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Mediterranean Reprise

Ponte Vecchio Florence, Italy Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Ponte Vecchio
Florence, Italy
Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Followers may have noted that I have not been posting lately.  To my own surprise, my most recent post was in March.  I seems hardly possible that 2 months have passed, but they have been 2 of the most action-filled months in my recent years.  Life has a way of taking twists and turns.  I have mentioned here that about 3 years ago, we purchased a home in Clearwater, Florida, which will be our retirement home eventually.  There is still lots more to explore and do in Florida and much of it will probably have to wait until I am permanently down there, which is not yet:-).

Trevi Fountain Rome, Italy Copyright 2013  Andy Richards

Trevi Fountain
Rome, Italy
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

I thought I would follow the travels of my friends, and feature some of my “off the beaten” path images of those iconic places

But it was time for another “phase” in the process.  For 3 years now, I have been living essentially by myself (my wife and our dog spend 90% of their time — blissfully — in our Florida home) in a near 3000 square foot home here in Michigan.  It was time for me to move on from there, and so we put several months of effort and a few dollars into modernizing the home we lived in for 24 years and put it on the market.  I keep saying I should have bought a lottery ticket at the same time.  It sold in a weekNeedless to say, I wasn’t ready, and I have spent much of my missing-in-action time (essentially every non-working minute), cleaning and packing up 30 + years worth of accumulated …. we’ll call them “things”:-).  Some serious down-sizing was also in the mix.

The ubiquitous black gondola (shown here with the also common blue cover) is a favorite subject of photographers Copyright 2013  Andy Richards

The ubiquitous black gondola (shown here with the also common blue cover) is a favorite subject of photographers
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

Now I am moved into a much smaller 2 bedroom rental condominium with no maintenance duties and just right size for me.  I have high hopes this summer of golf, biking, running and photography (oh, and that pesky career thing, too :-)).

VENICE_STREETS Venice, Italy 091220130039

Streets of Venice Copyright Andy Richards 2013

As I follow Facebook, I am struck by that fact that at least 3 of my friends and acquaintances are or have recently traveled to Mediterranean Europe.  As readers here know, I have been on two cruises there.  I must like it, because we just booked another one for 2017, with the same friends who traveled with us last time (they must like it too:-) ).GRAND_CANAL Venice Italy 091120130109

 

I must like the Mediterranean.  I have been on 2 cruises there and now have booked another in 2017

It has been fun to see so many images that I captured myself, of places we visited.  But one thing that seems to be consistent is that the images are of well-known primary places all visitors go to see.  It is pretty likely that the tour guides follow pretty much the same menu.  I have a couple mentors who have encouraged me over the years to look to see things other than the icons, and to “see” things happening around me with my camera.  Moving to the “small” camera for my travel has no-doubt fostered this approach.  So, I thought I would follow the travels of my friends, and feature some of my “off the beaten” path images of those iconic places.

Streets of Venice copyright 2013  Andy Richards

Streets of Venice
copyright 2013 Andy Richards

Venice is my (so far) favorite place in Mediterranean Europe.  For a photographer:  “eye-candy” everywhere you look.  20 years ago, I would have burned up all my film in Venice during our 4 day pre-cruise visit!  I’ll just re-post a few here.

Grand Canal at Night, Venice, Italy copyright  2013  Andy Richards

Grand Canal at Night, Venice, Italy
copyright 2013 Andy Richards

We have been to Athens 2 times and are destined for a third.  There is so much European history to photograph there.  Perhaps my best effort there is this image of these young military men, on flag raising detail at the Parthenon.

Flag Detail The Acropolis Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Flag Detail
The Acropolis
Copyright Andy Richards 2015

In Rome, there are so many iconic images, including the Trevi Fountain, The Coliseum, The Vatican, The Pantheon and on and on.  One place everyone visits is the Spanish Steps, and I — like every other tourist, took my share of images on and around the steps.  The image here is looking back from a Roman street, with the normal activity of the local businesses, on the inevitable commercialization cropping up around this awesome example of classic architecture.

Roman Street Spanish Steps in Background Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Roman Street
Spanish Steps in Background
Copyright Andy Richards 2015

My favorite image from both my trips to Rome is this somewhat “reflective” image on a quiet Roman Street.

