Take Two: The Afterlife
Mike Pasini, The Imaging Resource
(Friday, September 12, 2003 - 02:14 EDT)
First, we hit a session on lighting techniques. Then we caught the fifth keynote address (we were bound to hit one eventually) before an overview of color profile editors. Finally, we ended the day with a fabulous workflow discussion with a couple of venerable digital photographers.
SAN FRANCISCO -- The Pavilion of exhibitors is like the work-a-day world we all know and love so well. Putting it in the mausoleum of Moscone West with a bona fide bomb scare, just reminds everyone how short life is.
The Wednesday afternoon bomb scare didn't fool anyone. Traffic around the buildings wasn't, for example, stopped and evacuations weren't effected until well after the virtual device was scheduled to explode.
Well, you can't cover everything. You have to make your choices in this life. And Thursday's session, we made some beauts.
Early on we hit a session on lighting techniques. Then we caught the fifth keynote address (we were bound to hit one eventually) before an overview of color profile editors. Finally, we ended the day with a fabulous workflow discussion with a couple of venerable digital photographers.
Where do you go to learn about lighting? Seybold, of course. Wes Howell and Jeffrey Fisher, doyens of the art, joined Alex Fuentes of Photoflex in a discussion on "Unusual Lighting for Unusual Situations, Modeling Shots."
We reviewed Photoflex's basic digital photography lighting kit (http://www.imaging-resource.com/ACCS/PHF/PHF.HTM) a while ago -- and greatly enjoyed it. In fact, our recent review of Optipix 2 (http://www.imaging-resource.com/SOFT/OP2/OP2.HTM) relied on images illuminated with that softbox. Full disclosure.
Fuentes outlined the basic studio lighting options. You can use broad light (just a bare bulb) directed with barn doors or Fresnel lights that are focused with a lens (the typical spot light) or a combination of softboxes and reflectors that diffuse light.
Lighting, he emphasized, is a skill more than an inventory of equipment. No matter what you have, you have to know how to use it. So he spent the rest of the session demonstrating different techniques using several Photoflex softboxes.
Even if your camera is sensitive enough to shoot without artificial light, you still need it. You just don't need strong artificial light, he said. And the more digital work you do, the more you have to pay attention to light.
Harsh v. Soft Light. Fuentes started by illuminating Fisher with one bare bulb. Harsh light, in short. Shadows were dark, contour was exaggerated. Chiaroscuro, as we used to say around the dining room table.
Then he put a diffused light next to the hard light and alternately illuminated Fisher. The diffused light softened the hard shadows, restored some texture to the highlights and seemed more vivid.
He was just warming up (even thought the Photoflex Starlights are quite cool compared to Fresnel lamps). In fact the cool lights are more pleasant for models and since they're diffused, no bright lights blind them either.
An attendee asked if an umbrella wouldn't be just as effective. Fuentes pointed out that the softbox directs (without focusing) the light on the subject. An umbrella has a lot of light spill you can't control (we're talking about reflections now).
Working with Multiple Keys and Correcting Dead Spots. Things got a little more interesting as Fuentes added a second and third light. The second light, on the opposite side of the model, modulated the dark shadows. Moving that light in and out, adjusted just how much those shadows (cast by the primary light) were modulated. Three to four feet is a good distance to start with, he suggested, but no hard and fast rule.
A question from the audience about the wattage (three 1,000 watt bulbs were in play) raised some eyebrows. While that's not a problem in your studio, it can trip a circuit breaker on location. Fuentes suggested plugging the lights into different circuits or using 500 watt bulbs in the secondary softboxes.
Even less taxing, reflectors (which use no electricity) can be just the ticket. They come in several colored surfaces. White punches up the light moderately but silver adds even more reflectance (and, ideal for darker skins, is the top seller to TV studios). Gold provides a warming effect that ranges from sunset to a "summery" feel with soft gold.
In addition to reflectors, Fuentes showed how to use diffusers to cut bright sunlight. And he mentioned you can use neutral density filters on windows to knock sunlight down to match artificial lighting. Fisher noted that the Today Show uses specially tinted windows for just that reason.
Difficult Subjects. Several audience members asked about particularly difficult subjects. Like reflections from overhead fluorescents on glass-framed works of art that have to be artificially illuminated.
Fuentes noted that you can use more than one diffuser. You can use up to three, in fact, to blend the hot spots into the reflective surfaces. Fisher recommended cutting all external illumination so you have complete control of the light.
Outdoors the sun is the primary light and your secondaries should be reflectors, using the guidelines above to choose between diffusers, white, silver, soft gold and gold. But there's also a black that works as a sort of negative fill, absorbing light.
Fuentes then mentioned Photoflex's Web Photo School and passed out CDs with samples of the school's lighting lessons.
THE FUTURE OF INNOVATION
We nearly bit. We were standing in line waiting to be ushered into the keynote, minding our own business (none to speak of) and eavesdropping on the charming cad in front of us who was telling our usher that James Taylor's "October Road" was a great album. Not a great prelude to a keynote on innovation.
The keynote, fortunately, was in other hands. Nolan Bushnell, the "father of entertainment" who created Atari, Pong and Chuck E. Cheese before settling down to a career of half-baked ideas, was joined by Brewster Kahle, who calls himself a digital librarian but clearly had an eye on the other half of Bushnell's ideas.
We're kidding, of course.
Bushnell spoke first, explaining immediately that his mantra has always been, "Get the unit economics right and then execute." It was one of the few aphorisms he quoted that did not begin with "Don't."
