Adobe Indesign – getting started

For assignment 5, the output is to be a photo book. Having experienced frustrations with LR book module on previous outings, and feeling the same pain again in A5 preparatory work, I decided to make the move to ID with an upgrade in my Creative Cloud subscription (only an additional £6/month at student rates). This post notes some of my initial explorations into work flow.

  1. LR does not alter original image files, it keeps a catalogue of changes, it makes use of virtual copies (which are virtual), so there is often no tangible file to pull into ID until something is exported. The question is how to do this efficiently, particularly when LR collections and virtual copies are an important part of my current workflow. After some experiment, my approach is to create a publish service in LR that publishes tiffs to a hard drive location. Published folders can be created within the service, where collections can be drag-dropped and published automatically as tiffs. If a change is made to an image, it is flagged for re-publishing and I guess it will automatically update in an ID document once republished. So not too painful!
  2. To view and work with the files easily in ID, Bridge / Mini-bridge seem to be convenient. First install Bridge, drag the working folder for the images to ‘favourites’ to make it easier to locate. Then the magic is to open mini-bridge in ID and the photos are there ready to drag-drop into the document.
  3. Using ID for making a basic photo book was reasonably straightforward with the help of a couple of good Youtube videos to get me started. It was refreshing to have flexibility of layout and output, something simply not there in LR book module. I guess Adobe would understandably not want too much overlap in their products, otherwise there’d be no reason for photographers to buy ID!

In theory, the output can also be shared directly online through Adobe Publish – embedded in this post below.

 

Artist’s book making course

Over the weekend of 6 May, I attended a two-day artist’s book making course at Hotbed Press in Salford. It’s purpose was to provide an introduction to various book formats and book making skills, producing a number of my own books over the weekend (without content of course). In addition there was some interesting discussion about the nature of books and the relationship between form, materials and content; how this can change a viewer’s experience of the work.

The course was taught by Elizabeth Willow, a fine artist. Creative Sketchbook (linked below) show some examples of her work.

My reason for attending the course was to learn how to make my own photo books – I’ve become interested in this after seeing Christian Patterson’s Redheaded Peckerwood and a video of him constructing the book, combining photos and documents. I might ultimately use these skills to turn my assignment 5, ‘A story not told’ into a book.

iPhone snaps from the course:

 

References

Creative Sketchbook [website]. Elizabeth Willow’s Paper Stories (March 2013). Available from: http://www.creativesketchbook.co.uk/2013/03/elizabeth-willows-paper-stories.html [accessed 27.5.17]

Hotbed Press [website]. Available from: http://www.hotbedpress.org [accessed 27.5.17]

Christian Patterson [website]. Redheaded Peckerwood. Available from: http://www.christianpatterson.com/redheaded-peckerwood/#1 [accessed 27.5.17]

Pros and Cons of LR book module

I used LR’s book module for assignment 4, from initial drafting, uploading to my Blog for feedback and assessment and sending a copy of the book for printing with Bob’s Books. Overall, I found the process quite painful for this type of book and, on reflection, think I have chosen the wrong tool for the job.

I note here pros and cons, which I’ll revisit before approaching another photo book and deciding upon the tool to use.

Pros and cons

  1. Integrated with LR library, so very quick and easy to experiment with various edits and change edits at a later date based on feedback. This makes it a great tool for making a mockup of a book.
  2. A range of standard layouts available, which is good for quick drafting. The downside is that the layouts are not easily editable.
  3. Book size is limited to standard options, which may not be the same dimensions as offered by the book publishing service selected. This is a significant drawback in using LR as a final layout tool. Blurb is offered as an add-in, which overcomes this drawback, providing one is happy to be limited to Blurb as a print provider. No student discount available from them.
  4. LR can export the book as pdf or jpg – again useful for mockup / sharing of edits for feedback.
  5. If the book is saved as hi-res jpg and uploaded to a print provider, text pages are large files as the white space is treated as an image and increase upload times. Preparing the book in a provider’s own software would avoid this.
  6. The standard software interface supported by the higher-end print service providers seems to be Adobe Indesign, with templates available for download to accommodate their book formats. However, from the little I understand about Indesign, it requires considerable investment in time to become proficient and it is more aimed at text-based editing than media (eg no interface with LR).

