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Twilight; Sunrise or Sunset?

Sailboat; Naraganset Bay Sunset
Newport, Rhode Island
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Sunrise, sunset; Sunrise, sunset; Swiftly flow the days …”, voices the chorus of men from Fiddler On The Roof.  I am not sure it has any relevance, but whenever this topic comes to mind, I cannot help but conjure this earworm.

Otter Cliff Sunrise
Otter Beach, Acadia NP
Bar Harbor, ME
Copyright Andy Richards 2009

Something I read recently got me thinking about this topic (and, since it has been more than a month since I last was motivated to blog, it seemed like suddenly – finally – there was a subject to write about, on which I have experience, an opinion, and perhaps some gems of wisdom). As I did some quick and dirty internet research, I was a bit nonplussed to find that it was not my own original thought.  But I will go on anyway. 🙂

Horseshoe Lake Sunrise
Huron NF, Glennie, MI
Copyright Andy Richards 2008

Photography topics and opinions can be a rather polarizing subject (see what I did there? ) 🙂 . Canon vs. Nikon.  People vs. landscape.  Digital vs. Film.  Handheld vs. tripod.  Long vs. short lens. And of course:  sunset vs. sunrise.  Like the other debates, I find it a bit humorous that anyone would bite on the “which is better” question. And while we may have a preference, the true answer is obvious enough:  both.  And aptly, the title intro: “Twilight” also means both.

Inside Passage, AK Sunrise
Copyright Andy Richards 2010

It is, of course, conventional that the “best” time to photograph is during the so-called “golden hours” which occur shortly after sunrise and last for perhaps and hour and begin again, perhaps an hour or 2 before sunset. I used quotes around best, purposely.  I am not sure there is a single best time to shoot and in my world – more often than not – it is “when you can.” Indeed there are wonderful illustrative photos supporting the merits of shooting before and after the sunrise and sunset.  But here, I am talking about shooting the sunrise and sunset themselves.  Or at the very least, subjects directly bathed in it. Like so many of my images shot in rapidly developing conditions, some are of that “f8 and be there” variety, and others are planned and even re-shot.  The sailboat on Narragansett Bay is the former. I was photographing a lighthouse when the image began to develop and I had to just react quickly to make this image. The Otter Cliff shot, on the other hand, was the product of planning – before I left Michigan, and on several mornings while in Acadia National Park.  It was also shot, and re-shot, trying to achieve the optimal sunrise. Both seem to have worked for me. But there is always a component of planning for any photography. Here are some thoughts on that preparation – mental and practical.

Little Stony Man Sunset
Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
Copyright Andy Richards 2007

Practical Considerations:  There are multiple considerations for why you might want to shoot a sunrise, sunset, or both. On a practical level, there are considerations of subject and location.  Some locations obviously are affected by their orientation. Whether your subject faces east or west may factor into the decision of which time of day is best. In order to be ready to catch a sunrise shot (or shots), it is really necessary to be on location before the sun actually rises. This may mean hiking in to a location in the darkness.  It most certainly means scouting the location in daylight, and making some calculations about where the sun will be when you make the actual image. Software programs like the Photographers’ Ephemeris, can be an invaluable tool for this planning.

Soo Locks Sunrise
St. Mary’s River
Copyright Andy Richards 2005

Distractions are another important practical issue. It may well be that this phenomena is the single biggest reason why I have many more early morning images than sunsets. The main distraction is family and friends (and it may be more correct to point out that a photographer, if she is not careful, may be the distraction). This is particularly an issue during vacations and travel. My wife and I, and occasionally friends and family, enjoy travel. In recent years, we have traveled to a few parts of the world, and we certainly look forward to more of the same. But sunrise and sunset shooting presents a challenge in these circumstances. It is the rare non-photographer friend or family member who has the patience to accompany a serious photographer to shoot. Sunrise means early rising, which often makes for a long day. Sunsets invariably occur at the dinner/cocktail hours of the afternoon or evening.  For many of us, family and friend social time is important (perhaps more so than photography). My wife is not an early riser, so I have found that I can sneak away for some early morning shooting without disrupting the day plan much of the time. Sunsets are harder.  I have come to the conclusion that sometimes, I just need to go off by myself (or with a like-minded companion) on a “dedicated” photo excursion. I guess it is all about balance.

Clearwater Sunset
Clearwater, FL
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Aesthetic Considerations:  Aesthetics will always influence this decision. For example, I mentioned orientation above. This factor is also influenced by your desired lighting (i.e., backlighting, side, or front lighting). Perhaps one of the most significant aesthetic considerations involves compositional elements. For many years, I have sought “pure” landscape locations (“pure” meaning primarily to me: no people in the frame). These days, it seems that all the good locations are populated by tourists and other “viewers.” The vast majority of them are not serious photographers and it can often be a near-frustrating challenge to make a desired composition without someone in your frame.  With only a few exceptions, sunrises do not pose this problem. Only the unique “tourist” is out at that time of day.  Indeed, I have found that, even in my travel shooting in populated areas, that early mornings are the most productive for people-free imagery. As I have grown older, perhaps wiser, and more tolerant (my wife might disagree with this last characterization 🙂 ), I have concluded that there is often some merit in including people in imagery.

