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.

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 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…..


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.

Canon 5DsR And Long Exposure Noise

In my last post, I presented one of my favorite images from my trip to Michigan's Upper Peninsula.  As much as I really like the image there is a problem with it.  It is a problem that is not visible to anyone looking at the image on the internet or at a small image size, but it is one that I suspect will limit my ability to make a very large print of the photograph as it is currently processed, which is something I was hoping to be able to do.

So what is this problem?  The answer is digital noise during the five minute long exposure. I will confess to being a bit of a 'pixel peeper', but really only am concerned about issues that would affect the final print. But before I discuss anything, allow me to show you what I mean.

Color and Luminance Noise In The Brightened Shadows

Color and Luminance Noise In The Brightened Shadows

The portion of the image above is a 100% crop from the dark island/tree area of the photo AFTER noise reduction using Imagenomic Noiseware, and one can still see both color and luminance noise that is fairly marked. Now, it is true that I raised (brightened) the shadows a bit, which would tend to accentuate noise, so I will also show you a 100% crop from the straight out of camera image without brightening the shadows. Here the noise is minimal.

Pete's Lake Crop Right Out Of Camera

Pete's Lake Crop Right Out Of Camera

Perhaps I was expecting too much to be able to brighten the trees in order to to show some detail and color and perhaps the noise is purely related to the 5DsR's pixel pitch (small) and dynamic range as opposed to the length of the exposure.  That will take some experimentation on my part to figure out but, while that may well be the case, there is still luminance noise in the sky visible in this 100% crop after noise reduction:

Luminance Noise In Processed Sky

Luminance Noise In Processed Sky

As one would expect, this brighter area is certainly less noisy than the shadows, but is still noisier than I would expect and noisier than I have seen in my shorter duration exposures.

So what does all this mean?  These are just early thoughts and so I am not really sure yet.  It will require some further experimentation to sort out the effects of long exposure vs the sensor's dynamic range.  I find this interesting, as it is something fellow photographer Cole Thompson has written about in a post entitled "5DSr Noise Issues".  

Of course, this doesn't necessarily mean I can't make a large print. The noise might not be visible in a moderate sized print. I could make the print with less processing and leave the shadows darker than I had in my processed version, which would hide the noise.  There are possibilities, those they are slightly different than was my vision for the final image.  Also, when doing long exposures I could expose to the right more in order to eliminate noise, assuming that the scene is not as contrasty as this.

Please don't get the wrong idea.  I am extraordinarily happy with my 5DsR as it is able to record amazing detail and color with ample pixels to crop as needed, but I suppose one has to obey the laws of physics and smaller pixels are going to deliver more noise.  Unless of course you have a Nikon. Or a Sony........only kidding. Sort of :)

A Blatant Plug.....But Not For Me

Every so often you run across a company that does things so well and that demonstrates such superb customer service and overall excellence that you have to say something. That is why I am posting a plug for Puget Systems, a company that designs and builds custom computers. But don't let that 'custom computer' moniker get you all worked up, it's not by any means a company that just caters to computer geeks.  

To start with, I have purchased three computers from them (a laptop and now my second desktop) since 2010.  They were a joy to deal with for all the purchases, but with this latest purchase they truly demonstrated exemplary customer service.

With my 'upgrade' to a Canon 5DsR camera, my current computer system (designed at the very end of 2009) just wasn't up to dealing with the file sizes I was throwing at it. The files were already large coming right out of the camera and by the time I added smart object layers, used plug-ins during processing, and added multiple adjustment layers, the system slowed down tremendously and did other 'cute' things like flickering, stuttering, and freezing. I suspected this was from a combination of my C drive having too little free space and from the system not having enough memory. Working on the system was not becoming much fun. Nonetheless, I was still hoping to try to repair it by buying a bigger C drive and cloning the OS. What wasn't clear to me was, once that bottleneck was cleared, if there might be another just around the corner.  I was also concerned about putting money into it and having it only remain truly functional for a short period.

