Blogodocious ramblings of a landscape photographer living in Maine.
"Great Meadow and Lily Pads" June 16, 2012 Acadia National Park, Maine.
check this out: I wrote this on wednesday, coming back to the island after getting my car fixed, and got stuck in the worst traffic jam ever! Living on an island we have one road to get on and off it and a bus was crashed into shutting down the road for 6 hours! I was stuck there in one spot for 5.5 hours!!!
Hi fellas! I'm stuck in an epic traffic jam so I'll take the impromptu break and try and make the most of it and jot down some things regarding printing that I've been thinking on recently. I've been printing up a storm here lately, it's work that should have been taken care of back in the late winter and spring, but you know how it goes. The busy tourist season has just about started to fully take off around here and between printing a couple small exhibitions and another set for a real nice local restaurant, and a couple other sets for some small galleries and stores and matting them all and reprinting the ones that should be reprinted, and going to the day job, and sleeping- has left me absolutely no time or energy to consider shooting new work lately. I'm scrambling badly, can feel my blood pressure like, it's a little stressful because the point is quality and attention to detail, and you shouldn't rush this, and I really wish I had done this back in the winter. But because I've been printing so much like a middle ages monk, I thought I'd share with you my thoughts that I thought about making photographic prints.
a color set
Right then, so the real reason that I've been scrambling so much over the past month and a half is that when I should have been making all of these prints back in the spring I was broke, something of a recurring symptom of the winter around here. It was just too financially demanding back then to buy rolls of paper and stacks of matts, but next year I'll at least have something of a backstock to get started! Now to say "financially demanding" is something of an overstatement as making a 16"x16" or 16"x24" inch print on my Epson 3880 is quite affordable indeed. I'm still not quite sure how to accurately pin down the costs for an individual print, but using Epson Ultra Smooth Fine Art paper, (which is my go-to preferred stock, see disclaimer), it really can't be much more then about 10 bucks American dollars per piece. When I initially inquired about having my work printed by a local printer a couple years ago, I was quoted 95 dollars for a 16"x24" inch- which would certainly cut into the profit margin, as well as I wasn't able to proof the images. These days places like Mpix etc. have much more affordable rates but still the same problem about not being able to proof the output exists, I want control over the print just like I want control of the post-processing.
Disclaimer: a lot of my fine-art printing friends enjoy using the exotically named Hahnemuhle line of papers, but personally I think that the extra 30 percent in savings that comes with using the Epson USFA (ultra smooth fine art) paper at 325 gsm, coupled with the fantastic quality of it can't be beat. As well as I found that using the Hahnemuhle paper (Photo Rag 308 gsm matte) and the Hahnemuhle icc profile, the impression I had was that I was getting something of slightly muddy darks to midtones gradations? I tried tuning my output settings to compensate for this but was never really truly satisfied while using the Hahnemuhle, so for the time being at least, Epson paper it is.
Right then, so let's start from the beginning. In the beginning god created the heavens and the earth, and photographers made pictures and shared them on the internet, and all was good. But really the ultimate expression of the photograph is a nice print that one can hold in their hands and view with reflected light instead of on a backlit LED screen. So last year with the help of an amazingly gracious patron and friend and supporter I was able to acquire my Epson 3880. The 3880 is completely awesome and since then I have heard of more people and friends of mine who have chosen this machine then any other. My biggest consideration in choosing this model was the print size. I have heard Moose Peterson declare that the 17"x whatever size is the perfect print size for most walls. And in the year since I started using the 3880 I still think that 16"x16" inches (square crop), or 16"x20" inches (4x5 crop), or 16"x24" inches (2x3 crop) is still the perfect viewing size. And it has occurred to me that I can usually afford to buy paper but a 24" inch roll or the massive billboard making 9600 that prints 48" inch prints roll would cost nearly a months rent in a very nice apartment to restock paper for! No regrets going with the 3880 at all, it's a dream machine!
