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Featured workshop: 2013.12.07 and 2013.12.08—Photographing Flowers for Transparency, Two-Day Workshop
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Category Archives: Flickr
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Yesterday, a beautiful day with plenty of cloud cover and a strong wind, and the garden in full bloom, was perfect for indoor photography of flowers. I placed this dinner-plate-sized clematis blossom on a light box for transparency, and combined six exposures. All were skewed towards high key, meaning a right-facing histogram and and over-exposure bias (according to the camera, but what does the camera know?).
The clematis on white was my Annakin Skywalker, and I started the conversion process to Darth Clematis and the dark side (the image below) by converting the image to LAB color and inverting its L (Luminance) channel. From there, it was building up the dark side piece by piece through at least fifteen layers.
Note: if my silly Star Wars metaphor means nothing to you, you probably don’t have kids of the right age, and may the force be with you!
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In my passionate embrace with Photoshop, I often don’t make as good notes as I should about exactly what steps I’m taking. That’s why I save the history log of my Photoshop moves to the metadata of each image. To set this up, open the General tab of the Photoshop Preferences dialog and make sure History Log is checked. Choose to save the log items to the image metadata (you can also save it to a text file). Finally, make sure that the Edit Log Items drop-down list is set to Detailed.
Adding your Photoshop History log to your metadata will increase your file size, and it won’t tell you everything. Painting on a layer mask with the Brush tool is just listed as “Brush.” Photo metadata is often incomplete. You won’t learn from the image metadata that I combined a number of exposures (you just get the background layer). But all that said, you do a pretty good picture of the steps taken.
Recently, the history log of my Photoshop moves started showing up in the EXIF data published by Flickr. If you scroll down the links, you too can read the Photoshop history log of this Clematis, and on the dark side.
Speaking of Flickr, and the community of photographers and artists on the Internet generally, I find myself excited about the way I am constantly exposed to new ideas and artists through contacts on Flickr.
Lately, I’ve been exploring the work of Jacques Hnizdovsky, pointed out to me by a Flickr friend, a twentieth century artist known for his paintings and woodblock prints. Hnizdovsky’s work is intelligent, humorous, and photographic in the best sense of the word—astounding for imagery created as woodcuts. A true inspiration.
Why do I show my work on Flickr? There are a number of reasons, but they boil down to 1,496,603. Let me explain my affair with Flickr.
When I started Photoblog 2.0 in May 2005, I made the decision to serve my photos out of Flickr. This means that the several thousand photos in my blog are sitting on Flickr’s servers, instead of my own server (where I could perfectly well have put them).
Choosing to “mash-up” and outsource Flickr’s photo serving with my own WordPress and MySQL installation was a very Web 2.0 decision, and it has proved to be a smart move from a technology perspective. Flickr takes care of many aspects of image management that I don’t have to worry about, including having each of my photos available in a variety of standardized sizes, image tagging, and image searching. Flickr also saves me from having to manage commentary on my photos, and allows me a great platform for entering into dialogs with people who are interested in my work. For example, hundreds of people on Flickr have stopped by to visit the image below, without me ever having blogged it:
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In fact, my presence on Flickr has taken on a life of its own. My Flickr photostream is complementary and as important to me as my blog. According to Flickr (as of January 25, 2008) 1,496,603 people had paid visits to my photos. This is a huge number. It’s hard to see how else I could have exposed my photos to so many people. Besides that, the Flickr community of photographers are a great, creative, and supportive bunch. Here’s my profile on Flickr.
Are there any downsides to using Flickr as an image server? Well, a couple. Flickr’s filters can add contrast and over-sharpen images, so with some photos I have to prep to counteract these effects the way I would with a specific printer. Essentially, I have a Flickr profile that I apply with some of the images I post to Flickr.
Then, there’s the whole issue of putting my photos up on the web where anyone can grab them. True, photos can be “stolen” even when you host them yourself. But there seems to be a feeling in some circles that photos posted to Flickr are fair game.
