My Lifelong Quest for Image Clarity

The 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 publication pop off the page-

I had no earthly idea how that was supposed to happen. I understood absolutely nothing about either photography or the print reproduction game at the time. I remember accompanying the school photographer on assignments, asking him to shoot “high contrast pictures.” This was a little vague in direction, but it sounded like it ought to have an impact on the final print.

Eye-Pixel-HTI had seen way too many printed pictures that looked flat in when printed, and lacking in detail. I 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 the time. Like most non-printer people assume today, the photographer determines the visual appearance of printed pictures. I’ve since learned a quite different explanation.

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 from the company’s Multilith 1250W duplicator (a small beginner’s version of a printing press). 1250 MultiEvery time I wanted to print a black and white photo in the company newsletter, I had to have the local “repro shop” produce a printing plate containing a halftone (a simulation of the photograph broken into variable size dots). My halftone images usually printed flat, and I figured the fault had to belong to the photographer.

That was my early approach to QC in photographic images. I understood absolutely nothing about the photo/lithographic process but 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 from 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 learning lights began to turn on. Over the next few years I began my quest for printed image clarity.

35mm-dev-tankI determined to learn and take control of 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 over fifty years later and I’m still on that quest. After investing decades in the lithography and photography industries, I’m still on track. Digital film instead of emulsion, digital image processing instead of rocking film canisters and print trays, editing on a digital display instead of dodging and burning on an enlarger easel, and printing on publication presses and publishing on the Internet instead of spitting paper out of a small quick-copy duplicator. But the challenge remains. An eternal quest for image clarity. Actually, it’s the 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.

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

See you next time.


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Photoshop Tools and Audio Controls

There exists an amazing parallel between the sciences of audio and photography; one that I learned about in the ’80 from personal experience. I owned a hybrid photo/litho production company in Nashville Tennessee from 1973-1986. This allowed me to enjoy both the creative and the production sides of the communications industry

.studer a800 Harrison_Console

I had contracts with Studer/Revox and Harrison Systems, the audio industry’s top tape machine and recording console manufacturers, designing and producing their print advertising materials. What I learned about audio processing during this period definitely improved my understanding of color image processing.

bass-treble  Multiband-EQ-Enabled

By watching sound studio engineers, I learned that shaping sound is very similar to shaping images. Think of bass as shadows and treble as highlights. A simple example of a parametric EQ is a treble/bass knob; a crude overall shifting of tones. The internal contrast of each (audio and photo) range clarifies detail and provides punch in both sound and sight. The distribution and emphasis of the middle tones in both sound and pictures is critical. Muddy sound is just as obvious as muddy pictures.

This is the same “crossover” principle used in the audio industry to clarify and boost deep bass sounds, separating them from the rest of the audio spectrum, can be applied to photographic ranges.

Levels control  Curves Tool

The difference between the Curves tool and the Levels tool closely reflects the functional differences between multi-band graphic equalizers and parametric equalizers. The beloved Histogram serves as a simplified (visual) Spectrum Analyzer.

There is a good reason why the word “color” is used to describe sound shaping in the audio industry as much as it is used in the photo industry. I gained a whole new view of photographic color and tonal shaping from from working inside sound studios. (I also now own a killer personal sound system.) I may share some of this insider info in another post series.

Dependence on the general contrast controls (Photoshop’s Levels dialog) and audio’s treble/base knob rarely produces real clarity. Next time you listen to music on a good audio system, think about these parallels. What you hear from a well-adjusted sound system will actually let you see this issue more clearly.

If you really want to understand to shape your color photos in Photoshop or Lightroom, you need to understand how to shape and contour the light. Follow this blog and you’ll start learning some pretty nifty ways to put the spunk and pop in your printed image.

And here’s another way I can help you. I’ve created a very entertaining and easy-to-understand video series that will teach you the Fundamentals of Color and Light. This series of nine instructional videos will get you on track to capture and produce amazing color.

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Out of the Shadows and Into the Light

Uncovering Hidden Details In the Shadows. There are usually significant details hidden under the weight of the darkest parts of an image. These darker details are very rich and revealing, and to some extent they are recoverable, but they must be carefully extrapolated. The reason why these details are hiding has to do with the default linear tone mapping that takes place in the camera when the image is being captured. While image sensors see light linearly, the human eye doesn’t!

Notice the illustration below. The reason the top gradation stripe looks “natural” is because that’s the way your eye registers light; pretty evenly distributed across the range. The bottom strip is how your camera parses that same volume of light.
LinearCapture Eye-Camera

Compared to human eyesight, digital camera sensors are biased in the way they capture light. It is a known fact that over half the luminance range captured by digital cameras favors the lightest tones in the picture while the darkest tones are quite slighted. When an image is opened in an image editing application, the highlight and quarter-tone detail is lavishly represented while the shadow/three-quarter tones are scantly recorded. Put simply, the image sensor is designed to dynamically record light. The brighter the light, the more information is recorded. Where I come from, this is called blatant discrimination!

It is for this reason that capture saved in RAW format can be a bit overexposed (when looking at the on-camera histogram). There is always more information present in the image than the histogram can reveal. Truth be known, the beloved histogram only displays the relative values of just 128 tones. Considering the fact that normal 24-bit color photos can display over 16,000,000 colored tones, there are more than enough tones to spread around without encountering objectionable “posterizing” effects.DIM 2-B4Arch B4 Hist

DIM 2-After

Arch Aft HistAbove, you see a published example of an image significantly lacking in shadow detail. To the left you see the histogram of that image. Notice that the shadow side of the histogram is not slammed up against the left side. This is a good sign. There is still room for adjustment.

Above you see that same image after the shadow tones have been moved into the middle tones, resulting in the whole image brightening and showing more detail. Notice the histogram to the left. In spite of this image being a second generation JPEG, there was ample detail in the shadow region that just needed to be opened.

Also notice that this shift of the shadow tones didn’t affect the quarter-tones and highlights. Remember, detail is a product of internal contrast. If you want to see shadow detail, you’ll have to “expose” the internal contrast within the shadow tones. The key to good photo interpretation is balance, and balance is governed by the type of lighting in the scene (high key, normal, low key, etc.) Learn to interpret the effective light range (either at exposure or during editing) and take bold steps to deliver both smooth transitions and visual detail.

What to do? Because of this “weighted” light range reality, three imperatives become evident for editing digital images. First, capture your  images in your camera’s RAW format (perhaps in conjunction with a high-level JPEG format. Second, slightly overexpose your images. Remember, your camera is capturing vast levels of quarter tones and highlight detail. And third, get serious about spreading out the lower end of the contrast range in RAW Interpreter software like Camera Raw or Lightroom. The editing tools present in these nearly identical toolsets allows for significant internal contrast adjustments with absolutely no loss of detail.

Shadow detail is not nearly as fragile as some would purport. The lower range of the tonal range is quite visually robust. Don’t be afraid to push some of those three-quarter tones north toward the middle tones. Your images will thank you. One more note about shadow details; they actually need to be separated to display properly. Separate those tones and watch the details jump out.

If you really want to understand what makes color work, you need to understand how light behaves. And here’s where I can help you. I’ve created a very entertaining and easy-to-understand video series that will teach you these fundamentals and get you on track to capture and produce amazing color.

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White Balance and Gray Balance Can Destroy Color- Part One

Sometimes taking a neutral position on things isn’t really the safe thing to do – sometimes it’s actually downright destructive!

WB Camera Setting  Auto White Balance. Your camera’s Auto White Balance, or AWB is a typical fallback lighting selection used by most of us because we assume that the camera is smarter than we are, or at least more capable of judging lighting conditions. But assuming that AWB will always diagnose lighting and set the proper color temperature is risky. Here’s why.

Color Wheel NeutralThe first thing to understand is that in the language of RGB color, equal values of red, green, and blue (like red 128, green 128, and blue 128) produce an absolutely neutral gray color.

The AWB algorithm in your camera always assumes that there is a detectable neutral gray component present in every scene. It then examines the light reflecting from objects in the scene and locks onto the cluster of pixels whose values are closest to equal. The AWB algorithm then dutifully forces those colors to become absolutely neutral value. And at the same time, all colors in the scene are shifted to the same degree. This is the heart of auto white balance.

This is all well and good IF that color in the scene is suppose to be neutral (gray) in color. This color shift will then actually improve the balance of color in the imageAlaska NiteLight
But, if the scene doesn’t actually contain a neutral gray component; if there is a bluish –somewhat-gray item (like the snow scene above), and you capture the image with Auto White Balance, there will be trouble. The image on the left was captured with Daylight setting. The image on the right was captured with AWB. Notice that the camera interpreted the bluish snow as “neutral,” rendering it unnaturally gray. The image processor in the camera changed that bluish color to neutral gray, and shifted all the other colors in the scene in the same direction on the color wheel absolutely destroying the emotion of the scene.

Gray is not a color. Color balance is all about gray. Neutral gray is the colorless backbone of accurate color because it contains equal values of all three RGB colors. Gray is the gold standard by which all accurate color is judged. Auto White Balance is useless unless there is an element of this absolutely neutral “color” in the scene.

With all the whiz-bang technology and automated functions in today’s cameras, we photographers (whether accomplished or improving) are tempted to become a bit lazy. Successful photographers (like the ones who inspired you to purchase your camera) didn’t get successful by accident. They invested time and hard-earned money in their own understanding of the art. But it didn’t stop with the art/composition element. Their understanding of photography included learning about the way light behaves.

The best color balance setting is the one you will choose after evaluating the lighting. And that all starts with understanding how color behaves. When you get beyond learning composition and and the mechanics of your camera’s controls, you realize that learning about light is THE most important part of photography. You soon learn that light is the one thing you MUST learn to control.

If you really want to understand what makes color work, you need to understand how light behaves. And here’s where I can help you. I’ve created a very entertaining and easy-to-understand video series that will teach you these fundamentals and get you on track to capture and produce amazing color. 

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Printed Picture Dynamics – The Good, Lackluster, and Frumpy

Question: with all the technical control afforded by imaging software, advances in digital camera technology, and constantly-improving pre-press and pressroom controls, why do many high-end publication images appear… somewhere between lackluster and frumpy? All aforementioned technology considered, every image in your publication should routinely appear razor sharp and highly detailed, but in too many cases, they don’t! It’s in your best interest to recognize this situation and ask why? Maitland 15

When you look at the feature article pictures in your publications, are you totally knocked out with the results? Are all images showing clarity, detail and definition? If your answer is “yes,” you can stop reading this post now; you are in a fortunate minority. Most publication Editors will answer this question with a quiet “not always,” even though their staff and contract photographers are true professionals. The photos are always well composed and technically accurate, and yet they still lack something.

B4&A-1Here’s a thought. You know those Architectural Digest and National Geographic-grade pictures that nearly assault your eye? Those full bodied, highly detailed mages have that special oomph of detail and authenticity that bumps them way above average Photoshop images. I was fortunate enough to work as a photoengraverfor many years early in my career, producing images for that level of publications, and now find it visually difficult to tolerate frumpy pictures. To me, it’s the visual equivalency to listening to an orchestra out-of-tune. It’s simply unacceptable at this level.

Years ago top-shelf image preparation required precision optics, expensive equipment and highly-trained craftsmen. But in 2015, anyone with a digital camera, a computer and an understanding of the process can produce amazing work. Why then do we continue to see *frumpy pictures on the pages of high-end magazines?

There is only one reason. Frumpy pictures persist because of a lack of understanding about the unique requirements of the printing process. Magazine production departments are full of very talented designers and artists. They are thoroughly versed in the tools and techniques of both Photoshop and InDesign, but perhaps not so much in the fundamentals of light and color. Even professional photographers who finesse and obsess over their beautiful gicleé prints probably don’t fully understand litho color reproduction.bellingham-giclee-printing

The process of lithographic reproduction is quite different from that of inkjet printers. Let me change that. It’s entirely different, involving unique (highlight and shadow) tonal range adjustments, saturation settings, and even image sharpening. Printing presses have special dietary needs, and when fed correctly, they produce spectacular results. But when fed a generic photographic diet, they produce only generic results. Not exactly what you’re looking for.

If you really want to understand what makes color work, you need to understand how light behaves. I’ve created a very entertaining and easy-to-understand video series that will teach you these fundamentals and get you on track to capture and produce amazing color. In the next post I’ll propose causes for why frumpy happens. Watch next for “In the beginning. Lost in translation. A sin of omission.”

*frumpy pictures are soft fuzzy and lacking in detail

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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.

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What You Don’t Know About JPGs is Killing Your Pictures.

All JPG Images Are Cobbled At Birth Everybody knows that JPG images are prone to compression artifacts, meaning every time an image is opened, altered in any way, and re-saved, file re-compression causes additional detail to be lost. But, did you know that if your JPG images are destined for print, those compression/pixelating issues may be the least of your problems?

There is a little-understood JPG gremlin lurking behind printed digital images causing them to print soft and indistinct in the shadow areas of images. Chances are, you’ve seen evidence of this gremlin in publications and simply accepted it as normal.

There are two contributing factors involved First, JPG formatting conforms every camera image into a pre-determined, one-size-fits-none “linear curve” (I think that’s an oxymoron), and it does so regardless of the original scene lighting. This is somewhat akin to voting in a country where there is a single candidate on the ballot. Your choices are slim and none.

Second, regardless of how much data your camera captures, JPG formatting severely compresses the image’s bit depth. Limited bit depth causes very dark areas of photos to virtually plug-up, appearing very dark and muddy. When there are not enough tones to separate, the detail in those areas vanishes.

Bit Depth. Bit depth is technotalk for editable levels of picture information. Typically, digital cameras capture at least 10 bits, or 4000 tones per color. JPG compression reduces those tones down to only 256 tones per color. This drastic reduction in tones means a drastic limitation to your editing and optimizing chores.

Summary: every image your camera captures is forced into a flatline curve appearance, leaving you with very little opportunity to change its appearance without visible damage. Let’s look at these issues individually.

Conformation Curve. Images captured by a digital camera are as unique as seashells; they’re all different. While some are just slightly different, others differ significantly. High-key images are composed largely of lighter tones containing very few dark tones (cat).  “Normal” images have a pretty even dispersion of tones throughout the image (clouds). And low-key images contain mostly darker tones (lamp). You can see the difference, but JPG compression doesn’t even notice.

Linear vs Non-linear Curves

Linear curves have no influence on an image. It is what it is. Non-linear curves are used to alter the appearance of an image.  With JPG, the same linear curve is applied to all images ecumenically. This won’t hurt, did it?

Cat Cloud and LampAnd then there are dozens of subgroups beneath these major types. This disparity of captured lighting conditions requires that individual assignment of tone curves be built to deliver detail from each image type. If you don’t adjust the middle tones, you will leave detail on the cutting room floor.

Since digital camera sensors capture massive amounts of image data (typically 4000 RGB colors inside each pixel), and each image captured can be interpreted in thousands of variations. That’s the good news. The not-so-good news is that JPEG files are initially displayed using a single interpretation of these massive data files. This irreverent generalization conforms every photo into an “average” tonal shape. Even worse, if not rescued and optimized immediately after the capture, this less-than-delicate interpretation of the image data almost always discards important detail from each photo. Hence the label “lossy (or lousy) compression.”

Of Photos and Waffles To clarify the previous statement, this data-reduction JPEG process throws away any excess data recorded by the camera by reducing the 4000 original tones (per RGB color) down to a skeletal 256 frame. This is like pouring five quarts of pancake batter into a waffle iron that can hold only 8 ounces, closing the lid, trimming the excess batter and throwing it away. What you get is a generic pre-shaped waffle photo from every capture. Yum! Sloppy-WafflesNow the somewhat-good news is that the pixels in that waffle photo CAN still be pushed around and shaped to some degree. 256 tones is still actually a lot of data; about two-plus tones for every percentage (1-99%). Not exactly elastic data, but quite manageable if the original camera JPEG is intelligently edited before it is resized and saved.

Overcoming the JPG Curse Herein lies one of the key secrets to success in the world of JPEG photo reproduction. Learn to control light. Edit the data for tone shape (Curves/Levels etc.) directly from a duplicate copy of the waffle photo data. Make at least one sacred duplicate of the original camera file and only perform edits on a duplicate. Unlike silver emulsion film from the old film days, you can duplicate digital data a zillion times without loss. While there is absolutely no comparison between JPEG and RAW image editing flexibility, there is still a whole lot of editable data in that camera JPG file.

Duplicate vs Copy Notice I said “duplicate,” not save and re-save as a copy. Duplicate the file before opening it in Photoshop or Lightroom. Original camera JPG images are every bit as detailed and sharp as 8-bit TIFF files. This (JPG) format was developed by a “joint group of photographic experts” tasked with making digital images load and transfer rapidly over the Internet. The intent of JPG compression is to reduce as much bit depth (the number of levels of color in each pixel) as possible. This serves the additional purpose of occupying as little disk real estate as possible. A noble goal. And one that does not lose detail IF the user understands the imaging process.

Capture Something Wild Ad

Digital images contain millions of pixels containing individual light values. Control light and you’ll control color.

This imaging process is what I will be presenting in some detail in the following posts in this series. I will present the stages of  (visual) image optimization required to produce dazzlingly detailed and surprisingly smooth JPG images. I inserted the work “visual” to differentiate my image optimization process from the JPG process of progressive display.
If you prepare images for print, presentation or are involved in the digital image food chain, I invite you to follow along. That’s the way I sees this. Let me hear from you. See you next time.

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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.


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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,


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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

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