Photography and Art

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Eric Meola

Yesterday was a pretty dull day around the office. My job mostly involves meetings and there's no one here to meet with, so I decided to download some content management software called Joomla and play around with it. This type of software is designed to make it easy to create and maintain small web sites and it works pretty well. I was able to download the software, install it and build a first iteration of a personal web site in about a day. The site wasn't pretty, but with another week or so of tweaking, it could be.

This morning, I checked out one of my favourite photography sites and Mike Johnston was blogging about Eric Meola's new book on India. From Mike's blog, I travelled to Eric's web site and was really blown away by both the quality of the photography and the quality of the web site. Normally, I'm not a huge fan of web sites written in Flash. People normally go overboard with animation and navigation really sucks, but whoever did Eric's site kept it really simple and elegant. The design is visually stunning and the colour photography is gorgeous.

I think I'm going to have to spend more time to build a really good website. When you see something like Eric's site, it really shows how top artists think through everything about their work in great detail, including the presentation.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Paths to Obsession

I spent a very nice day last Saturday relaxing in my cottage just outside the town of Haliburton. I had two good books that represented the ying and yang of current photography. On one hand, we had Mountain Light by Galen Rowell and on the other hand we had Photoshop CS4 Workflow: The Digital Phtographer's Guide by Tim Grey. These books could not have been more different if I'd selected them on purpose, but they both were Christmas gifts so it was serendipty at work.

Let me explain why these two books are polar opposites. On one hand, we have Galen Rowell, mountain photographer deluxe, who had a wonderful career as a mountain climber, traveller, National Geographic photographer and writer until he was tragically killed in an airplane crash at age 62. Rowell obsessed over the capture of the image and his book is full of details about how he followed the light and got the right exposure and depth of field to obtain the correct lighting and composition. He would be sent out in the field by National Geographic with dozens of rolls of slide film and would stalk light like a hunter stalks his prey. After capturing hundreds of shots of his subjects, he would send the exposed film to his publisher and wait months to see which shots (if any) had been selected for publication. Meanwhile, he would be on his way to his next assignment and would be enjoying himself out in the wilds taking pictures.

On the other hand, we have Tim Grey, photoshop expert deluxe, who makes his living writing about Adobe photoshop. Tim obsesses about the workflow involved in taking digital images from capture through to printing. His book is a wonderfully lucid explanation of all the parts of Photoshop that are useful to a photographer. He takes us through the basic image adjustments and all the way through advanced photo editing, including layers, masks and the fundamentals of non-destructive editing.

This brings me to the question of the day. If one's time is limited (and Galen Rowell's untimely departure suggests that the clock may even be ticking faster than we think), then where should we spend it? Should we spend it out in the field obsessing about the capture or should we spend it back in the photo studio obsessing about the digital developing and printing process?

Either activity could quite cheerfully occupy all the spare moments of my life that aren't spent working or hanging out with my family. Not only that, but both activities are enjoyable in their own way.

Let's take capturing images first. This is a set of pleasurable activities that can involve outdoor activities, travel, interesting gear and peace and quiet. Then there is the actual act of taking a picture. I don't know about you, but I get into a wonderful zone when I'm taking landscape pictures. My mind is at peace and I'm totally focused on the subject matter and the light.

However, there are barriers to the enjoyment of picture taking. First, there is the time element. You can't really get into the enjoyment of a good shoot without blocking off a few hours to drive or walk to a location, set up your gear and shoot. Second, there is the equipment issue. To do a decent job, you really have to anticipate conditions at the shoot and take the right cameras, lenses, filters, tripods etc. Rowell explains his selection of equipment at great length, so it was very important to him too. Finally, there's inertia. To get your butt out the door when weather conditions might be challenging or when it's dark and early before sunrise and everyone else is in a cozy bed is very difficult.

Developing and printing is a pleasure of a different sort. Taking a raw image and slowly and methodically building layer upon layer of adjustments to hone it to a final jewel and then printing it on beautiful paper is immensely satisfying. No wonder artists like Alain Briot spend hours and hours on each image. Briot, Grey and others have created this concept of a "master image" where you take a raw capture into Photoshop and build a pyramid of layers on top of it to refine it into a work of art. There are multiple curve layers, layers that adjust tonality in narrow ranges, dodging and burning layers, sharpening layers and masks on top of layers to narrow down the target of each adjustment. The artist can obsess over each individual pixel if necessary.

