Friday, December 22, 2006

Book Review: Digital Photography - Expert Techniques, Second Edition by Ken Milburn

by T. Michael Testi ( , PhotographyToday, ATAEE)

In Digital Photography: Expert Techniques, Ken Milburn takes the approach that because digital photography is such a new art form, we really need to step back and take a look at what we are doing. Our darkroom is no longer what it used to be and techniques in photographing and processing photographs may need to be thrown out to create a workflow that is not a helter-skelter mess.

Workflow, in regards to photography, is such a bantered-about term that in many ways it has lost much of its meaning. According to Milburn, “The organized process of creating a finished photograph... starts with an idea and ends by being shown or passed onto other people.”

Further, and in my mind more importantly “…when a change in the interpretation of the image is required, it is possible to go back only to the specific state at which the re-interpretation must be made.” I do not think that I have heard anyone espouse such a simple, but important statement within the confines of a photography book. And this is only in the preface.

Ken Milburn's approach to each topic is simple, concise and to the point. He does not assume that you know everything on each topic; instead he makes his points and allows you to determine if the content is relevant to your needs. Because of this, I have gained from this book a lot of insight that is lacking in other books on photography.

Digital Photography: Expert Techniques, is not about how to do things in Photoshop as much as it is about the best way to accomplish a task. According to Ken, “Because the book is called Expert Techniques, I felt obligated to take the reader well beyond even Photoshop CS, delving into all the third-party, extra-cost software that can sometimes solve a problem in a (often uniquely) better way.” This is apparent in his approach.

There are many common sense items such as what to pack before a shoot and what to have on hand. There are things we all should know and do, such as have multiple batteries on hand. Something I had to learn the hard way (and now have two extras). However, there are simple tips: it is better to underexpose than overexpose; Once you lose details to washout you cannot get them back; Or, take shots in program mode to get a feeling for speed and exposure before returning to fully manual mode.

Milburn explains how to use Adobe Bridge for doing raw conversion, applying metadata, and adding copyright information. He also gives some compelling arguments for converting from raw to DNG, Adobe's digital negative format. By having it in a common standard, five, ten or twenty years down the road, you will still have a raw format available when your camera's format no longer exists.

More importantly, Milburn feels you should you follow the examples of professional photographers who deal with workflow on a daily basis. Because they do it hundreds of times a day, they have worked out the problems. From their experience you can develop efficient skills to take your work to the next level. That is where the expert techniques are so important.

Ken Milburn started his career taking publicity photos of Hollywood starlets and shooting album covers for several music labels, including Capital Records. His work has been featured in Design Graphics Magazine and Computer Graphics World. He is also the principle author of 20 computer books, mostly on Photoshop and digital photography.

Mind you, this book expects you to be comfortable with Photoshop and computers in general. If you are, Digital Photography: Expert Techniques will take you to the next level of photography expertise!

Monday, December 18, 2006

Book Review: The DAM Book: Digital Asset Management For Photographers by Peter Krogh

by T. Michael Testi ( , PhotographyToday, ATAEE)

When I was doing film photography, it was hard to keep everything recorded and cataloged in a manner that would allow quick access to individual shots. My perception of the digital revolution was that it would be easier to maintain and manage my photos because, after all, they can be computerized. Boy was I wrong!

The problem was not so much with the idea that digital can be computerized, but rather in the fact that when I was shooting film, I would shoot rolls of 12, 24 or 36 shots. I would shoot one, two or three rolls and that would be that; maybe 75 or 100 shots. Now, with digital, I can shoot 100, 200 or 300 shots without a thought.

For each shot I now have both a raw file and a JPEG. Sure, I get a lot more garbage shots as well as those once-in-a-lifetime shots that I may have missed before, but they are still assets I have to manage. Through trial and error I have come up with my own way to manage assets, but with Peter Krogh's The DAM Book: Digital Asset Management for Photographers I have found new and better ways to process my images.

The DAM Book provides a roadmap and directions to creating a system that works. The author’s primary focus is on Adobe Photoshop CS2 and iView Media Pro by Microsoft, and if you are using one or both of these tools this book becomes a user's manual. If you are not using either of these tools, it will still provide you with a starting point for what is needed to create your own workflow using the tools you have available. Myself, I use Photoshop, but not iView, and I have found this book enormously helpful.

