Printing's role as the final stage in image verification

Back in the days when I didn’t print, and asked a pro lab to do it for me, I always had a nagging feeling that I’d lost control of my baby.

I’m a self-confessed control freak when it comes to what I do. A few days ago I wrote a blog post about appetite because I think I know appetite well: whatever I get into, I never seem to get into it in half measures.

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Knowing this about me, you may be surprised to find out that at the beginning of my photographic journey, I often got my images printed by a lab. Indeed, I only started printing about 10 years ago.

For a long time I shied away from tackling what seemed like a formidable mountain because colour management was like a black art to me.

So I stayed away.

I’ve been extremely fortunate to have this blog. It has allowed me to meet people who have helped me and I put out a request about a decade ago for some help and suggestions about printing. Not one person left an entry on the blog, but instead chose to email me privately about it. The emails usually had this format to them:

“I don’t want to get flamed for my opinion, but this is how I do printing”.

It seemed that printing was a religion and to say you had a different way of doing it to someone else’s way was often contentious. A point of view is just that, and yet I am often surprised that we feel threatened when someone has a different view from ourselves.

Well, I welcomed the input but the message I got from the replies was this: everyone has their own way of working.

I doubt things have changed much in that regard over the past decade. There is still a lot of ways you can slice an onion, and there is always going to be a huge amount of fact vs personal preference.

So it’s now a decade further on, and I feel I know a thing or two about printing now. Indeed, I feel that everyone who loves photography should print. For one very simple reason: to validate your edits.

Even with a well calibrated and profiled computer monitor, I have learned that I cannot 100% trust it. I think it has something to do with how the eye interprets transmitted light compared to reflected light.

The fact is: I often notice areas that need further work when I study a printed version of an image. Stranger still, I often find that once I notice the error on the print, I can now see it on the monitor also. But the opposite is not true.

So printing is your last verification stage, and to paraphrase the wonderful Charlie Cramer :

“images that look good on a computer monitor aren’t guaranteed to look good in print,
but good prints are guaranteed to look good on a computer monitor”

Well, the issue for most who don’t print is: how to get started? It seems like such a black art. Yes, it is difficult to get started. There is so much contradictory advice out there. There is no one single way to do this correctly (even if I think my process is good).

I think this is why I’ve chosen to attempt to write an ebook about it. If I can reduce the information down to what you need, rather than getting too lost in the technology, then maybe I might be able to help you get a head start with this. I’ll see how it goes, but so far I’m feeling good about how much I’ve written. I think it’s coming together really well.

No sitting on the fence

I've made some headway with my new e-book and I hope to have it published in a month or two from now.

This is really part 2 of of my tonal adjustment series.

Part one ' Tonal Relationships' was 'software agnostic'; I deliberately left out any 'how to' in the text and focussed more on the 'why' because image editing is an interpretive process where understanding tones and relationships is more important than figuring out which slider to adjust. Indeed the technical is something anyone can master, but the artistic interpretive side is a life-long artistic endeavour tied in with improving one's own visual awareness. Being able to 'see' what is in the image is paramount in achieving the most from your edits.

But there does need to be some kind of technical instruction if one wants to push things as far as they can. In my forthcoming new e-Book 'Photoshop Curves', I now take a look at the technical: in particular, I take you through the most powerful tonal editing tool available: Photoshop Curves.

Forthcoming e-book about Photoshop's Curves tool. The Curves tool is, in my view, the most powerful tool for tonal adjustment available.

Forthcoming e-book about Photoshop's Curves tool. The Curves tool is, in my view, the most powerful tool for tonal adjustment available.

I know this will be highly contentious to many: but it is my view that Lightroom does not offer the fine degree of tonal adjustment / control required (at the time of writing) that Photoshop's Curve tool offers.

Lightroom is a good editing tool. It is intuitive and offers most of what we need. At present though, the tonal adjustment side of it isn't as powerful as it could be. I know many love Lightroom and feel it is all they need for photo editing, but to me, it's a bit like saying 'I'm happy with what I know, even though there may something out there that can offer a whole lot more'. If you're serious about improving your photographic editing, and thus upping your photographic style, you need to get to grips with Photoshop and in particular its curves tool. That is where all your future growth as an editor lies. Believe me.

But I realise that Photoshop isn't an easy program to learn. It isn't intuitive and this may be a reason why you will choose not to learn Photoshop. However, this point shouldn't stop you if you are faced with the knowledge of what it can provide you with in terms of tonal adjustment. There is nothing better out there.

Over the past few years that I've been running my Digital Darkroom workshop, many participants who start the course as Lightroom users often end the course wishing to defect from Lightroom to Photoshop once they have seen what I can do with the curves tool. Even with seasoned Photoshop users I still find room for improvement in their knowledge of curves and how to utilise it to really tune individual tones.

So with this in mind, I have decided to write specifically about curves. It really is the most powerful tool available to image editors.

I appreciate and anticipate that my point of view will be highly contentious to many, but since my blog is all about my point of view, that's what I'm giving you, after all, you didn't come here to hear me sit on the fence, now did you?   ;-)

Photoshop's Curve tool Primer

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Photoshop's Curve tool is no mystery to me, and if you are a frequent user of Photoshop then it shouldn't be to you either. That being said, I have found over the time I have been running my Digital-Darkroom workshop that many participants have a very basic understanding of the tool. Indeed, due to the non-intuitive nature of Photoshop I find that most think that the Curve tool is a mysterious thing.

