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Silicon Valley veteran doing Technical Community Management. Photographer with a strong interest in birds, wildlife and nature who is exploring the Western states and working to tell you the stories of the special places I've found.
Author and Blogger. They are not the same thing. Sports occasionally spoken here, especially hockey. Veteran of Sun, Apple, Palm, HP and now Infoblox, plus some you've never heard of. They didn't kill me, they made me better.
Person with opinions, and not afraid to share them. Debate team in high school and college; bet that's a surprise.
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Category Archives: Photography – The Digital Darkroom
As you mature as a photographer, your tools mature and so does your skill in applying them. I had a request to use my image of a bobcat so I reprocessed it. Here’s the updated version of the image:
Here you can compare it to the older version of the image:
The differences aren’t huge, but I think they make a much nicer image. Improved contrast, improved sharpening and better tonal control. Some of that is a shift from what Lightroom 3 was capable of to Lightroom 4′s processing, but most of that are upgrades to the operator, not the software.
And that’s a nice reminder that there is value in going back through your library over time, because you’ll find images that you can improve, not because the image has somehow changed, but because you have.
David duChemin – World & Humanitarian Photographer, Nomad, Author. » Snake Oil & Comb-overs: A Rant.:
You’ve heard me rant about the big camera companies flogging cameras that they promise will allow you to “shoot like a pro” or “unlock your vision,” or similar desperate crap. So it should come as no surprise that my blood pressure begins to go up when I read about so-called teachers flogging plug-ins for Photoshop or Lightroom that “turn snapshots into great shots.” Bullshit. Shame on them.
Amazing photographs are not made with plug-ins or Photoshop actions. They are made with the imagination and the heart and the mind.
David is on a rant, and it’s well worth your time. I’ll wait here.
Back? Good. he’s right.
There’s a lot of marketing hype around how buying this latest thing is going to solve your problem. Grab this camera, and great pictures will happen. Buy this plug-in, and it’ll take care of the processing for you. As a society, we’ve become focussed far too much on finding the magic cookie, the secret shortcut.
In photography, they don’t exist. You still have to take a lot of bad pictures as you learn what it means to take great ones. Some days you’ll get lucky and a great picture will pop out, but what you need is to build the ability to make great pictures, not get lucky and have them happen. No camera, no plug-in, no tool is going to be the magic cookie that gets you to that point.
Where I think David goes a bit off message is in giving all of these tools too little credit for what they can do while speaking too much on what they can’t.
I remember my high school days shooting with a manual Nikon on Tri-X and doing my own developing and printing in a dark, smelly darkroom. And loving it. I shot Velvia and sent it off to a lab, not known whether I actually had pictures (much less usable ones) for days waiting for them to come back so I could see them.
I look at the kind of work Galen Rowell did with the gear of his day. On Film. Waiting for the lab to send it back to see if the images succeeded. And I sit and wonder what someone like Rowell would do today with a 1DX and modern lenses. Sometimes I think we’re so used to modern technology we forget just how much better things are than when these classic images that drew us into the field were made, and we kind of take it for granted because it is in fact so much easier for us than to succeed at an image than it was for someone like Rowell.
(my thought on Rowell and the 1DX: he’d probably sell it and buy a 5Dm2 on the used market and plane tickets to somewhere worth photographing. but that’s just me…)
Rather than just talk about what these modern tools can’t do for you, stop and think about what they CAN. What does digital photography, modern camera bodies and their low-noise, high-ISO capability, sharp, crisp lenses (with image stabilization and autofocus), digital workflows and all of the bells and whistles of these tools give you that someone like Galen Rowell didn’t have?
To me, the primary thing these bring you is a margin of error. Before digital, you couldn’t chimp the LCD and adjust the image on the fly. Either you got the image or didn’t (and wouldn’t know for days….) — and if you didn’t, you might not find out until you were a few thousand miles away and two years from your next attempt. Or you’re shooting at ISO 50 on Velvia and that rare bird refuses to come out of the shadows deep in the brush. Or it’s afternoon and you lose two stops of light just as the mule deer arrive in the meadow for dinner.
Today’s photographer has so manx advantages out of the heroes that dragged us into the field that it’s almost scary. I have found myself standing somewhere like Tunnel View and working on an image and suddenly realizing just what it might have meant to try for that shot on my old Minolta 3xi, or that old Nikon FG.
Back in the “Good Old Days”, it was hard enough to get the shot. Today? We have the ability to get the shot with a lot less stress and angst and worry, but beyond that, with the added margin of error, we have a lot more ability to get shots that earlier generations would miss (or be back in the bar having given up already) — and we have the ability to move beyond getting that shot and experiment with other shots, or other techniques or to try other things to see what happens.
Then, when we get back the post processing tools — and the plug-ins and other helpers — let us fine tune the shots in ways that we couldn’t even dream about ten years ago, much less emulate. For me, these tools aren’t so much about what they allow me to do; almost everything you can do in something like Viveza or Silver Efex Pro you can do in Photoshop or Lightroom — what they do is allow me to be a lot more effective and efficient.
And yet something I see a lot of photographers do is try to take away all of these tools. I understand some of the reasoning behind that — it goes back to David’s rant about these tools not taking the photo for you, not magically creating that special photo. But far too often, it feels more like guild initiation; if you don’t learn to do it the way we did back in the Good Old Days (i.e., “suffer like I did when I was learning this stuff”), you’ll never really be a “real” photographer. And that’s bull.
I see photographers telling people not to chimp. I see them telling them that the only way to shoot is in manual mode. I used to see them telling people that “real” photographers didn’t use autofocus, but if they are still saying that, nobody seems to be listening (so there’s a sign of progress!). A lot of this boils down to “you have to learn to do it the old fashioned way, or it doesn’t count”.
I don’t buy that.
This is one reason I think Trey Ratcliff has become such a popular photographer and teacher online — he’s embraced the new technologies and techniques and works to teach people how to become to become great photographers through modern technologies, not despite them. (that, and he’s a great photographer).
I think this is a transitional phase: teachers tend to teach what they know and how they learned. As we grow up generations of photographers who cut their teeth digitally, this “to become one of us, you must learn as if you were shooting Velvia” mentality will fade. As someone who dropped photography for years and came back because of digital, and have been relearning the craft from scratch on digital, that can’t happen soon enough.
Look at what modern digital technologies are doing to enable new and innovative forms of imagery: time lapses and night photography are exploding right now as people are figuring out how to take advantage of modern cameras. In the digital dark room, you’re seeing many fascinating innovations from focus stacking to using blending modes (Ben Willmore showed a fascinating way of erasing people out of an image using many multiple shots and the lighten blending mode in a recent Creative Live seminar), to the joy of being able to decide to convert to monochrome on the spot and not having to worry about swapping film to do that. Or thinking to carry black and white film on the trip in case you want it…
The thing is, none of what I’m talking about here is about magic cookies. There are none. You still need to learn the techniques. You still need to put in the time and you still need to shoot a lot of really ugly (and/or boring) shots. No tool is going to shorten that circuit to competence. But I think that by pushing the message that the way forward towards competence is through treating it like the past is more of a hinder than a help.
We need to push the message that none of these tools are going to magically make you Galen Rowell. In fact, you can work at it the rest of your life and you won’t become Galen Rowell. In fact, you shouldn’t want to. What you want to be is you. And the best you you can be. To quote Joe Gideon:
Joe Gideon: Listen. I can’t make you a great dancer. I don’t even know if I can make you a good dancer. But, if you keep trying and don’t quit, I know I can make you a better dancer. I’d like very much to do that. Stay?
