Entries Tagged as 'Making A Portfolio'

In a bit of a funk

Since coming back from our vacation last month life has kept me pretty busy. Work is just as hectic as ever, and there are always many things to occupy my time on the weekends. The kids have music and Soccer, and I’m actually doing a pretty good job of getting back into shape. In additon to my weekend bicycle rides I’m now waking up at 5:00am twice a week to ride my bike to work and back. So that leaves even less time and energy to devote to photography and this blog in the evenings. I suppose that as a result of the overload from vacation and work and life I just haven’t felt very creative lately. I haven’t shot much, and I’ve only printed things that I had to, so there just hasn’t been much to say.

I’ve been participating in a print exchange group with several other people for the past few months. This group only trades digitally printed blackand white images. Its pretty fun and quite interesting to see not only what other people are photographing, but also all the different ways that we are capturing, processing and printing our images. I’ve been using the Epson 1400 printer along with the Piezography Special Edition K6 inks for the exchanges for 3 months now. The prints that this system makes really are beautifully warm. I’ve grown to like them quite a lot. But the Epson 1400 printer itself has been a royal pain to use. I’m currently on my second one, and a replacement for that one is supposed to be on its way from Epson. The paper feed mechanism in this printer is just rubbish. I really wish that I had waited for Jon Cone to develop the special edition ink set for another printer. He has recently announced a special edition K7 inkset for the Epson 1900, and I expect that printer will perform much better than the 1400. Unfortunately I already have a sum of a few hundred dollars invested in the 1400 and moving to the 1900 won’t be cheap. So I’m left hoping that I’ll get lucky with this next replacement from Epson and my problems will be solved. If so I’ll be sure to post it here.

Another bit of photography related news is that I’m once again participating in an Aline Smithson workshop at Julia Dean’s. These classes are always fun and eye opening. Its a great way to meet other photographers who are in a place similar to my own (but everyone else seems to be a little further ahead in getting their stuff shown). Aline is always sending us information on photo competitions, new shows, portfolio review opportunities etc. I’d really like to get that portfolio I mentioned at the beginnig of this blog printed so I could actually have something to bring to a review, but that just hasn’t been happening for me lately. 

Scaling continued…

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Man I can’t believe that the Lakers so totally blew it tonight, I’m bummed and am afraid that they are TOAST!

Now back to the topic at hand. Scaling this image (the one in my post on June 1st) turned out to be a good test for a re-evaluation of several scaling techniques. This time though I only did a 3 way comparison:

  1. Digital Outback Photo’s (DOP) upsizing plugin
  2. Photoshop’s bicubic smoother
  3. Qimage

For this test I scaled my image up to 24×36″ (which is quite a bit larger than I can actually print).  There was very little difference between bicubic and the DOP plugin. They both looked ok, with no noticeable jaggies or objectionable artifacts. However, the output from Qimage did actually look better, it was sharper, a little better defined, and offered more contrast. I suspect that it was a combination of Qimage’s scaling and sharpening algorithms that made the difference. I haven’t gone ahead and purchased Qimage yet, but I’m thinking that I probably will now that I can actually see that it is doing better than the other techniques I’ve been using. What’s kinda holding me back from just buying it straight away is that I don’t particularly care for its interface. Every time that I go to use this program I find myself struggling with simple things like rotating the image or deciding on which scaling algorithm to use. To me the UI is confusing and difficult to use. I also am not so thrilled about having to go to another program outside of Photoshop to get my image printed. If and when I get around to buying the program I’m sure I’ll have more to say about it here at my DevilN Details blog.

I finally made  a successful print of my second portfolio image using Qimage on Tuesday. Everything worked out well and I didn’t find any problems in this second print. Next up will be the third portfolio image which you can see in the middle of my post on May 3rd. I’m hoping that once the three of these prints are finished that they will look well in a tryptich arrangement.

Finally, on another note I ordered a new lens yesterday, the Nikon 14-24 f/2.8 which is supposed to be the most awesome wide angle lens currently made. I’ll be doing some tests and comparing it to my 12-24 f/4 to see if it is worth the $600 premium. I also am expecting my first set of piezography inks to arrive next week. I might have a thing or two to say about them after I’ve had a chance to work with these new toys for a while.

