Saturday, December 27, 2008

WHAT IF IN 2009?

Quite a few weeks ago I was invited to contribute my prognostications for photography in 2009, an annual feature in Shutterbug I usually participate in. In early fall of 2008 what I was seeing of the world, I was loath to say what the next day would bring much less the next year, so I declined to participate as usual. Today with 2009 just a few days hence, I am no more inclined to participate in prognostication of what the future next year will bring. Although I would like to indulge in the hope change could produce, but every time I turn on the TV news or read the newspapers I hear the same prayers to the ideological economic gods that have been worshipped for the last 30 years and brought us to where we are today. Being a poor relation of the media myself, and although I try to serve a useful mission to the community of readers I serve, all but a few magazines today are the communities of people they once were, and now just cogs in a corporate conglomerate wheel that turns only to grind out a bottom line profit. For most whether on-line, on the tube or still on the newsstand, those who are still speaking continue to voice the ideas of the past, and to me it reflects a lost generation in time since 1980, that thankfully came to an end in this last election and economic crash of 2008. To me the question is will the old-fashioned ideal of an editorial purpose be renewed to make what is espoused by those in the media again serve the community of people who are the listeners, the readership of a magazine or will there only principle remain the number at the bottom line of a corporate ledger.

Of course reading this some of you will think I am being too idealistic and old-fashioned. But age for me does afford some perspective, and looking at the history of photography in the roles it has played in society and culture since 1890, I still believe photography’s most significant function was and is it is the folk art of our times. Enthusiast photography is the vehicle of visual expression of the common people recording and preserving what is important to the lives of those ordinary folk who are the community culture of our world. Some say change, like what we are now experiencing, is really opportunity. To many that opportunity is to restore the immediate past they enjoyed, which I find self defeating, putting us back on the same path that took us over a cliff. But the opportunity change provides can also bring progress. But to me that is not some alien new world I would not recognize, but one that conserves the positive human values over a longer history, like the editorial principles that have long served the progress of the people’s interests and are historically associated with names like Pulitzer and H.L. Mencken.

Individuals who only know me casually assume I am a rather radical liberal, but in contemporary connotation that would be misleading, because what I hope for in 2009 is also a conservation of some long established principled values of human society that got lost in the rush to riches during the recent past. For instance digital technology has propelled photography into a progressive new future, but the value of a photograph as a record of the history of human life has not changed. Surely the cell phone camera captures that show up on FaceBook and YouTube are often superficial and adolescent uses of a photograph, but that does not detract from the other extreme of iconic images like Capra’s shot of a soldier in the Spanish Civil War, or the Raising Of The Flag On Iwo Jima, or the little Vietnamese girl fleeing the Napalm bombing of her village; have been photographs that have educated people to a more modern sense that war is a problem, not a solution for humanity. Would there be the help so many have given to Aids victims and the starving children of Africa if it were not for their being photographed and one wrenching picture after another in the media has moved people to give or volunteer.

Between the ridiculous and profane to the inspired, photographs document life and the world we live in. Sometimes I am struck when looking through my archives I find pictures of places that no longer exist as I captured them on film, or people I knew who are no longer with us. I have a personal philosophy that all there is to this life for an individual is the experience of living it. And now getting too old to do many of the things I used to, photographs allow me to remember and re-experience life as it once was, to find an added dimension of living experience that without photographs would not be possible. If anything makes us immortal it is the photographs which have documented and illustrated a life as it has been lived. How cherished are the pictures of loved ones who have too often died young and left us?

The camera’s future is not in the marketplace of tomorrow but in the use we put them to make photographs that become a part of the illustrated story of human life in these times whatever they come to be.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


Still not finished reading forum problem posts about “prints too dark” because I was curious if an “LCD too bright” was a problem for many users. Putting that phrase into a Google search got 336,000 replies, not nearly like the 1.9 million “prints too dark” produces though, but significant. Then today a laptop user with the prints too dark problem e-mailed me, and I responded that to get better control and results when doing digital photography editing with a laptop an advantage is to plug into a desktop LCD display, and calibrate and profile it.

But another factor my readers keep me aware of is most of them are digital photographers on limited budgets, not necessarily due to poverty, but more likely because their spouse oversees the budget for toys. So with the TV news full of stories about stores slashing prices it might be a good time to get a new LCD display. In fact I got one recently that is incredibly decent, supports calibration and profiling and has a rather good color gamut for being so moderately priced. It is a 20.1 inch Samsung Syncmaster 204B model, that today I have seen priced from $239 to $269 at on-line stores. When I got mine, I immediately calibrated and profiled it using a 120.0 CD/m2 white point luminance aim point, which required setting the contrast at 48 and the brightness at 100. There is no setting for color temperature, and my aim point is 6500K (gamma 2.2), which is the standard native specification for LCD backlight so the calibration refined that and also fine-tuned gray neutrality. Afterword I checked the result with Chromix ColorThink and found this Samsung 204B performs close to same size pro graphics displays costing 2 to 4 times as much, although the Samsung’s color gamut is just a bit smaller. But, if you want just that bit more “pro” performance, the LGE Flatron 20.1 inch L2000Cp model I previously found to be a best buy in pro-graphics displays, is now available on-line for $401. Why do I recommend 20.1 inch LCD displays? First the viewing area is identical to a 21” Sony CRT, and for some reason all the 20.1 inch LCD displays I have tested have been sharper and reproduce better photographic image detail compared to larger and wider screens. In addition some of the manufacturers who offer super high performance RGB LED backlight LCD displays are in the 20 inch size!

Also from reading all of the “LCD too bright” forum posts, I found many having trouble trying to get their display adjusted and performing well were actually connected to an analog video card. So if you have an older PC with only an analog monitor outlet (no DVI interface connector) you need to modernize your video card. That’s not a big deal, I found ATI Radeon video cards with from 256MB to 1GB VRAM from $39 to $99 at Tiger Direct, just be sure the one you order has a DVI connector for output to an LCD display. The reason is simple, an old CRT is an analog device, a LCD display is a digital device, so it functions more directly, naturally and with greater efficiently if it is getting a digital signal from a digital output video card.

Finally to optimally edit digital photographs with an application like one of the versions of Adobe Photoshop, and to obtain color matched prints that are not too dark, calibration and profiling is essential. For PC users with Windows that too doesn’t have to cost a lot. The DataColor Spyder2 Express has a list price of $79, and may be less at some outlets. Using it is easy and simple, but ignore the instruction to begin with an LCD set at manufacturer defaults - that is too bright. If you get the Samsung the contrast adjustment was ideally set at 48, and I suspect most other LCD displays will provide optimal brightness at something less than 1/2 contrast adjustment.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


Not finished, nor ever expect to anytime soon, going back and spending a good part of the weekend reading “prints too dark” complaints and commentary on digital photography forums. It was no trouble finding plenty of examples posted on popular digital photography web sites. What was surprising was the diversity of situations described involving the problem of getting too dark prints, leading to a great variety of speculation as to what was causing the darkness of the prints produced, as well as just as wide an expanse of suggestions of why there is a problem and what fixes might be applied.

A small sample of suggested diagnosis indicated the problem does come from a display that is too bright. Another small group suggested the too dark print is caused by selecting the wrong profile for printing. Of those who identified an LCD display being too bright, a few suggested calibrating and profiling the display while many more suggested just reducing the adjustment of the brightness control. To the average digital photo enthusiast this diversity of the way the problem of prints too dark is experienced and described, as well as the assortment and sometimes weirdly fanciful fixes offered, surely does not indicate a clear and simple understanding of why prints are too dark or what to do about it.

There is a reason for this, and that is the most likely cause may not have any apparent association in time or action with the experience of the problem of dark prints, and there may be other problems involved beyond the primary cause, obscuring and complicating the problem; in other words a user is getting prints too dark and is having another issue with printing that is concurrent in time but functionally not connected to why the prints are dark. The other confusing aspect of this is that the cause of too dark prints in most cases only shows up when prints are made from particular image file sources and using particular printing options - sometimes.

Instead of making this “prints too dark” issue even more mysterious and perplexing let me explain. The primary cause of dark prints is usually a bright LCD display, not directly but indirectly and not printing all kinds of image files, just some and the only when certain methods or workflow options are chosen. In other words LCD displays are too bright, from a little brighter than a CRT monitor to a lot brighter. This fact does not directly cause prints to be output too dark as there is no direct link, or causal path between the display and printer. But LCD brightness does affect on-screen perception of images, and if a photo image for instance is opened in an image editing application and then adjusted for brightness and the file saved, the midpoint setting that results from that brightness adjustment is related to the scale of brightness values of the display. The range of values of an LCD display is greater than the range of corresponding density values in a print so the midpoint setting of the file adjusted for LCD screen brightness is “misplaced” to print a correct or equivalent print density. Think of it this way: take two straws, one longer than the other, then put a pen mark at the midpoint of each straw, equal distance from each end. Then put the straws on end, with one end on a table-top, and the straws side by side. You will see the midpoint marks on each straw will be at different heights from the table top - it is a mismatch of midpoints, as it is a mismatch of midpoints between an LCD display on-screen brightness adjustment of an image and what the midpoint needs to be to obtain a correct, perceptually equivalent, lightness adjustment of print output.

