• Andy’s E-BOOK — Photography Travel Guides

  • PLEASE RESPECT COPYRIGHTS!!

    All Images and writing on this blog are copyrighted by Andy Richards. All rights are reserved. You may not, without my express, written permission, download, right click, or otherwise copy my images for any reason. Copying an image and putting it on your blog, website, or even as a screensaver on your computer is a breach of copyright, EVEN IF YOU ATTRIBUTE THE SOURCE! Please do not do so.
  • On This Blog:

  • Categories

  • Andy’s Photography Galleries

    Click Here To See My Gallery of Photographic Images

    LightCentric Photography

  • Andy's Flickr Photos

  • Prior Posts

  • Posts By Date

    July 2018
    M T W T F S S
    « May    
     1
    2345678
    9101112131415
    16171819202122
    23242526272829
    3031  
  • Advertisements

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

Advertisements

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.”

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!

Pushing the Envelope

Barns in Winter
(original color image)
Copyright Andy Richards 2011

Some months back, I mentioned “winter doldrums” in my photography. There are, I suppose, all kinds of excuses I could call doldrums (boredom, sameness, lack of ability to travel to “new” places, etc.).  But in my particular part of Michigan, as I have oft mentioned, we are already in perhaps one of the flattest, brownest places in the U.S.  Add dreary, cold, sometimes grimy snow cover (or worse yet, no snow, but otherwise grey, winter conditions) and the motivation to get out and shoot gets sketchy, at best.  My good friend, Al Utzig, suggested that this period was a good time to “experiment” with my images and software.


The Photoshop “glow” image was made from my B&W Composite which was two layers, to brush in the red colored barns and tank into a B&W rendering.  I think the “glow” is really more photographic than graphic.


Barns in Winter
(Photoshop “glow”)
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

This year, I took his challenge and began to explore not only Photoshop, but some other software, including the popular plug in software, the Nik Collection, the up and coming ON1 software, and the scaled down version of Paintshop; Painter Essentials.  I started out trying to learn  a bit about B&W conversion of digital images.  I have had some fun with it and learned some rudimentary things. The B&W foray motivated me to purchase ON1 Photo Raw 2018.  I had some fun with this software, and I think it would have been a nice edition (at a reasonable cost) to my tool kit.  Alas, for reasons I note below, I was unable to continue using it.

Barns in Winter
(Painter Essentials Detailed Painting)
Copyright Andy Richards 2018


These Painter Essentials images were made using the “autopaint” feature in the software.  The first is its “detailed painting” preset.  I hand “brushed” some of it to make it a bit more refined.  I am not sure it is distinguishable from a photographic rendering (you have to click on the individual image to see the larger version to really see the effect of these renderings).  The second is the “color pencil drawing” preset.


Barns in Winter
(Painter Essentials Colored Pencil)
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

That pushed me into experimenting with “painting.”  Again, I may have scratched the surface on this area a bit, but still have a way to go.  I am (I know this shocks my friends 🙂 ) “old school” when it comes to learning.  One of my big disappointments is that as we move away from the “print” world, to the “digital” world, there is more and more, a complete lack of printed documentation for new software.  Likewise, I find printed “how to” books, less and less common.  I know there are economics involved, but it is still disappointing.  So, for the ON1 software (in fairness, there is a pdf documentation for the ON1 suite – but it is lacking in useful detail), and the Painter Essentials software, you have to learn basically by internet research and U-Tube videos.  And there is really no single, organized source and there are literally thousands of U-tube and other “how to” pieces out there.  I am looking for a book (ala, the Martin Evening Photoshop Series books) for Painter Essentials that would help me “get under the hood.”


I have played around with the filter gallery in Photoshop before, but never to the degree I did in this image.  Here are 3 “painterly” renditions of the image that I liked (there are many more options in the software, but these seemed to work best for me).  I created these on layers and in some cases, adjusted the opacity of the layer a bit.  I did not play around with blending modes, which opens another whole area of experimentation.  I like the first one the best.

