business

iPad workflow part three

Welcome to the third instalment of my investigation of the best iPad workflow for the kind of work that I do. At the end of part two I came to the conclusion that adding images wirelessly to the iPad (or an iPhone) was the best way to go for me and in the few days since I made that observation I have largely moved towards using FSN Pro to get the pictures to where I need them to be.

I mentioned several times in part two that I wanted, wherever possible, to avoid storing anything in the Apple Photos app without explaining why I am so keen to avoid it. The simple answer is that my normal workflow for several clients involves keeping the original camera filenames intact so that it is possible to follow up at a later date and find them again without having to spend any time looking. Why Apple are so keen to rename every file with the clumsy “img_1234” formula is beyond me. I guess that it must make what goes on inside iOS easier for Apple – if not for photographers. By avoiding the app it is entirely possible to retain the original filename from start to finish. Don’t get me wrong; if I was rushing and getting a couple of quick edits away to a client then I’d happily rename files and/or settle for the img_xxxx option but when there are five, six or more photographs going through then renaming becomes a pain.

With this in mind I have looked at lots of different apps for captioning and toning both RAW and JPEG images and it has become clear that there isn’t one clear “best option” for all variations on my workflow. As someone who uses Photo Mechanic and Adobe Camera RAW within Adobe Photoshop to handle my pictures I’d love to have iOS versions of both ready to use. Camera Bits say that they have no plans to develop an iOS version of Photo Mechanic and Adobe seem to be more than happy with Lightroom CC as an image editor and RAW converter. During this phase of my research I’ve looked at lots of photo apps:

  • Filsterstorm Neue Pro or FSN Pro – a very capable IPTC and image editor for a JPEG workflow but not for RAW files. It allows all sorts of options and allows you to set up IPTC sets in advance making it very easy to caption photos individually or in batches. FSN Pro is also great for importing photos and exporting them to other apps or directly to FTP servers or other cloud based storage as well as to the “Files” option on iOS11 and later.
  • Lightroom CC – the nearest thing available for Adobe Camera RAW and therefore very familiar for me. It interacts with the iOS Files storage well too and it is definitely the best option that I’ve tried for working with RAW files. The synch with the Adobe CC Cloud is a mixed blessing and I am going to monitor how much mobile 4G data it eats when I’m on jobs using it. It has IPTC captioning built-in but it’s hard to imagine a clumsier implementation of what is such a vital function for me.
  • Affinity Photo – The Apple app store photo app of the year 2017 promises so much and delivers very little for me. It requires a top end iPad (preferably like the iPad Pro I have tried it on) and isn’t available on the iPhone at all. It edits photos really well but the lack of availability on my iPad Mini 4 or the phone means that I’m not interested in it as things stand.
  • Picture Pro Lite – A really good app but it appears to be no longer being supported. Very good IPTC options, decent image editing options but it has no interaction with iOS Files that I can see. Another app that promises loads but doesn’t quite do enough to be THE answer.
  • Shuttersnitch – Great for importing images and it has some good automated features but it doesn’t like RAW files and doesn’t play with iOS Files either.
  • Marksta – excellent watermarking and captioning app developed by an award winning photographer.

I’ve looked at others but I am trying to narrow things down here and so it has come down to choosing between a workflow for just JPEG files where time and simplicity are everything and a RAW workflow where I can get everything out of a RAW file that I could if I were working on one of my Macs. It’s entirely possible to have a single workflow for RAW and JPEG and here’s what I’m using right now:

  1. Connect the camera to FSN Pro via the FTP import option. I have blogged about setting up an ESO5D MkIV before and the process using FSN Pro to receive the pictures is exactly the same.
  2. Select the images on the back of the camera and use the “Set” button to upload them to the iOS device.
  3. If you are working with RAW files, select the photos within FSN Pro and export them to a folder in Files making sure that you check “Files to Export > Original Image File” option.
  4. If you are working with JPEG files then add IPTC captions in FSN Pro before going to “Files to Export > Selected Edit” option and exporting them to Files.
  5. Go to Lightroom CC and select the folder that you wish to import the files into and go to “Add Photos”, select them from Files and import them.
  6. For RAW files then it is easiest to write the main caption in Apple Notes and copy and paste it from there into the IPTC inside Lightroom CC as it cannot import the caption xmp file created by FSN Pro.
  7. For both file types you can now go through the photographs and adjust the colour, contrast, crops, sharpening etc in Lightroom CC making use of the copy and paste settings options as you go.
  8. Save the finished files either to another Lightroom CC album or folder or into a folder in the iOS Files app.
  9. Wait until part four to find out what happens next.

Here is a video that I made as a “walk through” for a basic and quick JPEG workflow. It is fine for RAW files too but you would have to ad the captions after converting the files rather than the more convenient way that they are added before toning in this film:

The great thing about having done all of the research and practice over the last few weeks is that I have a decent and repeatable workflow. The second best thing is that if I need to make a few changes then I understand what all of the other apps can do and I know how they work. This works but I’m not going to stop looking for improvements and changes. Yet!

The video on Vimeo:  https://vimeo.com/247334007

The video on YouTube:   https://youtu.be/rgc_cBjASVI

Working with Foliobook

The landscape version of the opening page of my Foliobook iPad portfolio.

My previous post about developing a workflow for acquiring, editing and transmitting images using my iPad is still a “work in progress” and that work has been going on alongside another tablet related project. This time it is to get a decent and easily adapted portfolio onto that iPad so that when I need to show pictures I have a pretty good folio with me. I’m sufficiently “old school” to love the look and feel of a printed portfolio and in the past I have used the Foliobook app on an iPad as a back up to the printed work – a way of having a wider selection of pictures just in case the potential client wanted to see more.

I would be the first to admit that I never really used Foliobook to its full potential. A few galleries of randomly sized pictures with graphics ‘straight out of the box’ was about as good as it got. No longer. That £9.99 that I spent all that time ago has now been well and truly exploited!

It’s taken me about a week spending half an hour or an hour here and there tinkering and making changes to get to where I am now – an iPad based folio that I am very happy to show clients, potential clients and even passers-by if I can get their attention. It’s never going to be finished; no good folio ever is. What I have is something that is as good as I want it to be ready for when I start touting my services around once I’m fit again (picture editors and commercial buyers of photographic services should be wary around January or February 2018).

What I love about Foliobook is what the client won’t get to see and that’s how versatile it is. Almost everything is there waiting to be changed (layout, fonts, navigation, transitions, colours etc) but when it comes down to viewing the pictures they are just there with no fancy borders, embellishments or distractions. Just the pictures and the “next” button. What the viewer also fails to see is the hidden galleries. More often than not you want to have a set of images put together just for that day, for that meeting. You can hide them until you want them to be seen with less than half a dozen taps and swipes of the screen. Exactly what I want and need.

Part of the unseen back-end of Foliobook where you get to edit the gallery choosing the order that the photographs are seen in as well as adding or deleting pictures.

There’s little point going through the actual processes involved when the app developers themselves have published such good instructional material on their site and when equally informative videos are there on YouTube and Vimeo. One of my favourite small features of the app is the ability to have different opening backgrounds for when you view the folio in horizontal or vertical orientation. My current horizontal one can be seen at the top of this page and here below is a screen grab of the vertical option:

The homepage of my Foliobook shown in the upright mode.

Simple, effective and great value. I like this app. A lot. It’s never going to replace my online folio or the many printed versions that I have created over the years but it will be with me most of the time which makes it a seriously useful piece of kit and a very good use of the time that I have on my hands waiting to get over the nightmare of being a freelancer laid up through injury.

