Since launching Lightroom 1.0 in 2007, Adobe continues to add features that make it easier for photography pros to make prints—either on their own in-studio inkjet printers or through labs. Yet, many people continue to believe that Lightroom’s printing features aren’t as robust as those in Photoshop. In this interview, photographer and digital-imaging consultant Andrew Darlow talks about some of the “power-printing” features in Lightroom that can help you save time, materials, and file storage space.
The lighting you use in your photography is one of the keys to achieving outstanding results. One thing I have observed as photographers develop their skills is how quickly they become more sensitive to the effects of subtle adjustments in lighting. Novice photographers tend to be happy with gross lighting adjustments, but experience smooths this out.
Practice, practice, practice. Another thing I have noticed is that many professional photographers fail to practice their lighting skills. In other professions (e.g. surgeons, pilots, actors, firemen), there is an emphasis on regular practice sessions. In these sessions, working professionals refine their skills, work through potential problems, and experiment with new equipment. Yet many photographers fail to do this. This is a shame, because no matter how good you may be, it’s easy to get rusty, stale and complacent. Practice gives you a way to avoid these issues and continue to grow and develop your skills.
Practicing lighting skills can be done within your professional domain. A portrait photographer can offer portfolio shots to a model who agrees to be a subject for some experimental lighting setups. A product photographer can grab some stuff from home and set up a fake shoot. A landscape photographer can go to a well-known location and shoot it differently.
Lighting practice can also take place outside of your normal shooting domain. A portrait photographer can switch to macro for practice. At least things such as crystals don’t complain when you take too long, and you can slow bugs down by putting them in the fridge. Landscape photographers can setup tabletop scenes and practice their skills indoors. Wedding photographers can do some studio portrait work. And so on.
One benefit of practicing outside your normal domain is that you may discover some new techniques that can be adopted in your everyday work. Perhaps these discoveries will give you a new look and edginess that will help you stay competitive.
In other words, practicing contributes to your growth as a photographer. It takes you outside of your comfort zone. It is from this position that you can gain insights, new skills and get those breakthrough ideas that change the shape of your work.
No Such Thing as The Right Lighting: Remember that there is no such thing as right lighting, only the right lighting to produce the effect that you want. So if harsh side lighting works for you on a particular portrait, use it, even though it would not be part of the everyday setup for a portrait photographer. But to realize this you have to have tried it out and worked out for yourself exactly what you will get. So in your lighting practice you should not only try some of the different setups you see in books on photographic lighting, but you should also try as many other setups as you can think of.
How does doing landscape photography by moonlight look? Try it. How does a face look when lit only from directly above? Try it. How does a flower look when lit from inside the flower? Try it.
The average photographer follows the rules. The outstanding photographer knows when to break them and how to make up their own rules.
Experimentation Isn’t Costly. You don’t need to spend a lot of money to experience lighting from another domain. A tungsten light and a sheet of translucent fabric can simulate a large softbox, so you can see what it does.
Ten minutes and an LED light, some wire and a battery can create a great light for macro. A desklight with a cardboard snoot can make a spotlight. To get some intensive practice, you can rent both lighting equipment and complete studios in most cities. Or get together with a couple of other photographers and share your lighting gear. If you all have the same systems, you may be able to pool your portable flash gear and do some complex wireless flash setups. Some camera stores will have lighting workshops or in-shop setups where you can experiment with the gear and get a feeling for what you may need.
Broad education. To really try new to you lighting set ups requires that you know about them. This means looking outside of your domain. It may benefit you to do a workshop on macro, for example, so really come to grips with how they handle lighting. Books, magazines and websites can also help. The other education method is deconstruction. Find a killer image that seems to use different lighting than you are used to, analyze it and then try to reproduce it. Reproducing something is often the first step to moving beyond it.
Whatever type of photography you do, it is worth mastering the light needed for each image. After all the word photography itself refers to “imaging with light.” So it is natural that lighting is one of the keys to achieving outstanding results.
Although blogs and websites are great ways to pick up snippets of useful information and insights, reading (and writing) photography books can help put a lot of complex information into perspective. My newest book was published by Amphotos Books in August.
Entitled Camera Raw 101: Better Photos with Photoshop, Elements and Lightroom, it was written for any digital photographer who is interested in going beyond the preset options in the camera and is ready to take control over the creative process. The book provides the information you need to make RAW work for you, including setting up a preliminary workflow, using and automating Adobe Camera RAW, and basic and advanced conversion options. The book also includes a detailed comparison of Adobe Camera RAW features in Photoshop Elements and Photoshop CS4 and Lightroom 2.1. In the following excerpt from the book’s introduction, I explain why you should shoot RAW and suggest when RAW isn’t the best choice.
Why You Should Shoot Raw: When total control and the highest possible image quality are needed, RAW is the perfect format to use. The greater dynamic range, color depth, and post-capture editing capabilities make the RAW format the best choice in most situations.
