The Trouble with Presets

There are a ton of new photo enhancing software packages coming out now.  There are some pretty big names putting their foot forward and, like a Phoenix from the ashes, an old friend has been reborn.  This last reference is to the Nik collection of software that has lived a precarious life as an editing program that has been sold from one company to the next, given away to anyone who wanted it for a while, then eventually killed by its developer and left for dead.  With this track record it’s probably easy to think it was junk, but quite the opposite is true.  This suite of programs was used universally by countless photographers, including myself, and seemed to be everyone’s favorite secondary processor after the 800 pound gorilla that is Photoshop.

With all this attention to secondary image processors comes a concern from myself.  Most of these programs deal with Presets, or filters.  This basically means that the program applies a host of global edits to your photo to give it a variety of “looks”.  This could be anything from a retro look, to a high contrast black and white, to a host of film emulations with color casts, blurs, and vignettes added.  This is all well and good, and I don’t deny that sometimes you can be taken aback by the results of these presets, but overall I give them a thumbs down.  I feel they squash the creative process.  I don’t see any true expression coming from the clicking of a button and seeing 20 potential developing scenarios to scroll through.  To be fair, you have countless ways to tweak these effects, but in the end they are all based on these original fundamental presets.  Where’s the exploration?  Where’s the experimentation?  Where’s the risk?  This make photo processing expedient and safe.  There is no journey to this process.  It’s just not for me.  I’ve never used one and probably won’t any time soon.

I suppose there is some value in seeing what “could be”, and yes, there are some wild presets out there, put forth by these software companies and photographers who will sell you whole galleries of these things to use in the programs.  In the end however, the result is someone else’s vision.  Maybe I’m missing something, what do you think?

Enjoy today’s picture.  It’s an image I got recently on a late afternoon walk in a nearby park.  I love this time of year.  Photography is almost simple with all the beauty created by the fall colors.  I hope you like it!!

Until next time…all the best!!!

 

Fall Leaves are Fallin’

DSC_5511-Edit

Hi Everybody!!  Just a quick post today to keep up with everything.  I thought I would share a shot I took on a recent walk through a nearby park.  The fall leaves are in full tilt here in the Northeast and it’s beautiful.  Of course, the high winds most likely lead to a dramatic transformation by the week’s end.

All the best to you and see you soon!!

Ohhh…Adobe!

DSC_9544-Edit

Well if your a photographer, especially if you shoot digital, which is about everyone these days, you probably use Photoshop, and/or Lightroom.  Love it or hate it, everyone edits their photos…everyone.  Some do this with a heavy hand, while others stick to the basics of “clean up”  for what the camera failed to capture.  (I really mean to do a post on my Photoshop pursuits, and I promise I will soon.)  The other function of the Photoshop/Lightroom duo is the storage aspect.  You need somewhere to store and categorize all those photos you take.   Here again, Lightroom provides an answer few find any major faults in.  I’m a fan of these products, I really am, and I’ve used them for years.  The problem with this relationship is that the maker of these programs, Adobe, keeps slapping me in the face.

Once upon a time, you bought these software applications and you had a license to use them forever, but a few years ago, that went away, and now you have no choice but to “subscribe” to their Creative Cloud service.  Initially, the cost was $50 a month and included every application available in Adobe’s Creative Suite of programs.  This allowed for video editing, web design, publishing, and a host of things I will never, ever need.  As a rank amateur, I had been smacked down.  I had no intention of paying $50 a month for something I would never use to its full extent.  Adobe tried all sorts of promos to get people to bite, and eventually they won me over with the Photographer’s Plan.  For $10 a month, I get Photoshop and Lightroom.  All I would ever need, and at a price I could justify.  Said plan still exists, and still costs $10 a month, but I got another smack down this week.  Adobe has just released a second version of Lightroom that is wholly web based.  Apparently, this serves a growing group of professionals who need to edit in the cloud.  This is not me.  The old version of Lightroom still exists, but it has been renamed “Lightroom Classic”.  Lots of people have speculated on this version’s future.  Some believe this is a beginning of the end.  Adobe says “no”, but there is precedent for taking little comfort in such an assertion, but once again, Adobe has firmly pointed at me and said, “Amateur!”  It’s hard to say how many like me use the photographer’s plan as part of their hobby, but maybe this isn’t a niche Adobe is concerned about.  My biggest concern is that if Lightroom Classic goes away, I’ll be forced to store my images in Adobe’s web space, and quite honestly, that will never happen.  Not only because I won’t rely on anyone else to store my images, but also because I have so many of them.  Literally tens of thousands of them encompassing several terabytes of storage.  Buying that much space from Adobe would break me.    So now, I’m left to speculate if I will be using a software that is leading me down a dead end, that at some point will say, “Sorry, ride’s over, please convert to the web based program.”  At that point, years of edits will evaporate as I seek an alternative, which will leave me left out to dry.