Barns in Winter
(PS Brushstrokes1)
Copyright Andy Richards 2018


Barns in Winter
(Photoshop Brushstrokes2)
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

Barns in Winter (PS Brushstrokes 3) Copryight Andy Richards 2018

But what has this all got to do with the “envelope” I allude to in the title?  I have known for some time that there was pretty much the capability to accomplish all the results I got from the supplemental software programs mentioned above.  But not without some work and experimentation.  And some experiential learning.  Or, what maybe in my case I better called “playing.”  In doing so, I have been able to pick up on some fundamental things.  One of them is that there is a certain type of photographic image that just works better with the graphic/art rendering of an image.  It seems to work best with an image that has strong graphics, including shape and size and color contrasts.  Like the image I used in last week’s blog of Barns in Winter in Frankenmuth.  This time, I used the estimable “filter gallery” in Photoshop and began to experiment with some of its many image rendering choices.


For this image I used the filter gallery preset called “cutout.” It feels like the Japanes anime art form to me.  I have clicked on this a few times in the past and never really liked the result.  Until this one.  I could see this one being used as an illustration, or on a notecard.


Barns in Winter
(Photoshop “cutout”)
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

Nothing I have shown here is “new.”  Much of the capability has been with Photoshop since its emergence back in 1988.  And it has all be “done before.”  So, as I have said before, my work here may be, to many observers, nothing more (and perhaps less) than sophomoric.  But is is “new” to me, and I hope it has broadened my approach to the art of photography.  The last image really kind of pushes it.  I would not ordinarily like something like this, but if the owner liked purple, I could see this as a night image.

Barns in Winter
(Photoshop “neon” filter)
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

I hope at least some readers enjoy it. 🙂


[A NOTE ABOUT MY EXPERIENCE WITH ON1 PHOTO RAW 2018.  I don’t want to officially “review” this software.  It has so much promise as a “Photoshop-alternative” photo-editing program.  But it didn’t work for me for technical reasons.  If it did, my review would likely be very favorable.  I was initially intrigued by ON1’s ability to render B&W images, and equally by its layer and local adjustments capability.  Touted as a “complete” image editing program, it appears to be a deserving competitor to the Adobe Suite (Bridge, Lightroom and Photoshop) in an all-in-one package.  I really wanted to like (and learn) this software.  It is stand alone, as opposed to the Adobe Cloud approach and that has some attraction.  I did occasionally find myself “needing” (perhaps a function of learning curve) to take an image into Photoshop to make additional adjustments however.  And alas, ON1 ultimately did not work for me. It had a glitch that would randomly, but more and more frequently, fail to render any image on screen and would, instead, give me an opaque rectangle.  I have 2 computers I work with, one is a Microsoft Surface Pro 3 and the other is an HP desktop.  Both have integrated Intel graphics processors.  Neither would work with the ON1 program.  I found their tech support – though always courteous – not very responsive and not very helpful.  Their answer was to upgrade my drivers.  I tried that, both through Intel and my computer manufacturers.  They (ON1) even sent me a link to driver update (which ultimately gave me the message that it was unable to install).  Ultimately, I was informed that my drivers were up to date and there were no new updates applicable.  While both computers are now about 3 years old, I have not had a single issue – ever – with graphics drivers, on any other photo editing or graphics software.  While I know there are logical fallacies out there, my deductive reasoning is that this is an ON1 issue.  They have refunded my purchase.  Again, I think they have a lot of promise and I may return later.  But right now, it is a no go for me.]

 

Renditions

Barns in Winter
(blue sky rendition)
Copyright Andy Richards 2011

Do you have a place or subject (or multiples) that have intrigued you as a photographic venue, but you just haven’t been able to “see” it through the lens the way your mind’s eye does?  A couple weeks ago, in my “Detours” blog, I spoke of a scene near where my office used to be, in Frankenmuth, Michigan, with red sheds against a weathered barn backdrop.  I probably drove by the scene several times a week and visualized it as an image.  A few times I stopped and “scouted” different angles and views and even took some “test” images.  Couldn’t get excited about any of the results.

I mean “manipulation” in the “good” – Ansel Adams – sense

And then one marvelous late spring morning, we had one of those totally unexpected snowfalls.  Probably a couple inches of wet, heavy snow following warm conditions.  It sticks to everythingSnow is one of those useful  elements that hides things in photographs that we don’t want to see.  So I had to take a “detour” on my way in that morning and was able to make a few “nice” images of the scene.