I’ve been careful to maintain the copyrighted status of my work on Flickr, and avoided the Creative Commons license that Flickr seems to advocate. Nonetheless, it is a safe bet that some of my photos have been copied without permission or payment in their low resolution Flickr versions. I view this “spoilage” as the price I pay for the extravagant exposure and virtual community I get on Flickr. Of course, sometimes the virtual Flickr community collides with my physical world, and I do meet Flickerites in some remote places. These meetings are a true pleasure!
The summary version of this story is that I signed on to Flickr to get a free ride with organized image serving. This has worked pretty well, and the exposure of my work and the friends I’ve made has been a very nice bonus.
In addition, in this day and age, photographers need to look to multiple revenue streams. The advertising revenue that a photo blog can bring is very welcome as one of these. My Flickr photostream and my photo blog are synergistic, with Flickr helping to bring people interested in my photos to my blog. At the same time, Flickr is an extension of my blog, where people can dialog about the photos, and use Flickr’s searching mechanisms. Besides the traffic, my photos on Flickr have caught the eye of many photo buyers who have subsequently licensed my photos.
My Flickr friend Turquoise Bleue creates marvelous mosaics using her favorite Flickr images. Sometimes the Turquoise mosaics include my photos (I am always flattered). Floral imagery seems to predominate.
Turquoise’s mosaics illustrate a number of my favorite things about online photography communities like Flickr:
- Turquoise is a true friend of mine, but it is unlikely I will ever meet her outside the virtual world (for what it is worth, she lives in France).
- Flickr makes a vast and eclectic collection of images available to everyone.
- The Flickr software and community encourage “mash-ups”: combining imagery to create another image that might be greater than the sum of its parts like Turquoise’s mosaics.
I was caught up in photographing the spiral deep inside a pink mallow. Then I looked up and noticed this white mallow nearby. I took the extension tube and close-up filter off my 200mm macro lens, and exposed a couple of further-back versions of the white flower.
I like the luminous quality of the sun coming through the flower.
You can see the pink mallow peeking around at the upper left.
Regular readers (or should I say “viewers”) of my Photoblog 2.0 likely know that I use Flickr for my image management. This means that after I’ve post-processed my photos in Photoshop I save off a high quality Jpeg version of each photo and upload it to Flickr (see Post-Processing a Photo for Flickr for more info).
Flickr then hosts my photos in all sizes I might want, and provides an easy mechanism for me to post a photo and story to my blog. Each photo in Flickr comes with a Blog This link. Provided you have configured Flickr to “speak with” your blog, you are one click away from blogging any photo.
Somewhat to my surprise, other parts of my blog have essentially been outsourced to Flickr. Flickr’s tagging facility is an excellent way to help keep track of my photos, and I use it rather than tagging photos within Adobe’s Bridge. More significantly, most of my dialog with you (people who view my photos and read my blog, that is!) takes place within Flickr (rather than on my blog). It’s really great to be able to dialog with people who view my photos, and it is great to be able to use Flickr’s community and sharing features to facilitate this. Combining my photo blog with Flickr has created a far greater pool of interest for me than I ever would have been able to generate just using the blog.
Flickr’s photo community has also become significant to me, as a world inhabited (for the most part) by talented, gracious photographers who are truly interested in sharing. What a gift! This is the community I always looked for as a professional photographer, but never found–because photographer were more interested in “getting ahead” than in helping others.
Flickr also provides a clarifying mechanism for quality photography. As the old saw goes, “cream rises to the top.” There are a number of objective measures of this “photographic cream” on Flickr:
- How many times a photo has been viewed
- How often a Flickr member “favorites” a photo
- The number of comments a photo receives
- The Interestingness of a photo, a secret formula that Flickr uses to rank photos (read more about this)
All these measures are temporal. Meaning that a photo (hopefully) gets more views, comments, etc., over time. And that (as a relative matter) other photos get better ratings as well. So the Flickr clarifying mechanisms as a way of comparing photos are not static.
A more significant drawback is that Flickr ranking is essentially a democratic mechanism. But being an “artist” (whatever that means) is not a democratic state. Flickr can show me what photos of mine are popular, but it is no substitute for my own judgement of quality of my own work. I can slip something by on Flickr, but will I really be happy if I know I’ve cut corners? (Of course not.) Flickr is an exercise in populism at its best, but great art (and great photography) is not.
