BY TAG

photoblogography - Just some stuff about photography

Photoshop Workflow 2 by Ming Thein

good in parts

in Product reviews , Thursday, August 27, 2015

Ming Thein runs one of the most outstanding photography blogs on the web today. His combination of posting frequency, quality of content, quantity and depth of content, lucid writing, and tasteful presentation free of third party advertising is probably unique. On top of this, he engages fully with his readers in the comments sections, and last, but very much not least, is a talented photographer with a killer instinct for composition, and a commitment bordering on obsession with precision and technical quality. Why, I wonder, does he pour so much energy into this? I assume that the underlying driver is to build his brand, both as a professional photographer, but also as an educator, a purveyor of workshops and training materials. Since I am a compulsive, if intermittent, consumer of such materials, I decided to take up a special offer a few months ago to buy his “Photoshop Workflow 2” video. Since I haven’t seen any independent reviews of his videos, I decided to throw my hat into the ring.

Photoshop workflow part 1 mingthein com m4v

you get quite familiar with this view…

When Ming publishes a review, he tells things as he sees them, fairly, but without pulling punches, and from his clearly stated subjective point of view. Witness his review of the new wonder box Sony A7RII, which I found pretty refreshing. So I’m going to take the same approach to “Photoshop Workflow 2”. The basic questions I’m looking to answer are “were the videos useful to me”, “would I recommend them to a beginner”, and “would I recommend them in general”. The answers are, “not really”, “no”, and “it depends”.

The video is split into 2 parts, and covers Ming’s full end to end workflow, from import through to print-ready output. The subject matter here is not a tutorial on Adobe Camera Raw and Photoshop, as such, but rather a description of the specific process Ming uses to streamline his image processing and to produce output in his adopted style. So if you’re interested in finding out, in detail, how he uses these tools, then you might be interested in these videos. If you’re looking for a more wide-ranging, open-ended discussion, then probably not.

The workflow uses Adobe Bridge, Adobe Camera Raw and Photoshop, nothing else. The video starts off with a lengthy preamble about choosing and setting up equipment. There’s not much to quibble about here, even if I would have expected a professional photographer to adopt a more suitable display than Apple’s shiny Thunderbolt Display, but one section had me spluttering in my coffee. Ming recommends carrying out the critical step of monitor calibration by eye, using Apple’s software calibration utility. At best this can only lead to a good subjective calibration. Maybe Ming has superhuman eyesight and colour discrimination to go with his astronomical IQ, but generally it will lead to a medium to poor subjective calibration. In a closed, end to end flow where your output is going nowhere else than a single printer, this might work. But otherwise it’s a recipe for disaster and lot of wasted paper. Decent hardware calibrators are neither expensive nor hard to use. It amazes me that Ming disdains to use one, especially given his geeky side. To add insult to injury, the sequence showing the software calibration in use is a waste of time, as for some reason the screen capture does not show any activity in calibration tool screens: the viewer cannot see what the narrator is describing.

The workflow itself is split in a set of steps: ingest the images, rate them iteratively in Bridge, bring the picks into Camera Raw, sort out the white balance and any colour issues, and adjust the exposure as high as possible without clipping. Then export to Photoshop. In Photoshop, switch to LAB mode and adjust the exposure globally to taste using one or more tone curves. Then adjust exposure locally using the dodge and burn tools. And sharpen appropriately. That’s basically it. What I find surprising is first, on the input, total disinterest in keywording or any kind of asset management. I guess when you’ve got a brain the size of a planet you don’t need any help remembering where your photos are. Or where they’re from. The second thing is pretty much completely eschewing layers in Photoshop, largely sacrificed on the altar of LAB mode editing. Well, it’s his workflow, but I have to say he’s out on a limb on that point!

I’m not going to comment further on the content. It is exactly as promised, no more, no less. The rest of this review is about the video itself. As mentioned before, it is split into 2 parts, running over 130 and 100 minutes respectively. I’ll say this immediately, that is far, far too long. For the first 8 minutes all we see is a static Photoshop screen with the title, and Ming talking over it. Obviously, a tutorial needs an introduction, but really it also needs a few hooks up front to get the viewer interested. A short talking head sequence might have been a nice touch. Ming’s delivery tends to be rather flat and hesitant, and although not too bad, really cannot comfortably carry a 4.5 hour monologue! “Ums”, repetitions, sudden switch of context, and various mannerisms quickly get annoying, and should be edited. Also, his Mac keeps interrupting him demanding to do software updates. Annoying, yes, but for such a production, he really should have stopped, disabled updates, and started again. This, and other things, gives the impression of a one-take capture, with no post editing whatsoever. Presumably he did take a comfort break every now and then.