Victoria: Are you going to keep yelling at me?
Joe Gideon: Probably.
We should be teaching people how to become the photographer they can be through embracing and leveraging this technology we have, not by telling them to avoid it. We have to reinforce the message that none of this technology is a replacement for vision and judgment, and it’s about mastering the technology and being in control of it, not sitting back and pushing the button in autopilot. You need to understand the modes on your camera and how to use them — not hide from them. You need to know how to twist the knob and push the sliders in Lightroom, not just bounce stuff around and hope something good happens.
That takes work and practice. There’s no shortcut, no magic cookie.
And in the spirit of sharing the pain, let me relate a few things I’ve inflicted on myself as I’ve tried to push myself from going out with a camera and hoping for good images to going out with that camera and demanding them out of myself. None of these are things I’ve seen other photographers suggest as exercises (that I recall), but I found them to be very useful is learning how things work so that I could make intelligent decisions on controlling the gear to do what I wanted. Be aware that the goal here is to learn the gear, and you are going to throw out a lot of really bad, failed images as you practice. That is both expected and a good thing.
Go out to a place you like to shoot. Put your camera in aperture-priority mode and shoot for 30 minutes, working to take as many good shots as you can. Yes, you can chimp the LCD, that’s why it’s there. If the images aren’t right, how are you going to fix them? Then fix them and keep shooting. (hint: exposure compensation is your friend. Do you know how to adjust it? Time to learn). After 30 minutes, switch to shutter-priority mode. Shoot the same area, same subjects. Again, you’re going to find that in some cases shutter priority helps, in some cases it’s going to make you crazy. How do you adjust to make the images work? (hint again: exposure compensation. plus ISO adjustments). After 30 minutes, put the camera in manual mode. Now you have to figure out how to dial in your exposure. How can aperture or shutter priority help you nail images in manual mode? What happens when you’re in manual mode and you walk into those deep shadows? Now what? After 30 minutes of manual mode, relax.
Go home and load up all of the images. Now you want to go through them and see if you can figure out which ones technically work and why; which ones technically fail and why. Given what you did on the shoot, when does it make sense to use Aperture priority? When does it make sense to go manual or shutter priority. What does each mode do to help make successful pictures, or drive you crazy and screw things up?
Do not be surprised if 95% of the images in the first round of trying this are dings. Seriously. Go out and do this multiple times. Shoot different locations, different types of imagery. When you go out to shoot, you’re not trying to make keeper images, you’re trying to learn how to understand and control your camera and decide which operating styles to use in what situation.
After you’ve done this three or four times, you should be able to show up at a place and think to yourself “aperture priority, F8, exposure compensation +2/3″ and dial it in without thinking. And then you’re controlling the image making rather than depending on the camera to make the right decisions.
Rinse and repeat until this becomes second nature. Depending on the material and location you prefer to shoot, you will likely find yourself shooting primarily in Aperture or Shutter priority — but knowing when to switch to the other and when to use them to dial in an exposure and then put those numbers into manual mode is the key to this exercise.
Pop quiz: if Aperture or Shutter priority mode is so good at handling managing exposures for you, why would you ever go into manual mode? (hint: the way your camera is not always consistent because of movement, even if the light is. And consistent exposures can make your life in post processing a lot faster and more efficient once you learn how to sync your post-processing changes from one image to many — if they all start at the same baseline. Consider that an extra credit exercise borrowed from the post-processing class)
Now that you’ve made Aperture/shutter/manual part of your toolkit, time for metering modes. You can adjust how the camera meters a scene in any number of ways — spot, center-weighted, evaluative. If you’re like most people learning this stuff, there’s a good chance you’ve never changed that setting, or you almost never do. Maybe you’ve figured out using spot metering at times. Maybe not.
So once again, grab your gear. For this one, it helps to choose a shooting location with options, especially scenes with shadows, other scenes with contrast, subjects with color and texture, etc. Pick three or four metering modes, and shoot a variety of subjects and scenes in each for 30 minutes. Watch how the exposures and histograms come out. look for patterns on which metering modes work in specific situations and when those metering modes fail. It really helps to do the same set of scenes with each mode under similar lighting, so this is one time when brutal mid-day light and nasty shadows actually helps. REmember, the idea isn’t to generate usable/good images, but to learn how the camera reacts in given situations and how to take advantage of that to get good images by knowing which mode to use in specific situations — without guessing or just letting the camera decide. It is also useful to take a set of images in manual (having chimped in a good exposure) to compare against.
When you’re done, back to the computer. Load up the images. Study each set taken in a specific mode, and see if you can start to figure out how the camera is making those decisions. How does your camera body change exposure in center-weighted vs. evaluative? which kind of scenes do each work best? When does spot metering make life better? And when does spot metering screw you over?
After doing this post-processing study, go back out to another location and shoot again. instead of shooting 30 minutes in each mode, take a scene and choose a metering mode to shoot it in. How did that mode work? Or did it fail? If you change modes, do you get a better exposure? why?
After three or four rounds of this kind of shooting, you should be able to look at a scene and choose a metering mode appropriate for it almost without thinking; stick the camera in aperture or shutter priority, dial in an IOS, do your exposure compensation and get the shot. Or realize that what you need is manual exposure, drop into automated mode to chimp in the right numbers, and then shoot away. And know you’re getting the shot, instead of hoping you are.
One more significant tool in that camera you need to learn to control: autofocus. Like metering modes, your camera has multiple autofocus modes: it may be as simple as spot mode and across the field, or there could be as many as half a dozen modes that adapt AF. And you may only be able to AF on the center of the image, or adjust the location point for the AF to adjust to. By now, you know the drill: set a mode, shoot images. Watch how the AF reacts and when it locks on and when it fails, or locks on to the wrong thing. Are you getting AF where you need the image sharp? Are you nailing focus on the eyes? Or like it happens too often, the nose? Which eye?
Try out each AF mode. Learn how to move the AF point around the image. When does spot AF help? when does it screw you?
Oh, is your AF still tied to half-pressing the shutter? If so, how are you going to use AF to focus on her eye and then recompose for the portrait? learn how to move AF automation to another button so you control it rather than fight it. Trust me, doing AF, shifting the lens to manual and then recomposing? It’s lame; you’re doing it wrong. (if you don’t understand what I’m suggesting, listen to Art Morris).
As you get more comfortable with controlling how AF works so it works FOR you instead of you waiting for it to work, start thinking more about depth of field, also. If you have live view, practice using it to dial in and verify focus. If your body has depth of field preview, learn how to use it without fumbling for buttons.
Then go home and load up all of these images and go through them. One by one. At 100%. and specifically identify where the sharp focus hits, and whether that’s where you intended it to be. Or need it to be. Where should it be? And if you missed, how do you get it there next time?
Then go back out and practice your autofocus again. And again. Until you control the AF system and know what ti’ll do, so it serves you, instead of the other way around.
All three of these exercises are aimed specifically at putting you in control of the camera, of leveraging it’s capabilities by knowing how to operate it so it does what you tell it to do, instead of pushing the shutter and praying it does the right thing. And they’re intended to help you master the camera instead of taking on the idea of learning how to do this by disabling all of those capabilities and treating that wonderful modern camera body as a Nikon FG “as a learning tool”.
And when you finish working through them, you’ll be able to pull out the camera, size up the scene you want to take, push a few buttons, and nail the image, because now you’re in control, not the camera’s autopilot.
