Photo Myths

Posted on October 28, 2019

Maybe that title should be “photography misunderstandings“. Digital photography gave us more opportunities, freedom and power. As with any superpower it comes with great responsibility. Assumptions can lead to the spread of misinformation. In that vein, if what follows has any errors please let me know on LinkedIn.

 

Opening A JPEG In Photoshop Recompresses It

No it doesn’t.

If you edit a JPEG image in some way and re-save it then you will lose data. Re-saving a JPEG can reduce it’s “quality” but that’s likely imperceptible. JPEG compression is visually lossless. Edit and re-save a JPEG dozens of times then you’ll see it in smooth areas like the sky below.

JPEG artefacts

JPEG artefacts (right) after re-saving dozens of times

In some applications editing includes changes to metadata or rotating an image. For example, when you change IPTC metadata in Adobe Photoshop (File >File Info) it will ask you to save changes and recompress the JPEG. Do the same in Adobe Bridge and it writes the metadata without recompressing. Photoshop is a pixel editor, Bridge is a multimedia manager.

IPTC

Edit JPEG metadata in Bridge.

 

I Need a TIFF Not JPEG

Ask for JPEG with minimal compression (levels 10-12 in Photoshop) and make a TIFF master file when you edit.

For the reasons in the last point, people sometimes ask for TIFF files. A standard TIFF (there are TIFF standards but no generic, “standard” TIFF) can be edited in Photoshop with information added and re-saved without loss.

Adding information means layers, text, etc. Photoshop doesn’t add pixels when you change colour, tone, etc, – it removes them. To make a photo more yellow a pixel editor removes it’s opposite colour, in this case blue pixels.

Ideally when editing in Photoshop use a TIFF or PSD file format. Apart from allowing non-destructive layer based editing, you have the option to re-save in a lossless format.

The downside to TIFFs is the file size is dramatically larger than JPEG, for example 2MB versus 60MB per image. File management is more costly in terms of time, delivery, space, resources and dollars.

TIFF can offer better quality if it is 16 bit where JPEG is 8 bit. High bit depth offers millions of times more data for aggressive editing. High bit depth increases file size dramatically, for example 2MB versus 145MB per image.

 

Deliver Images 300 DPI

Pixel dimension defines image resolution.

Pixels Per Inch

DPI is the scale not the resolution an image is reproduced using dots (Dots Per Inch). Digital devices use Pixels Per Inch, PPI.

The iPhone 3G screen had a 165 PPI pixel density. The iPhone 4 introduced the Retina screen with nearly double that at 326 PPI. Compare the same photo on both phones and it will not appear sharper on the iPhone 4. It will appear smaller.

PPI information is metadata and may be redundant as some applications ignore it and apply their own default setting.

 

Digital Is Free

There are costs to create, process and deliver high quality digital images.

With film we have the cost of the raw material and processing plus the time that takes. Take a photo with with your phone and it’s there ready to use. Aren’t digital cameras the same? They can be but will need some some adjustments, especially if required for commercial use.

Last century most photographers outsourced film processing to labs using automated, industrial machinery. Some high volume photographers would do it in-house.

With digital most photographers do processing on a PC in-house. Some may outsource to others but as yet there is no industrial machinery equivalent for digital.

For maximum quality photographers will capture in a raw, unprocessed format. Processing and non-destructive editing is done on a computer in a raw conversion application. Photographers will capture and edit in a camera raw format that has high bit depth, mentioned in the point above in TIFF not JPEG.

Then there is the ongoing capital investment in digital equipment and knowledge that has a cost.

 

Fix It In Post

Get it right in-camera.

Post-production costs money. If it can be done at time of capture it will save money, all things being equal!

Video is the same and I’ve even seen producers wince hearing this phrase. Sometimes fixes can be more efficient in post to name time when talent and crew are involved. These will have been decided in beforehand to improve efficiency and minimise production costs.

 

Phones Are As Good As “Real” Cameras

“Ye Cannae Change The Laws Of Physics Jim!”
– – Scotty

Small camera sensors in phones cannot collect as much information as larger sensors in professional cameras. Their sensors are not capable of capturing subtle tones and colours. Phones do use computational photography that is well beyond any professional camera to create amazing images. In “good” light.

Tech companies want you to believe their cameras will make you a better photographer. Sometimes they engage well known photographers to use their latest devices and create stunning images. Those rare creative, individuals could make images with anything including a shoe box, seriously.

Annie Leibovitz. Photo: Robert Scoble.

Phone cameras definitely have a place in recording memories of family, friends, events and adventures replacing the compact camera. For professional use creating images that will be repurposed a so-called “real” camera is most definitely still required.

Just as important, someone with the vision and skills needs to be behind that camera.

What a Professional Photographer Delivers

Posted on September 28, 2019

For 150 years professional photography has been delivered in a common format. Images were processed using standard formulas for predictable, repeatable results. Commercial photographers would supply their clients with prints, film and before that glass plates.

