trace photographs: Blog https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog en-us Copyright (C) trace photographs All rights reserved info@tracephotographs.com (trace photographs) Sun, 22 Aug 2021 18:20:00 GMT Sun, 22 Aug 2021 18:20:00 GMT https://www.tracephotographs.com/img/s/v-12/u124562184-o533181183-50.jpg trace photographs: Blog https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog 86 120 Aperture :: Iterations and Variations https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2021/5/aperture-iterations-and-variations Picasso was asked, "When do you know a painting is 'finished'?," to which he is reported to have replied, "When it is signed." Now we photographers, especially those of us now working in the digital realm of the medium rarely if ever sign our work, unless perhaps we print the work. Brooks Jensen, one of my favorite people in all of photography has a wonderful podcast with short bursts of great wisdom from the depths and history of analog film photography to present. He has a lot to say on the fine art of photography and the value of providence and signing your work. That said, many today might say an image is finished when you post it somewhere online. I'm not one them.

Aperture IterationsAperture Iterations I am at heart a "noodler," an experimenter, a bit of an alchemist when it comes to images, but I've been that way ever since I stepped into an analog darkroom in high school. I love creating variations and iterations of an image, often going in very disparate directions to see what strikes me in a moment, or to see what direction an image itself wants to go. Creating new variants to experiment and compare next to each other is one of the great perks of working digitally today. 

Aperture VariationsAperture Variations This Black & White variation is the one I have settled on for my :: ONE :: Portrait Gallery at this time. I love this variation, but I'm not ready to call the image theme finished. By the time you read this it's entirely possible a different iteration will take its place (and it has). Each variation can build off of a previous one, or you can go back to the original image and take it in a whole other direction.

Aperture-Definition BrushAperture-Definition Brush Each iteration has unique processing and subtle edits in Aperture often dictated by the kind of processing in an External Editor or plugin. The very powerful Brush tool in Aperture lets me finess the after-processing from other programs. As part of my "never call it finished" mantra, I have no qualms about revisiting older images and looking into new or alternate ways to process them. Sometimes they can be images I have posted in the world, or images that never got considered but are worth a new look. 

Aperture-Iteration and VariationAperture-Iteration and Variation This iteration is the result of using two layered LUTs in Exposure X5 followed by some extensive Color Brush work in Aperture. For this version I used the original image to start with a clean palate. When I hit on this combo in Exposure I really felt like the image had reached its last point where I had no interest in going further, but in fact I continue to noodle with the base image, so when you visit the gallery the latest version will most likely be on display. One thing I learned about Aperture in this process is there is a limit to six Adjustment Bricks of the same adjustment, and I utilized all of them for the subtle adjustments needed. 

All artists, be they painters, musicians, mixed media artists, poets or photographers have a thirst for exploration, and just like Jazz musicians as an example we make countless improvisations and variations on themes. It may be looked on as a "perfecting", although I don't believe in that ideal. I think we continue to iterate on our work and really never "finish" them, but merely abandon them. At which point perhaps they may be signed.        

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info@tracephotographs.com (trace photographs) Aperture Apple Art Artists Creativity Exposure X5 Fine Art Imagination Improvisation Inspiration Invention Jazz Learning Photography The Creative Life Variations https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2021/5/aperture-iterations-and-variations Mon, 17 May 2021 00:35:34 GMT
The Perfect Pairing :: Aperture and Exposure X5 https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2021/5/the-perfect-pairing-aperture-and-exposure-x5 Gabriella MatrixGabriella Matrix Sometimes, once in a great while perhaps, you come across a pair of image editing softwares that play so well together you can't help but marvel at how well they do it. Most people will have a pair of software they use for image editing like the Adobe pairing of Photoshop and Lightroom to do all they need to create their images. Some really crazy folks will have several programs they use and bounce between them regularly, but I like to keep things simple and keep to a great pair (with a third leg of the software tripod being Affinity Photo, for serious pixel pushing, graphics and compositing.) My chosen pairing is Apple's Aperture and Exposure X5. 

Aperture Edit with Exposure X5Aperture Edit with Exposure X5Screenshot By setting up my Aperture to have Exposure X5 as the prefered External Photo Editor, it makes it seamless to switch between the two programs. I can easily switch to having Affinity Photo as the External Photo Editor on the fly when I need those tools, but I mostly love using Aperture and Exposure together.   Aperture-Exposure X5 RoundtripAperture-Exposure X5 RoundtripScreenshot

The main reason I think any of us creatives use more than one photo editing software is for the variety of tools and features that one program has that another does not. I have written before in some detail of my love for the tools unique to Exposure X5 (scroll down near the end of the post for the skinny). 

Aperture-Exposure X5 SAVEAperture-Exposure X5 SAVEScreenshot The cool thing about designating Exposure X5 as the External Photo Editor in Aperture is as soon as the image opens in Exposure, you get an extra Save button which makes the roundtrip return to Aperture seamless. Once you have made use of whatever unique tools in Exposure you like, just click the Save button to return to Aperture.

Aperture-Exposure X5 Roundtrip ReturnAperture-Exposure X5 Roundtrip Return Once you return to Aperture, the new variation is stacked with your original image. I usually tend to continue editing in Aperture after a return from Exposure. Certain tweaks and finishing touches I like do in Aperture before exporting the finished image. Now for a caveat or two on this process: In Aperture you can choose in the Preferences how you want an External Photo Editor to receive a copy to open in it. You can choose either .TIFF as an 8-Bit or 16-Bit, or a .PSD as 8-Bit or 16-Bit. If you open a .PSD variation in either Affinity Photo or Photoshop you can set the preferences in either of those programs to save the .PSD with "Maximum Compatibility"  or "Maximum Editability"  that will preserve your layers once you return to Aperture. You can do further edits in Aperture and if you want to re-edit the layers in either Photoshop or Affinity Photo you can re-open it, although any edits you did in Aperture after will not appear in Affinity or Photoshop. But once you make new changes to your layers and save it back to Aperture, the image will update and show the latest Aperture edits as well. 

OnOne Photo 10 PreferencesOnOne Photo 10 Preferences

OnOne Photo 10 Preferences

Affinity Photo and Photoshop are the two programs that allow you to save a .PSD with re-editable layers. The only other image editing program I know of in my toolbox that also allows the saving of an editable .PSD is OnOne Photo 10 (and by extension the newer OnOne Photo RAW 21.) For that reason if I know I will use OnOne as a plugin and do work with multiple layers I will set Aperture to create a .PSD to send to OnOne. For some unknown reason Exposure X5 won't open a .PSD variation when sent from Aperture. Because a roundtrip to Exposure means I get a "baked in" flattened image I simply choose to have Aperture create a 16-Bit .TIFF variation to edit (I'll switch to a 16-Bit .PSD if I'm editing in Affinity Photo.) All caveats aside, I love how these two programs work together just like "peas & carrots"! 

Aperture-Exposure X5 screensAperture-Exposure X5 screensScreenshot The beauty of pairing these two powerful image editors for me is being able to configure the interfaces to very nearly match (if I want to match them even more, I could go into Aperture's full screen Dark Mode). The use of the very cool, unique tools in Exposure X5 (like the built-in LUT tool, and filmic presets, etc.) feels like a really wonderful extension of Aperture. 

Aperture-Exposure X5 Now I realize as much as I write about Aperture that you can't get it. If you didn't get it from Apple before it was discontinued in 2014, you have to use an alternative. And if you had Aperture and chose for various reasons to move on to another program, let me leave you with this point: whichever image editors you do choose, If you can configure them for maximum compatibility and seamless integration I think your editing experience will be greatly enhanced. May you find your perfect pair! Cheers!        

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info@tracephotographs.com (trace photographs) Adobe Affinity Photo Aperture Apple Art Creativity Exposure X5 Fine Art Inspiration Photography Photoshop Software The Creative Life https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2021/5/the-perfect-pairing-aperture-and-exposure-x5 Wed, 05 May 2021 18:43:01 GMT
Aperture :: And The Unsupported Image Format https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2021/4/aperture-and-the-unsupported-image-format Aperture .NEF RAW UIFAperture .NEF RAW UIF If you are an Aperture user (I know, we are a very small but dedicated and scrappy bunch), this is the one thing you hope never to see! This dreaded image will appear after you import a RAW file that Aperture doesn't support, which includes most any camera that came out after 2015. The complete list of compatible cameras and their RAW formats for Aperture is here. In my Aperture Users Group there are a lot of discussions about having to move on from the discontinued Aperture and what alternatives are available. I have addressed some of those discussions in previous posts and why I will continue to use Aperture for the next 10+ years. Probably the biggest issue with members of the AUG is the above incompatible RAW image format. Fortunately Aperture does support my current camera files, but what if/when I upgrade to a new unsupported camera? 

Aperture Unsupported RAW-TIFF ComparisonAperture Unsupported RAW-TIFF Comparison                      Affinity Photo RAW Render                                Exposure X5 RAW Render 

So to experiment a solution I asked a fellow photographer to send me a RAW file (Nikon) that I knew was unsupported by Aperture. I decided to process the file first in Affinity Photo RAW, and render it out as a 16-Bit TIFF file to import into Aperture. I then did the same using Exposure X5 to see what differences there were between them. As you see the Affinity RAW render did much better overall, and the colors were truer. I could have tweaked the Affinity file more as you have complete control over how your RAW is rendered. The Exposure X5 version rendered odd colors and was significantly sharper (too sharp even), but that was because Output Sharpening was set to "medium/glossy" in the export dialogue. 

Aperture Unsupported RAW-TIFFAperture Unsupported RAW-TIFF Although both versions were exported as 16-Bit TIFFS and imported into Aperture, their file size and pixel size were oddly different. 🤷🏻‍♂️  I think the pixel size difference may be explained by the fact I checked the Lens Correction box in Affinity Photo's RAW Persona which slightly adjusted the image. Exposure doesn't give you the option to apply Lens Correction, and it doesn't appear to by default.

Affinity-Exposure RAW  Render Output Sharpener OffAffinity-Exposure RAW Render Output Sharpener Off                   Affinity Photo RAW Render                         Exposure X5 RAW Render Output Sharpener Off

I re-exported the Exposure X5 render with the output sharpener turned off, and it was now significantly softer than the Affinity version. As I've said before I don't rely on Exposure to be my RAW processor, and with good cause. Now as great as Affinity Photo's RAW Persona is for creating the best render with a lot of tools, it's not very efficient for quickly processing a large number of images (at least until Affinity brings us its DAM app, which is in development.) So what do I already have that could process a large number of RAW images that Aperture doesn't support? Oh yes, the app Apple brought us to replace Aperture and in fact comes free on all Macs: Apple Photos!   

Aperture-Apple Photos RAW ProcessAperture-Apple Photos RAW Process                      Affinity Photo RAW Render                                  Apple Photos RAW Render

As you see Apple Photos did an admirable job with the RAW render compared to Affinity Photo RAW, and that may be in large part because I have Affinity set to use the Apple (Core Image RAW) engine that Photos also uses and comes built into the MacOS. Sadly since Aperture was discontinued in 2014 it can no longer access the updated Core Image RAW engine. 

Aperture-Apple Photos RAW ProcessingAperture-Apple Photos RAW Processing Apple Photos rendering out a 16-Bit TIFF file also gave me an "unusual" file size compared to the other two versions. I have no explanation for it. 

Screenshot I decided the Apple Photos version could use a little more sharpening (yes, I could've done that in the Photos app) and decided to give the NIK Sharpener Pro 3.0 RAW Presharpener a spin. It's a real simple, basic tool that does one thing well. I chose to do that over adding an Aperture Sharpening Brick which renders sharpening a bit differently. If this had actually been a supported RAW image in Aperture I would've had access to the built in RAW Sharpener which is quite good. 

Aperture-Apple Photos RAW NIK Sharpener Pro RAWAperture-Apple Photos RAW NIK Sharpener Pro RAW                 Affinity Photo RAW  Render               Apple Photos RAW Render NIK Sharpener Pro RAW 

That bit of RAW Presharpening was just the touch this image needed. I'm really happy I have the tools to deal with the issue of Aperture not supporting image files, and can process a large number of images if I need to. I do need to change the location of where Apple Photos stores images/imports to a roomy external drive so my system doesn't bog down. My Aperture Library and Vault are on separate external drives, so once this last link is done I'll have my workflow all set.

This is what works for me, but as an alternative you can use the proprietary RAW processing software that comes with every camera sold. Although it will likely be pretty basic and not very pretty to look at, it will get the job done. Where there is a will, there is a way!  

Aperture-Apple Photos RAW  FINALAperture-Apple Photos RAW FINAL\

Apple Photos RAW render to Aperture, NIK Sharpener Pro 3.0 RAW Presharpener and a squeeze of Definition in Aperture. 

* Original .NEF file used in this testing provided by kind permission of Amy Roth Photo. Thank you, Amy! 

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info@tracephotographs.com (trace photographs) Aperture Apple Apple Photos Creativity Exposure X5 Imagination Inspiration Invention Learning NIK Collection NIK Sharpener Pro Nikon Photography RAW Software The Creative Life Unsupported Image Format https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2021/4/aperture-and-the-unsupported-image-format Tue, 06 Apr 2021 07:54:44 GMT
The Continued Case Against Software Subscriptions https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2021/4/the-continued-case-against-software-subscriptions Grabbing a warm, steamy cup of Joe, I thought I would settle in and wax on with a few more thoughtful insights against subscription software, specifically software geared towards photography and image editing and offer some questions you may not have thought to consider. Now I wrote an earlier blog post on "The Case Against Subscription Software" that covers much of my thoughts on the topic, along with some tasty historic information about the origins of the image editing saga, but I've recently had a few new ideas about it and want to share with you briefly here.

When I got started with Adobe and Photoshop in a serious way I worked on other's computers which had a Photoshop license. When I could finally afford my own copy of the $599.00 software I started with the then current CS2 version. I skipped the upgrade to CS3 and upgraded to CS4 when it came out. At the time Adobe offered the same discounted upgrade pricing for up to three versions prior (I miss those days!). I skipped the next two upgrades (CS5 and CS5.5) since they didn't offer enough bang for the buck to me and I figured I was safe to skip at least three versions and save money. When CS6 was released in May 2012, I did upgrade, though I don't recall how much I paid to do so. Adobe had raised the full price of Photoshop as a stand-alone product to $699.00, but by then they had also changed their upgrade policy to only apply to the single previous version before. Adobe has a history of leaving a bitter taste in their customers mouths! 

This was life with Adobe before "The Cloud Cliff" as I call it: the move to a subscription software model. Before committing to a subscription only software you have to be ok with always renting, never owning, the software. The next questions, and they are biggies, are: "What happens when I stop subscribing? Will I lose all my work? Will I lose my images? Will the program simply stop working altogether?"  With Photoshop, it will simply no longer work. If you also likely have Adobe Lightroom, the answer is a bit more interesting. Besides Adobe which only offers a subscription to their software, there are currently two other photo software companies offering a subscription model alternative along with a full price perpetual license: OnOne Photo RAW and Capture One Pro. Whether they'll choose in the future to go with a subscription only is anybody's guess, but you have to at least entertain that possibility. Their policies on what happens when you choose to end your subscription is less clear, so it is a big consideration.

Another consideration is in the course of a year's subscription run for you, what new features have been added that you find really useful, and worth the cost? I'm not talking about routine fixes and speed improvements that are free updates with perpetual license software, but genuine feature rich tools and upgrade features. Do you really need them? Are they worth the price of subscription? The current cost of an Adobe subscription for the Photoshop/Lightroom combo runs you $120.00 per year. I laugh when I hear folks say that any features that rollout throughout the year are free! No, you pay $120.00 every year for those features. So cumulatively, are they worth it? Only you can decide, but the reason users of Photoshop (and Lightroom too as I hear) skipped upgrades in years past when that was an option was precisely because the feature usefulness to cost was lacking. Now, you have no choice. Whether it's useful to you or not you pay for whatever comes, and in advance. 

My final thought on what I see as the"forced upgrade paradigm" has to do with changes to the software that have little to do with the functions it provides and is more about the form of the upgrade. For those familiar with my blog here, you know I am an avowed, card-carrying, dyed-in-the-wool software interface snob! Yes, I am well acquainted with the "Form follows function"  adage, and while I can embrace it, as a creative thinker and seer, one who is visually driven, I can't help but wish more consideration was given to really fine interface design.  Case in point, Exposure X5: 

Exposure X5 MinimalExposure X5 Minimal

My Exposure X5 Interface layout

 

Screenshot This screenshot of the  Exposure X5 interface is from a DPReview article on the upgrade to Exposure X6 (they have a link in the  article to hi-res screenshots that give you a great idea of the difference.)

Screenshot

Exposure X6 Interface 

  Now Exposure is NOT a subscription software photo editor, nor I pray will it ever be. That said it offers here a good example of my point about interface design changes. Whether you own or subscribe to your software, you have to eventually deal with interface changes, not because new tools are added or (God forbid) deleted, but because someone decides to redecorate the room!   

Screenshot From the DPReview article, this excerpt is where I completely disagree and is one of the main reasons I chose not to upgrade. All of the X5 UI features they derided in this review I find are really nice, elegant design. I downloaded the free trial of X6 to see If I thought the upgrade was worth it. The  first thing that struck me was the new interface that was actually quite dramatic (I probably let out an audible "ugh!"). 

Exposure X5 LUT PanelExposure X5 LUT Panel Let me say I love the X5 interface. The subtle ways of making the UI easy to read (especially for someone like me who could use all the vision help I can get!) is welcome. I particularly like the orange text and accents against a medium/dark grey panel which makes keeping separate items clear to spot. The new updated UI I found much harder to view. What DPReview admired as "more modern"  is less elegant and looks more "amateurish" to me. I wish program designers would stop trying to be like everybody else and following "fashionable trends"  and focus more on great, truly useful (unique?) design. Changing an app's UI simply to accent it as part of the features to make upgrading seem more worthwhile, change for change's sake, can be a big mistake. I ultimately decided to skip the X6 upgrade, not only for the UI, but it didn't offer tools I really needed in comparison. One other big difference in the UI change: If you toggle back and forth between the two, you'll notice the X6 UI has smaller fonts! That plus the hideous blue fonts and accents just made it harder on the eyes. 

Now fortunately with a stand-alone perpetual license software I own, I can skip an upgrade and stay with a program version I love, for forever actually, as long as it keeps working. I never have to upgrade If I don't want. I love and appreciate the freedom of that choice. With a subscription, you are locked in to whatever changes a company wants to implement, whether you like them or not. And in most cases you can't even roll back to a previous version you liked better. With a subscription you are in control of... nothing (except when you quit)! Perhaps a last consideration when thinking of going with a subscription for your image editing is what do you do when an upgrade is incompatible with your Operating System, or worse yet your hardware? Eventually the system requirements of a subscription software will meet the limits of your computer. What will you do then? Keep paying every year for "access" to software that you can't get upgrades to? Hardly seems worth it, especially when you consider the cost of having to upgrade your computer, even if it still has plenty of useful years otherwise.

When it comes to choosing to subscribe to your software or not, choose wisely! 

              

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info@tracephotographs.com (trace photographs) Adobe Capture One Pro Creativity Exposure X6 Exposure X5 Inspiration Invention Learning Lightroom OnOne Photo RAW Photography Photoshop Software Subscription The Creative Life https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2021/4/the-continued-case-against-software-subscriptions Sat, 03 Apr 2021 20:51:33 GMT
Aperture :: Make It Big https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2021/3/aperture-make-it-big Screenshot

If you are an Adobe Creative Cloud subscriber you probably know by now Adobe has just released an update to their separate RAW imaging processor Adobe Camera Raw (ACR). If you didn't get the memo, the YouTubes are alight with demos on its main feature Super Resolution. Funny thing is most of those channels are also running ads for the popular competitive software, Topaz Gigapixel AI. The image above is none of those solutions to the question of "How To Make It Bigger?"  

Those of you that follow this blog know I've recently switched back permanently to using Apple's Aperture to manage and process my RAW (and legacy) images after five  years with Capture One Pro. So if you've read some of my most recent posts, you know I did what I usually do when I hear of a cool new feature in another imaging software: I ask myself, "Can I do that too in what software I currently use?"  So using Aperture I turned to the one plugin that has been arguably the industry gold standard for image enlarging (I hate the term "blowup"), OnOne Resize (in my case OnOne Resize 10).  

Screenshot Since moving my things back into my Aperture "room" I decided to also cleanup and clean out my plugins folder to reflect only the current ones I care about and are useful. I discovered in researching this post that OnOne has a free upgrade to OnOne Photo 10 for anyone who was still using an older unsupported version (I had the Perfect Photosuite 9 version forever.) OnOne Photo 10 is the last version before they introduced OnOne Photo RAW (same tools, new updating and branding.) "Our very popular Genuine Fractals features have been enhanced, modernized, and rebranded. The same patented technology of Genuine Fractals is now available in what is referred to as ON1 Resize which is just one component or module of ON1 Photo 10.5.2."  Very nice of them! Genuine Fractals is the name of the proprietary algorithm that OnOne uses for its resize tool, and it quickly became the industry standard for artists needing to make large prints from relatively small files. What Adobe appears to be doing (and Topaz Gigapixel AI too) is using AI (machine learning) algorithms to do their voodoo. Plenty of the YouTubers reviewing those two have done pixel-peeping comparisons. 

Screenshot

Original RAW image @100% view

Screenshot

New version processed through OnOne Resize 10 enlarged by 200% (4x resolution) @100% view


But I'm here to see if my tools can give me great results with the same parameters as the new Adobe feature: that is doubling an images' pixel count to effectively give you a 4x increase in resolution without degrading the image. Tall order, but I'm greatly impressed with how OnOne Resize 10 still handles the request to SuperSize the order. 

Screenshot

Side-by-Side comparison of Original RAW image and re-sized image @100% view  

Screenshot

The same RAW image (and re-sized version) as above from a different section showing human element @100% view

Of course  this re-sizing process, no matter which tool you use, can lead to some very huge, space intensive files, so consider well which files you want to enlarge.
 

Screenshot

From a heavily processed TIFF image and the same 4x enlargement using OnOne Resize 10 @100% view.  

Resize 10 doesn't just work on RAW files, you can enlarge TIFFs, JPEGs, PSDs, etc. The choice of when to resize your images, at the beginning of your image editing process, or after you have  done all your editing tweaks is a decision with consequences. At the beginning of the process could lead to really large files  that can make some editing slow or nearly impossible depending on your computer. If you do enlarging at the end, there's a chance the process could reveal anomalies in your retouching. Either way, see what works best for you.  

Screenshot OnOne Resize 10 (and now Resize 21 - based on the year released) is a really powerful tool with some unique industry leading features that the new Adobe Super Resolution tool can't touch. As I understand Adobe's offering, it is very limited to a simple 4x only image enlargement and nothing else! No options for larger settings or fine-tuning the settings.

Screenshot OnOne Resize has been around for quite some time and as such offers a lot of options that are all useful for many scenarios of needing an enlarged image, including Gallery Wraps and Tiling for really large printing. There is one critical point I've never seen discussed in all this pixel-peeping talk about image resolution and enlarging for prints: There is a thing called "minimal viewing distance" which applies to how far away you view say, a work of art in accordance to its scale. We are not meant to view an enlarged print at the same distance we view its smaller version. It has to do with the physical qualities of vision, and somebody somewhere has done a chart on it. Google it.            

Now I don't have any Adobe products on my computer to test the new tool and compare. When they went to a subscription only model in 2013, I continued using my stand alone Photoshop CS6 until I discovered Affinity Photo in 2015, and purged all traces of Adobe off my system and never looked back. But I do keep a weathered eye on what is going on in the industry, and that's why I'm here. All that said, I find the ability to make significantly large scale images that maintain quality and sharpness using tools I already have that work beautifully together makes me really delighted! So if you want to, if you need to, MAKE IT BIG! 

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info@tracephotographs.com (trace photographs) ACR Adobe Aperture Apple Art Creativity Enlarge Fine Art OnOne Resize Photography Photoshop RAW Software Super Resolution https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2021/3/aperture-make-it-big Wed, 17 Mar 2021 02:34:29 GMT
Tools Too :: Photography Gear Matters ~ Or Does It? https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2021/1/tools-too-photography-gear-matters-or-does-it ToolsTools A few years ago I wrote a post called "Tools :: On Why Gear Really Does Matter" and I have wanted to do an update, or at least carry the conversation further ever since. I blame all of this gear talk on David Duchemin, he's the one who started it, or at least focused on it ('scuse the pun!) But David is a kindred spirit and we teach much of the same things. Always asking "What if?" 

This time on the expanded conversation of photography gear, I'm adding a focus (there you go again with the puns!) on software as well as the hardware we use.To me the discussion of gear should include everything we use to create an image. I know this industry is geared towards the next new thing, and companies who cater to our industry feel a need to create FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) on the latest tech, but I have a serious question for you (and them): what exactly are you missing out on then?

It can be agreed in the industry generally that the Megapixel Wars are over. Who won? If your current camera and lens(es), your imaging software and computer, all the tools you have give you great results and you are creating the images you want, why would they not do so tomorrow? When I came up in the photography field, in the analog film days, you bought gear that could arguably last you a 30-40 year career as a professional if you were so lucky to be working that long. All the pro photographers I know bought gear: cameras, lenses, studio strobes, stands, etc that were built to last. When you get down to it the gear essentially did the same thing, year after year. With digital that all has changed (many things for the better). But it has come at an expensive cost, and I don't just mean money-wise.   

Aperture + iPhoneographyAperture + iPhoneography There was an interesting exchange on my Aperture Users Group about the topic of this planned obsolescence in the tech/photo world. On the topic of the computers we use as our digital darkrooms, one member opined: "the other reality is a computer is good 3-5 years for production. Then it goes to secondary use or is sold." I think that perspective is short sighted and plays into the hands of those who want to keep selling us the new shiny thing. I believe there can be a longer productive life to the things we own and the gear we use. My answer to that statement on computers was to point to this post I did about using only Aperture to create a filmic portrait.

Aperture Final Filmic EditAperture Final Filmic EditScreenshot I also mentioned I'm running Aperture (five years after it was discontinued) on a computer that is 10+ years old and an OS that is 3+ years old. The RAW file I edited for that image was taken five years ago on a camera & lens that I bought 6+ years ago new: a model that came out 11+ years ago (and is since discontinued). So you see, who really says what the life of gear is if you make it work for you?   

But I get it, I hear everyone (mostly) saying they like/want the shiny new thing with the promise of doing things "better", "faster" more "efficiently!" I'm not against those things, but I ask myself what exactly is better? And then it comes at a greater cost (and one that effectively never ends). The cost financially of keeping up with the Jonses is one part, the other is the cost in anxiety I see in others and have experienced on which choice, model, version, etc. to select? The legion of people who will switch their perfectly fine camera & lenses to another manufacturer because an industry influencer did so. Even upgrading within a brand to the latest camera because of the bells & whistles your camera is lacking. Do you really need those bells & whistles? Will the images you create be SO much better? What if you mastered what you have, I mean really mastered your tools and gear?  

The very fun (and funny) Cheap Camera Challenge with photographer Lara Jade illustrates the point in its most absurd sense. Master what you have until it no longer serves you. Sadly with our digital photo life we have software that renders hardware obsolete, hardware that renders software no longer viable, camera models with image files that render software no longer usable unless you upgrade. And upgrading the software may mean you also have to upgrade your hardware... and it's all a never ending cycle. All this not to mention the mountains of digital refuse that clogs our landfills!  

I'm approaching this whole photography gear thing, in all of its elements, with my own paradigm of maximizing the usefulness of what I have, free from any fear of missing out on shiny new things. And when it is time to replace an item of gear, I know I will have gotten the most usefulness from it!        

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info@tracephotographs.com (trace photographs) Aperture Cameras Computer Creativity Gear Hardware Imagination Inspiration Invention Learning Lens Photography Software The Creative Life https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2021/1/tools-too-photography-gear-matters-or-does-it Sun, 31 Jan 2021 21:31:25 GMT
What I Want ~ Aperture '21 https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2021/1/what-i-want-aperture-21 Aperture wantAperture want This post is part fantasy, but more importantly a really close look at a beautifully designed program for RAW image, and general photography managing and editing: Apple's Aperture. This post also piggy-backs on my previous post on the current Photo Editing State-of-the-Art in 2021. 

Aperture + iPhoneographyAperture + iPhoneography I made a post with the above image on an Aperture Users Group I belong to asking members if Apple re-introduced Aperture for 2021, what would they like to see in it? The answers where diverse and interesting, and we'll cover some here (hence the fantasy part). I thought this image of an old vintage car with modern components was a good metaphor, but my point in posting to the group was to say "without greatly changing the underlying Aperture paradigm or UI aesthetics." Meaning not making it like most other modern photo software.  

Aperture Customize  ToolbarAperture Customize Toolbar When most people start with a new program, we take the default interface as "set" and simply use the tools given. Fortunately most programs let you tweak the interface, even if it's just a little bit. This is one of my required "wants" in any photo editing software. Some allow far more ability to make the interface your own. Aperture, which was discontinued in the summer of 2014, is a great example of software customization. For example if you utilize the top toolbar, you can add or delete a total of 53 different tools, not including the default set.

Aperture Set Keyboard ShortcutsAperture Set Keyboard Shortcuts I think all of the modern programs in this genre also allow you to map your own keyboard shortcuts to make your editing faster, especially if you are a keyboard junky (I on the other hand am not, but I do utilize several ones I have memorized or mapped.) This too is a must have in my software, and Aperture already comes with a ton of shortcuts built in (if only I would learn them). There is one vital shortcut that Aperture doesn't allow, but I will discuss that in a bit.

Aperture MinimalAperture Minimal If you want to go full interface minimal in Aperture (without going into fullscreen mode) you can, and here knowing keyboard shortcuts comes in handy.  

Aperture Minimal with InspectorAperture Minimal with Inspector This is my current default Aperture layout after I was doing research for this post and exploring the program more deeply than I ever had before. I love the clean, elegant minimal style of this set up, with all of my tools and options just a keyboard shortcut or a menu drop-down away. There is nothing to distract your eyes from the task at hand. No extraneous tools like other programs have to clutter the interface with. It's like having a really clean desk/workspace with well organized drawers at your fingertips. But wait, there's more!  

Aperture Minimal Interface with Inspector HUDAperture Minimal Interface with Inspector HUD If on the default layout I want less of the grey interface without going into fullscreen mode, I can bring up the Inspector HUD (short for Heads Up Display) with a click of the "H" key and place it over the grey Inspector (they function identically). The HUD panel, like all the HUDs in Aperture are floating panels you can drag anywhere in the interface, and close when not needed. One other cool feature about HUDs: wherever you last "parked" a HUD on the screen, the next time you open it up it will appear in the same location. This applies to the Loupe tool as well. And yes, each has a quick keyboard shortcut for easy on/off switching. Very cool concept. 

Aperture FSAperture FS You can of course go into Aperture's beautiful fullscreen mode by clicking the "F" key, and then the "H" key to bring up the Inspector HUD. In this mode, your tools all move to the minimal top bar. This set of tools, a few that were included in the Default interface on the bottom, are set and not able to be modified. You do have the option to lock the tools on screen or have them hidden until you place your cursor in the area and they drop down. The same behavior applies to your filmstrip if you configure it to be hidden until you cursor over the lower portion of the  image frame when it will appear in an elegant fade-in. You can also lock the filmstrip to stay in view if you want, and hide it again as you wish. One caveat on working in fullscreen mode: you lose access to the "header drop-down" features like being able to access the import images interface, etc. and you will have to exit fullscreen to do that. If you know your keyboard shortcuts to bring up HUDs, etc and access other tools you can use those in fullscreen. It's a mode ideally meant for full featured image editing. 

