Free Presentation Tonight

A new photo to get you excited for my presentation tonight! I made this at the start of summer at Kennedy Space center. It was a super challenging subject to photograph because of the spotlit white tiles and the black tiles hiding in the shadows. Really made me push the limits of the camera. 

Tonight’s talk is an free introduction to my four week class with Creative Photo Academy on creating classic B&W photographs with digital tools. I’ll explain what the classic look is, and give you a sneak peak at the tools and thought process I use to create it.

The talk starts at 5 pm PST (California time!) but you need to sign up now at https://creativephotoacademy.com/events/richseiling/ to get the zoom invite.

Looking forward to seeing you all tonight!

What is “Fine Art” Photography?

Fine Art Photographyis one of those buzzwords that gets thrown around a lot in photography even though if we were really honest, we’d probably say we don’t really know what it means. And too often, it seems like it just gets slapped onto a product for marketing purposes,  as some validation of quality. 

While I have a really good image in my head of what a fine art photography, or a fine art print is, I admit I’ve been a bit stumped to articulate it when asked for a definition. I think that is because it’s not so much of a simple definition or measurement as it is a culmination of experiences and an understanding of the history of photography. 

It starts with understanding that over the last 100-150 years of modern photography, there have been some pretty amazing photographers, who’s vision, and ability to translate that vision through prints, have distinguished their work from the masses.

These photographers have captured the attention of curators, gallerists, and collectors who have an extensive breadth and depth of knowledge of photography, that has come from seeing so much truly amazing work up close and in person. 

If an artist’s work has been regularly shown over a period of time by these curators and gallerists in museums and collector galleries (not the photographer’s own gallery), and has developed a following of collectors, it’s quite probable that it is an example of fine art photography. 

Another place we can look to are photo history books. John Szarkowski’s  “Photography Until Now” or  Beaumont Newhall’s “The History of Photography: From 1839 to the Present” will give you both depth and breadth on what fine art photography is. Newhall was the first director of New York’s Museum of Modern Art’s photography department and went on to serve as curator and then director of the International Museum of Photograph at the George Eastman House. Szarkowski served nearly 20 years as Director of Photography at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, as well as authoring many definitive photo history books. 

We can also look to the community of friends an artist associates with to find more examples. This was the starting point for my own education, when I became familiar with the work of Ansel Adams, then through his books discovered Edward Weston, John Sexton, Alan Ross, and at least a couple dozen other West Coast photographers, all who made extraordinary work. 

Pull on any one of these threads I’ve given you, and you will find an ever widening circle of understanding of what “Fine Art” means. 

But there is another vital component: looking at prints. For only a sliver of time have our phones been the most common way to view photography. And our screens are a disappointment compared to a well made print or even book reproduction. 

If you want to understand what a fine art photograph is supposed to look like, you have to put in the effort to go out and see as many original prints as you can. 

No one becomes an expert on wine from drinking one bottle. If your first experience was with a low quality table wine, you might think wine wasn’t even that great. But if you’ve been able to try different styles and qualities of wine (or Scotch, food, music, beer), you’d likely develop an understanding of what is good and what isn’t, and what you prefer.  Why should we think it be any different with prints? 

The good news is you can experience the best in photography for the cost of gas and a museum ticket. Fine art galleries exists in many metropolitan cities across the world, with new exhibits on a regular basis. You’re probably within a days drive of an art museum, if not closer. Get out and find what is near you, and avail yourself of the opportunities to see all you can. 

It’s only through this pursuit of knowledge and understanding that you can really understand what a “Fine Art Photograph” is, because knowledge, not some arbitrary measurement, gives the label meaning.

And the best news is that it’s fun! I can’t count the number of times I’ve been inspired by an exhibit or a gallery visit, and how it’s fueled my excitement and enjoyment in the continued pursuing of making expressive photographs. 

If you take the time to pursue this knowledge, you’ll deepen your understanding of photography and develop your own definition of what fine art photography is.  It will make you a better photographer and your photographs will be better for it. 

The Value of Looking at Prints

For me, looking at a finely crafted print is one of the most enjoyable experiences photography has to offer. But It’s wasn’t something I understood intuitively when I first started in photography, it’s an appreciation that developed from my experiences. And one experience in particular was a major turning point on that journey. 

When I was just 20 years old, I took a workshop with John Sexton and Philip Hyde in Yosemite National Park, two superb photographers and masters of the craft. 