The beauty of this work is that it is done in the comfort of your home studio where it is cozy and warm. You can play tunes in the background. Just like any home workshop project, there is the satisfaction of seeing your work progress towards the finished product.

However, all is not wine and roses in the home studio. Every time you go on a digital shoot, you generate hundreds or even thousands of images. Sorting them, keywording them, trying to decide which ones to spend time on -- all these tasks are time-consuming and take you away from the pleasures of print-making. There is no editor waiting back at National Geographic to do all this for you - you are your own editor! Procrastination is futile as well. The work will just pile up and make you feel pressured. And this pastime is supposed to be fun!

I've been thinking about this for a few days and I think I've come up with a few guidelines to extract as much fun out of photography as possible as well as produce some very good work that, hopefully, others might enjoy and purchase from you:

  • Guideline #1: Take time for photography. People make time for golf, fishing, tennis and other activities, so why not photography? Book a half day away from your family and take off to a favourite location for a shoot. Prepare for your shoot just like you would prepare for a fishing trip - get your gear set up beforehand, get the car gassed up and leave early in the morning to capture that golden light at your location. If you'd enjoy some company, find some photography buddies that will come along with you. Take a picnic. Enjoy!
  • Guideline #2: Use the best tools to sort and categorize your photos. This job is a chore and you want to get over it quickly. Once your photos have been rated, sorted and keyworded, you can quickly focus on the keepers and not stress out about the other 90% of your images that didn't really work out. I've found Lightroom to be a wonderful tool for this job. I touched on the magic of Smart Collections in a previous post and find them to be a really good way of collecting your keepers by subject and organizing your workflow. The beauty of Lightroom smart collections is you can refine your workflow without having to go back and move images around - it is all done dynamically based on keywords and meta data.
  • Guideline #3: Know when to draw the line in the studio. There is a 90/10 rule at work here. If you're lucky enough to capture a really good image, chances are that you can get it print-ready with a minimal amount of development work. Not only that, but 90% of the changes needed can be obtained with 10% of the effort. Quick, accurate adjustments to exposure, white balance and contrast (using curves) can be all that's needed to make a good image work as a print. If you find yourself building a layer cake of hundreds of adjustment layers and masks, maybe your time would be better spent with an image that was a better capture in the first place!
My New Year's resolution in 2009 is to apply these three guidelines. I'm going to schedule more shoots and plan them out in advance so I can enjoy them to the full. I've already started to re-organize my workflow around Lightroom smart collections so I don't let the sheer quantity of digital images overwhelm me. And, I've decided that I will not succumb to the temptation of "polishing the stone". This is a term I sometimes use in my business life. It is all too easy to get into a business mode where a company spends all their time honing existing products and processes, losing total focus on innovation. I think photography offers the same trap. If you spend all your waking hours peering into the computer monitor trying to make a few images perfect, then you are missing out on all the enjoyment of getting out in the open air and taking photographs. That last 10% of fine adjustments that take all the time aren't really noticeable to your audience anyway, so why bother with them?

Monday, December 29, 2008

Update to the Lightroom Sharing Saga

Last week, I wrote a post about using the DOS SUBST command to fool Lightroom into thinking that a network drive was actually a local drive so that the catalog could be stored on a network drive.

Alas, although the technique worked inasmuch as I could access my catalog from both my computers (although not at the same time), the speed was agonizingly sloooooow. Lightroom took long pauses between any type of library or developing function. I guess the Adobe guys really made the application very chatty with the database.

My wired network is 100 Mbps (about 10 MBps in theory). USB 2.0 is 480 Mbps, nearly 5 times faster, so the solution seems to be to a) upgrade my wired network to gigabit (sounds expensive!) or b) go back to sharing the catalog via a USB hard drive. I'm going to use option b) until I have a better solution.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Calendars for Fallen Soldiers

I must admit to being conflicted over the war in Afghanistan. On one hand, I deplore violence and war in any and all forms. On the other hand, I oppose religious extremism, especially when it attempts to suppress the freedoms of other people. In Afghanistan, we have soldiers from North America fighting against the religious zealotry of the Taliban, so what is one to do? My view changes with the tides.

