Friday, January 30, 2009

And In Black And White

From The Archives

Searching for old raw files so I could do a "Pairs" chapter I noticed this sequence of images never ever stitched together and thought I'd give it a try.

Do click on the image to see it much larger in its own window.

For the new book I am taking a series of good images which were part of a shoot and then comparing them to another image from the same shoot that didn't quite work and discussing the differences.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Fame Vs. Fortune

How many hobby photographers have wanted to turn their hobby into a paying proposition?
Lots? Most?, Many certainly.

There's valid reasons for doing so.

1) being paid for your work puts a value on it and says to you that your work is worth something.

2) People can say nice things but buying your work means they really did like it.

3) Many of us stretch the budget when it comes to buying equipment and making enough to pay for some if not all of our equipment (or the equipment we'd like to purchase but can't justify for a hobby) would certainly smooth things over on the home front.

4) some just like the idea of a second career - as a backup or possibly even something to move into. There are people who retire early yet want something meaningful to do after retirement.

5) it would at least help pay for supplies - those damn ink cartridges sure add up and how come inkjet paper is more expensive than silver photographic paper - and Kodak tried to tell us it was the price of silver...

I would argue though that while the money would be nice, many of us given the choice between money and recognition would choose the latter if we couldn't have both. I think that they are quite separate and that the efforts to help one don't necessarily translate to helping the other.

If that is the case, then it would pay to decide now which of the two is more important to us and to then put our efforts into working towards that goal which is important to us.

If it turns out that recognition if not downright fame is what we seek, then getting our work up on walls is vital - whether or not it sells prints. Thus we should be offering framed images to restaurants and movie theaters, to public buildings, hospitals and so on.

We should be seeking publication, whether via contests or readers pages. You might do as I did and try your hand at writing and see if you can get an article published. The web has been a wonderful resource for people getting their work "out there". Of course the vast majority of viewers are other photographers which can be a mixed blessing (a topic for another day).

You can even self publish with things like Blurb, though the books tend to be a bit expensive to purchase so I'm not sure you will get a lot of recognition that way. You can do as I did for two years and sell your images at the local crafts/farmers market or attend craft fairs.

None of the above suggestions is going to make you much money but that wasn't the point, was it?

If on the other hand you want money, then you are going to have to sell yourself. The analogy to prostitution is not entirely coincidental and it takes a certain kind of confidence to sell yourself and to persuade others to spend thousands on your work. I don't propose to tell you how to make money from your photography because I have never made much from it and don't feel I should be advising you on things I haven't done. there are books out there on selling your photography.

Do however keep in mind that selling your work means doing more work, more print making, more matting and framing, packaging and shipping, more time spent selling yourself than doing photography. Many professional photographers have indicated that the selling is 90% of their work, photography only 10%. Is that what you really want?

Many of us are extremely insecure about the value of our work and bounce from over confidence to fearing waking up and finding out we are complete frauds - this seems to be pretty normal in the arts in general. A bit of positive feedback, especially when we didn't go out of our way to "sell" ourselves, helps alleviate doubts about our work and encourages us to push on.

Our Biggest Problems

I want to make my next book as useful as possible and I have been thinking about what are the biggest non technical problems that face photographers.

So far I have come up with the following which I have struggled with over the years and for which I would have been glad of some help.

1) what to photograph

2) how to go about looking for something suitable

3) working the scene

4) what to do to images in the way of editing to go beyond simply fixing them

I intend this book to be the practical companion to the first book through the use of examples, contact sheets, problem solving and specific examples of editing beyond fixing.

What do you think are your biggest issues either that you currently have or that you struggled with to get where you are and could have used some help.

You have a chance to guide the design and value of this upcoming book.



Saturday, January 24, 2009

Black And White On The 3800

Talking to a friend this week who told me that he always uses colour mode for his black and white prints on the 3800. He felt that metamerism was no longer a problem. Mind you he's mostly a colour photographer.

I decided to check for myself. Here's my observations.

In 16 bit Photoshop I made an image 2X8 inche, 300 dpi and used a white to light gray gradient. I then printed it two ways, first in colour, and then I printed it again, in advanced black and white mode. I used the appropriate profile for the Harman gloss paper in colour, and no profile in black and white.

