Are You Done, Yet?

By Roger (19 April 2015)

We've discussed personal projects a few times. They can be fun, inspirational, and help you learn new techniques. If you shoot for others, personal projects give you time for just you, instead of worrying about what your client will think about your experimentation. If you search the internet, you'll finds lots of articles extolling the virtues of personal projects and subject ideas to consider.

But how do you know when a personal project is complete? Shouldn't there be some marker that, once passed, let's you know to stop and move on to something new? You won't find nearly as many answers to this question. For some projects, there are logical places to stop, but, since this is a personal project, the end is up to you.

You may find that you've run out of new inspiration or you want to try something new. Keep in mind that you can be working on more than one project at one time. You may take a break for a while and re-start, again, later. Like pretty much everything else in photography, we don't want to default to “Rules.”

A Southern family, looking for their soldier

A Southern family, looking for their soldier

For the past few years, I've been following the Civil War Sesquicentennial as a personal project. It has all the stuff I love: history; challenging conditions; and people photography. I've come to a logical conclusion to that project since the major re-enactments of events from 150 years ago came to an end, last weekend, in Appomattox, Virginia.

Lee prepares his troops for surrender

Lee prepares his troops for surrender

Robert E. Lee's surrender of the Army of Virginia came on Palm Sunday, April 9, 1865, to U.S. Grant, inside the McLean House. On that day, in their minds, the war was over. Grant gave Lee's army generous terms on their parole, and the rebel troops vowed to end their struggle and go home. As with so much of this war, they were wrong, and it took more than four years longer to completely end the hostilities. And, as late as 1869, now President Grant was faced with the murderous intimidation of black Americans in the South. He didn't end military rule in the South until 1871. Enough history for now.

U.S. Grant, future President

U.S. Grant, future President

The myth of the end of hostilities after the Appomattox surrender was the theme during the re-enactment. I was there to make photographs, not argue the historical accuracy of the event portrayal. The National Park Service and thousands of re-enactors put on a good show, despite the rainy weather during the first couple of days. The re-enactors were doing their best to display the proper attitudes for their respective side. The rebels were downcast and sullen in their camps, waiting to participate in the surrender events.

Despondent Confederate camp

Despondent Confederate camp

I was there for two days, so I caught the end of the rain on Friday for the foggy photos of Lee, above, and the clear skies of Saturday, when I shot the portrait of Grant. It gave me lots of different looks for the last big re-enactment.

So, my Civil War Sesquicentennial project has come to an end. It started with a chance visit to Antietam, when I had a free weekend. I never planned to do this. Sometimes, that's how personal projects start; you just find something that grabs and holds your interest.

I've learned many lessons. I started concentrating on the battle re-enactments and transitioned to focusing on the people involved in these events. This project has introduced me to many new folks asking for copies of my photos. These are folks I would have never met if I wasn't out there having fun with my camera.

Although this project has ended, I'll probably keep going to some of these events. They won't all end after these sesquicentennial celebrations. And there are many more events that feature re-enactors portraying historical characters. I may need to keep charging forward, like George Custer. Hopefully, I won't come to the same end. Have some fun.

George Custer

George Custer

A Moving Experience

By Mark

I hope everyone had a happy Easter.

Sometimes we take the basics for granted and need to take a step back in order to get our bearings.   Lightroom is intended to allow photographers to spend more time working with our pictures and less time trying to manage the computer storing them.   Often people who learned on other systems where they had to manage remembering where all the pictures are stored can be frustrated when they can’t find their images.  Here are a few reminders that LR has plenty of tools to help.  Let’s start with a few pointers.  It really doesn’t matter where your images are physically stored to LR. You can have images scattered across multiple external drives or CDs or other media.  LR is a database which tracks a pointer to the actual file, but what you see on your screen is a very small smart preview of your picture.  All of the editing details and the metadata are part of that database.  This is part of what makes it so fast; you aren’t actually doing anything to your image until you export it.  Everything else is pure math.   For convenience sake though we STRONGLY recommend that you keep all your images in a single folder. 

Let’s take a half step back first and look at some fundamentals of Navigation in LR.

The left side of the Library screen gives you your major organizational functions.

·       Navigator shows only the current selected image

·       Catalog shows the summary information for the current catalog as well as some of the most common tools such as Quick Collection and Previous Import

·       Folders display the physical locations for the images in your catalog

·       Collections represent your own choice for logical groupings of images in your catalog

Publish Services are predefined methods for sharing your images onto common Social Media platforms.

We are going to focus on the Folders Panel.    I keep my Pictures in a cleverly titled top level folder called Marks Lightroom Photographs.  

Below that level they are grouped by Decade, as I have a lot of old family photos and am the archivist for the entire extended family.  Within each decade I set up a new folder every year and then adjust my import preset to automatically add each download to a new folder.  For the record there is no requirement to do this.  LR tracks the data from the cameras and it knows when the images were shot.  This is just how I like to see them.

Occasionally folders will wind up temporarily in my C: drive.  It is a solid state drive and relatively small, so I try not to have any files or documents beyond the OS and program files stored there.  It slows down the drive.  Now if I were to go out to Windows and move them, then LR would lose track of them and I would have to re-link the files.  Fortunately that is not necessary.

All you need to do is drag those folders to the location you want inside LR.  It moves them and doesn’t lose them.

For this blog I moved two folders-03-31 and 04-05 onto my C: drive.  I just dragged them into my 2015 folder and problem solved.

