The making of.....

Everyone sees differently, and if I give you any thoughts today about how I created my images, please bear in mind that there are many ways an image can be constructed. I am not advocating that mine is the only way, or the right way.

You should try to find your own way, and I think the best way to do that, is by listening to what others say - particularly photographers that you like, and figure out what parts of their process resonate with you. If it makes sense : use it. If it doesn’t, then discard it. The key thing is to think for yourself and to decide what works for you.

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Image prologue

I often find myself responding to the elements. If it looks good: shoot it. Don’t attempt the ‘I’ll come back for that one, as the reason you like it now, is because it’s working now. I’m not one to sit around for hours anticipating a good shot at a particular place. That’s a bit like trying to predict the stock market.

Interestingly, to contradict this, I don’t like chasing photographs either. Come on a workshop with me and you won’t find me chasing the weather forecast. You can often find something where you are right now. I prefer to stay where I am, and I seem to take a perverse delight in not knowing what the forecast is. My reason for this is - I don’t know what I’m going to want to shoot until I see it, and trying to put some kind of formula onto my shooting by watching or expecting certain weather patterns is just pointless in my view.

The adage remains true: if you don’t go, you don’t get. Or f8 and be there.

And I’ve had many workshops where the forecast didn’t look promising (for me - it’s usually a case of it being too sunny) only to find out that we found things to shoot and had a great time. You always find something.

The image

But this photo is a mixture of serendipity and of also waiting. I’ve been to this location many times and I’ve never seen it quite like this. It was snowing very heavily, and there wasn’t a breath of wind. So I knew that any small trees I used would be stationary for long enough. When I did find this composition - a small tree at the verge of the road that I’d never seen before, I knew that it would fit nicely with the background trees when the snow was blowing through. The sun was right in the centre of the frame and it kept popping through the snow clouds a bit too much causing a lot of extreme contrast. So once I settled upon the composition, I had to wait it out for about 10 minutes hoping the cloud front would thicken and obliterate the sun enough so I could record it on film without over exposure.

Learning to anticipate what the weather is going to do in the next few minutes is a good thing, but I often give myself a ‘time-out’ period and if I’ve been waiting far too long, I tend to abandon the shot and go find something that is working. I’m not in the fortune telling business. I’m here to work with what’s working now.

I used a telephoto for this lens. A 150mm lens on my Hasselblad, which relates to around 75mm on full 35mm format. The background trees were far away, so I had to pull them in and isolate them from the other noise outside the frame. But this left the foreground tree too large in the frame. So I had to walk back periodically into the middle of the road to get this shot.

Zooms shouldn’t be thought of as ‘how much you’re getting in, or how much you’re excluding’. They are really powerful at changing the emphasis between background and foreground. My trick is to do this:

  1. Set the focal length to make the background the size I want.

  2. Move forward or backwards to change the foreground to the size I want.

You see, once you set the focal length, no matter how many feet you walk forward or backwards, the background size remains unchanged. So once you set the focal length, your background is now fixed. Which then means you need to move forward or backwards to fit in your foreground. Moving a few feet either way can change the size of your foreground dramatically, while keeping the background the same size.

I’ve mentioned it many times, but for beginners, zooms are counterproductive. You tend to stay rooted in one spot and instead of walking around, tend to zoom in and out to get the foreground AND background to fit the frame. So you have two variables that change at the same time.

It’s much easier to work with one variable as a beginner, than two.

With a fixed focal length you have one variable to work with. Since you can’t change the size of the background, you only have the foreground to change. It makes for simpler composition if you only have one thing changing when you move. And besides, primes force us to move around the landscape - and that’s just great as they force us to discover things we wouldn’t have noticed by standing still.

Please don’t misinterpret what I’m saying. I am not saying that zooms are bad. Zooms are for the experienced shooter. Not the beginner. I just think that as beginners, working with fixed focal lengths is easier to master and as you become more experienced you can migrate up to zooms.

If you already own zooms, I’d suggest you try to prevent yourself from just standing still and zooming in/out to get a good shot. Instead, try to think of your zoom as a collection of fixed focal lengths. Try setting the zoom at 24mm, 50mm and 70mm and when you choose one of these, move around to see how the scene fits into the frame. Try to avoid micro-adjusting the focal length. In other words:

  1. Zoom to fit the background into the frame the size you want it to be.

  2. Move backwards and forwards to introduce / remove foreground elements until you get a good balance between background and foreground.

Back to the image

This image works well because I have the proportions between background trees and foreground tree about right. It also works well because I used the weather conditions to reduce the contrast of the sun to a manageable exposure.

It’s one of my favourites from this year’s Hokkaido trip. I’ve been to this place many times and yet this is the first time I saw this composition, which just goes to prove that nowhere is truly ever ‘done’ and going back and back again is always advantageous.

Looking for a fresh point of view?

I feel that polarisation seems to be at the heart of many human interactions these days.

I feel that we are split. Find those who agree with us, and try to avoid those who disagree with us. But I think we should do the opposite. To hang around with those who agree with us, is just to live in a feedback loop and we learn nothing new.

Rather than follow the newspapers that reinforce our beliefs, or follow the photographers that tell us what we already believe, we should go out there to find an alternative view. Even one we may disagree with. Because it will challenge us.