And along the way, you’ll take a few thousand really bad images that you throw away (if you don’t, you’re not working these exercises seriously enough), but in those bad images you’ll find understanding of how to be in control of the situation so that you can succeed at taking them rather than fail.
And that will, when you’re through this, put you a lot further down the path from “push and pray” to making consistently good images — at least from a technical standpoint. None of this technical geekery mastery turns you into a great photographer, though — but the more you control your tools instead of defering to them, the more you’ll be able to consistently create the image you see when you push the shutter. And the more you comfortable you get at controlling your camera and making all of these decisions and mode shifts habit, the less time you spend thinking through how to make the camera bow to your will, and the more time you can spend thinking about the subject you’re trying to capture. And THAT will make you a better photographer.
Although I can’t promise it’ll make you a good one. Neither can Joe Gideon… That’s still up to you putting in the time and repetition, just like any dancer has to to unlock the potential within. But if you don’t master the tools, you’re making that process that much harder for yourself.
Since I’m at leisure for a few days, I decided it was time to whack at one of the outstanding moles annoying me about my online presence, and I revamped my smugmug site (now retired) to match the the new look and feel of my sites, and shift its content to match my portfolios. (why duplicate my portfolio images both places? Because I’ll be using the smugmug site for print sales (edit: changed my mind, bringing this in-house), and it made sense to start with the portfolio images, but the image choices on the two sites will shift away from each other over time. That was just a convenient starting point…).
Much to my surprise, as I was updating Lightroom to push images out to the right places on Smugmug (using my keyword-based propagation setup), I found one of my images missing. Romeo had disappeared out of Lightroom.
Meet Romeo. Bull Elk, shot in 2008 on our trip to Yellowstone. We call him Romeo because he was hanging out next to the side of the road with his harem, happy to play photo-op if you didn’t get too close. He was there in that same meadow our entire visit, just waiting for the tourists to leave for the fall… This is the image that I put into my portfolio when I redid it earlier this year (so by definition, the image was in lightroom at that time, and this was reprocessed from the raw in LR4 as part of the rollout of the portfolio images):
Today, when I looked for the image in Lightroom this was all I found.
Don’t look to closely, it’s pretty ugly. It’s a .PSD from back in 2008, when I thought I was a lot better at this stuff than I really was, and using Lightroom 2 and Photoshop CS3 (I think). That I was using Photoshop on the image at all indicates this is a problem child image, and yes, it is. Here is the unprocessed RAW.
(wince. should I really show you this?)
This is a classic FIP shot: fix it in photoshop. Without looking at the Exif, I can tell you it was taken with me brand new 30D, and it was in Aperture mode, and probably evaluative metering, not center-weighted or spot. All of that expanse of grass took over the exposure, leaving Romeo’s face woefully under-exposed. But I love the image, and so over the years, I’ve kept it in my favorites pool, and I keep going back to it and whacking at it with a stick to see if I can turn it into the really great picture I thought it was back in 2008.
(today, I would have switched to spot exposure and bumped the compensation by about 3/4 of a stop, before taking a single image. And I’d have moved to get that cow out of the shot so I could crop less enthusiastically. but heck, that was a long time ago, in newbie-photog years).
This is why you keep backups. No idea how or why the files disappeared from the most recent processing, but I have some clues. Back in 2008, when it was a tough image, I round-tripped everything into Photoshop, leaving behind both the RAW and the .PSD. My workflow has changed massively since 2008, but those two files should have been stacked in Lightroom, with the .PSD being the ‘master’. What I probably did was during some of my housekeeping, I grabbed the .RAW and moved it to retirement on the NAS, leaving behind the .PSD. This is likely only going to happen on older files where I’m dealing with an old workflow. Today (as I’ll show in a bit), my intermediate and master files are TIFF files, not PSD, and so this old workflow setup seems to have gotten caught up in my cleanup work.
but no biggie. I went off to the NAS where copies of all of these files live, and went and found the original RAW. If for some reason I hadn’t copied this file onto the NAS (because it was still in my active collection), a half dozen very similar images that had been retired were living there. THIS is why you keep backups, folks, and disk is pretty cheap now, so if you have workable files, there’s no reason not to stick them somewhere that you can find them again if you need them.
Even though, to be honest, this is the first time I’ve had to go to the NAS to recover an image in, um, I can’t remember the last time I had to do this. 3 years or more. But it’s nice to know the setup worked when I needed it.
So, plop the file back into Lightroom, and give it some basic processing:
now, if this were an “average” image, I’d do all of my processing in Lightroom, and I’d put more work into it than that. It’s still a bit dark, and Romeo just doesn’t stand out very much. But since I want this to be a portfolio image, I’m going to work on it some more. Enter Nik Software and their tools for some more careful tweaking. First up, conversion to TIFF and then a run through DFINE to remove noise (I do that for all images I decide to process via NIK tools). Then into Viveza 2 for some selective manipulation of the color, contrast and to try to bring in a bit more structure to Romeo.
Better. Romeo’s face is now in balance with the image. The antlers are starting to make a statement, and I added some structure to the face and fur (roughly, structure is to NIK software what clarity is to lightroom; both are variations of selective sharpening strategies to add detail. I’m currently doing a lot more image tweaking with clarity than with the sharpening tools, but if I’m going to round-trip into NIK, I’ll take advantage of their structure tools, which I think do a great job of bringing out what’s there without lots of nasty artifacts). I’ve de-structured the grass a bit, reduced saturation a bit, and dropped it’s exposure a bit, so it gets out of the way of Romeo and let’s him be the focus.
This image is still rather low contrast. that’s by Design, because I’m not done. Off to Color Efex 4, another NIK tool.
I used the Pro Contrast filter to kick up the contrast, which also really brought out the antlers and made their detail kick in nicely. I then used the “lighten/darken center” filter to basically toss in an anti-vignette on Romeo; rather than darkening the corners, I brought him up, and effectively kicked his exposure to where it ought to be, letting the light fall off to the edges. Almost as if, four years later, I went back and put a nice studio spot on the guy.
Now, at least to me, there’s no question about what the focal point of the image is, and that is Romeo. I really like how the antlers now join in as part of the focal point, something I’ve wanted to do in paste runs at this image and typically failed. (and yes, this new interpretation is different than the most recent one; and one I like better. Chalk that up to better understanding how to leverage Color Efex 4 in my workflow).
The reality of this image, though, is that at some point I have to retire it from my portfolio; There are still issues with it, starting with the fact that a 30D raw file just doesn’t have the same raw oomph that a 7D body can bring to the image, much less a full-frame sensor. It’s in my personal favorites more for the situation and timing (that trip was the trip we took after my dad died and I spent much of the year dealing with the estate), and because I love the subject and expression. What I really need to do is go back and replace it with a similar, better image; you can do an awful lot of fixing in “fix it in photoshop” mode, but ultimately, it’s still a challenged image technically.
But I really, really like it. So I’m going to keep it around for now…
(but there are so many tangent discussions this can start, from “get it right in the camera” to how quickly digital technology is innovating and what that means for images even 3-4 years old to thoughts on backup and revision strategies that roll your images forward through the years safely and reliably. But if you want a perfect example of why you don’t delete problem-child images, this is it. Because four years later, it’s a lot less of a problem-child than it was four years ago.)