Let me just say that I love the photographer’s plan.  It’s fair at the price it charges for the service it provides, and I have gone “all in” on developing my skills with these programs.  So much so that I have shunned the competitors, many of whom have stepped up their game significantly since this whole subscription based model went live.  Not having a perpetual license doesn’t bug me because at this price, the constantly updated forms of these programs are worth the money (don’t tell Adobe that).  However, control of my images is also important to me, and is my paramount concern.  They will live two feet away from me on these hard drives and nowhere else.  Lets hope there are enough photographers like me to make sure Adobe gets this message.  For now, I’m, “drinking the Kool-Aid” with a wary eye.  How about you?

I hope you enjoy today’s image.  It is a heavily processed fall image of a forest path I hike on frequently.  I’ve applied an Orton Effect to give it a dreamy quality.  Thank you Photoshop for providing the  means for this expression.  I hope we have may more years together.

Until next time…All the Best…John

 

 

 

Is it Good?

DSC_0393-Edit

We’ve all been there.  The moment we complete our work, and we take a step back to take it in.  Then comes the question.

Is it Good?

I think as artists we all try to determine if our labors have earned our approval.  But I submit that all too often we are determining the answer to this question from the wrong point of view, and the question we are asking ourselves is a lie.  That is, that all too often we are really asking, “Will anyone else think it’s good?”  And in that we have the true rub.  We are judging our own work through the eyes of others, and trying to determine if we will win their approval.  Let me just start by saying, that while I am guilty of this, as we all are to some degree, I have begun to realize the answer to whether or not I have obtained everyone’s artistic approval of my work, is becoming less important to me.

As artists, we all seek approval from others, but I submit to you, that we must each have an inner satisfaction to our efforts as a fundamental necessity of our pursuits.  This applies across the artistic spectrum, from writing, to painting, to sculpture and yes, photography.  Art needs to be free, and an expression of what we each choose to express, not what we think others want expressed.  This is a step that requires great courage and vulnerability, but in the end, having the approval of others without feeling fulfilled ourselves, leads to empty success.  There are countless expressions for compromised art, from adverse influence to just plain selling out.  Sometimes you need to pay the bills, but when we pursue art on our own terms we find it’s purest expression.

Satisfaction in our own work, on our own terms, does not come easily at first.  We long for acceptance, but as we grow more confident of our abilities, that sense of fulfillment in our achievement comes more easily.  I have begun to find this happy place with my photography, and it has elevated my pursuit of this hobby.  It comes with practice, successes, and many failures, but the road is fun to look back on, if only for a moment, until I cast my gaze forward again.  Because as anyone can tell you, there is no room for comfort in art either.  Comfort leads to stagnation, and a lack of growth…but that’s a story for another day.  Enjoy my shot of a walk in the woods, on a sunny day.  I am pleased with the picture, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say, I hope you like it!!

Until next time…all the best…John

Composition or What’s Your Story

DSC_6453-Edit-EditComposition is such a conundrum. It is clearly the heart and soul of photography. For all the anguish we spend learning the exposure triangle and how to apply it, for all the obsession about proper focus and depth of field. At the end of the day, none of the above matters if what we’ve pointed our camera at doesn’t stir us in some way. As artists, we seek an emotional response from those who view our work, and that simply won’t happen if the picture sucks.

This is tough because as photographers we’re forced to deal with what we get from the scene. It’s up to us to somehow make the viewer of the image not only see, but more importantly feel, what we are experiencing as we take the picture.