Aix-en-Provence, France
Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Photographic Considerations:  As I researched this aspect of the “sunrise/sunset” dichotomy, I learned – not surprisingly – that atmospheric conditions influence the photographic result. Sunrises generally have the characteristic of being clearer, cooler air. This is partly due to climatic conditions (is is usually cooler at sunrise than at sunset), and partly due to ambient influences (natural and man-made).  This often results in a lighter, photographically “cooler” and more contrasty image. The natural conditions are also more like to produce fog and mist – often low and dramatic.  A  significant exception to this may be the “marine layer” which is found along the northern west coast, where fog can be found almost any time of the day. But generalizations often trap us. The Horseshoe Lake image (one of my most successful sales images) was made during sunrise behind a cloud which produced a very diffuse, pastel light – in spite of the fact that the blue tint seems cooler (the blue tint is a characteristic of the film I used that morning – Fuji Velvia – in that kind of light condition). Likewise, cloudy conditions in the early morning produced a pastel-like light for the Alaska Inside Passage image. The sunrise image of the Bridge behind the Soo Locks perhaps exhibits more, the characteristics noted here. The morning was crystal clear, making conditions right for the sunstar image produce by the very small aperture, shooting directly toward the sun.

Sunset, Florida Gulf
Honeymoon Island SP
Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Sunsets, in addition to being generally physically warmer, also occur after there has been a day-long accumulation of airborne pollutants and wind-blown particles. Predictably, this often produces a more diffuse, softer, darker image. This sometimes results in surprising colors and it is rare that there aren’t variations from day to day. In my new home base on the Florida Gulf Coast, I hope for partly cloudy conditions as the sunset draws near, as that promises often spectacular colored skies, which are both pastel and brilliant at the same time. It is also sometimes the case that building storm conditions can produce dramatic conditions, especially when backlit by the setting sun.

Sunset over Cruise Ship
Carribean
Copyright Andy Richards 2013

What was interesting to me from my research was the science of all of this. Not really the technical side, but what it produces. I think I probably got the most insight from a painter’s website. The advice there and elsewhere to painters was fascinating. For sunrises, painters were advised that the clear skies of dawn yield more brilliant reds and oranges, and their palate should include yellow, bright orange, pink and blue, and emphasize the contrasts using dark blue on the sky and yellow on the horizon.  For sunsets, they are advised to use warm and dark saturated reds, oranges, magentas and purples.

Sunrise, Hateras National Seashore, Hateras, NC copyright Andy Richards

Personal considerations:  Some years back, I made a quick trip back to Vermont in late summer, to attend a funeral. On Sunday morning, I was invited to go to church with family members and friends.  I politely declined. I wanted some contemplative time, and I had packed some gear.  Instead, I left my motel room in the predawn light, in to photograph a waterfall I had been to many times in my youth, but never photographed. Arriving there just after sunrise, I climbed down a steep pathway and was rewarded with this beautiful waterfall and exclusive occupancy of the area.  Except for the pounding water, there were no other sounds and no other hint of humanity. My family and friends were in church, but I am certain that I was with God!

Cool (32 degree) temperatures following a very wet period created wonderful steam and colorful morning cloud conditions on this pond near Barton, Vermont
Copyright Andy Richards 2010

I have, in years since, often experienced this feeling of awe, being alone, or nearly alone as the world comes awake. It is a soul -cleansing experience for me. I know for others, getting up that early and mustering out is not a pleasant or desired experience. Ironically, that is good for me. As I get older, I understand the reluctance to rise that early 🙂 .

This shot involved a pre-sunrise, 20 minute hike down a very steep mountain trail on a Sunday morning.
I’d rather be here than in church any day!
Copyright Andy Richards 2008

I do appreciate though, after a long, good day, being there to watch the suns last rays of the day.

Sunset; Crystal Beach Pier
Crystal Beach, FL
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

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Book Review: “Outdoor Flash Photography,” by John Gerlach and Barbara Eddy

Suggested

What this book is in great need of, in my opinion, is experienced, professional, objective, editing

Catching Up …..

Wow.  My last post was at the beginning of May, 2 full months ago. I guess I have fallen into one of those “lulls.” Nothing new and notable on the shooting front, and nothing much unique to say.

Over the winter, I played around with B&W and “painting.” I read several books on those subjects, and reviewed a couple of them. More recently, something got me realizing that I needed to renew my acquaintance with supplemental and artificial light; and particularly, flash – the stroboscopic variety.

New Gear and Flash …..

Several years ago, I made a monumental (for me, anyway) change in my “gear.” Having been “married” to Nikon for nearly 40 years, I made a complete changeover to Sony mirrorless cameras. The primary reason for my changeover was not creative or technical. It was convenience; and in particular, size and weight. Along the way, I discovered some creative and technical advantages. These are not really attributable to brand, but to “new” and to features. Every manufacturer seems to have certain areas they do better than anyone else. If only I could build my own ala carte camera.

One thing Nikon did better than anyone else (in my view) and Sony seems to do worse than anyone else (again, in my view) is flash. I got spoiled with Nikon’s creative flash system. You see, flash involves math, and there is very little about math that is either appealing or comes naturally to me :-). Nikon took the math out of it and let me not have to “think” about it. Maybe that wasn’t such a good thing.