It might make sense if Aperture caused photographers to move to Mac or to buy more / new Apple kit, but that’s not really happening. Apple will ship lots of the new high res “retina” display laptops to photographers regardless of whether they use Aperture or Lightroom, and Aperture’s immediate support for those screens isn’t going to provide an advantage for very long (Adobe will soon support them too). Yesterday’s “big” news of Aperture having a “Unified Library” with iPhoto can equally be spun as Apple “merging” the two products and making Aperture merely a priced version of iPhoto. Of course, it won’t stop people reading the tea leaves from job ads and inferring Apple is still interested in the game, but just why would you invest, for example, in as-good-as-Lightroom lens correction when the only likely ROI might come through a few Aperture sales? You’ve got to ask where lies the financial incentive? But more importantly though – if Apple do simply tread water, where then is the incentive for Adobe to keep driving Lightroom forward?
Apple’s strategy is clearly to aim at the consumer and into the prosumer parts of a market. If you look at how their video products have transitioned, I think that’s clear. The way Final Cut Pro has evolved seems like a good model for looking at what Apple will do with Aperture, and if you are an advanced amateur or moderate pro, that’s probably not bad, but if you’re a “push it hard and demand more” type, you’re going to be unhappy.
In video, you have iMovie, and when you grow out of it, you have Final Cut Pro X. In Photos, you have iPhoto, and when you grow out of it, you have Aperture. For most folks, it’ll be fine. If you’re expecting it to process images as well as Lightroom 4, or push the state of the art on image processing, well, probably not. Apple will happily take the fat part of the market and leave pushing the bleeding edge technologies to others.
I do agree that the unified library for iPhoto and Aperture indicates Aperture is moving in the consumer direction, not the pro direction.
As to the job tea leaves, bring a salt lick. one or two grains won’t do it. Apple has a history of building product-oriented job listings not for the actual job, but to identify candidates with specific skills. So if they are looking for mobile aperture, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if it had nothing to do with Aperture, but since Aperture and iPhoto are merging into a common technology base (or so it seems) and mobile is a big emphasis anyway, and iCloud needs to grow to support all of that in many ways (especially mobile; where’s Apple’s ‘instagram’ for iCloud?) I expect we’re splitting hairs, because by the time this all hits the public view, it’ll all have merged together even more.
Andbeyond that, any job being advertised now is unlikely to creat anything seen in public for 18 months. Or longer. That’s far enough out for me to not worry about it, and let it come over the horizon before thinking too hard about it.
Scott Bourne on Aperture:
Okay – in short – I’ve had it with Apple. Ever since Steve passed, the company has seemed to be off course – not financially – but in regards to vision. Even before Steve passed, we saw the Final Cut Pro debacle – turning one of the most successful professional video editing applications into a glorified version of iMovie. While I am often mindlessly called an Apple fanboy, I have routinely called the company to task when I think they have made a mistake. And this is going to be one of those times.
Looking at what’s happened to the Apple Pro Apps division – one has to ponder – Is Aperture next? That’s the problem. I don’t know. And nobody at Apple will talk about it. For years I’ve defended Aperture and Apple for making such a great project. I think that was the right decision – then. But as Apple has grown even more reclusive in its willingness to share its plans or talk to the media, they have forgotten that the people who aren’t getting the information are ultimately their customers.
I assumed we’d hear something about Aperture 4.0 by now. I was really confident in fact that there would be an Aperture 4.0 by now. I wrote an article not long back linking the timeline to releases and thought surely we’d have an answer by now. After all, Lightroom 4 is shipping and in every way it needed to, Adobe caught Aperture and in some cases passed it. But from Apple – not a peep.
Since I was at Apple at the time, I was one of the really early adopters of Aperture when it was first release. It was a “where have you been all my life?” moment.
Unfortunately, since that early release, Aperture simply hasn’t evolved nearly as quickly as photography has. When I made that decision to leave my project at Apple, one of the groups I wanted to explore going into was the Aperture team. What I got was this thick, unexplainable silence. Ultimately, I didn’t stay at Apple, of course (a great decision for both sides).
What I didn’t know at the time, although I heard whispers, was that the Aperture team that pushed out 1.0 was — troubled. I later got to know the guy Apple put in place to fix things, although even if I knew the details of what went on in there, I wouldn’t say. The end result was there was a lot of restructuring and turnover in the team, the original 2.0 project was blown up and started over. And when Aperture 2.0 finally did ship, it was over a year later than it needed to be, Lightroom had shipped and had effectively lapped Aperture in terms of functionality, and Aperture 2.0 was, frankly, rather disappointing. When I took a look at Aperture 3.0, it was — okay — but even then, Apple still seemed to be behind the curve to Lightroom.
By that time, I’d given up waiting. I spent some time using Photoshop and Bridge, then shifted to Lightroom. Around the start of 2012, I heard a few tentative whispers about an upcoming Aperture release, but they’ve faded back out again. Adobe released the Lightroom 4 beta, and when I took a look and played with it, it was clear it was a huge step forward, and I gave up any thought that the Aperture upgrade was going to come out and convince me to change over to it. I say that as someone who is strongly predisposed to give Apple money, and not so motivated to give Adobe money.
But — Apple may have been the initial innovator here, but they fumbled it, and Adobe has taken the ball and run with it. It’s the technology leader, and it’s where the innovation is. Aperture? After the initial release, it’s never regained any of its momentum, and releases have always trailed Lightroom in timing and technology.
My expectation is that it always will at this point. If Apple had a chance to take on Lightroom and become the market and thought leader in this technology segment again, it’s long passed. I think it’s pretty clear Apple’s made the decision not to try; to me, Aperture 3 was a “let’s keep our existing user base happy” upgrade, not a “let’s get back in the game” upgrade. And the timing of upgrades (not aggressive) and the push Apple puts on for Aperture (basically, none), is a hint that it’s moved it’s priorities elsewhere.
I used to tell folks to evaluate both Aperture and Lightroom and choose the one they feel most comfortable with. Now, I tell folks to buy Lightroom. Aperture isn’t headed into “end of life” mode, but Apple has pretty clearly stuffed it into an eddy in a backwater somewhere, and it seems to be just kind of drifting. I don’t see any indication Apple’s going to change that.
So, if you’re a current Aperture user? What now? If you’re happy with it, great. I don’t think it’s going to magically disappear or stop working. At the same time, I don’t think you’re going to see massive improvements in Aperture, not of the kind of technology upgrades we saw in Lightroom 4. I can’t see any way Apple will “leapfrog” Lightroom, the best an Aperture 4 will be is a closing of the gap.
So if you’re someone like Scott Bourne, my recommendation is: start moving to Lightroom. It will take you a long time, but you can focus on new work on the new platform and worry less about migrating existing content. Start now, so it doesn’t turn into a project-by-crisis. And I’m as disappointed about this as you are about how Aperture ended up. it’s a perfectly nice program, but that’s not good enough, and that won’t change. And I say that as a person who at one point would have donated a finger or two to the cause to join the team building it.
The writing is on the wall, and has been since before Aperture 3 shipped: Aperture isn’t a priority, it’s not a battle ground where Apple is fighting to own the market, and it’s slowly wandering into obscurity and irrelevance. And if you depend on your tool and workflow to turn out the best possible images, then Aperture is no longer the solution. It’s not for pros or serious amateurs any longer, it’s for people who’ve outgrown iPhoto.
And here’s hoping Apple releases something next week that makes what I’m posting here look stupid. But I’m confident we won’t see anything like that out of the Aperture team at this point. Which is too bad.
(P.S. for what it’s worth, Scott’s comment about “ever since Steve passed” is pure flame bait, and absolutely incorrect. Aperture was seriously broken long before Steve passed, and Steve had his chance to make it a priority to fix, and chose not to. El Aura does a good job of kicking Scott in the knee for this comment, so I’ll simply point to that and not pile on further, but, Scott, sigh.)
