My sweetie and I did a two week trip down the Washington and Oregon coasts last month. For the most part the weather was not what I wanted for the images I wanted to make so in the vain of making lemonade etc. I did this image.
We had passed this memorial several times on the way to and from side trips to beaches and coastal towns. Finally I just had to stop and make an image of it. These types of roadside memorials are not common in my part of Canada.
The symbolism doesn’t need any explanations, I’ve never been a very deep photographer, but it was fun shooting it. One of the images actually has the cross and the name square in the drivers seat, very creepy. Not knowing what caused Ricky’s demise I didn’t want to symbolically tarnish his memory so haven’t used that image. But gee it sure looks cool.
The shot was taken with a Panasonic GX-7, a 14-42 Panasonic kit lens both majestically sitting atop my trusty Berlebach tripod.
I also inadvertently caused quite a bit of consternation with motorists who were screaming around the corner. I guess they thought I was a photo radar cop. So while the cross did nothing to slow anyone down, my presence with a camera did the job. Ricky’s mission may somehow now be complete.
Your always humble struggling artist/photographer/blogger has had an epiphany! Indeed the cosmos aligned even without the help of Seth MacFarlane and his new Cosmos series. What pray tell has ripped the blinders away from my clouded eyes?
Pixel peeping is a waste of time. There it is, I said it.
What do most of us do when we test out a new camera or lens? We take a shot and then zoom into 100 percent magnification to see if it is sharp enough. I’ve done my fair share of pixel peeping myself.
Let’s back up a bit and look at history and how things have changed. In the old days if you shot Kodachrome 25 with a Nikkormat FTN or an F5 using the same lens, the image will look identical. The only thing different between the cameras was their feature set. The same could be said in broader terms between a Nikon F2 and a Canon F1 using their respective 50mm f2 prime lenses. Again feature sets and “religion” were the only differences, not image quality. What little differences they did exhibit could be fixed today in PS.
For the most part all of the major manufacturers made very high quality lenses with very minor optical differences. Most system choices were made due to features and system depth if that was important to you. Any pro worth his salt could make a decent living using Nikon, Canon, and Pentax. The choices were more limited in medium format, but again each of the major players made very good cameras and lenses. Features, reliability and system depth were the main deciding factors.
When did all this pixel peeping or bit crawling start. I suggest it started with the advent of CD’s. The first CD players used very crude codecs. Those that considered themselves audiophiles cried and bemoaned the butchering of their favorite LP’s. All that “air” and spatial quality was missing not to mention how sharp and peaky the sound became when played through the leading CD players of the time. A crop of “digital” speakers were flogged to the masses. Sound familiar? A new lexicon had to be added to the audiophiles repertoire; bit encoding. How many samplings were made per second. The higher the bit rate the more accurate the reproduction, or so it would seem. The study of and the acquisition of the best analog to digital, back to analog, converters was now necessary.
We had been sensitized to the axiom that more bits are better. That philosophy was embraced by the camera manufacturers to ensure consumers would be set on a pixel treadmill. So now pixels counted the most with camera features becoming secondary.
My first digital camera was a Kodak DC290. This camera boasted 2.9 mega pixels. This yielded an image 31 inches by 20 inches approximately (according to the Kodak data sheet). I made plenty of 8×10’s from the DC290 and was pleased with the results. The prints from the DC290 were not as good as an optical print from a good 35mm negative, but acceptable. Numerous images were also used in corporate websites. Next I blew through several Nikon and Canon P&S’s. Digital cameras to me were still toys. The real work had to be done with my film cameras.
Pixel count was ever increasing but the features were still limited. My first semi-pro DSLR was the Nikon D70s (6 mega pixels). I have made 11×14 inch prints from this cameras that are stunning and equal anything I could do with my 35mm negatives. I have never tried to do 16×20’s from the D70s only due to a lack of demand. The feature set was more to my liking than comparable pixel count P&S’s. The ability to use my legacy Nikkor lenses sealed the deal. I was now firmly in the digital camp. The Kreonite went into the trash bin. The size of the sensor now became important. A 6 mega pixel APS-C sensor will out perform a 6 mega pixel finger nail sized sensor in a P&S.
I would still be using the D70s if it were not for a row of dead pixels. They don’t always disappear, but for my professional work it just was not acceptable. Yes I could fix it in PS but the time overhead was too costly. I replaced the D70s with a D700. Wonderful camera, does everything I want it to and it replaced my Hasselblad. I could now make prints up to 20×30 if I needed to. Actually bigger if I really needed to but that’s not my market.
I recently bought a Panasonic GX1 from Frank Petronio. It’s 16 mega pixels which is 4 more than my D700. They tell me the technology has improved since the D700 was introduced and I should not see a huge difference between the two cameras under ideal conditions. Micro 4/3rd’s is the new holy grail.
Well you can guess what was the first thing I did once I got the GX1. I shot side by side images, GX1-vs-D700 and pixel peeped. I tried all kinds of things, using the ultra sharp Panasonic 20mm f1.7 lens compared to the Nikkor H-C 50mm f2, putting the Nikkor H-C 50mm lens on the Panasonic etc etc. In all cases the D700 won. Not a big surprise as far as I was concerned. Size does matter when it comes to sensors.
Then I had a thought. One of those hit your forehead in the middle of the night kind of thoughts. Really the only thing that matters is what a print looks like. I scaled the images to be identical looking and then sized them for 11×14 prints. Guess what? Both prints looked outstanding. Only the kind of people who pick things apart to an absurd level on photograph forums could tell the difference in the prints. The GX1 doesn’t have the DR (dynamic range) the D700 has but this can be fixed in PS for 95% of what I will be shooting. Check out George Barr’s excellent blog posting on dealing with high key situations.
