Having updated my Mac machines to Catalina and my iPad Pro to iPadOS 13 I’ve continued to be very impressed by the Apple Photos app on both operating systems. I don’t use these apps for processing my raw images, which continues to be the job of Capture One Pro, and I remain very happy with it. In the past though, I have spoken about how I use Apple Photos, as well as applications that I use to arrange and display portfolios on my iPad, but these latest releases from Apple have changed all that, so I figured I’d post some information today to let you know my current thinking.
I updated my iPad to iPadOS 13 first, as it was released a few weeks before Catalina, and the first thing that struck me as I opened the Apple Photos app was the amazing layout in the Days view. I thought initially here about saying thumbnail layout, but we are no longer looking at thumbnails. The screen fills with an arrangement of tiles, so that no space is left unfilled, and although the cropping is sometimes a little harsh, it really is a visual treat to scroll through your photos.
It’s also very cool that quite often, videos and Live Photos, you know the ones shot with an iPhone or iPad that move, actually come to life right there in the tiled layout.
I’ve put together a short video to show you what it looks like to scroll through my photos on the iPad, mostly to give you a sense of how nice the layout is, but also to show you how cool it is to have the videos and photos come to life when they have some movement in them.
As I upgrade my Mac machines to Catalina I’m also really happy to see that the Photos app on the Mac OS has pretty much mirrored that of the iPad, so we can see images in much the same way, regardless of the device. Even on the iPhone the layout isn’t very different, and that’s good to know, because I probably show people images on my phone more than any other device, unless I’m meeting them to show them some images of course.
Square or Aspect
I had hoped to see if more widespread use of the tiled image view that we see in the video, but once you are out of the Days tab you get either a square image or your native aspect ratio view. The other views are still nice, and when you are in the All Photos view, there is an option to switch between the Square and Aspect thumbnail views. On the iPad it there is a text button at the top of the screen, and on the Mac, there is a small icon on the left of the top toolbar of the Photos app, so it’s nice to have a choice.
No More Dedicated Portfolio Apps
In the past I’ve also posted about how I have been using an iOS app called Portfolio, and before that I used Folio Book, both of which are great apps, but I have decided that with the ease of synchronizing my images and the beautiful layout of the Apple Photos apps now, I have deleted the Portfolio app from my iPad. This will also enable me to save some disk space, as I had 15GB of JPEG images in my Dropbox just to sync with the Portfolio app, and that is duplicated data because the same images are in the Photos app as well, so I have deleted the images from my Dropbox now as well.
I’m a big believer in streamlining processes, so being able to cut out an extra arm to my workflow is great, while helping me to save on disk space. It’s not such a big deal on my iMac Pro, where I have 2TB and can store additional files on external drives, but on my laptop, where I only have 1TB and generally like to keep everything I need on the local drive, every gigabyte I can save really helps.
My Portfolios via Apple Photos
Now my process to get my portfolios into Apple Photos and synched to all of my devices is as simple as exporting a JPEG of all of the final select images from my tours and other shoots onto my desktop, and I then drop them into Apple Photos, and I’m done. Within minutes they’re uploaded to the cloud and moments later I see them on my other devices.
If I’m adding a portfolio, to organize my images I actually create an empty album first, and then drag my images into that album. That way they are already in the album that represents my portfolio, and they also get added to the Photos area, so I can see the images in chronological order as well.
The Benefits of Geotagging
For almost ten years now, I’ve been geotagging my images, by attaching a GPS unit to my cameras, and that embeds the location information into all images I shoot. It drives me crazy that Canon has almost without fail decided not to include this functionality in the cameras that I buy, but I’m still happy that I have been tagging my images, as it allows Apple Photos to do a number of additional things that I’m really happy with.
The first of these is the Memories feature. Now, I’m sure this works to a degree even without the GPS data, but because Photos can see exactly where I was when I shot all of my images, it can organize them into trips based on the location, as you can see in this screenshot from my iPad. Sometimes the name is a bit long and includes various images in an “over the years” collection, and other times, it’s a specific location at a specific time.
When you open up these Memories, again, they look great, and Apple has done a really good job on the AI that decides what to include. The top image with the title on it now cycles through a slideshow of images from the collection right from the start, and there is a play button in the bottom right corner of the title image that launches a slideshow with music that can be customized to the mood of your images.
The music can be a little bit like an Apple commercial, and some of the more upbeat stuff is positively corny, but I’ve spent hours watching slideshows in this format when I’m away from home. It’s no accident that these are called memories, as they often seem to magically include all of the imagery from trips or locations that make watching them an extra special experience.
If you scroll down through the beautifully laid-out images toward the bottom of the Memory, you’ll find a Related section that shows, as you’d expect, similar collections or collections from the same location at other times. The other benefit to geotagging your images though, is above that, in the Map section. Tapping on the map shows all of the images in the Memory on a map, and if you tap the Show Nearby Photos link, all other images in the Photos app are also displayed on the map. If you are lucky enough to travel, seeing all of the images that you’ve shot around the globe on the map is an amazing way to enjoy your images.
It’s also a great way to remember locations that you’d like to revisit. If I’m driving along and see something that I’d like to go back to later, I generally just grab a quick shot with my iPhone, as these are automatically geotagged and added to your map, so you can tap on them and reference the map later if necessary. My only regret is that I don’t have many countries such as India, China and Australia geotagged, or Spain and Greece for that matter. It would be great to see a visual representation of my entire life on the map, but I guess I was born a few decades too late for that to happen.
One other feature that deserves a mention, because this is especially useful for photographers, is the Sidecar feature, which enables you to use an iPad as a second or even third display for your computer, but because it’s an iPad, you can also use the Apple Pencil. Sidecar works either wired, with a Lightning cable or wirelessly, and having tried both methods, there really isn’t a lot of difference in performance.
You can also use the Touch Bar and there is a sidebar that you can use with additional functionality, but I found that I just turned both of these features off. It was just great being able to use the Apple Pencil directly on the screen, and these will be incredibly useful for working on images, although I am starting to use Affinity Photo and Designer on the iPad as well on occasion, and they open the same files that the desktop app does, so there really isn’t a need to work on them in a Sidecar shared screen.
I have been using the little Luna dongle for the last year or so, as that basically enables the same functionality, but with this now built-in to the OS, I guess I can leave my Luna at home. I’m not overly pleased about things that I buy becoming obsolete, but I do like to streamline my workflow, so having less things to do to achieve the same goals is great. I have found myself using the iPad as a second screen for my MacBook Pro when working down in my family living space. I already have a second screen hooked up to my iMac, but the iPad Pro is pretty much the same screen size as my 13-inch MacBook Pro, so it’s really nice to be able to double that up, and so far, all of the applications that I have tried in multi-screen modes have worked seamlessly, just like there was a real second display hooked up.
I should note as well though, that both the Mac OS X Catalina and the Apple Photos app are, as of October 2019, still somewhat buggy. Apple Photos has crashed on me multiple times just while preparing for this post, and although that never seems to damage or cause any loss of data, it is a little bit unnerving to see it crashing regularly, especially if you are new to an application.
While I was testing the iPad as an additional monitor, it crashed twice, and both times I was logged out on my iMac and when I was logged back in again I had to rewrite the previous few paragraphs of this post, because my browser had also been restarted, and that was a bit of a pain. In fact, as I started to record this episode, I found that the software I use to record does not yet support Catalina, and so I’ve had to record in a completely different way this week, which took more time than I’d hoped.
With Catalina basically rendering any old 32-bit applications useless, as well as stronger sandboxing of apps to prevent them destabilizing the system, it seems to have caused more email asking me to hold on the upgrade than any other Mac OS upgrade that I can remember, and I have definitely seen more things that stopped working, so it’s certainly an upgrade to make with caution.
Despite that though, if you use Mac computers or an iPad, and are not making use of these apps, I hope this post will give you a nudge to take a look. I really do think that as far as synching images around your devices goes, this is absolutely the easiest way to go, and the presentation and design, in my opinion, is now better than anything else available in the App Store. Apple gear can be costly, but getting access to apps like these as part of the deal certainly makes up for that, at least to some degree.
Following on from last week’s episode on creating a portfolio, I made the time to select my Landscapes of Japan images but unlike my Wildlife portfolio, which felt fine with the images in chronological order, my landscape work needed sequencing, so today we’re going to dive into some of my considerations when deciding on the order of the images in a portfolio.
