What Makes a Photograph or Print Fine Art? (Podcast 589)

What Makes a Photograph or Print Fine Art? (Podcast 589)

Today I’m going to share my thoughts on what makes a photograph or a print “fine art”. This is something that I’ve seen various takes on, and frankly, nothing I’ve read over the years really resonates with me personally, for reasons that I’ll explain.

The impetus for today’s episode comes from a comment on my recent post about The Balance Between Healthy Learning and Analysis Paralysis. Listener and workshop participant Glady Klip asked the following question.

Nowadays you see so often the term ‘fine art photography’ and ‘fine art printing’. I was wondering what exactly is the definition of ‘fine art’ in photography and when do you call work fine art and where is the line of entering fine art photography? Do you call your work fine art? I was just wondering if you have any thoughts on this subject.

Thanks for the question Gladys. I’ve been thinking of tackling this subject for some time, as it’s something that comes up in conversation, but to be totally honest, the thought of talking about this has been a somewhat scary prospect. I’m not the artsy-fartsy type, and I don’t have a solid foundation in art history from which to pull a plethora of facts and fancy words, but as a photographer trying my best to make art that means something to me and hopefully also to other people, I do have thoughts and opinions on this subject, so I’m going to overcome that bit of anxiety that I’m feeling, and get this out.

My goal with this post is not to tell you exactly what fine art photography is. If your thoughts differ, please share them in the comments section, and we can discuss our ideas to hopefully all become more comfortable with this subject. 

Before we jump into the main topic, I wanted to just answer the question, if I call my work fine art? The answer is, it depends on the work. I don’t generally consider myself a fine art photographer per se, but I believe that some of my work is of a standard that could be considered fine art, by at least some people, but as we’ll see, I also think this is a very subjective decision.

What is Fine Art

To start with, let’s think about Fine Art in general. According to Wikipedia, Fine Art is art developed primarily for aesthetics or beauty, distinguishing it from applied art that also has to serve some practical function, such as pottery or most metal work. Right away, having been deeply moved by some of the pottery that I’ve come across here in Japan, I find that statement somewhat repulsive. 

The article about Fine Art on Wikipedia goes on to mention that in addition to the main fine arts of painting, sculpture, architecture, music, and poetry, today the fine arts also include film, photography, video production and editing, design, sequential art, conceptual art (as in conceptualism) and printmaking. 

It’s tempting to include more lengthy quotes from Wikipedia, but rather than doing that, do check out their post on Fine Art for yourself. I’ll summarize some of the key points to form a basis for some of my own thoughts as we progress. The article goes on to say that fine art is a visual art considered to have been created primarily for aesthetic and intellectual purposes and judged for its beauty and meaningfulness and that the perception of aesthetic qualities of a piece of art requires a refined judgment that is usually referred to as having good taste.

“Fine Art” by Taste

I consider myself to have relatively good taste, but I am also a practical person. When I view a set of images I’m going to have a different opinion to others and may consider something that other’s might categories as fine art as total tat. Conversely, I might consider something that others don’t give a second glance fine art, and I’d be perfectly OK with that because, by its very nature, the designation of a piece as “fine art” is totally subjective. 

Now, one could argue that my tastes are not refined enough to make that decision, but that idea riles me too. If we go back to the beginning of the definition of Fine Art, one of the key elements is that it is art developed primarily for aesthetics or beauty, and we all know that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. What we find aesthetically pleasing or beautiful depends very much on each individual.

Attempts to Categorize

If you do a search on the web for “What makes a photograph fine art?” one of the top hits will be a ten-year-old post from photographer Cemal Ekin, in which Ekin attempts to put some structure around the attributes a photograph might display to be classified as fine art photography.

I believe Ekin’s post and subsequent follow-up post are important contributions to this conversation and as far as I’ve been able to find, there have been few other original attempts to put any structure around what makes a photograph fine art, so hat’s off to Mr. Ekin for this.

I’m not going to regurgitate the post directly because I’m not into plagiarism, so please visit the original post if you are interested. What I would like to do though is give my opinion on some of the key aspects mentioned. The categorization starts with the statement “First, and foremost, a fine art photograph begins with a message, an idea.” While I agree that some fine art will contain a message of sorts or an idea, I can’t fully agree with this statement for two reasons.

Evocation Over Message

First of all, for some time now I’ve struggled with the popular idea that for a photograph to be successful it has to carry a message or an idea. For sure, some images will have a strong message, and that definitely contributes to their success, but I don’t think that has anything to do with whether or not they could be considered fine art. 

Indeed, I can recall many still life photos that I would consider to be fine art but they do not contain any obvious message. An example from my own work might be this photograph of a dahlia that I shot in a park three years ago, and I fell totally in love with after getting home and processing it into the photograph below. I consider this to be fine art, but there is no message to be seen.

Dahlia #3

Dahlia #3

Constructive Emotions

What I would propose is that it is much more important for an image to evoke some kind of constructive emotion. By constructive emotion, I’m talking about happiness, awe, love, optimism, serenity, and admiration etc. but in addition to these, sadness, grief, apprehension or perhaps even fear could still be considered constructive if they help me to understand a cause or feel empathetic towards some one or some thing.

Emotions that I think would stop me from being able to consider a photograph as fine art are annoyance, disgust, loathing, and terror. I don’t consider these emotions to be constructive, and therefore in my opinion, they would get in the way of my appreciation of a photograph. When we look at an image though, if we feel a constructive or positive emotion, the deeper and stronger that emotion is the more likely we are to fully appreciate the photograph.

I’m not going to try and tell you that my Dahlia #3 photograph moves me to tears, but it does make me happy when I look at it. I can’t say for sure why, but when I look at this photograph I feel its beauty, and it changes my emotional state, making me feel happy in an additive sense. If I’m already happy, it makes me happier. If I’m feeling down, it raises me up a little.

Weston’s Pepper No. 30

When I think of still life fine art photographs though, for me the one photograph that always springs to mind first and foremost is Edward Weston’s Pepper No. 30. I’m sure you already know the photograph, but if necessary, you can see it also on Wikipedia along with some interesting facts about this photograph that will help to illustrate my point about the message not being an important attribute for a fine art photograph.

It turns out that Weston shot his first pepper in 1927 after photographing various other close-up images since 1920 that he called “still lifes”. Two years later, in 1929, he started a series of pepper photographs exposing 26 negatives. A year later in 1930, he shot at least 30 more negatives of peppers, starting as he had before with plain muslin or white cardboard as a backdrop, but he felt that the contrast against the background was too stark.

Then he tried placing a pepper inside the large opening of a tin funnel placed on its side, which he himself said was a bright idea and perfect relief for the pepper, adding reflecting light to important contours. Weston is also quoted as saying:

It is a classic, completely satisfying ‒ a pepper ‒ but more than a pepper; abstract, in that it is completely outside subject matter. It has no psychological attributes, no human emotions are aroused: this new pepper takes one beyond the world we know in the conscious mind.

So, thinking about Weston’s creation of Pepper No. 30 we can draw a number of conclusions. First, from this comment, we understand that Weston did not believe his pepper photograph aroused any human emotions. I would very respectfully disagree because I remember how deeply Pepper No. 30 moved me when I first saw it. It makes me happy, and that’s one of my favorite emotions!

