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pacificLIGHT photography


An answer to the question, “What is there to shoot?”

Shooting to a theme is one way to keep your mind quietly alert to photographic opportunities. In the context of photography, a theme is simply a coherent set of subject matter. A theme could centre around a set of objects, (Doors, Abstracts, Hands) or it could be a concept (Contrasts, Sorrow, Joy, Indifference). Photographing to a theme doesn’t mean heading out to shoot examples of your theme to the exclusion of all else (although you could); for one thing, good examples of a theme don’t always present themselves every time you are out shooting. Instead, these are ideas that stay in the back of your mind, and that you shoot as opportunities arise. Having them in the back of your mind helps you to be mindful while you are out, always looking for images that fit your chosen theme(s) A few simple themes I work on are “Doors”, “Complementary Colours” and “Colour Harmonies”. Sometimes you get lucky, and more than one theme is present in the same image.

I’m always intrigued by the doors of private homes in Europe. Doors and front porches often seem to be vehicles for personal expression, to difference one’s home from your neighbour. Here are two examples from Provence.

Aside from being eye-catching, these two doorways also represent examples of complementary colours (on the left), and colour harmony (on the right). Complementary colours occupy on opposite sides of the colour wheel, examples include red-green and yellow-blue. When they occur next to each other they reinforce each other, increasing the impact of both. Harmonious colours exist together on the same side of the colour wheel, examples include blue-green, and yellow-orange. Harmonious colours placed next to each other tend to reduce the impact of each other. The images below show the effect of this. Which of the two circles within each square is the most pure and saturated red? The answer is, “Both!” Placed next to its complement blue, the red circle appears more saturated. Placed next to orange, a harmonious colour from the same side of the colour wheel, the impact of the red circle is diluted, and appears less saturated (in fact it almost appears to take on an orange cast).

In the image on the left, the magenta flowers (which have a large dose of red) and the yellow shutter sit on the opposite side of the colour wheel compared to the blue doorway. Their presence next to each other makes each appear stronger than they would on their own. Complementary colours also impart energy and excitement to an image. In the image on the right, all of the principal colours exist on the same side of the colour wheel. This is an example of colour harmony. Rather than reinforcing each other and imparting energy, the harmonious colours in this image impart a sense of calm and tranquility. In other images, colour harmonies derived from the red-orange-yellow side of the colour wheel may impart a sense of warmth and comfort.

So, here’s a short list of some possible themes you might consider:

Abandoned Buildings, Abstracts, Bad Weather, Balloons, Bark, Barns, Bicycle Parts, Black and White, Bridges, Broken Glass, Butterflies, Car Details, Cats, Celebrations, Church Windows, City Skylines, City Street Scenes, Close-up, Clouds, Contrasts, Eyes, Femininity, Fences, Festivals, Fire Engines, Flower Petals, Flowers, Forms in Nature, Gardens, Gates, Glass, Hands, Harvest, Hats, Isolated Objects, Joy, Kids, Lazy, Masculinity, Opposites, Opulent, Patterns, Peeling Paint, People At Work, Peppers, Polished, Porches, Railroad Cars, Railroad Tracks, Raindrops, Rainbows, Red, Reflection, Rust, Rustic, Sand dunes, Sand Patterns, Sea Shells, Seascapes, Seasons, Self, Shadows, Signs, Silhouettes, Skulls, Sky, Smiles, Snow, Soft Curves, Sorrow, Speed, Spring, Stacks, Stairs, Statues, Steam Railroads, Still life, Strange Signs, Sunrise, Sunset, Sweets, Swings, Tattoos, Textures, Toads, Tombstones, Tools, Transport, Tree Knots, Trees, Umbrellas, Uniforms, Urban, Utensils, Vacation, Valves, Vegetables, Vines, Water, Waterfalls, Weather, Weathered Wood, Wet, Wheels, White, Wildlife, Windows, Winter, Woods, Yellow, Zig Zags

Now pick one or two and get shooting!

(Join me for a photo-workshop in Provence or Tuscany next year)

Lightroom: Basic Panel or Tone Curve…

What's the difference?
If you started your journey in digital photography using Photoshop, you like most others are likely familiar with the Curves Adjustment, and use it to adjust contrast, white point and black point in your images. Compared to Photoshop, Lightroom is a relative late-comer, arriving on the scene in 2007 (Photoshop has been around since 1990). So, it’s not surprising that when photographers move to Lightroom they tend to gravitate immediately to the familiar and use the Tone Curve for basic contrast and mid-tone adjustments.

