Monday, April 30, 2007

Book Review: Welcome To OZ - A Cinematic Approach To Digital Still Photography by Vincent Versace

by T. Michael Testi ( , PhotographyToday, ATAEE)

Every so often a book comes along that you know — just from the introduction — is going to be good . Welcome To OZ: A Cinematic Approach To Digital Still Photography is that kind of book. Written by celebrity photographer Vincent Versace, his goal is not to teach you Photoshop but rather to engage you in a method you can teach yourself to create better photos beginning at the point of capture. From the author's viewpoint, there are plenty of books that give you a "12-step" plan to perfect photos, but not one that really teaches you how to see.

In the introduction, Versace introduces nine core concepts. I will share two here as they give a good indication of what this book is all about. First, "There are two 'eyes' that view an image, the unconscious eye and the conscious eye." To me, it is always the unconscious eye that draws me into wanting to create an image. It is the same eye that will draw your viewer to your picture. Sometimes the conscious eye is what takes the picture and processes the picture. The goal is to merge the two into one sight.

The second concept states that "Workflow starts at the point of capturing the image and is dynamic, not static." The core here is to be adaptive, to be willing to improvise - and soon the impossible will be within your reach.

Welcome To OZ is laid out in to six chapters. The first chapter, "The Tao of Dynamic Workflow," will show you how to analyze a photograph and develop a dynamic, image-specific workflow. Here the author shows you how to create image maps to properly organize and "see" the image. It works in a method similar to a sculptor and a block of granite. You have to first see what you want to create. Once you master this technique, you will no longer need the image maps. This chapter is about learning how to practice.

Chapter two discusses "Image Harvesting," or recreating what the eye saw. Here Versace explores is the practice of taking multiple images of the same subject, changing the exposure, shutter speed, and focus points. By doing this you can get different depths, lighting and other aesthetics that can be combined later into creating your image. From this you can create the image that your eye saw, irrespective of limitations of light and equipment.

In chapter three, "The Unwitting Ally," you will apply the image harvesting concept to the editing process. You will create the picture that you saw in your unconscious mind rather than creating a historically accurate one. According to the author, this is where the real journey begins. You will be making modifications to direct the viewers eye to where you want it to go and to what you want it to see. By understanding how to control color, you will gain mastery over the images that you create.

Chapter four, "Classic Studio Lighting," will show you how to emulate the look of classic Hollywood glamour photographs. Here the author explains the techniques of George Hurrell, whose photos of Garbo, Harlow, and Cooper defined the style of the glamour shot. First, Versace describes the technique, and then shows how to recreate it using Photoshop.

Chapter five, "Creating a Black-and-White Image from an RGB File," takes the file from chapter four and converts to the black and white image from the '30s and '40s. Without ever leaving the RGB colorspace, Versace shows you what it takes to create a authentic imitation. He also shows you two ways not to take.

Chapter six, "It's About Time," will show you how to place the experience of time into a photograph. This chapter is about capturing the moment. This chapter deals with what is going on within a photograph. Another core concept of the book is "A still photograph is called a still photograph because the picture doesn't move, not because the objects in the picture were not in motion at the time of capture." Here the author shows how to capture the water, wind, smoke, or whatever is giving motion and therefore life to the image.

Welcome To OZ concludes with an afterword by a friend and mentor of Vincent Versace, who also is very anti-Photoshop and anti-post-shot-manipulation. Jay Maisel is here to give a balance of sorts and this is achieved. What this book teaches you is very pro-manipulation. With Maisel, we get the other side of the coin. My opinion is that, as long as all parties are aware that what is being created is not reality, all is fair game. After all, if I buy a Monet or a Van Gough, I am buying a piece of art, a piece of the creator's imagination.

Along with being a renowned photographer, Vincent Versace is an artist. He transforms an ordinary image into a work of art. The pictures he creates are not reality, nor are they intended to be. There is a lot of information contained in this relatively small (224 pages) book. You will not learn Photoshop here, but if you know Photoshop, your depth of understanding of image processing will grow by bounds.

Included with the book is a DVD that includes hi-res images that you are to work with to recreate the examples in the book. Since you will be working with these images and lots of layers, you will need a computer with a fast processor, plenty of ram and Photoshop CS2.