These caveats aside, this blog entry presents my top three photos on Flickr at this point in time. The two landscapes are on top using all four measures while the rose photo (being more recent) trails in number of views, but is third in the other three categories.
By the way, these photos are approaching 500 views and 50 comments each. By Flickr standards, they are still light weights. For example, there is a Flickr group devoted to photos with 1,000 views that have been favorited 100 times each.
This photo of reflections in Lake Tenaya in the Sierras was orginally shown in this blog entry.
View this photo larger.
The rose was originally featured here.
View this photo larger.
On my trip, I left Yosemite Valley and drove across Tioga Pass. (I’ll write more about this segment of my journey in another blog entry.)
I stopped at the west end of Lake Tenaya for a little down time in the sun (would you believe I was going to read a copy of the New York Times I had picked up in the Valley?) and encountered the wonderful reflection, enhanced a bit with my polarizer.
I’ve been asked a number of times rcently how I process my photos before I upload them to flickr. So I thought I’d write about what I do.
It takes me roughly an hour an image. Often, this is more time than it took to take the photo — more evidence to me that digital photography is a cyborg, one part photographer and one part computer.
There’s nothing that says that you have to do anything so elaborate. For the most part, a Jpeg image straight from your camera will look OK. (But you should know that the Jpeg format automatically sharpens and adjusts the color and contrast balance of images — something that a good human operator can probably do better.)
Here’s how I processed this image (and most of my photos) for display on flickr. (As you may know, I use flickr as the image management software behind this photoblog.)
First, I have my camera set to capture all photos in RAW and Jpeg formats. The RAW version — which is unoptimized but provides all the information from the original capture — is what I’ll use, because I do a better job of finishing a photo than the Jpeg algorithm.
But it is useful to have an initial Jpeg capture because this will tell you (at least most of the time) what the finished image will look like a little better than the RAW version.
I use Adobe Bridge software to scan images to see what came out well enough to bother with. As I said, mostly the Jpeg version gives one a better quick impression of a photo than the RAW version.
You can use the Bridge to tag (and later on filter) photos for quality as a kind of sorting system, but I usually don’t bother with this. Instead, I jot down on a pad of paper the images I am interested in working with further.
Once I’ve settled on an image for further work, I open it in Adobe Photoshop. (Note: I use Photoshop, but for everything I describe in this entry you could use the far less expensive Photoshop Elements with almost exactly the same effect.)
When you open the RAW image in Photoshop (or Photoshop Elements), you can make many adjustments. (See my earlier entry for more information about opening RAW images in Photoshop CS2, and a related piece about processing digital photos.)
Generally, and this is based on my personal preferences, I tend to make the color in my photos more dramatic before I open them by upping the color temperature, tint, and saturation.
I also go for a more dramatic effect by upping shadows and contrast, and compensate by also upping brightness and the exposure.
But all photo conversion effects when converting the RAW image need to be monitored sensitively. It is easy to go too far.
It’s useful to know that once you get the RAW conversion right for one photo in a set (taken in the same light conditions), you can use the same settings for the rest of the photos — by telling Photoshop to use the previous conversion rather than the camera defaults, or by selecting a previously converted image to use as the model for the conversion.
Once the converted image opens in Photoshop, the first thing you want to do is save it off as a PSD file (Photoshop’s native format). You want to be sure to do this so that the original file is never touched by your manipulations.
Next, if the image is to be cropped, use the Photoshop Crop Tool to crop it.
The next step is to adjust the image levels by choosing Image > Adjustments > Levels. The idea here is to manually adjust the histograms represnting the R, G, and B levels to eliminate color outliers that either show spikes in the given primary color, or do not show any color at all. Here’s the Red level pushed in to eliminate the spikes at both ends (you’d also push the ends in if no color at all were shown at the ends):
You need to be a little careful with this. If adjusting the level for a given RGB primary color makes the image less pleasing, then you should also tweak the color using the slider shown in the center of the Levels dialog.
