Archive for August, 2010

Metadata Mysteries

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

Photo-Attorney Carolyn E Wright has stirred up a metadata controversy again with Is Google Stripping Your Metadata? posted a couple of days ago. In it she links to a couple of posts from the Gunar blog, Google in the hot seat for stripping metadata in image search results (May 27, 2010) and What should Google do about media metadata? (June 3, 2010)

As I’m sure we are all aware, the vital part of metadata for photographers is the copyright information which shows our ownership of an image, as well as our contact information. Google for its image search feature produces thumbnails of images from web sites, and in making those fails to include such ownership information. As Gunar points out, industry guidance – such as the Metadata Manifesto from the Stock Artists Alliance – is that ownership metadata should never be removed, and the technical means to transfer it when creating derivative files are well-documented and relatively simple.

© 2010, Peter Marshall
Katherine Grainger at the NPG. Thumbnail saved from Google search – no metadata.
© 2010, Peter Marshall

© 2010, Peter Marshall
Full size image found in Google seach – is saved from original location and so has full metadata.
© 2010, Peter Marshall

Gunar suggests that not only should Google always respect and transfer such information when it is present, but that it should also add the URL of the web page on which the picture is displayed. It’s data that Google obviously has and is currently in the link text on each image, along with the image URL. This would as stated be a very useful service, particularly for those older images put on line before we realised the importance of metadata and the threat of orphan works legislation.

As the post suggests, removal of metadata is illegal in the USA under the “copyright management information” (CMI) provision of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and according to leading copyright lawyers also in the UK. Perhaps it is about time that one of the leading photographers’ organisations in the US gave notice of an action against Google, who do rather seem to be dragging their feet over incorporating a few straightforward lines of code into their thumbnail production.

The same DMCA provision has also been dragged – perhaps rather less convincingly – into the dispute between Shepard Fairey and Associated Press over his use of an image of Barack Obama (news in the  BJP a week ago was the photographer Mannie Garcia has dropped his claim against AP) which is due to come to court in March 2011.

According to a post by Julian Sanchez on ars technica in March, AP are alleging that Fairey violated the DMCA copyright removal provision in making a copy of the work from which to produce his artwork. It isn’t clear what they mean by this, but Sanchez points out that “CMI embedded in a digital image as metadata, after all, will necessarily be omitted from a printed copy of the work.

Google are perhaps not the worst offenders of major online services. In April 2010, Jonathan Bailey reported on Plagiarism Today Flickr and Facebook STILL Strip EXIF Data. Flickr apparently now keeps it on the original uploaded files, but there is none on the other sizes that it generates. Of course most EXIF data isn’t a great loss, and what is important is particularly CMI data, most of which is IPTC data, but that probably goes the same way as EXIF.

Plagiarism Today also has some stock letters for making use of the DMCA to get content you own removed from web sites. It’s easy to do and there is useful guidance in DMCA Takedown 101, although I followed the perhaps more straightforward advice from Photo-Attorney Carolyn E Wright on NatureScapes. Unless you have some acceptable form of authenticated digital signature you will need to airmail or fax your signed take-down notice to the offending service provider’s DMCA agent.

It’s perhaps a symptom of the need to get more people to understand the need for metadata that almost all the web links I found when researching this article were about how to remove it rather than preservation.  Usually this was simply to reduce image size, although it was good to find the following in Yahoo! web developer’s Stoyan Stefanov’s Image Optimization, Part 3: Four Steps to File Size Reduction

“Important note on stripping meta information: do it only for images that you own, because when jpegtan strips all the meta, it also strips any copyright information contained in the image file.”

Also on my long trawl I came across a reminder that there can be privacy issues when EXIF data is included. If you are an illegal marijuana grower it probably isn’t a great idea to take pictures of your crop and upload them – even through an anonymous proxy – complete with EXIF geotags!

Jpegs From Lightroom

Monday, August 30th, 2010

Two weeks ago, in the post Lightroom 3.2 RC I wrote “they haven’t tackled any of those things I find most annoying – like ‘Export’ giving lousy soft and over-large file size small jpegs.”

