Photography and Art

Monday, March 30, 2009

Digital Printing on Demand

Today's New York Times features an article on a new service from Hewlett-Packard called MagCloud. This is a very exciting development. For those of us that really like photo magazines, it is now possible to publish a magazine and not worry about print run sizes at all. HP makes presses that don't use plates, so the set-up cost is virtually nil - the printer just loads your electronic magazine into the press computer, sets the number of copies and out comes your magazine printed on 80lb. paper, saddle-stitched.

The cost at 20 cents a page is quite reasonable too. You get to establish your selling price (and hence profit margin) and HP markets the magazine for you as well.

Here are some photographic magazines that are being sold on the MagCloud site. They range from International Photographer Issue #1, a serious attempt to launch on ongoing periodical, to Brian Patterson Digital Photography, a magazine featuring a selection of one artist's work.

Anything goes, anything is possible. You're limited only by your imagination!

Recently, some of my images were selected to illustrate Rails Magazine, a new magazine about the Ruby on Rails programming environment. The editor of Rails Magazine is using the MagCloud printing service to distribute paper editions of the magazine. you can see the magazine with my illustrations here. I thought I'd like a copy of the magazine, so I placed an order using Paypal. The magazine cost $8.00 with another $3.00 shipping for Canada and the magazine was going to be printed (quantity 1) and shipped so it would arrive within 7 days. Pretty impressive!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

New Web Site

I just finished my second generation web site. I needed a place to market my photographs and it was also fun to work on a web-site trying to use the latest xhtml and css techniques. The web site is very simple in design, but it uses no tables and conforms to strict html 4.01 guidelines with proper end tags and without deprecated parameters or tags. 

When I was working on the web site, I found a great source of html documentation at I highly recommend it.

My site is hosted at This is a fine Canadian hosting company that takes good care of its customers.

Please visit my web site and, if you like the images, please feel free to order a print. Drop me a line at

Friday, March 13, 2009

A Speculation on Lightroom 3.0

Adobe Lightroom 1.0 was released on January 29th, 2007. Release 2.0 was born on July 29th, 2008. The beta appeared in April. It's hard to discover a pattern with so little data, but let's do some speculation for fun. Let's say that Adobe, a company that likes money and depends on new releases to generate some, wants to sell a new release of Lightroom every 18 months or so. This means that version 3.0 ought to be available on January 29th, 2010. Let's also surmise that the beta will appear four months before the official ship date. That would bring the beta announcement back to October, 2009. So, in just over six months, we'll have some excitement in the Lightroom universe.

Now for some more rampant speculation. What's going to be in the new release? Here are my predictions, based on what I've seen in the blogs and what I'd like to have:

