Wednesday, February 25, 2009


Maybe it’s just me, my peculiar life and perspective, but I was just reminded by an article about jazz in the New York Times(Home Life With Mikes: A Jazz History by Nate Chinen, February 17, 2009) that included a part of W. Eugene Smith’s life defining a connection between music and a photographer. I suspect the connection is enhanced in my mind in part because in high school my ambition was to be in music as a singer, and I participated in several choral groups as well as took voice lessons for a couple of years. After high school four years in the military intervened and provided the opportunity to become interested and get into photography. I was not sorry I got detoured because having a deep voice myself, and baritones became eclipsed in those years by singers like Johnny Rey and his pop song “Cry”. Regardless, even though I embraced photography completely, I still enjoy music, especially jazz.

Never the less, my life as a photographer has included a lot of other photographers who have a significant connection to music. After finishing college and photo school, my first close association professionally with another photographer in Hollywood was with Frank Bez, who before he took up photography was a band leader. Probably his musical talent was one of the chief reasons we worked together a lot doing the pre-cursor to rock video for Elektra Records over a four year period. And incidentally, since Frank retired from being a photography studio owner, he has returned to his first love, music.

Then just a few years later and shortly after I joined the staff as an editor at Petersen’s PhotoGraphic, part of my job was to find photographers to feature and publish their work in the magazine. One former Life magazine photographer, who was then working out of Phoenix, Arizona doing corporate report photography called me. Apparently during the years he did magazine photography he covered the music beat in New York and had a large collection of images of most of the jazz greats he wanted to get published in a book. After a few phone conversations, fascinating to me at least, I found I really could not take on what he wanted accomplished, and the connection was broken. But I never forgot another photographer and another connection to music, although now I have forgotten his name.

In the same time frame I became acquainted with Oliver Galiani, a South San Francisco fine art photographer and workshop teacher. Although I never mentioned my early desire to be a singer, his history must have contributed to the bond between us. Being some years my senior, he had been a music student, a violinist interested in chamber music until he was drafted into the Army in the 2nd World War. While in the Army he took up photography as a hobby as it was an activity that posed no threat to his hands and playing the violin. Sadly however his war experience in the South Pacific seriously impaired his hearing and closed off any chances to further a music career. So when the war was over he eventually established a career in photography after earning an advanced fine art degree at a San Francisco college. You only have to know Oliver Gagliani’s photographs to understand there is something musical and lyrical in his spirit and sensibility.

Of course the best known photographer of fine art images on the West Coast was Ansel Adams. And the fact before photography he studied to be a concert pianist, and never gave it up entirely frequently entertaining guests in his home in Carmel at his piano. Adams actually initiated a personal contact with me after I wrote a very critical article about how the followers of the Zone System had made it some kind of mystical cult. When the call came in I thought I was going to get a verbal thrashing, but to my surprise he liked the article and agreed photographers were being misled and diverted from what he had intended, that the Zone System was something he had devised to make photographic densitometry easier to understand and comprehend. Sadly our paths crossed seldom after that other than a few more phone calls, but I did get to know three of his former assistants better in my capacity as a magazine staff editor while I was at Petersen’s.

In the last few years one of my readers and frequent e-mail correspondent is a working musician who does very competent photography and would like to make his living as a photographer rather than a musician. Currently he works on a high-end cruise ship, a situation some would find rather ideal for a serious photo enthusiast, but when you make music for others for pay, it’s very much like making photographs for others for money - the grass is always greener on the other side.

I am a curious person, and frequently wonder from what I have come to know are these photographer/music connections the expression of a common natural thread of human attributes, or just chance coincidences?

Saturday, February 21, 2009


That old saw “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”, is applicable to the problem of bright LCD displays causing prints that are too dark, but at the moment that ounce is one ounce of gold. The ounce in this case is an LCD display that is not too bright, that can be adjusted, calibrated and profiled to match the range of values in a print. The one brand that currently has that capability as delivered is Eizo with their CG/CE ColorEdge displays. I’ll soon be receiving their least costly, the CG222w that has a list price just under $1,500 for test and review. I realize few of my readers want to spend that much, or can afford to, even for a display that does not cause the prints too dark problem.

So I am also into exploring less costly alternatives like the calibration and profiling software Color Eyes Display Pro (, and some more modest priced displays that will adjust, calibrate and profile to a brightness level that matches the level that was usual with old CRT monitors, which did not cause a prints too dark problem. But on a broader and deeper level, the fact so many who have communicated with me about their bright LCD displays and dark prints don’t want to spend much on displays, I find troubling. To even be in this position digital photographers at least have to have a significant investment in a computer and printer, but I believe most put a display low on their spending priority list of what is essential to do good digital photography; when the display, its quality and performance, should be at the top of their list of priorities. Almost any personal computer today with a decent video card and a medium allotment of RAM will do Photoshop and most other digital photo applications and processing. So to be pragmatic and realistic it is not unreasonable or too extravagant to spend as much or more on a display than on the computer running it. Yes, that makes sense if you consider everything you do with digital images on a computer is controlled by what you see on-screen, so the better you can see all there is to see in your images on-screen, is the only way to be sure they are as good as you expect when finished or printed.

