Editing Part 4

In this series on editing I've discussed some past practice, brought us into those weird, wonderful and very confusing times when analog was going digital and given a couple of examples of how people shoot and what that means after the photographing is done. Go here for the first three:

Editing Part 1

Editing Part 2

Editing Part 3

Now, we'll take a look at editing our pictures during printing and after the prints are made. Let's follow along with BJ Johnson as she turns to printing her images made of fields, wild flowers and at a street fair.

As she makes prints, she considers carefully what size they should be, what paper she should use, even if there is a tonality or a color palette she ought to use. She tries making the street fair pictures as conversions into black and white and decides that color is not needed in this work. She determines this by making the same image both in color and black and white. She also decides this work should be printed about 11 x 14 inches, so proceeds, making a print at a time, working to balance contrast and exposure so that one print relates well to the next and so on. At the end of a long session of printing  she opens a bottle of wine, puts Keith Jarrett's solo piano piece the "Koln Concerts" on the stereo ( it could have just as easily been some Bach concertos) and sits down with the stack of prints she's just made. She goes through them, looking at each one carefully, studying it, spreading the prints out on a large table so she can see them all at once, marking a few on the back with post-it notes, telling herself to print this one lighter, that one darker, to crop this one here, and so on. She also begins to sequence them. She rips a few up as they just didn't cut it. Finally, she pulls over her laptop and looks up on Google "Street Fairs" in her area and finds a listing of several coming up in the next few weeks.  She plans to go as she feels she's got the start of a project going and she wants to continue, explore it and work through what she can do with it.

She decides to back burner the wild flower pictures as there is nothing in the ones that she shot that is special for her. The field pictures she made show promise, however, and within the next few weeks she makes a few 24 x 30 inch prints of them as she believes the scale and impact of the large size is important. But, although they are beautiful they are also flawed as she didn't quite get it right, she learns. She focused too close and relied upon the hyperfocal distance too much for the kinds of apertures she was using. Also, the light was harsh and she envisions them shot with far softer light, maybe late in the day. Plus, some aren't as sharp as they should be due to camera movement and she pledges to really go over her tripod to make sure its strong enough for the task. She commits to replacing it if necessary. She makes a plan to go back to the fields to shoot again soon.

Overall, BJ is pleased with her day's shooting and has learned many lessons. She has also made some new pictures that she is excited about and has future shoots to look forward to.

Finally, as BJ works to add to the Street Fair project over the next few months, she refines her process, and adds many new prints, too many, in fact. She works to edit down the group to a number that is manageable and crucial. And she starts showing the work to anyone that'll look at it. She shows the work to her folks and sister, all of whom love it and have no idea what she's up to. She shows it to a former teacher, who digs into the work and really gives her a solid critique.  She feels bruised by this but understands the work much better. She shows it to a local gallery that isn't "into"  black and white work. She shows it to another gallery that isn't "booking shows" right now. She shows it to another gallery that loves it and encourages her to bring other work for them to see. And so it goes.

Editing is not over after you've decided what to print, editing is not over after you'd made the prints. Yes, editing is usually over after you've shown the work and have moved on to other projects, but not necessarily. What is crucial at this latter stage of editing your work, however, is to show it, to get people to see it and determine through their eyes, what they are really seeing in your work. Are they seeing what you are seeing? Is there some alignment there? And finally, is it the best you can make it where you are now in your career? If it is, then perhaps you are done editing it and can move on. Making excellent art takes genius, which I know, for one, I have precious little of. But I do have good perceptions and a strong work ethic. Hard work will get you pretty far as it turns out. The genius part? Well, I keep hoping.

I hope this four part treatise on editing has been helpful. There are many many systems for this, as I am sure you know. I've outlined just one, mine. But do the work to develop something perhaps a little systematic and organized for your work. You will be grateful when the Metropolitan Museum calls and says they want 26 of the prints you made in 2006 in the summer of a bunch of street fairs east of the Rocky Mountains in a few small towns and are paying $248,000 for the full set, or about $9500 per print. Make sure you can find them.

Topics: Editing

Permalink | Posted April 16, 2014

Editing Part 3

In Editing Parts 1 and 2  I covered the way in which I edited my imagery in analog days and also looked at how we began to change as we started to scan our film in the 90's.

Now that I've brought us up to current practice I can delve into some of the challenges inherent in editing in a system that allows so very many pictures being made. Think about this: in analog days we had all kinds of restrictions to the final number of pictures we could produce. We had to change out film at the end of 36 exposures (35mm) or 12 (120 mm) or, in  4 x 5  and  8 x 10 film how many film holders we had or had loaded. We also had the sheer labor ahead of the film processing. Virtually all of us that worked in black and white in those days processed our own film.There was real cost involved too as some of the film sizes were expensive. Now, we are only held back by the size of the flashcard in our camera, or the number of frames our battery will allow. Hundreds upon hundreds of frames are very easy to shoot and even commonplace from just one shoot. 

