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Steve’s Corner #3

Originally published in the March 2016 issue of the Helderberg Photographic Society newsletter.

Feedback

Danie responded about IrfanView; “My one cents worth of input …. be aware when using Irfanview that the colour profile of the image is ignored … so the image will end up with a different colour than the original.”

This is exactly why we recommend converting your images to the sRGB profile before sending them off for display or publishing them on the web. As the artists we have no control of how our images will be displayed and because sRGB is smaller profile it most closely fits to the way images are displayed by unmanaged devices and software.

As for IrfanView; newer versions now have support for managed colour and the same is true for newer versions of FastStone Image Viewer.

When is a photograph no longer a photograph?

Do you ever find yourself thinking “But that’s not a photograph” when an image is displayed in club competition or review? I know I have on more than one occasion. I might think “We are a photographic society and that is digital art, not a photograph; it has no business being displayed here” only to be surprised when the image scores relatively well. Clearly this is very subjective and not everyone has the same opinion, so I thought I’d look at this subject by “googling” for “when is a photograph no longer a photograph” but this didn’t provide as much on the subject as I’d hoped

American photographer Chris Gampat begins a blog post on the subject thus;

scorner31

Is the above image a photograph or is it something else? Is it digital art? Is it something created by someone who took loads of photos and layered them on top of one another?

Even so, does that mean that the image is no longer a photograph?

To create this image, what I did was a multiple exposure in camera. Asta was given instructions to do one pose, then another and then another. Using the Canon 5Ds, I layered each exposure on top of one another. The purists, who say that a photograph is a photograph as long as it just came out of the camera, would argue that this is indeed a photo. But if the images were not done in camera and layered on top of one another in Photoshop, they very much would not call the final image a photograph.

Read the article

So is it being made purely in camera that makes a photograph? I think that as club members we would disagree strongly with this as most of us use software to process our images, perhaps not adding or removing elements but altering exposure, sharpness, cropping and other properties, to achieve our vision of what we want the image to be.

Karen Alsop writes;

I’ve heard it said that digital composite art is not ‘Photography’. I’ve also heard it said that if it is digital art it is no longer a ‘photograph’. Both comments seem to anger digital photographic compositors. The purist photographers feel that any type of photoshop work negates authenticity. The ‘shoppers’ fight back and declare that even Ansel Adams dodged and burned in the darkroom.

Karen is a digital artist who produces images like this one;

scorner32

And writes

Digital Photographic Art is not ‘a photograph’.

But I am still ‘a photographer’.

I am a photographer because I photograph each and every part of my composited image. I carefully assess light, perspective and colour and photograph each element with the purpose of seamlessly blending them together into a composite.

I am a photographer because I’ve used a camera to capture the elements for my composite. I’ve manually adjusted my settings for an optimal image, ensuring my aperture, shutter speed and ISO are set correctly for my purposes.

But… It is no longer ‘a photograph’

A composited image is a collection of photographs merged together. It is no longer simply ‘one capture’ but many captures carefully and masterfully blended together to create a piece of art. To call this simply ‘a photograph’ negates the painstaking hours photoshopping together every part to perfection.

Read more

There is an increasing tendency to proclaim “This image looks fantastic and it’s straight out of camera (SOOC)” as if this somehow means it is really a photograph, unlike another that has been processed with software. I have even said myself at club meetings after showing a black and white image that it was SOOC, but this doesn’t mean I think that makes it a better photograph image. Yes it’s great that my camera can produce usable images that require no further processing but that doesn’t stop me from using RAW + JPEG mode so I can get the black and white JPEG that may be usable as is, but I also get the RAW file that I can process extensively if I desire, and I often do. The ability of modern cameras to deliver very good ready to use JPEGs may be a boon to professionals shooting sports or events where they need to deliver images to clients as soon as possible, but it is not some badge of honour that has a real meaning otherwise. Here are some articles that expound on this.

As Goodrich says we should strive to get everything perfect in camera; not to produce a final image at a single click but to provide us with the best possible raw material for further processing. But I digress, SOOC is the other end of the spectrum from whether an image is a photograph or not. So let’s see what else we can find on that by changing our search terms to “digital art vs photography”.