(thanks to Duncan for the pointers)
Back in 2010, when I retired my HP9180, I wrote a blog piece asking the semi-rhetorical question Do do you really need a printer — and here it is 2012, and I have a definitive answer for that question.
For me, at least, the answer is a definite yes. I’d been considering buying one for a while, when Mark’s new Epson 3880 convinced me it was time to get serious about this. The 3880 was beyond what I wanted to spend, but I’d been arguing with myself about it’s slightly littler brother, the Epson 2880. Much to my surprise, Adorama had a few as manufacturer refurbished for about $90 off the new price, and that was enough to convince me to grab one (that deal is no longer available, however).
Personally, I wouldn’t buy a used printer (your mileage may vary), given the usage and wear printers go through, and if this was a revenue generating printer I wouldn’t buy refurb, either, but as a low-volume, primarily hobby device, I’m comfortable with this choice. It comes with a warranty, so if I run into issues, I have options.
Why the 2880? I wanted something from a good manufacturer (which, for photo printers, IMHO, means Epson, Canon or HP); I ruled out HP because I find their inks brutally expensive (I don’t work there any more, I can say that now) and their low and medium end devices don’t tickle my toes (and I’m unwilling to pay $3500 or more for a printer yet). I wanted a wide format printer, this one will do up to 13×19, which is great, as my favorite print sizes are 11×14 and 11×17. And it supports roll paper, which allows for panorama prints, something I really want to explore, and which can be cheaper than pre-cut paper. And the print costs seem reasonable. I really like the Epson UltraChrom Inks, too, and as I explore black and white printing, the Epson inks seemed to be a better choice.
Having said all of that, it was primarily lack of roll paper support at this price point that made the difference between Epson and Canon, FWIW. Canon has some nice models, too.
The printer is on a truck, trundling this way. I’ll probably be unpacking this weekend and starting to explore.
What do I plan on doing with this? Make prints. Put them up on my wall. Give them away. Expect to see some opportunities on this site for prints once I get settled in.
Why do this? Why not lab prints?
Well, it’s complicated. Maybe for some people lab prints are an option, but one thing I fell in love with using the 8190 were art papers. Big, thick, textured hunks of paper that bring a different look and life to an image. I miss that, and using a lab to print on Hahnemuele German Etching or Photo Rag Pearl is between impossible and unaffordable.
Besides, I enjoy geeking the printer and working to make my prints better.
And that’s the other, bigger aspect of this — I lost an aspect of the quality of my images when I stopped printing. I got comfortable with a “good enough for Flickr”. Over the last few months, I’ve bent taking a close look at what I’m doing and why, and why I haven’t been as happy with the results as I want to be — and I came to realize that when I stopped printing, I stopped getting better, and in fact, my photography regressed. When you only look at your images online — you can get satisfied with the quality a lot sooner in the production process. Putting it on paper, especially at larger sizes, means you can’t tolerate the flaws.
So I came to the decision that to drive my imagery forward again, I had to start putting it on paper again, and I needed to do it myself and not depend on a lab to do it.
Besides, I like giving prints away… (and maybe selling the occasional one).
And the first image I’m going to print on this puppy is this one:
A primary reason I upgraded to Lightroom 4 so quickly after it was released was to get my hands on the new processing engine. Normally, I’d let others live on the bleeding edge and upgrade after the release has proven out a bit, but in this case, I had decided it was time for a complete library re-edit — and it made no sense to start that project until I could do it using Lightroom 4.
I’ve frankly hit that point where it’s hard to look at my library and portfolio without wincing. This is (mostly) a good thing, in that while looking at an image and thinking “look at the noise. Look at how soft that is. Look at the color cast” is no fun, because at some point in the past I clearly thought the image was both good and finished — but I’m continuing to move forward in what I’m capable of, how I see a potential image, and my ability to bring that potential out in the final image.
But it also means that every so often, you have to tear it down, rebuild it all from scratch, be willing to retire stuff that magically got sucky while sitting on your disk over the years, and reprocess everything so it meets up to your current vision and capabilities. And that takes time and energy.
And so, with Lightroom 4 in hand, here we go. Here’s an image I picked to see what I could do. This is an Anna’s hummingbird that became fairly well known among the bird photographers here in the Bay Area; one summer he took ownership of a tree near Shoreline Lake and held court and he wasn’t afraid to show off for a camera. Here’s the image after I ran it through my lightroom 4 workflow:
Just for reference, I thought it might be interesting to start showing the original, unprocessed images as well, as comparison of what came out of the camera and what I ended up with. And no, this wasn’t my best capture, although there was no clipping on the whites or blacks…
So now we start down the path of a complete collection edit. Last time I did this, I retired 35% of the images. I expect I’ll retire 15-20% this time through as no longer up to my standards. Painful in some ways, but a good thing, and a useful exercise to spend the time revisiting your collection and making sure it represents what I want my published collection to say about my work. This will likely take a couple of months to complete on a part time basis.
As I start working with LR4, I can see how the processing engine is improved. It’s a lot more logical to use, and it seems to be able to work with problem images with less fuss. I haven’t yet used ti enough to really feel comfortable with my workflow or think I’m close to doing the best possible work in it yet, but I definitely feel that the upgrade and the shift to the new processing is going to be more than worth it…
Every so often, I think it makes sense to evaluate your gear and think about how the pieces are performing and whether you should consider upgrading or adding a piece, or whether there are pieces that aren’t being used enough to warrant hauling them around. I’ve been looking at my gear and considering options, and I thought it might be interesting to talk about that and explain my thinking — and get your suggestions about things I haven’t thought of.
Part 1 is about the bodies and lenses. Part 2 is about bags, accessories and other hardware like tripods and toys. Part 3 is about software and the digital darkroom environment.
I’m old enough to remember the good old days of wet darkrooms, with enlargers and chemicals galore — and bad ventilation, and sitting in the dark room waiting for things to happen and unable to do anything else, and…
And while I enjoyed the process of developing my own film (b&w, I used labs for color) and printing (ditto) — I don’t miss it. Not one bit.
I love digital photography and the digital darkroom, and I’m not one bit sentimental about the good old days. Well, maybe just a touch. But being able to do all of this digitally, in my office, with the lights on, and being with my wife and not stuck in a musty converted bathroom — that’s awesome.
But when building a digital darkroom, what does that mean?
Start with hardware and the platform. Mac? Windows? Linux? Well, given my background, it shouldn’t be surprising it’s a Mac. You won’t hear me dissing Windows users (although if you’re still running XP, why?) but don’t ask me for help on doing it… Linux? Well.. I just don’t think the tools are up to snuff. If you want to try to do serious digital photography with the gimp, go with my blessings — but I think you’re going to regret it. Sorry.
I long ago gave up the idea of a desktop computer; I use a laptop, and when it’s at home, it gets wired into things to give it the desktop capability. I think few people need the power of a dedicated desktop like a Mac Pro, and trying to keep your portable computer and your fixed computer in sync just adds complexity. I hate “it’s on my other computer” issues, and I don’t see why I should spend the money for multiple CPUs — so I don’t. And the laptops are really powerful enough it isn’t an issue.