Another thing the micro 4/3rd’s cameras don’t have is durability. I fell off a cliff last weekend and my D700 hit a rock ledge pretty hard. If suffered a few dents but beyond that the camera and lens functioned perfectly. If the same thing happened to my GX1 I am sure I would have been picking up pieces. Same goes for the new Sony A7R. Again if I were doing something rough the minute difference in image quality between the D700 and the new full frame Sony A7R would not influence my decision. The tougher D700 would get packed. If I were going on a cruise, the Sony A7R would get packed.
I am going on a trip to Germany and Santorini in a few months. I almost left the GX1 at home due to pixel peeping. Glad I re-evaluated what really mattered, the final output, the print.
I feel we have come full circle. Camera choices today should primarily be made based on features (important to you), system depth and durability. For the most part you will not be able to tell the difference in prints made from micro 4/3rd’s, full frame and APS-C type sensors if printed by a skilled craftsman up to 20×30 inches. The responsibility of proper exposure rests upon the photographer as it always has. Digital sensors are just as fussy to over/under exposure as were transparency films of bygone days.
We can now spend more time putting the craft back into photography and less time pixel peeping. Sensors have matured to a level where we should not waste a lot of time comparing one against the other. At the end of the day whatever difference you “think” you perceive does not amount to a hill of beans once you print your image. Check out the blog posting by Ctein on The Online Photographer. Ctein is a master printer and has made prints from non-FX sensor cameras that would blow your mind. It can be done. There is no hiding sloppy craftsmanship behind sensor size anymore. The one thing that cripples your FX camera is not using a tripod. It does make a difference, even at higher shutter speeds. That and cheap filters. Don’t get me going!!
Will I take the GX1 on pro jobs? You bet I will. Will it do everything, no, but neither will the D700. The trick is to use the right tool for the job. Measure twice, cut once. Put the craft back into photography!
This is a shot of my grandson doing what I did and probably any youth has done at his age, “walk the line”. Growing up I lived very close to railroad tracks. The “gang” and I would spend endless hours walking what we thought was miles on railroad tracks. Shades of “Stand by Me”, a great movie. Unfortunately we never found a body. Or rather fortunately we never found a body.
About the most exciting thing that ever happened was a flasher jumping out wiggling his wiggler. The two gals I was with, Val and Donna noticed him before I did. Their fits of laughter alerted me to this pathetic guy. Naturally we had to whip this up into a near death experience by the time we got home.
The gang was a close knit bunch of guys who all grew up together on our block. Neil, Ian, Tim, Keith, Andy, Gord and myself made up this highly trained cadre of cowboys, army grunts, super heroes, explorers and whatever else it was we were pretending to be at the time. Once we hit Grade 7, Junior High in this neck of the woods, we discovered girls. So much for the close knit buddies, it was ever man for himself.
The day I took this photograph (yes TOOK it, not MADE it) I had ready to go my Nikon D700, Leica M3 and M5 and a Panasonic LX-5. The Panasonic won out. I am totally amazed at the image quality this camera outputs. The Leica optics are razor sharp and contrasty. Dynamic range is tremendous giving me the ability to convert some images to Black and White. I’m not all that fussy about colour imagery beyond accurate colour reproduction. I am use to Kodachrome and it’s limited applications however when it comes to Black and White it better be good or it hits the for sale sites.
It’s hard to show you the detail and excellent tonal range in this image. It seems whatever algorithm WordPress uses really messes things up. In the original image you can see every single eyelash and the background which was at least 7 stops darker than the foreground has plenty of rich luminous detail.
If you are looking for a very pocketable P&S I highly recommend the Panasonic LX-5. I hear the LX-7 is even better. I got my LX-5 new for $250 just before the LX-7 came out. Frankly I was quite prepared to hate this camera. I had already burned through Nikon, Canon, and Olympus P&S’s. Image quality was dismal and most exhibited large amounts of chromatic nastiness. My wife’s Canon G11 is a decent camera but way to heavy to carry in your pocket. Check out what dpreview had to say about the LX-5 when it first was announced by clicking here.
So when I next decide to “walk the line” I will have my trusty Panasonic LX-5 in my pocket and adventure in my heart.
During my illustrious career I worked in retail for a short time. The first time was when I was newly married and found I needed to work three jobs to get where we wanted to financially. The second time was when I thought, as a semi-retirement gig, it would be fun to work at Home Depot. One of those bucket list things.
The first gig was in the menswear department at a national department chain store. With the exception of perverts spying on other men trying on clothes in the next cubicle and the odd couple thinking it would be fun to have sex in a change room people were pretty well behaved. You never found garbage stuffed into merchandising racks or left in the change rooms. People would actually come and ask you where the garbage can was.
Then jump forward 40 years to my gig at Home Depot. I was shocked to find that customers felt the displays were just very fancy garbage receptacles. We would find half eaten hamburgers, scrunched up snotty Kleenex’s and to top it off dirty diapers stuffed into merchandise. I even caught one father letting his kid urinate into a display toilet. As the kids say, WTF! Please note that there are garbage cans all over the store and a public washroom.
The biggest offenders are Tim Horton’s customers. By far! Unfortunately we had a Tim’s very close by. From what I heard it is one of the busiest Timmie’s in all of Canada. Good for them. I wish they would send their staff through the store several times a day to clean up all the coffee cups left all over the place. Well actually it’s not their fault, it’s their slovenly customers.