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If you know yourself enough, you are most probably comfortable hearing another point of view without feeling threatened. To be able to filter between your own beliefs and someone else’s and to find a new position is the kind of openness we all need as artists.

I don’t for one minute expect everyone to agree with my blog writings. My blog is just a point of view. That’s all it is. But is it challenging enough for you?.

Often hearing things we don’t want to hear, can feel unpleasant, or may feel of little benefit at the time. But if you’re as old as I am (52), then you’ve perhaps learned that challenges and trials in life are often times of growth. We don’t see them that way at the moment they happen, but often years later we’re able to look back and say ‘I learned something’.

I really don’t wish to live in a world where things are predictable and stay the same. And I realise I’m entitled to change my mind as time goes on, because I learn. And I change. We all do.

I think comments or views that are considered negative at the time, are views we should sit up and listen to. I don’t mean to suggest they’re always right, but if they challenge our point of view, then it means we have been given a chance to grow. We’re either able to get more clarity on our current position, or to discover that we’ve learned something and our position has changed as a result.

For me, I’d prefer to go and seek someone who tells me something I’ve never heard before. I’d like to believe I’m strong enough to not feel threatened, while at the same time be able to re-consider without being brainwashed - to find my own new position.

Which brings me to my point today:

  1. as much as I believe I am right, there is always room for another way of seeing things.

  2. I’m entitled to change my mind, at any point.

  3. I’m entitled to change my art, at any point.

  4. Everything is up for discussion. Even when the work is complete.

  5. The work is never complete.

The work is never complete. Nothing is ever cast in stone, and nothing is ever black and white. We should seek fluidity in what we do. We should allow things to happen regardless of our views. We need to be open to let creativity flow.

Re-imagining your exposures

This article relates to RAW conversion, and also film scanning. Although I may refer to film scanning most of the time, you should take into consideration that this applies to RAW conversion also. It’s just that I’m a film shooter, but the concepts still apply if you are a digital shooter.

RAW conversion is important because it is the foundation which all your subsequent edits are built upon. If you start with an image that has too much contrast in it, then you’ll be fighting a losing battle in trying to make some parts of the scene calmer later on in the edit.

In my scanner software, I’ve chosen to move the mid tone slider to the far right. I get much brighter, and softer scans from this. It’s a really great setting for snow or bright scenes and it keeps the tonal graduations smooth and soft.  Setting exposure in a film scanner is an art. You need to learn to use the exposure control to give you the file you want.

In my scanner software, I’ve chosen to move the mid tone slider to the far right. I get much brighter, and softer scans from this. It’s a really great setting for snow or bright scenes and it keeps the tonal graduations smooth and soft.

Setting exposure in a film scanner is an art. You need to learn to use the exposure control to give you the file you want.

My theory and working practice is to try to keep the RAW file as soft and flat as possible. If you start with a soft file, you can always add contrast to local areas of the scene later on. But it’s often impossible to do it the other way round. Start with a contrasty file and try to reduce the contrast in certain areas often has unbelievable and displeasing results.

If I were a digital shooter I would use the black and white sliders sparingly. I would also adopt a view that RAW conversion is not about “pumping up the file to get an all-in-one punchy look”. That’s a dangerous road to go down, and unfortunately, it’s the road that many take.

“RAW conversion should be about setting a minimal baseline from which to work with. But it should be also just as importantly about maintaining the smoothest, softest tones you can keep in your file. By cranking up the blacks and whites in the conversion or applying some camera profile such as ‘vivid’ or ‘landscape you are just going to make the tones within the image much more contrasty and 'hard' looking. All those beautiful soft tones will be obliterated in a couple of clicks.

The same is true for film scanning. When I scan, I never use the auto-exposure feature because it’s assumption is that the file will look much better if the blacks and whites are clipped by a percentage and the tonal range is compressed to look punchy. I’m sure the assumption by ‘Auto-Exposure’ is to try to get the file looking strong as soon as possible. But it’s a clumsy way to work.

Once it’s baked in, it’s baked in. Working with a badly exposed film scan won’t get me anywhere.

“I am often trying to keep the contrasts low and sometimes the mid point of the levels command is pushed to the far right to brighten up the exposure while maintaining low contrast.

In summary, going for the “let’s get the image looking close to where we want” approach at the beginning of RAW conversion is , in my view, bad practice. There is nowhere to go after you do this. The cake is baked before you got the chance to do anything with it.

“Your approach should be for local contrast adjustment. By applying contrast selectively to areas of the image you maintain smooth tones while introducing the perception of punch in the image.

You need to have latitude in your file to leave areas of it soft and be able to punch up the contrast where you feel it’s needed. Applying global contrast in one swoop may feel like you’ve got to where you need to go, but you do so at the cost of sabotaging areas of the picture that need a more delicate approach.

It’s just plain clumsy, a bit like the spray-and-pray attitude of firing the shutter and hoping that one image will be a good keeper. Image editing is a skill. It’s an art. It’s just as important as image composition out in the field, and an area that with the wrong approach can kill fine images.

New e-Book Printing Masterclass

For those of you who do not follow my monthly newsletter, a few days ago I published a new e-book about printing.