A detractor for many of us is cost. Brand-dedicated flash units are ungodly expensive. As much as a good lens. And sometimes you want to use multiple units – as much, or more than the camera!  And, flash units are complex, and befuddling: right?

I have absolutely no doubt that the authors of this book are consummate, professional photographers and workshop leaders, and that they really, really know their craft – in particular – the ins and outs of everything “flash.”

During my 40+ years of shooting, I have shot 98% natural light. I have, for sure, used flash (I even remember those big, blue, “lightbulbs” that bayoneted into a reflector on my Asahiflex, popped once and ejected – hot!). But I think it is time for me to start expanding my shooting, to include supplemental lighting.

So, I started reading. Always my go-to. And I learned that there are less expensive, after-market units out there (some good/some not so good).  Sure, they have compromises. My friend, Kerry Leibowitz, once said to me in an e-mail exchange, “everything about photography is a compromise. .. Everything.” So I am good with that. For 1/4 the cost (or less), I was able to find a Sony-compatible flash to play with.  Maybe I will review it at some point (after I understand more about it 🙂 ).

There is a lot out there to read. I am a book person. Hence, the review. But before I do, let me recommend the website, strobist. There is a huge amount of information, free for the reader, here. I have just begun to dig into it, but some would say it is all you need.  Me? I am still a book guy. I like to read and highlight and flag, and go back from time to time. I already had Bryan Peterson’s “Understanding Flash Photography,” so I started there (I highly recommend two other Peterson books: “Understanding Exposure” and “Learning to See Creatively“).

There is some really good material.  But you you really have to work for it.  And to me, that is off-putting, particularly in an “instructional book.” With some work, this book could be made into a pithy, useful, field guide that someone like me just might carry around with him. But not in its current version

So, The Book …..

Wanting to dig deeper, I started researching on Amazon. I have long known of John Gerlach, and his workshops, and the bulk of the reviews liked his book “Outdoor Flash Photography.” I had read some of his other books over the years, and was familiar with him, as he originally lived in my “backyard;” the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. As many readers know, I have spent some time up there and my “Photographing Michigan’s Upper Peninsula,” is a guide to many of the wonderful shooting opportunities there. So I bought the book.

“Suggested” …..

This book is in my “suggested” category (meaning, I don’t necessarily believe every shooter should have or read this, but I have it, or have owned it, and found some useful material there). But what makes this a “suggested” book rather than a “recommended” book is largely editorial style, unfortunately. There is some really good material in there.  But you you really have to work for it.  And to me, that is off-putting, particularly in an “instructional book.” With some work, this book could be made into a pithy, useful, field guide that someone like me just might carry around with him. But not in its current version.

As I looked at the different offerings, and the editorial reviews, I was struck at how often the description said something like, “demystifies” flash, or “contains unique material, not found anywhere else.” This book suggests that there is something unique about “outdoor flash photography,” and that there is no other resource out there that covers these topics.  But my research and experience demonstrates otherwise. To be sure, many, if not most of the resources out there have a heavy concentration on portraiture and even sometimes studio lighting techniques. But my conclusion is that there are some basic lighting principles that really apply to photography in general, and they are not that unique from genre to genre.

I would have no hesitancy to sign up for, and attend one of their workshops

Need For Objective Professional Editing

Readers here know I am good at digression.  But I want to say something here, to put my “critical” (“Critical: expressing or involving an analysis of the merits and faults of a work ….“) comments in context.  I have absolutely no doubt that the authors of this book are consummate, professional photographers and workshop leaders, and that they really, really know their craft – in particular – the ins and outs of everything “flash.”  And you only need to go to their website to see that their imagery is first class, and their workshops well-attended and widely praised.  I had the fortune of bumping into one of their workshops a couple years ago, while shooting fall colors and researching locations for my own Photographing Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and introduced myself to John.  He is a very nice man, with an undoubted bank of technical and locational knowledge.  One thing that really impressed me:  neither he nor Barbara had cameras in-hand.  It was their workshop and they were there to be a resource to the attendees.  I would have no hesitancy to sign up for, and attend one of their workshops!  I also studied nearly everything their own “mentors” (the late, Larry West, and John Shaw – both former Michigan residents themselves ) wrote and know the authors’ pedigree is estimable. Knowing this, I was mildly disappointed in this product.

What I was looking for was more of a hands-on, practical, experience-based text. How is “outdoor flash photography” different from “flash photography?” This book partially hits that mark, but it is a difficult path to get there! What the book is in great need of, in my opinion, is experienced, professional, objective editing. The term I would use to describe the current text is: “rambling.”

I would describe the author’s (while both John and Barbara are listed as authors, it is clearly primarily written in John’s voice) style as conversational.  Too conversational. It feels like maybe a day in the field, or in the lecture facility with John speaking. This style probably works well in person (he is said to be engaging and entertaining).  It doesn’t work in written form. As anyone reading here knows, I am all for an informal written presentation. But in written communication (especially instruction), there needs to be a certain level of formality, structure and organization. This book lacks that structure – in a way that makes it difficult to stay with it. Here are some specifics:

Style – The “conversational” style, as noted above, is off-putting. Sentences throughout the book are replete with misplaced modifiers, which I suspect is a matter of conversational usage, but is jarring when repeatedly read. This doesn’t affect the technical presentation of information, but it certainly makes it less effective. The frequent attempts at humor fall flat. Again, they probably work well as one-liners in an oral presentation, but they come across as borderline lame in a more formal, written text.

