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photoblogography - Just some stuff about photography

True Colours

roses are blue, violets are green

in Post-processing , Friday, April 23, 2021

Colour is a funny thing.  Online forums and photo geek sites are full of self-appointed experts droning on about “color science” and generally talking total rubbish. For a start colour perception is both physically and culturally subjective. Our eyes are all slightly different, and our brains process signals in slightly different ways. The naming of colours is subjective in various ways. What I call dark orange somebody else might call red. And the colour I see with my eyes is often different to the colour I see on my camera or computer screen. And let’s not even get into prints.

So, buying a Hasselblad X1DII because it captures “more accurate colour” was possibly not the best idea I’ve ever had. Of course, Hasselblad has its vaunted “Hasselblad Natural Colour Solution”, which “was developed for serious users who demand the utmost colour accuracy”. But accurate in which sense? Maybe to a reference colour chart, which is all well and good, but it doesn’t help me much if I’m partially colour blind (I don’t believe I am, but who knows?)

Generally I don’t have too much issue with colour accuracy. In fact I’m more concerned with colour gradation. But there is one area which has always intrigued me, which is how cameras see flower colour.

Way back I had big issues trying to photograph poppies with my Olympus E-1, reported in one of my earlier posts on this site. Over time I’ve noticed that colours that to me visually are in the pink to magenta range come out blue. Some shades of yellow, such as wild primula, come out almost white.

So, I thought I’d do a little test on my thriving wisteria. To my eyes, the flowers are shades of lilac and purple, with some white and yellow tints. But on screen, in photographs they tend to come out more blue. So, I thought I’d see what the Hasselblad Natural Colour Solution would make of this. I lined the X1DII up on a firm tripod, then switching it for the 3 other cameras I use, the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mk3, the Ricoh GR II, and the Sigma dp0. I used the 45mm f/3.5 lens on the X1DII, and the 17mm f/1.2 on the Olympus, these both closely approximating 35mm in reference terms. The GR has a fixed lens approximating 28mm, and the Sigma’s lens approximates 21mm.  I’m only really interested in colour here.  So, I loaded all 4 into CaptureOne, with minimal processing (the Sigma and Hasselblad images were converted to 16 bit TIFF via their respective proprietary applications. For the Ricoh and Sigma I tweaked zoom levels to get a rough match.

Wisteria test

Top row: Ricoh, Sigma. Bottom row: Olympus, Hasselblad

Well, the results are a bit disturbing. Of course you can’t really see a lot here, but from my subjective standpoint the best of the bunch at rendering the flower colours is actually the Olympus. The Hasselblad is close, but particularly in lighter areas in shifts towards blue (see on the left, and top right). The Ricoh is not bad, but a little under-saturated. The Sigma is in a world of its own, although if you look a detail rather than colour, it makes things a little awkward for the Hasselblad.

Maybe my eye/brain combination has some trouble distinguishing certain shades of blue? I don’t know, but on this unscientific and very specific sample, the Hasselblad Natural Colour Solution doesn’t score a home run.

 

Losing faith in Lightroom

flip / flop / flip / flop etc

in Post-processing , Wednesday, December 16, 2020

At various intervals over the years I’ve questioned if I’m using the best approach to managing and processing my digital image files. As covered ad infinitum in previous posts, my tool of choice was Apple Aperture, but that rug was pulled from under my feet by the bling-flingers in Cupertino.  I eventually settled on Lightroom, with some misgivings, and have grown to accept it as the best compromise. It even has some unique features which I really like, in particular the “lights out” display mode, which is excellent for evaluating processing results, as well as for triaging photos without distractions. On the other hand, the UI is ugly, and the processing engine is based on the will of senior Adobe engineers to make everything look like it was produced by a badly calibrated 1 Hour (film) processing lab, with saturation turned up to 100. I spent a lot of my time in Lightroom fighting against under the hood saturation and contrast changes.  But, it was the best compromise.

