use the Photoshop Bridge method of feeding the stacker and like it much more for several significant reasons.  One huge advantage of using Bridge is that you can actually see the content of the files. Another obvious advantage is that you are not constrained by what’s in your folder. If you have 29 shots from one sequence and 120 of another sequence you don’t have to split those shots between folders. And, in fact, with Bridge to select files you don’t have to use the same stacking method for all the files of one set, or have files from only one folder!

A word about 14E

As noted above, version 14E is imminent. Surprisingly the biggest obstacle has not been the additional features, the primary obstacle has been packaging and delivering the content. Windows 8.1 and Mac OSX 10.9 have gotten very protective of their machines and throw up many roadblocks to try to keep your machine safe from viruses and trojans. This means we had to invest $1500 dollars to become an LLC, get signed up for the Mac developer plan, get a Mac code signing certificate and get a code signing certificate for Windows, too! That doesn’t include acquiring a Mac or polishing the scripts and installers on each machine. Here is what the problem looks like on a Windows PC using Internet Explorer without signed code (it’s just as bad with Safari on Mac).

ASP_IE_RunAnyway

In fact, on both machines even though the code is signed (proving its provenance), you are still likely to get a warning like “This is not a commonly downloaded file”. It might be easier if we could email it to you, right? Except that Google, Yahoo and many others will not deliver an email that includes any executable content.

Both PCs and Macs have reached this point described in a Mac advertisement from 2009 that pokes fun at Vista’s intrusive safety system. Guess what… both machines are becoming like this because there are so many, uh, jerks out there eager to harm you electronically.

Our holy grail has been to create a single deliverable package that works both on a PC and on your Mac that we can document clearly, simply and as completely as possible.  That was probably too high a goal.

What’s coming in 14e?

  • Installation now is as simple as clicking.
  • EXIF data for the first image is preserved
  • New stacking mode of Ultra Streaks
  • Streamlined pop-ups to the minimum
  • Fully supports paths on both PC and Mac
  • Installation works for ALL versions of Photoshop CS you have installed on your machine
  • A price increase. But current owners will get the upgrade for free.
  • Some features we’re keeping under wraps for now.

Doing things Backward in Advanced Stacker PLUS

Push Me - Pull You

Star Trails tapered in TWO directions… read on for how.

First we confess… Doing things backward applies to all manner of operations, not just Advanced Stacker PLUS so this technique is useful for almost any kind of batch processing.

By far the most IMPRACTICAL way to stack your shots in reverse order is to reverse time before taking your shots so that they will be numbered as you wish. Another eminently impractical way to shoot star trails backwards is to reverse the earth’s rotation before shooting that sequence of shots. 🙂

We’re pretty sure you are looking for a more practical solution, though! And here we offer a strategy that takes full advantage of Photoshop’s relentless bent on processing photos in alphabetical order.  To make everything run “backward” we need to reverse the alphabetical order of the photos.  Unfortunately, there is no number these files backward feature. We wish! There are some standalone programs for doing sophisticated file renaming but here we will use a tool you already have: Adobe Bridge. Adobe Lightroom can be used too – if you are anxious to know how, leave a comment and we will elaborate.

Here is a quick comparison. The first shot is “reversed” causing the stars in the Northern Hemisphere to be rotating clockwise instead of the counter-clockwise direction that they ACTUALLY move in.  While exactly the same shots were used in each case, the photos reveal one reason why you might want to reverse the order – to get a sky flavored with a bit of twilight blue.

130-41ReversedComet 130-41Comet

We have a lengthy article on how to use Adobe Bridge to feed the Advanced Stacker PLUS, so let’s start with using Bridge.  Below is what our directory of files looks like. We compacted our Bridge display to make it easy to get a reasonable size screen capture. We slid the  leftmost divider (normally it shows filters and folders) to the left.  Notice the “content” pane contains thumbnails and the Preview pane shows the two files we selected – one obviously taken earlier when there was yet some blue twilight, and the other taken later.

Reversing the File Order – Adobe Bridge

gs_2014-02-26_081542

 

Arrows below indicate places where we can control the view that Bridge shows us.

gs_2014-02-26_081602

Some key controls for manipulating the Bridge display are shown.

gs_2014-02-26_084841

NOTE: You do not have to change the view, you can use the Sort option and uncheck the “Ascending” order.

We find that the easiest way to reverse the displayed order is to change to List view. And then click on the header to reverse the sort order. While we can change the sort order directly (see sidebar) we prefer the neater view we get in List mode.

Clicking the triangle on the Name column at the top of our content pane reverses the sort order and results in the display as shown at the right.

gs_2014-02-26_081642gs_2014-02-26_083730

Unfortunately Photoshop will not be swayed by the different sort order… it insists on processing files in ALPHABETICAL order. Our solution is to change the names of our files to reflect the desired ordering.

Batch Rename

gs_2014-02-26_082045

Batch rename (under Tools) gives us the ability to copy or move files while renaming them.  Fortunately when we use the rename tool, it DOES respect our sort order. Our strategy is to use our reversed-order file list and place an increasing sequence number at the beginning of each file name. By prepending to the file name we can force the first file in our sorted list to become first alphabetically.  Bridge has a built in “Sequence Number” which automatically increments.

We do this often enough that we took the extra step to save the configuration as a preset.

gs_2014-02-26_082508
Adding a 3-digit prefix followed by a dash character. To add or remove items from the rename click the + or – icons.

The important points are:

  1. We must prefix a sequence number.
  2. We strongly suggest “Preserving the current file name in the XMP data” so we can return the files to the original name if we wish.  Or instead of renaming them, select “copy” and place the result in a separate folder.

Once we have our renumbered files, we can feed them to Photoshop just as we described in the Stacking with Bridge article.  And, if use the “preserve file name in XMP” option, we can easily rename the files back to their original names using the batch rename. The small trick for this is described at the end of the video below.

Batch Renaming – The Video

Reversing the ordering of files for Advanced Stacker PLUS (Using Adobe Bridge)

 

Using Lightroom To Rename

Using Lightroom has many drawbacks as we previously described.  Lightroom also has a rename function (F2), it is, however a bit more tedious to set up.  The other important thing to remember about using Lightroom for stacking is that Lightroom insists on exporting files before you are able to stack them.  And because of these two complexities, we decided to stop writing here.  If you really want to know how to use Lightroom to accomplish the same task, plead with us in the comments below.  Or better yet, offer us bribes!