Aperture FS HDR TestAperture FS HDR Test On the fantasy side of requests for a modern Aperture feature or features from the group post was to have a built in HDR, Pano, and Focus Stacking tool set. I mentioned that both Affinity Photo and Photoshop have those features, and speaking for Affinity, the tools are really robust. That Aperture  already has a great built-in plug-in roundtrip feature to these and other programs (like NIK HDR Efex Pro 2 here), there isn't much point in Apple re-inventing the wheel for inclusion in the Aperture tool set.   

Aperture Minimal Show Keyword HUDAperture Minimal Show Keyword HUD Aperture was the  first, and as far as I know the only image editing software, that really utilized the floating HUD (Heads Up Display) paradigm, and frankly I think it is brilliant. I don't know why more modern image editors didn't learn from great Apple UI design. As with anything in Aperture, there are usually 2-3 ways to access a tool or feature. You can choose  to use the Keyword HUD which you can access via a dropdown menu and simply click & drag any keyword or set of keywords onto your image to apply it, or there is a keyword controls toolbar you can activate which will expand and appear on the toolbar at the bottom. Aperture has a lot of keywords included for almost all genres of photography. Either method can be accessed via a keyboard shortcut. 

Aperture Keyword HUDAperture Keyword HUD If you have the Keyword tool set on your toolbar, you can access the keyword HUD that way too. It's also part of the fullscreen tools. 

Aperture  Quick Brushes HUDAperture Quick Brushes HUD The super powerful Quick Brushes tool is always available, even in fullscreen mode or if you have the Inspector hidden. (you can also access Quick Brushes by dropping down the Add Adjustments menu in the Inspector and clicking the Quick Brushes flyout.) Quick Brushes that are already active or have been used on an image will have a dot next to them. Clicking a brush brings up a Brush HUD with the tools name.   

Aperture  Adjustment Brush ToolsAperture Adjustment Brush Tools Choosing a Quick Brush tool puts the adjustment in the tool stack (called "bricks") in the Adjustment Inspector and brings up the Brush HUD which gives you access to some very powerful features for how the adjustment is applied. This gets to a feature that Aperture is missing that I would like to have in a new version: Aperture has no keyboard shortcut (and no way to map one) for showing/hiding a mask. You can only access that feature in the Brush HUD. Very annoying. And while we are at it on improving the brush tool, being able to quickly cycle between brush, feather, and erase with a keyboard stroke would be great! 

Aperture  Multiple Quick BrushesAperture Multiple Quick Brushes A great feature Aperture includes is the ability to add additional Brush Adjustments of the same brush type to your stack for greater and very subtle effects. You can add additional ones by clicking the gear wheel to the right of an adjustment (this works for any adjustment) and choosing "Add New (named) Adjustment." If it's a Brush Adjustment the HUD will appear and you can adjust the parameters as you like, as well as the Intensity before/after brushing. It's a really powerful way of working and quite versatile. 

Aperture  Add AdjustmentsAperture Add Adjustments The list of all the available adjustments in Aperture is not long compared to many other programs, but therein lies it's elegance and Zen beauty. Just what you need for image enhancing, and nothing superfluous that a round-trip couldn't take care of. Don't clutter my desk! Aperture lists the Adjustments in alphabetical order, but that is not how they appear in the Bricks stack. Apple has it's logic for the order that adjustments are placed in, and unlike layers, you cannot adjust the order. And speaking of layers, that was another request from the Aperture Users Group. I explained that once you understand the logic and power of the tools stack, you don't need layers. 

Aperture Remove AdjustmentAperture Remove Adjustment Another great feature in Aperture as it is today is you can choose to modify your Bricks Adjustment stack by clicking the gear icon to the right of any adjustment and chose to add it to or delete it from the default set. You can do this with any adjustment, even ones in the default set that have the gear icon. So you could create your own custom set of default Bricks. Very Cool! Just remember you can't change the order that they appear in the stack in relation to each other. Still, very, very cool! 
Aperture  Multiple Adjustment BricksAperture Multiple Adjustment Bricks There is a great advantage to being able to use multiples of the same Adjustment Tool, especially if you combine them with the Brushes tool. The level of subtle adjustments you can get, once you understand how it works blows away any other like program I've used with a layers paradigm. 

Aperture Adjustment Panel w OpacityAperture Adjustment Panel w Opacity

Aperture Today (v3.6)                           Aperture I Wish For

If I had another wish for an updated Aperture, it would be to include a simple Opacity Slider with each Adjustment Brick. Especially ones that have multiple adjustment parameters in one tool. Once you get the ratio of adjustments to where you like them, and you don't want to affect that balance but you just want the overall opacity to be more or less, I'd like that option. Aperture Color AdjustmentAperture Color Adjustment Overall the Color Adjustment tool is fine, but rather limited. I don't want to replace it, it has a vital role in my True B+W  Effects preset, but I would love for a new  Aperture to acquire a true HSL Color Wheel tool like Affinity Photo has: 

Affinity Photo HSL WheelAffinity Photo HSL Wheel Did I mention I love color wheels and find they are a much more powerful tool than a linear color adjustment tool. I guess I just see color in the round! If a new Aperture acquired a new Adjustment brick like this, with an opacity slider of course (no blend mode needed) I'd be really happy! 

Capture One Pro Edit ToolbarCapture One Pro Edit Toolbar Now just to check in quickly with another like program to compare the UI aesthetics and features and what I call the feel of the experience, In Capture One Pro you can tweak the interface as well, but not to the degree or with the elegance of Aperture. You can adjust your toolbar, but while Aperture allows you 53 tools to add or subtract, Capture One only allows you 31 tools (neither including the default tools). Now while I've already written in detail about why I dropped Capture One to return to Aperture, to put it plain, after comparing the two side-by-side, feature for feature, tool for tool, and overall experience, I truly found the older Aperture superior for my way of working. 

Capture One 11 Color Balance ToolCapture One 11 Color Balance Tool Capture  One 11 Tool ExpandCapture One 11 Tool Expand One cool feature in Capture One Pro I do admire that Aperture lacks is the ability to pull any tool from a tool stack out onto the image canvas and enlarge the tool for better seeing, and putting it back in the stack. I guess it would be sort of like Apertures HUDs, but not as elegantly realized. One thing I can't fathom with C1 is you can enlarge the tool freely, but the font on the tool never gets any bigger! For those with older eyes or simply needing glasses to aid in seeing what you're doing, larger fonts would be helpful! Look at all the wasted space. In fact, my other big ask, for any imaging software including Aperture would be to allow the user to increase the fonts anywhere in the program. Even if it's only a Small, Medium, Large setting would be nice.  

Exposure X5 MinimalExposure X5 Minimal Another image editor I do like very much (but not for developing RAW files) is Exposure X5. Exposure has a number of well designed tools and features that Aperture does not but I'm not interested in cluttering Aperture with too many new tools.

Exposure X5 Clone BrushExposure X5 Clone Brush I will say however that one tool (or tool pair) that both Aperture and Exposure do share is a Clone and Heal Brush (Repair in Aperture), but I am no fan of how Exposure implements their version. The use of an active spot and a source spot "marching ants" connected by a tethered line (which can be moved and resized) is still an old paradigm Aperture abandoned soon after v1.0 was released in 2005. Even Capture One Pro finally fixed a similar issue with its Clone/Heal tool recently (in 2021). I much prefer the simple, elegant way Aperture handles Cloning and Healing (Repair), just the same as it is in Photoshop and Affinity Photo too.  

Aperture - Exposure  X5 Working SpacesAperture - Exposure X5 Working Spaces

While Exposure uses a layers & masks based paradigm like Affinity Photo and Photoshop, and Aperture is based on the multiple Adjustment "bricks" that can be stacked and masked, really they function as one and the same tool. I like using these two in tandem as needed. On default Exposure has a very clean interface which can be customized, though not to the same extent Aperture can. A few tweaks to the settings and I have it in as elegant a setup as my Aperture, in fact I see them like two well designed desks/workspaces working beautifully together:

Aperture-Exposure X5 Using Exposure X5 as an External Editor to Aperture makes using the unique tools in Exposure a breeze and the round-tripping extends the creative possibilities available with Aperture. 

Exposure X5 LUT PanelExposure X5 LUT Panel If you've seen my post on using Exposure X5, you will understand why I love the unique feature/tool of the LUT panel in Exposure. If I had one final feature I'd like to see added to a new Aperture, it would be the addition of a dedicated LUT Adjustment Brick just like this (of course with an added gear wheel to create multiple LUTs in a stack and ability to utilize the Brush HUD and tools too.) . It would fit perfectly within the Aperture paradigm and UI. 

Exposure X5 LUT BrowserExposure X5 LUT Browser And the LUT Browser/Importer would be a welcome feature too, as long as it was "Aperture fast!" 😉 

Aperture AppAperture App So, if a new Aperture were to appear on the horizon, with updated insides for new camera models and OS support, a robust full-featured mobile version for iPad, and just a few tweaks to the existing tools, and two or three new ones, with nothing more or elaborate like so much of what other programs are putting out, just K.I.S.S. and a clean Zen aesthetic and Aperture would be my perfect program. I don't ask for much... really! And as much as an Aperture '21 is unlikely, I'm really happy with my choice of tools, the twin workspaces of Aperture & Exposure X5, and all that can be achieved with them. 😎 

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info@tracephotographs.com (trace photographs) Adobe Affinity Photo Aperture Apple Capture One Pro Creativity Exposure X5 Imagination Inspiration Invention Learning Photography Photoshop Software The Creative Life Vision https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2021/1/what-i-want-aperture-21 Wed, 13 Jan 2021 01:13:56 GMT
Photo Editing ~ The State of the Art https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2021/1/photo-editing-the-state-of-the-art San Francisco NoirSan Francisco Noir As we stroll into 2021 I want to take a peek into the current state-of-the-art of photo editing software. What I won't be looking at is any software that is a subscription only based solution. I've already written about my thoughts on that here. What I will address is the current crop of options for those looking to escape the subscription model and what are the new tools, and are they worth it?  The above image was edited in Exposure X5 which I won't cover here but you can get a brief look at how I use X5 here. The reason I'm not including Exposure is I don't consider it a very good RAW processing tool compared to other choices, but it has many great tools for editing images after you use your RAW editor of choice. 

Capture One Pro 21 Upgrade  PricingCapture One Pro 21 Upgrade Pricing First up is Capture One Pro 21. For five years after Apple's Aperture was shelved I was a Capture One user, and thought I liked what it offered. I wrote about why that ended for me last year. Suffice to say the upgrade price to new features ratio was less and less appealing. From looking at forums, blogs and YouTube comments, I'm not alone. That said, Capture One Pro 21 offers both subscription and perpetual licenses. I'm not sure how long the above subscription pricing will last, but the usual difference between subscribing and owning is not much. Now this pricing above is the current rate for me to upgrade from my version 11. I really feel that compared to many other offerings, and even though C1P has some powerful tools, it really is in a state of catching up with more advanced options, and currently lacks a lot of features that even Aperture had years ago! *One added note: I find the Styles offered by Capture One to be way overpriced. If you are looking for well designed Styles at a very reasonable price, go to 1Styles Pro, you'll thank me later!   

DxO NIK AppDxO NIK App Next we have DXO PhotoLab 4. DXO is the current owner of the classic NIK Collection of plugins that used to be in Google's hands and were at one time offered for free. Now that DXO has them they have incorporated them into their DXO Labs RAW imaging package. In the time that DXO has had the NIK Collection, they have only added one new tool to the set, which is Perspective Efex. It appears to be a fairly limited, one-trick-pony module, but at least they are  adding to the standard set. They do advertise new  presets to some of the standard NIK tools to make the cost of upgrading sound more appealing, but really all they are is someone else's playing with the built in tools to give you presets/recipes you could create yourself. 

DxO PhotoLab 4DxO PhotoLab 4 Now one caveat I discovered while researching for this post is I'm not able to download and test DXO PhotoLab 4 because my system is not supported (I'm maxed out on Apple's High Sierra OS) and DXO only supports Mac OS from three latest versions. Oh well! There was a lot of outcry on forums from loyal customers who couldn't get/upgrade to the latest version because  their system didn't meet the requirements, and they couldn't afford to or didn't want to upgrade their hardware/OS which otherwise  worked perfectly well and has many more years of life to go. Such is the very fickle nature of our modern tech world: The war of obsolescence between hardware and software and the relentless pursuit of the new shiny thing. It'll drive a customer crazy! 

That said, and looking into the DXO website and many YouTube videos on the features, I find that while a powerful tool with many unique features (like the NIK Collection) DXO PhotoLab 4 suffers from the same thing most of the current software does: what I call Over Design Syndrome. In trying to be everything for everyone and capture the most of an ever shrinking, competitive market, they clutter their interface with too many tools and choices. Like walking into a fast-food place and being so overwhelmed by the sheer number of choices on the  menu board you end up unable to decide what you want.  Many of these new software applications feel more like a 50-in-1 Tool, or the biggest sized Swiss Army knife. I wish photo editing software designers would learn principles of good design, take classes in Japanese & Zen aesthetics and study the principles of elegance. In an upcoming post I will show what that looks like and how the K.I.S.S. method really goes a long way in making photo editing more enjoyable. Good interface design really does matter.   

Luminar AILuminar AI Now Skylum's Luminar is an interesting product, although I wasn't sure what product they are offering. They have Luminar 4, and Luminar AI, but the purchase page shows  Luminar AI. The AI is for Artificial Intelligence and is supposed to be the latest tech to help you get your images  to WOW! faster and easier than ever before. I suspect they are transitioning everything to the AI version. Skylum does not offer a free 30-day (or less) trial of the software, but they do offer a 30-day money-back guarantee. I'm a bit dubious on the money-back model, so opted not to purchase for testing. Instead a deep dive on their very, uhm, animated website and perusal of YouTube feature videos will give you a good feel for what it offers. 

Luminar 4 DP Review 01Luminar 4 DP Review 01 Like all of Skylum's software, Luminar is big on preset filters which you can thankfully hide in the interface and use the controls you want. Luminar, like the other software here suffers from an embarrassment of riches feature wise, and seems geared more for those familiar with Instagram filters and quick and easy compositing tools. There are a lot of tools, sections and features, more than most users would likely make use of. Being able to hide  features you aren't interested in and may never use would go a long way to streamline the interface. 

Luminar 4 DP Review 02Luminar 4 DP Review 02 Perhaps I'm too old-school analog trained, but I'm dubious of Artificial Intelligence being the center of artistic choices. Is it the future? Perhaps. It's definitely a different photo editing paradigm, I'm just not sold on it. My previous use of Skylum (formerly MacPhun) software like Noiseless CK and Aurora HDR left me feeling that I simply didn't like working within the interface.

OnOne Photo RAW 21 EverywhereOnOne Photo RAW 21 Everywhere Now I've saved the best for last! Of all the current state-of-the-art image editing software that handle RAW files, I like OnOne Photo RAW 21 better than the others. That's not to say I prefer it to my current photo editor of choice (see the next blog post, it'll ROCK!), but of those here it is the one I would recommend to someone wanting to get off the Adobe subscription hamster wheel. Now, to be transparent here and offer a caveat, I was very sadly not able to to download and try the free 14-day trial of OnOne Photo RAW  21 due to (I think) the fact that my graphics card did not meet the system specs. I downloaded the trial, but when I opened it it got all the way to the  splash screen and crashed. Every time. But that's ok, we both tried valiantly, I don't fault OnOne, they're a great company! 

OnOne Photo RAW 21 MultiPlatformOnOne Photo RAW 21 MultiPlatform    Two things I like most about OnOne is it is a small company that has steadily improved its product for many years and was built by photographers for photographers. The second thing it is the only product here that offers both a powerful desktop version and a mobile platform with integration. That later part I think is very important for the future, as mobile becomes more and more powerful. Currently only Affinity (by Serif), Adobe and now OnOne are building for the mobile platform. I don't see Capture One Pro ever going in that direction. 

OnOne Photo RAW 2021OnOne Photo RAW 2021 While the interface has been greatly updated from my (still working) version of OnOne Perfect PhotoSuite 9, I still feel the interface could be better designed. There is a rich set of tools and OnOne like many of the most recent software eschews the image import paradigm for a folder browser model that many people prefer. Only Capture One Pro and Lightroom still use the import image feature. It seems old-fashioned now.  

OnOne PriceOnOne Price   OnOne offers both a subscription and a perpetual license. The subscription comes with cloud storage for facilitating file sharing across platforms.

OnOne Photo RAW plan differencesOnOne Photo RAW plan differences So what is the difference and what do you get for subscribing? You have to download the mobile version which is "free" but you will have to pay a monthly/yearly subscription ($4.99/month) on the mobile platform, presumably to access the cloud storage feature, in addition to your subscription with cloud storage on the desktop. That alone can get a bit expensive when you think about it, plus the idea  of this review is to avoid subscriptions. I would rather have the perpetual license, decide if I want to upgrade or skip versions, and use my own system of sharing image files across platforms. If OnOne lets their fully featured mobile app work in a stand alone way free from being tied to a subscription cloud paradigm, I would heartily recommend this software.

OnOne Photo RAW 21 Stop PayingOnOne Photo RAW 21 Stop Paying At least OnOne looks like they are trying to do right by customers, and from what I hear from those who use it, they listen to their customer base.

So it may look as though I think the state-of-the-art in image editing is pretty poor, and I do have a bias for well designed and functional tools. It is against that recognized bias that I measure the tools I'll use and invest in. It must be incredibly hard for imaging software companies to keep up, innovate, and turn a profit. I don't envy them the struggle, but from the user side I have to assess if there is true value for me in the short and long term. Just remember: at one point that camera, that version of software  you used was state-of-the-art. If it functions well for you and you enjoy working with it, it can still be the state-of-your-art.          

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info@tracephotographs.com (trace photographs) Aperture Capture One Pro 21 DXO PhotoLab 4 Exposure X5 Inspiration Invention Learning Luminar AI NIK Collection OnOne Photo RAW 21 Photography Software The Creative Life https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2021/1/photo-editing-the-state-of-the-art Sun, 10 Jan 2021 01:12:10 GMT
Aperture, Noise and Film Grain:The Quest for a Filmic Portrait https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2020/12/aperture-noise-and-film-grain-the-quest-for-a-filmic-portrait Ineke  SFIneke SFEdit Plugin: NIK DFine 2 Noise Reduction
Color Grading +Film Grain all in Aperture
This final portrait edit was created entirely in Apple's Aperture software here at the end of 2020. Yes, I'm still running Aperture five/six years after Apple closed the door on supporting and updating it. I'll tell you why in a later post, but for now, let me tell you how this image came to be. 

I took this portrait of my very dear friend, Artist, and student Ineke about five years ago in San Francisco, after I had already ceased using Aperture for Capture One Pro. I never looked at or processed this image even back then. Surprisingly it took five years and a return to Aperture for me to realize its potential and have it become my favorite portrait to date.

My goal was to do an entire edit using only the tools in Aperture and create the best filmic portrait I could. I had written a blog post on my love for the analog film emulation process with a link to my previous original post on the topic if you care to read those (very fascinating!) This time I wanted to skip all of those choices and see what Aperture alone could do for me (or rather I with it.)  Aperture Original RAWAperture Original RAW The first thing I noticed when I opened this image in Aperture was that even at ISO 2500 it was a bit underexposed. So increasing the exposure revealed all the terrible digital noise that sadly many Canon cameras are prone to at high ISOs, particularly the 7D. Now let me just say: NOISE IS NOT FILMIC! I'll get to the Aperture solution for dealing with noise in a RAW file (you do shoot RAW, right?) in a bit, but I initially decided to use the NIK Dfine 2 plugin in my Aperture to denoise the image before doing any other edits. 

NIK Dfine 2 Noise ReductionNIK Dfine 2 Noise ReductionScreenshot

                                                                              NIK Dfine 2 Noise Reduction

Now NIK Dfine 2 typically does a very good job with denoising, and it doesn't matter if you have the original NIK version, the (formally) free Google version or you have opted for the newest paid iteration from DxO Labs, it all works the same. Dfine first analyzes your image for Noise areas which you can change, then renders a default recommendation. You are of course able to make changes to those settings if you like. In this case I went with the default setting. 

Aperture RAW vs NIK Dfine 2 Default SettingsAperture RAW vs NIK Dfine 2 Default SettingsScreenshot

Back in Aperture you see the original RAW with noise on the left and the denoised TIFF version on the right. Now all denoising processes will understandably cause a softening of your image. The battle in the settings is how far to go one way without losing too much in sharpness. Aperture has a nice solution, I think. But before I get to that, I had to compare the  noise reduction capability of another Aperture plugin I have called Noiseless CK (formally a MacPhun product, it is now built into Skylum's Luminar 4 and Luminar AI software and no longer available as a stand alone app.) 

Noiseless CK Stongest Pro PresetNoiseless CK Stongest Pro PresetScreenshot                                                                    Noiseless CK 2016

Noiseless CK (even in its present iteration built into Luminar) is template or preset based (one of the reasons I'm not a fan of the software), and it even allows you to save your own presets, which could be useful for some users. After playing with each of the preset settings, I determined the Strongest Pro gave the best results, but even with that I was not 100% happy with the results. Yes, I could tweak the settings further, but it felt like too much noodling for marginal returns on quality.One other point on Noiseless CK, it was noticeably slower on processing and saving the results compared to the NIK Dfine 2. 

Aperture  RAW vs Noiseless CK Strongest PresetAperture RAW vs Noiseless CK Strongest PresetScreenshot Back in Aperture you can compare the results. Original RAW on the left, Noiseless CK on the right.

NIK Dfine 2 Default vs Noiseless CK Strongest SettingsNIK Dfine 2 Default vs Noiseless CK Strongest SettingsScreenshot And comparing the NIK Dfine 2 variation on the left and the Noiseless CK variation on the right really shows how not all denoising software are equal! 

Aperture RAW v Aperture RAW DeNoise-75 + SharpenAperture RAW v Aperture RAW DeNoise-75 + SharpenScreenshot Now let's get to and compare the built in Aperture solution to RAW denoising. The original RAW image is on the left and on the right using Aperture's RAW denoise adjustment gave some rather surprising (and pleasing) results. By default Aperture sets the De-noise adjustment to 10%. I moved it to 75% for this image to get results I was pleased with. I also added a separate Sharpener adjustment at the default settings to my adjustment stack to compensate for the loss of sharpening de-noising does.   

Aperture RAW AdjustementsAperture RAW Adjustements This adjustment in Aperture is only available for RAW files, if you are  trying to denoise a TIFF or JPEG, there is a seperate Noise Reduction adjustment you can add to the stack with additional controls and you can opt to "paint in" or "paint out" the adjustment (mask) where you want, along with all the brush tools like applying it to only shadows, midtones or highlights, feathering and opacity as you like. This Noise Reduction gives very different results than the RAW De-noise adjustment which is also only a global adjustment.  

Aperture  RAW  DeNoise-75 +Sharpen v NIK Dfine2Aperture RAW DeNoise-75 +Sharpen v NIK Dfine2Screenshot Comparing the Aperture RAW De-noise adjustment at 75% on the left to the NIK Dfine 2 Noise reduction on the right.

NIK Dfine 2 Default vs Noiseless CK Strongest SettingsNIK Dfine 2 Default vs Noiseless CK Strongest SettingsScreenshot And comparing the results of the Aperture RAW De-noise adjustment at 75% on the left to the Noiseless CK adjustment at the Strongest Pro setting. 

Now, you may say Trace that's all well and good and certainly having a noisy image does not a filmic image make, but neither does removing the noise! And you would be right. The missing ingredient to creating a more analog film quality is in the addition of a randomized grain pattern that more closely mimics the traditional pattern in different films. There are a few programs and many plugins that try to give you that look. Fewer still are really successful. Both Capture One Pro and Exposure X5/X6 have robust film grain tools, probably the best on the market. Even the NIK plugins (Silver Efex Pro, Color Efex Pro + Analog Efex Pro) have grain emulation features that are  fun to play with. But as I wanted to keep this whole edit process within Aperture, I turned to the one feature in Aperture I have available to emulate film grain:

Aperture RAW DeNoise-75 +Sharpen v Add VSCO Film GrainAperture RAW DeNoise-75 +Sharpen v Add VSCO Film GrainScreenshot The *VSCO film tools I originally wrote about in my first blogpost on film emulation sit nicely within the Effects menu of my Aperture and offer a wide range of adjustments to emulate various Color and B&W films (mostly Kodak + Fuji), along with seperate film grain adjustments and other tools for creating a filmic look. For this portrait I was only interested in adding film grain (on the right) to the image that was processed with the Aperture RAW De-noise tool. Odd and wonderful thing about the VSCO toolset is it uses the existing tool bricks within Aperture to achieve its results. It's not a plugin in the traditional sense. You never leave the Aperture interface or deal with a seperate plugin window. And very oddly it uses Aperture's Burn and Dodge tools to create the film grain! One nice thing about this way of adding film grain in Aperture is both tools are adjustable as to their amount, so you can vary the film look. Very clever!   

Aperture  Original RAW v Aperture DeNoise-75 +Sharpen with VSCO Film GrainAperture Original RAW v Aperture DeNoise-75 +Sharpen with VSCO Film GrainScreenshot Comparing the original high ISO RAW image with digital noise on the left to the Aperture RAW De-noised image with VSCO film grain added on the right. You really see the difference between noise and a digital filmic grain. 

Aperture RAW v Final (Noise v VSCO Grain)Aperture RAW v Final (Noise v VSCO Grain)Screenshot   And from the original RAW image on the left to the fully edited, color graded and film grain added version, all in Aperture! *For the final version of this portrait, I did use the variation that was denoised using the NIK Dfine 2 plugin, as I finished it before I decided to do the comparisons with Aperture's RAW De-noise tool, but I think that counts. 😎 

Aperture Final Filmic EditAperture Final Filmic EditScreenshot The fully edited 100% detail view of my all Aperture filmic portrait. I'm really, really pleased with the results. Now to figure out how to keep Aperture running for many years to come!  

*One final note for Aperture users regarding the VSCO Film Tools: While VSCO originally created only two film packs (01 + 02) for Aperture back in the day, before giving up on Aperture and only producing more packs for Lightroom, what they made for Aperture was very robust and more than adequate. That said, the company no longer produces film packs or offers a stand alone application anymore. They have pivoted to become an online, community based image sharing site requiring membership to use their latest tools. Not unlike Instagram in its own way. So you sadly can no longer get the tools for Aperture. I'm glad I got in on the ground floor when VSCO arguably gave birth to the whole analog film emulation craze. Early adoption has its advantages! 

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info@tracephotographs.com (trace photographs) Aperture Apple Art Capture One Pro DeNoise Film Grain Fine Art Fine Art Portraits Imagination Inspiration Learning NIK Plugins Photography Portraits Software The Creative Life VSCO VSCO Film Tools https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2020/12/aperture-noise-and-film-grain-the-quest-for-a-filmic-portrait Sun, 20 Dec 2020 23:06:07 GMT
Black & White Done Right! https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2020/10/black-white-done-right B+W Test Exposure X5-NIK SilverEfex Pro 2B+W Test Exposure X5-NIK SilverEfex Pro 2Screenshot                                       Exposure X5  (NIK Silver Efex Pro 2 vs.True B+W Conversion LUT)

As an artist and photographer I'm not one to go by numbers and formulas... usually. I was trained early and well in the structures of the camera and the mysteries of the alchemical Black & White darkroom. I followed the instructions on developing film and processing negatives into prints until I forgot the numbers and it all became intuitive. But sometimes we need a reminder of the numbers and why they matter.

This brief but illuminating video on using Affinity Photo to create truly accurate black & white images is a must see if you are serious about your B+W conversions. Think you (or your program of choice) is doing it right? Think again. Now that you've watched the tutorial video (wasn't that a great history lesson on Color and B+W televisions?) and absorbed the lesson, let's carry on. Like in the video, I created my own B+W preset in Affinity Photo based on the formula. But not only that, I also decided to create my own LUT based on that setting and saved it to use in Affinity Photo on iPad as well as import into my Exposure X5 LUT folder. While I do have several B+W LUTs in Exposure X5, this one is based on a true, accurate conversion. 

The image above shows my new LUT applied on the right. On the left is a virtual copy of the original color image processed in the NIK Silver Efex Pro 2 plugin, which at one time was the industry standard for B+W conversions. I used the base, neutral setting. 

NIK Silver Efex Pro 2NIK Silver Efex Pro 2Screenshot NIK Silver Efex Pro 2 doesn't show you any changes in the color sensitivity settings, so whatever formula the program uses is consigned to a secret sauce. You can easily tweak the colors to create different looks, but there is no way to know what are the accurate settings. As you see in the side-by-side comparison, NIK SEP2 appears to brighten the reds and magentas which notably affects skin tone. I much prefer the accurate LUT version on the right better as a starting point. 

Aperture B+W Conversion FSAperture B+W Conversion FS                                            Aperture (Full Screen) Black & White conversion   

So on a whim I decided to see how Aperture faired in producing its B+W conversion. I was really surprised not only in how at default settings it rendered beautiful, subtle results, but how it automatically displayed the exact formula mentioned in the Affinity video (I did not change those settings, that is Aperture's default setting!) Now that's not the whole story: 

Aperture Color B+W BrickAperture Color B+W BrickScreenshot The Black & White Brick in Aperture only has controls for Red, Green and Blue. So using the Color Brick in combination to adjust the Yellow, Cyan, and Magenta settings according to the accurate formula creates a virtually identical conversion to the one created in Affinity Photo (or my Exposure LUT.) This is really cool stuff to see for me. I'm quite impressed with how the Aperture engineers were thinking in this level of detail. 

Aperture Save EffectAperture Save Effect And just so you don't have to remember the formula each and every time, you can save the B+W and Color Brick settings in the Effects list (I saved mine as *True B+W*). This is seriously cool! To keep the whim of curiosity going, I tried the same color image conversion using Capture One Pro's B+W tool. 

Aperture:Capture One Pro B+W SideBySide Side-by-side comparison of Aperture (left) and Capture One Pro 11 (right) shows how different each renders a B+W conversion. Capture One does not show any adjustments to the color settings, so if it uses the accurate formula we don't know (I suspect not). More secret sauce I guess we don't need to know about. It does appear to add a touch more contrast overall which as a base setting I don't care for. So I'm grateful to learn something new and see how I have not been being true to the medium of B+W and simply relying on software that is not always (if ever?) truly accurate. And now you know too! 

  Having been classically trained in B+W photography, I have a great appreciation for those who practice the craft to the highest standards. Photographers like Herb Ritts are a great inspiration and a reminder to ever strive for excellence.     

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info@tracephotographs.com (trace photographs) Affinity Photo Aperture Apple Art B+W Black and White Photography Capture One Pro Creativity Fine Art Herb Ritts Inspiration Learning Photography Software The Creative Life https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2020/10/black-white-done-right Fri, 23 Oct 2020 00:02:03 GMT
It's 2020 and Adobe Is Finally Catching Up with Color Grading https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2020/10/its-2020-and-adobe-is-finally-catching-up-with-color-grading Lightroom Color Grading WheelsLightroom Color Grading WheelsLightroom Color Grading Wheels So, it's 2020 and Adobe has finally started catching up with the color grading world of still photography. Catch this recent short video on the Lightroom Sneak Peek announcement. Kudos to Adobe for making a sneak peek since not every company has the transparency to let customers know what's coming (looking at you Capture One Pro.)  As nice as this is, it's about fifteen years too late. What I mean by that is Apple's Aperture has had this feature (and more elegantly designed) since it debuted in 2005. 