This is where I sometimes have trouble with some of the time honored dogma of photography. I’m supposed to be telling a story with the image. Sometimes a picture screams its 1000 words, and other times, I couldn’t come up with a decent paragraph. Do I really need to tell a story? Isn’t it sufficient that I capture a beautiful image? As the sun rises above the clouds on a nondescript grassy hill, and it illuminates the fog on a rolling field with a brilliant golden light. Is that picture really telling a story? I use all my composition rules that I’ve learned to place the peaking sun on one of the “high energy” points of the image, and perhaps a fence leads me into and through the image, but what’s the story? Perhaps you could go on about how the old sun rises above the sloping hill as it has done for eons, illuminating….an on and on. Please excuse me if I admit, that to me, that’s all just artsy fluff. It’s a beautiful picture taken at the perfect moment of the day. End of story. 500px is rife with golden hour shots taken in mountains all over the world. Each is a little bit different, but if they are telling a story, it’s a pretty common one. In these cases I submit that the photographer is paying homage to the beauty of the scene, and the story, if there is one, is an afterthought.

Please don’t take this to mean that I don’t believe that proper care and consideration of the moment are necessary to create a great image. Or, that taking an image without considering its story diminishes all the wonders possible from a great photograph, but sometimes the visceral pursuit overcomes the cerebral one. Personally, I have no problem with that. Especially, if the person gets that look on their face all us photographers know, when someone looking at our image is hit with it as though it were a left hook from a prize fighter, and they simply say, “Wow, that’s beautiful.” It’s a satisfying feeling that screams mission accomplished.

I hope you like today’s image.  This is a horse stable near my home.  I consider myself lucky to live near such a rich photographic subject as I have taken many pictures in and around this place.  I just wish the horses had been up and walking around already on this particular morning.  Have a great day.  Go out there and make a great picture.

All the Best…John

Gear or Megapixels vs. Grey Matter

Once upon a time, not too long ago, I got a package delivered to my doorstep, wrapped in brown heavy gauge paper. It wasn’t very big, maybe about a cubic foot in size, but true to the old axiom, good things do come in little packages, and I had been waiting for this one. I could tell from the labels this was what I had been waiting for. I had tracked it’s movement across several states each day knowing it was closer to arriving. I tore into the package with a wholehearted vigor that would put a child on Christmas day to shame. I finally reached the inner golden box emblazoned with the markings Nikon D810. It had finally arrived. After months of craving, and planning, I was finally holding my new camera upgrade. Stepping up from a D90, the 810 was a full frame sensor camera roughly equal in size to the 35mm film I used to shoot in the 80’s and 90’s. It was, at the time, the highest resolution DSLR camera (35megapixels) on the market, anywhere in the world. And…I had my very own copy. Surely, this would make me a better photographer.

A few months, and a few thousand pictures later, I began to realize something.  I was a better photographer, but not because my camera had 35 megapixels.  It was because I had taken several thousand pictures, and was smarter for the effort.  I had always heard the saying that cameras don’t make pictures, people do, and a host of other philosophies that drive the point home that the photographer is way more important than the camera they are using.  I mostly agreed with that point, the heart and emotion of an image come from the human pressing the shutter, not the camera collecting the photons.  A few years ago, a popular video blogger  (DigitalRev) did a series of pieces where he would give world renowned photographers the absolute worst cameras, and force them to use it for a day.  The result was hysterical, especially for a camera geek like me.  But it was also photographic brilliance,  even when the camera was a 25 year old point and shoot, a 2 megapixel antique, or even a child’s toy camera made out of Legos.  The experiment demonstrated the genius of the photographers using the cameras, not the cameras themselves.  Fuel for the old adage that the most important accessory to any camera sits 6-8 inches behind the lens, i.e. the photographer’s brain.

Well, this week was an interesting one for me as my beloved D810 slipped into obsolescence. The Nikon D850 was released on Thursday, and by Friday, the internet was littered with unboxing videos, and in depth reviews of Nikon’s newest gem.  The 850 has 45 megapixels, 8K hi-res time lapse, and a host of other goodies, but I’ll pass. To be sure, the 850 has a host of ergonomic improvements, and features that facilitate the picture making progress, but while things like back-illuminated buttons would be appreciated, their not worth the cost of admission.  Taking the high road doesn’t come easy, but at $3200 USD, it’s a lot easier decision to make.   For now, I’ll keep on going with my D810 and concentrate on the craft more so than the technology, and happily so.