One of the Puget consultants worked with me for about a week, having me send him screenshots of my Windows Task and Performance Monitors while I was 'pushing' the system using Photoshop (they even offered to remotely log in to my machine and watch the monitors so that I didn't have to take and send screenshots....but that wouldn't work well with the three hour time difference). Unfortunately, the verdict was that though there were things I could do to avoid a new system, they likely were not going to make a dramatic difference.  It looked like it was time to start from the ground up.  Not too bad, given that I got my last computer in January of 2010.

Well, the way things work at Puget is that they have pre-designed systems that you can purchase 'off the shelf'.  The components in these have been picked by them as base models in much the same way that you might buy a pre-configured model at Dell.  But with this company you know exactly what components you are purchasing and can read up on cheapest hard drive of the day found here! Of course you can ask any questions about any of the hardware and expect a rapid response.  But the fun part comes when you start to customize your computer.

When putting together a custom system you are, encouraged, to discuss the system either by phone or e-mail with someone at Puget.  These people know what they are talking about. They are interested in what you are going to primarily be using the computer for so that they can help you choose the components that will be most cost-effective for your needs. In my case, I was going to be using the system primarily for photo editing, but I did want to make sure that there was some headroom and versatility in case I wanted to try some pretty basic video editing as well....something I have not done, but could see dabbling in. I think it would be interesting to have an image on  my website with a link to a ten or fifteen second video of the location to show what it 'really' looks like.

Well, the folks at Puget were very knowledgeable and were able to tell me what was overkill for my purposes (I don't do any gaming), what would help with photo editing only, and what would assist with video.  In fact, they have many original articles on their website as to what aspects of hardware Photoshop is able to take advantage of, and what it can't. It was like having your own personal and very knowledgeable computer consultant. 

Try any of that at Dell and see what happens!! Oh and the price.....more expensive than Dell, but not by that much.  And I can tell you that I have called them for technical assistance with my first computer from 2010 two or three times over the years (well beyond the warranty period elapsing) and they were more than willing to help me with advice, send me drivers by e-mail etc.

I haven't yet received my new system, but I am very much looking forward to it. So there it plug for Puget Systems. I have no association with them whatsoever. I am just a very satisfied customer three times over.  And that is something that isn't easy to find in the marketplace these days!

Along the way, I did learn quite a bit about optimizing a computer for Photoshop.  Some things have changed since I wrote my article entitled Photoshop Optimized Computer, Parts I, II, and III back in 2010. I think it might well be worth putting together another post about that!


Technibition......sure it's a word.  But I wouldn't try using it in Scrabble just yet because I just coined the term.  So do your best to make it go viral and don't forget to attribute it to me! What is technibition?  It is when the various choices made available by technology leads to the 'paralysis of analysis'.  Perhaps it can best be explained by example.  You are out in the field and presented with a beautiful landscape.  In the old 35mm slide days you found the best composition and took the shot after deciding on the appropriate aperture and shutter speed for the exposure. Maybe you take two or three photos, bracketing the exposure. After all, film is expensive and in the end you can only choose one exposure (of course, as we moved later in time there was the opportunity for scanning the slide and making more decisions from there).  But these days, if one is technically savvy, there are more options. One can do exposure bracketing for HDR, multiple exposures for focus stacking, and since there is no cost for each exposure why not multiple shots changing the point of focus a bit to see what works better in the final image.....same with the aperture and depth of field, multiple shot panoramas, multiple shot HDR panoramas, can get a headache just thinking about it.

And then when you get home and download the images you will have a whole array of the same shot to choose from.  And that is where things get difficult, because it is now work to choose the 'right' one from the bunch.  Do you compare every single one to see which is sharpest.  Do you really need focus stacking or did that shot at f16 have adequate depth of field?  Is that f22 shot better or is it softer because of diffraction?  Or maybe the image is good, but not good enough to merit going through the work of doing all those comparisons.

There you have it. That last sentence is the result of 'technibition'. Technology has thrown a sandbag in your path because of all the options it offers and perhaps for that reason you end up not making a print at all.    And technibition is far more common when the lighting is perfect or when you are on that once in a lifetime trip.....because you want to make sure you got it right. I know, because I have been 'technibited' many times!