To give you just a little bit of background on the project before we move on, in last week’s post, I explained how I decided to split away the landscape work from my Nature of Japan portfolio and create a new Wildlife of Japan portfolio, and although I didn’t think I’d have time to do the Landscape portfolio before leaving for Namibia this week, I was reminded that I hadn’t touched on sequencing in the last episode, and although that was a conscious decision, because I decided to leave the portfolio in chronological order, I should have at least explained that.
I also did not really have time to go into sequencing in last week’s already long episode, so breaking them away into separate posts was probably a good idea anyway. I’d like to send out a huge thank you to Ulana Switucha for communicating with me on these posts, and for being at least partially responsible for me putting them together. Ulana is a wonderful photographer with a beautiful website, so do check that out when you have some time.
So, I decided to go through my entire collection of images for this landscape portfolio and ended up with a pretty hefty collection of 200 images to work with, but I whittled it down to just 50 using the processes that we discussed last week.
Starting the Sequencing Process
Looking at my 50 images, I now need to start and put them into some sort of order, that will make sense when viewed in series during a slideshow, and I also want to ensure that the page of thumbnails looks nice too. I started with my set sorted by date, from oldest to newest, as you can see in this screenshot.
Most asset management applications will automatically switch to some form of custom order once you start to drag your images around, so to get started, I’m literally just going to start dragging my images around, and seeing how they look. I’ll go over the sort of things that I think about as I do this now. It’s not uncommon to decide that certain images just don’t match, or that we need to go and fetch something else to make a cohesive link between two photos, so we’ll see how that goes. I am hoping to not take the set to more than 50, but I don’t mind removing a few more if necessary.
One of the first things you’ll notice is that there are very few color images. I did include a lot more of my fall color work in my initial selection, but it really doesn’t seem to fit, and even now, I’m not sure that the four brightly colored images have a place in this portfolio, but we’ll see how we get on with that too. For now, I have to decide on my strategy for placing these color images amongst the black and white work.
In the past I have tried various things, such as interspersing the color work alternating between color and black and white, and also adding the work in pairs, two color images then two black and white images, and I liked both styles. For this set, I don’t have enough images to do either of those things, so I think what I’ll try is to let the color build, then fade it out again.
Also, notice that my selection currently only contains two portrait orientation images, and the rest are landscape orientation. I’m going to try using the two portrait orientation images as bookends either side of the color work. I also have one shot of the cranes in the river that is a color image, but only a slightly warm tone, in an image that is close to black and white, so I’ve put that before the first bookend. This is basically saying to the viewer, here comes a bit of color!
Tentatively, for now, I’ve put main ten color images in the middle of the set. I think that will help to break up the black and white work, almost like giving the viewer a break with a splash of color. I also struggled with the placement of the intentional camera movement trees in the snow shot. Although it’s color, it doesn’t really fit in the main set, and because it has some warm brown to beige tones, it could be used to ramp down outside the closing bookend.
In fact, I also feel that the red in the Shinto Gate shot with a splash of orange in the sky is perhaps also not color enough to keep that between the bookends, so I’m going to put that before my winter persimmon fruit tree as well.
What I also like to do is use a color wheel to check the relationships between my colors after I’ve put my images into an order that looks pleasing to me. This isn’t necessarily a science, but the relationship and flow or movement of the color is important. Take a look at the images numbered one through six in this screenshot that I have marked up a little, and added my color samples on a color wheel, done in a Mac OS X program called Spectrum from the App Store, that I absolutely love and use a lot.
I’ll walk you through my mark-up though, starting with the gradual introduction of color before the opening bookend vertical image. I ordered my three green images in order of vividness, and we can confirm that gradual increase from the samples 1, 2 and 3 on the color wheel. Then, we hop across from the color of the foliage which is already close to yellow, to the surprisingly close and therefore not so shocking leap to the neighboring color.
The most jarring jump is from the orange fall foliage to the shocking blue waterfall, but if you look at the colors numbered 4 and 5 from these two images, we can see that they are close to being opposite each other on the colorwheel, making them contrasting colors, which we actually find quite pleasing to look at, so this shouldn’t be as shocking a leap as you might expect.
Many of you will recall the blue waterfall shot as the image I used for the podcast artwork for a number of years in the early days. Some people think it’s falsely too blue, but I assure you, that was the color of the falls in the shaded gorge where the falls reside, literally moments before the day completely gave way to the night. If I run auto-white balance on this shot, which usually neutralizes any false adjustments, the color of the falls does not change.
After the blue waterfall there is another blue waterfall that is enhanced slightly, but the blue in that shot is again much less vivid, as you can see from sample number six on the color wheel. I then use the second bookend vertical shot, which is actually a closeup of the waterfall directly above it in the screenshot. There isn’t a lot of color in this image as well, so it’s continuing to gradually ease us out of the color group, and the predominant snow and almost white birch trees in the final color image will ease us back into the world of black and white.
Opening and Closing Shots
The next thing I did was decide on my opening and closing shots. For my opening image, I really want to use something strong, and an indication to the viewer of what sort of images they’re going to see. It has to be something that almost represents my work, which is mostly winter landscapes. For now, I think I’m going to select the photo of what I conceitedly call Martin’s Tree, as it’s my favorite tree in Hokkaido but is one of the few large trees up there that doesn’t actually have a name.
As a closing shot, I’m going to use my photo of the wooden jetty at the end of the day, partly because it was the end of the day and would, therefore, help to signify the end of the portfolio, but also because it’s literally a dead end, as in if you were to walk off the end of it, all that is waiting is a deep dark cold lake. Let’s just stop right here, if you know what I mean.
Identify Groups within Groups
Next, I’m going to start and look for groups of images, and maybe also groups within those groups. For example, although they were taken in different years, I have three photos of the tetrapods at one of the fishing ports that we visit on my Hokkaido Winter Landscape photography tour, so for now, I’m going to put them together.
It’s often difficult to know what to do with these sorts of groups, as in, do we break them up and drop a fishing boat shot in here and there, or do we do what we did with the color images, and group them together? Also, I could use the shot of the front of the line of boats to signify the start, and line of boats from the back to signify the end. Or, I could use the boat graveyard shots to finish, because it’s literally the end of the road, or sea in this case, for these boats.
As with all of what I’m talking about here, these are the thought process that I work through, and none of it is set in stone. By walking you through what I think about as I do this, I am just hoping it will help you to make better decisions or confirm that you are making similar decisions when you work on your own portfolio sequencing. I like the idea of the footprints leading towards the small boats in the snow as a leading shot for this group, and I have purposefully placed the big sky view of the boat graveyard between the two side-on shots.
I think I’m going to switch the stormy shot for the sunny shot, as I prefer the story that things get better after the storm, and I’ll then switch the two lines of boats around. For me, I want to keep them in this order because that’s the actual position of these lines in reality, but story-wise, I think the back of the boats makes a better finishing shot.
Direction of Elements
The next thing I’ll do is look at the direction of the elements in my shots, and try to position them within the group based on this. For example, the starting image has the tree on the left and it’s leading to the right. To counter that, I’m going to put my shot of the copse of trees in the snow, because I think it balances out the first. It almost takes the energy of the first and stops it there for a moment.
I have a lot of tree on hill shots, and believe me, I struggled to get down to just three similar images, with the tree about the same size on a snowy hill. Because they are similar, I want to keep them close, because if I have them too far apart, they are so similar that people would think they are the same image. If I put them in quickish succession, the more attentive viewer will still be able to remember the previous image and appreciate the difference, rather than closing the browser because they think they’ve looped back around to the beginning again.
Change Your Mind
Keep in mind too that it is absolutely fine to change your mind. Try not to change it so often that you feel like a dog chasing its tail, but don’t think that anything is set in stone. Even after you’ve posted a gallery online or printed out your portfolio, as long as it’s loose leaf, you can change it at any time. If you are going to print a bound book I’d recommend running your selected sequence past a number of people before you place your order, but otherwise, stay flexible with this.
I’ve already just changed my mind on something I said just a few moments ago.
I’ve decided to put the three lone tree shots every three images from the start of the set, so that means I need to add a second image between the first two, so I’m choosing a straight on shot of the line of trees. I feel that the flow is still good, almost like passing a baton from the first lone tree to the copse which has it’s back to the second lone tree.
