Martin Christie Photography: Blog https://www.martinchristie.co.uk/blog en-us (C)martinchristie mrmartinchristie@gmail.com (Martin Christie Photography) Mon, 05 Apr 2021 18:00:00 GMT Mon, 05 Apr 2021 18:00:00 GMT https://www.martinchristie.co.uk/img/s/v-12/u831345490-o885827850-50.jpg Martin Christie Photography: Blog https://www.martinchristie.co.uk/blog 80 120 The Power of the Media - Nothing new https://www.martinchristie.co.uk/blog/2021/4/the-power-of-the-media---nothing-new  

The power of the printed image has long been a running theme in this blog, and thankfully remains a truth despite the fact that when it started, many predicted that the onset of digital technology would see the end of anything committed to ‘old fashioned’ paper. Of course the electronic revolution has meant that pictures can be captured, transmitted and shared in previously unimaginable quantities, but the very volume and the instant -  here today, gone tomorrow nature of so many of them makes them as disposable as yesterday’s headlines.

Just how many of today’s top internet images will stand the test of time remains to be judged by future generations, but fortunately the previous technology of photography has left us some priceless insights into not so distant history. Helped by modern techniques of enhancing colour and detail those memories have now been brought more up to date, as you may have seen previously in the restoration of the Victorian soldier, veteran of the Crimean War, in the middle of the nineteenth century.

Back then taking photographs was in the hands of a handful of specialists using cumbersome equipment, and processing was done by hand, often in a makeshift tent on the spot. Despite the difficulties, it’s estimated that over a million photographs were taken a little later during the four years of the American Civil War, and though many have survived to provide a unique visual record, most of the glass negatives were recycled to fill panes in greenhouses to be lost forever. 

In late Victorian times most towns in England had nearly as many photographer studios as pubs. Everyone wanted to be captured by one of the miracles of the age and to be the envy of their neighbour. 

But at the beginning of the twentieth century, the Kodak company invented, and introduced the box camera, with its roll of negatives, meaning that shortly photography would be in the hands of the general public, and the days of many individual portrait studios would be numbered.

John Swartz knew the writing was on the wall, and he was open to any opportunity to bolster his business in Main Street, Fort Worth, Texas. So he was grateful when in November 1900 five apparently wealthy, well dressed strangers came to sit for him. He had no idea his photograph would eventually be seen so widely, and still reproduced long after the old Wild West had disappeared into the cowboy books.

He was, however, so pleased with the picture that he printed a large copy and put it in a frame in his window as an advertisement, where it caught the attention of local detective Charlie Scott who immediately recognised some of the faces and notified the famous Pinkerton Agency who had been searching for notorious train robbers Robert LeRoy Parker and Harry Longabough, better known to us and legend as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The rest, as they say is history, although with a little bit of artistic licence from Hollywood.

The peril of unexpected consequences of published images is therefore nothing new, although now with digital imagery, and social media, it affects everyone with a mobile device, not just the rich and infamous.

Fortunately, for most the results are not as terminal as they were for the members of the Hole in the Wall gang. The reason such images have survived, and are still of sufficient quality to be enhanced, is because they were real hard copies, whether in negative or positive form, even if many of those who had them taken didn’t always appreciate their future value.

Almost the opposite seems to be true of digital files as so few who use them realise how fragile and short lived they may be, relying, as they do on  algorithms they do not really understand as well as power and processors, all of which may one day fail them.

Then there is the sheer volume of content to deal with. I first heard the term Digital Asset Management twenty years ago and didn’t appreciate at that time how important it would become. But mention DAMs today and I would guess few would really know what it meant, even among those who should know better. If you have spent any time with a friend, or a customer searching vainly for a particular picture on a mobile phone, then you will know exactly why it is important, and why nobody bothers to use it until it’s too late.

I still have boxes of old 35mm negatives which I can still print from or scan to restore to former glory, because they are preserved in their original state, but I have lots of more recent Jpegs which are beyond any worthwhile restoration, and more that have just disappeared somewhere on failed hard drives, and redundant memory sticks. Even if I’ve found an old Jpeg, I’m disappointed to find I’ve only saved a low resolution email version and not the larger original, so it’s fairly pointless trying to update it because it’s not going to look any better.

 

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mrmartinchristie@gmail.com (Martin Christie Photography) https://www.martinchristie.co.uk/blog/2021/4/the-power-of-the-media---nothing-new Thu, 01 Apr 2021 13:00:00 GMT
Bringing History to Life https://www.martinchristie.co.uk/blog/2021/3/bringing-history-to-life  


 

The adage that a picture is worth a thousand words has probably never been truer. When complex issues are reduced to tweets which average less than 50 characters, it’s evident that

an image is far more likely to catch and retain the general public’s attention. One such that stuck out and did the rounds of social media recently was a wonderful Victorian photograph of a proud soldier, veteren of the Crimean War. Similar photos were familiar to photography buffs and historians but this one crossed into popular culture because it challenged the contemporary assumption that anything produced before the 21st century was necessarily dull and distant, like a forgotten and faded memory.

But in the middle of the nineteenth century, the newly invented camera was not an antique, it was cutting edge technology, a wonder of the age as for the first time everyone could see real images of real people and places that were not just paintings, and could be viewed not long after they were captured. And mostly importantly they could be reproduced  as copies at will, and distributed around the world. It was almost instant too, as the photographer would generally develop the negative himself on the spot. There were no processing labs or high street printers in those days. In fact the photographer would often make his own camera with bought in parts, a proprietary lens, a light proof box and a bellows for adjusting the focussing distance between the light source and the unexposed coated glass plate that acted as the film. 

The actual shooting was slow, there was no shutter as such, the lens cap was simply removed and held for a number of counted seconds before being replaced. 

No technical aids here apart from a head rest which was often employed to keep the subject from moving and ruining the shot. 

Not that Colour Sergeant William McGregor, 1st Battalion Scots Fusilier Guards, would have needed any help. He would have been used to standing ram-rod straight on the parade ground, and in the legendary Thin Red Line at the Battle of the Alama. McGregor was among  soldiers photographed later in Aldershot by Robert Howlett, a pioneering photographer who also shot the iconic portrait of Brunel in his stove pipe hat alongside the massive chains of the Great Eastern. 

Of course what makes the portrait so striking is that it is  not black and white as it was originally taken. It has in fact been painstakingly brought into full colour using very modern techniques in Photoshop, sampling exact historic uniform and equipment detail, to get as close to a real reproduction as possible - not a computer generated replicant.

This was only possible because of the amount of detail in the original, which should not have been such a surprise as despite its age, lens technology was well advanced at the time from telescopes that had been tracking the heavens for two hundred years, and although the film plate was no more than A5 in size that’s still a lot of potential pixels when scanned professionally. And of course this is an optical transfer of an image with no electronic compromise to interfere with its quality. 

As such it illustrates the perfect marriage of old and new technology, in fact the very latest AI tools for sampling and blending colour hues so that they look authentic and not artificially plastered over the subject. The lifelike tones of skin and hair are instantly recognizable to the human eye, as are the more subtle shadows and highlights cast when light is passed over fabric, wood and metal. The crude airbrushing of detail that was such a hallmark of early photoshop is thankfully banished to be replaced by something that is much more pleasing to the human eye. That's why the photo stands out as it looks as crisp as the day it was taken, not some obvious fake avatar. And McGregor looks as fresh and alert as the day he faced the Russian guns in 1854.

So this is partly due to the skill of Robert Howlett in the first place, and partly the power of Adobe Sensei intelligence, but mostly due to the expertise of Doug Banks who specialises in the restoration of historic military images. Doug not only carefully researches the exact colour of uniforms and equipment, but also subtle blends and tones them so they look as they would have been worn and used in action at the time, and not like some museum waxwork. The results speak for themselves.

How it is done can be explained in much more detail if you search on line but essentially it is using masks, layers and blending modes which have been explained in previous columns here as part of printing tips. What will become obvious is that to be done well takes time, and careful application. This is not the work of a few moments and a couple of fancy filters. Which brings me round to the reason for using this example as a rebuke to the often asked question of whether “something” can be done on the computer. It can be done, but miracles take a little longer and cost a lot more! 

However much the smug marketing people claim to have re-invented photography at the push of a button, you will still need the intelligent eye of a human composing the image if you want anything at all worthwhile that will pass quality control and the test of time. 

Along the same theme of frequently asked questions is just how large an image will go.

It’s not a simple answer, which is why an internet algorithm that simply counts the number of pixels is not a precise solution. How it is expected to look, even how far away it is expected to be viewed are some of the essential details hidden in the basic sharpness and clarity of any image whether analog or digital. While we tend to say that traditional film was relatively seamless there was a limit beyond which you would pick up graining by the nature of the chemistry involved. With digital it is more dramatic as there is a very clear definition between one pixel and another. The more pixels you have, the less difference there will be between them, but the mathematics are the same.

