edit

Out Walking

Ever since I started using the EyeEm photo sharing site I have been trying to shoot more pictures “just for the fun of it”. The platform allows you to add your pictures to albums and one of my favourites is entitled “Out Walking”. I often shoot with my Fujifilm X20 with and Eye-Fi card in it, convert the RAW fils to Jpeg using the neat film simulation modes before uploading them to my iPhone and going through the process I described in my Eye-Fi Workflow post a week or so ago. I also vowed a while ago to get better at black and white. I’m not sure that’s going quite so well but I often combine the two. It’s great fun and even mildly addictive!

Anyway, for no other reason that I want to share them, here are some of the images.

© Neil Turner, January 2014. Man holding sign offering tattoos an tattoo removal touts for business on the pavement just outside one of main areas of Camden Market

© Neil Turner, January 2014. Man holding sign offering tattoos an tattoo removal touts for business on the pavement just outside one of main areas of Camden Market

© Neil Turner January 2014. Cold and bored stall-holder selling keep calm t-shirts at Camden Market.

© Neil Turner January 2014. Cold and bored stall-holder selling keep calm t-shirts at Camden Market.

© Neil Turner, January 2014. Bored shop keeper outside his open hat shop just outside one of main areas of Camden Market

© Neil Turner, January 2014. Bored shop keeper outside his open hat shop just outside one of main areas of Camden Market

Eye-Fi card workflow

eye-fi_cards When I was rounding up 2013 I mentioned that I had a lot of success using an Eye-Fi card to wirelessly transmit pictures from my cameras (Canon EOS5D MkIII and Fujifilm X20) to either my iPhone, iPad or laptop where I can do a quick edit and caption before sending them to clients. Inevitably I got a couple of emails using the “ask me anything” feature of this blog asking me to describe my workflow. It is similar between an EOS5D MkIII and the Fujifilm X20 except that the former has twin card slots (one CF compact flash and one SD secure digital) whereas the latter only has the SD slot. I like to shoot RAW which means that in the X20 I have to do an in-camera RAW conversion to create a Jpeg to send out. I have two cards (shown left) – an Eye-Fi branded 8Gb Pro X2 and a Sandisk branded 4Gb one. In practice, they both do much the same job but the orange Eye-Fi one has more options should you want to work differently. Without further ado, here is how it all works on the Canon…

Getting the the settings on the card, your camera and your phone/tablet/computer right is the key to getting everything working well:

  1. Setting up the Eye-Fi card. When you get the card it should come with an SD card reader and by far the best way to set things up is to use that reader to load the card into a computer. There are lots of options that will appear once you have loaded the supplied “Eye-Fi Centre” application. This workflow is all about working in what the manufacturer calls “direct mode”. I choose to only transfer the files I want to my iPhone and so on the card I have selected “Selective Transfer” via the Eye-Fi Centre application. This means that only images that I have protected in the camera menu get transferred. On the Canon I have assigned the “rate” button to protect images for speed. It is also useful to add a couple of wifi networks and to define which file formats to transfer using the application whilst the card is in the computer because it isn’t possible to alter some settings once the card is in the camera. This whole process takes a few minutes and if you get it right, the whole thing test a lot easier from here on in.eye-fi_screenshot
  2. Setting up the camera. In the EOS5D MkIII menu there are three things that I’d recommend you do. The first is to assign the “rate” button to protect selected images. The second is to get the camera to write RAW files to the CF card and medium size Jpegs to the SD (Eye-Fi) card. Finally, you need to enable Eye-Fi transfer from the camera menu. This way you can use the review function with card 2 (the SD slot) and then every time you protect an image written to the Eye-Fi card it will automatically look to transfer that file to the device you have nominated.
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  3. The receiving device. I use an iPhone and an iPad and the whole process is eventually controlled by the free app that Eye-Fi make available through the Apple App Store. There are equally useful apps available for Android powered devices and the functionality is pretty much identical. Apart from loading the app the only other thing you have to do is to download and authorise a small change to your wifi settings on your phone which simply installs the settings for the direct mode to work. Once you launch the app you get an opening window which then gives way to the gallery window which in turn tells you what is happening about transfers. Below you can see the card paring screen and the gallery screen.eye_fi_phone
  4. Editing your pictures. Once you have the image on your phone or tablet you can then use the apps of your choice to edit and caption your image before shifting them on. My personal favourite is Photogene4 which has some good image options such as clarity, contrast, saturation, straighten, crop, sharpen and the ability to add IPTC captions – including defaults such as the EXIF time day and date as well as any pre-loaded captions and copyright information. I find that it’s a good idea to write some generic captions using Apple’s Notes app and then copy and paste them into Photogene4. The app also has the option to upload to a wide range of sharing sites as well as to email and ransomer images to FTP servers – making it really useful for work.photogene
    From shooting a frame to having it uploaded to my own FTP server normally takes twenty to thirty seconds if there is a good phone signal and the various uses that I’ve found for this rapid upload range from offering images to people I’ve photographed to providing almost instant pictures for corporate clients to use for their Facebook, Instagram and Twitter feeds at events. This is a very versatile piece of kit and I haven’t even come close to describing everything that it can do. I like the way that this workflow actually does flow and I love the effect that it has had on a couple of clients who really appreciate what it offers them. My first Eye-Fi card was £24.99 including VAT – possibly the best investment that I’ve ever made!