Zoom In or Out
I then have two images of the same tree at Mount Asahi, taken three years apart, with the first being a close-up shot from this year, and the second showing the viewer the wider scene. I’m essentially zooming out with the second image, but you could zoom in, showing the wider scene first, then the close-up. For this pair, I like zooming out.
Even with different subjects, I think it can work to lead the viewer into more intimate close-up scenes, then try to lead them back out to wider scenes.
For example, after my third lone tree, I used another left to right shot of snow covered trees and woods, a middle shot that is more intimate, then a wider shot that leads right to left, once again pausing the eye, before starting again with a copse of trees on the left, then another front-on line of trees, then a copse of trees on the right.
That actually completes all of my images of trees and woods in the snow, except for one close-up of a tree that has actually now been cut down because it got sick around eight years ago now. This is a much closer view of a tree than all the others, and it’s a very graphical, dynamic shape, so I’m using this to almost say, OK, that’s that, and we’re moving on to something else now. This tree is also leading the viewer from left to right, so I follow with something different, but it also now for the first time has some man-made elements. I’m basically saying, here’s nature, handing over to a bit of human intervention, with the avalanche barriers on the side of the hill in the northern-most city of Japan.
I then placed another shot of man-made objects, the fish drying frames in the snow. This is a one-point perspective shot, leading the viewer’s eye directly to the back of the shot, and for the attentive, you’ll notice a small patch of sea there. You may, of course, have to check out the larger image in the new portfolio gallery to see that. It will be linked under Portfolios above by the time I’ve finished this post.
I will drop in another screenshot at this point though, so you can see where we are at after all that. Having hinted at the nautical and fishing theme with the glimpse of the sea behind the fish drying frames, we then start the series of fishing boats that we ordered earlier.
Create a Storyline
I’ve also now added two more finishing shots. With the Ezo Deer running across the snow as the sun drops closer to the horizon causing sun beams to break through the clouds, and a Northern Red Fox climbs a snow-covered hill close to dusk. These things may not be obvious to a viewer of a slideshow for example, when each image is only on-screen for four or five seconds, but I think they help to make the presentation feel more natural.
At this point, I now need to find a home for around five more photographs. The stone jetty leading out to sea, the third image from the left on the middle row above, is kind of OK where it is, I guess. We could think of that as leading us back to the water, before the water in the next few images. I like that shot, but I’m close to removing it because I can’t find a really convincing home for it in this set.
Rework Images If Necessary
The image after that, of the snow pillows in the river, is one of three images that was processed in Silver Efex Pro and I have not yet reworked. If I’m going to leave that in, I will go and grab my original raw file and process that in Capture One Pro for two reasons. Firstly, the toning of the current version is bluer than the rest of my work, which is a slightly warmer tone by comparison, but the reality is that the rest of my work is completely neutral. I have already reworked around ten of the other images, that are older than 2016, which is when I jumped ship to Capture One Pro. I just feel that the image quality is better, and therefore I use opportunities like this to gradually update my archive.
Cut Yourself Some Slack, Or Not
The two images of grasses poking out of the snow are in my mind a pair, that I want to keep together, and I was thinking that I would zoom in to them from the base of the trees as you saw them in the earlier screenshot, but they don’t really work there. I’m not completely happy with this, but I’m going to move them between the copse on the right side and the old tree that was cut down. Tonally they work well there, so I’m not going to worry about that anymore at this point. It’s completely up to you if you want to cut yourself some slack on these decisions. The alternative for me at this point is to remove them from the set, but I like them too much to do that.
Also, without a good home for the intimate shot of the top of the frozen Oshin Koshin Falls, I recalled that that image was actually still in color, with some faint blue in the ice, so I used the Advanced Color Editor in Capture One Pro to select that blue, and increased the saturation slightly, so that a viewer would be able to detect the color as we come out of the color image group in the middle of the set. That also keeps all six of my waterfall images together, which I like. Once again, the strategy of having groups within groups.
The vertical lines of the intentional camera movement shot of the birch trees also, to a degree, mirrors the vertical posts in the snow in the image that I have put next to that, and we are then led into my fishing port tetrapod shots, then I placed my two other tetrapod shots, making that a group of five, and I put the black rocks with the crashing wave shot from Okinawa after that. It was a scorching hot day when I shot that, but you can’t really tell from the photos, so it feels fine there.
I then have the wind farm shot with the stormy sky, and a sunbeam shot which is also quite dramatic, leading to the final sunbeam shot with the deer heading home then the fox heading home, then the evening jetty to finish. Phew! I think we’ve finally done it! To check, I sit back, grab a coffee, and watch the set through in slideshow mode, but the flow feels good to me. Here’s one last screenshot of the set.
In this final sequence, you’ll notice that all of the lighter shots are at the start of the set, then the images get gradually darker leading to the color work, then gradually darker again towards the end. That also feels very natural to me. Now all that’s left to do is to ensure that I have titles on all of the images, and I’ll upload them to my website and create my portfolio gallery. Note that when I export my images the order will not be kept, unless I append a two digital sequential number to all of the image filenames during the export. I actually won’t do that, instead opting to just reorder them in the NextGEN Gallery as I create the portfolio. It takes a bit of extra time but I prefer to keep my original filenames.
Old Versus New
Another thing that I’d like to touch on is the dilemma of whether or not to replace old images with new ones. It’s really easy to want our latest work to be our best, and I’ve mentioned a number of times, that I believe in general that it should be. However, when looking at images for a portfolio, I really recommend that you select images based on the merit of each individual image.
The only time I do not do this is if I’m looking for images that are to be printed very large. Although I found recently that my 30-megapixel EOS R images can be printed as large as my 50-megapixel images and actually look better, but there are limits. There are also restrictions placed upon us sometimes. I have had to find higher resolutions for clients when the images were going to be printed 5 meters wide for example, because the originally selected images were just not high enough resolution.
Although I didn’t check this until now, I see that the oldest image in this set was made with a 22-megapixel camera, and that is still plenty for most print uses, so there is nothing to worry about there. I would much rather select images that I feel are worthy of the portfolio over more recent ones that maybe aren’t as good. The danger, of course, is that if the memory of creating your latest work is still fresh, you will likely favor that over older work even though it might not be as good. Because of this, it’s also a good idea to try and make this kind of change at least six months or so after you shot the images, although you can learn to remove these emotions much earlier, as long as you are aware that they are coming into play.
Give It Time
Keep in mind that if you want to do a good job of your sequencing, make sure you give it the time it requires. Sequencing is not an afterthought or something you can do in ten minutes before you throw your images online. You can do it in your web gallery if you want, but I find it much easier to do this in my image editing software, as we’ve walked through together today. In terms of time though, this probably took me at least an hour of deliberation. Be prepared to give this a lot of thought.
Also, just to reiterate that if you are going to be committing the order of your images in something like a printed and bound book, then, by all means, go through it with people that you trust and get a feel for their reaction. I’m pretty confident with my final flow here, but if when you view the gallery at a later time you find the images rearranged, it will be because I had a change of heart. Of course, over time I will add new images and remove others, so this may only be current until the fall of 2019 or sometime in 2020.
Adapt and Ask Questions
Finally, if you are sitting there wondering, what about portrait work, or sports portfolios etc. all I’m doing here is sharing my thought process. I did not go online and research what I’ve just relayed to you and regurgitated it in my own words. These are the questions and answers that came to mind as I worked on my new Landscapes of Japan portfolio. What I want to encourage you to do is to adapt the things that I’ve covered to whatever the genre of your own portfolio is, but more importantly, I want to impress on you the importance of asking yourself questions, then finding the answers to those questions.
Photographers have to be problem solvers in so many aspects of what we do. It’s our ability to identify and solve problems that makes us successful. If you find yourself always looking outwards for your answers, you may have a case of analysis paralysis, that I talked about in Episode 587.
Of course, it’s absolutely fine to confer with others and get advice — we don’t have to work in a vacuum — but the more you can solve yourself the more satisfying the process is, but if you still come up dry, by all means, drop a comment into this post below. I’ll be more than happy to help you if what I’ve provided isn’t enough.