Oddly enough, as he detailed the accomplishments and disappointments of his 30 year career, it was the failures that he seemed most fond of. And his fondest failure was robotics. His wife, he said, has promised to leave him if he ever dabbles in robotics again (he lost $23 million developing the Androbot). But he believes there's a big robotics industry waiting to be developed out there.
The trouble with robotics, he observed, is that when the unit crashes you don't just get an annoying blue screen. You get "baby mode" -- a unit running at full speed with no safety features. The Androbot was developed before the 80286 was a gleam in Intel's eye. Way ahead of its time, in short.
Innovators, he pointed out, are not popular. They are always goring somebody's ox. And that somebody blossoms into your moral enemy.
It's hard work, he pretended. The trick is to focus on what people want, not what they need. From the airplane to the radio, big wins were developed from the interests of hobbyists. They were, first of all, rich kids' toys.
Which is why venture capitalists do not socialize with innovators. He called them lemming capitalists. They follow the trend, rather than set it. Makes them nervous.
Bushnell then indulged in some business advice that shed great light on his failures. Get out of California, go hollow (do your manufacturing in China for a funny sounding song), concentrate on consumer markets (he actually uttered the word "infomercial" with a definite article of "Internet"), focus on recurring revenue, go global and focus on wants not needs. Thought you should know, so we wrote it all down.
Unwilling to take his own advice, he's started a new endeavor in California called uWink, which is essentially coin (and card) operated, Internet-based gaming that can be installed in bars and airplanes.
"That's a hard act to follow," Kahle took his turn, describing himself as a "one-idea-forever kind of guy."
The trick, he explained, is to figure out what you're going to give away and what to sell (which can change over time). We had an Alfa mechanic like that, in fact. He retired early.
Kahle's one idea is a grander one than fully-aspirated double overhead cams aluminum alloy engines. He dreams of "Universal Access to All Human Knowledge." Looks good in caps, sounds good over amplified audio.
Is it, he dared to ask, possible?
Well, of course not, but this was a speculative keynote so he made the whole thing chewable by citing a slew of numbers. He measured cultural output by the number of published books, books that sold more than one copy a year, the number of audio recordings in the last century, how many movies have been made (half of which have been made in India) and so on.
And then he calculate how much storage each medium requires (1-MB for books, unless illustrated). And he reassured us that "the computer guys" had made storage practically free so all this stuff could be hosted for very little.
Lest you think he'd eaten at Chuck E. Cheese once too often, he's actually put some of this online already. Visit the Internet Archive (http://www.archive.org) to see for yourself. You can find public domain books, music, movies and even television.
On the floor of the Pavilion, he said, the Bookmobile is illustrating how you can download a 1-MB book, print it in 15 minutes, cut the pages apart, glue them and slap a cover on them. That costs $1. "You don't need a Docutech," he noted.
But it costs Harvard library $2 to lend you that same book. The library sector is a $25 billion a year business. For $2 a book, you could pay the author $1 a book. More than they usually see, he observed.
You'll note he made no reference to images.
COLOR PROFILE EDITING
We were hoping to nap through the color profiling session. But it turned into a shootout between profile editors from GretagMacbeth, Monaco and Fujifilm. Unfortunately, you need all three to work efficiently. Not one of them handles everything well.
There was universal agreement, however, that ColorThink (http://www.chromix.com/colorthink) is a necessity. If only for it's 3D graphing of color gamuts.
Considering the fragile nature of the editors, the best advice was to make small edits when editing profiles and only do it when you observe the same behavior in a number of prints, not just one.
OK, we did nap a little. But that's the gist of it.
DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHY WORKFLOW
We were awakened by the booming voice of Jeff Schewe, Chicago photographer and BMW motorcyclist (he's too old to ride Harleys anymore, he confessed), who dragged along his fishing partner, Greg Gorman, who normally hobnobs with celebrities like Luke Perry and Halle Berry. Always wanted to write a story with those names in it.
They were fresh from the trenches of the digital photo workflow war. It isn't working out too well for photographers. And if it isn't "simple, easy and fun," as Schewe pointed out, it's a waste of time.
Both of them are wedded to the Canon EOS 1DS, which is comparable in quality to medium format film, Gorman said. Color subtly, range and interpretation is superior than in film, he added. But post-production is the downside. "It's not exactly happening," he observed. And they were in town to take care of that.
Gorman showed the crowd how he does business. He shoots in 16-bit RAW mode, brings his images into iView MediaPro (version 2 of which we plan to review shortly) where he tags and selects them (it does that fast). Using Photoshop's browser, he rotates them and renames them before running an action on the whole directory to adjust the RAW files, save them as Photoshop files and as resized JPEGs, adding copyright information and saving them to new folders easily archived.
The copyright issue, Schewe noted, is very important. By setting the copyright status and the copyright notice in the Exif header, you protect your work. Stripping the metadata, he said, has been established as "willful infringement" punishable by treble punitive damages and court costs. Once the offender's attorney realizes the metadata was stripped, they'll be eager to settle, he promised.
Gorman showed how to create a droplet to run the action on any new folder of images. And Schewe picked up on that theme, exhorting the audience to spend a little time learning how to create actions. They're "a good expenditure of your time," he insisted. In 38 seconds each, his actions make three copies of an original image, renaming the copies and storing them in separate folders.
In our final report, we'll cover the action in the Pavilion (promise) but it was pretty dead. If there was an afterlife to this Seybold, it was in the conferences. We've neglected to mention a number of luminaries (like Bruce Fraser) who illuminated the obscure at sessions we couldn't attend. But we hope this sampling is enough to inform and inspire.
We were sufficiently inspired to develop our modest ambition of a nap into a whole night's rest. But before we act on it, we have to say we're looking forward to getting up in the morning. And that, in the afterlife, is saying something.