  • Better performance. We've seen the introduction of graphic card acceleration in Photoshop and I'm sure the Lightroom guys are hard at work bringing this set of tricks into their product. I've now installed a fast graphics card and the impact on some aspects of Photoshop is amazing. Lightroom badly needs a shot of this lightning in a bottle.
  • Print Proofing. The print module in Lightroom is terrific except for one thing -- you can't proof your work to see if the conversion to the output ICC profile has resulted in something pleasing. Either this is a conspiracy between Adobe and the paper companies to force you to keep printing out proofs or this is something temporary that was waiting for quality developer time. I suggest we'll see this feature soon.
  • A Networkable Version. Knowing Adobe, there will be a "Pro" (i.e. expensive) version of Lightroom that will allow multiple users to share a catalog. This is a challenging project because it means that Adobe will have to find a database that they can ship inside their product that supports all the robust features needed for a multi-user environment. As someone who has tried to open a catalog on a network drive, I can also testify that the application is extremely chatty -- the database is continually being read from and written to. This chattiness will have to be damped down if the application is to be ported to a network. Some sort of local caching might be the solution. However, this is a huge opportunity for Adobe to grab some money from photographers who have a collaborative workflow, so look for it in the next release.
  • Improved masking. Local adjustments were a very welcome addition to Lightroom 2.0 and they generally work well. However, the masking capabilities of Lightroom are restricted to an automatic mode that doesn't suit all applications. It would be nice if there were ways of selecting elements of a photo (e.g. marquees, lassoes, colour pickers etc.) that would allow the setting of a manual mask.
  • Image Stretching. When taking photos of buildings with wide angle lenses, I frequently find myself reaching for that round trip through Photoshop to do a little bit of perspective adjustment or similar image stretching exercises. I'd like to see this capability inside Lightroom.
  • Expanded API. The current way of integrating third party applications into Lightroom sucks to put it mildly. Does anyone really want to chop their workflow into three distinct stages? Let's say you want to apply a third-party sharpening tool. Right now, you have to do your pre-work in Lightroom (e.g. import into the catalog, add keywords, ranking etc.), export the photo to the sharpening tool and then re-import the photo before you can apply the rest of the editing changes to it. The benefits of working on the raw file go out the window as soon as you export the file to the sharpening app. What's needed is a way for third-party tools to be able to operate on the raw file inside Lightroom via a safe API that allows the third party developer to see the internal data model of the image. I'd like to see the Lightroom panels to be expandable so that third-party applications can be added in just like you can add user-defined presets. Let's make it possible for a scenario like this to happen: I move to the develop section of Lightroom to start working on my image. On the right-hand panel, there is a new section called Plug-ins. I expand that section and click on Noise Ninja. The Noise Ninja control panel expands and allows me to fine-tune the noise reduction parameters before I apply them. Once I click on the "apply" button, Noise Ninja does its thing to the raw image. As with any other Lightroom adjustment, I can independently toggle between the before and after image to see what NN has done. The NN adjustment is totally non-destructive and can be undone at any time with no impact on any other adjustments. That's the scenario I'd like to see in the next release.
  • Better Integration with Photoshop. Real-time integration between software applications is not a new phenomenon. Microsoft has offered this in its Office line-up for years. Yet, Adobe seems to be having difficulties with this. To transfer a file to Photoshop, you have to export it to another format, work on it in Photoshop and then save it. Lightroom automatically imports it into the catalog as a completely different image. Why can't we have real-time cooperation between these applications? Let Photoshop open up a smart object that's a real-time view into the Lightroom catalog and image file. Let me make adjustments in Lightroom that show up immediately in the smart object in Photoshop. How about letting Photoshop write its adjustments back into the Lightroom catalog in real time as an overlay to the Lightroom edits? Of course, there would have to be limits, but Photoshop already has a working subset of functions that can applied via layers to a smart object.
  • Improvements to Smart Collections. Smart collections are brilliant. I love the ability to create dynamic collections based on image metadata. But, I'd like the user interface to be a little smoother. For example, how about sensing keystrokes when you're entering in a keyword and presenting you with a list of keywords that match the keystrokes so you don't have to remember the spelling of the keyword? This is pretty common practice for web applications. How about the ability to clone a smart collection and save it under a new name? This would speed up my ability to rapidly create smart collections that follow a template. Here's an example. For each of my portfolios, I create a series of smart collections that allows me to find stuff quickly. I put all the unrated photos with the portfolio keyword in one collection. I put the rejects (low-rated) into another. I put the print candidates into one collection and the ones that I've printed into another. I use this template for all my portfolios, but setting this up was a pain because I had to type in each one. It would have been nice to establish a pattern and then clone it for each portfolio. All that would have to be changed would be the keyword corresponding to the portfolio.
That's my wish list for now.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Joy of Being Green

St. Patrick's Day is coming up next week, so I thought I'd start early and celebrate the colour green. Yesterday, I talked about the difficulties that artists have when they paint or photograph scenery in the UK. The colour green is everywhere. It sometimes dominates to the detriment of the other image elements. You can get away from this by reducing your images to black and white or you can suck it up and strive for compositions and lighting that rises above all that green.

Last autumn, I had occasion to travel to England and Wales for the funeral of a favourite Uncle. He was nearly 90 when he died, but it was still a sad occasion. I decided to take the last day before flying back home to travel the back roads to London and visit a lovely aunt that lives in Gloucester. Fortunately, it turned out to be a lovely day and I was able to take a few nice photographs of the lush countryside. Here are four images that I quite liked. Note the presence of lots of that colour that starts with G.

