Reality May Not Be The Goal

That’s right. Reality may not be the goal when it comes to photos. Of course it depends on what you’re after, but for me I’m generally not interested in a photo being a completely accurate representation of what I photographed.

Opinions on this vary a lot; some people who call themselves “purists” or whatever else can be hardcore stuck on the notion that what landed on their camera sensor is what should be shown. There can be something said for that in some photographic disciplines for sure. I’m thinking photo journalists as an example. Or stock photos for reference manuals, etc. I mean there are people out there that if a single post production slider has been touched in any way they’ll cry foul.

Personally I don’t give that notion much stock; especially if you’re shooting RAW. If you’re not shooting raw and opting to shoot in JPEG, what comes out of camera isn’t untouched. You’ve simply opted to let your camera’s algorithm do it for you. Back in the day when you took your pics and sent them off to the photo lab to get them developed, the lab didn’t simply develop the images without any post processing work. There’s always some post processing work done to some degree or another. For those processing their own film, post production work was the norm. Even Ansel Adams was a master of post production work.

Then there is the other side of the spectrum in which people combine photography and “digital art” to create some pretty astounding works of art that make so called “purists” scream bloody murder. I’m talking artists like Erik Johansson. It’s pretty amazing stuff; absolutely surreal and obviously not straight out of camera. Though not my thing personally there is no denying that it’s truly amazing work which displays huge talent. I mean look at his work. Amazing.

I’m finding that I fall somewhere in between the two extremes with a huge lean to the so called purist approach. What I mean by that is that I’m not interested in creating stark surreal works of digital art with dolphins sporting wings and flying through vast landscapes, but I’m generally not interested in creating exact replicas of a scene or moment. I have the feeling that most photographers fall somewhere in the same place. And, to be honest, I’m all over the place. Sometimes I’ll take a photo with the goal of trying to get as much right in camera as possible with the goal of doing as little post production work as possible. Sometimes, even though I’ve nailed the exposure correctly for what I’m trying to shoot, the result I look at when I get it on my computer is not the same as what I photographed. I’ll make adjustments to bring it to where it more closely resembles what I shot.

Other times I’ll take a photo with the express intention of doing something to it in post production to achieve a specific goal or look.

Either way, it is generally never straight out of camera; whether it’s getting rid of mosquito bites, correcting skin tone, fiddling with contrast, cloning out a light stand or adding texture to clouds because they just look cool. Sometimes it’s just my mood.

And a little ADHD doesn’t help.

As I gain more experience with post production I find myself experimenting with different techniques along the way. For example I’ve really been dipping my feet into the whole concept of color grading. I find it amazing how color grading a photo can alter the mood and ambiance. I get the feeling that many photographers find their post production niche; a look or style that they really like and then they develop that style and learn how to use the tools to replicate it and pretty much stay right there. There’s nothing wrong with that; finding the “style” and then getting it down pat. To do a limited number of things or a single thing very well is not a bad thing.

I’m too damned scattered to do that. I like goofing around with different things at different times.

But, like I said, I’ve been on a color grading kick in an attempt to convey a preconceived idea of how I envision the end result. This led to some photos that I took recently this fall. I wanted to take the autumn palette and bump it up to 10 so to speak. Especially those warm tones that come with a long autumn and what we call an Indian Summer.

The straight out of camera pics look pretty good, but not what I had in mind. Here is an example of the original pic. It’s straight out of camera with the exception of white balance and enabling a camera profile in Lightroom:

Indian Summer before retouching

ISO 100, 66mm, f4.0, 1/800 sec

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This isn’t bad; usual flatness of RAW, the face a little bright, the shirt a bit over saturated. And actually, it looks pretty close to when we were there. I could maybe bump up the clarity a little bit, drop the saturation in the shirt, bring up the vibrancy in the foliage and it would look almost exactly as it was.

But, like I said, I’m not interested in replicating it like it was. I want it to be how I envision it. So, I goofed off and came up with this:

Indian Summer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vastly different. This image is a result of 19 layers in Photoshop. 17 of them are adjustment layers dealing with everything from curves on specific color channels to a color lookup. Two of the layers are specifically to address some skin blemishes and lint on the shirt.

I like how it turned out. It more conveys an emotion rather than simply what was. It’s not reality. No, it’s not so far out as to depict a blue planet with rings being orbited by dogs, or whatever. It conveys a completely different visceral response than the original. It’s not so far removed from reality that most people wouldn’t think it’s “as shot” for the most part, but I know it’s not as it was shot.

