Preparing Photos for Publication – Part One

Here’s a serious question… who should be preparing your photos?

Typically, the three folks (in descending order) generally charged with overseeing the quality of publication photos are: the photographer, the publication’s production department, and the printer’s pre-press department.

Collectively, there’s a pretty good chance that essential color, depth, and detail are unwittingly getting left out in the process.

Maitland 14Before you dismiss this as an inflammatory statement, please hear my reasoning. Having spent many years of my career in each of these three positions, I am certainly not about to criticize any of them. Actually, it is precisely because I have handled digital images in these three positions AND as a pressman that I dare to make such a statement. Allow me to explain. There is a critical though not-so-obvious truth behind what I’m about to say.

First, professional photographers certainly know their way around cameras and software (Lightroom or Photoshop) and understand color, tonality, and sharpening well enough to produce great looking prints. They understand color correction, color spaces, and color printing, and they are the first (and perhaps the last) in the production line to adjust the images.

Next, the production department receives the images and determines if they are ready for prime-time. If an image doesn’t look stellar, they’ll try adjusting it to make it look a little better before dropping it into their page makeup application and generating the PDF file that gets sent to the printer.

Finally, the pre-press department at the printing company checks the images for proper resolution, color space, and highlight/shadow settings before dispatching the file to the platesetter. Generally, the printers do NOT want the responsibility for “editing” images.

So what could possibly get overlooked with all this oversight? A whole bunch. And it all starts with the photographer. The photo is his/her responsibility. And herein lies the problem. While photographers understand fine art prints and image editing software, very few professional photographers see their photos through the eyes of a pressmen. But they should!

There is a quantum difference between preparing photos for ink jet printers and preparing images for publication presses. It’s an RGB-vs-CMYK thing that differs significantly in color space, color saturation and tonal reproduction. Actually, it’s a communications issue that can be quite easily cleared up once it is addressed.

Maitland 15In the beginning. When an image is captured with today’s digital cameras, it initially possesses more than 4000 tones per (RGB) color. Do the math, that’s a whole bunch of possible colors. Considering the fact that JPG conversion drastically reduces that number to only 256 tones per RGB color, the initial tone and color shaping of the camera image is super-critical! Simply put, how the photographer shapes that data before it is saved as a JPG file will determine how much detail and clarity will appear in the magazine.

The old adage “start with the end in mind” comes clearly into focus here. Since these images will all get printed in a magazine, the publication press is the ultimate arbiter, and deserves the loudest voice in the conversation. What does that mean? Four critical facts.

Fact One: the detail that a press can reproduce in the darkest (shadow) portions of an image is limited by several factors; the grade (quality) of paper being the biggest. Fact Two: camera image sensors capture very little shadow detail. Fact Three: the darkest areas of a photo are the most difficult areas to print cleanly on press. Fact Four: if the photographer doesn’t shape each image specifically for the press and paper stock, the image will probably lose shadow detail and will display muddy middle tones.

ViennaTreesCURegardless of whether the photographer captures RAW or JPG camera images, the very first adjustment made to those images will determine the clarity and appearance of the printed image. More on this in a following post.

Assessment Time: If you are the Publisher, Editor, Creative Director, Production Manager, or a contributing photographer, now it’s time to do your homework. Grab the last issue of your publication and notice the print quality difference between the photos in the national ads and the photos in the editorial articles. While the photo quality may differ to some degree, the printing clarity shouldn’t.

If the cover and feature article photos in your pub don’t display detail in the shadows, clean color throughout, and reasonable “snap” (not to be confused with over sharpening), you should be concerned. Not worried, but concerned enough to set some new standards. In the following posts in this series, I’ll address specific production issues that will make a significant difference in the visual appearance of your publication. One that your advertisers and subscribers will appreciate immediately. Check out these examples

Join me for the next post in this series where I’ll discuss how to uncover the hidden details.

Posted in Tonality and Appearance | 1 Comment

To Be (Visibly Appealing) or Not To Be, THAT is the Question!

I’m toying with a new idea, and it all has to do with photo quality. In particular, the real estate photo listings. On my last post I noted that it seems that few people actually care about the quality of real estate pictures listed on the internet (see “Does It Really Matter Anymore?“). The somewhat surprising number of detailed responses to that question compelled me to investigate this issue more.

