Sunday, December 30, 2007

Photoshop Techniques

Here's a couple of things that perhaps most of you already know, but I found by accident and are quite handy.

Rescuing Blown and Blocked Areas

Sometimes, in the process of editing an image you realize too late that some small area has degenerated to pure white or pure black and can no longer be rescued. There are a couple of things you can do. First, you can select all the image, copy it, then use the history palette to revert to the original image by clicking on the image above the top of the list of steps, then paste back your edited image on top. You can use a white mask in this with a small area painted black to rescue the blocked area. You can even put adjustment layers between then to adjust the area you want.

Some times even this isn't enough and you need to go back to the raw file. In this case, assuming you have saved your edited image, you can reopen the original raw file, edit it in whatever raw processor you want, ignoring all of the image but the area that ended up blocked, adjust to make it as good as possible and then open the image, copy and paste that on top of your edited image using a black mask painted white in the relevant area.

Should you have done some cropping in the mean time, you will need to align the images but since they are the same file, this is easy using the move tool at the top of the tools palette.

Controlling Where A Layer Takes Effect

There are times you have defined an area you want to adjust with a masked adjustment layer, but then you realize you need to do more work on just that area, whether it be another curve or perhaps a saturation change or whatever. If instead of picking a new adjustment layer from the icon at the bottom of the layers pallete, you use the layers menu to create a new adjustment layer, you are given the option of using the previous layers mask to control this one, clicking that on means this layer only affects the same area of the image as the last layer.

I imagine there must be a way to do this from the layers pallete and perhaps some nice person will tell us what it is.

There are a million tricks to Photoshop, it's just a matter of finding the dozen or so that are most useful to the way you work.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Soft Proofing

The top image is the original, the bottom a duplicate with soft proofing applied. The differences aren't huge and you probably want to click on the image to bring up the large version to really see the changes.

I was reading a discussion about the value of soft proofing on Luminous Landscape and while the discussion degenerated into abuse along the lines of 'my expert is better than your expert' it did make me think more about the process of soft proofing. I'd watched 'From Camera To Print and Jeff Schewe in particular espoused the value of soft proofing. Time to look into this a bit further. I took the Athabasca Falls image that I showed the editing on for the previous blog entry and made a print on Enhanced Matte, knowing that soft proofing shows the differences with matte paper especially.

Know what, Jeff was spot on. First reaction to turning on soft proofing - 'yuck, what happened to my lovely image'. But then I did as instructed and held up the print made 90 degrees to the monitor and in the same lighting and flipped back and forth between monitor and print and guess what, the soft proof explained all the differences between my carefully edited image on monitor and the resultant print. Very impressive.

Now the trick is to learn how to change the image so that the soft proof matches as closely as possible the original. Again I did as Jeff suggested, I duplicated the image so I could compare the soft proof side by side with the original.

I used a combination of five adjustment layers to to match as closely as possible the original. I increased overall saturation by +7 (Jeff mentions that this is usually needed when printing to matte paper). I created two curves layers which could prob. have been combined, to increase contrast slightly and give a bit of punch to the dark areas - and I noted that the white water took on a bluish tinge which didn't match the rest of the image so I used a selective colour adjustment layer, working on whites to yellow them up a tinge.

The end result on screen looked darn close to the original. Of course the blacks weren't as black (because the soft proof is emulating the lower dynamic range of matte paper) but overall it looked good. I made a print. The print looks like I went just a bit too far. I'm going to try again with all the added adjustment layers set to 66% opacity, or perhaps 50%. Ah, 66% works perfectly.

I can see that with a bit of practice this is going to be very helpful in getting images as close a possible to what I want - also to making the same image on two types of paper, matte and glossy, and having them match as close as possible.

It's intersting, the difference means that rock that looked wet in the on screen image, now looks wet again in the print - it didn't before I soft proofed and adjusted.

If you are not soft proofing, you might want to start doing so. Clearly an experiment of one isn't the whole answer, but so far it's looking useful and I will update down the road.

I need to try the technique with black and white images too.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Book Availability

I see that Chapters/Indigo has announced the book in stock here in Canada while Amazon U.S. and Canada quotes Jan. 4. Barnes and Noble has it in stock.

Why Edit # 1

Above is the end result of image editing, below are the steps I took to get here.

Having read all the helpful feedback about a possible future book, it seems that what is needed is not a how to book on editing - there are lots of books out there which explain the workings of Photoshop masked layers and other techniques for editing one's images. What does seem to be deficient though is an explanation of the process of looking at an image and deciding what changes are necessary to make it a better image. To that end I thought I'd go through the thought processes in an image I edited this morning.

Above is the image as it was brought into Camera Raw, with my standard defaults. Note the blown highlights in the water. Clearly this is of concern as the water is too important to accept pure white in significant areas. You could make the argument that I had overexposed the shot, however in-camera the highlights were just on the edge and from previous experience I felt they could be rescued. The reason I didn't reduce the exposure was to keep as much detail in the shadowed rocks on the left and also at the bottom right of the image.

This shows the result of a modest application of recovery to reign in those highlights without losing the shadows. The shadows warning is on but there is little to be seen in the way blocked shadows (they are dark blue).

Above shows the settings I used for sharpening. I confess it's a bit of an experiment in the last couple of months. Previously all sharpening was done in Photoshop but with v. 4 of Camera Raw, sharpening is more sophisticated than it had been and I have been taking advantage. Is it better than using Filter/Sharpen/Smart Sharpen in Photoshop - not sure, but I have it as my default in Camera Raw, so all images get this much sharpening, then I can add a little more in Photoshop if I need.

Above is the image as it arrives in Photoshop. It's time to start thinking about what I'd want to change in the image. Ideally I'd like to get a bit more detail in the white water and the shadows, though not blocked, could definitely use a bit of opening up. At the same time, the rock surface on the right of the image has some interesting detail but it doesn't really stand out. I was going to say it looks 'flat'. It occurs to me that I could improve things considerably through the use of Akvis Enhancer which should be able to help in each of these areas.

