Saturday, December 25, 2010

Mea Culpa - on Profiling

Oops - sure I had all the right settings in print setup - but I forgot to turn off Photoshop does colour in the main printer dialog box. Shit...

I'll reprofile the Hahemeule in the next 24 hours and publish the results.

Hope everyone had a nice Christmas. Had planned to post a Christmas Card, but yet again blogger can't upload images - this has been more down than working over the last several months and they still don't have it working - Mac and Firefox for me. I'd switch but then I'd have to maintain all the archived articles, all > 1000 of them.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Print Darkness/Contrast/Tonality

Don't know about you, but for every time I have worried about print colour, I have worried 100 times more often about the brightness of print tones and even more. This was a problem with canned printer profiles, it remains a problem with home made profiles using my Color Munki - and although I don't have the $2000 to test fancier profiling equipment, I fully believe it will be a problem with the big guns too - after all that's what was used to make those profiles supplied by the printer and or paper manufacturers.

My 'standard' paper is Epson Enhanced Matte (Ultra super duper - or whatever they are calling it this week). it is so because it is easily available, not to stiff for stacking up multiple sheets in the feeder, has a good surface and behaves well. It even lets me pin up several prints in a stack on  my examining room walls and I frequently catch my patients checking out the latest images and what's underneath as well - and that's just fine.

Yes, glossy paper can look nicer, especially if there are a lot of dark tones in the image, but with modern inks even matte papers look darn nice and are a heck of a lot easier to look at without dealing with spurious reflections.

Behind glass, 90% of the difference between matte and glossy paper disappears anyway (and I'm not talking frosted glass here).

Today I had to make some prints for sale. Although enhanced matte looks fine, it is thin and tends to warp over time behind the matte and I prefer to use a proper art quality paper when I'm selling a print. I happened to be out of my usual Moab Entrada Bright White and found a box of Hahnemeule Photo Rag. I ran off a profile test on it (version 2 icc profile to keep my mac and snow leopard happy - Color Munki lets you default to version two type profiles in preferences).

I was careful to set color matching to epson from colorsynch and then turn off epson adjustments in printer settings and had no diff. making the profiles.

But wow, the prints were way off - not in colour - that looked spot on, but in contrast and overall darkness - way too much of both. I'd had no trouble with Entrada, no trouble with enhanced matte, and only a little trouble with Harman FBAL gloss but this was unuseable results.

I eventually approximated the right tones through use of a compicated curves layer, customized to each print - but this shouldn't be necessary.

So, how do problems like this happen?

1) the monitor is too bright - this is far and away the biggest problem for many people.

2) double profiling - somehow both photoshop and the printer are adjusting the colours, instead of the correct strategy of letting photoshop doing it - but I'd been careful about that (see above).

3) too bright a viewing light - you can buy proper viewing lights but they are typically at least twice as bright as room light which is just plain wrong, and besides, the light is usually the wrong colour. It isn't standard, or warm fluorescent bulb temp, nor north window. It often is closer to sunlight, which we go out of our way to keep our prints away from. It rather depends on whether you believe it is better to be consistent and always wrong or random and occasionally wrong. I happen to view my prints by fluoresent because the bulbs match my office where I do most of my print viewing anyway. When I used to sell prints at the farmers market, they were being seen by mercury vapour (which oddly didn't seem to hurt the images, but made cream paper look downright yellow).

5) using the wrong paper setting. When in the printer dialog box you go to printer settings and change from glossy to semi gloss to matte to fine art - what you are changing is the amount of ink that is laid down - some surfaces can use more ink than others. Overall, while this does affect the brightness of the print, there should not be a problem if the setting you used for making the profile matches the setting you use when making your real prints. Of coures, if you are using a canned profile, it is absolutely essential that you match your paper setting to the one used in making the profile - and paper manufacturers are not always very clear about what that should be - though it is better now than a few years ago when it didn't seem to occur to them to bother mentioning such a crucial piece of information - and you wondered why people started making their own profiles).

6) you are printing black and white and using the advanced black and white driver for your Epson printer - as this totally overrides your profiles, you might as well have not bothered. There's a good reason they offer light, medium, dark, darker and bloody damn dark - it's because you have no control over the tonality without using these settings.

and more)of course, if you haven't profiled your monitor, all this is moot and you are a lost cause.