During the evening sessions, we looked at prints. Lots of them. And not just quantity, but quality. The prints Sexton and Hyde showed were mind blowing, transcendent, of which I have insufficient superlatives to express. Prints where you have to settle with that knowing look and head nod that can be shared by two people who have a similar refined knowledge and appreciation for fine printmaking of just how amazing they were because they are beyond words.

It was a life changing experiences, and that may be an understatement. 

But why was this so profound? I’d seen their work in books before, but my real life exposure to truly fine printing was limited to what I’d seen at a couple museum exhibitions of vintage prints from other artists. 

What was striking was how much more expression was revealed in the actual prints than could be shown by the reproductions made by ink on paper. Reproductions are never as good as the original, and that still hold true today. 

Chances are the only way you’ve seen photographs from your friends and favorite photographers is on a screen, and maybe just your tiny phone. 

I’d like you to consider that you’ve seen just a dull glimmer of what these photos are really like, because the screen is not capable of conveying all that a print can.Our screens and devices have allowed us to be exposed to more photography than ever before, but what we’ve gained in breadth, we’ve sacrificed for depth. 

Just looking at a picture of a dish from a restaurant I want to visit isn’t the same as actually eating it. The picture is devoid of all the layers, flavors, smells, and complexities of the real thing. 

And honestly, seeing a photo on a screen is lacking the same way to me. Now granted, my experiences have made me a bit biased. In my time as a curator at The Ansel Adams Gallery, I was exposed to the finest printing the 20th century had to offer. And as a fine art printmaker, I’ve been able to make museum quality prints for many photographers who’s work I greatly admire. I’ve seen a lot, and that my expectations are based on that. 

But you don’t have to have the same experiences as me to appreciate this, and that is the whole point.

There is a much deeper layer of photography you can experience by looking at prints. There is a value in making your own prints, and taking the time to track down prints made by photographers who you’ve only admired in a instagram post. There is a whole world to discover beyond the screen, and all it requires is realizing this experience exists and taking the time to visit galleries, museums, and exhibitions to see real prints.  If you don’t, then you are really missing out on one of the best parts of photography. So what are you waiting for. 

Pannel Discussion Nov 19, 2020

If you are looking for a followup to my talk last night, I’ll be a panelist Thursday on the round-table discussion “The Importance of Print”. It’s going to be a chance to pick the brain of some of the industry’s experts.

The Panelists:

  • Veronica Cotter – Western Region Education Development and Sales Manager for Hahnemühle USA
  • Rich Seiling – Master Printmaker and former Assistant Curator at The Ansel Adams Gallery
  • Michael Bain – Representative of Harman Technology / Ilford Photo
  • Evan Parker – Education Specialist from Legion Paper (Moab / Canson)
  • Cha Levias – Assistant Manager at Looking Glass Photo and longtime printer

Online via Zoom for free at https://www.lookingglassphoto.com/blogs/photography-news/the-importance-of-the-print-a-roundtable-panel-dis/

Hope to see you there!

Processing for Print Instead of for Screen

When you process your photos, are you trying to make them look good for screen or are you thinking about how they will print? And why is this even a question? 

Well if you’ve ever made a print and had it come back looking nothing like your screen, you’ve experienced why this matters. 

And not only do screens look different from prints, every screen looks different! 

Every.Single.One.

If you don’t believe me, next time you walk into Costco, look at all the giant flat screen TVs and see how different every one looks. 

The harsh reality is that when it comes to displaying our photos on a phone, tablet, or computer, It’s going to look different on every device. Throw in what instagram or facebook is doing to your photos and the same photo may even look different on the same device!

Trying to adjust to this every moving target is just chasing your tail. Great Rich, thanks for that little nugget of wisdom, but what do I do about it?

The answer lies in picking a more consistent standard, and for me that standard is prints. 

With the right workflow, prints allow a higher degree of control and consistency. So instead of processing something to look good on my screen when I know it will look different on your screen, my goal is to process the file so that it will make a good print. 

That’s a great goal, but what are some practical steps to achieve it. 

Well, first, I have to know my monitor well enough to get past the screen to print differences I talked about earlier. I do that with a mix of experience, knowing what a certain result on screen will produce on print.  I also use the info tool to read the pixel values ( “the numbers” ) so that I can make precise adjustments beyond what the screen can show me. 

Learning to understand what how the screen will translate to print is what I call an “mental calibration” as you are training your vision to compensate for differences between the two. It’s a learnable skill, but it does take practice. 

You can improve the process by “calibrating” your display with a device like the x-rite color monkey, and by using special reference monitors designed for screen to print matching ( I use a NEC MultiSync PA242W which you can read about in a previous article.)