The Curve tool is really a tone re-plotting tool. You can transpose a range of tones to being another range of tones by way of an input/output graph. The X axis (highlighted in green) conveys what the tone is before the transposition while the Y axis (highlighted in red) conveys what the tone will become.

In the curve example here, you can see that the anchor point in the middle of the graph is transposing mid-tones to upper-mid tones. In fact, any tone that is of value 128 (black = 0, white = 256) will be transposed to an upper tone of 192.

The curve (as the name suggests) is non-linear: meaning that although I have transposed tones in the middle region, I have altered tones elsewhere but to a lesser degree. More specifically, tones near the anchor point in the middle of the graph are transposed the most, while tones towards the black and white points (far left, far right) are transposed the least. This is illustrated by the blue area underneath the curve: the diagonal line in the graph is the 'no-change' waterline and the further away the curve moves from it, the larger the tonal-transposition. Where the wedge is thickest we get the most alteration in tone, and where the wedge is the thinnest we get the least change in tone. But ultimately tones throughout the entire image are being altered.

The Curve tool is really quite simple. It's just that we expect it to be quite difficult because it looks complicated.

New e-Book announcement

 

I'm pleased to announce that today I have released a new e-book - part 1 in a 2 part series:

In this e-book, I aim to give you some thoughts with regards to tone, and its use in photographs to strengthen and weaken relationships between areas in the frame. 

In essence you will learn that subjects may be related to one another through tonal similarities. By ‘tuning’ the tones of one subject to be more similar to the tones of another subject, you can introduce, or strengthen an existing relationship further. 

By using the principles discussed in this ebook selectively during your editing sessions, you can reduce tonal distractions, help emphasise the right areas of the frame and aid in balancing the overall feel of your images. 

The book is split into the following sections:

Section 1 - Tonal Relationship Examples

By giving you some real-world examples of how Bruce chose to edit his work, you will gain a clearer insight into the power of tonal relationships.

Section 2 - Tonal Evaluation Techniques

These Techniques will aid you in developing your own visual awareness of tonal relationship. They also help you in finding areas of conflict in the image and also of correcting / adjusting tonal properties to the right degree.

This one has been a while in the making and  It could only come about because of the work I've done holding my twice-yearly Digital Darkroom workshop. I hope you enjoy it. 

Part 2 isn't far away :-)

Editing is an art, not a process

I think there is power in the written word. In fact, the decision to use one word or term over another can have profound implications for the way we think. I mention this, because for a long while now, I've really grown to dislike the term 'post-processing'. I'll explain why, but before I do, let's consider what the editing stage of a photograph actually involves.

From left to right:  Left: O riginal Image © Dave Bowman  Middle: Dave Bowman's interpretation Right: Bruce Percy's interpretation

From left to right: 
Left: Original Image © Dave Bowman
Middle: Dave Bowman's interpretation
Right: Bruce Percy's interpretation

Firstly, I consider the editing stage as interpretive. Just as you chose which composition to shoot and therefore give the viewer a particular angle or story, so to does editing your image give you another level of conveying your story. Often I find that by darkening and brightening areas of the frame, I choose how the reader's eye should be led through the frame.

Secondly, I think of the editing stage very much as an art. I've been editing work now for more than 15 years and I still learn new ways to approach editing my work every week I work at it. So to me, not only is it an art, but as art forms go, it is a life long journey of discovery in visual awareness skills, interpretation skills and above all, developing one's own style.

So let's get down to why I dislike the phrase 'post-process'.

Dave Bowman's edit (higher resolution). Image © Dave Bowman

Dave Bowman's edit (higher resolution). Image © Dave Bowman

Firstly, it does not encourage one to think of this stage of creativity as anything but a process, rather than an art. As an extreme example of this, I've met one or two photographers who apply the same template or 'processing' to every image they have.

Secondly and perhaps most important to me, the word 'post' encourages us to separate the editing stage of our work from the image capture, and I have a real problem with that. You see, I often think that it's easy to consider image capture and editing as two very different things, when in fact they are highly related and often use the same skills: for example, when you crop in your editing application, you are re-composing, and when you compose out in the field you are in effect cropping the landscape. Similarly, when we edit our work, we consider how the tones and shapes in the frame interact with each other (if you’re not doing this, then you should be). The same should apply to when we are out in the field. I now find myself thinking more about shapes and tones while out in the field than I did years ago and I know this is because of what I've learned during my image editing time.

So although the first stage is done behind a camera and the second is done behind a computer screen, they both utilise the same awareness skills. Only problem is, I think many of us don’t see it that way and tend to approach each stage as if they are completely separate. They’re not.

Fieldwork to Digital Darkroom Workshop

This year I conducted my first Digital Darkroom workshop here in the north west of Scotland. I had specifically set this up to work on awareness skills while out in the field and while behind the computer. I made a point of saying that the course' purpose was not to teach the participants software programs such as Photoshop or Lightroom (although some techniques and tools are learned as a matter of getting to a result during the week), but more to help participants consider what is actually in the frame of the image and how to interpret it during image capture and editing stages and hopefully see the relationships between the two.