That would be a mistake

Don't be a Slave to White Balance

Auto White Balance: it’s one of the first things I ask my workshop students to turn off. When outdoors, choose Daylight or Cloudy white balance instead. Indoors, tungsten white balance will generally provide more pleasing results. Allowing your camera to decide something as important as the colour balance of your images can lead to washed out sunsets, and other less than optimal results as it tries to bring colour conformity to every image you make.

For the most part this is good advice, but there is a world of creative possibility available by occasionally breaking the rules. Colour is one of the prime “mood setters” in image making. Using creative tweaks to the overall colour balance of your images can reinforce the message in your image by influencing the psychological reaction a viewer has to the content of your image.

Let’s look at two examples.

The Digital Polarizer

A polarizer is a basic filter which every photographer who works outdoors should have and know how to use. In many ways it’s the only filter, the effects of which can’t be fully reproduced in post using tools like Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop. But, it does have its limitations.

Why Print Your Work?

Digital imaging has fundamentally changed the way we work as photographers. Digital brings immediacy, flexibility and lowers the on-going cost of creating images: once you own a digital camera, creating thousands of images entails essentially zero incremental cost. For the most part those images live on our hard-drives or somewhere in the cloud. We look at them on our tablets or smartphones, swiping right or left to skim past dozens or hundreds of images in a few minutes. How much thought and consideration can you give to an image you swipe past in a second or two? How easily can you consider your composition, your use of colour, of light and shadow when seen for an instant on a 4-inch screen?

Printing your work at even modest sizes, holding that print in your hands, allows you (in fact forces you) to consider your image more thoroughly; it forces you to slow down. You will see things in a printed image that might remain unseen on a smartphone or tablet; you’ll find yourself asking, “What could I do better” “How can I improve this image?” .

“Printing your work helps you become a better photographer”.

Historically, the print has always been the ultimate expression of the photographer’s art. When you print your work, you complete the artistic process by taking control of the final expression of your image. A fine print possesses tactile and aesthetic qualities that you control with decisions in post-processing on image size, paper choice and presentation method. These decisions are yours when you print your own work.

Printing your work begins the process of creating a long-lasting record of your development as an artist. Sharing prints with others allows to you to share your vision of the world around you with a tactile, long-lasting medium that will likely be around long after your ephemeral digital files are forgotten or lost in some unreadable hard-drive or long-gone cloud service. Your life experiences, and those of your family are too important not to be committed to archival prints with an expected life up to 200 years or more.

Admittedly, printing your work involves climbing a learning curve; fortunately, it’s not that steep or long. You will also have to acquire a capable printer, which is not without additional cost. If you are serious about becoming the best photographer you can, once you have a assembled a basic kit, the next purchase you should consider is a printer rather than the latest camera body laden with features you probably aren’t going to use anyway.

Print your work! Share it, give it away, frame it or just pin it to the wall… but print your work.

The next session of my fine-art printing course begins Friday, November 3rd. More at http://bit.ly/2lyTlvy

A Simple Thought and the Forgotten -ALT

Sometimes the simplest things, the most obvious things, are the things of which we need to remind ourselves most often. A few weeks ago we had a brief break in our usually grey winter days here in Vancouver. By late afternoon I noticed broken clouds filling in on the horizon to the west; the kind of clouds that often produce some interesting sunset possibilities. So I headed down to a point of land a short walk from my home. I arrived there to find a group of photographers setting up for the approaching sunset; big tripods and long lenses everywhere. For me, there was also an obvious wide-angle composition; nice, but nothing out of the ordinary.

After working that for a bit, I moved on, eventually heading back to find the same group; still busy shooting the setting sun with long lenses. So intent on this one possibility, it was apparent than none of them had thought to look behind them at the incredible light developing on the harbour and distant mountain.

We all love to shoot sunsets, after all who can resist a spectacular sunset? The problem though, is that absent a defining landmark, most look like they might have been shot anywhere in the world. The first image above could have just as easily been shot on the coast of France, or a few hundred meters from by back door. Turning your gaze 180 degrees often produces more interesting results that say more about the place where you find yourself. The Light on the Land is often more interesting than the Light itself. It's always worth a look behind you before moving on to your next location.