You might think that this problem might be typical in a hardware store. What with all these thwarthy constructions types and all. Not so.
It seems litter bugs have infested our usual grocery shopping destination, the The Great Canadian Superstore, owned by Loblaws. Country Hills location to be specific. I generally find at least six to ten Tim Horton’s cups every shopping trip.
Driving around Calgary you can see hundreds of Tim Horton’s cups littering the roads every day. What is it with Tim Horton’s customers? Why are they so disrespectful? I feel Tim Hortons should do more to educate these louts that it’s evil to litter. It’s an affront to all of us that have to endure their piggish behaviour. Just who do they think they are? Do they feel they are entitled to have some poor minimum wage person clean up after them?
At Home Depot our staff was trained to keep their areas clean. Generally our customers were not subjected to Tim Horton’s trash. Unfortunately The Great Canadian Superstore either does not have enough staff to keep the place clean or it’s not a priority for them. But then again why should we the consumer have to pay higher prices so retail establishments can keep their shelves clean of trash dropped by ignorant people?
Do you have the same problem in your area? While my American readers probably don’t have Tim Hortons in their area I am sure they have other popular coffee establishments. In Canada Tim Hortons is a religion. I’ve heard they have a 70% market share for coffee here. With success comes responsibility.
On the official Tim Horton’s website they express their desire to reduce litter. Here is what they say:
At Tim Horton’s, we are aware of the environmental impacts of our packaging and waste materials. We are attempting to deal with the litter issue in a variety of ways:
- We have anti-litter messages on all of our packaging items, including a “Do Not Litter” message on all of our take-out cups. Sadly, many people do not pay attention to these messages but we continue to work with other members of our industry to tackle the litter problem in a meaningful and effective way.
- To ensure a clean community many Tim Hortons restaurants sponsor local clean up events and activities in their communities.
- We have waste reduction strategies to try and combat litter from its source. Tim Hortons is one of the few quick service restaurants to offer china mugs, plates and bowls to guests eating in our restaurants. This helps to reduce paper waste being created in the first place.
- All Tim Hortons restaurants sell reusable Tim Mugs. And while a Tim Mug may not be a practical solution for all guests it does provide a good alternative. The incentive for purchasing a Tim Mug is that the first coffee is free (coupon included inside the Tim Travel Mug) and each refill gets a 10 cent discount (hot beverage discount applies to any travel mug fill).
Clearly these initiatives are not working. Looks good and sounds good, but the effectiveness is woefully lacking.
It’s time for Tim Hortons to step up and become part of the solution, not just enablers of the problem. Until I see Tim Hortons doing something substantial to re-educate their customers I will not be supporting the Tim Horton’s machine any longer. No more Timmie’s for me.
Rodenstock Sironar 150mm – this lens is so sharp and contrasty you could smell the grease when looking at the print.
Mike Johnston has an excellent blog called The Online Photographer. I usually start my day by checking to see what’s new on TOP as the regulars call it. Recently he asked the question: “I’m asking how important the quality of your lenses is to you. That is, when you’re choosing which one(s) to buy.”
My idea of “quality” might be different than the usual consumer definition. This is what I responded to Mike’s question:
The signature of a lens is of utmost importance to my photography. I utilize it as a painter uses different brush strokes to mold the look he/she wants. I have differing photographic styles (portraiture, landscape and still life) that require different lens signatures to fulfill my vision.
A lens I love for landscape probably will not be my first choice for portraiture. All my personal black and white photography is done with film as I find the type of film used and how it is developed just as integral to my vision as the lens signature. Please note I am not saying film is superior, it just works better for what I want to accomplish.
I strive to create photographs that are true to my vision, not technically perfect photographs. MTF charts, pixel counts, resolution etc. mean nothing to me. Like Frank DiPerna said, ‘show me the print on the wall.’ That’s all that matters to me when I choose the tools I need to create the image I have in my mind. Today it might be a lens with smooth bokeh, tomorrow a lens that is razor-sharp and contrasty.
While putting my kit together I spent a lot of time viewing as many photographs as possible. If a photograph had a ‘look’ that I resonated with, I would find out what was used to create it if at all possible. My intent was not to copy but to learn which lens and what capture media produced what results. For 35mm I ended up with two systems, Leica and Nikon. Each system had lenses that ‘worked’ for me. Please note they were not always the latest version of a lens but sometimes a golden oldie. I am not saying Leica and Nikon are better lenses than Canon or Olympus etc., just that they gave me a look I wanted. So for me what worked was first determining the lenses I wanted to use, then the capture media.
Not surprisingly I also have a preference for enlarging lenses but that is a whole different story 🙂
In addition to this I would like to add. I recognize that many of the qualities of old lenses and film can be replicated using a digital workflow. Bokeh is one such lens signature that is extremely hard to handle in a digital environment if your lens does not have good bokeh to begin with. I used a high end digital camera for a number of years and got quite adept at getting what I wanted from Photoshop. In the end digital is not my first choice for my personal black and white work. For commissioned work digital is the only way to go because these days customers are more interested in getting the finished product quickly than they are in quality. For me it’s not an “us or them” mentality when it comes to choosing film over digital for my own creative personal work, it just works better for me.
So some would say I put the cart a head of the horse. Lens selection drives my choice of camera body. I haven’t found a camera body yet that added to the creative artistic impact of an image. Lenses however contribute the most. Don’t just look for the sharpest, contrasty lens with beautiful MTF curves. Lens choice is part of your artistic tool belt. Not just focal length, but signature as well.