Of course, there is a cost here and it is a big one. If you make pictures completely randomly, scattershot, without forethought, without thinking about the possible consequences, then you have created a nightmare for yourself back in front of the computer, looking at the screen when trying to figure out which one to print.

Let me describe shooting digitally with a couple of scenarios. 

Photographer AJ Smith heads out to photograph. AJ's got his gear, a great destination along the shore, wonderful light, an empty card in his very fine digital single lens reflex camera (DSLR), a charged battery, his tripod…. he's all set to go. He gets to where he's going to shoot and it's freaking fantastic. He photographs hand held over several hours because he just can't get enough of this wonderful seaweed he's found along the coast at low tide. He envisions these amazing big prints of these wild organic looking tentacles of the seaweed he's shot, all textural and wet. He's shot them fast (the tide was coming in) and every way he can think of. He did know he was pushing it with some frames as he shot them in the deep shadows.  He has no idea what the camera's settings were as he made these. But he is hopeful it'll all turn out okay.

AJ gets home and downloads his card to his computer and loads the day's shoot into Lightroom. He's shot 567 pictures. He starts to go through them, one by one, each one displayed as a full screen image. He notices right away that frames 127-202  and 342-411 are not sharp. Oops. He looks at the shutter speed that the camera chose on the metadata panel in Lightroom when he was shooting in the shadows: he was shooting from 1/15 of a second down to 1/4. OOPS! In the quiet of his work room in his apartment and by himself AJ can be heard screaming out several loud expletives: "Sh..! Fu..!" and so on. No feeling is worse than when you're the one that fucked it up. 

Discouraged but hanging in there AJ now starts to go through the ones that are sharp that were made in better light. After several minutes of looking at his pictures he can't decide which ones to print. Frames 11-37, for instance, are so close to being the same thing he can't tell which one is best. He moves on, again, a little disappointed that he's not finding any "stand out" images. They all look the same; dark green seaweed and rocks. He soldiers on but soon begins to lose interest and finally picks a few, by starring them, that he believes might turn out to be something good but in actuality he doesn't care so much about seaweed anymore. Finally, AJ's mind begins to wander. He is bored and leaves to fix a sandwich and see what he can find on Netflix to watch. AJ's had an unpleasant experience with photography and doesn't go back to the seaweed pictures until much later, if at all.

Lets go through another scenario. This time the photographer BJ Johnson has a day to go out photographing. Just like AJ, she's got her equipment ready and a great destination in mind. She gets there and even though it's bright sunshine out puts her wonderful fancy dancy DSLR on a tripod. She shoots 37 frames of the fields in the lee of the mountains, taking care to check the exposure, look at the histogram on the screen to see how she's doing, shooting a few frames several times but varying the aperture to change the depth of field or the shutter speed to add blur as there's a fairly strong wind blowing the grasses. She's thinking about how these small adjustments might effect the final outcome and she's seeing the prints she will make in her mind's eye. Finally, she takes the camera off the tripod and shoots some close ups of wild flowers hand held, being careful to keep the plane of the camera parallel to the ground below to minimize the need for depth of field, therefore allowing her a faster shutter speed. She packs her stuff back up and heads back home in her car and along the way comes across a street fair in a little town. She stops and shoots this too, working much quicker with a wide angle lens, raising the ISO for her camera to permit a fast shutter speed and f5.6 or f8 for an aperture setting.

BJ gets home and downloads her files into Lightroom. She feels she's got three  bodies of work and begins to edit them with that in mind. She goes through the ones of the fields, giving two stars to hopeful pictures and three stars to ones she really likes. She thinks about the group and tries to choose ones that will fit into a small "chapter" or "series". As she was invested in the pictures when she made them she shows an equal investment in the way she works with them now. She's pleased with what she's done, although there are a few errors where the camera moved, even though it was on a tripod some of the time. Over time she moves on to the close ups of the flowers, which are less exciting to her as they look more typical and generic. Finally, she gets to the 83 frames she shot at the street fair and finds, to her surprise, 3 or 4 that are really exceptional. While the others from the fair are okay these few are a kind of picture she's never made before and she now plans to go to several more street fairs to see if she can add to this new group. At the end of all this, BJ starts to make prints of the ones that are marked as three stars. Then she goes back through her files in the next few weeks when she's got time, first to the two starred ones, finding two that are on second look really good and then through all the others just to make sure she hasn't missed anything.

