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Motivation is a photography blog that discusses the creative aspects of photography. The posts will include thoughts about images and their interpretation, photographers and their work, technique, workflow, my ongoing projects, and perhaps even the occasional off topic rant.

Lindy Point Overlook - Another View

In my last post I had mentioned that there were many different compositions that one could make when photographing from Lindy Point Overlook in West Virginia’s Blackawater Falls State Park. In follow up to that, here is another composition, made on a different visit to the overlook. There actually were a moderate number of people on the overlook and on the rock ledges just outside the overlook (not me, you’d never get me out there) but, with a bit of care, it is fairly easy to not have them included in your photographs unless you want to.

 
Lindy Point Overlook In Fall © Howard Grill

Lindy Point Overlook In Fall © Howard Grill

 

Lindy Point Overlook At Blackwater Falls State Park

In my last post, I wrote about my recent trip to Blackwater Falls State Park. One of the two main ‘tourist’ overlooks in the park is called Lindy Point Overlook. Say what one might about tourist photo spots, there are reasons why those particular locations have become ‘touristy’, and that is because they do often offer spectacular views. Lindy also offers the opportunity to make images with multiple different types of compositions, some of which I hope to share in future posts.

View From Lindy Point Overlook © Howard Grill

View From Lindy Point Overlook © Howard Grill

One thing that definitely can make a ‘tourist spot’ less ‘touristy’ is to photograph at times that most tourists aren’t there and to continue shooting after most of the tourists have left in order to catch more interesting light. I did a fair amount of that!

Photography In Blackwater Falls State Park

About two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit Blackwater Falls State Park and the Dolly Sods Wilderness Area in West Virginia for a long photography weekend with some friends. I had never been there before, but I can tell you that it won’t be the last time I visit. The park is really wonderful, the landscape photography opportunities abound, and we had some nice fall colors to boot. This is the scene from the very first place we stopped in the park, and is the view from the upper overlook at the park’s namesake falls.

Blackwater Falls in West Virginia © Howard Grill

Blackwater Falls in West Virginia © Howard Grill

My understanding is that the view is quite different in the spring, when the winter snow melts. The elevation of the park is approximately 3000 feet and there is quite a bit of winter snowfall. I am told that during springtime there is frequently no vertical rock visible when looking at the falls. I don’t think one view is likely to be any more attractive than the other, just different.

I will definitely be sharing some more photos from the trip and hope to go back in the spring for a comparison photo shoot!

Photography Advice To A Beginner

I had mentioned in my last post that I was recently on a trip photographing in West Virginia’s Blackwater Falls State Park when a young woman came up to me asking for photography advice. More specifically, she said “I’m just a beginner in photography and, well, you look like you know what you’re doing and so I was wondering if you could give me some tips.”

I thought that was a rather open ended question and I recognized that here was the possibility of either really helping someone learn to experience the joy of photography, while perhaps also helping the public relations image of more experienced photographers, vs the option of being a real jerk. And I give the woman credit for exposing herself to the latter possibility, however, I chose the first response type :)

So I gave her three ‘tips’, and we spent about twenty minutes by our cars talking about them and she left, I hope, with some ideas as to how to embark upon ‘more serious’ photography. Here are the tips I gave her.

  • I explained to her the very basics of understanding and using her camera’s histogram - I asked her if she used her histogram and she responded that she knew it was there but wasn’t sure what it meant or how it was used and that instead she was using the camera’s LCD to assess her exposure. She pulled up an image of a deer she had shot alongside the road. It actually was very nice in terms of composition and then we pulled up the image histogram on the LCD. All the data was there, though shifted to the left quite a bit. But this gave us a good example of histogram shapes (clipping or not) and captured data. I did explain to her that despite the fact that the image looked good on the LCD it was actually underexposed……but that given that the data was all there it could be ‘fixed’ in processing.

  • I suggested she use a tripod for landscapes in order to slow down and better compose as well as to be able to use longer shutter speeds - She said that she actually did have one in her truck, but that she hadn’t been using it much. I explained that there are definitely instances where it isn’t necessary, or frankly detrimental, but that in some instances it is essentially obligatory (think silky water with long shutter speeds).

  • I suggested that she experiment and be willing to try out all sorts of new things and to get creative with ideas in the sense of ‘I wonder what that might look like if’….. - I actually showed her the image from my last post that was created using intentional camera movement and she was fascinated, having never seen that kind of image before. I told her she should just be willing to try anything she thinks might be interesting, after all it’s digital and there’s no cost (though I don’t think she was old enough to remember having to spend money on film, get it developed, and wait several days to see the result). Unfortunately, I am old enough to remember that :0

I believe that she left happy to have received some help and she thanked me. Knowing that this was to be a brief parking lot type conversation, I’m curious as to what other ‘tips’ you might have offered to a beginner?

Paint It Red

Why paint it black when autumn is here and you can paint it red?

I was recently in West Virginia’s Blackwater Falls State Park when I saw a small grove of trees whose leaves had turned a fiery red and felt that an abstract generated by intentional camera movement (so-called ICM) would transmit the feeling of the changing season better than a ‘straight shot’. Of the twenty or so images that I took this was by far my favorite.

 
Paint It Red © Howard Grill

Paint It Red © Howard Grill

 

Intentional camera movement can be very ‘hit or miss’, meaning that it is difficult to predict what the results will look like because there are so many variables involved, from shutter speed to the speed and angle at which you move your camera. It can also be hard to tell if the result is what you’re after just from looking at the small LCD. For these reasons, when trying the technique, is it always wise to take a series of photos to choose from.

Interestingly, it was at this location that a young woman came up to me asking for some photographic advice. But that will be the subject of the next post.