My current feeling is that for a photo book that is more about photos than text, a more efficient process would be to simply use LR for preparing a mock-up for the purposes of editing and obtaining feedback. Then complete the final book directly in the editing software provided by the service provider. So the question then becomes, which provider to use and the flexibility of their software.

A quick look at Bob’s Books and their downloadable ‘Bob’s Designer’ software, plus the offer of student discount, looks like they would be a good starting place for the next project.

Lightroom for online photo books (flip books)

I invested considerable time in working out how to present a photo book on this blog, without paying for a third-party flip book  service, which seem to come in at around $15 per month. Here are notes for future reference, or any one else who might find them of use.

Lightroom book module

  • This is geared up for printing paper books, either through a connected online service (Blurb) or by generating jpgs or pdfs (perhaps for proof of concept only) to be sent to printers. To make it work for online flipbooks, a different approach needs to be used:
    • Cover page (front and back) – LR generates as a wrap-around, so it is of no use for a digital book – set up book without cover page.
    • As we will work with no cover page, there is a need to insert a blank page before any inside cover text (automatically created when cover pages are used) so that the page spreads are kept intact.
    • When exporting to jpg files for online use, LR will export a single image whether a double page spread or a single page spread is used. LR’s double-page spreads therefore display small, in the space of a single page. Do not use double-page spreads for online flip-book preparation.
    • For the front and back cover, set up a normal page spread, using one page for the front cover and the other for the back. These will then print as separate jpgs to be inserted at the beginning and the end of the flipbook.

In WordPress (org) – plugins

Various plug-ins are available. On this site I use Photo Book Gallery, with free features that are sufficient for simple flipbooks and with a degree of control over its configuration in the settings panel. The only thing I needed to adjust was the book sizing so it was in a consistent dimension to the size of the jpg files being used.

A big upside of this approach is that the flipbook uses jpgs uploaded to the WordPress media library, so the images can be reused elsewhere in posts related to the same project.

My first flip-book was made for the first edit of assignment 4, here.

The Art of Printing Workshop with Mark Wood

Source: Wilkinson.co.uk, by Mark Wood

To satisfy my continuing interest in the technical aspects of photography, so I can make an informed choice of what to bring to my work and what to discard, I recently attended a day-long printing workshop. It was run by Mark Wood (who has some impressive credentials) and hosted by Wilkinson Cameras in their Liverpool training suite.

I feel I make reasonable prints, but you never know what you don’t know until you know – my main motivation for attending the workshop, which covered:

  • The Theory & Practice Of Colour Management
  • Setting System and Application Colour Preferences
  • Calibrating Monitors and Printers
  • Exploring the qualities and requirements for a great print
  • Soft-proofing and Printing for inkjet printers and photo-labs
  • Benchmarking Colour Management

I learned more than I expected, and note here a few points that will be introduced to my practice:

  1. I’ve never used Photoshop for printing – Wood demonstrated how much more control over prints there is in PS above LR – for example in the more realistic rendering of the soft proofing it generates.
  2. I learned the differences between rendering intents: – Perceptual rendering retains colour relationships ie good for portraits, Relative – just brings out-of -gamut colours into line. I can now used this in an informed way.
  3. We explored the use of colour spaces and why Pro RGB is standard in LR and preferred for master copies of images; the most detail / information is retained for future use – even if current screen technologies cannot use the information, future ones may be able to do so.
  4. Screen calibration was discussed at length and how anything other than a reference monitor (showing full Adobe RGB colour) was going to be a compromise on quality – no guarantee that you will be seeing what others with properly calibrated reference monitors are seeing when viewing your work. But, the technology, would most likely do a reasonable job in rendering. Also, with a reference monitor more reliable soft-proofing of prints is possible.
  5. Wood recommended testing accuracy of calibration by printing an sRGB image, letting the printer manage the colours, before moving on to paper specific printer-profiles. Is the printed image close to the on-screen soft-proof? If not calibration needs to be revisited before continuing.
  6. Another suggestion was to obtain a colour reference print and compare that to your own print of the jpg file of the reference print (I found that Marrutt.com provide a print free of charge!).
  7. Wood showed some powerful examples of how the human visual system reacts to colours and even can create phantom colours – to emphasise that despite all the efforts made during the printing process, the context in which a print is displayed can undo the effort.