With film it was very obvious that a negative was out of focus when it was shot, and that nothing you could do with optical enlargement would make it any sharper, in fact quite the reverse. With digital it seems more obscure, hidden in the depths of resampling pixels and the mysterious art of interpolation which I will try and make more simple here.

In the early days of digital photography  cameras were only of 2 or 3 megapixels which was fine for internet use as the system couldn’t handle anything bigger. But when it came to 

printing, even filling an A4 with clear pixels was a challenge. So a number of software developers began working on mathematical formulae that would improve the performance of the limited dimensions of the digital files. 

In simple terms if you need ten pixels but you only have five, you have to fill in the gaps with the most likely clones. That’s the basics of interpolation. It’s just a fancy word for the computer making an educated guess, with all the potential for error implied the larger the guess was required.

Inevitably some outrageous claims were made for the potential of this digital magic so that a lot of people thought anything could be enlarged almost infinitely without any consequent loss of quality. But while some images would emerge from this mathematical manipulation relatively unscathed, others, especially people, were not treated so kindly. And it’s a very human judgement needed to decide what actually looks best.


 

You can see more of Doug Banks work at

 

https://www.instagram.com/dougbanksee

 

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mrmartinchristie@gmail.com (Martin Christie Photography) https://www.martinchristie.co.uk/blog/2021/3/bringing-history-to-life Mon, 01 Mar 2021 13:45:00 GMT
Where do we go from here ? A new horizon https://www.martinchristie.co.uk/blog/2021/2/where-do-we-go-from-here-a-new-horizon  

It used to be said that week was a long time in politics, reflecting the temporary nature of policy and personality. Well in the last twelve months we have come to expect that not a week, but even 24 hours is a lifetime.

Hopefully in the next few months we will begin to see the gradual ending of this ongoing nightmare, but much like some castaway drifting slowly towards an unknown shore, what can we expect when we finally stretch our legs again ? It won’t be the same familiar environment that’s for sure. Whatever the old normal was, it has been swept away and left with a vacuum, not only for printers but anyone who used to deal with customers directly over the counter. We have all had to adapt in the last year, and will have to adapt further in the next. 

The simple prediction that more people will work from home ignores the tenuous nature of internet connections, particularly on mobile devices, and the reality that it is by no means a perfect means of communication. The fact that during the closure of schools and colleges, a large proportion of students were attempting to do their course work on their phones highlights a flaw that we have become all too aware of in dealings with customers since the devices became almost universal. The assumption of instant communication, and more importantly, understanding is a fatal mistake. A small screen ideal for simple tweets and snaps is hardly suitable for reviewing large documents and complex artwork. Inevitably errors are overlooked, and the responsibility is put back on the receiver to second guess whether information is actually correct.

Way back in the last century when I did my first on the job training as a journalist there were no user aids to back up spelling, grammar and common sense. I was drilled to read what I had written as if being read by someone else. It is all too easy to suppose the reader understands because you know what you meant. In the days of manual typewriters and tippex there was time for a second look. Now the temptation of quickly pressing the send button is all too great. And when it’s gone, it’s gone. Does anyone ever scroll through the daisy chain of messages to see if they all make joined up thinking ? Not many customers in my experience, in fact it’s often a surprise when they do make sense. Don’t you love it when you reply to a print enquiry whether they want it in colour or black and white and you get the retort “yes please” !

Of course with regular customers, like any shop, you would tend to know what they wanted, or usually had. When working at a distance that relationship is more difficult, and while being a mind reader is a useful talent in the service industry, it’s not infallible or always rightly rewarded.

On a purely human level the personal contact is an essential part of two-way communication, we are just wired up that way. But it is also so much more efficient because preferences and problems are so much more easily sorted one to one than  batting back and forth over the airways. 

While it’s all too easy to spot the decline of outlets in the high street which had begun some time before corvid, there is also an alternative promotion to shop local, and further to reduce waste by cutting down on extended deliveries of non-essential goods. On line shopping has encouraged over production of items at the lowest possible cost, a real cost hidden under the illusion of “free” delivery, and a massive pile of wastage and unwanted goods. A reaction against this tide could be the growing trend to produce just what you want, when you want it and as close to home as possible. And a key to that is getting it the right colour, not finding out it doesn’t match it’s on-line appearance when it comes out of the packaging.

The range within which a digital device displays it’s colour range is called its colour space, and is determined at creation, or in post processing output. In early digital days, some two decades ago, it was realised there needed to be some industry standard for colour space to have any hope of consistency in reproduction, device to device. So Adobe introduced its 1998 RGB which is still the profile most widely used for professional editing for print.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But although we talk about monitor screens being RGB, many monitors and certainly mobile phones and internet browsers cannot display even the colour range Adobe RGB has, so they have a lesser standard, sRGB. It’s actually the same three colours but they work within a narrower range. They miss out on the subtle tones so the gradient between the hue of one pixel and another is steeper. The colour transition in Adobe RGB is more gradual which makes both editing and more accurate printing easier. It’s not an issue if items are only viewed on line because only the experienced eye will be able to spot much colour difference between one browser and another. 

When it comes to the print stage however the printer has to decide when one colour becomes another, but will struggle if there is no information in the file itself, even if it looks like there is on the screen. The artificially enhanced modern mobile viewers are designed to show life-like movies and games more than the deeper, saturated tones needed for printing.

Most phones now do some form of colour adjustment of display admittedly, but this is more to do with viewing rather than accurate colour management. In any case does anyone use anything other than the default settings, including those on the camera. And as camera phones have got better, users inevitably wield them at the extremes of their capabilities, in low light or at night for example. However good the capture, the image will have been translated into sRGB for output, as will anything uploaded to social media and transferred on. Customers tend to assume files are all the same, but they are not.

Most proper digital cameras are able to shoot in Adobe RGB, and on better ones there is an even wider gamut Pro Photo RGB available. But again, how many owners would know how to select the correct settings, let alone edit and upload without corrupting the colour space ? Not that many even amongst those who call themselves photographers in my experience. A lot of the time the customer will be happy as long as the sky is blue and the grass is sort of green. But then there are the times the customer is not happy, and though they may be fewer, tend to take more time in the workplace. 

The customer default setting is that they are right and you are wrong, but sometimes you need to do a bit of a reboot of the options without making out they are a complete idiot. 

I’ve often had to reject a print file on the basis of size, in that there are just not enough pixels to stretch to a print. This is the only criteria available to online printers for quality control, and where the intervention of an experienced human eye can make the difference if it is carefully promoted. 

In the great scheme of things the personal touch is going to be a unique selling point when people have had enough of keeping their distance from each other.

 

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mrmartinchristie@gmail.com (Martin Christie Photography) https://www.martinchristie.co.uk/blog/2021/2/where-do-we-go-from-here-a-new-horizon Mon, 01 Feb 2021 14:30:00 GMT
A Brave New World.. https://www.martinchristie.co.uk/blog/2020/8/a-brave-new-world  

As we struggle out of the lockdown we start to come to terms with what may be a whole new way of working.

Long before the internet expanded, people working at home, with a brand new PC and an A4 printer, were predicted to herald the end of over the counter printing. More recently the 3D printer was expected to be in everyone’s house so that rather than buy anything, people would just make it themselves. Well life is never as certain as the pundits predict.

So now more people will be working from home through necessity, in a brand new virtual world that would have been science fantasy even ten years ago, meeting in computer chat rooms, collaborating in cyberspace.

This may be a practical solution short term if large numbers of office workers can no longer be accommodated in close quarters and businesses may be attracted to potential savings in high city centre rents. But is it sustainable in the longer term when the full implications of the changes have not been thought through? There may be more at risk that the loss of the business lunch.

People are social by nature, and society has developed by co operation and personal interaction. We also learn from that close contact through observation and example, and in so many ways pick up pointers from each other which were not directly sought or expected.

This process of serendipity has been very central to human progess since one caveman watched another banging rocks together and thought of a way of making basic tools.

Thinking outside of the box rather than being constrained by it is the key to evolution at every level. But is that going to be encouraged, or even allowed, in an environment that sees what it wants to see, and shows what it wants to show. 

Group chats with long lost relatives may be fine to exchange news and gossip without the inconvenience of actually meeting them, but it may not be ideal for a progressive, forward looking working environment, where you may only meet the people in your group.

One of the limitations of the internet is you only find what you are looking for, and this self confirming circle can produce quite negative results. While it’s great to have so much information at your fingertips, if you don’t know which button to push it’s like taking a dab in the dark, and picking things that you can’t actually see and touch is potentially flawed as we already know through experience. 

