Fine Art Photography: Imaging for output, Three Part Discussion


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.

Plug-ins for Photoshop

Photoshop Plug-ins… What are they? Why do I need them?

Plug-ins are typically third party software that works in conjunction with a specific software or software products. Adobe, makers of Photoshop, is company that encourages developers to create plug-ins for its products. There are several plug-in products that work with Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom that enhance their capabilities.

However, since Adobe Photoshop is such a powerful feature laden product why would anyone need a plug-in? The answer is that despite Photoshop having many features, some of the features work better with plug-ins. If you have ever tried to use the noise reduction filter in PS, you have likely been disappointed. While it does a fairly good job of reducing digital noise, it softens the image to a point that it loses focus. Using Unsharp mask in PS often enhances the left over noise negating the previous adjustments in noise reduction. The end result is often unsatisfactory.

Some of the more popular plug-ins are made by Nic Software. Recently Nic Software was acquired by Google. This is good news as the price of the entire plug-in suite is now less than a single product was previously. For $149 (look for coupons for even more savings) you can buy the entire suite. Beside the two plug-ins discussed here the suite includes HDR Efex Pro 4 for creating high dynamic range photos, Color Efex Pro 4 for filters to enhance the color of images, Silver Efex Pro 4 for Black and white enhancements and, my personal favorite, Viveza 2 for spot editing.

Click to open images. Click again to see large size.

Focus Stacking, Trends in Photography

finished stack 20 exposures

finished stack 20 exposures

A few years ago HDR (high dynamic range) be came the rage. It seemed that every online photo site was discussing how to do it. HDR photography was showing up every where. How-to instructions are easily found. With over 200,000 hits on Youtube for HDR tutorials, it is easy to see how popular this technique has become.

The newest trend is focus stacking. This technique increases the Depth of Field in macro photography. By combining a large number of exposures with the focus point moved incrementally one is able to create an extreme close-up with sharp focus throughout the subject.

The process is done using a sturdy tripod and a good camera. (Remember if you are using a tripod to turn off the image stabilizer on your lens.) Starting at one end of your subject take a series of shots. Move the focus point slightly back (or forward if you stated at the back of your subject). The more focus points the sharper your image will be.

Open all the resulting images in your software. In this case we are using Photoshop CS 3 or higher. Place all the images in one file as layers. Keep the layer in order. Select all the layers at the same time and go to Edit>Auto align layer. When that finishes, with all layers still selected go to Edit>Auto blend layers. You may find some anomalies around the edges so crop that part and you have finished your image.

There are other software products that will do this as well. Helicon Soft is one of the leading software in this technique. . Another choice would be Photoacute: This software not only does focus stacking but has a killer noise reduction feature and HDR. There are several opensource free software as well, Picolay is one .

If you find that this technique becomes one that you want to master, there are several devices that can automate the process. Cognisys produces several items such as slide rails and remotes to aid in the focus stacking process.


Creating Panorama Photographs

A panoramic photo captures an image that is at least twice as long as high.  Usually a photograph with an aspect ratio* of 2:1 or higher would be considered a panorama. For example, 10×20 or 8×16 inch prints would be considered panoramic, with a view that is twice as wide as high.  An image that is as great as or greater than the viewing field of the human eye would be panoramic. A higher aspect ratio, of 4:1 or even 10:1 would be panoramic.

Quabin Panorama Photo

There are cameras which will create a panoramic image with a single shot. There are multiple lens and software to help create panoramic photographs as well as 360° photographic images. But for most of us, our usual still digital cameras using a standard lens along with some stitching software will be more than adequate for pano creation.

There are a number of software stitching programs on the market. One of the most popular is PTgui. ( ).  Adobe Photoshop and Photoshop Elements have Photomerge feature and does an excellent job for most panoramic stitching.  More recent versions (CS4 or better) do a much better job than earlier versions.

No matter what you use to create the final image, it is the photographic process that will determine how good your final image is.  It is possible to hand hold the camera and still create a panorama but it is much easier to use a tripod. You can purchase specific heads for your tripod to create panoramas, from the inexpensive LensPen Pananic head for about $20 to a Manfrotto Spherical Panoramic Head Kit at $650.