All this is an important part of taking your photography from great snapshots to images that have emotional impact.
Photo by David Hamilton – he used Minolta lenses exclusively due their lower contrast. I started off with Minolta cameras and lenses but got tired of the lower contrast images. I found I could use Nikkor lenses which had better contrast and simulate the Minolta signature with filters. The Minolta lenses were not as sharp as the Nikkors either. You can always reduce the sharpness in the print but if it’s not there to begin with you are out of luck if you are looking for a sharp contrasty image.
Boy holding pet – Coba Mexico. I used a Rolleiflex TLR with Tessar 3.5 lens. I love Tessar’s for their great bokeh.
Schneider 210mm lens wide open and front standard rotation. This lens is not only tack sharp stopped down, it has nice out of focus qualities when shot wide open.
Mexican cemetary – Leica 50mm Summicron shot at f2. Another lens that has great bokeh and is tack sharp and contrasty when stopped down. I have used other 50mm lenses that would render the background in an ugly blotchy manner. Not what I was looking for in this image. Although that might be a quality I want in an image that is meant to cause tension in the viewer.
It’s the end of the year and as is customary I must analyze 2012 to death and pontificate on what I think will transpire in 2013. Well I’ll do that When Pigs Fly!
I suppose there is some merit in looking back over the past year, if for no other reason than to appreciate what a wonderful and sad year it has been. There have been deaths in the family, elderly relocated from their homes, family members experiencing the ups and downs of personal relationships. There has also been tremendous family bonding that can only happen during adversity. Whether it’s coming together to grieve a sister’s death or just sitting with a grown child in the emergency room. It could also be those precious times when I get to have one on one time with my grandkids. Or maybe it’s those times when I have to sit down with my in-laws and “fix” their computer. None of these things come at a convenient time. That’s life. To be totally isolated and alone would eliminate these interruptions to my orderly life, but it’s these interruptions that bring “life” to my life. To quote a cliche, it adds “spice to my life”. While onions can make us cry when we chop them up for dinner, in the end they bring flavour to an otherwise bland dish thus enriching it.
The coming year will be sprinkled with the usual milestones. Some good and some not so welcome. The only thing I can control is how I react to them. In my younger days I use to be very self centered and resented any deviations from my plan. Whether that plan was sleeping in, getting some project finished or another career milestone notched. Slowly I matured and realized the world did not revolve around my needs and wants. All the effort I expended trying to control everyone and everything around me exhausted me and made everyone around me unhappy, as well as myself. Unfortunately I was too “head down ass up” to realize what was going on. It took a major life changing event to finally open my eyes. I wish I had been receptive to all the hints and advice I had received from well meaning friends and family.
I am looking forward to the birth of a new grandchild in the new year as well as opening my eyes to see my sweetie each morning. Beyond that all I wish is to be able to live my life as God wants me to.
Photographically I want to re-acquaint myself with my film cameras. For the past several years I have shot 95% digital. While I feel I have created some outstanding photographic images, I long for the smell of the darkroom. I also find the stress associated with the constant struggle backing up files to be a creative roadblock. Short of a major fire I don’t have to worry about the negatives I made 40 plus years ago. They are still there as are the negatives my grandfather made with an original Kodak film Brownie.
I will continue to use my Nikon D700 for commercial work, but my goal is to create at least 80% of my personal work using film in 2013.
Well I guess I did do some pontificating after all. Indeed pigs do fly, as proven in the image above.
To each and every one of you, I wish you the very best for 2013. I find happiness through bringing happiness to others. Maybe it will work for you too.
This Christmas I gave my wife a 40 x 24 print of the above photograph. I made this image probably six years ago at Coos Bay, Oregon. As soon as I saw these two geologic manifestations it looked to me like a mother and baby wrapped up papoose style. It also symbolized to me the rock solid connection a mother has with her child. Sometimes those children do not survive, or vice versa. In any event this mother-child bond is “cemented” in all time. Once both are returned to our maker reunions can be made.
At the time my favorite large format colour negative film was Kodak’s Portra 160. It was as close to the venerable Kodak VPS as I could find. The tonal range of Portra 160 and even 400 is outstanding. Colours are very neutral and images crystal sharp, but don’t take my word for it, check out the great review at Shutterfinger. The above image was made using a Linhof Tecknika IV (see pic below) and a Rodenstock Geronar 210mm lens. As is always the case a lenshade was used even though it was an overcast day.
The Geronar lens has unfortunately suffered a bad rap from the lens queens. I love the image signature of the Geronars. While not technically a Tessar design they exhibit a lot of the same 3D characteristics when used wide open. Colour rendition is accurate and they don’t suffer from flare. Another bonus is that they are small and light weight, great for backpacking and travelling. I have used the 150, 210 and 300mm versions of the Geronar lineup. Quite frankly I cannot pick out prints made from these as opposed to my more expensive large format lenses, especially once the lens is stopped down to f11 or greater. Currently I only have the 300mm version of the Geronar but am on the lookout for a good 210mm.
What many people don’t understand when it comes to print sharpness is that a sturdy, heavy tripod is essential to reduce vibration. I cannot count the number of times I have seen people spend huge amounts of money on lenses for their large format cameras only to cheap out on the tripod. When they produce slightly fuzzy photographs they lament they must have gotten a mis-aligned lens.