This mismatch of density midpoints never occurred with CRT monitors because the white point luminance was only around 90.0 CD/m2 so the range of brightness values of CRT on-screen images was about the same as the range of density values that can be reproduced by a photo printer. An ideally calibrated and profiled LCD display will have a white point luminance of 120.0 CD/2, which is 25% greater than the range of densities than can be reproduced by a print. While at default manufacturer settings LCD displays can produce white point luminance readings of as much as 300.0 CD/m2 and greater.

Some may say, I have an LCD display and my prints aren’t too dark. That may because they are printing digital camera JPEG files directly without any image editing, or it may be they are printing from files made using a CRT for color correction and editing stored on a CD, or files off the internet, even screen capture prints will reproduce with densities closely matched to what you see on-screen. But then if someone says they do color correct and edit their images on-screen, save the files and then print them and they are not too dark. Well, again they would not be too dark if printed using the “printer driver manages color” setting. Most photo capable printers if the easy, automatic print workflow is chosen, actually color correct, adjust and optimize the file information received automatically as part of the print processing; and if the midpoint is misplaced by using an LCD display for editing, the printer driver corrects for it. But that easy automatic “printer manages color” setting may not be ideal, especially if you want matched color with what is on screen or if the subject of the image is unusual, like a winter, snow covered scene. It is usually only when a photographer is using an application like Photoshop, LightRoom or Aperture that is color managed and selects to print with the application managing color, and printing to a specific printer output profile, that too dark prints result.

LCD displays have many advantages over the old CRT’s they replaced, but their brightness threw an innocent monkey wrench into the works of a color managed print workflow, and maybe a few other unlucky users making prints as well.

Friday, December 19, 2008

“PRINTS TOO DARK”, now I need your help!

First to bring you up to date. Since my workflow article ran in the December issue of Shutterbug, word has gotten around and back to me providing lots of information for a better picture of the problem. I have done more testing, which concluded even for a well color managed system like my own with LCD’s there is some darkening in print results because of color correcting and editing with an LCD with screen brightness set exactly at a luminance of 120.0 CD/m2. I confirmed this by opening some finished scanned image in Photoshop, files done when I had CRT monitors installed and then stored on CD’s that have been printed in the past. These image files look fine in terms of density on my LCD screen, and print as they did in the past achieving the same print density the screen appearance would suggest to expect. I have to assume the reason is that the image brightness midpoint setting in Levels made using a CRT monitor with a white point luminance of 90.0 CD/m2 (which was not changed for this current and test and printing), and the correct brightness of the print is because the brightness range of the CRT closely matched the density range of a high quality inkjet print.

To double check myself, I also opened a recent CD made since I began using LCD displays, and although not a big difference the prints from these images color corrected on an LCD screen, print a little darker. That they print darker confirms what many have complained about, but that my results are a modest darkening, is because my LCD is only 25% brighter than my CRT’s were, and that would only displace the midpoint setting by about half that, so the prints aren’t going to be dramatically darker. But if I were working with an LCD that is at manufacturer default brightness, as some users are, like with iMacs that have produced measured white luminance readings of 300.0 CD/m2, then the midpoint differential or displacement is much bigger, and prints would be consequently very disappointing in being much too dark.

Using some of these same recent LCD color corrected files that print 10-12% darker I identified, to confirm my contention in a recent blog that Soft Proofing does not predict print density, just color matching; I ran the image files through soft proofing and the screen result was a match in density with the original file on screen in PS and lighter than the print result.

This got me thinking, that I and many of you reading this using an Adobe application to print, once you get to the printer drive screen you have the option of saving the “print” you have set up as an Acrobat .PDF file. Being this .PDF file saved instead of making a print on paper has gone through the printer driver, shouldn’t the density of the resulting Acrobat image match the same difference, darker, if that’s what you would get in a paper print? What I am suggesting is that maybe rather than the standard internal Photoshop soft proofing, saving an image through the printer driver as an Acrobat .PDF file could be a better predictor of print output density, and allow photographers to preview print density and avoid wasting paper by making prints that are too dark.

My computer system for printing is rigorously color managed and the darkening of prints because of LCD brightness is slight, so the test Acrobat .PDF files I have produced seem to match paper print densities. But my dark print problem is minimal. So anyone who has a greater “prints too dark” problem, would you please try using the printer driver Save As PDF option and see if the .PDF file opened in Acrobat Reader matches a paper print density or the brightness of the original image file open on-screen in Photoshop, please, please! One note: to make an Acrobat .PDF file as a printer driver option, you need to set Photoshop Color Management in Print window Color Handling to “printer Manages Color”, and if the Source profile is Adobe RGB (1998) the Printer profile should be the same. If you do this experiment in using Acrobat. PDF to produce an image file viewed in Acrobat Reader, and it predicts print density then we can develop a workaround using it to get a paper print correction, and avoid wasting paper and ink on “too dark prints”. E-mail:

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


This old saying can be taken as a blessing or a curse, and its origins may be Yiddish or ancient Chinese, but if you are into digital photography the next few years may well be interesting times. Two pieces of news today are indicative of changes ahead. One is relative to my blog post recently about being connected. Apparently the FCC chairman Kevin Martin, a lightening rod of controversy is reported to have backed down on taking a Commission vote on a dubious proposal to auction vacant airwaves to provide a “free” broadband connection capability. Now of course making broadband internet connection more widely available everyone can afford is laudable on the outset; but some of the provisions and the way the proposal was worded in detail gives great pause that public benefit really was the goal of what Martin wanted the FCC to approve.

Regardless, two very powerful members of Congress, Senator John D. Rockeffeler and Congressman Henry Waxman apparently convinced Martin, besides all kind of objections by the communications industry, to not go ahead with a Commission vote. This would allow the next Congress in January to take up the issues involved with hopefully fewer strings and limitations, and more benefit to the people in extending broadband internet access. It would be an encouraging advantage to computer users and digital photography in general to have a wider participation in broadband internet connection, and on so many fronts it is hard to imagine all of the positive activity that could result. On-line photo print services alone could look to a much larger population of potential customers. Individual users could keep their computer systems current with the latest operating system and applications upgrades with much faster downloads than dial-up allows.Almost everyone I can imagine would find a different possibility and advantage.

The other piece of news is that the Obama transition team has had a substantive meeting with the PPofA and The Copyright Alliance, and it seems the new administration will be looking at copyright and intellectual property rights very much with the creative community in mind to engender an environment that protects and encourages creative production. So it looks like my hope that the economic stimulus that is in the works, could very well include a photographic element of some kind. All I can wish is that although these times are surely different from the 30’s it would be such an encouraging reversal of ideology if photography could be again be done with official sanction and support at a public level. I am sure the perspective and aesthetics would be new and distinct, but that we could have more like Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange of this generation contributing to a public art culture could be so encouraging. It makes me remember how exciting and uplifting it was to see the Family Of Man photography exhibit that travelled around the country in the 50’s. That exhibit made so many people aware of photographs in a significant way even if not the least interested in photography.

Saturday, December 13, 2008


Yesterday there was news of yet another PC hardware maker with a new model that is supposed to run the Apple Operating System, from a company called EFi-X USA you can read about in articles found at:
It was not that long ago that a Florida company, Psystar, tried marketing a PC that would run the Apple OS and ran into strong legal opposition from Apple. So this begs a couple of questions, is there a market for PC hardware that will run the Apple Operating System software; and if so does this indicate a weakness in the Apple Mac computer model line-up?

From a digital photography perspective there are good image quality performance reasons to want to run the Apple operating system, especially if the other alternative is Windows Vista. It is a fact the one tower configuration Apple makes, the MacPro, is expensive, but its speed and capabilities are at a high professional level, and overkill to be sure for most photo enthusiasts. Then the iMac next down in price from the Mac Pro in the current model selections is quickly becoming known for its very bright LCD (it as an all-in-one computer and display) that is a cause of the “prints too dark” problem, and is a problem difficult to resolve. Finally the Mac Mini because it’s not in a big enclosure like a typical PC that has little inside but air, is not seen by many Americans as being a computer to take seriously, a victim of the SUV mentality of bigger is better.

So at least apparently, and I hear there are sales indications, that Apple is maybe missing some computer buyers because there isn’t an obvious mid-level computer in their offerings. In other words because Apple marches to its own drum beat many folk don’t recognize because Apple computers don’t look like a Dell, Apple doesn’t have anything for them they can afford. However my experience with the Mac Mini says otherwise and has been confirmed in experience since I have purchased three of them. One reason for selecting the Mac Mini is because I do digital photography and the monitor/display is as important if not more so than the computer its attached to - I hope that is understood for the obvious reason all digital photo processing is done based on visual perception of the image on-screen. The Mini has to have a stand-alone separate display (that’s extra and can be chosen from many brands), as well as the base price also does not even include a keyboard and mouse. For some, including myself, this can be an advantage if you already have a display, keyboard and mouse that is in good working condition - just add the Mac Mini to what you have.

