Fine Art Photography: Imaging for output, Three Part Discussion

iris-as-printed

The end result of photography is not as it used to be. In the days of film photography the only way the photographer could view the image was as an actual printed photograph or sit in a darkened room and

original on screen irisview a slide show. If the processed photo was excellent the photographer might consider an enlargement for display. Unless the photographer had access to a dark room the film and print were created by “photo labs”. The photographer usually did not have much input into how the image was processed and developed. The only way others could view or enjoy the work of the photographer was to actually be there and view the physical print or the slide show. Occasionally, professional photographers were published in magazines and were able to share their work with a larger audience. Most photos, however, were developed, printed to a small format and then stuck in a drawer and forgotten.

Digital imaging and the internet have changed everything. Photographers can now share their work with the entire world. Through social media sites like Flickr, Smugmug, Facebook or email photographers can display their work and get feedback. With tools like Photoshop, Lightroom or Picasa the photographic artist can enhance, create and process his work in the “digital darkroom”. With the cost of film development eliminated, an artist can be as prolific as she wants to be. One need never create an actual print to consider oneself a digital photographic artist. As one develops as a photographic artist in this digital age, the mastery of imaging software is the first step in becoming a fine art photographer.

 There comes a time, however, when the photographer wants to have an actual print. Whether it is to enter competitions and art shows or to hang on the wall, the printing of one’s digital work is a logical next step. Often there is a surprise and disappointment when the resulting print does not come close to matching the image on the computer screen. The photographer then realizes that there is another element to learn in this process. There are many factors that effect digital imaging output. From defining and working in a color space to specifying profiles for the print media, the variables in printing can be daunting and mysterious.

In this three part discussion, we will start with image capture, processing and color space. Part two will discuss media profiles, screen calibration and print drivers and software, part three will cover the printing process, printers and media.

To Photoshop or not…..

Among photographers there seems to be a perpetual question about the editing process. “Is it Photoshopped or not?” seems to be the issue. The quality and clarity of the image is secondary to how the image was processed. I was recently denied admission to a juried show because the requirement that no digital photo should be edited in Photoshop beyond cropping. The fact that my images are panoramas and stitched in Photoshop made them ineligible for this show.

Where this issue seems to stem is from film, or former film photographers, who feel that to use Photoshop or other imaging software is somehow “cheating” and all the imaging should be done in camera. Of course in film, the editing was done via filter choice, film choice, and darkroom procedures. How this differs from digital editing is that it much of the processing editing was done by the photo labs and the photographer had little input, other than his/her choice of film type or lens or filters for the lens. In the past, few photographers, other than professionals had the means of darkroom editing and had to rely on the labs to get it right. By taking the darkroom editing out of their hands they somehow felt it was solely their creation and did not have to acknowledge the roll played by the lab in the creation of their work. Professional photographers often worked closely with the labs, dictating editing steps and even using airbrush experts to create their work, if unable to do their own darkroom work. Ansel Adams said “You don’t take a photograph, you make it.”

The fact is that digital images are all edited. When shooting in the Jpeg mode, most edits are done in camera by the camera’s software. The “preset” edits for jpeg images were developed by the Joint Photographic Experts Group (jpeg). People seem to be unaware that the digital camera is actually a “computer” designed for image capture. The software in the camera makes adjustments based on the parameters set by the user, and the developers of the software standards. When someone declares that they did not edit their work, but are shooting in Jpeg, they are letting someone else edit their work.

 If photographers want more control of the final output, they usually shoot in camera raw. The camera raw image is often flat and in need of adjustments. Many people who have upgraded to a DSLR camera find that they are disappointed in the outcome because they are looking at unedited photos and they are used to looking at jpegs. I can not tell you how often I have heard complaint from amateur photographers when they first shoot in camera raw that they got great photos from “the old camera” but lousy ones now.

When someone proudly declares that they did not edit their work in Photoshop, I have to wonder who did edit their photos. Did they chose not to edit because of some misinformation about the digital process and felt that letting the “Jpeg guys” do it is somehow purer or better than doing the work themselves? Or is it just a way to cover up the fact that they do not know how to use Photoshop and are trying to make this ignorance into a virtue?