If you are looking for a challenge, and you want to take your Photoshop as well as your photographic skills to the next level, then I would recommend you get Welcome To OZ before the sun goes down! It's that good!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

First Impressions: Adobe Lightroom

by T. Michael Testi ( , PhotographyToday, ATAEE)

I know what you are asking, what exactly is Adobe Lightroom and why do I need it? You probably already have Photoshop anyway. Well you don't need it! You can continue to keep your photos organized on your hard drive in the equivalent of an electronic shoe box and when you need to find that perfect shot, you can probably find it in less time that it takes to change the oil in your car.

What I am saying is this: if you take a lot of pictures, especially in raw format, you are going to find that you really do need Adobe Lightroom. It's not a copy of some of the current digital asset management (DAM) programs such as iViewMedia or Aperture, rather Adobe has quietly thrown down the gauntlet and has said that it is going to take over the whole DAM business and has shown us how it should be done.

Of the big guns, Apple was first with Aperture and now Adobe with Lightroom. It is my opinion that Adobe holds the upper hand. This is not an attempt to catch up to Apple either; I feel that Adobe has been sitting back creating the superior product.

Within Adobe Lightroom there are five main areas: Library, Develop, Slideshow, Print and Web and they are laid out for easy navigation throughout the system. If you are familiar with Photoshop, you will feel right at home with Lightroom. One of the great features of the overall interface is the freedom you have with the workspace. You can hide things quickly all the way to "Lights Out" mode where you can, with a tap of the "L" key, change your screen to a dim view and with another tap, only the photo will show.

The library is the area that you use to import your images. This creates a record of each image. The record, as well as a preview, is stored in a database. This records where the photo is stored, the metadata that describes the photo, and the editing instructions that are performed from within the develop module. The database lets you perform tasks on the photos such as applying ratings, adding additional metadata, adding keyword tags, organizing them into collections and removing anything unwanted. You can view your images in grid, loupe, compare and survey views.

You can create multiple libraries. For example as a photographer, you may do some portraits and some events. You could have a library for each and in addition one for your own family photography. The library module has controls that allow you to search for specific types of photos; say you are a nature photographer and you want to find all of your shots of North American water fowl. Again, there is so much more to Adobe Lightroom than I could present in an overview.

In Develop mode, Adobe Lightroom has controls for adjusting the color and tonal scale of your photos. What is nice about this is the fact that all changes are recorded in the database and do not change your photo. Your instructions are stored and applied to your photo in memory, so you can experiment without affecting your actual images.

There is also a histogram panel that allows you to measure the color tones and make adjustments to the tones of your photo. You can fine-tune your colors with the Tone Curve. You can do split toning for coloring of monochrome images as well as doing special effects. You can adjust the sharpness and reduce noise with the detail panel and correct chromatic aberrations with Lens Corrections.

The Slideshow module is a method to present your photos with music and translations. You can create a template to customize how you want your slideshows to look. They can contain your identity plate on each slide. One thing that I don't like is that to distribute a slide show you have to export it to a PDF file, but then you loose the music. It would be nice if you could create a presentation and distribute it.

The Printing Photos module allows you to print photos and contact sheets. There are also settings that allow you to overlay images with text, photo information, and other options. There are pre-made templates that contain different layouts for diverse output. You can modify their settings to create customized templates. Overall, I like the print module, but it's slightly lacking: when I print a contact sheet, I like to put information on each header of the sheet so that I can quickly identify the information of the shoot. I would also like footer information such as page x of y, the date of the shoot as well as copyright information. And the ability to directly generate a PDF would also be nice; this is an Adobe product after all. I generate all of my contact sheets as PDF along with a color print, and right now it is still a manual process.

While I have not used the Web Galleries much at this point, it does appear to be rather slick. The gallery is a web site feature that allows you to build thumbnail views that are tied to larger views. From here you can choose to output to standard HTML or save it for viewing in a browser using the Adobe Flash Player. Once created, they can be uploaded to a web server using the built-in FTP capabilities in Lightroom.

From a "first product" point of view, Adobe Lightroom is a home run for Adobe. It fills in a missing piece of the Adobe landscape; digital asset management. Sure, there is Bridge, but Bridge does not have the capabilities that Adobe Lightroom gives you for cataloging, sorting, filtering and, in general, managing images. Do you need Adobe Lightroom? The simple answer is that we got along without it until now. The not so obvious answer is that, at least for me, once I owned it and started working with it regularly, it has become like the Internet itself; how could I get anything done without it!