Barns in Winter
(original color image)
Copyright Andy Richards 2011

But there were still some elements of the image that just didn’t “work.” One was the leaden, grey sky.  As the opening image illustrates, I had images in my collection with clear blue sunny skies too, so I looked at the metadata.  I recalled that what actually happened is that the morning of the snowstorm, it was overcast.  I hadn’t thought of the image in monochromatic terms, because – well – I haven’t tended to think other than in color for most of my years of photography.  Until recently.  My “mind’s-eye” image had blue sky for color contrast.  But the sun did shine the next day and I got out there again, before things melted, and was able to get the blue sky.  Not sure it was an improvement 🙂 .

some elements of the image … just didn’t “work”

So, the barn scene was an addition to my collection of barn images, but it wasn’t until my recent, winter-doldrums, experimental phase, that I started looking at it again and seeing some possibilities for image manipulation (yeah, there’s that “nasty” word again).  I mean “manipulation” in the “good” – Ansel Adams sense.  So I began trying some different renditions.  Here, I show the progression of my photographic images.  In a future blog, I will show where maybe I crossed the line or went over the top, or something like that 🙂 .

Barns in Winter
(B&W Conversion)
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

As I worked with the image, I could see that it had some characteristics that I have come to believe lend themselves to monochromatic presentation.  There are some prominent graphic shapes here to work with.  And in spite of the denuded trees in the background, there is not a whole lot of fine detail in this image.  There are some really good contrasting colors:  black, white and red.  As I thought about the post-processing of this scene as a B&W image, I felt that the red really needed to stay in.  The original image, post-processed in PS ACR and then Nik, shows a surprising amount of color.  It is spring and there is a lot of red in the new growth of the tree branches.  The sky, though grey, shows tones of magenta and even blue.

I hadn’t thought of the image in monochromatic terms, because I haven’t tended to think other than in color for most of my years of photography

I used Nik Silver Efex to render the image in B&W (a turn away from ON1 – more on that in another blog).  With B&W, I have learned that more is better in many cases, when it comes to contrast.  So I turned back to ACR first, and re-worked the raw image, “goosing” up the contrast.  In Silver Efex, I didn’t use any of their presets, but “worked” it to my own liking.  I then used a couple of the other Nik modules to do some “local” editing, adding some contrast and “structure” (which is, as I understand it, contrast adjustment aimed more at the middle tones).  I like the result.  But it it isn’t “spine tingling.” 🙂 .

Barns in Winter
(“colorized” B&W)
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

That’s o.k.  I knew I was moving toward the “colorized” image here.  Using PS layers, I painted the red back in, and made some additional local adjustments to contrast and brightness.  I added a lot of structure to the snow in the foreground, along with some brightness.  The end result is an image I really like.  And it finally approaches the “mind’s-eye” image I visualized that spring morning.

Book Review; Black & White Digital Processing

Creative Black & White; Digital Photography Tips & Techniques – Harold Davis  –  Recommended

Black & White Photography; The Timeless Art of Monochrome – Michael Freeman  –  Suggested

It has been a while since I reviewed a book here.  Indeed, these days, to think the ever younger population would even be interested in a hard-copy book might be simply quixotic.

Followers here know that I have recently ventured back into the genre of B&W imagery.  Rather than review one book here, I am going to tackle two books:  “Black & White Photography; The Timeless Art of Monochrome,” by Michael Freeman; and “Creative Black & White; Digital Photography Tips & Techniques,” by Harold Davis.  I have a rationale for reviewing these together.  For one thing, I think reviewing them separately will cover already “ploughed” ground, and would make for a couple of repetitive blog posts.

There is no such thing as a “complete” textbook – on any subject

But perhaps more importantly, if fits with a philosophy of learning that I will espouse.  I should first acknowledge (as I may have alluded to at the beginning of this post) that we all learn differently.  I have many friends who shoot, and who have never (or at least rarely) picked up a book on any photographic topic.  I suppose I am not preaching to them, but in some cases, I still believe they might be pleasantly surprised at what the “deeper dive” might reveal in terms of pleasure and interest in topics photographic.  But for those of us who are students and learn by books and written materials – either because they learn best that way, or because they have too, I hope my thinking resonates.

