For some time I’d struggled with WordPress for a personal portfolio site – it seemed to inflexible in relation to layout of images on the web-page. Perhaps possible if one is familiar with customising CSS, but I’m not and didn’t really want to learn. I assume that the difficulties are because WordPress was conceived as a blogging platform and that is primarily how it is used – and it is great for that.
I dismissed the idea of commercially hosted photography portfolio sites as they seemed expensive and also template driven. As I already have self-hosted sites for my blogs and can add subdomains with no additional cost, I was keen to make use of the server space I am already paying for. A short-time ago I upgraded my Adobe subscription so that I could use Indesign and with that upgrade the whole suite of Adobe software becomes available.
So I took the plunge and taught myself to use Muse (the web-designer software). It is designed by the same team as ID and share some common functionality, so layout was very simple. There is also a great deal of help on YouTube. The concept of layers is also used in the application but in a much more straightforward way than Photoshop. What I did find more trick was some web-specific technicalities that I’d not before come across. For example, how to manage the website so it works with different sized screens. I really took me quite some time to get to grips with this.
Anyway, I eventual succeeded in creating and publishing a new portfolio site. It will of course be regularly refreshed and more content added, but I feel I have a good foundation and have grasped the basics, ready to try something more adventurous next time around. It has also made a difference to the way I interact with photographers websites – not just with the pictures but the website as an entity in itself, now that I have the possibility of controlling my own layout!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
A range of standard layouts available, which is good for quick drafting. The downside is that the layouts are not easily editable.
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.
LR can export the book as pdf or jpg – again useful for mockup / sharing of edits for feedback.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!).
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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
On import, rate any image with potential as 1 star. Note – keyboard short-cuts for stars are the numbers 1 to 5.
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.
Any images that are stand-out, rate as 5 star (use with extreme discretion)
Apply keywording to starred images using defined structure / regularly update maintain keyword structure. This allows searching of archive for specific images with specific elements.
These are made after initial selections, but for specific purposes. Two tools to suit nature of project:
LR collections (including collection sets) – remembering to create virtual copies of original image files if specific adjustments are required (eg crops)
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.
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.
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:
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.
Imported the scan into my Lightroom library for cataloging purposes and onward processing in Photoshop.
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.
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.
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:
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!
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.
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).
Here are my reflections on what I found to be a very useful three hour workshop with Mat Hart on black and white conversion using Lightroom and Nik Silver Efex Pro.
Hart is a professional photographer of many years, and a self-confessed late adopter of digital photography. His story, work and blog can be found here (see also link below). He explained that once he made the switch to digital, he spent a year of intensively working out how he could achieve the same control over output he was used to with film. It is the outcome of this experience and his subsequent digital work that he shared during the workshop.
My motivation for attending the workshop was to further explore the tools of photography, in this case the digital dark room. Something that I consider important alongside the study of the art of photography to develop my own practice and refine an approach to giving voice to my vision. I’m not comfortable that I’m approaching post-processing in the most efficient way to obtain the results I am looking for; it can sometimes feel that I’m working in circles, in a sea of technical advice absorbed from books and the web.
The detailed content of the workshop will not be repeated here (for that attend a workshop!), but a few high level lessons and an example of an image reworked using the approach to black and white conversion suggested by Hart.
Always work with RAW files – processing needn’t be hugely time consuming and, as is well understood, the offer far more flexibility in post.
Presets (even your own) waste time – undoing adjustments made by the preset that do not fit your vision for a specific image.
Use the algorithm in Nik Silver Efex Pro to do the conversion (with basic adjustments as explained in the workshop) and then fine-tune the image in Lightroom.
For a speedy LR workflow, only the basic adjustments panel for overall image adjustments and the brush for specific adjustments can be used to great effect and with excellent control over the effect on the image.
The workshop shared several practical examples and also considerations when shooting for black and white. Overall money and time well-spent!
Finally, before and after images. This was a low-contrast image in poor light and serves as an exercise to show the improvement in speed of processing, as well as contrast:
I like to travel light on trips abroad with work, and that includes the camera kit I take with me for my spare-time. The camera I usually travel with is a Fuji x100T, which has a leaf-shutter and in-theory can flash-sync up to 1/4000 second, killing day-light.
I spent some time experimenting with flash combinations to decide upon the best travel-kit combo, with a couple of surprising results.
My preferred travel flash is a tiny Nissin i40, which folds into a neat pouch and, despite its size, carries a guide number of 40. I mainly work on street and travel photography when travelling, so keep my set-up simple and avoid the use and bulk of light-stands and distraction of wireless triggers; opting instead for a flash cable to take the flash off camera.