Maitland 14I’ve done a number interviews with agents and done some deep digging into the blasé attitude that a large number of real estate agents, brokers, and agencies currently have about their images. The prevailing opinion is somewhere between “our clients don’t pay any attention to pictures, they expect them to look bad” and “property pictures are only useful for a short period of time, they’re not worth the effort,” and even “I have to pay for them out of my own pocket, the cost involved is just not in my budget.”


Maitland 15It just seems astonishing to me that exquisite product photography is employed to promote everything from energy drinks to baby diapers while sub-quality images are used to entice people to buy multimillion-dollar houses. Yeah, that makes sense- not.

So- I’ve decided to offer real estate image optimization services to agents who understand that quality sells quality and that garbage doesn’t. I put together a couple of videos presenting my case for spiffing up lackluster images. Since I’ve picked up a couple of tricks in my 45 years of photography, digital color and image reproduction, and I’m quite confident that I can significantly improve the appearance of the majority of real estate images I have seen on the Internet. BTW, I don’t hype images, I present them in their best light ever- I figure I get all spiffed up to go to a fancy restaurant… just makes sense to me.

HOME 6While putting this service model together I’ve encountered a number of people that have been so underwhelmed with the pictures associated with a given property that they decided not to even visit it. One of these folks actually purchased another home (attracted by the well done images), only to find out that the ugly-picture house was an amazing property; one that they perhaps would have purchased instead.

AlpharettaSo, let it be hereby known that the real estate image optimization service known as ImageOpt is open for business. Two things you should take a look at… 1) the “Mythbuster” video I put together as a promo (, and 2) the website for the service that includes tutorial movies on how to gather and submit images for optimization (

To make this service a little more attractive, I’m offering a quite unusual pricing structure for the four different types of services I’m offering: Basic Optimization (stills), Optimization and Transition (video), Grayscale Zoom to Color (video), and StillMotion with Text and Music (soundtracked video). The agents pay only 60% of the fee with their submission and don’t pay the balance for 60 days– nutz right?

What?  It’s called incentive!

I’ll get a feel for the interest in this venture from the little survey I’m including here. This should be fun. And it should be an eye-opener for both the agents and for myself. We’ll see. Take the Poll. Let me hear what you think. You can check more than one, or you can offer another opinion. If you have friends who are in real estate, ask them what they think.

That’s the Way Eye Sees It anyhow.

See you next time.


Posted in Opinions, Tonality and Appearance, Underpinnings and Core Issues | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Does It Really Matter Anymore?

Lately, I’ve come to the uncomfortable reality that perhaps my obsession with delivering clarity and definition in the digital photographs is much more important to me than it is to many in the Internet (and even print) publishing community. From the opinions I’ve heard recently, it would seem that people really just don’t care. Could that be true?

I recently decided to investigate high-end (1.5-14 million dollar) real estate listing photos to see how the Real Estate Master Salesmen represent their clients’ properties. What I discovered was a bit disturbing. While most of the multiple (sometimes up to twenty-five) scenes presented in these listings were very well captured by the photographer, the post production preparation; delivering what I think of as “The Big 3″ imaging issues (tonality, color, and clarity) was glaringly absent.

Images are the visual vehicles that whisk viewers away on an emotional journey. If you want your viewer to take this ride, you must make your vehicle attractive and easy to enter. Look at the images below, and see if you get what I mean. The image on the left is the current listing image, the one on the right, my attempt to correct the screen capture of the Internet image. I only wish I’d had access to the original images!


My question (to anyone who would like to comment) is “if you were representing a client’s home and had a choice of how that image would be viewed by potential buyers, why would you not choose to optimize these image(s) before you listed them?” Question number two must follow: “don’t you not think that your prospects would benefit from the difference?”

DIM 2-B4Once again the image above is the current listing and my “fixed” version of the image.

DIM 2-AfterPut yourself in the place of a potential buyer. Would the optimized version of each scene not make it easier to picture yourself in that room? Would the level of visual appeal feed your prospect’s desire, or would this attention to detail make no difference at all?