However, there is no arguing with the courage of the individual men and women of the American and Canadian armed forces who believe in the fight against the Taliban and who have put their lives on the line. As Canadians, we are saddened by the losses to the families whose loved ones fought and died in Afghanistan.

One man has decided to do something about it. His name is Shane Keating. His nephew died while serving in Afghanistan and Shane Sr. has devoted his life savings to publishing a memorial calendar to many of the Canadian fallen soldiers in honour of his nephew. You can read all about it here.

The calendar can be viewed at the (firmm stands for families in remembrance of military members) website. Like any other calendar, this one is full of photographs, but these are very special photographs, images of the soldiers that served their country and died doing it. Whether you share their cause, you must respect that they believed that what they were doing was right and just.

I was listening to a radio program about Shane Keating and they interviewed a mother of one of the soldiers featured in the calendar. She said that the photo in the calendar is her favourite one of her son, the one she carries around in her purse at all times.

How many calendars can you buy this year where the images are so precious as these?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Update on Sharing Lightroom on Two Computers

I recently wrote a post on my plans to share Lightroom on two computers, my primary editing machine in the family room and my primary printing machine in my studio. After much reading, I decided to place the catalog on a portable disk drive and schlep it between the two machines. This seems to work quite well - my files are spread between the two computers, but the catalog sees all the network files on both machines. However, there are three issues with this solution. Carrying the catalog up and down the stairs (not to mention connecting it and disconnecting it) is a pain in the butt. The portable disk is noticeably slower than a local disk. And, there is a bug somewhere in the Adobe code base that takes my network down whenever I try to edit a Lightroom file in Photoshop on my studio machine. The other computer blue screens.

The first two problems I can live with. The latter one is more troubling and I was looking for a solution when I found this article by Lightroom guru Denis Pagé.

He points out that you can get around the issue where Lightroom is programmed not to open a catalog on a network drive by using the DOS shell command SUBST to create a disk letter that is assigned to a network share. Lightroom will be fooled into thinking that the disk is local and will open the catalog. Denis warns against using this technique to support more than one person editing a catalog at a time and I intend to ensure that only one version of Lightroom is open at the same time. I will restrict the number of people who can share the catalog directory at the same time to 1.

I'll implement this over the holidays and let you know how it goes.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Online Editing

I've committed to teaching a photography class to about a dozen ten year-old kids next month at Art City, an organization that teaches underprivileged kids how to draw and paint. In preparing for this class, I've been wrestling with several issues:
  • How can I equip them all with cameras so they can have a meaningful hands-on learning experience?
  • How can I teach them to develop their digital photos after their shoot without all the complexity of Photoshop and/or Lightroom?
  • What will the enjoy as their first photo assignment?
I haven't thought too much about the third point yet, but I have made meaningful progress on the first two questions. After contacting local camera stores and camera vendors to see if they have any old cameras around that haven't sold, I pretty much gave up on that angle. The Christmas spirit doesn't seem plentiful in the camera retail space. Instead, I sent an e-mail to as many friends as I could think of asking them to dig out all the old 2-3 megapixel cameras that had been abandoned in drawers and the response was very heartening. I think I may be able to scrape up enough cameras for the course.

As far as the second point goes, there is good news there too. Adobe has a very good online editing system at You have to have an Adobe ID to use the site, but I don't think that will be an issue. There are two things that make the Photoshop Express site really terrific for young photographers:
  • To use it, you only need a decent Internet connection. Art City has an arrangement with a nearby cooperative housing development who have a nice facility with a small network of computers hooked up to a high-speed line, so this will work nicely. The rest of the time, the kids can book a computer at the local library.
  • The user interface on Photoshop Express is BRILLIANT for non-expert users. Kudos to the gang at Adobe for totally re-thinking the problem and breaking the mold completely. If you haven't tried this yourself, check it out. Here's an example: suppose you want to change the exposure on your photograph. Using a tool like photoshop or lightroom, you'd change exposure using a slider and see the impact on your photo by looking at both the image itself and the histogram. This is wonderful if you know what a histogram is used for. With Photoshop Express, you get a series of thumbnails all representing a different exposure of the image. As you click on each one, you see the results in the image itself. You can very quickly try them all out and pick the one that looks the most pleasing. This technique is used for all the major image adjustments. Very clever!
I'm looking forward to the photo class very much. The kids will each be given an old digital camera and enough instruction to make them dangerous, then they'll all head out to shoot their project. After the shoot, we'll upload their photos to Photoshop Express and they can learn the rudiments of digital photo enhancement. After that, we'll pick a few photos and make some prints.

