news, announcements and articles

Celebrating 20 Years of Color Management Consulting

20+ years ago I was splitting my time between a job where I was a Leaf45 scanner operator and an apprenticeship with a master printmaker. In the printmaking studio we were making large digital negatives on an imagesetter and using them to make hand-coated platinum/palladium prints in a wet darkroom. Back then everyone was using Photoshop 2 and had CRT monitors. While the color scans coming off the Leaf45 seemed pretty decent after a little color correction in curves, I was frustrated with how different the handmade B&W platinum palladium prints looked in comparison to the same images onscreen. We had developed curves to linearize the imagesetter that made the negatives but still, the prints on Arches Cold Press paper looked soo much different than they did onscreen. The paper had a warm tone that was darker and more yellow that what I saw onscreen. And the platinum palladium blacks were much lighter and warmer than the deep neutral blacks we saw onscreen.

Knoll Gamma

One day in the early 1990s I decided there had to be a way to fix this problem. I launched the Knoll Gamma Control Panel and made radical adjustments to the black and white points to match our wet darkroom platinum palladium printing process. I had been using Knoll gamma for a while but had never attempted to make such radical adjustments like matching the paper color and gentle blacks of a 19th century printing process. With just a minute’s worth of work I was able to get an astonishingly excellent match! All of the sudden, everything on screen looked like platinum palladium prints – even email! I saved these settings for platinum palladium and made another set of settings for the 4 color press work I was doing at my other job.

I was so excited about ‘monitor matching’ that I started going around to everyone I knew adjusting their monitors to match whatever printing process they were working with. I learned to adjust the RGB gain, brighness and and contrast settings on their CRT monitors before doing the final tweaking (more…)

Commentary: Monitors are bad and noise (can be) good

We’d like to think that todays $1000+ LED LCD displays are great but I’m going to say they’re not. They suck actually. We just don’t know better because we haven’t seen anything better – yet. Today’s displays are like cars from the 1970s – much better transportation than a decade prior but still horribly polluting, underpowered and unsafe in comparison to what’s coming in the next few decades. Today’s desktop computer monitors are fairly low resolution ranging from 72-150ppi. While this works fine for 95% of the people out there communicating via email and browsing the web, its having some negative consequences when it comes to photographic image development. People are over sharpening their images and including too much localized contrast. Most importantly, we’re taking out noise that can be beautiful and make prints look incredible.

The original digital capture [left and above right] is so typicially clean that it can lead to bland, boring prints. With grain added in LR/ACR the image prints beutifully with a luscious, precision fine texture. We’ve come to the incorrect assumption that becuase noise and grain looks terrible onscreen it will be equally terrible in print. That’s a false assumption. (more…)

HiDPI display support will significantly enhance our relationship with photography

After spending 6 hours with Lightroom’s new HiDPI Retina Display Support, let’s me just say it’s incredible. A giant step forward. It’s like seeing all of your images in a whole new light. Looking at images on a ~300ppi screen with the same clarity and resolution of a fine print is a long time dream of mine that I know would someday come true.

Lightroom 4.3 RC

We’ve been living in the dark ages with our ~72ppi displays. We’ve been seeing not the true nature but a facsimile of our images. Things like sharpness, noise and grain just don’t look right on a low res screens like they do in print. With HiDPI displays we can actually visualize these things and make better informed decisions while we’re developing our images. I think this will improve our relationship with images in our modern, digital workflows tremendously (more…)

Student Work: PhotoMuse Austin Workshop

I had the privilege of teaching an unusual photography workshop last week with two fantastic photographers I admire – Lynn Johnson and Penny De Los Santos. Our PhotoMuse workshop helps people find their inspiration and photographic eye through self-assigned photographic projects – finding their muse, if you will.

We push participants outside their comfort zones and encourage them to make work they’ve never made before, and more importantly, to engage in the process of making images differently and more fully. This can be difficult. Sometimes people say they don’t want to be pushed, but we push anyway. Some people have a hard time finding and starting their projects. Daily group critique is an important part of this process. This workshop had some challenging, teary moments including a ‘photographic intervention’ but amazing transformations happened by the end of the week. People had grown so much, were trusting their instincts and were intensely engaged in their process of making powerful imagery.