And above is the result of using Akvis Enhancer, default settings.

It's better, but seems to me the shadowed rock on the left could stand being opened up a bit and the rock on the right still seems a bit boring. I really like that small half filled puddle on the lower rock, but it needs to stand up as well, grounds for a bit of a contrast increase there.

Above shows the effects of opening up the shadows. Note that I have also lightend the mist in the canyon.

And these show the black mask into which I painted to apply the curve shown.

And this shows the effect of increasing contrast in the rock on the right - I'm much happier with it.

I haven't begun to deal with the cropping issue. Micheal Reichmann mentions in his Camera To Print Video series that he crops very first thing - but I have to tell you that there is nothing worse than deciding after two hours of working on an image that having a little more room on the left would be lovely - only it's long gone. Even if you did save the work before the crop, you are going to lose everything done since.

Photoshop does allow for cropping without losing the cropped area - it's just stored away in case of rain. If you can do your crop in a single swoop, this works perfectly. Unfortunately I often find myself refining the crop a step at a time so this won't work for me.

Bottom line is I prefer to to the basic work on the image before cropping. Personal choice, it works for me. Choose a system that works for you.

Anyway, getting back to decisions around cropping. There are two fundamental problems with the image, the small spruce branch in the bottom right and the jambed log in the bottom left. Either could be cloned out if I really need to but it gave me a chance to think about composition. There's absolutely nothing wrong with experimenting with composition via the cropping tool, until you come up with the best possible result.

On the one hand, I don't relish losing that interesting rock strata on the left, but I discover that if I crop out the log, I actually like the balance of the image better.

This shows the cropping tool in place. Note that I have elected to trim a little off the right too. It wasn't that the material wasn't good - in fact I regret trimming the curve of water at the top right, it just seems to balance better. I haven't removed all of the branch in the bottom right, but the rest can easily be removed with cloning.

I could, of course; have trimmed from the bottom of the image and removed both branch and log, but I really like that rock eddy on the bottom near right with it's rounded large pebbles and couldn't afford to lose any of it - in fact in an ideal world, I'd have kept a bit more of it so the second pebble was whole. Mind you, given that the shot was taken blind, with the camera 5 feet out on the end of my folded and hand held tripod, held almost horizontally out over the fall to eliminate foreground, I'm happy the framing worked as well as it did. I did manage to rest the tripod about a foot from the end on the safety railing to provide some steadying effect.

And this is the result of the crop and a little cloning to tidy the two bottom corners. I note that I forgot to clone out that stick lying on the rock. It could even be a fold in the rock, but if it looks like a stick, it has to go.

Other than that, I could call it quits - I like the image I have, there is good detail in shadows and highlights, overall a pleasant image.

There is, however; a lot more that can be done to polish the image. For example, though the highlights are there, it might be possible to give them a bit more punch by increasing contrast from pure white to light gray - easy to accomplish with another black masked curves layer.

The first of the three images shows the effect of the curve, applied across all the image. Note that the effect is way too strong in most places but remember that since I am painting into the mask I can control the amount of the effect and I want a few areas to receive the maximum effect shown here so this much will be just fine, once tamed.

You can see the curve used. Note the second point almost at white. That was essential to keep the curve from muddying the white water. If you doubt it, try clicking in the before image to show it full size, then bring it into Photoshop yourself and play with curves to help the water.

The third image shows the effect applied where and to what degree I want. There is a lot more detail to the water, but I see that in some places the water has become too dark in the highlights. As this is very easy to fix later, I'm not concerned.

Above is the result of a little fine tuning. I decided to increase the contrast in the puddle and on the flat rock, though I used separate curves so I could get things just right. It turned out that in both cases, the colour saturation increased with the increase in luminosity contrast. In the case of the puddle, it was really objectionable so I set the layer blend to luminosity. This worked perfectly for the puddle but left the rock looking dull again. Setting it at normal has left the colours a bit unrealistic but I can tone that down later with a hue/saturation layer.
In increasing the contrast in the puddle, I liked the effect in the part that is reflecting the rock, but the bright part looked unrealistic and had to be toned back.

Time to stop and reflect, what further changes would help the image?

OK, so what have I done this time. You will remember I thought the colour of the flat rock was a bit too much but what really bothers me is the yellow green tinge to the rocks on the left. What if I applied a subtle change in colour here to better match the hue if not the saturation of the flat rock? There are a number of ways to do this. I could use the separate colour curves in the curves adjustment layer but that's more control and hassle than I want to deal with for a very modest change. I could use colour balance but it tends to change everything. Oddly, I have found that using the hue setting in hue/saturation adjustment layer is often quite helpful. A small shift to the left (-6) nicely takes the yellow green out of the rock without fundamentally changing it. Applied with a black mask painted into as usual it better blends with the flat rock. I then did the opposite with the flat rock, moving the hue +4 to the right and now I see that I don't need to desaturate the colour and there is an overall consistency to the image without going too far. I see that the small triangle rock in the bottom left is too bright so I do desaturate the colour in it - but the hue is correct so no other changes.

I could go on making more and more changes, but the image is very close to what I want at this point and there's a real risk I'll adjust it too far - just one more change needed - the water needs cleaned. I could use another curves layer but experience tells me that subtly whitening water isn't easy with curves. Better is using the dodging tool set to highlights and the amount set to around 5% so I don't over do it. Even better is if I have some way to tell how close to pure white I have come since staring at the monitor, the difference between a brightness of say, 245 and 250 is subtle, and the difference between 250 and 255 impossible to see.

Can't remember where I read about it but what I use is a threshold layer, set to around 250. Applied on top of the layer I am dodging, this tells me when I 'break through'. This is so handy I set it up as an action. I also have one for shadows, warning me when I drive the tones below around 10. Depending on the printer and paper, these numbers may need to be changed but the latest printers and semi gloss papers can actually show the difference between zero and five, between 253 and 255 - heady stuff.