To keep this issue in perspective, keep in mind that I spent the first seven years of my young career running very large and very noisy printing presses. I got worn out trying to make the color pictures look better by tweaking the controls on the press. Realizing that this was not the answer to great images in print, I refocused my career path back into the image preparation side of the shop. I apprenticed and learn the secret to producing great images on press was to prepare them properly before they made their way into the pressroom. I actually spent a three year stint shooting my own litho films, plating them myself, and then running the press that printed them. Wow, what a difference it made.

DIM 3-B4

DIM 3-AfterLike most journeys in life, I learned to begin with the end in mind. I knew the press’ appetite and I started feeding it what it could digest. That started a very long romance with producing stellar images, whether they are destined for the press or the Internet. Here’s a big hint… one image doesn’t satisfy all needs. Each output needs unique preparation. This is a generally ignored concept, but an absolutely true one.

DIM 5-B4

Now I find myself a member of a group of ex-photoengravers who know the secrets of image preparation but are somewhat disillusioned by the fact that visual quality might not mean that much anymore. What a shame. What a loss.


Many of these specialist fraternity members of DIM 5-Aftercolor separators and photoengravers were summarily dismissed by the desktop publishing revolution but still hold the keys to the kingdom.

Let me know what you think about this.

For those who want to produce the very best results from digital images, I suggest you learn about the key issues of color and light as it affects digital photography. A good place to start might be to watch my online Gotta-Know Video series. It will fill in a lot of the blanks and disclose many of the mysteries left by the departure of the color separators and photoengravers. Whether you learn this from me or from somewhere else, please learn how to shape your images before you unleash them on the public. You’ll see a difference.

Watch this free introduction to my video series on light and color.

See you next time,


Posted in Tonality and Appearance, Underpinnings and Core Issues | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

The Great Paynter European Photo Adventure- Post One

I just finished a 30-day trek around southern Europe with my best friend (my wife Barbara), and my Lumix G5. This composite shot (one of over 4500 taken during the trip) is of one of the Dresden Museums, just down the plaza from Frauenkirche cathedral. I left my big Nikon at home and traveled with my mirror-less Lumix G5, two lenses, and a MeFoto Roadtrip tripod packaged in a CaseLogic sling. Dresden is an amazing city! Put it on your bucket list.

I put myself on a very strict photo regimen. Since I preach about the necessity of understanding light, I figured I had to put it into action. I decided to shoot by The Deerhunter mandate: one shot, one kill. No bracketing, no retakes, and no peeking. Dangerous? You bet. Scary? Yep. But a very rewarding challenge. I only reviewed the images each evening as I downloaded them to my laptop.

For the most part, the images are unedited. What you see is what the camera captured.

Dresdon Museum PanoThis image started out as three images that were “photomerged…” in Photoshop. Aside from that, they are virgin pixels. Morning sunlight coming across the scene provided the contrast. Low ISO (160), f5.6 aperture and a moderate (1/400) speed provided the stable focus. Spot metering on the glass above the front door delivered the tonal balance. The WB was set to Daylight.

Dresdon Museum Pano BWSince the image contained a full range of tones, the resulting black and white was pretty much a straight conversion with just a little contrast added for drama.

Reading and metering the available light accurately and setting the camera to address those readings almost always delivers results for me. The real discipline is in taking the time to use my brain before I use my camera. Get bright about light and the dividends will pay off big time.

I also suggest that you take the opportunity to learn more about the basics of light and color from my video series entitled the “Gotta Know Videos: Part One- Light and Color.”

Until next time, this is Herb Paynter

Image | Posted on by | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Shedding Light on Black and White Part 3: The Digital Conversion

A comparison between the way film-based cameras and digital cameras capture spectral information and transpose that information into black and white images.

Photography is all about Light. The more we understand about the way light behaves, the better we will understand how to capture it, edit  it, and render it in both display and printed form. 

Sorry for the delay in posting this final segment, I just returned from a month-long trek through southern Europe capturing about a zillion images from rich, cultural cities.

Original sRGB Color Camera Capture

Original sRGB Color Camera Capture

This color image of Frauenkirche Cathedral was captured in Dresden Germany. In this session we’ll look into how to interpret your color pictures into rich black and white images.

Each color is converted to a range of gray tones. The trick is to analyze each image for its color content and the relative importance of that color in the grayscale interpretation. 

