Category Archives: Uncategorized

Creating A Typical Image

It is important to me to get as much of my creative work done within the camera rather than on a computer using Photoshop.  I’m by no means against manipulating images, but I work with a handicap.  I have a colour deficiency in my vision (In the old days we would say colour blind).  So by leaning on my knowledge of how to capture the image properly in the camera, I avoid a lot of computer work later.  So while I do manipulate my images to achieve the results I want artistically, I still do as much in camera as possible.

Here is an example of how I create an image.

Adobe Camera RAW import settings

Adobe Camera RAW import settings

If you look at the histogram, you can see that none of the channels are close to being blown out.  The histogram is nicely filled out almost to the right end which gives me the most options of how I want the final exposure to look in the print.  Notice that there has been no bumping of any of the the import settings.  Everything is zeroed.

Once I open the image into Photoshop, here is what it looks like.

RootBeerFalls2

Notice that the white foam and the water have no detail to them.  The exposure is ok, but they need some help.  This is where adjusting the contrast brings a photo to life.  If there is any secret I have it is bringing out the detail by carefully controlling the contrast in the image.

Now the contrast is right and a little cloning on the bottom left to remove some leaves I don’t like finishes the image up.

RootBeerFalls4

Now we have detail, good colour in the water (caused by tannin from the swamp full of oak trees that is draining into this little stream) and plenty of detail in the rocks.  At this point a small adjustment curve is applied and the image is done.  It really doesn’t take much to clean up a RAW image into one that looks good.

That’s how I do it most of the time.

Frosty Mornings Are Not So Bad

There is no need to be depressed about the cold on mornings like this.  I took a walk in Stanley Park in Vancouver on a lovely frosty morning not too long ago.  What I found in the intimate details around me was beautiful.  It made the morning exercise all the more refreshing.  Just get out and look around you.  Take a camera and discover the little things.  It’s not always about grand and epic landscapes.  It’s the combination of these little moments in life and the big scenes that lets us all see what a beautiful world we live in.

 

FrostyMorningFind Frost2

The Joy Of Doing What You Love

Photography has been an important part of my life since I was about 13 years old.  Pouring all my artistic energy into the little magic box consumed me at times.  Other times it was ignored… but never for long.  Making images is something that I love.  Visiting unique and interesting places to make those images also became something I loved.

From the earliest days, I was drawn to old buildings and the landscapes around them.  That passion continues today unabated.  However, I have also embraced photographing grand landscapes and other natural wonders of the world.  When I am making images I am at my happiest.  When I’m doing the post work on them not so much, but they do go hand in hand.

Leaving my regular world job last year was a liberating and terrifying experience all at the same time.  I left behind nice people that I enjoyed working with and struck out in the tough world of art.  I certainly don’t make as much money as I used to, but each and every day is a new adventure.  Sometimes scary business adventures and sometimes breath taking outdoor adventures where I seek to make new art that will move the people that take the time to view my work.  The joy of doing this work now consumes me.  I long to be outdoors working.

The photograph above is of a hiking stick that I used to carry around with me as I wandered making photos.  I found the stick on a trail many years ago and it is now worn smooth from my hands and the miles that it wandered with me.  These days it has become my ceremonial hiking stick replaced by proper hiking sticks used by those that hike seriously.  But each time I visit an area that offers hiking stick medallions for hikers, I purchase one and add it to my now ceremonial stick.  The stick is covered in them now with little room left for more.  I display it in my art gallery and people ask about it all the time.

I happily tell visitors about the places and photographs I made for any of the medals that intrigue them.  I love this stick as crazy as it sounds.  It’s the story stick of my life!!  It seems appropriate that it sits on a ledge above my PC at the gallery where I see it all day long.  I love my life and what I do.  And I’m thankful to have an understanding wife that lets me pursue this passion.

I highly recommend doing what you love!!