One more precaution, I want to do the dodging on a duplicate of the image, so it's time to flatten the image (you can save beforehand if you are inclined - I don't an do occasinally regret it but the files are so large...

This shows the application of the threshold layer on top of my image. Note that only a tiny area of water in the upper left is even as bright as 250. All of the bright water on the right hasn't come close to paper white - it looks fine on screen but I'm losing out on a lot of punch here so I'm definitely on the right track.

I start applying the dodging highlights at 5%, gradually building up the effect I want, occasionally flipping back and forth between the image and the threshold layer by turning it on and off (but all the work being done on the image of course).

And now you see that I have broken though 250 in a few more areas, not a lot, but it took quite a bit of lightening the water to get there so I know it will make a more impressive print. The second image shows the results of the dodging.

I still wasn't 100% satisfied though and decided to darken the water a bit further now that the whites are a lot closer to white, two more curves helped with that and voila you have the final, for now, image.

It's time to walk away from the computer. I might well make further adjustments in the future, I already have some ideas, but at this point I am not sure if they will really improve it and experience tells me I'll do a better job coming back to the image in the future, if at all. Don't forget you can click on any of the images to bring up larger versions. I did an especially large version of the final result at the top of the blog entry.

This has been a test run for a future book. I'd appreciate feedback on whether exercises like this are helpful and if so for what level of photographer (hey, market research). If you don't find it useful, that's ok to report too. Thanks.

From Jasper - Maligne Canyon

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Making Luck

While working on the image for the previous post, I was thinking to myself how lucky I have been in capturing the images I have, then it occurred to me that I'm a lot luckier than I used to be, and that generated thoughts about how to become lucky.

Here's my thoughts on how to get 'lucky'!

1) Cameras that sit in bags, photographers who never go shooting, cannot have any good luck at all - so get out and use the damn thing!

2) Be there at the right time - good lighting can be partially luck, but it's also being there when there is at least the possibility of good light. Sleeping in till the odds are good that by the time you get to the scene, you are going to be working around harsh vertical light with short shadows. It's almost impossible to tell what the lighting is going to be like 20 miles and two hours away from now, with the possible exception of a clear sky sunrise - so be prepared to be lucky. Get there early in the day. Put the effort in and get lucky.

3) Be prepared to flexible - try to avoid preconceived ideas of what image you are going to get - the day may not be right for that image, but perhaps it's perfect for something else and if you can only think of the original plan...

4) With modern reliable equipment, auto exposure, auto focus, good tripods etc., screwing up technically is just not acceptable. If you are unlucky in that the one good image is the one which is out of focus, then spend some time analyzing where you are going wrong and come up with a plan to fix it and follow through on the plan, including lots of practice. Some kinds of photography you simply cannot expect to get things technically right every time - say the focus in a football game, but you can sure practice and increase your percentages.

5) Although I like the concept of previsualization, truth is not even Ansel could predict which images were going to hold up over time. This means that it pays to give yourself options. Maybe you have the camera in the absolutely ideal spot, but perhaps later you will realize that 3 inches to the right would have been better. Work the scene - actually go about earning your successes, make your own luck.

Seeing With A Fresh Eye

I was printing an image for a customer, an image I particularly like. I am on the third 'edition' as Brooks Jensen calls it - each time I think I'm finished an image and ready to sell it, that's an edition, then any time I re-edit the image after that makes for a new edition - I like the concept.

The changes I was making involved cropping - I frankly don't understand how I could not have seen this as the right way to crop it but somehow I didn't despite two previous attempts. it really does seem to be 'another day, a new way of seeing'.

It seems to come down to a matter of priorities - sometimes one has different priorities - on Tuesday the corner is critical, but on Thursday the sunlight on the left is paramount. Nothing wrong with either changing one's mind for good and valid reasons, or for that matter to be uncertain which is best.

In the bottome image, I cropped tightly, but in hind sight, why ever did a crop off the corner of that light area on the left. A second attempt rescued the entire light area on the hull, but complicated things, perhaps unnecessarily.

In the top most image, the most recent version, I have cropped to the corner of the sunlit hull and tightened things on the right so the sweeping reverse C on the hull reaches the edge of the image. I've given the bow a little more breathing room, but darkened the water around it to better match the rest of the water.

Is this the perfect composition? No idea - just the best I can do on the day.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas

May you and yours have a wonderful holiday, may Santa bring you gifts which will open your eyes to new vistas and may you recharge your batteries with Christmas nibblies.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Book Availability

I note that has announced a Jan. 4 availability date for my book 'Take Your Photography To The Next Level'

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Black And White Landscapes Redone

I have gone through the black and white landscapes and replaced all with freshly resized images. There are even a few new ones, like the image above. I debated about toning the black and white but in the end decided neutral was probably best for now, with a variety of images including ice.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Developing The New Site

Once I found Rapidweaver and had the sense that it could do what was needed, it was time to learn the software.

Requirements included:

1) ability to upload changed without reuploading the whole website and hundreds of pictures - no problem in Rapidweaver
2) blog software - Rapidweaver has this built in but in my searches I found a Rapidweaver plug-in called RapidBlog. This allows me to integrate my current blog and it's over 750 entries, but within my website and best of all, with my website colours and design. This has worked extremely well and also gave me inline comments.
3) I needed to have clean looking albums with a painless way to move from image to image - Rapidweaver has solved 80% of that battle for me but I'm keeping my eye out for a way to move from image to image from the keyboard and for the position of next not to move as you go from the first image.
4) I needed some help to come up with ideas for a webdesign - and Rapidweaver's templates are ideal for that purpose. Some are more customizable than others - Camino has been particularly good with extensive control over size, shape, and colour.

One of the really useful tools in learning to use Rapidweaver was the videos by ScreencastsOnline which explained Rapidweaver and also some of the plugins.