Then came Lightroom Classic v10: from the beginning, this was not good. There were very noticeable performance slowdowns and UI glitches which made it very irritating to use. See all 9 pages (so far) of this thread, started on October 22nd. Adobe, with all their vast resources, eventually pushed out a version 10.1, which not only failed to solve the initial problems, but introduced a new “feature”, namely allowing Lightroom to quickly, completely and reliably freeze the Mac it is running on, requiring a power off reset to restore things - almost unheard of in the Mac world.  And to make things worse, they were warned about this beforehand, and therefore released this version in full knowledge that it contains this disastrous flaw.  It seems this flaw is linked to GPU processing: now, it may be true that testing for various hardware combinations is a big task (although for less so than for the much more varied Windows world), but other much, much smaller companies seem to have managed just fine (CaptureOne, DxO, Exposure for example).

I suppose Adobe will eventually fix this - although to be honest I’m not 100% confident - and there does remain the workaround of reverting to v9.4 (while sacrificing 2 months of editing and processing), or sticking with the sluggish performance of v10.0.  But as a subscriber I’ve had enough of this. Adobe are showing themselves to be an untrustworthy partner, and their support staff are condescending and arrogant.

For the most recent photo diary I published, The White Arcades, I had almost finished processing the photos in Lightroom, as usual fighting against the application’s obsession with making everything look garish.  But given the above, I decided to dust off CaptureOne, and, what the hell, try to import my entire Lightroom catalog of over 80’000 photos. Well, it worked pretty well. It took a few hours, and some files would not import (some DNGs, and of course Hasselblad Raw), but otherwise fine. I then reworked the photos I’d chosen for The White Arcades. Thanks to a combination of CaptureOne’s linear profile and luminosity curve, I actually managed to quickly get the look I wanted. Some of the more sophisticated display options in Lightroom are not in CaptureOne, and yes, the DAM functionality is not quite as good, and no, CaptureOne doesn’t have Adobes’s excellent stitching tool. But it is smooth and reactive, it has a non-modal UI, and it doesn’t crash my Mac. I’ll have to use Phocus for Hasselblad files, but’s not such a bad thing.

Long term I’d prefer not to be trapped in Adobe’s subscription dungeon, but while it was giving me a good set of tools I was ok with it.  Now Adobe has lost my trust.  Eventually completely cancelling my subscription is not something I’d do as an act of revenge - they wouldn’t even notice - but just one of self interest.

 

6000 sow’s ears

...and not a silk purse in sight

in Post-processing , Monday, October 05, 2020

I enjoy taking photos. Seeing the world through a viewfinder, and cutting out pieces of it to copy and keep gives me a sense of accomplishment. Maybe it even makes me happy (my default state being “miserable old git”).

The rest of it… I don’t know. The long, long process of trawling through memory card contents, discovering that expected gems are out of focus junk, and the possibly good stuff I can’t even remember taking, the endless work of turning a Raw file into an actual finished photo, the doubts about my aesthetic choices, about my software choices, about comparing my flaccid shots with others’ effortless contest-winning masterpieces, this is not so much fun.

I actually prefer editing and working up film photography - with film, especially slide film, it is what it is, the choices were made when the shutter was pressed, and I find scanning film to be somehow more of a tangible activity than importing a memory card.

This pressures me to try to reduce the amount of photos I take in the field, but in some situations, not taking the shot isn’t really an easy option. A case in point, and the point of this post, is my most recent trip to Antarctica. Ok, it was actually 2 weeks in-situ, which is a long time, and the conditions were largely pretty good. The opportunities were endless, and to my horror I came back with about 6300 shots. Ouch.

If I have any wish to share anything of this harvest, even if it just to post a few galleries here, clearly I need to narrow things down. Quite a lot. This already presents a problem, because often the real quality of a photo cannot be told from a quick look at the default representation of the Raw file in Lightroom (in the old days, I could use Aperture’s much more elegant handling of Raw-JPEG pairs for a first pass - Lightroom doesn’t provide any help there).  But anyway, I managed select 1376 potential candidates without doing any kind of adjustment.  I then settled into the long process of examining and adjusting each and every one of these, finally, after months, ending up with 573 second round candidates.

From these I should now make a final selection, and start to do productive things like post subsets online. I might even make a book.  But for now I am so sick of ice and penguins…

Drm 20200128 P1286011

Me, after dredging through over 6000 self-indulgent snaps

There’s got to be a better way.