It was a very informative week for me, as this was a new area to teach in my workshop schedule. I feel I learned a lot, specifically when it came down to ‘how far does one go with the edit’. I feel there is no answer to this, other than ‘it’s a matter of taste’. Some participants I felt were far too light on their approach while others may have suffered from overworking the work. I often feel this is a balancing act that can only be corrected by leaving the work for a few days and looking at it again later. Distance gives objectivity, but with a lack of experience, we can still end up with images that either haven't gone far enough, or have gone too far.

One of my participants during the week is a very proficient photographer in his own right. Dave Bowman has been making images for over 30 years and is represented by galleries in the US, Canada and the UK. I found his skills as a photographer to be already highly developed. So much so, that I found it particularly hard to contribute anything to Dave’s work because he has such a developed sense of awareness and skill. But during an e-mail after the workshop, Dave said he might have learned a lot more about my approach if had edited one of his images from scratch, rather than contribute to what he had edited. I thought this was a great idea.

At the top of this post are three images. The first is the original image straight out of Dave’s camera. You can see that his sense of composition is well developed. The second image is Dave’s edit and the third and last image is my edit - done this week without any consultation or referencing Dave’s own edit.

Bruce's edit (higher resolution). Image © Dave Bowman

Bruce's edit (higher resolution). Image © Dave Bowman

There is never a definitive edit

Firstly, and even though I will say this, I’m sure it will be overlooked: this is not a test of which is better. That I feel, will always be highly subjective. But I include both edits here to show that ultimately, two photographers editing the same image can convey a different aesthetic / mood and style. Both images are successful in different ways and ultimately, both are highly personal interpretations.

When I spoke to Dave about my edit, he felt i'd move it along further than he would be comfortable with. Likewise, I felt his edit was far too subtle and that he hadn’t gone far enough. All this proves really, is that both Dave and I have different tastes and we are looking for different things.

I find that I always learn new things in looking at a different interpretation of the same work. And I also feel that being a good editor of one’s work is mostly about objectivity. If I am too close to it, then I find my ideas about the image are often out of sync with what is really there.

I’ve also found that if I try to edit the same picture from scratch on a different day, I always go somewhere new with it. Like a band that plays the same song, each rendition is different in some way and presents a different flavour. Which is why I think image interpretation is an art form. It's a life long journey into personal interpretation and self expression.

 

The editing stage

I never like to work on images piece meal. I'm much more interested in a collection of images that work together as a whole. For me, that means that when I edit images, I'm focus my attention on images shot during one shoot. For example, last week I edited work from the isle of Harris only, even though I have plenty of images from other places I could have worked on or switched between.

I think these four images work well together, and the truth is; maybe the originals didn't. But with a bit of editing work, I was able to bring them in-line with each other.

I think these four images work well together, and the truth is; maybe the originals didn't. But with a bit of editing work, I was able to bring them in-line with each other.

I prefer to stick to this approach because I find that I can immerse myself in the colours and tonal responses of one place and get to know and understand them, which I feel is vital if I'm going to get the best out of the work I've shot.

You see, I think the editing stage is really important, as I think it's possible to screw up good work simply by not understanding it. It's possible to murder a collection of good images by tackling it the wrong way.

Digital Darkroom, Image Interpretation Techniques

£11.99

Synopsis

Many people own an image editing program. It's easy to learn a computer application, but what is not easy to learn is what to do to your images and why. 

Knowing what to do to an image, rather than how to do it, is a skill that takes years in learning.

This e-book shows you how to read your images and learn what you need to do to them in the digital darkroom. The ebook contains many examples to get you on your way.

Features

Adobe Acrobat PDF document, 37 Pages

E-book format: Adobe Acrobat
Download format: Adobe Acrobat

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So I prefer to work on images from the same shoot. It allows me to get into the atmospheres and embedded feelings that were there when I made the work and it also allows me to see and feel the emotional messages in the resulting film transparencies. After all, if you spend a week or two in the outer hebrides shooting beaches, you will get into a certain theme or frame of mind while there. So too, the editing stage should have the same approach.

But I also like to focus on the same collection of images for a few other reasons:

1. it often takes me a while to find the theme in the work. I can sometimes have some false starts by taking up the wrong approach to the work, and I've been known to stop and retreat back to square one because I feel where I'm going with the work isn't right. I may find the first few images I work on don't seem to gel. I find it takes a while to get the right 'groove' for the work i'm looking at, and that can only happen if I let myself relive the experiences - the sights, the smells, the atmospheres of the place. I also find that after a few days of working, I start to find a theme in the work that kind of dictates how the rest of the work should be edited, and more specifically, which images out of all the ones I've shot - I should select to be worked on.

2. Different places have different qualities of light. If I move from editing images shot in a place where the light is soft and the tones are bright, to working on images from a high contrast location where the tones are dark, I loose my rhythm. I can't context switch between the two and I lose focus. It's best to remain with one theme and one body of work until the edits are complete.

I think these four images work well together. It was only after a few days that I realised there were some darker images in the collection that worked well together and as often is the case: one successful edit seems to lead the way forward for how the remaining should be edited.

I think these four images work well together. It was only after a few days that I realised there were some darker images in the collection that worked well together and as often is the case: one successful edit seems to lead the way forward for how the remaining should be edited.