My first Mini was a Solo Core processor model and its performance was adequate but modest. The two most recent Mac Mini’s I have purchased have the fastest Dual Core Intel processors, 2GB RAM and the largest hard drive offered, and although not as fast and powerful as my Mac Pro surely, there is nothing I do processing digital camera images, with Aperture or Photoshop, making large scans, color correcting and editing, as well as printing done with a Mac Mini that would be accomplished faster or better if I used my Mac Pro. In fact the one advantage I find using the Mac Pro is to run Microsoft Windows in addition to the Apple OS 10.5 Leopard operating system using Parallels 4.0 that supports running alternate operating systems on an Apple Mac in a virtual machine - you can have both the Apple OS and Windows running at the same time. Why? Because I write for Shutterbug readers most of whom still use Windows - I have had no luck converting but a few brave souls to the Mac.

Friday, December 12, 2008


The last two days have been a bleary-eyed ordeal reading as many forum posts as I could on “prints too dark” from a Google search on that phrase, which obtains almost 2 million results. What I was looking for was as complete a picture as possible why people trying to make photo prints were getting unacceptably dark print output. I didn’t get very far into the almost 2 million results before my eyes gave out reading the forum posts, but I did find that a lot of users have discovered the cause of dark prints is an LCD display that is too bright. But confusion reigns when it comes to how to fix the problem, very often involving color management and the idea of using Photoshop’s “soft proofing”. Some forum gurus have been recommending adjusting the display brightness to match the print output, and actually that practical philosophy was used before there was such a thing as Color Management, but it largely precludes color matching using CM and a calibrated and profiled display, if in reality an LCD display can be reduced in brightness to actually match the range of print densities or the CRT monitors of the past. Some users found that instead of having their photo editing application control color, select having the printer driver control color, which with some printer drivers does provide an output print density adjustment and yields satisfactory print brightness results, but the downside is that some printer drivers will automatically adjust print density and others don’t, as well as color matching with what you see on-screen is not usually supported.

So, let’s try and reduce the confusion about “prints too dark”. In most cases those who have guessed it is because their LCD display is too bright are correct! (And I’ll get to how that can be dealt with later). That Color Management is the problem or the solution is really just a bad detour. The reason is that CM only deals with matching colors between devices with profiles, and device profiles don’t have any overall density information in them, so no effect on image midpoint setting that controls the brightness appearance of an image, in a print or on-screen - just color information only. So the use of soft proofing is not a predictor of image density, because the soft proof is being viewed on screen in the brightness range of the LCD display that was used to perceptually adjust the image file data as to how bright or dark the image should appear. The same applies to any on-screen preview image, like in Photoshop CS3 and CS4 that has Color Matching for the preview image in the Print dialogue window, it will give you a look at how the colors will print but will no predict print output density.

There has been some discussion in the forums about the display gamma setting in connection to some schemes to resolve the “print too dark” issue. With Apple recently changing to a display gamma default of 2.2, that 2.2 gamma is now a universal standard, and Apple finally changed probably because internet pictures, like photos in FaceBook don’t look quite right on a display at at 1.8 gamma, as well as the fact that photos on the internet are usually uploaded as JPEG/sRGB images and the gamma imposed by sRGB is 2.2. So, with display gamma default now universally 2.2, using any other display gamma to achieve a less bright display to correct “prints too dark”, could become a problem if the images are uploaded to a web site, or sent to an outside print service. They won’t match the density you saw on screen.

To deal with the high brightness of LCD displays and to also obtain color matching in output users first need to calibrate and profile their LCD display. Ideally using a good hardware sensor that measures the display output is ideal, either an X-Rite i1 Display 2 (or equivalent) and a DataColor Spyder3 Elite are two I can recommend. But if that cannot be afforded, for Apple users in System Preferences/Diplay/ there is a calibration and profiling utility, and any Windows user with any version of Adobe Photoshop will have Adobe Gamma.EXE installed on their system, so learn how and use these utilities. Although some forum posters have claimed setting LCD displays with a white point luminance as low as 85.0 or 90.0 CD/m2, the level of a CRT. I have not found with a luminance level that low that photo image screen quality is acceptable, if it can be done at all with 2.2 gamma. The color management industry recommendation is for color managed functioning set the LCD display white point luminance at 120.0 CD/m2, and from experience i will have to agree. I don’t have a too dark print problem with my LCD’s set at 120.0 CD/m2, but it is still 25% brighter than a CRT, and if prints are still too dark, an inexpensive solution would be to cover the front of the LCD display screen with a neutral density gel. These are available from Lee filters, go to:

Obviously in a blog I cannot take the space to detail a workflow that I have found successful, and I’ve done that already, and it was published in the December issue of Shutterbug on page 68. you can access the article on-line at Shutterbug’s site at:

Note: in the article the Photoshop screenshots illustrating the use of the Transfer Function weere from CS2, with CS3 go to the upper right of the Print window and click on Color Management and then the Output option tag to find the Transfer Function button below.

If you are still needing more Color Management information or help drop me a line by e-mail at

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


From the e-mail and forum posts I have read Apple iMac photographer users are having the most difficulty with a too bright screen, and prints too dark. Thanks to one correspondent, Pat Marchitto who alerted me to Phil Corley’s web site
( a solution has been found to lower the screen brightness to calibrate and profile for better print matching.

If you read the page on the Phil Corley website, he states he was getting a whitepoint luminance reading of 300.0 CD/m2 with his iMac (current model) and wanted a third of that or 100.0 CD/m2 in screen brightness. Although that aim point may be ideal for print matching output density, most color management experts indicate, as X-rite recommends a white point luminance of 120.0 CD/m2 for LCD’s. The lower aim point of 100 may work for a new iMac, but for more common, less unique LCD displays, I have found going that low has the price of a deterioration of image color reproduction quality, compared to most LCD displays calibrated to a brightness of 120.0 CD/m2. But that may be beside the point and up to user preference if you can lower iMac screen brightness that much and get away with it otherwise.

The solution is a new version of ColorEyes Display v1.42 that now has direct control for Apple displays (this includes not just iMacs, but all Apple Cinema Displays). The software can be downloaded from their web site at
And, a ten day free trial is offered. In addition a display/monitor sensor is needed to use ColorEyes Display Pro to calibrate and profile a display, and the software supports all current sensors including Spyder and X-Rite i1 Display.

Although I don’t have an iMac or Apple Cinema Display, I did download the ColorEyes Pro software and used it and a Spyder2 to validate the current and recently calibrated and profiled state of my display. The software has good on-line support and relatively easy control just by following on-screen guides and instructions. Even though I could not test the iMac solution specifically, what I was able to determine is the capabilities are there and the software does function as described applied to a current LCD display to my satisfaction.

Personally I find using pro-graphics LCD displays that are calibrated and profiled to a white point luminance of no more than 120.0 CD/m2, which is definitely supported by the ColorEyes Pro application, that I obtain excellent color matching with my printers (custom profiled) and do not experience a “prints too dark” problem. This may in part be due to my work area lighting and its affect on LCD screen perception, which does effect color correction and image adjustment.

In other words accurate and effective display calibration and profiling to a recommended brightness, can reduce if not eliminate the “prints too dark” problem. However in monitoring this issue other printing problems have complicated the matter. So please keep in touch and I will apply my efforts as best I can to finding more solutions - just keep in touch by e-mail at

Sunday, December 7, 2008


A lot was said by the press about the possibility once in the Whitehouse Barrack Obama may lose access to his Blackberry. And more recently as some bits and pieces have leaked out about the plans to provide an economic stimulus and jobs initiative, one of the items recently was to do something about internet access. Anything could be better than what currently exists considering that among the advanced free-world nations the US is way down the list in providing broadband access to its citizens. And as Obama has suggested he will use the internet to be connected to the public to create a more open and accessible administration to Americans that hopefully could enable a greater participation in government by citizens. If nothing else this is also an education issue as it provides access to information for students, a digital highway to a library.

That something needs to be done beyond what the free market offers for connectivity becomes more evident every day. Unless you live in a large urban center. cable service is usually only offered by one company and that kind of monopoly makes people pay twice as much to often get fewer channels and less programming. A few years ago some communities wanted to respond to a need for more affordable broadband access by providing WiFi access, and few have succeeded mostly because their efforts have been sabotaged by the private cable and ISP companies. Why anyone should have to pay for cable TV at all is hard to imagine, just the opposite the advertisers should pay subscribers for having access to people’s homes, especially considering how much programming time is now commercials and how many channels are nothing but one long advertising commercial.

What brought this to mind was a friend who offhand mentioned she would like to get a webcam. I raised an eyebrow and she explained that it would allow her to see and visit with her grandchildren more often. When I mentioned that she would have to get broadband to replace her dial-up internet connection she was crestfallen by that wet blanket thrown on her hopes.

Although very connected myself, I have been a bit of a Luddite about having my own web site, I think mostly because so many photographer’s web sites are just a way to get people to look at their photos. Having been published in magazines for too many years now to count, that is not something I particularly need. But I do get a lot of e-mail from my Digital Help column that indicates some photographers could use some how-to help beyond what I can offer in an e-mail, and that might be satisfied by my eBook on CD. So to make the information about my CD more easily available I created a simple and free web site thanks to Google that describes my Digital Darkroom Resource CD at

In this last election there may be more hope as a result, that rather than a country divided we could become more united. We maybe need to come together to meet the challenges these bad economic times have brought us. One way is to take advantage of being connected in ways we never could in any past crisis, so I am hoping that whatever new programs are offered the idea of making it easier and less costly to be connected through the internet gets all the attention it deserves.