In a world when we are supposedly trying to cut down unnecessary journeys, it is perfect madness to have a large percentage of delivered goods returned as a matter of course.

Even working from home, office workers will still needs goods and services delivered somewhere as there are still plenty of things that cannot be provided by purely digital information. The often predicted demise of paper is still a long way off and while the specifications may be changing, the need for hard copy is still very much with us. One of the reasons is that information still needs to be recorded and preserved so it can be kept and shared over time, not just with the temporary members of a chat room.

Printed papers have been with us and preserved for centuries, and hand written manuscripts for many centuries before that. Digital information has no such track record and many experts fear it may prove to be far more fragile.

Backing up and storing all the vast amounts of digital information in different file formats is enough of a challenge, but there is also the problem that you still have to sort through it all to find anything.

It’s surprising how quickly the general public has accepted digital information without question, and more worrying that it is assumed to be indestructible. The fact that they will commit valuable items, and even entire life history to small pieces of metal and plastic, reveals a faith in technology which is way beyond actual reliability. 

The continual deterioration of digital files through saving and transfer is a potential nightmare described as data rot. And as nobody has any form of digital format older than fifty years, no one really knows if it will survive more than a generation.

Now that the technology is literally in the hands of the general public world wide it is much more of an issue because there is, apart from the basic binary mathematics, no standard for language or coding to interpret the information contained.

Of course out of all of the millions of images uploaded daily on social networking sites, if the vast majority of cute kittens and culinary masterpieces were lost to future generations, it would not be such a great tragedy for human history.

But on a personal note there are things that are worth preserving, and records that need to be passed on to generations to come, and for that there is one obvious solution and that is print.

In the light of this I am designing a storage device that will be able to contain these priceless prints. It will be simple, affordable, and made from recyclable material. It will be easily accessed and quickly searchable. I am going to call it a shoe box. I think I am on a winner here. Just have to work out what to do with all the shoes !

In contrast, we have yet to see digital information survive more than a generation, and worse experience difficulties in transferring and sharing it with others. 

Apart from the short term unreliability of digital information, the longer term concern is literally how long it will last. This has two aspects. There is the potential degradation of data over time and continual save and resaving. This is recognised, but impossible to quantify. The second aspect is the obsolescence of the software and hardware need to read and reproduce the data. 

But being able to use it doesn’t mean you have to understand it, much like driving a car doesn’t necessitate an in depth knowledge of the internal combustion engine. However, when there is a problem, like it won’t start or is making an unfamiliar noise, then you have to take it to an expert for advice. 

So the newly created generation of home workers may have mastered Zoom, but how are they going to save all the information other than playing back endless video episodes and editing the important bits. Will we see a new role for the copy typist turning all those words of wisdom into word documents ? So many things have not been thought through in the rush to form a short term solution.

There also many things that cannot be properly be viewed. Large detailed plans, lots of lists of figures all become difficult if scrolling through a limited viewing device, and the potential for missed information is increased. Putting all of the practical issues aside, there is of course one fundamental quality in favour of print, and that is the shere pleasure of holding something substantial and permanent, not a fleeting view of a screen grab or snap shot. Ironically as it may same, in the future the very fact that we are all doing so much on line in the virtual world may make actual print more respected and valued. 

Print still has a future as long as there are professionals available to preserve it. To misquote William Shakespeare “Oh brave new world that has such people in IT”

 

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mrmartinchristie@gmail.com (Martin Christie Photography) https://www.martinchristie.co.uk/blog/2020/8/a-brave-new-world Mon, 03 Aug 2020 09:45:00 GMT
No such thing as black and white https://www.martinchristie.co.uk/blog/2020/6/no-such-thing-as-black-and-white A constant theme in these blogs is about having the right photographic equipment for a professional job, and also,more importantly,  knowing how to use it. The last bit needs to be stressed because in the last twenty years since digital photography stopped being a toy and became a tool, it has become so universally used, hardly anyone takes consideration of what the electronic eye is doing when capturing colour and detail. It’s just somehow assumed that some magical process transforms the information passed through the lens to photo receptors, then sifted through processors, and then finally stored by another predetermined action will produce a completely faithful reproduction of the target image regardless of the circumstances in which it was captured.

The nice bright hi-resolution screens of modern mobile devices disguise the quality of the picture projected. That conundrum generally only raises its head  when we come to put the image into print, when a lot more quality and resolution is required. We know that, but the continuous and repetitive ritual of explaining to a new, or frustratingly even existing customer, that there is no magic wand that will completely turn the proverbial pig’s ear into a silk purse. 

Apart from a blind faith in technology - probably inevitable when we all rely on it so much - it’s a basic lack of understanding that the two mediums, the visual image and the printed one, are made up of entirely different components. 

The best way to compare them is to consider the nature of white and black - the two extremes on the scale of what we see and what a digital histogram will measure in the recorded pixels of an image. In simple terms, white light is the combination of all the colours of the spectrum which we only see when we pass it through a prism or when the sun comes out of an overcast sky producing a rainbow.  Keep that beautiful creation of nature in mind as reference because black isn’t in it. That’s because black in visual terms is the complete absence of light.

We need some light to see anything at all, but we need quite a lot of light to see any colours because we can only see the hue reflected from it by the light that shines on it. In low light conditions everything is a shade of grey, or in artificial light like street lighting for example, an eery yellow.

A digital camera doesn’t have the massive data base of experience that our brains have - at least not yet. It can only take an intelligent guess at what a colour actually is, although you can give it a clue if you are able to provide a reference manually. Otherwise, as most people will chose, the guessing is left to a pre-programmed decision determined by the manufacturer in a factory when the device was made. And however smart the marketing people try and claim  their products are they are still a long way behind the human eye and several hundred thousand years of evolution. They may have improved massively in recent years compared to the early days when people debated whether they would even catch up with film. The average phone now takes pictures comparable wit entry level DSLRs back then. But certain things are just impossible, and one of those is seeing absolute black because it just cannot register a colour that isn’t there.

If you take the matter of colour to an extreme it becomes quite philosophical, like the puzzle of whether if a tree falls in the forest does it make a sound if no one is there to hear it ?  

If we only interpret colour by the light that falls on it, how do we know it has any colour at all. It’s probably a little too far fetched to expect to exchange epistemology wisdom over the shop counter. But it is to the point to consider whether black or white is actually colour. In terms of a computer screen, a completely white screen will have nothing visible on it at all,not even a slight hue,  whereas it will only be really black when it is switched off. What we see as black in an image is purely a simulation made up of the combination of red, green and blue pixels, and is actually a shade of grey albeit a subtle one.

So  in the visual world if white is the combination of all colours and black the complete absence of them, in the print world the formula is entirely opposite. This is the difference between the former which is called additive colour and the latter which is subtractive, where black can be made from the combination of all the other colours of ink.

Because we don’t print white, the base hue is the colour of the paper or other media it is printed on. This is what confuses customers because they can see white, but don’t  understand why it doesn’t always look white when printed, After all they can go to the paint shop and buy a tin of gloss or matt but not appreciate that there is not one but many different shades of what is said to be white, dictated by the hue of the pigments suspended in the liquid.

Paper has the same issue as it is produced from bleached wood pulp and whether it is coated or not, will have a very slight colour hue under any reflected light. Exactly how white it looks will be dictated not just by the colour of the light source shining on it, but by the other colours printed on it as our perception will be adjusted by the comparison of the whole composition. So a dark image will tend to make the white look brighter.

It’s because customers no longer consult a printer as an expert or even an advisor, much as I explained last month they don’t consult a proper photographer. They just create a file and assume it will be absolutely perfect.

Artists can be particularly picky about colours, often only certain colours, some of which are never going to be achieved by four, eight or even twelve colour composite printing. They have the advantage they can go to a craft store and get so many more base colours in oils and acrylic  even before they start mixing them or watering them down. I do know of some printers who virtually refuse to deal with artists for that reason, but I have built up a good reputation by spending a little time talking them through the processes described in this blog.