And words and phrases……..  I have always been a firm believer that good, strong writing and clear communication means simple, direct writing. It is good to vary word choice from time to time to make the writing less repetitive and more interesting (I use a Thesaurus frequently, when I feel that I have been repeating a single word too much). But the use of “big” words, or flowery phrases does not automatically make writing better or more interesting. Sometimes it is just best to say the word that applies in common usage – direct and simple. I have to believe that an objective, professional editor would eliminate the majority of these issues, and create a more straightforward, informative and readable text.

Relevance – Too often, the author wanders “off the reservation,” getting into totally irrelevant commentary which, while perhaps anecdotally interesting, takes us away from the subject matter of the book – flash photography. While some of it may have nominal relevance, a quick reference to it and “move on,” would be, in my view, much more effective. There is too much “Cannon vs. Nikon” philosophy, for example (I appreciate that these authors each use one of these systems, as do perhaps the majority of their audience, and surely there is some relevance to how these makers handle flash issues – but again, “just the facts ma’am” and then move on would be a good thing here). 🙂

Organization – The book is divided into 14 chapters. Respectfully, I do not believe there are 14 separate chapters of material here. I am not sure about publishing requirements and standards, never having personally done more than my own eBooks (which may not be models of clarity either). I have written enough to know that organization is not always an easy path, and there are always choices about how, where and when to present materials. But I truly believe this book could be condensed down to no more than 5 chapters. What we instead find here is a lot of needless (and I think, confusing) repetition.  In an effort to distinguish terminology and techniques, the author ends up repeating the same materials under different topics. The implication is that there is something different, and yet, there really isn’t (a great example is the segue from “fill flash,” “main flash” and “balanced flash.” After 3 long, repetitive chapters, it really boils down (and is implied, in my reading, by the book) that they are not really different categories. They are just applications of the flash fundamental that every flash exposure is composed of two exposures, one being the ambient light exposure and the other being the flash exposure. The rest is just understanding the relationships of the light sources, and how the technology in the units and cameras handle it.

There are many Positives …..

Having been critical, I have to say there are many positives to take away from this book. It is why I “suggest” it. I believe it is worth the work to slog through it and try to distill the very good information that is in there. I will go back and re-read, and take personal notes on this information and hopefully add it to my own kind of “field guide.” Here are some items I think are worthwhile information/tips from my first reading of the book:

  • The author gives one of the better explanations of how the strobe flash works, including flash duration, that I have read.
  • There are a couple comments regarding the use of flash when shooting waterfalls that I had not previously considered – particularly the ability to “freeze” water droplets while maintaining the “silky” look of the main waterfall in the image.  You can be sure I am going to experiment with that.
  • While most experienced users are aware of this, his explanation of how TTL in the flash unit relates to automatic and manual control of the camera was helpful.  He re-inforces why those of us who rely on “automatic” modes, because we don’t know better (or in my case, because we have become lazy), don’t get the results we expect.
  • There are some helpful tips on the placement of flash (particularly in close subjects) to maximize color and texture.

I could see it being transformed from an “eh” book, to one I would put on my “must own” list

The Takeaway …..

The paperback cost just under $27.00.  Today, that is a rather modest cost for a full, published, hard copy book. So I certainly didn’t feel put off or cheated by the purchase. And there was enough in it for me to keep it rather then send it back. But it would not go on my list of “must own under any circumstances” books.

What I think might be a dynamite re-work of this book would be to have some heavy editing, drilling down to the relevant, useful information in the book, perhaps adding some more practical and experiential information, into a shorter and perhaps smaller format (think “field guide”). I could see it being transformed from an “eh” book, to one I would put on my “must own” list.

Suggested

Are Photographers Losing a Battle of Attrition?

This is an image made on my Smartphone in 2016, and then re-worked in Painter Essentials
Copyright 2018 Andy Richards

There is a war out there. It is being fought in the trenches by professional photographers.  Most people are probably not even aware of it, but I think most pros are.

“Short messages,” emoticons, and on-line abbreviations, have “dumbed down” our world

Perhaps more than anything, it is a war about technology. They are not fighting technology itself.  Indeed, technology has by and large, been a great friend to photographers. The war exists in a new world order, in which photographic imagery is judged not so much by its technical and aesthetic merit, but things like “likes,” “reblogs,” and “tweets.”

Having been a lifelong early-adopter of all things digital, I spend a fair amount of time online, and on social media. So I see a lot of photographs out there on a daily basis. Over time, this has become more and more, an image-centric phenomena. Instagram, for example was created specifically as an image-sharing media. Twitter, a service designed pretty much specifically for “short-messages,” also has image-posting capability.  Perhaps the most well-known is Facebook, which not only allows posting in messages, but archives and makes available thousands of user-posted images.