This would be repurposed for printing or other type of reproduction. While digital offers infinite ways to process images industry standards have been established to ensure a common experience for image receivers.

Before supplying the images a professional delivers non-tangibles in the course of doing business.

 

Professional Quality
It’s given that the images you receive will be of a high technical and creative standard. That means the images are suitable for your use and fill the brief. The goal is to exceed those expectations.

This assumes the photographer knows how to measure these and that can only come from training, experience and associating with other professionals. Traditionally that was through higher education, apprenticeship and membership of a professional association.

 

File Specification Standards
OK I’m a stickler for standards.


With film there are specifications for densitometry, specific gravity, etc,. In digital there is color management, compression, etc,. As a receiver of images you need not know the jargon but your photographer should. To assist you the Universal Photographic Digital Imaging Guidelines published a guide for image receivers.

Depending on how you will use the images your photographer will prepare and deliver them in the proper formats.

 

Insurance
It both surprises and frightens me when a photographer or client don’t see the need to be adequately insured. My parents were both in the industry so it was drummed into me. Public liability will protect you and the photographer, while professional indemnity and equipment insurance help make your job go smoothly, if anything should go wrong.

 

Quote
Ask for a quote, a written quote. As with most creative professions there is no cookie cutter template for every job.

Your photography deserves to be custom created to fit your needs and this brings variables. Where the images will be created, for what purpose and how much time needs to be invested are some of the factors determining costs. I’ve posted how this becomes easy once you and the photographer have an ongoing relationship.

 

Experience
Naturally the more experienced the photographer the easier your job will be. Professionals will know what to do, foresee any issues and how to handle problems if they arise. Experience means the photographer will know what and who else is required to make your photography.

Do you need permits, make up artists, clearance to work with children, etc,. You benefit from their knowledge and network.

experienced professional

Having photographed similar situations before a photographer can advise when to capture your job in camera or if it’s better to do it in post-production. This is different from being able to actually do it at time of photography rather than use Photoshop as a crutch. Sometimes you can save time and money by taking advantage of digital photography.

Experience very much includes your client experience with the photographer, the user experience if you will. How the photographer treats and respects you, your staff, possibly your client, and other crew members. There is no room for prima-donnas. This has nothing to do with photography and everything to do with professionalism: empathy, maturity, human relations, time management and being business savvy.

There is a reason that first word in ‘professional photographer’ is professional.

Let me know your thoughts on LinkedIn.

Spring Cleaning

Posted on August 28, 2019

Spring is almost here, at least for those of us in the southern hemisphere. It can be a good reminder for those in photography to do some regular cleaning.

 

Sensor
Cameras with interchangeable lenses are prone to getting dust of the sensor. The more that you change lenses increases the chance of dust. You don’t even need to change lenses to get dust. Zoom lenses can act like a vacuum, sucking dust into the camera.

Sensor cleaning is best left to professional technicians. That’s not always possible because of cost, time or proximity to repairers. If photographing in remote locations sensor cleaning is sometimes needed in the field.

There several methods to clean sensors and the technicians I’ve seen do it use swabs and pure isopropyl alcohol not available to the general public. There are many DIY kits for consumers but use caution on what you buy and where from. When in dusty environments like the Australian Outback I use LensPen SensorKlear Loupe a dry cleaning system. This is not a recommendation for LensPen; it’s just a product I’ve used.

 

Lenses
If you’re taking your camera for a sensor clean bring your lenses too. Dust inside lenses doesn’t really affect image quality. The build up of dust over time can cause lower contrast and possibly flare. Compressed air that is filtered is often used to clean lenses.

The outside optical areas of lenses must be treated with care. They are treated with an expensive multi-coating that improves light transmission, colour accuracy and reduces flare. Use an optical microfibre cloth and lens cleaning fluid if needed. Gently rub the cloth in a circular motion.

Many photographer attach a high quality, clear UV filter to the front of their lenses to minimise dust and avoid damage. Clean the filter as you would a lens.

 

Cameras
Camera bodies should be cleaned so the dust doesn’t make its way into lenses and onto the sensor. Compressed air, a microfibre cloth and some TLC will suffice. With the lens removed clean inside the camera body. I regularly have cameras cleaned by the manufacturer.

Dust inside a digital SLR viewfinder is annoying and near impossible to clean without disassembling the camera.

 

Camera bags
Photographing outside bags and cases get dusty, inside and out. Some bags are machine washable, most will need a vacuum. Otherwise that dust will find its way into your camera equipment.

professional nikon photography equipment

 

Image library
Digital photography means we can make and save many more images. Over time this can get out of hand and result in lost images.

If you can manage it maybe you won’t need to delete anything, ever. Just make sure you have a good image collection management system in place to find the good images amid all the others. A good start is using an image rating system, one that uses industry standards so you’re not locked into one vendor.

digital photography catalog

Most likely you will need to prune your collection, archive historical images to external locations along with adequate back ups. I manage over half a million photos and videos in my image collection and need to do a regular Spring Clean.