Quick Quotes: Paul Strand

“The artist's world is limitless. It can be found anywhere, far from where he lives or a few feet away. It is always on his doorstep. “

- Paul Strand


I’ve always enjoyed and embraced the idea that the role of the artist is to make the mundane beautiful and that to create art one need not journey to far away places (though those journeys can and do inspire). Still, it is much easier to make the exotic beautiful than it is to add beauty and mystery to the mundane.

Sun Ball

Since Sunday was a rainy day, I went with some friends to our usual ‘nasty day’ photographic haven, Phipps Conservatory. The display is going to be changing over to to the Fall Flower Show fairly soon and I had photographed the current show several times already. But the ‘Sun Balls’, as they are known, was something I hadn’t previously noticed. Or maybe they just hadn’t been in bloom yet.

 
Sun Ball or ‘Craspedia globosa’

Sun Ball or ‘Craspedia globosa’

 

These lovely flowers are native to Australia and New Zealand and are perennials. Their common names are ‘Sun Balls’ or ‘Billy Buttons’.

I thought it would be interesting to show what the scene looked like before I isolated the flower and processed it to give the look I was trying to achieve. The cell phone shot I took of the scene is posted below. I often take cell shots like this when at the conservatory so that I can reference the names of the plants after the shoot.

 
IMG_9498.jpg
 

Photo Project eBook - Free Download

What Does One Do With Their Photo Projects?

In the last few months I’ve posted several times about the photo project I was working on. More specifically, I wanted to make photo art from a pair of Asian statuettes that had belonged to my mother, who passed away in 2018. The statuettes were her prized physical possession.

So what does one do when a photography project is completed in order to keep it from just ‘fermenting’ on your hard drive? In this instance I decided that a good way to share the work would be to make it into an eBook (which I have completed) and a folio (which I am close to completing). I have decided to share the eBook with anyone that would like to see the project. For a free download of the book click here, or on the image below (which is the cover of the book).

I would like to ask (no obligation whatsoever - you can download the eBook without doing so) that you consider signing up for my newsletter (which has been pretty quiescent, but which I would like to send out perhaps once a quarter) and/or to subscribe to my blog using the link right below the image of the book cover.

I do hope you will enjoy the eBook……feedback is welcomed!

Quick Quotes: William Thakeray

“The two most engaging powers of a photograph are to make new things familiar and familiar things new.”
~ William Thackeray


It’s been some time since I last posted a photography quote and I found this one quite compelling. To me it means that the most compelling photographs are the ones that depict the exotic in a way that connects with people and makes them feel a sense of personal involvement as well as ones that depict common things and locations in a way that lets people see beauty in the mundane.

Creative Post Processing For Projects

In my last post I spoke about achieving visual consistency between images that are part of a unified project. In this post, I thought I would give an example of the ‘creative processing’ that I used in the series I have been working on. The first image below is the photograph after Lightroom processing and looks like the actual area of the statuette being photographed. The second image is the top one after I finished adding the creative touches to it in order to make it look like I envisioned the project. One isn’t necessarily better or worse than the other……just different.

Meanwhile I am very much on track in terms of making this project into a pdf and a folio. Thanks for following me through this process!

 
Before Creative Processing © Howard Grill

Before Creative Processing © Howard Grill

 
 
After Creative Processing © Howard Grill

After Creative Processing © Howard Grill

 

Fitting Into A project

A few weeks ago I wrote about working in photographic projects, and had discussed a uniformity in look when putting a project together. At that time I had noted that:

“I don’t consider an image ‘done’ or work towards ‘completely finishing’ an image before moving on to the next one in the project. For a project to be cohesive there needs to be some consistency in style. Therefore, when I reach the goal number of images, I plan to review them, see which ones work together, and finish editing the images together as a group to ensure there is some type of consistency and visual flow among them.”

I thought that I would give an example of that. My project photographing the statuettes yielded images that were similar in that they tended to be frame filling macro photos of portions of the statuettes. If this were, say, a landscape project, then the landscape in various weather conditions and lighting would be most appropriate, but in this type of project there needed (or at least to me there needs to be) some sort of tonal consistency.

As I was putting the photos together, I could see that most were in the yellow to yellowish red tonal range with a certain luminosity. This particular image was one that I liked, but it stood out because when I had processed it outside the idea of a cohesive project it had more of a yellow to greenish yellow tone and less brightness to it:

Statuette before tonal changes © Howard Grill

Statuette before tonal changes © Howard Grill

After changing the tones to better fit with other images in the project, the same image looked like this:

Statuette after tonal changes © Howard Grill

Statuette after tonal changes © Howard Grill

One is not better or worse than the other. In fact, I suspect that each could stand on its own. It’s just that when put into the company of the other images in the project the second version is a better and more cohesive ‘fit’. That is why, when working in projects, I don’t necessarily consider an image finished until it takes its place and stands among the other images in the series.

The Queen - Project Update

Several weeks back I had written a piece about working in photographic projects. I am pleased that I am meeting all my self-imposed deadlines. As per the suggestions in that post, I started with a plan for a dozen images and waited to see where that took me. I now have 14 images in the project, after which I felt that I had run out of both ideas and the desire to keep photographing the statuettes. So the project ended up ‘telling me’ when it was over.

I am now at the stage where I am ‘fine tuning’ the already processed images to give them a consistent look. Some of them had vintage type edges while others did not. Some were leaning towards a greener yellow tone and others towards a redder yellow. Of course, there wouldn’t be anything wrong with edges or no edges or greener vs redder yellows in any individual image, but that is one of the things about working in projects……I believe there should be some type of stylistic similarity that pulls it together. So in the ‘fine’tuning’, I am trying to give them that consistency. The tones need not be exactly the same nor does each and every image need to have the exact same edge effect, but, in my mind, some consistency helps hold them together as a group.

Once that is complete (the end of October was my deadline) I will be working on putting the project into a presentable folio and making a PDF type e-book.