Original Image made with Blackberry Priv Smartphone
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

In the past, I have lamented the negative effect of this “digital” phenomena. “Short messages,” emoticons, and on-line abbreviations (and I am as guilty as the next person of over using them), have “dumbed down” our world. I daily observe online presences that demonstrate a basic ignorance of grammar, spelling, and history. The assault on our language, history and culture stormed the beachhead a long time ago and has made major inroads, “inland,” so to speak.

But there is a photographic component now, to this, and that is what I am referring to when I suggest that there is a war out there.

That is not to say that it has made us better photographers. Indeed, it just may be that it has made it easier for the vast majority of us to just get lucky, with our images

At the same time, technologically, the equipment available to make photographs has moved light-years in the past 50 years. It used to be the case that in order to make a nice image (usually a large(r) print), the photographer would have to have a reasonably high quality camera, and use and understand film, exposure and focus (as well as have an understanding of some of the more refined technical and aesthetic qualities of a good photograph). Digital technology, with auto-focus, face-recognition, sophisiticated “automatic” metering capability, and higher and higher quality image-sensors and lenses, has simply made it easier to make a technically sound image.  That is not to say that it has made us better photographers. Indeed, it just may be that it has made it easier for the vast majority of us to just get lucky, with our images. Today’s leading “smart-phone” cell phones have some pretty impressive digital camera capability, both in terms of hardware, and of software (and since the vast majority of photographs today are presented as internet-based digital images, they can look pretty good.

This image was made with a Nikon SLR camera and color transparency film, and later scanned.
Copyright Andy Richards 1997

I have the privilege and pleasure of knowing some shooters who make their living as professional photographers. I don’t envy them.  Most of the ones I know have established their careers, and while they have had to adapt to these technological changes, continue to make a good living at their craft. But there are many who do not fare so well.  Particularly those who are what I might call generalists. When I moved into my small community, there were probably a dozen small, professional photography studios. They shot Seniors in the spring, weddings, family photos, and contract jobs. That number has dwindled. A day or so ago, I happened to notice a (digital) sign in front of a studio that I had never paid much attention to, but pass by nearly daily.  In large, bright letters, it advertised “50% off Senior Photos,” “no sitting charge,” etc. This was a studio that has been in business for over 50 years and was notably successful. 20 years back 50% off would not have been common and most certainly would not have been advertised.

Unfortunately, I do not see this as a war that will be won by “the good guys”

Personally, I don’t think this is because of competition from other professional photographers. Instead, I think it is based on partly perception, partly reality, that we no longer need professional photographers to shoot our portraits. I don’t have any empirical information, but I suspect that business for studio photographers is way below what it was a few years back.

This image was made with the “professional” Nikon D800 and a “pro” Nikkor Zoom lens. I was experimenting with depth of field.
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

This is rather short-sighted, and demonstrates a continuing erosion of our standards as a society. There are things a trained, professional photographer knows how to do that make photographic images. It is not about fancy equipment or secret formulas.  It is about study, hard work, and experience. Unfortunately, I do not see this as a war that will be won by “the good guys.”

Life and the Learning Curve

Beginning with the Ephesian Philosopher, Heraclitus, it has often been famously said that “change is the only constant.”  I recently purchased yet another version of my preferred textbook on Photoshop by Martin Evening: “Adobe Photoshop CC for photographers” (formerly “Adobe Photoshop for Photographers”); now “version 2018”.  My last version was purchased only 4 years ago, and yes, there has been that much change in this program!  I had been refreshing my memory on a couple of the tool settings and realized that there are options on my screen that weren’t covered by my bookThat got me thinking about change and the learning curve.

it has been my thesis over the years that although we now have some pretty amazing digital cameras at reasonable prices, it was consumer “point & shoot” digital cameras that drove the revolution

Thomas and John Knoll first created their “Photoshop” software, to display grayscale images on computers, in 1987.  Not yet “ready for prime time” or for retail consumption, the early “Knoll Software” company’s program was first known simply as “Display.”  It was shortly changed to “Image-Pro.”  But when they finally found a buyer and it went to the commercial/retail market in 1988, having been licensed to the Adobe Software Company, it became “Photoshop,” and continues to this day, to be the benchmark everyone is trying to meet or beat.

Nikon DCS 100

While the very first useable digital camera was probably created by Kodak in 1975, the real “revolution” began in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s.  During that time period some DSLR cameras were produced but were too expensive for general consumption.  Smaller “digicams” began to appear, however, and it has been my thesis over the years that although we now have some pretty amazing digital cameras at reasonable prices, it was these consumer “point & shoot” digital cameras that drove the revolution.  The 1991 Nikon D1 was probably the first semi-affordable enthusiast/pro camera and still cost a healthy $5,000 (while weighing in at nearly 3 pounds and delivering a whopping 2.7 megapixels).  Canon and Fujifilm followed shortly.  Then the Canon 3 megapixel, D30 debuted in 2000 as the first real “prosumer” DLSR.  In 2002, they followed with a 6 megapixel D60 and Nikon matched with their own 6 megapixel D100, both coming in just under $2,000, and the “prosumer” DSLR revolution was in full swing.

Sony RX100

For the next nearly 20 years, we saw a continuous lineup of new digital cameras, beginning with “APS” sized sensors, to so-called “full-frame” 35mm-equivalent sensors, and from traditional SLR-styled bodies, to the newer mirrorless models.  Of course, there were also larger format digital bodies, but because of a mix of expense and size and limitations on ISO, they have never caught on with the masses.