City Center Rome, Italy Copyright 2013  Andy Richards

City Center
Rome, Italy
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

When I think of Tuscany, I think of wine country, Florence and Pisa.  In Pisa, the “Leaning Tower” is obviously the attraction.  But the walled city and the other buildings are pretty impressive architecture, too.  Of course, you have to get that silly image of your companion “holding up the tower” too:-).  My  unique “takeaway” from Pisa was this detail shot of the marble.

Pisa, Italy Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Pisa, Italy
Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Florence is all about the grand shot from up on the high plaza of the entire city, and shots in and around the famous bridge passageway.  I got those, too.  But I was intrigued by Mussolini’s speaking balcony perhaps more than anything else in this city.

Mussolini's Balcony Palazzo Vechio Florence, Italy Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Mussolini’s Balcony
Palazzo Vechio
Florence, Italy
Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Provence is about wine and romance.  My images there hopefully address that.

Aix-en-Provence, France Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Aix-en-Provence, France
Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Chateau la Dorgonne Provence, France Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Chateau la Dorgonne
Provence, France
Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Lots of cruises end in Barcelona.  We started there.  The city of Gaudi has pretty much unlimited photo opportunities for the creative.  Here are a couple of my favorites.

Palau De Musica Barcelona, Spain Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Palau De Musica Barcelona, Spain
Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Palau De Musica Barcelona, Spain Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Palau De Musica Barcelona, Spain
Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Barcelona, Spain Sony RX100iv Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Barcelona, Spain
Sony RX100iv
Copyright Andy Richards 2015

I will be doing my research soon for the next trip to this region in September, 2017.  Hope you enjoyed some of these re-treads.  Hopefully, I can get back to my regular weekly posting, now that life is returning to a normal routine.  Best regards and as always, thanks for reading.

The Michigan UP eBook is Finally Here!

Bookbaby_Cover_BlogFor the regular visitors here you have undoubtedly seen the sidebar banner: “Andy’s E-BOOK — Photography Travel Guides” with links to the Vermont eBook and reference to the in-progress, Michigan U.P. eBook. Anyone who has clicked the latter link has seen the disappointing excuse that it is coming soon (which has been there since sometime in 2012 not very “soon”:-) ). Those who go way back may recall that I originally offered both these books as PDF files back prior to the publication of the Vermont e-book in 2010. Circumstances after that made it impractical to offer the PDF files anymore.

The reality is that writing an eBook is a lot of work

But in spite of my best intentions, the Michigan UP project languished. Conversion to an ebook meant essentially re-writing the existing material, and substantially expanding it. And for anyone who hasn’t tried this, the reality is that writing a book is a lot of work (even when it is a “labor of love”). This one was no exception and many hours were spent getting it ready to submit for eBook publication. I needed help and some inspiration, and my co-author, Kerry Leibowitz came along at the right time. He had a lot of experience in the U.P., and we talked back and forth about our trips and shooting successes up there over the years. Over the years, Kerry made a number of helpful editorial comments and observations and I ultimately asked him if he would consider co-writing the book with me.

As is not unusual in our electronic age, Kerry and I have been acquaintances, crossing paths on a couple different photography “boards,” for a few years now, and yet, have never had the opportunity of a face to face meeting (though I believe it is just a matter of time before that happens). Some of you are sure to know him, and his work, but if you don’t, I encourage you to take a few minutes to follow the link here and go look at his imagery, and his blog. You will see that he is a very talented and knowledgeable photographer, and you will see just how fortunate that I am that Kerry agreed to co-write this book with me. With as much time on the ground in the UP as I have, Kerry’s addition to the book will be immediately obvious to the reader. And, we believe that our different approaches and the varied UP locations we have visited, conspire to create a more comprehensive and informational book.

The book is a reference guide for photographers to find photo-worthy places in the UP

Anyone who has photographed up there understands that it would not be possible to chronicle all the different places in the UP that are “photo-worthy” and this book does not claim to do that. Rather, it is an informational work (primarily) for photographers who want to make a trip to the UP and need to do some research on the possibilities, and more importantly, reasonably detailed directions for how to get there, and in many instances, when to get there.

We have included driving directions, approximate mileage in many instances, general-area GPS-coordinates (where they make sense), and our individual observations about the locations.