Well, so do you now.

At the end of the day, for me, reality is not the goal.

 

Being Ready To Take Photos At A Moment’s Notice

A lot of photography is simply being ready to take photos at a moment’s notice. Over the years there have been many times in which I’ve said to myself, “Man, I wish I had a camera right now.” Sure, more often than not I’ve probably had my phone with me which has a camera, but it’s not the same. Yes, the best camera is the camera you have with you, but there are many instances in which even with today’s current technology, a phone camera isn’t going to cut it.

Take this photo for example:

Sunset Cowgirl

ISO 100, 50mm, f3.2, 1/100 sec

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There’s no way a phone could have produced this pic. Not without a bunch of post production work anyway.

My wife and I were driving along some back roads in Idaho this summer. This year it was quite smokey due to the many wildfires in that part of the country which offered up some pretty amazing sunsets. At this moment, at this place everything was just perfect; the setting sun bleeding through the haze was looking great with amazing colors. But it was setting fast.

I wanted to do a pic, but we had to hurry. Because I wanted a portrait with the setting sun in the background, I knew it was going to require flash to do it right. So I pulled over, set up a bare speed light on a stand, pulled out the camera and started shooting. It took no more than a couple of minutes from the time we stopped to when I was taking pics.

I’ve been practicing doing just this; quickly setting up and just firing off some shots. But the key is being prepared to do just this at a moment’s notice. Part of being prepared is of course practicing, but the other part is just having the gear with you. You don’t need to have a lot of gear either. When we go out and about, I typically have at least one speed light and a single stand along with a shoot-through umbrella. But often times I don’t even use the umbrella. In fact most of the time I don’t even use the flash setup. But when you need or want flash it’s awesome to have it

So, basically, I’m traveling with a small case containing my camera, a couple lenses and a couple of flash triggers. Along with that, one stand, one speed light and one shoot-through umbrella. I can carry it with one hand if I stuff the stand and umbrella under my arm. No, I don’t want to walk around/hike with it, but we’re talking driving around.

I suggest putting together a simple setup that you can use in almost any setting. That will require the use of flash. A flash isn’t required if you don’t mind limiting yourself a bit, but it definitely expands the settings in which you can take photos. Then practice with it. Practice setting it up and dialing it in quickly. Then take it with you when traveling around. Then when you’re driving around and you come across that perfect time, place and moment, you’ll be ready.

Wide Gamut Color Shifts Driving You Mad?

Wide gamut color shifts. Are you seeing it? Do you know what I’m talking about? Maybe you do, maybe you don’t. Let me explain. But before I do, let me point out that this post is from the standpoint of using your images for displaying on the WWW and computer/device displays. It is not intended for a CMYK/ ad printing flow.

Keep in mind that I’m writing this from a relative newbie point of view. I’m not an expert color guy. I don’t have a background in the science of color, display profiling, color management and calibration etc. I’m just a photographer who wants his photos to show on various displays reasonably close to what I produce in my photo editing software of choice. That software is Photoshop and Lightroom.  That’s why I got a wide gamut monitor and a calibrating/profiling device. Note I said reasonably close not exactly. That’s because, unless they are all calibrated and profiled exactly, no two displays on two different computers are going to display an image exactly the same. So, if you post your favorite pic on a website, the colors on that pic are going to vary a bit from person to person depending on what they’re using to view it.

A fellow photographer may be viewing that image on an accurately profiled wide gamut display of their own. The schmo down the street may be looking at it on a computer/monitor that has never been nor never will be calibrated and that is only capable of displaying sRGB. The kid on the other street may be looking at it on a smart phone that may or may not be wide gamut. You get the idea.

What’s the difference between a wide gamut display and a sRGB display? I’m not going to get into all of that, but basically, a wide gamut aRGB display is going to be able to display a broader range of colors than a sRGB display. A good place to begin getting a basic understanding is here. If you really want to dive headlong into the whole color thing, go here  and have at it.

But that isn’t what this post is about. This post is about the very basic head scratching things you experience when you first acquire a wide gamut monitor and for some reason it’s so damned difficult to get answers for. One shouldn’t have to become a rocket scientist to get their head around basic stuff and, indeed, you do not need to become a color management expert. Besides, I’m a photographer, not a freaking color management professional.