 

Just do it!
Spring cleaning may not the most exciting task. It’s definitely easier when done regularly in small amounts. Afterwards you’ll be inspired to go out and make more images!

Let me know on Linkedin what you have on your Spring Cleaning list.

Truth in Photography

Posted on July 28, 2019

Photography has always been subjective. We believe what we want to believe.

Our history is edited, whether it’s words or photographs. There is no way to give a completely objective viewpoint. Every image we create or manipulate has the baggage of our life experiences, prejudices, culture and the time we live in. As a creative art form this isn’t a negative; it allows us to express an individual view of the world.

There are many tools available to photographers to tell a story. I’ve mentioned the language of photography before. Some tools are used at the time of capture, others in post-production. For example, when an image is created we decide the camera position and viewpoint, what’s included and excluded. We can also crop images afterwards to show a different point of view.

As a source of news or facts photography is subjective. Images can still be used as evidence, whether that’s reporting news or in a court of law. However what we trust is the photographer’s “word” that the image is true.

Photos as Evidence
When studying film some 30 years ago our class reviewed Emile de Antonio’s ‘Point of Order‘, a documentary on the 1954 Army-McCarthy Hearings. The hearings investigated whether the army was hindering investigations to uncover communists in its ranks.


Part of the evidence was a photo, revealed later to have been cropped to change its context: https://youtu.be/wJHsur3HqcI?t=1871. Senator McCarthy asks if it matters that a third person was cropped off a photo. US Army Secretary Stevens says: “tremendously, because it means someone is going to edit the information that is going to come before this committee“. This was the beginning of the end of McCarthyism.

Photos as News
This is not a question of truth but of belief. Science for example is credible because we have a common belief in it. Science is being questioned at the moment because our belief in it is being challenged, not because it isn’t true. Peer review scrutinises the facts. News is also being challenged; not its veracity but rather our belief in it.

Photojournalist Eugene Smith is acknowledged as the master of the photo essay. Smith’s photography changed the world for the better. He was obsessive with his photography, sometimes spending years to produce a body of work. Smith’s images are carefully crafted to tell the story. He used multiple lights to accentuate the mood he was trying to portray. In the darkroom Smith would spend an equal amount of time manipulating images, making areas of the image lighter and others darker. His post-production was so complex the final print would be re-photographed so that multiple copies could be made.

In his 1951 ‘Spanish Village‘ story for LIFE Magazine he created a image of a wake. It shows a family grieving over the body of a patriarch. The scene was artificially lit to emphasise the sombre mood. In the darkroom Smith enhanced the contrast and changed the gaze of the women’s eyes to better narrate the story. By today’s standards Smith’s images would be disqualified as journalism. Long term, history remembers Smith for his skills, passion and contribution to humanity, honouring his legacy with the ‘W. Eugene Smith Grant in Humanistic Photography‘.

Cameras Don’t Lie, Photographers Do
Indeed anyone who handles images can lie. How they are captured, manipulated, presented can change its context. Sometimes for worse, mostly for the better.

Kids Learn Teachers, Not Subjects

Posted on June 28, 2019

In the middle of drafting this I attended a talk by Dr Michael Carr-Gregg where he said, “Kids learn teachers, not subjects“. Many subjects from school have proven useful in my photography career. The lessons that really stick with me were by passionate teachers who demonstrated them in unique ways.

Art
I’ve written before how my high school art teacher really inspired me to follow a creative career. She showed us the world has no restrictions, it is we who apply them.

Learning to think laterally is a skill that has benefited all aspects of my life, not just creativity. It helps me to solve problems and think outside the box finding solutions for clients.

Geography
My geography teacher, like many of his generation, was a bit of a hippie from the 1970s. He taught to the text book however would take us on field trips to really understand the science. Sitting on sand dunes sketching the effects of erosion made us look closer.

Learning about weather patterns, my geography teacher had us study evening weather reports, challenged us to do our own predictions and understand synoptic charts.

Synoptic chart

Photographers are obsessed with weather and like to dabble in a bit of meteorology. Just look at how many weather apps we have on our phones! For location jobs, such as promotional photography for schools and universities, it’s the photographer who calls the shots regarding weather delays.

Science
Analytical thinking is also important and in high school science we looked for predictable, repeatable results.

school marketing

I distinctly remember studying the psychology of advertising in depth (and later at university). Today I use some of that when crafting campaigns for clients.

Maths
OK maths isn’t my strong point. Often at parent teacher nights my parents would politely hear that, “he shows strength in the humanities“.

In photography there is only one rule you need to know, the inverse square law:

Inverse square law

Inverse Square Law (image: Wikipedia)

Now that I’m involved in international standards for photography at ISO I really should have paid more attention to maths. My colleagues on the committee are very clever PhD scientists debating high level formulae.