If you’ve been following my blog for some time, you will know that I don’t believe that images are truly finished until they have been printed well. In other words, printing is the final verification stage that you can do. A well calibrated and profiled monitor can only take you so far. As the American photographer Charlie Cramer says ‘ If it looks good on a monitor, there’s no guarantee it will look good in print, but if it looks good in print, it will look good on a monitor’. So we should all be printing.

Printing Masterclass, from colour management to final print with Photoshop
14.99

£14.99

Synopsis

The book covers everything you need to know about printing, from colour management including monitor calibration and profiling to how to optimise your images best for print.

There are many chapters in this e-book which can be used a reference for each time you print. If you forget how to use the print driver, or how to install new paper profiles - it’s all in here. Written in a simple step-by-step guide.

The book also provides step-by-step guides in monitor calibration and profiling with recommended settings.

Lastly, the book also covers best practices when optimising images for print, all laid out in such a way as to be able to refer to each time you go to print.

The book is split into three sections.

Learning:

in this section I give you the colour management knowledge you need to know for printing

  • Colour management profiles

  • Colour spaces and colour compression

Preparing:

In this section we do the practical work of monitor set up and installation of paper profiles

  • Monitor calibration & profiling

  • Printer profile installation & proofing

Doing:

In this section I walk through all the steps needed to optimise an image for print, and the steps to print.

  • Printing workflow best practices

  • Working with master files / RAW conversion

  • Preparing for print

  • Printing in Photoshop

  • Print evaluation

  • Photoshop actions

  • Equipment recommendations

Features

Adobe Acrobat PDF document, 111 Pages.
Comes with a set of Photoshop Actions

* Compatible with all versions of Photoshop (excluding Elements)

E-book format: Adobe Acrobat
Download format: Zip file containing 1 x Adobe Acrobat Files, 1 x Photoshop Actions file

Add To Cart

Maximum white pixel count problem

If you keep using the same camera for more than 4 or 5 years in snowy locations, you’ll eventually encounter the dreaded “maximum white pixel count reached” message. Once you reach this point, your camera will no longer be able to record snow any more.

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It’s the error message that all keen winter shooters should dread, because it signifies that the camera has been subjected to an unhealthy amount of RGB 255,255,255 scenes that all the white pixels have been used up.

That means no more Lofoten. No more Iceland, and no more Hokkaido.

It also means no more lone-tree-snow scenes.

As you can imagine, this last point personally caused me a great deal of panic.

There are so many hapless photographers out there using a camera that is effectively a time-bomb. With each actuation, with each shutter press fired in a snow scene, they are slowly marching their camera towards a snowy demise.

A hapless bunch of photographers. Unknowingly, their cameras, all heading towards a snowy demise.

A hapless bunch of photographers. Unknowingly, their cameras, all heading towards a snowy demise.

It’s certainly been a costly exercise for me. After each winter has passed, my digital cameras are often ready for the bin. That is, until recently.

There is a solution

To avoid your camera ever reaching white-pixel burn out, some photographers are advising to turn the exposure compensation to minus one (-1).

The reasoning is that this will ensure that your camera never uses any white pixels. At all. Which is great because you’ll completely avoid the possibility of ever running out of them.

The downside is that your pictures may suffer from being slightly dull. If you feel your images look a little dark after using this solution, I’ve found that turning the brightness dial of my monitor clockwise by a third can help a lot. More than you can imagine.

Parting thought

White-pixel-death is going to become a bigger problem in the years to come. As winter photography rises in popularity, camera manufacturers are going to have to think long and hard as to whether it may be worth setting the exposure compensation to minus one as a factory default.

I’ve even heard some rumours that some cameras may be released as special snow-editions. These models are essentially packed with twice as many white pixels as the standard models.

It’s early days yet, but it seems there may be a solution to keeping me happy shooting my lone-trees and white snow scenes for many years to come. Until a permanent solution is found, I’d advise we all just continue to work with exposure compensation set to minus one, and if that isn’t possible, shoot any snow scenes at night time when it’s dark.

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.

On buying new equipment

I’m a gear head. Let’s face it, we all are. Aren’t we?

I just don’t like to write about it much, because there’s already too much of that kind of thing out there. Buying gear, and focussing on gear is much easier to do than actually working on improving our craft. And if we’re time-poor (which most of us are) then buying gear is an easy way of satisfying our desire to be out there making pictures.

I haven’t tired Lee’s new filter holder yet. And as much as I’m a self-professed gear head, I’m going to withhold from getting one.

No slight intended on Lee, or their filter holder. I’m sure it’s a wonderful product as I think original holder was a well made piece of kit.

It’s just that my current working process is working. Hence why I called it a working process. I don’t need to change it right now.

And this is my reason for writing today. If you have a process that’s working fine, then try not to mess with it too much. Ok, I appreciate that staying stuck in the mud for too long isn’t good either and it’s always worthwhile trying out new things. But I think there’s already too much of that. It’s so easy to get new things, and it’s so easy to change a working process without really understanding how it’s going to impact you.

I’m sure I’ll eventually try out the new Lee filter holder. But I’ll do that when my current holder gives out. But so far, over the past two decades, they’ve been pretty darn good and I’ve never had much complaint about them. I always felt that the Lee holder was one of the best holders out there.

Perhaps the new holder is better though. Well sure, that might be so, but I’m unwilling to go through the hassle of getting familiar with it. So often I’ve adopted a new piece of kit only to discover growing pains in getting used to it. For example, I once dropped a camera into a river because I wasn’t familiar with the clamp on a new ball head I had just got.