OK, so we’ll wrap it up for now. You can check out my new Landscapes of Japan Portfolio here, or from the link in the Portfolios menu above. Thanks to Ulana for the conversation in the background that prompted these two episodes on creating and sequencing a portfolio. I actually first met Ulana in Hokkaido in 2017 when she joined my Winter Landscape Photography there, and I’ve also had the pleasure of traveling with her in Namibia on my tour there as well. She’s a very talented photographer and lovely person, so do take some time to check out her work.
Join Me for the Hokkaido Landscape Tour
If you think you might like to join me on my Hokkaido Winter Landscape Photography Tour & Workshop on which I shot a lot of these images, check out the tour page here. Right now we have places for the 2021 tour as 2020 is sold out. If 2021 is full when you look at this post, a future tour will probably be available, so check out the Tours & Workshops link in the menu above.
Finally, please note that I will be releasing this as I leave for this year’s Namibia tour, but I have only had time to prepare one additional episode for release while I’m away. Next week though, I’ll release a great conversation with my friend Don Komarechka about his amazing Macro work, and just a general geeky chinwag, so please keep your eye out for that. After that though, I will, unfortunately, have to skip a week until I get back from Namibia, but I will be back, with some new work to share. See you on the flip side!
This week, I decided to create a new portfolio, and share the process with you, in the hope that you’ll find it useful. I am literally going to write this article as I work so that you can see my process blow for blow. Note that this is not at this point going to be a printed portfolio. For my thoughts on that process, check out episode 330.
Just like when we do our yearly top ten selection, I believe there is always a lot to learn about our photography, our progress, and evolution as photographers, and how we view our work, from going through these processes. In any capacity, the ability to whittle down a selection of images from a larger selection helps us to become better at what we do.
Even if, for example, you are just going to sit down and share your work with people you’ve invited over for a house party, I’m sure at some point you’ve noticed people get bored of your work as the 300th image fades out, giving way to the 301st. People don’t want to sit through hundreds of images, and depending on your goals, you may actually have to whittle down to just 10 or 20 shots from literally hundreds of thousands of images! It’s a skill that enables us to be better artists and prevents us from boring our audience to death at the same time, so let’s get to it.
The last time I updated my Nature of Japan portfolio was 2017, and at that time I greatly reduced the number of images from 80 to 55, which was quite a drastic change. Before that, the last update was 2015, and I believe that my 2017 change was more pruning than adding new work, so I am going to at least skim through my 2016 and 2017 Japan work again, before taking a more in-depth look at my 2018 and 2019 work. So, that’s a total of 12 tours, each containing two to three-hundred images that I consider good enough to show people. That is a lot of images to go through, so we’ll discuss the process a little, as well as preparing my current portfolio.
During this process, ideally, I’d like to get this selection down to around 50 images at most, but the only way I’m going to achieve that is to give up on my idea of keeping one master portfolio for all of my Japan nature work. I’m going to split my portfolios into two, starting by removing all of the Landscape images from my current portfolio, and I’m going to put them into a Japan Landscapes or Hokkaido Landscapes portfolio for now. I will decide what to do with my landscape work after this, but for now, just put them aside in a new Landscape Collection in Capture One Pro.
Actually, as I did one last run through this year’s photos from my Japan tours, I started to think that I might go even more granular, and split my wildlife into snow monkeys, cranes, sea eagles, and whooper swan portfolios, but I think that might be too specific and unvaried, so for now, I’m going to try to complete a new The Wildlife of Japan portfolio, and then later do a Japan Landscape portfolio, and see where I stand after creating each of these.
Use Collections Instead of Folders
I have heard people talk about outputting all of your images into a folder, and then deleting the ones you don’t like, etc. but I really do not recommend this method, because it doesn’t easily allow you to leave a record of what was done, because there is no linkage between the images in your folder and original work. The software that we’ve had for the last ten years or so pretty much all support collections, with easy ways to add and remove images, and make copies of our selections to help us keep records.
I keep all of my portfolios in collections in Capture One Pro, so that I can easily manage and edit my selections. Occasionally as I modify images and delete copies etc. something gets removed from my portfolio collections, but in general, I can get back to the last copy of any portfolio just by selecting the collection in Capture One Pro.
Before I started work on this update, I made a copy of my Nature of Japan portfolio with the 55 images, just so that I can compare what I’ve done later. There are times when despite our best intentions when you get to the end of an exercise and look back, you find that you’ve made some really bad decisions, and need to just throw it out and start again. You can’t easily do that if you don’t keep a record of your changes.
Split Away the Landscape Work
I then created a Japan Landscape Portfolio collection, and made that my selects folder, so that now I can just hit the Q key on the keyboard to add new images to that for a while. That makes it easier to filter out the Landscape images, but I also have to hit the delete key in the Nature of Japan collection to remove the images from that collection. I might end up removing some of these landscape images in that update, but keeping them in a collection, for now, will give me a headstart.
It was difficult to decide what to do with my cranes in the river photos, because these are both landscapes and wildlife images, although more landscape, so I moved these to the landscapes folder for now. After clearing out the landscape shots, I was left with 26 wildlife images, of which I was able to remove a further two, because they didn’t match my current expectations.
I’ll do a separate post on this at some point, but I feel that as we grow and evolve, it’s natural that we fall out of love with some of our older images, but some seem to almost demand to be left in, and that is probably our strongest, most timeless work. For example, the photo of the Ezo Deer that I shot on my first visit to Hokkaido in the winter remains one of my favorite images.
Disconnect Your Emotions
What we have to be careful of is the reason for keeping these images in our portfolios. I hate to use the grandmother example because I know grandmothers are very special to most people, but when I see a photo of a grandmother in a selection of images, 9 times out of 10 I can tell that it’s only there out of the love that the photographer feels for his or her grandmother. Most of the time, artistically, the grandmother shot brings nothing to the table, and more often than not, it actually reduces the overall beauty and impact of the selection.
Now, I’m not going to tell you what you should or should not do. It’s your photography, your portfolio, your top ten, whatever; but I do want to reiterate the importance of removing your own emotional connection to your photographs when working on a selection. This goes for all images, not just grandmother photos. The reason I raise this at this point is because I know I’m close to this in my decision to leave in my Ezo Deer photograph. When I look at this image, I not only see a proud animal bearing the elements, but I recall the sense of wonder and amazement that I had in my late-thirties, as I sat in the snow, just meters from this deer, and watched him draw his head back like that, seemingly relaxed and completely fine with me being there.
I have not been this close to a deer since, and I’ve never seen one this relaxed in the presence of humans, and I really feel that this was something special. I also though feel that to a degree, you can see that in the photograph. The sense of closeness to this animal is there, and to me at least, he looks relaxed, so despite this being one of the oldest images in my portfolio, I think I’m good to leave him in there for now at least.
To wrap up my ideas on this thought process though, my advice is to always question your reasons for having each photograph in your set. If it’s because you worked hard to get the photo, or the subject is someone or something you love, anything related to your emotional response to the photo, just ask yourself if these qualities are actually visually represented in the photograph.
I’m not a big believer in the popular mantra that every photograph has to have a story. It’s nice when they do, but not a prerequisite in my opinion. What I do want though, is for every image to at least change my emotional state, at least a little bit. And I’m talking about based on the visual merits of the photograph, not my memories of the shoot. Even if I just feel my heart lift slightly as I view the image, it has merit and can be considered for inclusion. The hard part is gauging which images move me more than others and ranking them accurately enough to only leave in a specific number of images that won’t completely bore any audience that I put my work before. The more images we include, the greater chance we have of diluting our message to the point that it’s too weak to move anybody.
Adding New Candidates
My next job is to go through and add all of the new images that I want to consider for inclusion in my Japan wildlife portfolio. I actually have a collection into which I’ve already dropped a few images, so I’ll check that out first. Note that if you are just starting to build a fresh portfolio from scratch, this is where you start going through your images.
Note too that I keep all of my final selects from each shoot in a single Capture One Pro catalog. Whenever I finish my selection process, I not only have the ability to filter out my selection from my original image folders, using the star ratings that I use, but once I’m done, I select all of my chosen images and copy them to the appropriate year in my Finals folder. This means that I can open one catalog, and see all images that I believed were worth a hoot in one place, separated out by years, starting with a 2001 and earlier folder, I then have a single folder for each year since.