Reference

Adobe [website]. Print with color management. Available from: https://helpx.adobe.com/photoshop/using/printing-color-management-photoshop1.html [accessed 8.3.17]

Mark Wood Photography [website]. Available from: http://www.markwoodphotography.com/index.html [accessed 8.3.17]

Wilkinson Cameras [website]. Advert for workshop – printing master class. Available from: http://www.wilkinson.co.uk/printing-masterclass/ [accessed 7.3.17]

 

iPad portfolio

I’d used my iPad to show some photos to members of the choir who were the subject of my previous assignment, using Lightroom mobile. This was okay for the purpose but not really suitable for an iPad portfolio showing –  not a clean presentation with the LR edit functionality visible.

Screen grab from Foliobook on iPad, by Andrew Fitzgibbon

I looked for other options suitable for a iPad portfolio presentation (so I am prepared for any potential projects) and found it surprisingly not straightforward, with the obvious apps being flawed:

  • Photos, offers no possibility of manual sorting the order of photographs
  • Behance (an Adobe offering), while well integrated with LR, bizarrely shows the clock, wireless status and battery status of the iPad when in portfolio view.

After some online research, I selected Foliobook (http://www.rocketgardenlabs.com) as a reasonably straightforward but customisable solution with Dropbox integration and syncing for updates to the portfolio content.

A neat solution for creating a bespoke first page, is to an create image and text composite in Photoshop (using a new page with iPad dimensions) and then in-app add transparent buttons over the text to go to the portfolio pages (eg the footer on the image shown on the image in this post).

Saving the Photoshop composite as a PSD file also makes it easy to update with a fresh image or add additional text at a later date. A good solution for a £10 app!

Aspect ratios in photography & compositional theory

Part of the feedback I received when I put my assignment 3 draft up for discussion on the OCA critique format was a comment on the aspect ratio; I’d used the standard 3:2 that comes out of my Fuji X-T1 (or any 35mm inspired sensor). The suggestion was made that 5:4 looks better and the student mentioned that he crops all of his photos to this aspect ration. I’ve used square format on a few occasions as a square is an obviously a different container to a rectangle, but had not thought of cropping to a different rectangular dimension. Strangely, I tried the 5:4 crop and liked the look of it better. This got me thinking.

Source: petapixel.com by Ming Thein

Different sensors or film formats determine the native aspect ratio of the digital or film image, as Gibson explains in his online article. He also explains what he calls ‘the 35mm problem’, which is 3:2 works well in landscape orientation but can look too tall and narrow in portrait. So the longer rectangles make it difficult to fill the frame effectively and hinder composition. Several articles (various, photocomposition) discuss the ‘golden ratio’ (3:2 is an approximation to this), including studies that show this is often a naturally occurring ratio and attractive to humans – this is supported by anecdotal and historical evidence of the ratio’s use; why have we continued to use it if we don’t find it attractive? It is also thought to approximate the eye’s natural binocular field of vision (Thein M), so it is comfortable for us to view in one glance. So if you flip 3:2 vertically, to maintain the same horizontal aspect it would need to be 4.5:3 (or 5:3.3 if you want a comparison to 5:4). This is the 35mm problem – portrait viewing does not fit with our native human aspect ratio.

Most people will stick to the aspect ratio that is native to the camera, and either do nothing else, or crop to fit later. This is compositionally very, very sloppy – not only do you not get the best frame for the shape of your subject, there’s a very good chance that you probably won’t be able to fill the frame properly, either; 3:2 is a bit of a compromise aspect ratio that lacks the organic intimacy of 5:4 or 4:3 for portraits, or the drama of 16:9 for more expansive scenes. (Thein M)

I am self-confirmed ‘compositionally very, very sloppy’ – focused on maintaining available pixels for printing at expense of composition. But the times are changing. However, there is plenty of ‘purist’ thought in the photography world to discourage cropping – the same writer has a blog post entitled, ‘why cropping is bad’. Though, he does explain reasons and why he considers aspect ratio to be an exception, providing the shot is made with the aspect ratio in mind.

Now, I am going to work and experiment with different aspect ratios, but I cannot imagine how to envision the final aspect ratio in camera, while shooting 3:2 through my view finder (advice welcome!) and I wonder about series of photos – I’m not sure that a series containing various aspect ratios would be accepted; mixing portrait and landscape in the same aspect ratio seems to already cause controversy amongst photographers.

