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Tips

In the process of preparing my digital negatives for lith printing I made heavy use of Silver Efex Pro 2.0 on my desktop PC. Unfortunately performance was horrendous. It was so bad SFX was nearly unusable. It was quite surprising since I’ve used it many times in the past without issue, both on the laptop and on the desktop.

I looked around the Nik Software forums and came across someone with similar symptoms. The suggested solution was to upgrade the video card driver to the newest release.

Duh. I’d rebuilt the desktop PC after a whole fiasco with a new video card, and I wasn’t likely running current drivers. A quick trip to the ATI website for some ancient (but more current than default) drivers for my ancient video card and voila! Problem solved.

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When working with photographers on prints the most common question I get is “how big can I print my photo”? There’s a lot of confusion around this and I figured I’d take a moment to walk through the basics.

First and foremost we need to get terms straight:

  • dpi (dots per inch): this term is completely useless and irrelevant when it comes to working with digital images and prints. Banish it from your brain. Never speak it again.
  • ppi (pixels per inch): this is the number that matters. It tells you how many pixels from your image will get crammed into each inch of physical output.

To figure out how big a print you can do you need to know what ppi is required to make a good looking print. There are a lot of opinions about this on the Internet. You’ll see people argue about whether you should print at a “native resolution” for the printer. You’ll see varying numbers depending on how far away people will stand from the final print. You’ll even see different numbers thrown out depending on what type of print medium is used.

So what ppi should you use? We keep it simple and stick with 300 ppi for most jobs*. In our experience it allows for reasonable size prints from most DSLR files.

Once you know the ppi you should target it’s basic math to determine how big your print can be. Let’s say your digital file is 2400 x 3000. Just divide by 300 and you get an image size of 8×10”. Easy!

What happens if you want to go bigger than what the math shows? You need to add more pixels to your image. There are a lot of ways to do that: Lightroom’s print resizing, Photoshop’s image size dialog, Perfect Resize 7 (a.k.a. Genuine Fractals), etc. Regardless of the software used you basically tell it how big a physical image you plan on doing, how many pixels per inch are required, and the software will make up additional pixels to give you a big enough file to print.

In our experience, assuming you are starting with a photo that has good quality pixels, Lightroom’s default image sizing on print works just fine for images down to about 150 ppi. Upsizing from a resolution lower than that starts to get into using the magic of 3rd party applications.

Hopefully this helps clear up some of the confusion around this topic. If you have any questions feel free to leave them in the comments question below and we’ll do our best to answer them.

* If you have your own printer and are extremely detail-oriented you can do test prints at various ppi values and look for the one that gives you the highest observable detail in the resulting print.

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Yay!

After reading so much about Dan Berg’s experiments coating and printing metal on the Luminous Landscape Printing forums I figured I had to give it a try. After many back and forth messages with Dan I was ready to take the plunge.

The Metal

The metal is 0.025” 5025 aluminum from Metal Supermarkets. I had a painful time finding a local source as none of the roofing supply companies had any. Metal Supermarkets came to the rescue again (I used them for the galvanized metal that makes up my print viewing board). I had them cut me four 12×12” and four 12×18” pieces out of a 4×10′ sheet that was relatively clean of scratches.

The Cleaning

Oh man. The cleaning. I tried all sorts of ways to clean the metal to find what would be the fastest way.

  • The dishwasher: This did NOT work. I tried one sheet of each size and while the bottom 3/4 of each sheet came out clean the top edges where they touched during washing was all discoloured. No amount of scrubbing would get rid of it.
  • Metal polish: This kinda sorta worked. It really makes the aluminum go black until you buff it really hard. Not worth the effort
  • Bon Ami and water: This cleaned reasonably well.
  • Rubbing alcohol: This also cleaned reasonably well.

Next time around I will do the steps on the InkAid site: using dishwasher powder like Cascade and then following up with rubbing alcohol.