Whether you keep your final selects separate like I do, or just reference your rated images in your shoot folders, It’s really important to keep track of your selects, to make this kind of process easier. I shot 16,000 images over my three Japan winter tours this year, but because I have my final selections already whittled down, I only have to skim through 500 of them to find my candidates today. The same goes for the last few years which I’m also going to check. I’ll be back in a moment…
OK, so after going through the folder of candidates that I’d already been building, I ended up with 43 images in my new working folder. There were also lots of landscape shots in there, so I’m going to keep that aside for now, until I work on the new landscape portfolio. Now, I’ll quickly go through my Japan work from 2016 and 2017, followed by my 2018 folder.
I was hoping to complete this sooner, having started on Monday, but it’s been a busy week, and it’s now Friday, and I’ve just got back to this process, and completed a run through my 2019 folder, and now have a total of 196 images that I need to start and whittle down to 50 or so. As you can see from this screenshot of the entire set, there are lots of groups of similar images, such as two sets of similar shots of the northern red fox on the second to last row, and three similar swans shots before them.
The first thing I do when I get to this point is to hone in on those obvious groupings and remove the weaker images. There’s no guarantee that the strongest of them will have a place in the portfolio, but this is the next step in condensing the set down, so let’s see where that leaves us.
I should also mention that the reason I leave these small groups in until I’ve finished my run through my images making my selections is because I don’t want to break the flow of that process. If I jump into my candidates collection to reduce those groups down as I work, it’s harder to get back into my flow of just banging images into that collection. I find I work faster by throwing in everything that appeals to me as I work through the set, and then whittle these groups down later, as I’m now doing.
In a pretty short time I was able to reduce my selection down from 196 to 135, a reduction of 61 images, but these initial passes are always the easiest. I work with those groups, and also as I navigated through the entire set, could identify a number of images that I knew would not stay as I really started to cut down the numbers. It’s actually more a feeling, as the image appears on the screen, that it was not as good as the last, and if I’m honest with myself, doesn’t really make the grade.
Of course, this is all my personal preference. I won’t even bother my wife with looking through the images at this stage, because it’s still possible for me to reduce these numbers further on my own.
Gathering Groups Together
The next thing I start to do is to gather groups together of similar images and remove the weaker candidates. For example, I still have a lot of snow monkey shots, so I gather similar images in small groups to work on those. For example, there are a fair number of cuddling shots, so I ran through and selected all of these and removed one of a similar pair, but the others at this point all seem to have a place. I removed some of the small groups of monkeys shots, and also picked one of the two images of the mother and baby heading down the snow together because they were very similar.
I also recommend if you haven’t already, to try to remember your photo editing software’s keyboard shortcuts, to speed up your process. I use Capture One Pro as my raw editor and catalog management tool, but the same goes for any program you might use. For example, to add images to a collection, I first right click it and make it my Selects Collection, and I have specified the Q key on the keyboard as the shortcut to add images to the Selects Collection. I use Q because it reminds me of something being thrown into a pot.
I also like to switch between the large Viewer mode and the Browser mode, so that I can see my whole selection in thumbnails. To do this, I use the predefined Capture One Pro shortcut OPT + COMMAND + V. That essentially just hides the Viewer, which is the large image view, and fills the screens with my Browser, which is the thumbnail view that I’ve been showing you in the screenshots.
Another trick that I like to use is to select similar images that I want to compare from the full screen of thumbnails, basically clicking on the images while holding down the COMMAND key, then hit that OPT + COMMAND + V shortcut to bring back the main Viewer, and that gives me a screen with multiple images selected, as you can see in this screenshot.
This method works best with a large display of course. I’m doing this process on a 32-inch high-resolution display, so each of these nine eagle shots is about as big as an iPad Mini image, so you can still appreciate the detail etc. One thing that I struggled with for a while after switching to Capture One Pro is that I could not figure out how to simply remove an individual image from this selection.
To remove an image from a collection, I usually just hit the Delete key, but if you do that while in the multiple selection view, it removes all selected images, and that’s a pain. Then I found the shortcut COMMAND + Delete, which only removes the currently selected image from the Collection, leaving the others on the screen, and that is really useful. The point here is it’s important to learn your shortcuts or define new ones if you use a program that enables you to do that and use them to speed up your workflow. I got the nine eagle shots above down to three for now, then moved on to work on another grouping.
After another hour or so of critical examination and decision making, I found myself down to 66 images in the selection. One thing that I struggled with, is my decision to kick out some of the images that I like, but I know won’t be popular with many people. I actually really dislike doing this because as I always say, my photography is first and foremost for myself, and I’m not too concerned about what others think about it.
People buy my work on stock sites and buy prints from me, and my images help me to sell seats on future tours. This really is all the validation I need, but when push comes to shove, and I have some hard decisions to make, general acceptability, unfortunately, trumps the images that I know will be met by more shrugged shoulders than the others.
The Trusted Critique
At this point though, I decided to use my secret weapon, my trusted critique, and I can’t say enough how fortunate I feel that my wife, despite not being a photographer, has a very good eye, knows what she likes and doesn’t like, and most important of all, is not afraid to tell me what she thinks. If you have a partner that can help in this respect, you’re a lucky person like me. If you don’t, it’s really important to try and find someone.
The most vital thing though is to find someone that shares your sense of the aesthetic and enjoys your work when it clicks with them, but really, I can’t stress enough the importance of enabling that person to be open and frank with you when they don’t like something. Having said that, quite often, by the time you get to this point, the chances are that they don’t necessarily dislike any of the images, but without the need to remove their own emotional connections, they can be instantly unbiased, and I feel that just having that person sitting next to me as I look, helps me to focus my decisions as well.
We just sat together and literally in twenty minutes removed the final sixteen to get my portfolio down to the goal of fifty images, but the final decision on what to remove was a joint effort. Just with her being there, I found it easier to cut the chord on a few of my straggling doubts.
Perhaps the hardest decision was to remove the mother and baby snow monkey shot from my very first visit back in 2009. I have really enjoyed that shot over the years, but my wife and I both agree that the sentiment of the caring mother in a harsh environment is now better embodied by this image from 2015.
I then did a couple of passes on the final selection in my usual final test, which is to select all images and just watch them all go by in a slideshow. If I get a sinking feeling as any of the images are displayed on the screen, I would instantly remove them, but at this point, I’m really happy with this selection. I feel that it accurately represents where I am in my Japan-based wildlife photography as May of 2019.
Ignore the Untrusted Critique
I’d also like to advise you to try to ignore the untrusted critique. There are many ways to learn what people think of our work, but asking the wrong person for feedback can be more harmful than helpful.
My wife can literally tell me anything because I trust her. I might not always agree, but because I trust her, her words are never daggers, even when they are sharp and pointy.
There are many people that will offer their thoughts on your images, and this is fine as part of the growing process, but we must learn which voices we can trust and heed, and which we should not take so seriously.
One last word of caution on this though, is to be careful with family members that want to protect your feelings. My wife, probably my most trusted critique, will tell me when she things something sucks. If you ask a family member or friend and all you hear is that everything is beautiful and you are an amazing photographer, you may need to find a new trusted critique. Of course, you may be an amazing photographer, but in my experience, even the best of the best need some external direction from time to time, and it’s vitally important to find someone that can give you that.
Update Raw Engine and Rework Images
I also wanted to quickly mention that going through this process is a great opportunity to update the development or processing engine used to process your images. Many of the images I selected during this week were processed as far back as Capture One Pro version 9, with many still at 10 or 11.
It’s a great time to click on the button to upgrade the processing engine to the latest version, and although the difference is often minimal, sometimes you see a bit of additional quality that you were not aware of snap into view as the preview is updated.
I also reworked some of these images a little bit, bringing them into line with my sense of the aesthetic as of 2019. We change, and I am fine with the idea of reworking images as we use them sometimes years after we originally shot them. This is one of the core reasons that I like to work on my images in a raw editor, and in a non-destructive way.
Since switching to Capture One Pro in 2016, I have only edited a handful of images in Photoshop, requiring me to save my edits baked into the file. Everything else is still in raw format, and therefore I can continue to change it easily without losing my changes and benefit from the updates in the raw processing engine as I have done today.
Creating the Gallery
Now that I have my photos selected, it’s time to prepare the portfolio gallery. I’m still using NextGEN Gallery from Imagely for my still photography galleries, although there has been a problem with their Lightbox that causes the first image in a post to display sometimes even when you click an image other than the first image. I’m finally making some progress with them on this, but this issue has been outstanding for an embarrassingly long time. I have looked for alternatives, but currently, the only thing that comes close is still not as feature rich as NextGEN, so I’m still using it.
