Archive for the ‘Photoshop’ Category

Bulembu: photo portraits

Wednesday, November 4th, 2009

I got off to a rocky start on the 2nd day. In what turned into my start-of-the-workday pattern, it seemed to always take 45 minutes before I was able to make clean prints. After powering up my computer and Lee Anne’s printer, I started on the 60 small head shots that would be cut out and put into wooden frames that are cutout to look like a body. The kids decorated them yesterday. My first attempt came out with a couple of horrible-looking green prints that would be perfect for a Halloween party, but maybe not so good for a Christian children’s craft. I ran the diagnostic and it indicated that one cartridge was empty, and the other nearly so. Did it drain out overnight? I replaced both cartridges, and after a reboot and a paper jam, was back to printing out a stack of photos.


By the end of the first day, I’d managed to get a stack of 5×7″ pages printed with a total of 43 head shots that were later cut out in circles to insert in the stick people frames. On the second day, I started to print off what would eventually amount to almost 100 4×6″ prints. I wouldn’t have been able to mass produce so many prints in such a short time if I hadn’t brought along a laptop and a copy of Adobe’s Lightroom software.



The printer turned out to be a high-maintenance item. Besides my daily problems with feeding it cartridges (I eventually used up 6 of the 11 cartridges that I’d brought with me), the printer also needed a lot of feeding. Several times I walked away from the printer for 30 minutes to photograph and video some of the other projects, and came back to find that it had run out of paper or had jammed.

Pictures to fit the decorated frames were printed by the end of the day, so I started a second run of the pictures used for the head shots. This time, instead of printing off just their heads, I printed off the entire picture. Some of the kids had put a lot of heart into the posing process, and I figured they’d be disappointed without seeing the entire photo (also, I figured some of the older kids might not be as excited to see their head on top of a popsicle stick).

By the end of our stay, I’d made over 175 prints.


We decided that it’d be fun to stick all the pictures onto a couple of the dividers in the centre so that everybody could see everybody else’s portrait. The younger kids seemed to get a real kick out of seeing their older brothers and sisters hanging up on the wall.

That 70s Show

Wednesday, June 10th, 2009

Heiser_Bay09-21.jpg.jpgIn the summer of 2006, my parents renovated the basement of the house they moved into the day after my June 1978 high school graduation. I was given strict instructions to remove ANYthing that I wanted to keep. In addition to my much beloved HO scale race cars, I found a slightly musty cardboard Kodak photo paper box. It contained a stack of contact prints and negatives from pictures I’d taken from 1976-1978.

My English and European friends aren’t fully aware of how sophisticated many of the extra-curricular activities are at an American high school. In addition to sports and music, journalism is also considered and important activity, participation in which can not only lead to a career, but it also helps develop citizens who are well prepared to participate in a democracy. Bay High, my high school in Bay Village, Ohio, has traditionally had a strong journalism program. When I was in school, we not only had a very competent yearbook, we also had a multi-page newspaper, printed on newsprint by a printer on a weekly basis.

Starting my junior year (11 grade), yearbook adviser Judy Coolidge decided that Bay High was going to have the best yearbook in the country. She chose and motivated an editorial staff of talented juniors and seniors, and set them to work over the summer to develop a theme and to choose a layout. They chose to name the yearbook “The Whole Bay Catalog”, as a pastiche of Stewart Brand’s “Whole Earth Catalog.” My senior year of High School, the yearbook was entitled “Where Do You Go To Find.” Planning went into great detail on the chapters, pages, and even page design (‘magazine layout’). Although there was always opportunity to squeeze in good shots, much of my work for the yearbook consisted of pictures taken to order, to fit into the pre-planned spreads on specific topics. It was a fantastic experience, and 30 years later, I still enjoy photography, but have never found anything as photographically purposeful and challenging as being part of the journalistic team that turned out 2 of the US’ top-10 yearbooks.