As with most other issues in photo reproduction, restraint is the key. Considering the interpretive freedom that digital color conversion affords, digital black and white images can actually provide superior tonal transitions to dedicated grayscale film emulsion captures. 

Color vs Monochrome ColorChecker Captures

Color vs Monochrome ColorChecker Captures

First, realize that not all colors are created equal. By this I mean that solid yellow should always produce a lighter shade of gray than red or blue. Probably the best way to understand these tonal values is to shoot an x-rite ColorChecker passport chart using your camera’s Daylight white balance setting (obviously under daylight conditions).

Custom Value Assignments vs Default Grayscale Values

Default Color>Grayscale Value Table

When this RGB file is then converted to Grayscale (from the Image/Mode menu in Photoshop), the relative gray values of the primary and secondary colors can be observed. As each solid color value is revealed, keep these general “solid” values in mind as you build your Custom conversion palette. 

Photoshop provides a powerful color-to-black-and-white conversion tool that allows you to produce a custom table for your individual camera sensor (Image/Adjustments/Black & White…). The default settings for this tool shouldn’t be trusted for “fit” anymore than a one-size-fits-all dress or suit. Use a Monochrome capture of your X-rite colorchecker to visually balance the mix of color channel values to actual grayscale values. 

But even this custom setup shouldn’t necessarily be your ultimate grayscale conversion process. Over time and trial and error, you can develop your personal preference settings.

Custom Color>Grayscale Value Table

Custom Color>Grayscale Value Table

This chart image can be used to fine-tune your grayscale values. Just as Kodak, Ilford, Agfa, and other black and white films provided a color/tone bias, you too can establish your own “Signature” black and white conversion look. Every camera manufacturer’s image sensor records these colors uniquely. With a little experimentation, you can develop a very rich and powerful conversion table to interpret your own camera’s image sensor algorithm.


Saturation Values Removed

Default Grayscale Conversion Table Results

If you choose to convert your color image to Grayscale (Image/Mode/Grayscale), or simply remove all Saturation values (Image/Adjustments/Hue/Saturation…), the resulting default gray equivalent values will not accurately translate into the proper grayscale values. Never again settle for a lifeless, one-size-fits-all black and white conversion. Monochromatic images are incredible powerful visual statements. Remember, black and white images fuel the imagination in a way that color images simply cannot. Make your black and whites demand the attention of your audience and thus deliver the full impact of your personal interpretation.

That’s the way I sees it. Take some time to experiment with these conversion tools. Shoot some images of diverse color themes and develop your own “signature” conversion table. This is very powerful stuff. Once again, the more you learn about light, the better your photography will turn out. Get bright about light and the dividends will pay off big time.

If you learn a little something from this blog, I seriously suggest that you take the opportunity to learn more about the basics of light and color from my online video series entitled the “Gotta Know Videos: Part One- Light and Color.”

Until next time, this is Herb Paynter

Posted in Analog and Digital Photography, Underpinnings and Core Issues | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Shedding Light on Black and White Part 2

A comparison between the way film-based cameras and digital cameras capture spectral information and transpose that information into black and white images.

Photography is all about Light. The more we understand about the way light behaves, the better we will understand how to capture it, edit  it, and render it in both display and printed form. In this session we’ll look into the light-capturing capabilities of light sensors of two types: CCD and CMOS. I won’t get into the technical differences between the two technologies because it is not germane to this discussion.
What these two systems do have in common is the challenge of recording and interpreting spectral data (the color properties of light) and rendering that information in monochromatic form. While they both see the same light, they record it quite differently. All serious photographers love black and white photography. And all serious photographers recognize the difference between film and digital black and white images. What is not immediately obvious is why there is a difference. I’ll try to shed a bit more light on this issue in this second session in the series.