Available on Kindle from Amazon now, and other major e-platforms (iBook, Nook, Kobo and others) at major outlets like Amazon, the iBookstore and Barnes & Noble in the next few days; Kerry and I are very excited to offer the First Edition of “Photographing Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.” You can order this book by going to my link in the upper left corner of this blog page (really – there is a book and the link works now:-) ). While you are there, take a look at the Vermont eBook, too. I plan a major update and 2nd Edition in the coming months.

Thanks for reading and for your support!

Missing in Action (and Some R&R)

Clearwater Beach, FL Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Clearwater Beach, FL
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

I haven’t posted for a couple weeks.  That happens at certain times of the year.  This is one of those times.  We have traditionally taken a Caribbean Cruise during this period of Winter.  This year, we took a break from cruising, but spent the time allotted for that enjoying our Florida home and surrounds, with some of our cruising friends.

When I think of Clearwater (which is essentially where we are), I think of the cleanest, whitest, sandiest beaches around.  We have spent time on different parts of the Atlantic Coast and while the beaches there are wonderful, Clearwater Beach looks like it was filled with the “play sand” you buy at Home Depot!  When I land in Florida, my first impulse it to take my shoes off and change to flip flops.  And when I hit the beach, my first impulse is to take them off, and bury my feet in the sand.

Clearwater Beach FL Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Clearwater Beach FL
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

When I hit the beach, my first impulse is to remove the flip flops and bury my feet in the sand

But you can’t spend all your time on the beach.  There has to be time for good food and drink.  I have lived in so-called “middle-America” for over 30 years.  While my city has treated me admirably and I have known a great many wonderful friends, raised a family, and had a very good career there, one of my disappointments has been that for whatever reason, these communities do not support a large variety of great independent eating establishments.  The chains are the rule.  So one of my “vices” over the years has been to seek out nice restaurants and unique food opportunities when I visit areas that have them.  Well, we seem to have hit the mother lode in the Tampa-St. Pete area.  We have found a number of very nice restaurants, and there is a substantial Greek and substantial Cuban population in the area, which means some incredible food.  I have not yet eaten in a chain restaurant in the 3 years we have been in the Clearwater area.  And I really don’t intend to.

Palm Pavillion Clearwater Beach, FL Copyright Andy Richards 2012

Palm Pavillion
Clearwater Beach, FL
Copyright Andy Richards 2012

One of our favorites–The Palm Pavillion–is literally “on the beach” in Clearwater Beach and you can sit outside and see the beach-goers.  The food is good too, and it has become a favorite lunch destination.

Our community is actually Palm Harbor (home of the Innisbrook Golf Resorts, among other things).  We are bracketed to the north with Tarpon Springs, a great Greek community with Greek Orthodox Church, Greek Festival, and the nationally famous Sponge Docks.  It is a quaint little tourist destination, but the food is great.  I nice place to walk around in the sun (which shines often in Florida).  To the South, is Dunedin, an equally quaint, tourist destination, but with a very “local” feel and presence.  There are many residents of the area that frequent the downtown, which features several very good restaurants featuring Italian, barbeque, authentic Mexican, and more.  Dunedin has also become a destination for craft beer afficionados, with at least 4 local brew pubs and a couple very nice independent bars which specialize in wines and craft beer.  It is a welcoming and great place to walk or bike.  The Pinellas County Rail Trail runs right through the middle of Dunedin and it is usually well-populated with walkers and riders.  In addition to these more well-known attractions, the little downtown areas of Palm Harbor and Ozona have some really fine local bar/restaurant establishments and one 5-star restaurant (Ozona Blue).

Dunedin Restaurant Dunedin FL Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Dunedin Restaurant
Dunedin FL
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

We are fortunate to have a home in Palm Harbor which allows us to comfortably sit on our lanai and enjoy the sunshine, spirits and the occasional cigar:-), and our friends helped us enjoy that setting.  My great friend, Paul helped me open and sample this “bucket list” bourbon.  Very smooth, but not a bunch of character, in my own opinion.  But the bottle is pretty cool.

Willett Pot Still Bourbon Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Willett Pot Still Bourbon
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Couple things.  I don’t think I carried the camera, or turned it on the whole 2 week period!  All of the images here were made with my Blackberry “Priv” Camera.  I have blogged here about “going small” with my gear.  I am pretty impressed with the capability of this “smartphone camera.”  But fear not.  I have no intentions of ditching the Sony Gear.  These were basically just snapshots.  But I was glad to see the resolution allowed me to fine-tune these images in my post-processing software.

The eBook is Coming!