Friday, December 5, 2008


I don’t know if you have noticed on TV, but ads for some new flat screen TV’s are now touting mind boggling figures for contrast-ratio of a million to one. Can anyone see a million to one? Or does it matter in the definition of a talking head’s picture on screen to what the pundit is saying about his crystal ball into the future of Barack Obama’s governance after January 20? Technical specification have been a boon to imaginative marketing mavens ever since cars were described as having horsepower, and the race goes on for who can concoct the most outlandish claims.

Of course there is Consumer’s Report with their labs to measure products objectively and then provide a subjective assessment that is almost as fanciful-- one of my favorite laughs when I sat in an editorial office and got a copy of Consumer’s Report camera issue on my desk, was their “best buy pick” was always some ungainly model that frequently ended up in the dustbin of the history of obsolete products made by companies that soon failed. Does anyone remember Miranda?

Seriously, besides technical specifications that abuse and misuse the trust of people, they also contribute to a misunderstanding of how products in the real world function. This morning I responded to a reader’s comment that a particular scanner he was considering had a “poor” dynamic range specification. The scanner in question does have a dynamic range greater than the density range of any normal film image there is to scan, but it is not as high as some scanners that are 4.0 and greater offered in the recent past. What is not realized is in this case maybe bigger isn’t better, in fact just the opposite. if a scanner’s dynamic range is significantly greater than the density range of the film images being scanned each raw scan will create a file space with a significant amount of space that is blank with no image information at one or both ends of the density scale. This will require that the image data that is present will have to be expanded by interpolation to fill the colorspace of the output file (a Levels optimization correction in Photoshop), to be useful for quality output of a print for instance.

This pressure to sell scanners featuring ever higher dynamic range specifications, also has a potential downside when the scanner is used to scan color negatives which have a much lower density range compared to reversal color transparencies by as much as 2/3rds. Thus the scan data has but a small amount of image information in raw scan output, as would be evident in a Levels histogram, which to fit the output color space must be expanded dramatically in software processing by the scanner driver. Ideally a scanner with just half the dynamic range of contemporary film scanners would probably reproduce better image quality output images if used just for scanning negatives.

Of course consumers do want information upon which they can base a decision as to what to buy. But when specifications are technical and cannot be practically verified by the user, there is a lack of reality regulation and some specifications become not much more than hype, and it actually is a contest of which company exercises the most hubris to inflate figures more than the next. The LCD display market has been particularly obfuscating using all kinds of technical jargon and inflated figures while beyond the measured size are essentially meaningless, the exception being the high-priced professional graphics products most stores don’t even stock. But at the same time if you want to find out if an LCD brand has separate independent controls for contrast, brightness and backlight adjustment or if it has discrete white point color temperature settings, that information is missing or confused with the jargon and hype. So a potential purchaser often cannot determine if a consumer home/office LCD display can or cannot be effectively calibrated and profiled for doing digital photography image processing.

Here unfortunately we live in a free-market world that would not flourish if fettered by regulation it is claimed, but should sellers of technical products not be kept honest and candid about their claims?

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Windows 7 Versus Apple Mac????

When I began this blog the last thing I had in mind was commenting on other blogs, but in’s Mary-Jo Foley blog, her plea to Microsoft programmers to NOT make the next Windows too Mac-like, had me laughing and fuming at the same time. ( Especially today after reading in the New York Times David Pogue page with a section on Maintaining The Mac, ( which amounted to almost nothing unless one is paranoid by disposition. I switched from Windows to Apple Mac almost a decade ago and have had virtually no maintenance that needed to be done in that period of intense computer work, compared to it being an almost constant chore before with Windows. But what really got me was what Mary-Jo put in her wish list “fewer UAC prompts, simpler backup and restore, better peripheral handling” which are all current included features of the Apple OS!

There is really no point to plea that Microsoft not make Windows 7 more Mac-like, they tried just that with Vista and missed, with a superficial level of form over function and fancy graphics obscuring a lack of practical functionality. The result has been many have uninstalled Vista from a new PC and replaced it with Windows XP because it works. It’s not the Mac “image” but Apple functionality Microsoft might better emulate.

Microsoft Windows has the bulk of the personal computer operating system business, and as far as I am concerned they are welcome to it. I am sure Apple would like a larger market share, but would that be good for those of us who are Mac users? I use an Apple Mac because it does graphics and imaging better and easier, and as important, it also is not targeted by a reservoir of Microsoft hatred breeding virus attacks. Even if Apple attracted a greater percentage of people doing digital photography, it still would not threaten the business of Microsoft, so enough already - there are real issues and problems that need attention, especially in such threatening time

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Too Quiet On The Western Front

This last month my e-mail in-box has been rather full of messages in response to my article about Print matching on page 68 of the December issue of Shutterbug. The article seemed to hit a raw nerve, and my curiosity as to how extensive the problem is, was more than satisfied when I ran a Google search on “Prints Too Dark”, which elicited 1,930,000 results.

My inherent nature of being a gadfly caused me to make an e-mail message from that Google search result and send it out to many of my industry contacts as well as a few friendly corespondents. My friends answered and not one industry contact replied! I think the ”prints too dark” problem has caught most in the digital photography business off-guard and a little unprepared maybe? However, it seems the diversity of this problem involving all kinds of computers, photo applications and printers, but seems to be exclusive to those using LCD displays and not older CRT’s, confirms the former’s brightness as the culprit causing prints to be made too dark. That almost no one foresaw the much brighter LCD display might lead to a midtone (brightness setting) displacement is rather surprising. But I guess they can be excused because there is no reason why anyone was particularly aware of the fact that a CRT’s brightness range is very similar to the range of reflective values in a good quality photographic print - just someone like myself who has been using densitometers most of my professional life I suppose.

The other reason for the quiet and why the industry has no response is that other than the Transfer Function in the Output options of Photoshop CS, CS2 and CS3, I have not been able to imagine or find any other workaround, except maybe putting a neutral density gel over the front of the screen of an LCD display to reduce its perceptual brightness. That is an unlikely fix because I believe the LCD’s brightness is one of the attractions that has made them a popular selling upgrade. An environment for working with a CRT was often described as cave-like, dark in other words - while an LCD display allows having the room lights at a much more “normal” level.

Interesting though there was once a software package that ColorVision offered called Doctor Pro that supports editing profiles including particularly printer profiles. But sadly it is no longer available and will not run on any of my computers, although I have a copy on an installation CD. It worked rather interestingly by incorporating a Photoshop image adjustment saved as an Action to be incorporated into a profile Doctor Pro edited, with a new version of the profile resulting. Now my curiosity makes me wish I had one of my old computers so I could experiment and see if Doctor Pro’s profile editing would be a solution.

Does anyone else have any ideas how to solve the “prints too dark” problem? Drop me a note at:

Monday, December 1, 2008

Computer Anarchy And Color Chaos

I would guess the casual consumer when confronted with images displayed on computer screens probably assumes there is some color standard involved that regulates what red, blue or yellow should look like that governs the manufacture of these displays. But that is an incorrect assumption as all color reproduction devices are what the industry calls “device independent”. In other words it is a “free market” and a maker of display screens, as well as printers and scanners, in fact any device that reproduces color information, is not held to any standard in terms of the observed color reproduced as the result to the specific RGB computer data sent to or received from the device.

When the World Wide Web as an extension of the Internet was first envisioned a handful of influential companies realized to obtain any color uniformity in color perceived on-screen by individual computer users would require a way to regulate color at the source. The solution of Microsoft, Intel and Hewlett-Packard was to limit the gamut of color from the source to that of an average CRT monitor(circa early ‘90’s), in other words the lowest common denominator of color by making the number of possible colors from the source small. The result is the sRGB color space that only contains at most 65% of the color variants possible in a total of 1.7 million different colors a computer can record and reproduce from an 8-bit RGB file.

But even before that there was afoot some schemes to make computers reproduce consistent color called Color Management. At first these were primarily attempts spearheaded by companies like Agfa and Kodak and were proprietary and only useful to regulate color reproduction with the company’s products and software. Then a large representation of computer companies with a vested interest in color reproduction like Apple and Adobe got together and formed the International Color Consortium. Eventually a color standard was agreed upon and both physical print and film targets as well as computer reference files were promulgated. All of this became a widely accessible function for users with Adobe Photoshop version 5.5 which supported Color Management not just between devices on a single system but between computers and all platforms, Microsoft Windows, Apple Computer, and eventually Linux.

Some liken Color Management to being an arcane ritual, too complex and poorly regulated to be easily useful. But in concept it is really a simple scheme. Because computer components are manufactured in an international free market environment, then each display, scanner or printer is device independent and reproduces color uniquely; so the first function of Color Management is the measurement of the device’s color reproduction, which is referred to as calibration. Then the calibration is compared to the ICC color standard, and any differences are written into a text file that is called a Profile, with either an .ICC or .ICM suffix usually. These profile files provide your computer with the specific knowledge (description) of what color each device reproduces. For instance without a calibrated and profiled display your computer is unaware of what colors are on screen you are looking at. In addition to the three types of device profiles, display, input and output, a fourth type of profile is a workspace profile which provides the configuration of color on screen for a color managed application like Photoshop. The workspace profile is standardized like sRGB and Adobe RGB (1998), and when used in an application becomes the source profile for any image file that is generated or open in that application; and if embedded in a file saved from the application, that file then can be opened in any computer with a color managed application and if viewed in the space of the embedded profile, will look the same as it did on the display of the computer that generated it.

