Monday, April 27, 2009

Setting Up For Digital Printing

Producing digital photographs that are of similar quality to 8"x10" darkroom prints requires a procedure that is significantly different than what is required to make photographs for email or a website. Every stage of the procedure is different. When using the camera choose the highest quality image and the largest image size. This will vary with the camera. If the camera offers a choice between High Quality JPEG and RAW – choose RAW. RAW is a higher quality image.

In Photoshop the editing choices that are analogous to the darkroom are

Levels > brightness test strips and contrast filters
Magic Wand > burning and dodging
Clone Stamp Tool > spotting

Photoshop can be confusing because it offers many more choices than a darkroom. Most people who use a darkroom would not use split toning , solarization, developing film in Pyro film developer, multiple printing or compound their own printing chemicals. These types of options in Photoshop are so much more tempting to even the most casual user. It is important to not let editing options be taken more seriously than composition.

Printing quality is determined by the quality of the ink and the paper. Printers that do not use pigmented ink and photo quality paper should not be considered. Canon, Epson and Hewlett Packard make the best ink and papers. There are also high quality third party manufacturers of pigmented ink and photo quality paper. Printers that use 2 cartridges produce lower quality prints than those that use 4 or more cartridges. The colors are less vibrant with 2 cartridges. Paper similar in price to standard computer paper should be avoided. The paper of choice should be labeled as photo paper. Too much of the ink soaks into inexpensive paper and tonal separation and color accuracy are the result. Buy the most expensive paper you can afford.

Making digital prints can be challenging, but once a procedure is established, it requires considerably less space than a darkroom.

©2009 Paul Light all rights reserved

Varying Shutter Speed and Aperture with Point-And-Shoot Cameras

Point-And-Shoot cameras have democratized photography. Having a camera that is low cost, easy to carry in almost any situation and allows the user to ignore all technical variables results in a camera where one can concentrate on framing, where to stand and the quality of the light. This is a wonderful way to make photographs. Technical variables should be secondary to composition, but by limiting one's technical options compositional options are also limited sometimes. Although it is not possible to turn a point-and-shoot camera into an SLR thru clever workarounds, these cameras technical options can be stretched a bit by working with ISO changes.

By varying the ISO the camera changes the shutter speed and aperture for any given situation. Changes in shutter speed make motion look different at different speeds. This is most evident when the motion is going across the frame. By taking several photographs one can watch how motion is rendered on the monitor giving the camera operator a little bit of ability to control how motion is rendered. It is not even closely equivalent to the options to vary how motion is rendered with an SLR, but it's better than nothing.

Changes of aperture can be obtained the same way, but the results are much less significant. The shorter the lens the less significant the change of aperture. The closer the camera operator is to the subject the more changes in aperture become noticeable with any lens. Point-And-Shoot cameras have very short lenses making it very difficult show variations from changing the aperture under any set of conditions.

Lastly – It is important to not loose sight of what the ISO control’s intended use is. It is for reconfiguring the camera controls to handle various lighting conditions. Typically in a sunny, open outdoor setting one might use an ISO of 50 or 100 and indoors use an ISO of 400. If on auto ISO, the camera would make similar choices. The larger the ISO number the greater the chance of the photograph having large areas of colored speckles. The technical term for this is noise. Also the larger the ISO number the softer the colors are and texture starts to fall off.

©2009 Paul Light all rights reserved

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Photography Magazines Online

When I began photography I read Aperture (USA), Camera (Switzerland) and Creative Camera (UK) as a means of keeping in touch with what was going in photography worldwide. This was 1970. There were no online magazines. There was no Internet. Camera and Creative Camera are gone. To the best of my knowledge Aperture has no immediate plans to offer their magazine online. There are lots and lots of other magazines online. I suspect most, if not all of them, are free. A list called “40 Amazing Online Photography Magazines” has appeared on Delicious. I am only familiar with a few of these. I look forward to looking at all of them. Having seen most of the major galleries and museums go online has greatly elevated the visibility of photography as art. However there continue to be magazines offering work that is truly amazing that hasn’t appeared in major gallery or museum shows yet. This is a great new way to see that art.