I met bahi a couple of months back at one of the monthly London meetings of Photo-Forum – well worth attending if you are in London on the 2nd Thursday of the month – it takes place in Jacobs Pro Lounge in the basement of their New Oxford St shop, from 6-8pm and afterwards we enjoy free food at a nearby pub paid for by a raffle during the meeting – the prizes are usually prints donated by the photographers who present work that evening.

Bahi is from Shoot Raw, an organisation that delivers support and training for photographers in digital photography, including Lightroom training and in a comment to that earlier piece  gives a useful link to Jeffrey Friedl’s analysis of file size vs quality for Lightroom JPEG export, and also asks me to go into more detail about the problem I mention.

When I read his comment I’d just been going through some of the pictures I took at Notting Hill yesterday and so decided to use the picture I’d just developed in Lightroom 3.2RC(on PC) as a fairly random example.

This is the full image – scaled down from the original D700 raw file taken at ISO 800 from 42656×2832 px to 600×399 px (and displayed here at 450x299px.)

© 2010, Peter Marshall

Not one of my greatest images!

First I tried using File Export to produce this file – here are the settings I used :

At 70% quality the file size for the 600-399px was 312kB.
At 30% quality the file size for the 600-399px was 254kB.

I tried to get File Export to produce a file using a file size limit of 150 and200Kb, but both times it reported it was unable to do so.

I selected the file and went to the web module in Lightroom, outputting a web site containing this file. I used the same 70% quality setting as before. The file produced was 118kB.

Here are some 300% details from the three Lightroom jpegs – as you can see, despite the huge file size differences the two 70% files are very similar.

© 2010, Peter Marshall
300% view of detail: File Export, Quality 30, 254 kB file

© 2010, Peter Marshall
300% view of detail: File Export, Quality 70, 312 kB file

© 2010, Peter Marshall
300% view of detail: Web Output, Quality 70, 118 kB file

[These files were created by viewing the files at 300% in ACDSee Pro, capturing with PrintScreen and pasting into Photoshop and cropping.]

70% is the setting I currently use for My London Diary, generally giving file sizes that are reasonable for broadband users – even on a page with a dozen pictures. Back in the old days of slow dial-up I used greater compression (and some special software that could actually use different compression levels on different areas of the same image) to trim file sizes to the bone, but this is no longer needed.  Before switching to Lightroom I had moved on to batch processing from full-size images with ACDSee Pro, which typically seemed to produce comparable quality with file sizes a little  smaller than Lightroom.  It isn’t possible to simply select an equivalent quality setting, but files slightly under 100kB from ACDSee seemed comparable to the Lightroom 70% file.

I’ve not investigated this Lightroom problem in great detail, butI get the impression it gives the largest files from those images I’ve worked on most with the tools such as the adjustment brush.

Friedl in his piece at the link given above points out that despite having quality settings labelled 0-100 actually only implements 13 quality levels  – just like Photoshop. I think you also get those same 13 quality levels if you use the checkbox to limit file size, but the file sizes can be different. Using quality 92 (or rather 85-92) on the above image gave a file size of 3748 kB, while limiting the file size to 5000 kB produced a visually identical file of 3550 kB.

Long, long ago when I produced jpegs using a DOS command line program I there were at least two parameters which had to be specified. One was a 1-100 setting for the quality of the match required between cells which would be replaced by the same cell, and the second was some kind of smoothing function. I don’t know that we need that kind of control, but perhaps we could be offered a little more than we have at present.

In Ray’s Footsteps

Saturday, August 28th, 2010

© 2010, Peter Marshall

I’ve been away for a few days having a short holiday with family and friends and away too from computers, staying at a house in the middle of Cumbria away from wireless hotspots. Of course I could have connected from many of the places we visited, but I rather enjoy having a few days away from the Internet now and then.