Nothing But a Pepper

But, Weston was highly frustrated by people’s attempts to assign various attributes to the photograph, especially by those who tried to assign sexual meanings. On the back of one print of Pepper No. 30 that he gave to a friend he wrote: “As you like it ‒ but this is just a pepper ‒ nothing else ‒to the impure all things ‒ are impure.

And, I’m sure you will agree that Weston’s Pepper No. 30 is, without doubt, a fully fledged fine art photograph. You don’t have to agree of course, but I doubt that many people would disagree. So my point here is that regardless of what we might try to read into a photograph, containing a message is unimportant as part of an attempt to classify something as fine art. Far more important in my opinion is that the image evokes some kind of emotion, whether that was the intention of the artist or not.

Be Deliberate

In another sense though, the other thing that we can learn from Weston’s attempts to make a photograph that he was happy with, is the amount of work that he put into creating Pepper No. 30. It took three years of photographing peppers to reach the one that became the most popular and well-known. Keep in mind too that the process of making a photograph with an 8 x 10 Commercial View camera and then processing and printing these images was infinitely more time consuming than the digital processes we now enjoy.

“Intention” is something that Cemal Ekin talks about in his post that I mentioned earlier, but Ekin talks about the intention having to come across with reasonable force. This is another statement that I have trouble with. There is a follow-up comment that tried to clarify Ekin’s position, saying that he meant Intention to mean the opposite of “accidental” and with a clear implication of “repeatability”. 

This is what I usually refer to as being deliberate in your work and processes. I believe that being deliberate in our work is vitally important in creating quality photography. The dictionary defines “deliberate” as done consciously and intentionally, which is probably why I prefer to use the act of being deliberate or to act with deliberation, which means to be careful and thoughtful about what you do.

But, I do not think that the intention or deliberation of the photographer should come across with reasonable force in the photograph. Conversely, I think that anything the photographer might have done to achieve the photograph should be invisible to the viewer. I don’t care what happened behind the scenes and don’t need to know.

If I can see any influence that the photographer might have had on the scene, for me, it spoils my appreciation of the piece. While I enjoyed reading about the tin funnel in Weston’s Pepper photograph, I have loved that image for more than 30 years and only read that background information today as I prepared for this post.

You don’t need to know that my wife was holding a black background up behind my dahlia to enjoy the image, but it was a very deliberate decision on my part, as I made that photograph. I had a good idea that I would probably process the image to black and white too, so I worked deliberately towards my goal and created what I believe is one of my best flower shots.

Of course, it’s also very possible that Ekin was thinking more about the results of the photographer’s intention coming across strongly in the image as quality or the aesthetically pleasing nature of the photograph, which I agree with that wholeheartedly, but I prefer to discuss the visual results in that case, rather than the intention.

Responsibility

Another thing that I’ve touched on over the years, and I think plays a big part in creating images that might be considered fine art, is responsibility, in a sense that we are responsible for everything in our photographs. If you aren’t pleased with the angle or perspective, it’s up to you to lower or move your tripod to a different location. If you don’t like the light, you need to come back at a more suitable time.

In a busy scene, it’s vital that you find a pleasing place on the edges of the frame to cut off your photograph. In my image of the trees at Mount Asahi (below) from my Hokkaido Landscape Tour, it was relatively easy to find a position where the foreground bush on the right was lined up with that distant tree with a small gap to its right, but the decision as to where I could cut off the left side of the frame was much more difficult, because it was so busy over there.

Mount Asahi Trees

Mount Asahi Trees

I think I made the right decision, as I like the overall balance of the end result, but I recall being very deliberate as made my choice of framing, knowing that I am responsible for everything in the frame.

To Clone or Not to Clone

I also have a strict policy on whether or not I will allow myself to clone anything out of a photograph. Basically, if I see something in the scene while I’m making the exposure, and I decide at that point to clone it out later during my post processing, I can go ahead and do that. In my Mount Asahi photo, I cloned out lots of cables from the cable car, but I was also very deliberate in choosing my camera position so that I could hide one of the main towers supporting the cables behind the trees.

However, if I don’t notice something in the shot until I get to the computer, and I can’t live with leaving it in, I abandon the photograph. I consider it a failure, and will not allow myself to use it. This might sound harsh, but this is how I’ve trained myself to be responsible for everything that I include in my photographs.

I also believe that a successful photograph is often as much about what we decide to leave out, as it is about what we include in the frame. Being responsible for the contents of your image and deliberate in your framing will greatly help to improve your work and be a major contributor to making what one might consider fine art.

Fortune Favors the Hard Worker

A couple of other attributes that Ekin lists and I agree with are Choice and Technique or Craft. In nature and wildlife photography our deliberation comes into play by getting ourselves to a location at the right time to have a chance to capture something beautiful, and ensuring that we have everything we need to make our photographs. Then we need the technical skill and mastery of our craft to be able to capture a photograph that could result in something that might eventually be considered fine art.

Let’s look at a couple of other examples from my own work, just to illustrate a few more points. Firstly, I would consider my photograph Jewel on the Shore (below) from Iceland in 2014 to be worthy of fine art classification. First of all, finding a potentially beautiful scene on a shore full of washed up glacial ice takes a bit of patience and a trained eye to know when you’ve found something potentially beautiful. 

I was attracted by this scene because of the large chunk of beautiful translucent blue ice in the middle of the image and the smaller piece of ice encompassed by “growlers”. Chunks of ice the size of cars are known as growlers because of the sound they make as they rumble along the hull of a ship in Arctic waters. 

Jewel on the Shore

Jewel on the Shore

I framed the scene, initially with my tripod at full height, and started making long exposure shots. As I made my first few exposures trying to capture the water washed up over the foreground, which it did every 10 seconds or so, I realised that being able to see the horizon of the sea over the top of the ice was distracting, so I lowered my tripod to about kneeling height, and started to make a few more exposures. 

As I worked, the clouds opened up a little, and the sun started to shine directly between the two large growlers on the right, illuminating the small piece of deep glacial ice in the middle of the group, and that started to reflect the light down onto the black stony beach like a prism. I couldn’t believe my luck!

I continued to make a few more 4-second exposures, but now I was hoping that the water didn’t flood the scene for the entire time because too much water stopped one from being able to see the light focussed down onto the stones. This was the frame that I consider the best of the batch. The light is perfect, the color in the ice is beautiful, and the dark sky over the left of the frame really all came together beautifully. 

So there are a couple of points I’d like to make here. Firstly, the fact that I was there, working the scene, and being able to recognize the potential of what was being presented to me helped me to ultimately make a photograph that was different and dare I say much better than what I was initially working towards. I was incredibly fortunate to have the light shine through a gap in the ice and light up the small piece like a prism, but I’m a big believer in the idea that fortune favors the hard worker.

Being mentally prepared and able to recognize opportunities, and being technically able to capture them are essential skills to enable us to repeatedly and deliberately capture images that we can be really happy with, and that will eventually start to define who we are as photographers.

Visual Simplicity

This is in no way a requirement, but another thing that I find important as I think about images of my own that I might classify as fine art is visual simplicity. I love minimalism, as a photographic genre, and I think that much of my minimalist work could also be considered fine art, but it’s not necessarily about having very little in the photograph. The scene can be almost filled by the subject, as with the old tree in this photograph (below) but I still consider this to be a very simple image to appreciate.