The book is segmented into nine chapters. There is an introduction to digital asset management. Krogh then moves into the topics of metadata, information structure, hardware configuration, Adobe Bridge, workflow, cataloging software, derivative files and file migration.

In the chapter on Metadata, the author does a great job of describing his method of rating photos, the use of keywords, and the rating pyramid. He points out that when you are rating your photos, you are really building a foundation for the future. Sure you may only have a couple hundred or thousand photos now, but in two years or five years that may become a couple of hundred thousand. And when you are looking for that just right photo, you will be glad you cataloged today. Another note about this book: just about every photo in the book is captioned with the author’s keywords. It makes it nice when you can look at how another photographer keys their photos.

In a further chapter, the one on information structure, Krogh provides a method of storing files within your computer system. It is a simple and straightforward method of collecting your data in a meaningful way so that it is easy to access and retrieve your files when you need them. He calls them buckets and in reality that is what they are. As time goes on, you can combine buckets or you can separate buckets as your needs arise.

All of the chapters have something to offer. In the Bridge chapter, you are led through a method of preparing your images. In the Cataloging chapter, you are introduced to the world of cataloging software, how to evaluate and use the software. In this chapter he refers back to Metadata and how this interacts with, if you excuse my pun, the whole DAM business.

There are some things the author uses that I am not completely sold on, such as his file-naming, and his massive network storage. But like everything else, Krogh is explaining how he has accomplished the task of asset management and you are free to use his advice as guidance and adapt it as you see fit.

It does not matter if you are a seasoned professional or dedicated amateur - there is something for you here. I would recommend this book if you are finding yourself overwhelmed by a growing catalog of photos and feeling overwhelmed by what it takes to manage them. If you are a professional photographer or are just starting out, you will find value in this book.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Book Review: Fine Art Printing for Photographers by Uwe Steinmüller and Jürgen Gulbins

by T. Michael Testi ( , PhotographyToday, ATAEE)

I have had the privilege to encounter many books on the art of photographic printing, but never have I found one so succinct and to the point about what is needed to create great prints. Fine Art Printing for Photographers is that book. Its subtitle, Exhibition Quality Prints with Inkjet Printers, is quite apt as it does a superb job of getting to the core of what is needed to understand and create high quality prints.

What I find is that many books on printing focus on “The Printer”. That is they focus on a specific brand of printer whether it be Canon, Epson or HP. This is a book that transcends a brand and focuses on what it takes to generate a high quality print.

Many books will tell you about dots per inch and printer resolution. Fine Art Printing for Photographers concentrates on items that will allow you to make an informed decision on what will work best for your specific needs and equipment. It describes the differing types of inkjets; Piezo, thermal, continuous flow etc. The book describes types of inks, types of paper and the effects of all of this, along with the external conditions, on the permanence of your photos.

The book is laid out in nine chapters covering printing techniques, inks and papers, CMS management, fine art workflow, fine art printers, printing packages and RIPs, black and white, image judgment and presentation.

When assessing a book to purchase I have to ask myself, does it just rehash the same things that some other author has done or is there something more to the book? One area that I seldom see addressed is paper — questions such as what is the best type of paper for what I am creating? And how will this paper work with this type of printer? When you think about it, inkjet photographic paper is as new as digital photography itself.

Fine Art Printing for Photographers devotes a whole chapter to the process of paper and its interaction with the various types of inks. The authors go into the ingredients of the various types of paper, coatings and how they interact with the air pollutants that can cause fading. They describe the types of surface and paper finishes and how to match the appropriate inkjet technology with the subject, paper, and ink.

Another chapter is devoted to understanding the different color models — RGB, LAB, CMYK, and grayscale. While a lot of books talk about color models, Fine Art Printing for Photographers does one of the better jobs of helping you with the visualization of the color spaces and of color-space mapping. They describe how to profile your monitor and your printer to work as a team.

In the chapter "Tuning Colors", the authors provide numerous tricks to help you bring out the best in your photos. They describe “Soft Light” techniques, removing blue casts, and how you can use a traditional wet color darkroom technique called “ring around” to help evaluate an image to see if it has the appropriate color balance and density.

Uwe Steinmüller has been a photographer since 1973 and has been exhibiting his work worldwide since 1978. In 1999, he launched the web magazine "Digital Outback Photo," which attracts about 4 million visitors per year, and currently focuses on digital workflow, RAW file processing, and the printing process.

Jürgen Gulbins is a prolific author who has written and translated books on topics such as CAD, Unix, DTP, typography, Internet, document management, Linux, and various aspects of digital photography.