Slow going, but keeping at it

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Yesterday I finished print number two, which was a long time in coming. I actually made what I thought was the final version of print number two about a week ago. But after letting it sit out to dry for a day I looked at the image closely before I boxed it up. On close inspection I could see some digital artifacts in some of the rock detail that just weren’t visible to me in the smaller prints. These image flaws made some of the very abstract detail in the rocks look harsh and brittle (very digital-ly looking, now there’s a word for you). I didn’t like this at all and felt that this was something that I wouldn’t really be happy giving to someone else, so I went back to the computer to see what went wrong.

It turns out that the problem was twofold. While working on the image in Photoshop I tend to go no larger than 50% magnification (unless something requires very small scale editing). I had applied at least 2 rounds of sharpening to the image as I worked on it. This alone wasn’t a problem, as the image looked fine as 6×10″ and I’m pretty sure it still would have been fine up to 11×17″. The images for this portfolio are being scaled up to 14×21″ and on top of that the scaling algorithm that I was using does another final round of output sharpening as part of this enlargement process. It was this final round of sharpening after scaling the image up that did this print in.

Digitally enlarging an image is a pretty interesting process that can be done in any number of ways. Choosing the best way to scale an image has become a good deal easier in recent years. Back in the “old days” pre 2004 we used either Photoshop’s bicubic method or spent some money and purchased a program like Genuine Fractals (GF), which was a very popular program for doing these kinds of things. Before Photoshop CS/CS2, Genuine Fractals was noticeably better than Photoshop’s bicubic method. PS CS3’s bicubic smoother and sharper scaling algorithms are much better nowadays especially for things that are likely only going to be scaled from a 10+ megapixel camera up to a 17×22″ print size. There are also tools like AlienSkin Blow Up, and Qimage. A couple of years ago I looked closely at all of these products (and several techniques for scaling using Photoshop tools) and was never really able to produce demonstrably better enlargements (of my images, to my desired size) with these other programs than I could with what was already in Photoshop. So I just stuck with Photoshop’s bicubic smoother, or the upsizing routine from the folks at Digital Outback Photo.

I think that in my case, I just didn’t have a need to up rez my photos to the point that these more expensive (and hopefully more advanced) scaling algorithms had a chance to show their stuff. In this particular instance it was the Digital Outback Photo upsizing method that caused print number two to be botched. I’m pretty sure that had it not applied that final bit of sharpening the image would have looked ok. With that discovery I resized the image simply using Photoshop’s bicubic smoother and it looked fine, no longer harsh and brittle. I also decided that I’d take another look at Qimage now that I had an image that was actually kinda difficult to scale to the size that I wanted.

Qimage is a program that has a very avid following out there in the inkjet printer community. Qimage not only provides several advanced scaling algorithms, but also employs its own “intelligent” form of output sharpening, and also a page layout facility (which automates the most efficient placement of multiple images on a single page). Oh I forgot to mention that Qimage is also a fully color managed image viewer and print spooler too! Over the years I’ve wondered what it is about this program that causes so many of its users to scream its virtues at the top of their lungs, where I couldn’t see any real improvement over the scaling that I performed in Photoshop.

Its getting late and I’m pretty tired, so I’ll have to continue this post tomorrow…zzzz

Self Doubt

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I wonder if this feeling of self doubt is common to those who are trying to put something together like I am with this portfolio. Frequently when I get back from a shoot, I download my images and run through them quickly. As I am shooting I take note of the ones that I think are going to be especially interesting look at them first when reviewing the shots on the computer for the first time. Sometimes I’m right about what was a good capture and other times I’m pretty wrong. There are other images that take quite some time to grow on me, for me to notice something especially interesting about them, or for the potential of the image to be worked into something more than the shapes and light that were present when I tripped the shutter.

The very nature of many of the images that I’ve selected for this portfolio are such that I only had some general idea of what they would look like as I opened the shutter for any where from 0.75 to 5 seconds while the waves were crashing over the rocks. The three photos that will make up the triptych I am working on are examples of this delayed type of realization. It was only after spending a fair amount of time reviewing those images that I had shot several months prior to beginning this portfolio project when it dawned on me that some of the many photos of this rock formation could possibly fit together forming a single piece. I most always have a tendency to tackle the toughest problems first when working, so I’ve put of the photos I am more sure about until later in the project.