English
A genuine love of reading is one the greatest gifts english teachers have given me and my children.

primary school communications

My best English teachers celebrated my writing and gave me the tools to confidently speak to an audience.

high school communications

Passion for learning
Something I can credit to all all my teachers is a continued passion for learning.

After formal study my mentors strengthened that with on the job, practical training. Subjects at school that I wasn’t drawn to suddenly became important. Physics, chemistry, computer science and maths when applied to photography fascinate me and maintain my desire to learn.

Continuing Professional Development
In a fast changing arena like digital photography and an ever changing world it’s essential to maintain your education. We’re always learning, whether that’s self guided or through a formally structured course. To be an Accredited Professional Photographer the Australian Institute of Professional Photography requires members to participate in Continuing Professional Development.

Australian Institute of Professional Photography

Having great teachers early in my schooling instilled me with a passion for continuing to both learn and share those learnings with others. I’d love to hear your experiences over on Linkedin.

Leadership

Posted on May 28, 2019

Firstly, I’m not writing this to imply that I’m a leader. Rather these are my observations from decades of meeting, working with and photographing hundreds men and women in diverse leadership roles. This includes political, business and spiritual leaders.

Kristina Keneally, first female Premier of New South Wales

Kristina Keneally, first female Premier of New South Wales

Style
There are trends in leadership styles that come and go. The best leaders are those who are true to themselves and not emulating anybody else or what their MBA prescribes. The leaders who impacted on me were paternalistic and transformational in their style. That likely says as much about me as it does them. I believe we’re drawn to a specific leadership style based on our personality and circumstances. It may explain why organisations find new leaders when there’s a need to change the culture.

Doctor Vid Suttor leading surgery

Doctor Vid Suttor leading surgery

L E A D
Look at the first four letters of the word leadership. The best ones lead by example – from the front and their staff follow. Staff reflect the leader, demonstrating loyalty, pride, community and teamwork resulting in higher productivity that attracts the best people.

Some leaders push their staff using fear, threats and intimidation as well as reward and punishment. The results are reduced productivity, unmotivated staff, more sick leave, and a mass exodus of talent. Those who remain often include the sycophants and those who have no choice.

Who and where you lead will dictate different styles of leadership. A military leader in a war zone will be different to a human rights activist.

Former Australian Prime Minister John Howard

Former Australian Prime Minister John Howard

Your Leadership
Leaders are all around us and includes you. It may be the leader of your family or a sporting team. Principals are certainly leaders as are teachers, doctors and lead nurses. In my career I’ve had several leadership roles from middle management to leading an organisation where I preferred a democratic style.

Please share your positive experience with leaders on Linkedin, either as a leader yourself or working with someone who influenced you.

Leaders of tomorrow. Young student speaks at New South Wales Parliament House.

Leaders of tomorrow. Young student speaks at New South Wales Parliament House.

5 Tips to Improve Your School Promotional Photography

Posted on April 28, 2019

Improve Your School Promo PhotosFor over 15 years I’ve made professional marketing images for over 1 000 schools. What I’ve learnt is the most effective images are those that show the students and teachers to your community. Parents, including myself, want to see the culture of your school and that’s best demonstrated by seeing happy, engaged students.

What follows are tips to help improve the photography used to market your school.

 

1. Plan.
You’ve heard the saying, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail”. Having a communications strategy will inform what type of images you need for your school. What are you trying to say about you school? Start by identifying your school’s key messages, what is special about your school?

school promotions photography plan

Plan your photography and make a schedule.

Plan the photo shoot. Make a spreadsheet with the who, where and when for the photography. Get signed permission for everyone in the the images, including those in the background, before the day of photography.

2. Illustrate Your Key Messages.
Your key messages are based on the strategy mentioned above. Think what sort of image will best show a particular message. For example, if a key message is you have inspiring teachers, don’t simply make a portrait of the teacher. Instead, photograph a teacher interacting with students.

3. Don’t Be Literal.
If you have award winning students don’t photograph them holding their certificates – unless it shows them actually receiving their award. Instead show the students doing what earned them their award: academic excellence, playing sport, debating, doing community work, etc.

school marketing window light photos

Set up your photography near large windows.

4. Find Window Light.
On-camera flash is hideous and those green coloured, fluorescent lights in the ceiling will make anyone look alien. Turn off the flouros and set up your photography near the windows. Find rooms that have the best window light and see what time of day is best. Open the blinds and doors to let in daylight.

 

5. Use A Reflector.
Once you have set up near a window the light will be coming from one direction. Balance it by reflecting light from the opposite side back onto the subject. Find a large, white surface to use as a reflector such as a mobile whiteboard, sheet of cardboard, etc, at least A2 in size.

school marketing photo reflector

A large reflector balances light for a soft, professional result.

There are professional, twist-fold reflectors made specifically to do the job. This is the single piece of equipment that will greatly improve your school promotional photography. They range in price from $20 for a simple reflector and it’s all that’s necessary for professional results. The reflector should also be used for your outdoor scenarios including portraits and group photos.