Along with the evolution of digital cameras, there was a need/demand for pixel-editing software.  And while there have certainly been numerous participants in the mix, Photoshop has been the benchmark to meet or beat.  From 1990 on, there were new editions released approximately every two years.  When first released, Photoshop was written for MAC computers and only available on Apple’s platform until version 2.5, released in 1992.  Clearly this was in response to demand.  Since version 2.5, new releases have essentially been parallel for Window and Mac.  And over time, some pretty impressive new features were added every few years.  Originally having notable features like levels, curves, the clone tool, color balance, hue and saturation adjustments, in 1994, layers were added to version 3.0.

with the evolution of digital cameras, there was a need/demand for pixel-editing software

In 2003, for reasons really known only to Adobe, Photoshop dropped the version numbers in the title (with version 7.0 being the last) and became “Photoshop CS” (versions are still retained, however).  CS introduced ACR (Adobe Camera Raw decoding engine) 2x.  CS2, in 2007, added a new user interface and some additional bells and whistles.  CS3 continued the “new and improved” feature set.  In 2008, CS4 was released with lots of “refinements,” but nothing new and exciting. Though we are up to, I believe, “version 7 or 8 of ACR, there is little or no change from version number to version number.  The real changes occurred in what Adobe refers to as their “process version.”  In 2003, we were working with process version 1.  Process version 2 was rolled out in 2010.  It may have been the most dramatic change.  Process version 3 came in 2012, and we are now working with process version 4, since 2017.

My LightCentric Logo Image in the current Photoshop CC version of Camera Raw

At the same time, Adobe released Lightroom 1.0 in 2007, following with version 2.0 in 2008.  This program was aimed squarely at photographers. Photoshop is a very robust graphics editing and creating program, which was Adobe’s only in depth pixel editing offering for serious photographers (Elements and other versions of “Photoshop – Lite” type software were available, but were in my experience, woefully inadequate to the task).  In the meantime, many of us photographers found that the continuing stream of new versions often did not justify the cost of the upgrade.  We often skipped a version (or two or three).  Then, when the CS series came along, Adobe began to essentially require sequential upgrading.  Shortly after that, Adobe announced the discontinuation of the stand-alone version of Photoshop,with the roll-out of cloud-based Photoshop CC (in lieu of CS7).  Unlike the former Photoshop model, “owners” of the full program installed on their computer (well, at least owners of the right to use it 🙂 ) have now become “subscribers,” paying a monthly fee and working in “the cloud” (on the internet).  This, in all probability, has motivated some new, competing “complete photo-editing” programs, which tout the fact that they are still stand-alone.  And some of them are pretty darn good.

Screenshot from my Lightroom catalog

Lightroom has continued to develop (pun intended) as a stand-alone photographers’ alternative to Photoshop.  Apple’s now-discontinued Aperture was also a parallel Lightroom alternative for Apple owners (I am not an Apple user, but I understand that part of the decision involved Apple’s roll-out of a new program called “Photos” which will integrate with its iCloud – it appears that iPhotos and Aperture will not, including the legacy software, which should still work stand-alone).  Meanwhile, it seems that everyone is jumping on the raw editor “bandwagon.”  A quick online search reveals at least 10 (and I am sure there are more) names that have some familiarity out there.  Some of them started out as Photoshop “plugins.”  I have played around with a couple of them, including ON1, Capture 1, and Topaz Labs.  They are all up-and-coming Photoshop competitors.  There are those who say one or the other of them does some things better than Photoshop.  Sounds a bit like the “camera wars” we have all come to know.  Every “flavor” is going to have do some things better than the others, and some things not so well.  I will continue to look at these alternative (or in some cases supplemental) programs.  But for now, Photoshop still does the overall combination of things that works best for me (and at this time, I believe, the majority of others doing digital post-processing).

owners of Photoshop have now become subscribers

All of these software programs (though they have many similarities) have a new and different “learning curve.”  Photoshop is — perhaps — the most daunting of all of them, and once a person has put as much time as many of us have into learning its “ins and outs,” it is hard to shift to a different program.  As for Photoshop, I have owned many “how too” texts for Photoshop (as well as Lightroom and some of the plug-ins for Photoshop and Lightroom).  I feel like I have contributed my part to the publishing industry’s well-being 🙂 (though it looks more and more like they are going to be eclipsed by digital media).  The Martin Evening Book is over 700 pages and only attempts to cover the photographer-aspect of this very complex and very robust program.  It is a $50.00 book and that is an expensive addition to the already healthy cost of acquiring and maintaining Photoshop.  But is the only comprehensive “textbook” guide available of its kind (that is not intended to be a lukewarm endorsement – it really is a very good book).  There is a lot of material available free on the internet.  But there is no real organized source to have as a desktop companion when working with the program.  The Adobe site’s so-called “help” program is not really very good, in my opinion.  It is too general, and there is as much of a chance of not finding the item you need explained or expounded as not.  Unfortunately, most of this text are 80% repetition from past versions.  It would really be nice if the writers and publishers would offer a smaller (and cheaper) version that is kind of a “What’s New In Version x.0” (which is done now, only on a website).  But here it is.  And again, change is going to continue, and therefore apparently so is cost – if you want to move with the change. 🙂

for now, Photoshop still does the overall combination of things that works best for me

“Going Straight”

Tilted Horizon

In my early days of blogging, I posted a series on “fundamentals” for photographers.  I don’t fancy myself a pro, or necessarily a qualified teacher.  I don’t have “credentials.”  I am self-taught, with a small amount of formal training, and many generous and talented friends.  However, I have helped some friends and family get their arms around the basics of photography, to advance beyond so-called “point and shoot.”  In fact, the genesis of my blogging here was reducing a few long-winded e-mail messages to writings that I thought could help others who have struggled as I did.