 

Software

displacement activity I

in Post-processing , Tuesday, December 11, 2018

I’ve recently been going through some kind of phase where I’m reassessing a lot of my work. Initially this was on an aesthetic level, but somewhat inevitably technical considerations started to intervene. First of all, I have been trying to get a little more disciplined in my picture making. Although I like to think that I’m pretty much on top of the basics of using a camera, I have tended to be a little indisciplined in how I apply this knowledge. This then leads to, for example, photos with too much, or too little depth of field, because I was too lazy to think about optimising aperture. It all came about when I started to make prints of some of the recent series of woodland photos I’ve been making. In turn this led me to making a number of “test” prints (to be perfectly honest, I probably don’t make any other kind). And so I noticed that the colour in these prints was actually a bit weird, and so _then_ I just had to re-profile the paper, which more or less fixed the issue, but used up all my supplies. And left me wondering how my previous carefully created profile had “gone bad”. And off we go again.

Untangle II

“Untangle I” - the photo that led me to re-evaluate my printing

Or not - prompted by an article I saw recently, I wondered if maybe it might be a good idea to revisit ImagePrint by Colorbyte Software. I used to use ImagePrint with my Epson 2100 printer, but when this died, and some 8 years ago I splurged on an A2 Epson 3800, I would have had to upgrade my ImagePrint license, and I couldn’t afford it. So I bought a Pantone ColorMunki Photo kit instead, which allowed me to profile any printer paper I wanted. Of course this was not the only option: many paper manufacturer profiles are actually more than close enough, and if they’re not, various service providers can create custom profiles for a given paper and specific printer. But of course I wanted to do it all my own way, and now I think about it, I’ve gone through at least 3 printer profiling setups over the last 15 years or so, none cheap.  And in fact even with dedicated software and hardware, colour science, which this is an application of, is seriously hard and time consuming, apart from being a money drain.

ImagePrint on the other hand does absolutely everything for you. It includes a custom print driver which brings a number of tangible benefits, from more accurate colour to saving paper, and a huge library of expert print colour profiles tuned not only to printer/paper combinations, but also to different lighting conditions. The basic point of ImagePrint is that it offers 100% reliable, plug & play highest quality printing. So you can just forget about all the technical complexities and just enjoy the creative part. This to me is quite enough to justify the fairly high price, but on top of that there are myriad additional features which offer significant advantages in various printing scenarios.  So I renewed my license for the latest version, “ImagePrint Black”, and ever since I’ve been printing a lot more, with no test prints required.

That solved my output problems. Next up was the input. I had been working on a set of photos recently for my 2018 calendar, and revisiting these I noticed that one of them was not quite right. This was a photo of an iceberg, which look fairly spectacular, but after I printed it (see above) I realised it was all a bit too, well, blue. So once again a trip down the rabbit hole of Raw conversion software beckoned. I decided to download a trial of the latest version of Capture One, v11 (now they’re on v12), and opened a few iceberg photos. One of them, not the one that had initially sent me into a spin, really shocked me: Capture One appeared to be showing textures completely missing in the Lightroom interpretation, and better fine detail as well. I cross-checked in Exposure X3, and in Iridient Developer, and the variation across these gave me the clue I needed to narrow the gap - it was simply a case of reducing the exposure, which in Lightroom seems to have a complex relationship with brightness. The much more involved Capture One default processing had, in this case, given better results.  As for the fine detail, well, there, at least with Olympus ORF files, the current iteration of Lightroom cannot match Capture One, or indeed the new Exposure X4. Both extract more real detail, although frankly only us pixel peepers would notice in almost all cases. But this comes with a price with Capture One, as any kind of noise reduction coupled with sharpening gives a horrible plasticky effect in recent ORF files. This is nothing new - I noticed it with v8 and it was just that made me decide to give up fighting and submit to Lightroom for once and for all.