I'm printing off an 27" Imac out of Lightroom 4 usb'd to the printer that sits on my desktop (which I built an extension for to fit it). It was fairly easy to get it up and running and it's easy to fire up at a moments notice. But the "art" of fine-art printing seems to provide a lifetimes pursuit to refine and master, much like photography. Which is good, I love a challenge!
I live with a beautiful gardener lady who is my partner and two dogs and one cat and keeping an hermetically sealed clean-room isn't possible- so I keep my printer covered with the bag that it shipped in from the factory to keep dust out. When I prepare to print I try to choose times when there won't be a lot of dust raising activity in the house (also to keep dust out) and also I try to refrain from printing on inordinately dry days which could possibly lead to print head clogs. When I take a piece of paper out of the package to print on I brush it to remove any paper bits that may be on the surface from shipping, or worst-case scenario: dog hairs! (if there is a speck of dust on the surface that is printed over the dust will fall off later and reveal a white spot, called a "hicky".)
I mostly print black and white imagery and use the Epson Advanced B+W mode to do that. Initially I read that the "Darker" setting in the ABW interface was best but since have gone with the "Dark" setting for more accurate reproduction, and using the toning adjustments I can balance warmer or cooler papers nicely.
Paper: there are a great selection of fantastic fine-art papers out there to choose from. I prefer matte papers as the reflections caused by the coatings on luster or glossy papers are really distracting to me although some people prefer these kind of papers for their higher D-Max (ability to achieve blacker blacks). Some matte paper considerations are the surface or their "tooth" which refers to the textured surface of cold-press papers, thickness which is expressed as a gsm measurement, and color as a "natural" paper is warmer in appearance vs. a bright paper. In the end it all ends up being a personal preference and it's invaluable to check out a sample pack to get a feel for the differences.
It's absolutely necessary to calibrate your monitor to ensure proper tones and contrast and brightness and I went with the X-Rite ColorMunki Diplay calibration system which sits on my desktop next to my screen. One of the cool things about the ColorMunki Display is that after you make the profile it will constantly adjust to monitor ambient room temperature and brightness throughout the day to keep things true. Which leads me to: there are certain times of day that are better to develop images than others- I don't like having all the shades drawn to keep daylight out so when it's overly bright in the day it's bad for me to develop, as when it's too dark it tends to hurt my eyeballs when developing so perfect is a rainy day or twilight light, and then that often nicely coincides with appropriate times to have a beer or two too.
Like I said: it was easy to get printing initially but it is certainly a craft to make a perfect print. Lightroom and Photoshop both have a soft-proofing feature which will emulate the output medium that you are using, thereby enabling adjustments which will best suit printing on paper vs. viewing on a screen. But I don't like to softproof much. Through my brief experience as a print maker I have gone with using the Print Adjustments feature in Lightroom 4 in the print module to add about 15-25 points of brightness (depending on the stock that I'm using) as well as about 3 points of contrast or so. Most of the time the prints come out just as I want them, the biggest cause of having to reprint is a result of "hickies" ( a dust spot or some other kind of tiny imperfection). Fine-art prints need to be perfect it is the ultimate representation of your craftsmanship as a photographer and the attention to detail that we practice in the field and in the digital darkroom needs to be carried through the print and the mat.
One more thing: what I mean about "The Way-Back Machine" is that usually I am constantly thinking about my next images and looking forward , so printing is an invaluable exercise in self-curating my work and making critical review. Like you might think that the image that you're looking at on your monitor is a big-winner but when printed large all the little details and infinitesimally small sensor dust spots that you thought you dealt with become painfully evident- or pleasingly rewarding if you did a good job! And printing your work leads to bodies of work which is either concise and complimentary or sorted and disjointed.
Long story short: Print! Print your work and give it as gifts, sell it in galleries, hang it on your walls: which is the true test- how long can you hang an image on your wall without growing bored of looking at it? I'm happy to say that at least one of my images that hangs on a wall opposite of my relaxing chair has not lost it's initial appeal to me and I can still get lost in it when I look at it today.
P.p.s. One last bit: perhaps printing is the ultimate in archival storage and preserving your legacy as there's something about the digital storage of images that makes me nervous: solar flares and all and the reliance of systems beyond our control.