Kussharo Lake Tree

Kussharo Lake Tree

The import part of my process here was thinking through my process as I decided on the composition to build on what nature had presented me with. My chosen composition helps to abstract the tree against its plain white background. Laying down in the snow to get this low perspective helped me to accentuate the subtle line of the snow under the tree against the frozen lake. The resulting image feels to me almost like a painting, perhaps an old traditional Japanese Kakejiku scroll.

A Sense of Maturity

There is one last thing that I’d like to touch on before we talk about fine art prints, and that is that as I view images that are considered, or I would consider fine art, there is generally a sense of maturity about the image. This is something that doesn’t necessarily require the photographer to be mature in age, but I believe it does only come from practicing photography for long enough that it becomes a very natural act for the artist, and that shows in the work.

One listener kindly commented that they felt this photo of the top of an iceberg shot near Tasiilaq in Greenland last year had a good sense of maturity about it. That made me very happy, especially when you consider that I was bobbing around in a speed boat in the channel out to the open ocean, this is a good indication that I’ve mastered my craft enough to get results in challenging conditions, and gives me confidence that I’m getting results that at least some people can appreciate. 

Iceberg Details

Iceberg Details

When I look at the work of others that is considered fine art, this sense of maturity is definitely a common trait, so I believe it’s worth bearing in mind, and something to strive towards if you don’t feel your own work is quite there yet.

Fine Art Prints

OK, so although we’ll come back to the bigger theme of Fine Art Photography shortly, I mentioned at the start I also want to touch on how to define a fine art print, and if you think of this as a physical artifact, and initially disregard any aesthetics, this is something that you can assign attributes too, and check them off a list as you evaluate your fine art media options. 

The main consideration is that your chosen print media has to be archival quality, and that usually means that you will be using a matte finish paper designated as Fine Art media. If you check out the product list on my friends at Breathing Color’s web site, you’ll find a Fine Art Paper section that contains only matte finish media.

To further refine your choices, drill down to the Resources tab on each paper’s product page, and check to see if there is an Archival Quality Certificate, which shows that the Fine Art Trade Guild has certified the paper. Many of the fine art papers available are certified for 100 years display life, which is generally considered museum quality archival.

When searching for fine art media, it’s generally also a good idea to check that the paper is OBA Free. Optical Brightening Agents make the media appear brighter but they can break down over time degrading the paper, reducing its longevity. Some archival media, such as Breathing Color’s Optica One, does contain OBAs, although it is still archival certified, so they aren’t totally evil, but I will generally go for OBA Free when I have a choice. 

Signa Smooth 270, 600MT and 28MT Art Paper are all not certified archival although I hear that Breathing Color is continuing to tweak the coating formula for Signa Smooth, hoping to get certification soon. My fine art paper of choice at the moment for sale of my own fine art prints is Breathing Color’s Pura Bagasse Smooth, as this is OBA Free and archival certified. For personal printing though, just to enjoy the print, I’m using Signa Smooth, as this media has incredible gamut and detail reproduction, so I’m really hoping that they get it certified at some point. Meanwhile, Pura Bagasse is of course still a very beautiful and capable media.

I should also mention that I don’t believe that we need to get so concerned about printing fine art that we forget to have fun with our printing. There are many ways to enjoy photographs other than fine art prints. I love printing to metallic media, and gloss can be absolutely stunning as well. They may not be fine art as in 100 years plus archival, but art is supposed to enrich us, so in my opinion, anything goes in that respect.

What to Print?

Of course, you can’t just print any old tat on fine art media and class it as a fine art print. For practical reasons, I call all of my matte based prints Fine Art Prints, but this is down to the nature of the Web site and how I group images that I make available for sale in my Portfolio Galleries. At this point, it wouldn’t make sense to split up a portfolio into images that I consider to be worthy of the Fine Art tag, and those that don’t quite cut it.

Besides, if we go back to my original thoughts on the subjective nature of categorizing images as fine art, it’s perhaps not even down to me to decide. On my old gallery web site, when everything was available to buy a print of, I was often surprised by what people chose, and I don’t want to second guess other peoples’ tastes too much. 

I don’t want to sound ungrateful, but there were times when someone bought an image that I really felt uncomfortable creating because it just didn’t feel good enough to me anymore. That though is one of the main reasons that I took my old site down, and now I only have images that I would be happy to print for sale in my portfolios or print gallery.

Sometimes Size Matters

For some photographs, as Brooks Jensen of Lenswork often says, the devil is in the details. Although Brooks himself is a proponent of the small print, I have some photographs that I would not necessarily consider fine art if printed so small that you cannot dive right into the details. It’s literally the detail of some images that elevates them to the realm of fine art.

For example, this photograph (bel0w) of the trees at the base of Dune #35 in Sossusvlei, Namibia, feels borderline to me when viewed on the computer screen, but printed large, you can dive in and see all of the ripples in the sand, especially to the left of the crest of the dune just above the trees, and this starts to excite me visually, evoking emotions that I don’t feel until I can really enjoy the details.

Shadow on Trees at Dune #35

Shadow on Trees at Dune #35

This is one reason that I have fallen totally in love with the high resolution of the Canon EOS 5Ds R camera, and why I felt it important to upgrade to 44″ wide large format printer last year when my old 24″ printer broke down. There is just something so much more enchanting and emotive about a large print.

Then, of course, there is always the question of viewing distance. Wall art really depends on how far away the viewer will stand from the print, and the size of the room. A small print might look lost on a large wall, although many small prints can be effective if there is nothing like a sofa in front of them to stop people getting up close to enjoy the detail. Similarly, a 44 x 62-inch print would perhaps be in little overwhelming on the wall of a tiny town-house.

Intimacy of the Small Print

We are lucky to have such great technology now though. The printers we have these days are absolutely amazing, and the media, including matte media, is now capable of reproducing fine detail in our images even on small prints. With reasonable eyesight or appropriate eyewear, there is also something beautifully intimate about viewing a selection of small prints, and fine art coffee table books are great for enjoying fine art work, perhaps in the comfort of your armchair, or in the company of friends. Although some images depend on being printed large, the majority can probably be appreciated in both forms.

Avoid Borderless Printing

One last thing that I should mention, is that generally, fine art prints do not employ borderless printing. You will usually see either a tasteful border around loose prints or a matte around a framed piece. I also did a lot of research many years ago that led me to come up with a ratio by which I raise the printed area of the photograph on the page so that it’s slightly above center. 

Fine Art Border Dimensions

Fine Art Border Dimensions

Basically, I use 10 percent of the short edge of the paper as the width for the side borders, and I shift the top and bottom margins so that they are 7% on the top and 13% on the bottom. The result to me looks much more aesthetically pleasing and gives you somewhere to sign below the printed area if necessary.

Archival Inks

I forgot to mention in the audio podcast, but I’d like to add that it’s also worth checking that your printer uses archival inks. Pigment inks used to be preferred for their archival quality, although dye-based inks are now achieving archival status as well. Printer manufacturers are starting to get a little bit cryptic on this as well, so the information may not be easy to find, but it’s worth at least trying if you intend to make fine art prints.

What is Fine Art Photography?

Anyway, let’s get back to Fine Art Photography as a whole as we start to wrap this up.

If we dig a little deeper on Wikipedia and take a look at the Fine Art Photography page, there are some great additional points to consider, that also helps me to solidify with my own opinions and feelings on this subject. One point is that Fine Art photography is created primarily as an expression of the artist’s vision. In many ways, this brings me back to my original idea, that fine art is totally subjective and open to the interpretation of the artist, which in this case is the photographer.