RAW files shouldn’t be seen as the lazy person’s way to great images, though. A poorly composed image, an out-of-focus image, or one with gross exposure errors isn’t going to be magically transformed into a quality photograph because you were able to edit the RAW file. It is the responsibility of the photographer to capture the best possible image at the time of capture.
Advantages over JPEG and TIFF: RAW files free the photographer from having to be satisfied with what the camera thinks are the correct values for sharpening, noise reduction, and white balance. The differences can be startling! Since this information is all stored in addition to the file, it becomes possible to make changes to them after the fact. This is where the RAW format becomes so valuable.
When shooting in JPEG the camera processes the color values based on the current white balance setting in the camera to create a final image. The file is then compressed to save space using the current quality setting in the camera. RAW capture, on the other hand, does no color interpretation in-camera but depends on the RAW converter software to handle this task. Hence, you have much more freedom after the capture to either fine-tune the image or make corrections to basic problems, such as improperly set white balance.
RAW is the only capture method that preserves the full color fidelity of the image. With JPEG, you automatically throw away one third of the color information in your image. The sensor in most cameras records data as a 12- or 14-bit file, giving each pixel one of 4,096 levels or more of color. To take advantage of this, you’ll need to shoot in RAW mode. JPEG only supports 8 bits per pixel, reducing the possible colors to 256 per pixel. Less color information means that yu have less latitude when editing the image for final output.
JPEG is a lossy compression method. Every time a file is saved in the JPEG format it loses a little more fidelity.
JPEG and TIFF also apply sharpening and noise reduction at the time of capture. If you’ve set these incorrectly, and don’t catch the error, you have little choice in the edit phase. I strongly feel that the camera does not know what my intended use for an image is and should never be allowed to choose the sharpening or noise reductions it “thinks” I want.
Saving in camera in TIFF is becoming much less common in recent cameras. Although some, such as the Canon DSLRs, actually tag their RAW files as TIFF, these are not true TIFF files. TIFF, or Tagged Image File Format, is a standard file type for bitmap, or raster, data. Unlike JPEGs, TIFFs are not subject to lossy compression or to only 8 bits of color information. The file sizes are large; a 16-bit TIFF file will be about three times the size of the same RAW file, because TIFF is saved to 16 bits rather than the 12 or 14 bits recorded by the camera. The extra bit depth is an advantage over JPEG, but the same control issues that JPEG suffers from are present in TIFF capture as well. Color balance, sharpening, and noise reduction are all applied directly to the image at the time of capture. The only advantage that TIFF offers over JPEGs is color fidelity and lossless compression. To be honest, I can’t think of a single instance where saving a TIFF file in camera is a good option.
When RAW isn’t the Best Choice: There are times when the extra work involved with RAW processing can’t be justified. As an example, photojournalists will typically shoot in JPEG when shooting for assignments. The image files are smaller, important for quick transfer to the newsroom, and the JPEGs can be used with little or no extra work before publishing. Another time when JPEGs may be a better choice is when you are shooting youth sports events and want to make prints for sale right at the site. This is another case of speed being more important than quality.
I love to share information on digital imaging and photography, and I hope my new book reflects this passion. I’d love to hear from you with comments about Adobe Camera Raw or to share your experiences.
As I write this, I am in the middle of the month-long Ballarat International Foto Biennale (BFB). It got me thinking about all the various ways in which we can benefit from participating in events such as this.
There is one annual photo event I regularly attend, the Photo Marketing Association (PMA) trade show here in Australia, as well as the Ballarat International Foto Biennale (BFB) every second year.
The PMA Conference and Exposition: PMA in Australia (as I believe it is in the US and with similar shows in other countries) is actually a composite event. While the core activity is to enable photo-industry suppliers to meet with photo retailers and end customers, many other events run concurrently. While PMA runs workshops relevant to its members, two professional photography associations run meetings and print awards, and the Photo Imaging Educators Association runs their own sessions. Plus, various organizations take the opportunity to exhibit photography.
No matter which group is conducting the sessions, the training events at PMA not only provide great information but are also timed to enable you to network with other participants. Each of PMA’s affiliate organizations holds cocktail parties and get-togethers.
The best part of these networking opportunities is that you never know what will come out of meeting another photographer. I’ve discovered great ideas about new directions for my work, great workflow suggestions, selling tips, and much more.
Examining exhibitions of photography can provide similar benefits. You can learn something from looking at any photography, even if you simply learn what you don’t want to try.
The Ballarat International Foto Biennale: BIFB is a month-long festival of photography, with a core exhibition program, a fringe festival of associated photography exhibitions, and a workshop program. Workshops run at two locations and exhibitions are spread over the city of Ballarat (a regional city of about 80,000 people) and nearby towns, including major concentrations in Daylesford and Trentham. Various talks are also given.
