Category Archives: photoshop

Creating the “100 Mile Runners Book”

100-mile-runner

Cover: Jussi Hamalainen, 66. 2012 Angeles Crest 100
Jussi has finished all 25 AC100s. He won it twice, and all but 4 of his
finishes were less than 24 hours. July 22, 2012. Loma Alta Park, Altadena CA.

I started this project in the summer of 2008. After fits and starts, I paused on it in November 2012. It was 100 pages, ambitious, and still not working. I paused to work on LA:2012.

Fast-forward to several weeks ago. I had a conversation with an outdoor lifestyle photographer I’ve worked with before. The project got new impetus when I realized it had to get done well before the end of June, when the 40th anniversary of the Western States 100.

I looked at what I’d done up to November—HATED IT. Too long, bloated , etc. Using the example of “La Jetee“, which incidentally, is one of the 10 best films ever made, and only 27 minutes long. Make it concise, direct, and emotionally powerful.

LAYOUT Tech Details

Using blurb’s Book Creator has accelerated things enormously. Ballpark the number of pages you’re going to need. Create the pages document.

bbc

Blurb Book Creator

Churn through your revisions, etc. When you get to final, this is where the fun starts. You’re going to want to upload a PDF file that is completely void of PostScript and OpenType references. Otherwise your PDF and ebook will suffer bizarro font substitutions.

  1. Go to the Book Creator and generate the appropriate cover art
  2. Revise and correct as necessary
  3. Make identical copies of both Pages and Cover documents
  4. Convert all fonts to outlines.
  5. All folios have to be outlined on each page, not on the master pages. Otherwise you’ll have the placeholder letter from whatever master-page you’ve used.
  6. Check, re-check and double-check that you don’t have text and caption boxes that got overlooked when you converted. These will pass the preflight, but will set off alarms at the ebook conversion part. The good news is that you’ve got 15 days to pay blurb before they flush your file. Don’t order anything until you’re absolutely sure that your files are clean. If you screw up, delete the file, correct, re-upload for free.

upload TECH DETAILS

Follow the blurb cues for pre-flighting and uploading your files. The image resolution preflight is solid. Now you’re ready to upload.

  • Write a snappy capsule description of your book. Have it ready in a free-floating text doc somewhere. You’ll be using it. When I’m uploading, I can brain-fart and forget something.
  • Have a tag list that describes your opus. Relevant descriptors like subject, location, details that will help people find your book.

If you have both a print book and an ebook, blurb has an annoying aspect that you cannot modify the description once both are uploaded. Sucks, but that’s a fact. You’ll have a URL for each format, like this for my book:

blurb ebook window

blurb ebook window

blurb book window

blurb book window

Hot pink circles show how the two different formats link up. Post both URLs, some people are gonna want one and not the other.

Now, on to the next project.

Due Diligence

rail crossing

Rail crossing, San Joaquin Valley, Dec 2010

Over the years at various jobs, I had downtime. Sometimes for several minutes, occasionally for days, even a week or two. Reading the papers got old. So I began to practice working on problems.

In the paste-up days, I’d xerox and make assemblages. It kept me nimble. Later when the agency I worked at went digital, I’d set up problems and situations for myself in Quark. Yes Quark, the Error 39 Dark Star of my firmament. While the guys next door were sitting in their office with their fantasy baseball leagues, I was skulling out the business of how this goddamned program worked.

Sooner rather than later, I began to encounter actual old-school typographers who’d washed up into ad agencies. They worked with the invisibles on, frames and all. I was hooked. They willingly taught me about style-sheets. Often times I’d outrun the then-feeble processing capacity of the machines I was working on.

As a freelancer I always had to stay ahead of the full-timers. They had a certain security, while I could be more obviously bounced. That is an unfortunate trade-off, one less and less certain as each new day passes in these grim times.

I too became complacent. Until one day I realized I need to know a whole lot more about Photoshop. So off to night-school I went, and discovered that for over fifteen years I was a mouse gnawing my way around a very large cheese. I’d never cored into the program.