My first stop on the journey was the Welsh town where I was born. It's called Ystalyfera and it's just to the north of Swansea on the Tawe River. This lovely misty shot was taken in a park that used to be a factory. I'm sure that when I was a toddler growing up in the town this factory was going full-tilt with smoke pouring out the stack. Now it looks very much like the ruin of some old monastery.

My father used to commute between Wales and England for a time, using an old motorbike. He suggested some lovely B roads that I could follow where I could see some lovely rolling countryside. Here's my favourite image from the roadside, with the sun low in the sky illuminating the sheep as the graze up on the hill. The trees are showing fall foliage and the sky has cleared. Here's a photo with more blue than green for a change!

At the end of the B roads, I turned onto a busy motorway and headed towards Gloucester. The sun was starting to set and as the road was going over a bridge, I noticed that some cars were parked on the verge beside the road just over the bridge. I parked at the end of the line and walked back over the bridge. This must be a prime fishing location because there were fishermen arranged along the river. I was struck with this beautiful view of Ross on Wye. The steeple reflected in the river and the puffy little clouds were just perfect. The scene looks very tranquil, but I was standing on a bridge with cars and trucks whizzing by me at high speed just a few feet away.

This is my favourite image from the day. The sun is setting to the right of the frame. These two fishermen are relaxing in the warmth of a fall day watching their lines. Ross on Wye is tucked into the top left of the image and all the lines are flowing from the fishermen at the bottom right diagonally towards the town. I don't think central casting could have found two more rustic looking fishermen than these.

When it came to printing these four images, I had an internal debate. With my new printer, I'm always thinking big, but somehow these little emerald jewels wanted to be printed as miniatures, so I ended up printing them as 4"x6" images and matting them in an 8"x10" frame. This way, they can be mounted as a collection of four smaller pieces. The colour green is actually an integrating element that makes them look like a matched set. The quality of the light is very similar for the four prints because the late autumn sun was low on the horizon all day. I printed them on Hahnemuhle Fine Art Pearl paper and they really pop quite nicely under light. They looked so nice that my wife surprised me by suggesting that we find a spot on the wall for them.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

James Ravilious

Thanks to Mike Johnston over at, I've just been introduced to the photographs of James Ravilious, an English photographer who died in 1999. Ravilious lived in a very rural part of Devon and was employed for nearly two decades by the local art centre to take pictures of the vanishing life of the traditional farmer. He spent his days chatting up the local farmers and watching them doing their chores in ways that had been handed down by generations. He captured it all on film and left a large heritage of black and white photos taken with his beaten-up Leica M3 camera. The photos make up a large portion of the Beaton archive.

Fortunately, there is a BBC documentary on Ravilious here. It's a lovely documentary and it fits quite neatly into a lunch break. Give yourself a treat this week and watch it.

One of the things that struck me about hearing Ravilious speak about his work is that I'm by no means the first person to be struck by the difficulty of photographing or painting English countryside (Duh!). Turns out that everyone who captures the English (or Welsh or Irish) landscape is challenged by all the greenery. You don't need many colours in your pallette to capture the fields and hedgerows! Green will just about do it. Of course, Ravilious got around all that by photographing in black and white. Suddenly the problem of all that green goes away and you're left with the subject matter, the composition and the light.

When I look at Ravilious' work (see online gallery here), I'm struck by the variety of life on the farm and in the town. These are not dull landscapes of sheep and hedges - they capture the busy essence of a farmer's life before machinery. The images are full of wonderful visual treats - the shadow of a tree juxtaposed with men playing a game on the street or a dog captured inside a frame made by the sides of a shed being moved by a farmer. The images are also full of people, captured with obvious fondness that is echoed back by the subjects.

My only regret is that four of his five books are out of print and quite scarce. A search on Amazon turned up a couple of books priced at $107, so they ain't cheap. Maybe someone will re-publish these lovely books one day.