Enough of me, now get out of here and go shoot some pictures and then print them! Thanks for stopping by and have a nice day- Nate from Maine USA.
"Bubble Pond Acadia"
Here's a picture that has nothing to do with what I'm going to show you, just figured to give you a picture anyhow.
Right then. You never know when you'll need a trick like this but take it as you will. Also, everyone needs a friend like Mike. I wrote about him before describing the zombie training camp that is camping in the north woods with him here: http://nateparkerphotography.com/blog/2012/4/into-the-north-maine-woods.
Now let's get down to business:
"How to break a bottle with your bare hands"
Have a good one and thanks for stopping by! -Nate.
"Ladyslipper" one of my favorite recent b/w's
I've thought about this a lot and figured I'd try to share my opinion as to why I choose to make my photographs and prints black and white when I do. I've been working in mono primarily for only really the past year, but since I made the shift to color-free I really feel like I've achieved a new confidence as a photographer and that I have really kind of "found my voice". Black and white has always had an allure for me ever since I have made pictures and my earliest camera that I had when I was a kid shot black and white and most of the early family photos are black and white and of course most of the forefathers and masters of photography whose books I took out of the library to learn from back then were comprised of black and white images. But when I would shoot landscapes and seascapes and get up early for a sunrise then I would always reach for the vibrant and saturated style of imagery- maybe thinking that since I had to get up so early to catch sky color then the whole point was sky color!? I would also venture to say that embracing the mono conversion was a direct reaction or protestation to the way I ended up feeling about HDR photography, which I fell way down the rabbit hole into back in 2006 and didn't pull myself out of until the last couple years! One of the big problems with HDR (high dynamic range) imagery besides the haloing of course, and the noise, and ghosting, and flatness, is that color tones become inevitably too strong. I remember having an interaction with a fellow Maine photographer Moe Chen http://moechenphotography.com/ whom I respect a lot over on Flickr and at G+, regarding that the color tones seemed off in a picture that I was liking more than I should have at the time. And I remember feeling frustrated at that wherein, perhaps the scene and color tones satisfied my memory of the scene and the emotional connection made through taking the picture and being at the place but in all reality the resulting image to a ordinary viewer would miss it's mark:
"Great Meadow 2010" Argh- it's just not right.
Black and white solved the problem of debatable color tones and took the distraction of color away from the scene. The words "distraction" here seems to have as many negative connotations as the word "addiction" which I talked about last week here: http://nateparkerphotography.com/blog/2012/5/the-addiction-of-creation. The black and white pallet is non-debatable and the b/w photographers interpretation of a scene can be as different and individualistic as personalities. People sometimes say they dream in black and white and the evocative and ethereal qualities of a well made monochrome image can make for a strong and visceral connection with the viewer that elicits more of an emotional connection than a color representation could, at least I like to think so. Add to that all the fact that the worse the weather is then the better a black and white can be (to a point) and since it seems that it's always a little nasty out- that plays to our favor!
One of the good things about HDR is that you end up looking for a particular kind of scene- HDR really pops with details and textures as does black and white. The HDR photographer to black and white photographer metamorphosis seems like a natural evolution because you have already trained your eye to look for details and textures. It was to me a phase like panorama making was and timelapsing was and what you end up doing when you work on a thing for a while is become hyper focused on the thing, which makes for good learning...
Now let's address the Ansel Adams and Edward Weston phenomena, which is to say when you see these masters works for the first time it's one of the important firsts that an experiential being can have. Like the first time you kissed a girl/boy (you know what I mean), the first time you are able to stay up on your bike without your Dad helping you to balance, the first time you hear music that gives you goose-bumps and takes you out of your body; resonating firsts. The Edward Weston pepper pictures and the Ansel Adams Moon Over Half-Dome pictures are those to me.
"Pepper #30" Edward Weston 1930
"Moon over Half Dome" Ansel Adams 1960
I remember deciding myself though back when I was first shooting landscapes that I didn't simply want to shoot in black and white in order to copy the look and feel of the black and white masters. I always have respected the idea of imitation in order to learn a craft, but maybe it seemed like too much of imitation to go mono back then, and like I said earlier it was definitely a goal of mine to chase vibrance and color.