It didn't take long to flesh out a basic website. I found it helpful to go to my outliner and create an outline of all the webpages and their subpages and so on. Once I saw the layout, I could quickly create the pages.

Rapidweaver has a number of different possible pages from text and images to blog to album to file sharing and contact forms - PHP without knowing a thing about it.

I did have to change my server to one that could cope with PHP and found Siteground recommmended and in fact highly useful and easy to work with. Uploading Rapidweaver to Siteground has been absolutely painless.

I found some other plug-ins for Rapidweaver helpful. Accordion was cute but not useful if there is a lot of text, Blocks is extremely useful, turning Rapidweaver into almost a full WYSIWYG web design programme. It allows precise placing of text, images, links and so on, with full font and size control. Collage made for convenient thumbnails for the various album categories.

I'm still a complete novice and there's huge scope to learn HTML and PHP to do really incredible things, but the point is that I have been able to do everything I have without a single line of code in any language.

Time To Bury The Old Website

The new Rapidweaver driven website seems to be operating well so I'm moving it over to and the old site is history.

I still have a lot of work to do, including reprocessing every single image so there is no resizing within the blog so it remains a work in progress but already functions better than the old one and contains image, blog and website all in one.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Soft Proofing

Having watched the segment on soft proofing on the "From Camera To Print' Videos from Luminous Landscape and having read the questions generated on their discussion groups, it appears that a lot of people still don't GET soft proofing.

Many months ago I had to ask some repeated and blunt questions with followups to get the experts to explain the real story to me so let me add the following explanation to what Jeff and Michael presented on their talk.

A printer profile does two things. First it attempts to adjust the printer output to match the computer file as closely as possible. It can't match it perfectly - pigment and dye inks are not the same as monitors, either in colour or in dynamic range. There are limitations to how close the printer can get. If the computer file includes an intense orange but no combination of printer inks can print that intense an orange, then the printer profile isn't going to make for a perfect match.

When profiles are made, the difference between where the printer got to and what the computer wanted is noted along with the instructions for getting as close as possible. it's like catching a bus to a friend's house. It can take you most of the way there, but it can't usually deliver you to the door. In the case of the printer profile, it does at least provide you with a map from the bus stop to your friend's house so you know what direction to walk.

It's this business from best possible to ideal that most people don't even know about in printer profiles, and this is the part that makes soft proofing work.

By using the printer profile, the soft proofing knows that no matter how you try, there is only so much orangeness in the inks to represent the carrot picture. The soft proof shows you this difference by toning down the orange of the original computer file to the maximum the inks are capable of. As you can toggle soft proof on and off quickly you can get a sense of what's missing.

You then have the option of adjusting the original computer file to compensate for the deficiencies in the printer. For example, if you can't get the printer to make the orange that intense, perhaps you can increase the grayscale contrast to make the carrot look more snappy. Maybe you can add a bit more red to compensate for the orange deficiency.

Every printer and every set of inks has these deficiencies. Mostly we can live with them, but sometimes we need to work round them, and soft proofing is the tool that helps you do that.

The other problem with the print is that the dynamic range from brightest paper white to blackest black is going to be a lot less than you can get on any computer screen. If you turn on paper white in the soft proofing, the computer attempts to emulate the narrower dynamic range of your print. If you are using glossy paper with it's increased dynamic range, the differences aren't all that huge, but the blacks are more of a muddy gray. With matte papers though, the soft proofed images tend to look terrible, very flat and dull. it turns out they are accurate, it's just that we get so used to the full range of brightness on the computer screen, and of course you can still see full white and full black surrounding the soft proofed image on screen. If there were no other part of the screen showing at all (ie. the image filled the screen to the edges in all directions), you would be more able to buy in to this flatter looking image. Jeff mentions in the video removing as much of the screen clutter as possible but the problem with the black surround is it makes the dark areas of the print look pathetic. I suspect a gray background would actually work better.

I find that it is more useful to look at the detail in the shadows in the soft proofed image rather than the absolute darkness of the blacks and use that to adjust the shadows as needed to better show shadow detail. If there is lots of detail in the soft proofed shadows, then it will be readily apparent in you print too. If it isn't, then there's a good chance that no matter how deep the blacks are in your print, the shadow detail isn't going to be great.

From Camera To Print - Luminous Landscape

I finally decided to order and download the 6 hour video series 'From Camera To Print' on Luminous Landscape and made by Michael Reichmann and Jeff Schewe. I'd felt at first that I have a pretty good routine for making prints and doubted I'd get much out of the video, but truth is that the videos have been very interesting. Jeff is an insider when it comes to a lot of this stuff, being an Epson Expert as well as working with the Photoshop and Lightroom teams and having worked with the late Bruce Fraser and written the latest version of 'Real World Camera Raw'. Michael has been digital for a long time and worked with many of the insiders including Thomas Knoll, the original author of Photoshop and the primary author of Camera Raw. Both have been involved with the development of Lightroom.

What I found helpful was understanding some of the whys and how things got to be where they are. I did learn some new and useful facts. It was reassuring to find that some of the frustrations I have had they have too (ie. not my fault). I found the information on soft proofing to be very helpful.

I highly recommend this series for any photographer making inkjet prints, whether from scanned film or from a digital camera or back. Besides, it was entertaining and unafraid to slay some giants.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Making Money As A Part Time Photographer

It's been my observation that the real limiting factor in making money in photography is that it takes energy and time, both of which eat into our photography time. I nipped into a fast food restaurant for supper (I'd run out of bread) and am working late. I noted the tacky artwork on the wall and thought, I should be displaying my work here - or perhaps at my favourite movie theatre lobby, then I remembered, I already have work at the Glenbow museum gift shop and Trains N' Such and just when the hell am I going to find the time to make prints, matte, frame and deliver pictures, all of that before selling a single one. I quit the farmers market, not because it wasn't successful - it was coming along very nicely, but because it was a hassle and took a lot of time and things weren't getting done around the house and my wife was paying a significant price, both in me not being available, or being tired and grumpy.