Once I’m satisified with my manual adjustment of levels, I generally put the image through Image > Adjustments > Auto Levels. If I’ve down everything right, this doesn’t have too much impact, but does kind of smooth things out. I also try Image > Adjustments > Auto Contrast and Image > Adjustments > Auto Color to see what they do. But be careful: more often than not Auto Color produces a lousy effect, and I have to undo it.
Next, I work on detail areas of the photo (if there are any). This usually means removing imperfections and artifacts with the Clone Stamp Tool and/or slightly adjusting the color in specific selected image areas using the Selective Color dialog (Image > Adjustments > Selective Color).
The photo is now almost there, but needs to be sharpened. To do this, first I apply the Unsharp Mask (Filters > Sharpen > Unsharp Mask). I sharpen it somewhere between 50% and 70% with the radius set low (between 1 and 2 pixels). Then I use the Smart Sharpen filter (Filters > Sharpen > Smart Sharpen), shown here:
I don’t use Smart Sharpen at a high percentage – no more than 30%. And I watch the impact of the radius setting carefully. The higher the number of pixels used in the radius setting, the more apparent sharpness. But setting the radius high — above 5 pixels — actually causes information to be lost, and can lead to a sort of weird fuzzy-but-sharp look. So you need to be careful with this.
When you are happy with it, save the image in its PSD format. It’s now ready to be archived, and you can used the PSD version if you ever want to make a print or reproduce the photo via Photoshop.
To make a version for flickr, save it as a Jpeg using the highest possible resolution.
Next, upload it to flickr. I use the Flickr Uploadr, a bit of software that you download from flickr. But be somewhat warned: this software is officially beta, and sometimes acts like it! It’s nice that you can upload multiple images at the same time with it.
People use flickr for many reasons. For example, my primary use of flickr is for image management. But I’m also happy to be part of the wonderful flickr community. As part of the community, once your photos have been uploaded to flickr, you should tag them, organize them into “Sets,” and add them to flickr Groups to share them with others. Two good flickr groups for this purpose are 1-2-3 and Macro-1-2-3.
Phyllis and I created this flowr pie using flowers (not flour) from our garden to enter in a flickr virtual pie contest.
Those of us living with our families in the Bay area realize that the disaster could have been ours. I’m not posting any photos in this entry. Instead, I want to note that the Katrina Relief Group on Flickr is having some success raising money for the victims by auctioning prints by Flickr photographers. Funds raised will benefit the American Red Cross emergency fund set up for hurricane Katrina victims.
Here’s the link to my specific auction on Flickr (you can bid on a print of any of my photos that I’ve posted on Flickr or that have appeared in this blog).
A Flickr Badge is a way Flickr lets you display groups of photos on your web pages. This is an HTML Flickr badge that displays random photos from my Flowers set on Flickr. (Click here for Blake Garden blog items, and here for the Flowers blog category.) If you refresh your browser, you will see different images in the badge.
Within Flickr, to create a badge, you start by choosing HTML or Flash. Next, you decide the source of the photos. The choices are: all your photos, all your photos with a specific tag, a public set of your photos, a group pool of photos, or everyone’s photos. If you are creating an HTML badge, you can decide to show most recent photos, or random photos. With the HTML badge, you choose the number of photos to display, the size, and the orientation (horizontal or vertical).
With either a Flash or an HTML badge, you choose the color scheme, and the code is generated for you. Copy and paste it into your web page (unless it is a Flash badge and WordPress), and you are done! Way cool.
This is a Flickr collage – perhaps a new art form!
First I made the strip of four images, using images posted to Flickr (you can see the strip of four on this page). The strip was made with OberKampf, a Flickr API PHP library of funtions.
To get the strip like it is, I had to copy and flip the Golden Gate Bridge image (Photoshop) so that it could appear twice, once reversed.
Next, with the strip appearing on the page, I used Snag-It to capture the four frames to a .Tif file. The capture was reworked in Photoshop to bring tonality down and to create the transition between the third and fourth frames.
Finally, I reposted the collage to Flickr (and added it to the Tweaked group).
I never met a flickr I didn’t like…one’s reach should be bigger than one’s grasp, or else what is a meta for?
[Screen capture of a Flickr collage]