 

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mrmartinchristie@gmail.com (Martin Christie Photography) https://www.martinchristie.co.uk/blog/2020/6/no-such-thing-as-black-and-white Mon, 01 Jun 2020 09:00:00 GMT
If it was easy everyone could do it... https://www.martinchristie.co.uk/blog/2020/4/if-it-was-easy-everyone-could-do-it With the enforced furlough we may not be able to do actual work but it doesn’t stop developing our knowledge base - something that’s not always easy during more frantic hours dealing with customers demands. So it’s opportune to review best practise and what we may be able to tune.
As this blog is all about digital imaging, photo editing tools are key, and although we always stress other software is available, most perform very much like Adobe Photoshop, even if some of the tools have different names, the processes are inevitably similar because of the nature of pixel based files.
Pixel editing files are more useful in the day to day duties of preparing files for print, because unless you are going to delve into colour and density controls in printer management - regardless of the type of printer - it’s a lot easier to simply manipulate the information you are sending to the printer because you are looking at it on a screen, not waiting for it to process and appear in the output tray. 
It is vital for a modern digital printer to grasp this as most customers are working from apps that they do not completely understand, as they are able to save files without getting involved in the complicated process of actually creating them. Even those who claim a knowledge of photoshop cannot entirely be believed, as they may have only a basic understanding or be familiar with only an earlier version of the product with limited functions. It may not even be the Adobe product itself, as photoshop has become such a generic term, not everyone will appreciate the difference. 
Most importantly what will make the difference is learning how to use, and develop,  the tools we have available - not just pressing a button and hoping they will do what you want. 
There are plenty of helpful tutorials on line, from Adobe themselves, and many other experts from different disciplines whether it’s photography or graphic design, so there’s no excuse for sitting around with nothing to do. And if there is a particular problem, a decent search engine will provide a queue of know-it-alls ready to show you exactly how to solve it. As with anything in Photoshop, there is never only one way to do something, so always check several options. That’s because Adobe appreciate we all like to do things differently, and find one approach will work better than another for no other reason than personal preference.
The most common task for customer supplied files and images is resizing or reshaping to fit the print area. And while this may sound simple, unless you are aware of the number of pixels in the image and their proportions, you are at risk of decimating or distorting the original. Both of these options are typical of customers trying to do the job on their own on a phone. There they may have only the options of small, medium or large, just like ordering take-away chips. Only a proper photo-editing programme will give you the all-important specifications. 
Because it’s easy to display an apparently sharp and colourful image -even a movie - on a modern phone, you can understand that it’s difficult for the non-specialist to grasp how much information the printer requires for faithful reproduction of something that is effectively a hundred times bigger in real terms. 
One of the key things that sets Photoshop, and other professional programmes apart is the use of layers, copying an original or adding another working surface above it.
Layers have been around in Photoshop from the beginning, but improved functions, together with the tools, makes them more powerful and useful. By using layers you can create a duplicate image over the original, or several, and then work on any of them to apply any changes without affecting the first. This non-destuctive editing enables you to explore lots of alternatives, and still be able to refer to the one you started with, and without committing it to history. You are also able to alter the strength of any effect by changing the opacity of any layer, or the position of it, to achieve the desired result. It means you can quickly see a before and after view by unchecking the edited layer, and if you have gone the wrong way, simply delete it rather than having to trash the whole thing.
Probably the most common problem in preparing most customer digital images for print is adjusting the level  of brightness to allow for a backlit view to be translated into hard copy. This is the first thing that should be anticipated to avoid wastage of time and paper, and sometimes patience. Always remember the customer comes to you because you are supposed to be an expert. 
It might be easier in print terms to consider it a matter of density as the printer will produce solid colour with no light leakage from behind to highlight individual pixels. And because you are then viewing the light reflected by it, rather than that coming from behind, it will inevitably look darker than might be expected. 


Using simple tools to lighten the image is not ideal as it can change colour hue and saturation. Better to use Photoshop’s powerful layer options for much more precise control. Create a duplicate immediately above the original and then work on that, so that you then have the previous version to compare directly. There are a number of ways you can attack the highlights or the shadows to reveal detail or cover over exposed areas. By retaining the adjustments in a layer, you can use the opacity or blending feature of that layer to further refine the effects over the original, or if you are entirely happy with the transformation, simply delete the latter and save the new version.
I’m concentrating on shadows and highlights here because they are the usual suspects when comparing the image viewed on the screen, bright and backlit, to that which eventually outputs in print, and which is likely to be darken and flatter by it’s very nature. That’s where a little bit of preventative surgery comes in handy before the customer has seen the result. That’s when you get that all too familiar, didn’t expect it to come out like that moment. If you get to that you’ve already lost a little bit of confidence from the customer’s point of view.
You have to try and second guess what the customer expects these days, even if it does mean at some stage being a mind reader. You have to accept they spent a large part of their time staring at a brilliant, high contrast, and slightly blue hue screen and that it is the way their world looks, even before they have started putting fancy filters over it.
That’s also why it’s good practise to look at reducing the density of the image for printing long before starting to mess around with the colours because so often the customer, with an inexperienced eye, will announce that there seems too much red, for example, when actually all of the colours are too saturated, it just that they don’t like the red !
Changing colour hue is a much more involved process and will almost certainly result in chasing your tail all the way to ending up with a result not much more distant from the one you started with - just a little bit lighter overall ! That’s fine if the customer is prepared to pay for your time, or even accept that your opinion is valuable. Otherwise it’s a quick fix and as good as it’s going to get for the price. 
Hopefully some of these links will be helpful as we are all still learning. Even Adobe appreciate your feedback, and remember we are the ones who are supposed to know these things. If it was easy……..anyone could do it.


 

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mrmartinchristie@gmail.com (Martin Christie Photography) https://www.martinchristie.co.uk/blog/2020/4/if-it-was-easy-everyone-could-do-it Wed, 01 Apr 2020 08:30:00 GMT
Trust me.......I'm a photographer ! https://www.martinchristie.co.uk/blog/2020/2/trust-me-im-a-photographer Back in the last century, when digital cameras were still a bit of a novelty, I was invited  to write a regular column for a print trade magazine just in case there was anything that might be of interest  to the print industry. None of us could have anticipated that twenty years on the electronic eye would be with us everywhere we go, whether we are viewing through it, or it is watching us. 
So I have been part of that transition, and how things that were previously in the hands of a professional, have been transferred to the fingertips of the average customer. This digital democracy would be fine if it didn’t also increase the expectations of what could be produced without experienced help and advice.
It’s not just the print industry that suffers from this instant expert syndrome but it is especially frustrating when years of accumulated knowledge and expertise  are assumed to be simply replaced by an app that’s expected to do the same job, and at a fraction of the price.
I always find inspiration for this blog from things customers have said, and this month is no exception. I do a lot of fine art printing, and many of the original works I either scan or photograph.
I’ve been a photographer since the days of film, so I have a fair amount of experience of shooting many different subjects. With film you didn’t have the advantage of reviewing what you had taken immediately so it was vital to understand how the camera captured light, and particularly appreciate the reflectivity of different subjects under different lighting conditions. On the other hand, once you had mastered that black art, film cameras were a lot more straightforward because they didn’t try and do anything clever like second guessing what you wanted the picture to look like.
Digital cameras are designed to be smart so you don’t have that painful learning curve, but instead the challenge is to work out which of the many different operating modes you actually need to use in different circumstances. This applies to all units from the ubiquitous mobile phone to the most sophisticated DSLR, and understanding what all the options are, and what they do is even more complicated than grasping the mysterious behaviour of film. But understanding them is just as essential being the difference between taking a professional picture and simply just an average one or worse. Just pressing the button is the easy bit.
So when an artist for whom I had previously photographed original work messaged me to ask which camera I would recommend her to shoot her art for reproduction I had to restrain my immediate reaction and come up with a more thoughtful one. The request was on social media so I had to be aware that my response might seem patronising or dismissive alongside other responders trying to offer “helpful” advice, but who, as is usually the case, didn’t really have much more of a clue.
So I politely suggested that it was a little like me asking her which brush I should buy to paint really great pictures. The brush, like the camera, is just a tool without consideration of subject, composition, media or any actual talent.  Any camera can take a picture, but to reproduce accurate detail and colour you need sharp focusing, a steady platform, and balanced lighting. All of these need some expertise in digital camera controls and functions, and the additional kit needed to support it.
As the issue comes up quite often at the shop counter when a customer doesn’t want to pay for hi-resolution scans, I have the same simple response. Just because they have a scanner at home or a friend who has a good camera, doesn’t mean it will be suitable  even if they know how to use it. And even if that friend is a photographer they are unlikely to have the experience of shooting a variety of different artworks. It’s not like cute babies and weddings where no one’s going to quibble if the bridesmaid’s dresses aren’t exactly the right shade of pink. I point out they are most welcome to provide me with digital files they have sourced, but if I have to do a lot of colour correction and test proofs the customer may end up spending more money than if I had photographed the original in the first place. And even then may not be satisfied if I can’t match the exact shade of beige !
The simple problem is that unless you start with an accurate digital file, there is a limit to how much manipulation you can do in whatever editing programme you use because you will just not have enough pixel information to play with. With scanners, you need a preview that will allow you to alter not just resolution and file type, but exposure, colour and sharpness. If only automatic settings are available the device may be fooled by the reflectivity, or lack of it, from the subject overall or certain colours in it. Pumping up the resolution doesn’t help. Actual resolution, that is the number of pixels, and the clarity of the image are not necessarily the same thing.
Similarly the megapixel count of a camera, while it may be a rough guide, is not guarantee of a quality picture without consideration first of the lens, and it’s ability to focus, and then the settings selected for camera capture.
Most digital images are captured as Jpegs , which means that the camera is processing the file on the basis of the presets selected, and outputting an item that is, in culinary terms, already cooked.
All professional digital cameras, and many of the better quality mid-range ones are able to shoot in  format called RAW which I have mentioned many times before, but is the one single ingredient that makes all the difference. A RAW file isn’t entirely untouched by camera settings : you still have to focus and get the shutter speed, aperture and colour balance fairly well sorted to give the format a helping hand. But given that, it allows a massive amount of image adjustment and fine tuning that can perfect a reproduction or even recover one that would otherwise be lost.
This is the most significant development in digital imaging, matching camera performance with advanced software, making possible things that could never have been achieved in the darkroom with film. In the early days of digital I discovered how it’s predictive processing in camera was compromised, for example, trying to shoot a black cat in the snow. The colour differential would result in everything being a variety of  shades of grey.
The scene would still be a challenge for a modern camera, but using RAW would enable a perfect balance of both background and subject, as well as details right down to the whiskers. But shooting in RAW is only one of the factors involved in a perfect picture. You still need to be able to understand all the camera’s manual settings, and use them correctly, to avoid any presumptions it is making about exposure and colour that may be difficult to iron out later.
For that, the ability to set a white balance for different lighting conditions using a white or grey target card is essential. Then the camera knows how to adjust the colour scale it sees. The camera may have approximate presets for flash, daylight or tungsten lighting etc but this is only a basic guide. A more precise measure is really needed, and on better cameras, even the custom white balance can be finely tuned to offset any colour bias in the subject. For that a simple colour chart is useful as a reference because it can then be used as a comparison when editing on the screen on a computer.
It’s a matter of dialling out any possible limitations to the eventual image quality, like using a decent tripod to avoid any slight camera movement even with high shutter speed, and not pushing the lens to it’s maximum wide aperture where performance may drop off. Even with focusing the lens, it’s important to ensure it’s precisely centred on the subject and not distracted by the background. Again, better cameras have the ability to move focus points, or create a spread of targets. It may even be possible to fine tune the electronic focus points by calibrating the lens with a target gadget that has clear black and white shapes and lines to grab it’s attention. 