The one I bought last year as my most recent upgrade is the 13″ model. Smaller screen, a bit less powerful, but lighter, better battery life than the 15″ and for me, it was a great choice. I’m going to upgrade it to 8 gig of RAM soon, from 4, but I rarely run into situations where I think it’s underpowered. The small screen isn’t a problem at home, because it’s wired into a 25″ samsung monitor, and on the road, it’s perfectly usable for importing images and doing some basic editing, although I’m not sure I’d want to do my entire workflow for a long period of time on the smaller monitor. I do wish I could find a nice 23-25″ LCD monitor designed to be hauled around with good color rendition. Maybe at some point I’ll break down and buy a Cinema display and put it in a Pelican hardcase.
Laptop + Large monitor rocks. Slap on disks for archival storage, more disks for backups, more disks for backing up the backups, a good card reader (I use a Lexar USB model), a wireless network (I use an Airport, but this is going to get upgraded soon to Netgear N600), some ethernet for places where having wires is faster and convenient, and a printer. I retired my HP fine art printer a while back and haven’t replaced it (yet), but I keep thinking I will. Lab printing is fine for some stuff, but I miss my Hahnemuhle papers… I’m leaning towards the Canon Pixma Pro 9000, but I’ll wait to see what makes sense when I buy, since printer lines get upgraded a lot.
Upgrades are, ofcourse, a fact of life. And I find it’s better to plan them in and upgrade stuff before it fails rather than deal with the joy of being on deadline at 3AM and freaking because something just broke and now you’re screwed. How old is that hard drive all of your images are on? If its older than 18 months, you’re tempting fate. Why?
Software? I’ve owned a copy of photoshop since (I think) Photoshop 3.0. that’s a long time ago, kids. My current version of Photoshop? CS3 — yup. It’s ancient. Because when Adobe went to the suite model, I felt it was a money grab. And I went along through CS3, because I still used Photoshop a lot, but when CS4 came out, I simply didn’t see anything that benefitted me, so I chose to wait until I needed something CS3 didn’t do. I’m still waiting.
The reality is, I do 99% of my workflow today in Lightroom. I started out in Aperture, of course, but Apple fumbled the ball and still hasn’t brought Aperture back to the power that Lightroom has (I keep hoping; I think Aperture has really nice roots; but Lightroom is the better product).
So my basic software needs are pretty straightforward: Adobe Lightroom. If Aperture ever leapfrogs it, I’ll consider switching. I’m not holding my breath. But CS3 is getting really ancient, and it’s time to move forward, so I am — to Adobe Photoshop Elements. Because I can’t remotely justify the cost of what Adobe wants for Photoshop, given how little I use it any more — but Elements will handle my needs. If I ever hit a point where it doesn’t, THEN I’ll consider a copy of photoshop again. and I strongly suggest to everyone not to buy into the “gotta have photoshop” mentality. That was true three years ago, it’s not true today. Get a copy of LIghtroom, get a copy of Elements, and don’t buy the expensive products until you find a need those products can’t solve. And if you do end up needing the “big” photoshop, don’t buy the suite — unless you also are an active user of at least two other suite tools. Me? I’m not. I’ve kept a log of what I use — and the suite simply doesn’t make sense financially. It never did (and I’m thinking that’s true of most photographers out there but if you upgrade your suites, adobe thanks you, and pockets the fees).
Another thing to consider before buying the “real” photoshop: are there independent tools or plug-ins that do what you need? You can likely find a solution to a specific problem via a plug-in, or via an application that interfaces with Lightroom or Aperture. More and more, you’ll find digital photographers break into two camps: those who use Photohop heavily in their work (mostly because they’ve worked in photoshop so long it’s second nature), and photographers who spend most or all of their time in Lightroom or Aperture. As those programs have matured, there’s less and less need to use Photoshop on your images — probably the biggest exception still existing are people doing extensive retouching.
And with careful purchase of a few plug-ins, you can reduce the need for Photoshop even further. There’s also, at least on the Lightroom side, this entire sub-culture around presets (free and paid) to create specific effects on a photo. I’ve dabbled in it a bit, but haven’t dived in to date, but there are dozens of sites and thousands of presets — it seems to be the Lightroom replacement for actions for geeks that really want to hack on stuff within the program. It’s something I need to spend some more time exploring, honestly.
My plug-ins break down into a couple of broad areas — things that add specific functionality to Lightroom, and things that modify the images.
For things that add specific functionality, your first stop should be jeffrey friedl’s site. I use a number of his plug-ins: Flickr upload, Smugmug upload, his geo-encoding plug-in. For image modification, a key tool is LR/Mogrify, which is sort of a swiss army knife tool for making scripted tweaks to an image. It’s used heavily by photographers to do frames and faux mats and watermarks.
For HDR, I currently use Photomatix Pro. I’ve been experimenting with Nik Software’s new HDR Efex Pro but as seems typical of 1.0 products from Nik, I found it a bit laggy, and so I’m sticking with Photomatix for now. As is also typical of Nik’s software, they’ll tune it and improve it and speed it up, and then I’ll probably do another set of tests and likely switch, or share duties. both apps have a style that can be useful for certain HDR images, so I’m guessing having both will be worth it down the road as I do more HDR work on a regular basis.
Other Nik tools I use: Viveza 2 (which I absolutely love) allows you to do selective modifications of an image through intelligent selections that you can then use to modify many aspects (exposure, saturation, etc). It’s almost addictive at times, once youg et the hang of it, and it is a lot easier than the old photoshop technique of using layer masks and blending options and lots of brush-based tweaking. It really reduces the tedium of post processing in my workflow by a large amount.
Another one I use is Silver Efex Pro for black and white conversions. I like it better than doing the conversions in Lightroom, and it’s a lot easier to do than doing it in Photoshop. They have a new version (Silver Efex 2) out that I haven’t tried, but I plan on it.
A final Nik tool I use is Dfine, which is their noise reducer. Prior to Lightroom 3, I put most images through it; LR3 improved noise reduction massively, so I find I don’t need it nearly as much — but when I do, it’s a lifesaver.
There are two Nik tools on my short list to add at some point: Sharpener Pro and Color Efex. Sharpener Pro does what you might think; it’s an image sharpening tool. I still fight sharpening (honestly, I still kinda suck at it), but I decided instead of buying a tool I could use as a crutch, I felt it made sense to continue sharpening in Lightroom and learn how to do it better that way. There are times when I think it’d be useful to do selective sharpening, and so at some point, I’ll probably add this to the kit — but again, I think Lightroom 3 does a good job of this so it’s need isn’t high for most images, but it’ll be a real boon for those specific images that need help.
Color Efex is a filter toolkit — think of all of those things you used to do with Cokin square filters back in the ancient days. From warming an image to creating specific effects, this is the tool to use. It’s the one I plan on adding to my kit next (when? soon… really).
All of these are implemented as separate programs that you interface to via a plug-in or similar hookup within Lightroom — they act similarly to how photoshop does from Lightroom.
The one other plug-in I own is from Topaz Labs, Topaz Fusion Express. If Color Efex is the swiss army knife of simulating filter effects, Fusion Express is the Swiss Army Knife for preset style effects. It’s created a way to make it easy to do the kind of thing presets do, and create and save them within the program. it’s pretty neat — but like my relative lack of interest in using presets, I don’t use this plug-in a lot. That’s not a criticism of of the tool — I actually think it’s pretty neat — but I just havent’ spent the time learning how to take best advantage of it in my workflow, because since so much of my imagery is birds, it just doesn’t seem like it fits into my workflow well. I need to spend some time beating on it, and I expect once I do, that’ll change. It’s a nice tool and one worth taking a look at, especially if you have dabbled in presets more than I have…
One of the reasons I’ve been somewhat missing from the blog is that my photo processing workflow imploded — I came to realize it was broken beyond repair, and I didn’t know how to fix it.