It should be a fun day!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Winter is Here!

Winter Sunset - (c) Huw Morgan

Winter is here. There is a blizzard raging outside our office windows and it looks like we'll get 15-20 centimeters of snow. How nice! I just talked to the HR Director and we agreed it would be a good idea to send everyone home at noon.

Winter provides lots of opportunities for photography and I'm looking forward to spending some time in Haliburton where the winter countryside is very photogenic. I really do feel so sorry for you if you live in the sunny south :-)

Wetland in Winter - (c) Huw Morgan

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Travel Photography of the Year Awards

Private Conversations - Quebec (c) Huw Morgan

Like many of you I love to travel and take photographs wherever I go. Some photographers really excel at this genre and it is a pleasure to look at their work. This brings me to a recent discovery (courtesy of Rob Galbraith): the Travel Photography of the Year web site and awards.

The 2008 winners have been announced and the grand prize winner is a Canadian. Darwin Wiggett won the top prize for his photos of the Canadian Rockies. The photos are lovely, but I'm more of a fan of travel photos that feature people (as you can see from my Quebec photo above). The winners' gallery also has some remarkable work by Charlie Mahoney of the USA who submitted a portfolio of a couple of elderly Irish farmers who look like they are living in the 19th century. Here's a link to Charlie Mahoney's website. His complete Irish portfolio and the story of the two Irish brothers who are featured in it are on the site.

I also liked Adam Balcy's photos of clouds and many of the images in the Joy of Travel section. Have a look yourself and see what you like. This is a great opportunity to see how other people interpret their travels and create wonderful images.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

How to Win at eBay

Ken Rockwell often swims against the tide. He is a prolific writer who sometimes gets it right and often takes an extreme view that is just plain wrong (e.g. his preference for creating jpegs over raw images).

Today, he has published a very long treatise on purchasing items on eBay and I found it full of terrific advice for the online shopper. He covers bidding strategy, how to check out the seller and how to make sure you're getting what you want.

This article is very well researched and written and it is FREE. Highly Recommended. Read it here.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Peter Brown

One of the side benefits of working just west of downtown Toronto is the proximity of several good photo galleries on Queen Street West. Last month, I had the pleasure of ogling the photography of Peter Brown at the Stephen Bulger Gallery. This show really struck a chord with me because I just love farm countryside and Brown does just a wonderful job of capturing the mood of the plains. There is a sense of desolation and grandeur that is more powerful to me than the highest mountains or the loneliest lakes.

Sunset on the White House - (c) Huw Morgan

I've been busy over the last few years taking photos in a series I call "The Road North" depicting the rolling farmland between city (Toronto) and the Canadian shield to the north where people go each week-end to cottage. Most people drive through the country as fast as they can wanting to get to their destination in the least possible time. To my wife's chagrin, I prefer to wander up and down the side roads, frequently stopping to take photos of interesting farms and road-side attractions.

Seeing Peter Brown's work was very affirming. It seems there's an audience for subtle images of the countryside, a subject that isn't as spectacular as the great scenic vistas that captivated Ansel Adams and his followers.

The good news is that Peter Brown has published a book called West of Last Chance. The Online Photographer features a review and you can buy it here. It would make a great Christmas present to yourself and you deserve it!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Virtual Housecleaning

I spent the week-end housecleaning. No, not the usual kind of housecleaning with dusters and mops, I mean the virtual kind. For over a year now, ever since I got a second computer and moved my older machine into my basement studio along with my printer, I've been meaning to get my networking act together. Believe it or not, despite my day job as a CTO, I've been running separate file systems on both computers, two Lightroom catalogs and using sneakernet (copying files onto a CF card and then taking them downstairs) to transport files between the computers. I like to edit on the faster machine in the family room where I can keep an eye on the TV and chat with the family and then do my printing downstairs. But, this practice played havoc with my filing system. I had no idea where the latest copy of each master file was because I often took what I thought was a finished image and then tweaked it after seeing printer proofs. I did try to network the two computers together using a wireless network, but the speed wasn't up to par and it wasn't practical to mount network drives and copy files that way.