 

When you next refresh your portfolio of images, which you should do regularly, keep these tips in mind. If you have any questions feel free to reach out to me.

File Browser vs Catalog

Posted on March 28, 2019

In the world of Digital Asset Management (DAM) there are two distinct types of programs: the File Browser and the Catalog application. Creatives and corporate clients who manage their own image collections need both. Here’s why.

 

File Browser
A File Browser can also be called an Image Browser or a Media Browser. The Mac Finder and Windows File Browser are examples you use every day.

Mac Finder

Mac Finder is a basic file browser.

File Browsers are good for viewing images in a single folder. Maybe you have just received or downloaded images from a photo shoot. A File Browser is the perfect tool to quickly review the images and the contents of the folder.

 

Image Browser
A dedicated Image Browser like Photo Mechanic from Camera Bits is not designed for office documents, etc. Photo Mechanic is engineered for fast pace, professional sports and news photography. Not only speed of viewing and assessing images, it’s fast with file management: downloading, naming, backing up, captioning and delivering to clients under high pressure deadlines.

Photo Mechanic is a fast, professional Image Browser.

Photo Mechanic is a fast, professional Image Browser.

 

Adobe Bridge is a free Image Browser. The caveat to being free is you will need an Adobe ID and sign up for the Adobe Creative Cloud. Some features, like editing Camera Raw images, are only available with paid subscriptions.

Adobe Bridge

Adobe Bridge is a free Media Browser and part of the Creative Cloud.

Bridge renders most media types and Adobe refer to it as a media browser. As the name suggests, it’s a bridge between applications and naturally works best with Adobe apps. If time is of the essence one downside to Bridge is it’s a lot slower than Photo Mechanic.

 

Catalog
Compared to an Image Browser, a Catalog application relies on a database, which is also its key benefit. From a user interface point of view, compare the screen shot below of a Catalog application to the Image Browsers above.

Adobe Lightroom is a catalog application.

Adobe Lightroom is a catalog application.

They look essentially the same and it’s the underlying database that makes the difference. An Browser shows what is there, a Catalog shows what should be there.

To demonstrate this in workshops I show a folder of images on an external drive in an Image Browser and a Catalog like the screen shots above. Then I unplug the external drive, the Image Browser goes blank but the Catalog images remain on screen. Magic!

The Catalog application shown here is Adobe Lightroom Classic. Notice the badge on the thumbnail highlighted below. It indicates the images are not available, they’re offline (or missing!):

The highlighted area shows the images are offline.

The highlighted area shows the images are offline.

You can still see the images, even a large preview, that’s something a File Browser can’t do. But that’s only one benefit of using a catalog application.

 

Catalog Benefits
A catalog is essential for maintaining a healthy image collection. For example, you can easily check for missing images in order to restore them from back up. Some Catalog applications have the option to check if files have been corrupted. I use Adobe Lightroom Classic to validate DNG raw files.

File Browsers will only let you see the contents one folder at a time (Photo Mechanic is an exception). Catalog applications let you see as many folders as you like, or your entire archive if you so wish. Even if they’re on multiple drives or servers that are not currently connected (‘offline’).

Searches are performed efficiently in the catalog database. You can quickly search for images based on metadata automatically imported from the file (type, date, location, etc) as well as metadata you add (keywords, rating, usage, releases, licenses, etc,). Again, the drives don’t have to be connected (‘online’) to search and display images.

When an Image Browser searches it needs to look inside each image and of course they need to be accessible. If the images are offline Image Browsers can’t search them at all. Unlike Catalogs, they can only search one folder at a time.

A catalog lets you make groups of images based on different criteria, like metadata mentioned above. You can save these groups as collections. Smart Collections can automatically group images for you based on criteria you nominate, such as certain keywords or parts of a folder name.

 

Which Application?
For people looking for a single user, standalone image Catalog application, Phase One Media Pro has been my recommendation for decades, in one guise or another, but is now discontinued. Phase One recommend Capture One as a replacement. I don’t! Capture One is an industry leading Camera Raw processor but it’s catalog features are sadly lacking.

For cataloguing I now suggest Adobe Lightroom Classic. It’s only available with a Creative Cloud subscription, however if used solely for Digital Asset Management it’s free. Most of Lightroom’s DAM features continue to work after your subscription expires. Some features such as built-in maps and advanced image editing are disabled. However all the image collection management features still work.

For those looking at a Catalog application that works with multiple users there is good news and bad news. The bad news is that most of the affordable programs have been discontinued, so I have nothing to recommend at the moment.

Photo Mechanic is my preferred Image Browser of choice and this week has just been updated to version 6. The good news is in April a catalog feature, Photo Mechanic Plus, is being offered as a public beta. As a brand new feature, expect the catalog component to have some growing pains. We’ll just have to wait until 22 April and see!