Work in progress – an iPad workflow

Whilst I’m not able to be out shooting I have decided to take a serious look at the workflow options using an iPad or even an iPhone and to see whether they really can replace a lightweight laptop in my working life. I have even bought a new iPad Mini 4 (already upgraded to iOS11) because I’m sure that I will be using the tablet for some form of mobile editing. Should you be seeking wisdom and a fully-formed solution I’m prepared to stick a plot-spoiler in here and tell you that it is still very much a ‘work in progress’ and that I don’t have an answer for you. Yet.

My starting point for this is having used my phone as an occasional method of getting pictures away quickly – mostly for clients to be able to use my pictures in their social media and on their websites instead of their own pictures taken with their phones and tablets. If you are prepared to work with JPEG files then this isn’t too tricky, but what if you want to base everything on a RAW workflow? Not so simple?

I know that a lot of photographers have worked out their own workflows for using iPads as their principal location editing devices. I have been trawling blogs and YouTube videos trying to get my head around how and why they have decided to go down this route and the fact that several photographers that I respect and even admire have gone this way means that it has to be a serious option for professional editorial and corporate photography. A lot of the same people, driven by a desire to reduce the weight of their kit, have also gone to mirrorless camera systems.

As part of my search I’ve used a LOT of different apps. Amongst others, and in no particular order: Lightroom, FSN Pro, Shuttersnitch, Marksta, PS Express, PicturePro, Transmit, Affinity and the sadly no-longer-supported Photogene4. These range from Lightroom being free with the right Adobe CC subscription to a chunky £49.99 for PicturePro.

So here is what I do know:

  • It is possible to replace a laptop with an iPad – especially if you are prepared to go all out and go for the iPad Pro.
  • RAW conversions are totally possible and even quite quick with the right app.
  • There isn’t one perfect solution for all photographers.
  • My background is in news and features and so most of my comments should be read with that in mind.
  • When choosing your workflow options you need to prioritise the most important elements.
  • What cameras you use and how you are going to get the photos onto the tablet is an important decision that you have to make.
  • Not all apps are as well supported as one another.
  • The learning curve for some apps is really steep.
  • The route that you take should be greatly influenced by whether it needs to mimic or at least be compatible with your desktop workflow.
  • The accuracy of colours on an iPad isn’t as good as it is on a calibrated computer monitor and I wish that more app developers would look at adopting the idea of calibrating their apps in line with X-Rite’s ColorTrue.
  • We are a lot closer than we were a year ago.
  • I would love an iOS version of Photo Mechanic!

In the time that I’ve been able to put aside for this project I haven’t been able to learn all of the nuances for all of the apps. I have probably also failed to even look at some apps that some of you will be using and championing – that’s why this is still a work in progress.

So here is where I am right now:

  • As a single app solution I still like FSN Pro but it isn’t the best at anything.
  • My favourite RAW converter is Lightroom.
  • My favourite IPTC app is PicturePro.
  • My favourite distribution app is Transmit.
  • I’m already missing Photogene4.
  • The iPad isn’t even close to replacing a lightweight laptop with Photo Mechanic, Photoshop and Transmit in my life.

It isn’t where I want to be and, as I’ve mentioned once or twice before, this is still a work in progress. For now the iPad and my iPhone will be limited in their use to being the pocketable devices that allow me to turn around a small number of JPEG files for my clients to use quickly. For that I need to be able to caption, rename and distribute the files rather than do heavy duty file preparation – did I mention already missing Photogene4?

NB PicturePro appears to have disappeared from the UK App Store. If that signals the end of development then that’s sad.

A freelancer’s nightmare

It all started with a twinge in the small of my back. The twinge became an ache and the ache became pain. A visit to the Doctor led to some prescription pain killers and a referral to a back-pain clinic two months into the future. Still working at full speed, I lost the feeling in the soles of my feet and had a few cramps. Every day it got a little worse and then, one Sunday morning, I couldn’t get out of bed without crying with the pain. We made our way to the accident & emergency department of the local hospital where an MRI scan confirmed that I was in trouble. They admitted me to hospital and just over a week later I had two operations on my spine.