With the first photo printed I began editing the second image today (it is at the top of this post). In the preceding months I had already done some quick (maybe an hour total over the 5 months since I first shot it) and dirty tweaks of the image just to get myself an idea of what it might look like in final form. Trying to bring it into final form can be a fairly slow process for me. Today alone I’ve probably spent about 5 hours working on this photo. This involves doing a fresh conversion from the RAW color photo. Then doing a second conversion from color into black and white, followed by the tweaking of luminance curves, dodging and burning the rocks and clouds, and making around 10 test prints today. I don’t really know if I’m pitifully slow when working on an image, but there are so many things to consider: how much contrast is needed, where to set the black point, is there enough shadow/highlight detail? I spend a lot of time considering so many aspects of each photo, and then when I begin to make the print there is still even more time that goes into things like ink tone and paper choice. In this instance I have to keep things consistent across the portfolio so those two things are mostly decided already. But with this being the only the second image to be printed there is still time to change my mind I guess.

Here is the problem for me.  After spending so many hours staring at the same image, concentrating on all the areas that I see as potential problems I begin to doubt the image’s worth. I guess I kinda get tired of looking at it. So for a while there this evening it seemed as if every test print that I made was coming out too flat, too dull, too tired. In reality I guess I’m the one who is tired, but it is at this point that I really begin to wonder if I’m just wasting my time. Is anyone ever going to even begin to appreciate what I see in these images? Making art is a risky proposition, actually producing something and then putting it out there for the world to see is taking a chance. Maybe there is nothing at all there in what I’m doing. I certainly don’t expect any other person on the planet to sit there looking at what I produce for 5+ hours in a single day. Do the master’s of the art world go through the same thing when they’re producing? I certainly know that the creation of a painting or sculpture can take even longer than what I’m doing right now. What drives them, what is driving me to do this with no guarantee of reward or even recognition? The question isn’t what is art, it’s why is art?

One Down…

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Ten, twelve maybe 14 more to go. Today I finally buckled down and made some concrete decisions about how the portfolio would be printed. This involved sticking with my chosen paper (VFA) and deciding on how I would tone the inks for this series of prints. I had decided some time ago that I would start with the most difficult image in the group of candidates for the portfolio. The image that I’ve included with this post is pretty hard to appreciate on the web, or for that matter at any size less than 6×10″. It is the image that I’m probably the least sure of in this group of photographs. The reason that I kept in the portfolio along with everything else is because I think that it will work when combined with two others in order to make a triptych. When printed on a textured matte paper like VFA this photo has a certain type of subtle transition between paper white and the lightest shades of gray that make up the clouded waves.

The clouds in the waves that make up the images in this portfolio have inspired me to name this body of work Aqua-Valent which is a sort of play on the work of a rather famous early 20th centurty photographer.

In confirming my paper choice I printed several small copies of the image also on Hahnemuhle Photo Rag 308 (HPR), H. Museum Etching and H. German Etching. Even though I really love the HGE it didn’t work as well with this image because the highlights suffered from a lack of separation within the upper 5% of image density. Museum Etching simply came across as a little flat when compared to the others, and its shadows seemed to suffer in a similar way as the highlights did on HGE. That left it to the pair of VFA and HPR, which are without a doubt two of the most highly regarded matte papers out there. And for good reason, the image really did look best on these two, VFA is able to generate a superior black to HPR, however as I’m sure anyone would notice, there just isn’t much black in this image at all. The biggest differences between HPR and VFA are the paper color and the texture. VFA is a bright white paper, while HPR has a creamier color close to that of a natural paper wihtout OBAs. HPR still has OBAs nonetheless and that is the reason why it looked superior to the Museum Etching paper.

In the end VFA won out because of the fact that I really like the way that this image (and I expect the others also) look on textured paper. I had envisioned that this image would be rendered on the matte paper in such a way as to look as if it were almost painted on. That effect is more readily achieved with the textured surface of VFA or even HGE. This image when printed large on a sheet of VFA came with the look I was after. I moved the white point of the image down so that small parts of the clouds would be clipped to paper white. The lightest gray shades then are allowed to more obviously stand out from the paper white, giving those paper white areas a painterly feel, while the texture of the paper kinda sorta mimics the texture that a brush would impart upon oil based paints applied to canvas.