The gradients didn't match in darkness which didn't surprise me but what I was looking for was overall colour to this completely gray print and also to look under magnification at how much colour was included in the printing of the two gradients.
1) both prints looked neutral gray to my eye
2) the advanced black and white printing was slightly warmer than the other - I'd say neutral was somewhere inbetween and we are talking subtleties here. You would not notice exc. for side by side comparisons.
3) under magnification, both used quite a lot of blue, perhaps a bit more in the colour print. The colour print included a little magenta and perhaps a tiny amount of yellow (I wasn't really sure - under 8X magnification I couldn't be sure).
4) I then took my prints around the house on a sunny day, checking out sun, north shade with blue sky, incandescent and fluorescent. In comparison with prints made on the 4000 (my old standard printer) colour prints showed minimal metamerism - a really tiny amount which would not be an issue in my opinion.

Now, Paul Roark makes a big thing of how much colour ink is used in advanced black and white mode, making the point that the dedicated inks for black and white printing are so much better, but here's the thing.

Carbon isn't black - it's brown - ie. warmer than neutral. The only way to make neutral prints with carbon is to add something bluish to cancel out the warmth.

Sure you can mix the ink in the bottle and the dots printed will be neutral gray - but they still contain blue ink. With colour printers, the gray dots are mixed in with the blue dots (and a smidge of magenta) to get neutral so each dot is it's own colour, not a mix (that's the nature of combining dots instead of blending inks). Since these colour dots are not visible to the naked eye, the end result is the same.

So: unless you plan to use pure carbon inks and live with very warm tone prints, you are going to be using blue/cyan somewhere along the process and frankly I'm not convinced that in the end it makes any difference whether you use dedicated inks or not.

The next enquiry I need to make is to further assess just how much more colour ink is in the colour print vs. the abw print because this has longeivity issues - carbon being more stable than colour inks (whether blended in the bottle or not).

The last concern is whether the abw mode actually handles highlights and shadows any better than colour mode - that's a test for another day.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

More On The 3800

Further experimentation with the 3800 and getting hold of Harmans profile for its FBAL gloss paper for said printer and I observe that the Harman paper soft proof shows very little difference - a very slight dulling of highlights - in comparision to the unproofed screen image and on printing is a very close match for the print. I did have to widen the platen distance - as I'd been warned (and also had to do on the 5000. With the Pixel Genius profile for Epson Exhibition on the 3800, there is a bit more dulling of the highlights when soft proofed and again this accurately reflects the print and probably is explained but the reduced gloss of the Exhibition paper.

It would be convenient to print on the paper that most closely matches the screen without soft proofing (and with) - I just have to decide if I can live with the extra gloss. I went through my Lenswork folios again, both black and white and colour and decided that I could live with the gloss for now. I have two boxes of Exhibition and will quite happily use it up.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Profiles and Proofing

I recently picked up an Epson 3800 - I'd been less than happy with the gloss differential on my Canon 5000 (which of course had been replaced on the market by the 5100 within a year of coming out expressly because of this problem). I couldn't afford to update to the 5100 and wouldn't because of the downright awkward interface, so the 3800 seemed to make sense. Yes, I knew that it is near the end of it's cycle, yes, it still has to clean and switch to handle matte paper and yes, almost certainly a new model will be announced soon. I did think though that the time from announcement to availability is often several months and I wanted to improve my printing now.

In addition, I had admired framed prints on Epson Exhibition (or Traditional as it's known in Europe) and thought to combine the paper and printer for the best possible quality, particularly in black and white.

Anyway, I was somewhat disappointed with the quality of the colour prints I was making on the 3800 so I double checked by using the Photoshop proofing capability and behold, the proofing showed exactly what I was getting in print - that's a good thing. Bad though is how far from the screen is the final result - so far it is a completely non scientific impression that the 5000 produced prints much closer to what I see on screen - certainly with the epson enhanced matte paper. I will find a profile for the 3800 for the Harman gloss paper and check that for fit.

I can correct the image to compensate for the profile to some degree which I find odd - surely that was the job of the profile.

I'm going to have to do some proper testing to see how this plays out and will report back. In the mean time, the Epson does make some very fine black and white prints which was after all why I bought it. I find that the Epson Exhibition doesn't look anything like the paper I saw at Photokina - less shiny, courser texture. It's nice, just not what I expected. I had been fairly happy with the Harman gloss, the paper that Lenswork has adopted as the standard for their new folios. My only concern was that on the 5000 the gloss (which is further enhanced by the ink) is so much that it's hard to hold any images in any direction without getting some reflection in the shadows.