3. Tonal responses are important. I'm always thinking about how the tones between images relate, not just within the image, but within the collection. It's important to see parallels and work with those hints. Just slapping on some grad in the sky and cranking up the contrast for all your work will reduce the possibilities of what your work could be, or the new heights it could reach by a sloppy approach. By working on images from a location, you remember the qualities of the light, and how you thought it should be conveyed, but more importantly, you should be tapping into your understanding of the tones that are present in the final images and be leveraging it. 
There should be a lot of care and consideration taken during the editing stage, just as much as the care and consideration that was made at the time of capture. Both the shoot and the edit are interrelated and rely on the same skill sets.

I tend to take many days, if not weeks working on a new collection of images. The editing times per image are quite short (a few minutes) because I like to go with how I feel and respond to the edits I put in, and I'm aware that working on them for longer than that means I'll lose objectivity in the work. But as I go on and edit other work, I find I often return to the earlier work to 'tune it' in so that all the work sits well together. Some days I find some edits look good only to find the next day that I hadn't gone far enough, or had gone too far, so there's a reiterative process there where I return and keep tuning images until the entire collection sit well as a whole.

My final edit of my Harris shoot from last November.

My final edit of my Harris shoot from last November.

My first Digital Darkroom Workshop

I'm just home from leading my first ever "Fieldwork to Digital-Darkroom" workshop, which entails marrying what is done out in the field with the post-edit stage. My course is based on my e-book - 'The Digital Darkroom - Image Interpretation Techniques'

Still very much a work-in-progress e-book, but I feel I'm getting a better sense of what should be included now that I'm teaching digital-darkroom interpretation skills.

Still very much a work-in-progress e-book, but I feel I'm getting a better sense of what should be included now that I'm teaching digital-darkroom interpretation skills.

The course was run at Adrian Hollister's Open Studio environment in the north-west of Scotland. Adrian runs many workshops with such notables as Joe Cornish, David Ward, Eddie Euphramus and the wonderful Paul Wakefield. His studio has six iMac computers, all colour calibrated and it's on the door-step of some wonderful landscapes which are within a 30 minute drive. Perfect venue for running such a workshop.

I've been wanting to run a course like this for a very long time, because I feel that the editing stage is often considered as an almost secondary, isolated task, something that is unrelated to the capture stage. 

Adrian Hollister's Digital Darkroom Studio, Mellon Charles, Wester Ross, Scotland

Adrian Hollister's Digital Darkroom Studio, Mellon Charles, Wester Ross, Scotland

I firmly believe that the fieldwork and editing stages are interrelated. Our editing sessions teach us about things we didn't notice at the time of capture and they illustrate to us what we need to be more aware of in future - if we choose to make the connection! Similarly, once we know how far we can push and pull images in the digital-darkroom, we are in a more informed position whilst choosing certain subjects, contrasts and qualities of light. There is a symbiotic nature between the two, and so for me, the word 'post' as in 'post-process' discourages our thinking into believing both tasks are unrelated, when they are not.

In fact, I abhor the phrase 'post-process' because it makes the entire editing stage sound like a functional, emotionless act. Images become something you could just stick in a washing machine, turn a few dials and let it run on auto. Which isn't the case. Editing requires much awareness - of tonal relationships, of competing elements, of flow throughout the image.

And adjustments made in the digital-darkroom should be made whilst noticing how our emotional response is affected when we change tones and contrasts in the work. It is much to do about 'feel' as it is to do about technology.

So I made a point that this week's workshop would not be about teaching photoshop, or teaching Lightroom. Anyone can do that in their own time, and that kind of knowledge is easy to get. No, what I wanted to teach was how to interpret what you've captured - to see and take advantage of themes present within the composition, to notice tonal relationships between subjects within the frame, to see that each image has an underlying structure that almost spells out how it should be edited to bring these motifs further forward. 

The digital darkroom is a creative space, one where we can bring out the essence of the motifs we discover in the image. That's its primary function for me. I do not see this as a way for fixing bad images. A bad image is always a bad image. We have an expression here 'you can't polish a turd'. Instead, I see it as a way to bring out the beauty and essence that can, with a bit of interpretation, be found in a good image.

But interpretation is a skill, and like composition, has to be earned and improved over the lifespan of our involvement with photography. There is no manual for this, just an improved ability to read an image, to understand what is going on, and to know your toolkit (software) well enough to be able to bring forward your interpretation.

So I was curious to see how my group of participants would edit their work after five days of guidance and continuous feedback. I definitely saw improvements in most participants work. Certainly in the daily reviews I would notice that all of the participants had observations and awareness of what might be done to help remove distractions, or bring out themes within the work, but what I had not envisaged was that some of the group would be far too subtle with their edits and I think there are a few reasons for this.

Firstly, each one of us has our own aesthetic. We have our own tastes. Some photographers are more interested in the verbatim. What they see out in the landscape is what they want to capture, and so the edits will be done with a lot of sympathy for how they perceived their reality.

Secondly, some will under-edit because of a lack of objectivity. Ideally we need a few weeks between capture and edit. I always find that if trying to edit work straight away is hard because we're so often attached to an idea of what we wanted to convey and if the image is not successful in this regard, we may feel it is not a success. Leave it for a few weeks and you will come back to it with a fresh eye. If there are any motifs of themes within the image - you're more likely to work with those because you're more open to see other things where you were not at the point of capture.