Choosing a color tone for the b/w images was one of the easier decisions to make, well at least it was that way since I had to put aside building my own ink mixtures in QTR. For some reason I never seem to want to make my prints as a straight up neutral b/w. In previous posts I had described my quest for a certain type of sepia/selenium split effect. I also like my images printed up as slightly warm with the Epson ABW driver (H:5, V:5), to a deeper (H:10, V:10). While fooling around with toning the ABW driver I discovered an interesting combination (H:19, V:-33) that works quite well on the creamy or natural papers without OBAs. However this last combination didn’t seem to fit my image when printed on VFA. I finally wound up trying an ABW setting suggested by Clayton Jones in one of his paper chase articles. Using H:2, V:8 gives a slightly warm rendition that seems to work in a pleasing fashion with the brightened white of VFA. My test print using this setting came out looking pretty nice, not neutral gray, but also not too warm either. After examining the test print’s tone, shadows and highlight separation with this setting I was satisfied. With that last decision made I was able to prep and print the first image that will make up my first portfolio Aqua-Valent.

Little Progress

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The past week has been pretty busy, and not much has happened with the portfolio work in some time. The time that I’ve had to spend on photography has been centered around getting other prints made for sale, and struggling with paper and ink issues. I went to make a final print on a paper that I had done extensive testing with (Ilford Galerie Gold Fibre Silk(GFS)) on 8.5 x 11″ paper. I ordered a box of 13 x 19″ paper just for this particular print, this was the first time I had tried the paper in anything other than letter size.

I recently began reading the book Real World Color Management, along with several other web sites on the topic. All of this reading had reminded me that I never did a thorough analysis of the various media settings available when creating a paper profile and printing an image. So I spent a couple of days making test prints and waiting for them to dry before selecting the best paper type to use when printing on GFS. It turns out that the media setting I used when I first created a profile for this paper wasn’t really the best one (though it did offer the deepest blacks). So with my newly found paper setting I created a new profile for GFS and that is where the problems started. After printing the test sheets and allowing them to dry for 6 hours or so, I took a look at them under a strong light and with my glasses on. And I found something I had never seen before on this paper… the dreaded pizza wheel marks from my Epson printer. Pizza wheel marks are created by the feed mechanism Epson uses in their lower end (if you can call the 3800 that) printers without a vacuum suction transport. What pulls the paper through the printer are two sets of opposed rollers, rubber on the bottom and spiked wheels on the top. These spiked wheels sometimes dig into the ink and paper and leave columns of tracks that are affectionately known as pizza wheel marks.

Normally these marks are only visible when looking very closely at the print under direct lighting at a specific angle. These marks only show up on glossy type papers. In this instance I had not seen them in my initial evaluations of the paper, and was fairly annoyed that they’ve only showed up just as I’m preparing a print for a client. So I went back and made a few changes to the paper thickness settings hoping that would alleviate the problem. I wound up picking a paper thickness of 0.5mm and a platen gap of “wider”. This seemed to get rid of the marks. With my new best possible profile for GFS in hand I made what I thought was the final print of the ForestFlora5 image. My initial inspection under the light showed nothing wrong with the print, so I boxed it up to let it sit for 24 hours before its final spray.

A couple of days later I removed the print and put it up on the line to shoot it with a dose of Premiere Art Print Shield which is a spray designed to add a layer of scuff protection and lightfastness to inkjet images. Once on the line I could see two small white spots on the print. Hoping that they were just dust or something on the surface I backtapped, then blew, and finally brushed the print with my hand. Nope, the ink had not adhered to the paper in two pinprick sized spots. Before I printed on this sheet, I cleaned it as I normally do with an anti-static brush (with orthogonal brush strokes). Then I blasted the paper with a can of compressed air as a final cleaning measure before putting it into the printer. This sequence of prepping the paper has worked quite well for me over the years, and I rarely ever get flakes on my cotton rag papers, let alone leave dust on a glossy type paper before printing. Assuming that somehow I just had some bad luck and some piece of detritus had found its way on to the paper just before printing I grumbled about wasted time and went back to make a new print.

On my second “final” print I followed the same paper cleaning procedure. Then after the printer was finished I carefully examined the print under my light (with my glasses on). And sure enough there were two other small defects in the image, these weren’t missing inks but defects in the paper (as I now suspect the first problems were). These defects are quite small less than a square millimeter in area and practically impossible to see on the paper before making the print. By now I was getting kinda mad and kicking myself for trying to do a job on a new box of paper in a size I had never tried before. I sat down and made a third “final” print and hopped that there would be no issues with this one. The third sheet was good, and suffered from no paper defects. It is now dry, sprayed and bagged, ready for delivery.