The complexity and possible confusion Color Management causes users comes from its implementation in various applications, printer drivers, scanner software and operating systems. In addition very often the installation of a scanner driver, or that of a printer, may result in numerous and often unneeded superfluous profile files being added to the Color folder (Windows) or the Colorsync/Profiles folder on an Apple Mac.

Problems ensue when a user sets up to use color management, for instance in an application like Photoshop, as to which profiles to select for RGB, grayscale and CMYK workspaces, or with a scanner which profile is actually the one to use with a particular model scanner if several have been installed with similar names. With printers it is often even more confusing as there may be a profile for each of the papers the printer supports using. All this is made worse by the fact every operating system when installed loads a bunch of standard generic profile files most users will never need. Sadly, nether printer/scanner companies nor software applications, much less operating systems, provide any documentation that fully identifies the profile files installed and their use or associated hardware. All anyone can do is be diligent in searching out which profiles are necessary and needed in association with your system and hardware, and then move all the rest to a newly made folder and call it Profile Purgatory.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Black Friday

Last night after Thanksgiving I tuned into the news and caught an ad that really grabbed me. A local retailer was offering a major brand 8 megapixel point and shoot digital camera for $88, that’s $11 a megapixel! That really lowers the bar for anyone who wants a digital camera.

But I suspect the advertising offer was to lure people into the store at some unholy hour of the morning, really early and after eating too much turkey too!

Then on the news Thursday night there were pictures of people lined up already waiting for the stores to open wanting to be the first to get in to pick off the choice bargains. There were also other lines of people on video earlier in the day of those queued up in longer lines than ever to obtain a free Thanksgiving dinner. The too kinds of lining up in a single news broadcast had a disparate visual dissonance because although the purposes were worlds apart, the people did not look that different. In other words people that look like just about any other American in a crowd are lining up to spend money while others are lined up because they don’t have the price of a meal. This is a very different “hard times” from the Depression era photo’s we saw from the 30’s.

Speaking of which there is now access to much of Life Magazine’s photo archives that have been scanned and made available on Google. Anyone interested in history in photo’s, photo-journalism, or just great photography, it is all there in the images from the Life Magazine archives including the photos from the Depression like those made by Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

An LCD Display For Christmas?

If you are buying yourself a Christmas present or someone is that needs some guidance, a new LCD display for digital photography selection is getting better and more affordable this season. Among the prime manufacturers NEC is sporting a new, high performance “P” Series, with the new 22 inch Multicynch P221W model. It is designed for professional graphics users and is built on the success of the highly rated 90 series NEC displays. This new model is sold with a kit including a calibration and profiling sensor based on the the X-Rite i! Dispaly 2 hardware and software. The NEC Multisynch P221W LCD display is slated to be available in store in December 20008 at a street price of $636.

At the other end of the price spectrum for an LCD display suitable for digital photography is the LG Electronics 22 inch W2252TQ with an MSRP of $339,95. This is a new model LGE display with specifications similar to the Flatron L2000C I tested awhile back, I have no reason to doubt this new model will performa as well or better. Check out what LG has to say about this new model line at:

The big bang for the buck in professional graphics LCD displays in Samsung’s Syncmaster 245T model. Originally with a retail list price well over a $1,000.00, this large 24 inch widescreen display is currently listed for sale by B&H Photo-Video for $619.95. That’s not at all bad for one of the best brand-models I have tested for use doing digital photography.

Finally at the very pinnacle of display performance is the Eizo ColorEdge, and the CE210W model I tested with great satisfaction. I was particularly impressed using the Eizo software and direct computer to display control via a USB connection from computer to display, I was able to achieve the most precise and effective calibration and profiling compared to any LCD display I have worked with. the Color Management specialists are currently offering the Eizo ColorEdge CE 210W 21 inch LCD display for $1149 after instant rebate.


I am thankful for three days of gentle rain here in southern California ending a wildfire season that has been one of the worst.

I am thankful for an end of two years of often embarrassing political campaigning.

I am thankful for $4.00 gasoline that made people learn they can really drive their cars a bit less.

I am thankful for a slowdown in our economy that has awoken some to the fact we have become much too materialistic.

I am thankful for a financial crisis that has informed us we are too dependent on credit as the fuel for an excessive lifestyle.

I am thankful more Americans chose hope and change in their voting over more of the same politics of the last 30 years.

And I am thankful for having this new blog venue to share what I am thinking about digital photography.

Although the daily news keeps reminding us of bad times ahead there is really much to be thankful for if you just look for it.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Back To The Future

I am not thinking of a series of movies and time machines, but this week’s address by Barack Obama announcing his plans and intentions to put millions of Americans back to work. Of course newspaper columnists and TV pundits have already harkened back to the days of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the new Deal and its WPA organization to get people working during the Depression. But for me it recalled a very small part of the WPA that produced a lasting memorial to those times by a small team of photographers including Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange. Their photographs, many of which have become well known are now in the Library of Congress and anyone can order prints for a very nominal fee. Considering what an Ansel Adams print fom the same era would cost today, in many respects what the WPA photographers and the Library of Congress catalogue of images has provided the American public, I believe is really more “American”.

So the question is, will the Obama administration follow the precedent of the 1930’s WPA and put photographers to work documenting American life in this time for future generations to see and enjoy? It does not seem likely today’s politics and practical challenges will call for an exact repeat, a new New Deal or a WPA, but we can hope can’t we? Isn’t that the theme Obama won on? Of course if enough of Americas millions of photographers launched a letter and e-mail campaign via the Barack Obama web site ( who knows. He is our first “connected” President elect, although security concerns are threatening to turn off his Blackberry.

Interesting though there is a modern technology precedent that might add weight to the concept of a WPA photographer II project. It is maybe prescient that the Democratic wife of California’s Republican Governor, Maria Shriver recently unveiled the California Legacy Trails. This is a new Adobe software based interactive featured web site of the California Museum web site. It could very well be a model for a US national web site project that would be a perfect venue for the photographs (and video) if such a project as the WPA photography team should be revived by the Obama Administration.

Although I am just dreaming out loud of course, this new California Museum web site is an ideal model for how the American story can be told in a way anyone can relate to in words, photographs and video. The reason I find it ideal is that it is not just one story but many, as the American dream is not just one vision but many, as many as there are individuals who make up all of America. Take a look at this web site and I think you will find why I am inspired that it is a model, not just for the work of a new WPA photography team should that come about, but more importantly as a way to tell the American story to the children and even adults who could benefit by a broader understanding of what it is to be a human being in America.

View the video at:

Whether you agree with me or disagree, or have another thought, comment; or if you prefer, please write to me by e-mail at: I would like to hear from you.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Casualty Of The Economy

A well established name in scanners, Microtek will no longer have an independent American Company representing its products in the US. Their offices in California are scheduled to be closed on December 12 of this year. However in compliance with US law warranties, repair and parts will be available for Microtek owners and users through a website portal at:

Microtek International will continue to offer scanning solutions through partners and OEM relationships in the US from its headquarters in Taiwan. Whether models like the recent and popular ArtixScan M1 will continue to offered for sale in the US through other venues remains to be seen.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Best Of Both World’s

The popular phrase that acknowledges differences in “worlds” that may have particular advantages unique to each, took on new meaning to me today. I was upgrading an Apple Mac application called Parallels from version 3.0 to version 4.0, and realized the extent to which this software that supports running the Windows operating system on an Apple Mac seamlessly has changed the old concept of Apple vs Microsoft as an ether/or proposition to something else. I used to run both Apple Macs and a PC with Windows, but since Apple switched to Intel processors and became capable of also running other operating systems like Windows, I took advantage of this possibility and instead of replacing my old PC with a new one, just upgraded my Apple Mac and installed Parallels.

I chose to install Parallels Desktop, which is a software virtual machine, because unlike using the Apple Boot Camp solution to run Windows, you don’t have to re-boot to go from the Apple operating system to launch Windows. I often make screenshots for articles, or just make a quick reference to a Windows application to answer a reader question, so being able to switch from the Apple OS I do my work with to Windows seamlessly is a great convenience for me.

However my necessity to have a PC/Windows system to run applications that are exclusive to Windows to do my job writing about digital photography computing for an audience that is more Windows than Mac, obscured some advantages of having both operating systems on an Apple Mac I had not considered. The first awakening to these other advantages was when after obtaining a Kodachrome K3 IT-8 target slide I could use to profile my scanners specifically for scanning Kodachrome slides. I found none of the Apple Mac scanner profiling software I had was able to read the old “marilyn” style of IT-8 references Kodak used to produce the Kodachrome K3 targets. However remembering that some years back I had used Monaco Systems EZ Color profiling software on a PC, I dug through my huge stack of old software applications and found up a copy of version 2.0 of EZ Color. I installed it in Windows running on my Mac under Parallels, and found it worked fine, after also installing the original Windows driver for my now discontinued Minolta DiMage Scan Elite 5400-2 scanner.