This interview with Australian Fine Art Photographer and Digital Artist Alexia Sinclair doesn’t directly address the subject but presents some of Alexia’s photographs for Queensland Ballet that I think we would all agree are photographs, as well as some of her fantastic creations that while based on photographs, have transcended the realm of photography and become digital artworks.

The CNN article, Art photography: When ‘reality isn’t good enough’ talks to photographers and digital artists and presents 25 of their images. To me these blur the boundary between photography and digital art. There are images in there that the uninitiated might consider true photographs but that are actually skilfully created composites. Then there are images, like those from photographer Bryan Peterson that appear unreal and are seemingly created or at least considerably tweaked in software, but that are really single shots taken by manipulating light and environment when shooting the images. Still, I think that I would be comfortable with any of the images there being presented as photographs at our meetings.

The article Photoshop in Photography: What Defines a Photograph? presents this image and shows how it was made.

scorner33

Photographer Chris Crisman entered the photograph, titled Butterfly Girl, into the World Photography Organisation’s 2012 World Photography Awards. It was selected from the thousands of entries as part of a promotional campaign for the contest and in that process was spread out all over the Internet.

Again, I would see that image as acceptable for club submission, yet it is clearly a composition made in software. So why is it that I’ve felt some clearly composited images submitted to the club were not suitable, yet I feel that some of the images discussed above were? I suppose it really comes down to personal preference. I conclude that if we like a particular composite image we are likely to consider it suitable for presentation as a photograph, while if we dislike a heavily manipulated image we are less likely to consider it suitable for presentation as a photograph.

As the club has no particular rules on what makes for an acceptable photograph we will just have to continue relying on the judging system to indicate suitability in terms of score. But I’d be interested to get some feedback on this from readers. Do you think that images being submitted to club evenings are all photographs, or do some cross the line?

Steve’s Corner #2

Originally published in the February 2016 issue of the Helderberg Photographic Society newsletter.

Colour Spaces
Strangely, considering it was the black & white evening, a debate on colour space use started between some members at a recent meeting. This prompted some questions on just what is meant by sRGB and Adobe RGB 98 colour spaces. I am no expert but simply put a colour space is just a way of describing a gamut or range of colours. This is important to us because of the way different output devices handle colour.
There are three colour spaces that photographers commonly use. In increasing order of gamut size (the range of colours they support), these are sRGB, Adobe RGB 98 and ProPhoto. Our processing software can handle any of these and we commonly work in Adobe RGB 98 or ProPhoto while processing our images. When our images are displayed by non colour managed software applications or printed, the colour space used is typically close to the smaller sRGB colour space. This means that the colours used in our images must be reduced to fit those available in the smaller colour space. When this is done automatically, the results can sometimes be less than pleasing and it is therefore far preferable to do the conversion ourselves, using our processing software. These applications will almost always do a better job of converting and we can further tweak the converted images if we aren’t totally happy with the result.
To read more about colour spaces, refer to the following articles, or search the Internet for others; there are many out there.

Podcasts
Podcasts are like radio shows on the internet. There are many of them focusing on all sorts of topics, and photography is no different. There are different ways to consume podcasts; they almost always have an associated web site that offers textual notes adding to the audio of each episode as well as the episodes themselves in an audio format, usually MP3, via players embedded in their pages. They also allow the audio to be downloaded so that you can copy it to your computer, phone or audio player for listening at your convenience. Beyond this they publish their episodes via service like Apple’s iTunes where you can subscribe to a podcast and episodes are automatically downloaded into the iTunes software on your computer. You can listen to it there or sync it to your phone, audio player or tablet for listening to offline; perhaps while commuting. Cars, buses or trains are places we may spend an hour or more in each day, making them perfect places to read or listen to our podcast content. The podcast web sites also give you access to earlier episodes that you can go back and listen to.