Putting the Nissin i40 to the test:
On camera, the flash syncs all the way up to 1/4000 second either in TTL or manual mode, as expected. This allows ambient light / even day-light to be cut drastically, while filling a subject using the flash. But, with the flash on the camera, there is not so much opportunity to play with light and shade; one is left with bouncing the flash where that is possible.
Connected with the flash cable, the unit unfortunately seems to be incapable of syncing right up to 1/4000 second (though my bulkier Yongnuo unit does so) – the light falls off. Despite some online research, I could not find a solution to this. However, it is capable of syncing to 1/1000 second (still fast) and with the help of the camera’s built-in 3 stop ND, this is still enough to cut bright ambient day-light if needed. It is important to remember this technical limitation to avoid being scuppered mid-shoot!
Holding the flash in my left hand while shooting with my right, is possible, but a little like juggling. I’ve order a small inexpensive camera flash bracket as a perch for the flash, so it can either stay seated (perhaps not used) or be lifted from its perch when flexibly positioning is needed.
Exercise in light-killing: 1/2000 sec @ f/2 against south facing window, plus OCF hand-held (jpeg SOOC).
A quick look at photographers using flash on the street:
Eric Kim, the prolific street photography blogger, discusses Bruce Gilden and Charlie Kirk. Watching the video clip on Kim’s blog of Gilden working, Gilden works with the attitude that he owns the street, putting himself in people’s way, flash and camera in their faces. He says, ‘I have no ethics’. It appears aggressive, claiming the territory of the street. Kim performed his own experiment of shooting street photos with flash and was surprised that few people took much notice, concluding that people are often: lost in thought, thing you’re shooting something else, or assume you are a tourist.
Amateur Photographer discusses Dougie Wallace’s (Glasweegee) approach to his photographs of and into Indian taxis, using a set up of 3 separate flashes; one on camera and two bracketed either side. Not travelling light!
Petapixel features a video of Mark Cohen at work, using a small camera and flash up close to his subjects, using a similarly invasive approach to Bruce Gilden, but seemingly with few consequences – he engages with his subjects briefly and moves on.
My own practice has not yet included the use of flash in street photography, but I am minded to give it a go having sorted out the simple kit and examined the masters at work.
A recent visit to see Sid Shelton’s Rock Against Racism (see here) with his original contact sheets in a display cabinet, again left me looking for a way to achieve something similarly organic (with the coloured scribbles indicating selects) with digital files.
After some research and experiment, I came up with the following approach that makes use of Lightroom and Preview on the Mac.
Create a contact sheet layout in LR’s print module (there are many online resources showing how to do this if needed) and export it as a pdf. It is the second step that is a little hidden – the dialogue box shows how this functionality is in the ‘printer’ menu at the bottom-right of the screen.
The pdf can now be opened with Preview on the Mac. Preview also acts as the Mac’s built-in file editor and has a few tricks including annotation of pdfs, exporting files as different types, and resizing files. To put highlight markers around selects, use tools/annotate/line – this then brings up options for line thickness and colour. Save the file when done.
At this stage, the file size is likely to be large and not suitable for sharing online, but useful for printing if that is something wanted. To reduce the file size, make a duplicate (if the full size file is to be retained) and use Preview’s export function to export the file. Select export, then choose pdf, and select ‘quartize’ and reduce file size. In the case of my file it reduced its size from 10MB to 500KB. Perhaps re-applying the routine would reduce the file size further, but also result in a deterioration of image quality.
Finally, upload the pdf to a blog as a media file and link into the post, setting it to open in a new window. This then brings up a readable copy of the contacts in a separate screen to the main blog post.
As a Fuji shooter, I regularly read about one professional photographer or another extolling the virtues of Fuji’s OOC JPGs and using them as the primary images, with RAW kept as backups. Most recently a lengthy and informative article by Kevin Mullins, a wedding photographer.
Possibly there is not definitive answer to the RAW vs JPG debate, but rather an ‘it depends’. It depends on what you want to do with the images – for wedding and commercial photographers a speedy workflow and turnaround are vital. And the quality that Mullins achieves from his JPGs is quite outstanding; he places a strong emphasis on knowing how to obtain the desired exposure (frequently using spot metering), as without this there are limited possibilities for recovery with JPG. However, where any significant degree of fine-tuning is required; for example in landscape work or Photoshop composites only RAW will do.
But with clear benefits in workflow time savings, it is worth exploring the limitations of JPGs to allow an informed choice about their use as part of the photographer’s toolkit.