Of course, if one intends to become a fine art photographer that depends on selling fine art to make a living, or even if you just want to sell the occasional print online to help feed your photography habit, it is, of course, important that others will evaluate our work as fine art too. 

This will also help us to summarize this post, but I have found that over the years, working along the following principles, rough guidelines really, has helped me to make work that people sometimes kindly buy from me as fine art prints.

Some Rough Guidelines

  • Be deliberate about getting to good locations at the right time
  • Refine the ability to recognize opportunities
  • Be deliberate in composition decisions and be responsible for everything in the frame
  • Hone our craft until technical decisions become second nature
  • Become skilled at post-processing to bring out the most from our raw files
  • The resulting work should evoke a constructive emotional response in the viewer
  • When printing as fine art select archival certified fine art media
  • Forget about tacky borderless printing

I should just add though, that I am under no delusions that I’m some kind of amazing fine art photographer. I do OK, and I make images that make me happy most of the time. Naturally, as with most people that make a living from a creative pursuit, there are times when I think I suck, but generally, I come back around and think that I can just about hold my own.

Subjectivity

This is the position from which I’ve written this post today. You may not agree that the few images of my own that I used to illustrate my points today are fine art, and that, of course, is totally fine. Earlier I used the old adage, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. As a visual art reference, I think that works just fine, but as I look at images and try to decide whether or not I would consider it fine art, I find myself thinking that beauty is more often in the heart of the beholder, along with a whole slew of other emotions that we talked about earlier.

Emotional Shift

For me, it’s probably the amount of emotional shift that the image evokes that is my biggest indication of whether or not I would classify an image as fine art. If I look at something and feel absolutely nothing, the image is a total failure. In some ways, it’s even worse than evoking a negative emotion. Writer Elie Wiesel is quoted as saying that the opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference, and that has always been a very powerful concept to me.

Because of this, feeling indifferent about an image would probably have to be zero on my emotional shift scale. Without trying to be too falsely scientific about this, my gut feeling is that 1 to 3 are images that I might look at, but then dismiss. 4 to 6 are images that make me smile, and 7 to 9 are images that I might say “wow!” to and include them in a favorites list. Only 10 rating images move me to the point that I would consider the fine art. These are the images that make the hair on the back of my neck stand up or bring a tear to my eye.

I hope you have found this useful, and by all means, do share your thoughts in the comments below. Remember this is just one man’s thoughts on a complex subject, and I don’t pretend to be an expert on this, so I welcome any continued conversation that we might have, as always.


Show Notes

Cemal Ekin’s milestone post on Fine Art Photography: https://www.keptlight.com/fine-art-photography/

Edward Weston’s Pepper No. 30 on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pepper_No._30

Music by Martin Bailey


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2017 Japan Winter Wildlife Photography Tour 1 Travelogue #1 (Podcast 561)

2017 Japan Winter Wildlife Photography Tour 1 Travelogue #1 (Podcast 561)

Last week we completed the first of my two Snow Monkeys & Hokkaido, Japan Winter Wildlife tours for 2017. Today I’m starting a travelogue series to walk you through our adventures via a selection of my photographs.

As usual the tour was a lot of fun, and very productive. I was able to keep up with my initial selection of photographs each day as the tour progressed, and I ended up shooting just under 6,000 images, which isn’t a lot for a wildlife trip, but I’m shooting with 5Ds R bodies which are slow, and I’ve been to the locations we visit so many times I can be more selective than the participants.

Image Selection

At the end of each day, I went through and deleted any obvious mistakes and images where I missed focus etc. and put a 3 star rating against any of the images that I wanted to look at again. I created a Smart Album in Capture One Pro to automatically pick up all 3 star or higher images so that I could easily go back in and review my selection. Whenever I had some spare time, I’d go back in and remove images that I didn’t feel so strongly about and came home with around 880 images that still had a three star rating.

Over the last week, in between catching up with other tasks that I need to complete before starting the second tour on February 19, when I release this first travelogue episode, I’ve continued to go back in and whittle down my selection to currently 320 images. I’ve run out of time to get down to my final selection, so to start preparing for this episode I’ve gone through my selection and marked all of the images that I want to talk about, and I’m currently at 120, which would take three months to talk about, so I obviously have to get that number down further.

As a record of this first selection, I changed the star rating to 4 for all but a few which were just for illustration purposes. I really would like to talk about this trip is just three episodes, four at most, so at 10 images per episode we’re talking 30 to 40 images or just a little more. As I’m running out of time, I’m going to steam through and select the images that I feel I absolutely must talk about, and see where that leads.

Great Weather for Most of the Trip

The weather was very cooperative, giving us two great mornings with hoar frost on the river with the Japanese Red-Crowned cranes, which is always a treat, but we didn’t get any falling snow while we were with the cranes. We still had a great time though, and got some beautiful photos, as you’ll see as we progress through this travelogue.

We started the tour with an optional dinner at a hotel in Tokyo, before meeting to start the tour officially the following morning to head out to Nagano for our first three days to photograph the adorable snow monkeys. I was very happy to see that we had a lot of snow in the valley as we walked in, as last year there had been very little snow.

We spent our first afternoon with the monkeys, getting the group accustomed to photographing in the snow, and getting used to shooting in Manual mode to get the best possible results in these winter wonderland conditions. I had some nice shots from the first afternoon, but although there was lots of snow on the ground, it wasn’t fresh and it didn’t snow while we were there.

The following morning though, we awoke to a good covering of fresh snow, that was still falling, so when we arrived in the monkey park when they opened at 9am, the snow on the valley walls was still untouched, and that’s a bit of a treat to work with. The first photo that I want to share is this one of a female snow monkey making her way through the fresh snow (below).

Snow Monkey Forging Through Deep Snow

Snow Monkey Forging Through Deep Snow

On the previous day this snow had been chunky and nasty from a thousand snow monkey footprints, but with the fresh snow it was transformed. It was also very soft, almost powder snow, so it looked great as the monkeys walked through it, and of course, it stuck to their fur, which helps to illustrate the harshness of the conditions that they live in.

I shot this at f/10 at ISO 800 for a shutter speed of 1/400 of a second. That’s about as slow as I like to go for a moving subject, and I generally try to speed this up as the light increases. It worked here though, because the monkey wasn’t running at speed.

As the monkeys got more active, running around, often in confrontation, I increased my shutter speed to 1/1000 of a second by increasing my ISO to 1250 and reducing my aperture to f/8 for this next photograph (below). Here we see a young snow monkey retaliated as another monkey showed aggression towards him.

Snow Monkey's Arrest

Snow Monkey’s Arrest

Fur Coat

Fur Coat

Again, the soft snow was sticking to the monkeys as they ran around, and this always adds a nice extra element to improve the photographs, and another of the reasons why I love it when we have fresh snow.

Also, although I am often happy to just capture a quiet moment, more like a portrait than a wildlife shot, I do like it when I can capture some dynamic movement and a different expression like this. It takes a bit more patience as you need to be watching constantly, but that’s the biggest part of the fun of wildlife photography.

This next image (right) is more in the other camp, the quiet portrait, although the timing was still pretty critical. This little guy with a huge coat of fur was just chilling out, and was actually wide awake, but to get a more peaceful looking image, I released the shutter when he had his eyes closed for a few moments, as I much prefer this kind of image if the monkey is just sitting around.