Now I was scared. I went to school for the next 2-1/2 years. Always night, on my own dime. That way I didn’t owe shit to anybody. I’d hear from guys I’d worked with over the years the following statements. You might know them too:

  • I’d go to class if somebody paid for it
  • I’ve been meaning to do this
  • It’s too expensive
  • This shit’s too hard

When I started into Photoshop night school, it was about 18 months before the economy went straight into the shitter. I had several classes, one of which was blighted by a perfect storm of self-centered overtalkers, in over-their-head clueless, and some people who just didn’t take it seriously. One night, I’d had enough, and opened up a can of whoop-ass.

“For those in this class who haven’t noticed, the economy is about to go into the toilet. There are some of us in here who would like to live in a better quality of cardboard box than at present. If you don’t have anything positive to contribute, I’m going to ask you to [shut the fuck up], because your talking disrespects the professor, your classmates, and mainly yourselves…”

Dead silence.

The situation improved slightly. The instructor’s hands are tied, because they can’t tell these idiots to shut the fuck up, because then said idiots would cry that their rights had somehow been violated, and so on. For the record, I’m a stone-cold liberal, but this manner of disrespect I will not abide.

Time took care of them. By 2009 the poseurs and clueless were gone, replaced by a full class sitting stock still, eyes forward, terrified by the economic apocalypse unfolding daily. However the “Special Olympics” mentality is deeply entrenched. Too many expect somehow that just showing up gets them a finisher medal, and a victory lap around the track.

And that’s when getting into a community college was easy. Now that education funding has cratered,  just try getting into those classes. They are probably twice as expensive, and half as long as they were before.

What are your choices? Maybe its what you have to do.

But back to my working life. I make war on bad layouts inside the InDesign Creative Suite, currently 5. I taught myself the mysteries of tables, because where I work, they live and die by them. And I was fed up with working on weird-ass legacy documents where the previous operators had glued all kinds of random shit together with drawn rules, color boxes, tab-delimited text boxes, floating in an ambiguous space, with no definite margins.

Which you’ll never see if you work with the invisibles off.

Here’s the bottom line, ducklings: if you think your skills are the end-all and be-all, you are sorely mistaken. Because they probably aren’t. So if you aren’t going to school, and you go home and drink, watch whatever’s on TV, maybe you ought to slice off an hour and begin to study a problem. Put it on a flash drive, and take it to work, and when shit ain’t happening, study it there too.

All this is out on the webs. Ask the question. And here’s the hook: When you’re sitting at work, surfing, you’re slack. You’re not engaged. Eventually people notice.

But this requires a spark of intellectual curiosity.

So. What are you going to do about it?

Big Film, Big Picture

100713_4692_5 / LA props, junk and stuff

Forward!

I shoot film for aesthetic and technical reasons. Aesthetics are covered by quality of films and lens-sets. The films are far more sensitive and responsive than digital, the coverage is wall-to-wall, and is far more robust than a digital interface. The optics and chemistry of the lenses are more interesting.

I’ll discuss the mechanics of scanning further along, but first, some fun stuff. Here’s a comparison of various digital sensors compared with medium-format film.

Imaging area of film and digital sensors

Simplifying matters even further, compare the imaging differences between 35mm and 6x9cm:

35mm imaging areas compared to 6x6 and 6x9cm film

Already you can see that with a larger field, grain is reduced (if that’s a concern), but detail can be recorded, and extracted at will. Absent from this discussion are medium-format digital systems, whose costs are stratospheric compared to readily available film interfaces. But hey! If you have $30,000 burning a hole in your pocket, or can bill the client your rental day rate, go for it.

Film, and why I love it

  • every image is high-res
  • film has a greater range than digital
  • shooting film is shooting “cold”, while digital is always a form of “hot”.
  • Film is visually inspectable, digital is not
  • My film has way more info than your MP files.
  • There is no interpolation, data loss, cutting corners.

Ken Rockwell discusses all this and more in his hilarious takedown of digital, here.

Cameras: ways of seeing and recording

In 2000 I read an interview on a retired Washington Post photo editor. The journo noticed his office was lined with thirty years worth of cameras. When asked about them, the editor said [and I paraphrase] that “95% of the news images we see are made with Canon and Nikon glass. These lenses are very good, but not the only way to see the world…”

That pole-axed me. It made perfect sense. And it changed the way I looked at cameras, and later, film.