And now, may I present…..The Queen:

 
The Queen

The Queen

 

Basic Color Management For Photographers - Part IV

Part IV - Putting It Together

Here we are in the fourth and final installment in this series about basic color management for photographers. In Parts I-III we covered why profiles are useful, how they are generated, and what part they play in a color managed workflow. In today’s post I would like to discuss how these profiles and color spaces are actually used in Photoshop and how they are used to make a print.

This can be a bit difficult to demonstrate very specifically because there are several brands of inkjet printers and within those brands there are multiple models, all of which may have different appearing printer drivers. However, all the drivers will have all the settings I talk about located somewhere within their dialogues. Likewise, there are several different types of photo editing software and even within those brands there may be different versions (ie Photoshop and Photoshop Elements) that are slightly different. Again, they all tend to have the same types of settings, albeit sometimes located in different locations within their menus. While I personally use both Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop CC for editing, I do my printing from Photoshop CC. In terms of printers, I used to use Epson printers but switched over to Canon a few years ago.


First up, let’s look at some of the the color management settings (I have added highlighting to the ones that I will be talking about) in Photoshop under Edit>Color Settings:

Photoshop Color Management Dialogue

Photoshop Color Management Dialogue

It looks a little confusing, but it really isn’t (now that we know all about color spaces). When you import an image from Lightroom to Photoshop, or when you open a photo on your hard drive, it opens (hopefully) within a specific color space to which it was assigned. That color space is typically either Adobe RGB, ProPhoto RGB, or sRGB, and the photo carries a color space ‘tag’ of sorts so that Photoshop ‘knows’ what color space the photo is in when it is opened. It then knows how to display the photo and how to make your edits effect the color. Of course, if you are working in a color space larger than your monitor can display then your monitor compresses it visually, but Photoshop still keeps it in the embedded color space so the actual color information is retained even if it can’t be properly displayed. The compression is only a ‘monitor thing’ and doesn’t result in lost color data. Then, when you print on a machine that can print more colors than your monitor can display, the colors that the monitor had to compress are visible and unchanged.

Lets start at the beginning. The ‘Working Space’ section of the dialogue box simply asks what color space you want to be working or editing in when you are using any specific color model. For example, in the above screen grab, when I use the RGB color model Photoshop expects me to be working on images in the ProPhotoRGB color space (when intending to print our work, the color space to work in would typically be either AdobeRGB or ProPhotoRGB , while sRGB is more appropriate when images are intended to be displayed on-line). I typically work in ProPhoto because in the future it is quite possible that devices may print in ever larger color gamuts and I want to retain all the color information I can. There are valid reasons one might choose Adobe RGB as well.

But, what happens when a photo is opened that is tagged with a color space other than what you have chosen in the dialogue box? For example, lets say I open an image that I had previously prepared for the web and it’s in the sRGB color space. Photoshop knows that this isn’t what you expected for an RGB color model image (because it isn’t chosen as the RGB working space). That’s what the section called ‘Color Management Policies’ is for.

Under ‘Color Management Policies’ one typically would want to preserve the profile that is embedded in the image (or some might say the color space the image is tagged with). But what if the color space of the image you are opening is not the one you have chosen as your RGB color space? The setting in “Profile Mismatches” tells the software what to do. My choice in this instance is to notify me and ask me what to do if that to were happen, rather than doing something behind the scenes without telling me. The choices it will give me if that happens are to either open the image in the embedded color space or to convert it over to the working color space.

That’s all fine and good, but what happens if we are converting an image from a larger color space into a smaller one, such as would occur if we were opening a ProPhotoRGB tagged image and we had our RGB Working Space set to Adobe RGB? One could ask the same question about printing. What happens if we are printing from ProPhotoRGB on an inkjet printer, as the printer can not print all the colors that are in that color space. In both these instances our software needs to decide what to do with the colors that ‘don’t fit’ or are unprintable. There are two possible choices, called rendering intents. These are the so called relative colorimetric and perceptual intents and you can choose either. In general, for color space conversions I use Relative Colorimetric and for printing I try them both and see which looks better..

When using Relative Colorimetric for making profile conversions the software will simply move the colors that lie outside the color space to the closest color that is in the new color space. For printing it will move the color to the closest color the printer can reproduce based on the icc profile for the paper you are printing to. As an example, lets say there is a very bright red in the image that the printer can’t reproduce on a specific paper (it ‘knows’ this based on the printer/paper profile you have chosen - more on this later). It will take that red and print it as a red of the exact same hue, but it will make it as ‘bright’ as the paper will allow. Essentially it just moves the red down the color space axis until it is within the gamut of colors that the printer can reproduce. The only downside is that our red that was out of gamut now looks no different than the brightest other red of that hue in the print, and the viewer can’t tell that the two reds were in any way different.

The Perceptual rendering intent takes another tact. It says that instead of moving that out of gamut, non-reproducible bright red down the axis and leaving it at that, it moves the red down the axis to the brightest level that can be printed on that paper, but then it also moves all the reds of that hue down the axis a bit, so that the original red is still a bit brighter than the other reds. At least that’s a good way to visualize what happens.

Finally, what happens if you try to open an image in Photoshop that has no color space associated with it (gasp)? You know, the one that your Uncle Joe emailed you ;) Well, if you look all the way down on the lower left under the Color Management Policies, I have asked Photoshop to tell me if that happens and let me choose what to do. If that were to happen it will present a dialogue to me and ask me if I would like to leave it untagged or move it into a color space and, if so, it will allow me to choose which one.

OK, we made it through the Photoshop tough stuff. We could also go into Photoshop soft-proofing, but that is a bit beyond the basics.

Now let’s take a look at how those printer/paper profiles we made in Part III are used. After all, at the end of the line we do want to make a print.