Film cameras make use of the light-response attributes of silver-halide, and various black and white films are composed of slightly differing formulations of silver and bromoiodide atoms as well as other coatings that record nuances of colors that affect the black and white interpretation of color subjects.
Digital cameras work on a more sophisticated system that involves electrical current. Photo cells actually count photons (the atomic level of light measurement), and use electrical current to amplify the levels (based on the ISO settings).
But here’s where the personality of monochromatic digital captures literally falls flat. When a digital image is captured in monochrome form, the camera discards all RGB information and only records luminous data. While this sounds reasonable for a black and white result, it negates the nuances of spectrally-weighted transformation. Each manufacturer determines how each color in light is parsed as a monochromatic value.
You are literally at the mercy of the engineers writing the algorithms. A process that can be quite mathematical and romantically sterile; all information is recorded in a very flat and mechanical manner. While some very interesting and useful translations are offered by come camera manufacturers, you are still locked into someone else’s interpretation.
When digital images are captured in full RGB color and then transposed into black and white during the  image editing process, you, the photographer get to creatively transpose those spectral colors into gray tones that can more richly interpret colors to tones.
If you are editing in Adobe Photoshop, open the Black and White… menu item from the Image/Adjustments menu. Within this very powerful interpreter, each color can be tuned to a specific gray range, giving you to the total control over how each color is transposed into the monochromatic mode.
The Preset menu offers a number of springboard settings that can be modified to your own liking. The little gear symbol to the right of the Preset menu allows you to save and recall any number of color/mono transpositions. This puts you in control of the conversion process and gives you the power to shape your own black and white images.
That’s the way I sees it. Take some time to experiment with these tools. Shoot some images of diverse color themes and develop your own “signature” conversion style. Very powerful stuff.
Once again, the more you learn about the behavior of light, the better your photography will turn out. Get bright about light and the dividends will pay off big time.
I also suggest that you take the opportunity to learn more about the basics of light and color from my video series entitled the “Gotta Know Videos: Part One- Light and Color.”
Until next time, this is Herb Paynter

Posted in Analog and Digital Photography, Underpinnings and Core Issues | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Shedding Light on Black and White