Assuming you have not committed and of the above faux pas - then so far, the only practical solutions I have found are the following.

1) pick papers that behave well for you - the Hahnemeule didn't for me - not that it can't make beautiful prints, it can - but was far more work this morning than it needed to be. Your experience is likely to be entirely different - you MUST do your own testing - this could be the perfect paper for you. These are papers that when you run test images after profiling, require the least possible adjustments in brightness to get a good result.

2) take advantage of printer proofing in Photoshop (under the View menu) to see what you are goijng to get - with most papers it has been very helpful in predicting the final result.

3) no matter how good your profiles, how careful your procedures, how expensive your equipment, if you are fussy about your results, you will have to make multiple prints to get an image of the right brightness. The closer your profiling can get things right, the fewer 'test' (read throwaway) prints that you will have to make. I can generally get it right in two or three prints - ie. the third print is what I want - this of course after making hundreds of changes to an apparently good image on screen before I even get to the printing stage. Rarely I get it in one, occasionally it takes half a dozen prints to really get a print that matches what I have on screen - not because my equipment is bad - it isn't, but because I care about the results (read fussy, ok, very fussy).

It is possible to create a curve to make adjustments, but my experience is that no single curve works for all images on a single paper.

Remember that no one will ever care as much about our print quality as we ourselves do, both as an individual and as a group of photographers.

Typical customers can't even see the difference between warm and neutral papers, never mind the difference between ultrachrome and ultrachrome K3 and Ultrachrome Vivid. We sure know though.

I'll be interested in how others have solved the brightness and contrast issues.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Dis and Dat

Why Photographs Work is now out and orderable from the major online booksellers and instore at real ones too. It's gathering excellent reviews so apparently we're not the only ones who think it's a beautiful book. We're scrambling to arrange a reprint asap.

Mark Dubovoy had written an article for Luminous Landscape promoting the use of medium format. I don't disagree with what Mark says, but I do think there are some points that are important to make.

Pros use medium format because:

1) they often are asked to make huge prints
2) paying customers like to get noseprints on detailed lanscape pictures
3) the equipment is tax deductable
4) the equipment differentiates them from the masses - an important marketing tool (as opposed to an ego boost - pros are too busy for that nonsense)

And there are other reasons. Those of us who do photography for the love of it instead of putting food on the table can afford the time to stitch and blend our way to good photographs, and if the images look better at 13X19 than 40X60, who cares. That said, more than a few serious amateurs are going to be looking at the Pentax 645D.

One of the most useful and powerful tools for doing landscape and industrial photography is live view - totally absent from medium format. Mark talks of the problems of camera misalignment, yet he has to squint into a tiny ground glass if he wants to focus and tilt - while I simply move the magnified view to the corner and check the focus on the sensor, not a substitute - using live view. I think in a few years people will find it hard to believe people ever struggled with substitutes.

We live in interesting times - DPReview has rated the Pentax K5 as the top medium priced dSLR, topping both Nikon and Canon - we live in interesting times.

It's holiday season, Christmas for some of us. May you all thrive and find the images you want.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Amazon Have 'Why Photographs Work'

At last, Amazon list the book as in stock, albeit with a warning about taking an extra day or two - I think they are actually between the distributor and the amazon warehouse as we speak but that means that people should have the book within the week.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Books Are At The Distributor

Have just heard from Rockynook that the books are now at the distributor. They then pass the books onto the various retail outfits, including the biggies like Amazon. Don't konw if this will result in a change in the status on Amazon but they should have the books within the week.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Why Photographs Work - The Book Has Landed

Good news. The books cleared customs in New York earlier this week, a few days late but are already on truck on the way to the distributor. It will take a week at the most to get to Amazon and other retail sellers, so, it should be possible to get a copy of the book just in time for Christmas. Hopefully Amazon will update their release date info within the week.

As of now, no one else has read the book, not even the photographers, who only got to see thier own section (ok, the editors have), so I am both excited and scared, waiting to hear what people think of the book. Those who have flipped through the book agree it's beautiful and I feel good about the images I chose for the book. About my writing I'm less secure. I think it's good, that I have useful insights into the images and what makes them work, but it's a bit like introducing your new bride to friends and family, you so desperately want them to think well of your mate, or in this case, my baby.