Driver Interface For Canon ImageProGraf 2000

Driver Interface For Canon ImageProGraf 2000

One (among many) of the reasons we had to go through the Photoshop color management settings is so we could understand what we are seeing in the printer driver. I will be demonstrating with the driver from my Canon ImagePrograf 2000, but all drivers - Epson, HP, etc - will have the same choices in their particular drivers. The trick is to find out what they call the choices and where it is buried in the driver menu. I no longer have my Epson printer so can’t easily demonstrate that driver - but it’s all in there.

What you see above is the dialogue in Photoshop that opens up when an image open and you go to File>Print. You can see at the top that the printer I am using is the Canon Pro 2000. If you have other printers they can be chosen from the drop down as well. Lets go down to the color management section. What I have labeled as #1 is simply the color space that the image you are trying to print is tagged or embedded with. Number 2 simply asks the question of what software should handle the color management - and here you want to choose Photoshop and not the printer (the exception to this may be if you want to use the printers built in system for printing in black and white, but that is a topic for another day).

Now, in #3, we come to the profiles printer/paper profiles we had discussed in Part III of this series. We have to choose what profile to print with, and all your icc profiles in the operating system’s appropriate color management folder will be listed in the drop down menuhere. You need to choose the one for the printer/paper combination you are trying to print with/on that you either downloaded or made with the profiler. If you are using the same brand paper as your printer (ie Canon paper with a Canon printer or Epson paper with an Epson printer) the Canon or Epson profiles should have been automatically loaded into your OS color profiles folder, which is to say that you won’t have to go to the Canon or Epson website to download them separately. In this instance I have applied the downloaded paper manufacturer’s profile for using Ilford Gold Fiber Silk paper in my Canon ImagePrograf 2000 printer.

Finally, in #4, we need to choose our rendering intent, as discussed earlier. Though there are more than two options to be had, there are really only two choices you should make for printing photos or artwork and that is ‘Relative Colorimetric’ or ‘Perceptual’, both using ‘Black Point Compensation’ (the other choices are for other uses, such as printing signage). I find that more times than not I use the Relative Colorimetric choice, but there are times when Perceptual fits my vision better. Frankly, I haven’t discussed soft-proofing, but making this choice is one of the things I use soft-proofing for. But go ahead, make a print using both and see the difference.

Now that we have made the choices in the Photoshop dialogue (you thought we were done, didn’t you :) we have to go into the actual printer dialogue for a few settings. We have to go up to #5 and click on ‘Print Settings’. Let’s do it!

Inside the Canon Printer Driver

Inside the Canon Printer Driver

First, up at #1 we have to choose what paper we are printing on. If you are printing on papers other than your printer’s brand (so called third party papers - like my Ilford Gold Fiber Silk) the profile you downloaded will have instructions as to what to choose here, as you will need to choose the same setting as the third party paper company used when they made the profile. So, for example, the instructions that came with my downloaded Ilford profile said to choose Canon Premium Semi-Gloss Paper 2 as my media choice in the driver (even though I am actually printing on Ilford paper, since the drop down choices will only encompass the papers manufactured by the printer brand). At #2 you need to choose the print quality, and if you are using a third party paper along with their downlaoded profile, the instructions will tell you what to choose here as well. Color mode (#3) is simple….the only choices are color or black and white printing. Now there is just one more thing to do…..but it is an important one. Remember up in the Photoshop ‘Print’ dialogue box we said we were going to let Photoshop manage the colors. Well, this is where we tell the printer driver that Photoshop is going to do the heavy lifting and it should just let things be and not apply any color management. If we forget to do this things can get very messy as two paper profiles will be applied and it’s anyone’s guess what comes out. OK, just click on #4, Color Settings, and we get this:

The color management part of the Canon Driver

The color management part of the Canon Driver

We want to go to the matching tab and click ‘OFF’ so that the driver keeps its grubby hands out of the color management. Clicking all your OK’s at the bottom will bring you back to the original Photoshop Print dialogue where you click ‘Print’ at the bottom right and very shortly you should have a masterpiece coming out of your printer!


So, you may be wondering, does all this work?? If I follow this path will my prints always look like the image on my monitor? The answer is yes……and no!

A print can never look exactly like an image on a monitor. For one thing, a literal exact match is a physical impossibility in that we see a monitor image using transmitted light and a paper print using reflected light. In addition, the colors we see in an image are very much affected by the color temperature of the light we are viewing them in. Finally, the color managed workflow itself is simply not perfect. However, it’s the best that we have and can get you reasonably close.

Reasonably close is the key word here. Expectations need to be managed. Think of it like this. If you implement a color managed workflow you are no longer ‘shooting in the dark’. You can get your first print to be a very good approximation to what you see on your monitor. Just don’t expect that your fits print is going to be exactly how you envisioned it based on the monitor appearance. Expect that you will need to do a bit of tweaking and adjusting to get the print to be exactly the way you want it. But you will be starting far, far closer to the finish line if you begin with a color managed workflow.


I do hope you enjoyed this this four part series and that it was helpful to you. As always, please feel free to leave any questions, comments, corrections, etc in the comment section below!

Basic Color Management For Photographers - Part III

PART III - Printer Profiling

In Part II we discussed monitor profiling and noted that it was the most important part of a color managed workflow. Today, I would like to discuss another type of profiling…….printer profiling.

Remember how, when profiling a monitor, the calibration and profiling device put together a ‘correction table’ so that colors were ‘tweaked’ before being displayed on the monitor to ensure that they appear correctly? Well, printer profiling is very similar. However, the monitor output only ends up in one one spot that counts, and that is going into our eyes and then on to our visual cortex. But, when printing, the printer output can end up on many different substrates. That is to say that we might want to print on several different types of paper, and each paper type handles and ‘displays’ the printer ink differently. The same ink will look a bit different on each type of paper it is applied to. What this means is that we actually need a different profile (or correction table) for every different paper or canvas that we want to print on. Yeah:

Image by Robin Higgins

Image by Robin Higgins

But fret not, because while I am going to tell you how it’s all done, I am also going to tell you that for basic color management you need not worry too much about it. Why? Because you can easily get these profiles made for you at no cost. I’ll tell you how in just a bit.