My process is pretty good right now. It works very well and I feel that all my equipment is like a comfortable glove. It doesn’t get in the way and I’m able to get on and do what matters : make images.

Appetite

So a few days ago I wrote about appetite.

I deliberately left it open and didn’t continue to expand on what I meant. My reasons were two:

  1. that I think if you’ve got it, you would know what I meant.

  2. and if you didn’t know what I meant, you might be prompted into thinking a bit more about it.

The web is full of self-help stuff. Most of it has a short-term feel-good factor but it’s rare that things we read stay with us the long term.

we’ve got to do the work. And we’ve got to be clever about it.

Me explaining things all the time isn’t you doing the work. It’s me doing the work, and you choosing to tune in, and tune out when you feel like it ;-)

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The thing about appetite, is that it can be whatever you feel it means to you.

You may define it as ‘drive’, you may define it as ‘effort’, or ‘talent’.

But I’ve known many talented people who never complete things (that’s ok - it’s no judgement - do what you want to do), but I mention this just to illustrate that having talent alone doesn’t make someone a great photographer. Neither does working hard. I’m not a big fan of the 10,000 hour view that if you put enough time into something, you’ll get better. You can spend a lot of effort running in a circle.

I think good artists are self learners. They are able to use their time to learn from themselves as they go along. I’d dare to say that most great artists didn’t get to where they are because of an art class they took. Sure, the art class will have given them skills and new ways of working, but they had to spend the time and effort joining the dots, making the connections and finding their own path. In other words, at some stage : they took hold of the responsibilities of their own development.

That’s the appetite I’m talking about.

Having the aptitude to grow is one thing, but wanting to do it badly enough is another thing entirely.

If you really want to improve in your photography then there are no shortcuts. No quick fixes, no instant results.

We all have to do the work.

And we have to have the appetite to do it.

The rarest quality

Everyone is hoping to improve their photography skills. Skills can always be learnt.

But there is one thing that is much rarer than skill, and it’s something that can’t be learnt.

It’s called appetite.

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Colour compression & colour spaces

I’ve been working on some notes about printing lately. So this post today is all about colourspaces and what happens when we move an image from one colour space to another.

In the article I point out that colour management is not about colour accuracy, but more about how we choose to work around physical limitations as we move from one device to another, each with different colour gamuts.

2200 Matt paper has a small colour gamut, than Pro Photo RGB. So what can we do to make our image look good on 2200 Matt Paper even though it is physically impossible to do a direct conversion?

2200 Matt paper has a small colour gamut, than Pro Photo RGB. So what can we do to make our image look good on 2200 Matt Paper even though it is physically impossible to do a direct conversion?

The problem

Each device has its own physical limits to the range of colours it can record or reproduce. This is the problem: what do we do as we move an image from one device to another?

For example, when sending a file with a wide gamut of colours to a monitor or printer with a smaller gamut of colours, something has to be done with the colours that fall outside the physical range of the device’s effective gamut. Do we ignore those colours, or should we do something else with them?

The solution : Rendering Intent

The answer is : we decide, and we tell the colour management system our decision by way of a feature called Rendering Intent. Rendering Intent is where we tell the colour management system which rules to apply with respect to out of gamut colours.

There are several different rendering intents available. The two most commonly used rendering intents are Perceptual and Relative Colourmetric, which kind of do this:

Perceptual : shrink all the colours from the larger colourspace to fit the destination colourspace.

Relative Colourmetric : out of gamut colours are clipped, moved to their nearest relative within the new colourspace. All the other colours remain unchanged.

That’s a brief summary. Let’s consider them in more detail:

Perceptual

This rendering intent as the name suggests tries to adjust the content of the image so you perceive it as similar to the original image even though the colourspace is smaller. It does this by adjusting all the colours while keeping their relationship to each other intact. Although it is not ‘colour accurate’, most photographs look about right when it’s chosen as more often than not, it’s the relationships between the colours in the picture rather than their colour accuracy that is important. Here is an illustration to show how all the colours are shifted to fit the new colourspace:

Rendering-Intent-Perceptual.jpg

The other most common way of working around out of gamut colours is to choose relative colourmetric:

Relative Colourmetric

This rendering intent keeps all the colours that were within gamut unchanged. It’s a useful rendering intent when you want to ensure colour accuracy for certain colours - perhaps skin tones for example. Only the colours outside the gamut are clipped. They are moved to their nearest available in-gamut colour relative. As you can see below:

Rendering-Intent-Relative-Colourmetric.jpg

As you may now realise, colour reproduction is a compromise. And colours often have to get compressed if we are moving from a device with a wide gamut to a device with a smaller gamut.

We have to make the decision about which rendering intent to use. And the best way to choose the right one, is to demo them. If you are printing, then under the proofing preview, you can move between the different rendering intents to see how the colours are changed. Choose the rendering intent that suits your image the best.

No right or wrong way

Rendering Intent is best auditioned on a per image basis. Further, although an image may suit one rendering intent when printed on paper X, you may find that the same image prefers another rendering intent when printed on paper Y.

So you need to experiment on a per image basis.

But what about monitors? Do we have to compromise with them also?