Second, an announcement and a tease.  Those who know me well know that I wrote an e-Book on photographing Vermont Fall Foliage which is available on the major e-book sellers like iBooks, Amazon, B&N, etc.   They also know that I have been working (for over 4 years) on an e-Book on photographing the Michigan Upper Peninsula (for those “in the know,” “The UP”).  Both of these books grew out of my notes of shooting locations and eventually, PDF files that I made available.  Well, after many fits and starts, and the addition of a co-writer, that UP e-book is at the publisher and I expect it to be available on the same outlets very soon!  So stay tuned for the major announcement.

Clearwater Sunset Clearwater, FL Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Clearwater Sunset
Clearwater, FL
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Like all vacations, this one had to come to an end.  The Florida Gulf is famous for its sunsets.  What better parting image (again, made on my “smart” phone), than a Clearwater sunset?

best regards,

 

Do You Have a Carry Permit?

I know you thought this was going to be about handguns.  Sorry.  I have occasionally engaged in deceptive titles to get you to click in.  And I am talking about “carrying,” so I hope you will  read on.  I  have spent (and you can read in numerous places elsewhere) a considerable amount of time talking about my personal shift to smaller, lighter, more travel-worthy gear. I have spent little time talking about how I transport my gear.

Millions of dollars have been expended in the photo bag industry – by manufacturers and designers alike. Names like Lowepro, Domke, Tenba, Tamrac, Think Tank, Crumpler, Case Logic, and many more, flock the internet. In those ever diminishing instances where you can find a retail photography shop, they take up substantial floor space (and I suspect are a drain for the shop-owners because of their inventory cost). Every photographer I know has a collection of old bags (including me, unfortunately) from the venerable messenger-style bag, to photo backpacks, slingbags, and rolling photo duffel bags. Some of us have several different bags we actively use for different purposes. But I’ll bet most of us also have several bags in a closet somewhere that haven’t been used for years.

There are basically two configurations; shoulder bags and backpacks

I am going to espouse an unconventional view here, but here is my personal take on some of the bags out there:

Some General Observations

Special purpose photo bags are designed to be used, essentially, solely to house and carry photo equipment. There have been many designs over the years, but there appear to me to be two basic configurations; shoulder bags, and backpacks. Most bags are a variation on one of these. The interiors of all the bags incorporate a system of padded dividers, often with Velcro edges to “customize” them.

Too Much Bulk. One of my “issues” over the years is that the padding creates a great amount of bulk in these bags, making them uniformly bigger than necessary. Of course, sellers and designers will point out that the padding is necessary to protect the hundreds of dollars’ worth of gear being transported. But I am not sure I agree. Maybe it is, if you are going to check a bag on the airlines, or ship it. But then you should probably have a specialized container for that. Most of us are not going to check our valuable cameras and lenses. Nope. No way. We are going to carry them on.

For the most part my own carry style, described below, gives me more than enough padding and protection for my gear. I am always cognizant that I am “carrying” (to borrow a concept from the gun folks), and am probably more careful about banging around, when I have the gear with me. In the field, I carry towels in case of rain or wet conditions, and they can be used, where appropriate, to pad and protect gear. You can also pack clothing items in and around them.

Too Limiting. Another issue for me is that most of the customizable divider systems don’t set up the way I would want my gear organized.

Not Limiting Enough. Fundamentally inconsistent, right?:-) By “too limiting,” I meant in terms of design. By “not limiting enough,” I am making reference to my comment above about what we think we need in the field. My carry style makes me think clearly and carefully about what I really need in the field to make good images. Because most of these bags are big, and because we can, these “designed” photo bags often motivate us to cram them full of all of our gear.

Shoulder and Messenger Bags

My Tamrac wide messenger bag serves as a storage bag and works well for shooting out of my car, when I am home-based. It is the only dedicated “camera bag” I own.

But it doesn’t carry well, or travel well. My experience with a shoulder style bag that is large enough to carry all of the camera gear you think you are going to need in the field, is going to be heavy on the shoulder, and unwieldy to carry in the field.