Not having the ability to produce 40 inch colour prints in my darkroom I was forced to scan my negative. Having recently purchased an Epson 750 Pro from George Barr I scanned my negative at 3200 dpi, processed in PhotoShop, upsized and saved as a jpg – 300 dpi. A very small amount of sharpening was applied in PhotoShop. The file was ftp’d to a local professional printing service for output. So far I have scanned both medium and large format negatives with the Epson. Results have been stellar! My Nikon 35mm scanner recently packed it in so I am hoping the Epson will do a good job on those negatives as well. I will keep you posted.
I hope to get back to Coos Bay again having been there three times already. It’s one of those magical places. Please check out my website for more Coos Bay photographs. I have images in both the colour and black/white galleries of Coos Bay and area. Most of the colour images were taken with a digital camera.
A new Blurb book is in the works. Now what does this really mean? It means I am thoughtfully pondering what the theme should be. Or maybe it should not be theme based but geographically oriented? How about all colour, or maybe black and white? Well you can see there are a lot of things to consider. With over 40 years worth of images to choose from it gets a bit daunting.
In preparation I took out several photography tomes from my local library. I wanted to see how they laid out the images and incorporated text and graphics. Surprisingly the National Geographic books I took out were well laid out, however suffered from incredibly bad photographic reproduction. It was so bad I could not get through them. If I had spent 6o plus dollars on them I would have felt supremely cheated. After years of doing design and layout work for clients I find that it is very hard to decide on a format for my own work. It’s easy for me to gauge the personality and spirit of a client’s work but turning that focus on myself is not an easy task. Maybe that is why so many self published photography books are so poorly executed.
I also find that I am my own worst enemy when it comes to editing my images. Some images that I think are just freaking wonderful are ignored by those I ask to critique images I am considering for a show. Rule number one: get someone not related to you to edit your images. Actually press several people into editing service.
Even though I feel my imagery can stand on its own from a fine art perspective, I enjoy telling people the back story for many of my images. Sights, sounds, circumstances and personalities are all important facets of the story. As an illustration, I was at a concert performed by one of my favorite singer/song writers, Neil Young. Young’s songs have resonated with my life since the days of the Kent State massacre. The first time I heard the song Ohio, it brought tears to my eyes and put a rage in my gut. In those 13 seconds of shooting my attitude towards the Vietnam war was galvanized. While I supported the troops and still do, I could no longer support the machine that was responsible for the four deaths at Kent State and the senseless killing of 58,282 American troops. I was hoping Young would relate to the audience some of the back stories around his songs. He said maybe 10 words during the 3 hour concert. Sure the songs were there, both new and old, but nothing else. I could listen to Young’s songs at home on my stereo and get better sound. It was a bucket list thing to do; see Young in concert; but in the end I felt I only got half of what I needed to make it a fulfilling experience. Others I have talked to thought the concert was amazing. That’s why they make chocolate and vanilla.
Well all of this raises another question. Do I include selected back stories or not? I guess it depends on my overall goal. Do I want to create a commercial product or a personal keepsake? The decisions never end!
This brings up the following question. Does the selection and sequencing of photographs vary depending on whether I include back stories or not? Do I need to follow a theme for the back stories? Around and around it goes. Choices choices choices.
Do me a favor and take the poll on the right.
Interested in the back story for the image at the beginning? Ask me and I’ll share it with you. By the way I have a $50 off code for Blurb I would love to share with you. Email me: eric at ericrose dot com and I will send it to you.
As the affable Brad said in Rocky Horror Picture Show – “The future is ours so let’s plan it, Janet “
I don’t know about you but I’ve always wanted to get a book of my images published by a respected publisher. For my generation it was the holy grail. You had arrived once you could thump a 20 pound photographic tome of your images on the dining room table. There were only five or six publishers doing credible photographic table books 15 or 20 years ago. Not having Weston’s talent nor being anointed as today’s (or yesterday’s) flavour of the month photographically speaking has relegated my dreams to the dustbin. Alas my delusions of grandeur were trimmed back to the odd appearance in photography magazines. Fine art print sales were always as strong as I could handle. Some years I would neither have the time nor inclination to produce museum quality fine art black and white prints. I’m a temperamental artist, what can I say.
My creative juices are feeling rather frisky these days and part of this new found energy is due to my ability to produce quality print on demand (POD) books at a reasonable cost. Years back I flirted with Lulu but the results were quite dismal. From what I’ve seen they have improved somewhat but are still not up to the minimum standards I would be happy with. Blurb on the other hand has made tremendous strides. Recently I have seen books published by photographers I respect and must admit I was feeling a little jealous.
As fortune would have it our local camera emporium The Camera Store organized an information session on self publishing. Dan Milnor was the featured speaker. Check out his website for his bio. You will see he has extensive experience in both photography and publishing his own material. Rather than a dry how-to session Milnor offered up a spirited discourse on photojournalism, the photography market and publishing trends. Dan has published so many Blurb books and pushed Blurb’s processes to the extreme and got away with it, they decided to hire him as a type of “artist in residence”. Good move on Blurb’s part. A more enthusiastic pitchman Blurb couldn’t find. Along with Dan’s audio/visual presentation, Blurb brought at least 30 different books showcasing their papers, bindings, colour and black and white printing. I was impressed with the quality and paper options to say the least. Colour images were reproduced very faithfully but more importantly to me the black and white reproduction was VERY good. Not LensWork good, but darn good. I was hooked.
The only Blurb book I had been impressed with in the past was produced by Frank Petronio. In all fairness I had only seen early examples of POD books. To say POD production standards have come a long way in just a few short years would be an understatement.