The internet and high quality smart phones have made everyone a “photographer” these days

That was a long time ago.  I have moved away from the “tips and tutorials” thing and leave that to other writers and bloggers out there, many of whom are much better qualified than I.  If you want to see my simple-minded approach to teaching, you can see my series here.  But every once in a while, my observations on-line give the urge to pontificate.  The internet and high quality smart phones have made everyone a “photographer” these days.  The technology in both IOS and Android (and others) phones today is impressive, with good lenses, good resolution, and many apps designed to assist that process.

But technical quality doesn’t guarantee a good photograph.  There is still a basic skill set required.  While technology has made good exposure (with sophisticated metering capability), and sharper images (with image-stabilization technology and ever sharper lenses) possible, there are a couple things that still require a different “built-in” but sometimes not effectively mobilized technology – the brain.  Being as guilty as the next guy, I find that in my own case, failure to take advantage of this marvelous technology (the brain) is often borne of laziness, or lack of observation of my surroundings (both during and after the image has been made, during post-processing).  While I have tried to avoid this problem, I am sure you can find an example or two of what I am going to criticize, in my “online” presence. 😦

Technical quality doesn’t guarantee a good photograph

I thought about doing a “Top 10″ things we fail to do.”  But wouldn’t be what I honestly think.  I pointedly avoid the left and right leaning political points of view here.  But there is one case in which I have to admit that I abhor leanings in both directions.  There is really one primary one that I see time and again (and when I – or someone else – catch it in my own work, I am always disconcerted).  That one thing is the left-leaning or right-leaning horizon.  I see it so often on Facebook that it has become “fingernails on a blackboard” for me.  It is the single most prominent fault (at least in my observation) of the 1000’s of posted images on the internet.  And here’s the thing:  It is fixable!  It is fixable before and after the shot (though it is always better in my mind to try to “fix” it during the shooting process).

And here’s the thing; It is fixable!

Starting Out “Straight”

One type of Hotshoe Bubble Level

Before we make the image, we have several aids available to us.  Perhaps the best (but not always feasible) one is to use a fixed camera stand (tripod) and install a bubble level on the camera hotshoe (of course, your smartphone doesn’t have a hotshoe 🙂  – more on that one later).  Before a couple of my colleagues persuaded me to use a level, I thought my own eye was pretty good at judging that.  The level proved otherwise (note, however, that not all levels are created equal.  It is worth buying one from a good source and then testing it to be sure it is accurate – I used a carpenter’s level to test mine).

Where is that thing on my smartphone?

Of course, it is not always feasible (or convenient) to shoot from a tripod.  And some of those to whom I am preaching here, don’t shoot with a dedicated camera, but use their smartphone.  In most modern cameras, the software options include an on-screen (or in-viewfinder) graphic level.  These are great tools (of course, they need to be checked and calibrated for accuracy, and there is some anecdotal commentary online that they are not always completely accurate – and there is an answer to that below).  Where is that thing on my smartphone?  To the best of my knowledge, neither the top Android (I use Samsung) and IOS phones do not have that as a built-in option.  But there are several free apps that will add that feature.  I am test-driving one called “Camera Level” that seems very much like the in-camera built-in level in my Sony cameras.  It automatically loads into your smartphone’s camera (after appropriate “registration/permission”).

One of many different variations of a built-in “electronic” level

Most software now also offers a “grid” pattern on the screen or in the viewfinder.  While I find this can be a help, your eye will still fool you.  The level won’t.  I do not think there is any good reason not to use this technology regularly.

Rehabilitation is Available

When “curating” my images after a shoot, there is little doubt that even when using these tools, I still have occasions where the image is tilting.  Fortunately, there is help for this in post-processing.  Today, virtually every post-processing software application has an automated “straighten” feature.  But even in the day when that wasn’t part of the software features, there was always a way to accomplish this.  I primarily use Photoshop and it was easy to create a straight line (using an available “grid” overlay, or a “guide”) and then rotate the image so that the horizon was straight.  And because it is possible that the level methods described above are not always accurate, it ought to always be part of your process to make sure that things are level that should be level.  Our eye will fool us from behind the lens.  But the image won’t and it will be one of the first things the astute viewer will notice.  I often quip, when seeing that ubiquitous sunset over water, “I wonder why the water doesn’t just drain out of that picture?” 🙂

There are some drawbacks to the post-processing “fix.”  It very often may require you to crop out important parts of an image, in order to straighten it (Photoshop’s impressive “content-aware” cropping can in many cases repair that problem).  It is also true that there is not always a “horizon” to reference from.  It can then become more challenging.  Straight lines that “should” be horizontal or vertical can be used, but you have to take into consideration perspective distortion created by lenses now.  But careful analysis of the photo should tell you which lines “should” be horizontal or vertical – or at least if you have to make a choice, which are aesthetically preferable.