Truth is,the biggest limiting factor in being successful as a part time photographer is the limitations in your energy and time and your commitments to others. If you are single and don't have an overly demanding job and a goodly amount of energy and ambition, then the sky is the limit - more power to you.

For those of us with more mortal limits on our capacities, perhaps we shouldn't worry so much about selling. Perhaps we should be looking in other directions for affirmation of our work - through publication and through our website and maybe the occasional show just for the ego of it.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Another Book Idea - Feedback Please

With all the talk of doing most if not all of one's image editing in global adjustment software like Lightroom or Camera Raw, I'm wondering if there is a place for a book on local adjustments in a digital world to enhance images. it would be less about the tools and more about creative changes. It would be based on Photoshop but applicable to other editing programmes with the ability to make local changes.

I've been watching Micheal Reichmanns Camera to Print video series on Luminous Landscape and very much enjoying it but it struck me how little he uses Photoshop to adjust images, preferring to do all his work with across the image changes in Lightroom (exc. sharpening).

What do people think - you have seen some of the sequences I have posted in the past in which local adjustments were crucial to the result - is there a place for a book showing both why and how to do these changes?

There are books out there that show some of the commercial photography editing - thinning legs, shortening noses, removing bulges and wrinkles but I'm more concerned with the expressive print and how local changes can help that.

How Bright Should A Print Be?

Seems like an obvious question - bright enough! But if there is a brightness which best gives a sense of reality, that doesn't necessarily imply it's best for our image. This is an opportunity to be creative. In the old and darken days, one could simply adjust the exposure under the enlarger and prints that were muddy dark or weakly pale were all too common.

With computer editing, it's much easier to nail the white and dark points via your raw converter or levels or curves in Photoshop. this means that a really bad print is harder to achieve, though not impossible.

There are times that a particularly dark print looks out of place, but often it can be very effective for creating a mood, especially when parts of the image are maintained, while other areas are driven a lot darker. Done well it looks natural if not reminiscent of the scene and can turn ordinary into great.

Likewise it's possible to make a really light print without looking washed out, giving a sense of the light flooding the subject. It has to be done well and doesn't suit all subjects, but can be just as powerful a tool.

What about trying some high and low key printing of your own on previously "normal" images. You might just like what you get.

Depth Of Field

When people talk of depth of field, they generally mean the area from near to far that falls within the focus of the lens, implying that everything is sharp within this area.

This is not entirely correct. What in fact happens is that at smaller apertures, the degree to which the image looks out of focus gets less, eventually being sufficiently small so as not to be noticed on your print.

Here's some points to consider:

1) what looks sharp on a small print, may well look significantly fuzzy on a large one - depth of field is inversely proportional to the size of the print.

2) Depth of field most certainly won't work when you inspect your image at 100%. This is particularly true of higher pixel count cameras in which parts of the image may look significantly out of focus at 100% but look just fine in a normal size print.

3) You may want to forget about things like hyperfocal distance (at which everything is supposed to be sharp from infinity to half the hyperfocal distance) and focus instead on what's really important in the image. If two areas are of equal importance and one is significantly further away than the other, you might even want to blend two exposures. As there is some image magnification as you focus, blending isn't straight forward, but usually is achievable, even without things like Helicon Focus.

If you do want to rely on depth of field tables or settings and plan fairly large prints, you may want to "pretend" that you are using an f stop two stops or twice as wide - eg. your camera is at f16 but you rely on the table or lens setting for f8.

4) given a rock or a person or a bush in the foreground and mountains in the background, my experience suggests that the focus should be on the foreground and stop down enough so that the background, if not absolutely sharp, is adequately recorded.

5) don't forget that there is a law of dimminishing returns - as you get to quite small apertures, diffraction robs you of any gain made in depth of field by blurring the sharpest parts of your image. Eventually you find that the fuzzy bits don't get sharper and the sharp bits get fuzzier - clearly a losing proposition. For me, on a full size sensor 1Ds2, that cutoff is f16. At f16, I can sharpen the image sufficiently to compensate for the loss by diffraction, but by f22 I cannot. So, that means there is never ever a reason to go beyond f16, unless in total desperation you really need a slow shutter speed to blur water and even then you should have had a neutral density filter with you.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Music And Photography

The Theory: We might understand our photography better though comparison with similar issues in music.

The Example:

We are told our images need emotional impact, but how do you go about putting emotion into every single landscape image. It's unrealistic. Can we learn anything by comparing this problem to something similar in music?

The same situation in music would be having to make every song, all tunes, each composition a tear jerker or arousing patriotic fervour or raising our blood pressure.

We'd have to eliminate any pleasant catchy tunes because they don't slap you in the face with a message. We'd expect emotion with songs about war and lost loves, but perhaps not about Saturday night, or Santa Coming. Can you imagine if every Christmas song played at this time of year played with your emotions, some holiday that would turn out to be.

Truth is we need "filler" songs, ones that don't play with our emotions but are simply nice music.

Music can be about the spontineity and invention of jazz or the mathematical complexities of Bach, the fun of Arrogant Worms "I Am Cow".

Perhaps this means that we can be forgiven for simply making a nice picture, a cute picture, an amusing picture, an illustrative picture, without tackling the great themes of love, loss, war, regret, revenge and so on.

There are tunes that do grab at our heartstrings, without us even knowing why. How many people get a litle choked up as they hear Amazing Grace played on the bagpipes. I assumed it was because I was Scottish, but other bagpipe music doesn't do it, and lots of non Scottish people react to the same music. Some of the opera choruses have a similar effect, even though the operas are sung in a foreign language and non opera fans have no clue what the plot is about. Perhaps it's enough that we react to the scene enough to take the picture, and somewhere there are a few others who also get a reaction, that no one can explain, nor need to.

