Friday, February 26, 2010


I had been frustrated with the quality of my prints, especially on some papers - great on Harman FBAL gloss, quite far off in the bottom half of the tones with Enhanced Matte, despite using the proper profiles.

I decided to pick up a ColorMunki - even if it didn't work out for printer profiling, I hoped it would do a decent job on the monitor.

The first thing it did was measure the room brightness and announce that even though I didn't have the monitor anywhere near the top of the brightness range, it was WAY too bright. Now it's set less than half way to brightest (any further dark and I'd need a candle). Other than that, not a lot changed in the monitor profiling before and after as shown in the ColorMunki software - better skin tones - more pink and less yellow. Anyway, on to the printer profiling. Complete disaster. First round, second round, third round, with considerable reading on the net to find out what I was doing wrong. It wasn't whether I used perceptual with or without black point compensation, it didn't matter if I used relative colorometric, all were awful. Colour management was off as requested, I was getting frustrated.

On the fourth attempt, I found a youtube video on the colormunki by Oliver Neilsen. He pointed out that the colormatching setting in the print dialog box was critical. In photoshop, when you select no colour controls in the second print dialog, it overrides color matching, but when you print the test prints from Colormunki, it doesn't and you have to manually change the setting from colorsync to Epson (or other vendor if dif. printer).

The printed sheets looked hugely different - much darker and more saturated colours. The resultant profile is miles better than the Epson provided profile for Enhanced Matte (my standard proofing paper).

Why x-rite didn't control this (Photoshop did) or at the very least mention it in their help, I don't know. Why wasn't it mentioned in the dozen articles I read about problems with Colormunki?

Anyway, thanks to Oliver, I now have the best color matching between monitor and print I have ever had.

I will have to test with a variety of prints and with various papers before I can give an unlimited endorsement to the Colormunki - but now that I have the problems out of the way, I am very impressed.

when you print the test image from ColorMunki, you need the settings both above and below:

I don't really know if 2880 makes a difference on enhanced matte - now that I have the colour right, that will be a reasonable thing to find out - with a different profile of course.
High speed deposits ink while the head travels both to AND fro, and with modern printers doesn't seen to be an issue. In theory, were there play in the head or belts, you'd want to do all your printing in one direction but test so far have not convinced me there is a need to take almost twice as long to print.

I'll update you on my experience with the ColorMunki as I gain more experience with the new profile and work with other papers.

Monday, February 22, 2010

More On Meaning

Following up on the thoughts about whether photographs have to have meaning, I went through my images to find an ideal pair of photographs, one with meaning, and another which has been well accepted, is beautiful but has no message. In truth, I found it very hard to find even a few images that didn't have an obvious message or mood.

With landscapes, typically there are no messages sent but the photographer has a reaction to a scene and that will show in the photograph. The viewer however will bring their own circumstances, education and personality to interpreting the scene. The photographer may have been full of wonder as the sun came over the mountains at 6 am while the viewer, reminded of visiting a similar scene with their parents, may feel sad. In general, when an artist creates a work that reflects how they feel there is the potential for great work. When the artist wants to manipulate the viewer to the artist's viewpoint, we have propaganda and the odds of great art are much less. If you really want to manipulate peoples thoughts, join an advertising agency.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Do Photographs Have to Have Depth?

I'm busy with the next book and have written more than 50 essays about why particular images work. I have noticed that many of these great images have or create or allow one to imagine a story to the image. A photograph might make you think of your childhood, or galaxies or feeling trapped. Other images are what they are and one isn't directed, encouraged towards or supplied with any kind of story at all. A picture of a flower is a picture of a flower - no nebulae, no sex, no childhood memories, just a flower - but it's a fantastic picture of a flower, made by Mapplethorpe with his 8X10 , the print magnificent in its detail and subtleties of tone.

So the question is: do all really great photographs work on multiple levels or can a photograph indeed be quite simple (not just in design) and yet be magnificient?

"Simple Gifts" is a wonderful tune. Of course, it has been used as a hymn, but I discovered it through Aaron Copeland's Appalachian Spring, and in the movie Witness and I don't have any imagery when I hear it, it just works for me, and apparently a lot of other people. Same story with Amazing Grace. As someone put it it, "a bloody great tune". No complicated mathematics like a Bach Cantata, no imagery like Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony or the moods of the Wagner and Mahler.

Could it be that some photographs are simply themselves, without pretentions of depth and sophistication, yet done so well that they stand on their own?

Elliot Erwitt's photographs are pretty simple - the small dog, large dog, lady's boots image for example.  Many of Cartier Bresson's images are magnificent without having a political, economic or even cultural statement to make (many do, but that's another story). These non involved images are just as revered as his ones of concentration camps and exotic countries and poor people.

This would suggest that extra layers of meaning are not in fact requisite to greatness, that an image can simply be itself and still be loved and admired.

This raises the question then as to whether an image which doesn't have these extra layers of imagery and message needs be that much better composed, more perfectly printed, more interesting in subject and what does this mean for our own photography and does this have anything to do with the discussions we have had recently about "crap" photographs and not getting images?

Perhaps some people don't actually appreciate "a bloody great tune" and choose music you can't hum to in the shower.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Rust and Stripped Paint

Photographed this morning. Had actually planned on photographing locomotive, but this particular old passenger car had wonderful peeling paint patterns and cracks and I spent most of my time exploring it. The sun was just barely off the car side as I started and by the end was just glancing it.
5D2, single image, f 16.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Slamming What You Don't 'Get'


There were some quite negative comments about my article and my images on Luminous Landscape in the last week, something I fully expected and I have written some counter arguments to the critics, both on the luminous landscape forum and here, for what it's worth. Today I read the extremely negative comments about the latest artcle on Luminous Landscape, Light Fantastic, denigrating both the article and the images. I cannot leave this alone.