All text unless otherwise noted is ©2009 Paul Light. All rights are reserved.

Monday, April 13, 2009


A tripod serves two functions - providing a support to allow sharp photographs at shutter speeds that are too long for hand holding a camera and for precise framing. My first tripod was a Vivitar tripod. It was the cheapest tripod in the store. After a year or so I realized why it was priced so low. All of the adjustments quickly broke down after about 100 hours of use. They sorta worked. Sometimes they needed to be stabilized with tape. My next tripod was an original Tiltall Tripod. This was what professional photographers were using at the time. The difference was evident within minutes. The adjustments were tight and precise and stayed this way without the aid of tape. This tripod worked very well until I accidentally destroyed it while using it by salt water after 16 years of near daily use.

I now use a Induro C314 Carbon 8x C Series tripod. It goes up to  67.8" without the center post extended. The head is a Really Right Stuff BH40 LR Mid Size Ballhead. It's a great tripod and head, but a bit expensive for anyone new to photography. The Tiltall tripod company has been sold and resold. The quality of the current model is well below the quality of the Tiltall tripod that I bought in 1972. Used ones manufactured by Leitz are still available and are worth buying. For a new tripod I recommend the Manfrotto 394 Tripod and QR Ball Head.

All text unless otherwise noted is ©2012 Paul Light. All rights are reserved.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Repieced Multiples

This was done in Adobe Photoshop CS4. This can also be done in Photoshop 6, Photoshop 7 and probably Photoshop 4 and Photoshop 5. It can also be done in Photoshop CS, Photoshop CS2, and Photoshop CS3. It cannot be done in Aperture or Lightroom. It probably cannot be done in Photoshop Elements. I start by opening an edited tif file that is 16 bits and 300 dpi. I then go to the file menu and choose new. I choose a custom preset, choose the width and height that I want the final print to be, I chose a resolution of 300, color mode of RGB, a bit size of 16 bits, and background contents of white. If I know the paper I plan to use I enter it’s color profile otherwise I choose a color profile of Adobe RGB (1998). For Pixel Aspect Ratio I choose Square.

I go back to the first file and go to the Layer Menu and choose Flatten image since I use layers in most of my editing. I am careful NOT to save the image edited this way because I will be continually redoing edits on this file. I next crop a section of the image. I then click on the Move tool to drop a copy of this into the white new image. I then go back to the original image undo the crop, do a new crop and move that onto the new image. I continue this process with lots of variations. Each move is a layer and can be observed as controlled in the Layer menu. When the new image gets to 5GB or so I will flatten it and then do more editing rather than risk having an image that is difficult for the computer to process.

Text and photograph is ©2009 Paul Light. All rights are reserved.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Manual Camera Controls

All cameras once had focus, shutter speed and aperture as manual control mechanisms. Over time camera designers realized that by making these automatic, cameras could be sold for less money and more people would find cameras easy to use. More expensive cameras offer the option of both automatic and manual operation. Although it is often not critical to have manual access to these controls, having access to them opens lots of new visual possibilities. Placing a subject slightly out of focus or way out of focus can be interesting since this is not a capability our eyes have to the same extent. Being able to manually control shutter speeds makes it possible to freeze motion and blur motion. Changing the aperture changes how much is in focus other than the main subject.

Controlling the focus is done by moving the switch on the side of the lens from AF (or Autofocus) to M (or Manual) and rotating the lens barrel to the desired focus.