I am not a fan of the “star” rating system Amazon uses

There is no such thing as a complete textbook in any subject.  Indeed, when I see “The Complete….” anything, in a book, its credibility immediately erodes a bit (though it is just a title, and I do try to keep an open mind about what might be between the covers).  As a teacher and writer (both on a relatively small scale, but nonetheless contributing to some hands-on experience and knowledge), I know that it is not possible to find a “textbook” that is complete in its coverage.  Every subject needs to be supplemented and augmented by other materials; often written.  As a college student, my more rigorous instructors routinely assigned a “reading list” of books which were not the institution-chosen and assigned textbooks.  This is because they knew none of them alone were going to really impart the rounded subject knowledge necessary to become proficient.

I reviewed these books on Amazon and made the same observation.  I gave them both 5 stars because I thought they both deserved it.  As an aside, I am not a fan of the “star” rating system Amazon uses.  As a writer of two eBooks, myself, I have seen how that rating system can severely skew the perception of the book and I suspect skew sales in the same way.  That is why my rating system is different, and I think more useful to the purchase decision.  In so doing, I am not suggesting that either book is complete, perfect, or even without some shortcomings.  They both have them.  But what I want to know as a reader is are they worth the purchase?  Will they be a worthy addition to my resource library, and is there enough worthy material to justify the purchase of the book.  In both cases, I believe the answer is yes.

  My rating system is different, and I think more useful to the purchase decision

Freeman and Davis are both accomplished professional photographers and writers.  The former does not automatically beget the latter J.  There is some pretty pedestrian stuff out there.  Too many books today are just a re-hash of basic photography and Photoshop principles, in the guise of something specialized.  They may have their place, but I tire of picking up a book that purports to “take my – you fill in the blank – to the next level,” and then spends 75% of the book telling me how “f-stops” work, what the depth of field and focal length relationship is and how focal length relates to sensor size.  I also tire of the books spend an inordinate portion of their pages on basic techniques in Photoshop and other software.

Don’t get me wrong.  We need books on those topics.  I keep Martin Evening’s “text” on Photoshop CC right next to my computer and consult it often (“Adobe Photoshop CC for Photographers;”).  But it does not purport to be a specialized book.

So it is a pleasant plus to note that both of these authors tell you these are not “Photoshop How-To” books.  And other than showing us steps as they specifically relate to the topic, they require at least an intermediate knowledge of the underlying software (mostly Photoshop and Lightroom).  I found myself lacking some of that knowledge at times and having to consult my Photoshop generalist book(s).  That’s ok.  My knowledge base is from numerous accumulated sources.

I bought and will keep both of these books in my library

What I am looking for in books like these are whether they impart what they purport to – in this case, teach me something about Black and White imagery, in the context of digital photography.  And, when they do, do they impart enough (quantity and quality) to justify their purchase.  I think both of these books clearly do.

Black and White Photography; Michael Freeman – Suggested

Interestingly, both of these authors chose to divide their books into 3 major sections, dealing with some of the background of B&W photography; Digital theory and Techniques; and then a “Creative” section.  In Freeman’s case, they are chapters 1 -3.

The first “Chapter,” entitled “The Black and White Tradition,” covers some history of black and white photography.  But it does so in a manner that is brief enough not to lose the reader, who – after all – probably bought the book to learn about digital black and white techniques.  But there is enough information there to bring context.  I think Freeman does this really well.  He also talks about the “theory” of black and white, and how concepts like tonality, shape, texture, and lighting greatly affect the black and white image.

Chapter 2, entitled “Digital Monochrome,” delves more deeply into the digital side of things.  As a base for understanding, Freeman explains how the digital capture sensor is built and notes the difference between the “linear” response curve of digital capture and the traditional response “curve” of film.  While this may seem overly technical for the stated purpose of the book, I think it is important to understand why we make the digital “moves” we do when operating the software.  This is well done and illustrated, with again, just enough information without overwhelming the reader.

Freeman spends a little time mentioning some of the software applications available other than Photoshop, including the NIK Silver Efex and the ON1 programs, among others.  This is a nice, if small, departure from what is the “norm” in books with an overwhelming emphasis on Photoshop.  I have Photoshop and am not sure I could “live” without it.  But I sure know a lot of photographers who do not have it and get along perfectly well.  So it is nice for a change to at least have some “honorable mention” of alternatives out there.  I think that Adobe Lightroom and the up and coming ON1 RAW suite are going to give most photographers every tool they really need.  And today, if I were going to have to pick, I would lean toward ON1.