It’s quite possible, for example, on a DSLR where different lenses are used for one to perform better than another not through any fault of the lens, but because the autofocus device doesn’t completely mate with the camera body. If the camera itself has suffered knocks that may also affect the focus operation, and even a slight fault may affect the sharpness of fine detail.
I haven’t even begun to mention lighting, as it’s another acquired skill the average amateur enthusiast is unlikely to grasp. I have amassed a large amount of studio equipment over the years that comes in handy for one job or another. I’m just showing my basic “mobile” kit to tackle an average task. Two light sources rather than one enable me to balance and control artificial light, whether using two powerful battery powered flash guns, or larger mains powered studio lights.
From either of these sources the light needs to be diffused so it spreads evenly over the subject to avoid highlights and shadows, achieved by using reflectors and white panels of various sizes, as well as adjusting the distance between light source and subject. This is almost instinctive to me as I had to do it with film when you couldn’t monitor the effects in real time.
Even if you have done all that bit right, you still have to do the other bit editing post production on the computer, but it should have made that job a whole lot easier.
Although these hundreds of words may seem a long winded explanation they are still far from a comprehensive one. So the best thing next time a customer says “it’s ok I have a friend with a camera”, just say “It’s a bit more complicated, trust me I’m a photographer”


 

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mrmartinchristie@gmail.com (Martin Christie Photography) https://www.martinchristie.co.uk/blog/2020/2/trust-me-im-a-photographer Mon, 03 Feb 2020 09:15:00 GMT
Printology - the appliance of science https://www.martinchristie.co.uk/blog/2019/12/printology---the-appliance-of-science  

Not a word I’ve used before, but printology exists, and perhaps it should be used more often in our working environment. I don’t know who came up with it, or why, but it seems to be defined as the convergence of operational technology with sophisticated machines that produce and/or manage documents. For me that’s a bit more realistic than print facilitators as we were once characterised, making us sound like just some convenient go-between.

The trouble  is that’s just what we have become in the eyes of many customers, empowered with their mobile phones and tablets, and failing to appreciate that turning their electronic creations into hard print requires a little more expertise than that of just pressing a button.

Printology, as I understand it, implies the matching of some practical traditional skills with the  

technical knowledge of the new digital software and hardware, a knowledge that’s under continual development.  

A printologist needs to be both an IT specialist and a hands on mechanic to handle intelligent devices alongside nut and bolt working machines. Oh, and an ability to mind read and second guess customer’s requirements also comes in handy. 

 We know this because it is why it’s so difficult to find and train staff. I’ve said before that more needs to be made of the printing process to raise it’s public profile.So why not flag up printology ? After all if an ad for sofas can claim on ‘ology for simply designing something to recline on, and baking cakes can draw a television audience bigger than an olympic sport, turning a series of mathematical equations into something magically real deserves a little more recognition.

It is a modern irony that the popular media raises comparatively simple things into major operations, while more complex and creative ones are allegedly made more simple by buying the appropriate gadget. 

So you can reinvent the whole history and tradition of photography simply by buying the latest phone and it will do all the marvellous complicated stuff for you. In fact when you have your own personal drone at your service you won’t even need to leave that comfy sofa, it will go out on it’s own and bring you back a full pictorial record of all the things you might have done with your life.

And not just would be photographers because we also have chefs and hairdressers who think they are designers with the help of a little app on their mobile, while we would never presume to cook a full course meal for a restaurant, or bleach someone’s blonde roots.

No- it’s time for customers to be made  aware that there is something  more scientific in this application of technology than opening a file and pressing print. That’s if they want anything more than a no frills, get what you got service with no personal professional attention required. But there is a barely a job these days that is that simple it doesn’t need some adjustment.

Usually it’s a matter of printing being a shade or two darker than expected from being viewed on a bright screen, so it’s a matter of common practise to set  the printer up to print ten per cent lighter by default. But anything more complicated does require a technician with at least some level of skills who understands that it’s a little more complicated than just taking a little red out as might have been in copy shop days.

So here is where the science comes in. We are printing with composite inks, whether toner or inkjet, so every hue is made up by variations of the mixture of those basic inks, not the solidly defined colours that appear to be displayed on the screen. So to make any changes in colour you need to alter the colour information in the file, or the colour profile you are sending to the printer. You can do both but there is a real danger that you will go round in circles chasing your tail and end up back where you started from. Better to keep one standard and alter the other.

And while all printers have a good number of choices of colour profiles for different paper stock, it is better to keep with a consistent one and make alterations to the file because that it the thing you are looking at on the monitor.

Current photo editing software is immensely powerful and that’s where the professional studio has the advantage over the phone app operator because you are able to access tools beyond the amateur budget or skill. Most people will rely on an automatic camera setting, especially on a phone, so the odds are this will need some attention. 

This is editing that needs a big screen, and quite a bit of practise and expertise to match the performance of the visual software with the production of hard copy print. It’s a specialist job - why not give it a special name. Printology sounds as good as any !

 

