Musings on Photography

More Adobe Nightmares

Posted in Adobe InDesign, photoshop by Paul Butzi on May 29, 2010

ra-100421-0768.jpg

Ok. So I’ve upgraded my main photo computer to Snow Leopard. Everything seemed pretty much a-ok until I went to run InDesign CS3. InDesign complained “Some files required for color management are missing. Please re-install the application to ensure proper functioning. Ok, not a problem, I thought. I broke out the InDesign CS3 DVD, and I popped it in the computer, and started the install. It went along for a while, slowly reinstalling InDesign. And then it ejected the InDesign CS3 disk, and asked me to pop in the Photoshop CS4 DVD.

Which I did. It proceeded with the install for a while, then it ejected the Photoshop DVD and asked me to put in the Indesign CS3 disk. I did that, and it proceeded, slowly, to install. And then it ejected the InDesign CS3 disk and asked me to put in the Photoshop CS4 disk. I did that, and it proceeded to slowly install, and then it ejected the Photoshop CS4 disk and asked for the InDesign CS3 disk. I gave it that, and it proceeded, slowly, to install. And then it ejected the InDesign CS3 disk and asked for the Photoshop CS4 disk. So I took out the InDesign disk, and put in the Photoshop disk. And it proceeded with the install for a while, then it ejected the Photoshop DVD and asked me to put in the Indesign CS3 disk. I did that, and it proceeded, slowly, to install. And then it ejected the InDesign CS3 disk and asked for the Photoshop CS4 disk. I put in the Photoshop disk. It proceeded with the install for a while, then it ejected the Photoshop DVD and asked me to put in the Indesign CS3 disk. I did that, and it proceeded, slowly, to install. And then it ejected the InDesign CS3 disk and me to put in the Photoshop CS4 disk. I obliged. It proceeded with the install for a while, then it ejected the Photoshop DVD and asked me to put in the Indesign CS3 disk. I did that, and it proceeded, slowly, to install. And then it ejected the InDesign CS3 disk and asked for the Photoshop CS4 disk. Again, I made the swap. It proceeded with the install for a while, then it ejected the Photoshop DVD and asked me to put in the Indesign CS3 disk. I did that, and it proceeded, slowly, to install. And then it ejected the InDesign CS3 disk and asked for the Photoshop CS4 disk. In a superhuman display of patience, I swapped disks. It proceeded with the install for a while, then it ejected the Photoshop DVD and asked me to put in the Indesign CS3 disk. I did that, and it proceeded, slowly, to install. And then it ejected the InDesign CS3 disk and asked for the Photoshop CS4 disk. And then I swapped the disks. It proceeded with the install for a while, then it ejected the Photoshop DVD and asked me to put in the Indesign CS3 disk. And then it finally finished the installation.

I had to insert one or the other DVD a total of 17 times. Mind you, there were only TWO disks.

This is not just stupid. It’s irritatingly stupid, but that’s not all. It’s appallingly stupid. It’s staggeringly stupid. It’s stunningly stupid, and after a career in software development, I have to say that it takes quite a lot to stun me anymore. It is, perhaps, the most stupid software install behavior I’ve seen in the past ten years. Stupid, Stupid, Stupid, Stupid.

As you can imagine, during this process, I was increasingly motivated to say rude things about Adobe, Adobe employees, Adobe Software, the genealogy of Adobe employees, and what, in a just world, would happen to the folks responsible. I described how long it would take to mop up the undifferentiated amino acide goo that resulted. I invented new bad words, and then used the new words along with my quite sufficient store of old bad words to say things that would, if words could affect material things, have scorched the paint off the walls and set off the smoke alarm. I invented 12 entirely new languages completely devoted to ways to say nasty, brutish, and vulgar things about Adobe, and then I used each of those new languages until I got tired of them.

The dog howled, then cowered in fear, then hid in the bathroom and repeatedly flushed the toilet to blot out the sound of my swearing. Outside, trees shattered, the ground opened in yawning chasms, and violent earthquakes threatened to provoke Mount Rainier into violent eruptions, all because of the rude vulgarity of my language. The skies overhead turned from robin’s egg blue, to a dark and somber grey, and then to a greasy dark green, and repeated long flashes of lightning shattered the unearthly dismal darkness. Over the shrieking maelstrom of wind, the poor innocent residents of Carnation could hear the churning of the world’s oceans. And all this because of the extremity of the language I used.

And then. And then I put the InDesign CS3 disk in its case, and the PhotoShop CS4 disk in its case, and I made sure that Photoshop still started up. It did. So I made sure Bridge started up, and it did.