Aperture Tint Color WheelsAperture Tint Color WheelsScreenshot                                                                     Aperture Full Screen Mode

Aperture Color WheelsAperture Color WheelsScreenshot The elegant and Zen-like design of the Tint tool in Aperture is displayed in the simple use of a Black, Gray, and White ring around each wheel so knowing which parameter you're adjusting is easy to see. You also get an eyedropper tool to select which area in your image you want to correspond to each zone. It's a 3-D color space and as you move the center dot towards the edges it increases the saturation as you move through the colors. No extra buttons, levers, sliders or icons to select parameters. I've always felt Adobe tends to overthink and overdesign its tools. Apple in the era of Sir Jony Ivey always had great design, from hardware to software interfaces.    

Screenshot                                                   Aperture Multiple Stacked Color Tint Wheels "Bricks"

Aperture HUD Multi Color Tint WheelsAperture HUD Multi Color Tint WheelsScreenshot One really nice feature in Aperture is you can add additional "Bricks" of the Enhance tool with the Color Tint Wheels that will act independently of the other wheels for additional, finer grain tinting if you wish. Very cool!  FCPXFCPXScreenshot                                                               Final Cut Pro X Color Wheels

Apple had the advantage over Adobe in drawing from their video editing software Final Cut Pro which had Color Tint Wheels back when Aperture was being designed in 2004/2005. Before it was re-designed from the ground up into Final Cut Pro "X", the tint wheels were a foundation for video color grading. Kudos to Apple for looking at the video industry for ideas to implement into their pro photo tool set. 

Apple Motion Full w Color WheelsApple Motion Full w Color WheelsScreenshot                                                                Apple Motion Color Tint Wheels

Apple Motion Color WheelsApple Motion Color WheelsScreenshot Apple's companion software to Final Cut Pro X is Motion (for motion graphics), which also uses Color Tint Wheels for color grading your motion projects. As they are designed in the same way as in FCP, carrying your color grading settings across apps is easy. 

Capture One Pro 3.8.7 2008Capture One Pro 3.8.7 2008Screenshot                                                                                  Capture One Pro

Capture One 7 2013Capture One 7 2013Screenshot                                                                                  Capture One 7

Earlier versions of Capture One, around the time Aperture was being developed and updated from Version 1.0 had a more primitive version of Color Tint Wheels (called Color Balance) that had very limited uses compared to the now standard three wheel tool. I credit Aperture with showing the power and ease of using such a tool in still photography. So, if you are subscribed to Adobe Lightroom & Camera RAW, congratulations on finally getting this very useful and powerful color grading tool! 

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info@tracephotographs.com (trace photographs) Adobe Adobe Camera RAW Aperture Apple Color Grading Creativity Final Cut Pro X Imagination Inspiration Learning Lightroom Photography Software https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2020/10/its-2020-and-adobe-is-finally-catching-up-with-color-grading Fri, 09 Oct 2020 04:49:24 GMT
Is RAW Beauty in the Eye of the Beholder? https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2020/9/is-raw-in-the-eye-of-the-beholder Serif Labs RAW ConversionSerif Labs RAW ConversionScreenshot Not all RAW  converters are the same, that's not a new revelation. When I was photographing in the analog film days, all my fellow photographers would discuss the various merits of the pro film labs in town. Mostly we talked about the quality of the processing and which labs "ran warm" and which "ran cooler."  If you were a portrait or fashion photographer, you tended to use the warm lab to process your film. It was funny that pro photographers would be that choosy in the lab they would use, but we were. 

Now as I explore and rethink my own digital workflow, and make changes from my process of the last five years, and after researching my last post on LUTs, I decided to see just how good and different RAW image processing is across several programs. I started with the RAW processing built into Affinity Photo (see image above). Every RAW processor uses its own secret sauce of settings to render a RAW file on screen. By default Affinity Photo uses its own Serif Labs RAW engine which applies Lens Correction, Chromatic Aberration, and Lens Vignette Removal among other settings. 

Affinity Photo RAW  Processor AssistantAffinity Photo RAW Processor AssistantScreenshot I discovered by accident that by clicking the assistant button at the top I could choose an alternative RAW render engine, Apple (Core Image RAW). Looking at the two variations, I decided (for now) I like the Apple render better. (*more on this at the end.)

Apple Core Image RAWApple Core Image RAW

Affinity Photo RAW w/Apple (Core Image RAW) No Lens Profile

Apple Core Image RAW -Lens CorrectionApple Core Image RAW -Lens CorrectionScreenshot

     Affinity Photo RAW w/Apple (Core Image RAW) Lens Profile enabled

With the Apple Core Image RAW you need to manually select the Lens Profile if you want to include that. From here you have a great set of tools to render your RAW image just as you like. Here is a short video from Affinity on using its RAW persona, and another video on Advanced RAW Development. I love how Affinity has included its RAW persona right inside the program, rather than as a separate app as Adobe did with Camera RAW. There's something nice about staying within one program. I have to say with the Apple (Core Image RAW) engine and applying the Tone curve (below) Affinity Photo gives a nice starting point for fine-tuning the RAW render.

Affinity Photo RAW Apply Tone CurveAffinity Photo RAW Apply Tone CurveScreenshot                                  Affinity Photo RAW with Apple (Core Image RAW) and Tone Curve applied


Capture One Pro 11 RAW ProcessorCapture One Pro 11 RAW ProcessorScreenshot

For the past five years I used Capture One Pro as both my Digital Asset Manager and RAW  image processor. Until now I hadn't done a side-by-side comparison. Capture One like many programs of its kind does all of its secret sauce RAW rendering behind the scenes based on camera & lens profiles, and gives you an image with baked in settings. The only changes you can make is in the ICC profile selection and the Base Characteristics Curve setting. 

Capture One  Pro 11 RAW-Linear CurveCapture One Pro 11 RAW-Linear CurveScreenshot I find resetting the Curve to Linear Response gives a better, more natural RAW render than the Auto setting. While Capture One does a good job on RAW processing over all, I would rather have more tools to tweak the image like in Affinity Photo RAW persona before baking in those settings when rendering. 

Aperture RAW ProcessAperture RAW ProcessScreenshot                                                                                      Aperture RAW (Default)

Aperture RAW Reduce BoostAperture RAW Reduce BoostScreenshot                                                                                   Aperture RAW  (Boost Reduction) 

That said, in this comparison of different RAW processors, I do really love how Aperture (3.6) renders the same file the best. Aperture like Capture One doesn't provide anything in pre-render tools to tweak the RAW settings, so you have to either love the program's secret sauce or not. Once rendered, you do have Boost, Hue Boost, Sharpening, Details, and Denoise to tweak, but really the program is doing the lion's share of the work for you. Aperture uses Apple (Core Image RAW) which is system based rather than program based. Because Aperture is such a great DAM (Digital Asset Management) program it will remain my ingest program for importing photos. 

Aperture RAW Process-Focus PointsAperture RAW Process-Focus PointsScreenshot One of the unique cool features in Aperture is the ability to view your focus points in RAW images, which could let you win (or lose) an argument when you swear you focused on the eyes. Aperture was the only program that had this feature... until Affinity Photo and the RAW persona:

Affinity Photo RAW Process Focus PointsAffinity Photo RAW Process Focus PointsScreenshot When I discovered this in Affinity under the Focus tab, I just smiled. 

Exposure X5 RAW ProcessorExposure X5 RAW ProcessorScreenshot My last RAW test was with Exposure X5. Exposure doesn't give you any dedicated tools for tweaking a RAW image so the secret sauce is what you get. All things considered, I don't find Exposure to be the best at RAW rendering, and since it is not much of a DAM program I will use it as an editing/finishing program (to be fair, that's how it's been designed). Going forward my workflow will be to import RAW images into the Aperture Library so Aperture will manage the database, and backup to a seperate drive on import. With Aperture I can use the Vault feature to keep everything backed up. I will use Affinity Photo to process RAW files from the backup files on the separate hard drive as my other RAW  processor. Everything, processed via Aperture or Affinity Photo and exported as 16bit TIFFs will be further developed and *finished* in Exposure X5(X6) as needed. 

* Finally the question I researched on what was the difference between the Serif Labs RAW engine vs. Apple (Core Image RAW) took me to this answer from Serif's James Ritson who hosts the Affinity Photo tutorials: 

Posted March 10, 2017
"Hi Peter, you're correct that raw handling is important, and raw converters will handle demoisaicing differently with varying results.
 
There are several more steps involved - which are again handled differently between raw converters. Demosaiced raw data starts as "scene referred", which is a measurement of light in the scene. You will very rarely (if at all) see a raw file in its linear "scene referred" form. It then goes through gamma curve correction, gets mapped to a colour space and has a tone curve applied to produce a result more in line with the user's expectations (similar to an in-camera JPEG).
 
So to answer your question - yes, there's a difference between SerifLabs and Core Image RAW.
 
SerifLabs will demosaic, gamma correct and tone map, but as you've found, the additional tone curve is optional. If you turn this off, you'll only see the image with a gamma curve correction. No additional sharpening is added by default - this is left entirely up to the user. Colour noise reduction is added by default; previously it wasn't, and we faced a lot of criticism over raw development quality because users are so used to having raw processing software apply it automatically. The harsh reality is that yes, your camera really is that noisy ;). You can turn this off if you wish on the Details panel, I just wouldn't recommend it.
 
I've done some analysis, trying to make a SerifLabs-decoded image match a Core Image RAW-decoded image, and I've come to the conclusion that Core Image takes some additional steps. It adds sharpening whether you like it or not, there's no doubt about that. It certainly performs colour noise reduction, and I also believe it does some luminance denoising and then dithers slightly by adding in some fine noise to retain texture. This approach wouldn't be entirely out of step; for quite a while, Apple's H264 decoder added some fine noise to reduce blocking and banding (this is back in 2007/2008 when its hardware-based H264 support was less comprehensive). I'm unsure of Apple's modern approach to H264 but I expect it's more refined now.
 
 At this stage of Photo's development, the raw handling could still use some improvements, and over time it will be improved: namely a better approach to demosaicing and some more effective noise reduction. Demosaic implementations are continually being researched and written about, and there is always scope to do better here.
 
 As far as advantages of SerifLabs go, there is one that I can strongly point out: because betas are made available in-between major releases (either for bug fixes or to introduce new features), new raw camera support is added frequently - so if you invest in a new camera, chances are you could grab a beta and be able to open raw images sooner rather than having to wait for an official update. For example, 1.5 was released in December and supported the new Olympus E-M1 mk2 camera which also shipped that month. It also opened images shot with the camera's high res mode (sensor shifting to produce 80MP raw files) - a feature that's still yet to be supported in some raw converters.
 
At the end of the day, the best advice is to experiment and find which raw converter's results you like the most based on what you shoot; e.g. if you do a lot of high ISO urban photography you'll want some fairly robust noise reduction and, perhaps more importantly, good colour handling. If you're into landscape photography with difficult dynamic ranges perhaps you'd find the ability to remove the tone curve more useful. And so on and so forth...
 
Hope that helps!"

 

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info@tracephotographs.com (trace photographs) Affinity Photo Aperture Apple Capture One Pro Exposure X5 Imagination Learning Photography RAW Software The Creative Life https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2020/9/is-raw-in-the-eye-of-the-beholder Wed, 16 Sep 2020 06:31:41 GMT
Creating & Using Custom LUTs in Affinity Photo and Exposure X5 https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2020/9/creating-using-custom-luts-in-affinity-photo-and-exposure-x5 Creating and using custom LUTS for still photography is easy and fun using Affinity Photo and Exposure  X5. (the above video is best viewed in full screen mode.) 

LUTs have become really popular recently for photographers wanting to create a unique look for their images after looking over the shoulders of video creators and seeing some of the cool and beautiful color grading effects they have achieved. The best description I have heard of what a LUT is, is it's a file that tells a program how to remap the colors in an image. Now it is really easy to create your own custom, dynamic looks and apply them to your images with the right tools. The first step in LUT creation resides in the incredibly powerful Affinity Photo which has great LUT integration both in the creating, saving, and using of them if you prefer to do all of your image editing in Affinity (here is a short video on one of my favorite  features in Affinity Photo - Using the Infer LUT feature.) One thing not mentioned in the video above is that these same LUT files can be imported into Affinity Photo for iPad so you have the same color grading tools for on-the-go editing as you do on a desktop. 

Part two of the integration process for me is the easy and powerful tools within Exposure X5 (soon to be X6) with its dedicated LUTs tool tab. I've not seen any other image editing program with the same versatility as Exposure. They are ahead of the game and I expect it will only get better.  

Now, in researching this phenomenon of creating your own custom LUTs, and importing and using them in your image editor of choice, I discovered the process is not as seamless as it should be. In fact, it's currently a bit, shall we say, "cludgy" by comparison in some programs. And the options for tweaking the color grading are limited compared to Exposure X5: 

  Here is a clear explanation from Scott Kelby on how to import LUTs into Adobe Lightroom (you have a subscription, right?) that is pretty "hackey" compared to the Affinity-Exposure route. Adobe chose to make LUTs work in the Profiles menu, which is not all together intuitive. Here is another video showing an even more convoluted approach using a third party 3-D LUT creation software for Lightroom. Pretty crazy! 

Capture One Pro is the worst at handling the use of LUTs, and as a complete all-around image editor it is way behind other programs. There is no dedicated LUT pathway, and C1 instead relies on its Styles feature. Safe to say that Capture One Pro 2020 really hasn't gotten onboard the LUT train. 

So, there you go, the state of the LUT world to date. Exposure is leading the way in the use of LUTs, will the other players catch up? 

* and just as an anecdotal note: after creating this video I decided to rename the "Trace LUTs" category in Exposure to "Cinema LUTs" for better reference to the Cinematic LUTs files. Now I feel better! 😎 

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info@tracephotographs.com (trace photographs) Adobe Affinity Photo Capture One Pro Creativity Exposure X5 Fine Art Imagination Inspiration Invention Lightroom LUTs Photography Photoshop Software The Creative Life https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2020/9/creating-using-custom-luts-in-affinity-photo-and-exposure-x5 Sun, 06 Sep 2020 23:31:18 GMT
The Case Against Subscription Software https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2020/4/the-case-against-subscription-software

This is the third and final post in a series on photo software. A lot has been said and written about the whole Adobe move to the subscription model of photo software. While researching and writing my last two posts on photo software upgrading, and my move back to Aperture, I came across this episode of Scott Kelby's "The Grid" where the gist of the conversation was about the why's and wherefore's Adobe went with the subscription model. 

Kelby says Adobe lays the blame at Apple's feet, but more  on that later. Now, just for a quick historical context, when Apple brought out Aperture v1.0 in 2005 it retailed for $499.00 and it revolutionized the photo industry. That same year Adobe released Photoshop CS2 (Creative Suite) which cost around $600.00. In 2007 Adobe released Lightroom v1.0 for $299.00. Apple answered the price war in early 2008 with Aperture 2.0 for $199.00. When Apple opened the Mac App Store in January 2011, it offered Aperture 3.0 (released the year earlier) for $80.00. 

Now to Scott's comment about Adobe blaming Apple (among other reasons too) for going to a subscription model. The last version of Photoshop before jumping off the Creative Cloud cliff was CS6. By then Adobe had upped the full version price to $799.00 and Lightroom was still $299.00. Scott says in his "The Grid" episode (at the 30:34 mark if you want to jump to it) that he was talking to a high-up former Adobe exec friend who said the reason Adobe went with a subscription is Apple set the pricing model expectation of what an app was worth with the App Store. He said the days of selling $700-800.00 software was over. 

The Adobe executive told Scott that Adobe could no longer be competitive with selling a pro-level software at such low pricing and continue to innovate, and considering upgrades (paid versions) usually had an 18-24 month cycle before generating revenue, it was no longer financially viable. So Adobe opted for a low-cost subscription based solution. But here is where I disagree it was the only solution. The argument that Adobe wasn't generating revenue in between upgrade cycles doesn't take into account all of the people who were buying into the program for the first time while new features were being developed. 

Apple's App Store didn't force Adobe to choose a subscription model. There are  plenty of rather expensive apps being offered for one-time purchase, although not at the $700.00 price point. Look at Apple's own pro-apps pricing. Not cheap, but good value for its market. 

Adobe set the bar long ago of what it thought a "pro-app" should cost, and really put it out of reach of many people coming into the market who couldn't afford it. If you want to appeal to a niche "pro" market and price accordingly, that is fine but your user base will be decidedly small. The problem with the subscription only model is you are forever locked into paying if you want to use it. If Adobe had set a middle-of-the-road price point of $600.00 for Photoshop and Lightroom, and allowed users the option to stop their subscription once they hit that cumulative price point and then "own" the software at that point without any further updates, essentially a rent-to-own model rather than an always renting solution, it would be a better model for those who couldn't afford the full price upfront.  

Finally, Kelby says he thinks everyone will be offering software on a subscription basis, and points to Capture One Pro  as an example (currently offering a subscription and perpetual license.) I disagree. Serif's Affinity Software (Photo / Designer / Publisher) prides itself on offering really powerful Adobe alternatives (and despite naysayers, these are pro-level apps) for an incredible price with no subscription. I would say for software companies contemplating going to a subscription only model to think instead of reasonably pricing your software  for your intended audience, and perhaps offer "in-app purchases" for additional features. Always give your users the choice of owning what they pay for and give them compelling reasons to choose options. But stay away from going subscription only, it's a dead end... eventually. 

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info@tracephotographs.com (trace photographs) Adobe Affinity Photo Aperture Apple Capture One Pro Creativity Imagination Inspiration Invention Lightroom. Photography Photoshop Scott Kelby Software The Creative Life The Grid https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2020/4/the-case-against-subscription-software Fri, 24 Apr 2020 19:06:13 GMT
Back To The Future ~ Taking The Zen Path https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2020/1/back-to-the-future-taking-the-zen-path Where Are We Going?Where Are We Going?

A funny thing happened on the way to the future... I decided to go back. No, not back to 1985 but more like 2014. Since writing my previous post "To Upgrade Or Not To Upgrade, That Is The Question" I've had time to test a number of things, and I've come to a decision. But before I get to that decision, a bit about what lead up to it.

If you read the previous post, you know I've been using Capture  One Pro as my digital image post-processing and DAM (Digital Asset Management) software  for the last five  years. I've upgraded twice to my current version 11. I chose not to upgrade to the next two versions for reasons given in that post. In the course of writing the post on whether to upgrade or not, I had the opportunity to take a closer look at how I use Capture One and whether there were alternatives I already have that would be better (or at least as good.) I did not want to look into purchasing another software that would lead to the same upgrade issues. I'm not interested in chasing that.

Screenshot One feature  I wanted to see if I would miss if I was no longer using Capture One is my collection of Film Styles. I have an extensive collection of both color and B+W film emulation styles. 

Screenshot Using the "Edit With" feature in Capture One, I took a RAW image into Affinity Photo as a TiFF file, to see If I could simulate the same film emulation (and grain) look. I knew it would not be an exact match, but how close could I come, and could I create a look that I really liked? 

Screenshot A Black & White adjustment layer, a Vibrance layer, a Color Balance layer, an HSL layer, and an Add Noise Layer to simulate a film grain look. Without going into details, I discovered there are a few ways to control and alter the Noise filter in Affinity so it has a much more filmic look than simply being "digital noise." While not as robust as the Film Grain engine in Capture One, the look from Affinity is very pleasing to my eye.

Screenshot Saved back into Capture One, the two versions are close (a few subtle tweaks in brightness/contrast would seal it!) 

Screenshot My main interest is does the grain simulation technique in Affinity Photo work, and I have to say I'm quite pleased with the results (image on the right.)  Now Affinity Photo isn't the only solution to replace Capture One. I need a complete end-to-end workflow that is two things for me: An elegant circuit when needed, and a joy to use. 

Screenshot And that is where the going "Back To The Future" part comes in. I dusted off my final v3.6 of Apple's Aperture for the previous post, and in doing so I re-discovered the elegance, power and zen-like simplicity of this innovative program. I decided to test the round-trip-circuit of editing a RAW file from Aperture to Affinity Photo.

I chose to edit it as a PSD file to preserve the layers. Now, when Aperture first came out in 2005, I attended an Aperture seminar to learn the ins and out of the program. I asked the question, "What if you round-trip a PSD file with layers back to Aperture and then do some more editing in Aperture. Can you then open it back up in Photoshop and edit the layers more?"  The Uh-oh answer was no. As soon as you make an adjustment on a layered PSD file in Aperture, you lose those layers.

Screenshot So you know I just had to test if that answer still holds water today, or if in fact I could create a layered PSD in Affinity Photo from a RAW file in Aperture, save back to Aperture, do a couple of edits and re-open in Affinity to see if the layers were still there for further editing. The answer is, indeed they are! Happy days! Though understandably any edits you do in Aperture after you save the PSD back won't appear in the image when you open it in Affinity again. 

Screenshot Being able to re-edit layers is a great feature I'm glad Apple saw fit to address. 

Screenshot One cool feature Aperture includes that Capture One doesn't is in the Info Panel you can see which software  plug-in you used to edit an image. Though it only shows the latest one you used. If I were to edit the image in another plug-in after Analog Efex Pro, say in NIK Silver Efex Pro 2, then that would be the one that shows. Still, I like being able to see which program was used to edit an image. 

Screenshot I do love the Show/Hide Focus Points you have access to on RAW files. No other program I know has the feature. And lest you think Aperture is all light greys in the UI and not onboard with the trend of Dark Mode many apps offer, and Apple in particular has embraced in their newest MacOS Catalina, Aperture  has always had a full-screen dark mode that is beautiful and elegantly implemented. 

Screenshot

                                                                              Aperture Full Screen Mode

Mousing over the bottom of the app brings up the hidden filmstrip/browser which you can either lock in place or keep hidden. Working in full-screen mode is wonderful, and you know how I feel about the loupe tool! Aperture has always excelled at the organizational Digital Asset Management side, and it's even more robust and clean than what Capture One offers.

Screenshot  

From the beautiful, well designed, Zen-like aesthetic of the Aperture UI, to it's still very speedy tools on my current system, I have decided to switch my entire workflow back to Aperture while I have this desktop computer, and of course include Affinity Photo and the various plug-ins I still have for Aperture. When things just work, and work well, why do we have a need to chase the upgrade trophy? I'm getting off the marketing madness treadmill, embracing the tools I have at my fingertips, and choosing not to chase the shiny new things offered us. Welcome Back To The Future!   

 

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info@tracephotographs.com (trace photographs) Affinity Photo Aperture Apple Art Capture One Pro Creativity Fine Art Inspiration Learning Photography Post-processing Software The Creative Life Workflow Zen https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2020/1/back-to-the-future-taking-the-zen-path Sun, 12 Jan 2020 09:36:19 GMT
To Upgrade, Or Not To Upgrade, That Is The Question https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2019/12/to-upgrade-or-not-to-upgrade-that-is-the-question

We've all been there. We know the drill. If you are doing your post-processing of images with a program that you bought and paid for outright, that is you own it instead of opted for a subscription model (don't get me started), then you are inevitably faced with the decision to upgrade when a new version comes out, or not. The price of upgrading isn't the only factor, but it can be a big one. We'll get to that towards the end of this post. Of course updating is not the same as upgrading. Updates come as .x versions of software and should always be free (2.3, 2.4, 2.7.3, etc.) to owners of a program. They often include minor updates and performance enhancements. Full version upgrades (v2.0, 3.0, etc.) are usually reserved for bigger feature rich versions of your software, and those come at a price.  

Now most who follow this blog know that when Apple discontinued development and support for its pro photo app Aperture, I moved my workflow over to Capture One Pro and had been very happy with the move. The dreaded learning curve many fear was no big deal for me. It was easy to port my Aperture libraries over to Capture One. In fact I once called Aperture "Capture One Lite" on a live C1 Webinar. These days I'm feeling a bit like Willy Wonka when he pauses and says, "Strike that... reverse it."  

That said, I do have issues with Capture One to address. I started with version 7, and upgraded yearly from v8 to v11 (I did not upgrade to v12, or the newest v20 which we will get into.) 

Capture One 11Capture One 11Screenshot

This is my current Capture One setup. So why didn't I upgrade to v12 when it came out (Nov. 2018)? I looked at the new features and UI tweaks that were included in that upgrade, and I just felt with my workflow, the kind of images I work with, the new features were not worth the $149.00 upgrade price Phase One was asking. Aside from some new masking features (I'll concede Luminance Masking is nice), and UI tweaks for the better, there were/are too many other features missing (I dare say long missing) that a program of this caliber should already have.

Aperture Retouch-Clone ToolAperture Retouch-Clone ToolScreenshot

Case in point: Aperture (final v3.6) has a fine, dedicated Retouch tool available for easy Cloning or Repairing (Healing) meaning you don't ever need to go out to another program to accomplish these tasks. It works just the way it does in Photoshop. And to think Aperture was discontinued back in 2014!  

Capture One 20-Clone Layer w MaskCapture One 20-Clone Layer w MaskScreenshot

Now by contrast, Capture One 20 (which hasn't improved this feature since at least v11, if not before) uses a very clunky means of creating a Clone Layer that requires you to first paint a mask and then click to set a point to be cloned to the masked area. It is so awkward, and the circles connected by the line feature is reminiscent of how Aperture first had a clone tool in its v1.0. Apple quickly figured out a better way to implement a worthy clone tool. 

Capture One 20-Heal Layer w MaskCapture One 20-Heal Layer w MaskScreenshot

A similar feature still in Capture One 20 is the Heal Layer, though I found it even more awkward to use than the Clone Layer. Seriously Phase One, this isn't even a pro level feature! Here is a link to a video (not mine) that illustrates both of these quirky, clumsy features.

Aperture -Multi Stacks-Brush Color awayAperture -Multi Stacks-Brush Color awayScreenshot    Even though Aperture never had a Layers featureit did allow the stacking of multiple sets of adjustment tools (called Bricks) with the ability to "Brush In" or "Brush Away" the adjustments in masks, which acted in a similar manner to layers. I know, without blend modes or opacity adjustments, but you get the idea.
Aperture Loupe-Thumbnail ViewAperture Loupe-Thumbnail ViewScreenshot One of the features I've always loved in Aperture (which, by the way still works fine for me in OSX 10.13.6 High Sierra) is Apple's implementation of a floating loupe. Just like the physical loupe many of us wore around our necks or had next to our lightboxes to check focus on film or camera backs, Apple cleverly thought to make the loupe able to focus on any image in your filmstrip, even when you already had an image in the main viewer. This was brilliant because you could quickly scan through multiple images in a sequence, and chose the sharpest ones or ones with say the best expression to work on. Not only that, but within the adjustable loupe you have readings for the RGB and Luminance values of the precise area you are mousing over on the thumbnail. 

Aperture Loupe SettingsAperture Loupe SettingsScreenshot And Apple made their Loupe highly customizable on the fly. I have mine mapped to the tilde key ~ which makes turning it on/off quick and easy, and always "parked" on screen where I last left it.  

Capture One 20 - Loupe on ThumbnailCapture One 20 - Loupe on ThumbnailScreenshot Even in the latest version of Capture One 20 the Loupe tool, while looking similar to Aperture's is nowhere near as capable. Simply mousing over thumbnails in the filmstrip (browser) shows the limits of the loupe's view (the green highlighted image is the one in the main viewer, the red outlined image is the one I'm trying to get the loupe to visualize.) This limitation occurs when you have the Browser set to Auto Hide like I do, and when you mouse over to reveal the Browser strip, the loupe fails. You can't "park" the loupe in an out of the way spot and just use the cursor to highlight an area on a thumbnail that then shows in the loupe. It is not an always on loupe like in Aperture. If you let go of the mouse/trackpad click - bye, bye loupe. This seems like it could be a really useful tool to use given Capture One/Phase One's target market of high-end studio and fashion shooters. If Capture One Pro would just copy Apple's features for this tool, it would finally be right as rain (I mean the Loupe tool, not the whole program.) 😉

Capture One 11Capture One 11Screenshot

Capture One 20-Color Editor-Basic 01Capture One 20-Color Editor-Basic 01Screenshot Now one of the highlighted features that Capture One touts for its new v20 is the streamlined UI, in particular the space-saving re-design of the Color Editor Basic tool. Compare the latest version with how it is featured in v11 above. 

Capture One 20-Color Editor-Basic 02Capture One 20-Color Editor-Basic 02Screenshot   While overall I do love the new UI tweaks over v11, they do not warrant an upgrade for the price to me. The new scrolling tools panel is nice, but both Aperture and Lightroom had this feature a long time ago. The look of the newly designed Basic Color Editor tool is on par with Aperture's design finally. Which brings me to the function of this Basic Color Editor tool. My biggest peeve by far with Capture One Pro has always been the inability to cleanly swap colors in the program. Meaning if someone for example is wearing a yellow shirt, you cannot easily make the shirt blue, or deep purple, or any other color beyond how far the limited Hue slider allows you to go. In v20, they improved to Hue slider range to go to 30 in either direction, up from a limit of 20 in v11. That said, the tool still functions in a very limited capacity, and I discussed this with the Capture One webinar host, David some time ago. He admitted it was a limited feature, and if you needed that level of color change, it was best to edit in Photoshop. As I said, for a tool of this caliber geared towards high-end professionals and studio photographers, it should be capable of this by now. I don't use Lightroom, but I believe even Lightroom can manage that.  

Capture One 20-Advanced Color Editor 01Capture One 20-Advanced Color Editor 01Screenshot Capture One 20-Advanced Color Editor 02Capture One 20-Advanced Color Editor 02Screenshot In the Advanced tab you have more features, the same ones available in v11. In the lower left of these two images above you see the "before/after" color shift created from moving the Hue slider to each extreme based on the color range in the image made by the color picker tool (I expanded the range in the second image a wee bit.) Having to go to an outside editor for something I consider a pretty basic feature that should be here, and should be implemented elegantly given the care and finesse that is Phase One does not inspire confidence in upgrading.  

Aperture 3.6 Edit With Plug-inAperture 3.6 Edit With Plug-inScreenshot Over the years I have gathered quite a few plug-ins that I used with Aperture, and all of them are still compatible with it for extra editing features. The fact that Aperture is essentially "frozen in time" means I don't have to worry these plug-ins will become incompatible with it. A simple right-click on an image brings up the menu choices. 

Capture One 11-Edit WithCapture One 11-Edit WithScreenshot Many, but not all, of the same plug-ins are available to me in Capture One 11. Right-clicking an image and choosing Edit With brings up a dialogue box to set some parameters for Capture One to create a new file from the RAW to be edited, and a drop-down menu gives the choices of programs. 

Capture One 20-Edit WithCapture One 20-Edit WithScreenshot Even more elegantly implemented in Capture One 20 is simply right-clicking an image and mousing over the Edit With dialogue to reveal the choices. After selecting your program a new dialogue box comes up with the title of the plug-in and the same parameters to set to create a new image to edit. By choosing "Open With" instead, you'll get some different program choices based on your file format. For example, none of the Nik Collection plug-ins can open a RAW file directly, so those are not shown in the Open With choices, unless your file is a Tiff or Jpeg.