When using new products, you never know what is going to happen, or trip you up. I sincerely hope that these problems were just isolated incidents since I really like this paper’s look and cost. However, the issue with the pizza wheel marks remain, and my search for the perfect photo black type of paper for me might not be over after all.

Portfolio: Downtime

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With yesterday’s post you’re all caught up with my current situation in creating my portfolio. My main computer has been down for a week now, with all my portfolio images stuck on the one remaining half of the mirror. Its been pretty frustrating waiting on the new fan for my cooler, and if I don’t have a replacement from these guys by the weekend, I will just have to buy another cooler and disassemble the whole machine in order to install it. If that is the case then that company will forever loose my business.

This new free time that I have has allowed me to get this blog working again and make the entries describing the first week or so of making the portfolio. Also in that time I wound up having to purchase a new color printer for my wife and kids to use. I selected an Epson R280 because it was relatively inexpensive and also a capable photo printer. The kids are happy, and in the mean time I’ve been looking into Jon Cone’s piezography printing system. Cone’s system uses only black and gray inks in place of the color ones for making b/w images. The system has been around for a number of years now and continues to evolve. After looking at the latest ink system he’s come out with for the Epson 1400 13″ printer I am now having second thoughts about the R280 that I just purchased for the kids. Luckily the store I bought it from has a 30 day no questions asked return policy.

Using pure gray b/w inkset sounds very appealing and apparently makes for some stunning prints. The Epson 1400 is a very economically priced 13″ printer, and fits in with my decision to limit my prints on matte papers to 13″ width or less. This piezography system is only for matte papers, and sounds like it might be a perfect fit for my matte printing needs, while also doubling as a color printer for the kids when they need it. The piezography inks have a reputation for being the very best available for b/w printing, so I’m looking forward to doing a knockdown dragout comparison between piezography on the 1400, QTR and the Epson ABW system on my 3800. However this won’t really happen until after I’ve printed this first portfolio.

I need to keep reminding myself to stay focused on getting the portfolio done, not endlessly fooling around with new printers, inks, RIPs etc.

Portfolio: INK, ink, Ink?

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In case you didn’t get it, ink was the next big issue on my mind. My photo printer is a 17″ Epson 3800, a cutting edge printer that is capable of producing quite wonderful images. Straight out of the box the 3800 comes with 2 different options for making a b/w print. You can simply convert the image to grayscale in photoshop and fire it off to the standard color print driver. Printing b/w this way is simply the easiest thing going. However it uses a lot of the color inks (cyan, magenta, and yellow) in creating the b/w image. The colored inks are viewed with a degree of suspicion by many in the b/w inkjet community for several reasons, with the main two being they degrade color stability of the print over time (colored inks tend to fade faster) and sometimes, some people are able to perceive the influences of the color inks. The second more complex b/w printing method is using the Advanced Black and White (ABW) option that Epson provides. While not quite as straightforward as printing using the color option, ABW isn’t too difficult either. Printing with the ABW driver uses much much less color ink to create a neutral print, and it also offers a deeper dmax than the color driver.

Generally when printing b/w I go straight to the ABW driver because of the dmax, and controls for adjusting shadows, highlight and toning of the image. I myself rarely print a straight up neutral b/w version of my photos. Most of the time I add some warmth to my images. I expect that when printing this portfolio I will decide on how warm the prints should be and keep it consistent throughout the portfolio. On top of my tendency for warm b/w images I also have been trying to come up with a way of creating a split toned image to my liking. So far I have not been able to do this with my 3800. Last year I was at a workshop and met a photographer who had produced an absolutely stunning portfolio, with a sublime sepia/selenium split tone. I’d never seen anything quite like it before. Given my colorvision problems (I’m red/green colorblind) it is especially difficult for me to distinguish purple from blue. However on these selenium toned shadows I could actually see the purple, something I normally just can’t make out. Since then, whenever the mood strikes me I’ve spent a little time in photoshop fooling around trying to reproduce it, or also trying to find an ABW combination that gets me close. So far I’ve been unsuccessful in that endeavor, which leads me to my next topic.