That’s not a fun place to be.
The final straw was trying to integrate some more complicated processing techniques into the workflow, specifically handling multi-image processing for panoramas and HDR. The way I had everything set up in Lightroom just didn’t work for managing all of the pieces well, and everything I tried — well, all of the solutions were ugly and I realized they wouldn’t scale.
Ultimately I came to realize a decision I made when I first migrated to Lightroom was the failure point; I made a decision to use collections to store groups of photos instead of folders. Collections are a virtual grouping, folders are a physical grouping. I felt it made sense to import into a YYYY/MM/DDDD folder, and then use collections to pull related images together. Overall, that worked well (for a while).
Lightroom, however, has a — quirk — a design decision that is impacted by this, and that’s how sets can be used. Sets is another virtual collection that work within folders, but sets are incompatible with collections. that means when you pull everything together, you have to chose collections or sets (but not both). I chose collections. That works, until you need sets. Then all hell breaks loose. It really does make sense to use a set to pull all of those pieces together and tag them with the resulting image as the top image.
Unfortunately, you can’t do that if you use collections. sigh.
In researching options on how to do this (and more importantly, how to do this without tearing it down to ground zero and starting over), I finally decided the workflow I liked best was one outlined by Hal Schmitt at Digital Photo Experience as part of his Panorama screencast. But that meant — of course — starting from ground zero.
So I finally decided I needed to, and I’ve been spending my evenings recently taking everything in my Lightroom libraries and converting all of the collections to folders, one at a time. Of course, once you decide to open up the hood, you don’t just fix what’s broken, you start tinkering, and I did, restructuring my keywords, rethinking a few things in my metadata presets. Little things that flit in and tweak everything to some degree.
This, by the way, makes Time Machine crazy. That reminds me that I need to start planning to upgrade my disks to larger sizes soon. This means I have to think about my backup policies, and… and down the rabbit hole we go again. Fortunately I have a couple of months before I have to worry about the disks, and I’ve got everything back under control (well, mostly. I have a couple of thousand photos flagged with special keywords defining various “needs to be looked at and fixed” to-dos).
I’m happy with the structure of the files on disk and how the workflow gets me from import to flickr, and with the keywording and metadata (to a point; there’s more detail that I’m still thinking through and implementing, that’s the “to do” on a bunch of images…).
What I haven’t yet done is take it from “post to flickr” stage to the full portfolio, but that’s the part I’m starting to work on now. Most on that, hopefully soon…
I haven’t talked about photography much recently, mostly because I really didn’t have much to talk about (not that this ever seems to stop me).
Truth be told, my photography’s been “in between”. I’d shifted from using Photoshop/Bridge to Lightroom 2, but I only had my new photos in Lightroom, not my entire library, and while I was using Lightroom, I wasn’t really comfortable or felt I was using it effectively — to call what I was doing a workflow would be an exaggeration. I was in that “dating but no committed” phase, and stayed there for an extended period of time because I just didn’t have the time and energy to dig in and study the tool and make decisions on how I wanted to use it. It also didn’t help that work and other things were keeping me busy enough that I wasn’t doing much with the camera, so there was little new photography in forcing me to figure it out.
I finally decided to get serious about this, so I spent a couple of evenings importing my library. The import was painless, but — of course — created a couple of problems, the most serious one being that the keywording on my old photos and the keywording I was using weren’t the same. This led to two days of intermittently rearranging, merging and rethinking — I’ve come out of it with a singe hierarchy of keywords I (mostly) like that have (mostly) been reconciled and is finally (mostly) unambiguous and without duplicated functionality in different places (mostly). Another day or so of refining will resolve most of the (mostly) remains, but that can wait (famous last words).
I also realized I needed to change how I was handling exported images. In Bridge when I generated an image for, say, Flickr, I ended up importing it back into Bridge and pulling all of the versions of an image together into sets. In Lightroom, you can’t use sets with collections, which initially seemed like a real annoyance, but I later realized that between using snapshots to generate master images in the appropriate formats (8×10, 11×17, etc) and export presets to automate the image creation that storing the final image isn’t necessary in most cases; instead, regenerate it if you need it (duh). throw in a few lightroom plugins, and suddenly the workflow works pretty well.
I’ve adopted in a few Lightroom plugins to make this happen, the major one being LR2-Mogrify from Jeffrey Friedl. the other ones I’ve started using are his Geolocating plugin (which allows me to add location data within Lightroom using Google Earth), his plugin for finding photos near a given geolocation (so I can find all of the other images from that spot — once I get them all geolocated), and his flickr uploader.
Using LR2-Mogrify I’ve created some export scripts to do my framing and watermarking, and for flickr, I now upload them directly from Lightroom, which has simplified things massively for me. Now that I have this basic workflow done, I can adapt it for other formats that I plan on supporting (such as creating wallpapers in various sizes, more on that later).And I finally feel like I understand how to work the way Lightroom expects me to work; things are finally clicking, so I feel comfortable that what I’m doing is going to scale. I still have some work to do on the workflow, but at least it’s — flowing.
Along the way I made a couple of other changes; I changed the frame I use on flickr (again); I’ve shifted to a transparent watermark that I think will work better but be less obtrusive.
And maybe most significant, I’ve shifted photos posted to flickr back to a Creative Commons licenseon imagesI publish onto the net. Those images will continnue to be smaller images (1024 pixels max on the longest side), watermarked and with embedded information. I’ll continue to reserve non-watermarked images for license, and I will continue my policy of licensing them to non-profit and other worthy (as I define it!) organizations at no charge on request.
I’ll be updating my web site’s policy pages on this over the next few days. For now, I’ve left existing images under the old license for now. I haven’t decided what I will do there, whether I’ll change them all to CC or do it on a case by case basis. As I start gearing up for creating an updated web site with a portfolio and real licensing options, I’ll be re-processing and re-uploading my best images anyway, so I tend to think the status quo is less confusing than shifting things around…
I am in fact getting back on the planning process towards what I need to do to upgrade my web site to support my goal of moving from amateur photography to semi-pro (and from there to pro); I have a business model worked out and a strategy to implement it, and over the next few months, I hope to get it going and see what happens. After a lot of thought and research I’m comfortable with the idea that even though thousands of others are all buying digital SLRs and hanging out shingles as “pro photographers” during a time when many tradition revenue streams for existing pro photographers are either going away (newspaper photojournalism) or being significantly disrupted (stock photography) there are still options and opportunities to succeed.
So we’re going to go for it. Unlike most of those other photographers, I think I can succeed; for one thing, I know it won’t be easy and I know it’s a long-term investment. For another, I’ve put a lot of time and energy into technique (especially post processing) the last couple of years, and I think my imagery is now pretty good (but can still get better) — I look back on older stuff and wince a lot, which is a good thing. And I thnk I understand how to leverage the new technologies and marketing opportunities and my lack of dependence on the old days” of photography business models to my benefit.
We’ll see. I could also prove myself to be a blithering idiot. Wouldn’t be the first time. But heck, it’ll be a fun hack.
what’s my plan? That’s another blog entry on another day…
My photography, however, is another story and it rather scares the pants off me when I think about it too much. I have hundreds of gigabytes and tens of thousands of images on my hard drive, all of which represent precious memories and some of which are pretty good photographs in their own right. Pictures of my children’s births, their first birthdays, family holidays, great trips I’ve taken, places I’ve been and so on. Years of my life in visual form.