Thirdly, I think under-editing happens through a lack of confidence. Too scared to adjust the image too much because the photographer feels they don't have enough skill to know what to do. But I also think it may be because they feel they may lose something in the process, and could be holding onto how the image looks now, and can't see beyond that to another destination.

It's this that interests me most and I must confess that I feel there is no clear answer. Editing is a skill that is derived from many years of self-improvement. If I look back at my own editing abilities, and consider images I shot 10 years ago, I can see that often I knew there was something missing in an image, but I couldn't put my finger on what it might be. I see tonal errors in them where at the time of edit, my abilities were so untuned I thought I saw beauty. Where I was perhaps overcome by the strong colours of my chosen film, I now see a clumsy edit.

Digital-darkroom skills take a lifetime of continuous self-improvement. We have to put the work in. But we also have to be smart about it. Simply cranking up contrasts or saturation across the board is a clumsy way to edit work, and it should be something that doesn't happen so much as it did when you began your editing career. But things only change if you take the time to consider and reflect on what might be the best way forward to edit your work, and self-awareness is something that has to be built upon over time.

I found my Digital-Darkroom workshop did help my participants. There were moments where I felt I had led my horses to water, only they were unable to drink, because if they can't see it themselves, then I can't force them to. Improving editing skills can't be rushed, but certainly a week in the field and behind a computer with a photographer you like the work of, may help bring about an improved sense of awareness, and that's what I believe happened this week.


The Evolution of a Contact Sheet

When I'm busy editing my work, as I have been for the past few weeks, I like to collate all the edited work together and periodically do a review of it, to see how the portfolio is shaping up as I add newly scanned and edited work.

Some images from Fjallabak and also the north east of Iceland, taken this summer and autumn. Images © Bruce Percy. Mamiya 7 camera, Fuji Velvia RVP 50 film.

Some images from Fjallabak and also the north east of Iceland, taken this summer and autumn. Images © Bruce Percy. Mamiya 7 camera, Fuji Velvia RVP 50 film.

This has many benefits as I see it:

1) I'm able to see how new images added to the portfolio contribute by either enhancing or sometimes weakening the overall character of the collection.

2)  I can spot themes in the work which might suggest a direction that the work and future edits should take.

3) It helps me see when some images don't work because of colour problems and also tonal inconsistencies with the other images in the collection

4) The creation of a portfolio is an evolutionary process. As images are added to it, it grows and its character becomes richer. Sometimes a new story is unfolded in the process and what I thought the portfolio was going to look like, is radically changed.

It's also immensely satisfying to watch how the portfolio evolves. Like the act of making the images in the first place, there is a deep satisfaction in watching the work reach full completion.

Some portfolios come together very easily and quickly. Sometimes it's clear that there is a theme to the work before I start to edit, and other times, it's really not obvious to me at all.

I find the scanning and editing in the digital darkroom to be a fluid and iterative process. I may feel that certain images are finished, only to find several days later that they need to be re-tuned to fit with the colour palette or tonal response that the other images are dictating.

In order to let the portfolio evolve, I've got to keep an open mind, and be willing to go back and review an image I previously thought was done.

Images © Bruce Percy. Mamiya 7 camera, Fuji Velvia RVP 50 film.

Images © Bruce Percy. Mamiya 7 camera, Fuji Velvia RVP 50 film.

Some artists say their work is never done, and I tend to agree with this. Images that we work on this week are really more a statement of who we were or how we were feeling at that moment in time. Edit the work months or years later and we may find we come up with a different interpretation.

But still, I don't like to look back too often. Although there is value in revisiting one's work from time to time I'm wary of falling into a hole that I can't get back out of: revisit your work, but don't endlessly rework it. That way lies an unhealthy obsession with perfectionism.

There is a lot of freedom to be gained by accepting that your older work is a statement of who you were at that time. Being able to let go of the past is healthy as it makes room for the future and in a sense, invites new work into your creative life.

The black deserts and volcanos of the central highlands of Iceland. Images © Bruce Percy. Mamiya 7 camera, Fuji Velvia RVP 50 film.

The black deserts and volcanos of the central highlands of Iceland. Images © Bruce Percy. Mamiya 7 camera, Fuji Velvia RVP 50 film.

These images are my new work, and as such, it's too soon for me to be objective about them. I'm going to need some distance and that means some time away from them.

All I can tell you is that the images didn't come easily to me. The central highlands of Iceland is a difficult, wild place. I'm always looking for a graphic element to any place I visit and in this instance it was often not so easy to find.  I think this says more about me and my own approach (read that as criticism of my own limitations).

To add to the complexity of the place, the light was not easy to work with. The deserts are black and often times it felt as though the sun was bleeding out of the corner of my eye. Contrast is a massive issue here. 

Yet I feel that this is exactly what is so compelling about the central highlands of Iceland. Some landscapes are beautiful because of their awkwardness. They are complex and challenging and they are captivating because of these qualities. 

A landscape like the central highlands of Iceland is a defiant one. It will not submit to you. Rather, you have to submit to it. 

I feel I have only just scratched the surface of this intriguing place.

What should we be asking?

A few days ago, I sent out my monthly newsletter. I got several replies back asking me to provide more technical data or technical workflow to my images. It was interesting to see these emails come through, as I've never had this kind of response before to my newsletter.