Another common question is how to find where a picture is located when you are looking at it.  Pretty simple, just right click on the image itself and this menu will open up.  

You can choose to see the LR folder or have the location open up in Windows explorer.   That is pretty easy and pretty helpful.  

Funny Bunny Napkins

Funny Bunny Napkins

Avoid the Digital Dark Ages

By Roger (13 April 2015)

Do you scan old photographs so you can share the files with all your family members? Once you have them scanned, you, naturally, have to restore them to repair scratches, tears, and fading, right? I do, too. I enjoy doing that kind of work and have done some for other folks. It's a good thing to do to help preserve old memories. It can, also, help you learn some valuable techniques in Photoshop.

Easy restoration of an old photo.

Easy restoration of an old photo.

Now, I have all the files backed up several times, and I have a complete set of those backups in another state entirely. We've saved lots of space in the house that was filled with boxes of slides, negatives, and prints. Everything is organized and keyworded in Lightroom, the the photos can be easily found and viewed. What could possibly go wrong in this thorough plan?

Well, according to one of the pioneers of the internet, Vint Cerf, this plan has a serious flaw – electronic storage only is dangerous and data formats are constantly evolving. We are putting everything into files, but will those files be readable in the future? Will they disappear when the electronic media goes bad or is tossed with a broken computer? Cerf used the term “Electronic Dark Ages” to describe the loss of all this data which may never be seen again.

I heard about this, on NPR, a few weeks ago, and, initially, this didn't seem, to me, to be a problem unique to electronic files. People have thrown away tons of photos, artwork, and documents through the years. Lots of historic and/or meaningful work ended up on the scrap heap. How is this different than the electronic files?

But there is a difference: The old photos and documents existed in the physical world. Some of them were discovered and preserved. People found them in attics or old shoe boxes. Some of these items haven't been seen in decades or longer, until somebody found them. However, they still existed to be found.

Besides the multitude of family photos I have, I've mentioned that I play around with genealogy. I try to get everything I can from family members and add the scans to my records. Whenever I connect with some distant branch of our large family and we exchange information, one of the first things I ask is, “Can I borrow any old photos you have?” I have more than 1,000 of them in my records, but they don't exist in the physical sense because I haven't printed them.

1890s family portrait. Don't let them disappear.

1890s family portrait. Don't let them disappear.

If we scan everything but don't make physical copies, the photos and documents can disappear with a single hard drive failure. Not everyone has the strict back-up regimen you and I have. In fact, the vast majority of people don't back up anything. Every day, photos and documents are lost when phones and hard drives go bad. If they were never printed or shared, they cease to exist.

Let's take this beyond the family photos that you treasure and are treasured by others in your family. Have you got a physical print of your best or favorite photos? It may be impossible to print every photo in your collection – I'm pretty ruthless with the DELETE button, but I still have well over 75,000 photos on my hard drives. When you die will anyone know where to find these photos on your computer? Will they even think to look for them?

Sadly, too many will not. The work that you poured your heart and soul into could be completely lost. But, if they find your box of prints, they'll appreciate them and, maybe, preserve them. This year, one of my personal projects is to make single prints and books to ensure my work, at least, has a chance of being preserved. I've left notes, with my will, on where to find all my electronic files. It's easy, since they're all in one folder. I just hope one of my descendants will care enough to preserve them, whether they're in a physical or electronic state.

You may think this is a morbid discussion, but that's no reason to ignore it and do nothing. It is a scientific fact that everyone involved in photography will, eventually, die. I hear this is true of other people, too. ;-) Your work might live longer than you if you take some additional steps to help preserve it. It may have value decades from now to someone you'll never meet. Wouldn't that be nice?

Building Your Personal Portfolio

By Mark

I’m sorry but no one wants to look at hundreds of your pictures.  As a photographer you want to demonstrate to others that you can go beyond getting snapshots into focus and have them properly exposed.  You want to showcase that you have a style and an opinion.  Even before you start thinking about becoming a “professional”, you need to start thinking about how you represent yourself to a stranger.  A good crisp portfolio is one of the first tools you want to build.

What makes a good portfolio? You need to make some choices before you really can answer that question.  What platform do you intend to use to show people.  Increasingly, a tablet or other electronic medium is the standard.  If you are going to print it, you need to think about the aspect.  You don’t want them to have to flip the booklet back and forth.  

You may also want to consider using some “Fine Art” poster styles.  These can be printed from the Print module in LR, but that is another blog. 

The first rule is that every photo needs to be one that people automatically react to when you show it to them. Obviously the reaction you want is “Wow”.  

This is one of my favorite photos, because I love the contrast of color, texture and lines.  Unfortunately most people go “Oh a rusty roof, that’s nice”, so it is not in my portfolio.

The second rule is that you need to continually relook and refresh it.  You have to be your harshest critic.  Nothing that is almost good enough should make it.   

This HDR image I shot in Maine last year is bright and interesting, but I think the station wagon in the bottom right corner is unneeded and distracting detail. 

The third rule is that you have to think about how you group and order your images.  You really do want to stack the deck with your best images up first.  You can arrange them by theme, by subjects (not too many please) but avoid lumping them in chronological order.   

Mine are arranged by color scheme, from hotter to cooler winding up with my black and whites.  

Lastly you want to keep the numbers down to 10-15.  You want them asking to see more, not looking for the nearest exit.

So go through your best images and put together your own best of the best.  Ask people you know for their opinions and then be very brave and ask people you don’t know.