I ran through my final selection and ensured that all of the images had titles and keywords, then exported them as full-sized JPEGs to a subfolder in my Portfolios folder in Dropbox. From there I uploaded the full-sized images to a NextGEN Gallery on my website. They have to be full sized because people can buy the full-sized image for commercial and editorial use directly from my portfolio galleries. Then they are automatically resized to my web size and watermarked by the NextGEN Gallery plugin. I then embedded the gallery in a new Wildlife of Japan Portfolio page.
Propagating the Portfolio to Devices
The final step is getting my portfolio onto all of my devices so that I can show people the sort of work I do. I’m still using the Portfolio for iPad App that I talked about in Episode 585, but the developer of this app is apparently nowhere to be seen, which makes it doubtful that it will be maintained or improved, which is a shame because it’s a good app. Because I have it set up automatically sync with my Portfolios folders in Dropbox, when I opened the app after exporting my images, it took a few minutes to sync, but then my new Wildlife of Japan portfolio appeared in the app, and I updated the background with a shot from the new set, as you can see in this screenshot.
The last thing I do is import the full-sized JPEGs into the Apple Photos app, into a Wildlife of Japan Portfolio Album. This automatically then gets propagated out to all of my devices, so I not only have an easy to access way of quickly showing the images in the Photos app on my computer, but I automatically get the same album on my iPad and iPhone, as you can see in the following two screenshots.
You may not want or need your portfolios on all of your devices, but I’ve found over the years that as I talk to people about my work and my tours, it’s very useful to be able to pull out a device and share the photos. I know I’ve managed to get people to sign up for tours and sold prints by doing this, and now, for example, using a Square credit card reader, I can actually process print or stock license sales, and even tour sign-ups, directly from my phone or iPad, so it’s worth me doing this.
To close, I’d like to talk just a little about the self-doubt and vulnerability that we face as creatives. During this week, I’ve come back to this project a number of times and felt pretty confident that I was moving in the right direction. Then, last night, as the fatigue of the week caught up with me, for a while I felt really negative about the results. I actually felt like deleting the new portfolio and gallery and writing a new post about something completely different.
Knowing how being tired can affect our appreciation of our own work, and that it’s kind of natural to doubt your own work, I closed my laptop and watched a movie with my wife, before getting a nights sleep. When I woke up this morning, and completed the synch of my images and flicked through the work again on my iPad, a knowing smile grew on my face, and I felt happy with the set again. It’s not the best portfolio in the world, but it’s a good representation of where I am in my own photography with relation to Japan Wildlife work, and that’s the whole point of this exercise.
It’s natural to doubt our work, and being self-critical is an important part of this process, but it’s important to understand how being tired can affect our emotions and try to avoid doing anything rash during those periods of doubt. I feel the portfolio has worth, and I’m happy today that I spent the time to do this during this week. I’m not sure that I’ll have time to do the Japan Landscape Portfolio before I leave for Namibia in a week’s time, but that’s the next thing that I would like to do, then maybe when I get a little more time, compose some background music and create a new video slideshow of each set with some video clips interspersed as well.
Check Out the Wildlife Portfolio
So, that’s it. We’ll wrap this up here. If you are interested in checking out the new Wildlife of Japan Portfolio, or any of them for that matter, select the Portfolios menu item above and you should see a dropdown menu with thumbnails for all of my portfolios. If you have any comments about the process or the portfolio, please leave a comment below. I’d love to hear from you.
Japan Winter Wildlife Tours
And of course, if you’d like to join me on the tours on which I shot most of the images that we’ve looked at today, please check out my Tours & Workshops page for the latest tours with availability. At the time of writing, there are just two places left on the 2020 tours, and I have just started taking bookings for the first 2021 wildlife tour so check that out if you are interested.
This week I’m going to tell you all about Portfolio for iPad, an app that I’ve just started using to display my portfolios in, and I’m mostly very impressed with.
For a number of years, I used an app called Foliobook to share my portfolios on my iPad and I was very happy with it, but then Lightroom Mobile came along and gave us automatic synchronization across devices. This was incredibly useful until I started to use Capture One Pro to process my images, instead of Lightroom. I never used Lightroom Mobile to actually process images on the iPad, so I didn’t miss that aspect, but a self-synchronizing portfolio app was missing from my workflow.
A few months ago I told you how I am using the Apple Photo app, and I am still using it to keep a copy of all of my images in my photo timeline, and I’ve even created my Portfolios in albums in the Photos app now, because I wanted a way to sync them between devices. I do still like the casual access to my images that this gives me, but as a display format, it’s slightly lacking. The main problem for me is that images are often cropped so that they fill the screen, and I don’t want that.
iPad Pro 12.9 inch
Two weeks ago, I got a new 12.9 inch iPad Pro. I wanted that big screen for sharing images with people that I meet, and at that point I decided that as the Photos app view wasn’t sophisticated enough for my portfolios, so I went back to Foliobook, setting it up with my main portfolios and a gallery of my videos.
Then, over the last week, I updated a few more of my portfolios, adding some casual work that I’d done over the last year and as I manually added these new images to Foliobook, I thought to myself that there has to be a better way to do this, so, I searched for an alternative.
Two candidates came up. One was Xtrafolio, but that isn’t even available to buy in Japan, and the other was Portfolio for iPad. There are others, but my main reason for looking for a replacement for Foliobook was automatic synchronization, and Portfolio for iPad promised that so I set about the task of trying it out.
Setting Up Galleries
I’m not going to walk you through all of the steps required to get your portfolio galleries set up, but let’s look at some of the points that I learned, to hopefully help to save you time if you ultimately want to work in a similar way to how I’m now using Portfolio for iPad.
After launching Portfolio the first thing I did was to try adding a few albums containing my portfolio images. To get started with that, I clicked the little cog wheel in the bottom right corner of the screen, which changes to that green check symbol that you can see in this screenshot (below) and the app then displays various settings options.
To add a gallery manually, you click the Content button on the left of the list of options, then hit the plus symbol at the bottom of the left column as you can see in this screenshot (below). You just give the gallery a title and import your images.
File Size Limitation
At this point in time, you can import images from the Photos app on the iPad, via iTunes, Dropbox or box, and also by using an app from the developer of Portfolio for iPad that enables you to transfer images directly to the app, which is pretty handy.
I first used the method to import directly from the Photos App on the iPad, and that worked flawlessly. The thing to note here though is that if you have Optimize iPad Storage turned on in your Photos & Camera settings on the iPad it’s likely that not all of your images will be available. They have to be all downloaded to your device to even appear in the list. Because I got the 512GB model of the new iPad this is the first device I’ve owned that I’ve actually been able to use the Download and Keep Originals option, so I was able to import entire portfolio folders.
Image Size Limitation
Because I have all of my portfolios in folders in my Dropbox, I also tried importing from Dropbox, and that worked great too until I hit my first problem. As I loaded some of my galleries a message was displayed, as you can see in the previous screenshot, telling me that images larger than 35 megapixels would not be imported.
Initially this came as a big disappointment because I really didn’t want to export downsized images specifically for this purpose. I can understand that a developer needs to add this kind of safeguard to prevent people with older devices from having problems, but Foliobook, the portfolio application I’ve been using for a number of years, simply warns the user about importing big files, it doesn’t prevent you from doing so.
And the reality is that if you have a relatively new iPad, the system resources are plenty to run galleries of 50-megapixel images. There is also a message in Foliobook telling the user that if they have problems, they should try resizing their images. In my opinion, this is all that is necessary.
Removing the Size Limitation
It turns out that there is a way to remove this limitation in Portfolio for iPad, but I had to wait three days for a reply from the developer before I heard about this. You just have to go to the iPad Settings and scroll down to the Portfolio app, and there is an Advanced settings section with an option to Disable size limits.
I spent about an hour on the developer’s web site trying to find something like this and came up dry. In my opinion, this is bad design. If there is an option like that, the developer should include a message to that effect in the message displayed telling people that images over 35-megapixel will not be loaded.
Not only did this waste my time looking for a solution or workaround, but I also went on to export all of my images shot with my Canon EOS 5Ds R bodies resized to 35 megapixels. Then after the developer did get back to me with the solution, I had to go back and re-export all of my 5Ds R images again at full size.