 

So I thought about why this might be. I came up with a few conclusions. One was that I had recently released a few e-books which are more technical than my usual offerings. One is about how to interpret images using Photoshop as your image editor of choice. The other e-book is more about how to look for clues in the structure of an image, as this will often guide the way forward in how you choose to edit your work. Both e-books attracted a lot of attention and there were a lot of sign up's to my newsletter.

So I wondered if the reason why I got emails asking me for more information on what ISO i'd used, exposure time and aperture, were maybe tied to the recent interest in my technical e-books.

I've been thinking about how much use it would be to provide ISO and exposure times for the readers of my newsletter. I believe  the answer is 'not much'. This of course is partly a reaction on my part to not wanting the technical side of  photography be the emphasis. I believe photography is first and foremost an emotional response to our surroundings. I see it as an emotional pursuit.

So I've been thinking about what I could possibly offer in the way of information about the images contained in my newsletters, that might aid in helping others gain better understanding. What I think we should be asking when we want to know more about a photograph, is 'what motivated you to make this image?', 'what did you latch onto?'. Was it the subject matter? or was it the speed of the clouds racing over the landscape? Was it perhaps the quality of the light in that particular area of the scene? We should be asking about the photographer's motivation.

I do feel that when others ask for technical info, they're really trying to get underneath the construction of the image. They wish to know how it came about, and an emotional language is often at a loss to do that. For example, me telling you that I thought the light was very soft and beautiful, and that I felt there were elegant curves and shapes in the scene drew me to that particular are of the scene - doesn't translate well. On the other side of the coin, being able to talk in a language that we all understand - such as 'I used a 30 second exposure and f22' certainly provides clarity and fact to an image (if I could remember the technical details - which I don't because I use film, so meta data isn't recorded). But it's missing the mark entirely.

I think language about emotions can be too broad, too intangible at best when describing the creative process. That is why I think people ask for technical data. It is at least a common language that we all understand. It is factual, and although on the surface it may appear to give answers to our questions, the real questions are often still left unsaid and as a result, unanswered.

 

New e-Book - 'The Digital Darkroom'

The Digital DarkroomImage Interpretation Techniques

£9.99 buy digital darkroom e-book

I'm very pleased to announce the release of my new e-book ' The Digital-Darkroom'. This e-book is concerned with the art of image manipulation. Please read on.

Digital Darkroom Cover

As part of my photographic workshops, I like to spend time with the participants each day, doing image reviews. My image reviews are not just about commenting on composition or exposure - as part of the afternoon critique sessions, I also show how I would approach editing the work at hand.

I'd been wanting to expand on this for some time, and had thought that running some digital-darkroom workshops later this year would be the best way forward. I was surprised to see that the demand for such a workshop was very poor. I think this is because many people hold the belief that photography is mainly about being out in the field and learning the art of capture.

A great deal of work goes into creating good images out in the field, but just a much care and attention should go into the editing stage. I find the digital-darkroom an essential component of the image making process and it's a highly creative environment to get immersed in.

Good editing is not an easy thing to do. It requires years or learning to get good results and I've been learning for over a decade, and each year I learn new things.

Anyway, as part of my preparation for my digital-darkroom workshops,  I decided to put what I know about editing images  into an e-Book format, and began working on this a year ago. Only, the way to convey what I wanted, seemed to evade me. It only became clear to me once I'd written the 'fast-track to Photoshop' e-book how best to approach this subject. I realised I need not worry about the technicalities of how to edit work, and could instead focus on the real questions - what to edit and why.

So this ebook is application neutral. In fact, I don't mention any applications at all. It's all about looking at the underlying structure of images - how they work, and how to edit them based on this knowledge. This is all done with one aim: to convey that image editing is not a case of 'twiddling the knobs until it looks good', but instead, is more a considered study of what the image has to offer.

You'll find a comprehensive list of contents to the e-book below. I do hope you enjoy this e-book, as It has been a very long labour of love for me.

£9.99 buy digital darkroom e-book

Table of Contents _____________________________

Part 1 Image Interpretation reading the structure of an image

Photographic Interpretation the de-construction of scenery

How does your eye move around an image? your eye tends to enjoy images if it can scan diagonally

Image Flow Overview leading your eye through the image

Image Flow Interruptions reducing the effect of flow blockages - the eye is attracted to dominant bright tones

Image Flow Interruptions reducing the effect of flow blockages - the eye is attracted to dominant dark tones

Image Flow Interruptions the eye is attracted to high contrast areas of the scene

Image Flow Interruptions the eye is distracted by conflicting or overly demanding colours

Image Flow Interruptions rotating an image horizontally can often reveal compositional imbalances

Image Flow Interruptions turning an image upside down can often reveal compositional distractions

Summary feeling on edge means something is wrong

________________________________________________

Part 2 Case Studies Image Interpretations

Tonal Balance Overview balancing one part of the frame with another

Tonal Balance 1 balancing sky with ground

Tonal Balance 2 grading the foreground

Tonal Balance 3 diagonal balancing

Tonal balance 4 a tunnel of light

Tonal balance 5 tonal dominance

Tonal Balance 6 emphasising horizons

Tonal Balance 7 the inverted tonal balance

Flow & Localised Contrast creating flow through an image & somewhere for the eye to settle