And then I started InDesign CS3, and it told me that “Some files required for color management are missing. Please re-install the application to ensure proper functioning.”

It might take me a day or two to cool off enough to call that pathetic excuse for customer support offered by Adobe. Until then, I spend time searching for alternatives to every piece of Adobe software I use. I am sick to death of this. Their software, for all that is the market dominating stuff and is the ‘gold standard’, has pissed me off, and this time it may have pissed me off so much I am actually motivated to hunt down some alternative.

I hope the folks working at Adobe and owning Adobe stock get exactly what they deserve. And I hope they get it good and hard, and I hope they get it for the next fifty years, nonstop.

upgrade

Posted in macintosh, photoshop by Paul Butzi on April 30, 2010

ra-100420-0749.jpg

Well, it might not be wise, but I’m in the process of upgrading all our computers to Snow Leopard. First up is the Mac Pro, on which I do all photo work. I have just a few more things to do to get it all done, although I’ve not yet tackled getting printing working. That may be the big hurdle, I don’t know.

To my amazement, getting Photoshop and InDesign activated went without a hitch.

Upgrade Progress

Posted in equipment, hp z3100, macintosh, photoshop, software, z3100 by Paul Butzi on February 3, 2009

5D-090119-6962.jpg

So today, after puttering away at the upgrade process on the Mac Pro an hour here, and hour there, I finally got it all working. The solution, for those who actually care, was to go through the various upgrade paths offered for Mac OS X 10.5, taking slightly different paths each time, until I got to a path that worked. This required wiping the main hard disk and starting over from scratch several times, which is why it was done in dribs and drabs, an hour or so at a time. Each time I got some part started, I’d go outside, enjoy the nice weather, and play with the dog.

In the end the path that worked consisted of doing a clean install on the drive, using the ‘migrate’ feature at the end of the install to move all the apps and files (but NOT system settings, etc.) and then use software update to update EVERYTHING POSSIBLE. Then I ran the HP installer, added the printer, and it all worked. There was a moment of fear when I ran Photoshop and it went through the registration, but to my utter amazement the registration WORKED.

Whew. The whole thing felt a lot like cleanup after a big storm. Well, except I got to play with the dog a lot. I highly recommend enlisting the help of a dog in defusing the stress induced by such an upgrade. Without Kodak’s help, I’d be a basket case.

The Second Update Weekend (in which our hero makes modest progress)

Posted in equipment, hp z3100, macintosh, photoshop by Paul Butzi on January 31, 2009

5D-090119-6983.jpg

This weekend, like last weekend, will be at least in part dedicated to making progress on getting Macs upgraded to 10.5. Bear in mind that the problems so far have nothing to do with getting the Macs upgraded (said upgrade being a smooth process) but with getting the HP Z3100 working smoothly on the upgraded machine.

I have now fallen back to the least desirable path, which is to make a clean install of 10.5 on the Mac Pro, and then get the printer working, and then reinstall all the applications. The big problem will be reinstalling Photoshop, because I will have to jump through the phone call hoops to get Photoshop re-registered.

Adobe Cross Platform Upgrades

Posted in photoshop by Paul Butzi on October 16, 2008

5D-081008-6487

Adobe have shipped the CS4 versions of Photoshop et al. So some number of photographers all over will be purchasing upgrades from CS3, or whatever version they’re using. I’m probably among them.

It seems to me that every direction I turn, I’ve been finding people who are switching platforms from Windows to Mac.

So I’d just like to remind people that, although Adobe will happily sell you a cross platform upgrade, when you buy it you may find yourself in the same #$%&*&^%$%^&* screwed up situation that I found myself in. It’s not a good place to be. Trust me on this.

I’d suggest that it makes more sense to ask Adobe to give you a cross platform copy of the version you currently have. Install that on your shiny new Mac. Then buy the Mac upgrade to that, and you won’t find yourself in the unfortunate situation where you need to call Adobe to install on another machine (like your laptop) or wipe a machine and reinstall.

Local Adjustment with Curves

Posted in photoshop, technique by Paul Butzi on April 4, 2008

5D-080401-5240-1

From the comments on this post:

Suppose you want to lighten or darken an area of an image … with curves, you either make a precise selection using various methods and then make the curves adjustment, or you make a curves adjustment and then create a mask to apply the curves adjustment. Or … with Dodge and Burn, you make a curve/mask adjustment in one step, ie: the darkening or lightening applies only where you put it. What a simple way to add a vignette.