Anyway, this then leads into what was the most interesting part for me, Curation. This is the process of reviewing a collection of images and deciding which ones to take forward. Actually, id argue that Curation also requires a clear objective, like a book, an exhibition, or a portfolio. Here, I’d argue that he’s culling, a pre-requisite to curation. His methodology and especially thoughts about the image are interesting, but, again, it’s way too drawn out. He does not need 136 photos to make the point. They finally get wittled down to 19 at 45 minutes in. This is fast, but not when you’re presenting it on video. It’s a bit like cookery shows - sure, the roast took 2 hours to cook, but we didn’t get a 2 hour shot of an oven door. Next up comes the colour management sequence mentioned earlier. Skip this. Finally, at 1:24, the section on workflow starts. It is interesting, but again, it drags a bit. The referring back to an earlier version of the video is also irritating - unless it comes as part of the package, it should not be assumed that the viewer is familiar with it. Also, key concepts, such as dodging and burning, seem to get rather light treatment. Nevertheless, Ming’s method of dealing with exposure is very educative. What is, in my view, extremely poor, is that in his first, lengthy Photoshop workflow, when extolling the virtues of LAB mode, it turns out he was in RGB mode all the time. Anybody can make a mistake, but apart from any discussion of the fact that even he could not tell the difference, surely the professional thing to do would be to go back and reshoot the sequence. There then follows a sequence talking through the processing of different images, which is quite engaging. Finally, there is a useful, short, discussion of Camera Raw as a filter on a TIFF image, which is an area of Photoshop I had never explored. Wrapping up is a section on Fuji X-Trans files. Doubtless this is interesting to Fuji owners, but for me, and I assume other non-Fuji owners, it’s 20 minutes of padding.

And here we get to the point I’ve avoided so far: why so long, and why the padding? Well, I suspect that in part it is to justify the rather extravagant pricing: Photoshop Workflow 2 costs $80, standalone (various discounted bundles are offered), including access to source files to work on.

Arguably $80 is reasonable, given the content. But for this price, I’d expect better narrative, some evidence of post-editing, tidying up or re-shooting messy segments, and more weight on detail rather than repetition. In fact, the final 4 minute wrap up pretty much gives you an adequate overview! The X-trans section should be a separate, possibly free, download. Another product in the same ballpark, Michael Reichmann and Jeff Schewe’s epic “Camera to Print & Screen”, which offers 59 easily digestible segments totalling over 12 hours, with a vast scope, costs $60, and is frankly a lot more entertaining.

I would like to emphasise that this is a review of a product, not of it’s author. Ming Thein is a fine photographer, and a great, positive contributor to the photography internet. He holds himself to very high standards in his writing and his photography, but at least in this case, for video he doesn’t quite reach the mark. This view, of course, is coloured by the high relative pricing of his videos. Ignoring that small point, then there is little to criticise.

So, coming back to my questions: “was the video useful to me”: not really, but I did find his method of working with exposure interesting, albeit because I’ve been roughly doing something similar myself. But to be honest I would say I was reminded of a few key points, but I didn’t discover much new; “would I recommend it to a beginner”: no - it’s way too expensive and way too long to hold attention - and “would I recommend them in general”: well, if you want to make photos that look like Ming Thein’s yes. Otherwise, probably not.

I don’t regret paying for this video, and others I got as part of a bundle, because in any case I consider it in part supporting Ming in maintaining his excellent web site. But I do think he should take a step back, and see if he could improve his production standards to find a better way to deliver his valuable knowledge and artistry.

 

 

 

The Digital Print, by Jeff Schewe

mmm, such delicious crow

in Book Reviews , Thursday, August 20, 2015

I’m firmly of the belief that a photograph isn’t finished until it is printed. And yet I make very few prints. The reasons for this include a lack of time, a lack of space to hang them on the walls, a lack of people to show them to - nobody I know is interested - and not forgetting pure unadulterated sloth. And then, when I do decided to settle down and do some printing, stuff always goes wrong. Either the printer comes up with one of it’s various ruses to frustrate me, or I forget to set something up correctly, or the colour profiles have mysteriously corrupted themselves. And then when it does work technically, the print seems to lack a certain something. A couple of days ago, I was trying to print a photo taken back in June in Norway, and on paper it just looked flat and lifeless.