What a difference a little experience and thinking about things can make in your work. I can hear teaching Neal saying: "You've got a mind, well, use it".

In Editing Part 4 we'll take a look at what happens to the prints that BJ makes.

Topics: Editing

Permalink | Posted April 13, 2014

Editing Part 2

In Editing Part 1 I covered how I used to edit my work when I was a film based photographer printing my own black and white photographs in my own darkroom.

In this post I'll cover how things began to change  as many of us started to scan our developed film, work on the files in Photoshop and then output our imagery digitally. Right away, we  began to accumulate imagery in our computers. In editing, part of our process was to decide to scan or not scan. Big change. Look at contact sheets made conventionally to determine which to print  or scan whole rolls at once to make a screen based contact sheet? In these early days, in the 90's, scanning was really labor and time intensive. To get high resolution scans we needed cumbersome drum scanners or expensive flat bed scanners. Many would rent these, paying for time in front of scanners at an hourly rate. Once scanned the files needed to be "cleaned" using the cloning tool in Photoshop to remove dust spots. Each 8 x 10 negative could take several hours to clean to make it ready to print. Fairly quickly we learned to scan our negative, then "flip" the files to make the scans into positives. Bingo, now we were living in a more digital world in that we were now editing our imagery on screen, instead of as a contact print on paper. Also very quickly we had a storage and filing problem. This was before even Adobe Bridge. Where was that scan of that negative I shot 1 1/2 years ago from Wyoming that I included in that show I had downtown at Studio Soto Gallery? And what was the final version I printed from? Big high resolution files from 8 x 10 not only gummed up the works as they would be slow to open and slow to work, they took up a lot of room. Computer crashes were all too frequent and it wasn't just a question of cost, no computers had enough power to handle these big files fast. Each of us was working out our own system for filing and storing our scanned files and some of our systems were pretty bad. Does this paint a picture of a mess? It was.

Along came first Bridge (it comes with Photoshop), then Lightroom and Aperture and our world changed. Bridge allowed us to see our files as thumbnails before we opened them. We now had wonderful systems for storing our files that allowed us to organize them, date them, keyword them, see them and even prepare them for printing.

I went from something like this:

where files were stored in folders with random names and that weren't even arranged alphabetically or by date, to this:

where all the files from a given shoot are contained and arranged by year, date, time, down to metadata that tells me, simply, everything: aperture, shutter speed, lens and camera used, how large the file is, focus, time, geographic region, for some cameras actual location, and so on. This above is what the projects look like in Aperture. OMG! What a breath of fresh air that was! Both companies, Lightroom by Adobe and Aperture by Apple have my everlasting gratitude for making a system that has helped us so very much. I use Apple's Aperture because I like it best but to each his own.

As I began to switch over to shooting  digitally, this because the cameras were getting better, there were systems in place that supported file generation in a  digital workflow from start to finish.

Okay, there's a structure in place now where we can see thumbnails of our  pictures, we have metadata on each file, so how do we choose which ones to print?

These are from a day in February where I drove up Mt Tamalpais outside San Francisco. You can see that some of the thumbnails have three stars under them. That's the start for me.The three stars mean I think the files are worthy of looking at again, perhaps worth blowing up to see full screen ,perhaps needing to be darker, lighter, softer, flatter, more blue, less blue, and so on.

With Aperture I can choose to see just the ones that are starred (this is true of Lightroom as well):

I can shift them around, keyword them, adjust them, and so on. Once I've lived with these a while, looked at them over maybe a few days, I then decide which ones I will export. I export the "versions", meaning files that I have already worked on and color corrected. I export them to a folder I've created on my desktop, perhaps calling it: CA 2014 Mt Tamalpais.  I export them as 16 bit Tiff Files. Now they sit as full files, in a folder and can be opened in Photoshop, which I do, one by one. Once I open an image in PS, I size it , tweak it, meaning fine tune its color, check it for any weirdness in the sky (these days a dirty sensor in the camera will leave a small circle on light areas), adjust small areas (I use Nik's Viveza) and sharpen it (I use Nik's Sharpener Pro), then I flatten this layered file and save it as an RTP file, meaning a Ready to Print file. 

Sorry for the tech but I thought it valuable to explain my workflow a little. One important thing throughout all this and that is that I have now lived with this particular file for awhile now. I've chosen it, worked on it as a full file and large on my display, I've adjusted and tried to visualize it as a print. I've probably put it away and come back to it another day or after a beer or a coffee or first thing when I woke up.My idea is that it becomes an old friend,  familiar and known as opposed to something I haven't seen before.