The key words here are ‘precise selection’. They’re key because I never (what, never? Harrrrrrdly ever!) use the lasso tool and the other ‘selection’ tools.

What I do is use quick mask mode to quickly ‘paint’ a rough selection. To do this, I hit ‘q’ or click on the button with the round circle on it (below the color swatches in the tool palette) to enter quick mask mode. Then I pick the right size brush, set the flow rate to whatever I want, and just paint on the image where I want to make the change. If I want to change a large area, I’ll select it and use the ‘fill’ paint bucket to paint it solid. Toggling the color between white and black lets me fix up mistakes easily. And when I have some area painted, I switch back to regular mode by hitting ‘q’ or that button again. The not painted area is now the selection. To make the painted area be the selection, I hit shift-cmd-i. That lets me make a rough selection in just seconds.

From here, I create the curves layer. The selection is now the mask for that layer, and I rough in the curve adjustment I want. It can be anything from a straight burn or dodge to a complicated curve or color adjustment.

Best of all, as I adjust the curve, I can watch the image change (I have ‘preview’ checked). This is important not because I can stop when it’s right, but because I can make sure I’ve gone too far. This is a trick I learned in the wet darkroom. It’s easy to make an adjustment, think it’s about right, and then discover later that you weren’t bold enough. The solution to this problem is to always go past the optimal change. Then use the opacity slider on the layer to ‘dial back’ the effect until it’s just right.

Now, I can look at the image with the edit in place. If there are places where I want the change applied but didn’t get in the rough selection at first, I just click on the mask, select black as the foreground color, and set the flow rate low (say, 5%) and then paint on the image. I’m actually painting on the mask, so I’m actually changing the area the mask controls. If I go too far, I switch to white and correct the mistake. It’s pretty easy to get it right.

Having the burn/dodge or whatever other adjustment be a layer is a big help, because I can toggle the layer on and off. That lets me make sure I’ve made a positive change, because I can easily test “Which do I like better – A or B?”

Hours (or days, or years) later, I might decide I want to adjust that burn or dodge. If it’s a layer, it’s childs play to see what I did before (I can SEE the layer mask) and to change it. If I’d just burned and dodged the bejeebers out of the image, I’d have no way of easily seeing what I’d done.

Sometimes I’m very confident I know what the curve shape I want will be. In those cases, I create the curve layer first. By default it applies to the entire image, so I set it with the preview turned off. Then I click on the mask icon on the layer palette, so that my subsequent actions paint on the mask. I then fill the mask with black so that it doesn’t apply anywhere. Then I select white as the foreground color, pick a brush, and start painting the effect onto the image. With a low flow rate, you can build up different levels of effect, so it’s easy to feather the effect.

A lot of the editing of images I do involves what I think of as a gradient mask. In the wet darkroom, you can do burns and dodges with a gradient by moving the burn/dodge card or tool. In Photoshop, I get the same effect by painting a gradient onto the mask for the curve that adjusts the image. You can get some of the same gradient effect by creating a soft light layer, filling it with neutral grey, and then painting a grey to white/black gradient onto it to do a burn/dodge. But again, the curves layer is usually just as convenient and a whole lot more powerful.

In Photoshop there are usually four or five ways to do the same thing. Dodge & Burn is just another tool and another way to apply a simple, quick adjustment. Like all tools, it works in some situations, but not others. This is a bit like debunking the Levels command, because you can do the same thing in Curves.

Sure. There are more ways to skin a cat than there are cats. My goal here isn’t to get the rest of the world to always tackle things the way I do. It’s to argue that if we’re only to have ONE tool, at least let it be the one which is vastly more powerful, instead of the one which can handle only a small number of simple cases.

And, for what it’s worth, when I’m teaching students to use Photoshop, I tell them to ignore the levels command. Better by far, I tell them, to pick the one tool which does it all, and master that tool. The curves interface is vastly better designed that the ‘levels’ interface, and does everything that levels does easily. By using the more powerful tool, students learn to think of the image contrast and tonal range in the context of the tool they’re going to use to adjust it both globally and locally. It just doesn’t make sense to learn a number of tools that each handle a special case (levels, brightness/contrast, burn/dodge) when they can learn one tool that gives them all those sub-tools with a uniform, easily mastered interface.

In my experience, the problem most people face with Photoshop is not that the task of editing images is hard. It’s that Photoshop offers such a complex and overwhelming set of tools that people can’t get a toe-hold on the thing. The trick is to explain that there’s a very simple subset of tools that offers them ALL of the editing power, and all they need to do is learn those tools and ignore all the rest. The primary editing technique I teach is curves layers with masks.