Drm 2015 06 04 P6042591 1

Flat & lifeless in Norway

It was mainly to address the last point that, pretty much on a whim, I decided to buy the eBook version of Jeff Schewe’s “The Digital Print”. A successful and award-winning commercial advertising photographer, Jeff Schewe has become a well-known and larger than life figure in the world of digital imaging. He’s a very strong advocate of all things Adobe, having been closely associated with the company since very early versions of Photoshop. While earning a lot of well-deserved respect he has also cultivated an abrasive online personality especially on the forums of the Luminous Landscape. To say he doesn’t take fools gladly - or indeed anybody expressing a divergent opinion - would be as much of an understatement as to say he quite likes Lightroom. Having followed his curt, rude dismissals of all and sundry over the years, I’d decided I couldn’t stand him. Ironically, a quick glance at pretty much any personnel report on me over the past 300 years will say pretty much exactly the same thing. And that’s in person, not online. Anyway, I refused to buy his two books “The Digital Negative” and “The Digital Print” because (a) I didn’t like “forum Schewe”, and (b) I was anti-Lightroom. Well, that was a serious case of cutting off my nose to spite my face.

As it turns out, “The Digital Print” is probably the best book on digital photography I’ve ever read. It has immediately made a significant improvement to the quality of the prints which I’m able to make. Rather than just provide a dry set of instructions, it has the knack of encouraging the reader to think about how to make a good print, of what it actually means to represent a digital image on paper, and then concisely and clearly provides the technical information you need. It focuses squarely on Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Lightroom, and mainly on Epson printers, although Canon gets a look in. I have an Epson printer and I use Photoshop to print, but generally I wouldn’t touch Lightroom with a bargepole. Apple (may they rot in corporate hell) forced me to abandon Aperture, and I now use Capture One, with round trip to Iridient Developer for top picks. But the presentation of Lightroom Print Module in “The Digital Negative” is the most persuasive argument I’ve ever seen to switch. Comparing a sharp ORF file with all sharpening turned off in Camera Raw and Capture One shows noticeably more detail in Capture One. But frankly it’s unlikely to be significant in a print. Still, another migration is too painful to contemplate, and in fact a large part of the content of the book is applicable to most imaging software.

“The Digital Negative” is written in a very accessible and concise style. There is humour (sorry, “humor”), but it’s never forced, like in so many of these books. And there is no padding, although the depth of the section on Colour Theory might seem a touch excessive. Really, I think most photographers just want to know how to setup colour management and get good printer profiles. The nuts and bolts under the hood are all very well, but frankly, about as relevant as a Photoshop binary dump to most people. But the rest, covering not only preparing and printing the file, but also selecting paper, displaying and storing prints is captivating. The very detailed section on managing Epson printer settings is worth the price on its own. I’ve found out some secrets about my Epson 3800 which I have eluded me over than five or six level six years that I’ve owned it. The end result is a big smile on my face and a lot of fun making prints.

So as you can tell, if you’re at all serious about printing digital images (and that includes scanned film, by the way), I thoroughly recommend this book and herewith will consume copious amounts of crow. I should probably buy Jeff Schewe a drink or five.


p.s. - Jeff, “tirer” in French also means “to print”. A photographic print is “un tirage”. I guess 27 million people have already told you this.

 

 

 

in OLYMPUS magazine

fame! fortune!

in Olympus E-System , Friday, October 18, 2013

I’m pleased to report that a photo of mine was selected for publication in monthly OLYMPUS magazine published by Bright Publishing on behalf of Olympus Europe.

Olympus mag page 600

I didn’t submit the photo directly, it was actually discovered by magazine staff on Flickr. The interesting thing about this photo is that technically, and in forum pixel-peeping terms, it is awful. It is taken at aperture f/22, and absolute no-no for a four-thirds sensor camera, according to the “experts”. And yet, it seems to work.