References

Gibson A (2011). The Art of Using Aspect Ratios in Digital Photography. Tutsplus [website]. Available from: https://photography.tutsplus.com/articles/the-art-of-using-aspect-ratios-in-digital-photography–photo-7947 [accessed 1.2.17]

Thein M (2012). Introduction to aspect ratios and compositional theory. Petapixel [website]. Available from: https://petapixel.com/2012/12/26/an-introduction-to-aspect-ratios-and-compositional-theory/ [accessed 1.2.17]

Thein M [Blog]. Why cropping is bad (January 21, 2013). Available from: https://blog.mingthein.com/2013/01/21/why-cropping-is-bad/ [accessed 1.2.17]

Various (nd). Photocomposition Articles. Photoinf [website]. Available from: http://photoinf.com/Golden_Mean/ [accessed 1.2.17]

Reflections on Lightroom workflow and archive

Having recently addressed my IT infrastructure around my photographs, in particular a robust back up routine and a MacBook docking station (see here), it was again time to revisit my workflow and approach to maintaining my photographic archive. I first seriously considered this during my Context and Narrative Course (post here), in September 2015. Re-reading this now the process seems complex and too involved – there is little surprise that I’ve failed to follow it!

Here I note my revised workflow and look forward to reviewing it in 6 months to discover whether the approach turns about to be workable.

Overall set-up

LR catalogue is kept on a Macbook Pro (MBP), with the backup saved to Dropbox. The MBP, including the LR catalogue, is also backed up to a NAS drive using TimeMachine.

Primary storage for photo files is a 2TB WD hard drive (WDHD), which is connected to a MBP docking station along with a large monitor. The MBP is docked to work on the image files, or to work on them remotely ‘smart previews’ are created. The WDHD is backed up via TimeMachine to the NAS drive and to the cloud using iDrive (with student discount!)

On import (while travelling)

Photos are imported to the LR catalogue but stored in a desktop folder on MBP named ‘photo import’, which is separately referenced in the LR catalogue. This is a temporary working location used for review and processing only, not cataloging of the images. While travelling a portable WD 1TB drive is used to back up the image files and stored separately to the MBP.

On cataloging (at home base)

I’ve rearranged the folder structure on the WDHD into  3 top-level folders: 1) own digital images, 2) others digital images (mostly family members or friends that I’ve agreed retouch), and 3) historic photos (analogue family archive that I’m beginning to scan). Own images contain the vast majority of files and my approach to sub folders is now: year/general category (eg family, landscape, street, OCA)/specific project or location. I was previously using LR’s default of year/month, but this buried specific projects deep in the folder structure, making it tricky to quickly find anything.

On selecting and processing

Initial selections:

  1. On import, rate any image with potential as 1 star. Note – keyboard short-cuts for stars are the numbers 1 to 5.
  2. Filter and review all 1 star images, making basic processing adjustments if needed. Rate any images passing review with 3 stars and process. Use virtual copies when very different treatments are planned (eg colour and monochrome), otherwise use snapshots to mark different versions of similar processing.
  3. Any images that are stand-out, rate as 5 star (use with extreme discretion)
  4. Apply keywording to starred images using defined structure / regularly update maintain keyword structure. This allows searching of archive for specific images with specific elements.

Project selections:

  1. These are made after initial selections, but for specific purposes. Two tools to suit nature of project:
    1. LR collections (including collection sets) – remembering to create virtual copies of original image files if specific adjustments are required (eg crops)
    2. Colour flags. I’ve set mine up to be labeled; potentials, picks, selects – draft, selects – final. Keyboard shortcuts are 6 to 9.

As a general workflow principle, I aim to process the original RAW file with basic exposure corrections only and then work on virtual copies for further processing. This allows images to easily be repurposed where different crops / processing is required.

 

Restoring an old portrait

A friend asked me if I could restore a photo of his youthful self, in which the black and white had become a tinted yellow/green and the emulsion had spotted, perhaps with moisture. He wanted to use the photo as an incentive for exercise.img003

Not having attempted anything similar before, but knowing that there would be similar photos in my own family archive, the photo presented an opportunity to study the restoration technique and try it out for a good cause.