Dodge/Burn is not enough

Posted in Adobe Lightroom, digital printing, photoshop by Paul Butzi on April 2, 2008

5D-080330-5231

Just this past week, Apple released a new version of Aperture, which now comes complete with a plugin that gives dodging and burning control. Today, Adobe releases into beta the next version of Adobe Lightroom, complete with (wait for it…) local dodging and burning.

And I’m here to tell you that while dodging and burning were the ‘de facto’ standard local controls in a wet darkroom, they’re not the right choice in the digital world.

In the wet darkroom, dodging and burning were strangely convoluted with the characteristic curve of the gelatin-silver paper. In the wet darkroom, the familiar S shaped curve of the characteristic curve (aka the H&D curve, or the Hurter-Driffield curve) had profound implications when we burned (increased exposure locally) or dodged (reduced exposure locally). If you burned down a shadow, you were forcing the tones in that region up onto the shoulder (highest density) portion of the curve, and so contrast would be reduced as you burned, and the more you burned, the lower the contrast got. Likewise, as you dodged the shadows, the tones would move onto the straighter portion of the curve, and contrast would increase as the tones in question moved off the shoulder.

Same thing in the highlights, but the other direction. As you dodged, things moved down onto the toe of the paper, and contrast fell. As you burned, things moved off the low contrast toe and onto the higher contrast middle portion, and contrast increased.

Sometimes those contrast changes worked to your advantage. Sometimes they didn’t, and you were forced to resort to other forms of prestidigitation to get the result you wanted. Things got easier with variable contrast paper, because you could dodge an area back during the main exposure, and then burn it in afterwards with a different contrast. In a very limited sense, using multiple contrast settings on a single print in the wet darkroom (something I did often) was equivalent to using a curve layer with a mask in Photoshop.

Every other technique (e.g. flashing, bleaching, or pouring hot developer on the print, or variable development) you might use in the wet darkroom means that you’ve started to employ tools that are much harder to control than dodging and burning. As a result, the vast majority of prints were made using the techniques of dodging and burning, and nothing else.

But it’s a mistake to think that as we move into the digital world, what we want is dodging and burning. We don’t, because dodging and burning have weak expressive power, and there’s an easy to use tool that can express every possible dodge and burn, plus a whole lot more.

That tool is called ‘curves’, and if we’re to be reduced to just one tool to do localized editing, we should run (not walk) away from dodging and burning, and instead rush to embrace curves with masks.

Let me demonstrate. When we burn an area down, we increase the ‘exposure’ and move all the affected tones down the tonal scale. This can be expressed with the following curve:
Burn

Likewise, a dodge moves all the tones UP the tonal scale, like this:

Dodge

Once we have a way to express the action of burning and dodging, all we need is a way to restrict the action of the curve to a local region – and we do that by editing the mask for the curve layer.

That’s not the imporant point, because if that was all there was to it, we be better off with the simpler interface presented by the burn/dodge concept. The important point is that we can express a lot of things with curves that we can’t easily express using burning and dodging. In particular, we can limit the effect of burning and dodging not just spatial (by using a mask) but also tonally (by putting bends in the curve).

So, for instance, if we want to lighten the shadows, but leave the highlights and mid-tones alone, we might use a curve like this:

Dodgeshadows

and if you want the mid-tones to increase in contrast, the shadows to get darker and lose contrast, and the highlights to get lighter and lose contrast (aka trade highlight and shadow contrast for mid-tone contrast), all without shifting the white point or black point, you use a curve like this:

S

The bottom line, here, is that by having curves and some way to control where on the image the curve is applied (and where it isn’t) you have the expressive power of burning and dodging, and then a whole lot more besides. There isn’t single tool I could deploy in my wet B&W darkroom that I can’t express simply and easily with curves and masks. Not a single one. Bleaching, flashing, variable contrast gradients, I can say it all with curves. And there are lots and lots of things I can express with curves and masks that were essentially impossible in the wet darkroom.

If you only get one tool, I’d suggest choosing the one that can do it all. It’s a shame that the developers of image editing software don’t see it this way.

[side note: Hurter and Driffield, the fellows who first graphically expressed the exposure/density relationship of photosensitive materials are two of my photographic heroes. Let me just close with a quote from them]

The photographer who combines scientific method with artistic skill is in the best possible position to do the good work

-Ferdinand Hurter and Vero Charles Driffield

Tune out, turn on, plug in.