The Forgotten ALT Key

Lightroom has become (as for many others), my primary image adjustment tool. I can’t imagine life without it. But when I get together with other photographers, I’m surprised to hear how few of them know of the hidden power contained within the -ALT key (“Option” on a Mac). Here are a few of my favourite -ALT key shortcuts.

Epson Legacy Baryta Paper mini-review

Some months after the introduction of the Surecolor P-series printers, Epson revamped their line of high quality fine-art papers. The Legacy line of papers fills in some perceived gaps in their lineup that were perhaps being filled by third-party papers rather than their own. There are four new papers in this line; all are either completely OBA free, or make only limited use of these Optical Brightening Agents. As a result, these papers have very high archival properties. Of the four, I have been working exclusively with the Legacy Baryta for some time now and can offer some impressions.

Image quality

This is paper contains only modest amount of Optical Brightening Agents and because of this it has a brighter white surface tone than the others in the line-up. Up until now, my go-to papers for high quality prints have been a mix of Ilford Gold Fibre Silk, Canson Baryta Photographique or Epson Exhibition Fiber (although for some time now I have been working almost exclusively with Exhibition Fiber. The Legacy Baryta meets or somewhat exceeds the total colour gamut of these papers, but reproduces a noticeably deeper black. Comparing the profiles for each these papers using Chromix Color Think 3-D graphing software bears this impression out. The ability to reproduce deeper blacks translates into richer and deeper more subtle tonality in prints. Using the Outback Photo Printer Test image (reproduced below and available here; scroll to near the bottom to download the 40 Mb .TIF file), when printed on my P800 using the standard Epson profile for this printer and paper combination, I see very smooth tonal gradations in the grey-scale and color ramps Skin tones are pretty much spot on, reds are reproduced cleanly with little evidence of blocking up. It also exhibits excellent differentiation and neutrality in the darkest shadows.

Having printed many images with this paper, my subjective impression is that in general colours appear richer, with greater differentiation of subtle tonal differences than the papers I have used in the past. While it may not by immediately evident in the small jpeg below, the image contains a wide range of subtle variations in the blues and blue-green tones in the ocean water; these appear richer and have subjectively greater purity than with other papers. At the other end of the tonal scale, the beach pebbles are reproduced with all the rich shadow detail visible in the original image. Also of note, in contrast with other papers like Exhibition Fiber, Legacy Baryta required virtually no soft-proofing adjustments to match the monitor image with this paper. This is extraordinary. Soft-proof adjustments are virtually always needed to produce a print matching my expectations: a testament to both the quality of the paper and the profile Epson provides for the P800.

Hvar Island, Croatia

Feel and Handling

The paper has an exceptionally smooth finish, much smoother than the subtle “tooth” of Exhibition Fibre. This is a luster surface paper with a subtle and very uniform sheen, however it shows much less tendency to reflect hotspots from the ambient illumination than other luster papers. The most pleasant surprise with Legacy Baryta was this: it lies flat! Exhibition fiber (and other papers I have used) has a tendency to curl across the short dimension. When fed into a printer like the P800 the left and right edges of the paper lift slightly, at times causing the print head to strike the edges as it passes over them on each back and forth pass of the head. This can be mitigated to some degree by widening the platen gap in the printer, but it is not always possible to eliminate this entirely. Head strikes are not a good thing at the best of times; Legacy Baryta virtually eliminates this as a possibility. Legacy Baryta is a high quality fine-art paper, and priced accordingly; you will likely not want to use this for every-day work prints. However, If you are searching for a paper with an extremely wide-gamut, deep blacks and excellent archival properties Legacy Baryta is definitely worth trying.

Epson Surecolor P800 mini-review

Last August I retired one of my older printers, an Epson 3800 and replaced it with the new Epson Surecolor P800. I skipped over the 3880 as I never really thought it worth the cost, being as it was only a modest upgrade over its predecessor. The P800 however is a very significant jump forward: the difference is real and very apparent in side-by-side print evaluations. The P800 has a wider colour gamut and can reproduce darker blacks (higher dMax) than either the 3880 or the 3800. On this alone I give it my unreserved recommendation.