Having been technibited, I have given this some thought.  I believe the answer is not that there is too much technology at all.  It is simply the result of the photographer's uncertainty as to what the goal or endpoint is.  If one has a better idea of what their vision is and exactly why they are making an image then the technology becomes a partner to achieve a superior result.  If the vision isn't clear, then the technology becomes a confusing distraction.  That is not to say that one can't have a clear vision but also have more than one usage in mind and therefore make the photograph using more than one technique or technology.  But in my mind, the key is to then have multiple discreet, thought out ideas and not do random shooting.  One thing is for sure, it isn't always easy!

Well, that is my opinion.....and it is just that, one person's opinion.  I would love to hear other opinions.....what do you think??

Photographers i

I always have my eyes open for interesting and high quality photography magazines.  They are hard to come by.  However, a few months back I got an iPad and ran across a magazine edited by Michael Freeman that is formatted specifically for the iPad.  Actually, perhaps I should say for tablets, because I really am not sure if it is available for Android based tablets or not. At any rate, what makes it very interesting is that it is one of the new breed of multimedia publications made specifically for electronic devices.  The magazine has interviews, portfolios, informational articles etc.  But each article typically has some type of multimedia component, be it an interview, teaching points, audio etc.  That itself would not merit mention as it needs to be quality, not just fluff.  This one is definitely quality.  I am not sure that the multimedia options in the 'magazine' are being utilized to their full potential and it will be very interesting to see how this whole genre of multimedia publications evolves over time.  And I am sure they will evolve.

This one is definitely worth checking out.  It can be purchased via subscription or single issue.  After reading the first one I went ahead and subscribed.  Check it out in the Apple App store and Newsstand.

Lloyd Chambers

There is a sense that everything available on the internet should be free of charge.  Well, there is certainly a lot of free material, but how much of it is good....I mean really good. When I first found the information that Lloyd Chambers makes available as subscription sites, I wasn't overly interested because you had to pay.  But something kept nagging at me.  The "Table of Contents" to his on-line writings sounded good.....I mean really good.  I figured what could I lose but a few bucks, and so I subscribed to one of his subscription only sites.  It was well worth every cent.

Lloyd has put together material that will educate you, help you make choices, and help you to become a better photographer.  His work centers around the technique and technical, as opposed to the aesthetic.  His in depth writing covers topics deeply, leading to your having truly garnered a better understanding of any subject he writes about.  Within a short time I ended up subscribing to three of his topical sites and am glad that I did.  My favorite?  His work entitled "Making Sharp Images".

Check out all his writing.......

His free blog is here.

"Making Sharp Images" is here.  VERY HIGHLY recommended!

His "Guide To Digital Infrared Photography" is here.  If infrared is an interest of yours, this contains a wealth of information.

The "Guide to Zeiss ZF/ZE Lenses" is here.  Don't bother spending your hard earned money on a Zeiss lens until you read what Lloyd has to say about each one.

Finally, his "Guide To Advanced Photography" is here.

Here is a selection of Lloyd's articles that he makes available as sample freebies.

If the table of contents of any of these series captures your interest, just will definitely be glad you did.

I Have A Bad Copy Of Lens X

When reading about different lenses or browsing through used lens ads (don't all photographers do that??) it is hard not to read that this is 'a great copy' or a 'soft copy' of any given lens.  We all want those great copies......right?  Well here is a great article about why that great copy of a given lens might not be so great on your particular camera body........that, and lots of other interesting information about why manufacturing tolerances guarantee differences between samples of any lens on today's high resolution digital cameras. This is a really interesting read.  Check out "This Lens Is Soft And Other Facts" here.