Posted in Adobe Lightroom, digital printing, photoshop, software by Paul Butzi on March 30, 2008

5D-080314-5162

Apple have released a new version of Aperture. It has what they’re calling a plug-in architecture, which allows you to buy third party software and it just fits right into Aperture. One of my favorite tools, Noise Ninja, has announced it will be available as a Aperture plugin sometime in May. The developers of other successful imaging tools seem queued up to offer their tools as Aperture plugins as well.

To borrow a line from Theodor Geisel, “This may not seem very important, I know. But it is, so I’m bothering telling you so.”

There are a couple of reasons.

The first big reason is that it seems that a lot of photographers are moving to tools like Aperture (or Lightroom, the competing product from Adobe). It’s a sort of one stop shopping framework for everything from ingesting the images off your memory cards (or camera) to making prints.

The big problem with such products is that it’s awkward to use tools that are outside this integrated environment. That is, it’s awkward if your noise reduction tool (say, Noise Ninja, the really great product with the really silly name) must be run standalone, because you have to save a version of the image, run Noise Ninja on it, then import the result of Noise Ninja back into the integrated environment.

The same problems occur if you want to use some other raw converter instead of the one directly supported by your image processing workflow. That’s why so many people use Adobe Camera Raw – it’s not that it does such a great job as much as it’s there and it fits into the workflow so well. Click on the raw file in Bridge, and ACR runs, and the output appears directly in Photoshop.

“But wait!” I hear you saying, “Photoshop has plugins! This is nothing new!” And indeed, Photoshop does have plugins. In fact, that’s exactly how I use Noise Ninja – it’s a photoshop plugin that appears as a filter. But plugins in Photoshop aren’t really first class citizens. Plugins, for instance, can’t be the basis for layers, the way curves can. Every plugin must , if needed, duplicate the effect of having masks.

But the fact that Apple have developed a significant part of the image workflow as a plugin (they’ve got dodge/burn/contrast/saturation/sharpen/blur done this way) makes me suspect that plugins in Aperture are more first class in the workflow. Plugins in Aperture 2.0 can work on raw files. So your favorite raw converter can be an Aperture plugin. Plugins in Aperture can start from more than one file, so HDR tools can be plugins, and be first class. I saw a really cool tool that takes a bunch of frames, does sub-pixel alignment, and extracts a result that has higher resolution than any of the original frames does, and that tool could be a plugin.

Now, from a strict computability argument, there’s nothing that can’t be done the old way that can be done in the new way. Photoshop has plugins, scripting, and so on, and strictly speaking it’s probably possible to integrate these new tools into Photoshop. But developers don’t do it, and I’m guessing that’s because Adobe have made it hard to do. Apple, on the other hand, seem to view this as the strategic goal for Aperture – and that tells me that they’re going to make it pretty easy.

The big question, really, is whether the local editing workflow in Aperture will be as versatile and workable as the layers model embedded in Photoshop. If so, it makes Aperture a big contender in the imaging world. It’s entirely possible that a really good, structured model like layers could be built as a plugin, in fact. Hard to tell at this point, but it’s an interesting idea.

Another reason why this is important is that Apple have apparently lined up some of the big names to do plugin versions of their tools for Aperture. If you’re a developer and your product competes against Noise Ninja, the pressure is on to do an Aperture plugin so you can compete. This isn’t a big chink in the armor of Photoshop dominance, but it might be the thin edge of the wedge.

Back when Aperture and Lightroom were introduced, I was still a Windows person. Now I’m a Mac person, and so I’m looking forward to getting a look at Aperture 2.1 and seeing what the image editing workflow looks like, and whether these plugins are more first class citizens than plugins in Photoshop. If so, I may be giving Aperture a whirl.

Adobe Photoshop Express Online

Posted in business, ethics, photoshop, software by Paul Butzi on March 28, 2008

5D-080315-5191
I see (in uncountably many places) that Adobe have released their spiffy, wonderful new online version of Photoshop Express. It will be, we are led to believe, all singing, all dancing, and will make our beds, cook our breakfasts, and keep our mugs of tea warm all the time.

