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This blog is intended to showcase my pictures or those of other photographers who have moved beyond the pretty picture and for whom photography is more than entertainment - photography that aims at being true, not at being beautiful because what is true is most often beautiful..

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Entries in civilized ku, manmade landscape (1496)


civilized ku # 3082 / comparison ~ channeling Stephen Shore

kids V2 ~ Whitehall, NY - just outside the Adirondack PARK • click to embiggen
Stephen Shore ~ from the book UNCOMMON PLACES • click to embiggen
comparison • click to embiggen

Relative to yesterday's entry and the recent entry, digital / pre-digital color, I thought I would share a comparison between how a RAW converter / processor sees a RAW file and what the same file looks like after I tweak the a and b channels in the RAW converter / processor. iMo, an amazing difference / good clean color. Take particular note of the "restaurant" word mural and the weathered wood window frames - both are rendered with very clean / accurate color.

Also thought I would share my picturing experience, re: kids - Whitehall, NY ... after stopping in Whitehall to see the Skene Manor I wanted to make a picture of the Manor from the village in order to present its dominating presence up on the hill. First I made a few pictures from a vantage point across the street by the mailbox (as seen beyond the kids). Then standing in the street. And finally, between 2 corner buildings which framed the scene.

Turning around after walking to that last vantage point, a vision of a Stephen Shore picture immediately came to mind. I also knew, at that moment, that I would be presenting an 8×10-proportion picture as a short of homage to Mr. Shore. He was, after all, one of my early picture making inspirations. Or, more accurately, early on après my get-beyond-the-pretty-picture epiphany.

civilized ku # 3079-81 ~ 200+ nautical miles from the ocean

kids ~ Whitehall, NY - just outside the Adirondack PARK • click to embiggen
plaque ~ Whitehall, NY - just outside the Adirondack PARK • click to embiggen
Skene Manor ~ Whitehall, NY - just outside the Adirondack PARK • click to embiggen

During our return from Marlborough, Mass. on Sunday, we stopped in the small village of Whitehall, NY (pop. 2,617). A town located just outside of the Adirondack PARK - by about 400 feet - near the Vermont border that is on the down side of prosperity.

Strange as it might seem, the village claims to be the birthplace of the United States Navy. Strange because the village is over 200 nautical miles form the Atlantic Ocean.

However, in 1776, Congress ordered that a fleet of ships be built. Materials, supplies, carpenters, soldiers, and sailors descended upon Skenesborough Harbor (later named Whitehall), located at the lower reaches of Lake Champlain on the Champlain Canal. The first US naval fleet was constructed that summer.

The fleet of thirteen ships, led by no other than Benedict Arnold, joined three other American vessels to form a 16-vessel naval fleet which faced the 30-vessel British fleet in the Battle of Valcour Island (northern Lake Champlain) on October 11, 1776.

Although the Americans were defeated, the Americans inflicted enough damage on the British fleet to delay their attacks on Crown Point and Fort Ticonderoga and to retreat to winter camp in Canada. This allowed the Americans time to adequately prepare for the 1777 Battle of Saratoga in which the British were defeated, considered by many to be the turning point of the American Revolution.

In another who-would've-guessed-it bit of history, Whitehall was also home to quite a number of silk mills. Bringing a good deal of prosperity to the village, the mills flourished from 1848 until the mid-twentieth century at which time the advent of synthetic fibers severely reduced the demand for silk.

Who would've thought - the birthplace of the U.S. Navy and the silk trade in a tiny Adirondack village?

civilized ku # 3078 ~ the perfect refrigerator ...

hotel room refrigerator ~ Marlborough, Mass. • click to embiggen
....everything one needs for a long youth hockey tournament weekend.


civilized ku # 3077 / diptych # 212 ~ digital / pre-digital color

camera strap ~ Manhattan, NYC, NY • click to embiggen
stuff in bowls ~ Manhattan, NYC, NY / Au Sable Forks, NY - in the Adirondack PARK • click to embiggen

Without getting into a highly technical comparison of film vs. digital image capture, this entry addresses what is most commonly referred to as the primary difference, as seen in prints, between digital and film output. Namely, the excessively vibrant / saturated color exhibited in much of the output from digital sensors/cameras.

While different image processing engines from different camera manufacturers do have their own unique color signature, the exaggerated color vibrancy / saturation seen in prints generated from digital output is rarely the result of a camera's processing engine (with the exception of in-camera generated jpegs). In virtually all cases, the cause of the problem can be found in how a image file is processed after the file is out of the camera and into the hands of the picture maker.