Brent

The Fine Art Giclee

The word Giclée (“g-clay”), is derived from the French verb gicler meaning “to squirt or spray”.  In 1991 Jack Duganne of Nash Editions coined the word to describe the new at the time process of creating fine art prints using an inkjet printer.  At that time, the notion of using a computer and inkjet printer to create art was something the art community wasn’t ready to embrace.  Fast forward 20+ years and things are a little different.  In fact, with the acceptance of digital printing, many people now refer to Giclée prints as pigment ink prints.  Whatever term you choose to use, the fact is that this form of printing is here to stay for the foreseeable future.  And the reality is that it provides the finest quality reproduction printing in the world.  By combining archival inks and museum grade paper or canvas we can now produce rich vibrant prints that will stand the test of time.

There are of course other popular methods of printing available in this day and age.  Some people prefer a traditional chromogenic (wet process) photographic print.  Others like the extreme saturated colours of dye sublimination transfers onto aluminum plates.  However, one thing is certain.  Of all the processes available, the pigment ink print offers the most number of surfaces, probably the longest life and is readily available at reasonable prices.  These days all the processes are tested thoroughly and the science predicts lifespans of 30 years or more for wet prints or as much as 75-150 years for pigment ink prints!  The two types that will not have long lives are the sublimination prints on aluminum due to their dye based colours (Which is a shame since they are spectacular) and of course most 4 colour lithographs.  But the fact is that we won’t know if the science is right until the real years go by.  However, the short life span of some of the technologies does remove them from what most consider a fine art print.

A Fine Art Print

So what makes the pigment ink print a fine art print and not just a print?  Well in the world of pigment ink prints it is a combination of things.  Unfortunately there are actually no rules that can be quickly applied to determine if the print is a fine art print.  In the case of the prints I produce for myself and my clients, I choose to use Epson printers which are among the best of the printers available.  But selecting a top quality printer is not the end of the story.  The bottom line is that to make a museum worthy print will require a great printer, quality archival inks, the best papers or canvas and careful colour management.

Pigment Ink Printers

Although they can be thought of as inkjet printers, the printers used to make fine art prints have some significant improvements over a standard inkjet.  First, they will have more colour inks in them.  Currently, the most popular printers will have either 8 or 12 inks in them.  The increased number of inks allow a much larger number of colours to be mixed which allows for tremendously smooth gradients and bold bright colours.  For B&W aficionados, there are even special carbon inks that produce probably the finest B&W prints ever made.  Printers from Epson, HP and Canon dominate the market for art printing at this time.

About The Ink

Pigment inks contain solid physical particles which are deposited on the surface of the paper or canvas.  These particles are as lightfast as current technology can make them.  The pigment of course needs to be acid free.  Since pigments are actually finely ground powders, they require some form of liquid carrier to suspend them while they are waiting to be deposited onto the paper or canvas.  Each manufacturer has their own secret sauce they use as a carrier, but in each case they use a material that is completely neutral to the printing process.  The carrier must be able to off gas out of the print leaving behind no trace.  Generally the inks made by the printer manufacturer are the best to use in their respective printers.  However, there are some specialty inks available that are from third parties that can be even better than the manufacturers.  Rest assured though that these are not the cheap junk inks that are used to refill desktop inkjets.  The best inks are so costly that if their price per gallon was calculated, it would be in the $1000 per gallon range.

Print Media

The papers used to make a fine art print are universal in their need to be acid free.  If the paper or canvas is not completely acid free, it will cause colour shifting and fading.  Sadly, nearly no media is acid free.  The closest materials to being acid free are cotton rag papers and cotton canvases.  When making a fine art print, the media must be carefully selected.  Professional grade media from reputable makers such as Hahnemuhle, Epson, Canson and others will be the most commonly used.  It should also be noted that fine art prints should not contain compounds which make the paper a brighter white than a natural warm tone.  Bright white papers contain optical brightening agents known as OBA’s.  OBAs are a class of chemicals added to paper to make it appear “whiter” to your eye. These brighteners work by absorbing UV light and re-emitting light in the blue region. OBAs breakdown over time and allow the true, more natural shade of paper to emerge – thus yellowing will occur.  Interestingly, OBA breakdown does not affect the life of an inkjet print. However, the changing shade of the base paper will become more noticable over time and cause colour shifts in the print.