This experience was useful a short time later when answering a reader’s question about a problem with an even rarer Minolta scanner the Multi-Pro model. This reader had just upgraded his Mac to Apple OS 10.5 and found that the SilverFast driver for his scanner would not work, and Lasersoft had not upgraded it for Apple version 10.5 and was not sure if or when that might get done. So I suggested he get and install Parallels and a copy of Windows XP Pro on his Mac. Then he could install the original Windows driver from the CD he got with the scanner and run it from Windows on his Mac.

Over the years I have collected software and most of the really old stuff is for Windows applications. I haven’t done it yet but as soon as I have the time I hope to have some old imaging resources available again I had given up on, but would still like to access. The reason is that as a for instance, an early version of Corel’s PhotoPaint had a marvelous collection of special effects filters that are not available in the current version or anywhere else for either Windows or Apple Mac. So I hope I can find the application CD’s for that old version of PhotoPaint. There are lots of such possibilities, like re-installing my very old copy of Lotus Notes address book so I can easily access the addresses of friends and acquaintances from years back from files I have stored on CD’s.

And, that reminds me - from the comments many people have made to me that they recognize an Apple Mac computer would be better(and definitely is) for their doing digital photography, but they don’t want to loose access to all of the Windows software they are used to. But by running Windows with Parallels on a new Intel Apple Mac they can still do all the computing things they did, and at no cost other than the time to re-install those programs. In addition I believe some of the intimidation caused by the idea of learning not just a new operating system but new applications too, would be lessened, and being able to go from the Apple OS to Windows, back and forth seamlessly, I know they would soon discover what I have learned, that doing computing on either system is not really very different.

The best of both worlds is having both with all the advantage of each. Check out Parallels 4.0 at

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Half Gone So Don’t Lose The Rest

A report on today says half of America’s photographic history will disappear. The research was done by a reputable company, GFK you can look up at, and it was underwritten by ScanCafe, whose business self interest is an obvious incentive to fund such a poll. But in this case their self-interest does not make me have any doubts, based on the information Shutterbug magazine readers have been providing over the last decade. The reports of home stored photographic images that have been lost to fading, fungus and mildew and just plain poor storage in a damp environment, would have me guess what is lost may be even more than half.

Photographers began using color film in ernest in the 60’s and as the 35mm SLR enthusiasm grew by leaps and bounds the total of accumulated consumer photographs people have stored in those ubiquitous shoe-boxes may be even more than the estimated 550 billion suggested by the research. I’ve been photographing and using color since the fifties and other than Kodachrome slides most of my color images from the first 15 years of my photography are not recoverable, and only the slides and very few color negatives from the mid 60’s through 1980 can be considered in good condition. And I am pretty careful about storage and live in a raltively dry climate. So any photographer with a library of film images in color if they want their images preserved, should think about scanning the film and then archiving the files, would be my recommendation.

But also from the e-mail I receive from Shutterbug readers I get the impression the cost of a good scanner is less of an inhibitor to scanning than a concern that scanning is an odious, boring task and is hard to learn. When I first began scanning film in the beginning of the 90’s the software was not user friendly and both scanners and computers were slow, so it was tedious. But as the technology has improved as well as what can be done in the scanning process to reproduce very fine photographic qualities sometimes from mediocre to poor quality film images, is a challenge that is both fun to do and extremely satisfying. It is every bit as interesting and engaging as old fashioned darkroom developing and enlarging was, but in a much more comfortable environment free of noxious fumes and squinting in the dim illumination of a safelight.

Of course some would rather consider having the scanning done for them and that’s why a company like ScanCafe exists. In fact for a period in my life I was too busy to do my own scanning and at the time Kodak offered scanning to a CD through a number of labs which I took advantage of. But like having color prints made, even by a top-dollar pro lab, I was seldom really satisfied the results were what I had in mind, and I really dislike being one of those difficult impossible to satisfy customers. So, now semi-retired I have been able to spend more time scanning, and the more I do the better I get at it, and the more enjoyment I get from making an image look even better than it did when I first made the photograph.

And today, when time may be easier to come by than money, at the affordable prices of a good scanner, it’s as good a hobby as taking pictures with a digital camera because other than a miniscule amount of electricity burned, it cost nothing to scan film, and almost nothing to archive the resulting files on Gold/Gold CD’s. I’ve now filled about 600 CD’s with scanned film images I made in the past, and I’m happy I’ll probably never finish scanning my entire library because I’m having more fun with photography than ever.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Visual Perception And Digital Photo Editing

Human vision is incredibly adaptive so you can see in bright sunlight on a ski-slope during mid-day and at night on the highway to drive home. But this adaptability being essentially automatic and subliminal can be a disadvantage because your perception of small brightness differences between screen and print is not obvious until the print becomes a physical reality that makes it apparent.

How this possibly occurs even if your display is calibrated and profiled is because although the display profile is referenced by Photoshop or other color managed applications, whatever the display values are, they are translated to the parameters defined by the workspace profile. In other words the high range of brightness values that characterizes an LCD display are interpolated into the color values dictated by the Adobe RGB (1998) workspace profile for instance, which is static, and then those values are actually displayed in that longer brightness range of the LCD display, and nothing in calibration and profiling reflects the value differential and difference in midtone value that could be passed on through to a printer driver and printer profile in the process of making a print.

So that is where the Output Transfer adjustment function to produce a perceptually brighter print comes in I have suggested, or the alternative of incorporating the correction in a custom printer profile.The fact the midtone setting is based on the longer brightness range of the LCD rather than the shorter range for accurate print output has to be has to be estimated and assmed to adjust output manually. The alternate suggested custom profile for output brightness correction of course is a relatively expensive and sophisticated solution that is an advantage because it will work for all photographers who use Elements, Lightroom. Aperture or iPhoto and do not have Adobe Photoshop CS’ Output Transfer to adjust print brightness to print from.

What I have really said is that human visual perception is individually adaptive and therefor dynamic, but a color managed digital photo editing and processing system is essentially static and is not capable of accommodating the relative brightness range difference between LCD displays and print output. The result is the “ubiquitous” problem “my prints are too dark”, often caused by the brightness range of LCD displays influencing misplacement of the midtone setting to effect printing. So it should be evident the solution is to make the Color Management system dynamic and capable of sensing the differential between display brightness range and print output potential so the output matches the screen’s expectation of what the print should look like. Unfortunately that would demand a major overhaul of the ICC color management structure standards, and is not likely to happen anytime soon if at all.

The alternative is to get application software companies to recognize the problem and introduce an adjustment like the Output Transfer function that is more direct and as easy as an adjustment slider in the Print dialogue to facilitate making the print output lighter or darker. An adjunct to a slider solution could be a much more sophisticated and accurate print preview in the Print dialogue window. That would make the adjustment process perceptual rather than trial and error, as is the case using the Output Transfer function. Of course I will do what I can to get such a software solution made available, but the more input from reader/users there is, the more weight there is in the balance in favor of making such a change.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Nothing Remains The Same For Long In This Digital World

Today, November 23, in the New York Times, Circuits by David Pogue, he said “Pixels Are Like Cupcakes”. Cute, and a good analogy that a digital photo sensor chip is like a sheet that cupcakes are baked in, and that each cupcake holder is like an R, G, or B sensor site, but rather than cake dough it gathers light focused on it by the camera lens. Then he goes on to argue that the size of the cupcake or sensor site is determined by the overall physical size of the sensor chip and the number of megapixels it has. Further he argues that as the number of megapixels is increased for a given sensor area size, the smaller the size of each sensor must be, so it gathers less light and therefore functions less effectively.

On that basis he claims it is better to buy a two year old digital camera design with 8 megapixels than a new, current model with 12 megapixels because the older model with larger sensor sites will produce better image quality. That argument would make sense if everything involved otherwise remained static for that two year difference. But it doesn’t! In the last two years new sensor chip materials have been introduced that have greater light sensitivity and new and better micro-lenses for the image sensor sites (a microscopic lens in front of each sensor site to focus and concentrate light into each sensor’s center) are being used. In other words the sensitivity deficiency caused by smaller sensor site size between and 8 megapixel and a 12 megapixel sensor array, may no longer be a performance factor because the sensor material and design of the newer 12 megapixel is better, and maybe even superior in image reproduction than the older 8 megapixel model. Americans have a general tendency to think because something is bigger it must be better, but technology research and development proves that wrong-headed every day in this new digital world we live in if you consider products like Apple’s iPod or iPhone.

But even old film technology should if understood, argue in favor of the idea that the more image information the better the photographic quality, and a 12 megapixel digital camera captures and reproduces more image information than an 8 megapixel. Isn’t that the same principle as using a slow, fine-grain film to get better photo quality compared to using a fast, grainy film? The more grains of silver per square millimeter of film, with fine-grain film, would have to result in more information and therefore better image quality. Likewise photographers who wanted to improve the quality of their photographs would upgrade from 35mm to 120 size film, medium format cameras because the larger film size area recorded more image information, hence better photographic image quality.