Enterprise DAM offers multi-user solutions but they can be expensive. Expect to pay around $20 000 for something off the shelf like Extensis Portfolio or Fotoware FotoStation. Otherwise the industry is moving to a hosted, cloud based DAM subscription solution. Here I’d look first at Libris by Photoshelter.

 

File Browser AND a Catalog Application
It’s not a matter of whether you need a File Browser or a Catalog application. Both have their place. While I’ve referred to images when discussing DAM, the same arguments go for all your media assets: video, desktop publishing, etc.

Brave New World

Posted on February 28, 2019

Last month I wrote about the 15th anniversary of the Australian Professional Digital Imaging Guidelines (APDIG). Each of my co-authors had their own reasons for volunteering to create the guidelines. For me, the obsession with digital standards began in the late 1990s.

Film vs Digital
Digital vs Film
When I approached existing commercial photography clients about using digital capture many said the quality was not good enough and still preferred film. Compared to film the commercial benefits were obvious: no film or Polaroid costs, no film scans, faster turnaround and immediate feedback on set.

So I began creating test shoots to demonstrate the viability and benefits of digital. Clients saw the digital quality matched or bettered film however some were still cautious. For those I continued to photograph film and digital together until they were confident in the quality. Through education and initiatives such as APDIG eventually standards for digital photography were established.

 

Photo Metadata
Raw, What Is It Good For?
When the tools for digital photography hindered me I began reaching out to vendors for solutions from camera manufacturers and software companies. Being amongst the first to do so they welcomed the feedback and sought my input as a professional photographer. The biggest pain point was handling digital camera raw files.

Digital cameras capture raw data then convert them to JPEG images in-camera. These out-of-camera JPEGs are pretty much final images. The settings are baked in and can’t handle much post-production before showing digital artefacts. Heavy adjustment of colour, brightness, contrast or sharpness can look pixellated.

Many early professional digital cameras allowed you to save the raw images. Raw images, as their name suggest, capture essentially the data from the camera sensor and are rich in information. In post-production much of the editing like colour balance, sharpening, etc., is non-destructive for raw files. They’re often referred to as digital negatives by those who have used film.

Preserving camera raw images offers the opportunity to reprocess them later when software vendors discover new ways to wring more information from them. For example, highlights that were blown-out when captured 10 years ago can be re-processed today to reveal detail; but only if shot as a camera raw image.

At the time the raw processing software was immature, expensive and like the raw files themselves, proprietary to the camera manufacture. Decoding the raw image is different for every single camera model, even within the same manufacturer.

In 1997 Dave Coffin reversed engineered camera raw file formats and created ‘dcraw.c’ allowing independent vendors such as Bibble Labs to create better workflow tools at a tenth of the cost of camera manufacturers. Adobe and Phase One, who now lead the market, followed soon after.

 

Cataloguing Digital Photographs
Archiving
Managing a digital image archive has many barriers. Some standards were already established by 1995, such as the International Press Telecommunications Council (IPTC). Thanks to a long history of electronically transmitting images for newspapers since the 1970s, IPTC metadata contains the who, what, where, why and how required for media organisations. The method for adding metadata to film scans were ideal for images captured by digital cameras.

Image file formats like JPEG are well documented so adding metadata is both safe and straight forward. Embedding metadata means important information travels with the image and further derivative files retain it. Unfortunately the same cannot be said of proprietary camera raw files.

Typically, adding or appending metadata in a proprietary camera raw image meant creating a sidecar file to house the information. When moving or renaming camera raw images their sidecar files are easily lost, along with the metadata. Alternatively metadata is maintained in a catalog that references the raw image. If the images are moved or renamed outside the catalog then again the metadata is disconnected and lost from the image.

Some smaller vendors reverse engineered the undocumented, proprietary camera raw files to allow their software to embed metadata. This could potentially damage the file and corrupt the raw data. More than a few image management software companies told me they would not support camera raw files.

 

Getting Better
Camera manufacturers have now started working with some third party vendors as well as offering software development kits. Vendors, including operating systems, handle camera raw files much better than the early days. Simple things, like cameras embedding a large JPEG preview in the raw file, means you can quickly view the image on a computer without decoding it. Work is also progressing on making an ISO standard camera raw file format.

Working with camera raw files is better but there is more work to do. My images are very important to me. Selfishly I want to ensure their future. That’s why I started and I continue to work on improving standards.

Standards Are Great – Everybody Has One!

Posted on January 28, 2019

Australian Photographic Digital Imaging Guidelines 15th anniversary

This year marks the 15th anniversary of the Australian Photographic Digital Imaging Guidelines. Before 2004 there was no recommended standard for digital photography capture and delivery.

At the turn of the century some professional photographers were doing more damage than good to the adoption of digital. They zealously over-sharpened, manipulated tone and colour, then delivered files that looked far worse than film.

Looking for standards in digital photography and not finding them professional photographers banded together to share information. Photographers began publishing their methodology on their websites and groups sprang up on several photography forums.