In my years of conversing with Frank either directly or via various photography forums I developed a deep respect for his vision and artistic integrity. Petronio is uncompromising when it comes to the quality of his imagery. I have several of his fine art prints in addition to his Blurb book. All are very well done. Over the years Frank has reinvented himself photographically. Whatever the genre, Frank pushes his vision to the boundaries. His extensive experience in publishing and as a professional photographer prompted me to ask him to share his thoughts and experiences on POD with you.
Blurb has made it very easy and cost effective for short run editions to produce your own photographic publication. Maybe too easy. Rather than unleashing a Flickr type avalanche of images in book form, it would be best to seek an education in the fundamentals of book design from the likes of Frank Petronio.
I asked Frank to share some of his experiences with you on POD publishing. Naturally his sense of humour also shows through. If you want to learn more about POD, layout and graphic design I encourage you to contact Frank directly. Some of Frank’s more recent images are included.
POD Experiences by Frank Petronio
Eric asked me to write a little about my print-on-demand (POD) book publishing experiences. I’ll remind everyone that I grew up doing farm and construction work and somehow managed to avoid getting a PHD so I’m worthy of a quick skim (ed. – a subtle reference to my last blog) .
First off, for about 15 years I worked as a graphic designer, art director, and pre-press monkey, progressing through the industry at the same time that Macintoshes, Photoshop, and QuarkXpress started to take over and revolutionize the industry. While I was never a full-time book designer, I did do several fairly successful coffee-table books and a few smaller corporate and vanity publications. If you’re reading Eric’s blog, chances are you’re a large-format photographer “of a certain age” and that means you probably see publishing a nice quality book as a sign of success, an important part of being recognized as a serious photographic artist. And for good reason, since even 20-30 years ago, publishing a quality art book easily cost several tens of thousands of dollars. Getting a publisher to invest serious money into your work is impressive in its own right. However the sad fact is that most artistic photo art books have been self-published using grants or the photographer’s own capital – and unfortunately, many of these books end up on the remainder shelves or in attics… unless your work is truly popular, it’s almost impossible to break even, much less profit, with a photo book.
I once did a nice book for a university photo professor – he needed to publish or perish (as in getting tenure) so we slaved away for a about a month one summer. He printed 2000 books at a unit price of about $12 each, $24000. I doubt he sold more than 50 but he got tenure. That’s how it went. Ironic that so many photographers call themselves environmentalists….
Around the Turn of the Century, once people got over the Y2K jitters, some of the digital printing technologies matured enough that printing-on-demand became a reality. At first these were little different than simple black and white xerographic copies with customized covers and a slightly better binding than what Kinkos offered. The photos were a bit coarse and quality control was lacking. The early vendors using proprietary layout applications and their online interfaces were not robust – the whole process was clumsy. It was about 2005-06 before there was a really solid, reliable online platform for print-on-demand available for consumers and that was http://www.lulu.com. They are still around, using Xerox toner based printers and do a credible job with text book quality projects. Their pricing is fairly reasonable but they are not geared towards printing fine photography so the old adage that you get what you pay for comes into play.
But… finally you could publish your own book for less than $50. To hold something in your hands, condensing your life’s work into a real book… well if you do it right you could fool your Mom and the tenure committee into thinking you’re a famous photographer!
Once the potential was pioneered by lulu, up popped competitors. Several companies started to produce photo books of varying quality using proprietary software – Apple makes creating a nice “consumer” quality color book pretty easy using iPhoto for example, see http://www.apple.com/ilife/
http://www.booksmartstudio.com – using professional fine art quality inkjets to produce short run artists books costing hundreds and even thousands of dollars. But let’s talk about the most popular POD printing service with serious photographers – Blurb http://www.blurb.com.
Blurb hits a sweet spot in the tradeoff of price versus quality. For $35 you can get a decent softcover book that actually feels like a store bought book, albeit you might only pay $20 for it retail. They also will make a lovely “imagewrap” hardcover book for between $50 to $150, about two or three times what you might pay for a mass market retail book.
The quality, to my eye is remarkable, in large part because they use the ink-on-paper digital presses like the HP Indigo as opposed to the less expensive toner-based printers that most POD vendors use to keep the costs down. They can also run a slightly heavier, more opaque paper through the HPs, although the paper will still be on the thin side compared to a top-quality book printed with traditional offset lithography. Color images look punchy and vibrant, I can not fault them. Black and whites (or greyscales) are more problematic, although they have made significant progress in getting them to appear more neutral. In 2007 my greyscale images would print strongly green or magenta ~ but for the last couple of years they’ve been looking neutral… except they they are plagued by metarism. Slightly green under incandescent, purple out in the sun. But better than before and showing signs of improvement… I am not sure if the problem can be licked or not? In any event, you need to be cautious and follow Blurb’s directions for image prep to the T and accept that these will never quite be perfect in the real world. You get what you pay for.
If you shoot color, Blurb can reproduce your photos quite nicely, with a little extra contrast and deep blacks. You may want to open up the quarter (shadows) and mid-tones 5 to 10% in addition to the recommended image prep.
As a designer comfortable with Adobe InDesign, I like that Blurb lets you submit press-ready PDFs. I haven’t used their proprietary online book design Booksmart app in years but I image it has improved over time and is more responsive with a fast internet connection. With all of this, read and follow the instructions, which in Blurb’s case are extremely well-done compared to their competition and a big reason why photographers have developed a loyalty towards them.