As it happens, yes. Standard monitors have their own colour spaces (profiles), and when viewing something that comes from a larger colourspace on the monitor, a compromise has to be made.

Monitor Profile Rendering Intent

From what I understand, Monitor profiles are matrix based and this means that they have no idea how to deal with out of gamut colours. So they are simply clipped. In other words, when displaying out of gamut colours on a monitor, the monitor is essentially using a rendering intent of ‘Relative colourmetric’ (as illustrated above). We don’t have a choice about rendering intent when displaying an image on a monitor. It’s always ‘relative-colourmetric’.

In the diagram below, I have a Pro Photo colourspace image open in Photoshop, but I am viewing it on a monitor that has a smaller colourspace than Pro Photo. The colour management system responsible for the conversion from the image profile simply displays the colours unchanged, and any colour that it can’t display is just clipped to its nearest relative within the monitor colourspace.

monitor-profile-rendering-intent.jpg

In summary

  • Colour management is not the same thing as colour accuracy.

  • To manage colours, we need to have profiles that describe the colour gamut of each device, but we also have to make decisions on how to deal with colours that fall outside the gamut of a particular device. This is called the rendering intent.

  • We can choose which rendering intent to use when printing.

  • But we have no control over how out-of-gamut colours are displayed on computer monitors, they are just clipped to fit the nearest colour within the destination colour space.

Cameras and Colourspace Confusion

A lot of photographers think that the colour space option of ‘sRGB’ or ‘Adobe RGB’ on the back of their camera is used to set the colourspace of their camera.

It doesn’t do that.

The colourspace settings are only for the jpegs that are produced in-camera.

RAW-Conversion.jpg

RAW data is unaffected. Indeed, RAW can’t be modified. Think of RAW as a 'negative’ that comes out of an old film camera. The negative can never be changed once created.

So the ‘Adobe RGB and sRGB’ settings on the back of your camera are just for any jpegs that the camera ‘generates’ from the RAW capture .

If you are shooting RAW all the time, then you don’t need to worry about colourspaces while shooting.

Q. So when is the colourspace important then?

A. When you open your RAW files

When you open (or import), you are translating, converting the content of your RAW file into the host software’s format. In Photoshop’s case, you always go through the Adobe Camera Raw software before the image is available in Photoshop. It has to go through this translation stage.

The Raw Converter is where you can set the colourspace and it’s really important to pick a colourspace large enough to contain all the data that your RAW file has.

Effectively speaking, RAW files have no colourspace that you know of. Well, it’s a bit more complicated than that, but when you open up in Photoshop, you  have  to go through the Adobe Raw Converter. This is where you choose the colourspace and the RAW file is translated to that colourspace.

Effectively speaking, RAW files have no colourspace that you know of. Well, it’s a bit more complicated than that, but when you open up in Photoshop, you have to go through the Adobe Raw Converter. This is where you choose the colourspace and the RAW file is translated to that colourspace.

Pro Photo is the colourspace to choose, because it is a large enough container - much larger than Adobe RGB, and most likely much larger than any colours your camera can record.

A not too accurate illustration to show that Pro Photo is a larger colourspace than Adobe RGB. You should open your RAW files in Pro Photo.

A not too accurate illustration to show that Pro Photo is a larger colourspace than Adobe RGB. You should open your RAW files in Pro Photo.

If you choose Adobe RGB you may be clipping (throwing away) some of the colours that your camera can reproduce, because your camera may be capable of recording colours outside of the Adobe RGB colourspace.

The best option is to open up your camera files in Pro Photo. It’s a larger colour space and won’t clip the data. You’ll keep all of the colours in your file.

Q. But doesn’t the RAW format have it’s own colourspace?

A. Technically speaking there is a lot of splitting hairs about this. Some say no, some say yes.

The camera has its own proprietary way of recording the data, and this ‘specification’ is given to the developers who write the RAW converter engine. It’s up to them how they translate the information and this is why RAW converters vary (please note this is a serious oversimplification here).

Q. Why keep all the colours if your monitor or printer uses a smaller colour space?

A. Because the more data you have while editing, the better

Your camera is a glorified computer that just stores numbers. Photoshop just reads numbers, and when you alter a photograph you are truncating those numbers. It follows then, that the more data you have, the less chance you have in introducing weird problems into the file when you edit or adjust it in any way.

Although you cannot see all the colours present in Pro Photo because your monitor maybe has a smaller effective gamut, you still get the benefit of having more data to play with while editing.

In summary

  • The colourspace settings on the back of your camera are just for the jpegs it ‘generates’ from the RAW files.

  • The RAW files are unaffected and can’t be changed.

  • When you import a RAW file into a photo editing program, it has to get ‘converted’ or translated. This is when you need to choose a colourspace

  • Choose a large colourspace otherwise you may truncate colour data

A few thoughts on writing e-Books

Over the years, I’ve been writing e-books with the aim that they become more ‘reference’ material than something attributable to magazine content.

When I put ‘Simplifying Composition’ together, it took me about a year to really think it through, to figure out what I needed to say and to then formulate it on paper. It’s not the writing that takes the time, it’s the idea, the concept, and the arrangement of the words so that the message is as clear as it can be.