So I went to the website to take a look, and because I am sort of paranoid about such things, I first took a look at the ‘Terms’, the link to which is in light gray on a grey background (almost as if Adobe would prefer that you not look at them). The terms linked to at the target to that link link further on to further terms, where we must scroll down through several pages of dense legal boilerplate before we find the following:

8. Use of Your Content.

Adobe does not claim ownership of Your Content. However, with respect to Your Content that you submit or make available for inclusion on publicly accessible areas of the Services, you grant Adobe a worldwide, royalty-free, nonexclusive, perpetual, irrevocable, and fully sublicensable license to use, distribute, derive revenue or other remuneration from, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, publicly perform and publicly display such Content (in whole or in part) and to incorporate such Content into other Materials or works in any format or medium now known or later developed.

The upshot is that any time you submit a photo for inclusion in the publicly accessible area, you are giving the photo to Adobe. Period. They’re not claiming ownership of your content. But if someone can point out something that owning your content would allow them to do that this license doesn’t let them do, I’ll be mighty surprised.

Now, Adobe are free to place any licensing agreement on their software they like. But I think this is a horrible, disgusting, unethical, lowdown, scumsucking, awful, pathetic rights grab here.

I hope nobody ever uses this online software, ever. Because I’m sure that now the uproar is started about this disgusting license, Adobe will knuckle under and remove this rights grab crap. But I’d also note that they reserve the right to change the terms at any time, and I’ll bet a nice breakfast that eventually Adobe will submarine that rights grab right in there again. I’m willing to make that wager because anyone who would put those terms into the license to begin with is such ethical scum that they’d try to get it back in there later.

I hope they all lose their jobs and have to beg on street corners. And this time, I really mean it.

Decision Time

Posted in photoshop, process, traditional materials by Paul Butzi on February 21, 2008

5D-061030-3077-600
Colin Jago makes some interesting points about when irrevocable decisions are made in the photographic process, and some further observations about the difference between a film based process and a fully digital one.

The interesting thing for me is that, back when all of my photography was done with film, I made very few irrevocable decisions at exposure time. I suppose I did the whole ‘visualization’ thing, since the ground glass of my camera displayed the image upside down and in color but when I looked at the groundglass everything was right side up and the color wasn’t evident to me. But I didn’t ‘plan’ the look of the photo at exposure time. Instead, I took care to make the exposure so that I preserved as many options as possible.

That is, I didn’t make decisions like “Oh, I want all of that shadow to form a solid mass with no detail”. Instead I made the exposure that left detail in the shadows. I’ve struggled with lots of things in the wet darkroom, but I’ve never had a problem burning a detailed shadow down to featureless black. So my basic strategy with film has been (for a long time) “Get it all onto the negative. Sort it out in the darkroom.” My observation is that I’m not very adept at making decisions in the field. Better by far to procrastinate and make the decisions later, and in particular to preserve options so that the decisions aren’t irrevocable. If the detail is in the negative, you can always throw it away later. If the detail isn’t in the negative – well, we’re in there with the Fitzgerald translation of the Rubaiyat of Omar Kayyham:

The moving finger writes
and having writ, moves on,
nor all your Piety nor Wit
shall lure it back to cancel half a line,
nor all your tears wash out a word of it

As a result, my darkroom process had lots of twists in it, all designed to let me get functionality rather like what you get with Photoshop Curves. I flashed paper to change the curve shape. I bleached prints to change the curve shape. I dodged and burned and made prints with the contrast changing all over the print. Essentially all of the decisions about tonality and tone arrangement and how the print actually looked were made in the darkroom, not out in the field at exposure time.

The thing that made all this possible was the straight line, ‘modern’ films like TMAX films from Kodak and the Delta films from Ilford. All of that complicated zone system stuff boiled down to what, at the very end, was a very simple process – always give generous exposure to the shadows, so that you avoid losing shadow detail to the abrupt toe of these straight line films. Get the shadow exposure well up onto the curve. The straight line characteristic curve of the film ensures that you won’t blow out the highlights. TMAX-100 probably can capture up to zone XIII or XV without losing highlight contrast. The real limit to the recording of the film is that you end up running into halation when the highlights get really up there.

The bottom line was to give film generous exposure, so that everything in the scene is recorded on the film. Do that, and pick film development so that the density range of your developed negatives falls close to the middle of the range for the VC paper you use, and you’re cooking with gas.

The upshot here is that, since 1994 or so, I’ve used a process that was tailored to preserving as many options at exposure time and deferring all the decisions possible until printing time. I know that many large format photographers used/still use much the same process – I think I first heard it articulated by John Sexton in a printing workshop I took from him long ago.

It occurs to me that this might go a long way toward explaining why some folks are finding the switch from film to digital difficult to navigate and others seem to make the switch with minimal fuss, botheration, and hardship.