YouTube has become my go-to resource for finding out about Photoshop techniques; there are many people who generously share their knowledge, sometimes as a draw to their paid subscriber services. Already with a good foundation in Photoshop, I’ve never felt the need for a paid subscription and can invariably find the information I need through unpaid videos; good new for me, but a perennial issue for content makers aim to make money online when so much material is shared for free. The best video I found for restoring photos is the Phlearn one, referenced below.

My approach in brief:

  1. Scanned the image (Epson V370 photo) at a resolution of 720 dpi – the scanner is capable of much higher resolutions, but given the poor quality of the photo there seem to be little point. The image was saved as an uncompressed TIFF.
  2. Imported the scan into my Lightroom library for cataloging purposes and onward processing in Photoshop.
  3. Used a Huion tablet for work in Photoshop (poor man’s Wacom) – I found responsiveness issues when working on my MacBook Pro (having moved my photo studio from my iMac), which I need to investigate further.
  4. Order of working with Photoshop tools:
    • Spot healing brush – to automatically take care of small areas of blemishes (used extensively to remove the spotting).
    • Healing brush – used for larger areas when I need to sample from specific areas (mostly on the face and legs).
    • Brush tool – used in a few areas where there was limited / no pixel information (sampled tones from elsewhere and brushed on).
    • Black and white layer mask – to remove the colour cast from the scan.
    • Levels adjustment – to fix the tonal range in the photo.

Here is the retouched photo – not perfect, but good for a first attempt and given the technical problems I was having with my MacBook lag. The image printed well at A4 size.

ian

References

Youtube. Phlearn.  How to Repair an Old Torn Photo in Photoshop. Available from: https://youtu.be/abXAvWuteI4?list=PLtFVp4OpD5nY-3t3a0hUKH59-6cGNQ9eG [accessed 21.9.16]

Lessons in technology and wasted hours

I write this as a note to myself not to repeat the same errors in a few years time and to sign some potential hazards for anyone about to undertake a similar exercise.

I finally resolved to upgrade the IT technology that supports my photography; or rather is fundamental to digital photography. The situation was that my old iMac’s memory would soon begin to creak under the weight of RAW files; working on a LR catalogue based on Dropbox between two computers (MacBook Pro for travelling) has proven not to be without complications or confusion; and there was a general shortage of backup capacity for my household of four people.

The solution was simple but the implementation not so simple, mostly due to pit falls of the ignorant. For the photo workstation – a MacBook docking station (CalDigit Thunderbolt Station), a 27inch matte hi-resolution screen (BenQ BL2711U), and repurposing of the 2TB WD hard drive (previously used for TimeMachine backups) as a larger drive for photo files, attached to the new docking station. For photo and general household backup a Network Attached Storage device (Synology Disk Station with 2 bays, plus two 3TB drives).

Cutting out the gory details, here are the snakes and ladders:

  1. Never, ever delete TimeMachine back up files from an external drives manually. You could end up with 2 million plus files in your trash that your computer will try for hours to count up and delete and then give up – apparently this is just not the done thing (how was I to know!) and OS cannot cope with empty the trash for a long list of good reasons. It seems the best way is to simply reformat the drive to clear all the old backup files and then start again. Not quite so simple when you’ve already moved your photo files to that drive!
  2. When moving photo files between drives, always do it within Lightroom or the indexing in the catalogue is completely screwed and needs to be rebuilt (thank fully I was already aware of this) – just press the ‘+’ next to folders in the library to add your new drive/folder, then drag/drop within LR.
  3. TimeMachine can also backup external drives attached to a Mac to another external drive. I discovered this after making a manual backup of photos on the WD hard drive. Just go into options and delete the external hard drive to be back up from the excluded items (TimeMachine excludes these by default). This is a neat solution that allows my working folder of imports on my Macbook Pro (plus other files) and the photo archive on the WD drive to all be backed up to the NAS, while using the excellent version control in TimeMachine.

This post has killed a little time as I wait for 10,000 photos to transfer back to my iMac so I can reformat the WD hard drive, empty the trash, and move the photos back again to the cleaned drive. We live and hopefully learn. The only remaining step is then looking into cloud backup of the NAS (Backblaze B2 is looking like the way to go).