And that was the hardest part of all - figuring out what it is that I needed to convey in writing. The message needed to be simple. It needed to be clear, and for that to happen, I needed to be clear myself with what I wanted to say.

It is often in the process of explaining something that I find holes in my own knowledge. If I’m finding it hard to explain something it’s usually because I don’t fully understand something as much as I thought I did. Writing an e-book is a self-learner, a process of self-help. Of clarifying my own ideas and filling in the gaps in my own knowledge.

Fast Track to Photoshop
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Writing an e-book about Photoshop was similar. It took about 2 years for me to do this one. I think the first year was mostly procrastination, brought on by a feeling of difficulty. You see, Photoshop’s tool set is huge. And the truth of the matter is that photographers only need about 10% of the program.

It took me a while to realise that most Photoshop book are like reference manuals. They may be in-depth and tell you everything about the program, but they suck at getting you off the ground, of cutting out the chaff, and of getting you to the tools that you really need to know.

So it took me a while to figure out that photographers just need to learn Layers, Masks and Curves to get going. Write an eBook about those features and you’ve given everyone a head-start, a push in the right direction, rather than getting lost in some massive reference manual with no idea where they are going.

How does one write a book about printing?

And this is the problem I’m at right now.

The subject of printing is massive. It has to cover monitor calibration, monitor profiling, profiles, proofing, colour spaces. Each of those is a massive topic on its own, so I have come to realise that I need to have a ‘fast track’ way of cutting out the noise, of cutting through all the technology to get people up to speed as quickly as possible.

But there is so much miss-information and miss-understanding out there.

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Many think they need to profile their printer, many think that their camera works in Adobe RGB colour space.

Many think that all devices work in Adobe RGB colour space when in fact they don’t. They work in their own proprietary colour space and the colours they’re capable of recording or reproducing may not fit exactly any particular colour space - they have their own personal signature.

Similarly, so many people think that their printers work in RGB, they don’t. They are CMYK devices. Just go and look at the ink sets used on any Epson Ultrachrome ink printer - there’s a clue in the names - Light Cyan, Light Magenta, Yellow…. . So although there are beliefs out there that CMYK is a smaller colourspace than Adobe RGB, it’s not true - they’re just different,.

Lastly, understanding printing is about understanding that everything is a compromise.

So too, is writing an e-book about it.

The lone tree cliché

I know, trees are such a cliché aren’t they?

But I think that often a photograph isn’t about the subject. It’s about the treatment. It’s about the sensibilities applied.

Everyone can take a photo of a lone tree. But what we should be aspiring to, is to convey a level of excellence, of elegance, of beauty that is above ‘just another picture of a tree’.

Doing what everyone else is doing means you just disappear into a sea of sameness. But you can avoid it, I believe, if you try to set your work apart in some way. Often that can happen, not by the subject matter you choose, but how you choose to shoot it, and how you choose to edit it. Often the excellence is in the execution of the work.

Landscape as director

I’ve just had to accept that certain landscapes are what they are. They have an uncanny knack of knowing how to direct you: they tell us what needs to be done. We just have to listen.

Therein lies the problem. Most of the time we don’t listen to what the landscape is telling us. Instead, we often try to force upon it what we want. What we are looking for. Instead, we shouldn’t be looking for anything. We should be a clean slate, ready to work with whatever conditions we are given.

How many of us go to places with pre-visualised expectations? Hoping to get a certain shot we’ve seen before, or the same conditions?

I’ve been having problems this past year with my use of colour. Or perhaps the lack of it. I was very happy to find that my South Korean image had quite a bit of colour in them. I feel there’s been a pendulum-swing as I’ve gone from reducing colour further, and then further still, to feeling I’m starting to re-introduce it into my work.

Not so with Hokkaido.

As you can see above. These images may ‘appear’ to have little or perhaps no colour to you. All I can say in my defence is : it’s what the landscape directed me to do. I can’t make the landscape be anything it isn’t and rather than have an up-hill struggle to make it so, if I follow what the landscape tells me, things just tend to ‘flow’ much easier.

Hokkaido is not a landscape of strong colours. But it does have them. I think the art in making good photos of Hokkaido isn’t necessarily about working with negative space. Neither is it about working with snow scenes only. I think it’s about working with tone and colour responses. These are where the emotion of the picture reside.

Snow is not white. Neither is it just one continuous tone. Snow is a vast array of off-whites, with subtle graduations running through the landscape. Our eyes are often blind to these subtleties as we start to photograph it, but with some well informed time behind the computer monitor editing and reviewing, we should all come to learn that white has a tantalisingly vast array of shades and off-white colours.

Hokkaido has been my director. It has guided me in my lessons over the past four or five years. I’ve learned so much from working in this landscape when I have chosen to listen to it.

Today, colour seems louder than it was yesterday

I’ve just completed work on some new Hokkaido images. The past few weeks have been a journey in colour reduction and more specifically: colour use. Reduction can be done by anyone, just turn the colour down. But to apply colour sensitively, takes skill and a whole lot of consideration and doubt.

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Now that I’ve finished the Hokkaido images, I’m struck by how little colour there is in them. Yet if I try to put the colour back in, they just sit wrong. They don’t work. They need to be the way I’ve edited them.

Looking at my website main page today, I was struck by a feeling that there is simply too much colour. I don’t think that’s true one bit, but what it is telling me is that I’ve been working with such quiet, muted tones this past week, that somehow, every colour feels strong for me at the moment.