Aperture-Show Original-Toggle Button OnAperture-Show Original-Toggle Button OnScreenshot Aperture-Show Original-Toggle Button Off-Checkbox On-OffAperture-Show Original-Toggle Button Off-Checkbox On-OffScreenshot One final pet peeve with Capture One Pro, whether my current v11 or the new v20, is the crazy weird way they implement turning on/off an adjustment, or even seeing a Before/After (like here in Aperture showing the Original Image, and the Adjusted Image). In most (all?) photo editing software, a simple, easy toggle on/off button (lower right in this Aperture image) or a check/uncheck box for individual adjustments is standard. Affinity Photo & Photoshop have on/off visibility for layers. Industry standard stuff.  Capture One Pro makes you use a modifier key (hold Alt/Option) while clicking a tiny back arrow at the top of each adjustment to see it before/after, or use the same modifier key while clicking the larger back arrow in the tool bar to see all adjustments on/off. If you don't hold the modifier key while clicking the arrows, you reset your adjustments to 0, losing all your work.. That is just SO crazy, inelegant, and goes against every other photo program on the market! 

Capture One 20-Fibonacci SpiralCapture One 20-Fibonacci SpiralScreenshot For all that it gets wrong, it does have some very good features for certain types  of photographers that no other program offers. For it's tethering feature, Live View, and overall ability to capture and organize shoots in studio settings, and allowing you to use overlays to match client layouts, it is unsurpassed. If you like how it renders your particular RAW images straight out of camera compared to other programs, that's great. I highly recommend it to studio shooters. As for me and my workflow needs, I think I have come up against its limitations. One area I will be exploring very heavily going forward is a mobile workflow for images and video, and it is highly unlikely Capture One is heading to a mobile platform. It's carved its niche on the high-end of supporting the Phase One camera system. And with that, we come to the end argument about whether to upgrade... or not: Price. 

Capture One Pro 20 Upgrade 01Capture One Pro 20 Upgrade 01Screenshot I said it's not the only factor, but it can be a big one. I look at things for what they do, for what they don't do, or don't do well, against their price. Does it significantly affect the work I do and want to do? Do I have other choices I like as well, or more? Is it worth it? I said earlier why I didn't upgrade to Capture One 12, and because I didn't, to now upgrade from v11 is steeper than from v11 to v12. In fact the yearly upgrade pricing has steadily been going up, with the price from v11 to v12 up 40% over the previous upgrade! (more if you are in another country.) Capture One did say if I had chosen to upgrade to v12 after a certain date before v20 was available, I would've been eligible to get v20 for free. So technically I could've upgraded to v20 for $149.00. But herein lies a problem I have with Capture One: Once v20 was teased announced as coming out, there was cryptically little to no information as to what the new version would include feature-wise. It was actually off-putting to not know anything about what to expect, and thus maybe get excited about new features and actually want to upgrade. I wasn't willing to take on faith that v20 would be worth $149.00, let alone the $199.00 it would now cost me. Looking at the new feature set listed above, looking at all the videos about the new features from the website and other users, and finally playing with a 30-day free trial of v20, I'm confident in my choice of not upgrading past v11. I know Capture One has a subscription model, and it does seem like they are pushing perpetual license owners in that direction by pricing them out of upgrades, but I don't fancy renting my software, and really, because of all the things I wrote above, I'm just not that taken with Capture One like I used to be. This really short "What's New in Capture One 12" video illustrates my point, and the comment section and Capture One's responses show I'm not the only one. I do have plans for my current version, so stay tuned for what comes next! 

*Oh, there's just one more thing (pacing while wearing Steve Jobs' turtleneck and jeans): Looking at the list of Upgrade Features above, you'll notice something called "Expanded High Dynamic Range Tool."  Now before you get excited, there has been a High Dynamic Range Tool in Capture One since at least v11. However this tool has nothing to do with true High Dynamic Range images as the industry knows it. It does not incorporate a tone-mapping feature which is the hallmark of images worthy of the name. It is simply a tool for recovering highlights and shadows in single individual images, not bracketed stacked images, and with the "Expanded" feature in this upgrade, it includes Whites and Blacks sliders as well for additional tonal adjustment. I know a lot of people are confused by this. Phase One knows what it's doing in a marketing sense, but the tool is not deserving of the name "High." Just call it Dynamic Range Tool. So ends our broadcast... 

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info@tracephotographs.com (trace photographs) Aperture Apple Capture Capture One Capture One 20 Capture One Pro Capture One Pro 20 Learning Photography Pro Software The Creative Life Upgrade https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2019/12/to-upgrade-or-not-to-upgrade-that-is-the-question Thu, 26 Dec 2019 04:31:17 GMT
"He Of The Darkroom Eyes" ~ On Mentors, Teachers, and Senseis https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2019/12/-he-of-the-darkroom-eyes-on-mentors-teachers-and-senseis

                                                                "Sensei: Portrait of Jerry Uelsmann"

"You can do that?!" That was a revelatory question a young photography student named Jerry Uelsmann asked his Photography teacher Ralph Hattersley. As Jerry tells it, he was showing his teacher a contact sheet from a roll of film and trying to decide which image to print. There where two very different images side by side, separated only by the slim black border of the film frame that were of interest. 

Screenshot At the time, Jerry's work was very straightforward (nothing like the more surreal work he is known for today) and his teacher made the suggestion to print both images as one, seeing as how the film frame blended seamlessly between the two images (a girl's portrait and a figure in a doorway). Hence Jerry's surprised question and as he says, the start for him of the possibility of what a photograph could be. (The image marked above is, I believe, the one that resulted from the printing of the two images.) He quotes another of his teachers, Minor White, with the poetic notion that, "You photograph things not only for what they are, but for what else they are."   

The image I created for this post is my interpretation of a portrait I took of Jerry the first time I met him at a lecture he gave. The somewhat more straightforward version is here in my ::ONE:: gallery. But I wanted to carry the image further, explore the possibilities of "what else" it could be, and be more of an homage to a teacher, a life-long mentor, and a true sensei to me. So yes, "You most certainly can do that... and more."

The best teachers, the best mentors, and the best senseis (one who has gone before) are at heart seed planters. They spark an idea, offer a small shaft of light, and a few drops of life-giving water to grow your own creative imagination. And when you are ready, they appear in the most serendipitous way. 

(An interview with Jerry Uelsmann.)
B&W+COLOR: Looking back over your career, does anything stand out as particularly special or gratifying?

Uelsmann: In retrospect, I feel very blessed in that I intersected at key times in my life with major teachers like Beaumont Newhall, Minor White and Henry Holmes Smith, all of whom truly challenged me in positive ways.

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info@tracephotographs.com (trace photographs) Art Creativity Fine Art Imagination Inspiration Invention Jerry Uelsmann Learning Mentors Photography Sensei Teaching The Creative Life https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2019/12/-he-of-the-darkroom-eyes-on-mentors-teachers-and-senseis Fri, 13 Dec 2019 20:49:19 GMT
Got Film? ~ A Part Two Update https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2019/8/got-film-a-part-two-update Almost five years back I wrote a blog post called "Got Film? Digital Photographers Now Have Choices" on the state of the art of digital film emulation at that time. A lot has changed for me since then. For one thing, Apple chose to deep-six their pro photography editing app Aperture which prompted many photographers to look at alternatives. I chose to move my workflow over to Capture One Pro, and have been very pleased with the tools and interface and in particular how well it allows me to emulate the look of film from my analog days. I have purchased several series of film emulation styles made specifically for Capture One by 1Styles.Pro in both Black and White and Color, as well as film grain styles.

Screenshot

Screenshot These styles are carefully crafted using the built-in tools of Capture One to very accurately emulate traditional film stocks.

Screenshot Screenshot When you mouse over the style you get a live preview of the effect on your image, and you get a little dialogue box that tells you what tools are being changed to create the look. All the tools can be further modified to taste so you can customize your "film" for greater creativity. You can also save your new film style as your own custom preset. 

Screenshot

One feature of these film styles is they do not specifically add grain, which is essential to putting the cherry on the analog film look. There are styles included in some of these style packs that are grain emulations using the excellent built-in grain engine in Capture One. I often choose my own grain settings as I think that feature is really particular to each image. The in-depth blog post I referenced at the top of this one didn't mention Capture One Pro as it was not on my radar at the time, but I have to say I consider it to be the best of class now. I still stand by most of my observations in that post, including the Nik Collection of plug-ins that I can access through Capture One for an additional filmic choice.

Screenshot

One other change since writing the first post is I had purchased a copy of Alien Skin Exposure X (they are now on Exposure X4 but I have not upgraded.)

Screenshot

Screenshot Screenshot

 It does have some great film emulation tools, and the only one I know that has Black and White Infrared emulation (I do love me some B+W Infrared!) So the takeaway from this update for me is there are still lots of options for photographers who love emulating the analog film looks, or just want something different from typical digital images. Being creatures of habit though, we often fall back on those one or two choices we find the most pleasing and fun to work with, and I'm all for simplifying choice. 

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info@tracephotographs.com (trace photographs) Alien Skin Exposure X Capture One Pro Film Film Emulation Fine Art Inspiration Photography Software https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2019/8/got-film-a-part-two-update Thu, 08 Aug 2019 09:01:40 GMT
I Was Dark Mode Before Dark Mode Was Cool... Or A Thing https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2019/7/i-was-dark-mode-before-dark-mode-was-cool-or-a-thing

Way back in November 2007 I started this site to showcase my work, and eventually find a home for my blog. My goal then was rather simple: I wanted to create a warm, comfortable place to view my photography as if you had walked in from the bright light of the day into a beautiful gallery space. As I looked at lots of other portfolio sites then (and even now) what I saw was a lot of white space surrounding images.

While this all-white environment is a classic way of viewing images or artworks in real life, it is not the same viewing experience as on the internet or electronic devices. Why not? Because when we see images in either a typical gallery setting, or in a book or on a printed page, what we are seeing is reflected light.When we see images on the web, we are seeing light beaming directly into our little peepers! Think about shining a light straight into your eyes every time  you look at something.👀

So everything we see on screens is backlight, and given the amount of time most of us spend looking at screens, this is really not healthy for our vision. As one who is dealing with my own vision issues (addressed in the post right before this: https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2017/2/-are-you-a-right-eye-or-a-left-eye-photographer) this has grown to be more problematic for me. I have seen so many sites and blogs with light grey text on white backgrounds. I found them impossible to read. 

So I created a warm, dark grey textured background for the wall of my galleries, and went Dark Mode early on. I'm now really happy to see others joining the mode, and especially image/video editing apps. 

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Affinity Photo (and Designer and Publisher) has had dark mode from the beginning, and one thing I look for in any app that has it is the ability to adjust the degree of darkness. That is a cool feature.

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Screenshot The Affinity websites are in dark mode too, which is greatly appreciated.

Screenshot Alien Skin Exposure X also includes an adjustable dark mode feature. It really does make working with images much more practical and less visually stressful. 

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Screenshot Capture One Pro, my photo editing software preference has a two-mode dark mode feature, either Very Dark, or Dark. I would prefer a slider, but personally I opt for the lighter Dark mode.

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Not all photo/video apps were completely dark mode. Apple's Aperture chose a light grey pallet for photo editing, but it did include a slider option to adjust the background, and the floating HUD tool was a cool dark feature. Apple allowed you to actually hide all the tool bars and grey interface going into a full screen mode and use the dark HUD to edit in a true dark mode. 

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Screenshot Apple's Final Cut Pro X was redesigned (check out images for Final Cut Pro 7 interface) from a similar grey interface like Aperture into a much better, more mature dark mode, which considering the long amount of time given to video editing sessions, is so necessary for both editing fidelity and our eye health.

Screenshot And Apple's Motion software is natively in Dark Mode, which makes the process of moving between apps (Motion and Final Cut are often used side by side) so wonderful and welcome.

I have to say now it really tickles me, and I feel a little vindicated about my decision to go Dark Mode all those years ago. Now with the news that Apple is going all in (or giving us the choice) on Dark Mode with the upcoming operating systems for iOS, iPadOS, and Mac OSX Catalina, I think more and more creatives will appreciate the new mode, and having less strain on our eyes. Welcome to the Dark Side everyone! 

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info@tracephotographs.com (trace photographs) Affinity Photo Alien Skin Exposure X Aperture Apple Apple Motion Capture One Pro Dark Mode Final Cut Pro X Inspiration Invention iOS iPadOS Mac OSX Catalina Origins Photo Video Photography Software The Creative Life Vision https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2019/7/i-was-dark-mode-before-dark-mode-was-cool-or-a-thing Wed, 24 Jul 2019 19:44:44 GMT
"Are You A Right-Eye Or A Left-Eye Photographer?" https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2017/2/-are-you-a-right-eye-or-a-left-eye-photographer

Some time ago I posed that very question to about twenty of my students. Do you shoot with the camera to your left or right eye?  The resulting poll fell evenly split. Funny thing is there seemed to be no correlation to anyone being right or left handed (or right or left footed for that matter.) It was just a preference. 

 

But I had another reason for asking besides mere curiosity. Back in 2008 I was diagnosed as having a condition in my right eye called Choroidal Neovascularization. Fortunately I'm a left-eye shooter. I was treated by a retina specialist to five monthly treatments of a medicine that was injected directly into my eye! The blood that had pooled inside my eye as part of the condition and affected my vision eventually dissipated and my vision returned to 20/30 (it was 20/80 when I was diagnosed.) 

 

All was good for several years, though I was told that since I had the condition in one eye, chances were very high it would develop in the other... eventually. Then eventually came along. When it did three years ago, it didn't have the same symptoms. I didn't have the black floating cobwebs, like ink dropped in water that indicated blood was leaking into my eye and affecting my field of vision (don't worry, you couldn't see anything from the outside and there is no pain or anything when that happens.) No, this time I had other symptoms of poor vision. What is now Wet-Age Related Macular Degeneration in both eyes. Initially I resumed the same eye injection treatments as before, times two. After several months I decided to stop treatments as my vision was good in both eyes, and I didn''t want the expense of ongoing treatments. Denial can be a powerful thing. 

 

It took eight months sans treatment for my left "good eye" to go from 20/20 to 20/200! That's the threshold for legal blindness (insert sad face emoji.)  That's when I posed the question to my students. Because I was forced to try and shoot with my right eye, which wasn't in that great shape either at the time. It was very awkward to switch, and I actually gave up photographing for a short while, until I returned to treatments and my shooting eye returned to 20/20! Now after nearly two years of monthly treatment my vision is, shall we say in flux, meaning it is not quite stable, and the prognosis is this will need life-long monthly treatments. In fact writing this post has been a visual challenge. Bottom line if your vision is good and clear, count your blessings and protect it. And learn to shoot with both eyes... just in case. 

Cheers!       

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info@tracephotographs.com (trace photographs) Creativity Health Inspiration Photography The Creative Life Vision https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2017/2/-are-you-a-right-eye-or-a-left-eye-photographer Tue, 07 Feb 2017 09:27:51 GMT
Going Forward After Aperture :: The Future Looks Bright https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2014/7/going-forward-after-aperture-the-future-looks-bright Threshold VIIIThreshold VIII Some time ago, I wrote a post about the demise of Aperture being premature when the interwebs responded to the Aperture update to version 3.3. Now, it seems Apple has finally put future Aperture development aside in favor of a new photo paradigm that potentially promises to be a re-think in how we, as photographers, deal with our images and workflow. By re-think, I mean the very way we set up the structure of our files, libraries, projects, etc. is ripe for a newer way of accessing and finding the images we need in any given moment. How and where they are stored (and found), be it the Cloud via iCloud, or on local storage media, it is clear Apple is designing a total OS based ecosystem for images that simplifies and makes unnecessary much of what we worry about today. 

I think Apple is a company focused on integration rather than segregation. Having two photo apps on one system, one for "pros", and the other for the rest of the photographing world was not part of the far looking company. Apple is looking farther down the road in terms of photography (and probably most things we do in computing) than most people can. Convergence, the blurring of lines between "pro" and "amateur" photography is already here. In many cases, those lines don't matter any more. As I said in my post previous to this one, Apple is building a platform for photographers of different skill levels to make the most of their work in a simpler, usually more elegant way.

Will this new Photos app have all the power and features that pro users have come to love and know via Aperture? Time will tell, but while Aperture was a total re-think in how photographers dealt with their images (it was the first non-destructive workflow for photographers on the market) when it came out in 2005, this new paradigm may, just may, be as equally revolutionary. One really compelling piece of news coming from Apple on the new app, for me, is the extensibility they are building into the new app for third party apps. This means that potentially any developer, be they OnOne, VSCO (VSCO Cam), Google/Nik, AlienSkin, or any smaller developer can create, via Apple's PhotoKit, a filtering or perhaps more elaborately featured program to offer incredible new possibilities for image creation, all while staying inside the Photos app. 

This is big! Just like the explosion on the App Store of photography apps for iPhone and iPad, I think a similar explosion for working on the desktop in Photos for OSX will happen. Far better than the current plug-in architecture via Aperture, this looks to be the way photography is headed. It will be interesting to see how this new path develops, but as I said, Apple is looking far down the road, and re-thinking how we will work with images. They've done it before, and we got Aperture. Be patient, they're doing it again and you might be surprised what a new way of thinking brings...   

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info@tracephotographs.com (trace photographs) Aperture Apple Inspiration Invention Learning Photography Photos app Software The Creative Life https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2014/7/going-forward-after-aperture-the-future-looks-bright Mon, 07 Jul 2014 11:15:00 GMT
Aperture Closing :: Apple Stops Development On Aperture Photo Software https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2014/6/aperture-closing-apple-stops-development-on-aperture Aperture ClosingAperture Closing It's official: On Friday, June 27th 2014, Apple announced it would cease any further development on its professional photo application Aperture. The interwebs and social media sites lit up over the weekend with all sorts of "Told You Sos", and "The Sky Is Falling" doom and gloom, peppered with a few, well written pieces on what this big announcement really means.

Let me give you my perspective on it: As an avid Aperture user and instructor in the virtues of the program and its workflow power, I too was initially dismayed at the news, but then my thoughts turned to the inevitable "What's Next?"  I had bought my first Mac back in 2006 (a Black MacBook) mostly because Adobe had announced they were offering Beta testing of a new program in development for photographers called Lightroom. It looked promising, and I jumped on board with my new MacBook (it was only available on the Mac at first) to test and see how this would develop.

I had not initially heard of Apple's development of Aperture (secretive buggers those Apple folks!), but when it launched to professional photographers, before Lightroom was out of Beta, the announcement was big news. I do believe that without the competition and development of Aperture, Lightroom would not be half the program it is today.

That said, I've always had problems warming up to Adobe's Lightroom app, and even though I've looked at every iteration of it, I found it simply didn't meet my photography needs in the way that the more elegantly designed and powerfully simpler Aperture did/does. Now that Apple has announced it will no longer develop Aperture, and in fact will be replacing it (along with iPhoto) with a brand new, made from the ground up, application called Photos, it remains to be seen how this new app will serve the needs of photographers. Apple has said they will continue to offer compatibility for Aperture in the next OSX Yosemite, so there really is no need for panic for some time.

I'll keep my Aperture running into the next OSX, and by next year, early hopefully, we will see what Photos is all about. Something tells me it will be a free app when launched, and as Apple plans, it will be tightly integrated with the entire Apple ecosystem, from Macs to iPads to iPhones, and iCloud, and all the core technologies in a way that third party photo software can't. The idea of plug-ins and the rather kludgy way they run now in photo software is likely to be a thing of the past. Apple has a plan, and a "Big Picture" (pun intended) in mind. We just don't know quite what that looks like.

Now, not being one to sit around and wait, I've researched alternatives to the end of Aperture. For me, Lightroom is not an option. I simply don't like its boxy, modal workflow and tools, and I certainly don't want to pay/rent monthly for it either. I've been working Adobe-less for a while now, and don't miss it at all. What I have found is Capture One Pro 7 software by PhaseOne is a ridiculously powerful program that has many of the fine features of Aperture, but so much more. It is the way I will be going forward, and plan for the day Aperture no longer has a use to me.

I'm learning Capture One Pro, which is quite similar to Aperture in a number of ways, and at the same time, much more powerful and deep in terms of the level of detail you can get out of your images. First thing I've noticed is the RAW processing in Capture One is vastly superior to Apple's Core RAW conversions. No contest. Going forward, I'll be providing more info on this transition to a RAW/DAM solution and workflow for new photography.

We live in such interesting times for photography, which hardly looks anything like when I started in the film days, but that's exactly what makes photography so incredibly exciting! And it won't look like it does today in the near future... be fluid!

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info@tracephotographs.com (trace photographs) Aperture Apple Inspiration Invention Learning Photography Software The Creative Life https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2014/6/aperture-closing-apple-stops-development-on-aperture Mon, 30 Jun 2014 19:30:40 GMT
Learning To Love Layers https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2014/4/learning-to-love-layers LayersLayers Ok, I love layers! I'm not talking about the Photoshop Layers feature, although that is great and how most of us think of "layers", but I mean the visual layers that images can provide. Like music with many tones and chord changes, multiple instruments building a beautiful soundscape, images can give us a similar, visual experience.

I've often said that what I'd like to accomplish with my photographs is the visual equivalent of music. Sometimes, the more layers built into a photograph gives you more ways to "read" an image, and in turn makes you want to spend more time looking and discovering. Layers seem to let you look deeper into an image, rather than simply scrolling past the way we do with so many photos. 

So how do you do that in a single still image? By training your eye to first notice layers in your everyday world. Torn billboards or wall posters showing other posters underneath. The reflections of things or people in a window or puddle, for examples. When you look at a scene, our eyes naturally focus on one or two things, but our vision sees other elements in our field of view. Naturally they are the out-of-focus elements until we shift our attention to them, and our vision quickly adjusts to the new focus. Cameras and lenses let us pull an incredible focus that the eye can't manage on its own.

Torn Beautiful (Homage To Picasso And Braque)Torn Beautiful (Homage To Picasso And Braque) Lenses and sensors let us focus far deeper and wider than is normal. That, plus the ability to look at a still image for a length of time, to sit with it, gives us the opportunity to explore nuances of layers, and subtlety of meanings that even motion/video doesn't allow. Images with layers don't need to be complex either.

Street Glyph #1 :: AtlantaStreet Glyph #1 :: Atlanta All you need to do is start noticing the layers of visual interest all around you, look at the interplay of elements, of the quality of light and shadows and how they all add to a more nuanced, intiguing image. Train your eyes to see deeper and over time, you will see patterns, relationships, and things that overlap and layer upon one another, and influence one another, just like life does. How you frame a composition, where you select to focus on, how you choose to place the relationship of elements in your photograph, all factor into the depth of your vision.

Learning to love layers and exploring what they can bring to your images will give you a more powerful way of expressing your creativity and the language of photography.   

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info@tracephotographs.com (trace photographs) Creativity Imagination Inspiration Layers Learning Photography The Creative Life Vision https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2014/4/learning-to-love-layers Thu, 01 May 2014 03:58:32 GMT
On The Streets :: Notes From The Unknown Lens https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2014/4/on-the-streets-notes-from-the-unknown-lens

You could blame it on Vivian Maier, or Jay Maisel, or Cartier-Bresson. French photographer Robert Doisneau would be another likely suspect. Influences abound in the world of photography, whichever genre you turn to, but really they only serve to inspire the urge to go out and create your own images. For want of a new direction, a new challenge, an impulse to go way outside my comfort zone, I have been bitten by the "street bug'. I have created a new gallery of images to explore what I can bring to this well covered niche of photography.

A lot has been said by those who eat, sleep, and drink this type of work, and I am not here as any form of photojournalist, but simply as an image-maker drawn to elements and energy that intrigue and evoke in me a curiosity about who we are. That said, I don't set out with any preconceived notions of what to photograph. I have no idea what I will find, or what will unfold in any given moment. And that is both the blessing and the curse for someone who has traditionally photographed under very controlled conditions.

This serendipity of constant flow and change is the energy that propels many street photographers in exploring new environments. It challenges both your ability to observe and read interactions between people and their surroundings, and your own comfort level in participating in it. Do you interact directly with your subjects? Engage them in conversation before asking to photograph them? Or do you move furtively and try to go unnoticed, in order to not influence what you're seeing? Do feel like a stalker or hunter "capturing" stolen moments from people, shooting them mostly from behind? Do you at least make eye contact with those you photograph on the street, at least if they are paying attention and notice you?

I think what I want to bring to the table, when I lay my street images out, is something different from those that have gone before. It wouldn't serve to travel well-trodden ground without adding a unique view-point. What would be the point? I can't say yet what this work will be, or how it will coalesce, but I'm already noticing a certain cinematic quality to the images. With street photography in particular, what is left out of the frame is as important as what is included. What has always been important to me in any mode of photography, namely composition, light, form and graphic nuance translates to this new work. I do see where a lot of skills, both photographic and interpersonal, come into play here. All that you know and learn about what makes a photograph great needs to walk hand-in-hand with your innate social skills, your unique personality. It's been said that Robert Doisneau was so shy when he began that he photographed cobble stones before he was able to raise his camera and capture the poignancy of his fellow Parisians.

One of the things I noticed in Vivian Maier's work, was that many of her subjects are viewed from a low angle, almost as if they are seen from a child's perspective. This is the result if her using a twin-lens reflex camera with a waist-level viewfinder for those images. What a perfect view-point to evoke a child-like wonder at the world around you?

I'm really excited to continue this new work, and to see how both it, and myself evolve. There is nothing more sure-fire than stepping well outside your comfort-zone to grow ever more human!

* in addition to the links to the street photographers above, this video of photographer Joel Meyerowitz taking on the streets of Manhattan is a treat... 

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info@tracephotographs.com (trace photographs) Creativity Henri Cartier-Bresson Inspiration Jay Maisel Joel Meyerowitz Learning New Work Passion Photography Robert Doisneau Street Photography The Creative Life Vivian Maier https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2014/4/on-the-streets-notes-from-the-unknown-lens Mon, 28 Apr 2014 06:20:10 GMT
Tools :: On Why Gear Really Does Matter https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2014/4/tools-on-why-gear-really-does-matter ToolsTools

So you think gear doesn't matter? Or maybe you are on the side of those who are all about the supremacy of gear at the expense of creative expression? So many folks side with one or the other, or split the difference for the sake of peace and tranquility. If gear does matter, then the arguments go to which gear matters more. It's always interesting and fun to sit with a group of photographers, preferably at some outside café, and talk shop. 

I love the argument that says, "Well, do you think Picasso and his artist friends argued which brushes were best?", or that other professions like plumbers don't discuss the tools of their trade like photographers do. Fact is, we weren't privy to those enchanting discussions between Picasso and his group at the Paris cafés, or sit with a gathering of plumbers or (insert trade) in order to know what they discuss. But, humans being humans, in all walks of life, we talk about "gear."

We talk about techniques, vision, style, sensibilities, taste, trends and the tools that make those things possible. And that is what gear is: tools. Cameras/lenses, software, film, hardware, and all the accompanying accessories that go with, are simply tools. Tools of the trade. Nothing new there.

But why it is important as I see it, as important as the creative vision itself, is that the tools make possible the vision to exist. If the argument goes: "it doesn't matter what hammer you use, they all pound nails..."  I would agree with the last part, not the first part. I would not use a hammer that caused blisters or was awkward to use. It might be fine for someone else, but it doesn't fit me. If a tool, a camera, lens, software or other hardware tool doesn't create some spark of excitement in you to pick it up every day and learn it, play with it, experiment with it, and discover new possibilities with it to create what is your vision, why bother with it? 

That's why questions about which gear is best for someone can't really be answered by anyone else. It's a matter of personal taste and what fits you. You can discuss, argue, and research until the cows come home, but in the end, you have to be excited enough by your tools to want to use them. The first camera I ever used was an old Yashica Mat twin-lens reflex camera (think Vivian Maier) borrowed from the high school photo dept.,  which I thought of as a Cracker Jack box: a boxy film camera with a prize inside. That prize was the exposed film, my image, that I was going to make into art. I didn't care much for the camera then, it was just a means to an end.

One day a fellow student, sporting a fancy 35mm camera and new lens, took to berating me for using a beat up old school camera, while he had the best camera money could buy. I really didn't know what to say. I guess I had my first "hater" as early as high school! My wonderful photography teacher, hearing this from his office, came out in an indignant sort of rage and proceeded to put this student in his place, saying that I, with my worn used camera could out shoot him any day, and no matter what camera this fellow student had, he couldn't shoot his way out of a wet paper bag! Way to go, Don!

I never looked at gear the same after that. It was important, all of it. But what matters most lays in how you use it!  The marriage of all the elements from vision to tools, to final image, and everything that goes into the process matters. The process matters!  One thing I love in these incredibly creative times is the tools, as evolving as they are, are readily available to try out, and see what fits. You can rent most any camera, lens and accessory you want, before you commit to buying something based on someone else's opinion. Places like LensPro To Go, and BorrowLenses are great resources to try out all kinds of gear, get to know it, and see if it's the right tool for you.

So, the next time someone tries to tell you gear doesn't matter, or that it should take a backseat to creativity, just tell them with a knowing smile that, "they go hand-in-hand".  

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info@tracephotographs.com (trace photographs) Cameras Creativity Gear Hardware Inspiration Invention Learning Photography Software Tools Tools Of The Trade https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2014/4/tools-on-why-gear-really-does-matter Fri, 25 Apr 2014 16:31:12 GMT
Paint The Fence :: Lessons I've Learned From Mr. Miyagi https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2014/4/paint-the-fence-lessons-ive-learned-from-mr-miyagi

Mr. Miyagi was a great teacher, albeit a fictitious one. If you are not familiar with this inspiring teacher of karate, see this clip from the the original "Karate Kid " film. Then rent the whole film for more wisdom on life, courage, and the powerful influence on each other student and teacher share. It got me thinking of all the ways we learn without even realizing we are doing so. As Mr. Miyagi says, "Not everything is as seems." 

Cultivating muscle memory, both physical and mental, is a key component to deep learning, but mindless repetition of a task for its own sake is not learning. When you can take a task, the information you are given about one thing, and make the connection to something seemingly unrelated, you have achieved the point Miyagi was making. It is this ability to translate disparate things into cohesive action that characterize the journey to mastery of anything; your art, your life, and yourself.

When you set about learning photography, this visual language, you begin to see connections, patterns, and relationships between things most people ignore on a daily basis. Your muscle memory becomes more acute as you start to see like a camera. Your eye(s) begins to frame things subjectively, according to your growing sensibilities. Your friends and family might look at you sideways as you stop and focus on some fine detail of texture on a wall, or talk excitedly about an intriguing composition, or the luminous quality of the light you notice while walking down the street.

On one of my recent walks, I noticed the fence above, after first noticing the paint drips on the sidewalk. Lost in other thoughts, I walked past it all, then stopped. Something in my long cultivated muscle memory of being a photographer and connector of disparate dots pulled me up short, and made me take another look at what, to most people would be nothing more than a "sloppy job" of fence painting.

Paint the Fence

 

Paint the Fence

Where some will see the mundane, the ordinary, the unremarkable, the visual artist, the photographer, is able to see the beautiful. This quote, from Emily's monologue in Thornton Wilder's "Our Town" is poignant:

"Oh, earth, you are too wonderful for anybody to realize you. Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it--every, every minute?"
Stage Manager: "No. (Pause) The saints and poets, maybe they do some."

 And I would add photographers to those who have the capacity to, at least. Mr. Miyagi was a poet of action, and as I was passing that fence on my walk, I heard his admonition to, "​show me paint the fence!" 

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info@tracephotographs.com (trace photographs) Creativity Discoveries Inspiration Learning Mr. Miyagi Photography Poetry The Creative Life The Karate Kid karate https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2014/4/paint-the-fence-lessons-ive-learned-from-mr-miyagi Fri, 18 Apr 2014 12:00:00 GMT
On Perfectionism And Craft https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2014/3/on-perfectionism-and-craft Craftsman "Do a good job, Trace, but not too good of a job." I was told that once, from a photographer I had worked with many years ago, when I was starting out. Considering the incredible attention to detail and painstaking work on set we achieved to create the highest quality commercial images, I was a little surprised. I guess I had garnered the reputation of being a perfectionist  around the studio. 