In 2008 I went to a Walker Evans retrospective at Stephen Cohen Gallery in LA. There were images I’d grown up with, but now new and fresh, literally 48″ wide. There was detail I’d never seen before. Why?

The lens saw it. The film recorded it. But the reproductive media of the time couldn’t convey it. Photo paper, printing technology, paper chemistry all were not capable of reproducing these images. Digital scanning brought all this forward to a new century.

Walker’s lenses were probably 40 years old at the time. Brilliant optics. Going back further, to the dawn of photography, those lenses killed. In 2005 I saw a Southworth & Hawes [c 1845] daguerrotype  show in New York. The image quality was utterly brilliant.

I began to shoot with demi-vintage cameras, and getting very familiar with the eternal Sunny 16 rule, to sharpen my mind. Also at that time, I was working at the Workbook as a pre-press tech, and saw hundreds of pro-shooters’ work a year. It showed me what I could do, and more importantly, what I didn’t have to do.

The Royal Scan

The luxury of shooting a large juicy negative never pales. The fun starts in translating those negatives into editable digital files. Either you do it, or someone else does.

In 2008 I bought a Nikon LS9000 ED film-scanner to access 35mm negs I’d shot back in 1979, and current 120 negs. At $2199 these machines are not cheap. Rationalizing that the unit cost per scan of that project was $10 ea, if I scanned 250 images it would pay for itself. It did.

The next thing I realized was that the supplied 120 film carrier was inadequate. What you really need is the optical-glass neg carrier which sandwiches the neg flat. I ordered one from B&H for $250. An occasional Newton Ring occurs, but its all in focus.

Nikon then announced that their NikonScan software would not be updated to the Mac OS 10.5. I started using the Hamrick VueScan.  More details here.

Hamrick VueScan is not easy, but not thoroughly impossible either. You conform to it, not the other way around. Then you get on with it.

In time I discovered that some scans I’d gotten from labs were horrifyingly bad. Like magenta shifts in color files, crushed shadows and blown-out highlights in black and white files.

Horrifying lab scan on left, my un-curved scan on right.

Details below:

Note crushed tones and blown highlights on left. Much more detail on right, which can be shaped.

I nearly had an aneurysm when I saw the image on the left. Had I really forgotten everything I’d learned? And then on the right, when I realized I’d been screwed. The image on the right is before I went in and recurved it slightly to give it more depth. That lab is no longer in business.

6×6, 6×9…oh, what the hell!

In 2009 I began shooting with the gorgeous Fuji GSW690iii (shown below), which yields massive 6×9 cm negs on 120 or 220 stock. I was having problems pulling effective preview scans of 6×9 negatives. The last time I would pull a preview scan of one neg, flip the strip, preview the other one. This is time-consuming and very annoying.

Big G-One comes home to find Little Miss Olympus 35RC being romanced by hulky Mr Fuji GSW690iii. This is one of three Fuji medium format rangefinders. 690 image size: 9x6cm. The 65mm lens corresponds to a 28mm wide-angle lens in a 35mm format. This beast has no batteries, no meter, and lives in a Zip Code all its own.

Scanning medium format negs is a different mechanical process than 35mm film. The 35mm carrier is physically indexed with 2 rows of 6 frames each. The medium-format carrier is blank, in both the default version and the way-better optical glass carrier. You have to provide the correct numbers in the VueScan interface to make proper previews and scans, because the scanner does not automatically know if its going to scan 6×4.5, 6×6, 6×7, or 6×9.

I looked for answers. The VueScan manual was opaque. A salesman at Samy’s Camera in Pasadena archly told me that the scanner would not batch scan all 3 negs in the tray, so why bother. Thanks.

Finally this spring on photo.net, Dave Goldsmith provided the answer

(edit) “It’s a simple fix – use “Input | Frame spacing” – use a ruler to measure the distance between the beginning of the first frame and the beginning of the second frame.