Which then brings me to the whole wide gamut thing and the headaches it produced and the struggle I’ve had getting my head around it. I’ve visited various forums, asked various questions, etc. And the one thing that I found out is that people that really know what they’re talking about rarely have a clue as to how to dumb it down to the essentials needed to get from point A to point B. OK, I have my fancy new car, what are the directions to the local grocery store? Do I really need to know how an internal combustion engine works from the ground up?

No.

Which is what this post is about. For color management gurus, this post is ridiculous. For those of you who just got a wide gamut monitor AND properly calibrated it, here you go.

My photos look all wonky when I look at them in xxx!

That’s because what you’re looking at them with is not color managed. Usually they will seem wildly over saturated. The reason being is that, in a nutshell, the non color managed app–like Windows 10 Photos App–will simply incorporate your display’s gamut into the image without any consideration of your calibration or the ICC profile you embedded into the photo when you saved it (you are embedding the profile, right?). However, if you view the image in an sRGB/standard gamut display in the Windows 10 Photos App, it will most likely be largely the same as when you view it in the color managed program you used to edit it; say Photoshop or Lightroom.

If you’re trying to look at an image on a wide gamut monitor in an app that is not color managed, it will look like crap; over saturated crap.

To add to the misery, some browsers are color managed, some are not and some are sort of. For example, Internet Explorer and Edge, from what I can tell, are not color managed at all. I’ve heard that Safari is color managed. Firefox on the other hand is color managed if  you enable it in the settings. Chrome, however, is sort of color managed. What I mean by that is that if you access an image with an embedded ICC profile (You are embedding a profile, right?) it will display correctly. However–this is where the sort of part comes in–if it’s not embedded, it will display the image like Internet Explorer and Edge do; displaying over saturated crap (remember this is if you’re using a wide gamut monitor). Keep in mind that, currently, Chrome has something like 74% of the market share in browsers. That’s a lot. You may think that it’s no big deal because you’re embedding the ICC profile, but there’s a catch. Some websites that you upload your photos to will strip the ICC profile from the image for the sake of saving space. For example, 500px does this. If you have a wide gamut monitor and you’ve spent hours editing a photo to where it looks just right, you save it in sRGB with an embedded ICC profile, and then upload it to, say, Flickr, facebook, and 500px then visit those sites in Chrome to check out your pic, you’ll notice that Flickr and facebook will display as you edited it. But on 500px, it will look like unholy hell. That’s because 500px removed the ICC profile and Chrome chokes. At first glance you might want to rag on 500px for stripping the ICC profile–and I kind of agree–but the issue is really Chrome. Google needs to fix Chrome to behave as a fully color managed browser. A fully color managed browser will default to sRGB when the ICC profile is not present.

Keep in mind, that for those viewing the images on 500px via a non wide gamut monitor will see pretty much what they’re supposed to see in Chrome (or any other browser). It’s just for those who are using a wide gamut monitor.

The takeaway is that the use of wide gamut monitors is mostly the realm of photographers and graphic designers. Such a demographic will most assuredly view images within color managed applications.

Firefox

Firefox, by default, is not set to be color managed. Why is that? Hell, I have no idea. But to set Firefox to full on color managed glory do the following:

  1. Open up Firefox and type: “about:config” without the quotation marks into the URL address bar. Hit enter.
  2. Read the warning and proceed.
  3. In Filter List, type in “gfx.color” again sans quotation marks.
  4. Double click “gfx.color_management.mode”.
  5. Enter 1 in the pop up. Close and confirm.
  6. Restart Firefox.

You now have a fully color managed browser. When using your wide gamut monitor to view images on the WWW, you’ll see them in their color managed glory even if they are without an ICC profile, say on 500px.

Remember, this is IF you’re using a wide gamut monitor. Otherwise don’t worry about it.

The big takeaway

If you’re using a wide gamut monitor:

Calibrate it.

Give yourself access to a fully color managed browser and applications (presumably your photo editing software will be color managed. For example, both Photoshop and Lightroom are color managed).

When saving images, ALWAYS embed an ICC profile.

At that point, don’t worry about it because:

Those viewing your images on a standard gamut sRGB monitor are likely to see mostly what you’ve created no matter what. Beyond that you have zero control over what others are going to use to view your images with.

As I write this, the vast majority of images will be viewed on standard gamut sRGB displays. Save your images to sRGB and then don’t worry about it.

See, it’s not really that complex.