Backpacks

There was a time when I thought photo backpacks were going to be my solution to carrying in the field. They weren’t, and I ended up giving my LowePro photo backpack away. Then there was a time when I thought the combo backpack-travel case was going to be a good idea for me. It wasn’t, and I have a nice Think Tank Airport Express bag that takes up space in my basement (like so many similar items, I cannot get a fraction of what I paid for it, even though it is in like new condition, and I am too stubborn to let one of the reseller buy it for pennies and then make a profit on it). I looked at the slingbags and concluded they were really not that much more functional (for me) than a backpack. For travel, there are even roller backpack and duffel style bags these days. But since I will always carry on my expensive camera and lenses, this just makes them even more bulky and heavy.

For me, backpack style bags aren’t convenient to use in the field. If you want something out of them, you essentially have to take them down, set them on the ground (or on something), rummage through them, and put them back up. And, because they are made for our camera gear, most of us have a tendency to load them with everything we think we might need in the field. That makes them heavy, and therefore difficult to put on each time you have to do so.

I have, more recently looked at some of the smaller, messenger style shoulder bags. I think that if I was doing street shooting and wanted to be inconspicuous, I might use one of the newer style ones that are made not to look like a camera bag on the outside. But I probably won’t.

My two essential carry accessories: a vest and cargo pants or shorts

My Personal “Carry” Solution

This is my personal criteria. I want a simple, accessible, light and comfortable carry solution. I don’t want a dead weight either on my back or my shoulder. I want to be able to have quick and convenient access to the gear I need at all times. I would like my in-field accessories and gear to pack easily and lightly. That translates, for me, to two essential items: a vest, and cargo pants or shorts.

The Vest. I have made numerous references in my blog, my website and occasionally in these blog posts, about my “dorky” vest. And make no mistake, they are dorky. When I see someone walking around with one of those “travel vests,” even though I acknowledge their great functionality, I think they look dorky. But they are functional.

One of the best features of a vest is that it distributes the weight of your gear around your body. There is simply not the fatigue that I have experienced when carrying a heavy bag. And secondly, as I referenced above, it has made me think (and choose my vest accordingly) about what I really need to carry in the field. I try to carry only the things I am going to use. Over years of carrying everything in a heavy bag, I have enough empirical evidence to know that there are many items I own that I won’t use while out hiking around, and some that I rarely enough use that I don’t really need the bulk. Which all might beg the question: “if you don’t use it why do you have it in the first place?” And that is a topic for another blog.:-)

I don’t wear mine for travel; I pack it. I only wear it when I am actively in the field. I might wear it on the street, but probably not. These days I travel a lot out of the U.S. and pickpocketing is the norm in many of the overseas cities I have visited. I would think wearing a vest in one of those places would be much like wearing a placard that says “tourist; lots of pockets to pick.” I am not sure what the pro shooters who travel in these cities do. I have gone to such small gear for 99% of these excursions that I am able to do without any outer form of carry. My weapon of choice has been my Sony RX100iv, and it really doesn’t need much carry space.  When I travel, I pack my gear in one of several different kinds of standard luggage, including a messenger style carry-on, or a small, nondescript carry on bag.  The larger gear, including tripod and accessories that I don’t think will be stolen, or I can live without, will get checked in a standard luggage rolling duffel bag.

But the majority of my shooting other than travel and cities, involves dedicated trips and primarily outdoor and nature shooting. I carry more (and larger) gear in those circumstances.

So I use a vest; but not a “photo” vest. You can find and purchase a dedicated “photo vest.” Much like the bags described above, they are generally somebody’s idea of the ideal carry solution for all photographers. Problem is, we aren’t all the same. We don’t all shoot the same way, and we don’t all carry the same gear. Most of them are woefully overpriced, while being under-functional (if I can use that word).

I have learned by trial and error that the best vest for me has a limited number of small pockets and several large pockets. The large pockets work well for lenses and larger accessories. The small pockets work for small accessories, with a caveat. Too many pockets means working from the vest will become inconvenient and confusing. You need to be able to quickly access the item and remember where it is.

I have two vests that are both generic and fit the above criteria. Once was purchased years ago at a Woolrich (ironically, it is cotton) outlet store for $24.00. The second one (my reason for purchase was lighter, more modern and breathable fabric) was purchased at an Eddie Bauer outlet store for $35.00. The dedicated vests start at around $85 and can be found for upwards of $300, and aren’t as functional.