So, this week-end, I bit the bullet and ran good old cat-5 cable from my upstairs computer to a switch in the basement and then from there on to my downstairs computer. Then, it was time to adopt a single Lightroom catalog to track all my files. Here's how I did that in case you are wondering about networking and Lightroom.

  • First, I made sure that there were no drive letters in common between the two computers (to ensure that Lightroom could see the same drive letter from each computer). I went into the Vista system administration part of control panel and re-labelled disks on my old computer.
  • Then, I mapped network drives between the two computers so that each computer can see the photo folders on the other. To do this, I had to a) right click on each of the main photo folders and share them, b) go into the security tab of each folder and make sure that the special user "everyone" could have full read/write access to them and finally, c) go into my firewall software on each machine to ensure that both computers were letting the other one through. Needless to say, I don't envy the non-technical person trying to sort this out.
  • To consolidate my Lightroom catalog, I decided to use the upstairs computer as the main one and then exported all the catalog elements from the studio computer and imported them into the upstairs catalog. I backed the catalog up at this point to make sure I had all these changes saved.
  • After reading lots of articles about networking Lightroom (Lightroom is built around a lightweight SQL database that doesn't support the locking operations that you need for multi-user operation and the programmers specifically put code into the product that stops you from using a catalog on a network drive), I decided not to try one of several work-arounds. Instead, I copied the catalog to a USB hard drive and will use that to store my main catalog. Typically, I'm either in photo editing mode (upstairs) or photo printing mode (downstairs studio), so it will be practical for me to unmount the USB drive from one computer and mount it on the other. That way, I'll be able to use the same catalog on both machines and any changes I make to tweak images for printing will be reflected in the master image in the catalog. As long as I take care to right click on the USB drive and choose the "safely remove" option before unplugging it, my Lightroom catalog should retain its integrity.
After consolidating my catalog, I had an hour or so to do a little data mining. As a follow-up to my last post on smart collections, here's the fun part of the project. Once your smart collections have been set up to capture tagged images, it is a blast to go over all your images to tag them with keywords. Through the magic of smart collections, as soon as you tag an image with a keyword, it shows up in the appropriate collection.

And there you have it, a week-end's spring cleaning for my computer network and I now have that nice feeling of having my shit together. My images are in one place and I can actually find stuff. Thanks to smart collections, my projects are all together and I can now do some portfolio printing without scrambling around looking for images.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Lightroom Smart Collections

Toronto Outdoor Art in Context - Here Comes the Sun

Every now and then, a light goes on. A few days ago, I had a chance to view a very good tutorial on smart collections in Adobe Lightroom 2. I'm not going to describe what these are in any detail, so if you don't know, please view the tutorial here. The beauty of smart collections is that they are dynamic and change as the images in the Lightroom database change. For example, if you have created a smart collection of all the images ranked with four stars and then you change one of the images to three stars, the image immediately drops from the smart collection. If you have another collection of photos with the keyword "Ireland" and you tag an image in your library with the keyword "Ireland", then it will immediately show up in the smart collection.

I've been mulling this capability around in my mind and here's how I plan to use smart collections in my workflow:

  • First, I'm going to implement a new scoring system as follows:
    • One star for rejects (blurry, shots of my foot etc.)
    • Two stars for ordinary photos (nothing technically wrong, but no inspiration)
    • Three stars for photos with promise, but with a technical flaw (e.g. in need of cropping)
    • Four stars for photos that work
    • Five stars for photos that are portfolio-worthy.
  • Next, I'm going to use flagged/unflagged to indicate if the photo has been developed and is ready for posting/printing
  • I'm going to set up smart collections as follows:

    • For each of my current and past photo projects, I'm going to set up a new collection set. For example, I'm working on a project called Toronto Outdoor Art in Context and will create a new set for that.
    • I'll go through my library and assign a keyword to every image in the project. In this case, the keyword will be Toronto Found Art.
    • Inside each set, I'll set up a bunch of smart collections. Each one will pull images from the database with the keyword I've selected for the project.
    • One smart collection will look for images with less than one star. These will correspond to new images that I haven't ranked yet.
    • One smart collection will look for images four stars or greater that are unflagged. These will be the images that are queued up for developing.
    • Another smart collection will look for flagged images with five stars. These are the portfolio-worthy images that are ready for printing and posting to my web site.
By arranging my collections this way, I'll solve a problem that has hounded me since I started serious photography back in 2004: finding all the photos in a particular project and sorting them into the keepers and the throw-aways.

