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Sunday, March 22, 2009

••◊ Why media matters...and ink too!

Hah! You probably thought this was going to be about shameless self promotion and being published in print. Nope. We're talking printing this time. ...and not just any kind of printing, but the devilish task of trying to print professional quality photos. Just don't go blaming me about how difficult it is. I don't write software (or only when I have to).

This go around I'm going to compare the durability of four types of paper and two types of ink. Durability generally means resistance to moisture, heat, and especially UV fading over time. The laboratory will be the window sill in my living room. We get enough sun, temperature, and moisture variation here in San Diego that I figure it should be valid enough test conditions.

The photo paper I used for this test ranges in price from charmin economy to the expensive stuff only professionals buy. Ink comes in two varieties: dye and pigment. I'm not naming any names, but all products tested here come from the same major brand company, so there aren't any third party compatibility issues. The dye ink printer is a garden variety home photo-centric consumer printer. The pigment ink printer is a professional product and generally not sold in the consumer market.

I printed the picture from the original RAW file and scanned the prints back to digital using a scanner. Yes, I know they all pretty much look the same. You can click on them to get a larger version if you're a pixel peeper, however this pretty much makes an initial point. All the prints look reasonably good out of the printer. The expensive paper obviously looks a little better when examining the print quality in person.

First in the lineup is the dye ink print with the photo paper that runs sub-$0.10 per sheet (8.5" x 11", street price).

Next up is the same dye ink based print with a slightly better paper. This paper runs a little over $0.30 per sheet (8.5" x 11", street price).

Finally, the highest quality dye ink print comes from using this paper at approximately $0.60 per sheet (8.5" x 11", street price).

Now moving onto the pigment ink based prints; this test subject uses the same $0.30 per sheet material as the middle priced dye ink print.

Finally! Presenting the most expensive pigment print material used in this experiment. It only comes in 13" x 19" and larger rolls and generally runs a little over $2.00 per sheet (street price).

My initial guess at an experimental time span is to leave these pictures on my sill for two to three weeks, or basically when I start to see them aging. Then I'll scan the prints and publish the difference.

Just so I'm being fair - all inkjet prints that you wish to preserve should be kept out of direct sunlight (preferably behind glass if displayed). They should also be kept from extreme moisture or temperature. This is independent of brand, ink type, or quality of paper. All photos fade over time, even non-inkjet ones, if not properly cared for.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

••◊ Notes for Mr. Allen

This weekend I rented the Woody Allen movie Vicky Christina Barcelona. For those of you who haven't seen it, it's a quirky look at love in all its forms. The problems with this movie are mainly with the inclusion of photography. You see, some of us out there understand photography and so the the script needs reflect reality at least to a first degree.

In the beginning of the movie Christina (Scarlett Johansson) is taking digital photos. After Maria Elena (Penelope Cruz) spies on Christina, via her luggage, she finds Christina's pictures. Now wait a minute. Who the heck gets digital prints while on vacation? Where is this magic photo printer that they left out of the story? Christina is in the Barcelona suburbs hanging out with painters who don't seem to own anything digital. Ummm...Mr. Allen...story hole. In the real world we wait until we get home to print photos, if ever.

Maria Elena sees Christina taking photos with a digital camera (somewhat of the form factor of a Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28K) and tells her, oh no...you must take you photos with a film camera. This alone screams of pretense. Does this mean she can only listen to music on vinyl and must get around in a Karmann Ghia convertible when visiting her philosophy/artist colony friends at the local pub (the later is actually part of the movie)? Good pictures are good pictures, toxic development chemicals or not. Of course, within a scene skip there is a dark room in the house and Christina owns a vintage Leica ($$$), but still holds the camera to take pictures like there is an LCD in the back. Hello!... Viewfinder! Live view on vintage Leicas means looking through that little glass hole in the back of the camera!

I guess the plus side is that they actually had some rather nice photos hanging in the "dark room," one of which I would like to try to recapture someday. Overall I would recommend this movie. It's a fun distraction. Having been to Barcelona (Barth-eh-low-nah), I found the inclusion of the familiar landmarks a rather pleasant return to adventurous memories.

So Mr. Allen if case you're ever slumming-it on my blog I'm available for consultation.

I need an assignment...bad.

Friday, March 6, 2009

••◊ Working with Norah

In a previous post I mentioned working with a young female musician. I now have the pleasure of introducing Norah Cunningham to you. She is a 13 year old musical development client of my friends Ken and Becky at Active Audio & Entertainment. This photo shoot was primarily focused towards her online promotion, with myspace being the default vehicle.

So let's talk photography - Norah is a fairly laid back person and not a bubbly high-fashion glamour queen, so I knew that we would have to be a bit more serious with the compositions. In my planning I thought subdued lighting and getting "the look" using her eyes would probably be the best way to capture her personality. In that sense, these photos were somewhere between photo journalism and studio portraiture.

Norah plays the piano, sings, and takes her musicianship much more serious than I ever did at 13. Who am I kidding, that would actually be more seriously than I ever did. In order to capture that thoughful nature I found inspiration from a studio portrait of Tony Bennett taken by Joe McNally. Norah actually also picked it out of a line up of example photos I brought to her during the the pre-production meeting. What can I say...she has good taste - because I was going to have her do that photo anyway! The photo was taken in a doorway where she could be sufficiently out of ambient daylight. I then used a softbox to one side of her to overpower the remaining ambient and viola! This picture was actually setup 180 degrees from the previous photo.

Just for good measure I knew I had to throw in a piano somewhere in the series of photos. It was also an excuse to use my pride and joy in the shot again (yes, that's MY custom made Pearlman mic, even though Ken likes to think differently on occasion). This shot was loosely inspired by a slightly different composition from Martin Prihoda. I changed the framing, lighting, and angle but the basic composition was balanced the same way by using the artist on the left and the microphone on the right. The background is just ambient daylight fill and there is a softbox at camera right shining directly at Norah.

We also did a series of night shots. The lighting setup here was a bit deceptive. I know it looks simple in the final product, but not so quick... What I did here was to use a open framed softbox at camera right to control spill and shoot it toward a gold bounce card at camera left to get the key light. The spill gives just a slight hair light to frame her face. Lucky for us, Norah's parents had tungsten Christmas lights which I was able to hang on a bare tree in the background for some bokeh.

So what did I learn?

  1. Watch out for the talent's hair/makeup or hire someone who does. I spent a lot of time cleaning up her initially frizzy hair in post because I was too busy framing shots to notice.
  2. Be prepared for blank stares if is you ask new talent to improvise looks. All that does is make them nervous.
  3. Never trust a "poverty wizard" flash trigger. Mine broke at the end of the night and ended up sending my 580exII flash to the Canon hospital in Irvine.
  4. Find a stylist. I don't currently know any and we could have used one.
  5. Always keep an eye out for inspiration and improvise to make it your own composition.