© 2010, Peter Marshall
Between Allonby and Maryport

My first photographic mentor was Raymond Moore (1920–1987) who I came to know through a series of photographic workshops with him and Paul Hill at Paul’s ‘Photographers Place’ in Derbyshire. Shortly after I met him, he retired from formal teaching in the Midlands in 1978 to live and photograph on the Solway Firth, where he produced some of his finest work, some of which can be seen in his ‘Every So Often’ published in 1983.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

It’s hard for me not to think of the Cumbrian coast as ‘Ray Moore Country’ and although I wasn’t expecting to see large ‘Welcome’ signs proclaming this as I was driven to the coast, it was perhaps strange not to see any mention of him and his work in the many tourist leaflets and several information centres we visited during the week. Perhaps his work is very much at odds with how the Cumbrian Tourist Board want to promote the area, but in a hundred years or so they may erect a blue plaque on those houses in Silloth or next to that washing line in Allonby to match that on the nearby inn commemorating the stay there of Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins. Dickens did praise the local shrimps (doubtless then less radio-active) though he found some of the other local towns which also celebrate his visits less pleasing, but so far as I’m aware the area failed to inspire him creatively.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

I don’t know what Ray thought of the shrimps or the kippers, but he created a considerable body of work in the area on both sides of the Solway Firth, finding inspiration in the light and openness of these liminal areas, and in particular of their changing weather. In that respect the bright and sunny days we enjoyed for most of our week there while the rest of the country was experiencing heavy rainstorms was perhaps disappointing, though in other ways I was very glad of it.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

It was the first time I’d actually visited the area and I  hadn’t gone there to “do a Ray Moore” but to have a holiday, but there were times, as in some of these images, where I nodded a little to the memory of that great man, certainly one of the finest British photographers of the last century.

Obama Poster Controvery Continues

Saturday, August 21st, 2010

In Fairey or Not? I took a look at the controversy over the use by artist Shepard Fairey’s who clearly based a poster of Obama on a photograph by AP photographer, Manny Garcia, using the work without permission or payment.

I’ve quite a few times been paid by artists who wished to base their works on my pictures, so I have some personal interest in the practice continuing. Recently Dan Heller has posted a lengthy reply on his Photography Business blog to  law professor Peter Friedman’s article Ruling Imagination: Law and Creativity which asserts that Fairey had copied nothing that could be copyrightable. Both pieces are worth reading.

There are many aspects where copyright law – in the UK as well as the US – lacks clarity both as to its intention as well as its application.


Saturday, August 21st, 2010

If you’ve not yet come across the rather curious world of Ralph Eugene Meatyard, (1925-72), also known as ‘Eyeglasses of Kentucky’ you could do worse than start with the selection of his pictures on the ASX Facebook page.

Meatyard became a licenced optician after Navy service, and bought a camera to photograph his newly-born son in 1950. In 1954 he studied with Van Deren Coke, and later with Minor White and Henry Holmes Smith.

Although included in several prestigious shows, he remained an amateur photographer, opening his own business as an optician in Lexington, Kentucky in 1967. A monograph of his work was published in 1970, the same year he discovered he had terminal cancer.

Meatyard never just took a photograph. His work was always carefully planned and executed, with his children and friends acting some surreal charade for the camera. The pictures are full of menace and foreboding. People wear masks or blur their faces by moving their heads during exposure,  emerge out of bushes or other unexpected places. Even the bushes sometimes seem to move. Meatyard creates a world in his pictures, that sometimes touches on our everyday, but always has some surprise up its sleeve.

More of his pictures at George Eastman House and on Google images, and a more detailed biography on Wikipedia.

Do We Need Property Releases?

Friday, August 20th, 2010

Thanks once more to Photo Attorney Carolyn E. Wright fora very interesting post on her blog pointing me in the direction of A House’s Right of Publicity, posted on Wednesday on the Property, intangible blog about Robinson v HSBC Bank USA, a case in which Mr Robinson sued because a pictures of his house had been used in a flyer distributed with the San Francisco Chronicle advertising the bank’s “Premier Mortgage.”

Robinson’s lawyers put up seven different cases under US and Californian law as to why this usage was a breach of his rights, and all were thrown out. A comment on the fotoLibra blog, comes down against the decision, on the grounds that it was “discourteous in the extreme not to request permission of the owner.” Well perhaps so, but that doesn’t make it illegal.

FotoLibra also challenges the policy of the UK National Trust, who as many of us know have for some years been attempting to impose a ban on the photography of their properties other than “strictly for private use”  – and have managed to get many photographs of these buildings removed from image libraries, including pictures taken from outside of their property.