Finding a cache of negatives from such a fun and interesting part of my life was a thrill. These are not just souvenirs of my teen years–this is an important body of creative work. I crawled out of the crawlspace, and spent the next several hours poking through the negatives and prints. It was obvious that they had suffered a bit from their lack of care. I went out the next day to buy an archival storage box and acid-free envelopes, and spent another couple hours taking the negatives out of the cheap and yellowing office envelopes that I’d ‘temporarily’ used when I was a kid, placing the negatives into carefully labeled envelopes. When I was done, my archival storage box was almost full. I counted close to 2600 images.

Most of my favorite shots were there, including some that I’d won prizes for. Unfortunately, some were missing, including a couple that were very important to me. There were also a lot of pictures that I’d taken just for fun, or for practice, including color shots of hockey, baseball and tennis. In some cases, I’ve got contact prints without negatives, and those pictures can be recovered, although the quality is low.

Over a three year period of time, I’ve been laboriously scanning, restoring, and uploading the pictures to a web site. In early 2007, I first unveiled 600 pictures on a commercial photo sharing web site (pbase). During the following several years, I continued to restore and upload photos, sending email about the new additions to a growing list of almost 100 former students, parents and teachers. The lion’s share of the photos were done by the summer of 2008 for 20 minute slideshow for our 30th reunion. There are still some photos that have never been seen–mostly several hundred pictures of hockey. I’m finishing those up now, and uploading them to a gallery on my new, PERMANENT web site–this one.

Update 2013:

Most, but not all of these images have been scanned, some have been Photoshopped, and at least all the hockey images, and what other sports images I have, are uploaded. There are still more to go, and as I upload them, I’ll put a notice on the Secret Bay Village page on Facebook.

When we moved back to the USA from England, I found another stash of negatives that I’d forgotten about. It contained all the favorites I’d been missing, Middle School shots, and even what I remembered as my earliest image, taken with a Brownie box camera at the Cleveland Zoo in 1969.  Another blog post describing my last high school shoot, which pictures I don’t believe anybody at BHS ever saw (but they will want to see) can be found at Who’s YOUR Daddy?

A page of some of my favorite high school images, for those who don’t want to wade through several thousand photos.

A small but hopefully growing set of photos from Bay Middle School (many more yet to be scanned from the second stash, including the long missing photos of Asylum).

in ’01, who could have predicted all this?

Monday, January 19th, 2009

As gleefully pointed out in When Satire becomes Ironic, a January 2001 article on humor site The Onion, made multiple jokes about the future Bush presidency that would come almost spookily true. Entitled Bush: ‘Our Long National Nightmare Of Peace And Prosperity Is Finally Over’, the satirical article went online 8 years ago today.

Promises purportedly made by the incoming President in his January 2001 address included a promise “to bring an end to the severe war drought that plagued the nation under Clinton,” assuring citizens that the U.S. will “engage in at least one Gulf War-level armed conflict in the next four years”, and pledging to “bring back economic stagnation.”

A Republican congressional leader reportedly said “Under Bush, we can all look forward to military aggression, deregulation of dangerous, greedy industries, and the defunding of vital domestic social-service programs upon which millions depend.”

“For years, I tirelessly preached the message that Clinton must be stopped,” conservative talk-radio host Rush Limbaugh said. “And yet, in 1996, the American public failed to heed my urgent warnings, re-electing Clinton despite the fact that the nation was prosperous and at peace under his regime. But now, thank God, that’s all done with. Once again, we will enjoy mounting debt, jingoism, nuclear paranoia, mass deficit, and a massive military build-up.”

There’s more satire come true in that prophetic piece, on the state of poverty in America, disenfranchisement of black voters, and the need to find and defeat an enemy.

It’s easy to take an “I told you so” attitude, but remember that the majority of Americans supported a pre-emptive war, although many of them subsequently revised their personal history when it went pear shaped.  It could just be a bizarre coincidence that the political humorists at The Onion managed to so effectively predict what actually would happen during the next 8 years, but I think not.  No one would accuse the Bush administration of excessive transparency; indeed, as Bush so eloquently said himself during his final press conference last week, “We were trying to say something differently, but nevertheless, it conveyed a different message. Obviously, some of my rhetoric has been a mistake.” Forgive me if I’m being ungenerous by suggesting that this was not an elected official who felt a duty to be frank.