Looking For Natural HDR

I have not had all that much experience using HDR.  In general, I find the cartoonish look that one can (but need not) get very faddish and unimpressive...... just dial up the tone compression.  Sometimes I think that 'look' has become far too accepted.   I  have begun (unfortunately, in my opinion) to see it regularly even in 'high class' photography magazines like B&W/Color. But, I understand it doesn't have to be that way.  In fact, I believe it is far, far harder to produce a natural and believable looking HDR image than a grungy, surreal one.  I used my very recently acquired NIK HDR Efex Pro to generate a realistic looking botanical image which I posted here.  I do have Photomatix as well, but find the NIK product somewhat more intuitive and easier to work with.  So I decided to use the NIK software to try my hand at an HDR landscape shot.  This is from a series of 6 exposures taken at the Swift River in New Hampshire on a workshop with Nancy Rotenberg and Les Saucier that I attended last year.

Swift River, New Hampshire, HDR Image

It isn't perfect in terms of maintaining a natural look, but I think it isn't bad for one of my initial HDR landscape attempts.  The slight haloing around the very distant trees protruding into the sky on the left is not nearly as marked on the full scale image and is accentuated here by having converted the photo to a small jpeg.

Migration And Integration

In my last post, I mentioned that I wanted to integrate this blog into my new website. I have been looking into the various ways to do this, which boils down to either sticking with Blogger (which carries the benefit of being able to maintain my Google rankings) or going with WordPress. The benefit of WordPress is that it seems far easier to integrate into a website subdomain. I have seen many posts about the woes of trying to transfer Blogger to a private website subdomain......... and that is from people who actually understand how to do it. Reading the Blogger directions has me dizzy and not sure where to even start (ANAMES, CNAMES....yikes).

My inclination is to go with a new integrated WordPress blog (they actually have a function that supposedly allows you to import all the old Blogger blog content into your new WordPress blog). Yes, I will lose my Google page rank but I am still inclined to go that route, unless someone reading this can give me a good reason not to switch over and/or a reference to step by step instructions as to how to make the Blogger transfer to a private subdomain relatively foolproof.

So, this post is an announcement of the migration of this blog away from Blogger and to my website. I am planning to try the transfer on Friday, so I don't know what the status of this blog will be from Friday on. In essence, I am not sure if when I migrate the contents over it will still remain here too (I hope it does) or how difficult the migration will be.

I would certainly appreciate it if anyone who reads this regularly could hang on over the inevitable bump or two with the migration, and look for new posts on my website, hopefully just by clicking the blog tab on my site navigation bar. It may take a few days to sort out how to get Feedburner going again etc, but I am also hoping the almost 1100 subscribers here will be interested in resubscribing at my new location.

I hope things go smoothly and that my next post topic can be back to some pictures and a discussion of photographic subjects!!!!


Too Much - Part II

In my last post I wrote about the proliferation of software, imaging modalities/techniques, and marketing methods which are now available and the fact that, while they offer innumerable opportunities that we never had before, they also can draw significant amounts of time away from actually working on trying to perfect the art itself.

This has become even more apparent to me as I undertake the project of designing and constructing my own website. I clearly see the large amount of time that is taking. One of my problems has been that I have found that I was interested by and wanted to participate in everything contained in the long laundry list I wrote about in my last post. But, the fact is that you really can't do all these least not well and not if you also have a 'day job'. So it has become apparent to me that one has to pick and choose. I probably am still trying to do too much, but have decided that in order to try to excel at some things others must go.

So how does one approach all this? Well, I am sure there is no universal answer to that question since, as artists, we all have different interests, aptitudes, and abilities. While one photographer might be able to write HTML and use CSS in their sleep, another might find that to be a big yawn and not have the desire to learn it at all. The same goes for learning the other software I mentioned in the list.

I can, however, talk about how I approached the issue and what conclusions I came to. These conclusions, of course, only apply to me....but perhaps the thought process might be useful to others.

I started by asking myself several types of questions:

What do I like doing?
What would I like to learn to do/use?
What items from the list are likely to be most useful in developing an audience?
What have I done already that seems to be generating some success?
What have I done already that does not seem to be generating much interest or success?
When looking at the potential benefits of each item on the list, how much time is going to have to be invested to reap those benefits?
Which items, when I consider them, get me excited and interested? Which don't?

In a perfect world we would learn to excel at all the listed items, but, as we know, the world is far from perfect.