Using that process, the processing decisions I make lead me to a file that I think will print the way I want. And if it will print the way I want, then this is the “most accurate” version of the file. 

So when I share this file on the web or social media, I’m starting with the best possible source. Since I know it’s being viewed on countless devices I have no control over, I know that at least I was feeding in the best original I could. 

So what happens if you work the opposite way? Making it look good for the screen with no regard for the print?

If you never print, that is a perfectly valid way to work. But it builds in a “gotcha” if you decide to print one of those files, chances are it will look nothing like your screen. 

It’s really easy to push a file so far in such a way that still looks good on screen but moves outside the realm of what can ever be produced in a print. That doesn’t mean screens are better…in fact quite the opposite. What it means is that a screen is imprecise enough that it can hide a lot of bad processing decisions that become glaringly obvious on print. 

There is a saying in the music world that if you can’t play well, then play loud. Screens are kinda like that. 

You can get so used to hearing your photo “loud” on screen that when you switch to prints, which are capable of so much more depth and subtlety, that you can’t make the two meet. By processing my file for print, I don’t run into this problem.

Because I never expect the print to look just like it does on screen, I’m setting up a different expectation in my mind than that held by a photographer who seldom prints. Furthermore, I never expect that when I share my photo on the internet that it will look exactly the way it does on my precisely color managed monitor at home. It all comes down choosing a set of expectations that meet your particular needs, and using a workflow that helps you consistently achieve those expectations.  

Are you using cloud backup but not local backup? Your data is at risk.

If you don’t have a local backup in addition to your cloud backup, there is a big hole in your backup plan that you may not be aware of. Cloud backup takes time, because it has to go across your internet connection. For small documents like word processing, spreadsheets, you won’t see any problems. But photographers don’t deal in such small files. How often do you come back form the field with 32GB or more of data? How long does that take to upload to the cloud? If you can’t answer that, then your data may be at risk. 

Here’s an example. Last month I returned from teaching a workshop with 100GB of new files that needed to be added to the hard drive where I store all my photos. Checking my BackBlaze control panel, I see that my upload rate is 28GB per day. That means it would to take three and a half days before all my data is transmitted to Backblaze. And for most of those three days, my data is at risk of loss. 

That’s why we need local backup in addition to cloud backup.

My backup plan includes several “backup” drives that I use with CarbonCopyCloner to keep exact duplicates of my main hard drive. Whenever I download photos from my memory cards, I immediately make a backup onto the backup drives before I erase the card. I can do this in a matter of minutes, not days like an online backup takes, so I can get an almost instant backup of my new photos.

So why use cloud backup when it can take days instead of minutes? Because we need to protect against extreme disasters. 

What if my house burns down, or my drives are stolen? Or a virus? Even with multiple copies of my data in one location, there are a number of very real ways those could all be destroyed. Putting a copy in the cloud gives me an “offsite” backup that is protected from local disasters like fire, flood, theft, etc. It make take a couple days to get it all uploaded, so there is still some risk, but I’ve greatly lessened my overall risk by having both onsite and offsite. backups 

Understanding your needs and how your backup plan works will go a long way to protecting your work. 

To make improve your backup plan, think about your answers to the following questions:

  1. Do you have an on site backup?

2. Do you have an off site backup?

3. How fast can you upload a 32BG shoot to the cloud?

4. Are your backups automated and run regularly?

Canon Printer Overview – November 2020

For those who want to print at home, Canon has updated their desktop size professional/fine art inkjet printers recently. The new PIXMA PRO-200 and imagePROGRAPF PRO-300 provide much needed updates, as the PRO-100 was getting quite dated given the state of the art of inkjet printing in 2020. 

If you are thinking about buying a printer, I’m going to walk through the current Cannon offerings with my thoughts on the advantages of each. 

PIXMA PRO-200 – 13 inch wide prints  MSRP $699

This is the “entry level” printer for 13” wide making photo quality prints. It offers two shades of gray ink which I consider necessary for pleasing black and white prints. I’ve not printed with this printer, but I suspect it will offer higher quality than the PRO-100 which I believe was introduced in 2012 which is a lifetime ago in inkjet printing. But you should note that this printer uses dye based inks, which typically are not as fade resistant as pigment inks.