In spite of a tendency to obfuscate, spin, and avoid answering direct questions, doesn’t this vintage Onion satire suggest that  the values of the Bush administration were, if not crystal clear (or should I say Kristol clear), discernible from the very beginning?  How much of a surprise can a collapsing economy and 6 years of aggressive war be, when peace and poverty be treated so cynically? It has often been said that a democracy gets the leadership it deserves.  I’m hoping that for the next 8 years, America gets better than it deserves.

NOTE: as verification that the original satire truly was published at the beginning of the Bush years, an archived copy from 19 January 2001 is available on The Wayback Machine.

To Tweak or not to Tweak, that is the digital darkroom question

Thursday, August 28th, 2008

For the past year, I’ve enjoyed membership in the Bracknell Camera Club. The speakers, and competition judges, for that matter, seem to be chosen on the basis of how colorful they are. At least from my POV, growing up in America, some of these crusty old analog dudes are…..unusual.

We had a neurosurgeon speak once. He did beautiful B&W photos of symphony performers, and in his oh-so-received accent he explained that he was actually a very simple man who used the simplest gear possible: a Leica with an F/1 lens. I’m never sure if the English actually are polite or not, but nobody snorted out loud.

A more recent speaker (in calendar terms, not age), was a bit more wired, and he actually used our club digital projector, raving over the potential offered by PowerPoint as a slideshow platform. He animated lines across his photos to demonstrate how in spite of his being a completely intuitive photographer, when you looked at his photos, you had to agree that he was instinctively following well-recognized principles of composition. It would be unfair of me to quote him as having said “One doesn’t tweak.” What he actually said was, and you have to imagine an outdated sort of BBC English that is no longer taught (nor received), “Well, of course I use Photoshop, but just for minor exposure and light balance changes. I do not tweak.”

In terms of either the digital or the analog darkroom, just what constitutes a tweak?

I grew up using an old-fashioned darkroom. Thanks to an extremely talented and dedicated teacher, Judi Coolidge, my high school had a serious journalism program, with one of USA’s consistently rated yearbooks and a weekly, multi-page newspaper. You quickly learn that journalistic photography is about coming up with the goods as requested, on time. When you are sent to cover a story, the editor is planning on using your picture, and if you fail, for either technical or aesthetic reasons, then everybody has a problem.

You try your best to expose correctly, and develop the film properly, but if you screw up, you do what you can to make a usable photo. Once you’ve got a negative in hand, there are a lot of decisions to make with exposure, contrast, dodging, and burning. I actually spent a lot of time reprinting other people’s pictures, and sometimes had to use 5-grade high contrast paper to try and make a decent picture out of muddy underexposed images. Was that tweaking? If so, then long live tweaking.

A few years ago, it was all the rage for artsy photographers to file out their enlarger’s negative carrier so that the edges of the film showed, demonstrating that their photo was framed in-camera exactly as printed. What kind of a strange little contest is that? Books and magazines are generally not publishing pictures using the exact aspect ratio of the cameras which took them, so most published pictures are cropped. Does it truly improve the viewer’s aesthetic experience when they know that the photo wasn’t cropped? For that matter, why should the viewer care how many layers I used in Photoshop?

The only thing that counts is what is on the final print. Certainly it helps to optimize the capture and reduce the need for later manipulation, but ultimately, only the photographer knows.

At the top of this posting is a photo I took last year on a Young Life service project to an orphanage in Bulgaria. It was a harsh place, and the kids in the Tran orphanage had a difficult time of it, but for a week, the kids on our service project managed to connect with them.

This picture to the immediate left is closer to the original, but it still has undergone a lot of processing, and it should be pretty obvious that I removed a large brown splotch on the wall. We had just primed the walls, but no amount of primer was capable of fully covering the filth that had been allowed to collect on this wall. From a journalistic point of view, I would probably have left the splotch in, although I’m not certain of that. I don’t think anyone can doubt that as an aesthetic effort, and one that properly portrays the mood of these two girls, the ‘tweaked’ picture at the top of this post, is superior. If you look carefully, you’ll see that the shadow under the redhead’s chin is darker in the ‘original’ than it is above. More tweaking on my part.