The operations were three weeks ago today and, although I’m back home, I’m looking at several months before I can even start to think about working as a photographer. I’m on crutches, my rehabilitation is underway and it’s a struggle.

It has to be one of the worst fears of the freelancer – suffering some sort of injury or illness that keeps you from doing your work which in turn means a loss of income and knowing that your clients will have to look elsewhere for someone to provide the services that you have been providing.

All of this devastating news made me want to compose this rather different blog post and my advice comes in two parts:

  • What to do to avoid and prepare for a sudden, unplanned period of time off
  • What to do if it happens to you

The message has to be that it can happen to you. One minute you are buzzing around going from job to job and regularly burning the midnight oil to get those edits done, your cashflow is looking good and your clients keep coming back and the next you are laid up with an injury.

Getting yourself into a position that minimises the chances of it having a massive impact on you and your life isn’t necessarily easy but there are some major steps you can take.

  1. Understand that you are getting older.
  2. Get some savings behind you – enough to cover your bills for four to six months.
  3. Take out some loss of earnings insurance to cover your domestic bills if you are laid up for a long period.
  4. Avoid having too many credit and leasing commitments at any one time. It’s all too easy (and tax efficient) to have your car, your cameras and computers all on a leased or on contract hire.
  5. Keep fit and eat healthily.
  6. Don’t ignore niggling injuries and minor ailments.
  7. If you get an injury get it sorted properly and don’t rely on temporary relief or pain killers.
  8. Develop a network of colleagues that you trust to cover your clients if possible should you need them to.

If it does happen then you need to prioritise your full recovery – no matter how long that takes. It pays to make sure that the medical professionals that you are working with know that you are self-employed.

  1. Don’t panic.
  2. Be honest with your clients. Tell them what’s wrong (leaving out the gory details and avoiding making it an awkward ‘sob-story’) and let them know when they can expect to have you available again.
  3. Use the time to update your portfolio, your social media and your corporate image.
  4. Be prepared to shed some gear if you need to pay your bills.
  5. Don’t dive straight back in. Make sure that you are fit enough before you launch yourself back onto the market and then ease back into work.
  6. Make sure that you talk to friends, family, colleagues and even professional counsellors about what is going on.
  7. Don’t expect to win every single client back straight away. Be prepared to play the long-game and win them back over time.
  8. Look for alternative ways to make money. Could you maximise the revenues from your back catalogue? Can you use your expertise in ways that don’t require you to be at your physical, emotional or professional peak?

Having to make those phone calls letting clients that had already booked work know that you aren’t going to be able to fulfil their needs is hard. Most are sympathetic and wish you well, many ask for recommendations for other photographers to cover the work but a few can be angry with you – “how dare you damage your back and leave us without a photographer” is the sub-text of a few conversations.

Having to politely decline other offers of work whilst lying in a hospital bed isn’t an experience that I’d wish on anyone either. Again, most take it well but a few are less than sympathetic.

Having to let good clients know that you are out for a long stretch is possibly the hardest call to make. I found that being in hospital had a drastic effect on my emotions and I struggled to keep it together on the phone to one or two people.

In my case there is some good news:

  1. Prior to suffering the injury, I had been working hard and had invoiced clients for enough money to keep me solvent for at least two or three months if I’m careful.
  2. In a few weeks I’ll be able to take on work as a remote editor with one or two clients for whom I do editing work already which should bring in a bit more income.
  3. Whilst I’ve been laid up lots of colleagues have been generous with their wishes for a speedy recovery and more than a few clients have been kind too.

I cannot wait to be in a position to get back on the phone and let people know that Neil Turner, editorial and corporate photographer is back in business but in the mean-time I’m going to follow my own advice as closely as I can. I’m not going to overdo it. I’m going to listen to the Doctors, Physiotherapists and my family and friends who are doing such a great job of looking out for me.