Photography associations around the world started researching guidelines to assist their members including the Australian Commercial & Media Photographers (ACMP) and the Australian Institute of Professional Photography (AIPP). Fifteen years ago William Long, Murray Fredericks, Nadish Naoroji, Nick Rains and I set out to make a concise set of parameters to help photographers capture and deliver digital images.

Australian Photographic Digital Imaging Guidelines EndorsementsThe Australian Photographic Digital Imaging Guidelines was published in 2004 and endorsed by both the AIPP and the ACMP as well as the Imaging & Digital Entertainment Association (formally Photo Marketing Association) and the Association of Professional Color Imagers.

 

The APDIG

View the complete guidelines with detailed explanations at www.apdig.com including a PDF version. The basic recommendations are below.

Critical parameters

1. ICC colour-managed environment. (More info)

2. Capture digital images in camera’s RAW format. (More info)

3. Calibrate your monitor(s) regularly with a hardware device to the D65 standard and Gamma 2.2. This is becoming a worldwide standard. (More info)

4. For Prepress use:
   a. Colour space: Adobe RGB (1998) embedded in final image.
   b. File format: TIFF uncompressed in Windows byte order, or JPEG at level 12 compression, @ 300 PPI (DPI). (More info)

5. Deliver files on USB Flash Drive. (More info)

 

Recommended parameters

6. For Web use.

a. Colour space: sRGB embedded in final image.
b. File format: JPEG. (More info)

7. Converting to CMYK
   a. CAUTION: Only convert files to CMYK when a profile or full press specifications are supplied by the client, and no further retouching is required.
   b. File format: TIFF uncompressed in Windows byte order, or JPEG at level 12 compression, @ 300 PPI (DPI). Sized to final art with final sharpening. (More info)

8. For printing to colour-managed lab
   a. Ask your photo lab for their normal file specifications (eg: Adobe RGB, JPG, 300ppi).
   b. Soft-proof using lab-supplied colour profile for the specific media. Ensure your monitor is correctly profiled.
   c. Do NOT “Convert To” or apply the profile (send to lab in standard colour space like Adobe RGB 1998).
   d. Apply sharpening if recommended by the lab.
   e. If uploading convert to JPEG. Or send TIFF on CD. (More info)

9. Make sure the client is viewing the files on a monitor profiled to the international standard D65. (More info)

10. Embed copyright & usage into the file (IPTC) viewable in Photoshop > File Info. (More info)

11. Provide a ReadMe file with images outlining specifications and disclaimer. (More info)

 

Details of items listed above

1) The ICC (International Color Consortium) specifies international standards for colour management. Photographers who supply digital files for publishing need to be in an ICC managed environment, as do their clients. Your cameras, operating system, software, and output devices all need to be setup for an ICC managed workflow. A detailed description of the ICC workflow is beyond the scope of this guide.

2) Most professional digital cameras and backs allow users to record images in a RAW format. A RAW file is essentially a record of the data captured from the camera’s imaging sensor without any in-camera processing. By capturing in RAW you begin with the highest quality file with the most options / flexibility / quality for postproduction.

Presently RAW formats are proprietary to each camera/back manufacturer and require processing to a common format such as JPEG or TIFF. There are several RAW converters including Adobe Photoshop Lightroom and Phase One Capture One PRO, as well as each camera manufacturers own proprietary software.

It is important to note that RAW files are not colour managed in any way. While these files may appear to contain profiled information, colour management strategies and profiles only commence during the conversion from RAW to TIFF or JPEG.

3) Professional photographers need to invest in a quality hardware monitor calibration device such as supplied by X-Rite (www.x-rite.com) or Datacolor (www.datacolor.com). The human eye and Adobe Gamma (a part of Photoshop) do not permit calibration with high enough precision for professional use. Computer monitor’s colour drifts over time and should be verified regularly.

In the past prepress would recommend a Mac use D50 and Gamma 1.8 to match the Apple Laserwriter. Today D65 and Gamma 2.2 are becoming the common standard for both PC and Mac. If you wish to supply proof prints, you will need to extend similar calibration procedures to your printer and print viewing area.

4) Adobe RGB (1998) is a commonly used industry-standard colour profile supplied with Adobe Photoshop. sRGB does not have a wide enough colour gamut and clips some CMYK colours. Adobe colour profiles can be downloaded free from:

Mac: https://supportdownloads.adobe.com/detail.jsp?ftpID=3681
Windows: https://supportdownloads.adobe.com/detail.jsp?ftpID=3680

Tagged Image File Format (TIFF) is the preferred file format. When saving tiffs in Photoshop you are given options for compression and byte order. For maximum compatibility, TIFFs should besaved with 8-bit, uncompressed options in Windows byte-order. Tiffs can also be supplied in 16 bit which doubles the file size but allows for more aggressive tonal editing. To capture 16 bit images may require shooting in the cameras’ raw format, sometimes referred to as a digital negative. Images can also be delivered in JPEG file format saved at maximum quality (level 12 compression in Photoshop).