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Our visual perception is often changing, and I think for me, it’s as if it all depends on how I feel today. Tomorrow I may feel otherwise, find that there isn’t enough colour. All I know is, that colour needs to be used carefully, and applied only when it’s required. You can create some noisy, complex images if you let the colour run riot.

Perhaps my sensibilities are changing yet again. Perhaps it’s just a moment. A passing phase. All I know is, that today, colour seems louder than it was yesterday.

The idealised view

Photography isn’t about capturing what’s in front of us. It’s more about capturing what is within us. Often when I see workshop participants want to stop somewhere to make a photograph, it isn’t what’s in front of them that they are drawn to. Instead, they are drawn to an idealised view of what’s there.

I was laughing to myself when I saw this. It was simply too good to be true. Too symmetrical, too balanced, too orderly. Too close to an idealised view.

Image © 2019.

When we see a composition in our mind’s eye, what we do is take each element of the scene that is important to us, and discard the rest. Although the scene may be far from perfect, we focus on the parts that give us what we see in our mind, and discard the rest. This is often why many of us find our photographs never match what ‘we saw’ at the point of capture.

In other words: we have a tendency to idealise the view.

If we can find such an idealised view that requires little or no post-edit work, this is perhaps the goal we all seek. But it’s often not like that, and often most compositions out there are compromised in some way.

I think this is why I love Hokkaido so much. Although the landscape is heavily shaped by man, with a bit of work it is possible to find those rare moments when everything clicks into place and all the components before my camera lens fit into perfect symmetry. It satisfies my urge to make sense of the nonsensical, to make order of the disorderly, and to make pleasing compositions of random elements that come together for a brief moment in what seems like an intended way.

Mark Hollis, musical genius has passed away

Dear Mark Hollis,

Thank you so much for the music.

Spirit of Eden is one of my most treasured of records. Musically it is a masterpiece that many did not understand at the time of its release in 1988. But it has since garnered the badge of being one of the most influential rock albums of all time.

Spirit of Eden is hailed as the source of ‘post rock’, and cited as a major influence by bands such as Sigur Rós

Spirit of Eden is hailed as the source of ‘post rock’, and cited as a major influence by bands such as Sigur Rós

Many say that Spirit of Eden was responsible for the wave of post-rock bands such as Sigur Rós. I well remember upon its release that there was nothing to compare it to, and that this was the problem: it was too ahead of its time. It was released when there was no post-rock genre to embrace it. But people did. What started out as a sub-culture of appreciation for this work has grown over the years to the point that the album is now recognised for being the treasure that it is.

Being a creative person myself, watching your career, and how you managed to remain true to yourself and your art over the years has been a vital lesson for me. You taught me, through your music, that is much better to follow your own path than to follow others. It may be a lonelier road at times, and many people may not understand you, but being true to who you are is what counts.

Spirit of Eden has given me so much peace and beauty to my inner-life over the past thirty years. I wish to let you know.

I wish you peace Mark.

Classic locations vs anonymous locations

A few days ago, I discussed how it’s ok to go and photograph well known locations, and even copy well known compositions. I explained that you can learn a lot in the process of going through trying to emulate a shot you know so well.

I’d like to think that the reason most of the readers to this very blog are here, is because they are either seeking inspiration for what they do, or at the very least, looking for some advice on how to develop as a photographer. Particularly in finding one’s own ‘vision’ and ‘style’.

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I’m afraid I can’t help you find your own style, but I can at least help you figure out how to work on your own vision. Vision for me, is all about what is seen in the mind’s eye. When we stand and look at some scenery we’re often able to imagine a completed photograph in our mind when we spot one or two compositional objects around us.

As much as I think going to well known places can be hugely instructional. I don’t think that travelling the same well trodden route as countless other photographers is an easy way to find your own vision.

Firstly, you may suffer from ‘I’ve seen this place so many times, shot a particular way, that I can’t see it any other way’. Yes, being overly familiar with a place before visiting it can actually make it more difficult for you to find your own view.

Secondly, even if you do find your own take on a well known place, it’s just extremely hard to make it ‘your own’. This is the main problem for me. Well known places are harder to stamp your own individuality upon, because of familiarity.

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For me, I’d much rather find my own places to photograph. 

Firstly, I’m less burdened with pre-visualised views based on other photographer’s efforts. I feel I’m able to avoid the trap of doing what everyone else has done, because no one else has done it.

I also have more of a chance to find what ‘I see’. My ‘vision’ get’s more of a workout.

Secondly, If I’m able to find good compositions in less visited places, I’ll have more of a chance of making them ‘my own’.

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Working with anonymous places may have all these benefits, but they also have a few challenges as well:

Firstly, it’s really really hard to work with anonymous places. The reason they are often anonymous is because easy to find, obvious compositions aren’t available (otherwise there would have already been a lot of visitors turning the location into an iconic spot).

Secondly, it takes a lot of effort to find good compositions in lesser known places. Whereas with Iconic well known places everyone knows where to stand. With anonymous places we have to go out there and scout for locations that no one has found before. This takes money, effort and a whole lot of time.

But if that isn’t enough, finding original places and compositions require creativity and talent: the skill of finding a good image where no one else has done so before is the elusive ‘x-factor’ that all photographers should seek.