Two issues come to mind.

1) a remarkable number of photographers seem to feel that if they don't like an image, it is automatically junk and should never have seen the light of day, and most certainly doesn't belong on a recognized site like Luminous Landscape.

I don't 'get' jazz, but the idea that I'd suggest to anyone that it is rubbish is bizarre. Not only am I sure that it isn't rubbish, I would be afraid to look stupid if I wrote a criticism of the genre or a particular piece - I simply don't know enough to comment. This is my problem, my deficiency, my ignorance and I feel bad enough writing about it here - to pontificate on its worth is unimaginable. Apparently to a lot of people, commenting on what they don't understand, appreciate, 'get' or like is not only fair game, they feel it's their god given right if not duty to do so in extreme terms. It's one thing to say you don't like an image - that is simply a statement of fact. To say that it is rubbish, and shouldn't have been published is an entirely different thing.

2) I am surprised at how many photographers seem to be entirely satisfied with their photography, apparently not aspiring to improve it. They suggest that talent is inate, that creative expression has nothing to do with skill and craft, and therefore they have no need to practice, learn, consider alternative views, or expand their horizons.

I have taken the trouble several times to look up the work done by these people - ther attitudes show in their work. But they are happy, and I have no intention of belittling their work - perhaps I just don't 'get' their work.

Such happiness with one's work must be very nice for them, I just don't see why they need to shoot down other people.

Of course, what I have done is to criticise the criticiser - almost certainly a futile task, and perhaps not a little ingenuous - ranting about ranting?

Anyway, I have got it off my chest, and YOU were warned, and I'm sure no one is going to change because of what I have just written. People who like to improve (and I'm guessing that's close to all of us involved in this blog) will continue to stretch and try and learn and look, worry and doubt, fret and obcess - and the others won't and, yes; I know I shouldn't care.

Have a nice day, if you made it this far, thank you for listening to my rant, you have helped a poor man in his suffering...


Michael Kenna Video

As part of my next book project, I have been checking out information on Michael Kenna. On his site are a number of interviews and one in particular, a video; shows Michael out photographing and gives an excellent sense of "working the scene", as Michael wades through thigh high snow, and moves about the scene, trying different angles, getting down on his knees for a better view point, and stopping to think about the image rather than rushing about maniacally. View it Here

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Michael Levin

Michael is one of the photographers who will be represented in my next book and he happened to be in town to open a new show of his work this last weekend so I attended, and we had a good chance to chat. I have written about Michael's work before but know a bit more about him.

Michael was a restaurant owner before becoming a photographer. He has no arts training whatsoever and only started photographing some six years ago. Rather than do like so many of us and read all the technical stuff he could get hold of, he flew to California and checked out all the galleries and found out what good photographs look like, particularly the work of Michael Kenna. He then found out what these people photograph with and purchased the same equipment (medium and large format up to 8X10 cameras). He never experimented, he didn't read lens reviews, didn't experiment with dozens of developers. He put all his effort into his seeing and worked single mindedly until he too could produce those luminous tones that represent the finest printing. He hasn't changed his techniques since, still working with film. He has however, taken advantage of modern inkjet printers to produce large print (why wouldn't he, he was shooting with 8X10 after all). He wouldn't mind a medium format digital back, but can't afford one (typical of most fine art photographers).

So many of us get distracted by the inadequacies (assumed or real) of our equipment and this detracts from our efforts to make better photographs. So many of us older geezers wanted to be Ansel Adams but refused to use large format and spent way too much money and time trying to squeese large format quality out of small format cameras. Some of you will remember using special copy films and tricky soups, which produced sharp results of lousy pictures.

Michael did it the right way. He found something he wanted to say, found great photographers who knew how to say similar (but not identical) things and made the intelligent assumption that using their methods was the way to go. Questions of convenience and cost didn't enter into it. When you think of how much some of us spent on the wrong films, wrong cameras, wrong developers and bad prints, we could easily have afforded decent equipment. Besides, there are always ways to do things cheaply - it just isn't sexy to do so. Some of my best images have been shot with a 10D - you probably couldn't give one away these days - only six megapixels - useless, well, not really...

Food for thought.

Check out Michael's work and if you ever get the chance to view his prints...

By the way, he recently had an offer of an inexpensive print, funds to be donated to Haiti relief - I placed my order.

He has a book out, which is currently out of print but is soon to be reprinted. The quality is good and I'm going to get one.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Photographer Interviews

In doing work for my next book, "Why Photographs Work" it was necessary to do some research on Pete Turner and this led to an interview at Berman Graphics

Not only did I find a great interview, there are more for the reading, complete with photographs by these great photographers. Check it out. They have Jay Maisel, Eric Meola and several others.

Can You Learn To See?

My essay on learning from the best images has generated considerable controversy. Attitudes have varied widely but several have suggested that artistic expression has little if anything to do with rules and advice and practice and even learning. Interestingly that attitude seems to be stronger amongst those who have gone to Art School, which begs the question of why did they go, and did they think they got their money's worth?

Article On Luminous Landscape

CHeck out my latest article at Luminous Landscape, on learning from the best. As expected, it has generated some controversy, along the lines of "rules and tricks and guides have nothing to do with artistic expression". my response is that they have nothing to do with ideas and everything to do with expressing them.

I think this is fundamental to the issue of traditional photographers being frustrated with the low level of quality in much of the work being promoted by the more "Arty" of organizations and publications. They worship the idea while downplaying communication skills.

Thoughts on the subject?