Revisiting my workflow

It is impossible to work digitally without having some sort of workflow. Most are a bit better than adequate, some are good and some are blindingly awful. I think that it is important to have a look at the way you do things every once in a while to make sure that yours is as good as it can be and achieves the four goals of being;

  • Efficient in terms of both time and memory
  • Repeatable so that the purely functional bits can be done almost on auto-pilot
  • Non destructive so that you don’t lose valuable RAW files or save changes to Jpegs shot in camera
  • Able to be short-cut for jobs where time is even more of an issue

I’ve written about my workflow before and I often teach workshops based on the “photographer’s twelve step plan” – a process with 12 distinct stages from camera to client including backing up and having a coffee! In this blog post I’m simply going to go through my basic workflow with a few hints and tips as I go. I normally use Photo Mechanic to import, sort, caption, rename and export my files and Adobe Photoshop CC to convert RAW (Canon CR2 most of the time) files into the required format. The whole process is colour-managed and I do as much as I can in-camera to save myself time when editing. I work on either a MacBook Pro, a MacBook Air or a Mac Mini depending on where I am and what the job is. Anyway, let’s kick off…

pm_preferences

Before I insert a card into the card reader I launch Photo Mechanic. This screen grab shows the “general” preferences for the application including what I want to happen when I load a memory card. I have checked the box “Open as contact sheet(s)” which means that as soon as the card goes in I see the images in a standard window. In the past I often used “show ingest dialogue” but I have found that ingesting every single frame doesn’t suit me and that it slows the whole process down drastically. Typically I only want between 25% and 35% of the images and so I go through them using the “tag” function (cmd T on a Mac or ctrl T on a PC) to identify those that I’m interested in or those which have unique content.

Once I’ve been through that card and tagged the images I want I use the “copy” function (cmd Y on the Mac and ctrl Y on a PC) and copy those tagged files to a new folder. I use a simple formula YYMMDD-jobname-RAW for those files and then repeat this process with every card used on that job. Photo Mechanic can be set to automatically open and update a new contact sheet with the copied files. I always eject the cards without deleting anything just in case there are problems during the process and put those cards to one side to be deleted later.

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pm_contact_sheet

The preview and contact sheet windows are extremely easy ways to look at and select pictures. Once I have my first edit done I apply a generic caption using the Photo mechanic stationery pad (cmd I or ctrl I). At this point I’d like to mention two enormously useful features of Photo Mechanic (available on some other applications too).

The first is variables. These are simple ways of automatically adding information to your captions or filenames. Many are derived from the EXIF data applied in the camera. These include time, day and date as well as other shooting data. Some cameras allow you to set copyright information in the camera and others apply GPS location data too. Other variables might include camera serial numbers, original filenames as well as items that you can add yourself from pre-loaded drop-down menus. I have every county in the United Kingdom loaded as well as a large number of towns and cities and I also have some specific locations where I work regularly pre-loaded. By choosing a specific city from one drop-down menu you can use variables to add it to relevant other areas of the IPTC automatically. You can see some examples of variables in the caption below.

pm_stationery_pad

My main caption starts with {city}, {state}. {iptcday0} {iptcmonthname} {iptcyear4} which will then become something like Brighton, East Sussex. 12 December 2013 if I have all of the right information ready to go. If there are more details to add to the generic caption it is easy enough to do those in batches using the stationery pad.