I have written before that I have a theory that it is the subtle variance in these shadow reflections which actually give prints their three dimensional appearance when in hand, which is somewhat lost when the print is dry mounted and entirely gone when behind glass (ie. not moving), but the Harman and the 5000 inks seemed to me to be just a bit too much.

I have Mitch Dobrowner's folio on this paper and I don't know what printer Lenswork is using but again it's just a little bit glossier than I like. On the other hand, I think the Epson Exhibition I'm purchasing here is not quite glossy enough, as well as being a bit too much textured.

Am I being fussy? You're darn right I am. Too fussy? Probably.

Question: does anyone actually know if Epson Traditional and Epson Exhibition are in fact the same paper - I'm beginning to doubt that they are. If that is the case, how does one get hold of Epson Traditional in North America?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Issues And More Issues

I photographed this sculpture downtown Calgary this afternoon. It raises the whole issue of whether one can take any artistic credit for photographing something someone else made as a piece of art - whether sculpture as in this case, or architecture, graffiti or even an ornamental garden.

I can tell myself that the creator of this sculpture did not in fact envision their work being viewed from this particular angle, with today's lighting and the surrounding buildings looking this way - but I don't really know that - for all I know, this is exactly the spot they stood, looking up and envisioning their future work. Granted I framed it as well as positioning myself.

I find photographing sculpture quite challenging and so it appeals to me.

This image is simply a closeup of the work done by the sculptor - I contributed almost nothing to the image. Every curve, bump, surface and reflection was the work of the sculptor.

If someone photographs graffiti and frames it the same way the painter did thus reproducing it almost exactly as it was created, is the photograph a valid piece of art?

Difficult questions . What if there had been no art in the first image, just the buildings - does that make a difference?

While shooting a series of images working towards the image I showed you at the top, along came three other photographers who also photographed the sculpture. I watched as they photographed the same scene. They all took pictures but did not "work the scene". It might be that they were really "hot" photographers, instantly understanding the scene and able to quickly find the best spot to photograph from. I know I certainly was unable to do that. I tried a number of positions, refining each, yet there are so many parts to the scene, so many corners and lines and diagonals that I never did feel that I had the "best" result. I like what I got here but Still wonder if I did the best possible job.

For example, the large grid overlaps the tall building on the left - perhaps I could have found a position from which it didn't and that might have resulted in a better picture. I was using my 40D and 18-55IS at 18 mm. What would have been my choice had that not been the widest angle I could shoot at?

Still, at some point you have to say, I did my best, come and behold it - lumps and all.

In this repeat of the first image - I used the cream colour of the sculpture to white balance the image. Certainly this looks a lot more like what I saw - although if one were to colour balance for the sunlit buildings, the top image is in fact the more accurate, this city canyon being lit only by bright blue sky. So which is the more "natural", or the more correct (which isn't necessarily the same thing)?

I prefer the top image - I like the unifying blue theme - I like the image - I accept that it is not all mine - that the sculptor bears much of the responsibility for the image - but I'd like to think they would be pleased with what I have captured of their work - yes, I will display the image in the future, for whatever it's worth.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Seeing Past The Label

When we look at a chair, we see a chair - we do so because we have been doing it all our lives and it didn't take us long to learn the various shapes which immediately identified an object as being a chair. The only problem with this efficiency is that we don't see the object itself, don't appreciate it's shape, texture, shadows, the spaces between the parts and how it relates to what is around it.
If you doubt that you do this, close your eyes and try and give an accurate description of someone you know really well. Unless you have consciously made the effort to look at that person in terms of shapes and planes and features and light and shadow - it's darn hard. No wonder when we lose a loved one we rapidly lose memory of what they looked like and can't recall details about them. Of course we are reminded if we have pictures.

It makes sense in every day life to use the fastest way possible to identify a person or object - but it makes for poor seeing because we jump right from the minimum information to identify the object to the label and don't look at it again. Now, if your spouse suggests you buy a new chair - this chair - for $600, all of a sudden you start paying attention but even then, you are more concerned with overall appearance, how it "sits" and is it a good rocker.

To photograph a chair, it is necessary to notice where the shadow of the spokes of the chair back fall, how the light reflects off the polished seat and what interesting shapes are made as you tour around the chair looking at it from a variety of angles. What's behind the chair is every bit as important to an image as the chair itself (in the sense that it can make or ruin the image).