Drm 20161203 PC030310 IridientEdit 3

“float” - the photo that used to be far too blue

However, Capture One has another major card up its sleeve, at least for me: the luminance curve. In Lightroom pretty much any change to contrast, by direct slider or by curve, has a major effect on saturation as well. Apparently this is by design, and it is stubbornly maintained, but personally I hate it. You can compensate by reducing saturation and/or vibrance, but first, this is imprecise, and second, why the hell should one need to? This naturally led me to the realisation that I should just be more disciplined with applying a previous strategy: do the Raw conversion in Iridient Developer, which is far less heavy handed, has not only a luminance curve, but also a chroma curve, and delivers the best detail and sharpness of all, then do the rest in Lightroom. Iridient even includes a Lightroom plug-in to facilitate all of this.

So, after this bit of re-evaluation, I have ended up with a software end to end process (I’m not going to call it a “workflow”, this is fun, not work) which drags the absolute best of my pitiful 16 Mpix sensor camera, and starts to approach the delicacy I’m always aiming for in colour and colour transitions.  Having got those variables out of the way, I can now concentrate on choosing the correct f-stop.

 

(I don’t need no) education ?

or maybe I do

in Post-processing , Wednesday, September 14, 2016

I've been quite prolific this year in photo-education consumerism. I've been fortunate to be able to participate in workshops with, and receive direct advice from, in Ragnar Axelsson (in Hamburg), Daniel Bergmann and David Ward (in Iceland), and Rafael Rojas (in Switzerland). All four are exceptional photographers, and really nice people, and all four have taken the time to give me feedback.

They've also shared with me techniques for post-processing files from camera in order to turn them into something meaningful. This part I find the most interesting, because it's an area in which if I'm honest I'm totally adrift. A lot of this education just goes straight into one ear and out of the other, but enough sticks around for me to get a feeling that some of it is totally contradictory. Two acclaimed, successful landscape photographers express pretty much exactly the same objectives, but give pretty much diametrically opposed ways to reach them. I'm not talking about "there's a million ways to do the same thing in Photoshop", but rather something like one person advocating increasing detail, and the other decreasing it, to achieve the same look. Which rather makes my brain explode.

drm_E-P5_20160416_P4164216.jpg

Hamburg. Probably should be in monochrome and cropped a bit



I'm not sure if it's a result of this, or some basic lack of vision, or something else, but quite often when I'm reviewing recently imported images in Lightroom, if I'm honest I can't actually see anything I should change. They look fine to me. One of the above-mentioned experts may well take a photo of mine and apply layer upon layer of intricate changes, which, probably, improve the photo, and certainly make it look different. But then when I'm back home, sitting in front of the same photo, I don't even have a clue where to start. Should I take the David Ward approach, or the Rafael Rojas path ? Should I first consider framing, and cropping, as both Ragnar and Daniel appear to do? Should I immediately consider monochrome, like Rafael and Ragnar would propose, or should I flip it upside down to check the balance in the composition, as David does ?

Or should I just sit there staring at it for a bit, and then wander off to the web in search of new software or cameras to buy ?

drm__20160722_DP0Q0428.jpg

Iceland. Um. Looks better upside down. And, er, the white balance ?



After (large number) of years and (much larger number) of money spent, I should have a better idea, but I haven't. I had been drifting towards a sort of aesthetic borrowed from the film using, portrait/travelogue loose community, larger revolving around the look of Kodak Porta 400, and applying that to my vaguely defined landscape/architecture/travel genre. And before that, I had gradually evolved a process of enhancing images by manipulating texture using progressive, graduated micro-contrast ("clarity", or "detail"), which was quite natural to do in Apple Aperture (less so in Lightroom). But then, I've learned, recently, that touching the Clarity slider, at least to push in a positive direction, is A Bad Idea, and Contrast is my friend. Except that I learned 2 months ago that a giving Clarity a hefty upwards shove in sky areas can be very rewarding, and keep your hands off Contrast.

Of course, I probably got most of that wrong anyway.

drm_E-M1_20160903_P9033209.jpg

Well, I could spend hours on this if only I knew where to start!



So now what ? I basically haven't got a clue. Then again, I'm no worse off than when I started, and it was all quite good fun. Perhaps the style and methods I'd evolved myself were not so bad. Certainly, any four of the above could take any one of my images, and enhance it, arguably make it better. But then it would be theirs, not mine. It's a comforting though to fall back on, except of course when I'm back sitting in front oaf a recently shot photo, and I still have no idea what to do with it.