To change the shutter speed, go to the dial on top of the camera. This is called the Exposure Mode Dial. There are 4 adjacent settings. On some cameras it is P S A and M and on the rest it is P Tv Av and M. Choose S or Tv depending on the camera. This allows one to choose any shutter speed while the camera automatically chooses an aperture that allows the correct amount of light to hit the sensor so that the photograph comes out just the right brightness. On the top front of the camera there is a sub command dial. On my camera this is a small wheel directly in front of the shutter release button. At the top of the Digital Control Panel two numbers appear side by side. The one on the left is the shutter speed. The one on the right is the aperture. By turning the camera on and pushing the shutter release button half way down the panel should light up to show the shutter speed. By rotating the sub command dial the speeds should change. One and two digit speeds require the use of a tripod to get a sharp focus. One and two digit speeds will blur motion and three and four speed numbers will freeze motion. This is most visible when the subject is going across the picture.

To change the aperture go to the Exposure Mode Dial. Choose A or Av depending on the camera. This allows one to choose any aperture while the camera automatically chooses a shutter speed that allows the correct amount of light to hit the sensor so that the photograph comes out just the right brightness. At the top of the Digital Control Panel two numbers appear side by side. The one on the left is the shutter speed. The one on the right is the aperture. By turning the camera on and pushing the shutter release button half way down the panel should light up to show the aperture. By rotating the sub command dial apertures should change. Small numbers provide a minimal range of focus and large numbers provide a maximum range of focus. This is most visible at close distances. It is very important to watch how the camera chooses the shutter speed. If the camera chooses a one and two digit speed the use of a tripod is required to get a sharp focus.

A good way to simulate shutter speed and aperture changes is to go to

All text unless otherwise noted is ©2009 Paul Light. All rights are reserved.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Harry Callahan Part 1

I admire the diversity of Harry Callahan's photography. He worked in more stylistic areas than anyone I can think of. He may be the closest that photography has come to producing someone equivalent to Picasso. He moved back and forth between a wide variety of cameras and lenses, color and black and white, straight photographs and altered photographs.

First his series of his wife Eleanor

Eleanor Chicago 1947

Eleanor Chicago 1949

Eleanor in Hugo Weber's Studio, Chicago, 1950

Eleanor Chicago 1951

Eleanor Chicago 1952

5 photographs in 5 years in Chicago. Each of the same subject in styles so diverse it could be 5 different photographers.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

High Dynamic Range (HDR)

When I first read about HDR imaging in George DeWolfe’s “Digital Photography Fine Print Workshop” I was very impressed at what it could become. Now that we have Photomatix, I am less impressed. HDR began as a tool in Photoshop. It was designed for situations where the contrast range of an exposure was too long to capture both the shadows and the highlights. The solution was to take a photograph for the shadows and a second for the highlights and combine the two images in Photoshop using Photoshop HDR. At the time DeWolfe's book was published, there was a Photoshop HDR plug-in called Optipix which was easier to use than Photoshop HDR.

Much of the HDR work I see just doesn’t look real. Enhanced would be the wrong word. It’s too clean and too dynamic to be appealing. I look at Ansel Adams Moonrise Over Hernandez or Winter Sunrise from Lone Pine , I am deeply impressed by the tonal range. When I first read about HDR, my first thought was Adams would have loved this. Now I’m not sure. But there are people who are using this well. I think that Clearing Clouds: Mount Robson, British Columbia by Mark Houtzager is a really good use of HDR and hope to see more photographs like this in the future.

The following video offers a clear and concise explanation of High Dynamic Range image editing

A good article about HDR basics in the New York Times

Film Formats

In digital photography format is a lesser concept than with film. Due to the costs of medium and large format digital cameras few photographers use medium and large format digital cameras. Medium format digital cameras are often $10, 000 or more making them impractical for most people.
This is not the case with film formats.

There are cameras that shoot film larger than 35mm. These can be divided into two groups - medium format and large format. These cameras cost more than 35mm cameras.

Medium format cameras have some similarities to 35mm cameras. Some of these cameras look like oversized 35mm cameras. Like 35mm cameras, these cameras use a roll of film. Film is available in two lengths - 120 and 220. A frame of film from a medium format camera is 4 times larger than a frame of film from a 35mm camera. This means that an 8''x10'' print from a 120 frame of film will have the same print quality as a 4''x6'' print from a 35mm frame of film. There are also cameras that have reshaped the frame. The size of these is referred to in centimeters making a traditional 2 1/4'' x 2 1/4'' frame of film into 6cm x 6cm or simply 6x6. Popular alternative frame sizes include 6x4.5, 6x7 and 6x17.