Many have questioned the legality of their position, as well as the morality of banning photography of buildings which are owned by them on behalf of us, the nation. But although like fotoLibra we might “defend the right of people to photograph what they will, and sell those photographs if they can, if they are to be used in an educational, illustrative, informative or editorial function” we would also like them feel that, on our behalf the National Trust should both have to give consent and also receive payment for images of our property being used to promote commercial gain.

So the US decision is good in some respects but bad in others. What would be good is a clear ruling that distinguishes editorial and related usages from commercial use.

Recently in the UK, press photographers have been told by police and PCSOs that they need a permit to photograph in Royal Parks in London, which include Victoria Tower Gdns next to the Houses of Parliament.  Here I was approached and informed of this by a PCSO on Sat 24 July. The alleged need for a licence laughably also includes Parliament Square where I have taken literally thousands of images this year alone.

The first time I heard of this happening was a couple of days earlier, where a demonstration had been taking place outside Buckingham Palace against the invitation to a BNP MP to attend one of the Queen’s garden parties. Obviously police had been dredging around to find some pretext to try and prevent reporting and someone had come up with this.

The distinction between commercial and editorial photography has long been understood and it is one we need to continue to insist on.

So do we need property* releases? In general for commercial use we do (despite the US case) and for non-commercial use the answer continues to be no. So far as the National Trust is concerned I think it is clearly no so long as we are on public land when we make the photograph, but perhaps less clear once we have gone on to National Trust property. Although the National Trust acquires property on behalf of the nation, often in lieu of tax payments that would have gone into the national exchequer, by some legal sleight of hand (which certainly should be illegal) it isn’t ours. And it probably won’t be long before it is completely privatised and then taken over by some Spanish-owned company.

[*Readers are reminded that property doesn’t just mean bricks and mortar but refers to anything that someone owns. So unless you own everything that appears in one of your photographs it probably needs a property release.]

Voja Mitrovic

Friday, August 20th, 2010

Printers are seldom celebrated and it was good to read a two part piece, Voja Mitrovic, Printer to the Greats by photographer Peter Turnley, himself once a printer. Mitrovic, born in 1937,  has printed the work of many great photographers, including Henri Cartier-Bresson and  Josef Koudelka . He arrived in Paris from Yugoslavia in 1964,  and worked from 1966 until his retirement at the start of 1997 at the world-renowned Paris photographic laboratory Picto created by Pierre Gassmann in 1950.

Turnley worked closely with Mitrovic, both as a printer (and he reveals it was only with his help that Turnley got a job as a printer at Picto) and when Mitrovic printed his photography, and his closeness to the printer makes this a compelling article.

As he points out, although we may not know Mitrovic’s name, we have all seen many of his prints, both in many exhibitions but for so many books. In the feature there is an incredible list of the photographers he has printed for.

Many photographers prefer to print their own work, and I’ll write about this more in another post. But for many others the collaboration with a skilled printer has been a vital if seldom acknowledged part of the success.

My Printing

Friday, August 20th, 2010

Many photographers prefer to print their own work, and I’m one of them, although I realise the difference that a skilled printer can make. It took me years of work- perhaps around seven or eight – before I was usually happy with the results I was getting, and I had one of the best teachers, if only in book form, Ansel Adams.  But of course there were also many things I worked out for myself, and a few picked up from other photographers and printers.

I can’t claim to be a great printer, certainly not in the same league as Voja Mitrovic, but I certainly became a reasonably adequate one, and was fairly often asked by others if I would make prints for them. But I had a job, and I didn’t want another one, so I always refused. I’m not sure if it would have worked, or whether as I suspect my skills were very specific to my own work and my own negatives. I have occasionally had my work printed by other people, though never any of the truly great printers, but the best black and white prints of my own work have been those I’ve made myself.

Now that darkrooms are more or less a thing of the past, and we almost all print using a computer, it’s rather easier for anyone to acquire the technical skills (though many struggle.) But the hardest aspect, knowing what a good print would look like, is still much the same.

© 1983, Peter Marshall

At the moment I’m working on the first major project I produced in the early 1980’s on Kingston upon Hull.  Most of the prints were made on Agfa Portriga grade 3 (and later on Record Rapid) both now long discontinued. Their formulation had changed considerably earlier to remove cadmium, and certainly Record Rapid was never the same again.