At the lower end of their range, Canon limits the features you get, as you’ll see when we look at the features of the more expensive models in their lineup, so you aren’t going to get everything unless you are willing to pay for it. Even so, this printer sits nicely at the bottom of Canon’s line with good features for the price slot it occupies

Buy on Amazon.

imagePROGRAPF PRO-300 – 13 inch wide prints MSRP $899

The PRO-300 offers a different mix of options than the PRO-200.  Some are upgrades, but some I’d consider downgrades. 

Let’s start with the upgrades. First, you get a Matte Black ink which will give you better results on artist papers like Hahnemühle Photo Rag. Better black improve print quality, so this is a big advantage if you regularly print on artist papers. 

Second is the addition of a red ink. My experience is that this offers a meaningful increase in the ability to reproduce the stunning reds in your photographs, and the reason you should be using the ProPhoto colorspace when editing your files (never use AdobeRGB or sRGB when editing or for “Master” files because they severely compromise the reds in your file.) 

Third is the addition of the Chroma Optimizer that is found in their larger printers. The Chroma Optimizer puts a clear coat over the ink that helps produce a smooth surface on glossy and semi-gloss papers which Canon says results in in more evenly reflected light that gives richer blacks, more vivid colors, and less bronzing. From what I’ve seen, these claims are true, and that gives the PRO-300 another advantage. 

But there is always a catch, right? Adding these extra inks means you give up the light gray ink found in the higher end models (and even the Pro-100.) I do a lot of black and white printing, so I don’t like that at all because it means the lightest, most delicate highlights now need to be made from gray ink which will most likely have visible dots and not achieve the delicate tones possible using a third lighter gray ink. That’s a frustrating choice to have to make, and for me, that makes this printer a pass, but if you only occasionally do B&W, it may not be an issue for you. 

I’m also pretty sure this is the “least expensive” printer in the Canon lineup that uses the LUCIA PRO pigment inks. Typically pigment inks last longer than dye inks, so if you are looking to make long lasting prints, you should take that into consideration. 

imagePROGRAPF PRO-1000 – 17 inch wide prints MSRP $1299

The Pro-1000 is the entry level step into the highest quality Canon offers with 11 ink color of its LUCIA PRO pigment inks including Matte Black, Gray, PhotoGray (light Gray), Blue, and Red as well as the ChromaOptimizer. This is the same inkset found in PRO-2100/4100/6000 printers. I’ve owned this printer and can confirm I was able to match the prints from my larger PRO-4000 printer. This ink-set is capable of producing beyond lab quality prints, unless your lab is using this same printer.

My experience as of November 2020 is that this inkset produces the most brilliant digital prints of any process I’ve seen, so much so that it has changed the way I look at my photographs, and allows me to push my printing to new heights. This due in large part to the incredible blacks (d-max) the inks achieve, which give prints more depth and dimensionality. It’s a big upgrade even over the Canon 8400 printers I have previously used. Canon made a big leap forward with this inkset, and changed photography in the process because it literally makes my old prints look dated when compared side by side to the new inkset.

Another advantage is obviously the ability to print to 17 inches wide, which allows for prints to 17×22 inches. For many photographers, this lets them print most of their work in house, so a lab only needs to be used when making larger prints. 

You also get to use larger ink cartridges which is an advantage if you are printing a lot. Canon ink costs a little more per ml than Epson inks, but my experience is that Canon printers use less ink than Epson so I think it evens out in the end on cost. 

The drawback for me is no roll feeder. You have more paper options when printing on rolls, that feature is going to cost you more. Probably not something that affects most photographers, but one that factors in for me. 

Buy on Amazon.

imagePROGRAPF PRO-2000, PRO-4000, PRO-2100, PRO-4100, PRO-6000

I really can’t say enough about these printers. With them, I am making the best prints in my 20+ years of digital printing, prints that have impressed the very discerning pros I work with. The black ink took a generational leap ahead of Epson, but Epson is catching up (competition is a great thing for us photographers!)

These models allow you to print in 24 inch, 44 inch and 60 inch print widths that allow you to print almost anything you can imaging.

The advantage to these printers is the size you can print. The disadvantage is the size they take up. Not everyone has the room for one of these outside a professional environment, or a frequent enough need for larger prints. 

These models all use same eleven LUCIA PRO pigment inks found in the PRO-1000 so you get the same quality.

A printer this large is a multi year investment, and you really should do the ROI on it and make sure you need it so it doesn’t just sit there and collect dust.  If you can make it pencil out, wow, what an amazing tool it is to have. If you can’t, consider the PRO-1000 instead. 

I highly recommend buying the extended maintenance contract Canon offers, which gives you a layer of insurance that the printer will be a useable tool for the life of the contract. 