I also tried buffing the aluminum with 0000 steel wool. It certainly buffs but it also leaves obvious fine scratches. If you want a directional pattern to the underlying aluminum this is the way to do it. If you don’t… don’t use the steel wool!

The Coating

Dan uses InkAid to coat his metal. Unfortunately they don’t have any local sales channels. I’ve got an order in for a quart but didn’t want to wait for it to show up. David mentioned Daniel Smith sells Golden Digital Grounds so I picked up a bottle of that.

My first coating attempt was with my HVLP sprayer. Complete and total failure. It just sprayed globs everywhere. I’m sure it’s possible to do (the InkAid folks list it as one of the application methods) but I didn’t have the patience to play with pressure settings and whatnot. I fell back to using an $0.86 foam brush from Home Depot. It actually coated relatively easily. One coat in a horizontal direction, followed by a second in the vertical direction once the first coat dried. Total drying time was only about an hour per coat. Not bad!

The Printing

Once I got to this point it was honestly pretty easy. I ran the print on a Canon iPF5100 using POP Board as the media type. This kicks on front loading of the media and provides a perfectly flat printing path. I had to make sure to pull the printer far enough away from the wall so the sheet could come out the back during printing.

I made a custom profile for the aluminum sheet using my Spyder2. It read the target print surprisingly well.

The hardest part of printing is getting the aluminum to load straight. There’s one tiny orange mark you’re supposed to align the edge of the sheet with and it’s very easy to be slightly off and have the printer complain about the aluminum being crooked. When I did the profile target it took me six tries to get the sheet loaded properly. I had better luck this morning with the real print: it only took three tries.

The Result

I’m quite pleased with the result considering I’ve never done this before. There are definitely some issues in the darkest areas of the print. The ink has cracked a bit on the coating and is rather splotchy in some of the very dark shadow areas. I’m not sure if there’s anything I can do about that since I can’t control the amount of ink the printer lays down. I wonder if the InkAid coating will work better.

The only thing I haven’t done at this point is apply a couple of coats of spray varnish to protect the print and add some more gloss. That’ll happen later today.

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Right before we started the massive remodel for the new studio Andy Biggs dropped me a line asking if I’d ever tried Media Clips from Armadillo Photo Supply. I’d never heard of them, but the price was right, so I put an order in for the 12 pack. They arrived, got stuck in storage, and I promptly forgot about them.

Zoom forward four months later and I found them a few nights ago while unloading the storage unit. I brought them up to the new studio and left them on the counter until it was time to swap out a roll. When it came time to load in some Breathing Color Lyve I figured I’d give the clips a try on the outgoing roll of Ilford GFS.

This review is short because the product is simple and it works. You take your roll of paper and you put the clips on it. Done. No futzing with rubber bands or tape. They clip on, and they hold the paper securely.

Here’s a photo of the clips in use on a 17” roll of IGFS:

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And here’s a photo of the two different sizes available (3” and 2”):

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I find them extremely useful. They’re great not only for storage but also when loading the paper onto the spindle for the printer. I can leave the clips on until the spindle is actually in the printer and not have to worry about the paper unraveling as I’m moving from counter to printer.

The only downside to ordering from Armadillo Supply is the packs they sell are a mix of 3” and 2” clips, and almost all my rolls are 3” cores so the 2” clips really aren’t useful to me. I did a bit of searching around online and found similar 3” clips under the SpeedClip name in packs of 10. If you have lots of 3” core rolls that may be a better source to use.

Edit: Shades of Paper also sells the mixed packs under the name Sooper Clip.

These are an inexpensive addition to any print studio and are highly recommended.

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Rob Reiter, of The Lightroom in Berkley, CA, dropped me an e-mail today with a photo of how he’s currently displaying our folio covers in his print studio. Check it out:

LightroomPrintDisplay

The sheet metal is a 3×8’ piece of 24ga. galvanized steel from Rob’s local metal fabrication shop. The magnets are, of all things, a kid’s toy: NeoCubes from Amazon (or, if you prefer “perfection unmatched”, try ZenMagnets) (or, if you want to splurge, try Lee Valley’s fridge super magnets, but 7 will cost you more than the steel!).