Large format cameras, also referred to as view cameras, are quite different than 35mm cameras. They use sheets of film instead of rolls. Each sheet can only be used for one exposure. The sheets of film come in many different sizes. Two of the most popular sizes are 4''x 5'' and 8''x10''.

Each film size requires a separate camera designed to shoot only one size sheet of film. Almost all large format cameras require the use of a tripod. A sheet of film from a 4x5 view camera is 4 times larger than a frame of film from a medium format camera. This means that a 16''x20'' print from a 4x5 sheet of film will have the same print quality as a 4''x6'' print from a 35mm frame of film. A sheet of film from an 8x10 view camera is 4 times larger than a sheet of film from a 4x5 view camera. This means that a 32''x40'' print from a 8x10 sheet of film will have the same print quality as a 4''x6'' print from a 35mm frame of film.

View cameras are generally cheaper than medium format cameras, but medium format cameras can be easily used in a wider variety of shooting situations than view cameras.

Large format film cameras play a huge role in the history of photography. Ansel Adams, Walker Evans and Edward Weston – 3 of the most important photographers in the history of American photography all used 8x10 large format cameras. They didn’t use them for everything, but much of their best known work was done in 8x10. I’m not quite sure anyone has really determined what 8x10 film is in megapixels. My best guess would be at least 800 megapixels. I guess we will all know for sure as bigger sensors get cheaper. As things stand now you cannot make a photograph like “Moonrise Over Hernandez” with a digital camera.

As film photography moves into the background of mainstream photography I hear more and more students concluding that “Moonrise Over Hernandez” was made with 35mm black and white film. Film may not stay around for a whole lot longer, but for now the most practical way to produce large high resolution large prints remains film larger than 35mm.

All text unless otherwise noted is ©2009 Paul Light. All rights are reserved.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Paul Graham

The photography of Paul Graham is currently on exhibit at MoMA in New York. I think that he considers himself a documentary photographer judging from his introduction on his website.

I suppose I am not sure in some ways because the definition really broadens out a lot since Robert Frank’s seminal publication of The Americans in the 1950s. Like Robert Frank, Graham is first and foremost a museum photographer not a photojournalist. (Is museum photographer the real category? Fine art photographer sounds pretentious. I’m not sure what the proper term is for using museums and other fine arts display areas as a means of disseminating this type of work rather than thru news magazines). Also like Robert Frank, Walker Evans is a huge influence. The body of work on display shows groups of photographs dependent on repetition, narrative and viewing images as a group instead of a single image to show a single visual concept. The photographs fill a gallery and are sparingly displayed giving each more impact than if more groups were shown. Each of the photographs in each group are displayed in individual frames. I like the similarity to Robert Frank’s work in that Paul Graham choose to wander around the United States as an outsider trying to get an idea of what makes the United States what it is. Graham grew up in England. For the most part, the people in the photographs appear to have difficult lives. It was hard for me to get accustomed to seeing a concept expressed in a small group of photographs rather than a single photograph and on Graham’s website I found this type of display for this particular body of work made no sense to me at all. This is a new and exciting way of making documentary photographs.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Photoshop vs. The World

There is absolutely no doubt that Photoshop is the best image editing program currently available. But the price is a problem for non-professionals. Also it is complex - very complex. It is the type of program when opened it can fill one with fear rather than joy. This is a program that is not for everyone. Without Photoshop I would not have been able to create photographs like

Thank you Thomas Knoll. Thank you Adobe.

All photographs look better edited. But quite often all that is needed is basic darkroom stuff - brightness, contrast and selective adjustment of brightness and contrast in a few specific areas. Photoshop does this perfectly but simpler programs like Photoshop Elements, Lightroom, Aperture and even to some extent Gimp are more than adequate.