Today’s picture comes from a sunrise in New Mexico, shot during a 2 week back packing excursion I did with my son last summer.  More about that later.  It was taken with a Nikon J5, not my D810.  When your backpacking, you go light and the 14 ounce J5 wins out over the 3 pound D810.

Until next time…all the best!!!

Everything Old is New Again or Here We Go Again

Hi. Well it’s been quite a while. I’m sure you thought I’d given up on all this. Or, that perhaps I was hit by a bus or something. It’s complicated to explain but overall, the blog was not living up to expectations. Not only from a readership standpoint, but also in a self fulfillment sort of way. Like I said, it’s complicated.

Overall, when I started this blog, I had some preconceived notions of how it would work, how it would progress, and most importantly, what my message would be. I’m not sure that there needs to be a point to all blogs, but I wanted mine to have one, and I wasn’t happy with that end of things. That’s the main reason for the retreat on my posts. I needed a break, and I needed plan. For want of the former, and lack of the latter, everything just stopped. A creative meltdown.

I really can’t believe how time has slipped away. It has been over a year since my last post. I suppose if you are reading this, you are either the biggest fan I didn’t know I had, or more likely, you’re finding me for the first time. In either case, I’m glad your here.

Please don’t think that over the last year I have put down my camera. In fact, quite the opposite is true. I have made more time for my photography than ever before, and have worked on this amazing craft harder than I ever have. I have not only considered my approach in the field, but also my approach to post processing with the dreaded photoshop. I absolutely use post processing because I honestly believe that the camera is inferior to my eye in rendering what I see, and completely lacking in what I see in my mind’s eye. I believe, these artistic considerations, allow for some manipulation to achieve what I want to achieve with an image. That is, of course, every artist’s personal opinion, and now you have mine. As I’ve said, I have worked hard over the last year trying to improve my craft, and I hope you will see some growth as I continue to post.

I’ve also gotten a bit more realistic with time.  Every doctrine of Blog Success says you need to post and post often.  Honestly, I don’t know if I’ll ever get to that point.  This is after all, a hobby for me, and I have a day job.  Would I like to make money from my photography?  Sure.  Do I think I could achieve that by somehow creating a brand on line?  Maybe.  Will I try that sometime in the future?  Probably.  Will I quit my day job?  Not anytime soon.  I’m a starving artist trapped in a pragmatic, overly cautious body; guided by the ones and zeros of logic, always dreaming of life outside binary decision trees.  It’s a hell of a way to live.

Anyway, I’m glad your here, and I hope you find something worth returning for.  As I type this, I see a blog of great potential brewing.  Photography is, for me, such an amazing pursuit, and it fills in what would be otherwise dull, blank spaces in my life.  I hope to honor it at least a well as it serves me.   I choose, today, a picture of a path leading toward the rising sun.  Somewhat symbolic of the journey that is the resumption of this blog.  Where does it lead?  Let’s figure that out together.

All the best to you, and until next time….John

Cormorants Everywhere!!

DSC_3237

Howdy everyone!  I hope you all had a nice start to the work week.  Mondays can be so blah after the weekend.  Especially after a busy one. Sometimes you need a day off from the weekend!!  That was sort of where I was at when my alarm went off this morning.

Anyway,  I thought I would post a picture of some cormorants today.  These guys were enjoying a sunny rock a little downstream from the base of Niagara Falls.  They seemed to be just hanging out, and had no special concerns for the time being. Cormorants are the best fishers on the planet, and they really seemed to like this rock.  If I were fishing in this area, I’d probably take a lesson from these birds and throw my line in right by this rock.  You can see the power of the current as it flows past the rock.  At different times, one or more of them would spread their wings to dry out a bit.  I must have taken half a dozen pictures trying to get one doing this in a way that looked dramatic.  This is the best result of that effort.  This was one of those times that I wished I had my 300mm lens available to me, but it was in the hotel room.  I know…that was a great place for it now wasn’t it?  I hate when I get lazy with my gear and try to travel light instead.  The result is usually a frustrating situation like this.  Sometimes I’ll wish it was like Star Trek, and I could just “beam” back to my gear, and get the stuff I needed.  Of course, this type of thinking does me no good.  It’s at times like this that I’m glad I have 36 megapixels to work with.  I probably cropped 30 of them away to get this composition.  That means that aside from a 5 by 7, this image is at it’s fullest size.