A comparison between the way film-based cameras and digital cameras capture spectral information and transpose that information into black and white images.
Photography is all about Light. The more we understand about the way light behaves, the better we will understand how to capture it, edit it, and render it in both display and printed form.
If you shoot with a digital camera and love black and white photography, this series will give you some insider information that should help you understand why digital black and white images don’t have the same “feel” as film-based black and white prints. And I’ll present some suggestions about how to bridge the gap and regain the feel.
There are three issues that I’d like to address in this mini-series that will shed some light on the whole black and white issue. The first session will examine how film emulsion and silver halide grains capture and interpret the spectral qualities of light. The second session will look at how digital camera sensors deal with that same spectral information. The third session will present some insights and settings you can employ in both camera capture and post editing that can help you get that film feel back in your black and white photography.
Session One: The Silver Connection
First, a little background (and to some folks, a review) about the element of silver and the part it plays in black and white photography. This amazing art form is based on the light-sensitive nature of silver halide. The primary element in the light capture process in photography is the silver halide crystal. 
The photographic term “silver halide” refers to the cultured crystals that are formed when silver and bromoiodide atoms are joined and “cultured” on a molecular level. These silver halide crystals are then spread evenly within a gelatin layer and coated (in total darkness) on to a plastic film base. 
Black and white (or monochrome) films are produced and marketed by several film manufacturers. Each of these films is engineered to produce a unique visual characteristic. Photographers all have their own preferred “signature” look that is produced by one of these different film brands. These films produce specific results to satisfy the discerning eye of the photographer. Different lots of films also display unique characteristics causing serious photographers to buy a quantity of films from the same lot, storing them in very controlled coolers until they can be used. This produces great consistency in the work of discerning photographers.
Depending on how fine the grain is (how small the crystals are), the higher the count of these photo-sensitive light receptors will be in the film window of the camera. Note that smaller (or finer) silver halide grains are less sensitive to light than larger grains. 
This is why Kodak’s Tri-X film has a higher ASA rating than Plus-X, and a much higher rating than Panatomic-X film. The larger the grain size, the more sensitive it is to light, and thus the “faster” the film. Larger, more light-sensitive film grain produces much higher levels of contrast. Thus Kodak Tri-X produces images from lower levels of light and appears “sharper” because of the more pronounced definition properties of the silver halide grains.
Each of these silver halide grains reacts molecularly to the light hitting it. When exposed to light, each crystal forms a small, stable “latent image.” This latent is invisible to the eye because it has not yet been chemically affected by a development solution. This latent image remains “exposed” as long as the film is kept in total darkness.
When it time to develop the exposed images on the film, the film is removed from the film canister (in total darkness), and wound carefully onto a stainless steel reel; a process that takes significant practice to accomplish without crimping (and thus permanently damaging) the film. This reel is then placed inside a light-tight stainless steel tank. 
Development of the latent images on the film takes place when the film comes in contact with an alkaline development solution. There a number of specific development solutions that affect the latent images, each with its own characteristics. Serious photographers carefully choose these development solutions for specific results. 
The silver grains darken during the carefully-timed and gently-agitated contact with the developer. Each grain darkens in accordance to its individual exposure to light. This development solution chemically chars the exposed silver grains. Grains that have been subjected to greater light turn darker than grains that have been exposed to lesser light. 
The different development solutions produce different internal contrast levels. The timing of the development is critical and lighting conditions during the exposure process can be compensated by “pushing” or overdeveloping the films.
When the development cycle is complete, the spent development solution is drained from the canister and an acid based solution called “stop bath” is poured in. This stop bath solution arrests the development process.
The canister is again drained and a hypo-clearing agent (or fixer) is poured into the canister which removes the unexposed silver particles from the emulsion layer and clears away any residual light-blocking properties. 
The canister can be safely exposed to normal room light and film is then thoroughly rinsed in flowing water to remove the fixing solution. The film is then submerged in a whetting agent solution to remove any calcium deposits from the water, squeegeed of excess fluid, and is hung in a drying cabinet under very low heat until dry. Until the film’s emulsion is totally dry, it is particularly vulnerable to scratching. Great care is taken to preserve the integrity of the developed image all the way through the development process.
So what is the cause of the visual romance with black and white photography? Sensitivity to light, or photographic speed, is one of the most important attributes of the emulsion. Here’s something you might not know…light sensitivity is typically enhanced during manufacture by a heat treatment in the presence of tiny amounts of sulfur and gold compounds (chemical sensitization). Organic dyes, usually cyanine dyes, are then applied to the crystal surface to extend the basic UV and blue sensitivity to other colors in the visible spectrum (spectral sensitization). Different film brands contain emulsions that have been dyed to respond selectively to blue, green, and red light, thus giving b/w photography a visual personality. Simply desaturating digital color images cannot possibly deliver this same tonal character. Converting color images to full-bodied monochromatic images requires a bit of understanding about the behavior and personality of light. A topic near and dear Tom my heart, as you probably realize by now.
I’ll get into this issue more in the third session.
Factoid: A single ounce of silver can produce enough silver halides to take 5000 photographs.
When you are finished, you have a negative image of the original scene. It is a negative in the sense that it is darkest (has the highest density of opaque silver atoms) in the area that received the most light exposure. In places that received no light, the negative has no silver atoms and is clear. In order to make it a positive image that looks normal to the human eye, it must be printed onto another light-sensitive material (usually photographic paper), which reverses the negative image into a positive one. Actually, you could say that the whole film- based photographic experience is a very negative one! (Sorry about that, it was just too easy to pass up.)

Anyway, that’s the way I sees it. 

Join me next time when we look into the way digital cameras deal with black and white images. In the mean time, please take five (actually more like six) minutes to watch a shameless plug about my new video series at This is stuff you just gotta know in order to shoot like a pro.

See you next time. Herb


Posted in Analog and Digital Photography, Underpinnings and Core Issues | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Quest for Clarity

Title sounds ominous enough.

My first attempts to produce “snappy” pictures in print started in my sophomore year in college. I was the production manager for our college magazine and was determined to make the images in the the next issue pop off the page-

BigEye Halftones

I just had no earthly idea what that required. I didn’t understand the reproduction game at the time. I remember accompanying the school photographer on assignments and asking him to shoot “high contrast pictures.” A little vague in direction, but my intent was pure.

I had just seen way too many images in print that looked flat and lacking in detail and figured that the photographer needed to pick up his game. I thought that if he just shot the picture with more contrast, the image would print with greater clarity. Made sense.

At that time I was working my way through college in the reproduction department of Tropical Gas Company in Miami Florida, running forms and reports and an occasional newsletter. 1250 MultiWhen I ran a photo in our company newsletter, the halftone images that emerged from my Multilith 1250 duplicator usually printed flat, and I figured the fault had to be the photographer’s. That was my early approach to QC in photographic images. I understood absolutely nothing about the photo/lithographic process at the time. Though that was about to change big time.