So how are printers ‘profiled’ if each different paper needs its own profile? Here’s how:

First, color management in the printer is completely disabled in the printer driver (more on this later, but we have to start somewhere) and a standardized set of color patches are printed out on the specific paper you would like to use. The number of patches to print can be adjusted in the profiling device software, depending on how accurate you want the profile to be, and can range from many hundreds to many thousands of small patches. Despite printing without color management in the printer driver, you still need to pick a media type in the driver in order for the printer to print. One can experiment with what to choose in order to get the best amount of ink put down (for example, matte papers take more ink than glossy papers) and the best color differentiations (like I said, don’t worry too much about this). The patch printout looks something like this:

Color Calibration Patches

Color Calibration Patches

Now, once the patches are completely dry, you take your hardware profiling device and ‘read’ the colors by scanning each patch. Yes, it’s tedious work, though there are expensive devices that can automate it for you. So, the device software now ‘knows’ what actual color the printer outputted onto the paper, and it also knows what each color patch should have been outputted as. Just like with monitor calibration, these color patches are not random….they are very specific colors and the software knows how they ‘should’ look. Just like with monitor calibration, the software can then generate an icc profile that contains look up correction tables. The profile says ‘oh yes when color x is printed on this specific paper it makes it look a bit too yellow, so when the user tries to print that color I am going to give instructions to the printer to put down less yellow in just the right amount so that the color looks right’. And it does the same for the colors of all those patches while also extrapolating the corrections for the colors that are ‘between’ the patches.

Now I have to drop something on you here….the device used to measure the color patches on paper is not the same $200 one that is used for monitor calibration. No indeed. This device is one that costs well over $1000!!

Image by Robin Higgins

Image by Robin Higgins

Remember, up above, I told you not to worry about all this? The reason you don’t have to worry about it is that paper manufacturers do this profiling for you for free. Well, maybe not for you personally, but for consumers as a whole. Why??? Because they want you to make great prints with their papers……so that you buy more paper. For almost every paper manufacturer you can go to their website and download, for free, a printer (also called paper) profile for your specific brand and model of printer to use with their specific papers.

For example, here is a screen shot of various printer/paper profiles I could download for my brand printer if I wanted to print on one of the smooth matte papers made by Hahnemuhle.

icc.jpg

These manufacturer generated profiles also come with instructions on how to install them into the correct operating system folders so that the printer knows where to look for them (but you already know the folder location if you read Part II of this series) and, importantly, they also tell you what media setting to use in the printer driver to get optimal results (the printer driver only has media settings for its own brand of paper, so the third party paper company has already figured out what setting works best for their paper and used it to make the test color patches). Now you need to replicate what the paper manufacturer did by printing your photos on their paper with the same media settings they used to make the profile.

These profiles made by the paper manufacturers are really quite excellent, after all they want you to get great results. However, while they are generated from the same brand and model printer that you have (you chose it when you ordered up the profile download), they weren’t made from color patches printed by YOUR exact printer. Yes, you can get in as deep as you’d like. I am going to say that for the vast majority of people reading this, the paper manufacturer’s profiles are really darn close enough and the whole color management thing, while really good, is never perfect anyway. BUT, if you want a profile made for your specific printer, the one sitting in your office, you can either buy the over $1000 device or, alternatively, print out the test swatches on your printer and snail mail them to someone who makes custom profiles. They will do the profiling steps described in the beginning of this post. These custom profiles can be had, at varying quality, for anywhere from $30-$75 for each paper you want to print on.

So now you know what goes on behind the scenes in making printer/paper profiles and you know how to get and install them without having to spend the time and money to make them yourself. Aren’t you glad you read all the way through : )

So how does one use those profiles now that you have them installed? That will be the subject of the next post, which will be the final one in this series.

Comments or questions? Just click on comments link below and I will do my best to answer them.

Basic Color Management For Photographers - Part II

PART II - Monitor Profiling

When we left off in Part I , we had reached the point where we could define a color within a color space, but were thwarted in our attempt to have that color look the same to different viewers using different computer monitors (think of that TV store where all the TVs are tuned to the same channel but they all look slightly, or, in some cases, vastly different).

This is where monitor calibration and profiling comes to the rescue.

My apologies to Dilbert….I changed two words in the first frame.

My apologies to Dilbert….I changed two words in the first frame.

Simply put, calibration and profiling is an attempt to standardize the appearance of computer monitors in order to avoid the “TV Store” phenomena and have a given color look the same on all properly calibrated and profiled monitors. Does it work? More or less yes. Perfection is hard to come by since different monitors have different color gamuts; meaning that some monitors can actually display more colors than others. If the monitor is unable to display a specific color it will have to somehow ‘squeeze it’ into the range of colors it can display. In addition to that, different quality monitors have different ranges of brightness and contrast that they can achieve, as well as different levels of accuracy and consistency when it comes to their displays. BUT….while calibration and profiling may not be perfect, it’s as good as we can get and it works reasonably well.

The bad news is that properly calibrating and profiling your monitor requires a device (colorimeter or spectrophotometer). Such devices are made by several companies, including Datacolor and X-Rite, but they can set you back anywhere from about $150-$1500. However, the lower price range devices work quite well and a very reasonable calibration device can be had for about $200. While there are some non-hardware based calibration methods they, unfortunately, do not work nearly as well as device based calibration. To get started with a color managed workflow, monitor calibration is your most important step and yields the ‘biggest bang for the buck’.