Like the PMA event, the BIFB provides lots of stimulation for the creative juices. The workshops not only provide training but also networking and the opportunity to learn from other photographers. The exhibition program at BFB is extensive and if you can’t learn something from any group of exhibitions you are not trying.
Similar events to BFB are conducted all over the world. I attended Arles in France once and found it to be a similar, but more intense, experience. There are so many others events, including the New York Photo Festival.
At any such photo festival there will be many exhibitions from which to choose. Some will appeal to you, some will not, and others you will find by happy accident.
Plan Some, But Not All, Your Time: One good way to maximize the return on the time and money invested in attending a conference is to look through the program in advance and choose which workshops you must attend and the exhibits you must see.
At some festivals, you can buy a package that allows you attend a certain number of workshops. In this case, choose the ones you must but if you are allowed some extras, then I’d suggest almost choosing at random. Since you want to experience the happy accident (and you can’t predict in advance just what you will get out of it), almost any workshop will do if you don’t have to pay extra for it.
In the case of PMA, allocate enough time to see the trade show. Then in the time you have left, try wandering into exhibits or seminars that weren’t included on your “must-do” list.
Often, you will discover that exhibitions or seminars that don’t sound particularly worthwhile from the conference program will actually offer you something of value if you go.
At most festivals, it’s impossible to see every event, but if you leave some free time in your schedule, you’ll at least have the opportunity to discover something you weren’t expecting. And it could be something the changes your creative life. Believe me, it happens.
If you derive some or all of your income from photography, then attending some of these events can be tax deductible. Since they are usually held in interesting locations, your spouse may enjoy going along, too.
It is hard to overstate just how valuable these events can be to your career and development as a photographer. So make the time and travel if you have to.
Sometimes the greatest value of attending a festival comes from something small. It could be one part of an image in one exhibition that haunts you and pushes you in a new direction once you return home. Or, a discussion with a photographer might open up a whole new possibility. You never know quite just what will happen. But I do know that I am always stimulated and something unexpected always happens whenever I attend one of these photography events. Give it a go.
Photography is one of those subjects that no matter how long you have been doing it, there is always something new to learn. While many amateurs get concerned about how much there is to know and feel inadequate, a better approach is to embrace the fact that you can learn something new every single day and enjoy it.
Lifelong learning is a much talked about topic and, of course, we are constantly learning things without really trying. However, this is what I would call accidental learning. A more rewarding approach is to take control of your lifelong learning. You can not only make it a positive aspect of your life, but also a source of joy.
I try to make a point of learning at least one new thing every day about my passion areas, one of which is photography.
But you may think your life is already too busy: How is it possible to find time for study? This question says a lot about the way we think about learning and our personal histories. For most of us, learning is associated with sitting in a boring classroom at school or lecture auditorium at college and having information pushed at us. This need not be the case.
Let’s examine just some of the ways that I meet my goal of learning at least one new thing about photography each day:
· I read a number of mailing lists with discussions about photography, scanning the subject lines of digest emails (all the day’s comments in one email) to see what might interest (3 minutes per list);
· I do a Google search on some photography topic and then go visit one website at random that I do not recognize (5 – 10 minutes);
· When I am already out shooting I will try one thing that I do not commonly do, and see what happens (30 seconds to 5 minutes);
· I check the newsletter or RSS feed for some photography-related website and read an article online (10 to 20 minutes);
· I read an article in a photography journal (10 to 20 minutes);
· I go and explore a photography-oriented teaching site, such as the HP Learning Center (10 minutes to as long as you want).
Now I don’t do all of these on each day (except for the first one) but I do at least one of these a day and usually two of them.
The Internet is a great tool and sites such as the HP Learning Center are excellent resources. Go and have a look and see what is offered. You’ll find classes on everything from printing to Photoshop, plus a whole range of general computer skills. The great thing about online learning is that you can multi-task. I often dive into an online site while waiting for my computer to complete some other task, such as stitching a large panorama together, uploading major changes to a website I am working on, or rendering a complex 3D scene.
I can use what might otherwise be dead time to improve my photography knowledge or other skills.
It is also valuable to take face-to-face classes every so often. As someone who teaches workshops in everything from general computer skills to advanced photography topics (such as infrared photography), I see firsthand the benefits of interacting with other students and sharing knowledge. I try to attend a workshop as a student at least once every six months. Not only does it give me something to look forward to, but I also learn stuff, meet new people and have fun.
Another great way to learn is to teach. I’ve been teaching for over 30 years at the university and adult education level, and I have learned a great deal from my students. The process of teaching also forces me to think about a topic from many different perspectives, giving me insights I might never have considered. So I recommend sharing what you know. This could be done by mentoring someone who knows less than you, contributing to an online discussion group, or writing a tutorial and posting it on the appropriate website.
Learning can be (and should be) fun. But to reach that stage, many of us must get over our school-induced phobias. The rewards are worth it. You will feel like you are making steady progress, your photography will get better, and your joy level will increase. Sounds good, doesn’t it?