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mrmartinchristie@gmail.com (Martin Christie Photography) https://www.martinchristie.co.uk/blog/2019/12/printology---the-appliance-of-science Sun, 01 Dec 2019 09:15:00 GMT
Delivering a Disaster https://www.martinchristie.co.uk/blog/2019/10/delivering-a-disaster  There can’t be many of us outside of Donald Trump supporters who don’t recognise something has to be done about the environment. We owe it to the planet we have used and abused for centuries since the beginning of the first industrial revolution to put something back if only because it’s the only one we have got. And while the first revolution of coal , iron and steel began the exploitation of resources on an industrial scale, the current digital one has enabled technology to reach into every corner of the earth with uncertain consequences.
The blast furnace, for example, was really useful for smelting metal into tools, and then shapes and structures and on to rails that would carry trains around the world, but it was also very handy for making canons. Almost all revolutions tend to have good and bad consequences in equal or unequal measure, and the digital one is no different.
The fact that we can exchange information, money and goods around the world is a convenience that has a dark side when the market place is not a level playing field, and the immediate purchase price does not reflect the actual cost to the overall economy, and the environment. All of us who retail direct to customers have had to contend with being undercut by on line competition over the last decade. Many big brand names on the high street have gone out of business. And the smug financial advisors who say we just have to react to changing demand don’t factor in the real long term results of this self serving trend.
As long as there is same day, next day, and most important “ free” delivery we are on a slippery slope. Like the fabled free lunch, it doesn’t exist, and someone or something, is picking up the eventual tab. I can’t actually put my finger on a time when people suddenly realised they needed a fridge freezer before lunchtime, but I rather suspect it was more marketing led than popular demand.
Maybe it started when all shops started opening on a Sunday, rather than those allowed selling “essentials”. Then you had to plan your food shop for the weekend instead of saving up to do a massive raid on a hypermarket. Certainly around the same time the bean counters who had taken over the direction much of British industry and business came up with the concept of just in time. No need to order stock in advance and have dead money sitting on the shelf if you could order it and get in despatched only when you needed it. Of course that’s all very well but you are dependant upon it actual being produced in time, let alone delivered. If something should interrupt that process then the whole system grinds to a halt.
Today it’s not only the finance managers who can demand such service, but every customer who had a mobile phone. It is this personal preference which no one really thought through which is really at the heart of the digital economy dilemma. I was penning some notes on this column in a bar as I often find the best place to reflect upon the world, when someone a few feet away who had been dabbing anxiously at his mobile phone announced “great that will be with me tomorrow morning !” This was 10pm and someone, somewhere was going to have to pick it, pack it, and push it on a truck that someone else was going to have to drive somewhere just to meet a probably artificial deadline. Was that really so great ?
This is the insanity of the situation we are all in, trying to do our little bit to be green and planet friendly by recycling our cardboard packaging, while at the same time everyone is creating more of it and moving it in ever increasing circles. Despite the sophistication of digital technology it seems the sheer scale of the problem is beyond any practical solution to rationalise or co-ordinate all the thousands of individual deliveries.


We are in the centre of Brighton, which like most cities has a major congestion problem due to just too many vehicles of all sizes being funnelled into roads designed in Victorian times for a relative handful of horse and carts. The council’s solution seems very simple: reduce the size of the roads, and the number that can be used, then the traffic won’t be so bad because no one will want to drive in.
This simplistic approach to traffic management has one major flaw - when it was drawn up no account was made of the increasing amount of delivery vehicles from scooters delivering pizza to articulated lorries carrying avocados to so-called convenience stores. This entirely unregulated tide has become an unstoppable tsunami. What they didn’t know, or even bothered to find out, is that the average major delivery company, and there are dozens of them, makes around 150 drops in the city each day, and some of them are time sensitive so the lorry may traverse the central road system many times around a tortuous one-way system. And that’s just parcel deliveries. Add on the major supermarkets being serviced by their trucks and their customers being served by home delivery, plus all the little independent providers, suppliers, the brewer’s drays - you can make a list that would fill half of this column. 


This must be the same in every major town in the country, and we are going to have to get used to traffic regulation, congestion charges and the like, all of which are simply token gestures in real terms because discouraging people from driving cars isn’t doing anything to curb customer demand and purchasing habits.
This isn’t a political rant as politicians of all colour have hand in creating the mess, from closing most railway branch lines, pushing deliveries onto ever inadequate roads and generally letting the freight transport infrastructure strangle itself and then blaming the users who have no other choice. But I would vote for someone who has the guts to stand up and tell voters they just can’t have what exactly they want, when they want it. But I can’t see that happening anytime soon.


 

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mrmartinchristie@gmail.com (Martin Christie Photography) https://www.martinchristie.co.uk/blog/2019/10/delivering-a-disaster Tue, 01 Oct 2019 17:45:00 GMT
All Things Must Pass https://www.martinchristie.co.uk/blog/2019/9/all-things-must-pass These things too will pass away. This was the wisdom provided to a Persian King when he tasked his wise men with giving him an answer he could use that would always be true. We all have to come to terms with the fact that nothing lasts forever, even if we hope for a little extension in execution. Much later the more cynical view of Benjamin Franklin was that the only certainties in life are death and taxes.
Of course in the days of the Persian Empire it would be fair to say social change and technology  progressed rather slowly and had very little impact on the average citizen whose life, not being royalty, was likely to be harsh and short. These days not only do all things move at a much faster pace, but as we generally live longer, we are more likely to be affected by it, and at times struggle to adapt to it.


We can all draw on numerous examples but an interesting one just popped up on the morning news regarding the long drawn out debacle over HS2, the proposed high speed link for train services from London to the north. By the time you read this the debate may have been resolved over  massive escalating costs, and dubious long term benefits. But at the heart of the issue, as one observer has just pointed out, is that the scheme was conceived when saving journey time seemed to be a priority. Ten years ago it was assumed that an extra half an hour on a train was wasted time. That was before we all went mobile and carriages were equipped with wi-fi and charging points so that passengers could continue to work on their tablets and laptops, and it didn’t matter if you were going to be late for a meeting because you could start the discussion on line.
So facts that seemed to be taken as certainties turn out to be false assumptions as the future renders them redundant. These things too...
The fragility of  accepted knowledge has never been so starkly put into focus than by the pace of modern digital developments in all forms of so-called intelligent devices. The speed of change in the technology has forced a radical rethink in the way we work and interact socially, or at least it has for most of us.
Working in print I have had no choice but to adapt to the new ways we talk with customers, and exchange information. And it works both ways because it has changed the way they react with us very much influenced by the immediate but often more impersonal nature of the transaction. And of course there is the other issue in that just because we have had to adapt to change, it doesn’t mean that all our customers have to.
It may come as a shock to younger readers for whom a mobile phone is an essential life support unit, but there are sentient beings who can survive quite happily without constantly checking their email or social media updates. And they are not all those rapidly approaching pensionable age.
Back in the last century we often communicated by a thing called a letter which involved a note, often handwritten without the help of predictive text, explaining exactly what we wanted, and put it in the care of a skilled operative called a postman who would deliver it safely, and accepting that it would likely take several days to get a reply by the same system. A primitive arrangement by today’s standards, but it worked, and people would commonly sit down to read and understand the whole of it, not just swipe through bits they thought might be important.
In a twenty first century world, where people demand immediate attention regardless of whether it’s really important or just a liking of a picture of their cat doing something stupid, it’s often difficult to sort through the fog of electronic information overload to get to anything that really matters. Which is why things that matter get missed, or just misunderstood. There’s enough room for confusion in any form of communication without adding all the variables that digital data opens up.  
When you had to write you physically formed the word which gave you at least a chance to cross it out or change your mind. The speed and convenience of letting a machine do the thinking for you is potentially flawed as it might check the spelling but not common sense. 
So you have customers who use the technology, and use it badly, and others who simply refuse to deal with it at all. The latter is actually quite understandable as digital information is such a temporary disposable item.
Those who lived before it took over appreciate the value of solid things in the real world, like print. Even that will fade and fall apart in time. But digital files, and images, are particularly prone to degradation and loss - something that few people seem to realise when they carry so much that is important to them on a device no larger than the palm of a hand. These things too may pass away much quicker !
Paper of course has a history going back hundreds of years, and film over a hundred and fifty. Compared to that, the basic Jpeg is a spawning infant. There will no doubt be a solution to preserving pixels long term, perhaps transferring to a different media as we now transfer old analogue tapes to digital. But even after more than a century the total amount of film ever shot has probably already been overtaken by the billions of instant snaps taken at random on phones and other mobile devices. Choosing what to preserve for history may be a bit of a challenge.
Digital information, unlike full sized hard copy, also has an achilles heel in how it actually stores the actual details of a file, colour, resolution etc. The most common file types in use, Jpegs and PDFs are compression files to make them easier to transfer by email or upload to and from web sites. They save space by reducing the amount of information they contain. This may not be a problem at first use but over time continued opening and saving may do untold damage. The long term prospects for digital archives are of course yet to be discovered because no one has a fifty year old jpeg.
When I started shooting digital, some twenty years ago, I used Jpeg exclusively because, like a lot of photographers new to the format, I didn’t know any better. And in any case the digital cameras available were fairly basic in performance compared to the models of today so we accepted the quality we had in hand, not only in capture, but in processing. The Adobe Photoshop for the day, which would have been something like number 5, That would be an old Reliant three wheeler compared to a modern hybrid hatchback alongside the current Creative cloud offering.
That meant that not only were file formats very basic, so were the editing possibilities.
Gradually we became aware of this mysterious format called RAW, which is a curious halfway house between a processed and unprocessed image.
It’s still subject to the capture settings on the camera but not relying on the devices processor to determine the output, so that a huge amount of manipulation is possible at leisure on the computer screen. With film, once you’d developed the negative and fixed it that was it. You could do a certain amount in the darkroom afterwards, but if it was badly over or under exposed in the first place, you could never recover it. 
Quite a lot of cameras are now able to shoot RAW, although most of their owners may not be aware of it or how to use it properly. Manufacturers however have realised that it is the best way we have with present knowledge to preserve an original image for future use. RAW is the thing that separates an amateur from a more professional user, so if you have a photographer trying to baffle you with jargon and he’s not using RAW at source, you can draw your own conclusions.
Nothing lasts forever but some things may last longer than most.....