Try the following exercise. Spend 20 minutes looking at things. This could be done on a walk or simply sitting in a room. Pick an object and see how many things you can see about that object - shapes shadows, light, surface, tone, colour, texture, and so on - anything that could show up in a print. Having done so move onto the next object.

Try and find some "objects" to notice that actually don't exist by themselves - two lines crossing - one made by a wall corner, the other by something completely different, but in your view, they interact because of your position - a shadow - a spot of light on the floor from the window - a reflection as an object, and so on. Each will take a minute or so so in 20 minutes you will have studied around 20 real and imaginary objects.

Now, do the same every day for a month. You could perform the exercise in your car at a red light. Instead of seeing a building - look at the triangle made by the shadow of one roof against another and such like.

At the end of a month, you will have regained some of your childhood recognition of things as they are instead of what they represent, you will be relying less on labels and more on what you see. Odds are if you try this with faces that you will be much more aware of how things look instead of what they are.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Lenswork Folios

I am now the proud owner of three Lenswork Folios so I thought it time to comment on them. First off, I find the whole concept of a folio wonderful. They nicely sit on my lap and the print size is ideal for viewing - large enough to appreciate detail, small enough to not fold up as you hold them, nor so big you can't find an even light to view them under.

I take a folio, admire the inlaid cover image, then flip the folio over. I open the four leaves and can either take out the colophon (Table of contents/bio) to read, or I can go straight to the images, leaning them against the lower opened leave against my chest so that I can view each image with a minimum of contact. The Harman paper is a little shinier than I like for my own work but does a superb job on presenting the images. At this size you want a minimum of surface texture so you can fully appreciate the images and I feel that Brooks has made the perfect choice for displaying the images.

Each image does have the folio title and image title at the bottom but they are discreet and do not interfere with the enjoyment of the folio. The whole folio exudes quality - definitely value for money. The folios close easily.

One aspect of a folio is that you of course don't get to choose which particular images are enclosed and no photographer is so good that you are going to stare in wonder at every single image and so it is with the three folios I have - Brooks Jensen's "Silva lacrimosa", Mitch Dobrowner's "The Still Earth" and Michael Reichmann's "Landscapes From Around The World"

In each folio all images are of excellent quality, it's just that some resonate with you and others don't - it's the same with looking at a book of images. For all the superb printing quality in Lenswork itself, the folio images are another step and are of course larger too - double the size of images in the magazine.

I figure that if there are four images that I really like out of each folio, that puts the cost of each at around $25 which coincidentally is what I have been charging for images from my book (4 prints for $100) so I can hardly argue with the pricing - I think Brooks got it exactly right. This was a brave move because many will see it as setting a value of each image at around $10, creating a fundamental change in the marketplace for fine art images. And it does - and I think it was high time. As Brooks has said, you can purchase a CD of the finest music by the greatest orchestras/musicians for around $20 and the music industry is worth billions.

If you doubt the soundness of this argument, I ask the following question of you - how many prints do you own of great photographers? Few own more than a dozen and I suspect the vast majority of "serious" photographers own none at all. A sad state of affairs and Lenswork is in a position to change that entirely.

I am very excited by the whole concept of the folio. It will be interesting over time to hear from photographers included in Lenswork Folio proramme, how they feel about it after a year and what it has meant economically, especially in comparison to sales of prints in the previous year.

Yes, it is scary to value prints at $10 but only because it's so different from what we are used to - the vast majority of photographers working with galleries and direct print sales would say that the previous paradigm was not working - so what do we have to lose.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

More Lensbaby Effort

Still not sure what to do with the Lensbaby, if anything - but I do think continued experimentation is worth while. This image is another in my glass block/shower series started a few years ago, only this time with the limited area of sharpness of the Lensbaby. I do like the subtlety of this image, made possible with this lens. I do wish though that I could more reliably get the focus right - unfortunately the focus confirmation doesn't work - not sure why - the central part of the image is plenty sharp and contrasty enough, and the lens fast enough that it should be possible. I suspect though that even though in theory focus confirmation shouldn't need information from the lens, it shuts down with the lack of same. If there's a way round this - do let me know.

Saturday, January 03, 2009


The Lensbaby Composer, wide open (f2), the two element glass lens. Depth of field is zero - the lower lid is sharp, the iris is not and you'd best plan on a series of shots since getting focus right is extremely challenging.

I'm having fun.