So how did I approach the list? First, just scanning the list, it was easy to pick out two items that I could easily give up. Flickr and Twitter. I know that many people have successfully used these sites to increase their audience, but they have seemed far less fruitful for me. Flickr can be quite time consuming and, frankly, there seems to be far too much back scratching and quid pro quo to get images seen....and the comments tend to be one liners that I do not really find all that helpful. The whole interface with awards etc also seems quite 'unprofessional' to me. I'm not saying there aren't good photographs or photographers there. Just the opposite, there is plenty of fantastic work. It just doesn't seem to me like the forum to accomplish my goals or present my work. I won't delete my account but will not actively use it. Time saved.

Same with Twitter. My 'tweets' seem to attract mostly other photographers and people trying to sell things. I totally enjoy talking to other photographers, but I'm not sure I love talking to them in 140 character bites! It's fun, but I just don't think it is all that worthwhile in that it doesn't seem to be doing for me what I was hoping. Thus, it is not an efficient use of my time. Again, I won't delete my account but simply will not direct new efforts to it.

So, as far as the Social Networking category goes, I will stick with blogging and Facebook. Come this mid January, I will have been writing this blog for 4 years. I enjoy it and it has been a longstanding effort which I want to continue! My Facebook Fan Page is a newer endeaver and is something that is also fun to do. In the few months I have been doing it there are now 119 folks who have 'liked' and follow the page and there also tends to be more comments there than here. So it seems worth the effort to continue!

I am going to continue my effort at coding a new website. Though that requires a heavy time commitment, I also think the 'payoff' of delivering my work to the world in a manner that I want is a big reward that merits the time spent.

Here is a real biggie that I have decided not to least not for some time. Video and sound production. I know it's hot, but, frankly, it just isn't something that gets me particularly excited. I am intrigued by the ability of the still image to elicit an emotional response far more than the ability of video to do so. I am also a perfectionist and know that to learn how to do video production in a manner that I would be satisfied with would likely take up a huge amount of time (and ? money). So I am simply not going to pursue it.

One thing I would like to do is to try printing on canvas. It is easy for me to justify putting this off until the spring as it is cold here in the winter and I would want to coat the printed canvas outdoors (because of the chemical smell of the coating).

I would be interested to hear how other people have approached these issues and what conclusions they have come to.

Too Much - Part I

Brooks Jensen, in his podcasts, has frequently mentioned that this is one of the best times in history to be a photographer because of the many ways artists now have to get their work out into the world and because of the various imaging modalities and options that are now available. I agree with him. But, at times, I find myself wondering if the wide variety of options can become too the point where learning them or spending time with them can actually become a detriment to the art.

Let me be clear. I do not think the proliferation of options and modalities themselves are the problem. On the contrary, as Brooks suggests, these options open up opportunities that we have never had before. I think the problem, at least in my case, has become deciding what options to choose. Like a smorgasbord at a regal feast, eating everything can lead to.....well, you get the picture. I have finally reached the point where I think some choices may be in order.

Just to delineate what I am talking about, I would like to enumerate some of the choices that come to mind, and these are only the ones that come to my mind. I am sure there are others that I am missing.


1) Lightroom/ Aperture etc
2) Photoshop or other image editing programs and their techniques
3) Plug Ins
4) HDR processing
5) Printing on paper
6) Printing on canvas, which necessitates learning how to coat and stretch/mount the prints
7) Standard Mounting and Framing

1) Learning To Shoot Video
2) Video Editing
3) Sound Management / Production


1) Adobe Acrobat (to make .pdf / e-books)
2) Dreamweaver (to construct your website)
3) Adobe InDesign to produce folios
4) Slideshow Production
5) ? Making Presentations i-Pad / Android Compatible


1) Blogging
2) Newsletter Generation
3) Facebook Fan Pages
4) Twitter
5) Flickr

The choices can become overwhelming and time consuming. So what to do?

Continued in next post....