Profiling your monitor actually consists of two steps, a calibration step and a profiling step. Both steps are done by the same device which is hung over the top of the monitor, gently touching the screen, as shown below. An easy way to think about calibration is that it sets the baseline attributes of the monitor to a standard state. This includes the monitor’s color temperature, gamma, brightness and contrast. Once the baseline standard is achieved and the monitor has known attributes, then the colors that are displayed can be properly adjusted.

A monitor calibration device in action.

A monitor calibration device in action.

Does that seem a little confusing? Think of it like this….if you were to look at a color swatch of fabric in a dark room with no light what would you see? Right - you wouldn’t see a thing. You would have no idea what the color of the fabric is. We need light to reflect off the fabric in order to see the color (I realize this analogy is not totally accurate because monitors display color using transmitted light as opposed to reflected light…..but just go with it for now). However, the way the color looks will depend to some extent on how bright the lights in the room are and what the color temperature of the room lighting is. If we look at the swatch under incandescent lighting it will appear to be warmer in tone than if we look at it under ‘cooler’, whiter light, in which case the swatch will look more blueish. A dim light will make the color look duller while a brighter light will make it look more vibrant. So we need some type of standard lighting to look at the color swatch with. That is what monitor calibration is sort of like. It attempts to set all monitors to a standard brightness, a standard color temperature etc for viewing, so, to continue the analogy, all viewers will essentially be looking at the fabric color under similar baseline lighting conditions.

There is some argument (when isn’t there) as to what the best standard settings for use in photography are, particularly in the case of color temperature. For the most part there seem to be two camps, those that advocate setting your monitor’s color temperature to 5000K and those that advocate 6500K (I personally use 6500K). The best monitor brightness setting for matching your screen to your inkjet printer output is 80-100 cd/m2. At this setting your monitor will likely look quite a bit duller or dimmer than it did ‘out of the box’ (this, incidentally, is the most common reason that one’s prints might look too dark - the monitor is set at too high a brightness level). The gamma should be set to 2.2 (the gamma setting is somewhat akin to contrast and determines how light the lights are and how dark the darks are). But don’t worry about all this……the profiling device will do all the work of adjusting the settings for you, but you do have to tell it (in software - I once tried talking to it but it didn’t help :) what settings you want it to calibrate the monitor to……so just remember a color temperature of 6500K (or maybe 5000K if you belong to that camp), a brightness level of 80-100 cd/m2, and a gamma of 2.2.

Once the monitor is correctly calibrated it can then be profiled. During profiling, the device’s software displays a series of pre-defined color and gray-scale patches on screen, which are read by the hardware. The device measures these patches to see how they are being displayed by the monitor. The software knows what the colors should be displayed as (they are pre-defined) and how the monitor is actually displaying them (by what the device measures) and can then make a ‘correction table’ of sorts. This correction table is called an icc profile, and the software places the profile in a specific folder within the operating system. For Windows systems, the profile is located in the C:\Windows\System32\spool\drivers\color folder and for Mac OSX it is placed in either the Mac HD/Library/ColorSync/Profiles or the Mac HD/Users/<username>/Library/ColorSync/Profiles folders.

Now, when a color ‘comes into’ the monitor, like when you use Photoshop or Lightroom to view a photo (assuming that the photo has a color profile associated with it-more on this later), the icc profile basically says……OK, I know what this color is because it is defined by the color space and the RGB values and I know that at baseline I would display it in this specific way, but to display the color properly it needs to be tweaked. Let me look up in my table how I should tweak it to make it display correctly on this monitor……it then makes the tweak and has the monitor display it with the tweak applied. Does that make sense?

For completeness sake, I should mention that some more expensive monitors have a different hardware based method of profiling that may dispense with the software ‘look up’ correction profiles, but, in essence, they end up accomplishing the same thing and can be thought of in the same way.

I should also note that in order for all this to happen you have to tell your monitor that you don’t want it to use either the generic profile that came with the monitor software or the generic profile that the operating system assigns it. You need to tell it that you would rather use the profile that you generated with your profiling device. To do that you have to know what the device named the profile (it tells you and even lets you give it your own name if you would like) and you have to know how to give the monitor those directions. Here is a brief rundown of how to give those directions to the monitor for both Windows and Mac.

So there you have it…..the most important series of steps for instituting a color managed workflow.

In the third part of this series I will discuss printer profiling.

Comments or questions? Just click on comments link below and I will do my best to answer them.

Basic Color Management For Photographers - Part I

PART I - What Are We Really Asking?

Because I enjoy making prints, one of the topics that I am frequently asked about is color management. At it’s most basic level, what photographers want to know (and one of the questions that color management seeks to answer) is a query that usually goes something along the lines of:

“How do I get my prints to look the way they do on my computer monitor?”

And it frequently is asked with an expression that looks something like this:

Image by Robin Higgins

Image by Robin Higgins

And for good reason……color management can be very frustrating when things go wrong and the answers to that seemingly simple ‘how do I get my prints to look like my monitor?’ question can get complicated.

There are many places one can go to try to get answers and, hopefully, a better understanding of the process, but I have often found that the presentation of color management information is either oversimplified (just do this because it works) or over-complicated (here is a treatise on color theory). The problem is that when things are oversimplified the photographer is left doing things without really knowing why. Then, when a problem occurs (as it invariably does), they have no idea how to troubleshoot. On the other hand, when the information is presented in an over-complicated way…..

Image by Gerd Altmann

Image by Gerd Altmann

This short four part series, then, is going to be my attempt to teach the basics…..just enough so that you can gain an understanding of what’s going on behind the scenes without having your eyes glaze over…..and leave you with the ability to set up your own basic color managed workflow.

In today’s installment I would like to discuss the ‘Basic Science’ of color management. Wait…..don’t roll your eyes!!!