Note that it is is Frame SPACING, not Frame OFFSET! For the 6×4.5 ratio the value for the Spacing parameter that I have used is 48 +/- 2 mm, and for 6×6, 64 +/- 2mm. With those values I get for a strip of 6×4.5 images four distinct frames and for the 6×6 ratio three distinct frames.

So, set VueScan for Batch mode (All or List), set the appropriate Frame SPACING value, click on Preview, and when the previews are done, yes, you will probably have to adjust the crop frame (not a big deal!) for each picture frame. Finally just click on Scan. Considering all of the frustration about this subject (including on my part as well) the recommended method worked perfectly.

OK! This begs the question as to why the hell didn’t Ed Hamrick say that in plain English in the User Guide? Why do User Manuals have to be written in Techno-Esperanto?

Hamrick Vue-Scan, with a black & white neg. Note numbers on left-hand side of image.

My old-school Schaedler rule was put back to work as I measured it out.

For scanning 6×6 negs:

120, 6x6 with frame offsets

under INPUT:

  • FRAME OFFSET: -5
  • FRAME SPACING: 60
  • BATCH LIST: 1,2,3

That took care of the 6×6 neg issues, on to 6×9.

For scanning 6×9 negs:

120 6x9, with frame offsets

under INPUT:

  • FRAME OFFSET: -5
  • FRAME SPACING: 93
  • BATCH LIST: 1,2

TREATING THE IMAGE

After scanning the image to its proper folder, I’ll preview it in Adobe Bridge. This is where I use the EXIF template features to mass-tag files. Create the template[s] you want and go for it.

Now your gorgeous film images are in the digital workflow. Color-balance, spot, edit at will. More on that, later!

LA1980: I Build A Book

book cover.

LA1980: book cover.

This post is about  “LA1980: a photo memoir”. Yes, a naked, blatant plug. Bear with me, I’m going to talk about the technical aspects of making this project happen.

Self-publishing a decent proof-quality book has come of age. For any derision about ‘vanity publishing’ I’ll say “demo”. As in musician. How good it looks and reads is up to you. It’s your baby. Treat it with respect, but work it.

Introduction to Self-Publishing

I’d stumbled on Blurb.com in December 2007. The idea was seductive. A closer examination revealed some serious issues.

Blurb uses Booksmart, a proprietary software, as a gating/formatting choke-point. Booksmart  is not easy in the same way a complex program like InDesign is easy. Its a bucket with pre-fab templates you can drag photos into. You have little control over type kerning, formatting, stylesheets, etc. Which are all the tools I need to work with. More study was required. All told,I studied the whole Booksmart/IDCS stuff for about 6 months, read all the posts, FAQs, whining. I got to post some of my own later.

In LA, There’s Always A Backstory

“LA1980” surfaced during an interminable studio-traffic meeting last summer. I’d gotten wise to the ways of the massive organization I worked for, and used the dwell-time to sketch ideas in a notebook. I wanted to do a photo book using images I’d shot between 1979-1982.

I’d shot 100+ sleeved rolls of Kodak 5297 cinema neg stock; which was cheap in those days, and I was broke. The neg would be contact-exposed to the pos stock, and slides happened.

Periodically I would look at the slides, and go “Yipes!” because the color had gone seriously magenta. The prints I made back then were on a particularly putrid Kodak stock—soft, more magenta, muddy. The images went back in the boxes, and slept.

Scannermania

First sign of new life was 2003, when I got a used Nikon LS2000 film scanner. The scans from the slides were awful. The negs offered more hope. It was a toss-up between OK and awful. But it wasn’t good enough yet.

In 2008 I bit the bullet and bought the Nikon LS9000 scanner in order to scan my medium format negs. The Nikon scanning software worked fine with the Mac OS X 10.4. All well and good, until my elderly G4 died, and I had to get into a MacPro.

Now I discovered that I had two scanning software choices: Hamrick VueScan or SilverFastAI. The difference was about $600. Since the Lotto Fairy hadn’t swung by recently, I went with the Hamrick VueScan. HVS has a blunt, unfriendly interface. I also looked at SFAI, and its interface was blunt, and ugly  as well. I spent several weeks steaming in circles getting the hang of HVS. Finally it began to make sense, and I was up and rolling on that.