Portriga had a warmer tone (in the right developer you could get a kind of chocolate brown that most people took for a toned print) and Record Rapid was a warm neutral but both were capable of very deep blacks and a kind of velvet quality with pearly whites. I consistently overdeveloped both papers, using either Agfa’s own Neutol developer at higher than normal concentration or, better still, May and Baker’s Teknol, formulated for use in tropical darkrooms, which I used at 23-24 degrees.

Even if I wanted to, I could no longer get the same print quality in the darkroom with modern materials. And today I would find it very hard to perform the tricky dodging and burning that I managed in my youth, some of which is still roughly recorded on the back of the contact sheets but these sketches will still come in useful when printing on the computer.

The original prints I made for the show were deliberately, perhaps wilfully small at 105 x161mm, (4.13 x 6.3″) over, designed to be viewed intimately by people with good eyesight! The just over 4x enlargement gave images from 35mm (mainly taken on a Leica M2 with a 35mm Summilux lens, though later I moved on to an Olympus OM2) a large-format quality even though only on a small scale.  They were designed so that either a portrait or landscape format image could be mounted on a 10″ wide by 9″ high card, which where then mainly shown as groups of four in 20×18″ frames.

I’m intending to show this work in a group show where I have only an 8 by 4 foot panel rather than the top floor of a large gallery they filled in 1983, so I won’t have all 148 prints on show. But printing digitally does make it a lot easier to make several prints on a single sheet of paper, as well as simplifying the process of dodging and burning.

Good digital prints start from good scans, which is where the dedicated film scanner helps. Scanning the large number of negatives is a little of a chore, and at the moment I’m perhaps a third of the way through.  I use VueScan software because I find it easier to control (and it gives great results with colour negative) and gives very good scans, and I’ve written a very short guide on how I scan b/w negs with it.

The scans are saved as 16 bit TIF files, using my default working space for greyscale, Grey Gamma 2.2, usually a good choice for greyscale images as it is almost identical for them to sRGB.  In Photoshop I rotate them as needed (using Photoshop’s ‘Measure Tool‘ to mark along one edge of the image area, then Image, Rotate Canvas, Abritrary to make it accurately horizontal before cropping with the rectangular marquee. I then do a quick and rough correction using the levels command and/or the curves command before archiving the files to DVD and to an external hard disk. This means I can always go back to this file at this state should I mess it up in some way, and I’ll not need to re-scan.

Further work on the file includes the inevitable spotting, mainly with the Healing Brush, but occasionally some areas need the Clone tool.  That’s generally the longest part of the process and I’ll usually update the archive file on the external hard disk after this is done.

Next comes dodging and burning, mainly by selecting areas with the lasso tool, feathering them by an appropriate amount (anywhere from 5 – 200 pixels, depending on the size of the area and only using low values where an object selected has  a clearly defined edge) and then using the levels command, with values between 1.10 and 0.90. If a greater amount of burning or dodging is required, it’s normally better to build it up using different selection areas, made by moving the original selection or using the Select Modify command or the image can start to show distinct boundaries where burning has taken place.

As well as dodging and burning to get the results I want will also require some tweaking of the image curve, either for the whole file or for selected areas – again making sure to feather any selection appropriately.

Its easier to do most of this work with a stylus rather than a mouse, and in some ways I’m as busy as I used to be working in the darkroom, but for much longer on each image. But there are two good sides to this; first you can take a break whenever you want and nothing will change, and second that when you’ve done it for the file you never have to do it again.

Again I usually update the archive file on the external hard drive when the file is exactly how I want it.

Usually I print from Photoshop, using either a Cone Piezography Quad Grey ink set on matte paper (usually Hahnemuhle Photorag) or Epson Ultrachrome K3 inks using the Epson ABW (Advanced Black and White) on a fibre based glossy paper. Both methods can give excellent results, and once images are framed under glass the different Dmax are seldom important. Although matte papers have a considerably lower DMax they can still seem black and the mid tones can be stunning.