Flow Introduced by Burn-In creating flow through the use of burning in

Localised Presence bringing presence to particular objects

Localised Contrast cementing tonal relationships

Localised Saturation / Desaturation desaturating areas of the frame to reduce distraction

Vignettes give them more thought than usual - they’re very creative

Creative Vignette localised presence

A Parting Thought - going full circle there should be little difference between what you do in the darkroom, and what you do out in the field

£9.99 buy digital darkroom e-book


Image Selection in the digital darkroom

As I'm nearing the end of writing my 'Digital Darkroom' ebook, one or two subjects have come to light which I feel I should include. So I'm back to adding these ideas into the text at the moment. Forthcoming ebookOne such topic I feel is needed in the book, is a discussion on the implications of choosing certain images over others to work on. What this can mean to our work in general, and the kinds of pitfalls that can come forth from a lack of consideration for the work you decide to ignore over the work you do choose to use.

So here are my tip key points I feel that should be observed during the 'selection process' if you have such a thing. Maybe you just react to particular images, and give little thought to the ones you've discarded? Let's see.....

You are a different person each day

I guess this is my no.1 mantra, when it comes to choosing images to work on. I never consider that my 'selection' is final. What I chose one day, may leave me cold the next. I am considerate to the fact that I may have got it wrong the previous day, so I'm always open to reviewing the work again, and considering different shots. Also, I think that once I've been through all the images I've shot a few times, a particular 'story' begins to form in my mind as to how the completed set of images are going to work out. I get a feel for the overall character. This is a great way to work, but it can also be limiting because once you've set things in stone, its hard to see another story in your unedited work. So I like to go back and review, and I do this over a few days, or even a week or so down the line, I will look at the negatives again and realise there are others in the work that I overlooked for one reason or another. It's iterative, and I keep cycling back over the body of work over time to see if there's something I've missed. I know that Eliot Eriwtt for instance still scours contact sheets of work he made 40 years ago and still finds new images in there.... you are a different person each day. Use this to your advantage to see something new in older work.

Consider that this is not the only time you will visit this work

By accepting this as truth, it liberates you to do what you will with what you have chosen. It's so tempting to feel that what you have chosen is all there is, and this can force you to want to 'will' your selection of images to live up to your ideals of what you wished them to be, and not what they are. By accepting you will go over your negatives many times looking for work you missed, you open up your imagination to see what is there and work with what you've been given.

Decisions create paths. Going down one route may result in undesirable work

The birth of your work is a precarious endeavour. Each time we make a decision, we affect the final outcome of our work. Creativity requires you to be fluid because creativity flows. It does not sit and wait and it does not put the brakes on work that has a need to flourish. Sometimes I'm too hasty in going down a certain route though, and the further I go, the more uncomfortable I begin to feel. I've found myself on many occasions bin a complete editing session because I was not happy with how things were going. I now listen to myself. If the work is undesirable, I ask myself - is it the works fault, or is it my handling of the work? If it's the works fault - then I discard it. It's clearly not good enough to spend any time on. It might be a case of 'close but no cigar'. If on the other hand, I realise I'm tired, my creative vibes aren't where they should be, then I discard the editing session and leave my digital-darkroom work for another day. I go do something else more enjoyable. I've often found that returning to the original negative (with previous edits discarded) is a good way forward and approach the work with enthusiasm and a revitalised creative spark later on.

Emotional Investment shouldn't overrule

Sometimes after working on an image I'm really pleased with, I may find a better negative of the same location. Maybe the composition is better, or maybe the light is more dramatic. I give myself complete permission to work on this 2nd image. I don't let the first image (despite how good it is) dictate that there can't be another one that is perhaps better. I don't let myself become too emotionally attached to the first image. This is key to all work. A good artist needs to be able to be objective about what he does. This requires a strange mix of being very dedicated about what you do, but not letting your ego take you for a ride either.

 Be open, be fluid, be inquisitive

When I work on my own images, I like to leave them for a long time between shooting and editing. This I feel, gives me a sense of distance. This is really important to me, because this distance allows me to view my own work as if someone else had created it. If it's not my own, I can be more honest about it right? Yes. And also, because I really can't remember what it was I was trying to achieve with the work in the first place, I'm allowed to interpret it in any way I feel. An artist should be inquisitive. We should find surprise in what we do and investigate it. We should be flexible in how we approach our work, allow us to see new things in what we did. We need to be open to ourselves, because it's only when we are open, that creativity can flow.

 

Image interpretation techniques

It's been a long time in the works, but I'm almost nearing completion of an ebook about image interpretation (what most people call post-processing - except I detest that phrase). Forthcoming ebook

 

I'm in Patagonia right now, at the end of a great trip we had to Torres del Paine national park. The weather was spectacular, and plenty of new material from it, i'm sure.

While i've been in south america, I've been working on this e-book in my downtime. I had great difficulty with this one, as I think I needed to get the Fast-Track-to-Photoshop ebook out of the way first. And I've felt that since that was done, this ebook has come really quickly to me. I expect it to be a few weeks or maybe a month or so, before it is out.

Heading home tomorrow to my own bed, Scottish tea bags, and my beloved hi-fi !