I see it’s too late:

Image By Robin Higgins

Image By Robin Higgins

It really isn’t difficult, and a little understanding of the terminology will be useful down the line. Sometimes you really just have to get a little more explicit about things:

cartoon 1.jpg

So let’s start by asking what one might think would be a very basic question.

What color is this apple?

 
red apple
 

“Red”, you say?

Well what about this one?

 
red apple
 

And this one?

 
red apple
 

Or this one?

 
red apple
 

Well, you get what I mean. It’s hard to define what one means when they say red. There is yellowish red, orangish red, bluish red, maroonish red, deep red, light red etc. So, when you tell me an apple is red, I might conjure up a picture in my mind of what you mean, but that picture might be very different from what you are seeing.

What is red?

What is red?

Wouldn’t it be nice if there were some way to communicate exactly what color you mean so that the red apple I am thinking of matches the red apple you are looking at. In fact, in the best of all worlds, I could convey an apple color that is exactly and precisely a specific shade of red so that everyone who heard my description ‘saw’ the same ‘redness’? That might be hard to do in our heads, but what about on our computer screens? Surely we should be able to do that!

Well, that is what color management aims to do! Is it perfect……no, but it isn’t bad and it’s the best we have to offer.

Soooo..….now that we understand why we need color management and what, at its most basic level, it aims to achieve, let’s start to examine some of the things we need to know about in order to reach that goal.

To start with, we need some definitions. Sure, definitions can be boring, but we really need them to gain a basic understanding and to get beyond ‘just do this because it works’. So here we go…..


“Color Model” & “Color Space”

We talked about ‘red’ meaning different things to different people. Well, perhaps if we could put together a reference table of sorts that might help. Then I could point to a shade of red and show you exactly what I mean. That might be as accurate as we could possibly get since we can never really calibrate the ‘wiring’ between our eyes, brain, and consciousness. The equivalent of this would be to somehow quantitate each shade of red (and every other color). This is exactly what color scientists attempted to do by devising color models and color spaces.

A “color model” is an abstract mathematical way of defining a color. In the RGB color model for instance (which is the model that one uses for computer monitors and inkjet printing), every color is represented by three numbers, one number for the red component, one for the green component, and one for the blue component. In the CMYK color model (used in most commercial printing) each color is represented by four numbers, one for the cyan component, one for the magenta component, one for the yellow component, and one for the black component.

Sounds pretty simple right? The problem is that while each color is now ‘defined’ by a set of numbers, it is still pretty abstract in nature because one could ask what those numbers actually represent? The answer is that they don’t represent anything real yet……but if we put them into a defined ‘container’ with boundaries then we can start to assign numbers and divisions to all the axes that are within that defined space. Put another way, 2 bits of red don’t mean anything until we have a contained linear red scale and can see what two bits of red look like, counting from the boundry that is 0 red and extending towards the boundry that is as red as the container holds. That is what a “color space” does. It provides the boundaries into which we fit our color model. Now those three (in the case of RGB) or four (in the case of CMYK) numbers actually mean something and define a color that we can look at.

So lets see if we can represent what I just said graphically. Here we go…..

Chromaticity_Diagram.jpg

In these graphs, the black triangles define the limits or serve as the ‘container’ of the color space. Any colors inside the triangles are contained in the color space and defined by points along the axes. All three of these graphs pertain to different color spaces that utilize the RGB color model, but they each have different sized containers to hold the colors in. As you can see, ProPhoto RGB is the largest color space followed by Adobe RGB and then sRGB. In a very real sense the ProPhoto RGB color space contains, or can represent, more colors than can the sRGB color space.


Now that we understand these definitions, we can point to a color and assign it a set of numbers that define it. Theoretically, I should be able to pull up the color space graphs on my screen and look at the exact color you are referring to and know exactly what color you mean. However…….you know how when you walk into a TV store and all the TVs are tuned to the same channel but they all look a little different??? Yeah, we have a problem! While there may be a standard somewhere that shows what RGB=0, 12, 73 looks like, the problem is that we have to look at that depiction on something and, just like the TVs, the colors on my screen don’t necessarily look like the colors on yours. So I might be able to point to the very exact spot on the graph you are referring to, but it might not look the same on my screen as yours. It therefore appears that we might have solved the color problem from a quantitative standpoint but not from a functional, day to day use, standpoint.

And now you know why monitor calibration and profiling is important. It is a very valiant attempt to solve that problem, and I will discuss that in the next post.

Comments or questions? Just click on comments link below and I will do my best to answer them.

Working In Projects

No question about it, it’s great to make a fantastic photograph…..that ‘greatest hit’ image that goes up on the wall. But working in ‘photographic projects’ carries a different sort of appeal. It allows you to take the time to interpret something in real depth. Once you make the obvious photos you have to really work to understand ‘how else’ you can see, portray, and transmit the feel of your subject. I certainly don’t intend to write a treatise on working in projects, but I thought I would write about why I enjoy projects and how I approach them in the hope that, perhaps, some part of that might resonate with readers.

You can build a project around almost anything. You most likely have a project already completely photographed in your Lightroom (or whatever other processing software you use) library, though you may not even know it. A project can focus on just about anything - places, inanimate objects, living things, people, ideas, colors, weather, feelings, and, well, almost any subject or idea that catches your fancy. The challenge is to have a very clear idea about what the project is about, so that you can draw associations between the images thereby allowing them to work together as a topic.

In order to transmit real emotion with your images, the project should be about something that you love or at least have a strong interest in. As they say, ‘shoot what you love’, because, if you don’t, you likely won’t come up with a cohesive body of work. It can most definitely be difficult to ‘keep going’ when the subject doesn’t move you.