Cargo Pants/Shorts. Use of these for photography “carry” was pretty much an afterthought. Everyone who has used them knows the utility of cargo pocket clothing. My own use of them developed from a desire for convenient travel clothing. These days, I travel using the modern-day nylon and similar dry-tech type fabric for pants, shorts and shirts. I have a closet full of Columbia and North Face clothing that is made from these lightweight, breathable, and washable fabrics. They are comfortable, look reasonably presentable, can be hand-washed and hung to dry overnight, and are great for packing and travel. They are extremely lightweight. For cooler situations, it is easy to layer underneath them.

But the additional advantage to the photographer is that the ones that have the cargo style pockets are an additional place to stash gear and work from.

Something to remember is that this is a blog; indeed my blog. So I am not suggesting here that my way is right and yours is wrong. But I do get to express my opinion here. I also recognize that there is a reason for chocolate milk and white milk. So do what works for you and helps you get out and shoot. But it is worth giving some thought to what you carry and why.

Thanks for reading………….

Photography is Hard

These days, it seems like every time I log onto an internet site (especially Facebook), I see “8 Simple Steps to make your Photographs Awesome,” or “Follow These Simple Guidelines to Become a Pro Photographer,” or “Learn to Shoot Like the Pros” articles. Some of the folks writing these articles are good photographers.  Some of them (maybe most) are selling their site-based “lessons,” U-Tube videos, and the like. And there are lots of shooters who are self-proclaimed “experts” (I may be one:-) ).  Unfortunately, in many cases, their own work belies the claimed “expertise.”   So don’t kid yourself.  Photography is not simple, and it is not easy.  If it was, everybody would be Ansel Adams.

Photography is a mix of technical knowledge, artistic vision, and “perspiration.”

Photography is a mix of technical knowledge, artistic vision, and “perspiration.” The pros I know work at it. They work hard.  They practice their craft daily.  And like all of us hobbyists, they sometimes struggle to find inspiration for their work.

I am not suggesting that there aren’t aspects of photography that are simple enough concepts.  There certainly are.  The technical aspects of photography are not difficult to teach or to learn. The intrinsic aspects are.  They can be learned (though I sometimes wonder if the artistic aspect is something some of us have and some of us don’t – maybe that left-brain, right brain — and in my case, no-brain thing:-) ).  But like anything done well, it is going to take some work and a lot of practice.  So sure, go on out an buy a “nice” camera, subscribe to those on-line “lessons,” and have fun.  But don;t be fooled into thinking that is going to make success “easy.”

The technical aspects of photography are not difficult to teach or to learn

I read an article yesterday which struck the chord that inspired me to write on this particular topic. It was something like “The [pick a number] most common excuses photographers make for not shooting; and the cure,” or something similar. One excuse was, “there is nothing to shoot where I live.”  The author’s response was that this excuse was absurd; that photography was about “storytelling;” and there is always a “story.”  I don’t totally disagree (there’s a “but” in there—obviously :-)). There is always a story. But is the story always worth “telling?” Spend some time in flat, brown, suburban, “middle America” for a while and tell me all about “storytelling.” Not that there aren’t stories. But altogether too often, they have already been told, or aren’t interesting enough to be told. So the challenge is finding a new perspective for the story. And while that is definitely possible, it isn’t “simple.” It requires effort and sometimes a little good luck.  A lot of times these website claims are illustrated with a pretty flower closeup, or a macro image.  That’s great, and they are a wonderful, backyard subject to use to learn all about composition, depth of field, exposure, etc.  But you can only do so many close-up flower photographs before they become “been there – done that.”

There is always a story. But is the story always worth “telling?”

One of my pro friends often says (and he is quoting another, famous, photographer when he says it) that in order to make great photographs, you have to stand in front of great subjects (or something like that). There is a lot of merit to seeking out and traveling to great photographic venues.  Or at least new photographic venues.

Don’t get me wrong. I do not mean to discourage finding and seeking imagery in your proverbial “backyard.”  For some of us who don’t have the luxury to travel to great places to photograph, it may be the only thing we have.  Just don’t give me the “rah, rah” pep talk that I should carry the camera out into my neighborhood and I will find great photographic images. Maybe I will. But maybe I won’t. I do think, however, that there is a lot to be said about never being far from your camera, and always being vigilant for the photo-op. But there is no “magic” there. Work at it and practice, practice, practice (and this is the same formula a pro golfer, a lawyer, an actor and an engineer must use – perhaps the only exception is the modern politician:-) ).

Photoshop is Not Evil!