For this image I had also dropped my shutter speed back down to 1/800 of a second at f/8 with ISO 800. This is my ready for action zone. It’s fast enough to capture some moderately fast action, but of course that also works for static subjects like this little guy.

I tweaked my Manual settings again, as the light changed, so I increased my shutter speed to 1/1000 of a second and reduced my ISO to 640, at the same aperture of f/8, for this next crazy image (below). It looks like this monkey is laughing maniacally while looking directly at the camera. The reality is that she’s retaliating to aggression in the group, and for a moment looked at me.

Haa!

Haa!

I have a second frame where she looks like the joker from Batman, but we’ll move on as I try to keep the number of images down to ten for today. A word on the cropping before we do move on though. I shot this in landscape orientation, with the monkey on the left third, and I have cropped down to a square removing the right third of the image, as I feel it suits the image better, with the monkey looking straight at the camera.

I left the second image of this laughing monkey uncropped though, because she was looking to the right of the frame, and therefore the image looked better with some space for her to look into.

This last image from the snow monkeys (below) shows another relatively young monkey walking down the valley wall in the fresh snow. This is another reward for being patient and aware, as well as a bit of luck. The fresh snow around the hot spring pool was starting to get trodden down, except for a patch on the top left. I recalled that monkeys often climb down the mountain and walk through this point, so I started to watch for some coming down.

Shoulder High Snow

Shoulder High Snow

Only a few moments later, I could see two monkeys way up on the mountain side, and sure enough, they made their way through to this point, so I was able to photograph them coming through the fresh snow. This is actually the second one. The one that actually broke the snow first got so buried in it the photograph was a bit of a mess, so this is the better of the two, again with lots of snow on the monkeys fur, showing the harshness of their environment.

Red-Crowned Cranes

We came back into the park for a third day, just for a few hours before heading back to Tokyo for the night, then we set off for Hokkaido bright and early on the fourth morning, with our first stop being to photograph the beautiful and graceful Red-Crowned Cranes.

On the first day, we got lots of great photos of the cranes flying overhead. I have many with just one crane, which are nice, but they often feel a little bit documentary, so I thought I’d share this one, with six adult cranes flying together, which I quite like (below).

Six Adult Cranes in Flight

Six Adult Cranes in Flight

I always find it interesting that some of the cranes fly with their legs tucked in when it’s cold, rather than letting them hang out to the back like the others in this group. They leave their legs tucked away like that sometimes until literally just before they land, as though they are lowering the landing gear.

No Fish Fed to the Cranes

During this trip the crane center that we visit had been forced to stop feeding the cranes live fish, as this attracts the sea eagles. Although that’s become one of the main attractions in addition to photographing the cranes, the eagles travel further distances and therefore risk bring avian flu to the group, so there was no feeding at two o’clock and subsequently no eagles. Apparently after a meeting with the government bodies on February 14 they are now feeding fish to the cranes again, but not at 2pm, which has become too well know by the eagles, so this year, there are no eagles here. Luckily for my group we spend three quality days with the eagles anyway later in the trip.

Sublime Hoar Frost

As I mentioned earlier, we had some beautiful hoar frost at the river, giving us some sublime photography opportunities on our second morning in Hokkaido, day five of the tour. The temperatures got down to around -25° C (-13° F) for a while, which was great, because we need it to be cold with no wind for the hoar frost to form, but when it’s this cold the mist can be a little too thick. We patiently waited though, and as the mist sometimes thinned we were rewarded with photos such as this one (below).

Cranes in River Mist at Dawn

Cranes in River Mist at Dawn

The cranes are still mostly asleep as it needs to warm up a little more for them to become active, and they are also roosting further down the river than usual this year, but I still love this scene. The sunlight was by this point directly hitting the trees to the right, and just catching the top of the mist in places, but what makes this shot for me is the layers of wispy mist flowing over the back of the scene, at the top of my frame here.

At the severe risk of sounding conceited here, when I came back to this photo a few days later, as it popped up on my screen the soft layers of mist and overall color palette felt very much like a Turner painting to me. There’s just something so ethereal and calming about this that really appeals to me.

I’m going to resist showing you another photo from this first morning of hoar frost, because as I’ve worked through my selection I’m now close to being able to finish the cranes in this first episode, and I have something slightly better from the second morning, so we’ll press on and look at a couple of photos from the second day with the cranes.

As I’d mentioned, we didn’t have any falling snow with the cranes, so I tended to concentrate on birds in the air, because the snow is a little too chunky and contrasty for my liking. Of course, for first time participants they’ll still get great shots, but I can be a bit more picky having visited so many times.

Also still trying to avoid showing just cranes with a blue sky background, this photo (below) has become a bit of a favorite because of the trees in the background, that add a lot more texture and detail than my usual images at the crane center.

Crane in Front of Trees

Crane in Front of Trees

I shot this with my 200-400mm lens with the 1.4X Extender engaged, but pulled back to 420mm. At f/10 though, at this focal length, the background gets relatively nicely blurred, while still keeping this large bird fully in focus, so there’s some nice separation and the snow on the distant hills is nice and soft, almost looking like clouds, apart from the bit of detail in the top left corner.

At the end of our second day with the cranes, I took the group to a location where there are usually a few cranes that fly out as it gets dark, giving us an opportunity to shoot a few panning shots before it does actually get dark. With no control over where the birds fly, most of them on this day flew over the top of the snow, rather than climbing a little higher to get a dark background, and white on white doesn’t look quite as good with the cranes. Instead, I thought I’d share this image (below) of three cranes starting to run as they took off, to fly to the river where they’d roost for the night.

Three Cranes Taking Off

Three Cranes Taking Off

For panning shots like this I generally select a shutter speed between 1/25 and 1/50 of a second, or perhaps a little bit faster, but not much. For this image I was using 1/30 of a second shutter speed at f/11 with the ISO set to 800. This gave me plenty of movement in the wings so I’m relatively happy with this, although I do prefer it when the birds are actually in flight and over a dark background.

OK, so as I’ve worked through this, selecting the images that I want to share with you, I’m at the point where we can finish the Snow Monkeys and Cranes with just three more images from the last morning at the bridge with the hoar frost, so we’ll push this episode to twelve images, then move on to Whooper Swans next week. We’ll probably be able to finish in three episodes then, so we’re doing well here.

Otowa Bridge

As I’ve mentioned in previous years, the bridge from where we photograph the cranes on the river is called “Otowasbashi” where “bashi” or “hashi” just means bridge, but I love the fact that “Otowa” in Japanese means “the sound of wings”. The name of the town is “Tsurui” which means “Cranes are Here”, and I also find that very cool. To top it all, the bridge on which the photographers stand is actually a second bridge built just for photographers, to keep them off the main road which runs parallel to it.

This image was shot at 7:22, about 30 minutes after the sun had risen, so there was still a bit of warmth in the light hitting the scene, and I love the shape that the mist forms in this photograph. The cranes were waking up slowly because it was almost but not quite as cold as the previous day at around -23° C (-9° F). This is perfect for the mist. It was thick for a while, but not too thick, as you can see (below).

Cranes Call in Mist

Cranes Call in Mist

Basically as the scene unfolds and the mist forms pleasing patterns, we stand and wait with our fingers crossed for the birds to do something to add a little more interest to the scene. For me here that was the two cranes that were singing to the right. I pulled my 200-400mm lens with the 1.4X Extender engaged back to 480mm so that I could get both banks of the river in too, which I often like to do. My shutter speed here was 1/500 of a second at f/14, ISO 800.