Furthermore, there are apps known as podcatchers, available for most desktop and mobile operating systems. These allow you to search for podcasts, subscribe to them and have episodes automatically downloaded for later consumption. iTunes behaves as a podcatcher as described above. If you use a smartphone or tablet, there are podcatcher apps you can use there. Some are free and included with the operating system on the device, for example the iOS operating system on your iPhone or iPad came with the Podcasts app. Many consider these built-in apps to be lacking in some ways and there are thus other podcatchers written by third parties available. For instance there is Overcast a free podcast player for the iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch. If you are an Android user, there is a wide range of apps to choose from; ranging from free apps like Player FM and Podcast Addict, free apps with in app purchases like Podcast Republic to paid apps like DoggCatcher.
As for the podcasts themselves, there are a wide variety of photography related podcasts. You will probably find, as I did that there are some you really enjoy and others that you don’t really like. The podcatcher apps let you search by topic to find podcasts that you can try out and subscribe to. Here are some of the podcasts that I enjoy.

  • Tips from the Top Floor hosted by German photographer Chris Marquardt is the longest running photography podcast, with over 700 episodes, and focuses more on the creative aspects of photography than the gear as some podcasts do.
  • The Candid Frame hosted by Ibarionex Perillo author of Chasing the Light: Improving Your Photography with Available Light (Voices That Matter) has each episode taking the format of an interview with a different photographer, focusing on their creative process and projects they have undertaken.
  • The Digital Story hosted by photographer and author Derrick Story publishes half hour episodes where photography news is covered along with one or two more in depth looks at some topics.
  • PhotoFocus has various hosts and publishes three (soon to be four) episodes per month. These take the form of interviews with photographers (two per episode) interspersed with question and answer shows in which the hosts answer questions that listeners have sent in.
  • Shutters Inc. hosted by audio engineer and part-time phographer Bruce Williams, with photographer Glynn Lavender hails from Australia and takes the format of a chat between the two. This irreverent pair crack jokes and poke fun as they discuss photographic news items and news from their own lives.
  • This Week in Photo, also known as TWIP is another long running podcasts hosted by various photographers, some of whom also host their own podcasts. They cover the weeks news and usually pick one or two stories to discuss at length. TWIP is also the parent organisation behind a number of other, more focused podcasts, such as Street Focus hosted by Valerie Jardin, All About the Gear, a video cast reviewing the latest gear and TWIP Talks an interview based show. All of these can be accessed via the TWIP web site.
  • The Martin Bailey Photography Podcast is hosted by Tokyo based British photographer Martin Bailey and covers largely nature and landscape topics. Martin runs several annual workshops around these themes. He has an annual one to photograph the snow monkeys and winter landscape of Hokkaido, was recently in Namibia and is planning a workshop in Iceland this year.
  • PhotoNetCast is a podcast produced in a cooperation between several photography bloggers. The about page says, “Our idea is to stand out from the crowd and turn this podcast into a more relaxed and dynamic feature with a roundtable format. Instead of delivering the common ‘how tos’ we intend to bring our own opinions and discuss the latest news going around in the photography world with a special focus on what is released by photography bloggers. This, of course, doesn’t mean that we will not try to make it educational.”

Steve’s Corner #1

Originally posted in the January 2016 issue of the Helderberg Photographic Society newsletter.

Nettie has asked me to contribute a regular column to our newsletter. I am a computer programmer by trade with thirty plus years of using and writing software, so I will be focussing on software and the computer side of photography. I welcome questions from members and will research and answer them in future columns.

For this first column, Nettie had the following suggestion; “How about explaining the differences between:  Photoshop; Elements; Lightroom; Faststone; Gimp; Picasa  …. Not too much technical stuff – just enough for someone to decide what would best suit them.”

Having used most of these applications I can address this question as follows;