The New York Times Circuit feature with David Pogue covers every kind of electronic/digital gadget consumers are buying these days. That’s a pretty wide field, so if he isn’t entirely savvy about digital photography that’s understandable. That he has a critical eye for product shortcomings, like Apple leaving out the FireWire support in its new MacBooks is a legitimate criticism and useful to consumers. But over a long period of time, Pogue has tried to claim that more megapixels does not produce better photographic image quality. That seems to me to be pandering with false sympathy for the digital photographers who may not want to keep up with the manufacturer’s megapixel race and its forced obsolescence. Sure you buy a little reader empathy, even loyalty, but by misleading them?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Color Management - A Necessary Evil?

In this month's (December) issue of Shutterbug I have an article on page 68 initiated by a number of e-mail questions to Digital Help asking about various aspects of one problem: getting prints that match the image on your computer screen. Soon after the issue hit the newsstands I was informed that "prints too dark" was a big issue on the Adobe web site with over a hundred posts, and there were pages of references to it on Google. Some, and not just a few were a little angry that their printer manufacturer's support was helpless, and as far as I read there were few in the Adobe Forum who had any clues.

Fortunately a couple of years ago or so, doing some beta testing for color management products, I saw the possibility of this problem arising. But no one at the time was interested - they should be now! It's not your printer's fault, nor is it caused by the printer driver, or for that matter your operating system or the photo image editing application you are using. The cause of the problem "my prints are too dark" is your visual perception has been deceived by the nice bright new LCD display connected to your computer. I am not sure but I doubt any of those still using a big, heavy old CRT monitor, are among those reporting this print/screen mismatch problem.

Why LCD displays are at the root of this is they are half again or more brighter than a CRT, and a CRT's range of brightness almost exactly matches the range of reflective brightness in a print. Let me put it this way, imagine there are two ladders side by side, one 10 feet high, the other 15 feet. If you climb up half way on the 15 foot ladder and look across at the 10 foot ladder you will be looking at the top rungs of the 10 foot ladder, and vice versa, if you climb half way up the 10 foot ladder you will be looking at the lower rungs of the 15 foot ladder. This is the situation you have with an LCD display. When you color correct and adjust either Raw camera files or scans of film, one of the things you do to make it look ideal to your perception is to adjust the image brightness. This establishes the location of the image midpoint in Photoshop's Levels, or what you do with a slider in Elements or LightRoom to adjust image brightness. But when that information as to the location of the image's midpoint brightness value is conveyed to your printer it "assumes" the information is coming from a brightness range that is the same as the printer's, which reproduces a smaller brightness range, and there is a mismatch and the printer reproduces the image with its midpoint much lower than it should be. By the way, if the print is made so the printer driver manages color and not the application using Color management, too dark prints do not result because the driver is adjusting the image, but then usually the color does not match what's on your screen.

The workaround or fix I recommended in the Shutterbug workflow article is the Transfer Function Output option that is available in the Print (preview) window dialogue of all Adobe Photoshop CS versions, which supports compensating to output a brighter print. But what about photographers using Adobe LightRoom or Photoshop Elements, and Apple users printing from Aperture or iPhoto? There are ways to negate the misperception of image brightness with LCD displays so when you are adjusting images the midpoint will be set so the print output will be lighter. One is to adjust the lighting in your computer's environment so the area immediately behind the LCD display is much brighter. This will trick your vision to perceive the screen darker and to then set the image brightness higher. Another way to accomplish the same thing is to get a piece of neutral density gel (from a pro camera dealer like Adorama or B&H) that reduce light transmission 50% and put the gel in front of your display screen. You may ask, why not just turn down the brightness of the display? My answer is, to reduce the display brightness enough (and you would lower the contrast control to reduce the white luminance level), I think you will find the image reproduction quality will be muddy and probably unsatisfactory.

Finally, some of the reported problems may have different causes, like choosing the wrong printer profile or some other error in workflow. However, if your situation differs, or you have a solution to suggest, and if you don't have access to a copy of Shutterbug to read the article drop me a line by e-mail at: (or, the article will be archived at the first week of December.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Breaking Out Of The Herd

It has always been my nature to find what works for me regardless of whether most everyone else is doing something different. Since 1975 I have purchased and driven Saab cars almost exclusively, and still drive a Saab. When I was a freelancer in the 60's my colleagues used Nikons and I preferred the Topcon 35mm SLR camera system. And if I were not already very invested in another brand I think I'd probably choose and buy a Sigma digital camera. Not just to be different than the herd, but the technology and thinking Sigma employs I believe has positive image quality performance advantages.

Today Sigma announced their company has purchased Foveon, Inc, the California company that developed the unique 3 layer Foveon X3 sensor technology that has been featured in Sigma's SD14 dSLR digital camera and the recent DP1 compact digital camera.

Along with the announcement of the purchase of Foveon Sigma also released news of these two Sigma models in improved and upgraded models, the DP2 compact, and the SD15 dSLR. The latter will now also offer the convenience advantage of JPEG output using the new TrueII image processing engine from the DP2.

I used and tested the first Sigma dSLR the SD10 when it was released some time back, and was very much impressed with the quality of images it produced. I will look forward I hope to an opportunity to try out the Sigma DP2 next year after it is released, as it would be nice to have a walk-around compact in my pocket that would be capable of producing more than typical snapshot quality and would complement a professional dSLR system camera.

I have found that the people I have known who have been seriously dedicated to photography are inclined to be a bit more individual and independent than most people. That may be a part of photography's appeal because going out and making photo graphs is a rather solitary activity rather than team sport. And that too may be why I have always had an eye for the unusual that stands out from the crowd, which Sigma surely does with their cameras. True some odd-balls should be viewed with some skepticism, but my experience with cars and cameras has taught me sometimes not following the same path as most are traveling leads to good places. It sure has as far as finding little jewels of scenery to photograph on seldom travelled back roads. I think the Sigma compact digital DP2 and dSLR SD15 should be considered too as exceptional standouts and taken very seriously if ultimate photographic image quality is a photographer's goal.

Saturday, November 8, 2008


On October 14 Apple announced new MacBook notebook models. One of the performance features was for both ends of the model spectrum, new more powerful and robust video processing chips, something that photographers using laptops in the field should welcome. But hidden and overshadowed in these MacBook announcements was an entirely new Apple LCD display that is configured specifically to complement these new MacBooks.

This newest Cinema Display is to me in many ways more significant than the new notebook models, if it portends a new line of Apple Cinema Displays which is very much overdue. The reasons I say this is this latest Cinema Display is a distinct and advanced departure from the current line of Apple LCD displays. Most significantly instead of CCFL backlight it uses LED's as the light source, which environmentalist will applaud as there is no mercury to dispose of when the display's life is over. Plus LED's also provide a more even distribution of light. LED backlight LCD displays wereintroduced some time ago by the major manufacturers like NEC and Samsung, but in very expensive usually 20 inch models. This new 24 inch LED Cinema Display has a list price of $899 which is competitive for a premium product clad fancilly in aluminum. And like the most recent iMacs this LCD has a glass front cover that although shiny and reflective does protect the screen from dirt and minor damage.

However that this new 24 inch Apple Cinema Display is not offered but for use with MacBooks (or possibly iMacs) limits its market potential, and that is curious. So of course the question is does this new model provide a look into the future of a new line of Apple Cinema Displays? What makes it a MacBook companion is the interface connector has a mini DVI plug to connect directly to a MacBook, and that cable is bundled to include a cord to provide power to charge and run the macBook as well as a USB connector with a powered hub in the display housing with UB outlets so printers, scanners and other accessories can be immediately available when the MacBook is connected to this new Cinema Display. This new Apple Cinema Display also has speakers, a microphone and videocam to support video conferencing for instance with a plugged in MacBook.

The one question I still have besides whether this new 24 inch LED Apple Cinema Display is a look at a whole new range of LCD displays, is whether the LED backlight uses just all white LED's or a mix of RGB LED's which could support a much higher color gamut performance. The RGB LED's seems unlikely though at the price point quoted. And I wonder could I get an adapter and run this new display off of one of my desktop Macs, or is it worth waiting to see if more new LED Apple Cinema Displays will be announced after the first of the year, along with a suggested new Mac Mini?Even more intriguing is the question will the LCD display manufacturers like Samsung. LGE, Eizo and NEC follow Apple's lead and offer affordable, large LED backlight pro-graphics LCD displays any time soon. My guess, depending on how bad the economy gets, is yes!

Saturday, November 1, 2008


Dynamic range was not a term that was often used in film days for those subjects which had a subject brightness range in f/stops greater than could be squeezed onto film, especially the six or so stop range of color transparency films. But digital has introduced a relatively easier fix for taking effective photographs of a cityscape at night, the interior of an old European cathedral or in a rain forest. So now it is a bit of a rage, if it can be done, so let's all do it! I received a review copy of a book by Jack Howard titled PRACTICAL HDRI that should have been encouraging, and decided not to review it. Besides covering only Photoshop HDR and a few 3rd party odd-ball solutions, the results printed in the book would inspire me only to say why would I want to do this.