At the end of our weeklong workshop we had a big feast and watched a slide show of everyone’s best images. It was amazing. These are photographers working outside of their areas of expertise – experimenting with whole new styles and genres. Here’s a condensed version of their work:

“I’ve never been more exhausted and never felt more alive. I feel as if my awareness of the world has expanded, and I’ve become more sensitive to the light and moments around me. PhotoMuse changed my way of seeing and showed me how powerful photography can be in a very real and direct way.”
Danielle Tsi

We’re considering bringing this workshop to NYC, San Francisco, Pittsburgh and other locations. Let me know if you’re interested.

Night Portraits of Night Photographers

I think it’s important to show your work to your peers and get feedback, especially when it’s new work you’re experimenting with. In this spirit, I thought I’d share a few night portraits I’ve been experimenting with.

At this year’s Night Photography Festival in Mono Lake, CA, I had a blast teaching an advanced class and making images side-by-side with so many people. But it was all the guest speakers, instructors and fantastic night photographers all in one place that was so unique about this gathering. Lance and I reserved Bodie State Park for two nights instead of one this year so that our group of 40+ could have ample time exploring and making images in the king of all ghost towns. Despite having this exceptional nighttime access to such an extraordinary place, I felt compelled to make portraits of the photographers themselves instead of the ghost town.

Now I’m no portrait photographer, and I don’t have any experience doing this, but I wanted to explore this idea of making portraits of night photographers in their habitat. These are 1-2 minute exposures by moonlight where I’m adding light on the subject with a flashlight (not a flash!). Since I prefer side-lighting from two sides with a handheld flashlight, it was challenging for the subject to keep still during the light painting and throughout the rest of the exposure.

As it turned out, other photographers started adding their own light while my shutter was open and some became a collaborative effort. So a tip of the hat to Lance Keimig, Troy Paiva and Tom Paiva for their added light and all the subjects for their collaboration and enthusiasm with this – it was a blast working with all of you. Perhaps those of you that know their work can pick out their handiwork?

I’ve included the names of these photographers below their portrait. They are all much more experienced photographers whose work I admire – please Google their names and check out their work if you aren’t familiar with them. And feel free to leave comments below.

Digital negatives for alternative printing processes: a new approach

I’m huge fan of the hand-crafted print, and spent a lot of the 90s making digital negatives on imagesetters, as well as studying various 19th century printing processes. It was 1992, I was slinging images in Photoshop 1, cranking out imagesetter negs after hours at my local service bureau and taking them into wet photographic darkrooms to pursue that unique, and ever-satisfying handmade print. A few years later, I interned at Dan Burkholder’s studio and helped put together the first book on creating digital negatives for contact printing processes – a process that he deserves sole credit for pioneering. We were geeks, leaping tall technical hurdles with incredibly complicated workarounds that, surprisingly, made great looking final prints. It was so stochastic, man.

the first photogravure from a digital positive, 1994
the first copperplate photogravure from a digital positive, 1994 © SM

Bostick and Sullivan moved to Santa Fe and their alt printmaking supply business sky-rocketed, as has the alt-process printmaking niche. Thank goodness. IMO, Dan, Melody (Bostick) and Dick (Sullivan) deserve the lions share of credit for the alt-process resurgence we’ve seen over the last two decades.

But digital negs for alternative printmaking processes don’t make good prints by themselves – you’ve got to jack with them. For twenty years we’ve created convoluted methods of making Photoshop curves (more…)

Night Photography Video

WalleyFilms just released a video that highlights our Night Photography workshop in West Texas.

It was really fun having Angela and Mark Walley out filming during our annual workshop in Big Bend, TX. They are super talented and do amazing work. Between the photographers and videographers the creative process was quite alive that week with image making all day and all night long. You can check out more about WalleyFilms at

As a long time still photographer, I’m pretty blown away with the power of video as a communication tool. As our DSLR cameras gain HD video capability I’m enjoying getting my feet wet. I think all photographers need to keep an eye on this medium and think about how we can embrace it and make it a part of our work. This is my first experience incorporating it into my own business and I’m looking forward to more exploration with it.

Photoshop vs Lightroom and “Is it real?”

Q: “When I process a RAW file, I use the RAW image processor in Photoshop. I then save it as a TIFF file (and then to a JPEG for clients and stock agencies).  This already seems like so many steps. Why would I want to use Lightroom?”

A: Photoshop wasn’t designed to work with camera RAW files – it was designed to work with film scans. IMO, the Camera RAW plugin and Adobe Bridge represent an inelegant approach to modernizing an application based on 1980’s technology.

Lightroom is the new Photoshop written from the ground up with Camera RAW imaging in mind. It’s a paradigm shift. With it, we inch closer to a workflow that allows us to do everything (more…)