Speaking for myself, there is no single photographer, or even book of photographs from a series of photographers, in which I react equally to each and every image. On the contrary, there are a small minority of the images that 'do it' for me and experience tells me that those are not the same ones that 'do it' for you.

I'm guessing that there's music that you don't like and your neighbour loves, just as you disagree on the best images, even when you both like the same kind of music or photographs.

I think what this is telling us is that if we really want to play on the emotions of the viewer, we should shoot war images or puppies. Otherwise we should stop worrying about the message the image has and concentate on what makes us react, regardless of whether we can analyze that reaction.

In other words, photograph what interests you and present it in the best possible way and let people decide for themselves how they should react, if at all.

The New Site

Jakub points out correctly that I have lost inline comments on blogspot. Oddly though I have gained them on my website. In the long run, I think that will be the way to view the blog so I'm not overly concerned, but do understand it is the old blog that everyone has bookmarked or is connected to by RSS feed (which I can get with the new one - so bear with me as I work out the bugs).

Blogger Now Integrated To My Website

If this works as I hope, you can now see all my blogger entries, all 700+, on my new website and in matching style to my website, thanks to Rapidblog plugin for Rapidweaver, costing all of $16.17.

Check it out for me by going to the new site.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Book Is Here!

Yea, it came and I have it in my hot pudgy hands.

Actually, I'm delighted with the printing, I knew it wasn't a tripple ink 600 dpi stochastic printed coffee table book, but none the less, the images look good. I'd expected the colour to be good and most of it is, but the black and white is really good too - better than coffee table books of 10 years ago - amazing how far printing has come.

Hopefully it won't be long before it's in the stores and gets to the reviewers.

The Book

Well, the book arrived at home this afernoon, but I'm at work so won't see it till late tonight, but I guess that makes it real. I note that Barnes and Noble are talking Dec. 28 as the date for being on the shelf. As it goes from the printer to the distributer and then on to the retailers, I'm guessing this may be fairly accurate. Frustrating that it didn't get out sooner but soon... I'll let you know if I think it's any good!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Reportage Vs. Art

Jacub talks about most people viewing photography as reporting. I'm not sure that's true - clearly he does and many others do, but I have no idea of the percentages and am convinced it isn't the majority of serious photographers - see Chuck's comments.

Interestingly, the more dramatic the lighting, the more unique the weather, the more unusual the landscape, the more I want it to be "real" and not the result of someone's imagination and skill with Photoshop. Mind you, I don't tend to look at those kinds of image as fine art, more like the reportage that Jacub and BJ mention. One can still admire the luck and or skill or patience, perseverance and effort it took to get these kind of images, but one tends not to admire the image for itself.

John Wimberley has a wonderful image, "angel descending" which clearly isn't "real", unless you have rather unusual religious beliefs. As it happens this image was taken in a swimming pool but had he used Photoshop to create it, it would have been every bit as good. I don't imagine anyone criticizes him for not using a real angel (union rates being what they are).

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Welding And Grinding

More On Alterations

Jacob has added some good comments to the previous discussions about image manipulation/alteration or whatever you want to call it. Clearly he is disturbed by and part of the image being created new in the editing process. For him it's ok to adjust pixels, just not create them. While I don't know the figures, I would guess that 90% of photographers are comfortable with minor editing - the removal of an errant blade of grass, a pop can or a twig, leaving the scene fundamentally the same and recognisably so.

Just to muddy the waters (hey, I'm having fun with this discussion), lets take a scenario in which fidelity to the original might be important. Someone is contemplating visiting a particular spot, say Columbia Ice Field, and they look at my photograph of same and expect to see that when they get there. As it happens there are no "new" pixels in this image. I only made contrast adjustments to better balance the shadows and highlights and were you there that November afternoon, you would recognize it in the image. On the other hand, our prospective visitor goes in the summer in the middle of the day and things look totally different and he's quite disappointed. Many had the same experience with Ansel and Yosemite.

Back to our pop can. I'm photographing Red Rock Canyon in Waterton Park. I photograph it digitally, adjusting colour to the way I remember the location. Someone else photographs it with Velvia film and produces highly saturated colours which are frankly over the top when printed. On the other hand, I digitally remove a pop can from the ravine which wasn't visible in his shot. People look at his image and go "oh wow!" and others comment on my image - "that's exactly as I remember it". SO which one of us shouldn't be called a photographer?

For some, the answer is easy, I created pixels while the other photographer only manipulated them. For others the issue isn't nearly as clear cut, and for some of us, who care only about the resultant image, it's who cares?

In truth, I'm a little bothered by my very biased stand here. I can think of examples in which manipulation seems like cheating to me. I was incensed as anyone when National Geographic moved the Great Pyramid because I think National Geographic is about reporting and not art. If someone took a very ordinary looking mountain and somehow in Photoshop stretched it to look more grand than Everest it would bother me a bit - even though I'd have to follow my own words above and agree that it's only the end product that matters.

In my photography, I do create pixels at times. Uusally the percentage of created pixels vs. manipulatd ones is a tiny fraction and in landscape work, my images do largely reflect the original scene with only normal photographic controls available to traditional darkroom workers, with perhaps a bit more fine control. I might well remove the Pepsi can or the errant twig or blade of grass but if you took a print to the scene, you could certainly recognize it.

The biggest cheat I have done is to extend the length of a block of steel in one of my machine shop images. I had reservations about doing it, did "fess up" at the time, and still have doubts about it, but it sure made for a better composition, and I could have moved the steel up by the same amount so it isn't totally unnatural - just sort of. Still, you'd recognize the scene just fine from the print.

Occasionally I will "fill in" a small triangle of image corner in which no matter how hard I tried to compose perfectly, I could either include the extraneous corner or crop out a vital part of the image.

Perhaps some of you will be so disturbed by this confession that you will be unable or unwilling to return or to check out my images. I respect that viewpoint even if I don't happen to think it very practical in today's digital world. For me it's rather like the people who feel only a true contact print from the original negative is acceptable, none of this fancy modern enlarging crap for them. More power to them, if their images are good enough to warrant the trouble they take.