Have a great day, be careful out there, and watch those horizons.

“I wonder why the water doesn’t just drain out of that picture?” 🙂

 

The “Eye Doctor”

Tulips
Copyright Andy Richards 2011

LOL.  This one reminds me of trips to the Opthalmologist/Optometrist.  When we were kids, my family always referred to them as the “eye doctor.” :-).  Once again, I have been “playing.”  So here we go.

BETTER HERE?

Tulips
Copyright Andy Richards 2018
“Watercolor Sketch” – Painter Essentials

OR HERE?

Tulips
Copyright Andy Richards 2018
“Watercolor” – PS

THIS ONE?

Tulips
Copyright Andy Richards 2018
“Fresco” – PS

OR THIS ONE?

Tulips
Copyright Andy Richards 2018
“Poster” – PS

ONE?

Tulips
Copyright Andy Richards 2018
“Oil” – PS

OR TWO?

Tulips
Copyright Andy Richards 2018
“Cutout” – PS

BETTER HERE?

Tulips
Copyright Andy Richards 2018
PS – “Fiber” background

OR HERE?

Tulips
Copyright Andy Richards 2018
PS – mixed texture background

OR MAYBE THIS ONE?

Tulips
Copyright Andy Richards 2018
Canvas (burlap/fiber) – PS

It is interesting to me (but then, I am easily entertained 🙂 ) how many variations of certain images there can be, and I can still “like” them all.  Thanks for indulging me.

It’s Over

Daffodils
Copyright Andy Richards 2009

This will be my last post here.  I always seem to have a difficult time finding things to write about, especially during this time of year, when here in Michigan, it teases Spring, but then turns back to brown, wet and cold.  This time of year, I start to think about Spring, and perhaps the most plentiful subject; Spring flowers.  But I have “been there done that” in this blog a few times.  I haven’t shot Spring flowers for a number of years, as this opening image demonstrates (as far back as 2009).  So, since I can only go back to former years’ material, and re-post, it is time to hang it up.  But before I do, and since I have started this one, here are a few more.

Oh, and by the way, happy Easter.  This is the day that celebrates the rising of Christ …. And the re-birth, or new beginning of so many things.  And Spring and new growth could not be more fitting for the occasion.

Daffodil
Sony RX100iv
Copyright Andy Richards 2015

O.k., maybe I was wrong.  This one is the same plant, 6 years later, taken with my super-compact Sony RX100iv.

Daffodil Close Up – ColorEfex
Copyright Andy Richards 2015

This one is the same shot, but after I did the “painterly” thing in Google/NIK’s ColorEfex.  It may be the best rendition of this image.

Tulips
Copyright Andy Richards 1996

I have also shot a lot of tulips over the years in Spring.  They bloom shortly after, and often contemporaneously with the Daffodils.  One of the best parts of these flower subjects is that they are often found in our own yards.  That means they are predictable most years, and that they allow us to keep coming back to them in different light conditions.  This image, shot with transparency film, is my favorite ever tulip image.

Tulips
Copyright Andy Richards 1997

Tulips come in all sizes and shapes.  This one was made-again – with transparency film- using flash to make the background go to black.

Tulip Closeup
Copyright Andy Richards 1997

I spent a lot of time (and film) on flowers back in the film days.  The closeup is another transparency.

Oh, and that thing about my last post?  JUST KIDDING!  APRIL FOOLS! 🙂

Spring also has also gotten my “juices flowing” to get out in the field, and over the years I have found some wildflowers. Michigan’s official state wildflower is the White Trillium.  I have most often found them along the Eastern shore of Lake Michigan.  This one was shot on an overcast day with transparency film using a gold reflector to add some warm fill light.

White Trillium
copyright Andy Richards 1999

Mature White Trillium
Copyright Andy Richards 1999

As the White Trillium matures and gets ready to die, it turns purple.  I rather like the mature coloration.

Pink Lady’s Slipper Orchid
Copyright Andy Richards 1999

Northern Michigan is also known for a wild Orchid known as a “Lady’s Slipper.”  They come in pink and in yellow (which, in my experience, is much more rare).  I am also aware that there is a spotted (or painted) version and a white version.  I have not had the fortune to find these.  I know the painted variety exists in Michigan.

Yellow Lady’s Slipper Orchid
Copyright Andy Richards 1999

We are probably a month or less away from Spring blooms here in Michigan.  But this nostalgic trip into my archives has already started to generate some excitement for some Spring shooting.  Flowers, waterfalls, and other things coming back to life will likely yield some new “fodder.”  I need to get my equipment dusted off and ready.

Oh, and that thing about my last post?  JUST KIDDING.  How often do you get to post on your regular posting day (usually Sundays),  celebrate Easter, and say APRIL FOOLS!  In the words of Arnold Schwartzenegger:  “I’ll be baaaaaaack.” Happy Easter and happy Spring!