QTR

Quad Tone Rip is a cool piece of software written by Roy Harrington. It is a standalone print driver for many Epson inkjet printers, which is built on top of the Gimp/Gutenprint print engine. The neat thing about QTR is that you have pretty much complete control of each individual ink channel in your Epson printer. Learning how to use QTR for blending your own inks, creating curves and icc profiles is not for the faint of heart (nor possibly for the sane of mind either). Since I had never been able to come up with a decent selenium tone in Photoshop, or with my other b/w profiling (Spyder3 Print – a topic for another day) or ABW controls, I thought that maybe I would actually force myself to learn how to use QTR in the hopes of developing my own ink curves for the selenium tone purple shadows I was after. Of course the only reason I embarked upon this additional task was because I didn’t already have enough on my plate with selecting images, editing them, choosing paper, formatting and printing my portfolio, on top of the normal everyday things like going to work, delivering a new software system, and making time for my family. Maybe I have some new kind of attention deficit disorder, kinda like ADHD in kids, but kinda in reverse for my adult mind that has to find a way to fill up every possible moment in time or uncommitted neural processing moment with a new (and rarely easy) potentially distracting task.

I contacted an old inkjet acquaintance who was familiar with QTR (thanks Lou!) and asked for some pointers, between his help, the poorly written QTR manual, the internet and lots of fooling around I actually made some progress and was able to work up a partial curve for producing my deep purple shadows. I printed many test strips with curves adjustments, and lots of questions to my daughter about the colors of purple/blue that she could see and I couldn’t. In the process I had to pretty much start from scratch, and it eventually dawned on me that I was going to have to start with just black and magenta, and work my way up from there. Eventually my light grey to magenta/black test strip actually smoothed out and even began to have a look like it was approaching linearity.

I set the QTR ink blending project aside for a few hours, and expected to come back and start mixing in some cyan in the hopes of moving toward purple and black. During this whole business with ink curves, the temperature in the greater L.A. area began to rise into the 90’s. This began to strain my computers, my photo editing workstation became mysteriously slow, with almost every little action spiking the dual core CPU. Finally one of my disk drives died, unfortunately it was one of my main disks with all my photography on it. Luckily that drive was part of a RAID mirror, so there were two copies of everything. After cursing my bad luck I ordered a replacement drive, and figured with the disk in the process of flaking out the I/O subsystem on my machine was being taxed and that was the cause of the slowness of my computer. Oops not so fast inkboy! My computer wasn’t finished F’in with me yet. The next morning the fan on my $80 CPU cooler failed! Stop, don’t pass go, head straight on over to jail. Sometimes I just have the worst luck when it comes to computer hardware.

And that is where my portfolio project has been for the past week, in jail. The people that make my ridiculously huge and expensive CPU cooler are right here in southern California. I called to ask about getting a replacement fan, and they said that they would ship me a new one right away. No need to send in the defective unit, no need to spend a fortune on a replacement (which would require disassembling the whole bloody computer). It should be there in a couple of days. Well, its been a week now, no dice, no computer, no inkjet curves, no portfolio printing, no ability to even get some sample photos to include in these ridiculously long blog postings.

Portfolio: paper or plastic?

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The next major concern after the b/w issue is on what type of paper will these images be printed? I titled this post with the question of paper or plastic which is a bit of a joke because I never really considered printing the portfolio on the RC papers. But with the new air dried glossy emulators like Silver Rag, Harmon Gloss and Ilford Gold Fibre Silk their look is close enough that the wording is apt. The whole paper issue when it comes to inkjet printing is really a drag in my opinion. There are so many choices, the differences between some papers is so slight, the cost can be painfully expensive (over $5.00 for a piece of paper!), and the lingering doubt about how well these things will hold up over the long haul make the paper chase no fun at all. Several times a year a major paper manufacturer comes out with a new product that is supposed to address all issues. It gets the inkjet printer community all in a tizzy and those of us who are so inclined go through another round of trying to figure out if we’ve found the silver bullet.

Well it when it comes to paper choice the masochist in me comes out again. If I could, I would only print on matte papers. When an image works on matte papers I’m extremely happy. The lack of the blinding reflection when viewed from the wrong angle makes matte more preferable to me than what we get with the glossies. The feel of the matte papers in my hand is also much more to my liking. So far none of the new glossies on cotton or alpha cellulose comes close to the wondrous feel in hand that you get from a thick cotton rag paper like Epson Velvet Fine Art (VFA) or Hahnemuhle Photo Rag (HPR). If someone could come up with a stable ink and cotton rag combo that could deliver a dmax of 1.9 or greater I’d probably never look for another type of paper. But we aren’t there yet, and might not ever be. The fact is the best I’ve ever been able to achieve on matte paper is a dmax of 1.7 from VFA. Where as you get to a dmax of 2.2 on almost any glossy paper. And therein lies the rub. In my opinion, some images simply cannot be made to work within the confines of the matte paper’s dynamic range.