  • Adobe Photoshop – Long considered the flagship of image editing applications; despite the name, it was originally intended for graphic designers. Photoshop is hugely powerful, but also hugely complex, with a user interface (UI) that has grown organically as new features were added since the original release in 1990. While the original release was exclusively for the Apple Macintosh, Microsoft Windows support was added later and today, the application is functionally identical on Mac OS X and Windows. Photoshop can no longer be purchased as a standalone app and is available only as Photoshop CC, a component of Adobe’s Creative Cloud suite of applications. Photoshop operates directly on images on disk, using a component known as Bridge to allow users to browse and manage their image files. When a file is edited, changes are destructive, physically changing the file unless a copy containing the changes is made. There is wealth of information available on the Internet to help solve problems and answer the questions you might have about Photoshop. Be aware though that it is not always possible to blindly follow tutorials you find as they may be for a different version. In some cases menus may have changed  requiring a different way to access functions or if the tutorial is based on a newer version, the one you have may not have a function mentioned at all.
  • Adobe Photoshop Elements – A “lite” version of Photoshop, Elements is targeted more at the consumer or hobbyist, whereas Photoshop targets professionals with more advanced editing requirements. The UI of Elements is somewhat different to that of Photoshop with the same function that might be available in Photoshop being accessed from a different place in the menu tree and having a different appearance. Unlike Photoshop, Elements is available to purchase as standalone software for both Mac OS X and Windows. It can be purchased online for download from Adobe’s web site or as a physical, boxed product available from photographic or technology stores.
  • Adobe Photoshop Lightroom – A newer addition to the Lightroom family, available for both Mac OS X and Windows, that is aimed directly at photographers. Unlike Photoshop and Elements, Lightroom does not work with images directly from your disk. Rather, images are imported by creating a record in a database that holds a reference to the physical location of the file, along with information about the file. Changes are known as non-destructive and are not made directly to the image file; they are stored in the database as processing instructions that are applied when an image is exported. A common question from those new to Lightroom is “How do I save my images?”; the answer is that you don’t. Processing instructions are saved to the database as you work and it is only when you want a final image that you export your image using various instructions to control what your desired result. So you process your image and can then export different versions; perhaps a high resolution version for print and a smaller low resolution version for emailing or uploading to a web site. Like many aspects of Lightroom these instructions can be saved as presets and then reapplied to other images with a single click. For example, I have presets for exporting images I wish to display at the club. I created these once and now can correctly size and name my images by simply invoking those presets. Lightroom, in its current LR6 version is available as a standalone application, but is also available in Lightroom CC form as a component of the Creative Cloud suite. Creative Cloud applications are subscription based, available only by download and frequently updated. For example, although Lightroom 6 and Lightroom CC were released at the same time, Lightroom CC has seen the addition of new features that will only be released in the standalone Lightroom 7.There is however doubt over how long Adobe will continue to release new standalone versions. Adobe makes available a Creative Cloud Photography plan that offers both Lightroom CC and Photoshop CC, along with some extras for $9.99 US per month. This ends up being cheaper or roughly equivalent to the cost of the standalone Lightroom 6 while providing the full Photoshop as well. Despite the fact that my subscription has been increasing each month due to the falling Rand, I think this is still a good option. I do the vast majority of my image editing in Lightroom.
  • Gimp – Gimp is a free, open source application that stems from the Linux operating system. It is also available for Mac OS X and Windows. Gimp is similar in nature to Photoshop but has a very different interface that will seem unfamiliar to most Windows and Mac OS X users. While it supports most functions that Photoshop does, it may not do so in such a polished manner. Where a single Photoshop function might ask you to enter some settings then seem to perform magic, with Gimp you may need to perform several operations that Photoshop is transparently performing in the background. I would suggest not trying to use Gimp unless you are an experienced computer user able to use Google to find answers and to be able to understand and interpret what you find. There are far fewer simple step-by-step guides available for Gimp than there are for Photoshop. Still, if you are tightly constrained financially, the free price of Gimp is rather attractive and might be worth a look.
  • Picasa – Picasa is free software from Google. I haven’t personally used it in many years but the welcome page says; “Picasa finds and displays photos from your computer. Your original photos are preserved. You’ll see photo edits only in Picasa until you save your changes.” This sounds similar to the way Lightroom operates, where you export versions of your images that have your processing applied. Reading about Picasa on Wikipedia I get the impression that editing features are fairly basic. But it is a free application so if you need some software, feel free to try it out.
  • Polarr – Polarr is a new image editing application for several desktop and mobile operating systems. I have heard it mentioned but not yet tried it myself. Windows Central published this review that you can read to find out more.
  • FastStone Image Viewer – FastStone, available for Windows only,  is an image viewer with a good complement of basic editing tools. It is my image viewer of choice and I sometimes use it for quick edits on JPEG files I want to tweak in some way. I would however not suggest anyone try to use it as their main image processing application.
  • IrfanView – IrfanView is an image viewing application roughly equivalent to FastStone. It is an older application and while FastStone has the more modern UI, IrfanView may have the edge on editing tools. Like FastStone though, it should not be used as your primary image editing tool.