One more thing, I’m going to kept this blog going…

Shooting fish in a barrel

London. January 2011. © Neil Turner

In 2008 when I had just left my staff job at TSL I was asked by a reporter working for a photographic magazine about what I intended to do with my career. I pointed out that I had an enormous amount of experience working in schools and universities and that in my time working for the Times Educational Supplement, Times Higher Education Supplement and Nursery World Magazine I had shot pictures in over 3,000 places of learning in at least 13 countries and that it seemed like a “no-brainer” to market myself as a photographer specialising in those areas. Plenty of prospectuses and websites as well as editorial shoots later my tally of educational visits and shoots tops 3,500 and I’m still in love with the genre. The reporter asked what special skills I had that made me good at that part of the job and my response was that if you can’t get great pictures of kids then you really shouldn’t be a photographer because it was “shooting fish in a barrel“.

A few days ago I made the same claim to another photographer who questioned my assertion. His point was that although the subject matter lent itself to nice pictures the rest of the set-up in schools and colleges tended to be somewhat more challenging. He pointed out that the light was rarely great and that the surroundings were often cluttered and busy. He also pointed out that there can be lots of legal and ethical issues and his own personal problem was that he couldn’t get the kids to ignore him enough of the time. He was right. The light is usually less than ideal and most classrooms are busy places with their walls covered and with all sorts of distractions – all obstacles to well composed and well lit pictures. I’ve worked in so many schools that maybe I just assume that children and even young adults aren’t remotely interested in me or what I’m doing – or at least once I explain that I’m not going to be able to get them on TV!

Shooting in a classroom requires some basic skills:

  1. Working with the ambient light
  2. Being able to get some extra light in that doesn’t completely disrupt what’s going on
  3. Having the ability to make pictures from what is already happening
  4. Setting up pictures when everything else fails

Everyone wants the pictures to look natural and everyone wants it to look as if there’s some great hard work going on. Every time I go to shoot a prospectus I get the same thing from the head teacher or their marketing people; make the children look as if they are happy and working hard and definitely not grinning for the camera. Nine times out of ten they select those grinning pictures because happy trumps serious almost every time. In a brochure that landed on my desk three weeks ago there were eighteen pictures in it. Seventeen of them were shot by me in one day and the other one was an architects photo of the newly refurbished building. Twelve of the pictures taken by me showed kids looking happy and engaged and four of the other five were portraits of staff and governors. The last of my pictures showed a child head-down and working hard.

Younger kids are definitely easier to take pictures of – in fact at the TES we had a saying “with acne comes attitude” and it was always tougher to make great pictures once the children became teenagers with all of the insecurities and hang-ups that come with that age. That was never quite as true when you were working overseas and it was always a huge privilege to witness education in action on other continents.

Choral scholars, Cambridgeshire, July 2008. © Neil Turner/TSL.

Previously on this blog I wrote about three important things that make a photograph and shooting in schools is a wonderful example of having to work hard to make two of them (light and composition) work for you when the third (subject matter) is usually pulling it’s weight. Sometimes you get lucky but, in my experience, most of the time you don’t. Thirty years ago I shot my first paid commission in a school just four years after I was a pupil in one. It’s funny and ironic in equal measure that I used to get into trouble for having a camera at school. I didn’t take many pictures during lessons but I do have a lovely archive of friends and teachers from my sixth-form years and I often wonder if that’s where my love of shooting in schools comes from.

Outdoor education centre, Dorset. April 2014.


Masindi, Uganda © Neil Turner/TSL Education. April 2005.


Nursery School, Kent. ©Neil Turner/TSL. January 2005


School playground, Surrey. ©Neil Turner. June 2011.

I don’t put many photos of children on this blog and when I do they tend to have been published elsewhere first and/or be from a few years ago. I’m still shooting as many jobs in schools as I can and I have a portfolio of school and college work sitting right here on my hard drive for when I get enquiries. If you’d like to talk about commissioning me to come and shoot your fish in your barrel, no matter what the light is like please get in touch.