The next few sections dealing with black and white processing are really the meat of the text.  They describe several methods for conversion of digital images to B&W, and a number of useful adjustment techniques using the powerful tools available in software.

It is here where the book should shine.  And content-wise, is does not disappoint.  However, the presentation, unfortunately, leaves a little tarnish on the shine.  There are numerous instances where the author makes reference to an illustration, or a Photoshop tool that he relies on, as if it were presented as an illustration in the book.  But the illustration is nowhere to be found.  At times it seems like it should be an illustration and it is just plain missing, leaving the reader at first searching for it and then scratching her head, wondering what the ….? For example, he will often say something like, “as the histogram in this image illustrates …..” and then rather than having a histogram as an illustration for the image, the book will show the image and occasionally some sliders for the suggested adjustment.

A number of times, he walks us through the process he uses to enhance an original image, and notes that the final image is “better” because …. And then the original image is not shown to us in the book.  It just seems logical that you would do that in order for the reader to see the beginning and the result of the steps he has taken us through.  Sometimes the “stages” are illustrated but not the original image.  This is not consistent throughout the book.  Perhaps some more rigorous editing would be in order here.

But look, both of these books warn the reader that they are not Photoshop tutorial books, and that the reader should have at least an intermediate grasp of Photoshop and digital post-processing.  So it is easy enough to “infer” in the above instances, and I certainly would not let it deter me from purchasing, reading and using the book as a reference.  On balance I felt there was a lot of knowledge imparted, and a fair amount of inspiration to forge out on my own.

Creative Black & White; Harold Davis –Recommended

I think this is a book that is well worth the price for any photographer who (like I do) likes to learn by reading and likes to “get under the hood” a little bit, and wants to work with Black and White digital processing of their images.  Interestingly, this is a 2010 book (while Freeman’s is a 2017 publication).  One would think it is becoming dated, but it is not, it is still very much applicable and useful.

Much like the Freeman book, this book is divided into 3 major sections.  Freeman goes into some detail about B&W photography history comparing film to digital capture.  Davis, instead, uses his first section more as a “philosophy of B&W shooting” piece.

I thought the first section in Davis’ book could be thinned by about 2/3.  It just seems to repeat itself, and repeat itself.  He also has a tendency toward “flowery” language.  At times, I found myself noticing that, instead of the information it was trying to impart.  To me, that detracts from the mission.  But we all speak and write our own way – and to each his own.  None of the criticism here should, in my opinion, deter a purchaser.  This is a very good addition to my own library, and I learned (and will no doubt continue to learn) a lot from it.

Once I got into the second section – which is really the “meat” of the book in my opinion, I forgot about any negative tendencies and it very much held my attention.  Davis does a great job – almost in a “cookbook” formula, of illustrating a number of ways to handle B&W conversion, along with the whys and hows.  He gives – in most instances – a step by step explanation of how he does the processing (mostly in Photoshop) with enough information to see and accomplish the result, without getting into an “in-the-weeds” tutorial on Photoshop.  I like that.  The second 2/3 of this book did everything it promised and was everything I expected.  I will have this book on my bookshelf next to my workstation and will no doubt consult it often.  I am looking forward to experimenting with the techniques I learned in the book and truly believe it is worth a photographer having in his or her library.

Summary

I bought and will keep both of these books in my library.  You may have noticed that I rated the Davis book higher.  It is a book that has a lot of “hands-on,” practical information and applicability to what the prospective reader is likely looking for:  how to process my images to B&W in the best technical way.  In that sense, I think a photographer who is looking at learning about B&W conversion of digital images (and maybe even an experienced person) will find this an immediately useful “cookbook” for this purpose.  That is why I recommend it.

The Freeman book, much like all of his books, is more theoretical, and in my view looks more to inspiration and aesthetics.  That is why I “suggest,” rather than recommend it.  It will not be everyone’s cup of tea.  In one sense, it may get a little too far “under the hood.”  That is something I like because I am wired that way.  But many people would rather let someone else do the mechanics and concentrate on the driving.  I think Davis’ book fits the latter bill better.  I personally look for inspiration and some of that detail, and I enjoyed Freeman’s book every bit as much as the Davis book.  I will keep them both and both rated 5 stars on the Amazon review process.  To use a currently popular “texting” phrase, YMMV.

As always, thanks for reading and I would welcome comments.