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Tuesday, 10 November 2015


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Should a person practice (printing, writing, piano, golf) to stay sharp or get better?

Probably both.


It might be interesting to know what software TOP readers are using. Lightroom (or something like it) might be good for working quickly to get something "good enough". Perhaps Photoshop for working more slowly and optimizing the image? I used to use Lightroom almost exclusively. Once I figured out Photoshop, I shifted most of my work there, at least for images I really care about. Camera Raw does much of what Lightroom does, although one of the nicer features of Lightroom is the ability to save versions.


If one is working for oneself (O.K. that is actually play, not work), be it post processing or printing, there is no fun in hurrying and working like a professional printer with a dead line to meet. That will only kill the enjoyment. Every one has one's unique way of doing something and it is not worth trying to learn another way of doing it. That "one way" of a person is his style and will show up in shooting as well as in post processing.

Manuel Álvarez Bravo had a sign in his darkroom that read: "Hay tiempo" (There is time).

I don't really have any scintillating insight to add here, but would like to say that I've been working towards this approach for a while now. As you're recommending, I've been discovering lately that the breather period is essential to cutting out the fat.

I've pulled together a couple personal projects lately that both give me a little twinge as I "finished" them too quickly and there are some things now that I would like to revise (as they were Blurb books for a friend and for a gallery, it's an expensive lesson). But in that, I've begun to recognise in myself that I have a tendency to get very excited about a project and want to tie it up very quickly and say LOOK! LOOK! ISN'T THIS COOL? Whereas, invariably, the things I work with over longer periods have had that time to live and breathe I tend to find a more satisfying conclusion.

I've tended in the past to really like the rough, first draft versions of things... get that inspiration on paper, let it out, don't self-edit, follow that thread and let Kerouac be your guide. But I am now starting to see that perhaps in the refinement is the real voice. That upfront excitement and engagement is still valuable and essential to the process, but let it move on to something else.

So, now, at least, the realisation is there and it is time to tame the beast and work longer and smarter, not faster.

I agree, and my strongest learning curve was when I used to process and share hundreds of photos for my daughter's school, both as a volunteer and as a part time instructor. Now days I still learn little by little. Recently while processing I learned more about the limits and ability of my camera with skin and shadows. If I want good skin I need more light, no big surprise. Otherwise I can get rough gradations, essentially banding of the skin.

Pity the poor motion picture colorists. Post processing 500 images a day ... and matching them too! :)

Excellent advice.
I do a bit every day, but hadn't practiced the fast - slow suggestion.

I do post-process (almost) every day. I shoot almost every day, then I dump into my favorite cataloger Aperture and (MOST IMPORTANT OF ALL) keyword and rank all the photos I don't delete. (If I don't keyword images right away, I never get around to it, and the images might as well be lost forever.) Then I take the few picks -- 3, 5, 7 images? -- and do a quick post.

Because I shoot in RAW, my images start out rather flat and dull and always -- always -- require some post processing.

The post routine doesn't vary much at that stage: a run through Nikon's NX-D to automatically fix distortion and chromatic aberration (does a better job than DX-O for Nikon lenses), then into Photoshop where I typically straighten crooked shots, do a Curves -> Auto Color Correct -> Enhance Monochromatic Contrast (usually works like magic!), maybe a little cropping, maybe lighten or darken with a Curves layer.

The whole process might take a half hour, for all images beginning to end. And at that point I'm at the stage where those first 3 or 5 or 7 images are reduced to one or two, which are saved as Photoshop files in my "Ultimate Repository" folder.

An image that I know is going to be a print or some other major keeper gets the later, big post-processing treatment, at least a few days later but often weeks. At that time I might clean up spots, do real color correction, etc. I'll run the occasional print so can see what the picture really looks like. When it's all cooked, I append the word "MASTER" to the filename, so that I can later resize and sharpen for various purposes without changing the look of the image.

But the real reason I immediately post-process is because I can't really evaluate an image until I see it at its (almost) best. Some images don't come alive until I've tweaked them. And some that I think are winners just seem to be unsalvageable.

Good advice.

One of the main reasons I've kept an ongoing blog for almost twelve years is to force myself to PP images regularly. I consider the images to be "illustrations" rather than "photographs"; with no limits on subjects, styles or themes: it isn't a portfolio.

I also agree with your previous advice of "starting over" when working up an image. I find that I always get a fresher result than if I just kept rehashing a prior version.

Dear Mike,
I don't mean to have the impudence of criticizing your aesthetic options, but having seen many of your black and white conversions for some time now, I suspect I'm finding a pattern: you never seem to allow highlights to shine. They're mostly muted. I see it here, I saw it in a famous snowy landscape you showed us some months ago.
Having taken the opposite path to most people and turned from digital to analogue photography, I found out I completely changed my mind about highlights. When I shot digital, I used to post-process my pictures so that highlights were reduced to pale midtones. I'd move the highlights slider until the false colours were gone. When I look at those photos now, after having made the transition to analogue, I find them dull, dark, lifeless and ploddy.
Highlights are beautiful. As long as they aren't too glaring and don't destroy information, they can make the pictures come alive. I wish I saw them more often in your conversions.

No way. Since digital, I've gone all Garry Winogrand and deliberately do not look at most non-family shots for at least a month and sometimes much longer. This provides the detachment needed to quickly winnow down (ha!) the absurd number of frames I generate to the few that have a ghost of a chance.

Practicing scales is a good analogy to post-processing (except, of course, when the situation is one of those 'rushed, need it now' things).

