careful

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

32 Months with the MkIII

SHM: The Vitality London 10,000

Lily Partridge of Aldershot Farnham and District crosses the line to win the women’s race. The Vitality London 10,000, Monday 30th May 2016. Photo: Neil Turner/Silverhub for Vitality London 10,000

Whenever you read about a camera the reviewer has usually had it in their hands for a few days and taken a few hundred frames with it. I’ve done it myself with all sorts of kit and I find it interesting that one of my most popular blogs  (a review of the original Elinchrom Ranger Quadra) was written when I had been using the kit for 32 months. As luck would have it I have been using Canon’s EOS5D MkIIIs for 32 months now and as the announcement of it’s widely leaked successor is only a week away I thought that now would be an excellent time to blog about my long-term opinion of these interesting cameras.

By the time my first MkIII arrived I had been shooting for almost five years with its predecessor – the Canon EOS5D MkIIs. I had grown to love the MkII despite its many quirks and faults and I knew them inside out and backwards. I had owned three of them at various times (never fewer than two) and had shot somewhere near half a million frames with them. In some professional circles that would qualify as barely worn in but when you don’t do bursts of three, four and more it takes a while to clock up that many pictures. I was quite excited by the announcement of the MkIII and blogged about it at the time saying that I would reserve judgement until I’d used one.

I need to say this: I have loved the 5D MkIII and almost everything about it pretty much from day one. It wasn’t just a little bit better than the MkII (which is what I had expected) it literally did everything better. From the far less annoying shutter sound (yes, really, the MkII shutter noise bugged me intensely) to the greatly improved layout of controls and from the vastly superior auto-focus to the improved image quality everything about the MkIII was an improvement. To this day, and having worked with files from just about every serious camera on the market, I find the image quality of the Mark 3 wonderful and the CR2s easy to work with in post-production. It may not have the highest pixel count and it may not top any tables designed to excite pixel-peepers but the files are a joy and the image quality displays subtleties and that indefinable je ne sais quoi that makes me smile. A lot.

Please don’t get me wrong, the EOS5D MkIII is not perfect. There are a couple of recurring build quality issues that Canon should have addressed during the product cycle rather than waiting to fix them with a new model. Almost every professional user of the MkIII that I know has had the disc on the mode dial with the various options on it fall off and/or lost the plastic multi-controller on the back of the camera. Neither should have been as easy to lose or as flimsily built as they were and having either replaced wasn’t cheap. Beyond those two niggles, on the odd occasion I put the camera into continuous shooting, I was never impressed by the 3.5 frames per second top speed and the 1/200th of a second flash synch has always been a disappointment. The LCD screens on mine have never felt that accurate and they have always looked very different from one another.

Beyond that I have always found that the camera fits beautifully into my hands and it is a joy to use – especially with smaller and lighter lenses. The MkIII is a versatile camera that fits into the range well and after four years on the market it can still hold its own – selling well and coming up on the used market a lot less often than most of its rivals.

The upcoming MkIV has an interesting list of features. Most of them are evolutionary (USB3, more megapixels and better video) and one or two will need to be explained to me when the announcement is official.

Just as I said when the MkIII appeared I will need to do the mathematics and decide whether buying a couple of these new cameras will be cost-effective for my business because there’s a distinct possibility that the advantages won’t make me any more money. Built in wifi and GPS are a good idea but I have the WFT-E7 which gives you so much more than the built-in wifi on a camera such as the EOS6D – a camera whose GPS has been switched on to see how it works, realised how much it drains the battery and switched off again.

Having used an EOS1DX MkI for a few days I have high hopes for the implementation of the communication settings on the MkIV. We have fed lots of information back to Canon over the last couple of years and I hope that they have listened. I am also looking forward to what they are going to do with their bundled software. EOS Utility is crying out for some easy improvements and I hope that this new camera will be shipped at the same time as na better application to aid setting it up and maintaining it.

We are all different and we all want subtly different things from our gear. I am quite excited about the EOS5D MkIV but whether or not excitement will turn into ownership is a whole other matter.