Colour Management

The final piece of the puzzle is the management of colours.  Every printer will produce a slightly different result if compared to another.  In fact two printers off the same assembly line at the same time will produce a slightly different result.  They will be close, but not quite the same.  Couple this fact with the knowledge that each type of paper or canvas will react differently to the ink used in differing printers and a big problem develops.  It is necessary for each printer and paper to be calibrated to one another.  To do this, the printer will produce a series of coloured targets on the paper that are measured by a photospectrometer to see how close they are to the theoretical colour values of each target.  Software then evaluates the resulting colour shifts and produces a profile that is used for the printer and paper combination being tested.  These are generally known as profiles.  In order to produce repeatable and correct colours in a print, profiles are a must.  Without them, prints could be awful at times, acceptable at others or even different each time an image is printed.  When selecting a company to do printing, the artist or photographer needs to have a copy of these profiles so that they can soft proof their images on the PC.  This will help ensure the most accurate print is made.

To be honest, this is a gross over simplification of the fine art printing process.  From the side of the printing company the work is constant and frustrating.  From the artist or photographer’s side of things though they have to select their printing company carefully and work hand in hand with them to generate a beautiful print that is worthy of exhibition in any gallery.  A print that sings to the rafters and will stand the test of time.

Camera Support

It never ceases to amaze me how few people provide their cameras proper support while making photographs.  I’m speaking about tripods and the heads that we use on them.  Obviously some forms of photography don’t lend themselves to using a tripod.  But for a landscape shooter, a tripod is an essential piece of kit.  Some people claim that they have steady hands and don’t need a tripod.  If that is you, stop reading now.  You probably don’t and don’t want to hear what I have to say anyway.

When I was younger I didn’t like a tripod for all the same reasons most folks rationalize not using one.  But the day came when I decided, that I wanted the best possible images that could be squeezed out of my equipment.  I had a good camera body and pretty good glass at the time, but if I wanted more, I could not ignore the science or the wisdom of the landscape shooters that had gone before me.

Many photographers (myself included) purchase several tripods over the years.  Usually spending a little more each time but still not finding any improvement in their images.  Which of course leads to thinking that there is no benefit.  What I think is happening, is that most people believe that tripods should be inexpensive.  They are after all basic looking devices and they seemingly don’t play an imaging role like the lens or camera body.  But cheap tripods are just that.  Cheap, wobbly and weak.  Usually they are far too short and have a terrible head on them.

The fact of the matter is that a tripod should be solid and tall enough that a mounted camera is at the photographer’s eye level without using a centre column to raise the camera.  In fact, the best tripods won’t have a centre column and definitely won’t have a head.  When building a camera support system, the process is one where you buy legs, a head and perhaps a mounting system.

In 2004, I decided that I would get serious about camera support.  I spent a great deal of time reading, contacting other photographers and fiddling with equipment in stores.  As it turns out, support is not cheap.  In fact, it is expensive.  Now ten years later, I find that I have sufficient support and have some information to share.  I can also say that proper support helped get my images to the next level of quality.  Today with cameras that have 36MP sensors, the need to support a camera in a rock solid fashion is more important than ever.

From my experience, giving the following items consideration will make using a tripod much easier and no longer a frustrating experience.