And then now let's talk about developing or post processing or however you want to call it. Our post processing software has come a long way baby, where now with the new shadows and highlights adjustment algorithms in Lightroom 4 we don't even need to consider HDR but for the most extreme of light situations. And the control and finessing possible within Lightroom enable making a beautifully developed image effortlessly in minutes, but I'll almost always choose to add one more step- edit in Nik Silver Efex. It's totally worth the time to export out of Lightroom and work within that program as the luminance algorithms or whatever it is they do in the conversion is leaps and bounds beyond simply desaturating or even working with the B/W mode in Lightroom or Photoshop.
So that's the trick- luminance. A great black and white image has a magical luminous glow that gives it dimension beyond what you would ordinarily feel with a two dimensional picture. And pretty soon after working with mono imagery you develop and process with luminance in mind. Dodging and burning become as important as the gas and brake in your car. Gradients become like the bread to a sandwich- you can have a sandwich but you can't have a sandwich without the bread.? I must be hungry, let me get back to you-...
"Immersion" another one of my favys from the last couple months.
Right, what I mean to get to here is that after you've worked enough images in black and white you begin to appreciate the possibilities that your interaction with the image really can have on your work. You may begin to transcend the difference in imagery between representation and art.? Back to my earlier point about simply making a picture a black and white picture does not necessarily make it right. And I'm not here to necessarily be the governor of grays or the embassador of blacks, anybody who knows me ought to tell you that I'll happily defer to their expertise, but don't get me wrong (expression), after finding black and white I feel more confident in my imagery then ever before and I feel that when I work on color I have a more holistic sensibility about developing then I used to before black and white.
Here's another thing. I print. I print to show and hopefully occasionally sell and when you put a couple prints next to each other they become a group and then it becomes obvious that you need continuity in images so that they will look good together. I still shoot images that I know will be color but they are maybe 1 in 10 to 3 in 10 depending on the time of year and the occurances etc but it has become much more important to me then ever before to have bodies of work that will show well together.
"Fog Tide Slips" 5/22/2012
Technical stuff: my general approach to the workflow of making a b/w image is this:
1. I'll make general adjustments to the image in Lightroom 4 focussing on getting the exposure perfect and paying particular attention to the histogram- I especially don't want any blown highlights. I'll often add either a touch or a liberal dose of clarity depending on the scene and I'll either do that globally or (depending on the scene) locally with the adjustment brush. The clarity slider can really have a big impact coupled with the black and white conversion, and it can add a lot of depth and dimension, but on the other hand it can become garish if you go too far- just like too much of anything. I'll sharpen some globally and sharpen more locally with the adjustment brush and depending on the scene I will also employ the masking slider in the sharpening dialog used with holding down the alt option key on Mac it will show you the size of the mask in order to keep the sharpening out of clear areas. I'll also do a couple other things like use Highlight recovery (which works exponentially better than the Fill Light tool did in Lr3) and get some deep blacks with the Blacks slider and make some global contrast adjustments, but at this point I want to go right to the black and white version before making any other big changes to let the b/w scene speak to me.
2. Dust spot removal. You want to do this now, not after the conversion to black and white because the texture and grain of the conversion is going to make spot removal a lot more difficult then. So zoom in at 100 percent loupe and scroll around the sky especially but everywhere else because those little dust buggers are in there somewhere, they always are! One trick here is if you crank the contrast and clarity sliders all the way up then the dust will come right to the surface, make your fixes and bring the sliders back to where they were and you're good to go.
3. Crop. I love using virtual copies in Lightroom and will often end up with a dozen or so slightly different versions of the same image that I can compare to find my favorite. Also I'll compare my favorites of the batch by using the C key after selecting two images to compare- this will bring them up side by side or however you set it up and you can dim the lights by hitting the L key and maximize the workspace by hitting the Shift plus Tab keys. And I'm cropping here because I'm choosing the finished look of the crop now to let the b/w conversion "speak to me" like I said before.