Not only do I love this way of presenting a folio, but it’s exactly what I had in mind for our print studio once the remodel is complete. It’s nice to see the idea working in the real world, I can’t wait to get one set up.

If you are in the Berkeley, CA, area and need some great custom printing done or need help putting a folio together give Rob a call. He’d be happy to assist!

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UPDATE: Our settings files have been expanded considerably and now have their own dedicated page. Visit our BCF2000 page for instructions and the settings files. The below blog entry is now essentially obselete.

***

In a previous blog entry I wrote about how to get a BCF2000 working with Paddy and Lightroom. The post went into detail on how to manually configure each of the sliders, knobs, and buttons to match your preferred editing methods in Lightroom.

But what if you don’t have the time or the patience to do all that configuring? Well, good news! We’ve posted the configuration files we currently use so you can hit the ground running without having to map all the controls yourself.

To use the presets do the following:

  1. Follow the Prerequisites and Part 1: Install Stuff steps from our prior blog entry.
  2. Download our package of presets and extract the files into the same folder as the Paddy executable.
  3. Load the .syx preset from the downloaded preset package using the instructions in Part 2 of the prior blog entry.
  4. Run Paddy, right click on the system tray icon, and select Preferences > Basic Setup.
  5. Click Load other and select the BCF2000.psf file you extracted in step 2.

And voila! Your BCF2000 will now be mapped as follows (click to view larger version):

BCF2000 Layout v1.0

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UPDATE: The newest builds of Paddy now support programming BCF2000s directly, without the need for BC Manager.

I’ve also posted settings files that provide a complete MIDI mapping for Paddy and the BCF2000. See the settings page for details. This blog entry is really now only useful if you want to do detailed MIDI configuration with Paddy, which most people should now be able to avoid by using the posted settings files at the link above.

***

Last week a pretty cool video made the rounds of the Interwebs. As soon as I saw the video I knew I had to get that set up. Lightroom is my primary photo editing tool, but I hate driving the sliders with my mouse.

My BCF2000 arrived today and I spent about an hour getting it all up and running. Since a lot of this is pretty recent the documentation on getting it working was, ah, thin. So I figured I’d write up a blog entry to simplify it for anyone else wanting to make this work.

Prerequisites

A Behringer BCF2000. I purchased mine from www.audiomidi.com. Normally I would buy through Amazon, but they didn’t have any in stock with Prime shipping. audiomidi.com was the source I found that had the unit in stock for $179 with free shipping.

Drivers for the BCF2000. Don’t panic out if you have Windows 7 64-bit like I do. They have drivers for it. Just scroll down to BCF2000 and click the link for the 32- or 64-bit driver.

BC Manager. You need this to set up what the BCF2000 will send to the PC. Don’t forget to donate a bit to the developer.

BC Manager Key Preset. The file is attached as a .zip to the linked forum post. It contains a default mapping for the BCF2000 that works with Lightroom. It’s a good starting point for this whole process and will save you a ton of time if you just want to get up and running fast.

Paddy v0.9.8 or later. This is the application that sends data back and forth between the BCF2000 and Lightroom. When I wrote this blog entry the version to download is the .exe file in the executable – unzip in a directory folder. Do not download the zip file. It contains version 0.9.7 and does not have support for MIDI controllers in it.

Part 1: Install Stuff

  1. Unpack the BCF2000. Run the driver installation software and connect the controller to your machine when instructed to by the setup application.
  2. Install BC Manager.
  3. Create a folder on your machine somewhere and put the Paddy application inside it.
  4. Extract Paddy For Lightroom.syx from the downloaded zip file and put it somewhere on your machine (the same folder as in step 3 works fine).

Part 2: Load the Key Preset

Before the BCF2000 can be used for anything you need to tell it what information to send to the PC when each button/slider/knob is used. You can certainly do this manually, one widget at a time, using BC Manager. However it’s much faster to load in a base config to start.