Regardless if you are an amateur or professional, Fine Art Printing for Photographers provides a complete foundation for understanding what it takes to generate the highest quality fine art prints and how to master the techniques of the masters.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Book Review: The Making of Landscape Photographs by Charlie Waite

by T. Michael Testi ( , PhotographyToday, ATAEE)

Every once in a generation there is that artist who comes along and takes their field to a new and different level, and leaves us all better off for it. Often it is subtle and hard to define but being in the presence of their work makes us marvel at their insight.

In the early part of the 20th century, one such person was Ansel Adams. He was able to take the field of photography and not only create the definition of the art, but to carve out a path in our collective psyche of what the natural beauty of the American landscape can be. He showed us Yosemite, Big Sur, and Half-dome. And he did it in black and white.

I have seen a lot of landscape photographers. Some good, some not so much. In my opinion, Charlie Waite has defined the art of landscape photography much in the way that Ansel Adams did in the early part of the 20th century. My favorites are his color images, but his black and white is superb as well.

As a photographer, I am always trying to improve my craft. My first love is landscape or outdoor photography. As such, I have been drawn to books that feature this genre. As with anything else, if you want to improve, the best way is to emulate those who define the craft. In other words to do your best you must try to learn from the best.

One of the best books I have found is The Making of Landscape Photographs by Charlie Waite. The book is worth the price of admission just for the photos it contains. But it goes much further than being just a picture book. It is an exploration into the creation of a photo, of an image, and of a moment. This book contains a wide assortment of some of Waite's best work and best insights in to what created that work.

He talks about how each picture came about — what went into preparing for taking the picture as well as what equipment was used. He describes the light and the land and he adds points to watch while trying to emulate his images.

There are many duplicate images in which one was a near-miss and the one that was perfect. Many times you must be in the right place at the right time and even then you may only have a five-second window to get the right shot. The sun comes out, the sun hides, the light changes and then the shot is gone.

Granted, this book was published in 1991, well before the digital age in camera technology but the process is the same process. An image that is well planned for film will be well planned for digital media.

For example, the cover picture highlights a section called “Right Time, Right Place” and a chapter called “The Revealing Winter.” It is from a location west of Celano, Abruzzi in Italy. Waite says, “In the very middle of the winter at the end of the afternoon, I can feel myself still being invited into this picture. It makes you want to walk into it, doesn’t it?”

To me, the picture almost looks like a painting rather than real life. It looks like an artist’s image of what they want us to see. In a real way, that is exactly what it is. What is phenomenal about Charlie Waite is he has a vision in his mind that he is able to convey on film accurately into my mind.

In another section, “Color in its Place,” we are able to view a shed near Vaison-La-Romaine in Provence, France. The spectacular color contrasts between the blue sky and lines of lavender in the field. The sun’s light on the face of the shed and the two trees bracketing the shed makes it a perfect form of composition.

What makes this photo so important, although you would not find this out in this particular volume, is what makes landscape photography important as an art. This picture was created in 1986, almost 30 years ago. When Charlie returned to this location in the early part of the twenty-first century, the shack and the trees were gone. You are no longer allowed a vision of this reality except through the eyes of Charlie Waite.

If you consider yourself a lover of art or a photographer of any form, you should study this book, as it will give you new insights into what makes a great landscape photograph. If you just love the beauty of an image, you will be, like me, the owner of a well-worn book.

You can also buy copies of his prints at Charlie Waite's webpage.

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Saturday, September 30, 2006

Heroin Chic and the Power of Photo Imagery Manipulation

by T. Michael Testi ( , PhotographyToday, ATAEE)

In my last column I said that within the realm of digital photography there is a lot of room for cheating. Sometimes it is all right to manipulate photographs and sometimes it is not. In the area of marketing and advertisement, most, if not all companies remodel product photos to make them more saleable. The question is how much is too much and what are the implications to the individual as well as to society?

Obviously, sex sells. We all know that. But when we manipulate to our perception of what other people want, we begin to define what they want through our manipulation. It is kind of like me standing up and saying day in and day out that I like warm beer. At some point I will find someone who will agree with me — then another and another, until I gain enough momentum that you feel you have to agree with me because your perception is that everyone else does.

Think about the phrases and trends that have twisted our culture over the last 40 years. “Blondes have more fun” made our culture feel that other hair colors were inferior. The Heroin chic craze has generated more eating disorders than botulism ever could.