Website Planning II

I almost gave up. On constructing my own website that is. I mentioned in a prior post that I would intermittently write about my thoughts and progress regarding constructing my own website, as opposed to continuing to use a template type service (albeit with multiple customizable options) with Visual Server at

Why almost give up? Because I want to do it right.....and if you are not familiar with html, CSS, and Dreamweaver (let alone programming in general) it just isn't that easy. Sure, there isn't much to opening a new html document, naming it index.html and typing away. But if you really want to do it correctly in order that it be durable and easily customizable with functionality into the future, it really needs to be done with templates and CSS. Not easy if you don't know how.

Time consuming, that's what it is. And one could strongly argue that it would be much more efficient to stick with what I have and use the time to process images, print, and build portfolios. And that thought really stuck with me to the point where I was about to give up. This led to a side project of looking at the available options for on-line services similar to Visual Server in order to see if any came closer to what I was looking for. As to what is wrong with Visual Server.....well, nothing really....except for the fact that their vision of portfolio presentation doesn't match mine, as well as the lack of ability to upload any type of files other than text or images.

So I looked around. Livebooks really came the closest to what I was after, but the templates (of which there are many nice ones) have limited ability to be more than minimally customized (unless you go with their more expensive custom design team), and if you wish to change something after your site is live there are fees. Thus, once you go live it becomes more expensive to tweak the allowed changes and, even then, the changes allowed without invoking the design team are minimal. Finally, the Livebooks design is totally flash based. They have the search engine 'thing' worked out whereby the site has a pure html 'sister' site that is not visible but available to the search engines for indexing (items inside flash are not indexable). But while I don't personally mind some flash in a site, I am personally not a fan of waiting for the home page to load the flash content.

So I came back to the idea that the best results for me would be had by constructing my own site. But what about the issue of time spent and the other things one could be doing with that time, particularly when time is a limited and very valuable commodity? Well, in the end, I overrided that internal objection by invoking the idea that one's website is truly the presentation of their work to the world. Imagine all the prep time it takes to make an exhibit. Hours of printing, matting, framing, etc. And all that to show one's work to maybe a few hundred people (if you're lucky) for a week or two (if you're lucky). Well, the website presents work to potentially billions (if you can get them there) of people 24/7. So isn't it worth it? I decide it was and re-undertook the project.

So how to get started? Books. Kelby Training videos. Taking Adobe up on the 30 day free trial to for registering CS5. And time. But I have finally reached the point where I feel I have a very basic understanding of how it all goes together and have started the coding process using Dreamweaver. That's not to say it is all smooth sailing....there is still a good bit of trial and error and research into various topics. Plus, even when I think I get it after the video, I still find myself going into Dreamweaver and saying "now how did they do that in the video again?"

And all this doesn't even touch on the non-technical aspect of a site, namely the actual design. I thought that would be easy as well. It isn't. The specifics of where elements should be placed, what color they should be, etc. is also a daunting task once you actually sit down to start making a template.

But I am moving forward. I am also giving myself a deadline, as this is theoretically a project that could go on and on. April. That's when I want to 'go live'. We will see how close I come to meeting that goal and whether I think the final result is attractive enough to have me want to use it to serve my work up to the world.

Social Media For Photographers Guide

Lately, I have been trying to get a better understanding of how social media can be used to become part of a photographic community as well as to increase people's awareness of my photography and blog. I'm 52 years old, so the whole idea of on-line social networking does not exactly come naturally to me....however, very few of my non-photography friends seem to really have an on-line presence, so perhaps I am more technologically tuned in than I give myself credit for!

At any rate, wrapping one's arms around the whole social media scene can be a bit difficult and has led me to have sometimes conflicting opinions about it.

In many ways, the 'older versions' of on-line community have opened up opportunities that I never would have otherwise had. The ability to get answers to questions regarding photography and technology is truly amazing, be it from Yahoo groups, company sponsored forums, or message boards/mailing lists. Though we don't typically think of these as 'social media' they certainly, to me, seem to be a form of it. I do know that information is disseminated very rapidly using these media, allowing me to do things and solve problems much earlier than if I had to wait 'for the book to come out'. I would certainly not be able to solve very daunting hardware and software problems without these outlets.