You can also see a slideshow of headteachers and other education leaders that I put together a few years ago here.

AA batteries

Eneloop AA 1.2v batteries and Think Tank 8 AA battery holder.

Back in September 2008 when I returned to the world of freelancing I tried every way that I could think of to cut my ‘cost of doing business’. One of the central ideas was to reduce the number of disposable batteries that I bought and used. I had a number of speed lights and a whole bag full of triggers, transmitters and gadgets almost all of which took AA sized batteries and so I went out and bought a lot of NiCd (nickel cadmium) rechargeables along with three decent quality chargers.

Every-once-in-a-while I would buy a few single use batteries if I was on a job which justified doing so but I kept to my plan and used the NiCd ones where I could. Over time they lost their power and after about four years they were relegated to being used in kids toys and my wireless keyboard. I bought some new NiCds but the way that I used them meant that the dreaded memory effect killed them off more quickly than I would have liked.

For about six months I was lazy and kept buying Duracells (and other brands) but the box I kept the dead ones in filled up far too quickly and I went back to buying and using rechargeable batteries. By this time the nickel metal hydride (NiMH) revolution had pretty much taken place and I started to buy those. It took me a few months to realise that the old NiCd chargers weren’t the best option for the newer generation batteries and so I invested in a couple of new chargers a year or so ago. Slowly but surely and over the course of 18 months I went from NiCd to a mix of NiCd and single use batteries and then to NiMH. The big battery swap-over has now been completed.

The general consensus amongst my peers was that the Eneloop branded batteries (by Panasonic) were the best and so I built up a stock of thirty or so white Eneloops. Very happy with them, they work really well and hold their charge splendidly. One of my colleagues mentioned Eneloop Pro batteries and that upset me – I am always keen to get the best – and so I bought a few of those to see if they were worth the 60% price hike over the standard ones. Well, they are anecdotally about a third better in that they last that much longer under heavy use in Canon flash units. I cannot see any difference in the recycle times for the speed lights and so I had to ask myself whether it was worth paying more in order to have to change batteries a little less frequently. On balance, the answer is “no” but I now have eight of the Pro batteries and so I use them in amongst the set. The big downside of the Pros is that they have a shorter life. They can handle about 500 charge cycles before they lose their potency whereas the standard Eneloop can do around 2000 charges. That makes the Pro quite a bit more expensive than the ordinary one but there will be colleagues out there who are more than happy to pay that extra to get what they need – it’s a personal decision.

Carrying so many batteries around is heavy and cumbersome. I really like the Think Tank nylon case that holds eight AAs and I have a couple of those in my bag in the same pocket as the Think Tank 4x DSLR (Canon LP-E6) battery holder. I hate the idea of running out of power on a job and I have the two DSLR battery holder in my pocket most of the time too.

I saw a couple of reviews of high quality ‘smart chargers’ the other day and so I’ve now invested in new chargers too. That’s made quite a difference and I’m back to being up to date with the technology. It’s cheaper, it’s greener and my flash units are cycling faster. All good!

RGB and me

I get involved in a lot of discussions about the finer points of photography both online and in person. One of the most common this year has been the about choosing which RGB colour space we should all be working in. The truth is that there are a number of variables which, between them, should point you in one direction or another. There are plenty of RGB colour spaces but the main two are Adobe RGB and sRGB – mainly because these are the options you have when shooting with most DSLR cameras. There are a couple of others (Colormatch and ProPhoto) that offer wide gamuts and some real technical advantages but, as I hope to explain, this isn’t necessarily helpful. More isn’t just a waste, it’s a potential problem.

Ideal Worlds

In an ideal world we would have cameras, viewing and reproduction systems that gave us every tiny subtle variation in colour that the human eye can see on a good day in great light. We don’t. Yet.