But all of that is locked into proprietary formats. All of it. Firstly, the RAW files are Canon CR2 files from an EOS 350D and a 30D. That’s the first thing that scares me. What happens when the 30D is a twenty-five-year-old camera? I’ll only be in my early 50s when that situation arises and hopefully still doing a lot of photography. What will the computers and operating systems look like in the year 2032? Is Apple really committing to build a RAW decoder for the 30D into every future version of Mac OS X, Mac OS XI and the new-for-2030 A.D. Mac OS XII? What if Apple ’starts over’ again with another OS once X has seen better days? Will they build RAW converters for prehistoric digital cameras?
So that’s just the RAW files themselves. I’m also locked into Aperture. I’m not locked in through metadata, but I am locked in through Aperture’s proprietary database of all the image adjustments I’ve made to each of my photos. This concern isn’t even one for the future. It’s one for right now. If I wanted to, how would I take all my RAW masters and move to Lightroom, preserving the edits I’ve made in Aperture and keeping all of those edits non-destructive? I simply don’t think this can be done today.
On the other hand, this just doesn’t bother me all that much — not nearly as much as data loss of the bits on disk does.
I’m not minimizing the issue, but I think people are looking at it the wrong way to a degree. There seems to be this thought that you should be able to move a post-processed image from one application to another, and on the other side, it’ll still be the same post-processed image. I frankly don’t think that’s a completely rational thing to expect even from one release of Aperture to another, much less from one app to another. There are so many variables here — including bugs and fixes to the Raw processor or the Aperture application itself — that even if you don’t change a thing, you might not get the same picture (heck, there are even going to be subtle changes in how jpegs get processed on export; it gets really ugly really fast if you let it get to you).
Now, this wasn’t necessarily very different in the wet-lab days — reproducibility of creating a print in a darkroom has similar problems. Depending on how particular you are, a favorite print could be seriously impacted by a change in the chemicals used for developing, or by a manufacturer discontinuing a favorite paper. At least in the digital world, you don’t need to worry about your original negative being the ONLY copy — backing up the RAW file means never having to say it’s missing. But everything from there down is up for grabs to some degree. But then, so was wet chemistry.
I”m not at all worried about losing access to the RAW files. I’m not particularly worried about losing Aperture (I am getting increasingly impatient waiting for Aperture 2.0, though, and I find myself thinking about how nice it’d be to have a workflow that has access to some of the REALLY NICE Photoshop filters (like some of the third party sharpening tools) without bouncing back and forth from Aperture to Photoshop. Gotta say if Aperture 2.0 doesn’t have capability to run Photoshop filters or a good plug-in interface to allow those developers to build for Aperture as well (and the evangelism to get them to DO IT), I’m going to have a tough call on my hands. But that’s a different discussion for a different time.
My view on this is that if I move my images from Aperture to some other processing environment, I am most likely going to want to reprocess them in the new workflow, not simply import what I did in Aperture and expect it to work right. My rationale for this is simple: I’m moving to this new environment. Heck, I expect to do that for whatever Apple’s “Raw processor 2.0″ or 1.2 or whatever it is when they update it. None of this is etched in stone, even within Aperture over time.
If this worries you, then you shouldn’t be thinking about moving the edits to a new environment. You should be thinking in terms of making sure that whatever future environment you have works with your “negative” (i.e., the RAW image), and if you want to guarantee an unchanged final image, you need to export it into an immutable format and not depend on Aperture or any other environment to not create changes down the road. To me, that means exporting the “final” image into uncompressed TIFF, and in all honesty, if/when I do move from Aperture to something else, I won’t do it by trying to preserve the Aperture edit metadata, I’ll do it by moving the RAW images into my new environment, and scripting an export of uncompressed TIFF of any processed image I want to guarantee to be preserved unchanged. That’s really the only way to do this — and then when I want to update an image, start from scratch in the new environment — and then save the final as uncompressed TIFF again.
I think the geek in us would love a world where everything interacts perfectly and you can move from application to application easily with reliability and no data loss; in the real world, that’s not going to happen. What can happen, though, is that you can guarantee easy access to the “negative” and the “final print”; the best way to do that isn’t by mucking with meta-data and Aperture internals, but by using standar formats we can feel comfortable will survive or be convertable from — and RAW formats qualify (when they go obsolete, there are enough images stored in them that there will be conversion tools when we need them), and TIFF files.
This is an important issue to think about; it’s not, however, an issue you should allow yourself to OVER think. the proper way to preserve your work here is to preserve the source and the result, not all of the pieces in the middle. Ultimately, they don’t matter — because if you decide you want to go in and rework an image, you’re going to rework it by starting over in the new (hopefully improved) environment. Those middle bits just don’t matter that much in that situation, so focus on making sure you keep copies of the result once you hit a form you consider “done”, and simply use the result until you think you can try again and do better….
Update: James Davidson chimes in, with a similar opinion to mine. And one of the best comments I’ve seen on the subject down in his comments: RAW is not an archival format. Very true.
So what is one to do if they perfectly tweak an image to their liking and want to keep it for posterity? At this point, the only sane thing to do is to bake—my pet term for export—a TIFF or PSD file, preferably in 16-bit format. This will ensure that you can keep your currently processed image no matter what happens in the future with your choice of tools. Of course, now you have another file to manage. And that becomes another problem.
Maybe DNG could help us out with this. It’s already possible to include multiple representations of RAW data in a DNG file. Maybe if the keepers of the DNG spec were to add an ability to include “snapshots” in TIFF or PSD format into a DNG, we could package our processed versions of a photograph together with its RAW data in such a way that could survive the test of time in one handy package. That way, even if you move from Lightroom to SuperDeluxRAWTool in the future, you can always access how your photos looked when you made your edits in late 2007.
As I was processing this image in Aperture, I started to think a bit about the way I work through photos in that application. In particular, I was thinking about the way I balance editing decisions between evaluating the technical aspects of a photograph and the emotional impact.
I realised that I’m way too obsessed with the technical. One of the tools at my disposal that contributes to this is Aperture’s loupe tool. With the flick of a key, you’ve got a 100% view of the tiniest detail in your image. It’s very easy to detect a fractionally missed focus or slight motion blur in any image without first thinking about what the image really shows.
That’s not to say that the feature isn’t useful, or that such matters are irrelevant, but it has certainly led me down a path of technical obsession that I associate more with amateur camera magazine critiques than with the images I find personally compelling. Take one look at National Geographic, or the VII archives. You’ll find ultra-grainy, motion-blurred images.
i went through the same epiphany recently. I think this is part of the maturation of a photographer; It’s easy to focus on the technical (i.e. geeky) aspects of photography, and lord knows, photography is almost as much fun as scuba or computers when it comes to encouraging toy buying. But at some point, you start seeing what’s behind the technical details, you start seeing the whole of the photo, not just the pieces.
I’ve had a few of these ephiphanies. I remember reading articles and books that talked about sharpening, and looking at before and after, and going “huh?” — and I remember the day I looked at photos and going “oh. THAT’s what sharpening does”. Before, I could tell (some of the time) that one photo was clearer than another, but in most cases, sharpening is a really subtle improvement; you cna tell, but can you tell why? And then, suddenly, I could see it.
The second ephiphany was when I could really see OVERsharpening. And I think most photographers go through a “if a little is good, a lot is better” phase. I also have gone through a “let’s kick the saturation up a notch” phase. so… All of this is, I think, part of the process of really learning effective, quality photography. And I think what digital photographers are learning (or have learned, or will learn) is that despite all of the digital aspects of photography today, it’s still a very analog discipline, and the technical underpinnings are exactly that — underpinnings.