All RAW processing software and photo editing software - Photoshop, LR, and the like - is capable of producing clean well-balanced natural color much like that obtained using a traditional color negative film from KODAK (iMo, the gold standard of natural color). However, the # 1 tool for producing such results is also the # 1 tool for screwing things up...


Rather than trying to create an online primer on the use of CURVES, let me just mention a few do's and don't's, re: color image file processing (if your goal is natural color):

1) never shoot jpegs, always shoot RAW.
2) use a RAW processor which allows for WB fine tuning - that is, after setting a good WB point, an ability to fine tune at least the red / green component of that WB setting (independent of using CURVES).
3) in a RAW processor or PS/LR, never, ever, use the RGB curve to adjust contrast. Adjust contrast in the LAB colorspace L (lightness) channel to avoid the inevitable color saturation which results from bending the RGB curve.
4) never use sliders to adjust contrast, brightness or color. Use CURVES.
5) use a RAW processing program which allows adjustments to be made in LAB colorspace.
6) proper use of CURVES in individual color channels (RGB and LAB) will minimize the use of H&S sliders for anything other than very minor tweaks (a good thing). I use the LAB a channel (red/green) and b channel (yellow/blue) for my primary hue and saturation adjustments.
7) learn at least some basics about LAB colorspace.
8) avoid over-sharpening like the plague.
9) come to grips with the idea that not every picture requires a full tonal range (10-250ish).

These basic do's and don't's are not the end-all and be-all of natural color P's & Q's. However, it's pretty difficult to obtain clean well-balnaced natural color without nothing and understanding them.

FYI, off to Marlborbough, Massachusetts. Will post tomorrow.

civilized ku # 3075-76 / diptych # 211 ~ there and back again

view from hotel window ~ Concord, NH • click to embiggen
Apple Store ~ Montreal, QC, CA • click to embiggen
umbrellas ~ Manhattan, NYC, NY • click to embiggen

From 1 week ago Friday past to this past Sunday (10 days), I have spent 3 days in Concord, NH, 2 days in Manhattan , NYC and 2 days in Montreal, QC, CA. Needless to write, I haven't had much time for posting entries. However, I have had time to think.

Much of my thinking has been on topics, photography wise, instigated by 2 primary factors - 1) "...Many contemporary photographers lament the “lifelessness” of digital images. We look at the picture, admire its vibrant colors and sharp lines, and still can’t help but feel nostalgic for the photographs of the old, pre-digital age." (Pavel Kosenko, author, LIFELIKE:A Book on Color), and 2) my recent acquisition (in NYC) of the book, SAUL LEITER: Early Color. And, to my way of thinking, items 1 and 2 are very closely related inasmuch as one is nostalgic for pre-digital age color and the other is a tour de force of pre-digital age color.

Pavel Kosenko's nostalgic lament is somewhat understandable to me inasmuch as I still believe that some of the pre-digital C prints I made were indeed beautiful, color space / tonal wise. That standard / benchmark of representational color and tonal value is still the one I aim to replicate in today's digital era. In doing so, I am very much de-digitalizing my digital picture files and have been doing so since my early digital picture making days.

My issue with the current standard / benchmark (for so many) of tack sharp, noise (aka grain) free and somewhat over-vibrant color is, to my eye and sensibilities, rather plastic or not lifelike as in the sense of not real or sincere. While many who ascribe to that picturing M.O. would state that they are trying to make "realistic" pictures, in fact (again, to my eye and sensibilities) they are making pictures which appear to be hyperreal as in the sense of something fake and artificial which comes to be more definitive of the real than reality itself.

You know, like the Nexus 6 replicants manufactured by the Tyrell Corporation which were made to be more human than human.

Inasmuch as Kosenko seems to think that replicating the look of analog film is the answer to introducing "life" to color pictures - he advocates for a RAW developer that is at its heart an effect app-like program with many presets for various types of analog films - I would disagree with his rational / nostalgic longings for "photographs of the pre-digital age".

Are pre-digital photographs more real (or less real) than digital era photographs? I think not. Are they more pleasant to the eye than the current crop digital picturing 'perfection'? iMo, unquestionably so. They are, to my eye and sensibilities, 'softer' and more gentle to behold.

Perhaps that is what I am experimenting with adding 'grain' (monochromatic digital noise) to my pictures - like those in this entry's diptych.

civilized ku # 3074 ~ is photography a mirror or a window Pt.2?