  1. Make sure the BCF2000 is on and plugged into the PC
  2. Run BC Manager. You may see some dialogs pop up as it enumerates devices. It may give an error about not being able to find a BCF2000 on channel 3. You can safely ignore that error.
  3. Select View > B-Controls
  4. In the resulting B-Controls window select File > Import and open the Paddy For Lightroom.syx file you extracted earlier
  5. Double-click on the BCF2000 that shows up on line 1.
  6. In the resulting BCF2000: Presets window select MIDI > Send
  7. When the download is complete close all the BC Manager windows. If prompted to save changes twice just say no both times.

At this point the MIDI controller is configured to send a variety of different number codes depending on the control you manipulate. In the default state with the top-left encoding group button active here’s how each thing is mapped:

KeyAssignments

Pressing the encoder group buttons controls the assignments of the knobs at the top. The ranges are 25-32, 41-48, and 57-64 for the spinning portion, and 33-40, 49-56, and 65-72 for the click portion.

Part 3: Configure Paddy

Now we can have some fun!

  1. Launch Lightroom v3
  2. Launch Paddy. If it’s the first time you run it you’ll get prompted about how it is creating an .ini file.
  3. Switch to the Library module in Lightroom
  4. In your system tray right click on the Paddy icon and select Assign Keys > MIDI Sliders
  5. In the resulting big scary dialog make sure the top left section looks like this:
  6. image
  7. Click the square marked 1
  8. In the two list boxes on the right of the screen click Map Sliders to Midi (Midi only) and then Temperature (Midi mapping)
  9. Click OK
  10. Right click on the Paddy icon and select Exit Paddy
  11. Run Paddy again

At this point you should have the first slider on your BCF2000 mapped to control temperature in Lightroom. To give it a try switch to the develop module. If all goes well the slider should zoom to the current setting and if you move it around you’ll see the image update in Lightroom.

Aw yeah!

Part 4: Go Crazy

At this point you can just go crazy configuring what all the buttons do. Basically, repeat part 3 and start setting each of the numbers to do something in Lightroom. Use the key diagram from part 2 to figure out what number maps to the physical keys on the device. I’m just starting to scratch the surface of this, but here’s what I currently have configured:

  • Slider 1: Temperature
  • Slider 2: Tint
  • Slider 3: Exposure
  • Slider 4: Recovery
  • Slider 5: Fill Light
  • Slider 6: Blacks
  • Slider 7: Clarity
  • Slider 8: Vibrance
  • Buttons 81-88: Reset to last setting for the corresponding slider value (e.g. 81 does Reset Temperature to Last Setting)
  • Button 91: Previous Image
  • Button 92: Next Image
  • Button 73: Reset Basic Sliders
  • Button 80: Toggle MIDI sensitivity

I have lots of other things I want to set up, but I’m sleepy so it’ll have to wait for another day. Remember to save your changes and then re-start Paddy to see them take effect.

Troubleshooting

Here’s a few troubleshooting tips if your BCF2000 doesn’t seem to be doing anything in Lightroom.

1. Go back and re-do step 2. It’s really important that the BCF2000 be configured with the appropriate key commands to send. I bashed my head against the desk for about 20 minutes until I realized I hadn’t properly sent down the key configuration file.

2. Make sure you’re in the Develop module. The BCF2000 won’t do anything unless you are in Develop.

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Canon 5D Mark II, 70-200 2.8 IS II @ 200mm. ISO 100, 0.8 sec. @ f/32.

Whenever I go on a photo trip I find it takes me a decent period of time to get into the groove of shooting. This is especially true when it’s been a while since I picked up the camera.

Lately I’ve been trying to jumpstart the creative process by literally messing around with the camera early in the trip. The photos I take are never meant to be anything special. I’m just shooting to try and get my head back into photography.