Next time, and yes, there will be a next time, I will take all my gear.  These are majestic birds, and they deserve the full potential of what my 300mm lens can do. You live and you learn.  A good lesson not only for photography, but for just about anything else too.  It’s better to have it, and not need it, than need it, and not have it.  Take care and have a great week.

Times Square and a Little….Luck?

DSC_5145

Hi everyone.  I really have to apologize for my extended absence.  Things have been a little crazy with work, and on the home front.  I’ve been to fencing matches, dance studios, and nearly the ER, for a possible broken toe with my daughter.  It’s been a couple of wild days for sure.  I decided to go for another Times Square post today.  Times Square is one of those places that no matter how you point your camera, something amazing is in your field of view.  On this particular night, we had finished eating a little further uptown at Ellen DeGeneres’s restaurant where all the waiters and waitresses are Broadway musical hopefuls, hoping to be discovered.  Trust me, this place takes the singing waiter to an entirely new level as the wait staff perform songs from all the big shows on Broadway, while serving your food.  It is a super fun time, and the food is awesome as well.  Anyway,  we had eaten a late dinner, and were walking around Times Square checking out all the shopping venues.  Naturally, my daughter had some strong opinions there.  At one point, as we crossed the street going between these stores, I literally stopped, pointed the camera up the street, and grabbed this picture.  I can only imagine what the cabbie was thinking as I stood in front of his car to grab this shot while the “Don’t Walk” sign began to blink.   No prior planning was involved, and it turned out to be one of my favorite pictures of the whole weekend.

Photography, is funny like that.  Sometimes you spend 10 minutes standing with your camera trying to compose a picture, and never quite get the look you’re trying to achieve.  Then, other times, you stumble bass-ackwards into something that really stirs you and strikes a nerve. When it happens, you don’t know how to feel about it.  You’d like to take credit for a great photo, but you know it was the result of unseen variables that miraculously aligned for you.  Call it luck if you will.  I once had mentor who didn’t believe in luck.  He always said that you make your own luck, but I’m not so sure.  A point to ponder; I guess.  All the best.  See you soon and be well.

Dreamy Waterfall

DSC_4830-Edit

Well, it’s time for a little experimentation.  I have been fooling around with photoshop a little bit trying to create a “dreamscape” type of shot.  You might notice that some areas of this picture are kind of blurry, and some are in relatively crisp focus.  It’s an effect I’ve seen out there and I really like it.  Some would call it a painterly effect, but I don’t really think that’s what I’m going for.  I’m sure that if you asked 10 photographers how they achieve their unique effect, you’d get 11 different answers.  Mine involves Gaussian blur in one layer and a high pass filter effect for ultra crispness in another layer.  Then I used a layer mask to paint blurriness in.  I used a reduced flow brush to put more blur in some areas than others and believe me, lots and lots of use of the history tool to erase all kinds of mistakes.  Overall, I’m pretty ok with the end result, but I reserve the right to work a little more on the technique.  I’ve heard of photographers taking two different pictures to create this same effect.  Each picture set at a different aperture for a different depth of field, or two completely differently focused images.  This might be a great idea, however, I had no idea I was going to try that with this image when I took it; so I only had the one image to work with.  I’ve also heard of people using textures to achieve this effect.  Like I said, 10 photographers, 11 answers.  If you’ve ever tried this sort of thing let me know.  That is if you don’t mind sharing your secret sauce.

A quick note about this picture.  It is, of course, of a waterfall.  As I’ve said before, waterfalls are one of my favorite subjects.  I took this image at Rickets Glen State Park, which is a short drive from my home.  I’ve posted waterfall shots from this place before, and I have plenty more to share. There are a few dozen of them in the park.  It was late afternoon, and a really hot day.  Some friends of ours from the UK were with us, and we happily obliged them in a quick nature hike along a cool stream.  Later that evening, we roasted marshmallows and made them speak with American accents!!  It was awesome and hysterical!!!  Almost as funny as our British accents, that is!!