Chances are you aren’t a book designer…. here is some advice: Start looking at photo books from a design point of view. Do you like photos on facing pages? How much margin is comfortable? If you do a full-bleed (running the photo off the page) you get a larger image but your thumbprints are also going to be on the image. Spreads give up half-an-inch or more into the gutter’s nether regions. It isn’t ridiculous to use a ruler and take notes. Look at sizes, page counts, flow and feel. Notice the type and where they put it. Captions? How far are the captions from the image? Measure it! Even deciding where and how to do page numbers can be a huge topic.
Once you start designing, start with a master page and, at the least, a “grid” so that you are laying images and text boxes out in a consistent manner. Run a few prints off your desktop printer and trim them out, then set them into an existing book. Do they make sense, can you read the captions, is the photo in the best place on the page?
Editing and sequencing is challenging, few people are good at it. Some people can do it on-screen but most of us like to print out small prints, trim them out, and shuffle them around on a large table (or better yet, a wall). Think in terms of side-by-side pages and how images may “point” visually inside or outside the book – experiment to see if an image is better on the right or left page, especially in relationship to another image.
Also, while some are inclined to square and center everything, once you start measuring well-designed books you’ll be surprised to find that they often cheat images a fraction up and out away from the book’s spine. What looks fine on a flat 2-D computer screen is not the same as a physical object with bound pages, and that bindings will soak up page area. If you simply center an image on the page, depending on the binding it will not look balanced and centered.
And so on… there are a jillion considerations and in the end please realize that book design is – or was – a profession, just like photography used to be. You’re going to screw up. Accept this as a cheap education and reiterate. That’s the beauty of POD, you can tweak it and do it over.
Also, I would avoid attempting to do a 200-page hardcover magnum opus as your first project. Not only will it be more expensive, but it will be tedious and crushing. Also stick to the standard sizes and pay attention to price versus page counts – sometimes dropping two pages can save you a bundle. And you probably have too many mediocre photos anyway so shorter and simpler is almost always better. Make the first few books cheap, without all the extra options like fancy endpapers or premium anything. Maybe by the third or fourth book you’ll have something worthwhile… and what do you expect? Were your first few photos and prints all that great? A book is much more complex!
I have to say that getting the Blurb package a week or two later is great excitement every time. Sometimes they mess up, in which case you contact their customer service and they rectify things very quickly. Sometimes they want a cell phone picture of the problem or ask you to send the book back on their dime, but they always make good on their mistakes. Don’t abuse this, try to think it through rationally as to whether you failed to follow the instructions properly or otherwise messed up – ask questions on the Blurb community forums and you’ll learn a lot.
I’ll also mention that as a man of the earth, if you want to pick my brain or have me help you, that time is money and it is perfectly fine to pay me to advise you and the quality of my paid advice is much superior to the free stuff.
OK it’s late, I am sure Eric will edit this perfectly and clean up all my misteaks (sic) 😉 Good luck self-publishers!
I hope you got some valuable information from Frank’s piece.
Blurb has come through with a special offer for readers of this blog! Here are the details:
20% off (no minimum purchase required)
Code: ERICTHANKS (I receive no compensation from this, it’s a special thank you from both Blurb and myself)
Link to: blurb.ca
Fine Print: *Offer valid until 10 December 2012 (11:59 p.m local time). A 20% discount is applied to your product total. Maximum value of $150 CA / US. Valid for printed books only. This offer is good for one-time use, and cannot be combined with volume discounts, other promotional codes, gift cards, or used for adjustments on previous orders.
The solution is at the end of a shovel. Or so I have been told.
Many people are educated but not schooled. What do I mean by that? In my years of hiring and firing employees or sitting on committees there are always those that are very well educated but do not have a clue how things really work. In many instances these honoured individuals arrive with an attitude. It’s easy to pick them out, they are the ones doing all the talking but not actually accomplishing anything. I hate to say it but my many years of dealing with and working with academics has soured me to “higher” education and what is does to some people. These individuals are book smart and people stupid. Too many academics have a bully mentality which is probably derived from many years of being bullied themselves for being the nerds in school. Of course there are some excellent post secondary educators out there. Heck if you’re reading this you’re probably one of them. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of higher learning, just not the attitude some carry with them once they get their masters or phd’s.
I’m a big fan of compulsory military service. Not that I support the war machine, I don’t, but I do support the discipline that is taught and the comraderie that is taught. You soon learn that to achieve your goals you have to work together. Failing military service, high school graduates should be handed a shovel and put to work alongside twenty other know-it-alls building or renewing much needed infrastructure. Pay them a decent wage. At the end of the day they will realize they actually earned their pay. The blisters and aching muscles will remind them of what it takes to make a buck. After a couple of days when the muscles gain strength and the hands harden they will look back on that ditch they dug TOGETHER and feel a sense of accomplishment. A shared accomplishment. After their year of “service” they will have a totally different outlook on and appreciation for post secondary education. They also will not put up with the paper tiger ( 紙老虎) prof’s at the front of the classroom.
If you look back to a blog I did last October 2011 you will see that I help out on a farm during harvest. It’s my two week sanity break each year. This year a historical society asked Eric Goerzen my brother-in-law to leave around 5 acres of wheat standing. We ended up leaving 7.5. The historical society wanted to bring out the machinery used back in the 20’s and 30’s to harvest this patch of wheat.