These printers are really “disposable” items in that they can cost as much to fix as buying a new printer. You need to buy it with that mindset, and not think of it as a lifelong investment. If that ROI doesn’t work, DON’T BUY IT! 

Final Thoughts

I’ve listed the MSRP for these printers, but you should never pay full retail on a printer. Canon and Epson are always offering insane sales and rebates. The rebates cycle every month or tow, and even cycle between vendors. But a little patience can save you hundreds or thousands of dollars. 

New printers don’t have discounts immediately, so there is a price for getting a printer immediately after it’s introduced. Do your research, determine your needs, and decide waiting is worth it or not. 

You should also look at extended maintenance or warranty options. Printers are very expensive to repair when they break, so much so it’s sometimes less expensive to just buy a new printer. Canon offers maintenance contracts on many of their printers, which act as insurance to guarantee your printer will work when it’s under contract. For desktop printers, you may have to look at third party insurance offers by some vendors like Amazon. Printers are not an investment, they are an expense that allows you to use it for a certain amount of time until it either dies or is rendered obsolete. It may last two years or ten, but it’s a gamble every time, so protect your bet as best you can and make sure the cost fits your business model or need. 

My hard drives didn’t let me down!

This is a follow up to my April project to check the integrity of my backups as I was moving my files to a larger hard drive. 

My objective was to make sure that every single file (about one million) copied exactly to the new drive, and that there were no errors that would prevent me from accessing my data. 

To do this I used a software app from Lloyd Chambers called Integrity Checker which is the most efficient tool I’ve found for this unique job. It’s a command line tool that uses the Mac terminal. That in itself was a learning experience as previously I’ve been very afraid of how bad the wrong command in terminal could muck things up. 

Thanks to Integrity Checker, I was able to confirm that my two main backup copies are exact duplicates of the “master” hard drive. That’s a very good thing because it means I really do have a useable backup when my main drive fails. (All drives fail, it’s just a matter of when.)

My secondary objective was to verify some bare drives I was using in the past for backups. I had stopped using them because the were throwing errors in CarbonCopyCloner. I suspected that these errors were due to the drive dock I was using them in, but had no way to be sure, so I didn’t trust them. They got shoved into a drawer and were just sitting there as “worst case” backups as a hail Mary play in case I needed it if things every got really ugly.

To try and bring these orphaned drives back into my active backup,  I put them into a known good drive enclosure. Then, using Integrity Checker, I was able verify that every file on them matches my “master” and that the drives are trustworthy. That gives me confidence to use them again for backing up new data, and lets them be useful as part of my backup strategy.

The one thing that has surprised me as I completed this project is that everything actually worked. Terabytes upon terabytes of data and multiple copies of a million files that were hashed and read multiple times, and it all worked. Even digital photos from the mid 1990s were still there and readable. I think I found a dozen files that threw an error, but they were all readable so the error was insignificant and they were mostly XMP files. That has made me much more trusting of the process used to backup my data. A sigh of relief, but I’ll still remain vigilant. 

Another surprise was how many files I had duplicated on the drives. For a myriad of reasons, I had multiple folders with the same files that built up over the last twenty-ish years of managing my archive. One terabyte of duplicates to be precise.  It would be a nightmare to reconcile all those files manually, but Integrity Checker came to the rescue again. One of it’s functions allows you to identify duplicate files…that’s how I discovered the 1 TB of duplicates in the first place. 

But just as valuable was Integrity Checker’s ability to “clone” the duplicates and regain that wasted space if you are using a APFS formatted drive. 

APFS is a format for storage drives used with a Mac. It’s designed for solid state drives, not spinning disks. It will work with a spinning hard drive, but it can cause a slowdown in transfer speed. That’s something I could tolerate for backups if it let me get back a terabyte of space, so one by one I converted my backups to APFS, re-verified that all the files would read back correctly, then used Integrity Checker to “de-dupe” the drives and reclaim that 1 TB of space back.

The unexpected benefit of this de-duping is that I now have a whole new set of tricks up my sleeve to manage my storage more efficiently.

The end result is that I now know that every copy of my data is good, and I know how to check it as I go forward to ensure it stays good. This gives me more  confidence that my files will be there when I need them, which was the whole point of this adventure…and something I wish I had done a lot sooner. 

My next adventure is to take one of my offsite backups into the cloud using a Synology DiskStation and Backblaze cloud…more on that in a future post. 

Until then, keep backing up those bits!