Getting back to the practical problem at hand, a search for displays that will function at the same brightness level as a CRT is my next task. A couple of years ago when I was testing and reporting on a lot of different LCD displays, I attempted adjusting, calibrating and profiling some at a brightness of 90.0 CD/m2 with the colorimeters and software available at that time, and although some would adjust that low the screen reproduction quality and color performance that resulted was unacceptable compared to running the displays at 120.0 CD/m2. One of those I bought, a LaCie 320 (which is a re-labelled NEC 2090 UXi). And recently I obtained an X-Rite i1Photo, a comprehensive color management suite of software and hardware to calibrate and profile displays, scanners, printers, the whole gamut. I used it to re-adjust, calibrate and profile my LaCie 320 at the lower brightness aim point of 90.0 CD/m2. I was surprised, it was successful, and I believe it was in part because the i1 Photo software adjusts the display through the DVI connector using DDC to interface with the display’s firmware, while in the past most of my attempts were made using the display’s control buttons and OSD to make the adjustments. I then tried to do the same thing with the ColorEyes Display Pro software and a Spyder3 colorimeter, again adjusting, calibrating and profiling the display through the DDC/DVI interface to match all the aim points I had chosen including a white luminance of 90.0 CD/m2. The result was an adjustment that provided as good reproduction quality and color performance as before at the higher brightness of 120.0 CD/m2, and a profile that checked out as good or better than the previous display profiles I had been using.

I put this to a practical test color correcting a set of photo image files, and then printing them, and voila, perfect print densities without any corrections of any kind, just using a standard color managed printing workflow. These test results do not just back up the points I made above, they substantiate the evidence that the cause of prints too dark is LCD displays that are too bright.

More of my writing on digital photography is available through my web site at:

Monday, February 16, 2009


In this morning’s in-box was a news release that Samsung has an 8 megapixel camera/cell phone it is releasing to the market after showing it in Spain over the weekend. At this same event Sony-Erricson had a prototype camera/cell phone with 12.1 megapixels. This news immediately asks questions about the possible affects on the digital camera market, but more significantly is this going to further a trend we have already seen of major news events recorded by cell phone users on the scene at the time, and then broadcast around the world. How will this impact culture? Will Facebook and YouTube become even more significant to peoples lives?

At this stage it is not difficult to predict changes will occur because of the camera/cell phone development. But whether the digital camera P&S market will be negatively affected is anyone’s guess. And only imagination can foresee what impact this will have on culture. That it will, I have no doubt, and that the current pressures on media reporting that is already under a squeeze as paper-print newspapers continue to fold and disappear, may be a downside. The real question is what will take its place. Will professionalism in news photography diminish in the short-run seems likely. With any major change in the mode of communication the newest is always pretty amateurish with little artful value included in its content, if anyone recall the early days of TV. But what we have learned is that one new medium seldom replaces older media. The established media under threat of the new find a different niche in which they can survive and sometimes flourish. Sadly talk-radio will not go away.

Although this development may be just a curious interest to serious amateur photographers, I don’t think it will detract from what they do or the market they support. I would assume dSLR sales if anything may be encouraged by this cell-phone development, because the two are in terms of what they satisfy in individual needs are mutually exclusive. A photo enthusiast may buy a camera-cell phone but rarely if ever to replace a dSLR, but to have a camera handy and instead of buying a small, pocketable point-and-shoot to have available when having a big dSLR system along is not possible or convenient. On the other hand from what I have seen in photo-blogs published by youngsters, many reflect a native latent talent for creating pictures, and those interests may be encouraged by these new higher resolution cell-phones and could very well develop to graduate into becoming even more serious resulting in the adoption of a dSLR. For over a century now photography has been the visual folk art of the people. This development of cell-phone cameras just makes that ability of ordinary people to be visually expressive and creative even more democratic.

A concurrent possibility after the Stimulus bill is signed, is that there is a provision to expand public access to broadband. One proposal is to use the frequencies that are being released by the TV switch-over to all digital broadcasting that frees up a lot of band-width that can be used for cell-phones and WISP’s, or broadband computer connection services using wireless cell-phone frequencies. And eventuality, it could be that a camera-phone then might be able to download image files more directly to a home computer. That would surely be desirable if cell-phone cameras will be generating larger image files which is definitely going to be an issue as more and more camera-phones have as high a megapixel resolution as many dSLR cameras in use today.