The cold kept the birds from really waking up though, until 7:55. My group were getting cold and wanted to go back to the hotel for breakfast, but knowing the potential of the scene and the fact that the birds would eventually all wake up, we gave it a little more time, and then most of them started to dance and sing, for one last frenzy of shutters from the bridge.

When all of the cranes are dancing together, it can actually be a bit messy as a scene so my favorite at the moment is this shot (below) there are two birds dancing just left of center, with good clearance through to the background, and there are also a few other birds dancing in the right side, though less obvious. You can also see that the light has cooled down a lot by this point, partly because it had clouded over a little, but also because the sun was now higher in the sky, and the mist had also died down considerably.

Dancing at Dawn

Dancing at Dawn

After grabbing lots of shots of the dancing frenzy, I switched to video and got thirty-seconds of footage of the entire group dancing, which is really quite special, so I’ll be inserting that into a slideshow or other video at some point.

For this final photo (below) from the bridge and for today, shot about 20 minutes later, just before we left, there was a small group of cranes that had warmed up enough to fly out, probably heading over to the crane center that we’d photographed them at for the last two days.

Cranes Take Flight at River

Cranes Take Flight at River

The cranes quickly climbed and flew over the trees to the right of the frame here, but I’m happy with this shot, where they are all still in a clear patch, making it easy to understand what we’re looking at. For this shot I zoomed in just a little to 490mm and shot this at f/14 for a 1/500 of a second at ISO 1600, which incidentally was the same for the previous image as well.

We’ll leave it there for this week, as we left the cranes for this tour, to move on and shoot the Whooper Swans, which we’ll pick up next week.

Snow Monkeys & Hokkaido Tours 2019

Because our 2018 tours have now filled, we’ve now started to take bookings for 2019, so if you might be interested, please check the details and book at https://mbp.ac/ww2019. If you’d like to be added to the wait list for 2018, please drop us a line.

Snow Monkeys & Hokkaido Tour 2019

Snow Monkeys & Hokkaido Tour 2019

CP+ 2017 Canon Large Format Printer Booth

One other piece of housekeeping before we finish, I’m proud and thrilled to tell you that Canon will be using five of my images at their large format printer booth at the CP+ show in Yokohama Japan, from February 23 to 26, 2017. One of the image will be printed at B0 (zero) size, which is 40 x 56 inches, and the other four will be trimmed to approximately one meter wide and 2.5 meters high, to show the capabilities of both the 5Ds R camera and the new imagePROGRAF PRO line of printers.

If you will be visiting the show, please do stop by the Canon large format printer booth and take a look. If you get a chance to take a photo too, please do and send me a copy, because I can’t go myself. I’ll be on the second of these tours while the show is on.


Show Notes

Check out details of the 2019 tours here: https://mbp.ac/ww2019

Contact us to be added to the 2018 wait list: https://mbp.ac/contact

Music by Martin Bailey


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Exporting for Web in Adobe Lightroom (Podcast 525)

Exporting for Web in Adobe Lightroom (Podcast 525)

This week, I’m going to walk you through how I add copyright information to my images in Adobe Lightroom, then export them for web with a watermark embedded.

Last week, based on a listener’s question, I showed you how you can do these things in Photoshop Elements, but honestly, as I spent way too long struggling with Elements, I realized that I simply had to follow up with an episode on how you do these simple tasks in Lightroom. I’ll go on to mention a new plugin that I’ve just started to using to optimize my images after I upload them to this WordPress based web site as well.

Adding Copyright Statement to Images

OK, so to quickly recap from last week, I mentioned that it’s possible to add the author’s (photographer’s) name and a copyright statement to images right there in the camera as you shoot them, by entering this data in the camera’s menus. At least this is possible with my Canon cameras, and I imagine it’s possible with pretty much every other camera on the market too.

I also mentioned that I can add this information more easily using Canon’s EOS Utilities application, that comes with the camera. Neither of these methods though supports adding the copyright symbol © to the text appended to images, so ultimately, I do this in Lightroom, and I’ll show you how in a moment.

Before that, I’d also like to reiterate my mantra that you save the most time in your digital workflow by doing everything that you need to do to your images as early as possible in your workflow. If you want to add or update the copyright information in your images, you can do it during import and then you never have to worry about this again for the life of your image.

Prepare Your Metadata Preset

Apply Metadata Preset During Import

Apply Metadata Preset During Import

What’s more, if we create a Metadata Preset that contains our copyright information, we can just select that and it will be automatically applied as we import our images until we change it, so let’s first look at how we create a preset.

In the import dialog in Lightroom, on the right there’s a section called Apply During Import. Under that, you’ll see a Metadata pulldown. Click that pulldown, and select New from the sub-menu. If you already have a Metadata preset that you use, but don’t have copyright information included, select Edit Presets.

In the dialog box that appears if it’s a new preset, give it a name, and if you are updating a preset, select if from the Preset pulldown. Then add your Copyright text, and Rights Usage Terms, and a URL to your copyright information page if you have one. When you are finished, hit the Create button if it’s a new preset, or select Update Preset “your preset name” from the Preset menu, then click the Done button.

Create or Update Metadata Preset

Create or Update Metadata Preset

After you return to the import dialog, your new or updated preset should be selected under the Metadata pulldown, but if it isn’t select it from the list. Now, as you import your images, the copyright information we just created will be added to all images that you import or add to your library from that point on, until you deselect the preset or select a different one.

You’ll notice that I include the year in my copyright statement, so I just have to remember to change this at the start of each new year. If you think you might forget to do so, create a reminder in your calendar or perhaps just don’t include the year in the copyright text, although it’s generally better to include the year.

To apply this preset to images that are already in your Lightroom catalog, simply select all of the images that you want to tag in the Library module, then select the Metadata preset that you just created or updated from the Preset pulldown under the Metadata panel in the right sidebar. Alternatively you can just right click the selected images, and select the Preset from the Metadata Presets sub-menu.

The beauty of this as well is that only fields that are checked when you create the preset will be updated, so you won’t over-write or clear any other data, unless it was in the copyright related fields of course. Also note that I leave the Copyright status as Unknown because I use this as a flat to show me which images I have actually registered with the Library of Congress. After registering them, I change this to Registered in the Library module.

Create an Export Preset

OK, so now that we have our images copyright tagged, we’re ready to export them for Web. Again, we’re going to create a preset for this, so that we can export with a couple of clicks from this point on. Anything that you think you’ll do more than once, just create a preset for. It will always help to speed up your workflow.

Also note that you can export as many images as you want in Lightroom. You just need to select the images that you want to export in the Library module, then for the first time, click the Export button in the bottom of the left sidebar, and you’ll see a dialog box like this. If Export To is not set to Hard Drive, select that, and then work down each pain selecting the settings that we’ll cover now.

Lightroom Export Dialog

Lightroom Export Dialog

If you have a specific location that you know you’ll want to export your images to each time you use this preset,  select Specific folder under the Export Location > Export To field, then Choose your location. For my Web sized images I selected “Choose folder later (useful for presets)” and then I simply navigate to a folder to put the images in each time I do an Export. Lightroom remembers this folder as well, so it stays in that folder until you change it. For the Existing Files pulldown I tell Lightroom to ask me if I want to overwrite or not, if the same file is already in the folder.