That being said, what is the problem with manipulation for the sake selling of things? I found a good example of the kind of subtle manipulation that can be done to tweak your thinking without you ever realizing it. It is this kind of manipulation that can be the most detrimental. It is a form of subliminal mind shrink.

The Girl Power site shows a picture of a fourteen year old girl standing in a shirt and blue jeans. The site then uses Photoshop manipulation to create a magazine cover of the girl to sell the magazine.

This is the same kind of manipulation that is done in every magazine, every brochure, and every product packaging label around the world. To view the process, open the page, select the magazine cover on the left, and click on the “Unveil the Fraud” button on the page.

A few things struck me. The first was that the girl looked fine to me in the original picture. It wasn’t that she was sixty-five and had been lying in the sun for the last 40 years. She was fourteen. She did not need to be “fixed up.” Second was how many things had been manipulated — her eyes, lips, breasts, waist, nose, jawbone, and shirt color. Finally, and most disturbingly, was the fact that I understood why they would make all these changes. If I had been in their shoes, I would have probably approved the changes myself.

Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong in using a package such as Photoshop to manipulate photos. I do it all the time. Where I have a problem is when you try to sell something that is fabrication as something that is real. It distorts the collective mentality of society in general and usually not for the good.

This is no different than a major manufacturer of soft drinks buying time in the latest action movie to insert messages like “Buy my product now” every hundredth frame. You see the finished picture and you are not aware of the changes that have been made. On a subliminal level, you find the changes appealing. This changes your tastes.

Suddenly blondes have more fun and you feel the urge to purge

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Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Can you tell the difference?

by T. Michael Testi ( , PhotographyToday, ATAEE)

In the world of digital photography there is a lot of room for cheating. There was also a lot of room in the world of film photography as well; just look at all the fake flying saucers, sea monsters etc, But in the world of digital there is just so much more opportunity for the average person to fake the images that they are trying to project.

Is this wrong? That depends on the intent of the person and the goal that is set for the deception. For the person that is trying to portray a real world event and trying to sell their image as a real world event, manipulation is dishonest, wrong and possibly immoral.

For the artist who is trying to portray a vision of the world as they see or would like to see it, it would be acceptable. My personal view is that they should have a disclaimer stating that the image has been manipulated would be the best method. This way no one feels offended when they view your image.

I think that it is all right if the photographer is just trying to clean-up and sharpen a photograph with no real attempt of deception. When you try to remove items just so that you don't have to get that better shot or you don't want to come back when the lighting is better or the weather is different, then I think you need to be upfront and honest with your viewers.

Some people feel that they can pick out hoaxes and images manipulated in PhotoShop. Do you think you can?

Try your luck at the “Museum of Hoaxes” Hoax photo test or stop by PhotographyToday.Net and check out the Photography Hot Links section to try your luck.

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Monday, September 25, 2006

The early history of Photography

by T. Michael Testi ( , PhotographyToday, ATAEE)

It has been over the course of the last five years that the explosion of digital cameras has all but put the film camera industry out of business. But before you film fanatics start bashing me about all the benefits of film over digital, you have to know that I started with film over 30 years ago so to a point I agree. But as they say, facts is facts and to quote Stephen King "the world has moved on...". The film industry will not return to the golden years again.

Digital will continue to grow and get more and more refined. The state of the art will continue to over take and surpass the film camera. In my opinion, this is both a good thing and a bad thing. It makes everyone a photographer whether you have talent or not. It builds galleries all over the web regardless of your abilities. Bottom line, it dilutes everything. On the other hand, many other talented people, especially those in the inner city as well as those in rural, non-cosmopolitan areas are given much more opportunities than in years past. This is something that we will have to see what happens.

I am sure that when Kodak Brownie camera became available in 1901 many of the die hard Daguerreotype loyalists where complaining about quality and how this is going to ruin the industry. As history shows, Ansel Adams first camera was a Brownie. Now one hundred years later, somewhere out there the next Ansel Adams is wandering around with a Canon Digital Rebel 8 mega pixel camera. And again I quote Stephen King, "the world has moved on"

If you are interested in the early history of photography you should read the fine article by Scott Michaels at PhotographyToday.Net. The technology of photography in the middle 1800's was much more complicated than it is today. In fact I suspect that in the turn to the 20th century, many people looked at new techniques of film like we look at digital as a whole new world.

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