4. Edit in Nik Silver Efex Pro or Silver Efex Pro 2. I am still using version 1 and I know that version 2 is better for the micro contrast controls and the other refinements and I will eventually get the SEP2 so you might as well start with that one. Now this is not the time to teach you how to use Nik Silver Efex but on the Nik website there are great tutorials, so go there. I love the feature of the control points and depending on the scene will use the points to bring out certain areas and make selective contrast and structure and brightness adjustments. I also love the color filters presets and will often go with the red filter or green filter for global contrast effects. Save this and it'll pop up in Lightroom next to your original.
5. Gradients and Dodging and Burning. This is where you can really start to have a lot of fun with the image. By now you've undoubtably or that is to say hopefully found the direction you want to take the image in, and here you can put the finishing touches on the highlights and shadows and use the areas of dark and light to help guide the eye around the image. I'll often add a gradient to the sky by using the graduated neutral density filter in Lightroom and I may do that a couple times laying on over the other with different widths to really control subtle darkening of the sky. A good trick here is to watch the thumbnail image as that little picture can help show abrupt unnatural transitions, I'll often use the thumbnail actually for much of the development process for that very reason. Also I'll often edit the image in Photoshop at this point and make a duplicate layer and use the gradient tool that Ps has as the control of that particular gradient tool has a lot more options and makes some sweet results. I know that a lot of my friends like to use masks in layers to control gradients and selective luminance adjustments but I more reserve that for the rare architectural for the time being although that route offers advanced control and selectivity.
6. Sit on it. When you think you're done close your work and relax. Go to sleep and look at it the next day, when we work on an image we kind of become "colorblind" of sorts, (pardon me for using that insensitive term?) But when you work on an image for hours on end you lose your objectivity and impartiality, you think what you're working on is the bee's knees, you think that it be the next 4.3 million dollar Gursky blockbuster- but then you look at it the next day and think: what was I thinking!? So this is an important step.
7. Print it, upload it to Faceplace, and G+, and Flickerer, and move on to the next one. And tell 'em I sent ya! And have a nice day- Nate.
For more reading:
John Paul Caponigro "Black and White Mastery -B&W pallet"
Joel Tjintelaar https://plus.google.com/107742567767125793693/posts
"Acadian Coast", this was when my sweatshirt almost got swept out to sea.
"I need a photo opportunity, I need a shot at redemption, don't want to end up a cartoon in a cartoon graveyard" Paul Simon "Graceland"
edit: The word "addiction" carries a negative connotation but in this manifestation I don't think it's too bad of a thing.
I was talking with my honorary big-sister Linda Perrin last night http://atlanticartglass.blogspot.com/ whom I work for blowing glass and this idea occurred to me that I'd love to talk about and see if you guys agree with me on this one (you guys being my fellow photography friends and perhaps other creators of things, whatever- anybody respond!). Linda and I sometimes have some fun conversations about creativity and art and the process while we are working and last night I was trying to recount the inspirational and challenging blog post written by Guy Tal here: http://guytal.com/wordpress/2012/05/photography-and-the-creative-life/ that I read yesterday morning regarding concepts like art vs representation and finding your voice etc.. By the way, if you like reading about creativity and art and photography then you should definitely have Guy's blog in your favorites list.
Guy Tal reading Edward Weston (taken from his blog)
What I said to her (Linda), was that as a photographer I'm constantly and incessantly thinking of what my next picture is going to be. I ran into a quote this winter that sums it up perfectly: “Which of my photographs is my favorite? The one I’m going to take tomorrow.” – Imogen Cunningham. And that's so true, while I can be perfectly happy with what I'm working on now or the image that I posted today, once that is behind me I feel like I'm already "behind the 8-ball", like the clock is ticking, or maybe it's a fear that I will never again be able to make an interesting enough picture, or I don't know... that the world will end or something else irrational like that? But I'm thinking and scheming and checking maps and crossing places off lists with the next shot in mind. Certainly we with our cameras are full time imaginators, whether we are actively shooting or not, and while driving to do errands we see pictures all around us- how the light is warmly kissing the edge of that tree or the perfect cumulous clouds above or the face of that really interesting looking person dancing with his dog on the sidewalk? etc. We see that stuff as we would if we had the viewfinder to our dominant eye and turning the focussing ring- anybody else manually focus here?
