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The Process - from vision to print


Being the old guy that I am, I have to start out by saying it was with great reluctance that I switched from film to digital capture. And I admit I still miss laying transparencies out on the light table and looking over the variety of images just received from the lab. However, digital imaging has now not just matched, but exceeded, the resolution of 35mm film and the flexibility of digital is just incredible - especially the high ISOs we can now use without significant loss in quality.

My photography is motivated in part by a heartfelt desire to show the beauty of creation to others and inspire them to help protect it. I attempt to show the essence of a scene to show the beauty and wonder of God's creation.

Capturing the Image

Ansel Adams once famously said "A good photograph is knowing where to stand." Composition is without doubt the hardest, and most important, part of the process and I work hard to convey to the viewer what I saw and felt when making the image. Landscape photography provides the time for reflection and fine-tuning a composition. Photographing wildlife on the other hand is a totally different experience - decisions on composition often have to be made is seconds and is usually a matter of instinct rather than measured contemplation.

I use Canon Professional digital SLRs and Canon lenses exclusively. I always capture the image in raw format which gives the greatest flexibility for editing later. More on equipment later. I rarely use any filters other than a polarizer since I usually find "special effects" more a distraction than an enhancement to an image. And a good tripod is as much a part of my equipment as a set of charged batteries.

Editing the Image

After several years of experience managing digital files - with a few major failures - I believe I have developed the best process of editing and optimizing images. I have used Adobe Photoshop since version 4.0 and Lightroom since version 1.0. When used together, these two Adobe programs provide all the editing and management power anyone could need. I discovered that TWO Lightroom catalogs is the way to go. The first one I call "Out Takes" and is where the original files are imported and converted to DNG. Then I go through the images the 1st time and just decide Keep, out-take or totally delete because it's junk. The "Keeps" get one star - no more at this time. After I have passed the images at this point the "1-stars" are moved over to the "Master" catalog and the others are left in the "Out-takes" catalog. Then I go through the images again and upgrade to 2, 3, 4 or 5 stars. The 1s and 2s will most likely never be seen by anyone but myself as they are "record" shots with some type of defect. The 3-stars indicate the image is appropriate as "Stock" and will be sent to the agency. The 4-star and 5-star images are those that I will make my fine art prints from. Although not strictly enforced, my intent is to have a total of 25 5-star images and 75 4-star images for a total of 100 images that are my "Printers". I then go back through and enter keywords as appropriate.

The "Develop" module in Lightroom is really just the Adobe Camera Raw processor with a slightly different user interface. So I use Adobe Lightroom to edit, keyword and manage my image files and to process the Raw image in preparation for importing into Photoshop and storage as a TIFF file. Later versions of Lightroom really have all the power and function most people need to process and print their images. Unless you are going to make extensive edits to an image, you really have no need to go into Photoshop. As I said at the beginning, I'm the old guy that's been using Photoshop since version 4.0 and have my favorite ways of doing things. I still prefer to make prints from Photoshop because of the way a particular image can be resized and sharpened prior to printing. Lightroom now does an excellent job with this, I just have my prefered methods. The main consideration when moving to Photoshop is to make only non-destructive modifications. This means doing EVERYTHING with an Adjustment Layer without changes the base image in any way. This way you can always go back an undo and edit you had made earlier. Modifications in Lightroom are automatically non-destructive so you needn't worry about it.

Making the Final Print

Since the printed image is my ultimate goal, it deserves the most care and best possible equipment and supplies. In recent years, inkjet technology and pigment inks have advanced to the point where a digital print is virtually indistinguishable from a print made in a traditional wet darkroom. AND they are now just as archival - they will last for over a 100 years when properly cared for. I print with an Epson SureColor P-Series P6000 printer with Epson UltraChrome HD pigment inks. I use a variety of papers from Hahnemuhle, Moab, Museo and Epson depending on the particular image and the look I am trying to achieve. I never use paper with an optical brightner that will yellow with age. Generally, the finished prints are dry mounted using only archival materials from Bienfang and Light Impressions.

Equipment and Technical

My camera gear is all Canon. I currently use two different camera bodies, the 22-megapixel 5D Mark III and the 16-megapixel 1D Mark IV. I have a wide variety of Canon lenses ranging from the back-breaking 600mm F/4.0 to the 14mm wide-angle. I also have two Canon Tilt-Shift lenses and several versions of Canon Speedlights. I almost always support my cameras and lenses with a selection of Gitzo carbon fiber tripods plus a heavier steel one when using the 600mm. The tripods are topped with Really Right Stuff ballheads and steel one has a Wimberly Gimbal head - again for the long telephotos.

I manage and process images with a 6-core Apple Mac Pro with 32 Gigabytes of RAM. I have a dual display configuration of Apple Cinema displays, a 500 GB SSD internal drive, a 6 Terabyte external drive to hold the image files, plus an additional 10 terabytes of storage for backup. I also maintain an off-site backup of all image and catalog files. To maximize Lightroom performance, I keep the catalogs (the Lightroom catalog is an SQLite database) on the internal SSD drive.

I keep my displays profiled using Xrite EyeOne (GretagMacBeth when I purchased it) color spectrometer which is also used to build custom paper profiles. It is critical that you maintain/profile you displays on a regular basis and use appropriate ICC profiles for the printer/paper combination being used. If you don't, the colors in the print will never look like the colors of the displayed image. You should also regularly preview the image with "soft-proofing" turned on to simulate the ink and paper you are going to print on.

I use two different Epson Inkjet printers. The smaller Epson Stylus Pro 3880 for smaller prints using cut sheets and the magnificent Epson SureColor P-Series P6000SE for prints up to 24 inches wide by an essentially unlimited length using roll paper.