It seems like an eternity ago when I was on staff at Petersen's PhotoGraphic located in Hollywood and only motivated to take photos of the city at night because it was so ugly during the day. And of all extremely long brightness range subjects the city at night can measure usually at least 10 to 12 f-stops from shadow to highlight excluding the light sources themselves. There were solutions to this challenge with film before Photoshop, which I employed and wrote about in Petersen's PhotoGraphic for both black and white and color. But there really was not much interest, as they were difficult to use, but not much more so to get good results than the HDR utility Adobe put into Photoshop some time back. However the challenge was largely the same. How do you get a good image on a print when the range of the subject is so great when compressed to what will reproduce photographically that the image has so little internal contrast and tone separation so it looks flat!!!!

With black and white film many of us used some regimen of exposure and development like The Zone System to control subject contrast relative to the range of densities that could be printed. But ten or twelve f/stop range subjects were beyond even that. So the newest technique in the 80's was to use an extended range developer like what was made by Kodak for developing Tech Pan high contrast copy film to get normal contrast negatives of average scenes with super fine grain as well as superb sharpness in 35mm B&W photographs. This developer was formulated originally by the military for tactical photographic surveillance and consisted almost entirely of Phenidone and Sodium Sulfite, but without some added tweaking was even too soft a working developer. But used with a more standard fast B&W film like Kodak Tri-X with its film speed lowered by a factor of about 10X or more you could obtain a negative of a 10 plus f/stop cityscape at night and print it in #2 paper and get detail in the deepest shadows and the brightest highlights.

In the film days, long subject brightness range color was a bit more difficult with transparency films, but there was an option. Duplicating color reversal film in 35mm, 70mm and sheet sizes had a much lower inherent contrast response, to counter the contrast multiplication copying a color film image onto another reversal color film involved. But duplicating color transparency films were both very slow, balanced to a tungsten light source, and varied in color response from one emulsion batch to another. This meant a lot of filtration adjustment to achieve an acceptable color response in the result, including converting from a tungsten color temperature balance to daylight and Color Correction filtration to compensate for the peculiarities of each emulsion batch of film used. So pre-testing was required and then your stock of film had to be refrigerated to keep it the same over any period of storage time. But with this done, as long as you could deal with an effective film speed usually well below ISO 10 you could obtain good transparency results with extreme contrast subjects of many kinds, as long as they were stationary.

With digital the HDR solution is dependent on being able to make a set of exposure bracketed frames in Raw format with the camera on a tripod so the frames will register when layered and blended together. That the basics that were supported by the Photoshop HDR utility, which supports putting up to five bracketed frames together to make one photograph that has detail across a wide subject brightness range, like the kinds of subjects I mentioned above. First of al,l some experimenting is necessary to get the range of different exposures needed that will provide a blended image with good photo qualities. And the old bugaboo that when you compress a 10 or 12 f/stop range into a single image that is printed, the separation between the tones is decreased markedly and the image can look flat, and there may be insufficient tone differences in the print separating different parts of a subject that in reality were well distinguished in tone and brightness.

The failure of the Photoshop HDR utility is there is not a good method incorporated to optimize the image characteristic curve to enhance areas of internal contrast and tone separation. Maybe some of the third party utilities Jack Howard described in Practical HDRI, function better but I did not read anything that was encouraging, and his results were not convincing.

However for anyone who can run Microsoft Windows applications, the Corel PaintShop Pro X2 version I tested and reviewed not long ago in Shutterbug has an HDR utility that has an optimization function and it is a much simpler and easier utility to use than the Photoshop version, maybe because Adobe was first with an HDR solution and those that have followed have learned from that.

The bottom line is HDR, especially for landscape and architecture photographers and those who like to shoot nighttime scenes in the city, PaintShop Pro X2 is an under $100 solution that works well enough for any enthusiast, and the cost of effort and learning is also modest to obtain advantaged photographic results from photographing subjects with a much greater subject brightness range than any digital camera can capture in a single exposure.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


Windows 7 is now public in a pre-beta edition that was made available to the press. After the Vista imbroglio that has gone on since its release with endless negativity towards Microsoft, that they had to recant and offer a new version is not unexpected at such an early date, and they have been candidly contrite in admitting Vista has not been well received, which was confirmed by Microsoft naming the next version Windows 7 dropping the Vista brand, and hoping this edition number will bring them luck.

There was only a sideways acknowledgement that the User Account Control of intrusive pop-up security alert window is an annoyance, but not that it also disables a calibrated and profiled displays start-up status, which destroys color management functioning. But in Windows 7 the intrusion can be turned off completely and apparently without affecting system security. But the pre-beta watchers had nothing to say about color management, which was again a disappointment in a lack of hyped promised new version implementation in Vista as it was with Windows 2000, so there is no insight yet whether Windows will have anything better in Color Management than the current ICM 2.0 from the mid 1990's.

The only reference to anything even vaguely relative to digital photography was a hint that it and other media support in Windows 7 may very likely be downloadable Windows Live web-based applications. Whether that will be an advantage or disadvantage is not clear as no one has really tried to work with anything like that, but a hint of it came from Adobe recently in their new web-based application recently launched that is so dumbed-down it is even insulting to novice photographers and is really only supportive of the least of people who make point and shoot snapshots. So there is a real question if there will be even sufficient support of serious digital photography except through 3rd party applications like Adobe's, and whether they will work any better or even as well a they have performed on XP.

The same day most of the information I read on Windows 7 on PC Magazine's web site and the ZDnet web site, their premier blogger Adrian Kingsley-Hughes had a speculative piece "How long until Apple is bigger than Microsoft" which had some rather startling statistics to the effect Microsoft revenue at $15.1 billion is not all that far ahead of Apple at $11.7 billion, and Apple is ahead with cash on hand at $25.5 billion compared to Microsoft's $20.7 billion.

This of course leads to all kinds of fun speculation to heat up the ancient and worn thin PC vs Mac rivalries. But there is now after Vista some questions that maybe Apple 's concept and business model is a superior one to Microsoft's, especially if you consider Apple has a very much better customer satisfaction record. But there is still the problem that once committed, computer users no matter how disappointed will not admit they made a bad choice any more than they will admit any of their political beliefs are wrong, so there will be no stampede to Apple Macs for now, even if Windows 7 doesn't lessens the pains of Vista.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


One of the most positive attributes of digital over film, the cost of film and processing disappears as an inhibitor to making photographs. I notice photo enthusiasts who write to me are taking large quantities of pictures at an occasion, especially recently since large memory cards have gotten very affordable. Like Joe Sixpack with his new Model XX dSLR shot 150 exposures of his 12 year old son's football game. So now what does he do, as he asks can he batch process all these files because he was told to set his camera on Raw to get the best quality images. And, color correcting and adjusting each image manually is very time consuming whether using the software that came with the camera, or even if saved as a batch conversion to high-bit TIIF files and then color correcting and adjusting each image individually in a photo editor.

Of course for another $200 Joe can get either Adobe LightRoom or Apple Aperture and color correct and adjust just one image of the set and apply those settings to all the rest of the set and likely get a good result easily being all the exposures were made of the same subject, in the same environment and lighting. But what about his brother Sam Sixpack who has exposed almost 200 frames stored on his memory card but the subject, locale, lighting, and even the lens used was different to make the photographs. The automatic adjustments in any software editing application don't really work that well or reliably especially if the subjects are unusual like shots made on a ski trip in the snow, for instance.

Should I recommend to Sam Sixpack he would be better off because it would be easier, and probably better to switch modes and save in JPEG and let the camera's on-board processor make the adjustments post-exposure. Isn't that a bit insulting and denigrating after paying over a $1,000 for a dSLR and then use it like a point and shoot?

The idea of the Raw format is to record everything the camera's sensor is exposed to and then saved as a high-bit image file without any post-exposure in-camera adjustment processing. This is to provide the photographer with the opportunity to color correct and adjust each image ideally in respect to the image information contained and the expectations of the photographer. However to a very large extent auto-matic processing can only measure the global attributes of the image file content with no realization or awareness of the subject content, and adjust the image according to hose measurable factors as if all photographs should be the same.

Sadly although LightRoom and Aperture are ideal for pro shooters who make large shoots on assignment, usually the shoot is of similar subjects in the same location and under similar lighting, so they can easily do what I suggested was possible for Joe Sixpack. This is a dilemma I think for the photo enthusiast who is more likely to make pictures of varied subjects in different environments, like on a vacation or at a family reunion. How can they efficiently use Raw and get the best image quality with each individual and different exposure and do so easily and automatically.

Personally I don't think that is a reasonable possibility, but you may disagree. You might think, Oh! That's just Brooks' opinion. My response to that is that much of the last decade I have been scanning my film image library made over 40 years working full-time as a photographer, which has involved literally thousands of scans, and no two scans I have done have resulted from the same image color correction and adjustment settings. In other words experience has taught me all photographs, excepting those bracketed exposures of the same scene under the same conditions, are individually unique, And unless that uniqueness is respected, you cannot realize the full potential of an image. There is no easy way by assuming all photographs are alike which is the fundamental assumption of automatic processing, to realize the full quality potential of a photographic image unless it is given due respect as something uniquely individual and full attention is paid to all of its attributes in the way it is color corrected, adjusted and edited in processing.