 Start With The Legs

Select a sturdy 3 section tripod (4 sections at most) from a manufacturer like Manfrotto, Gitzo or Really Right Stuff.  Make sure that the legs extend tall enough that when you mount a tripod head and your camera on them, the camera eye piece will be at your eye level without raising the centre column.  In fact pick a model with no centre column to save weight.  Raising a centre column will negate any good that your tripod legs are doing since even a slight wind will shake the camera.  If you don’t plan to carry your tripod long distances, an aluminum set of legs will do great.  If you are a hiker, then carbon fibre will be the lightest option.  You are probably going to spend $250-$1000 just on legs.  This is a pay me now or pay me later deal.  Don’t buy cheap stuff.  There are other manufacturers than I noted above and they will have some good legs too.  But select carefully.

gitzo

Notice that the legs above do not have a centre column.  Just a nice big hefty platform to mount a head.

Select An Appropriate Ball Head

A ball head is the perfect tool for still photography with 35mm style cameras.  A proper ball head will set you back $250-$600.  Great units come from companies like Acratech, Kirk, Arca Swiss and Really Right Stuff.

Heads from these manufacturers will graduate you into a new method of mounting your camera to the ball head.  Most tripod heads have frustrating proprietary mounting plates which you screw onto your camera that allow you to pop the camera onto your tripod.  These small plates do not hold well and eventually work loose at the worst time causing you to lose a shot or perhaps dump your camera on the ground.  They also only work with accessories made by the company that made the head.

A good pro head will have a mounting system invented by Arca Swiss many years ago.  It is a quick release system that is strong, easy to use and in my opinion an absolute pleasure to use.  Arca mounting plates open up a whole new world of options for the photographer.  The photograph below is of my current ball head made by Really Right Stuff.  It has an Arca Swiss mounting clamp on top, a large ball which allows the head to support heavy pro camera bodies and nicely knurled knobs that are a pleasure to use in any weather.

Really Right Stuff BH-55

Really Right Stuff BH-55

There are people that like the inexpensive pistol grip style heads that are available.  But despite the seemingly wonderful flexibility they have, they are not stable enough.  They just aren’t.  You won’t find any big names in photography with them on their tripod legs.

Select A Mounting System

A camera will require some sort of mounting system.  It could be as simple as a 1/4″ screw that goes right into the bottom of the camera or a mounting plate made by the ball head manufacturer.  The best systems use an Arca Swiss compatible mounting plate.  An Arca Swiss plate must be installed on a camera in order to use the ball heads I mentioned previously.  Do yourself a favour and purchase what is known as an L-bracket.  An L-bracket is a machined aluminum plate that fits around the bottom and left side of your camera body.  It is machined to precisely fit your model of camera while providing access points to all the covers, hatches and batteries in your model camera.

Once an L-bracket is mounted on the camera, the camera can be rapidly moved from horizontal shooting to vertical shooting by quickly releasing the camera from the head, turning it sideways and sliding it back in.  This keeps the camera completely centred over the tripod head and prevents the horrible flop to the side that is so annoying when trying to compose a vertical image while on a tripod.  I can rotate my pro sized camera body from one orientation to the other in 2-3 seconds. L-brackets can be purchased from companies such as Kirk, Markins and Really Right Stuff.  Expect to pay $100-$150 for the bracket.  I promise it will be worth every penny.

L-Plate2

D3-1

The image above shows how vertical images can be composed in a more stable position using an L-bracket.  The camera is directly over the ball head and not off to the side in an unbalanced position.  I can’t overemphasize how amazingly easy and comfortable this scenario is when shooting vertical images.  Once a photographer has moved up to an Arca mounting system, a whole new world of accessories open up to them that make life easier and quicker while working.

Support Is Essential!

Getting a camera stable is critical to making the sharpest photographs possible.  Once a photographer wraps their head around the idea that their support system is every bit as important as their camera and optics, the price becomes understandable.  Modern high end support systems require a lot of engineering, machining and testing to design.  It may take a photographer some time to realize the need for proper support.  However, take it from me and of course the photographic masters, proper support will be a game changer when looking for the sharpest images possible.

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