 

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mrmartinchristie@gmail.com (Martin Christie Photography) https://www.martinchristie.co.uk/blog/2019/9/all-things-must-pass Sun, 01 Sep 2019 17:15:00 GMT
Whatever they tell you.................Size is important ! https://www.martinchristie.co.uk/blog/2019/7/whatever-they-tell-you-size-is-important The problems of resolving size and resolution issues have been a continual theme in this column since the dawn of digital information, and that shows no sign of changing anytime soon,  despite its almost complete adoption as a means of transferring images and artwork. In fact the gulf between those who use it and those who understand it has grown ever wider, and is likely to continue to do so.
Before digital it was all so simple. You had a hard copy of a certain size and you had to go to a professional to get it turned into print. When computers and electronic mail arrived many so called experts predicted the demise of printing altogether. That didn’t happen, nor did things change overnight. 
What did happen is that people who needed them bought computers to use at home, along with a basic scanner and printer, so that they could do a lot of the preparation work without going back and forth to the print shop with time consuming major of minor changes. At the same time software companies - we I’ll mention them in the second part of this column - were giving birth to programmes that would enable them to do a more personal job in a more economical manner. I mention this to set the scene, and fill in the history for readers who have come freshly into a print industry already dominated  by the mobile phone. These portable devices have transformed the way we interact dramatically, and not always for the good.
What they have created is what I have described before as the third generation customer. The first had no computer knowledge and therefore sought the expertise of those who had. The second had some, and therefore understood some of that nothing was either instant or simple.
The third has simply bypassed the experience of the previous two and  doesn’t understand why there might be any issues at all. 
That’s where present difficulties arise because although the digital revolution has made the creation and exchange of information easier, the speed and ease disguises the fact that the process is still extremely complex, and hence problems are easy to overlook and even harder to explain. It’s hard to remember, let alone describe  how slow everything was at the beginning of the digital age, and how you had to accept things took time, and mistakes happened. We used to send a magazine to the printers electronically via a telephone line. A whole 25mb took hours of unpredictable hours and would often complete with an error message, and no clue as to what the error was. Start again from scratch. 
When you’ve aged through the three digital generations, it’s hard to have any sympathy with the impatience of today. Yes, we know you’ve just sent a file but we still need to check it before we waste time and paper printing it, rather than assume you know what you are doing. Even we can make mistakes !
Then there is the basic issue that nothing is as simple as it seems to be transferring something from a phone to a full sized hard copy print,  from a pixel constrained screen to a dimensional hungry one. It can take so long batting back and forth with a customer to get an image of a size suitable to print because they can’t actually visualise it from their point of view. I got so fed up with a repeating exchange of unsuitable files I sent the customer an image of the file representing the size she wanted a print superimposed with a small rectangle in the top right corner being the actual image she kept sending me.

We got there in the end. Working on a desktop computer with a full sized monitor in any photo or design programme, it is relatively easy to view actual file dimensions, and it the former, the number of pixels comprising the image, their ratio one to the other. These figures are all there to guide you. On a mobile device it’s almost exactly the reverse as if it doesn’t want to confuse you with all this surplus information, just show you a nice picture. In addition it may enhance that image with a complimentary filter, or an effect which will actual reduce the quality of the original for anything other than viewing on a small screen. 
Of course all of the major software suppliers now have phone friendly versions of their editing programmes, but unless you are familiar with the working space and tools, it’s unlikely to be an easy option for the average mobile customer compared to more “user friendly” and usually free alternatives. But of course, you get what you pay for or not as the case may be.
Back in the early digital days, no one could have predicted with any certainty all the many developments it would produce and that gave those software gurus a dilemma in how to direct their products. Would they be vector based, using flexible mathematical formula, or pixel dependent images. Although Adobe’s first programme was actually vector based Illustrator, it was the flagship Photoshop which cemented its dominants in the market place as digital images exploded in popularity. Adding a layout capability in InDesign, and eventually a Creative Suite that could seamlessly put together all of the parts of the jigsaw effectively sealed the fate of competition like the once popular publishing option Quark.

Whatever happened to Quark, probably went the way of the floppy disc...................
 

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mrmartinchristie@gmail.com (Martin Christie Photography) https://www.martinchristie.co.uk/blog/2019/7/whatever-they-tell-you-size-is-important Mon, 01 Jul 2019 17:15:00 GMT
The Curse of the Mobile Phone https://www.martinchristie.co.uk/blog/2019/6/the-curse-of-the-mobile-phone Don’t try this at home

I’m sure we have all learned to love and loathe the mobile phone in equal measure. There aren’t many inventions that are both incredibly useful and seriously annoying at the same time. It puts an amazing amount of knowledge at your fingertips, but the apparent ease with which all this information is browsed and exchanged can seduce the owner into believing that they are in control and not the device. Instead of it being the servant, it is the user that is in danger of being the slave.
For print on demand, the main consequence is that customers not only leave deadlines until the last minute, but also expect that we have understood a garbled message cobbled together with typos and predictive text, and printed a dog’s dinner of a file botched with some obscure app. Even if you have emailed them back to tell them you can’t print it, or enquire about a few minor details like what size and how many, they won’t have read it.  They’ll be too busy with social media updates or the latest installment on netflix.
Oh and I forgot to mention the urgent phone call about the email they sent with an attachment that’s actually still sitting in their outbox. This is all part of the new norm which puts extra stress on the working day. Instant print it is; instant communication it is not.
I could fill this column easily with tales of customer calamities, but as I’m sure you will have endured many of the like I’ll spare you a catalogue of disasters. But I can’t resist mentioning the group of young, excitable Spaniards who turned up mob handed at the counter. Spanish people seem to have an ability to talk in a continuous stream at some volume and without breathing, or actually listening. So four of them together makes the legendary tower of babel sound as peaceful as a library reading room. They are trying to put together a several sided menu for their restaurant which they are opening the very next day. It’s in english, which they do not speak, so they are trying to put it together through the translator on their phones, while trying to explain to us in a few recognisable words, what they want.
This dialogue is virtually incomprehensible as well as long winded. In fact it just needs Basil Fawlty to appear and ask if we can finish it before ones of us expires. Eventually we have to send them home to do it properly on a computer, which they duly do.
This may be a slightly exceptional episode, but it is typical of how reliant customers have become on immediate communication, and it being transformed into print in the same time frame. And it’s not only words, but pictures. By the very same logic they expect images in print to look exactly like they do on their high resolution, intensely illuminated, colour saturated mini screen, which they are also viewing at a distance, not with their nose buried in the paper.
Yes it’s not very clear, and no the colour isn’t the same, that’s because what you are viewing on your phone isn’t the real file, but an illusion created by the phone company to justify the outrageous claims they made for the camera,and the ridiculous price you paid for it. What you see in print is the real image. Even if the original snap was quite reasonable, all those filters you applied to make it look “better” have completely trashed any real quality or resolution. So the best solution is often the advice to leave well alone.
This applies across the board, whether photography or design, when customers are advised their file is unsuitable for print because of the app or programme they have used, and they ask which one you use. Advising them to use Photoshop or InDesign is probably the worst piece of advice because unless they have more than basic experience, it is likely that the dog’s dinner will end up as a complete banquet.
Ironically this is the one glimmer of hope on the horizon, if customers can be educated to know not to waste their time, or spoil their photography, and begin letting the experts do the work for them. As the general public has moved away from desktop computers, and even laptops, to more handy mobile devices, their professional editing capabilities are considerably reduced. While most people will have heard of an Adobe product, very few will now be subscribed to get the very latest applications, and that will separate the professional from the purely amateur. Even those with an old standalone Photoshop 5 disc (that’s a circular thing with a hole in the middle for anyone under 30) will not have anything like the tools now available. And if they have, they still have to be smart enough to use it.
There’s no question that Adobe’s Photoshop has got a lot more complicated, and while most features are retained from previous versions, anyone without recent experience is likely to find it quite daunting, and may fail to appreciate its full potential. As the updates slip in online,almost on a monthly basis,  it’s easy to miss new features unless you follow the information trail and unleash their possibilities. Because the look of the workspace doesn’t change, you might not notice something significant that’s been added. 
Following several fine tune additions, May saw a clever new tool for both Camera Raw filter and Lightroom, which share similar editing actions. The Camera Raw filter can be used in Photoshop on all picture files, not just those in the title, so it’s a really useful extension to the basic exposure, colour and contrast options. Adjustments to Clarity and Dehaze were already available as a more subtle alternative to Sharpening or softening the detail in an image, but the disadvantage was that both would affect the colour and density of the image to some degree.
Now Texture as been added and that is able to enhance any surface detail in a non-destructive way.
This really is a magic bullet as previously making digital images crisper meant just increasing the contrast between one pixel and another to “sharpen” the picture artificially. But while this may make it look better on the small screen, it usually looks horrible in print. There is no reason this trick can’t be applied to improve any image, but it’s particularly useful for images that require detail.