Think Tank Logistics Manager 30

31 May 2016. Bournemouth, Dorset. Think Tank Logistics Manager 30. Hillcrest Road

Think Tank Logistics Manager 30.

A few weeks ago I bought some more Elinchrom Ranger Quadra kit and after a short while lugging my gear around in multiple bags and cases I decided that it was time to get myself one big case to take most or all of my Quadra gear. My rationale was that I am pulling one bag on wheels and carrying two or three others so why not make it one on wheels with the lighting and one smaller bag with cameras and lenses riding on top of it or over my shoulder as required? There’s quite a bit of choice on the market but all of my experience with Think Tank bags told me to start my search there. They make lots of rolling bags but only three specifically designed to lug large amounts of kit. My benchmark was that I had to be able to get at least two of my Manfrotto 156 stands plus a couple of Manfrotto 001s in there along with two or three packs, three or four heads, spare batteries, cables, light modifiers and plenty of accessories.

I had previously seen a colleagues Location Manager 40 case and so I wanted to check out the Logistics Manager 30 because on paper it appeared to be just about perfect. The internal dimensions were listed at 70cm length. My 051 stands are 68cm when folded and so I tried one and when it fitted the deal was pretty much sealed. All I needed to do was make sure that it fitted into the boot (trunk) of the car and it was at this point that I realised that neither of the two bigger “Manager” series bags would have worked. The 30 goes in with a bit to spare but anything much longer would need to go sideways and therefore wouldn’t be much use.

In the ten days or so since buying the case I have only used it twice. On job number one I was delighted with it when rolling it but less so when having to lift it up stairs or into the boot (trunk) of the car. There’s no bag or case in the world that can magically make its contents weigh less and the temptation to load this one has to be tempered with my need to be able to lift it. For job two I went with just two packs, two spare batteries, three heads and only three stands and quickly realised that I could only fully load this case if I were working with someone else who could help with the lifting. I’m getting old!

My loaded and ready to roll current configuration for the Think Tank Logistics Manager 30.

My loaded and ready to roll current configuration for the Think Tank Logistics Manager 30.

I am happy to report that this case comes with so many options for the inserts and dividers that I have a medium sized carrier bag full of unused bits. The flexibility is amazing and the quality of the construction appears to be right up there with every other bit of Think Tank kit I own. I am particularly pleased with the zipped mesh compartments in the lid. I have lots of gels cut into manageable pieces and they fitted into one of them very well whilst the other swallowed lots of those small accessories that can otherwise get lost drifting around in the base of the bag. You can see that I have a couple of pouches in this case. One has the Elinchrom Skyport HS triggers and the other has lots of small and medium sized clips which are great for holding gels etc.

I’m sure that there’ll be a few tweaks and some settling in but, for now, this layout works very well for me when I am working on my own. I haven’t even thought about using any of the exterior pockets but I have already given the built-in combination lock a go – chaining my locked bag to a radiator after I’d finished shooting, packed up and whilst I’d gone for coffee with the client.

My final point here is that turning up with completely professional solutions is good for your image. I’m sure that a reasonable quality suitcase with some makeshift padding would work almost as well and cost £200 less but this really is doing the job properly and my client definitely noticed.

Pelican case wheels

peli_wheels

There cannot be many photographers out there who don’t own at least one Pelican Case. The super tough plastic boxes (often on wheels) that a lot of our gear travels in are superbly designed, brilliantly made and as tough as old boots. I have three of them and another photographer swapped the standard hard wheels on my 1510 case for some softer rubber ones a couple of years ago and the absence of grating hard wheeled noises was a revelation. I find myself using my 1560 case a lot more these days and so it was time that got the ‘old soft wheel shuffle’ too.

I am not someone who indulges in much DIY but it became obvious when I read this ‘how to’ blog post by David Fearn that even I could do it. So I sourced some 60mm inline skate wheels from SkatePro, re-read David’s blog post and got stuck in. In his post Mr Fearn used 63mm wheels but I went for 60mm because a) I was having trouble finding keenly priced 63mm ones and b) the original Peli had worn down to 59mm and still worked. The extra 3mm probably makes no difference but I went with smaller. Once I had the bits and tools assembled, the job took less than ten minutes.