This took a few hours, and unfortunately, even though by this time I’d figured out how to automatically synchronize the images from Dropbox when you replace the images in Dropbox, the Portfolio app loses their position in the gallery, so I had to spend an hour or so manually sorting my images again. All-in-all I lost around six to seven hours because the developer couldn’t be bothered to alert his end-users to this override option, and that annoys me.
I should also note that as I’d expected, the 50-megapixel files work fine in the Portfolio app. I also exported the Portfolio to my three-year-old iPad Air 2 and it works flawlessly on that device too.
Luckily though, I’m a somewhat stubborn creature and decided to continue to see if Portfolio for iPad was worth working with. After manually creating a few albums, I figured I’d click the synchronization button in the top left of the Content settings screen, to see how synchronization works. I was presented with a message telling me that synchronizing at the top folder level would replace any manually created galleries, making me happy that I’d only created a few galleries before trying this.
I turned on synchronization and pointed Portfolio for iPad to my Portfolios directory in Dropbox, as you can see in this screenshot (below). I left the mode as Fully Automatic, as I simply want to drop images into my Dropbox portfolio folders moving forward, and have the Portfolio app just pick them up.
Automatic Synchronization from Dropbox
Once synchronization has completed, it occurs automatically every 5 minutes while you have the app open, so initially, I was updating my images on my computer, resizing them to 35 megapixels, and the Portfolio app was automatically grabbing the new files without any interaction from me.
I found out later that this would have messed up my manual ordering of images, but during the setup up phase, I was really impressed by this. In fact, until I got to this point, I was still in two minds as to whether or not to continue using Portfolio for iPad, until I saw how well this automatic synchronization works.
If you make any changes that you need to take effect straight away, you can also press the Sync button that appears on many of the setup screens, and a fresh sync will start straight away. This really does work very well.
Videos Work Great!
I was also really happy to see that having added a folder of videos to my portfolios folder in Dropbox, it was automatically synced to the Portfolio app. The player in the app is really pretty as well, so it will look great as a way to share videos with people.
Assigning a Poster Frame
Note that when you first add videos, they are displayed as black boxes. To assign a Poster Frame you just have to press the filmstrip icon below the video after tapping it, then drag the rectangle below the video timeline until it shows the frame that you’d like to represent the video in your gallery, then click Save in the top right-hand corner.
Assigning a Video Poster Frame
I noticed that although you can change the title of videos in manually created galleries, in automatically synced galleries, the filename of the video is used, and cannot be changed. So, I went ahead and just changed the filenames to the actual titles, including spaces, and these synched fine, so if you want pretty titles in video files, change them before synching. The extension, .mp4 or .mov etc. is not displayed in the name, which is good.
I also noticed that when you first import a gallery, either automatically or manually, the file name is used as the title by default, and it doesn’t look great. I imagine this is the default because some people, perhaps a lot of people, don’t add titles to their images in the EXIF or IPTC metadata fields.
I do though, so for each album that I automatically synched, I went into the gallery, clicked the cog wheel above the gallery thumbnails, selected the Configure Metadata option, and then selected IPTC Title instead of Name, as you can see in this screenshot (below). This changes all of the filenames to the actual Title that I’ve given each image and it looks a lot nicer.
Changing Image Titles
Customizing the Appearance
Now that I had my images imported, and syncing nicely and automatically, I set about the task of customizing the appearance of Portfolio for iPad. When I tried to edit one of the three built-in themes I saw a message stating that “Only the appearance can be edited on a built-in theme. To change the layout first make a duplicate of the theme.” I’m not quite sure what this means, but I created a duplicate of the Modern theme and started to customize it.
Initially, I found the customization controls very temperamental. Objects jump around uncontrollably, and I ended up scrapping my first few attempts to change the theme and started again from a fresh duplicate copy. Once I’d gotten used to it though, I was able to replace the background image with one of my photos taken directly from a gallery that I’d imported, and I placed the thumbnails in a part of the screen that looked good to me, as you can see in this screenshot (below).
Finished Portfolio View
One thing regarding customization that I was a little disappointed with, is that even if you open a PNG file with transparency when you place it in the layout of the app, a white background is added. I was hoping to be able to import my signature and Japanese stamp that I apply to my fine art prints and overlay it on this screen, but it wasn’t possible.
Portrait Orientation View
Of course, the workaround for this is to overlay the graphic onto a photo or whatever background you want and import, but this is more time-consuming. If I could just have my signature and stamp as a separate element, I could easily move it around and change the background image very easily.
You can also set a different image for the portrait orientation view, and move the thumbnail bar to another location on the screen, as you can see in this screenshot (right).
If I can make the time I might create some images specifically to use as the background on these pages, but I’d much prefer to be able to overlay PNG files with transparency in tact, and just overlay it on any image from my galleries.
This would, for example, enable me to update a portfolio on the train on the way to visit someone to show them a portfolio. The more you customize the presentation to a viewers needs, the more likely you are to make a good impression.
One cool thing though, with how the themes work, is that if you wanted to, you can simply duplicate your theme and save a new version with different images, essentially setting up a variety of themes for separate occasions.
Backing Up Your Library
Once you have something put together that you are happy with, you can back it up, either just for safe keeping or to transfer the library to another device. Backups can be performed either to Dropbox or within the app, and then copied around using iTunes. Here you can see the Backup screen after I’ve made a backup with the Portfolio app (below).
Backing up the Library
To transfer this library to my iPhone and a second iPad as a test, I opened up iTunes, then selected the iPad Pro, then the Apps icon in the sidebar, and scrolled down until I could see the list of apps installed on the iPad, then located the Portfolio app, as you can see in this screenshot (below).
Transferring Library from iTunes
Once you can see the backup copy of your library, just drag it to the desktop to transfer it to your computer. To restore this library on another device, just attach that device to iTunes, and navigate to the same location, and drag the library backup file back to the same window for the new device.
This worked as expected for the iPad Air 2, and the 50-megapixel files worked fine too. Note too that restoring the library like this enables you to keep all of your customizations, but then once the library is operational, it starts to synchronize from Dropbox like the original library, so any future updates to your images will be automatically synchronized. And, if you make any major changes, it’s not such a big deal to repeat the above backup and restore process.
Working with Multiple Libraries
Because the backups just sit inside the app until you delete them, you could actually use these backups as a way to keep multiple portfolios libraries on your device, assuming you have enough space. Say you’re a wedding photographer and a landscape photographer, you could maintain two totally different libraries and restore the one you need depending on who you are going to show it to.
Why Full Sized Images
Also, just to close the loop on this, if you are wondering why I want my full sized images in the Portfolio app, if you’ve ever passed an iPad to another photographer to look at your photos, one of the first things that many people do is to zoom in on the image to check the details. Portfolio for iPad lets you do this really well, so I want to maintain as much detail in my images as possible.
I should also mention that another area I wish was different is the view you get when you first enter a portfolio gallery. Although they disappear after about four seconds, I don’t like being able to see the top and bottom toolbars when you first enter the gallery.
Image Display with Toolbars
I would love it if these toolbars remained invisible, even when you first enter the gallery until you touch the screen. You could argue that people might not notice the play button in the top right, but people are accustomed to the interface on an iPad enough to reach out and touch the screen to get started, and then the button and other options would come right back.
Filmstrip and Thumbnail View
The buttons in the middle of the bottom toolbar allow you to switch to a full screen of thumbnails, or just have a filmstrip of thumbnails across the bottom of the larger image as you can see here (below). The filmstrip view is fine, but I really don’t like the all thumbnail view. In my opinion, they need to resize better for larger screens, and also the ability to hide the titles and just have nice looking thumbnails would be good too.
One other reason that I used to like about having my images in Lightroom Mobile, was that it was really easy to see shooting information, like EXIF metadata and the histogram for the image. Unfortunately, there is no histogram in Portfolio, but if you click on the little edit button in the bottom right corner, then click on the Metadata tab, you can see the shooting information for the image, which is really nice (below).
I wish I could just display this metadata directly, without going to notes first. Although you can also display metadata over the image by changing the gallery settings. Ideally what I’d like is to just be able to tap the image, say with two fingers, and display an overly with the metadata, like you can in Lightroom Mobile. A histogram would be nice for that matter, but not as essential for me as the metadata, and I do have that, so no huge complaints here.