Photographing ArtworkPhotographing ArtworkI use high resolution digital imaging to achieve correct colour and detail in artists work

I photograph a lot of original artwork, and other items that can’t be scanned on a flatbed because they are too big, or too complicated, and the trick has always been to capture as much detail as possible to reproduce a replica of the original in print.
Shooting a good, evenly lit hi-res photo in the first place is essential, but then being able to improve on the file in post production without affecting the quality and actually enhancing it, is a major step forward in preparing a digital file for print.  Essentially all of these improvements allow a more intricate manipulation of all the digital information contained in a file, as long as it hasn’t been beaten up by someone who thinks they know what they are doing with a Mickey Mouse phone app.
So it raises the game for images that have already been taken professionally, but it also means that the average customer’s image may be expertly enhanced as long as they haven’t tried to do anything to it themselves. You can only do so much in post production if you don’t have a reasonable quality file to work with, but as most modern cameras, and even phones, are quite capable of taking a good picture at least now and again, there is a chance you may be able to improve it for print. The advice has to be don’t try and edit it yourself, bring us the original and we can see what we can do.

 

 

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mrmartinchristie@gmail.com (Martin Christie Photography) https://www.martinchristie.co.uk/blog/2019/6/the-curse-of-the-mobile-phone Sat, 01 Jun 2019 17:00:00 GMT
Seeing Red - A matter of a spot of colour https://www.martinchristie.co.uk/blog/2019/3/seeing-red---a-matter-of-a-spot-of-colour The end of February and the beginning of March brings the first signs of a welcome spring, snowdrops, daffodils and birdsong. But if you’re a hardened petrol head the dawning of a new year means the wheeling out of new cars for pre-season testing in advance of the Formula One Championship opening race  in Australia. Over the winter, while the drivers have had a break, those clever people behind the screens have been working on lots of new ideas to make the cars go even faster, with their computer simulations, fluid dynamics and wind tunnel scale aero models. All of this considerable expense and effort to lose a few precious tenths of a second over the opposition. Each hoping they have come up with a trick that will give them that edge, and hoping they can keep it hidden before the others catch on.
This year Ferrari, as well as all the novelties under the new skin, have come up with something very obvious on top of it. They have changed the paint job. For fifty years the Italian marque has been blood red - scarlet  as Murray Walker would always announce it. Sometimes diluted with a little white and black from tobacco sponsorship, but always bright, bold red. For 2019 they haven’t changed the colour, they’ve changed the finish. Instead of a brilliant gloss, they’ve gone for a matte coating. But this is not for any reason of air flowing faster over the bodywork. You might expect gloss would actually slip through the air better. No, this is because someone clever at Marennello  worked out that it was several hundred grams lighter.


This well kept secret was all well and good until the covers came off and the car was revealed to the media with it’s drivers in all its glory. For what the clever technicians may not have taken into account in their calculations was something any printer could have told them - it was a different colour, it was almost orange when alongside the rest of the team’s paraphernalia. Outrage ensued when fans of the Prancing Horse saw the new car on social and broadcast media, especially as orange is the native colour of former fierce rivals Mclaren. This was almost a national insult, at the very least a slight on Latin automotive tradition.The team principals and the management at Fiat are so far staying tight lipped on their feelings about this change of hue but whether the colour stays will rather depend on whether the car really is faster, and if it wins the tifosi may have to learn to love it.
Of course  as photographers and printers we are all too familiar with the issues of colour reflected from different media surfaces, especially as we are working most commonly with designers and creatives whose working experience has been entirely devoted to a bright backlit screen. What was basic  instinct to a traditional printer seems to have been overlooked in the present curriculum of graphic design so that colours carefully worked out on the computer are just expected to translate automatically into their correct state in hard copy. 
You can understand an average person, creating a little something from a free app on a phone,  being surprised that it doesn’t print exactly like if does on their little hi-res screen when it’s no longer illuminated from the rear and converted into solid ink drops. But professionals who are supposed to be trained, and employed specifically to know what they are doing is another thing. Often they are obsessed with Pantone references, failing to grasp the difference between spot colour and process colour in printing. 
Pantone inks are specific colours to give an accurate, solid single coat. Images processed by modern digital presses, in CMYK, create colour by using a combination of those four inks - or more in the case of more sophisticated inkjet printers -  to produce a composite colour actually consisting of many multi-coloured individual dots. The proportions of the various colours will vary depending on how the printer translates the digital equation sent to it, which is why there can be such a variance between one machine and another. And that’s before you take into account the colour profile used to create that information. All of these variables make accurate colour reproduction extremely difficult.
Pantone themselves say that CMYK colours can only match their own no more than 55% of the time, and even that will take a lot of time and trouble - more than most customers will want to pay for.
This doesn’t mean that Pantone colours are redundant in the digital world, they are an important reference, but they are only an approximate when trying to apply to a print on demand service.
Other the other hand, because they mix colours, and the mix can be adjusted in the messages sent to the printer, a digital press does a better job of blending shades and gradients which spot colours can’t cope with.

Always be aware the colours we actually see are relative to the colour of light falling on them as much as the colour they actually are. Ferrari take note !

 

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mrmartinchristie@gmail.com (Martin Christie Photography) https://www.martinchristie.co.uk/blog/2019/3/seeing-red---a-matter-of-a-spot-of-colour Fri, 01 Mar 2019 17:30:00 GMT
Wake Up Call https://www.martinchristie.co.uk/blog/2019/2/wake-up-call  

Waking up to reality


I never have a problem waking up, even if  actually getting out of bed on a cold winter morning is more of an effort. I have my radio ready tuned to BBC Radio 4 so I wake to calm, level voices, not some unbearably perky jockey telling me what a wonderful day it’s going to be when I can hear the rain splattering on the window already. The early menu starts with the shipping forecast, a daily ritual recitation of coastal zones with bizarre names, and a variety of climatic conditions. Although listening to it over many years I still have no idea where  Forties and  Cromarty are, it is reassuring to know all is well in the big world outside even if it is a little choppy on the Dogger Bank.


The schedule follows with a short news briefing and a farmer’s programme but somewhere in between a little reflection slips in about what happened on this particular day years before. This list can be quite brief or quite extensive probably depending on who has been given the thankless task of doing the historical research, and rarely is a cause of interest.
But on this particular Monday in January something did make me take notice. It was ten years since the banking crisis of 2009 when the Royal Bank of Scotland announced the biggest corporate losses in British history, and shares in all the other banks fell through a big hole in the floor.
The global crisis had actually started in the USA some months earlier, but the knock on effects spread around the world like falling dominoes as the new year progressed. Propping up the banks with taxpayers money may have prevented the terrible social consequences of deep recession which followed the Wall Street crash of 1929, but it did begin a period of uncertainty in the economy, and perhaps even in politics, that we are having to live with to this day.
What struck me was that while those of us who remember clearly the events have lived through this period, a whole new generation was grown up with virtually no knowledge of the history and an inevitable acceptance that what we live with now is just the norm. They won’t remember a time when the high street was full of shops that sold things.
Not that the banks and the governments are entirely to blame, as along with austerity measures caused by spending all our money, other factors have conspired to bring us where we are today. The popularity of internet shopping is obviously a major culprit, and again those who haven’t watched it develop would scarcely believe there was a time when people were quite reluctant to share their bank details with an anonymous source in an unknown territory, and it wasn’t so long ago, such is the pace of change. When the first ATMs appeared many people, and not just the elderly, were reluctant to use them and still insisted on going into the premises to see a human being they could trust. These days, most of  the banks have gone and only the cash points remain in the wall.
The financial circumstances, and changes in retail behaviour have produced a perfect storm for the economy in which we float with some apprehension for the future, especially as within weeks of reading this, we will face another major change in circumstance with consequences apparently unknown even to those who demanded it. It’s the uncertainty that hangs over the next few months that is so worrying, whichever side you take on the “B” issue, but then perhaps we are all adjusting to a time when the unknown is the new normal. After all, when I was at school, admittedly in the last century, my career’s master would have said a job at the bank was a job for life ! 

 

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mrmartinchristie@gmail.com (Martin Christie Photography) https://www.martinchristie.co.uk/blog/2019/2/wake-up-call Fri, 01 Feb 2019 17:00:00 GMT