G'day all.

More On Digital 'Editing'

Well, talking about manipulation got a few people 'hot under the collar'. Seems like people have strong feelings about the subject but that opinions vary from "how dare you" to "right on, brother".

Nothing wrong with a bit of controversy. I would like to raise a few points for you to ponder though.

If the end result doesn't look manipulated, how is anyone to tell?

If you can't tell, how are you going to "police" the "editing"?

Even if we were to issue a "guaranteed not manipulated" certificate, how are you going to detect cheaters?

Exactly how would you define cheating anyway?

If you can't define something, then you can't legislate against it - see diff. with obscenity laws?

Is there really a difference between removing an errant twig and a scratch on the negative - the same tools are used?

Do you really believe that the radical alterations in images that people like Bruce Barnbaum do with their dodging, burning, local contrast adjustment with multigrade papers and filters and especially with bleaching, producing a result that is radically different from the original; is somehow different from what we do in Photoshop?

Perhaps the real difference is: It's one thing to manipulate the hell out of a pixel, it's another to create the pixel de novo.

It's often helpful to take things to extremes to see how arguments hold up, so I offer the following scenario.

A talented imaginative Photoshoper starts with a completely blank "canvas" and produced an image which no one can tell from a real photograph. Of course, the entire image comes from the imagination of the artist. He submits said image for a show of photographs and is selected and the image is hung in a gallery along with all the other "real" photographs.

Why does that upset some people"

Can we not admire the fellow's Photoshop skills and more importantly his imagination to produce something from nothing?

Is it not harder to start with nothing?

Why this obcession in some photographers for fidelity to the original scene. Does this also preclude tying back some errant branches so you can get a clear view, perhaps removing a dead blade of grass in front of a burned stump you are photographing, or removing that Pepsi can that is spoiling the scene?

What is the difference between removing the Pepsi can before hand and after?

What if the Pepsi can were in a position to which you cannot get - so removing it beforehand isn't an option?

Is the Pepsi can really natural - after all, one good rain and it will be gone?

Should we differentiate between minor manipulation and wholesale alteration?

If so, how would you define it - perhaps an upper limit of "created pixels - say 1%?

But is an image with 1.1% created pixels fundamentally different?

Do you even care?

Have a nice day.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Digital Manipulation

Start a conversation about digital manipulation and you are likely to get any number of people 'hot under the collar'. Personally I quite often use digital manipulation. I lean forward and remove a blade of grass just in front of the lens, or reposition an errant twig by hand (digital) and sometimes with my industrial photographs I completely arrange the objects in the image as one would do for a stil life. Gardeners use digital manipulation when they weed and prune. A car afficionado who take armour-all to his tires isn't returning the car to new condition - it didn't look like that new either. A woman applying makup is digitally manipulating, so lets not get silly over this whole process.

All that's happened is that post image recording type manipulation has been made a whole lot easier so many more people are doing it.

If someone takes a sunset picture and shows it to you - he could be saying, see, nice picture, or he could be saying, see, I got luckier than you, or see what you missed or I want you to acknowledge that I had to hike miles, wait hours and suffer to get this image, aren't you impressed.

Frankly, in each case the photograph serves different purposes. If the intent is to impress about the remarkable conditions, then any manipulation could certainly be seen as cheating, though had the photographer loaded the camera with Velvia, then arguably he was cheating from the start. The only scenario I have the remotest interest in is the one in which the photographer wants to show you a nice photograph - he isn't inviting you to go visit the spot with him, he isn't bragging about his efforts and the image isn't functioning as a reminder of a good time had.

If someone shows me a sunset image and the colours look unnatural - this could have been due to freak weather conditions, but if they look "artificial" to me, it doesn't matter that the photographer swears this was what he saw. On the other hand if the colours look natural but were in fact manipulated, does it really matter?

Frankly, anyone who makes the claim to not do any kind of manipulation should be called a Recordist, not an artist. At best you might think of them as a craftsman. Does the world really need "I was here and this is what I saw" kind of photography?

Art is about interpretation. There has to be something of the self in the image for it to mean anything.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

New Website

The new website is up and running and available HERE. I'm quite pleased with how it's coming along but I'd sure like some feedback on how it looks on your screensize, how quickly it loads compared to other popular sites and what you think it needs added.

I have already determined that all the images are going to have to be reprocessed and exported from Photoshop at their final size. Rapidweaver does a decent but not spectacular job resizing the images and I think Photoshop will do a better job. One very annoying thing is that when you click on a particular gallery, you are given a next button, but once you click on it once, that location is replaced by the previous button, the next button being moved off to the right.

I'd really like the arrow keys on the keyboard to control movement and will enquire as to the possibilities. I dare say a little javascript or somesuch could do it for me.

In the long run, I'd like to add purchasing capability and that can be done with third party addons for Rapidweaver.

Oh, the Inukshuks are from below Athabasca Falls in Jasper National Park, Alberta. There are dozens of them, set up by visitors and they are really quite impressive, considering it isn't exactly Stonehenge - these have all been set up in the last few years.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Good To Get Out

We have been suffering unusually cold weather of late and I haven't been out shooting so with a modest rise in the temperature to -8 C. I headed out this afternoon. I had no particular plan in mind other than to go downtown. I didn't see anything interesting on the streets to photograph but did check out the ice floes and reflections and this path towards the bridge. The ice image is unbalanced in an unatttractive way with the snow on the left middle part of the image so it won't ever make a really good image. I quite like the pathway image. Perhaps it would have been better with some people on it - don't know, didn't see anyone.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Back On Track

While working on my new website, I have been neglecting my blog so I thought I'd fix that this morning with a discussion of one of my images.

