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.