But what about the 'newer' methods of 'Social Media'....Facebook, Twitter, Flickr etc? My feelings are a bit more conflicted about these modalities. On the one hand, I feel they are great ways to become involved with a photographic community. On the other hand, sometimes I wonder about the 'you follow/comment/promote/award me and I will do the same for you' mind set. At times it seems to me that quantity may be put above quality.

But I am still very new at this and, as I said, am still trying to 'wrap my arms' around it all. In fact, I am trying out a number of these newer modalities. Hence, you can find both the "Follow Me On Twitter" and the "Follow Me On Facebook" buttons located on the right sidebar of this blog! One 'guide' that I did find useful if you are interested in exploring the new social media as it pertains to photography and photographers, is this free guide put out by PhotoShelter and Adorama entitled "Social Media for Photographers". You can download your free copy here.

More Thoughts On PDF Distribution

As I have mentioned in prior posts, I am intrigued by the idea of the distribution of photographic images by PDF. I have now finished the instructional DVD by Brooks Jensen, who has really championed this idea. If anyone is considering producing a PDF photography book and does not have experience with digital documents, the DVD is an absolutely essential resource and I highly recommend it! It turns out that for someone that is not well versed in the use of the needed software there is a somewhat steep, but clearly surmountable, learning curve.

While I do think that the digital distribution of images opens a major chapter in the history of photography, I also believe the viewing experience, as it stands today, is lagging behind the production technology. I suspect that this lag has had a significant effect on its adaption.

I myself have purchased several PDF photography books and also downloaded several photography PDFs from various sites. However, I have to say that I have not fully viewed them and certainly not viewed them in the depth that I would read or examine a printed publication. Likewise, I find that I don't look forward to or regularly read on-line magazines the way I read those that I subscribe to and which I can hold.

I am not really sure why, but it is simply a fact that I just don't seem to give such publications the same attention that I do a printed book. I can think of several reasons for this:

1) It is hard to curl up in bed with a computer.

2) It seems harder to 'get into' the mindset of in depth analysis in front of a computer as opposed to a book, at least for me....perhaps this is related to my age of 51.

3) I tend to feel more rushed or in 'working mode' on a computer and tend to feel more relaxed and in 'free time mode' with a book.

Now, before attributing my feelings to being unable to adapt to new technology, realize that you are reading this on my electronic blog. If anything, I tend towards being a somewhat early adapter. For example, as it relates to digital media, I have an Amazon Kindle e-book reader. In fact, I have the most recently released version with enhanced PDF handling. It is magnificent for reading novels. In fact, for the novel reading experience, I prefer it to hard copy books.

But that same preference doesn't carry through for me when it comes to reading PDF photography publications. In fact, while I have the first 40 LensWork issues on my Kindle from a LensWork DVD I bought on e-Bay (great deal...I think it was something like 20 bucks), I don't find reading them this way to be an enjoyable experience and have largely given up doing so. I also subscribe to LensWork Extended and, while it is a marvelous production, I find I don't read/listen to each and every one of them like I do when it comes to reading the hard copy issues.

I suspect a good part of why I don't prefer reading PDF photography publications on the Kindle is that the technology is still not up to snuff for handling such material. It still doesn't display PDFs all that wonderfully and the resolution/tonality is not fully developed. And, of course, there is no color yet (though that is being worked on as well). As I mentioned, I find that reading them on the computer is simply not comfortable or terribly enjoyable.

In essence, I believe that, at this point in time, the technology related to delivery is ahead of the technology related to usage. However, I am heartened by what I read is currently under development......thin sheets of light bendable materials that one can use to 'curl up in bed with' and read digital media and other technologic 'wonders' in development. So, while I currently think that, at least for my usage, the ability to enjoy PDF publications is not quite 'there' yet, I do think that they are coming and will be here fairly soon. I hope that a few years from now I can enjoy digital media in the same way that I can enjoy a book.

I am wondering what others think and have experienced when it comes to interacting with digital photographic publications.