Under the File Naming section I generally leave the filenames as they are, because I rename all of my files on import. Remember, the earlier you do something, the more time you save later.

Under the File Settings section I generally use JPEG for Web, and select sRGB for the Color Space, and I select 92 for the Quality. This tells Lightroom how much to compress the images. I’ve used 92 for many years now, as I read somewhere that it’s a good compression ratio to select if you want to reduce the file size by around a half, but have no risk of seeing any digital artifacts or crushed gradations in the image.

Now, you can often select a much heavier compression ratio, i.e. a smaller number here, but it requires that you manually continue to increase the compression while comparing your image to an uncompressed version to see if you can detect any difference. Then, once you detect some difference, increase the compression back to the previous amount and save your final copy. That is time consuming and so I’ve always just used 92. There are better ways to find the optimal compression settings automatically now though, so I’ll talk about that later.

The Image Sizing section is where we select how large or small we’re going to make our web sized images as we export them. As I mentioned last week, I use 1440 x 960 pixels. I feel this is a good size for people to still be able to enjoy the full quality of my images, but not quite big enough for people to be able to do much with. How big you make your images will depend on your comfort levels.

I must say though that I occasionally see people that are still resizing images at 640 or 480 pixels wide, and unless I have some kind of obligation to continue looking at those images, I generally just leave the site. I’d say that these days you need to have your images at least 80o pixels wide, and even then, it’s still better to include a larger image that the user can view by clicking on it if they’d like a better look at your work.

By selecting Width & Height from the pulldown, and typing in 1440 pixels wide and 960 pixels high, Lightroom will automatically make landscape orientation images 1440 pixels wide, and if they are 3:2 aspect ratio, they will also be 960 pixels wide. If it’s a panoramic image they will be 1440 pixels wide, but shorter in height.

If however, I export a portrait orientation image, it will still be exported at 960 pixels high, but the width will be 640 pixels. This is how I want it. I don’t want my portrait images to display too high, so this setting suits me fine. If you’d prefer that portrait images are exported the same hight as the width of your landscape orientation images, then select Long Edge from the pulldown, and just enter your required length. I also leave the resolution at 72 pixels per inch for now, as that’s still pretty much the standard for web use.

Under Output Sharpening, I turn on the Sharpen For checkbox, and select Screen and the amount Standard. Whenever you scale down your images they will become slightly softer after export, so it’s best to turn this option on to maintain the sharpness of your images.

Under Metadata I opt to include All Metadata. You can select just to include Copyright information, Copyright and Contact Info, or All Except Camera and Camera Raw Info. I just keep all Metadata. One important thing to keep in mind here is if you are exporting images that have been geotagged, you might want to strip that information off by turning on the Remove Location Info checkbox.

This is especially important if you have photos that you shot at home, such as with your iPhone, which automatically adds location information. If you leave that embedded in your photos, it could lead people to your home that you might not want a visit from, so keep this in mind when sharing images. It might even be better to create a second preset with this checkbox turned on, and add “Strip Location Info” or something like that in the preset name.

I also turn on the checkbox to Write Keywords as Lightroom Hierarchy, but I’m not sure if this is necessary any more. My old web site used to omit keywords if I didn’t turn this on, but I haven’t used that site for a number of years now, and have never checked if this is still necessary, that’s all.

Add Your Watermark

Last week I talked about the pros and cons of adding a watermark, so we won’t go into that again, but if you want to add one to your images, the Watermarking section is where we set that up. Turn on the Watermark checkbox, then from the pulldown select Edit Watermarks.

You can add a text or graphic based watermark. First, let’s look at how to create a text based watermark. These are actually now quite powerful watermark settings in Lightroom. After selecting Text as the Watermark Style, go ahead and type in the text that you want to embed in your image, in the large field at the bottom of this window (below).

Lightroom Text Watermark

Lightroom Text Watermark

You can select any text font on your system, and change the style and alignment. If you chose a mid-gray for the color, your watermark will be visible on most background colors, except the same mid-grey, although that’s unlikely to happen in nature. If you use gray text, then an opacity of 50% is probably fine. If you use black text, 30% is perhaps better, to avoid it becoming too striking. Unless striking is what you want of course.

Personally I like to add my watermark to the bottom left of the image, and inset it just a little. You get a preview of how your watermark looks right there in the dialog box, so tweak away until you like what you see, then Save or update your watermark with the pulldown menu in the top left of the window. If you want, you can of course make multiple watermarks and select them according to your images when you export, and also create various export presets as necessary. Remember, once they are created they are only a couple of clicks away.

As I mentioned, you can also create a Graphic based watermark based using your logo or other image file. I’m not going to go into detail on how I made my logo, but for the watermark, placed it onto a new Photoshop file for which I’d set the Background Contents as Transparent. Then when you have added text or your logo file, if you save it as a PNG file, you will be able to maintain the transparency, so that you will be able to see your image through the gaps in your logo. I made it a mid-gray, and added a light colored drop shadow in Photoshop as well, which helps it to stand out against a gray background, because the shadow is lighter than the text.

Lightroom Graphic Watermark

Lightroom Graphic Watermark

Because my logo was quite light and because I didn’t want the shadow to become too weak, for my graphic watermark I set the Opacity to 66%, as you see in the screenshot (above). Again, once you’ve tweaked the settings, save your new watermark from the pulldown in the top left, and then click the Done button, and you’ll be sent back to the Export dialog.

The last thing to select is what you’d like Lightroom to do after it’s finished processing your image in the Post-Processing section. I generally select Show in Finder for this option, because then I get a visual clue that Lightroom has completed the export, and I also have the exported images right there in an open Finder window for me to start using. You can also select Do Nothing, or open the exported image in another application.

Once you have finished entering all of your settings, it’s time to click the Add button in the bottom left corner of the Export window, and give your preset a name that means something to you. I call my Web export “1440px to Chosen Folder”.

From that point on, whenever I want to export an image for the Web, all I have to do is right click the image or multiple selected images, then go to the Export section of the right-click menu, and select the preset from the sub-menu. Because I have selected to choose a folder on export, I do have to tell Lightroom where to put the images, but then when I click OK, my images are resized and watermarked and dropped into my selected folder for me to upload to my web site, or Facebook, Google Plus, or anywhere else I share my images.

I should mention that some sites like Flickr and 500px do provide plugins for Lightroom that can make it easier to upload images directly to online services, but I don’t use any of these, so I’m not the best person to explain them to you. Plus, they are mostly just as easy as adding images to a collection, so they are pretty self-explanatory.

JPEGmini

As I mentioned earlier, there are a few other ways to optimize the size of your images rather than just selecting 92 from the Quality slider in the Export window. One option that I was very close to buying, and maybe still will, is JPEGmini. You can actually optimize a JPEG image size as a test or download trial versions of this at jpegmini.com and it works really well. I hear from the developers that it basically tries increasing more aggressive compression until it sees degradation in the image, then dials it back a bit and saves a copy. This is very time consuming if you try to do it yourself, but JPEGmini does this all in a fraction of a second, so it’s worth considering. It basically just plugs right into the Export dialog that we’ve been looking at today, so it would be an add-on to this process, rather than replacing it.