If you chose to forgo the expense of a special head for your tripod there are a few rules to keep in mind. If you are shooting without a tripod, try to use your body as the center point. Plant your feet firmly and turn from your waist. As with any shot, take a breath and hold it before depressing the shutter button.  If you are shooting with a tripod, it is best to level the head if you can before shooting.  The most important rule, however, is to overlap your shots by at least 1/3 of the scene you are shooting. I usually pick out a land mark in the shot about 1/3 from the edge and make that opposite edge on the next shot.

It is also important to keep the settings the same in the camera. If you have auto focus turned on be careful with the focus. It could shift based on the image and it would destroy your panorama.  You may want to shoot in Manuel Mode in order to avoid that from happening. A shift in meter reading could also make the creation difficult, although the software will do some blending of edges.

Try re-positioning yourself and trying the shot from a slightly different angle.  Take several multiple shots from different perspectives. Your first perspective might not work as expected when you start to turn the camera.  The number of shots you use to create your panorama is dependent on the scene you are shooting. I find that for a 180° shot that I will need 5-7 shots.

Creating a panorama photo is fun and rewarding. Going beyond the limits of the lens and camera opens up a whole new way of seeing through your lens. Capturing a wide view makes the scene more memorable and closer to what the “mind sees”.  Try turning the camera for a vertical shot. This will make your panorama wider and capture more of the scene. Good luck and keep shooting!

*Aspect ratio is a measure comparing width to height. Most digital cameras will produce a 3:2 aspect ratio.  The resulting print size of 4×6 or 8×12 is an example of 3:2 aspect ratio.

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  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.

Painting in Photoshop CS5

Photoshop CS5: New Feature, Paintmixer Brush

This is just plain fun! I have not painted in years. Since starting in the digital arts and begining this business, I have not had time to paint and had forgotten how much fun it was to push paint around on a canvas. Painting in PSCS5 almost feels like the real thing. A major difference is that the clean-up and paint fumes are non existant. 

It is a power hog, though. Plan to mulititask if you are trying to create a very large image. And save often!!  You will be waiting for the brush to move slowly across the screen smearing pixels along the way. I guess the next move is a computer upgrade to take full advantage of this software.

Photoshop CS5 Review

Brief Review of Photoshop CS5

Having just opened the box late last night, I can not give a very thorough review yet. But I had to try out some of the new features that have been so well publicized. 

I will start with the feature I was most looking forward to, Content Aware Fill. It is all that was promised! Totally incredible. I was able to remove telephone lines through trees and sky without any problems, other than having to go over a couple of spots.  It also works on large areas using the delete key. I was able to remove a tree from the sky in only two short steps. Photoshop even grabbed a cloud from the other part of the sky and placed into the spot where the tree had been. All I can say is WOW!

Another new feature, I have been anticpting is the paint feature. This too is incredible, but not in the least easy. It looks like it should be but it is not. I love the idea but it will take much practice and patience to create a painting from a complex photograph.

I will post more reviews as I delve deeper into the Adobe Creative Suite Design Premium.

Photoshop CS5

Adobe CS5

I know that each new version of a software has a few new tricks or features that are nice but do you really need them?  Photoshop has had 12 versions since its inception in early 1990’s.  Each version has had great new features, but can you live without them? That, of course, depends upon what you do with photoshop.  But this time, Adobe has made some spectactular changes. My favorite feature is the new “content aware fill” feature. The hours spent cloning out telephone wires or trying to blend the sky that was lost when building panoramas are a thing of the past. With content aware fill these corrections can be done in a matter of seconds. It is Photoshop magic at its best.  Podcast from top new features in Photoshop CS5 . This is a brief overview of the best new features in CS5.

To learn all the new features, you can struggle through the steep learning curve. Wait for the hints on the forums or the easy way is to take an online course. I have tried several different sites and have found to be the most effective and easist to use. It also has a vast library of titiles and software to chose from. A subsciption to is the best learning gift you can give yourself.  Use the button on the side bar to get more information on