Assigning keywords to every image in your library sounds painful, but in practice it goes fairly quickly. Usually photos in a project appear sequentially in your folders, so you can just highlight a block of photos at a time, mouse over the keyword that you want to assign, right click and choose "apply keyword to all selected photos". My goal is only to assign project-oriented keywords, not every tag under the sun.

If you haven't tried out Lightroom smart collections yet, give it a shot. It's a huge improvement over regular collections that are built by dragging and dropping images into the collection.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Yes Virginia

There is a Santa Claus. Can a major camera producer create a new sensor that has nearly double the pixel count (and reduce pixel pitch from 8 microns to 6.4 microns) AND actually improve low-noise ISO performance? The answer is now out and it is a resounding YES.

Here's a test of the Canon 5d and the Canon 5d Mark II from DxO Labs that shows the improvements in basic sensor science over a three year period:

  • Colour depth improves from 22.9 to 23.7 (3.5%)
  • Dynamic range improves from 11.1 to 11.9 (7.2%)
  • Low-light ISO performance improves from 1368 to 1815 (32.7%)
  • No. of pixels goes from 12.8 meg to 21.1 meg (64.8%)
  • Pixel size goes from 8 microns to 6.4 micros (-20%)

So, there you have technology that nets a huge gain in sensor resolution AND improves all facets of sensor performance.

Isn't science grand?

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Quick Update for R1800/R1900 Users

Printing on thicker papers poses challenges to R1800/R1900 users. These printers produce wonderful results, but seem to have issues when top-loading thicker papers (like the Hahnemuhle photo rag baryta mentioned below). Here's a thread from a review of the R1800 that might be useful:

Email From Dave Brown:

Hi Folks,
Just a note tonight to help solve a problem a lot of people seem to be
having with the Epson R1800 Printer when trying to print on heavier
stock Fine Art Papers, such as Hahnemuhle, etc.. Anyway, just bring up a
photo to print. When Print Preferences Box opens, go to Maintenance Tab
and select the bottom button, called Printer and Option Information.
Click on it and the Printer and Option Information Box opens, and low
and behold, there at the bottom on the left is an unchecked box with
"Thick Paper" beside it. Check this box, and your problems with printing
heavier Fine Art Papers are over. And also, I have been feeding them
into the top of the printer just like regular paper, and not at the
back. Give it a try for yourself......Leave it to Epson to NOT mention
this in the User's Guide that comes with this excellent
printer!!.......Maybe you might like to help spread the good word?
Happppy Printing!! Dave

Fredrik: I tried Dave's tip, and yes it does work. To be sure, I emailed Epson to find out if this would harm the printer.

Email from Epson: In answer to your enquiry, the Thicker media setting you have selected is mainly for use when printing on envelopes. For the heavier weight paper such as the Fine art paper. This should only be loaded through the rear manual feed as this reduces the strain on the paper feed mechanism as it does not need to bend the paper as much.

New Papers

Until recently, most of the camera stores in my city (Toronto) sold a variety of brands of ink jet paper ranging from Hahnemuhle at the expensive end down to Premier Imaging at the lower end of the price scale. But, as the song goes, there's a new kid in town.

I buy most of my paper and ink at CCBC, a small outfit that focuses on computer-related consumables (paper, ink, DVD's) and often has the best prices around. They have a small retail outlet in Toronto and also sell lots of stuff on the web. I was in the store the other day and they were featuring paper from Inkpress Paper. Since then, I've seen the same paper in Vistek and Henry's Camera, so the word is getting out. I was really impressed with the sheer variety of the Inkpress product offerings. They have a professional line with three papers (warm baryta, pro gloss and pro silky) and a regular line of 24 (!) types of paper, ranging from matte paper to self-adhesive vinyl. Want canvas? Got it. Want natural cotton rag? Got that too. The range is awesome.

