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.    

Just a Photographer

By Roger (16 February 2015)

In the dictionary, the word “amateur” has several definitions; the primary definition is: “a person who engages in a study or other activity for pleasure, rather than for financial benefit or professional reasons.” Yet, as we journey down the other uses of the word, we find the one many seem to think is the first meaning: “a person inexperienced or unskilled in a particular activity.” I hope you'll embrace the primary definition and the “correct” use of amateur.

Most people who love photography will never make a living from it. You may get a little money, now and then, when someone offers to hire you or buy one of your prints, but you probably aren't going to recoup the expense of your gear or post-processing software. (Don't even get me started on the value of your time.) However, “Amateur Photographer” seems to be a less-than-glorious title for what most of us do.

I'd love to lead all the (Hobby?) photographers in a great movement to recapture the true meaning of amateur and give it back the respect it deserves in the language. Will you agree to join me? Can we get everyone together, say next weekend, and start this international movement? Hello??? Yeah, probably not. ;-)

Do we need a title that embraces our love for photography and let's the world know we are serious about our work? You can find lots of them out there, but do they fit you? Visual artist seems a bit pretentious. Part-time photographer doesn't seem to effectively convey the dedication with which we pursue our passion. Freelance photographer sounds dashing and mysterious, but most freelancers, actually, are trying to make a living, so it doesn't really fit.

This drive to differentiate serious, but mostly unpaid, photographers from “professionals” seems pretty silly when you write it down in words. We've all seen plenty of amateurs who consistently demonstrate their professionalism in techniques and quality photography.

Yet, for some people – many who own and use camera gear – this matters. Too often, these are the same people who are serious when they bad-mouth any camera equipment that doesn't match their own. My recommendation is to avoid this whole scene. Why waste your time arguing about this stuff when you should be out pushing the shutter button?

As always, I'm into photography for enjoyment and to improve my techniques. I am a photographer. Period. Come on out, and shoot with us. We don't care about whether you're an amateur or beginning a new career, as long as we're all having fun.

 Just a regular photographer

Just a regular photographer

End of Year Work

By Roger (18 December 2014)

Man, is it already the end of 2014? How does the year go by, so quickly? It seems like just a couple of months ago, I was talking about how to light your interior for easier Christmas photos, without blasting a flash into the holiday revelry. This is a good time to review that blog and make your preparations for your holiday fun. (In case you missed it, the link to that blog is here.)

 You don't want a flash to spoil this mood

You don't want a flash to spoil this mood

At the end of every year, I do a review of my catalogs and delete superfluous photos. These photos are fine, technically, but they're dupes or just aren't interesting enough to keep on the hard drive. We've talked about doing that in past blogs.

This is, also, when I put some real effort into cleaning up some admin tasks in Lightroom. To help me with the deletions and admin junk, I have created some Smart Collections. (Mark explained them, back in 2012, here). I'll go into detail on one of them, but they all help me find the photos where I still have some decisions to make. Lightroom puts these in alphabetical order, so I'll go down them that way. When you create your Smart Collections, you decide what to call them, so, if you want them in a certain order – you're more OCD than me – choose your names accordingly. The most important one to me is the Still Unrated collection.

 Smart Collections Workflow

Smart Collections Workflow

No City. This is an easy fix. This is one of the first areas of the Metadata section I fill in, immediately after import. So, how can there be some without an entry? Well, none of us are perfect, so I may have missed a couple. I'll click on this smart collection; enter the city; and Lightroom will automatically remove them from this collection. But, usually, these are photographs for which I don't know the location. A quick example? When I'm restoring old photographs for clients or from my genealogy work, I may not know where the original was taken. Most years, I won't ever get to zero here.

 Easy Restoration, but what's the location?

Easy Restoration, but what's the location?

No GPS. I love geo-tagging my photographs. I have a GPS that puts coordinates directly into my camera's metadata when the GPS is connected. I don't always use it because I don't always care about the location of certain photos – portraits, for example. Again, restoration photos.

These types of photos are my excuse for that number never reaching zero, but the bulk of them are just photos I haven't gotten to, yet. Since they were taken when my GPS was not connected to the camera, I'll have to enter the geo-tag in the Map module. I do this, little by little, when I have free time. As you can see by the large number, I'm a little behind on that task.

I'm going to skip to my Without Keywords collection because this is one that will, absolutely, be reduced to zero during my end of year review. All my photos need keywords. Obviously, I've missed a few (hundred) this year, but that is just carelessness. I must have been in a hurry the day I imported them since most of them are from the same day's shoot. No excuses. Bad photographer!

And we arrive at the most important one for me: Still unrated. I use this one as part of my normal workflow. This Smart Collection is always in “Date Captured” order. The way I use this one requires a little more explanation.

After importing my photos, I, first, do a quick scan of them. Any bad photos – blurred, photo-bombed, closed eyes on portraits, etc. – are immediately deleted. Not removed from the database; deleted. I never want to see them again. They never occurred. ;-)

On the second scan, I look for photos I like. These are put into my “Quick Collection” by pushing on the short-cut circle, in the upper right-hand corner of each photo. These are the keepers. Later, they'll be post-processed and sent to clients; shown to others; or posted somewhere. When all the post-processing is completed, they are given a rating. When I'm extra-pleased, they may end up as a portfolio photo.

The first two scans are very fast. They eliminate the bad shots and identify the ones that strike me at a glance. This leaves many other photos unrated. If I have time, I'll do a third scan, and pick some of these for post-processing and rate them. If there isn't time, they'll remain unrated until I get to them to make a final determination of their fate. Here is an example.

 Peregrine Falcon

Peregrine Falcon

There is nothing wrong with this peregrine falcon photo (aside from the fact that I need to clone out the tethers). The focus is sharp; I like the bokeh; I even like its composition. It just didn't grab me, like the one I posted in last month's blog. It is part of a large volume of bird photos I took at my bird shoot last month. I overshot the event because I don't shoot this type of thing very often.

I don't want them to be deleted right away because, sometimes, I'll change my opinion on their relative merit. Someone may ask for a specific kind of peregrine photo. Maybe, I'll want part of them for a composite. Who knows?

I gave you a hint about these photos early in this section: This Smart Collection is always in “Date Captured” order. After six months or so, I'll re-evaluate the number of unrated photos from this shoot. Some will be kept – just in case. I may find one that I really like and somehow overlooked. Some will, then, be deleted because I think they're never going to be needed.

One more example.

 Harpers Ferry Re-enactors

Harpers Ferry Re-enactors

This unrated photo came from my last trip to Harpers Ferry. The re-actors are sharply focused. I like the light, coming from camera-right, and the rim lighting it creates on the men. That day, however, I was concentrating my effort on portraits, and I posted my favorites a couple of blogs ago. This one may make the cut, later. There's a fire burning (maybe a shot to play with the new Photoshop fire tool). Maybe, I'll change to a vertical crop of just the two men on the left and use it in my sesquicentennial project. Time will tell.

In any event, you may want to come up with your own Smart Collections that help your workflow and cue you in on tasks you still haven't completed. (I think you need a No Keyword one, at the least. I will never understand why photographers don't take five minutes to keyword their work for easy searching.) And, of course, you don't need to wait until year's end to work on this stuff.

I hope your holidays will be as much fun as mine. I intend to shoot lots of photos of my favorite people in the next couple of weeks. Oh, and I probably will not be putting up a blog, next Thursday, since I'll be having Christmas dinner with those very people.