On the trip to Eastern Washington this weekend we stopped at Denny Creek. David, Teresa, and I did some long exposure handheld shooting. It was all about coming up with interesting patterns and textures. No stress about getting perfect composition in camera. No worries about nailing the exposure. Just carefree shooting for the fun of it.

The whole trip to Eastern Washington was hugely successful (as you’ll see in a series of upcoming blog entries). I like to think it was because we stopped for some mindless fun at a creek.

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Canon 5D Mark II, Canon 70-200 2.8 IS + 1.4x extender @ 125mm. ISO 100, 1/500 sec @ f/5.6.

The above shot is from my trip to Antarctica back in January of 2009. I never planned to shoot much wildlife when I was there, and the shots I did take of penguins were halfhearted attempts just so I had a few to show people when I got back.

When we were on Petermann Island I forced myself to take a few minutes to photograph penguins. At one spot I noticed a curving glacier in the background with penguins and rocks in the foreground. I shot a few photos, and then back on the boat found the above image. I was thrilled. Between the glacier, the rocks, and the cute little penguins, I thought I had a spectacular image.

Then I showed it to Seth Resnick. His immediate comment? “Why the %(*! is that penguin sleeping?”

Sigh.

He’s right, and he taught me a valuable lesson. When you come upon an interesting composition it’s useful to just sit and wait for a while. Just because it looks nice now doesn’t mean that’s the most awesome you can capture at that location. If I had waited another 5 minutes there was a good chance the sleeping penguin would have woken up and reached his beak to the sky. Then I would have had an awesome photograph.

This doesn’t just apply to animals, by the way. If you are shooting landscapes pay close attention to the clouds. Very often a 10-15 minute wait means the difference between clouds that are just there vs. clouds that add awesome movement and energy to the image.

The lesson has stuck with me over the last year. It’s a tough one for me to apply, since my natural inclination is to “go go go” and not really stop and take in the overall scene. I’m getting better at it though!

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Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, 2006
Canon EOS 5D, 17-40 f/4.0L @ 25mm. ISO 640, 1/640 sec @ f/16.

Recently I had the honour and pleasure of sitting on a committee of photographers selecting images for a photo book that will help support the United Way this fall. I reviewed over 1900 images and got to see some truly awe inspiring photography. Along the way I coined a new term: “tulip shot”.

I must have seen 50 different variations of photos of tulips in the submissions. Warnings were given prior to submissions about the perils of submitting a tulip photo, but alas, they came in anyway. What’s the problem with a tulip shot? Well, it may be your best tulip shot ever, but when you submit it to a juried show or book competition, it is going head-to-head against the other 50 tulip shots that were submitted. You better be darn sure that your tulip shot is the super duper awesome best ever of those 50, because chances are if a tulip shot does make it into the show/book/whatever there will only be one.

There are many other types of photos that fall into the “tulip shot” bucket. Some that come to mind are: sunsets, mountains reflected in water, flowers, bugs, cute kids, I-used-a-lensbaby-look-at-my-out-of-focus-edges-!, waterfalls, leaves, anything shot in HDR, animals in zoo cages, etc. In the Pacific Northwest some regional variations are “tulip shots” as well: Canon Beach/Ruby Beach/Rialto Beach/Second Beach, cherry blossoms, Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, and the Palouse region of Eastern Washington.

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Cherry Blossoms, 2007
Canon EOS 5D, 100mm f/2.8 macro. ISO 100, 1/250 sec @ f/4.5.

If you are ever submitting to a competition and your image contains any of the above you should think long and hard about what separates your variation of that particular scene from the rest of the pack. It is exceedingly difficult to stand back and take a critical view of your work, but it’s an important skill to learn.

Can’t decide whether your photo separates itself from the rest of the pack ? No worries: ask a photographer that’s better than you for their candid feedback. I do it all the time and while it can hurt my underbelly a bit I always find it hugely valuable.

This post has two “tulip shots” in it. I throw the comments open to everyone… any of them separate themselves from the pack?

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