Truth be told I was. What I needed to learn was just when perfectionism was required, and when good was required. An earlier post I did about Steve Jobs and pursuing excellence touched on a bit of this. I love how in the behind-the-scenes making of the "Lord Of The Rings" films, I think it was in reference to the tensions over whether director Peter Jackson would deliver the final film in time for the premier, Jackson made the point, "Of course I'm going to deliver the film on time. It would be irresponsible filmmaking not to deliver on time..."  But then he added, with a gesture of his thumb and forefinger, "but you have to deliver it just in time!"  That is the mark of a perfectionist who knows the lesson of just what constitutes the idea of perfect.

Of course, there really is no "perfect", only a notion of your absolute best effort, and the time it takes. I do believe though, that in this day and time, too much of "good enough" is now the gold standard. Learning the craft of photography, and a striving for excellence (a rather subjective term, I admit) has been supplanted by the easy solution and the shortest time to get from A to B. I don't mind easy solutions and short time results when they exhibit the elegance of excellent craft. I see so many photographers without an understanding of what real craft is, and sadly, little interest in achieving it.

If you can look at your own and others work, and recognize when you have achieved your very best, and understood how and why that came about, then you are certainly on your way. Striving for better, your better, is to be in the company of perfectionists who never achieve perfect, but the highest form of "truly good" work.   

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info@tracephotographs.com (trace photographs) Craft Inspiration Learning Perfection Peter Jackson Photography Steve Jobs The Creative Life https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2014/3/on-perfectionism-and-craft Mon, 31 Mar 2014 04:27:43 GMT
Creative Healing :: Of Horses, Memories And First Loves https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2014/3/creative-healing-of-horses-memories-and-first-loves Sherry's Horse I remember the first time I saw her. I remember the first time we spoke. It's said we never forget our first love, the one that first touched us heart and soul. Truest words I know. There are people that come in and out of our life, and there are special ones that leave a mark on our hearts. If we are among the very luckiest people on earth, we get to meet someone like that, however briefly. 

I found out this past weekend that my first love, Sherry, had passed away early last November. I was so shocked! I was expecting to find a Facebook profile for her, but not that! Certainly not that. She was only about a year and a half younger than me. Too young, too sweet, too vibrant to go... and all the memories come flooding in. 

I remember asking her to marry me, and how she happily said yes, and me saying, "after I finish art school and get established." It wasn't meant to be. Funny thing is, connections being what they are, many years after we had gone our separate ways, I had had a dream of Sherry one night. I never dream of specific people, but this time I did. In the category of "where are they now?" I got in touch with her. I told her about the dream and how it felt like a nudge from the Universe to reconnect. 

We laughed and talked about our separate yet oddly similar journeys and spiritual paths, our mutual love for Native American ways, and all kinds of things kindred spirits share. We talked for six hours! We kept in touch, and months later I visited her on a trip to Florida. It was a great, all too short visit. More connections and serendipity during that visit, I had read an article in an issue of Southwest Art Magazine that Sherry had subscribed to. 

After I had returned to New York City, months later that article kept pulling at me. I called Sherry and described the article (I couldn't remember the name of the magazine), about an artist from San Francisco who took a six month solo journey with two pack llamas and her dog to wander the Southwest Desert wilderness of New Mexico and Arizona. Sherry found it and xeroxed the article and sent it to me. Through that gift and connection, I met the artist Kirsten Hardenbrook, another kindred soul. I did an Artist-in-Residency at Kirsten's Fellowship For Ecology And The Arts in New Mexico a year later.

As with the ebb and flow we know as life, sometimes we lose touch with even the most special people we know. I regret that with Sherry. I saw on her memorial page, a beautiful prayer from her uncle about hoping she was riding one of the beautiful horses she liked to draw. I remember that, and the horse sculptures she collected. They were her Spirit Animal. I went out yesterday to photograph some horses for Sherry. It is my prayer for her and my memorial for a beautiful woman who touched my heart, and gave me the keys to the Land of Enchantment.

I will forever be grateful for you, Sherry, and the memories you leave me with. I will keep you in my heart always, and I know you are smiling your big, sweet smile, astride your heavenly horse...

In memory of Sheryl Lynn Saxton

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info@tracephotographs.com (trace photographs) Horses Inspiration Memorial https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2014/3/creative-healing-of-horses-memories-and-first-loves Mon, 24 Mar 2014 17:12:57 GMT
On Teaching Photography, Teaching Life https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2014/3/on-teaching-photography-teaching-life “We could teach photography as a way to make a living, and best of all, somehow to get students to experience for themselves photography as a way of life.” ~ Minor White 

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I love Minor White. I never met him, nor had him as a mentor, but his teaching and influence has impacted my life and my own teaching. I first found out about him an his work from my own teacher in high school, Don Jennings. Along with being introduced to Jerry Uelsmann's work (who was a student of Minor White's himself) at the same time, these two master photographers became my virtual mentors. 

Minor White introduced me to black and white infrared landscapes, which led me to do a series of images for my first gallery show at the Center For Photography At Woodstock, right after high school. Like the very best teachers, Minor taught not only the great detail of craft and technical knowledge that goes into photography, he taught a philosophy of vision, and as such, a philosophy for life. 

 The only way I know to teach, to give a student the very best I have and what I truly believe they deserve from any teacher, is to teach photography from the point of a way of life. Putting the subject in that context gives a richer experience of what can be a difficult thing to understand. I see many students get bogged down in technical information and certain rules. When a teacher/mentor can break down and then build up the information in a way the student can really understand, in a language they can relate to through their own experience, you get the proverbial light bulb moment.

"Ah-ha!" moments are great to see, and even better than that, for both student and teacher, is when those moments propel a student to further and deeper exploration of their own sensibilities. Nothing makes me happier than to see a student shine on their own and find new ways to implement something we've been discussing and working through. 

A passion for photography, a pre-requisite for understanding this artform, is something we should never lose. Any truly gifted teacher should forever consider themselves a student. I do. I think Minor did too... 

 

(Images of Trace teaching: Copyright © Nan Mac used by kind permission.)

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info@tracephotographs.com (trace photographs) Creativity Infrared Inspiration Learning Mentoring Minor White Philosophy Photography Teaching The Creative Life Vision https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2014/3/on-teaching-photography-teaching-life Fri, 14 Mar 2014 15:16:23 GMT
Torn Between Two Lovers https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2014/1/torn-between-two-lovers Nymphaeaceae, Water LilyNymphaeaceae

Autumnal, Japanese Maple, LeavesAutumnal I've always smiled at the thought of American Poet Robert Frost's epitaph, which reads, "I Had A Lover's Quarrel With The World."  I get that. As photographers and artists, I think we all have a genuine love affair with the medium, and by extension, with the world as well. Most photographers become drawn to certain types of images, be they monochrome or color, and pursue that aesthetic almost exclusively.

And with good reason. Each way of photographing has its own unique considerations and qualities to master. With black and white, or monochrome images, you have to see in a different way than you do in color. When everything is reduced to tones of greys, from pure white to pure black,and everything in between, you become far more attuned to seeing line, form, texture and the subtle nuances between tones. Composition becomes a paramount visual element. Not all images will translate to monochrome as well as color. It helps to think as you're shooting if you want it to be in black and white to see the image with an eye for those things that make a great B+W image. 

Seeing in color is our natural gift, and when it comes to color photography, we have certain unique things to think about. First thing is the harmony of colors. The relationship of harmonious colors communicates beauty, order, and emotions we all share. Odd or dissonant color combinations can evoke tension and uncomfortable feelings that, given the purpose of the image, may be what you want to say. Color photography can be bold, vibrant. or subtle, pastel and quiet. It is the best at bringing forth emotions in viewers.

Not every photographer dances well between the two mediums. A lot of black and white masters from the past simply didn't have, or couldn't develop the proper sensibility to work in color. It is a different mindset, and for those who do work creatively well in both worlds, it can sometimes feel like being torn between two lovers. I get asked all the time from photographers, "Should I make this a black and white, or leave it color?" 

That's a question I ask myself every time I start to process images. Assuming you are always shooting in RAW, it's good to do a quick B+W conversion in post just to get a taste of the difference. If it looks worth pursuing, either in color or monochrome, then work the image fully until you are satisfied. In the end, you may process an image fully in both methods, put them up side by side on the computer, and spend hours deciding which works best!

At the end of the day, the more you explore each aesthetic, you will find what works best for you. If you decide to master both color and black and white photography, you will be richly rewarded with a fuller experience of seeing. Study great art and photography to learn about the qualities of color and monochrome and how others have translated those qualities. With any luck, you won't have to feel torn at all.  

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info@tracephotographs.com (trace photographs) Art B+W Black and White Color Creativity Fine Art Imagination Inspiration Learning Photography The Creative Life https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2014/1/torn-between-two-lovers Mon, 27 Jan 2014 13:00:00 GMT
We Were Mod Once :: Last Of My iPhoneography Books https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2014/1/we-were-mod-once-last-of-my-iphoneography-books We Were Mod OnceWe Were Mod Once

Feeling nostalgic for things we grew up with is as natural to humans as breathing. We're simply wired for nostalgia. Some of the things we grow up with aren't only from the time but include things from earlier times too. Things from our parents and grandparents days filter in with what we see as uniquely ours. Music, movies, dances, clothing styles, cars, and styles in art all are things we can feel nostalgic for.

For my last iPhoneography Book (X), I chose to do a look at some vintage autos in an old-timey, tintype way befitting the theme. As I type all of this, I'm in a coffee shop that's playing Frank Sinatra and Louis Armstrong. Apropos, I'd say.

There are old movies and tv shows we've all seen growing up that are older than we are, but they have become a part our story. I love seeing old black and white films that show what those times where like for our grandparents, and how cool, vibrant, alive and vital they were "in their day"! One thing I find is no matter the span of years, everything was modern once. Everything was once cutting edge, forward looking, sometimes scandalous and shocking, but always saying something about where the culture is at the time.

Photography and film are great mediums for communicating the nostalgic in us, as well as showing how we're not so different from past generations after all. Take a look at the brilliant street photography of Vivian Maier, and compare it to examples of modern street photographers. Look at films shot on location in New York City from the '30s and '40s, and then newer films that show the same locations. The clothing and hair styles change, as do the automobiles on the streets, but the city, the buildings are essentially unchanged. It's a bit Twilight Zone-like (see what I did there?) 

The big trend now for photographers is going to Cuba to photograph the people and the culture (and the cars) there. There is a certain look and feel to images being shot there today that harken back to a by-gone era in our own culture. Old cars, TVs and appliances, among other things trigger a sense of nostalgia in those images, yet they are of a current, modern and vibrant people and culture. Its a bit of a paradox, really.

I'm not a car guy per-se, but I think the style and design sensibilities from the '30s, '40s and '50s reflects a better "cool-factor" than anything we have today, in the way of your average car on the street. They were all way before my time, but I can appreciate how they represented the best vitality and creativity of those times. 

So what are you nostalgic for? Interestingly everything we have today that we see as so modern and cutting edge is ripe to be seen through a nostalgic lens... one day.

P.S. And the Mac just turned 30 years old! How's that for modern nostalgia?

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info@tracephotographs.com (trace photographs) Art Creativity Hipstamatic Imagination Inspiration Invention Learning Nostalgia Photography The Creative Life Tintype Vivien Maier iPhone iPhoneography https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2014/1/we-were-mod-once-last-of-my-iphoneography-books Mon, 20 Jan 2014 06:35:19 GMT
On Resting Places https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2014/1/on-resting-places A Poet's PlaceA Poet's Place

Sometimes it seems like this techno-photo-centric world we are in is racing along at a break-neck speed. Newer cameras, faster lenses, more powerful and innovative software, coming at us faster and faster, with so many pundits and others in the industry touting the virtues of the ever newer thing. Can we just catch a breath?

Where do you rest? Where do you find moments and time to really sink deep into the tools of photography gear and software you have and simply explore a purer experience of photographing? Along with and included in all of this rapid change is an underlying fear of being left behind, of missing out on all of the innovation. I talk to many photographers and students who all talk about these very same things. 

Recently, with the start of a new year (hey, what better time?) I've started opening the dialog to ideas of slowing it down, simplifying gear and processes, of finding a resting place. But this is not about inactivity or giving up on technology per se. I think a more human pace to change is what is needed. I don't expect those who have vested financial interests in keeping things moving at warp speed to slow things down. This is something we as individual artists can choose. 

The fear of missing out is a powerful motivator for most of us. Technology thrives on this and counts on it. I think it's funny that with all the admonitions to be fearless in pursuit of your dreams, in casting off from the shore and heading into the unknown seas of photography, no one talks about applying that philosophy of no-fear to every aspect of our photographic journey. To me, that means not being afraid of not having the latest greatest new thing.

Taking the time to breathe, metaphorically speaking, and not run after the cutting edge all the time is more human, more natural, and more vital to our well being. When it comes to photography, if you really look at images over time, actual images are not so much better now, maybe a bit different in some respects, but photography is still photography. 

I'm taking more of a Zen approach to more and more areas of my life, and how I look at my gear and image processing, as well as my photography in particular is a part of that. Simplifying, taking time to breathe, and experiencing the process of photographing in a fuller, deeper way is my intention going forward. Find your own resting place from all the nonsense racing around you, and just simply do your photography. And fear not: your images will show the difference.  

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info@tracephotographs.com (trace photographs) Creativity Gear Inspiration Learning Photography Software The Creative Life Zen https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2014/1/on-resting-places Wed, 15 Jan 2014 02:20:08 GMT
Reflections :: A 2013 Look Back And A Look Forward https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2013/12/reflections-a-2013-look-back-and-a-look-forward koi Ikoi I As this is the last post of the year, I can't help and do some reflecting on this past year, and looking forward to 2014, and new adventures to come. It has been a year of trials, tribulations, and triumphs. I've always had a hard time at this time of year. Being a spring baby, the winter months feel depressive, though I grew up in upstate New York and loved being in the snowy woods. Now that I'm Florida based, you would think the winters wouldn't affect me as much. 

Though it is wonderful being in perpetual sunshine while the rest of the country shivers, winter is still winter. It's why I look forward to spring so much. No matter how difficult things may be, there is perpetual hope. Perpetual spring follows the darker winters, and on it goes.

koi IIkoi II What the koi teach me, true Zen masters as they are, is to keep moving. Standing still will kill you! To be engaged with life, you have to keep moving, keep adapting to the ups and downs, and sideways of your life. Giving up, giving in is not an option. It had been some time since I visited these koi last, and I was amazed at how big they had grown! Several people who stopped by while I was photographing them said the same thing. This past year for me has in some ways felt like standing still. In some ways like a going backwards. Depending how you do it, going backwards can actually help you discover things that can propel you further in a different direction than where you were headed. 

koi IIIkoi III It can be a yin-yang path. I used to think going backwards from a set path was not an option, but it does allow you a "reset" button to alter course when life tells you you're not on your right path. It just may be time to course-correct your life and asses where you truly belong, and what you need to be doing. As Joseph Campbell was fond of saying, "You have to give up the life you have planned, in order to have the life that is waiting for you."

That speaks to me of not living small. Of living out of your authentic self in every way. I've been listening to the audio book "The Four Agreements" by Don Miguel Ruiz lately, and it has a lot to say on how we don't live fully, and why. It talks deeply about how to break our domesticating habits and live a fully rich life. I've been getting a lot of these messages lately, from many sources, even in the midst of personal turmoil. Or maybe because of the turmoil!

They (wise folks) say that in your darkest moments is when you find a light to carry you through. "Where you stumble, there's your treasure"  (again, Joseph Campbell). So even though for me it has been a difficult year on many levels, the hope instilled in the very act of creating something holds the flourish of spring.

I wish you all a joyous winter season, with the creative spirit in you giving you the spark to look ahead to the new year to come, full of promise and growth!        

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info@tracephotographs.com (trace photographs) Creativity Imagination Inspiration Invention Learning Photography Reflections The Creative Life Winter https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2013/12/reflections-a-2013-look-back-and-a-look-forward Wed, 18 Dec 2013 20:31:04 GMT
Why Zenfolio Matters https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2013/12/why-zenfolio-matters trace photographs Zenfolio Home

Why have I chosen Zenfolio for my website as opposed to any other portfolio hosting solutions or a Wordpress site? Essentially, why does Zenfolio matter?  Let's take a look: First and foremost, Zenfoliio has easily customizable templates that make creating a unique folio site easy. The backend, which we'll get to in a bit, is uniquely built for ease of use, without any need (though some would feel otherwise) to know or learn coding or CSS. What this means is, if you have some graphics skill in Photoshop or other such programs, you can create a site that is totally you.

I have been with Zenfolio now since 2007. Before jumping on board and trusting my work to the Zen, I looked at every other folio site from LiveBooks to SmugMug, to Photoshelter and any other possible iteration I could Google. I researched obsessively for the best solution I could find. I even spent a year teaching myself HTML coding and learning Java Script to see if I could create my own site (remember Dreamweaver? Yeah, I tried playing working with that too.) 

I compared price, service, features, image quality, what other pro photographers were using, ease and aesthetics of navigation, everything about the feel of a website. I wanted to know what best fit me. I settled on Zenfolio, and since becoming a member, I have watched the platform grow and mature. I have spent a fair amount of time in the backend of my site, tweaking and altering each detail because it has been fun, creative, and I can be obsessive about these things. The Zen team also makes it so you can do as little or as much tweaking of your site as you like.

ZenfolioPresetZenfolioPreset A recent update to the platform has brought new, more modern templates that you can adjust in a number of ways. It follows a trend I see on a number of the other folio sites mentioned, as well as some newer Wordpress themes. While I see a lot of pro photographers doing design refreshes to their sites, I don't always agree that new layouts and navigation features make for a better experience. 

ZenfolioThemesZenfolioThemes I personally hate scrolling continuously, either vertically or especially horizontally to see images. I'd rather have the freedom to be-bop around a small grid of thumbnails, and click to see an image larger as I have my folios set up to be. I've also never been a fan of the only navigation of images being a rigid sequence of backwards and forwards streaming. It feels locked in to the way the photographer wants their images sequenced, without allowing the end-user to easily go to the exact image(s) they want. Just like a portfolio book you would show a client, I think your website images should allow both a sequential viewing and an easy skipping around quality. That said, I am always looking at what is new, and what will make my images stand on their best footing. I have seen a number of photographers' sites that went from a great presentation of their work, to one that proved more annoying to navigate than was worth it. Always be open to what will best suite you, your images, and your clients.

Zenfolio Site MenuZenfolio Site Menu The thing that makes Zenfolio so great to work with is the WYSIWYG design of the tools and features you can use to tweak your site. Pretty much everything can be adjusted to modify the look and layout. 

Zenfolio ThemeDesignerZenfolio ThemeDesigner

Zenfolio ThemeDesignerElementsZenfolio ThemeDesignerElements Compared to many other platforms, especially Wordpress themes and Dashboards, Zenfolio is both feature rich and easy to modify. If you need any help with getting started or with a particular issue, The Zenfolio Support team is great to work with, plus you have a great built in resource with the Zenfolio Forums. As a member, you have access to a great and growing group of like-minded artists, at different levels of experience and skills, who are eager to help. In addition, you also have the ability to suggest new features and functionality to the Zen Team. Yes, they are listening, but like all things  in technology, nothing happens fast enough for our instant gratification nature. That said, I've been totally happy with the roll-outs Zenfolio has made since I've joined. 

Features including uploading or embedding videos, adding custom logos to your design, and even the subtle addition of a favicon (one of my favorite little touches) go a long way in my book for a quality experience. When the Zen team implemented a built in blogging platform, with SEO integration and the ability to add background coding for monitoring post traffic and comments, and that followed the design and formatting of your portfolio site, I did a Snoopy Dance! I could finally delete my Blogger blog (which had gotten a malware notice from Google that was erroneous and wouldn't go away!) and my foray into a short-lived Wordpress blog that got to be too much work in the backend and never had the look I wanted that resembled my Zen site. I think Zenfolio got the blog platform right, though I do see room for improving it.

ZenfolioMobileZenfolioMobile

Mobile ZenfolioMobile Zenfolio

Another really nice feature Zenfolio members can enjoy is a mobile app that allows access to your images on an iPhone. You can upload as well as download images to show your clients on the go, anywhere you are. Being able to use the mobile app to backup your entire iPhone camera roll ( I do this to a special iPhone gallery I've created) is great when your Apple iCloud account limits your storage.  You can also view a Zenfolio website in a mobile browser (Safari on iPhone for example) using the mobile version of the site (if the photographer has enabled this feature in their site's backend). All in all, Zenfolio is a feature rich, beautiful and elegant platform that is highly and easily customizable, very affordable with great image quality and the ability to have a fully functioning shopping cart e-commerce features.  

I've only scratched the surface here as to what Zenfolio offers the creative photographer, and I encourage you check out the full Zenfolio site for more information, tutorials, and a free trial. You can create and experiment with a free 30-day trial that only you see (you don't need to "go live"  until you are ready) if you like. If you do choose Zenfolio as your portfolio site, please feel free to use my promotion code: ( KDG-AVH-TZY ) to get an additional $10.00 off your first year's fee (and yes, I get a discount too, so you, me and Zenfolio all benefit!).

I've been very happy working with this great team of creatives who are passionate about providing a great platform for photographers. Oh, and if I haven't mentioned it yet, the Zen Support team have been absolutely great, always available, even at 4:00 am if you need them!

 

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info@tracephotographs.com (trace photographs) Creativity Inspiration Invention Photography Portfolio Software The Creative Life Zenfolio https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2013/12/why-zenfolio-matters Tue, 10 Dec 2013 23:08:36 GMT
Are You "Seriesous"? https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2013/11/are-you-seriesous Refractions IRefractions I

 

Creating a new body of work can start with a whiff of inspiration from anywhere, and that inspiration can come to you at anytime. All of my iPhoneography Books have been born out of some form of this process. The idea of taking a subject, exploring a process, and working through a series of improvisations, much like a  jazz musician does, can lead to really interesting discoveries you wouldn't ordinarily find any other way.   

This latest series, iPhoneography Book IX (Refractions)came from watching a lot of film noir movies lately (I'm a huge Bogie fan!), such as "The Maltese Falcon", "The Big Sleep", and "Citizen Kane". With their exquisite use of creative, directional lighting to build a mood and ambiance of suspense and intrigue, unique and sometimes jarring camera angles and juxtapositions to keep the audience slightly (or completely) bewildered, but at the same time curious about where the story is leading, a film noir motif seemed the perfect place to start a series of iPhone (or mobile, if you prefer) images.

I decided to explore this series with some simple, common objects we all know and use, which also have some psychological undertones we've seen in noir films. I also chose to use the iPhone and the Hipstamatic App for the tintype old film quality it has.  The more I look at these images, as a complete series and in the context of the film noir genre; the male/female dynamic and tensions, the potential for plot violence (why is it so often the knife that is the culprit?), the juxtaposition of light and dark elements, it almost tells a whole story with a tragic ending.

I didn't set out to create a story from a fork, spoon and knife, but that is what I see now in retrospect. What started out as playing without conscious intention can grow into something with more depth and interest if you give yourself permission to explore a subject as a series of images, rather than simply as one-offs. You may find that out of a series of images created in this way, only one or two might be worth keeping. That's ok. Photographing in series can sharpen your eye and creative thinking, and help you see strengths and weaknesses of your images as to how (and if) they do really fit together. This is what magazine editors do and look for when they need a photographer to illustrate a story.

Remember, as a photographer, you are always  a storyteller. Whether you chose a single image or a series of them, always you tell stories.         

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info@tracephotographs.com (trace photographs) Art Creativity Film Noir Fine Art Hipstamatic Imagination Inspiration Invention Learning Photography The Creative Life iPhone iPhoneography https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2013/11/are-you-seriesous Tue, 26 Nov 2013 22:43:37 GMT
"But It's Not A Portrait" https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2013/11/-but-its-not-a-portrait My Mother's Hands I

 

 

My Mother's Hands II These two images of my mother's hands are part of a new project I'm working on; a long term project to create portraits of people through the stories that hands tell. In discussing portraits with students and other photographers, it's often talked about what does and doesn't constitute a "portrait". I always liked Picasso's reply after painting a commissioned portrait of Gertrude Stein. When it was remarked that it didn't really look like the author, Picasso said simply, "it will." 

I like to get photographers thinking differently about what a portrait is. On one hand, every image you make is a kind of self-portait. Landscapes, seascapes, iPhone images all say something about you. Your sensibility chose that subject, photographed it in that way, to express something within you. Even when you portray another person, it says something, not only about you as the artist, but also about your subject. It also speaks about the relationship between you. 

A portrait like the one Avedon made of ballet star Rudolph Nureyev, showing just his barefoot en pointe, says so much about both artists without the need to show more. A face is not a portrait, at least, it's not the only thing that defines a portrait.

 When creating portraits, step outside of the norm as to what most think a portrait is, and find ways to show what is unique, interesting, and deeper about your subject than simply having them look straight into the camera (although that can make compelling images too!). Look for a way to tell the story of your subject that is unique to you both. 

My portrait project on hands is about discovering the story they tell about us: about the things we've created with them, the things we've destroyed with them, and the things we've loved with them. All of our life experiences can be displayed in hands (or feet)!    

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info@tracephotographs.com (trace photographs) Art Black And White Creativity Fine Art Hands Imagination Inspiration Invention Learning Photography Portraits The Creative Life https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2013/11/-but-its-not-a-portrait Tue, 12 Nov 2013 20:50:25 GMT
Create Custom Textured Brushes For Unique Portraits https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2013/11/create-custom-textured-brushes-for-unique-portraits

Create Texture Brushes In Pixelmator Part One from trace photographs on Vimeo.

 

Create Texture Brushes In Pixelmator Part Two from trace photographs on Vimeo.

Creating a completely unique and customizable look to your images can be as easy and fun as painting with textured brushes you make yourself. Harnessing the power of Pixelmator makes the process simple and allows you to create layers of nuance and depth for your images. I get so inspired by the possibilities available to photographers today, it sometimes reminds me of the crazy things we did to manipulate film back in the 'darkroom days": Yes, I've stepped on a negative and rubbed it in the floor to put scratches and "texture" on it... all in the name of creativity (hey, I was young and you had to be pretty inventive then!)

Now we have so much better, infinitely cleaner, and more adjustable means to exercise our creative imaginations:  

Textured Brushes 05Textured Brushes 05

Textured Brushes 06Textured Brushes 06

Textured Brushes 07Textured Brushes 07

 

Cathy - Version 2 - Textured BrushesCathy - Version 2 - Textured Brushes

And sometimes, textures look so good in B+W images. Creativity is boundless, if you let it be. Be bold, be imaginative, be creating, it's the best way to live! 

Cathy - Version 2 - Textured Brushes B+WCathy - Version 2 - Textured Brushes B+W

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info@tracephotographs.com (trace photographs) Art Creativity Fine Art Imagination Inspiration Invention Learning Photography Pixelmator Software Textures The Creative Life Tutorials Video https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2013/11/create-custom-textured-brushes-for-unique-portraits Thu, 07 Nov 2013 22:41:53 GMT
Got Film? Digital Photographers Now Have Choices https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2013/11/got-film-digital-photographers-now-have-choices Aperture Edit With Plug-inAperture Edit With Plug-in

To answer the question above, it can now be argued that "yes, indeed", digital photographers have film. Or rather "film simulation". What's propelling this resurgence of the film look? Is it just a nostalgia from old-school photographers, or is it a hip trend? Either way you see it; hate it or love it, there are a lot of choices for software film simulations, and no two experiences are the same. 

Aperture Ilford HP5+ Film TestsAperture Ilford HP5+ Film Tests

Before we dive into the different program choices for film simulation, I want to show these examples of four that all have a preset for the Ilford HP5+ film. Not all of these programs have the same film names, or include all the same parameter adjustments, but this is one they do all have. 

Aperture Ilford HP5+ Film Tests ZoomedAperture Ilford HP5+ Film Tests Zoomed

As you can see, each program handles the simulation differently at the base preset level. Not only do they simulate differently, the experience of working in the programs and the adjustments you can do to get the look you want, varies. This isn't a matter of just adding grain or noise to an image. 

Nik Analog Efex Pro Classic CameraNik Analog Efex Pro Classic Camera The newest edition to the film simulation applications is an update from the Google/Nik Collection called Analog Efex Pro. This is a free addition if you already own the Collection, which includes Color Efex Pro and Silver Efex Pro. It is also, in many ways, one of the more limited programs in terms of what you can adjust. As of now, it doesn't have any of the U-Point technology that made Nik famous before Google bought it. Using different "Camera" categories rather than any nostalgic film names, this app feels more like Google's Snapseed on steriods. It is rich in what it offers, but it does feel limiting compared to the other offerings in the Collection.

Nik Analog Efex Pro Toy CameraNik Analog Efex Pro Toy Camera From Toy Camera simulations, and the ability to toggle through variations in some effects, just like you can in Snapseed for iOS or desktop,

Nik Analog Efex Pro Vintage CameraNik Analog Efex Pro Vintage Camera to a Vintage Camera mode with different choices to simulate light leaks, Bokeh, and a number of other adjustments, as well as a camera mode that simulates the Wet Plate process similar to tintypes, Analog Efex Pro is situated not so much between Color Efex Pro 4 and Silver Efex Pro 2, as film simulators, but as a separate camera simulator with robust post-processing features.  

  Nik Color Efex Pro 4 Faded Film DefaultNik Color Efex Pro 4 Faded Film Default  Color Efex Pro 4 has been my color film simulator of choice for some time, as the ability to control so many nuances of the process is wonderful.

Nik Color Efex Pro 4 Modern Film Fuji Provia 100Nik Color Efex Pro 4 Modern Film Fuji Provia 100 Using traditional film names and simulations is also a plus with Color Efex Pro 4, especially for former film photographers like me. Most of these software companies claim that as part of their process, they have incorporated actual film stock scans to replicate the grain structure and pattern as well as tonalities. I'll take them at their word, as I know most of these engineers are die-hard photographers with a passion for this process!

One really nice thing about working with these filmic features is the ability to create and save your own presets (or recipes). Make your own "secret sauce" as it were. This is like making your own film on the fly, something completely impossible in the limited analog film days!

Nik Colour Efex Pro 4 Film NostalgicNik Colour Efex Pro 4 Film Nostalgic The versatility almost seems limitless, no more so than in the choices for black and white films:

Nik Silver Efex Pro 2 NeutralNik Silver Efex Pro 2 Neutral Silver Efex Pro 2 quickly became the de-facto preference for many photographers when it hit the market (in the pre-Google buyout era). The ability to simulate beautiful B+W film images quickly and accurately, without having to use or learn complicated Photoshop techniques was liberating! Adding Silver Efex Pro to a photographer's workflow, along with other techniques could produced rich images worthy of any gallery. 

Nik Silver Efex Pro 2 Custom PresetsNik Silver Efex Pro 2 Custom Presets I have several presets (recipes) in both Silver Efex Pro and Color Efex Pro that I would be loathe to do without, or even try to simulate in any other program. They all just tweak things ever so differently.