A variation I enjoy is taking a photo I've processed to my satisfaction in the past, creating a virtual copy, resetting it, and doing my best with it again. Mixed feelings when it turns out better: nice that I'm getting better/what was I thinking; mixed feelings when it turns out similar (or worse): OK, I was dialed in on this/why aren't I getting better?

But, as I say, enjoyment ;-)

No I don't process every day and wouldn't want to either. Even after a break of weeks or more it only takes five minutes to settle in to the software process again. I have created a few actions in PS that simplify the initial phase of processing and having just returned from a trip with several thousand photos to process I always do a fast editing and processing run then return later to refine the ones that are worth it. The time between also means you may find the occasional worthwhile pic that was missed in the first run. I can process to a satisfactory level in a very short time but to fine tune takes commensurably longer at an exponentially increasing ratio.

Image evaluation is an important part of the equation that also needs streamlining - "fixing it in Photoshop"has meant that many an image that would never have been considered good enough before is now processed to death to try and revive it.
Knowing what you want to achieve before starting is not so easy as playing with the image until you get something either.

I learned quite a while back, that it is best practice to go through the whole test printing process, and then stop. Full stop.
Now wait until the next day and look again at what looked finished, and take a long look. And then look again.
All too often what seemed fine yesterday is obviously a little off. Easy to fix, really. No customer would have objected, but it can be better.
I choose to do better, and wait until the next day.

I had a student last night who was presenting her photo to the class, a photo that had obviously been processed to hell and (halfway) back. At first she denied that she had processed it at all, but under my no-doubt withering glare, she admitted to "moving some of the Lightroom sliders around a bit."


Dear Mike,

I'm hesitant to argue with you about your taste (which is inarguable) and even more so based upon a JPEG, but from what little I can see on the screen I don't think that sunset photograph is hopeless. I think it might actually be rather good, when printed properly.

My first thought is something needs to be done about the lake. As it is it competes with the sky. I would take it down and brightness. I might even end up cropping the bottom and taking it out entirely. If I did that, I'd also be taking a little bit off the top. I might do that anyway; enough to get rid of that thin line of white clouds in the top 5-10% of the picture.

Then I'd start to work on the clouds themselves. One of the things that's become very obvious to me over the past year's printing (I've been printing LOTS of clouds) is that clouds rarely reproduce in a print with the texture and three dimensionality that they have when we look at them. They frequently need lots of local contrast enhancement to convey the same sensation they did in real life. It doesn't end up making them look cooked; it ends up making them look natural. Which, by definition, isn't overcooked.

Or, you know, it might turn out to be mediocre after all. But, I gotta feeling.

Just some thoughts from one master printer to another.

If you want some amusement, you could dropbox me your black and white conversion and let me noodle around with it a bit and see what happens.

pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com

Everyone finds their own level of competence at various tasks, so I like Kenneth Tanaka's advice of partnering up with someone with complementary skills. In my case, I'd love to have someone next door or nearby who really knows how to print. I own one of those Canon "photo"-inkjets (8.5 x 11 only), as opposed to the low-end consumer inkjets, and I've never been happy with what comes out. I have not settled into the discipline of using only one or three kinds of paper, and do not have the expertise to be able to predict (even crudely) what the machine will spit out. I wish I had the discipline to better my printing, but I'm pretty sure I don't. I shoot for fun and so print only for me so it's easy to put it off. I suspect that if I made a living at this, I would force myself to become good at it. As it is, there are too few hours in the day and too many other demands on my time.

For example, I'd occasionally (3 times per year) like to print something larger, but there's no way I am going to spend $500 (minimum) on a larger format printer just so I can continue my mediocre printing on more expensive paper.

What the world of photography needs is a web-based fine print making service, a network of Cteins or near-Cteins (we'd find the appropriate level). All this sitting at home by yourself is fine for some things, but not everything.

"had a student bring in a comped piece in which a label was unintentionally flopped"

comped --> completed?
flopped --> flipped?

If you're in commercial photography, you give the relative client what they want. I tend to shoot a lot of aerial work in NYC, the brokers and developers tend to want a over saturated image. It varies from Summer to Winter, less/more.

A human trait I guess, we want to see more color in the drab winter months vs summer. This not based on one client, I've seen it again and again.

The rendering company's however what none of this. They want a pure color accurate photo. They want to do the final corrections. Same for the high end printers to produce massive wall prints.

Know you clients. Be willing to post for them.

I'm in the middle of my first 365 project.

So I'm processing pictures every single day. I can get pictures out in a pretty timely manner because I have a deadline to meet. I don't take a ton of pictures each day, but enough that I'm usually working on a couple each day.

Looking back on the progress, I see where I try things out, and tweak things as I go along, and I incorporate commonly used settings and processing.

Has it made me better at post? I don't know, I was already comfortable doing it. But I think I can gauge before changing a setting, what the result will be, so there is that.

Just like the project has refined how I shoot, it's refined how I process. It's not what I expected to happen on either side. Things like, I now use a tripod religiously, when I only ever used one for night and long exposure shots. I use Luminance and Saturation sliders on most of the keepers to tweak color (among other settings).

Sam: "Comped", in this case, means "composited"; made up from multiple images. (A note here: a comp may refer to either a composite image or a comprehensive layout. A commercial photographer may have to create a comp in order to work to the comp he/she was given by the art director. Nobody ever said terminology was going to be easy.) "Flopped" means reversed right-to-left. "Flipped" means reversed top-to-bottom. Both were easy to do in the pre-computer press world, where everything you were working with on the plate or film was usually backwards, except when it wasn't. (You'd think flipping would be hard to miss, but then think about those upside-down airmail stamps that are worth a fortune today.)

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