Variables can also be used in the renaming of files.

pm-rename

This requires you to add the IPTC caption before you rename the files because using the {headline} variable automatically includes the headline you have used in the filename. I find this to be very useful and very good for saving time. In practice Photo Mechanic will sequentially rename 100 files in about ten seconds using this method.

The other really useful feature that Photo Mechanic has for helping with captions is code replacement. The idea is similar to variables except you create your won shortcuts. Sports photographers use this a lot and it saves a great deal of time. Imagine a football (that’s soccer to everyone in north America) team with 22 squad players – many of whom have unfamiliar and difficult to spell names. Using code replacement you can preload a text file with the teams before the game using shirt numbers. The England team, for example, would have numbers from EN01 to EN22 with the names of the players set against those numbers. Using code replacement you would type \EN08\ and the software would immediately recognise that as 8 Wayne Rooney or whatever you have set it to say. I use it for political figures so \dcam\ automatically becomes The Rt Hon David Cameron MP. I can add a second part to that if I so wish \pm\ would add Prime Minister.

I also use code replacement for shooting musicians and bands. It is really easy to create a text file with the names of all of the band members and then use the shortcuts to add the relevant people to each frame. You select the shortcuts yourself and the long versions yourself. Once you get the hang of code replacement, it becomes a central part of your workflow.

At this point I’ll often do a second tighter edit. I’ll keep all of the RAW files that I have copied over from the cards but only convert and send the best to the client. For some news jobs that is only 6-10 images and for other editorial assignments anything between a dozen and thirty. Some of the corporate jobs I shoot end up with a couple of hundred files and working on those proves the efficiency of this workflow because it is scaleable and repeatable.

Once I have my RAW (CR2 or RAF) images selected, captioned and renamed it is time to highlight them all and open them in Adobe Camera RAW in Adobe Photoshop. There are a number of great RAW conversion options out there and whether you use Photoshop, Lightroom, Aperture, Capture One or any of the others you need to make sure that the one you use doesn’t strip your carefully added caption information during the RAW conversion process.

acr-window

This is what the Adobe camera RAW window looks like. You can select a number of images from the strip down the left hand side and apply the same adjustments to all of them. I don’t want to run a complete ACR tutorial here but I would like to mention the straighten, sharpen, crop and lens correction adjustments as well worth learning. Of course those are secondary to the basic correction options such as colour temperature and tint, exposure, contrast, highlight and shadows etc. I find that I rarely need to open an image into Photoshop itself simply because all of the things that I’d normally do to a picture can be done right here in Camera Raw. Every few frames I will highlight those that have been corrected but not yet saved and save them. A decent computer with enough RAM will happily save the adjusted RAW files into whatever format you choose in the background whilst you continue to work on the rest. Once I have hit the “save” button on the last files I then click on “done”. Most of the time I am saving files at their default size as high quality Jpegs with some sharpening into the same folder as the RAW files. Photo Mechanic then updates the folder to show the RAW and Jpeg files together (you can separate them if you wish to) with a thumbnail from the newly saved Jpeg.

One of the best improvements between Adobe Camera RAW in Photoshop CS6 and Photoshop CC is an improved and expanded “save” dialogue window. You now have the option to set a target size, target amount of compression and apply a set degree of sharpening. With modern cameras producing pictures of over 60 megabytes and many of my clients wanting their photographs to be considerably smaller than that I am now using the target size more and more. My default setting is 4800 pixels along the longest side and with a maximum compressed file of 3200 kilobytes.

acr-save

Once I have my images all saved I return to Photo Mechanic and copy the Jpeg files into a new folder ready to send to the client. More and more that folder is a Dropbox one and I will give the link to the images to the client. For news jobs I can simply FTP the images (having saved them at a smaller size) and for some commercial clients that means burning the pictures to a DVD or CD. However they are delivered, the images are correctly sized, nicely prepared from the RAW files and properly captioned and renamed. All of this is done quickly and efficiently without damaging any originals.

When the urgency of the edit is over, I copy the files to a RAID drive in my office, to a portable drive that lives in my car and to a third drive which is away from my office ‘just in case’. I might then treat myself to a coffee…

Updating my folio and painting the Forth Bridge

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In the UK we have a saying that describes a never-ending task “painting the Forth Bridge”. The idea is simple; once the painters have finished painting the bridge, it’s time to start back at the other end which has been weathering for a number of years by then. Keeping your own portfolio up-to-date is a similar task. There are so many ways to present your work and none of them are perfect and so I keep tinkering with content, layout and even the technology. Five years ago it was Flash and then basic HTML code and then a bit of Javascript and now it is a combination of everything except Flash. My idea is that I want to be able to update easily and regularly without having to format and code stuff. Preparing the images is done using a couple of Photoshop Actions and then the images themselves are inserted into a “slider” which is set to play automatically but which can be stopped and images can be picked out for a closer inspection.