For printing I take the saved 16 bit file and convert to 8 bits (unless I’m using a specialist print driver  that works with 16 bit files.) The Cone inks I have are only suitable for matte papers, and as they work through an ICC profile it’s possible to ‘soft proof’ the file on Photoshop,  giving an on-screen version of what the printed version will look like. You can then add adjustment layers to the file to compensate for the effect of the ink and paper. I’ve always used Epson printers (since one early and slightly unfortunate experience with another brand) and as well as Epson’s own solutions for them, they have the widest range of support outside this.

Printer manufacturers would like you to always use their paper with the printer and seem to deliberately make using it with other papers difficult by making the details of how the printer driver works. Sometimes I use a print ‘rip’, third party software that sends data direct to the printer rather than to the manufacturer’s print driver. Particularly if you want to use specialised black and white inksets, then the shareware ‘Quad Tone Rip‘ is excellent value, and it will also work with the Epson Inks, though of course limited by them – and if you print just using the three blacks you get a slightly unpleasant greenish black. Quadtone Rip has tools to enable you to produce profiles for soft proofing, but I’ve not used it.

Epson do not make grey profiles available for their ABW system and there are none I can find to download for the Epson 2400 printer that I use, although some have been made available for the Epson 3800, and may work with some other printers  If you want to use ABW, you should read the lengthy report by Garry Eskin, which greatly clarifies some of the aspects that Epson deliberately keep quiet about. I usually only use it for Epson’s own poorly named Archival Matte (which is at least matte)  and for third-party gloss papers with which ABW seems to pose fewer problems.

As Eskin notes, using gloss papers you can usually get a reasonable match by simply using the Tone setting. This appears to be a gamma setting, changing the mid point but not altering the white or black points. The ‘Dark’ setting seems often to be better than the ‘Normal’ setting or the apparently default ‘Darker.’

Media type and ‘Paper Config’ settings in the Printer driver are also important. The media type alters not only the warmth of the black, but also the maximum amount of ink used – watercolour papers which are more absorbent apparently need to have less ink used. Probably its best to start with the type recommended by the paper maker.

The amount of ink can also be altered in the ‘Paper Config’ dialogue, using the ‘Color Density’ setting. I often find prints can be improved by setting this at around -10% and it will also cost less per print.

It’s easy to make black and white printing sound difficult, and perhaps to get absolute control over the process it is, but with just a little trial and error it is easy to get decent prints using ABW, particularly if you are willing to print on Epson papers.

Scanning B/W Negs With Vuescan

Friday, August 20th, 2010

A lot has been written about scanning black and white film, and not all of it makes much sense to me. But different scanners work differently, and you need to try and find a method that works well with your negatives, then hope it continues to do so. A few months ago I replied to a query on an internet forum saying that I didn’t have problems with Newton’s rings (interference patterns with an oil on water appearance) with my negative holder – and within days was doing scans were they really were obviously apparent.

So what works for me isn’t necessarily the best approach for you. Some people like to scan things as positive rather than negative and then invert later, or to tell the scanner they are using a different media type. Others always scan in RGB then convert themselves to grey, or choose just one of the  three (or four)

With my scanner and Vuescan software I find I get good results from a straightforward approach, scanning as black and white negative, 16 bit grayscale. I scan at a preview resolution of 1200dpi, which both enables me to crop precisely and also to zoom in to check sharpness. I set Vuescan to take 2 samples, which slows the scanning down but improves the scans over normal single sampling. Values higher than 2 give little if any more information but greatly slow down the scans.

On the crop tab, the vital setting is for the ‘Border’. I set it around 10 which means that I can crop images with a slight border (especially necessary when the negs are not in the carrier exactly straight and you need to rotate later in Photoshop.) The exposure and histogram then ignore a little bit around the edges of the selected area.

‘Infrared cleaning’ does not of course work with normal black and white films, but with chromogenic films it can be worth using the lowest setting.  With other black and white films I use ‘grain reduction’ at the light setting. I’m not convinced it does anything, but high settings certainly lose detail.

My aim in scanning black and white film is not to get a perfect image direct from the scan, but to transfer all of the information from the negative to the scanned 16 bit file. So the vital tool is not the image preview but the histogram.  Vuescan has a pretty confusing number of parameters on the Color tab when in ‘Advanced  Mode’, but fortunately most don’t matter a great deal when scanning black and white.