What I came to realize was that there were several VERY significant steps between the camera shot and the images coming out of the duplicator. Lighting on the scene was important, but it was only the first move in the reproduction ballet. In between were the critical steps of film development, photographic enlargement (the print) and the halftone conversion process. The lights began to turn on. Over the next few years I began my quest for image clarity.

35mm-dev-tankI determined to learn and take control over all the steps in the process, starting with the photography, developing my own films, enlarging my own prints, and shooting my own halftone images. The quest now had a plan. The kid was in control.

Funny how life unfolds. Here I am nearly fifty years later and I’m still on that quest. After investing a bunch of time in the lithographic and photographic industries, I’m still on track. Digital film instead of emulsion, digital development instead of rocking canisters and trays, editing on a digital display instead of dodging and burning on an enlarger easel, and printing on ink jets and displaying on the Internet instead of spitting paper out of a small quick-copy duplicator. But the challenge remains. An eternal quest for image clarity. Same challenge, just a different landscape. No matter where you are in this visual journey, keep learning. It’s an honorable quest!

That’s the way I sees it.

Check out my latest video asking you the question: “What’s the Key Factor in All of Photography?” You might be surprised at my summation. It’s six minutes long- take the time!

Drop me a note. I’d like to hear your thots. Let’s learn together.

See you next time.


Posted in Analog and Digital Photography, Opinions | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Dreamers, Mechanics, Propeller heads, and Pundits

Pardon my absence for the two weeks or so, I’ve been doin’ some personal rearranging. This started by engaging in some personal reflection. Always revealing, but somewhat dangerous. Please don’t get offended at this silliness. It just lets me grasp the historical players.

When I was in the litho industry shooting photos and mechanicals/pasteups into pre-press negatives, assembling film, burning plates, and running printing presses I learned quickly the difference between the printing industry and the art community.

Those of us who followed the strict disciplines of the engraving and printing trades dealt with the harsh realities of the physical world. Those who designed logos, dealt with color swatches, and produced art lived by concepts and ideas, but had no earthly idea what was required to turn those fluffy design concepts into printed reality.

For easy reference I labeled the two symbiotic camps with simple descriptors: the dreamers and the mechanics. The dreamers created new and impossible out-of-the-box projects to purposely torture we mechanics.  No amount of explaining the physical limits of the trade seemed to mellow their imagination though, God bless them. They kept life interesting.

Propeller Heads

When the desktop revolution erupted in the mid-eighties a whole new breed of un-humans appeared who had no concept of, or respect for, either the mechanics or the dreamers. These geeky propeller-heads were totally bent on changing all the rules of both camps. All the sudden the dreamers and the mechanics found something in common: they didn’t want to have anything to do with the propeller heads.

These geeky weirdos developed boxes called computers that were based on a whole new expression system. One designed around mathematics. Math had little to do with printing and absolutely nothing to do with design. It was a whole new weird way of life.

The litho group didn’t like them because their silly software was based on a grid system that totally violated the principles of halftone production and their math-based resolution clashed with known screen rulings and angles; 133lpi screens were now calculated at 124.624dpi to accommodate the new film generators called imagesetters. Attempts by the graphic arts community to adapt to this new system created violent problems on press. Moires abounded and type placed on screen tints always had light leaks. Early color separations were based on slide-rule formulas that didn’t account for some of printing’s simple laws of physics- like the fact that paper stretches on press and that equal parts of cyan magenta and yellow don’t produce neutral gray; they actually produce a muddy brown. Professional trade printers (the mechanics) started refusing to accept work produced by the desktop yearlings. The projects they submitted sometimes cost more money to accommodate and correct than the printing job was worth.

The design community were just a dismayed at the choke-hold restrictions of grid-based designing. The free fluid flow of design suddenly had to be forced into geometric pixel arrays. The dreamers didn’t have any idea of what a pixel or an array even was let alone how to draw a smooth curve with tiny jagged square blocks. For a while the geeks were satisfied to print dot-matrix flyers and newsletters. Neither the design community nor the printing industry took the desktop crowd seriously because the “work” they produced was too amateur to consider a threat. But it was an uneasy peace. The winds of war were blowing.