I would be very interested in any views and opinions that anyone has about the site and the way it works. It isn’t an exact science but I think that I’m getting closer to understanding how it all works. Of course photographers are their own worst editors and I suspect that the content will annoy many of you. Whatever you think, let me have it.

The bridge is freshly painted, I’m having a day or two off and then I’m going to start again. One of these days I might even change the colour…

Big soft light on the cheap

This technique example was originally posted on the ‘pre-blog’ in January 2009

A lot of portrait photography is done with large soft boxes or large umbrellas. The point there being that large light sources give a certain type of soft light that is reasonably flattering, nicely even and pretty good to work with. Bouncing a flash off of a big white wall gives a very similar effect to a large soft box which makes a big pale wall on location a very useful thing.

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©Neil Turner, November 2008. Bournemouth, Dorset.

Shooting this portrait of a couple who met and fell in love in later life gave me a few challenges. The picture editor wanted them to be photographed on the beach in my home town of Bournemouth but the weather forecast for the late November morning wasn’t too promising. Having spoken to the couple we decided to head for a location which offered us plenty of parking right near the beach front as well as wide open expanses of sand. The plan was to shoot on the beach and head for one of the local cafes if the rain came. The same stretch of beach also has some covered seating areas, which were to prove very useful.

We started off shooting on the sand but moved pretty quickly under the covered area that you can see to the left. It was out of the wind and out of the rain that was looking likely. The theme for the picture was to be mildly romantic and the strong arch was likely to be useful.

I was shooting with a Canon EOS 50D and 16-35, 24-70 and 70-200 f2.8 L lenses. The lighting was a Lumedyne 200 watt/second pack and Signature head triggered with a pair of Pocket Wizards. The back wall of the covered area was painted with a very pale cream/lemon colour so I decided to bounce the flash off of it.

I mentioned above that the effect is similar to a large soft box and the area of wall illuminated by the flash was about four square metres (a little over ten square feet) which is a big soft light by anyone’s standard.

Looking at the brilliant LCD on the back of the camera after a couple of test shots, it was obvious that the colour of the wall was a little more yellow than was apparent to the naked eye. I shot a frame with a piece of white paper in the man’s hand so that I could do a custom white balance. The net effect of this was to send the daylight behind them and any areas lit by the ambient a little blue – not an unpleasant effect.It was clear that they were enjoying being photographed and were happy to indulge my usual technique of playing around with lenses, compositions, exposures and lighting positions.

I was trying to shoot with a wide lens under the cover and the shot that you see above was taken with my 16-35 f2.8L right at the 16mm end. I usually try to shoot at 200 ISO and the meter reading for the sand and sea behind the couple was 1/125th of a second at f5.6. I altered the output on the flash to give me f5.6 on the couple and changed the shutter speed to 1/180th to marginally underexpose the background. The available light reading on the couple would have been 1/30th at f5.6 so they were lit exclusively by the flash. I shot a lot of different images with similar compositions before changing over to a 70-200 f2.8L IS lens.

I moved my subjects so that they were leaning in the entrance just as the light outside was getting a bit better. By the time I shot the image below the shutter speed was up to 1/250th of a second but not really underexposing at all.

©Neil Turner

©Neil Turner, November 2008. Bournemouth, Dorset.

The ambient light was starting to affect the man’s head and you can see that he has a gentle blue highlight on top of his head. The light balance was just right for about two or three minutes before the ambient became brighter and I had to increase the power on the flash to maintain the balance.

After a few dozen frames we moved back onto the beach where we shot several more ideas. The magazine eventually ran a picture shot on the beach as the day turned brighter and it came towards midday. In the two pictures shown above I am looking almost due south where the midday sun would be. The second picture was taken only 45 minutes before noon and so the reasonably heavy cloud was a real help to make this picture work.

The whole shoot took a little over an hour and the edit took about the same amount of time before I sent the magazine around forty pictures.

The constant software update dilemma

Back in the day we used to occasionally try out new chemicals and different printing papers. We used to experiment with new film stock when it hit the market and, on the whole, it was a welcome distraction from the day-to-day work. In the digital era we have to get new cameras a bit more often and we need to keep our IT current but the biggest battle and the largest dilemma is software. Because I teach a bit and because I am a complete anorak** I always have a look at new software packages as they become available.