I use my big camera about 3 times a week probably as an average. And I like to work on or develop images more like maybe 6 days a week. And I like to look at pictures everyday of the week. Although I suffer from having to punch the clock and "work for the man" I really probably wouldn't be all that more productive even if I did have the time? Well that's perhaps somewhat of an exaggeration to try and prove my point here as there undoubtably would be more picture making if I did have the more time, nonetheless I would posit that visualizing and conceptualizing between shooting sessions is as valuable as the shooting itself. And it gives us time to review our recent images and see where we need to improve our technique, it gives us time to look at the Google Maps and scout locations, to look at our friends images that are more and more incredible every day and maybe find a new course to pursue through doing that. And we should have something of a succinct body of work, where I would love to be an "everything photographer" my focus is landscapes and nature and through self-curating I only have a few different cohesive shows of work of all the thousands and thousands of images I have so that always takes consideration, and more dedication etc.
edit edit: I wrote this kind of quickly yesterday afternoon and I got slightly sidetracked along the way but wanted to add one more thing: I started seriously pursuing making photography back in 2000/2001 and really started to feel the reward of it when I would come home from after making glass with Atlantic Art Glass which is a fantastic feeling of creation blowing glass is, but then after we were done for the day and I was home and I would have regained my energy and there would be lots of time left in the day I felt the desire to keep making stuff and photography allowed me to create on my own time and it was dependent on only me and it felt just as fantastic with the feeling of creation. No matter if it's photography or glass blowing or whittling or house of cards building or pencil drawing creation feels like a necessary obligation.
So what drives you my photographer friends to make more images? And do you ever feel satisfied with what you've accomplished to the point of just relaxing and not "worrying" about it? Am I over reacting? Are dogs man's best friend? What's your favorite kind of pizza? What's the meaning of life? I digress, see ya! -Nate.
More cool photography quotes:
“Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.” – Henri Cartier-Bresson
“If I have any ‘message’ worth giving to a beginner it is that there are no short cuts in photography.” – Edward Weston
“I always thought of photography as a naughty thing to do – that was one of my favorite things about it, and when I first did it, I felt very perverse.” – Diane Arbus
“In photography there is a reality so subtle that it becomes more real than reality.” – Alfred Stieglitz
I started seriously trying to make pictures 12 years ago because I live in Acadia. You can't visit or spend time in Acadia without wanting to make pictures, it's gorgeous, everywhere, and always different and always interesting, no matter where you look. Sunday morning I set the alarm for 03:00 so I could get up and take a quick wake-up-shower and gulp down 3 cups of coffee to get out the door by 03:40 to drive 30 minutes to get to the east side of the island to catch the morning light. Sunrise was 05:00 that day (give or take a couple minutes) and the images I wanted to try to find would have been around 4:30- 05:00. I finally have some energy again after fighting off a wicked cold that turned into a nasty cough for the last 2 weeks and I haven't been out shooting yet in the morning now that it's warmed up nicely. Making pictures on a warm morning in beautiful soft light is an experience that just can't be beat. And if anything else I would at least get some practice at that kind of thing: getting up way too early and trying to make work in a sleepy haze. And it was a nice morning that proved to be totally worth it- the images aren't blockbusters but it was fun and gave me some ideas for future comps and I took the time while my shutter was open to record a little video blog to show you guys the oceanside of where I live. Have a good one and thanks for stopping by -Nate.
And here's some of the pictures I made: (shot with Canon 5d MKII and 17-40 f/4.0 L USM using a B+W 110 ND filter)
"Tangerine Skies Over Acadia"
"Acadian Coast From Thunder Hole"
"Bob Seeger Was Here" (that's a reference to an aging American Rock and Roller and his soporific paleo-anthem), no offense Bob-
Which one do you like? And make a video blog yourselves and show me where you live! Yeah! Over and out, -Nate.