Thirdly, a degree of conviction is required, and trust in one’s own judgement that there is something here to photograph that no one else has seen before. Unlike iconic places, anonymous places aren’t tried and tested. Photographing them means being vulnerable because you have no other photographers to back you up in your decisions. You may doubt yourself because you think ‘if there were compositions here, surely someone else would have found them already’?

Choosing anonymous places requires hard work, and guts. Shooting them shows independence. It shows you’re not happy to follow what everyone else is doing (in my opinion a great attribute to have). Shooting them allows you to start with a clean slate. Being the first explorer of a place that hasn’t been photographed before can be scary and exciting at the same time. Scary because you may be wondering if you’re wasting your time, and exciting when you find something beautiful when you least expected it.

I’d much rather choose anonymous places over the iconic. I’d prefer to avoid the tried and tested. At least that way I’d be working towards my own vision of the world.

The world is certainly big enough, with most of it un-photographed and undiscovered, for each of us to find our own voice. And some of it is staring you in your face, right now, just waiting for you, and easily within reach of your doorstep.

Romania, visit #2

I’m in Romania right now. I first came here in February 2018.

I seem to have a habit lately of taking friends up on their invites, and of doing zero research and just going and seeing what happens. This approach often yields images that I couldn’t have imagined if I had planned anything in advance and I like that very much. Art isn’t about guarantees.

This week is no exception to last year’s visit, where I finished the trip by thinking ‘I’m not sure if I got anything’. The Romanian landscape requires a lot of work.

But I’m ok with that. In fact, I ‘m more than ok with that. I like the ‘not knowing’.

Shooting in Romania. Image by Florin Patras. Used with kind permission.

Returning home, feeling that things are unclear is a good way to end a shoot. One shouldn’t go home thinking ‘I cracked it’. You should always be left in doubt about your efforts.

Doubt is healthy. It means you care. The most proficient always have doubts. It means they are willing to consider that the work may not be right, that there is room for improvement. Doubt is not a weakness. Being overly confident is.

You see, for me photography has never been about guaranteed results. Nor has it ever been about capturing great images. For me, photography has been about taking a chance, and getting out there. It’s been about living in the world around me and engaging with it.

Whether we create great work or not is always to be seen, but living in the moment and connecting with the world is, I believe, why we do what we do.

And if it isn’t, then we’re in trouble ;-)

Good artists copy, but great ones steal

I believe Pablo Picasso once said ‘Good artists copy, but great ones steal’.

When I first started making pictures, I was keen to follow in the footsteps of my heroes. I remember going to Patagonia because of Galen Rowell’s images of Torres del Paine. So too, I visited Hokkaido because I love Michael Kenna’s work from there.

I think it’s a mandatory part of the process of learning, to follow in your heroes footsteps. Imitating your heroes is one of the best ways we learn.

An old image of mine, of Elgol, on the Isle of Skye. Visiting well known locations can teach us a lot and even copying well known compositions can aid in the teaching also. I think that for me, I’m really keen to see if I can transcend the well known view, to try to find my own style or vision. To make the scene ‘my own’.

An old image of mine, of Elgol, on the Isle of Skye. Visiting well known locations can teach us a lot and even copying well known compositions can aid in the teaching also. I think that for me, I’m really keen to see if I can transcend the well known view, to try to find my own style or vision. To make the scene ‘my own’.

As an example of this, every song writer will tell you that when they first started writing songs, they would cover other people’s, study others guitar riffs, anything they had heard and liked. They will also tell you that they learned a lot by doing so.

I remember while at high school, watching the new kids arrive at the beginning of a new term and choose to hire out the music equipment from the music department. It wasn’t long before I heard them playing ‘house of the rising sun’ or ‘stairway to heaven’, or some other well known ‘standard’ - songs that are known to be great to learn to play. This is completely natural and to be encouraged.

So copying and emulating the people you admire has always been part of anyone’s education.

With regards to the ‘stealing’ aspect of Picasso’s quote, I think what he was referring to the talent some people possess at being able to take an existing idea and make it their own - in other words take someone else’s idea and make such a good job of it that they now own it. A perfect example of this, is the musician that covers someone else’s song, but does such a unique or exceptional rendition of it, that they become so well known for their version, that the song becomes their song.

I think as photographers, if we go to well known locations to make photographs, we should hopefully be striving to do the same: make the scene ‘our own’. I make no judgement on those who are content with making copies of well known locations, as it is similar to all the musicians out there who ‘cover’ someone else’s songs. But if we can somehow make a rendition of a well known place that transcends the derivative, then we have achieved the ultimate prize in our own photography: we have managed to make the scene ‘our own’.

For me, photography is all about developing my own vision and consequently, developing my own style. Trying to put my own stamp on a place, by either shooting it in a way that hasn’t been done before, or by doing something that enables it to be clearly evident that it’s one of my photographs is what I am most interested in.

It’s just extremely hard to do.

We all have to start somewhere, and we often begin by emulating the work of those we admire. It’s perfectly natural and constructive to do so. We can learn so much about the craft in the process. Copying is often a transitory thing for most of us - an apprenticeship if you will, and the precursor to developing our own sense of style and vision. Which I firmly believe is the ultimate goal of our own aspirations.