What a difference some soft wheels make to rolling the case around. On and off of a train, on and off of the London Underground with barely a sound! Quite why Pelican fit rock hard wheels in the first place or why they don’t offer a soft wheel option is anyone’s guess but I’m most definitely a convert – even if it means that the lifetime wheel replacement guarantee that the manufacturer offers goes away. I ordered plenty of wheels and so I reckon I’m good for another ten years now.

Post production is all about the details

Passenger on the top deck of a tourist bus passing through Waterloo. © Neil Turner

Passenger on the top deck of a tourist bus passing through Waterloo.
© Neil Turner

I’ve read a lot about the ‘instagramisation’ of photography. I think that means taking slightly dull images, applying filters and presets to them and presenting them as bits of creativity. At the right time and in the right place those kinds of pictures have value and can make significant additions to creative campaigns and can go a long way towards making some elements of social media and social marketing more visually interesting. I’m not talking about that here – this blog post is all about choosing between making decisions about individual pictures or letting technology take over and ‘improve’ your work for you.

If you are on Facebook or any other social media that has targeted advertising you will probably get as many ‘suggestions’ as I do for people selling magical presets or add-ons to make my pictures instantly better. That’s great – or at least it would be if I wanted all of my images to exhibit a sameness with each other and with those of so many others. Trying to reduce professional post-production down to a series of mouse-clicks using algorithms and actions developed for others isn’t, in my opinion, a very good idea. I don’t want bland, over-processed or unreal pictures and I certainly don’t want to supply them to my clients.

For those of us who remember machine printing from our colour negatives where some pretty smart state-of-the-art machinery replaced judgements made by well trained and experienced operators it all looks pretty familiar. No matter how smart the technology gets, the highest quality and the best representations of our creative visions can only be realised when we pay attention to the details. All of them.

When I look at a single (RAW) image on my screen I make a lot of decisions pretty quickly. That is what an automated system would do too. I go through a sort of check list of options to make that picture into the best thing that it can be. Arguably, that’s exactly what an automated system would do too. The difference comes when I start to think about context:

  • What is the purpose of the picture?
  • Who is the client and who are the audience?
  • Which elements are most important?

The list of possible questions is long and you are probably getting my point by now. The same photograph needs different treatment for different purposes and that means handling the detailed decisions in different ways. How could an automated system have any idea whether correcting barrel distortion in a lens is necessary or even desirable? How would any machine know whether blown highlights in unimportant areas of the frame need to be sorted or whether they add to the atmosphere? The same goes for blocked shadows, underexposed faces, oversaturated colours and another long list of potentially vital elements. Let’s not even start to think about cropping at this point.

All of this is deeply reminiscent of hand printing black and white photographs in the darkrooms of the earlier parts of my career. Getting the contrast right and doing some dodging and burning were things that made all the difference between an average picture and a thing of beauty but the degree to which you ‘worked’ your photographs was dictated by where they would end up. Letterpress newspapers required very different prints to gallery walls.

It’s not just about how you handle the options for grading and optimising your pictures as you go through the process either. Output options vary and choosing between sRGB, Adobe RGB and the half dozen other options that are less commonly asked for isn’t something that you’d want to hand over to a machine. Sharpening comes in so many different forms these days and then what should you do about file sizes?

I have calculated that I make between thirty and forty decisions for every picture and another four or five for every batch of pictures that go directly towards how my photographs look when they arrive on the client’s screen and almost every one of those decisions has an effect on so many of the others. This stuff ain’t easy and it certainly isn’t as easy as those advertisements that pop up in my social media would have you believe.

Zooming with your…

©Neil Turner/Bupa 10,000. May 2015. A Police rider accompanies a detachments of Guards as they march back their barracks.

©Neil Turner/Bupa 10,000. May 2015.
A Police rider accompanies a detachments of Guards as they march back their barracks.