The last part of editing? Print it. Carry it through to its end by making a print of your image. There are many forms this final step takes. Most will make small prints cheaply to allow living with them a little. I don't do this. I make full size prints (these days most of my prints are 21 x 14 inches on 22 x 17 inch paper). Foolish? Wasteful?Costly? Maybe, but I feel I need to see it full size to determine whether it is good or not. This is clearly a holdover from my darkroom days in that I was always trying to make the best print be the first print. That seldom happened, of course, as most times I would need to throw the first print out, make some adjustment to the time or the contrast or the size of the print or the burning and dodging, and then make another print.

There's another big step to editing but I will save it for when we get to Editing 3, which will be riveting, I promise.

Topics: Editing

Permalink | Posted April 12, 2014

QUILTS

Quilts? What? You thought this was a photo blog, didn't you? Well it is but when something remarkable happens it's important that I bring it to your attention.

I've learned from past experience that when my friend Peter Vanderwarker says to go see a show, he means it and I should follow his recommendation. In his recent email he was very excited about the show at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts called  "Quilts and Color" up now through July 27. These are quilts from the Pilgrim/Roy Collection, by the way.

So I went. It is downstairs in the new wing, under the cafe'.  This is where they tend to put contemporary shows as the galleries are new and very state of the art. The Quilts show reminded me right off why the MFA is a world class museum. 

Because these magnificent creations are displayed with wonderful light in dark rooms that are quiet, meditative spaces, perfect for looking and really seeing the quilts. No  glass over them, no frames, just hung on the walls, mostly with black around them but sometimes with a complimentary color:

Wall descriptions and texts are minimal and helpful. This is one kick-ass show that will simply blow your socks off. 

Like color? This show is color. Like design? Ditto. Like form? Same. Like texture? Yes. Complexity and simplicity, crucial and soothing, loving and warm, these are descriptions that come to my mind. Think about how these were made, what the quilt's function is, what it means to its maker and the family that owned it. Then think about how this art form comes from every day people and where these quilts hang now. Most of the quilts were made in the 19th century but let's be clear this is an American art form and these incredible quilts were made by women.

The collector, Gerald Roy, quotes one of the quilt makers. She says, "I make my quilts as fast as I can so my children won't freeze and as beautiful as I can so my heart won't break".

"You will not see a more beautiful show anywhere in New England. What a bliss-out."—The Boston Globe


Stressed out? Bummed? Get bad news today? Your job suck? Your faith in humanity at an all time low? Your belief in things getting better shattered by current events? Believe the world is going to hell in a hand basket?

I got very bad news yesterday just before going to see this show. My application for a Guggenheim Fellowship was denied, once again. The application is a great deal of work and it requires four recommendations from top people in your field. There were 3000 applications and 178 winners. My application was as good as I could make it and the people who wrote on my behalf were very important people in photography. I was bummed. I went to the  "Quilts and Color" show and things were okay again, they really were.

Go see this show.

Topics: Color,Commentary,art

Permalink | Posted April 10, 2014

Quite a Day

I'm calling a new body of work "Before and After Aerials" as it is a portfolio of work from before I shot aerials one day in February in the Sacramento River Valley in California as well as pictures made after we landed. This was a marathon day and significant for me personally. It was an affirmation of worth and ability, that I was still able to make pictures of viability, substance and beauty and that I was continuing to move forward; important, if you think about it. Don't stay where you've been. Yes, it is safe there, but it is death artistically and creatively.

At any rate, on the way to the airport for my flight with pilot Stan in Yuba City, the light was beautiful. I was early, as I always seem to be, and stopped along the way to shoot in town.

And at the airstrip before we took off:

When we landed about an hour or so later, I headed back to town but saw this from the highway and got off at the next exit:

I'd never seen one of these before but the company website describes them as being  like a BJ's or Costco without having to pay to join.

The store was huge:

If you look closely you can see there is a flock of pigeons circling in the sky above the store. Along the front were 8 Italian Cyprus trees, looking neglected and sad. The store was closed and it was midday during the week. Not good for Food Maxx.

The massive parking lot free of cars gave me a unique opportunity to put my Mallchitecture hat on once again:

After lunch I was headed back west across the valley towards the coast where I was living in Santa Rosa. But once again, the area was so good I had to stop.

Where there was a barn, derelict and on its way out for sure, looking used and possibly unsafe, standing there proud and beautiful in its purity of form:

About as elegant as anything I'd ever seen.

So, what I've shown you here are the bookends of the day. I wrote about the aerials I made that day here and here. It was a major day. The last thing I made a picture of on my way out of the valley and headed into the mountains to drive back to Santa Rosa was this:

of the fruit trees in bloom. These were the same trees I'd photographed from the air a few hours earlier:

Topics: California,Northwest,Digital,Color

Permalink | Posted April 7, 2014