Sharpening is best done in stages. A `light’, initial sharpen is often performed on an image to overcome the softness inherited from capture devices such as digital cameras and scanners. Final sharpening should only be performed after all editing and resizing, etc has been completed. As most clients will resize images in the final stages of production, final sharpening is best left to them.

Ensure files saved on a Macintosh computer have a three-letter file extension corresponding to their file type, e.g. TIF or JPG.

5) Optical discs were the preferred method of delivery however as image resolution and file sizes have increased delivery on USB Flash Drives, portable hard drives and cloud services are now more common. Format and label the drive for the client computer system, i.e., FAT32, Mac HFS or Windows NTFS. Write optical discs using the ISO 9660 format to maintain compatibility across platforms. Close disc sessions so no more data can be written. A relaxed ISO 9660 standard is also common but check with your client. Label the disc with a meaningful title that the computer can pick up and display.

For archival purposes we recommend marking CDs only with pens that are designed for the purpose. The safest place to write on a CD is on the small clear hub. Adhesive paper labels should be avoided as they could come loose in a CD drive, and may also cause a CD to become unbalanced and unreadable.

6) For internet use sRGB is the standard colour space, although the many common web browsers are not colour managed. Colour profiles and other metadata add to file size and may not be useful for web use.

7) Every digital camera & scanner is a RGB (Red, Green, Blue) device, so without exception all images start off as RGB. Most printing processes use CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black) inks (sometimes adding additional ink colours). This means somewhere in the imaging chain there will need to be a RGB to CMYK conversion. There are many ways to perform this conversion, but only one way to do it correctly.

We suggest you convert from RGB to CMYK using Standards Australia & International Organization for Standardization standard profiles (AS/ISO 12647-2). Profiles may be downloaded from www.eci.org/en/start. If you are unsure which ICC profile to use for offset printing, we recommended you use ISO Coated v2 300% (ECI).

CMYK conversion usually occurs at the end of the workflow and is device dependent. Each press / inkset / media combination has different characteristics requiring a specific colour conversion / ICC profile. There is no such thing as a ”Generic CMYK” colour space. Do NOT convert from RGB to CMYK until you know which device/process you are printing to & which CMYK conversion / profile to use. As CMYK colour spaces are much smaller than RGB, for maximum quality all editing should be done in RGB before the CMYK conversion.

CMYK conversion is an art unto itself and is beyond the scope of these guidelines. Photographers supplying CMYK need to be aware of any liability they expose themselves to and should include a disclaimer (see point 11). As with RGB delivery, for maximum compatibility CMYK TIFFs or JPEGs should saved as 8-bit, uncompressed and in Windows byte order.

8) Each lab will have different specifications for printing; ask before supplying files to print. Professional photo labs should supply colour profiles for each surface and paper type. Soft proofing allows you to preview on screen in Photoshop how the image will be printed and make any necessary adjustments. Labs should NOT request you alter your monitor to match a sample print.

9) Make sure the client is viewing the files on a calibrated monitor profiled to the international standard D65. Anyone anywhere in the world, viewing a monitor correctly profiled to ICC standards will view the image(s) correctly, as the author desired.

10) IPTC (International Press Telecommunications Council) has established standards for metadata attached to files describing what the file is. It can include information about copyright, photographer (author), date, captions and more. Most important to photographers is copyright, and usage – which may be entered into the ‘caption’ or ‘special instructions’ fields. Several applications can write metadata including Adobe Photoshop. IPTC information is viewable in Photoshop under File > File Info.

11) A ReadMe file, preferably in PDF or HTML format, contains information about the images delivered. It may include your usage agreement, copyright and a disclaimer such as:

  • On this disc you will find “our product”.
  • Our product is an ICC colour-managed RGB file with the Adobe RGB (1998) colour profile embedded in the file.
  • All image editing was done on a monitor profiled to the international standard D65. Conformance to this standard was achieved with a measuring instrument. Any monitor that is correctly profiled to ICC (International Color Consortium) standards will view the image(s) correctly, as the author desired.
  • Any prints supplied with the disc should be used as a guide only. They are intended for identifying files, assessing expressions, composition, etc and not for evaluating colour accuracy. They are NOT contract proofs unless identified as such.
  • All files on this disc should be scanned for viruses, file integrity verified then backed up. We will not be held liable for any loss.

 

Disclaimer
This information is supplied in good faith as a generic guide. No legal liability is assumed for the suitability of this information to your specific needs. All recommendations should be tested in your own work environment. We recommend you have any disclaimer(s) checked by your legal expert and consult a digital colour expert for advanced advice.

Copyright
© 2004-2019 the authors: William Long, Robert Edwards, Murray Fredericks, Nadish Naoroji and Nick Rains. APDIG retains copyright on all content as enforced under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, in addition to local and international copyright laws. All rights reserved.