I was on a job the other day, standing next to a very young photographer in a ‘press pen’. He glanced over at the gear I was using and mentioned how much he would love to own the 135mm f2L lens that I had on one of my cameras. He said that he had never really got the hang of “zooming with his feet” in the way that so many of the photographers he admired had advised. He had also had it drummed into him by one of his tutors at college and it had left him wondering if he was doing something wrong.

Zooming with your feet is a great concept and it is one of the catchphrases in contemporary photography that appears to be beyond question. But is it? Is it actually as much a cliche as a universal truth?

There we were on a job where we couldn’t have zoomed with our feet even if either of us had the skills to do so. We couldn’t go forward – there was a metal barrier in the way. We couldn’t go backwards because there were other photographers and a couple of TV crews behind us – and behind them was another barrier. We had a tiny amount of sideways movement if we could change places with each other but, apart from that, we were in a very fixed position.

The event we were shooting was a fixed distance from us and so it was possible to get the right prime lens on the camera and then to shoot the job.

What my young photographer friend didn’t know was that I had my 70-200 lens in my bag but that I had some real concerns about its performance earlier in the day which is why I had grabbed the 135 and decided to use that.

As we had plenty of time to spare I explained my choice of lens and explained that a lot of press work means that zooming with your feet is somewhere between difficult and impossible and that to get the most from a fixed position a set of zoom lenses is actually the right choice. I went on to admit that I would be doing a fair bit of zooming on the job myself, except that it would be in the post-production – zooming with the crop tool is what I decided to call it.

And that’s what I did. The resolution of modern DSLRs is such that you can get a high quality Jpeg from 50% of the actual frame and the quality of the best lenses easily allows you do that and maybe more. Starting off with a lens wider than you probably need and then refining your crop in post-production was very common in the days of darkrooms and prints but when we were shooting 35mm colour transparencies or with the early low-megapixel digitals it became important to get the crop right in-camera. We have come full circle and some judicious cropping makes sense once more.

Shooting with prime lenses is something that I have discussed more than once before and it is something that I find myself doing more and more on jobs where I’m the only photographer or where I have enough freedom to go with the universal truth/cliche (delete where applicable) and actually zoom with my feet. The rest of the time it is zooms and now that I am using two distinct sets of lenses for different types of jobs I’ve decided to invest in some new gear – and I’ll be blogging about that very soon.

Taste in monochrome

Ever since I shot my first roll of black and white film back when I was teenager I have been striving to master the art/science/alchemy of good monochrome. Many of my early photographic heroes were all brilliant in black and white and my own struggle with getting close to being good at it is a subject that I have blogged about before. Over the last two years I have become much better at it and I thought that I’d show a series of images here that demonstrate how I go from an original colour picture to a toned monochrome. I sometimes use Tonality for my conversions but this one was done in Photoshop CC.

Colour photo converted from a Fujifilm .raf file in Adobe Camera RAW

Colour photo converted from a Fujifilm .raf file in Adobe Camera RAW

Pensioners window shopping in the Brtish Heart Foundation furniture and electrical good store in Winton.

Straight ‘desaturate’ from the colour photo using Photoshop’s Shift Cmd U on a Mac (shift Ctrl U on a PC)

Contrast added using levels  in Photoshop.

Contrast added using levels in Photoshop.

New layer added and a tone applied across the image using the paint bucket tool at 12% before the levels were adjusted to re-introduce a black.

New layer added and a tone applied across the image using the paint bucket tool at 12% before the levels were adjusted to re-introduce a black.

Once you get the hang of it, this is a simple process which could be automated for batches. I prefer to do it by eye because the re-introduction of the blacks after the tone was added is something that benefits from subtlety and which changes from frame to frame.

I’m 99.9% sure that there are ‘better’ ways to do this but it appeals to my taste in monochrome for the web. It chimes with my taste in printing papers back in the days when we hand printed our portfolios on specialist papers with their own signature tones. Mine was Agfa Record Rapid which, when developed in the requisite chemistry, had a very pleasing warm tone.

I’m getting close to having a style that I like for this kind of work – my personal work – and I am looking forward to putting a better edited body of work together using this style or at least a development on it. In the meantime, there’s a large collection of assorted personal work on my Pixelrights gallery.