 

 

Influenced

a belated realisation

in Photography , Thursday, July 12, 2012

On the rare occasion that I chat with other photographers, sometimes the topic of influences comes up. It’s an interesting question, which I’ve recently realised goes deeper than it appears. In interviews, in forums, on blogs, etc etc, people seem to be all too willing to trot out their influences. Such as, in a hushed tone, “Ansell”, or H.C-B, or . I do wonder though, if people distinguish between influences, and heroes. Heroes, or role models, or whatever the appropriate description is, being people we look up to and dream of emulating. This can take many forms.  I was once on a workshop with a well known “personality” photographer, and it was quite remarkable that a good proportion of the participants not only had exactly the same (new out of the box) cameras as the Great Leader, but aspired to drive the same car, drink the same wine, etc. The photography seemed irrelevant. And then there are the more straightforward aspirants, such as the pilgrims who gather by their hundreds in Yosemite to reproduce faithfully - or at least as faithfully as they can, without getting more than 10m from the car park - Ansell’s famous works. They would, doubtless, claim that Adams is an influence.

Currently, in British landscape photography circles, which I guess I’m vaguely associated with by passport if nothing else, the namedropping very frequently includes David Ward. And indeed why not - his work is sublime, and in my opinion is one of a very, very small band who takes landscape photography to the level of art rather than craft. I’ve named him as an influence myself, but looking at my archives dispassionately, I find it very hard to spot any influence. A few clumsy attempts at simulation, yes. But influence? In my dreams.

So how did this flash of enlightenment come about?

Well over 10 years ago, when I was in an intensive phase of exploring landscape photography, I devoured books by various photographers, including John Shaw, Andy Rouse, Andris Apse, Craig Potton, Joe Cornish, Lee Frost, Peter Watson, and a host of others. But perhaps most of all Charlie Waite. Charlie Waite was at the time at name pretty much on everybody’s lips, but these says, his star seems to have faded a bit, with tastes turning more to the more dramatic, windswept styles of Joe Cornish and his host of disciples, and the more overtly artistic / philosophical approach of David Ward.  And my Charlie Books gathered dust.

But a few weeks ago I remembered that he had recently published a new book, Arc & Line, and on a whim I ordered it.

NewImage

Opening it up I found a revelation: this was the style I’d been unconsciously emulating, with a mixture of urban, travel and landscape scenes, also ignoring the “rule” that says you can’t photograph landscape in full daylight.  Now, I’m no Charlie Waite, but reviewing his work now after a hiatus of 8 years ago, it seems quite clear to me that he has been a strong influence on my approach. I can see now where some of my better formed ideas come from. There are many other photographers that I might have wanted to “be” more, but finally, I could do a lot worse than recognizing Charlie Waite as a clear influence on my photography.

 

Adobe TimeWaster Pro CS Whatever

World’s worst software company

in General Rants , Sunday, January 29, 2012

The last 5 weeks or so have been pure hell. Essentially non-stop 12 hour working days, with hectic weekends in between. No time for photography. No time for life. This weekend was supposed to be the start of some sort of recovery period. I spent most of Saturday comatose, but today, Sunday, after shovelling last night’s snow fall, I thought I’d spend some quality time printing out a few images. Relaxing, enjoyable, right ? Yeah, sure. So come 5:30pm I’m ready to kill somebody. In fact if I saw somebody, anybody, with an Adobe corporate t-shirt on, I’d whack them hard with the snow shovel.

Having been deceitfully tricked by Adobe into upgrading to a Photoshop CS5 I neither needed nor wanted before Christmas, I finally got around to trying to print from it today, to my Epson 3800.

I had read, ages ago, that Adobe, principally, but with Apple and Epson’s help, had managed to screw up printing (nothing important, just printing) and that there was some issue with v2 ColorSync profiles.

Some issue. Right: like print absolutely F*CK ALL except a pale cyan background.  I’d heard about this, vaguely, but I though it had to do with white areas having a cast, not the whole print.  I tried everything. Reinstalled the 3800 driver, re-started, etc etc, eventually dug into ColorSync and found that the profile (built with ColorMunki and carefully optimised) was indeed a v4 (naturally, since that’s up to date, and worked fine with Photoshop CS3 on the same OS - 10.6.8 - and the same printer). Trying a v2 profile, for a different paper, gave me a print.

So now I’ve got to rebuild all my profiles. Wasting stacks of paper. Until the next time I fall for one of Adobe’s useless, eye-wateringly expensive, bug-ridden pieces of crap they call “upgrades”.

Please, somebody, anybody, out us out of our misery and create a realistic Photoshop alternative. PLEASE!!!