Either way, you can make beautiful photos. But when the photographer takes control and does his/her own editing a true work of art can be created. Is it any less a great photo because it was edited by the artist instead of the computer software in the camera? Does doing the editing oneself make it better than relying on the software? I do not think either case is true. The image should be judged on its own merits, not how it was composed or created. It is time to end this debate and accept that some artists prefer to have control over the process while others are content to accept the image as created by the preset software. Yes, images are created in the camera and influenced by many factors. Be it lighting, composition, focus, aperture setting, shutter speed or digital editing it is the combination of factors that make a great photo. Just because many of those factors happen to be done outside the camera does not invalidate their influence on the final image. Why should artificial lighting be allowed in a juried photo for a show and brightening and contrast in Photoshop not be?

To quote Ansel Adams again, “There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs.”

HDR with Photoshop CS5

High Dynamic Range or HDR

HDR, or High Dynamic Range is fast becoming a popular photo presentation. Although not new to Photoshop, in CS5 the HDR feature is new and improved.  For a excellent overview of the new HDR feature in CS5 go to  Adobe TV

HDR photos are created by taking muliple exposures.  For the best results shoot using a tripod.  At least three exposures from over to under exposed. The more the better. Some photographers use 6 or even more exposures.

ckick to see larger:

Adobe tv – HDR

You may notice that I removed an extra bud from the photo. This was done using Content Aware Fill, another amazing feature of Photoshop CS5

Minimizing risk when posting to the internet

When putting artwork or photographs on the internet,

it can become “fair game” to the whole world, despite copyright laws. There are complicated codes that can prevent images from being copied, but these codes are not used on all sites. Social media sites like Facebook or Flickr do not protect your images and what you upload, can be downloaded.

In this time of open sources, privacy issues in Facebook and other social sharing sites, and on-line stores, it can be difficult to protect your images. Placing a watermark in the middle of the picture is one way to protect it. However, that severely lowers the quality of your image. If you are trying to present your work to potential customers, you want it to be sharp and clear.  Additionally, with software like Photoshop CS5, a watermark can be easily eliminated.

 So how does one protect art work on the internet and still take advantage of the vast marketing potential offered by social media? You could limit your exposure only to sites where your work can not be easily copied, for example www.Artid.com.  Or you can recognize the risks involved and post only work that is “web friendly” but not “print friendly”.  Be aware of the resolution of the file you post. If your image is 500 pixels on the longest side, it will be large enough to see clearly on the computer screen but can not be enlarged beyond that size. An added plus to that size is how rapidly it will load. Your viewers will appreciate the quick load time.

 Accept the risk that the image might be “borrowed”. But since your work cannot increase in size easily, your file will not be very useful to the borrower.  Be sure to always mark or sign your work clearly. On social networks, friends will share images they like, not intending to steal but rather to share an experience. That is why we network. It is a great chance for your work to be viewed by a new and larger audience.  The internet is a great new way for artists and photographers to market their work.  If your name is clearly marked, someone who sees your work might become a fan.  Use the internet wisely and take care to protect your work as much as you can. 

 A helpful hint for those who use Photoshop:  To easily scale your image smaller and quickly, use the “Save for Web & Devices” Command under File. It saves your image as a separate file, either jpeg, png, or bmp. Resize in the dialog box to 500 pixels on the longest side and you are ready to upload.

Winner

Congratulations to Anne Smyth

for winning the Giclee of New England “Sign of Spring”  photo Competition.  Her Photo of Hadley Massacusetts is a great example of Spring in New England, with the flowering shurbs in the foreground backed by the bare hills.

Spring in New England, by Anne Smyth

New GoNE, Inc. Competion!

Sights of Spring: New GoNE, Inc Fan Page Competion

Upload your best spring shot taken between 4-1-10 to 4-15-10 to our fan page on Facebook . We will chose our favorite and the winner will recieve a free print of the image up to 16×20 on Kodak Luster photo paper.  Limit is one up load per day from now until 4-16-10 (max 8 from each photographer-one per day).  If you are a painter, upload a spring painting.

If you really blow me away, you could be in contention for an upcoming gallery show.