You can play with the B/W Vendor, brand and type, but will generally find nothing that quite corresponds to the film you are scanning, and it really doesn’t matter a great deal, though you will see some changes. Similarly with the curve high and curve low, though I find values of around 0.25 and o.5 generally work well. The two vital settings are actually the black and the white point, but unfortunately setting them isn’t entirely straightforward.

In general, for most negatives I find I need to set the Black Point to zero and then use the ‘Brightness’ setting to avoid clipping the shadows. Sometimes the White Point also needs to be at zero, but more often a small value that cannot be directly set using the buttons is needed, perhaps 0.08. You can also set the needed value – at least roughly – by switching to show the ‘Graph b/w’ and sliding the right hand triangle to meet the bottom right of the curve. But mostly its the ‘Graph Image’ that you need to keep an eye on.

Sometimes when you’ve set both black and white points as above, the actual image may be too dark or two bright. You can try altering the brightness setting while keeping an eye on the Graph Image to see you are not introducing excessive clipping.

Years ago when I first bought Vuescan (having found the software that came with my Canon scanner was useless with colour negs) I  had some e-mail exchanges with Ed Hamrick, the writer of Vuescan about the white point and the small problem I had with that. I don’t think I ever got him to understand my difficulty, and although the software has improved greatly and he has responded quickly to other bug reports, this hasn’t changed.

Because I scan in 16 bit, its possible to adjust the curves considerably without getting any problems in Photoshop. So altering the tones of the scan is simple. If I ever want to I can hide shadow or highlight detail. But if you don’t scan it you can’t use it.

Uncle Earl’s Photos

Friday, August 20th, 2010

I thought I had said my last word about the pictures that made the headlines when it was claimed they were long lost works by Ansel Adams when I wrote Lost Ansel Adams? in which I made clear that whatever the authorship of these images, I felt they were of no value, going perhaps a little further by writing “I’d really like to see some kind of mechanism for losing much of Mr Adams’s work rather than anyone coming up with more.”

What seemed absolutely clear from the images on the web was that whoever had made them they were not a product of the mature photographer who produced a number of truly outstanding images. I found it hard to believe that had he made them he would not have destroyed at least some of them, and more than unlikely that he would, as alleged have shown them to others during his teaching.  It was also clear that none of those supporting the claim had any real competence in the matter.

But I revisited the scene after reading A D Coleman’s comments in his Cowflop from the Adams Herd (1) largely because of some of the points that he made about the idea of ‘original prints’ with a post Coleman on Adams or Not in which I tried to look at whether there was any way we could reclaim the term and give in some true meaning in a photographic context.

But now I’d recommend you go back to Coleman’s  Photocritic International, scroll down to the bottom of the page and start reading each of his contributions in turn just for the sheer pleasure of seeing a critical sledge-hammer applied with immense control and precision to a rather small and mouldy nut. It kept me up for an hour later than I intended last night reading through it.

Coleman has not yet finished his series, and there is more to come, and I think it possible that there could be some clumsily litigious comeback against him from the by now aggrieved parties, though given his apparently meticulous evidence-based approach I see little chance of any success.

Of course the whole story has little to do with photography, but a great deal about the curious distortions that the art market has imposed on much of the institutional basis that now underpins our medium. It perhaps would not matter much if it was confined to the world of dealers, but it also now very much determines the agendas in the museum and academic sectors.

Personally, I’m going to get on with making pictures and with showing them on the web and elsewhere when and where I can, producing moderately priced books through Blurb and perhaps in other ways, and selling them for reasonable prices as prints or licensing them for use at costs that reflect both my needs and my customer’s ability to pay rather than the kind of bulk-buy rates available from the image superstores.

Perhaps finally on this topic (though who knows what may ensue) Eric Felten has an interesting piece in the Wall St Journal, Ansel Adams And the Art World Name Game which concludes with the thought:

we might want to be more open-minded when we encounter art of dubious provenance, allowing ourselves to judge and appreciate works for their quality rather than their attribution. Who knows, maybe Uncle Earl was an artist with something to say.

Although I very much regret that Uncle Earl isn’t around too enjoy his moment of posthumous fame and gallery showing, I’m afraid it is only too clear that he was not.