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Keeping up to date is not cheap. Upgrades are often necessary – especially when none of the software companies make their RAW converters backwards compatible when new cameras and new lenses hit the market. The move by Adobe towards the monthly or annual subscription model is very interesting and brings into very sharp focus the real cost of having the latest software. I have written before about making the business case for buying new gear and the same formula should apply to upgrading software. Every time I talk or write about these kinds of financial decisions, the same piece of music pops into my head… Bruce Springsteen’s song “Cautious Man” where there is a line that says:

“When something caught his eye he’d measure his need
And then very carefully he’d proceed”

lightroom_5_screen_shot

This week, to misquote the wonderful Fast Show, “I are mostly been playing with Lightroom”. To be more precise I have been looking at the new Lightroom 5 beta that Adobe have made available. This comes against a background of having experimented with pretty much every version of Lightroom since it hit the shops back in 2007 and found that I wasn’t entirely sold on the application despite seeing why others love it so much. And that is a huge part of the software conundrum – there are lots of options that achieve pretty much the same end result but get there via very different routes. If, like me, you shoot RAW pictures you need to have a way of editing, captioning, renaming, converting, saving, delivering and archiving your work. This can be achieved using a single application or you can use three , four or five different ones – it really doesn’t matter as long as your workflow is repeatable, flexible, efficient and accurate.

I will write a lot more about Lightroom 5 when I have really used it properly but I have to say that it seems a lot quicker than the previous version and the interface for Adobe RAW Converter is even closer to to the version that I use in Photoshop CS6 than ever – making using Lightroom a lot easier for me. I have also realised that Adobe’s efforts to create a programme for photographers to edit their work in are bearing fruit. The time has definitely arrived when I could easily do without Photoshop altogether and run pretty much everything from Lightroom. Of course that doesn’t mean that I want to… yet.

Philippa Gregory – the contact sheet

© Neil Turner/TSL. Philippa Gregory, October 2004

© Neil Turner/TSL. Philippa Gregory, October 2004

I haven’t done one of these contact sheets for a long time and I thought that this set was an interesting example. I submitted this set of sixteen pictures and they are all landscape in orientation. That’s because the slot they were shot for was across two pages and always a squarish landscape image. As I said in the previous post, the whole thing was done in ten minutes on a dull Autumn (fall) day in Hyde Park. That time included setting up and breaking down the Lumedyne light and chatting to the subject. Note that she is clutching her novel in the opening frame. I find that it’s always a good idea to do that if their publicist insists so that you can then go on to get the pictures that will actually get used.

Re-working old files

With all of the time that I have spent recently trying to get used to the beta versions of Photoshop CS6 and Adobe Camera RAW 7 I have been having quite a few conversations on forums and over email with others going through the same process. One conversation led me to think about even older versions of the software and how I used them and in turn that got thinking about finding an old CR2 two file that I was never truly happy with and having another go with the up-to-date version of ACR. Without looking at the original “finished” JPEG I grabbed a CR2 file from 2008 that I remember being unhappy with and gave it “the treatment”.

©Neil Turner/TSL. May 2008 - RAW file straight out of the camera

©Neil Turner/TSL. May 2008. RAW file Converted with using .xmp settings from 2008 in Photoshop CS5

©Neil Turner/TSL. May 2008. RAW converted today using ACR 7 in Photoshop CS6 Beta

Whilst I was doing the conversion it became obvious to me that I wasn’t really comparing versions of the software – it was that my taste in the way images look has changed. I have no doubt that knowing far more about converting RAW files than I did four years ago helps enormously. You can also factor in the improvements in the adjustment tools available as well but the sum total of all of that means that the newer version is far more subtle and (in my eyes) far better. I made use of the fill-light and the graduated filters. I used a much warmer white balance and my approach to both noise reduction and sharpening has moved on too – although you’d never notice that from these 620 pixel samples.

So there we go. If it wasn’t blindingly obvious before, it is now. RAW conversions depend on a mixture of software and taste and this little experiment has proved to me that my tastes have changed and so, therefore, must the tastes of other people. The final conclusion has to be that every time you create a new folio, make changes to your website or supply a picture you have to make a choice between re-working the files to bring everything up to they way you like things now or leave well alone and allow your images to be “of their time”. Fat chance of the latter happening here…