But beyond this, the nicest surprise was to learn that the printer’s paper handling abilities have been significantly enhanced as well. Where the 3800 would struggle to load certain papers, the P800 never seems to miss a beat. Also of note: the cantankerous front-load option of the 3800 (used to load heavier fine art papers), which I could never get to work reliably, is now redesigned and works flawlessly. Another welcome addition to this printer is the ability to handle paper in rolls through an optional (extra cost) roll feed adapter. If you like to print full-frame 16X24 inch images, you have likely been frustrated by the various paper manufacturers insistence on sticking to standard the US or European paper sizes used for office documents, rather than standard photo print sizes. Only one paper manufacturer I am aware of makes high quality fine art papers in a 17X25 inch sheet size (Harman). The largest 17 inch wide offerings from all others is 17X22, allowing you a printed image of only 14X21 with similar left/right 1/2 inch borders. Purchasing your favourite paper in a 17 inch roll allows you to print not only full-frame 16X24 images, but 17 inch panoramas up to 6, 7, 10 feet or more (Epson is a bit cagey about the maximum printable length. On a Win10 PC I can set a print length of 10 feet with no problems. Suffice it say that the maximum length is likely more than you will ever need with a 17 inch printer.

In general the P800 just feels better designed and more robust than its predecessors.  This is just a subjective personal observation,  but here is an objective example; soon after I purchased the 3800, the flimsy plastic latch tab broke off the front panel door, preventing the door panel from latching correctly, and making it necessary to prop the door closed at an awkward angle. In contrast, the P800 design makes use of a simple magnetic catch: there is nothing to break off.   Brilliant!

I give the P800 a hearty "thumbs-up" recommendation for anyone looking for a high quality 17 inch wide printer.

A Very Useful App

As a photographer, the position of the sun (or the moon) at different times of the day is something that concerns you. Knowing when and from which direction either will rise or set, is important information particularly if you shoot landscapes. You can certainly check the local newspaper or google sunrise and set times for your location. But how about having this information at your finger-tips for your exact location, anywhere in the world? How about being able to predict exactly where the sun or moon will rise or set on any given day in relation to a particular foreground subject? How about being able to search for exact time when the sun or moon will be in a particular position in the sky?

I carry this information in my pocket, everywhere I go, in the form of an incredibly useful app for iOS (also Android) called “The Photographer’s Ephemeris”. It’s available for about $12 from the iTunes store. If you shoot landscapes, this could well be the best 12 bucks you spend all year.

The basic functions are easy to master: sunrise/sunset and moonrise/moonset times and directions are all pretty straightforward. More advanced functions such as searching for the specific sun/moon positions might require a glance through the online documentation, but that’s not really difficult either. Over the years, additional functionality has been added to the program: there is now a night mode which can be used to predict the rise time and position of the Milky Way and Galactic Center if you are so inclined. There are other applications available with more extensive functionality, but “TPE” and its intuitive interface is my go-to app to answer these basic questions.

Have a look at the screen capture below: it’s set for the time and place of the image above (a few miles from my home). The yellow line on the right shows the direction from which the Sun will rise, while the thin blue line shows the current direction to the Moon.

The band below the map indicated the times for various daily events of interest to photographers: sunrise/sunset, moonrise/moonset, the start and end of Civil twilight (the time for all those amazing blue hour shots), as well as the end of, and beginning of Astronomical twilight (between these times the sky will be dark enough for those amazing star-trail and Milky Way shots). Finally, the box below this band shows the current time (7:10am) and indicates the current direction and altitude of the moon and sun (the sun is just below the horizon, the moon ~6 degrees above).

Using the built-in compass in my iPhone ahead of time gave me the general compass direction of the mountain peak in the distance, and using TPE to search for a time just before sunrise when the moon would be high enough in the sky, in the appropriate direction to complete the image I had in my mind gave me several days when these conditions would be met. Now all I had to do was show up and hope for clear skies… not all that common in Vancouver during the winter! On this day however, the stars aligned and I was treated to one of the most spectacular pre-dawn displays I have ever seen from this location.

A side-note: If you want to include a crescent moon in your pre-dawn/sunrise images, start looking for this a day or two ahead of the new moon. A few days later, you should be able to catch a crescent moon hanging above the western horizon in a cobalt blue sky, some time after the sun has set. The rise and set directions for the moon vary greatly over the course of each month; much more so than the sun on it’s annual trek. So, while the newspaper may be able to tell you when the moon will rise or set, you will need TPE to tell you where it will rise and set each day. There is also a free web app version if you would like to give it a try before buying, just go to photoephemeris.com.