So, you are probably wondering why I didn’t buy it? Well, the problem is that if I took my optimized images and upload them to WordPress, WordPress would by default automatically make a range of different sized images for various uses, and as it saves all of those new image files, it will apply a compression of 82%, and actually increase the size of the copies. This means that the only benefit from the optimization that people would see on my site would be when they click on images to view the full web sized image.

I saw some people online showing a line of code that you can add to WordPress to stop it from compressing images, but that’s misleading and doesn’t work. What it is actually doing is telling WordPress to compress images at 100%, so the images end up even larger than when they are compressed at 82%, which is the default compression. You could of course use the same line of code to increase the compression to a more aggressive percentage, but that could result in crunchy gradations and reduced quality in some images, so it’s too hit and miss.

JPEGmini Product Lineup

JPEGmini Product Lineup

I’ve not totally ruled out buying JPEGmini though, as I would like to use it to optimize the size of the full sized JPEG files that I export to add to Apple Photos, and then sync around all of my devices. It does look like a great way to do this, especially as it simply slots right into the Lightroom export dialog.

WP Smush Pro!

After further research, I actually decided to subscribe to WP Smush Pro which is part of the WPMU DEV team’s suite of WordPress plugins that you can find at wpmudev.org. It carries a monthly subscription fee which is currently $49 per month, although I’m currently optimizing every image on my site during their 14 day trial period. The suite contains a whole range of more than 100 other useful plugins though, so I’m pretty sure I’m going to stick around after my trial expires.

I did some tests though, and from what I saw, Smush Pro actually gets my files slightly smaller than JPEGmini, and because it works on my web server, it automatically optimizes every new image file as I upload it, including all of the new images that WordPress creates, and as I say, you can have Smush Pro go through your existing image library and optimize all of the images that you’ve already uploaded to WordPress as well.

Because it actually sends the images to the WPMU DEV web site for optimization, it’s a relatively slow process, but I started to optimize all 5,962 images on my Web site about five hours ago, and it’s already completed 1,300 of them, and saved me 760 megabytes of disk space by reducing image size by approximately 33%. I imagine at this rate, by the time the process has completed, it will have saved me around 3.5 GB of disk space.

[UPDATE: Just to let you know that the process finished fine, saving me 3GB of disk space by shrinking my images on average by 32%.]

This of course also means that the images will download faster for visitors for my site, and give me better SEO scores, because search engines like Google detect if images have been optimized or not, and rank sites higher if they have, so, it’s a great deal all round. Needless to say, I also did some pretty thorough tests to check that the images really were maintaining their quality, and so far, I’ve not been able to detect any visible degradation, so I’m pretty happy with my decision at this point. I’ll add a note right below this if that changes as the process completes.

By the way, just in case you also look into using Smush Pro, here is a screenshot of the settings I chose before I started the bulk smush operation.

WP Smush Pro Settings

WP Smush Pro Settings

OK, so that’s about it for today. I hope you found that useful. I’m actually about to start recording a video version of my popular Pixels 2 Pigment optimized digital workflow workshop that I have presented around the world as well as to small group here in my Tokyo studio, so if you might be interested in that, sign up for our newsletters and be among the first to hear when it becomes available.

 


Show Notes

WPMU DEV Package, with WP Smush Pro: https://premium.wpmudev.org/

JPEGmini: http://www.jpegmini.com

Music by Martin Bailey


Audio

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Craft & Vision PHOTOGRAPH No.10 Now Available!

Craft & Vision PHOTOGRAPH No.10 Now Available!

The Craft & Vision Magazine PHOTOGRAPH No.10 has just been released!

Pairing darkness and beauty to create light, Issue 10 of PHOTOGRAPH magazine is filled with images and articles that represent the link between obscurity and transparency; just the right light can create new ways of seeing.

Portfolios and interviews feature the work of cover girl Brooke Shaden, whose self-portraits exude a brooding melancholy in a light and whimsical way; the incredible Susan Burnstine, who modifies all of her cameras to best tell the stories of her dreams and nightmares; the portraits of Clive Charlton, who discusses how his art is influenced by his admiration of the Dutch masters for their use of Chiaroscuro; and Jim Kasson’s Staccato series, borne of the idea to make a short set of exposures at night and reassemble them in Photoshop, resulting in a painterly effect of complex lighting patterns, a sense of place, and compelling gestures.

Regular contributors John Paul Caponigro, Michael Frye, Guy Tal, Chris Orwig, Piet Van den Eynde, Adam Blasberg, David duChemin and yours truly, Martin Bailey, open up about patience, flow, creativity, finding rhythm, the beauty of natural light in both landscapes and portraits, the meaning of success, and the magic of the lens.

Craft & Vision’s philosophy is that this craft isn’t just a technical pursuit, but an artistic one as well; our hope is that PHOTOGRAPH magazine embodies this theory. Our goal is to showcase beautiful portfolios and provide the best value in photographic education in this 245-page, ad-free publication.

If you pick up your copy in the first week, it will be on sale for just $6.40, and after that, still only $8, which is a steal for this amount of photography and creative goodness.

If you aren’t already rushing over to get your copy, below are a number of sample pages to look at…

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Craft & Vision PHOTOGRAPH No.9 Now Available!

Craft & Vision PHOTOGRAPH No.9 Now Available!

The Craft & Vision Magazine PHOTOGRAPH No.9 has just been released!

Elegant and simple. Black and white. Delineation of space and shape. Like the refined effortlessness of a great image, Issue 9 of PHOTOGRAPH magazine is newly redesigned!

To be totally honest, when I first viewed this issue on my computer, I didn’t get it. Especially as a contributing author, I was not impressed by the fact that most of my images were now being scrunched into a portrait orientation page. But then I noticed the link to David duChemin’s Viewing Notes. If you follow these instructions, the new layout is beautiful, adaptive and powerful, and does make for much better viewing on the iPad and also now the iPhone 6 Plus. You can simply flip the device over on it’s side to view the wide format pages. Quite the viewing experience!

To kick off the new layout, this issue is dedicated to the line, light and shadow of non-colour. Within the 230 pages are portfolios and interviews with these incredible photographers: Jason Bradley, who discusses his extraordinary underwater work and the limitations, challenges, and thrills of it all; Carla Coulson, whose Paris fashion portraiture was borne from leaving her job, moving to France and becoming a published photographer within one year; the architectural style of Julia Anna Gospodarou, who explains how she sees sensual lines in concrete and steel structures; and the beauty of Chicago nights as illuminated by Satoki Nagata, who went from scientist to photographer with striking results.

Each of the regular contributors, John Paul Caponigro, Bruce Percy, Guy Tal, Chris Orwig, Martin Bailey (that’s me!), Piet Van den Eynde, Adam Blasberg, and David duChemin, have dedicated their articles to the art of black and white photography. In search of the emotional portrait? Sherri Koop’s Featured Article may lead you to where you want to be.

Not only redesigned, but this issue also kicks off the now bi-monthly publication. The goal is to provide you with beautiful portfolios and the best value in photographic education. And despite the changes, this big, beautiful, digital magazine remains ad-free.

Click here to head over to Craft & Vision to get your copy for just $6.40 for a limited time. If you miss that it’s still only $8, and you can’t get this much photography goodness for $8 anywhere else!

Here are a few pages from this issue to whet your appetite…

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So, once again, click here to head over to Craft & Vision to get your copy for just $6.40 for a limited time. If you miss that it’s still only $8, and you can’t get this much photography goodness for $8 anywhere else!