Adios amigos, Bruce

Fast-Track to Photoshop CS e-Book

When I first decided to run photographic workshops, I sat around for a few months wondering just what a workshop should entail. As my good friend Kathy said to me - 'don't copy anybody, do what you think a workshop should be all about' - this has been extremely good advice, and since then, I've taken it very much to heart in everything I've done regarding my own photography career. Fast-Track-Photoshop CS

So when I set up my workshops, I decided there should be some kind of structure to what I wanted to convey. One of the things I felt was a 'must', was to include a tutorial on Photoshop CS* (not elements), something that my participants could take home and walk through under their own pace. So I put together a nice tutorial that walks the reader through an entire edit of one of my images, from start to finish. The tutorial comes prepared with the TIFF image I use throughout the edit, and also a final Photoshop version for reference purposes.

I've had many participants tell me that by walking through my tutorial a few times, they were up and running using Photoshop CS! That's pretty encouraging news to hear, because Photoshop CS is not an easy application to start with, but it is, in my opinion still the best application for photo editing because the degree of control you have is very precise.

So, with this rather long pre-amble done. I wish to tell you that I've decided to offer in the form of an e-Book, my fast-track to Photoshop CS tutorial that I give all my workshop participants. It comes along with the two files I mentioned - the raw TIFF file, and also the completed Photoshop file, so you can look at the edits.

So if you're in the market for learning Photoshop CS, but you're a bit overwhelmed by the application (Photoshop CS is not intuitive), and you can't face months of reading massive books which aim to tell you everything about Photoshop CS, then this eBook is for you.

Mytutorial is condensed and tells you the core of what you need to know.

If you wish to buy it, you can buy it here.

*Please note: this e-book is for Photoshop CS. It is not suitable for Photoshop Elements.

 

Pointy Hat Mountain

I'm slowly working my way through my images from Lofoten, shot this past December.

I love the process. Scanning images, allows me time to review what I shot on my light table. I take each sheet of film out and work on that, one at a time, and I don't race. I don't delve further down into the collection of films until I'm complete with the top sheet. It's a very relaxing way to work. The scanner whirs and clicks away in the back ground, and while it is busy scanning the currently chosen image, I study the ones that are currently grabbing my eye.

And every now than then, the collection of scanned and edited images are reviewed. I use LightRoom - just as a catalog preview machine. It's nice to load up all the images and rate them. Some make the grade more so than others. Take the image above of Geitelva, a mountain near Fredvang (fantastic name for a place, don't you think?). I'm not too sure about this one. I love the mountain, but I shot this under very unsatisfactory conditions. Fading light and a severe lack of colour. It does have a mood though, so It might get through to the last selection, but somehow, I don't think so.

This is the point really. I can't tell until the entire edit is done. Like a story being told, it can only be understood once all the characters in it have been presented and explained. As I add new images to the collection, it feels as though it begins to steer in a new direction. 'Ah, so it's going to be that kind of portfolio?' I'll hear myself exclaim. If the images are overly light, then I can see that the whole feel of the collection is going towards a more lighter mood, but then two days later, the images I'm working on are taking a more darker mood, and that seems to steer the collection in a new direction.... and then I find that some images work better than others.

I feel that making a collection of images work together is all about the collection being 'greater than the sum of its parts'. It should be cohesive, work together, and feel like it all belongs.

That's why I don't rush home to edit. It's also why I let the images sit for a few weeks after the edit, to see how I feel. Sometimes things I didn't see at the time of the edit start to grate. I may be aware that something feels 'on edge' about a particular image, and that's often the sign that it either doesn't fit the collection, or requires further adjustment.....

I'm off to take a break now.

The art of post edit

I received my films back from the lab yesterday (yes, I get them processed by Peak Imaging). They are currently sitting in a cardboard box in my home studio. I haven't looked at them yet, because I'm waiting for the right moment when I feel ready to do so. I simply do not feel inclined to go anywhere near a camera, a piece of film or think about image editing for a while yet. I've just been home for under a week now, and it's taken a while to settle back in.

When I approaching editing images, scanning them and reviewing the ones I want to work on, I've got to feel ready to do it. The box I have is rather large - there are around 70 rolls of film processed in there - that's quite a bit of effort.

I have two free weeks coming up soon, so I hope to use the time to get into the mode of review/scan/edit/post-review/re-edit process that I tend to get into. It has its own momentum too and I feel that having to stop mid-way, and go and do a workshop, or go away for a week - causes a sense of lost focus in what I'm doing.

I think that's because I build up a mental picture of the whole portfolio as I go along and complete an image. I think this is very similar to how I make the initial images too. When I'm out shooting, I build up a mental image of the entire portfolio I'm shooting - it helps build up a sense of focus to what I'm doing and allow me to immerse myself fully in the process.

It should be an absorbing experience, and it is for me.

So why should the post shoot review/edit/review again/re-edit stages be any different?

I find it hard to comprehend why photographers rush home and edit images quickly. Get one in before dinner time, or during a quick five minutes break in the day.... it's like rushing down your evening meal. There is no deep connection, nor any time to consider, reflect, apply a sense of objectivity to what it is we are creating in our work.

I'll be waiting for those two free weeks to come up. Before then, I do not have any decent segments of free time, with which to do my picture editing justice. To rush in there, would cause me a great deal of frustration and pain. And for that reason alone, I'm content to wait.