OnOne Perfect B+W 8 Ilford HP5-N 400OnOne Perfect B+W 8 Ilford HP5-N 400 OnOne's Perfect Photo Suite 8's B&W module also has great potential and offers lots of customization. For those that like an all in one program that offers color and black and white options, OnOne may suite your needs. That said, I am learning to appreciate the different qualities each program offers, but I do have concerns that the Google/Nik offerings in the future (updates to both Silver and Color Efex) may change to be more inline with the new Analog Efex Pro experience. It's hard sometimes to go with changes, especially when you have your digital darkroom just so!

For me, not only is the quality of the software's output important, but the experience of using it is too. The tools, UI, and ease of navigation within a program all matter. That's why I'm really liking AlienSkin's Exposure 5:

AlienSkin Exposure 5 B+W Preset 01AlienSkin Exposure 5 B+W Preset 01

AlienSkin Exposure 5 B+W Preset 02AlienSkin Exposure 5 B+W Preset 02 This program, available as a plug-in for Aperture, Lightroom or Photoshop, or as a stand-alone, is chock full of features for both color and black and white images. I'm just now exploring this, but I can already see it becoming a staple in my workflow. The film simulation quality is so far superb, and the robust tweaks you can do are amazing.

One last, but certainly not least option is VSCO Film, which if it didn't start the film simulation craze, certainly popularized it! Now VSCO Film works very differently from all the other simulators. First, it is available as a plug-in for Photoshop (utilizing Adobe Camera RAW), Lightroom, and Aperture. For us Aperture users, it works differently than in the other two, since it uses the built in "adjustment bricks" such as Curves, Color, Dodge and Burn (for grain) and more, that are unique to Aperture. Also, since Lightroom and Photoshop (ACR) are the more popular programs for image editing, they have the lion's share of the VSCO Film love which has updates to VSCO Film 04, while the Aperture plug-in has versions 01 & 02 only. 

Honestly though, as an Aperture user, I'm good with that. The other pretty cool aspect to using VSCO Film as your film simulator of choice, is the fact it sits inside your program as an effect or adjustment, and unlike most plug-ins, it doesn't take you out of your program into another interface. If you don't like plug-ins because of that, I highly recommend VSCO to achieve great results. 

When I'm asked about which one to choose, which program is better, best, bestest, I tell photographers to sample them all (most offer free trials), and see which will give you the images you want. It really is a salt-to-taste proposition. I'm still working out my preferences, but that is currently leaning towards AlienSkin Exposure 5, with its full color and B+W features, and easy to use UI. 

Call it the latest trend, a gimmicky style, or simply a passing nostalgic fad, I see this film simulation as another method to create compelling images with a unique quality that does what I ask any image to do: astonish me in some way!  That doesn't mean the image needs to be anything over the top. It can be as subtle as a gesture, the quality of light, and the depth of a shadow.

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info@tracephotographs.com (trace photographs) AlienSkin Exposure 5 Aperture Creativity Fine Art Imagination Inspiration Learning OnOne Perfect Photo Suite 8 Photography Software The Creative Life VSCO Film https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2013/11/got-film-digital-photographers-now-have-choices Mon, 04 Nov 2013 20:48:45 GMT
Forget About Finding A 'Style', Cultivate A 'Sensibility' Instead https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2013/10/forget-about-finding-a-style-cultivate-a-sensibility-instead Tango d'Yves TanguyTango d'Yves Tanguy

So what exactly is "style", and why are so many photographers looking for it?  Put a group of photographers together: professionals, amateurs, and up-and-comers, and inevitably the discussion turns to finding a style. "What is it?", "How do you find it?", "Does it really take a long time to get one?". I think it's time we stop talking about style and instead talk about cultivating sensibility.

What's the difference? A big one. You find when most photographers talk about a style, they are referring to a look, like HDR or grungy, or soft-focus, or any of the latest trends sweeping the industry. Style is fashion. It changes year to year, or even sooner in these super accelerated times. It is another photographers look. It is something that will likely date your images, rather than show a timeless quality. A style is a canned filter in a software program, or set of actions that most photographers also have access to.

What cultivating sensibility means, as I see it, comes from inside you, and it is the way you see things. It is your innate sensitivity to the world around you, and is unique to you. It is your personal language, and what you have to gift to the world. If you look at certain photographers' work, people like Avedon, Herb Ritts, David duChemin, Mark Seliger, Gregory Heisler and Irving Penn to name few; look at those who have been around awhile, you'll begin to see their styles as such evolved and adapted to the subjects in front of their camera. 

A style dictates you apply the same "look" to everything you photograph. A sensibility is where you choose all of the parameters from capture to processing according to how you sense this particular subject touches you. According to how you see it uniquely. That is not subject to any artificial look that is not appropriate to your sense. 

Styles come and go like the wind blows, but how you envision things (which is ever changing and growing with your experiences), will always be yours. Cultivate your unique sensibility, and let that be your guide to creating images that transcend style and stand the test of time.  

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info@tracephotographs.com (trace photographs) Art Creativity Imagination Inspiration Invention Learning Photography Sensibility Style The Creative Life https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2013/10/forget-about-finding-a-style-cultivate-a-sensibility-instead Thu, 31 Oct 2013 17:03:53 GMT
Why Pixelmator Matters https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2013/10/why-pixelmator-matters  

Julie-Pixelmator 01Julie-Pixelmator 01Pixelmator 3.0 FX This post could be subtitled: "How's that working out for you without Photoshop?" All said, I have to say I'm only scratching the surface here with Pixelmator, but I'm incredibly impressed so far. Since declaring my self-challenge to go a year without Photoshop, I have to confess I have opened both Photoshop and Adobe Bridge, but that has been in the interest of comparing side-by-side features and workflows with Pixelmator. I have to teach this stuff, so being able to answer the inevitable questions matters. That said, as a creative photographer, and for as much as I needed Photoshop in the past, like most of us now, the lion's share of editing and creating of images has gone to other software (Aperture, Lightroom, OneOne Perfect Photosuite, Capture One, etc.)

Since Pixelmator is a Mac only application, it does leave some out in the cold. But being Mac only actually works to an advantage I think. As a program that is tightly integrated with Mac OSX, and taking advantage of many of the core image features of that OS, Pixelmator is uniquely situated as a powerful imaging and graphic app. 

Julie-Pixelmator 02Julie-Pixelmator 02Pixelmator Fullscreen

One powerful example of this integration is when you open an image and begin working on it, your changes are being "saved" in the background automatically, according to the Mac OSX system. You don't have to do anything, just keep working:

Julie-Pixelmator 03Julie-Pixelmator 03Pixelmator Fullscreen Multiple layers, layer styles, effects, any changes you care to make become non-destructive when you have previous "versions" being saved for you. If you need to go to an earlier version of the image you're working on, simply go to the File menu in Pixelmator, go to 'Revert To", and choose "Browse All Versions".

Julie-Pixelmator 04Julie-Pixelmator 04Pixelmator Browse All Versions This is where it gets cool! Just like choosing this feature in any application that Apple makes itself (Keynote, Pages, etc.), you are brought into a Time Machine like interface with versions of your image on display:

Julie-Pixelmator 05Julie-Pixelmator 05Pixelmator Time Machine This is a great way to compare different versions, update with an earlier version and go in a different direction if you wish, or simply keep track of the evolution of an image. This is a very powerful built-in feature exclusive to Pixelmator that you can't have in Photoshop. That it doesn't require you to set it up, or even pay attention to as you go, is icing on the cake! 

Now, as a long-time Photoshop user, I had some things I wanted to be sure I could use/access in Pixelmator in order to make it my go-to imaging/graphics program. Over the years I have accumulated a pretty good collection of Photoshop brushes. Some I've downloaded for free (non-commercial use), and some I've created on my own:

Julie-Pixelmator Brushes 07Julie-Pixelmator Brushes 07Pixelmator Brushes Ok, I am a brushes junkie! I went through a phase when I was playing working with brushes to add creative elements and enhancements to images. If you are not familiar with using them, they can be a powerful tool in creating compelling images. When I was first exploring Pixelmator, I wanted to know If I could use my collection of Photoshop brushes in it. Turns out the answer was "absolutely yes!" First step was finding the folder in the Photoshop subfolder maze where my brushes were stored. I then copied all the brushes into a folder on my desktop (in case this didn't work, I wanted backups). Opening Pixelmator and making sure the Brushes HUD was showing, I clicked the little gear cog which showed the list of current brushes in Pixelmator, and clicked "Import Brushes..." Then navigate to the Photoshop brushes folder and select the brushes and brushes sets to import - voila! All of my brushes are now available in Pixelmator. 

Julie-Pixelmator Brushes 06Julie-Pixelmator Brushes 06Pixelmator Brushes In fact, all of the things you can do with brushes in Photoshop, you can do in Pixelmator, including create a new brush from an image, and Pixelmator brushes are completely compatible with Wacom Tablets and pen-pressure features for precise brush work. This is incredibly powerful and robust for a 3.0 application!

One of the things I did recently with the brushes feature was to create a "watermark/logo" brush, and a separate copyright brush to add those quickly and easily to images, rather than using a watermark tool that is available in many imaging programs now like Aperture, Lightroom and Photoshop. I prefer the versatility that applying a brush gives me.

Julie-Pixelmator Brushes 08Julie-Pixelmator Brushes 08Pixelmator Logo Brush My only quibble so far about creating your own brushes, is you are limited to a brush size of 1,000 pixels. If your image is significantly larger, your brush may display quite smaller than you would like, and since it is pixel based, scaling it up beyond that can degrade the brush image. That said, what can  be done in Pixelmator, at this stage in the game, is truly astounding. It does some things differently than in Photoshop, but the learning curve is essentially non-existent. 

I will continue exploring the differences and similarities between these two programs, and I'll post my honest observations, but I seriously doubt Photoshop will continue to be viable for a great many image makers. Colour me impressed with Pixelmator and the Pixelmator Team! If you have any questions you'd like answered about this incredible software, leave a comment or send an email, I'm happy to help!

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info@tracephotographs.com (trace photographs) Adobe Aperture Apple Creativity Imagination Inspiration Invention Learning Photography Photoshop Pixelmator Software The Creative Life https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2013/10/why-pixelmator-matters Mon, 28 Oct 2013 04:36:55 GMT
The Fine Art Of Texture Overlays For Creative Portraits https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2013/10/the-fine-art-of-texture-overlays-for-creative-portraits

The Fine Art Of Texture Overlays For Creative Portraits from trace photographs on Vimeo.

 

The Fine Art Of Texture Overlays For Creative Portraits Part Two from trace photographs on Vimeo.

 

This two part tutorial on creating fine, textured overlays and backgrounds for creative portraits, is a companion piece to my earlier post on using the iPhone to create tintype textures in combination with DSLR images to create compelling, and unique photographs. This time, we are using the incredibly robust program Pixelmator, along with Aperture, and plug-ins from OnOne Software, and VSCO film to bring out beautifully subtle textures and depth to enhance images.

Le DanseLe Danse  Often times it is the subtle choices in creating enhancements to images, that allows us to explore more deeply the ability of those images to intrigue the eye. All I ask of an image is to astonish me in some way; show me something, however subtle or dynamic, that I wouldn't see otherwise.

(Thank you, Cathy and Troy of Dance Forever Studio! You are both wonderful dancers, hosts, and instructors.) 

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info@tracephotographs.com (trace photographs) Aperture Art Creativity Fine Art Imagination Inspiration Invention Learning OnOne Photography Photoshop Pixelmator Software The Creative Life Tutorials https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2013/10/the-fine-art-of-texture-overlays-for-creative-portraits Sun, 20 Oct 2013 23:35:57 GMT
When Good Lenses Go Bad https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2013/10/when-good-lenses-go-bad Canon LensCanon Lens So, what to do when a good lens goes bad? Let me explain: The other day I was on location shooting portraits when my 17-85mm Canon lens gave me an error message that the lens contacts were faulty. Turning the camera on/off, taking the lens off and remounting it, all failed to correct the issue. Damn! @#%$&&! 

I pulled my 85mm 1.8 out (best portrait lens Canon has made for the price!) and worked the shoot with that lens only. While I made some beautiful images that day, I was limited in what I wanted to do. Being limited is not such a bad thing, in fact I often encourage it, but on a client shoot, it's not ideal if it's unexpected. When I got back to the studio, I mucked around with the lens, trying to ascertain the problem. I "accidentally"  played worked with the depth- of-field preview button, and heard an ill sounding whirring noise, and the lens had problems catching focus on auto-focus mode.

When the DOF preview button finally stopped working altogether, the lens was closed down to its smallest aperture, and frozen there. This lens was DOA. Now, given that it was a kit lens with my first Canon DSLR many, many moons ago, and I've run it through some serious paces over several years now, I'm not totally surprised it gave up the ghost. But, it can be repaired, right? Mayperhaps, but the cost would likely be more that it is worth, and there are far better lenses to focus on (see what I did there?!). I'll look at whether I want to go with all primes, or get a really good wide zoom. 

In the meantime, what to do with a frozen at 32 17-85mm 3.5-5.6 Canon lens? Paperweight?  Convert it into a coffee mug? Strip it down for parts? I have a better idea: I'm going to use it as my "what if?" lens. I did some tests, and even though the aperture is frozen at 32 making viewing through the viewfinder nearly too dark to see anything (think 10-stop ND filter on your lens visibility), I can still manually focus the lens somewhat, and the in-camera exposure meter will give me an accurate reading on the scale, even if the aperture info displayed is wrong (the lens aperture setting is not being read by the camera, as the electronic contacts are faulty). The camera can determine the amount of light coming through the lens to the sensor, and give an accurate shutter speed to use in manual mode. 

I can use this lens as a creative tool for abstracts, blur-motion, and other effects, and still get more years of life out of her. It will be my experimental visual lens of choice from here on out. A lesson learned on not giving up on something, simply because it fails in one use... find another use in what you have. Recycle, re-purpose, and reuse! 

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info@tracephotographs.com (trace photographs) Aperture Canon Creativity D.I.Y. Experiments Failure Gear Imagination Inspiration Invention Learning Lens Lenses Mishaps Photography The Creative Life https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2013/10/when-good-lenses-go-bad Tue, 08 Oct 2013 16:53:33 GMT
iPhone Tintype For Creative Portraits Tutorial https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2013/10/iphone-tintype-for-creative-portraits-tutorial  

iPhone Tintype Textures from trace photographs on Vimeo.

 

This tutorial on creating tintype textured backgrounds and overlays for creative portraits was inspired by a recent creativeLIVE episode by the very talented fine artist Jennifer Hudson. She does a great tutorial on finding, scanning and creating tintype textures from online and magazine sources. It got me thinking, being the D.I.Y. sort that I am, that I have the perfect way to create my own tintype textures and borders: my iPhone and the Hipstamatic app.

_MG_1539 - Tintype_MG_1539 - Tintype

I love figuring out my own way to make things, it keeps the creative juices flowing. Combining iPhone images with DSLR images can be a great way to add interest and a unique quality that you wouldn't usually think of. A few things not covered in the video above: One nice thing about playing working with the Hipstamatic app settings described, is each time you get a slightly different rendering of the tintype borders and effects. Different surfaces, even a plain white one, will give you different properties to use. You can also try using different Hipstamatic Lenses with the D-Type film to render alternative tintype effects. The idea is to experiment, say, "what if...?", and see where the process takes you.

_MG_1539 -Tintype Version 2_MG_1539 -Tintype Version 2 I created this version with a more pronounced tintype overlay and more texture on the subject to bring out the cracked, glass-plate like features. I wanted the subject to look even more "embedded" with the whole image. Again, let this be a springboard for your own creativity, and see what inspires you!

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info@tracephotographs.com (trace photographs) Alternative Processes Aperture Art Creativity Fine Art Hipstamatic Imagination Inspiration Learning OnOne Software Photography Software The Creative Life Tintypes iPhone. https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2013/10/iphone-tintype-for-creative-portraits-tutorial Thu, 03 Oct 2013 19:51:50 GMT
On Jobs, Apple, And The Pursuit Of Excellence https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2013/9/on-jobs-apple-and-the-pursuit-of-excellence

Apple Wallpaper

 

Some two years + since Steve Jobs passed on, his legacy for the pursuit of sheer excellence is still alive and with us, in many areas of creative work. I have recently finished reading his biography by Walter Isaacson (I know, a little later than most), watched the film “Jobs” starring Ashton Kutcher in the title role (boy, did they skip a lot of things!), and have been watching all the available Apple Keynotes going back to 2007.

 

All of this shines a great light, whatever you may think of the man himself, on a mind consumed with excellence, and the elegant, simple purity of design. You marvel at the unbending will to go to such lengths for the absolute beautiful. I get this, I do. Apple has a wonderful video that opens their WWDC (World Wide Developers Conference) 2013 Keynote address from June 10th of this year. It is a truly creative piece of graphic elegance and whimsy that conveys so clearly what is most important to Apple. I love the last line, which reads, “Only then do we sign our work.”

 

As artists, we know that signing our work is the final act that says to the world, “I give you a piece of myself.” It’s not a thing done lightly, but with great deliberation, when we are certain everything is just so. When we believe our utmost has been achieved, or simply that there is nothing left to either add or take away from a piece. 

 

Watching the behind-the-scenes making-of “The Lord Of The Rings” by Peter Jackson (on the extended version DVD), you get the same sense of the great lengths that a group of dedicated, creative souls put into every nuanced detail of that production in order to make a masterpiece of filmmaking. The finest details, that no one would ever know were there but the people involved, that makes excellence! I love how three weeks after winning the Academy Award for Best Picture, and Best Director, Peter Jackson shot extra footage to add in some cuts for the Extended Version DVD! He was still perfecting an already acknowledged masterpiece.  

 

Does it matter? Hell Yes! It is the very thing that makes someone realize, without really knowing how or why, that they are taking part in excellence. The very best photographers, the ones doing the most intriguing, creative, and stunning work, are all going to the greatest lengths in pursuit of their own excellence. This isn’t about producing “slick work”. Rather it is about creating such excellence that the effort to do so doesn’t show. 

 

Even a technically inferior, or sloppy image can be an example of the finest work, if the artist creating it has achieved something you intuitively perceive as excellence. This is why not everyone creates such work; because not everyone feels the need to reach for excellence (however they perceive that), or they feel that no one else will care. When we are all about pursuing our own excellence, we do it so we know it is there, that we have achieved it. Don’t expect others to grasp it. That’s the point. 

 

Steve Jobs obsessed about the perfection of the alignment of the chips on the circuit board on the first Apple computer, something no one would ever see! But he would know it was there, and the perfection lay in the integrated perfection of the whole and the parts. All creative endeavors, including photography are the same way. You simply know when the effort was there or not. It shows somehow. 

 

Strive for your excellence, it truly does matter, and know also that you will always be pursuing new levels as you go. That is the funny thing about this: if you are creative, you never reach the end of excellence!

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info@tracephotographs.com (trace photographs) Apple Art Creativity Excellence Imagination Inspiration Invention Photography Steve Jobs The Creative Life https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2013/9/on-jobs-apple-and-the-pursuit-of-excellence Mon, 23 Sep 2013 22:21:05 GMT
Nothing To Teach, And No One To Teach It To https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2013/8/nothing-to-teach-and-no-one-to-teach-it-to The Zen ChairThe Chair

I heard this phrase once in an Alan Watts lecture he had recorded years ago. "I have nothing to teach, and no one to teach it to." He was referring to the gathering of "students" who had come to hear his talk. In his Zen like fashion, I think he was pointing out the difference between teacher and student was non-existent. I've also heard it said that "we teach best that which we ourselves most need to learn."

I've been thinking lately about the topic of teaching, in particularly the teaching of photography that has mushroomed in the last several years. Reflecting on my first teacher, and what he taught (and how), as well as some inspiring mentors that I have never met, and as a teacher of photography as well, it strikes me that teaching itself is an art!  The best ones I know of don't teach you directly how to do something, how to do it like them, but inspire you find your own way through the teaching. Think "The Karate Kid", think Mr. Keating in "Dead Poets Society", Think of that one teacher you had, in whatever subject, who took the time to inspire you to think differently than you had before. 

One of my early mentors, Jerry Uelsmann,  told the delightful story of when he was a student in photography, and his teacher, looking over his film contact sheet, suggested he print two adjacent images as one image. Jerry said, "but what about the frame gap between the images?"  "What about it?" was his teacher's reply. It opened up a world of possibilities for the young photographer. He was given permission to photograph outside the lines, and the rest is history.

I have found that the best teachers, the ones truly deserving of the title, are those who turn you back on yourself, make you find the answers to your own questions, questions which you really already know the answers to. It's a Zen thing, really. What the best teachers teach is giving you permission to be your authentic self. No one can tell you, or teach you what that looks like. Hence, nothing to teach. Only you can really learn from your own experiences, hence no one to teach it to, outside of yourself. There is a wonderful post by Justine Musk on authenticity, which I wholeheartedly agree with.

Find good teachers, not ones who only show you how to do something just like them. They only touch the surface, and don't inspire authenticity. A gifted teacher will not only teach you the "how" of something, but more importantly the "why" of something. But always it should be your "why", not the teachers'. And in the interest of recommending one such teacher of photography and life (This may be an occasional feature here on the blog!), I give you the ever inspiring David duChemin, whose adventuresome spirit and passion for the craft is equally Zen-like. 

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info@tracephotographs.com (trace photographs) Alan Watts Art Authenticity Imagination Inspiration Jerry Uelsmann Learning Photography Teaching The Creative Life https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2013/8/nothing-to-teach-and-no-one-to-teach-it-to Mon, 12 Aug 2013 23:59:35 GMT
Photoshop :: A Personal Declaration Of Independance https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2013/7/photoshop-a-personal-declaration-of-independance GByePhotoshop

With July seeming to be the month of great declarations of independence, (America's 4th of July, and France's Bastille Day on the 14th), I got the inspiration to declare my own personal independence from Adobe Photoshop and its new move into the cloud. So, I have declared that I will forego the use of Photoshop and Bridge on both my laptop and desktop Macs for a year. I've removed them from my docks, though they will remain in my apps folder if I decide after the year is over to make use of them.

I have no desire to go into the cloud with updates to Photoshop, so my current versions will be all I have in the future. I think Adobe would have done better to follow Apple's example and offer Photoshop as a downloadable app, like Aperture, than to make it a subscription service. That being said, I'm looking into powerful alternatives to Adobe's 800-pound gorilla of an imaging program.

One program in particular that has caught my attention is Pixelmator which is available in Apple's App Store. Founded in 2007, Apple named Pixelmator "Mac App Store App Of The Year" in 2011. The recent release of the 2.2 Blueberry version has had an astonishing 500,000 downloads in just a single week! It has been described as what Photoshop would be if it was designed by Apple. All that this means, of course, is that Pixelmator is a Mac only application. So what do I say to friends and students on Windows computers? Get a Mac! "But, but, I love Windows and can do x, Y and z on it! I've invested so much in Windows software, and I don't want/like Macs!" "Get a Mac", I say, it's one of my mantras. 

If you are serious about creating images and graphics works, Macs are the gold standard. And ever since Apple made it possible to run Windows software and OS on its Macs, I see no reason NOT to get a Mac. OK, so, get on the platform, and a whole world of possibilities opens up for the creative soul. The Mac App Store alone is an amazing source of incredible software, both from third-party developers, as well as Apple's own brilliant creative teams. 

So can a pro photographer go a year without Photoshop? Of course, there are probably more NOT using it, than are. Jay Maisel is one example of a pro's pro who doesn't even have it on his computer, and those who work for him only use it to print his work, not to add or take away anything he doesn't capture in camera. The question for me, as a photographer who explores the capabilities and malleability of images, is can intense creativity be achieved outside the Photoshop or Adobe sphere? 

I'm certain it can, and lest you think I'm totally anti-Adobe, I have many friends in and around Adobe, that make a living teaching its capabilities. I wish them all great success in what they do. I truly value their friendships. For myself though, I like to think like a maverick. I'll look for solutions and creative inspiration where there is little or no path. It comes down to my words-to-live-by mantra: 

"Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the ancient ones; seek what they sought"  ~ Basho

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info@tracephotographs.com (trace photographs) Adobe Aperture Creativity Imagination Learning Photography Photoshop Pixelmator The Creative Life https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2013/7/photoshop-a-personal-declaration-of-independance Mon, 22 Jul 2013 22:50:52 GMT
Is It Time To Open The Aperture? https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2013/6/is-it-time-to-open-the-aperture Apple ApertureAperture

With the advent of Adobe going to its monthly subscription model for Photoshop and all the other Creative Cloud applications, including Lightroom, it begs the question: is now the time to explore alternative choices for photographers to edit our images? While Adobe still offers Lightroom as a stand-alone application with the old licensing deal, you have to wonder how long before you have to get your upgrades on a monthly payment plan only.

There is a great writeup and discussion on Tim Grey's blog about this new revenue model by Adobe.  For me, I've tried to like Lightroom, I really have... it's just not for me. I'm currently playing with Lightroom 5, and I do admire the Clarity slider (with its negative feature), but otherwise, I remain unimpressed. And now there is the spectre that Adobe may will ultimately take it into the cloud only, I think it's a safe bet to explore alternatives.

Aperture 3.4.5Aperture 3.4.5

First and foremost among them is Apple's Aperture. Currently at version 3.4.5 this is an incredibly powerful, full feature, photo processing and archiving software. Add in powerful plug-ins like Nik's Collection, and OnOne's Perfect Photosuite 7.5, and there is no need to use Adobe products for photographic images. Yes, these plug-ins also work equally well from within Lightroom, but honestly, my great concern would be that Adobe would force photographers aboard the cloud subscription model, even for Lightroom, eventually.

Apple's powerful offering of Aperture is used the world over by many talented pros, including Chase Jarvis, VII Photo Agency co-founder and National Geographic photographer John Stanmeyer, internationally renowned commercial and beauty photographer Parish Kohanim, Bill Frakes, Jim Richardson, Sarah France, and others. If we all trust our most important images to Aperture, perhaps it's time for you to open the Aperture by downloading it from Apple's App Store, and give it a try. You don't have to follow Adobe into a monthly subscription "service", like a utility bill, in order to process your images... you have choices, you have great choices!   

P.S. I've written earlier, more in-depth posts on Aperture and how I use it.

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info@tracephotographs.com (trace photographs) Adobe Aperture Apple Learning Lightroom Photography Photoshop Software The Creative Life https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2013/6/is-it-time-to-open-the-aperture Tue, 18 Jun 2013 03:49:09 GMT
Adobe Dissolves In The Cloud https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2013/5/saying-goodbye-to-adobe-in-the-cloud Adobe CloudAdobe Cloud

 

So, Adobe has chosen to "go cloud", and offer a subscription for software solution to its customers. No sooner was this announced, than the internet erupted in a firestorm of protest, mostly from photographers deeply attached to their Photoshop.  Really community? My response to all of this hoopla is, So What? What real difference does it make? 

As I wrote in an earlier blog post, I'm not sweating anything Adobe does or doesn't do. I upgraded from Photoshop CS4 to Photoshop CS6 because it was the right time and choice for me. Nothing in the Photoshop CS5 version was of any interest to me, or would have altered what I was able to do in CS4. I don't rely on Photoshop to be my one and only image editing software. In fact, I mostly use it for graphics anymore. That said, CS6 more than meets any needs I have, graphics-wise and photographically. I also know that this version of the software will continue to work for me now and long into the future, on any computer (Mac) I get next. And when it no longer does work, I'll be well into something else. 

I don't have a need to get any new features. I'm done. Most photographers use barely 10% (if that) of Photoshop's massive set of features as it is. I think it's silly for us to become so enmeshed with any company and software (or hardware) that we lose our equilibrium if anything changes. Seriously? Use what you have now and please, for the love of Kookla, Fran and Ollie, stop living as if the world is coming to an end, and the evil empire is destroying our lives (and lively-hood)! It's just software folks...

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info@tracephotographs.com (trace photographs) Adobe Cloud Creative Creativity Invention Learning Photography Photoshop Software https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2013/5/saying-goodbye-to-adobe-in-the-cloud Fri, 17 May 2013 05:05:31 GMT
"Excuse Me, Do You Know The Way To Paris?" https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2013/5/-excuse-me-do-you-know-the-way-to-paris Une Parisienne En Amérique

Ah, Paris! City of Lights, City of Love, City of Culture, City of Photography. The history of photography, relatively short as it is, is deeply connected to this magical city. From the very invention of photography by Nicéphore Niépce and Louis Daguerre, to the beautiful and historic work of photographer Eugène Atget who in the late 1800s photographed the old Paris before modernity changed so much of it. Man Ray, the Surrealists in Paris, even Picasso himself, loved photography as a creative and documentary medium, as they worked and discussed Art in the Parisienne cafés of the day.  

Paris ETCParis ETC

And from the work of Parisiennes like Henri Cartier-Bresson, the father of "The Decisive Moment", to many, many other artists, filmmakers and photographers, Paris has drawn a great many image makers to her streets, cafés, and alleyways. Many talk about the quality of light, and the great mixture of old world and modern Paris as subjects for photography. It has always been a vibrant, cultured city with great influence in the world of Art. Most all of the greatest artists of the 20th century have spent at least some time in Paris.

Finding your way to this delightful city should be on every photographers' list (Bucket or otherwise), to soak up the history, both photographic and artistic, and to simply deepen your appreciation for where we as photographers come from. Sit in a café with a true Parisienne cup of coffee or a Pernod, camera ready, and see the world whirl around you. Raise your camera to your eye, and click your way into the history of this great medium...  

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info@tracephotographs.com (trace photographs) Art Creativity Fine Art Imagination Inspiration Invention Learning Paris Photography The Creative Life https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2013/5/-excuse-me-do-you-know-the-way-to-paris Wed, 08 May 2013 12:00:00 GMT
A Day At The Museum With Maggie Taylor :: Certainly No Ordinary Day https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2013/5/a-day-at-the-museum-with-maggie-taylor-certainly-no-ordinary-day Maggie TaylorMaggie Taylor Book + Magnet I believe I fell in love this past April 20th, on the last day of Maggie Taylor's exhibition at the Polk Museum of Art. I made it a point to see the work of this wonderfully gifted photo/artist in person. It is one thing to see an artist's work as presented in a book, or even online, but it is truly enchanting to be able to see original works in person, especially when that artist prints their own work.

The first time you see an exquisitely printed silver gelatin print, or an original, hand printed platinum print, you can't help but fall in love. Standing up close and personal with this collection of Maggie Taylor's work called "No Ordinary Days", I was drawn into her enchanted world and felt enthralled by the sheer excellence of a Master of the craft.  

I have known Maggie's work for a number of years, but this was the first opportunity I had to see it "live" as it were. One compelling aspect of her work is that she has clearly established her own language of images. There are so many little nuances and subtle surprises that delight the viewer in these images, beyond any thoughts about their "meaning". I love the titles Maggie gives many of her works. Both titles and images often have a profound and humorous quality. It would be such an amazing thing to see some creative form of collaboration between Maggie and the Cirque du Soleil folks! 

I highly recommend exploring Maggie's work if you haven't already. Immerse yourself in her strange, delightful world, and if you have the chance of good fortune to see her work in person, do so! Buy the book as a wonderful keepsake, but let the original prints envelope you. I remember thinking as I walked around the room where her prints were hung, that I would so love to own one.     

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info@tracephotographs.com (trace photographs) Art Creativity Fine Art Imagination Inspiration Maggie Taylor Photography The Creative Life https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2013/5/a-day-at-the-museum-with-maggie-taylor-certainly-no-ordinary-day Mon, 06 May 2013 12:00:00 GMT
A Navajo Rose For Rosa :: And An Artists' Reply https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2013/4/a-navajo-rose-for-rosa-an-artists-reply Navajo RoseA Navajo Rose

This post is a reply to a very well written response to my earlier blog post, "Who Is An Artist?"  My friend Cedric says he is not an artist, while I beg to differ. While I too think the term "artist" is bandied about all too often, especially the term "recording artist", I think the term as such is not well defined in our current culture. It therefore loses a lot of meaning for most people, and ceases to be relevant.