There have been a few times in the past year (since the introduction of the air dried glossy emulators) that I’ve thought maybe I should just throw in the towel with matte papers and stick with the new glossies. At these times I’ve ordered sample packs of these new papers and done tests with them, and all of them have had some major problem that caused me to rule them out (until recently, which I’ll get to later).

  1. Not a single one of these papers has been tested by Wilhelm so we have no metric for comparison with all the papers that have been around for a few years.
  2. None of these papers actually produced an image that was demonstrably superior to what I would get on humble Epson Premium Luster (which is also very inexpensive by comparison).
  3. Most of them had an annoying surface texture that I just couldn’t get used to. Silver Rag was probably the worst in this dept. Harmon gloss didn’t really have an awful texture to it, though some think it too smooth and therefore too plasticky looking.
  4. All of them were priced insanely high. Epson Exhibition Fibre (EEF) was the very worst in this dept. I’ve been a pretty big fan of Epson papers and their value for years (VFA is one of the very best papers out there). Epson has also been very consistent about delivering good quality paper with no defects or curl. However my first box of Exhibition Fibre was clearly defective with micro cracks. The paper may have delivered the highest image quality of all the glossies (but the surface texture is an acquired taste), but in the end I couldn’t get over the cost.

With that diatribe out of the way, I can now get to the latest entry into the air dried glossy emulator field, Ilford Galerie Gold Fibre Silk (GFS). This paper is different in a number of areas than all the rest. First and foremost it is priced affordably! A box of 50 8.5×11″ sheets can be had for about $40.00 or $0.79/sheet, where as EEF costs about $1.56/sheet in 8.5×11″. GFS is also different in that it is a natural paper, somewhat creamy looking compared to everything else that is overflowing with optical brightening agents (OBA). But when measured that paper white and dark blacks (with Epson K3 inks) is actually closer to neutral gray than any other glossy I’ve seen. Finally the GFS paper delivers a good high quality image with nice acutance, and a non-intrusive surface texture that doesn’t suffer from pizza wheel marks on my 3800 (unlike the retarded EEF).

So I’ve finally found one of the non-RC glossy papers that is to my liking. On the matte paper side I have always been a major fine of Epson’s VFA. It is a paper in the cold press style (which means with surface texture) and has OBAs (but they’re not obnoxious). VFA is a beautiful paper, but I don’t use it for everything. The surface texture doesn’t work for closeups of people in my opinion (but is great for landscapes), and sometimes a set of photos might look better on a paper with fewer or no OBAs. The images that will make up this portfolio will lend themselves to being printed on a textured surface so I’m not considering my favorite hot press (smooth) styled papers like Epson Ultrasmooth Fine Art (USFA) or the ubiquitous HPR 308. My paper choices (yes it was long in coming I know) for this portfolio boiled down to VFA, Hahnemuhle German Etching (GE) and GFS.

German Etching is a textured paper like VFA except it is more cream colored due to fewer OBAs. I’ve just got my first box of GE a week or so ago, but I had seen it before and kinda knew I would like it. I printed a few test images on the paper an it does indeed produce a very nice image. I think for this portfolio I might actually prefer it to VFA. But I wound up eliminating GE for strictly economical reasons this time. I already have about 17 sheets of VFA in 17×22″ ready to print on. I’d have to buy a box of GE which would be about $254 or $5.16/sheet (ouch). But I like the paper and when I buy my next big box of matte paper it will either be GE or Hahnemuhle William Turner which is slightly cheaper textured with no OBAs at all.

So finally it was narrowed down to either VFA or GFS, matte or glossy, bright or natural. I guess by now it is apparent that there is an anal/masochist/analytic side to my personality. I spend a lot of time analyzing my choices/weighing my options. Another thing I like about printing on the matte papers is that it is more challenging to make a satisfying image on a paper with a smaller dynamic range and color gamut. If I can get my images to work on a matte paper there is a greater sense of satisfaction that I feel. Not only was I able to produce this beautiful image, but I didn’t take the easy route, I made it on a surface that is harder to work with but more pleasing to hold and less abrasive on the eyes (glare on glossies).