I don’t rant much here.  But, it’s my blog, and I’ll rant if I want to:-)

I  just recently read something on Facebook that struck a raw nerve. It was titled “The best 100 photographs ever taken without Photoshop.” NEWS FLASH:  You don’t “take” photos with Photoshop. For most of us, Photoshop is nothing more than a post-processing development tool for our images.  And by “Photoshop,” most of these inane commentaries really mean post-processing software (so, Lightroom, PhaseOne, OnOne, Nik, “The GIMP” and others, you are all in the same basket).  When I say “Photoshop” in this article, lets agree that I mean post-processing software.

NEWS FLASH:  You Don’t take photos with Photoshop

The silly title of this Facebook post is like saying, back in the days of film, “the 100 best prints made without a darkroom.”

There isn’t any doubt that post-processing software can be used in an abusive way – as could the old wet darkroom. But am I the only one that is tired of the shrill howls of the would-be “purists” who cry foul any time anyone uses Photoshop to in any way change the image that came straight out of the camera? Did we pass a law in the U.S. that forbids changing or “working” images out of the camera? And is there some new moral “standard” (set, of course, by the shrill criers) for what is “natural?”

Photoshop is not some evil software that has overtaken the photographic world and destroyed all good photography.  C’mon, folks. Lighten up. My imagery (even my nature imagery) is predominantly artistic. I have yet to shoot new footage, evidence photography or something purporting to be an exact replication of what “was.” And, I submit, even those endeavors are probably less “accurate” than supposed.

No matter what we do, there are factors in photography that distort reality

And it is a matter of digital “science” that in most cases, the images render by the in-camera computer needs at least some post processing to make an image presentable.  And that processing can be done without altering the so-called integrity of the image.  But what if I go further with my artistic image?  Why is there so much angst about this from so many people?

I’ll trust the viewer to make her own conclusions about believability

No matter what we do, there are factors in photography that distort reality.  At a bare minimum, perspective and lens focal length are significant factors. But unless I am submitting my photograph as evidence in the courtroom, or as support of a news article, who really cares? If a shot is “believable,” it is worthy. And I’ll trust the viewer to make her own conclusions about believability.

Some Thoughts on Photoshop and “The Cloud”

I am, for many things, a creature of habit. I learn or develop a way of doing things, and pretty much always do it that way. Sometimes that is a good thing. Some “process” ensures consistency and often protects against important omissions. In my post-processing, I have tried to develop a process which involves the same steps in the same order every time. I have tried to establish a “best practices” process and follow it consistently.

But sometimes habit is a bad thing. This is especially true in the digital world, where those “best practices” are constantly evolving as newer technology surfaces. Keeping up can be a time-consuming task, and a technique learned or a process established may be adhered to for a long time before I embrace something new.

“Best Practices” are constantly evolving

In June of 2103, following what has really become the current software model, Adobe moved to its “Creative Cloud” (CC). For those who haven’t figured it out (welcome to the 21st century:-) ), this means that after CS6, subscribers no longer own the complete program, resident on their local hard drives. Instead, Adobe licenses software to be installed on the drive that accesses the program from the internet. The “cloud,” of course, is a euphemistic, marketing-driven name for a remote hard drive that is continuously connected to the internet.  So now, the Photoshop software is on a remote drive somewhere — their hard drive; not yours.  The software that is installed on our devices through the CC licensing process just gives us the ability to log into and “read” their software (a very elementary explanation — I don’t have the digital “chops” to do better than that).

One major issue for many of us is that we like control. We want to own the software, and set it up the way we want — on our own hard drive.  We want to control the cost to us (no annual subscription – just our “one-time cost of acquisition). And, we want the ability to tell Adobe to “take a hike,” but still own our version of Photoshop. Those are valid concerns. Many of my friends who I have spoken with about CC had said that they probably would never need or use a more advanced version than CS6 and they would just keep that up-to-date.

For me, there seemed to be two problems. First, the annual subscription cost seemed a little steep. Second, and more importantly, I was (and still am) concerned that if I decided to stop the subscription, I would have no access to my PS files and no way to “work” them. My current “fix” for the latter issue is that I still have CS6 and if I had to, could work with it. On the subscription costs, their current model actually seems reasonable to me – particularly when I go back and look at what I generally paid to upgrade every couple years or so.

So why move to CC?