By the same token, I do not agree that proper artists, as such, are an exclusive, gifted class of individuals, separate from uneducated masses or ordinary people. Cedric complimented me that the usual "art" showing up online these days is simply some mobile phone image with a hipster filter slapped on it, and called "art", by someone claiming the title of Artist. He said the images I have done on an iPhone are far more deserving of being called "art".

Thank you Cedric, but in all honesty, I admit that my iPhoneography is hardly more than the act of playing. The image above (Navajo Rose) is one I created on my iPhone of the rose that Rosa had gifted Jem and I. I had stuck it in a small dreamcatcher that I then pinned to our office wall. I happened to one day take enough notice of it to capture it on my phone. I then "played" with various apps to settle on this final image. I had no idea or intention on how it would turn out. I could never repeat the process(s) to do it again, it was simply pure play. 

That, I think is the key to true art, and being an artist; The ability to play, free from any outside intent, any idea of even creating art, the way children do that we so often lose as we "grow up". One of the consequences we see today of the sheer explosion of creative tools for masses of people worldwide is, we are exposed to the "learning process" of creating art. All over the world, at any given moment, we are witnessing peoples successes and failures as never before. 

Imagine if we could see the all of the bad exposures, terrible compositions, banal subjects badly exposed of every great photographer in history! If we could see their growth from awkward photo geek to Master Photographer, we'd see their process to be oddly like our own. I actually did some very fine images pretty early on in my career, and later have done some atrocious images that were never as "good" or on a par with those earlier works. My work continues to grow and change, as I do, but one of the really powerful aspects to my process now is the re-awakening of simple play (thank you iPhone!)

Cedric is right, in that simply making "art" all about the beautiful is only half of the equation. James Joyce and Joseph Campbell point out that another factor to be considered in great art is the concept of the "sublime". Great expanses of space, experiences of prodigious power can be terrifying and sublime, and hence felt as art.

The line between "madness" and art can be as thin as a hair. The art of Paul Klee, Picasso and Matisse were shown alongside those of patience in mental institutions in an attempt to show the great art of the 20th century was "degenerate" art. I think instead it showed the deep connection the human spirit and psyche has with both the "beautiful" and the "sublime darkness" we all carry. 

And yes, Cedric, I do believe wholeheartedly, that if I had come across Rosa's Rose laying in the street, I would see the art in it. That it was enhanced by the experience of meeting her in person, is like anytime we would get to meet an artist at work. I've picked up detritus in the street because it struck me as having something artistic to it. 

I'm so glad I had the opportunity to create a work of art from Rosa's Rose, one artist transmuting another's art, as all human art is a transmuting of the great spirits' art!

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info@tracephotographs.com (trace photographs) Art Creativity Imagination Inspiration Invention Learning Photography The Creative Life https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2013/4/a-navajo-rose-for-rosa-an-artists-reply Fri, 26 Apr 2013 23:58:51 GMT
The Problem With Numbers https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2013/4/the-problem-with-numbers The Problem With NumbersThe Problem With Numbers

The other day, a photographer friend was talking about his "numbers", referring to his social media following. This brought about a lively discussion between us about just what these numbers mean. Borrowing from the title of an Isaac Asimov story, I explained that the problem with numbers is their misleading quality; they don't really tell you very much other than they exist!  There is no way of knowing the true depth of that following. And what is "following" anyway?  

I follow a number of people, many of the same ones, across several social media platforms. But I don't really follow everything they say and do. The very nature of social medias is that of a "stream", and like any stream, it is constantly flowing. it is moving at such a pace that the more people you follow, the harder it becomes to focus on meaningful content. We miss so much, and yes, there is a lot of meaningless streaming on social medias, that any depth of interaction is limited.

All of this is both social medias attraction and its limitation. Add in the sheer amount of time so many put into being active on social media, and you begin to realize just how much of real, genuine, deep life you are missing. McDonalds started the whole boasting of "billions of customers served" phenomena by companies, but that boasting of numbers has put McDonalds in the category of a cheap commodity, looked at as the lowest common denominator in food services.

Your numbers can never tell you the true depth of anything you do, and a million "Likes", or "Great work, man!", can't ever tell you how good you really are, since you can never fully consider the source of the comments. It is too bad that mere numbers, be it in money, customers served, or even social media followings, can tell us anything more than that they exist...

It is simply the problem with numbers.     

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info@tracephotographs.com (trace photographs) Imagination Invention Social Media The Creative Life https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2013/4/the-problem-with-numbers Tue, 23 Apr 2013 04:00:48 GMT
Who Is An Artist? https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2013/4/who-is-an-artist Rosa ~ Portrait Of An ArtistRosa For as long as there has been Art, there likely has been debates about what it is, and isn't. Not as often debated is the question of just who is an artist? There are boxes with labels that read: "Working Artist/Photographer", "Professional Artist/Photographer", "Amateur", "Hobbyist..." too many boxes to mention. The question always seems to bring up the topic of just who is qualified to be called an Artist? 

Sadly most people you talk with will say they are not artistic, let alone admitting to being an artist. Is being an artist dependent on a degree from a prestigious institution? Do you qualify to be called an artist because you've had a show in a gallery, and are therefore "recognized" as such? Is it even necessary for anyone to call you an artist for you to become one? 

Rosa is an artist. I met her one evening in the heart of Ybor City, FL. Sitting on the sidewalk, getting ready to weave her roses from palm leaves. Jem and I walked up and I asked to take her portrait. She smiled, offered us her first rose of the evening, gratis, and told us her name. She simply kept working as I made several frames, we thanked her and she blessed us, which we returned in kind. It was one of the sweetest encounters I've had in a long time! Such a peaceful, light soul she is! She embodied to me the spirit of a true artist. Worthy of the name in every way.

I don't know her story, whether or not she is homeless, or simply making her roses to sell to couples out on a date. What I do know is we were gifted a work of art by an artist. To me, an artist is one who believes in the power of beauty to transform us. Who sees the world, the things in it, and chooses to transform what they see. I can visit a small peasant village in France, Italy or Greece and be delighted with the many different touches of architecture, painted walls, window boxes and stairways filled with flowers, and the beautiful courtyard gardens everywhere. These people would not place themselves or their creations on the same level as Michelangelo or Matisse, yet these very same villages inspired some of the greatest art. 

The true, deep culture of Japan, the one that comes from within her people (not the culture inherited from outside) is one profoundly based on aesthetics. The tea ceremony is nothing short of being a part of a living work of art! Even the way of gestures, and sweeping fallen leaves from the front path of a home have a profound, aesthetic and spiritual quality to them. 

Too often I hear in photography that someone is not an artist, or that photography is not art, but really a business, a service business. Yes, it can be. But it is up to us how we approach what we do. If the Japanese people can make a work of art out of the most mundane task, if an artist like Rosa can not only transform a strip of palm into a glorious rose, but touch the life of another in the process, can't everyone who creates images with a camera do the same? 

My answer is "yes". 
 

This post is from an earlier iteration of the blog, and is one of my favorite pieces. 

The following comments were previously submitted from the earlier posting:

Jemfyr Submitted on 2011/07/29 at 7:31 am 
Trace, I remember her fingers smoothing the palm strip, curving them into creation; the way she rocked from the waist to the music and her smile seemed to match the rhythm ~ Rosa, an artist indeed. 

Thank you for blogging about our experience! You honor Rosa in the most delightful way… here for other artists to read and *remember*… I too will not soon forget. This is one of my favorite pieces you have written. Truly touched! 


Cedric Submitted on 2011/07/31 at 7:04 am 
Hi Trace, I do like how you write but I have to say I am not sure about this. As you point out at the start of your post the definition of art is not clear cut. In fact it’s quite perplexing and has baffled philosophers for decades if not centuries. If “art” is difficult to define then surely “artist” is equally difficult to pin down. 

It seems to me that the word artist is bandied around all too loosely these days. People who have probably never used an original Instamatic camera or a Holga or Lomo, come along with a phone, snap a shot, slap on a hipster-filter and call themselves artists. 

Don’t you think that the overuse of this word cheapens the value that a true artist imparts on the world? I am happy to concede that these people are creative even if their intent is nothing more than to slap the photo on Facebook or Flickr and wait for the usual banal comments that result from such action. In fact, I have no doubt that creativity is in our nature and can be driven by any muse, even ego. But I would question their right to being bestowed the title of artist. 

Of course I could be wrong. Perhaps I am being elitist though I will point out that I do not consider myself an artist by any stretch of the imagination. And I’ve seen what you do with a phone my friend and it seems wrong to me that some hipster-snap-shooter could be placed in the same basket as you and be called an artist. 

But if I am wrong about who can be an artist I still need to question your definition of “artist”. You define an artist as “one who believes in the power of beauty to transform us”. Forgive me for saying this but I find that definition extremely limiting and paradoxically generic at the same time. I would suggest that many people believe that beauty has power to transform us but this alone does not make an artist. 

What’s more I cannot even see how beauty would have any power since beauty is perceived rather than being something objective. If beauty had the power to transform then I would think it fair to say that the Amazon would be intact, the oceans would be clean and open-cut mines would probably not exist. Furthermore beauty is only one half of the equation. The world, life for that matter, isn’t all roses and rainbows. To seek out beauty while ignoring that which is not is to seek an unbalanced view of the world and in my eyes potentially detrimental to creativity. 

I once met a man who suffered from manic depression. In between bouts of crazed, violent anger he would sink into a dark abyss of despair and on rare occasions spend brief periods of time in some kind of limbo wavering somewhere between his two personal hells. During those elusive moments of relative quiet he would finger paint (he wasn’t allowed brushes) some of the most emotive art works I’ve seen. They were dark, all-engulfing, suffocating depictions of his own inner world. 

Somehow, through the paintings he was able to express what life was like for him, something he could never hope to impart with words alone. This man was not peaceful or anything that could be described as a “light soul”. He was violent, he was dark, he was sinister but I readily call him an artist because of the ugliness he so dramatically conveyed in his paintings. The paintings themselves were technically poor, there was no craftsmanship at play here, but the message within them grabbed you by the throat, slapped you across the face and made you choke on your own tears. 

To me the lady you met who made the same rose over and over again was no doubt a kind soul and I suspect a fine artisan but do you really believe that it is her rose that conveyed the feelings you felt or the person herself? If you had found the rose on the ground without any knowledge of its maker would you truly see it as art? 

Trace, please forgive my long-winded comment which I blame on my insane propensity for this sort of discussion but you did open up an interesting topic :)

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info@tracephotographs.com (trace photographs) Art Artists Creativity Imagination Inspiration Invention Photography The Creative Life https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2013/4/who-is-an-artist Mon, 15 Apr 2013 12:00:00 GMT
Navigating A Life Photographic https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2013/3/navigating-a-life-photographic Camera Obscura Navigating a life photographic, finding your way from first love to a life-long relationship of creativity is one of the most challenging things you will ever do, and potentially the most vital. How do you do it? How do you learn this ever changing medium, keep ahead of the trends, keep the enthusiasm alive when it feels like you spend more time on everything but photography?

How do you choose between turning your photography into a sustaining business, or staying true to the word "amateur", "for the love" only? To me, the only way to truly navigate the life photographic is to never stop photographing. No matter what you do, no matter how you 'make your living", always photograph, always explore, always create from your own inner voice. 

Make the time, however nominal, to do this. It is vital! Joseph Campbell talks about the very necessity today of finding some time, an hour or so a day even, to cultivate your own inner self. He talks about putting on the music you like, even if no one else likes it. Do it for you. Give yourself the time and place, where you don't know what is in the news that day, where you don't know or care about what anyone else thinks, and create your images. 

Vivian Maier is a wonderful example of navigating this life. Not a profesional photographer in any way, she never stopped creating images, and what a photographic life she lived! For those of you who choose to turn professional with your photography, I have found that those professionals who make the time to create for themselves, who choose to make some images solely for their own pleasure too, out of their own deep creative selves, are the happiest in the long term. 

Don't burn yourself out always doing work for others; the field of photography is littered with the bodies of photographers who have done just that! If you want to navigate a life photographic, keep bringing the camera to your eye...

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info@tracephotographs.com (trace photographs) Art Creativity Imagination Inspiration Learning Photography The Creative Life Vivian Maier https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2013/3/navigating-a-life-photographic Thu, 28 Mar 2013 04:54:58 GMT
Every Photograph You Create Is A Self-Portrait https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2013/3/every-photograph-is-a-self-portrait Self-portrait

If we really think about it, every photograph we create is a self-portrait. Notice I use the word create. Every image in which we as photographers put time and effort into creating, not simply clicking wildly, but with intention and deliberation, those images reflect an aspect of our own inner nature. 

Whether we choose to photograph a landscape, a seascape, another person, or even an actual self-portrait, we can't help but put our own sensibilities, our own unique selves, into the image by the simple choices we make in framing, exposing, and processing our images. When you look at the bodies of work by such artist photographers as Richard Avedon, Irving Penn, Arnold Newman, Joyce Tennison, Man Ray, and Jerry Uelsmann, among others, you see each of their unique imprints on their images, their own individuality somehow shows through, and in so doing, that quality gives us a little self-portrait of each artist.

Now, in discussions with other photographers, when it comes to this topic, invariably someone will chime in with: "But if one-hundred photographers are all gathered in front of Delicate Arch, in say a landscape workshop, how is each image a self-portrait when you end up with essentially one-hundred nearly identical images?"  My answer is that that is precisely the place that those one-hundred photographers are in. They may be in the place of their photography where they are all doing nearly the same image. They haven't yet reached the place of individualizing  their images. 

But that place is, in a way, a self-portrait "at-that-time" of where you are in your self-realization. Without getting too philosophical, where you are in your life is reflected in your images. I remember some of my earliest images on film, and they were a reflection of where I was then. My images now are vastly different, but there is always and element of me in all that I do.  I think if we are honest with ourselves, and in our images, when we look at the vast body of our life's work we will see a changing, growing, deepening self-portrait emerging.    

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info@tracephotographs.com (trace photographs) Art Creativity Imagination Inspiration Invention Learning Photography Self-portraits The Creative Life https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2013/3/every-photograph-is-a-self-portrait Mon, 18 Mar 2013 12:00:00 GMT
Feminine Ripples :: A Wealth Of Images By Female Artists https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2013/3/feminin-ripples TalkingWaters_Initiation

It may be an old nut, the question of how "good", or how talented female artists are compared to their male counterparts. It's actually a pretty absurd question on the surface. Below that surface, however, you see qualities that are uniquely feminine, and utterly compelling. With photography being the most democratic of all the artforms, I think we are witnessing a time when women photographers are displaying a level of creativity and human insight I find less prevalent in most male photographers.

I'm not one given to talking in generalities, and there have certainly been many amazingly talented female photographers in previous generations (Berenice Abbott, Ruth Bernhard, Imogene Cunningham, Dora Maar, Annie Liebovitz, Sheila Metzner...), but it is with the explosion of the popularity of digital photography in general that has propelled so many women to explore their own language of image making. 

Three of these new female artists have not only created their own unique vision of the world, they have done so in a way that has captured the collective imagination of large audiences. The first of these, Kirsty Mitchell is a photographer who utilizes a great deal of production value and research into her amazing storybook images. The sheer amount of effort she puts into each of her images, both pre-and post-production is akin to a film production. The results are stunning images that stand on their own, and are yet even more compelling when seen in a series, as intended. 

Kirsty's voice in storytelling through images is uniquely feminine, and mythic. My second recommendation for you to see in this new generation of wonderful female photographers is Brooke Shaden. Brooke has moved from originally doing self-portraits to creating beautiful composites with a dream-like quality that speaks to us metaphorically and on a deep level. Her surreal images give us an opportunity explore the deeper meanings of the human condition in the varied layers and elements she uses, photographing mostly on location.

Ashley Lebedev, also known as Bottle Bell, is another talented, creative photographer exploring with a unique feminine voice. What I find with all of these artists is they all seem to come from a conceptual idea of photography. The idea, or concept is paramount, followed by a highly developed aesthetic approach that not only enhances their images, but allows us to become immediately drawn into their worlds. 

It will be very exciting to see where these young, very talented artists take us, and their work, as they mature along with photography itself!

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info@tracephotographs.com (trace photographs) Art Fine Art Imagination Inspiration Invention Learning Photography The Creative Life https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2013/3/feminin-ripples Thu, 07 Mar 2013 01:21:42 GMT
What Is In Your Photographic Kitchen? https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2013/2/what-is-in-your-photographic-kitchen Garlic Version IVGarlic - Version 4

What is in your photographic kitchen? What herbs, seasonings and flavours do you most use? Like cooking, photography is a mixture of various techniques to make the best experience for both you and the viewer. Photographers may use presets and plug-ins and software enhancements to flavour an image in the same way a master chef or cooking enthusiast would. 

One question to ask is: are you using the same ingredients on all or most of your images? In the pursuit of some kind of "signature style", many people tend to use the same presets, or techniques, or seasonings, for everything they do. It is like a music group who finds a formula sound, and all of their work ends up sounding the same (I'm looking at you, Coldplay!).

It is risky to keep innovating and changing and challenging yourself through your work. You risk confusing or alienating your audience. But how then do you grow creatively if you keep doing the same thing over and over?  I think of artists like Picasso, Matisse, Man Ray, Miles Davis, and The Beatles and countless others who continually challenged and innovated themselves and inspired their contemporaries. In the process, they created an expanding language that opened eyes and hearts.

Years ago, I stumbled on a book of drawings and early paintings by the Navajo artist R.C. Gorman. By that time, R.C. had long become an "industry", a factory artist who churned out "signature" artworks for busloads of admirers. But this book I found of his early works was amazing! I would place them on a par with many of Picasso's drawings. They were beautiful works from a skilled artist who, sadly, reached a point where he stopped innovating.

I believe you can create, innovate, and make totally new works, even if they contradict what you had done earlier. Let the audience come to you, instead of you trying to figure out what the audience wants. The best gift you have is to show others how the world looks through your eyes.  In the words of America's beloved poet Walt Whitman, "Do I contradict? Very well, I contradict. I am large. I contain multitudes."  

And so do we all...   

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info@tracephotographs.com (trace photographs) Art Creativity Imagination Inspiration Invention Learning Photography Poetry Software The Creative Life https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2013/2/what-is-in-your-photographic-kitchen Wed, 20 Feb 2013 12:00:00 GMT
If I Were An Artist https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2013/2/if-i-were-an-artist If I Were An ArtistIf I Were An Artist

"If I were an artist... " how many times have I heard that from friends, and students and just folks in everyday conversation? So many people believe they lack the "artist gene", or that "je ne sais quoi" that allows one to be creative as easily as one breathes. Being an artist has nothing to do with what you do or don't do for a living. It has everything to do with how you see life.

The images we have of great artists slaving away at their crafts, suffering fear and doubt about every stroke, dance-step, word, or note is not the only evidence of a true artist. Certain cultures, I'm thinking of the Japanese in particular, have elevated common, everyday activities into an artform. The making and serving of tea, the whole manifestation of the samurai code, even the simple act of sweeping leaves from the front steps, the placement of those same front steps, are all born of a heightened aesthetic that you feel as if you are in a work of art!

How marvelous to be in such a state of "aesthetic arrest" (James Joyce) that everywhere you look, you see the artistic forms all around. There are people, some would say "everyday people", who are incredible artists, who live artistically, that never produce what we would normally call art. Their very life, their approach to life is so attuned to artistic principles, whether they are aware of it or not, that being around them we are transformed... as if they had produced a recognizable art form.

I find many people who live in Native American traditions to be highly aesthetic in how they see the world. I think there is a natural tendency for spiritually minded people to see the world artistically. The reason it may be that a photographer/artist is able to create a work of art in an image of a farmer bailing hay, is that the farmer is  working artistically without realizing it.    

So rather than lamenting your lack of "being an artist", recognize that the harvest of all art in the world is the world itself. Learn to see, and your life itself can be a poem...

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info@tracephotographs.com (trace photographs) Art Creativity Fine Art Imagination Inspiration Invention Learning Photography Poetry The Creative Life https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2013/2/if-i-were-an-artist Mon, 18 Feb 2013 12:00:00 GMT
Why creativeLIVE Matters https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2013/1/why-creativelive-matters creativeLIVEcreativeLIVE

What is creativeLIVE ? In short, it is a worldwide, on-line classroom for free while live, and during re-broadcasts, for pretty much all things creative. Geared strongly towards photography, and digital filmmaking and design, they have recently expanded the platform to include incredible business and marketing courses for creatives. 

Brought to the world as the brainchild of Craig Swanson in collaboration with photographer and filmmaker Chase Jarvis and a wonderful, diverse crew of creative innovators, creativeLIVE brings instructors both well-known and unknown (at first) from their studios in Seattle, WA. Part Oprah, and part inspirational bootcamp, with big doses of hands on teaching, a live hand-picked audience and on-line questions that keep the instructors on their toes and the teaching moving. With the in studio chat hosts Susan Rodderick and Kenna Klosterman fielding the online questions and engaging with the online community, this is hands down the best platform for creative learning!

I've been watching creativeLive from the beginning, when the format was young, and no one seemed to know what this thing would look like. Marketed solely on social media, the team has grown into a well oiled machine that is not "slick" the way so many other online course sources are. From photography basics to complex scenarios, filmmaking from award winning filmmakers, wedding, portrait, commercial and fashion photography, to how to maximize your finances and creative business techniques in the new economy. creativeLIVE is so positive and empowering a platform, it lets you in deep to the whole of the creative process, with personal stories of triumphs and failures that let you know where the instructors come from and how anyone can achieve a successful creative life.  

So much material is given to the worldwide audience for free, usually for three full days at a stretch, that it can be overwhelming. Hence they let you purchase the courses (for a discount during broadcast) for amazing prices given the content. Allowing you to carry all the video info on your mobile phone, iPad, laptop, any time you want, there are often extra features that are only available when you purchase a course.

And the sheer passion of the instructors is unmatched anywhere else on the web. Even watching courses that I thought would never apply to my work has given me some nugget or two to transform or inspire my own business. The team at creativeLIVE are wonderfully approachable both on the site and through social media.  It has been a real joy watching the growth of this platform, these creatives, and the people across the web whose lives have been transformed for the better for having participated. 

As the platform grows, they have recently been going "on-the-road" to several places, such as the wonderful shows they produced in New York. The online sense of being a fly-on-the-wall in master classes on creativity is something we all need more of...

Viva creativeLIVE!

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info@tracephotographs.com (trace photographs) Art Creativity Gear Imagination Inspiration Invention Learning Photography Software The Creative Life creativeLIVE https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2013/1/why-creativelive-matters Mon, 28 Jan 2013 20:05:26 GMT
Filters, Plug-ins, Or Software? https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2012/10/filters-plug-ins-or-software At The Point We Turn To Hope

"Use filters and plug-ins!"  "Don't use filters or plug-ins!"  It seems everyone in the photography industry has an opinion (or opinions) on this. Many teaching professionals, those with some standing and reputation, appear divided on the issue. A lively discussion over on David duChemin's blog got me thinking about this.

My simple take on it is this: The various characters in the industry refer to software, filters, and plug-ins as if they are separate things. They are all software programs, but they do different things in different ways. So what?!  That one is connected to another as a "plug-in" software to a main image editing program, or is incorporated in an imaging program under the designation of a "filter", doesn't matter at all. It is all a software adjustment of image pixels to achieve a desired goal, a look.

Call it what you will, but there are really no evil filters, or evil plug-ins that are less than the imaging software they accompany. 

Aperture Adjusted I don't know of a credible pro photographer that would advocate not processing a RAW file as a way of preserving a photographs integrity. In photography's long/short history, many techniques, filters, chemical processes, and film types have been used (and abused) to achieve different results from creative image makers. So why all the outcry over the use of digital versions of the same thing?

All tools have been and will continue to be used and abused by those who wield them. The very best images will stand on their own, regardless of which tools are used, simply because they are great images. Enhanced to the best possible state according to the artist's vision, we may do well to remember we are simply adjusting 1's and 0's...  

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info@tracephotographs.com (trace photographs) Aperture Art Creativity Filters Imagination Learning Photography Plug-ins Software The Creative Life https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2012/10/filters-plug-ins-or-software Mon, 29 Oct 2012 18:37:38 GMT
A Poet's Place https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2012/10/a-poets-place Thresholds

What inspires you? What encourages you? Do you know the difference? Words are important things, what they mean, and what we think they mean. Lots of folks in the photography industry often use the word inspire. They want to inspire other photographers, hope their images inspire the viewer, hope to inspire clients to purchase their work. 

Inspiring seems to get confused with, or bundled in with encourage. Inspiring another can be noble, but it doesn't accomplish much on its own as it doesn't have a call-to-action behind it. Inspiration is a rather passive act. If we as photographers really want to help each other, if we want to help clients to purchase with us, we need to be more about encouraging that process. Giving others the the encouragement to step through fears is the action needed empower the inspiration. It is the "doing-part" of it all. 

 "To encourage is to give active help or to raise confidence to the point where one dares to do what is difficult." It gives inspiration its muscle, and allows great things to become real, rather than merely dreams. So if you, as a fellow artist and photographer want to genuinely help others in the field, learn the power of encouraging, as well as inspiring. They go hand-in-hand where neither can work alone... 

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info@tracephotographs.com (trace photographs) Art Encouragement Inspiration Learning Photography The Creative Life https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2012/10/a-poets-place Fri, 26 Oct 2012 17:25:35 GMT
Autumn's Focus https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2012/10/autumns-focus AutumnLeaves

This time of season, many of us turn reflective and look back over the year, contemplating accomplishments and thinking about what is yet to be done. It can be a time to celebrate, as well as a time to refocus on things that matter to us in a deep way. It's a time to "get our house in order" so to speak, and make ready for new beginnings.

So, what will your focus be? The word focus, by its very nature, means we have to clarify that which up til now has been vague and broad. It means we need to concentrate on one area we most need to see, and allow much of the rest to fade back. Focus means we do not scatter out attention on everything around us, but give our full attention, with intent, to something that is calling us to be known. To be seen.

If we worry too much that "everything is important and needs to be focused on!", we miss the point of the wonderful play of dynamics that comes from focus and not-focus. Like light and shadow in a photograph, that which is blurred and vague compliments what is focused and sharp. The play of opposites always leads to new discoveries, and it's how the Universe rolls.

And if you will, remember this: what is focused on today may well change tomorrow, and in so doing, everything is in focus...

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info@tracephotographs.com (trace photographs) Art Creativity Focus Imagination Inspiration Learning Photography The Creative Life https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2012/10/autumns-focus Mon, 22 Oct 2012 13:54:38 GMT
In Photography, It's No Contest https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2012/10/in-photography-its-no-contest Pepper and SaltPepper And Salt

Do you enter your work in photography competitions? Do you answer "calls for entry" to prestigious venues and galleries? Are you drawn to the fame and recognition that comes with winning a competition? Don't be. I hear from a number of photographers who regularly enter photography contests, who wonder what the "winning formula" is.

I ask, "what is your definition of winning?"  If you realize that the entries are usually judged by one individual, or at most a small group of judges, with varying qualifications, you have to consider the merit of the competition. So often photographers who enter will research the judge(s), and depending on the categories, create work they think the judge will like. If the judge is another photographer, then they will try to create work similar to that photographer's style. 

The guessing game of what will capture the prize is fraught with dissatisfaction. You likely would be doing work that is not your style or interesting to you in order to fit in. The prestige some associate with being named "Best In Show" can be of questionable merit when you look at all the entries that weren't chosen, and you wonder, "was that really the best one?"   It was, in that judge's opinion.  And therein lies the rub; it is only an opinion. Educated or not as it is, an opinion none-the-less. Does it have weight? Only in so much as you give it. You may agree or disagree with the opinion of the judges. It may be that on another day, under differing circumstances, the same judge would chose a different image. Maybe yours. 

A photography competition is not a critique of your work. You don't get to know why your image did or didn't make the top ten. You will never know what the "winning formula" is, nor will you be able to determine it by what the winning entries the year before were. Most of all, winning or not winning is no real measure of your work or ability as an artist. A competition can't be. 

Enter photography competitions, pay your entry fees, but do it knowing that winning or not does not truly reflect your creativity or artistic merit. 

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info@tracephotographs.com (trace photographs) Art Fine Art Learning Photography Photography Competitions The Creative Life https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2012/10/in-photography-its-no-contest Thu, 11 Oct 2012 22:14:00 GMT
Dead Photographers Society https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2012/7/dead-photographers-society The Unknown LensThe Unknown Lens

Taking inspiration, and ripping out a page from the Peter Weir film "Dead Poets Society", this is a follow up to my previous post. Sadly, there are so many photographers these days, both pro and amateur, who have little or no knowledge of just how incredibly rich we are as an artform. Mention the word history in mixed company, and you can almost hear the groans. I hated "History" in school, was bored to tears by it, but then we didn't have the internet way back when. 

I did however enjoy the history of photography I was given, in large part because I had a wonderful teacher. So where do we go from here? How do we approach photography's history in order to learn anything that will help you today? After all, the cool stuff is in what's currently being done today! Really? Following along what everyone else is doing around you leads to stagnant sameness. Don't do that! It's natural to look around next to you and try to emulate what is popular, after all, it works, right? Maybe not.

With the speed of todays' world, it takes no time at all for a look or style to reach the saturation point of cliché. Even your own work can feel like a cliché of itself after a while. How do you stay fresh, and self-innovating? How is looking at a bunch of dead photographers work going to help? Isn't Ansel Adams' work a cliché after all? Yes and no.

Photographers are first and foremost problem solvers. Regardless of whether you shoot for yourself, or for a paying client, you are trying to solve the problem of how to communicate a message to someone using a particular language. Like any language, photography has a rich history of nuance and slang in the form of subject, composition, light and shadow, shape and line. The language of color is vastly different that the language of black and white and grayscale. Each persons' accent as it were, in the way they see a subject, is unique. So why would you borrow someone else's accent?

It is one thing to be inspired by another artists' work, and quite another to emulate or copy it. I think of inspiration as a sort of diving board or cliff; something you jump off of, a departure point for you to see what comes next. Too many people today stay on the jump off point and admire what it looks like and how it was made. Being problem solvers, it fascinates me to see how others managed to communicate their answers. It becomes my springboard which broadens my language.

I had the wonderful opportunity years ago to assist with another photographer photographing Sir Elton John's collection of images for the exhibition "Chorus of Light: Photographs from the Sir Elton John Collection." 

AtEJ

© Charlie McCullers

Having the chance to work on this project, and spend several days photographing Sir Elton and his home in Atlanta, showing how this eminent collector of great photography lives with his collection was a great honor (yes, that's me standing in during a preliminary lighting test).  Seeing up close images created by Irving Penn, Man Ray, Richard Avedon, Horst, Arnold Newman and Margaret Bourke-White, Imogen Cunningham and Herb Ritts among many others was just tremendous! I recognized so many iconic images, and was introduced to many others I had not known. It was like getting an exquisite tour of the history of photography in the most beautiful setting.

Once you begin to move away from the rather limiting vocabulary of the contemporary photography world, get beyond all of the HDR, iPhoneography, sun-flair-in-the-lens, softbox-umbrella-octobox, speedlight, Photoshop'd images most everyone is focusing on, and explore the ways in which other photographers, yes dead photographers, communicated their messages, your own language  will grow in wonderful ways. Remember to be inspired, a word which means your breath goes, "Ahh!" Don't copy or emulate, but use your gifts to step off that cliff and see what is next.