The ‘original’ file created by my camera is in camera RAW format, and it cannot be viewed by a human being without being processed in a way that affects the colors, exposure, and contrast. I used Adobe Lightroom to adjusted white balance, exposure and color as my starting point. Then I used CS3 to clone out the splotch on the wall and lighten the shadows, along with a couple other ‘tweaks’ that you wouldn’t notice.

I do feel that much of the power of this picture lies in its authenticity, and that it would be wrong to make substantial manipulations. The redhead actually does have paint all over her fingernails, having ‘helped’ us do the hallways of the orphanage. The other girl was recovering from eye surgery, paid for by a Christian charity. If she had been paying me for a professional portrait, she might have expected that I would open up her eye and align the pupils of both–I really don’t know. I’m comfortable that what I did to the picture was appropriate, and does not misrepresent the lives or spirits of these teens. I tweaked the picture, and I’m proud to admit it.

Lots of photographers like to brag that they capture the picture in camera, and that their pictures don’t need any additional processing. Well, you can still buy transparency film, and as long as you don’t scan it or print it in a darkroom, then you can claim that you didn’t tweak it. Last I heard, a couple guys in Paris had bought up the last of the small-format Polaroid instant film, but even much SX-70 photography is subject to after the fact ‘tweaking.’

The fact is, you can’t reproduce either a film negative or a digital one without making multiple aesthetic decisions about the output appearance. That holds true for journalism and documentary photography as much as it does for purely abstract photography.

The question of what constitutes representational truth and integrity is a deep one, and I’ll be exploring it, and look forward to discussing it. But it isn’t about tweaking. This is a picture. Ceci n’est pas une pipe.

A fake photo on the web? How could that happen?

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2008

It was claimed this month that a picture of an Iranian missile launch was doctored to look more significant. A recent Scientific American article asks Hany Farid (a researcher into digital forensics) how likely that is, and he offers several subtle clues to suggest that this image is not authentic.

Digital Photographs are inherently vulnerable to manipulation. Indeed, manipulation is an integral part of the process of capturing and reproducing an image digitally. Factors that affect the appearance of the final image are set even before a photo is captured, starting with the photographer’s choice of shutter speed, aperture, focal length, position, perspective, timing. etc. All of these are of course relevant to analog photography. Just as different films react to light in different ways, resulting in different images, the camera sensor and associated processing mechanisms output a bitmap that is not identical with the light that fell on the sensor. Before that bitmap can be turned into a visual image, it needs to be further processed, especially if it is a RAW image, which is what most pros and advanced amateurs use.

Although the journalism field has been discussing the issues and problems associated with digital imagery since the 90s, embarrassing photo ‘fakes’ have continued to leak into the major media, which has encouraged the publication of increasingly stringent guidelines. Last year, Reuters shared their Photoshop guidelines on a blog, an interesting example of transparency in the media. In it, photographers are discouraged from doing any manipulation of their photo, including exposure and white balance, and are encouraged to rely on in house experts.

This is an especially sensitive issue with Reuters after a rather obviously manipulated photo caught the attention of the blogging world, and then the mass media (a lengthy and interesting analysis of this and several other faked Reuters pictures from the same period appears on another blog). It is certainly not the case that such incidents are limited to Reuters. A Toledo Blade photographer was let go for pasting a basketball into a game shot, which turned out not to be the first time he had manipulated a picture in a way that was considered inappropriate for the journalistic context.

Photographic integrity comes down to meeting the expectations of the anticipated viewer. If the person who you intend to view your picture knew what you did to it, would they approve? If they saw a before and after, would they consider that you had attempted a deception? Would the deception be for their gain at your loss? Expectations vary widely between media. No reasonable person should expect that the photos in glamor magazines of models look anything like a live human, but in Journalism, even the suggestion of manipulation is unacceptable.

In this month’s case of the faked Iranian missile launch, the New York Times reports that Agence France-Presse picked up the original picture from a political web site, and then it was published on the front page of several American newspapers before France-Presse retracted it. In an age when newspapers are imposing ever-stricter standards on their own people, how responsible is it for a news agency to sell a picture that they copied off the web?

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