Building the Beast: One Image At A Time

The only coherent way to find out what I had besides what I remembered, was to literally start at the beginning, and scan every roll. I’d put it off long enough, and it was time to man-up.

  • Using a cast-off lightbox, I’d loupe the roll.
  • Pull an FPO scan of the roll, typically 1400dpi at 4×6″ for starters.
  • Implementing a workable naming convention. Now that I was scanning in bulk, and going back to pull high-rez images, I needed to find them again.
  • color profiles were set to sRGB, the default Booksmart colorspace.

When You Name It, You Can Find It

I’m done naming images, its alphanumeric for me. Names, descriptions, tags etc can all be handled in Adobe Bridge using Command-Shift-I, which brings up the dialog box for naming, tagging, copyrights, etc.

Here’s a peek:

Image browsing in Bridge

Image browsing in Bridge

Image 790700_08_06 is frame 06, from roll 08, from July 1979. Variations are indicated as -1, -2, etc. This will make my life easier every step of the way down the line, especially when I’m preflighting the InDesign doc, and swapping out missed lo-rez images.

All images start as jpegs. After the curves are applied, the psd is saved, jpeg is tossed.

Color-Balancing

Here is a typical image, in the before and after mode:

The raw scan and the recurved edit.

The raw scan and the recurved edit.

I scanned close to 1000 images, and had to work fast, smart, and non-destructive. Sometimes I’d recurve an image 4-5 times over the life of the project. I’d see something I’d overlooked the first time.

The Design/Production Workflow

The book was designed using InDesign. This gives me dynamic updates, unique page formatting, typographic specificity, PDF exports; everything lacking in the Booksmart interface.

Pay very close attention to the Blurb specs. They aren’t joking. The following is contingent on your layout being the exact right size, with standard 1/8″ bleed 4 sides.

  • layout all hi-rez images in IDCS
  • page export pages as singles, w/ bleeds, to PDF-x1a
  • open up PDFs as Photoshop PSD (300dpi)
  • save PSDs as Hi rez PNG (300dpi at 100% image size)
  • import PNGs into BookSmart layout
  • upload to site

First proof came back 6 days after sending it. Examined it,

  • looked at binding [OK]
  • color [OK]
  • trims [aggressive to outside margins].

Readjusted live so it was 1/2″ from trim, fixed pages that needed it, re-uploaded it.

Conclusions

I worked on this book 6 days a week, 8hrs a day from Dec 29 to January 21. It was my job when there was no immediately visible work. I decided I needed to get a project up and running that might have a wide/wider reach that would kickstart other opportunities.

The color is OK as a proof. Nothing matches ink hitting paper. However the advantage of creating crossovers with impunity is big fun.

I’m looking forward to my next book.

Faking It

Foreign Policy Blog

Kim Jong Il. Image source: Foreign Policy "Passport"

This week the reappearance of Kim Jong-Il in a group shot excited some controversy. Not in the august presence of the Beloved Leader, but by inconsistent shadows and details in the image.

detail

Detail. Image source: Foreign Policy "Passport"

This example highlights aspects of concept and execution. I suspect the hapless Photoshop retoucher responsible for this may have ended his/her career on this one. Or, as others have suggested, maybe they were stuck with an elderly copy of Photoshop 2, which was layer-deficient until PS3 or so.

By definition, all photos of Kim Jong Il are faked in some way. This is in the intellectual DNA of North Korea in particular, but shared by all totalitarian states.

I was always intrigued by the photo textures of Communist leader-photos: Mao, Hoxha [Albania], Stalin, and all the Eastern European thugs in the ’50s thru the 80’s. And all this was old-school razor & airbrush fakery.

The most egregious Stalinist/Soviet examples are found in “The Commissar Vanishes”.

Lest anybody in the audience think that Western regimes are immune, guess again. My favorite anecdote involved a Spanish postmaster who had a forbidden gallery of Francisco Franco portraits taken down from the wall, and not returned to Madrid. All getting steadily older. He would contemplate them on occasion, and take solace that someday, Franco would die.*

*New Yorker article, mid-70s.