One day, all of us will be members of the "Dead Photographers Society", and as Mr. Keating asked his students in the film, "What will your poem (photograph) be?"        

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info@tracephotographs.com (trace photographs) Art Creativity Elton John Fine Art Imagination Inspiration Invention Learning Photographers Photography Poetry The Creative Life traceimages https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2012/7/dead-photographers-society Thu, 05 Jul 2012 19:43:49 GMT
An Open Letter To A Young Photographer https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2012/6/an-open-letter-to-a-young-photographer iPhoneographyOPEN Photography is an art that captures all of us at some time in our life. Whether we are six or sixty when it happens is not important. What is important is that sensation we feel when we are bitten by it. We are all young to the field at one point, and this post is for you, as well as a call for those who have been photographing for a long time to revisit their source. 

I get a lot of questions from young photographers about what advice I would give to those starting out. I would say for one to study your medium. I mean really study photography, its history and its artists. Rather than simply looking at the popular photography of the day, you will have your eyes opened to the true richness photography offers by not only seeing the works of the great photographers, but reading about their lives, seeing video interviews they've given, taking a look into the lives of photographers not so different from you. 

Edward Weston's Day Books, Richard Avedon's interview with Charlie Rose, the numerous photo documentaries on YouTube like "Alfred Stieglitz: The Eloquent Eye"  give us a sense of the continuum and kindredness that is photography. I was having dinner some time ago with several members of a photography group, and I mentioned to one of the members that I thought he looked very much like photographer Minor White. His response was, "who?"  I thought that was kind of sad. Minor was a poet among photographers, and one of the mediums greatest teachers.

I loved the beginning of the film "Dead Poets Society"  when the students are taken out of the class, and paraded past the glass case with photos of former students, long dead. Looking at their faces closely, the new students see that they are not so different from those pictured. Awkward, full of hope, dreaming of big things and great works, aren't we all pretty much like that? No matter how accomplished you think another photographer is, please remember that no one, not Ansel, not Avedon, not Penn, or Weston, or Steiglitz were born knowing any of this. 

Another point young photographers focus on early is uniqueness. Trying to be unique and original, finding your own voice seems very important early on. Your voice will come. Your unique way of speaking the language of light will become evident, but give it time. I read a book on Swiss artist Paul Klee, in which his son Felix gave a short interview. In the interview, Felix gave an account of what it was like for him being a young art student at the original Bauhaus School in Germany in the 1920s. His father was one of the original faculty at the Bauhaus, and Felix described the way the students and teachers dressed in sometimes outlandish clothes like flowing robes, turbins and exotic materials. Wearing their hair long on one side and shaved on the other. Experimenting with drugs and other substances in the name of finding creative inspiration. Sound familiar? Reminds me of many of the alternative lifestyle movements of the last few decades. 

Much of what we think is new, original, never been done before (at least not like this! ), only looks new. If you delve even a little bit into photography's history, you will see that the same discussions, the same problems, and the same creative solutions and experimentations have already been done. This is not to discourage you, but to spark you to push on and realize how truly connected we are; past, present, and future.

Become proficient with your tools, all of them, but alongside that process also keep foremost in your mind the why of shooting. Learn how to speak about  photographs, eloquently, rather than the gear you use. Be as fluent with your camera as a fish in water, so you no longer think about it. Above everything else, don't stop feeling the enchantment of photographing, and don't stop shooting. Leave a legacy worth leaving...  

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info@tracephotographs.com (trace photographs) Art Gear Inspiration Learning Photography Poetry The Creative Life traceimages https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2012/6/an-open-letter-to-a-young-photographer Thu, 28 Jun 2012 05:42:52 GMT
Aperture 3.3 :: Reports Of My Demise Have Been Greatly Exaggerated! https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2012/6/aperture-3-3-reports-of-my-demise-have-been-greatly-exaggerated Aperture In Metal

With apologies to Mark Twain for the title, I'm here to say that Apple's pro photography application Aperture is very much alive and well. It seems whenever a new iteration or version of Aperture is released, the internet lights up with comments, reviews, and blog posts proclaiming it to be dead-in-the-water, soon to be abandoned by Apple, less a professional app and more amateur oriented, not as good/powerful/useful as Lightroom, or why someone is switching from Aperture to Lightroom.

All I will say about Adobe's Lightroom app is that I have tried to love it. I have every reason to want to love it, I simply don't. For me, Aperture is more powerful, better designed UI wise, and faster to use than Lightroom. Choose the tool that works best for you, regardless of what anyone else says, including yours truly.

Apple updated its professional photo app Aperture this past week at their WWDC 2012 conference. Although it is a point release (from 3.2 to 3.3) rather than a full blown version update to 4.0 as many were hoping for, it is still a major release.

Aperture 3.2

Aperture 3.3

One of the first things you notice when you update to Aperture 3.3 is that Apple has jettisoned the color from all of the icons and library projects/folders. Many people decried this change as confusing, but after a few days working with it, I find this change gives the app a more professional look and feel. The cleaner monochrome look, coupled with the better designed, updated icons on the tool bar make this an easier to navigate program. 

You'll notice another change from the previous version, in that Apple chose to modify the Metadata tab to Info tab. Funny how so simple a thing caused many to claim Apple was dumbing down Aperture. The fact that the two terms are at basics interchangeable, it seems disingenuous for professionals to complain that their application is being made amateur for a simple term change. I for one was not expecting any of these changes in Aperture, but I'm glad Apple puts so much attention into the little, nuanced details. Its what makes Aperture such a joy to use.

But the biggest changes come in the Adjustments Panel in the form of some rewritten tools, rearranged elements, and new features.

Aperture Adjustments Just below the histogram, Apple changed and rearranged the three button: Presets is now Effects, and Adjustments is Add Adjustments. Though this change is more in keeping with those coming from an iPhoto paradigm, I do think the Effects name downplays the idea of Presets as a term. A little thing we will all get used to, but still, somethings didn't need changing. The cog wheel that was under the histogram to the right has been moved to the bottom bar. As pointed out elsewhere, this is another change that doesn't make immediate sense, as the cog wheel sets the histogram parameters. The only thing I can come up with is most photographers likely didn't keep changing the histogram once we set it (I never did), and that particular area of real estate was better suited for a new tool called Pro Auto Enhance, indicated by a magic wand. This tool, which actually makes several adjustments at once, is a very powerful way of making a quick correction to many images.

Other very welcome changes include a whole new White Balance brick that allows for several new choices. By default it is set to what Apple calls natural gray. This works great for most images, but if you have people included you can choose Skin Tone white balance which does an incredible job. If you want the old Temp / Tint white balance, you can use that too.  Equally cool is the ability to now paint in or paint out your white balance. This is huge for many applications!

The Highlights & Shadows brick has been rewritten so that each of the three sliders now does what you used to do with seven sliders. The Mid Contrast slider is now more powerful, combining several adjustments and new algorithms to give you great results. I do like the implementation of the Revert to Original button on the bottom of the panel. I like the name change from Master to Original. 

All things said, I'm excited to use this newest version of Aperture, and if I have any thoughts about when we will see a full version 4, it will likely be sometime after OSX Mountain Lion is available. As Aperture is so tightly integrated with the OS, and takes advantage of certain core features, I think Apple is optimizing Aperture 4 for the new OS. So far, I love where Aperture is going, and all of this, plus the fact that it has been optimized for the new Macbook Pro with Retina Display, shows clearly that Apple is fully behind the application.

For the best resource on all things Aperture (outside of Apple's website), got to ApertureExpert and explore this powerfully creative application...  

P.S. there is a wonderful podcast about the Aperture update (and more) on TWiP, hosted by Frederick Van Johnson... check it out.  

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info@tracephotographs.com (trace photographs) Aperture Apple Invention Photography Software The Creative Life traceimages https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2012/6/aperture-3-3-reports-of-my-demise-have-been-greatly-exaggerated Fri, 22 Jun 2012 05:34:37 GMT
Create Something! :: Notes From The Unknown Lens https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2012/6/create-something-notes-from-the-unknown-lens Shell Study I

Shell Study I 

Every once in a while, hopefully not too often, we creative folks find ourselves in a place of deep funk, the blues, melancholy, depression. It comes with the territory of being creative, they say. Lately I've been there, and truth be told, there is only one way I know out of it. One thing that will shed some light in the shadows: "Create Something!"

"But how do I do that?" you may ask. You don't feel creative, you're in a funk. You do it by doing it. Even when the last thing you want to do is do anything at all, simply create something. There is an enormous curative power to the act of creating. Participating in the creative process is life-affirming, a saying "yes" to the universe (which is itself nothing more than the creative process on the grandest scale!). 

Nature herself is the most tangible evidence we have of creating in the face of adversity and despair. Look at a forest devastated by fire, that generates new growth over time in the wake of tragedy. The impulse to create is hard-wired into our DNA. Stories of people who have created something as a means of coping with personal or global tragedy are everywhere. There is always something, something, you can create in the midst of your funk.

You don't necessarily need to create a photograph, or series of photographs. Whatever you create, no matter how small or insignificant, will be enough. It's a start and the beginning of a way out the dark. Creativity feeds on itself, grows, and becomes a living fire that ignites our imaginations, and is the basis of hope.  

You, nature, the universe, all create something in the face of the great dark of space. I don't know of a simpler, better expression of the "yes"... 

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info@tracephotographs.com (trace photographs) Art Creativity Imagination Inspiration Invention Nature Photography The Creative Life traceimages https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2012/6/create-something-notes-from-the-unknown-lens Mon, 18 Jun 2012 11:00:00 GMT
On Blogs, Bling, And Big Jazz :: A Rant https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2012/6/on-blogs-bling-and-big-jazz-a-rant

Believe it or not, there are people who bristle at the term Jazz. To them it is nothing more than a noisy mix of incongruous sounds that is anything but music. I'm not one of those people. I adore jazz. I happen to think Miles Davis' "Kind Of Blue" is the quintessential jazz album of all-time. I dig Miles, and jazz in all of its iterations is just cool!

My once-a-year photography industry rant today is about a different kind of noisy mix of incongruity: the Photo Blog. Like most of us, I look at and follow links to a good number of photo related blog posts. We all read a good many of the same "industry leaders" to keep a pulse on what's going on in photography. But looking around, I see a lot of noise. Not so much in the content, but what is around  the content.

Too many blogs today, and I'm mostly talking about the ones we photographers produce, have so many bells, whistles, bling, flair, and general crap hanging on their sides that the center sliver of written content gets lost. And speaking of that central column sliver blogs are usually formatted to... who said that was good design?  I'm reminded of websites designed in the late 80's and 90's that had all manner of twirling, spinning, rotating, flaming animated gifs and bright, glowing buttons that offered links to more stuff!

We've come a long way in web/blog design since then, but the overall ethos hasn't changed: load a page (blog) with lots of information, ads, affiliate links and banners, in all sorts of colors and sizes, to either monetize the blog and/or advertise your own products and services. Now I get the need and desire to monetize your content, and publicize your own projects, but it seems to me there must be a more elegant, creative way to do so without looking like the checkout counter at a supermarket with all the magazine/tabloid candy/junk surrounding you.

Fact is, despite worthwhile content, I've stopped reading many photo related blogs because of the noisy bling they contain. I myself am guilty of "blinging"  my blog back when I had a Blogger site. As the platform grew and you could add any number of cool, whiz-bang widgets to the sides, top and bottom of your blog, I did. Calendars, Twitter feeds, spinning keyword clouds, banner links to my other sites and associated companies, blogrolls, cool button links to social media.... I half expected there to be an animated Christopher Walken shouting, "MORE COWBELL!" to be a widget. 

None of this felt or looked right to me. My blog felt like a mess, and turning to Wordpress as a solution wasn't the way. Many Wordpress-based blogs and themes have the same problem. Yes, you can have an elegant themed, no bling Wordpress blog, but again you are usually relegated to a somewhat narrow center column for your content, with a lot of empty space on the sides. Why? Who set the rules? Seems to me we should have the ability to have a blog dynamically format to any screen it is viewed on, and allow the viewer to even hide the extras if we choose. The ability to easily hide all the "noise" on a blog and read it full screen would be a great solution for this! Think how it was before TV remotes and recorders allowed us to mute and skip past the commercials... which is essentially what blog bling is! Of course now you get utterly annoying pop-up commercials for a networks other TV shows at the bottom of your screen while you're watching a show!

That's how it feels to go to some of these photo blogs, and why I've stopped visiting them. I think as content creators, it is ours to provide an experience that is both informative and elegant in a way that fits our brand. Your style and creativity should be the draw, not the flashy bling.          

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info@tracephotographs.com (trace photographs) Imagination Invention Photography Rants The Creative Life Writing traceimages https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2012/6/on-blogs-bling-and-big-jazz-a-rant Fri, 08 Jun 2012 14:08:26 GMT
Zen And Creativity :: An Homage To A Mentor https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2012/5/zen-and-creativity-an-homage-to-a-mentor  

Sermon At The Bo TreeSermon At The Bo Tree

I recently created a small series of composited photographs, collectively called "The Bodhi Lands"  that were originally made in homage to the passing of a great Zen teacher and master photographer, Roshi John Daido Loori who passed from us October 9th, 2009. These four images were my simple way of conveying the significance of one's life who had touched mine over crossed paths, even though we never formally met. Today's post comes on the day I received a seminal book of Roshi Loori's, titled "The Zen of Creativity ~ Cultivating Your Artistic Life"

The Zen of Creativity John Daido Loori

I haven't yet had the pleasure of diving in deep with this book, but even before you get to the table of contents, you are met with this poem from Walt Whitman:

"Come said the muse, sing me a song no poet yet has chanted, sing me the universal 

In this broad earth of ours, amid the measureless grossness and the slag, enclosed and safe within its central heart, nestles the seed perfection."

And chapter one, titled "Melting Snow", starts with "All the way to heaven is heaven itself."  Not a bad way to start a journey into creativity and cultivating an artistic life!

There are a great many other voices, in many other fields than photography in particular that have something incredibly valuable to share about the creative process. If you want to become a more interesting, compelling and creative artist and photographer, go talk to a musician about creativity in his language. Seek out a poet to lay some lines on you about where the muses live. Ask a local farmer what to him makes a beautiful vegetable. Find a fine restaurant's chef and ask her what it is about creating with food that gives her the most joy.

Explore life more deeply and richly, and you will have no choice but to convey that in your images. To quote another dear mentor whom I never formally met (though our paths crossed not in time, but in space), "The influence of a vital person vitalizes!" ~ Joseph Campbell

Go be vital... !      

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info@tracephotographs.com (trace photographs) Art Books Fine Art Inspiration Learning Mentors Photography Poetry The Creative Life Writing Zen traceimages https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2012/5/zen-and-creativity-an-homage-to-a-mentor Thu, 31 May 2012 23:19:57 GMT
The Photo Blog :: A Gallery With Benefits https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2012/5/the-photo-blog-a-gallery-with-benefits Palm Study II

Palm Study II

What are you going to do with new images, or a series of images that in themselves are every bit as compelling as what is in your portfolio? Sometimes adding a new gallery, or even adding more images to an existing gallery on your portfolio site is not the best option. You could rotate images by occasionally replacing what is in a gallery with a new image(s). 

Or... you could utilize your photo blog to present new work that won't really fit elsewhere on your site. Fact is many people utilize their blog exclusively as a portfolio platform, and there are a great many blog sites and themes available that help you do just that. If you do have a main portfolio site, and you have a blog component as well, give serious thought to the advantages of posting only the very best of your images, ones that match in consistency of quality to the rest of your site, with the added feature of writing in depth about the images, or telling a story that multiple images convey so well. 

Palm Study III

Palm Study III

One of the hardest things we as photographers/artists have to contend with is editing our own work. The process can be gut-wrenching. Because we are so intimately involved with all the emotions and effort in creating images, we develop blind spots to our own work. Start the process of culling your best images down to a set number, then walk away. Take a day or two... even a week, then bring a trusted voice with you to see how another sees the images. Fresh eyes, fresh impressions can see nuances and subtleties our blind spots hide.  

Palm Study IV

Palm Study IV

Palm Study V

Palm Study V

Offering images in a blog format, if treated right and with style, can make the blog feature of your overall site that much more compelling, and draw people to see your newest work. Being able to talk about the work in detail and offer incites behind their making, telling the creative stories, adds a new, wonderful perspective to your existing portfolio. Don't relegate your blog to simply anecdotal posts, maximize the experience by thinking of the blog as a dynamic, open, creative gallery that can combine the finest of your images, with interesting and compelling commentary. Or simply post your new images as a blog/gallery hybrid, without commentary. And make it as easy as possible for your readers to find your new content...  

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info@tracephotographs.com (trace photographs) Blogging Inspiration New Work Photography The Creative Life Writing traceimages https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2012/5/the-photo-blog-a-gallery-with-benefits Wed, 30 May 2012 11:48:21 GMT
Ten Polaroids :: Creating Images With Malleable Materials https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2012/5/ten-polaroids-creating-images-with-malleable-materials
The Navigation Legend :: Polaroid SX-70 FilmThe Navigation Legend :: Polaroid SX-70 Film

The Navigation Legend :: Polaroid SX-70 Film

I've created a new, one-off series called Ten Polaroids to showcase work created over the years with this incredibly versatile film material, and as a bit of an antidote to the totally digital world of photography we all swim in. Sometimes, for those photographers with a background that straddles the analog film and digital age, there is something beautiful in connecting again with what I call "material photography." 

Today, making a tangible print from a digital file might constitute a material photograph, but what I'm writing about is a more versatile, maleable type of medium that could be used creatively far beyond its intended use. Without going into a long history of Polaroid Corp. (that's what Google and Wikipedia are for), suffice to say here that rather than a single flavor of film, Polaroid made a great many types of film for many purposes. Some films were intended for amateur use by our parents and grandparents mostly, along with inexpensive cameras used to capture and process those images. What house didn't have a Polaroid camera around somewhere?

A great many other films and print material were created by Polaroid specifically for the professional commercial photographer and special scientific uses. Professional photographers had access to Polaroid films ranging from medium format size to 4x5 and 8x10 large format camera sizes. Available in both color and black and white, these films were primarily intended as proofing materials for photographers. A means to check focus and exposure, as well as composition before putting the final image on "real" film. Polaroids were most often discarded in the trash as soon as everything checked out, and we were ready to go to film. Purpose served.

But a funny thing happened after years of seeing Polaroids as simply a means to an end. A small number of mindful photographers, unknown to each other and working in separate studios far from each other, began to notice the discarded Polaroids left to dry in the trash had actually transfered  their image onto another material the Polaroid had come in contact with. Either creatively bored, or immensely curious, these photographers individually began to play with the film in a deliberate manner. They started to get other Polaroid films, ones they didn't normally use like the amateur films, and experimented with those too. Slowly, without the internet or twitter, word started to get out, and other photographers who saw the resulting images began to play with the materials too.

Orchid III :: Polaroid Type-55 Film

Orchid III :: Polaroid Type-55 Film

The professional Polaroid films we most often used for commercial shoots came in two sizes and types. 4x5 inch Black and White Type-55 gave us both a print and a negative. Creatively, the gel coated negative was the prize! Once you rinsed off the gooey gel, you had a beautiful black and white negative you could do anything with. Print it in a darkroom, sandwich it with one or more other negatives for multiple exposure effects, scratch it, scrape it, rub it, distress it in ways that digital grunge filters mimic today. In fact many of todays digital filters and grunge effects come out of the original experimentations with Polaroid films! One thing I liked doing with the Type-55 negative was to re-photograph it onto another Type-55 Polaroid and create a film positive, with all of the fine tonal nuances only Polaroids had. 

PolaroidEmulsionTransfers

Polaroid Emulsion Transfers :: Type-59

The color Polaroid film in the 4x5 inch format was Type-59. This is what truly started the Polaroid Art craze. Those creative photographers who started experimenting with the still wet color emulsion, discovered that if you pulled apart an exposed color Polaroid before it was finished processing (usually 60 seconds), you could, very, very carefully take that emulsion side and transfer it to another substrate, such as watercolor paper. Now when I came across the technique while working in New York, a friend and fellow photographer was doing it, as he had learned it from one of the original discoverers of it. Sadly, my friend was of a secretive nature, and wouldn't tell me exactly how it was done. I knew it involved Type-59 film and watercolor paper, but all my attempts ended in failed images. 

So I decided to find a number and call Polaroid Corp. directly, to see if they could be of help. The fellow I spoke with at Polaroid had said they were only just beginning to hear of some photographers creating art from their materials, but even they were in the dark on most details. Its craze hadn't yet reached the epic proportions it would later. He did tell me that, as far as he knew, the process involved wetting the watercolor paper first, before applying the color emulsion image. That nugget of information was all I needed to go all in on the Polaroid Art craze! 

From there I worked all manner of Polaroid films in creative ways. I looked at the materials as completely maleable and infinitely manipulative. I would shoot a Polaroid, either color or black and white, and then re-photograph, and re-re-photograph each iteration in different ways to see what could be done. I used various techniques of Polaroid manipulation in commercial assignments, as well as my fine art work. It is a testament to this useful, but "lowly film" material that even to this day, there are software programs like Nik Software's Color Efex Pro 4 and onOne Software's PhotoFrame 4.6 Pro  that try to emulate digitally the Polaroid experience. Sadly, or perhaps not, nothing can compare to the rich and subtle "creamy", tactile qualities of this now defunct material.

Something in Polaroids' secret mysterious sauce is un-duplicateable. One very big feature, and it is what makes Polaroid Art so completely unique, is the fact that no matter how many times you pulled a 'roid, each image was a one-off, never to be matched. The ultimate Limited Edition Print

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info@tracephotographs.com (trace photographs) Art Imagination Inspiration Invention Learning Photography Polaroid The Creative Life https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2012/5/ten-polaroids-creating-images-with-malleable-materials Fri, 25 May 2012 11:28:02 GMT
10,000 Hours or 10,000 Photographs? https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2012/5/10-000-hours-or-10-000-photographs ten-thousand hours

Ever wonder what 10,000 hours really looks like? In terms of days, weeks, months, etc.? How about in terms of actual artwork created? The now well known saying that it takes at least 10,000 hours to "master" something, in our case photography, has been quoted far and wide. That is, hours spent concentrated solely on the task, not multi-tasking other things. The idea is interesting, but in reality, simply concentrating for that duration alone on something will not a master make.

Personally, I never liked the idea of anyone referring to themselves as a "master" of something. That implies they have reached a pinnacle with no need for further learning from that task. It may be that others can refer to you as a master, if they see you in that light, but don't hang your hat on that moniker. 

It also gets said often in photographic circles, that your first 10,000 photographs will be your worst.  Some famous photographer is quoted as saying this. Really?  I wonder about this one too. Much gets said about, and promised, that you will progress in a more or less straight-forward way, to better and better photographs by shooting more. You might indeed, if  you do one simple thing: namely learn from each image you make why it is, or isn't, successful. However you define its success, the making of it must teach you something.

Every experiment, every new process, every time I asked myself "what if...?", generated a nugget of insight that helped me create a successful image, sometimes years later. Seeds are sown in the creative life that can have a profound effect on down the road, if we remember not to forget what we've learned from our 10,000 hours and 10,000 images.

Like writers or other artists, it may be that we create some brilliant work early on, before our 10,000 anything is reached. Only then to fall into the trap of repeating ourselves, or worse yet, whatever is currently popular! Like the great filmmaker Orsen Wells who wrote, directed, and starred in the brilliant "Citizen Kane" at the age of 24, only to suffer from never reaching that level of mastery again, I have seen many photographers do truly wonderful work, I mean astonishing images, early in their career, and then become rather ordinary and doing work indistinguishable from everyone else. It's as if their wild, creative impulse became stilted by the industry. They stopped innovating and learning from their work.

There is a Chinese proverb that says, "The One becomes the Two; The Two becomes the Three, and the Three becomes the Ten-Thousand Things."  The metaphor of 10,000 things, referring to the Universe on the whole, includes everything that is, and everything that will be. In that context, the idea of 10,000 as a never ending possibility of growth and learning is very comforting. 

"Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the ancient ones; seek what they sought" ~ Basho

    

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info@tracephotographs.com (trace photographs) Art Inspiration Invention Learning Photography The Creative Life traceimages https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2012/5/10-000-hours-or-10-000-photographs Tue, 22 May 2012 10:07:21 GMT
Note To Self #1 https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2012/5/note-to-self-1 Trace Mediterraneo Ever wish you could meet up with your younger self and offer some sage advice at a crucial point in growing up? Aside from the awkward introductions, how very cool that would be. There I am in the middle at nine-years-old, washing my diving mask in the Mediterranean Sea, pretending I'm Jacques Cousteau. Didn't we all want to be like our heros?  My dad took this with his Olympus camera on slide film. He liked slide film so we could watch slideshows in the very old-school way of a projector and a white wall. 

If I have any words for you little man, it would be not to worry about being Jacques Cousteau, but seek what he sought. Keep your love and curiosity about the oceans, it will serve you well. You will, in fact, make a very profound connection with Captain Cousteau and his family by honoring his legacy, and by doing so, you will be part of the great ocean community he dreamed of.  In the future, you will get newsletters, and tweets (trust me, it's a good thing!), and be friends with the Cousteau family, and so many other well known scientists, authors, marine biologists, divers, artists, poets, and protectors of the oceans. Seriously, you will! 

What you dream about today as you wash your mask in the sea will be seeds that grow deep roots. You will be a very creative young man, taking your dad's love of photography for your own, and making it uniquely yours. He'll be proud of that, trust me. You will keep your poet's heart, as you do now, but it will mingle with another's in the most amazing way!

Luckily, you won't listen to the music teacher who told you you were tone-deaf last year, and never be able to play music. There's a thing called Garage Band we have now that proves him wrong! I want to tell you to keep that ember inside you burning, the one that says who you really are, and not to listen to those who tell you otherwise. I want to tell you that when you return from your years in France, don't look down on your hometown of Woodstock. It's not just a small, little town. It has a really amazing and long history in its own right, and some really amazing people live and have lived there (Joseph Campbell for one, who will be a great influence on you later). It's a great place to grow up in during your time there, so make the most of it. 

I tell you, the story you will live, the paths you will cross, the connections you will make, all speak to a life you will have that will exceed your imagination. You are a dreamer, a creator, you connect dots in a most unusual way... that is why you see the way you do. It is why you can seek what Captain Cousteau sought, in your own way. So no, you won't get to scuba dive in your house, up and down the stairs, but you will see and experience so much more. Keep your head about you, follow the light and the salt air, nurture the best in you.... be bold!   

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info@tracephotographs.com (trace photographs) Advice Connections Imagination Inspiration Notes To Self Photography Poetry The Creative Life traceimages https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2012/5/note-to-self-1 Thu, 03 May 2012 15:37:51 GMT
It's A Horizont World https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2012/4/its-a-horizont-world Patrick When it comes to images today (and let's face it, written content too), we live in a horizontal world. You'd be hard pressed to find a computer monitor, tablet device, big screen tv, or mobile phone that doesn't favor the horizontal orientation. In photography parlance, we call it "landscape" mode, as opposed to the vertical "portrait" mode, both terms I think we need to scrap completely! 

Even when we do end up viewing images on tablets and smartphone screens vertically, most of those can be flipped to a horizontal position and the content will follow suite. When I read blog posts, articles and other web content on the iPhone, I'll often go horizontal and pinch/zoom for better reading. Now not everything or every application follows this rule, but we generally seem to accept, and even prefer that way of seeing.

So why photograph in vertical mode? If you are creating a portrait, does it have to be a vertical? If you are photographing a landscape, does it have to be a horizontal composition? Most often there are compositional reasons for choosing one or the other orientation. But I'm starting to wonder about that too (I'm questioning a lot of things lately!). I would often see many new students naturally photographing everything horizontally, almost afraid to even consider turning the camera vertical. I would admonish my students to not only shoot vertically, but to think vertically!

I'm not doing that anymore. It is an outdated hold-over from the days of photographing for magazines and publications and other media that was vertical in orientation. Unless you were shooting a two page spread in a magazine, you shot vertical. Magazine covers, book covers, album/CD covers (ok, they were square in format, more on that in a bit!), single page articles, signage, advertisements, all merited a mostly vertical orientation. 

But we don't live in that world anymore. Publications and magazines of all kinds are moving to the web, on screens that are horizontally oriented! Why should images be made to follow the old paradigm? They don't have to. I'm finding more and more that I really like images (portraits and landscapes, and objects, and abstracts of all kinds) presented in a horizontal format. For whatever psychological reasons, vertical images now seem restricted, and constrained to me. 

I'm wondering these days why we even need to follow the old design formats of books and magazines when designing graphics and content for the web? For me, there are two ways I see to maximize the experience of seeing images in our new world: One is to fully embrace and explore a compositional paradigm based completely on the horizont ( a poetic term created by Jemfyr, hence the blog title). The second is to include the square aesthetic as well. I've always loved the square format in photography that is part and parcel of the medium format cameras. Square images just seem so cool, almost a nose-thumb to the hard line vertical/horizontal world. It says, "I'm the best of both worlds, and I fit anywhere!"

That is one thing I've loved about photographing with the iPhone, and some of the apps used to process those images, because some will only allow a square orientation. I have to admit, I do love seeing a square image on a horizontal screen. It has that cool aesthetic, fits nicely without requiring you to scroll up and down to see the whole image, and it works beautifully when mixed in with horizontal images. There is no jarring juxtaposition like you get when viewing a mix of vertical and horizontal images on screen. 

Often what happens when viewing a gallery of images on the web, is that in order to keep certain web page formatting, vertical images appear rather small next to horizontal images. Let's face it, our hearts sink when we realize we are not getting the full image view we could be. It makes it easier to simply skip over those images. 

So for me, I am choosing to fully embrace my inner horizont, and will only photograph (for the rest of 2012) in horizontal and square formats. I want to discipline myself to think horizontally, even (or especially) when I'm naturally inclined to go vertical. (*Note To Self: Video does not look good captured vertically!)   

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info@tracephotographs.com (trace photographs) Design Horizontal Orientation Photography Poetry Square The Creative Life Vertical Writing traceimages https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2012/4/its-a-horizont-world Fri, 13 Apr 2012 11:59:16 GMT
Writings On The Walls https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2012/2/writings-on-the-walls traceimagesWALL

When I started exploring the fine art aspect of photography, and imagined my first solo show of photographs, I liked thinking of titling the exhibit, "Works On The Walls". It struck a chord with me in an imaginative, ironic way, and so that is why I like to refer to this blog as "Writings On The Walls". It plays so nicely with the idea of images being displayed in a printed form on the wall as either framed or unframed works.

The idea really came to full expression in the work I did with my wonderful muse and poet, Jemfyr, on the Mosaïque Journey gallery that combines photography and poetry directly on the wall! To me, the idea of actually writing on walls is at once child-like (or childish to some), creative, naughty, iconoclastic, a no-no, (a yes-yes), and at the same time harkens back to our earliest ancestors in caves, who were often writing on walls and leaving magnificent cathedrals for us to marvel at.

So I say, go ahead, write on your walls, both real and virtual... you might be surprised what creativity comes from it!    

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info@tracephotographs.com (trace photographs) Art Fine Art Imagination Inspiration Photography Poetry Writing traceimages https://www.tracephotographs.com/blog/2012/2/writings-on-the-walls Fri, 17 Feb 2012 21:29:23 GMT