I shot this in 2001, one of the later images I shot on 4X5 before switching to digital. In fact, the image sat in the "to be developed" box for six months before I got round o tidying up loose ends and doing a last batch of 4X5 negatives. I do remember using a 90 Nikor lens for the shot. Checking the perspective, looks like I dropped the lens (or raised the back) to correct perspective. A composition like this could have been shot with several focal length lenses but choosing a fairly wide angle lens (the 90 is equivalent to 28 mm. in slr terms) results in recording a fair amount of detail in the foreground water with it's flowing weeds and pebbles.

The contrast between the light sky and the reflected evergreens in the water to the left makes for a more dramatic image than might otherwise be obtained. This has been slighly enhanced with local manipulation.

The exposure was necessarily a long one (about 5 minutes) because it was well after sundown but that has actually smoothed out the water and resulted in some very nice silvery tones.

While I preach the simple image, this one isn't I think too complex and offers the viewer a lot to look at and to come back to, whether in a single viewing or on a repeat visit.

Some images while having a lot of impact, are so simple that you "get it" in a single quick viewing and this kind of image is best occasionally rediscovered, say in a book, rather than constantly hanging on the wall. My image on the other hand offers more, all be it without the impact of some more graphic simpler designs.

You have to consider what your purpose is in taking the image - not that I suggest you decide whether this is a hanging image vs. a book image when shooting it, but overall when photographing, if you wanted one kind and only shoot the other, you may be unnecessarily frustrated.

Compositionally, river shots often tend to be very symetrical, with the river up the middle as it is here. I didn't have to wade in this case, there being a small log bridge in just the right location, but being prepared to get wet or have waders handy can be a good idea. Another thing I keep meaning to put in my trunk is a small step stool for those high view point shots. I did buy one but my wife stole it for more domestic purposes.

Note the distant forest, barely represented in the top 1/6th of the print, no dividing things in to thirds here. This was a deliberate choice - I wanted the forest to provide a top border to the print, without dominating the image. Also, any higher and bright sky starts to intrude and I really didn't want bright white tones at the top of the image competing with the central lightness in the water reflection.

You might decide I was lucky not to have to deal with wind in this long exposure and you'd be right, though would it really have been a worse image with parts of the image sharp and the bushes and grasses blurred with movement - probably not. THe worst thing you can have is a little movement, better to go for a lot, then it doesn't look like a mistake.

There's more we could discuss, but the above are the main issues that were and are important to me in taking and looking at this image.

Monday, December 03, 2007

The Significance Of The Web

As I struggle to make my new website, it seems appropriate to stop and think about just how much the web has changed things. For example:

1) Before the web, most of us only showed our prints to family and a few friends and maybe at a workshop print review. Otherwise our images were inaccessible in old paper boxes tucked away in the basement where even we didn't see them very often. Now, with web galleries, we may not be making any money selling prints on the internet but a heck of a lot more people get to see our work, and in the case of sites like photosig and, litterally millions get to see our work - incredible how things have changed.

2) In the old days, you'd wait patiently to see if your favorite camera magazine reviewed a piece of equipment you were interested in - usually a long wait - or you'd buy one of those equipment annuals which were basically ads, but at least listed the pertinent features of a product. Now there are reviews before products are available to purchase, often several of them, and in far more detail and with a greater degree of independence to speak their mind than ever we had before the net.

3) In the old days, we'd usually have to figure out things for ourselves. Some information was available in books and magazines but often the articles we'd read wouldn't mention our particular film or developer, and no one ever thought of actually asking the author a question. Nowadays, it's possible to ask direct questions to many an expert and often to get step by step help from various forums, users groups, and so on. Mind you, with the complexity of computers and software, it's just as well.

4) Not only did we not share our work in the past, often we didn't know any other photographers. Oh, you could join a camera club, but you'd be lucky if there were one other photographer who shared your interests and was on a similar level. Now we have friends around the world and we can support and encourage each other.

5) In the old days (10 years ago!) if you 'didn't get it' then you were out of luck and more to the point, thought yourself stupid for not getting it. Now with forums, you can read about the struggles of many people like yourself and often non experts can be helpful having only solved your problem themselves last week. There are tutorials and even videos instructing one in all manner of subjects.

Bottom line is the internet has brought photographers together to a degree unprecedented and things will never be the same. And a good thing.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Website Development

Well, it's been an interesting time and a significant learning curve. Turns out you can't have your cake and eat it. Having read the book on Dreamweaver and explored several software variations from WebDesign to Rapidweaver to Freeway and a couple of others here are my observations.

1) WYSIWYG is all very well, if you know exactly what you want and are willing to spend a very long time getting there (or don't have a sophisticated site to develop).

2) Template/theme type software like Rapidweaver frustrates because you can't do exactly what you want. On the other hand, it has extremely powerful features that with a few clicks can develop an entire blog system complete with comments and photo albums and contact forms complete with PHP code to go without any knowledge on your part. Not only that, it comes with dozens of themes and more are available for purchase, many better looking than anything I could come up with and all available at the click of a button - changing your entire website to match.

3) You have to stop and think, is a website about being clever and artistic, or is it about cleanly and effectively presenting your images and text? If the answer is the former then WYSIWYG is the way to go, but if the latter, then template driven is better and of the various options, Rapidweaver is looking by far the best choice that I have discovered.

So, with the above in mind, I have chosen to accept some limitations of Rapidweaver and get a functional good looking site up within reasonable time, even if it isn't exactly what I might have wanted.

You can view the site (most of the time) as I develop it at MyFirstWebsite.

There will be problems with it - I have already discovered a few with the version I just uploaded - some links I forgot to set, some grraphics I don't like, text that is too small, and I'm not satisfied with the sharpness of the displayed images - looks like I would be best using Photoshop to create right sized images and do no resizing within Rapidweaver. Also, some of the images are black and white toned while others are not - I think I'm going to have to decide on one or the other. As it stands, the bluish gray background doesn't go well with the toned images but I might change the background rather than the toning. Stay tuned for further developments.

And a quick reminder, Rapidweaver is Mac only.