Thursday, February 12, 2009


I was just reminded by a list of currently established luminaries in the photography world, that what I knew and the names and images that inspired me during my early, formative years as a photographer are no longer current, replaced by names and images that are unfamiliar and don’t have an iconic role in the photography niche of contemporary culture. What has changed is not the quality of photographic work being done, but that there is now a greater volume of public information in a digitized cultural venue that is huge and rapidly evolving. Today’s photographic talent is simply lost in a deluge of image media of every kind and description. Magazines, newspapers and books still exist but even TV has been displaced partly by the internet and YouTube. How different it is when a movie star, Selma Hayek on a mission to Africa assisting in a campaign to reduce the high death rate of infants, is covered by ABC News in scene where she breast feeding a baby of a local woman who had gone dry. This most humane gesture caught on video has now gone “viral” on the internet. I find nothing to criticize, but in such an instantaneous global village of images, that will soon fade with the next “viral” pop news event, can any image attain a lasting iconic status, much less the person behind the camera who made the image?

If anything today in global social life is truly democratic, it is the world of shared imagery on the internet. This unique moment of imagery of what is a universal human event has gone viral, seen now by millions all over the world, and has elicited mostly praise for its humanity as a symbol of a generous caring act by one of the world’s few remaining icons, a movie celebrity. That photographers and their work get lost in the firmament, is not something to celebrate in the same way or degree apparently by todays connected global audience. Even though the iconic today is so momentary, so fleeting as the fast moving stream of digital images passes by, is the almost forgotten world of my early years that is no longer carried into this digital age a loss? Is the very democratic nature of a digital media that is global at the price of any individual photographer and their works never achieving the stature of iconic recognition, any great loss?

That today’s top rated professional and fine art photographer do not achieve iconic name recognition is no reflection of their talent, skill or image qualities, it is just the nature of the modern digital era culture beast, and the fact the old media, like Life magazine no longer exists, nor anything like it can possible dominate must be accepted as part of the scene today. But as an old timer looking at this cultural scene today and the fact there are no photography icons like Edward Weston, Ansel Adams, W.Eugene Smith, Irving Penn, Richard Avedon or Sam Haskins, I find this personally disheartening. Because, as a young photographer these icons of photography and their images provided me with inspiration and inadvertent guidance, direction in an otherwise unmapped terrain as to how one could progress as a photographer. How a young photographer today finds and identifies with role models to emulate is not so easy as it was 50 years ago and much more confusing with so many images replicated in so many media with little distinction made between what is aesthetically and technically good and what is trash. I just hope the youngest generation of photography hopefuls have more powerful and acute antennae and a much more confident sense of self than what most of us enjoyed back 50 years ago.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009


This rather enigmatic movie title came to mind this week after engaging in both live and virtual e-mail conversation about the problem of “prints too dark” I have reported and commented on recently. It seems those most likely to have a knowledgeable understanding of the technical cause of this phenomenon, and any possible solutions are the least likely to want to admit the problem even exists. And if photographer computer users are obtaining too dark prints it is because they are at fault: either their home/office environment in which they do their photo processing on a computer is non-standard or their illumination for print viewing is inadequate.

I can’t really fault the experts when called to the plate for ducking and weaving when thrown a wild pitch, and this “prints too dark” problem has blind-sided everyone in the business except some professionals using sophisticated and expensive tools and techniques beyond the pale of what most enthusiast photographers can or want to afford. So you cannot expect a solution from them when they have not themselves experienced the problem of prints too dark.

In the last couple of weeks since one of my e-mails on this “prints too dark” was redistributed to a large audience I’ve received a lot of feedback and commentary describing a great diversity of perspectives on the problem. However the consensus definitely puts the blame on too bright LCD’s as the primary cause of getting prints that are too dark. That makes sense to me especially considering that the “prints too dark” problem has grown since and proportionally to the adoption of LCD’s for computer display purposes. Almost as much consensus exists for the idea that calibrating and profiling an LCD display to an aim point of a white luminance measurement and setting of 120.0 CD/m2 reduces the dark print problem considerably. A small contingent of responses from primarily color management consultants suggests the problem is the ambient lighting in the environment in which the computer display is used. Considering the problem seems to be greatest the brighter the LCD display is, this really seems unlikely unless we were talking about laptop users, and that is not the case in terms of the reports of problems on file, nearly all involved desktop displays.

The good news is that I just had an opportunity to test some software that is promising and pointing to a way to correct for the too dark print problem. It is at an early stage of development so there is still much that needs to be done to result in an effective solution. But what I have seen so far suggests that this “prints too dark problem” can be resolved. Keep your fingers crossed, all of you, as I will, hoping that soon this plight of digital photo printing will be lifted and we can look to better days ahead.