This new geek nation was on a mission to change the world and that included the graphic arts. The obvious next step was to replace the old-school design community and dinosaur printing industry with design geeks. And so it was.

As momentum for the movement picked up and the technology improved, the design geeks started churning out computer-looking printed projects. As more wannabe designers joined the ranks, an entire culture of look-alike publishing projects flowed from laser printers by the ream. Sensing the financial opportunity on the horizon, publications sprung up supporting and promoting these new designers and publishers.

Enter the Pundits

Every movement has its media pundits and this new desktop movement was no exception. Writers and pundits filled the magazines with fresh new ideas about desktop publishing. Regular trade shows on both coasts promoted this phenom rage. As the ranks swelled in the desktop movement, the pundits became the authorities on all things publishing. The articles in the publications were written by the new designers and service bureau workers encouraging more folks to join the publishing revolution.

It took a while for the three camps to hold hands, and a lot of traditional professionals got swept away in the process. But now the circle is pretty-much redrawn as the desktop folks actually started learning good design and the printing industry (those who survived the carnage of the revolution) redefined itself and licked its wounds.

I remember this process well because I played a part in all three camps, and I survived (I think). Life doesn’t necessarily get easier as time goes on, but it does present rewards to those who remain mentally flexible enough to keep reinventing themselves.

Here’s my latest mutation. I invite you to scoot over to and take a look at my newest incarnation. It kinda sums up what I’ve learned over the years and want to pass along to the new breed of photographer/publisher.

And that’s the way eye sees it.

If you enjoyed this little rant, pass it along. See you next time.


If you have an iPad and want to learn more about how your eye buys into the camera’s insidious lies, check this out:

Posted in Opinions | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Brain’s Visual Cortex Corrects Color Casts. Naturally.

The setting in the image capture and editing processes known as White Balance is a curious one indeed. PrintThe human light perception system is so complex, and so intuitive,  that we don’t totally understand how it even works. All human color correction happens so automatically that we sometimes don’t appreciate how worry-free it really is.

As photographers this natural phenomenon becomes more apparent when we deal with the limitations of our cameras to capture and sort out the variety of lighting conditions that occur constantly. Our cameras cannot deal with nature’s lighting changes subjectively, and intuitively like our minds can. This is because camera image processors are machines, and they can only record light objectively. And the white balance controls in both our cameras and our editing software are built purely upon broad assumptions. Therein lies the problem. We assume that our cameras can see light the same intuitive fashion that our eyes do. But that’s a bad assumption.

Your eyes adapt to color temperature changes constantly. To prove this just put on sunglasses that have a slight color tint. While this tint is noticeable for a moment, in just a few seconds the color processor in your visual cortex will recalibrate the scene and completely eliminate the color cast. Any object that your mind recognizes as typically white will appear white even if the color of the light reflecting from it has a color cast.

This is because your eyes and your brain enjoy what we call Memory Colors. Memory Colors are colors that you have seen so often that they are registered in your brain in some form of human reference system. Even if the lighting on an object is less than optimal, your memory colors automatically remove the color cast in your mind.

When the camera sees a color cast it records that color cast quite objectively. Golden hour photographs exhibit a warm cast and as long as our camera’s white balance is set to Daylight, that warm color cast will seem natural. But at the same time, Daylight WB photographs shot in overcast situations will exhibit a slight blue cast that will appear cool and unnatural. To record colors that appear natural, we must set the camera’s WB to Cloudy, which tunes out the bluish cast. If images are captured in the shadow under overcast lighting, the appearance will be even more blue unless we set the WB to Shade. Now that ain’t natural!

Thank you Lord for the gifts of Memory Colors and true Auto White Balance. Remember, you gotta be smart because your camera is capable, but it really isn’t smart! Coming soon: The GottaKnow Video Series. The online video series that will make you bright about light and color savvy. Get Smart. Your camera is depending on it.

That’s the way eye sees it. Feel free to leave a comment and keep the conversation going. If you saw this post listed on a LI group page, add a comment to the listing in that group! Thanks for joining me. If you like this blog, let me know and tell your friends.

See you next time, Herb

PS. if you have an iPad and are interested in learning about more about the fundamentals of digital photography, I suggest that you take a look at my Accurate Color iBook in the iTunes Store

Posted in Analog and Digital Photography, Opinions | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments