Archive for the ‘Lightroom’ Category

Fickle Fate of Favorite Photo

Tuesday, June 25th, 2013

My most ‘acclaimed’ photo is a good example of the somewhat fickle nature of aesthetic opinion. And furthering the fickleness of this photo, I wouldn’t have captured it at all if Elizabeth hadn’t seen the scene first, taking her own version on the balcony of our Tokyo hotel during a colorful sunset evening last June.


My first success with it was a 3rd place win in the Around the Cities round of the Amateur Photographer of the Year competition, a contest run by the popular UK magazine Amateur Photographer which draws over a thousand entries a month. Foreshadowing the uneven path this image would take, the judges were almost apologetic in explaining that it was the best of the pictures that met the theme, so they decided against choosing it for first or second place (click on the above image to read the caption, and figure out for yourself why a shack in the woods and a deserted bridge would place in a contest of this theme).


Belonging to 3 different camera clubs (do not ask), this image ended up in 6 different club competitions. It didn’t win anything 2 of the times. Entered in a theme competition ‘Architecture’, it won an Honorable Mention, meaning it was in the top 25% of entries that night, also qualifying it for the end of the year competition. As shown above, at the end of year competition it was awarded the blue ribbon for digital projected image, and Best In Show.

It had placed 2nd in the other club in a monthly competition for the theme ‘A Different Point of View’ , finally ending up with an Honorable Mention at that club’s end of year competition. I don’t remember now if it was one of the judges who didn’t give it any ribbon, but one of the four monthly competition judges complained that the rectangles in the center of the image were offset, and wasn’t that a shame.  It should be clear at this point that different judges do have different points of view.

Tokyo Balconies on display in Fenton House

Meanwhile, the Royal Photographic Society, which I had joined in the UK and continue to support, is always looking for ways to encourage their non-UK members. It organized an exhibit from the ‘Overseas Chapters’. The US chapter selected my image, making it one of approximately 100 images that spent a month being exhibited at Fenton House, the Royal Photographic Society’s headquarters in Bath. This exhibit is also scheduled to be in London at the Royal Photographic Society Cave from the 11th to 31st of July, so if you are in London this summer, you can see it.

The picture also generated some attention on a photo critique site where I spend some time, called Photosig. Ending up as my second highest scoring image.

Evening Balconies

In one of the club competitions that didn’t go so well, the picture ended up displayed on its side (don’t ask).  I thought it did have some potential in alternative orientation, but the lacy ironwork seemed unbalanced, so I Photoshopped it, copying the top half, pasting and flipping it, positioning it over the bottom half of the photo, and then rotating it 90 degrees.  I actually like the result a lot.  It has a degree of surreality that I think is interesting. And it fixed that judge’s concern about non-symmetric windows. Several other people like it too, and the surreal version of Tokyo Balconies ended up as my 3rd highest scoring image on Photosig, just behind the non-manipulated version.

For those who are following my series on before & after photos, the non-manipulated version of this image is one that spent no time in Photoshop. The original camera RAW image was processed in Lightroom for global exposure, contrast, and color saturation. White Balance was left As Shot..  The color turns out to be a very important aspect of this image. I experimented with black & white, but it just turns out blah. This is essentially what we saw off our hotel balcony at 6:48 PM

ISO 800, f/18, 1/20 sec (there’s a lot to be said for both steady hands and image stabilization)

Lost Italian Holiday

Friday, April 19th, 2013

Italian Holiday

Sometimes I wonder how many orphaned pictures are wandering around my hard drive, not recognized as being attractive, or interesting, let alone prize worthy. In digital limbo for 6 years,  this 2006 photo of an Italian family swimming and rowing in the Bay of Naples off the coast of Vico Equense is a good case in point.  I like this picture—it has humor, it tells a story, and something about it seems very typical and authentic of the place.  This is street photography on the beach.

Looking for a relatively inexpensive, yet interesting place for a week’s holiday, Elizabeth bought us a trip to Naples in July. Even if wasn’t the 5th week of a garbage workers’ strike, it didn’t take much time in that frantic city to figure out why the rates were low. There’s a reason why Italians say “va fa Napoli” instead of “go to hell.” Claiming Norwegian DNA, Kirk and I melted all over several archeological ruins.  But everybody should get a chance to see Pompeii, and anyone who has failed to experience a bus ride down the Amalfi coast lacks sufficient appreciation for the advantages of western civilization.

Elizabeth did find us a delightful and newly renovated hotel in Vico Equense, a place with fantastic pizza, a relatively laid back lifestyle, and a steep cliff overlooking the vivid green bay of Naples and distant Mount Vesuvius. We spent some time in a lovely little park, overlooking the Bay, watching swimmers, boaters, and a wedding party coming out of a nearby church.  Reaching to the very limits of a 70-200mm zoom, I was checking out the beach, and captured a couple pictures of a family in a rented row boat.  The last one was over exposed and a bit far away.  I don’t know how I eventually stumbled over it years later, but I applied some newer highlight adjustment in Lightroom, pulled down the blacks slider, cropped it, and the unremarkable little picture below suddenly turned into the image at above.

Italian Holiday

Route 15 Bridge Avoids Photoshop

Sunday, April 14th, 2013

Route 15 Bridge, Point of Rocks, MD

Recent posts might give the inaccurate impression that all of my favorite photos have spent long amounts of time in the digital darkroom. While this shot did benefit from the careful selection of 14 different sliders in Adobe Lightroom, along with a minor crop, it’s a single layer, and was not processed in Photoshop (or anything else).

Route 15 Bridge, Point of Rocks, MD

A lot of photographers are blissfully unaware of the degree to which their camera, or the film in their non-digital camera, is making aesthetic decisions on their behalf, and without their cooperation. If you are just using the JPGs spit out by your camera, and haven’t put any significant effort into adjusting the camera’s various processing parameters, then at a minimum, you are letting some Japanese engineer decide how colorful, bright, and contrasty your images are.

The lower image comes as close as possible to showing what the camera saw (Canon EOS 50D, Canon EF-S 17-55 f/2.8 IS USM @37mm, ISO 125, f/5.0, 1/160).  RAW, which confusingly is not an acronym so much as a pretentiously capitalized description, refers to a bitmap dumped directly from the sensor to the memory card, without any processing. Lacking contrast, sharpness, white balance, and the loving touch of a digital darkroom technician, RAW images need to be processed into JPG or TIF before they can be used. The advantage of always shooing in RAW (which is not the same as always shooting in the raw), is that you have the largest possible amount of picture data available to process at your leisure on your PC.

This misty photo of the Rt 15 bridge over the Potomac at Point of Rocks was taken through my Subaru’s window (trick: wait for the wiper to go past) during a record-setting rain in March 2011 (another trick: even if you don’t get out, stop the car—especially if you are the driver).

DAM PCs: Configuring Adobe Lightroom for Dad

Thursday, July 24th, 2008

I spent 2 days of my vacation configuring Adobe Lightroom on my dad’s laptop. We are members of a unique generation, having been forced the hard way to learn how to coddle and configure computers, our parents are totally dependent upon us to ensure that they can send jokes and urban legend links to their retired friends. Our kids use Macs, and don’t need to know how they work, and don’t care.

Configuring Lightroom on my own PC in Feb 07, and actively using it ever since gave me some painful but useful lessons in Digital Asset Management (DAM), that were reinforced thru my experiences helping Dad actually make use of his year old license. He didn’t feel sufficiently motivated to do more than dabble with it, relying on Bridge CS3, although he actually has over 10,000 digital images. Believe me, if you have over 10K photos, you need some sort of DAM software. And you need to be comfortable with the way computers work in order to plan your asset management strategy (and fix it when you get it wrong).

Starting from a Mess

Over the years, Dad had been collecting external hard drives like baseball cards.When I arrived, he had 3 of them connected to his laptop–1 for ‘up to 2006’, 1 for ‘mostly 2007’ and 1 for ‘mostly 2008’. Some directories were duplicated, but nothing was actually backed up. When I finally finished, he had a coherent storage process, and a consistent backup process.

Consolidating and Simplifying

We bought an additional external drive (yes, a 4th one), so we’d have one for a backup. We retired 2 of the drives, making sure that the H: drive had copies of all the pictures, and the backup drive, in conjunction with the two smaller retired drives, between them had a copy of all the pictures, too. I took the biggest drive, and consolidated all the pictures on it, creating directories:


The last 3 names are just meant to represent several subject specific directories that I created for themes Dad repeats consistently. A series of event directories ended up in each of the years, which is the same system I use. I’ve found its reasonably easy to locate specific events and subjects, even if I have 50 or so a year. People who shoot hundreds of pages a day, and have bunches of subjects, usually setup Lightroom to automatically download files into the hierarchy Year\Month\Date. It really doesn’t matter how you organize files on your hard drive, because Lightroom mostly hides those implementation details from you. Just be consistent so you can access them outside of Lightroom if you need them.

Importing Into Lightroom’s Catalog

At this point, I made a tactical error. Instead of importing everything on H:\ into Lightroom, I imported each of the directories on H:\. This meant that it was impossible to create any directory at the top level, at least using the Navigator in Lightroom (yes, I can think of several ways to do it, but why burden Dad with that?). So I rearranged the catalog such that it started at the top of the drive. Now Dad can periodically right click on H:\ in the Navigator, choose ‘Synchronize,’ and be sure that no matter what he might of have done in Bridge, it’ll get picked up and incorporated.

The New Photo Download Process

To download pictures, Dad connects both the backup and the H: drive to his laptop. I configured Adobe Lightroom so that it automatically starts the Import process whenever a Flash card is inserted. Dad chooses the directory he wants the files imported into, and leaves the rest of the configuration alone. Its set to copy the files onto his H: drive, and copy a backup onto the other external drive. When he’s done, he disconnects the backup drive. He’s under strict instructions to not do any editing of files on that drive.

He leaves the keyword field blank. Or at least that’s what I told him to do. I find that its far too easy to inadvertently leave keywords from a previous import, putting spurious meta data into your pictures. Keyword in Grid View after you’ve got them all imported. That’s one of the tricks to Lightroom, making sure that you’ve put enough meta data into your pictures so that you can find them. I’ve got a bunch of presets for setting location, and a couple for setting the creator field. I can locate everything I’ve done for the past 5 years by country, state/county, and (usually) city. I keyword them heavily. Personally, I like to give them unique names that at least summarize the place or event, but I try not to rely on file names as a way to locate files. Its just too clumsy.

Because Dad still anticipates making heavy use of Bridge, I setup Lightroom so that it always makes XMP sidecar files for his NIKON RAW files. This way, Bridge and Lightroom can share the same ACR settings, along with keywords, color labels, etc. (Using DNG would arguably be cleaner, but that’s another discussion.)

When I left, Dad was sorting thru his pictures, tagging them and occasionally moving them–all within Lightroom. He can easily sort them by time (no, I didn’t show him how to edit the capture time of scanned photos), and is well on his way towards finding his favorites based on rating, and subject. Once you’ve done the planning, config, and initial import, your most of the way there. As long as you discipline yourself to put in the meta data, you, and your descendents, will always be able to find the right photo.

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