What we have to work with in the Spring of 2017 is a range of different types of screens, projections and printing systems and those printing systems rely on an almost infinite variety of inks, pigments and papers. That’s before we even start to discuss all of the other materials onto which we can now print. So basically we, as photographers, have a series of moving targets to aim at and it’s almost always been the case in my career to date that I have no control over those targets. The same picture may be used for social media, newspapers, magazines and Powerpoint presentations and it is my job to supply those pictures in a format (or series of formats) that will enable the client to get consistently high quality results from them.

Bringing that back to the topic of RGB colour spaces means that I and my clients have choices to make. Those choices almost always involve compromise. Compromise almost always means that nothing is perfect for anyone or anything. In a version of the ideal world as it exists today I should be shooting, editing and supplying my pictures in the colour space providing the widest possible gamut of colours and tones providing the most vivid yet subtle renditions of the colours that match the brief and my vision for that brief. Maybe the client could pay for enough post-production time for me to provide two, three or more versions of each photograph suitable for each type of use. They don’t have the budgets in 999 cases out of 1,000. Maybe those pictures would then be taken by colour technicians and modified for each and every use and converted to the relevant colour space using the best equipment and software available. It doesn’t work that way very often.

What actually happens is that after I have supplied them the pictures are viewed and judged on a range of un-calibrated monitors in less than ideal viewing conditions before being sent to the web or to reproduction that doesn’t make any allowances for the kinds of screens, inks, pigments or papers that are going to effect how the pictures look. Because of this it has become sensible to make some compromises.

Adobe RGB is better isn’t it?

Yes but no… There’s no denying that in every single way Adobe RGB is superior to sRGB. It has a wider gamut meaning that the differences between colours and tones can be more subtle. There’s a case that says if you want wide gamuts and subtle gradations why stop at Adobe RGB? Why not go the whole way and work in ProPhoto or Colormatch? Good questions and here’s where we get to my reasoning about why I don’t bother.

The first is that most of us rely on what we see on our screens to make decisions about colour and tone during post production. If you work on anything but the highest of high end monitors which have been calibrated to the most exacting standards under ideal viewing conditions then you won’t be able to see the whole Adobe RGB gamut let alone the ProPhoto or Colormatch ones. Forget working on a laptop – unless you have your monitor and your colour management down to a fine art then you will be using guesswork and approximations on your images. Worse still, very few browsers, applications and viewing systems are smart when it comes to colour management. You might, through a combination of skill, judgement and good luck, get your pictures to be as good as they possibly can be only to experience the heartbreak that is seeing those perfect pictures displayed on dumb systems and looking like the flattest and most inept renditions of your images making you feel that you have not only wasted your time but that you may have done something wrong.

Sadly, all of those systems that make your images look awful will also make the Jpegs straight from your mobile phone look pretty good. Not to put too fine a point on it, the phones, tablets and screens that the vast majority of our images are now viewed on are not au fait with Adobe RGB but they love sRGB. Most of the printing systems and most of the automated systems for converting RGB to CMYK for printing work just as well with sRGB as they do with Adobe RGB because almost every CMYK colour space has a narrower gamut than sRGB does and that’s important.

What do you do with the spare reds?

stock-neil-012

Imagine a photograph of a red telephone box on a street in London with a red car next to it and two people walking past wearing their bright red Manchester United shirts swigging from cans of regular Coca Cola. Got the picture in your mind? How many variations of red are there in your picture? It’s a sunny day, there are hundreds and the differences are often very subtle. You’ve shot the picture in RAW (of course) and you are going back to your high end workstation to process the pictures. Your have a monitor capable of viewing the whole Adobe RGB gamut and you get to work. A short time later you have an edit of ten great pictures with all of those subtle reds looking as good as they possibly could and as good as you hoped they would. Save them as Adobe RGB Jpegs and whizz them off to the client. Two things can then happen:

  1. The client understands photography and has a completely colour managed work environment with decent screens and runs applications that can see Adobe RGB files properly.
  2. The client doesn’t work in a wholly colour managed environment and their monitors show your photographs as dull flat pictures that look worse than their own phone pictures.