One reason is their “real-time” updates.  I am probably misusing the term “real-time,” here a bit. It is not like the Adobe developers are constantly tweaking and adding to the software so there are “improvements” every time you open a new session (though perhaps they are to some extent). But when they add new things to it, you get a notification and then you just upgrade. To be sure, you are paying for the upgrades with the annual subscription, but but once you get beyond that part, the process is pretty painless.

But wait; there’s more.:-). The “upgrade” process above does not really answer the biggest objection most of the folks I have talked to have. They just don’t see the need to upgrade constantly. Many only upgraded every other time or less often (and before they shifted to the cloud-based only program, Adobe started making that more difficult).  And the argument: “what more can Adobe add for photographic post processing that we really need beyond CS6?” still loomed pretty strongly. There is certainly an economic incentive to Adobe (and other providers) to have us constantly upgrade. In fact, it may be the price of progress.

In 2014, I subscribed to CC, thinking I would try it and could always drop the subscription.  At the time of this writing, I still have CS6 fully installed on my machine, but it hasn’t been used in months now. I may be getting just comfortable enough to uninstall it.

You have to re-install all of your Photoshop Add-ins

Time and life got in the way, and I didn’t really start using CC until sometime in the Spring of 2015. One reason was the work involved in re-installing all my add-in softwares.  You will have to re-install them (like Nik and OnOne). And of course, there would be a (small) learning curve. But once I started using it, I have been doing so exclusively.  Here are just a couple items I have found useful in my own workflow.

Adobe Camera Raw (ACR)

Perhaps the biggest improvement in my view has been the constant upgrades to Adobe Camera Raw (ACR). We have, of course, had very much enhanced ability to make significant image adjustments in ACR since its process versions 2010 and 2012 (which are available in CS6). I only very rarely make image settings (like levels and curves and color correction) in Photoshop anymore, as they are so much better when made in ACR. But while Adobe is continuing to upgrade ACR for use with CS6, there are some new options in the CC version that I do not believe are available to non-CC users.

Manual Lens Corrections. This one is a bit of a misnomer in my view, as it is really perspective corrections which can be made as raw adjustments. I have begun using it, especially for my wide-angle, buildings and structures shots from my travel photography. When you are moving rapidly and often shooting handheld, it is pretty difficult to make the adjustments often necessary for good architectural shots, so this is a great tool. It has slider adjustments for leveling, for tilting both vertically and horizontally, among other things. It is designed with the lens correction data in the database in mind.

There is also a more sophisticated vignette control here.

Like it or not, Photoshop CC is here to stay

Radial Targeted Adjustment. There are a number of other new features, including the continually improving targeted image adjustments interface. They have added a “radial” targeted adjustment tool, which works somewhat similarly to the Nik control points (though perhaps not yet as sophisticated).
Sharpening and Noise Reduction. Again, much of this is available in the CS6 (and perhaps earlier) version. I don’t currently do any of my noise detection and removal or my pre-sharpening in ACR. I am not sure whether I am missing the boat here, or on solid ground, but I have been using the Nik add-in software to do both of these. I may experiment with the sharpening again, but probably will rely on Nik to do my noise control.  I am sure there will be more to come, as users demand it and technology supports it.

Photoshop CC

One really cool feature that is new to CC’s latest version is the ability to convert any layer to a smart object. Working with a smart object on an image you may plan to do a lot of work on is a good idea, because you can go back and re-do or adjust changes. This is particularly true for the more complicated adjustment layer process that the Nik software (and, I presume, OnOne) uses. Once you press the “done” button in those programs, you cannot go back and rework the layer – unless it is a smart object. Previously, when I wanted to do this, I would open the image from ACR as a smart object. But I found this cumbersome – largely because it seemed like the process was processor consumptive and make work slower. So often, I am lazy and don’t open smart objects. Now, if I decide I want to go back into, say, a Viveza layer, I can simply convert that layer to a smart layer and it works just great – after I have opened the image in Photoshop.

Photoshop CC now also allows you to add a layer as an ACR layer, providing some of the ACR adjustments (though at this time, I am not sure why you would do that instead of just originally opening the image in ACR).

We all have our own approaches and favorite software, tools and techniques for post-processing.  These are just a few of the things I have learned and am using.  Like it or not, I am afraid CC is here to stay and for the time being, I have embraced it.  I will try to come back here from time to time when I learn something new that might be of interest to other photographers.

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