I took some photos in an old (slightly run-down) mill town not too far from my home and processed the RAW and adjusted the JPGs in Lightroom for the same images. The practical experience was valuable and I note some specific disadvantages of adjusting JPGs as opposed to processing RAW. These of course exist because of the very different nature of the files, but nonetheless one should feel the impact in practice to understand it.
click for larger view
One pair from the ten or so images I made. It is important to note that the JPG file may have been improved if the exposure had been better or the in-camera JPG settings were changed. Points noted:
JPGs are sharpened in camera, so there is no sharpening in LR. In LR both the level of sharpening and masking of areas not for sharpening are controlled by the user. It is also possible to do selective sharpening of elements in the image. In scenes with many elements, this is potentially a benefit. On the other hand, Ken Tanaka in the Online Photographer, suggests, ‘Using only Raw files from your camera is analogous to buying an uncooked meal from a fine restaurant, preferring to season and cook it at home. This made perfect sense years ago when the chef was still in school. But today many in-camera chefs are James Beard Award candidates.’ What goes on inside a camera’s expensive algorithms is difficult to know!
White adjustments have little effect on JPG files – I was able to brighten the under exposed white sign with the RAW file. But again, if I’d make a correct exposure compensation adjustment for the white, maybe there would not have been a problem (this could have also taken care of the blocked up shadows).
The clarity adjustment slider can quickly cause degradation in JPG files, resulting in grungy images (common place on photo-sharing sites)
In general, only a limited degree of adjustment is possible with the JPG files before it becomes visible. So, if you get it more or less right in camera, you are fine, but otherwise there can be trouble.
Finally, and obviously, with the JPG file you are stuck with the colour rendition selected in camera ; black and white conversion on JPG isn’t too clean and there is no coming back from black and white to colour.
For my own practice, I will continue working at getting the exposure correct in camera (note that ‘exposing to the right’ is not necessarily a good idea for high quality JPGs). Michael Freeman’s book is an excellent guide (see here). The time savings would be significant. However, it is difficult to envisage dispensing with RAW files at least as a backup solution; and there are times when the digital darkroom is just necessary.
Being a recent convert to flash photography, I’ve studied a lot of material on how to use it effectively. The consensus is to use flash off-camera and with manual flash settings for creative control over lighting and the important depth-giving shadows. There is no getting away from this.
However, during a recent trip to Amsterdam, I was faced with a photo opportunity that needed extra light and the only thing available was the built-in flash on my Fuji X100T. Highly capable by popular opinion, but I’d never used it and I’ve never even thought about how I could control the lighting. The moment was lost. It makes sense to use what tools we have to get a job done, so I undertook a short exercise to understand my on-camera flash.
The conclusion was it can be very similar, apart from not being movable from the camera and having less control over output levels, and not being able to use any light modifiers. On the upside, the X100T uses a leaf shutter, and allows sync flashes up to 1/2.000th of a second, so it brings a creative advantage when balancing ambient light in bright conditions (plus built-in ND filter if needed). The output of the flash itself can be adjusted through the flash compensation, though it will always be in relation to the measurement it makes through ETTL metering.
There is the possibility of creating images where the subject is at high contrast to the background and, as a process, it keeps one’s mind in tune with ‘flash-thinking’; an exposure for the ambient light and one for the flash light separately. While it is no substitute for a separate flash light, it does offer another tool if travelling light. Something I intend to use more frequently from now on.
Some sample thumbnails, with the ambient light managed through manual exposure.
I first considered my workflow in Lightroom, including archiving in my Context and Narrative blog. In preparation for an exercise involving portraiture and the archive, I am again reflecting on this, painfully aware that my current practice for referencing photographs is inadequate.
Rideau emphasises that ‘to properly store digital photos requires the development of a workflow, a standard process of taking, storing, editing and archiving your digital photos.’ This should be obvious, but the application of the workflow requires discipline and habit. Labelling in particular is an area not fully integrated into my workflow. Rideau explains the standard for labelling:
The archival standard to follow is called IPTC which stands for “International Press Telecommunications Council”. They have developed a standard for information that can be embedded into a digital photo. Adobe has used IPTC as the foundation for their Adobe XMP (Extensible Metadata Platform) open standard. Microsoft has also adopted IPTC as the standard for labelling digital photos.
The IPTC provide helpful information on the types and use of metadata. Explaining three main categories of data:
“Administrative – identification of the creator, creation date and location, contact information for licensors of the image, and other technical details.
Descriptive – information about the visual content. This may include headline, title, captions and keywords. This can be done using free text or codes from a controlled vocabulary.
Rights – copyright information and underlying rights in the visual content including model and property rights, and rights usage terms.”
Phlearn provides a practical guide to applying metadata (including copyright), using presets and applying keywords within Adobe Lightroom.This provides protection to digital images once online and allows searching of the Lightroom archive with the keywords.
My previous workflow practices had been more concerned with the selection and processing of photographs, rather than the copyright protection and keywording of images. This I’ll now incorporate into my workflow.