 
From a project I’m working on entitled “A Mother’s Treasure”

From a project I’m working on entitled “A Mother’s Treasure”

 

But, personally, I do have some difficulty with projects. I love working in projects but, while I start many of them, I often either don’t finish them or they go on for…..well, quite a long time. That isn’t to say that I never finish them. In fact, I am quite happy with my Carrie Furnace, Cathy, and Empathy projects. But I have started many more that have not come to completion. So I have done some introspection about this and have put together several thoughts, ideas, and recommendations to help myself bring more projects to completion. These are ideas that pertain to me, but I thought they were nonetheless worth writing in a post in case others might find some of them useful, as I suspect that I’m not the only person to struggle with this issue.

I believe that one of the most important things that keep me from completing projects is fear! Fear that the work I’m doing isn’t ‘good enough’ or that ‘it’s been done already’ or that ‘people will think it’s dumb’. It’s easy to say ‘just ignore that feeling’ or that ‘nobody will do it just the way you’re doing it’ but that just doesn’t seem to work for me. Here are some things that I have started trying that I believe do help:

 
From a project I’m working on entitled “A Mother’s Treasure”

From a project I’m working on entitled “A Mother’s Treasure”

 

1) Define the project size from the start - how many images do I think I will need to complete the project? This gives me a goal to work towards. And it can certainly be revisited. If I start by planning for a project consisting of ten images and I get there rapidly and easily and find myself wanting to make more photographs for the project then the goal can be expanded. If I get to the initial goal and feel like I have said most of what I want to say then I have a complete project. If I get stuck after three images that I think are good and can’t make more, well, then maybe it isn’t a topic or idea that I have enough interest in. Move on. Nothing wrong with recognizing that the interest just isn’t there. Who knows, maybe I will come back to it one day.

2) Define how the project will be presented - wall display, magazine submission. PDF, folio, web display? All of these? By defining what the end result of the project will be I get a sense of purpose and I know what I am working towards. These endpoints can be re-examined and changed depending on how the project proceeds.

3) I don’t consider an image ‘done’ or work towards ‘completely finishing’ an image before moving on to the next one in the project. For a project to be cohesive there needs to be some consistency in style. Therefore, when I reach the goal number of images, I plan to review them, see which ones work together, and finish editing the images together as a group to ensure there is some type of consistency and visual flow among them.

4) When the images are completed, processed, and edited in terms of which ones I will include in the project, I plan to actually put them together into whatever the plan was for their final presentation. That takes work, be it printing, posting, learning to make a PDF etc, but if it is worth doing the project then it’s worth assembling the final presentation. I won’t consider the project complete until the planned presentation method is completed.

5) Deadlines - I plan to give myself a deadline to reach that initial number of images so that the project doesn’t drag on. Don’t get me wrong, if things are going well and revisiting the project size leads to a desire for a larger project, that’s a good thing. Then I can make a new deadline for the expansion. There are some projects that are short term projects and some that may take longer periods of time. All good, as long as there is actually work being done towards a goal and the expansion also has a deadline.

As an example, the images in this post are from a project that I had started but never finished. I have now resumed it with all the recommendations I made above. The project consists of photographing a pair of statuettes that were meaningful to my mother, who passed away recently. They were one of her prized possessions, and I decided to put together a project photographing them. My initial goal is for the project to have a dozen images and to have the photographing and processing completed by the end of October. I would like to have, as a finished presentation, a folio and a PDF which I can work on (I will determine a deadline for each) once the images are completed.

Do you have any ideas that motivate or push you to complete projects. If so, please share them in the comments. I would love to hear them.

Hoses

Sometimes you want to exercise your creativity…..but you just are stuck working. In this particular instance I decided that even though I had to work overnight I would try to see if I could make some photographs of what was around me at work. I found hoses. I photographed hoses. Sometimes you have to make due with what’s available :)

 

Hoses © Howard Grill

 
 
More Hoses © Howard Grill

More Hoses © Howard Grill

 

Lemons To Lemonade

Every summer I make my ‘pilgrimage’ to Jennings Environmental Education Center to see the annual blooming of the Blazing Stars (Liatris spicata), which grow naturally on this glacially carved prairie in the middle of the rolling hills of Western Pennsylvania. Alas, this year the bloom seems limited, and the flowers that were in bloom seemed mainly further out on the prairie, as opposed to being accessible near the trail. While it is possible that the larger portion of the bloom is yet to come (typical peak bloom is the mid to end of July and the beginning of August), I suspect that, for whatever reason, this year is simply not going to be a banner year for them.

Rather than lament the lack of Blazing Stars along the trail, I decided to photograph what was accessible to me. Only after getting home and doing an internet search did I think I identified this plant. I believe it is Yellow Foxtail (Setaria pumila).

At any rate, the foxtail itself was not overly attractive in its immediate surrounding, so I ended up layering in a texture. Even then the photograph looked as if it needed something additional, so I took another image of the Blazing Stars in the distance that I had made on the same morning, sized it appropriately, and layered it into the button of the photo. That gave me the result I was after.

 
Yellow Foxtail © Howard Grill

Yellow Foxtail © Howard Grill

 

In terms of what the Blazing Stars look like, I will share a photo of them I took a couple years back, from right along the trail:

 
Blazing Stars © Howard Grill

Blazing Stars © Howard Grill

 

Awake Photography Magazine

I am pleased that one of my images from the Cathedral of Learning was published in the Awake Photography Magazine. The two magazines published by Sebastian Michaels, “Awake Photography” and “Living The Photo Artistic Life” are both wonderful magazines loaded with fantastic imagery, and I was glad to have my image selected. “Awake Photography” (published quarterly) deals with ‘straight’ photography while “Living The Photo Artistic Life” (published monthly) is dedicated to digital artwork. Moreover, both are completely free in digital format…..I give the download links below the photo.

 
Cathedral of Learning © Howard Grill

Cathedral of Learning © Howard Grill

 

Download the current issues, as well as any or all back issues, at no charge. I think you will enjoy both.

AWAKE Photography

Living The Photo Artistic Life