You can buy a sampler pack for each product line (see product list here) and I did just that. So far, I've done test prints (using the image above that has a good range of shadows, highlights and colours) on the warm baryta paper and the Pro Silky paper. The images were quite stunning, although the profiles produced distinctly varied results. The baryta profile was quite true to the image, but the silky paper image looked to have too much yellow in it. I'll have to tinker and see if I can find an Epson profile that does better. I've often had success in using the Epson profiles as a substitute for wonky profiles from other vendors. However, I was very pleased with the look of the pictures on both of these papers. The baryta paper is very warm in tone and the surface is lovely. There is a real depth to this paper and the photo looks quite three dimensional. There appears to be a very good range of tonality. The silky paper is much whiter and looks to be a very high quality semi-gloss. I'll keep printing and let you know what I find out.

The paper that I've been lusting after is Hahnemuele Photo Rag Baryta. This paper sounds like a dream come true - offering the deep blacks and three dimensional appearance of a baryta coating with the long-lasting properties of a cotton rag backing. Neil Snape says that the paper is "just right", not too glossy but still capable of rendering prints with that transparent look where the paper disappears and lets you wander around in the photograph. Here's his full review.

The good news is that this paper seems to be in stock at retailers. Here's a link to Vistek's listings. I think I might buy some :-)

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Celebrity Photographs

Is it wrong to use your position as wife or girlfriend of a celebrity to sell candid books and photographs? Is it OK to capitalize on fame in one field (e.g. music) by taking photos of your rich and famous friends? Do you get to call yourself a serious photographic artist if you use your position to gain access to famous subjects?

Several recent developments have got me to thinking about these issues. First, we have an exhibit going on in Toronto and New York of the photographs of Pattie Boyd. Now sixty-something, Pattie was a famous fashion model in the swinging sixties who got a bit part in a Beatles movie and met George Harrison. She married George, divorced him and then married Eric Clapton. After a tumultuous marriage with Eric, she divorced him as well. Her life and times has now been captured in a tell-all potboiler called Wonderful Tonight, Eric Clapton, George Harrison and me.

While all this was going on, Pattie was taking photographs. From what I can see from her work, she started out taking snapshots and got more and more serious about it and is now making her living as a professional photographer. Her exhibit in Toronto is called Through the Eye of a Muse and runs through to the end of the year in the Great Hall gallery on Queen Street. The title refers to her role as muse to Harrison and Clapton, inspiring great songs like Layla, Wonderfull Tonight and Something. You can see some of her photos here at the Beatlemania Shop.

Have a look at the galleries and see if you think she's a rip-off artist selling private family snaps for $2,000 plus or whether you think there is a talented artist at work here. My opinion is mixed. There are some photos that scream "snapshot" and really don't add much to my understanding of the subjects. But, just when you begin to write Pattie off as an exploitation artist, you run across a picture of Eric Clapton on stage that captures the feeling of a musician on stage to a tee. It conveys the loneliness of a man on-stage with his music.

To me, this is consistent with someone who may have started with home snapshots, but evolved over time, as her skills grew, to a very good portrait artist indeed.

Coincidentally with Boyd's exhibition, there were a couple of other announcements in the same vein. May Pang has just published a book of snapshots of John Lennon called Instamatic Karma. Pang had an 18 month affair with John Lennon while he was separated from Yoko Ono. Here we have someone who has no pretensions to artistry who has accumulated a set of snapshots that cover an interesting time in the life of a public figure. I have no issue with this at all - as far as I'm aware, she isn't selling limited edition prints of Lennon for over $2,000 a pop and the book is there for its entertainment value.

At the same time, we have rockstar/photographer Bryan Adams opening up an exhibition at Britain's National Portrait Gallery called Modern Muses. This falls into another category indeed. Adams is a serious fashion and portrait photographer and an exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery is quite a feather in his cap. His photos are beautifully crafted and the subject matter consists of some of the most interesting women in the world.

Coming back to Boyd, we see someone caught in the middle between May Pang and Bryan Adams. On one hand, you have Pattie Boyd, the single woman who needs to make a living, exploiting her older photos for financial gain and passing them off as fine art. On the other hand, you have Pattie Boyd the working photographer who has learned her craft and has created some very nice work. She continues to produce interesting photographs, like a recent picture of Jeff Beck with his hot rod cars. I found it fascinating that the asking prices for her recent photos (e.g. a picture of some monks) were half that of her snaps of famous people. That implies a 100% premium mark-up for celebrity.

Is Pattie Boyd a serious artist or an exploiter of old relationships? The only answer is "yes". She is both. I'm not sure I'd shell out a couple of grand for an old Beatle snapshot, but certainly her recent work is well-crafted and worth the price tag.