If there’s any chance of getting option 2 instead of option 1 you have a problem and you can do a few different things:

  1. Work in Adobe RGB, saving the photographs in that space but then doing a batch convert to sRGB to supply to clients who they suspect cannot handle the wider gamuts.
  2. Ignore the issue and continue to supply in Adobe RGB and then complain when the work dries up or when the client comments on the flat files.
  3. Supply two sets of pictures; a “viewing” set of medium sized sRGB files and “printing” set in Adobe RGB
  4. Move to an sRGB workflow and supply everything in sRGB.
  5. Become a campaigning photographer, strive for ultimate quality and educate every one of your clients encouraging them to invest in perfect workflows.

The same goes for every colour. Purples and magentas can easily get mashed up when reducing the colour gamut and greens are famous for moving to mush really quickly in many CMYK spaces.

Why I’m a type 4 photographer

Several years ago now I realised that I wasn’t supplying any of my pictures to clients with workflows that could actively take advantage of Adobe RGB files and so I started to convert my carefully worked Adobe RGB pictures into sRGB before getting them to the clients. Most of the time I was working in decent conditions on my Eizo monitors and the rest of the time I was making educated guesses about how the pictures looked on my laptop.

It worked OK but I started to wonder what happened to those colours that were inside the Adobe RGB gamut but outside the sRGB range. How did an automated batch conversion deal with those subtleties? Photoshop offers several options for rendering those out-of-gamut colours ranging from shifting everything by the same amount down the scale to employing seriously sophisticated mathematics to translate the colours using what it calls “perceptual intent” which keeps the balance of tones without damaging the safest colours to accommodate those either side of the line. I asked myself why I was doing this when I had a RAW file to go back to should I need a more nuanced version of an image. The clients wanted (even if they didn’t know it) and usually needed sRGB files so why did I need Adobe RGB ones? Logic dictated that I try working the images within the sRGB gamut to start with. No more wondering which rendering option would do the best job (if I had a choice) and a lot less reliance on guesswork when I was editing on the laptop. Where, I asked myself, was the disadvantage to working solely in sRGB? I couldn’t find it then and I still can’t find it now.

The clients are happy. I’m happy. Win/win.

Based on a pragmatic and professionally sound set of reasons I now set my cameras, my computers and my whole workflow to sRGB. Having done that there are two further advantages that I had never considered (but really appreciate).

Monitors

Here in the UK you would struggle to buy a decent monitor with a genuine 100% of the Adobe RGB gamut for under £1,000.00. You can buy a quality monitor that handles 100% (and more) of the sRGB gamut for under £600.00 and have considerably more choice. Money saved on buying kit is always something that you should consider when you do this for a living.

Filenames

There’s something else that always bugged me. Canon and Nikon’s higher end cameras always change the leading character in the filenames to an underscore when you were shooting in Adobe RGB. Clearly someone, somewhere thought that this was a very useful thing to do and both of the major manufacturers still adhere to it. It really annoys me – in an almost irrational way. Moving over to sRGB has cleared this daily annoyance from my life (unless I’m editing other photographers’ work) but I’d love to know why Canon (and Nikon) cannot make this a custom function in their cameras rather than imposing it on us whether it suits us or not. This isn’t a reason to switch to an sRGB workflow but it is a side effect that I appreciate. Of course by the time most of my pictures arrive with the clients the files have been renamed anyway but one or two clients like to keep the original camera filenames too.

I shoot RAW anyway

All of this is a matter of opinion and logic for me and I always have the RAW file to go back to should I need it to create Adobe RGB versions. In the last two years or so since I went all the way to sRGB nobody has said “please supply us Adobe RGB files” (all of my clients are polite and always say please by the way). This is probably a case for my favourite piece of advice

“if anyone ever tells you that there’s only one way to do something in photography, don’t listen to them, they’re a fool.”

I’m convinced that, for now, I have it right for me. Want to tell me how and why I’m wrong?