After making a few prints on 8.5×11″ paper I was satisfied that these images will work on both VFA and GFS papers. Since I can produces a satisfactory rendition of these images on the matte papers that is what I’ve decided to go with. However, during this process I also came to another conclusion. I think that (yes not 100% sure about this) I’ve convinced myself to stick with matte papers when printing images that aren’t going to be framed behind glass. And to go ahead and pick the GFS paper for everything else that will be framed. I’m leaning in this direction because once an image printed on matte paper goes behind the glazing, no one gets to feel be beauty of the sheet, and the abrasive reflections are once again added via the glass (I haven’t tried the super expensive non-reflecting museum glazing yet). So I may be limiting my purchases of matte paper to nothing larger than 13×19″ sheets since you can’t really hold a 17×22″ piece of paper.

Building a portfolio (just getting started is a pain!)

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The main reason that I came back to the blog with the intention of posting was because I was about to embark upon the new project of selecting, editing, and printing a cohesive portfolio of my some of my photographs. I first started on this project back in March, but soon afterwards was sidetracked by several computer hardware problems (a common occurrence in the Ealy household). Dealing with those computer problems the first time got me off track and I didn’t really come back to the project until a week ago.

When I started up again I thought it might be worthwhile to keep a diary of my efforts, and that maybe others might see it and offer helpful bits of advice or encouragement. At that time of course there were problems (software this time) that I detailed in my previous posting today with my hosting provider. They prevented me from beginning this log of what was happening with the portfolio. So this long post is just a recap of what I think I might have said during that first week.

Color or Black and White

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The fact that I shoot with a digital camera nowadays everything begins as a color image. However when I am out shooting what I expect to become “art” the possibilities for the image being converted into B/W are never too far away from the upper levels of my consciousness. With that in mind I kinda had two ideas for the types of photos that could become part of this portfolio. Either my photographs of the pacific ocean, seascapes and various moving water images, or my floral work. So I sat down at my computer and brought up Adobe Lightroom to search through my archives of the 30,000 or so images I’ve shot in the past 4 years. In my first pass I came up with about 30 or 40 images (yea it maybe says a lot that out of 30,000 or so images I couldn’t come up with more than 40 candidates for my first portfolio). About 1/4 of them I had already converted to b/w, and close to 3/4 of the images fit into the ocean as opposed to the floral category.

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Most of these images had already undergone at least a modicum of editing by me (while a few were pretty much done as they had already been printed and framed). I love a great b/w photograph, for me there is something hard to put my finger on or to describe about why it is that a great b/w photograph evokes stronger feelings inside me than an equally great color image. Part of this (at least when it comes to my own work) likely comes from the fact that I find it considerably more challenging to make an interesting and worthwhile b/w version of an image than a color one. So I separated the images into separate portfolio candidate groups in Lightroom, and there were considerably more images to work with in the ocean category. So I had at least made my first decision in the process, the portfolio would center around an ocean seascape type theme.

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Next I spent a bit of time working on a few of these images and shaping them into the style of imagery that I tend to work with (here I normally would insert a picture but more hardware issues prevent that). A number of these candidate images were shot in the evening hours as sunset approached. The beautiful colors of the sky reflected in the moving water that frequently makes up the clouds in my images ranged from blues, to purples, magenta to orange and yellows. As I often shape the lower curves in my images the saturation of these colors can move from flat and subtle, to rich and beautiful and quickly to unrealistically garish. With the objective of producing a portfolio that wasn’t completely derivative (yea, what today isn’t at least partially derivative) I liked what I was seeing in my color images. But I continued to work on them and move them over into b/w to see what I would get. Converting a dynamic color image into a visually compelling b/w one is difficult because you often can’t avoid merging different colors into tones that are not very distinct.

As so happens during this process my first cut at a b/w conversion just doesn’t ring out and slap me in the face. With the image of the previous color image still in my head the initial b/w often looks decidedly shallow. Those first couple of evenings (during the work week I can only spend 1 to 2 hours a night working on photography) I thought that I was leaning towards leaving the images in their color versions. It helped that a few of the images that I had already finished and printed were done in b/w and looked pretty good. I eventually moved on to one of the images that I suspected would be strong in b/w. After making the conversion I decided that b/w was the best way to present that image. And it led me to a style of rendition that I could shoot for with the other images that were shot in similar conditions, or of a similar subject. Once I had produced 3 or 4 images in b/w that I felt were satisfactory I decided that I would remain in the b/w context for this first portfolio.

Well this is getting to be pretty long so I’m thinking it should be broken up into several posts.