Sunday morning ~ Old Montreal, QC, CA • click to embiggen

Or, is it both?


civilized ku # 3071 ~ does it ring true?

place mat ~ Wilmington, NY - in the Adirondack PARK

I haven't posted since early last week, not because I had nothing to write but rather that I was preoccupied by matters color processing wise and I am experiencing a problem with uploading and resizing pictures here on Squarespace. Therefore, today's picture has no embiggen feature.

The problem on Squarespace started on Friday and has yet to be fixed although according to SS support, "[T]he whole image processing part of our platform is being actively looked at. We're hoping for a fix as soon as possible, and our engineers are currently working on it." They're hoping. I'm hoping. When a fix will be had, who knows.

That written, back to matters color processing wise - there have been a couple entries on TOP regarding color - Color Calibration and Color Photoshopping (on which I had a featured comment). And, on another TOP entry, mention was made of book, LIFELIKE: A Book on Color in Digital Photography in which the author attempts to address the "increasing lack of satisfaction with digital color" with techniques which, in a sense, replicate pre-digital film-like color and tonality.

I purchased the book (e-book for MAC platform only) out of curiosity and my return on investment was virtually nonexistent. While his thoughts on color are good and somewhat in line with my own, the author spends way to much digital ink on how past masters in the realm of painting handled color. While a reader might learn something about color theory and its application in painting, I fail to see its relevance to making pictures in the medium of photography.

In addition, his method for obtaining pre-digital color and tonality (film-like) depends on the use of a RAW converter - Raw Photo Processor (RPP) (free software, albeit for the MAC platform only) - which has a rather clunky non-intuitve interface and requires a pretty comprehensive re-think of the RAW conversion process.

I spent a fair amount of time using RPP on images I had previously processed using my standard RAW conversion software - Iridient Developer, a converter which is noted for its natural film-like output - and, quite frankly, it did not produce any results that I couldn't achieve using the ID software. But then again ...

... the results I achieve from ID software are obtained by using my 40+ years of technical color experience. Experience which is put to use in the cause of producing clean, well-balanced natural yet rich (non-garish, non-over saturated) color in my pictures.

None of the above should be understood or construed as a reason not to purchase the book or download RPP and give a try. I am certain that both could be of value to anyone who is interested in exploring color options that are much more life-like than that which is spit out by the 'canned' defaults in LR / CR and other such RAW converters.

civilized ku # 3069-70 ~ what's wrong with 'muddy'?

drooping flowers ~ Au Sable Forks, NY - in the Adirondack PARK • click to embiggen
375 cold beers ~ Keeseville, NY - in the Adirondack PARK • click to embiggen

Back in the good ol' days of analog color picture making - film+messy chemicals+dust+drying cabinets+print dryers - picture makers were rather limited - without employing time-consuming and technically challenging printing techniques - in their print making, tonal range wise. There was no such thing as contrast-graded color papers. There were a variety of color papers available from different manufacturers (and color films) which had their own distinct visual characteristics but that was about it, choice wise, in exercising control, re: tonal range.

In today's much less messy color picture making world, the tonal range of a picture can be just about anything the picture maker wants it to be. However, the technical perfectionists have elevated their concern about the dynamic range of sensors to the level of a fetish. Not that there is anything wrong with wide dynamic range sensor, especially so in very high contrast picturing situations, but, iMo, that fetish has lead to the idea that, to be good, a color print must always have a maximized tonal range - think 5-250 (out of 0-255).

That idea is most likely a holdover from Sir Ansel's B&W Zone System in which a print must have tonal information in all 10 zones to be considered good. Less than that and a print is judged to be 'muddy' and who wants 'muddy' pictures?

The problem with that idea is that it tends to negate the the fact that, in the real world, not everyday or picturing situation is a full-range, tonal wise, sunny day. There are cloudy days (of varying degrees of cloudiness), there are scenes which are in complete shadow, there are rainy days, there are snowy days, there is soft artificial light, etc.

In the Zone System way of doing things a handheld spot light meter was an essential tool. One must measure the real-world tonal range and, if it was less than perfect (0-10), say, 0-4, then one must process the film and choose a contrast grade paper to restore the imperfect world to a perfect 0-10 one, picture wise.

All of that written and back to analog color and its inherent tonal control limitations, if one were to make pictures on a cloudy day, it pretty much ended up printing out like a cloudy day, aka: in some people's minds as 'muddy'. In my mind, it just looked like a cloudy day should look like in a color print and, iMO, so much the better for it.

The word which comes to my mind, relative to 'attenuated' (so called) tonal range is, "subtlety". And subtlety, tonal range wise (and color wise), in the digital picture making era seems to be a lost or dying art.

iMo, more's the pity, cuz everyday is not a sunny day.
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