During my 3 years helping out at this farm and my years helping out at my first wife’s family farm in Saskatchewan I have met some very interesting individuals. The old timers that I met never made it through the end of high school and many did not finish junior high. But a better “schooled” bunch you will never find. The complexity of farming even back in the 20’s and 30’s just blows my mind. To see the equipment these folks brought out to the historical harvest day was truly amazing. Essentially nothing has changed in the basic mechanics which are the same as are being used today. One of the old timers I just love to chat with is George Spooner. He’s 80+ years old and still has a sharp mind and keen eyes. Eric and I (yes my brother-in-law has the same first name as I do) generally start our harvest days by going to George’s for coffee. George has been living on the same patch of dirt most if not all of his life. His home is modest but is lit up by his twinkling eyes and quick wit. George loves telling me stories about harvests past. Generally there was a crew of men numbering 8 to 16 depending on how many threshing machines they had in the field. Teams of horses were used to pull anything needing pulling. These men worked from sunup till sundown. Sometimes paid only .75c an acre. That doesn’t seem like much by today’s standards but it was enough to support a family. Now Eric and I do the work with just the two of us. That’s 14 men that had to find another line of work. Over the years most did, becoming mechanics or moving to the city. The tragedy today is that the jobs are being transferred offshore. Both skilled and unskilled. Who’s transferring these jobs? The educated but unschooled. They are only thinking of themselves and the big bonuses they get. My wife used to work for an oil company where the CEO got over $20 million in pay and bonuses. His bonuses were tied to the bottom line. If they were having a slow quarter, through no fault of the staff, hundreds would get laid off to ensure the quarterly results looked good for the shareholders. Bingo – bonus time.
During our historical harvest day we had at least 40 men and women working. Working together to get the job done. At least 20 kids were running around playing in the haystack or riding the hay wagons. We worked together and worked hard. At the end of the day it was a combined accomplishment. In this case the shovel was replaced by the pitch fork.
Of course the “shovel” I refer to is a symbolic thing. However it’s a concept that can be applied across all fields of work whether blue, white or pink collar. We need people who will pick up the shovel to dig ditches as much as we need people to design computers or perform surgery. We also need people to feel a sense of community and understand that one is not any better than the other. We are our brother’s keeper, or at least we should be. As taught by Paul in Romans – “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. I am sure the same sentiment is expressed in all major faiths.
The photography stuff – finally…..
Recently I have gone over the tipping point with respect to digital photography. Choking computers, large files, hard drive crashes, endless hours staring at a computer screen and file management have taken their toll on me. For the next six months I am only going to shoot film for my personal stuff. Clients insist on digital. Well what they actually insist on is immediate access to finished, PhotoShopped files. Their lack of planning is transferred to me as a looming deadline.
The magic is gone. That anticipation you had waiting for your C41 to be developed and proofed by the lab, gone. That thrill of checking your black and white negs just as they came out of the wash, still dripping, gone. Watching the print come alive in the developer, gone. That special look of Tri-X, gone.
I just had a power spike destroy 3 years worth of digital files. Even my backup drives were toasted. However negatives I shot in the 60’s are still there just as good as they were back then. The management of digital media is just too complex and time consuming. It’s a full time job. One of the many “full time” jobs digital has created for me. There is only one “me” but at least five full time jobs created by digital workflow. I want my life back!
The historical harvest day was a prime candidate for a film shoot. I blew the dust off my trusty Nikon F5, bulk loaded up four rolls of Ilford XP2, took my Nikon D700 from the backpack and threw in the film stuff.
I picked Ilford XP2 for two reasons. The first being my darkroom is having some electrical challenges right now and secondly and more importantly I like the look of XP2 for people stuff. I knew the sky was going to be blank and featureless which was another reason for choosing XP2. With XP2 you get grain in the shadows not in the highlights like traditional silver based black and white films. It’s also wickedly sharp with a great tonal range. Being C41 I can take it into my local drug store and get the negs developed and proofed within 1 hour.
Generally when shooting in the environment I was in; bright sun, no clouds; I just take a meter reading off the northern sky and go with that. God must like photographers because the northern sky is 18% grey. For shadow shots I just open up 1.5 to 2 stops depending on how deep the shadow is. No need for fancy matrix metering. Another thing that I enjoyed was the limit on the number of photographs I could make that day. Four times 36 equals 144. That was it. No changing cards, no chimping and deleting to make more room.
What this did was bring me back into the mode I used to be in while doing PJ work. Anticipate the action, be in the right place at the right time, get that one shot that summarizes the action. I loved it! No spray and pray! The F5 would chew up the entire 36 exposure roll in a matter of seconds if I used that digi mentality. This put me back in the “moment” again. Getting the “shot” was more about skill and timing than just dumb luck and a big CF card.
I used my old AI converted Nikkor 85mm f1.8 and Nikkor 50mm f1.4 lenses for 90 percent of the shoot. The Tokina 16mm came out for some “drama” shots. All lenses have shades on them and no filters were used. I probably could have used a polarizer for some of them but what the heck I can burn down the sky in the darkroom. I find so many people do not recognize the importance of using a properly designed sunshade for their lenses. Why spend big bucks on a great lens and then kill it’s colour and contrast by not using a sunshade? It’s like putting skinny retreads on a Ferrari.
I always set my cameras to aperture priority if they have that feature unless the effects of subject speed become the priority. Using depth of field (DOF) plus out of focus areas in the foreground or background is one of the creative tools missed by so many beginning photographers. For this reason I do not use hyper focal distance techniques very much unless doing street photography.
The following images are scans of the proofs obtained from the drug store. When the snow is flying I plan on getting into my darkroom again. Once that happens I will share some of my favorites from this shoot on my main website. To see full size images click on the thumbnail. This takes you to another page were again click on the image. Kind of dumb but that’s how this gallery system work. Looking at installing a different one in the future.