Portfolio for iPhone
I was also initially excited to see that there is another app from the same developer called Portfolio for iPhone. I installed it and restored the backup of my library that we looked at earlier, but I quickly found that the iPhone version of Portfolio is a pretty weak offering.
It’s a very cut down version of the iPad app and doesn’t even allow the use of much of the EXIF and IPTC metadata in my files, despite having similar options to show the IPTC Title etc. like the iPad version. This simply doesn’t work, which is quite misleading and disappointing.
Also, although I realize that screen real estate is more at a premium on the iPhone, even though I am using the Plus, there are no background images. All you see when you start Portfolio for iPhone is a list of galleries. The images are displayed without any cropping to make them fill the screen, but this is really the only redeeming factor.
What’s more, there is NO SYNC!! You can backup your galleries on the iPad and restore them on the iPhone, and that maintains any image sorting you might have done, but there is no synchronization feature, so all updates will be manual, which is very disappointing.
Granted, it doesn’t actually say that there is any sync functionality in the iPhone version but excited by the features of the iPad version, I’d expected this to be there and bought the iPhone version without checking thoroughly. The iPhone app was only ¥360 though, so it’s probably around $3 in the US store. Because of the pricing, I would probably have bought it anyway to try, but I’ll have to see how much I actually use it.
Portfolio vs Foliobook
At the time of writing Portfolio for iPad is $14.99 in the US App Store. Foliobook is currently $9.99 with video support being a $1.99 in-app purchase, so it’s basically $12. The extra $3 for Portfolio will give you that all important automatic synchronization. That alone to me makes Portfolio for iPad my new go-to portfolio application. I also like having thumbnails on my gallery view in Portoflio too, where as Foliobook is just text links.
Once inside a gallery, Foliobook looks better and the thumbnail views are much cleaner. Foliobook is lacking any kind of metadata display as well, so that’s another point in Portfolio for iPad’s favor.
If I was to give a score to each app, assuming that 10 is my perfect portfolio app, I’d give Portfolio for iPad an 8/10 and Foliobook a 7/10. Foliobook is a more sophisticated app in many ways but lacks some important features like auto-synchronization and metadata view. Portfolio for iPad doesn’t get a 10/10 because it lacks polish in many areas. It has most of what I want but needs refining.
In conclusion though, if you are looking for something to help you use your iPad to display your portfolio, be it as a photographer or designer or any other artist creating imagery and/or videos, Portfolio for iPad is well worth taking a look at. Despite some very frustrating setbacks over the last few days as I’ve set it up, I’m now basically very happy with what I have, and the ability to just update my portfolios in Dropbox and have them automatically synchronize to my iPads is absolutely golden.
In November 2015 I made a book of my Iceland work to that point with a company named Artisan State. I intended to do this review earlier, but time ran away with me, and Artisan State are now called Zno. They are still the same great company though, with some really cool products, so today I’m going to talk about my Flush Mount Album, which is a Layflat book and touch on the system at Zno that I used to create the book.
[UPDATE: Before you continue reading or listening, I’d like to draw your attention to a number of very concerning issues that I’m hearing about the quality of Zno products since they changed their name from Artisan State. I’m hearing horror stories about color casts in the printing, and books literally coming unglued and falling apart. Their customer services seem to have bombed too. Please take the following as a review of a previous Artisan State book, not a Zno book.
UPDATE June 2018: Since hearing these horror stories, I am also now receiving comments confirming that Zno may have overcome the problems they were facing, and the quality that I talked about in my review MAY have been restored. Please read all the comments below the post for the bigger picture, and maybe consider a smaller test book before placing a more substantial order.]
To give you a little background on my project, my main aim as I set out to create my book was to see if Zno’s Flush Mount Album Layflat books were really as good as they looked on their web site. I could have just ordered their $5 sample book, but patience isn’t one of my key qualities, so I jumped right in and made a 70 page book with a genuine leather cover and cameo window, and had them put it into a handmade leatherette case.
Iceland Book in Leather Cover and Handmade Leatherette Box
As I got more and more excited about the project, I added text to the book and started to think that I’d actually like to make the book available to buy, and that’s how I ended the project, but I actually think the cost of this maxed out spec book might be a little bit prohibitive to make available as a fine art coffee table book, and that’s kind of why it just sat on a chair in my studio for the last seven months, as I tried to figure out what to do with it.
Regardless of that though, I’m still very happy with the book, and although expensive, I think they have many uses for the photographer, a lot of which could easily offset the high price for the unique and beautiful presentation piece that they are. They are actually so easy to make and with such a quick production turnover, at the very least, from now on I’m going to be using them as stake-in-the-ground records of my work at various junctures in my career.
For example, the Iceland project that we’ll look at today is based on work from three tours in Iceland from 2013 to 2015. Three feels like a good number to me, and I felt that I was really starting to do Iceland justice, so a book felt right. The next project I’m going to do is a Namibia book. It will only be two year’s work, but I’m already having trouble deciding on the final images for the book, I have that many that I’m happy with.
I can see these becoming a nice reminder of where I was at the various staging in my career, and I will probably also put them on a table in a future exhibition, for people to browse through to get a feel for my work on the whole, and not just the theme of the actual exhibition.
Of course wedding or portrait photographers could churn these books out as part of their service package, and again, as a one off, the price wouldn’t seem so prohibitive. I’m sure a newly wed couple would even consider having the top of the line version for themselves with a leather cover etc. and then get a less expensive copy done for family members.
My Iceland Book
Anyway, let’s jump in and take a look at a few photos of my Iceland book so that you can see the quality that we’re talking about here. I chose to create a 14 x 11 inch portrait orientation book. This means when you open the book, it’s will give you a 14 x 22 inch double page spread, which is just a little bit shorter than a 3:2 aspect ratio, which is the native ratio for my photographs. I actually lose just a little bit on the height, but because we’re going to trim off a little bit around all edges in the bleed of each page, it works out just about perfect.
I chose the Metallic finish, because it uses Fuji Pearl media, which I felt was probably going to give me the best gloss reproduction for my images. The resulting book doesn’t even really look Metallic, so the name is somewhat misleading, but it looks incredible all the same. Other options at this point in time (June 2016) are Lustre and Artisan Matte. I think I’m going to try the Artisan Matte for my next book, as I’m sure it’s beautiful too.
As you can see in this photo (below) I added a cameo window, and added a representative photo from my Iceland work to the front cover. It costs just $10 to add the cameo, and I think it makes a beautiful accent, especially when you first open the case.
Iceland Book Front Cover
I knew from the start that I wanted to max out the number of pages in my book, so I chose the thin page, which might sound weird as we continue to look at this book, but in the Flush Mount Album, the thin page is actually still 0.8mm in thickness, and this gives enables you to go to up to 70 pages. Note though that this actually includes both sides of 35 sheets.
If you opt for the Thick paper, it’s 1.3mm, with a maximum of 25 sheets, or 50 pages, and the Rigid paper, available only if you sign up for the Pro Plan, are a whopping 2.0mm thick, with a maximum of 30 pages, so that’s 15 sheets.
Lay flat Books
The coolest thing about these books though, is that they lay almost totally flat as you flick through the pages. It’s not quite as flat as the Zno marketing images would have you believe, but it’s pretty close, as you can see in this photo (below) of the last page of my Iceland book. Like I said, I was thinking to sell this book, so Included a place to number and sign the book at the back.
Iceland Book Last Page
The beauty of the Layflat Library Binding of course, is that you don’t lose any of your image in the gutter that runs down the middle of the each double page spread. This means that you can lay out the book with landscape orientation images spanning both pages without fear of them looking strange around the gutter, as you can see here (below).
Iceland Book Double Page
The line down the middle of the open book is actually more pronounced in this photo than when you look at the books in normal light, because I was lighting the book from either side to take these photographs. Excuse the scrappy processing along the top shadow in this photo too. I was running into problems with Lightroom and ran out of time to take these images into Photoshop.
Only One Negative Impression
We’ll take a look at some of the key aspects of making a book on Zno in a moment, but before that, I’d like to mention just one slightly negative impression that I got from the Zno service. As you can see in this photo (below) the Presentation Box that you can add as an option for your book, in my opinion, opens along the wrong side.
Iceland Book in Handmade Leatherette Box
I ordered the Portrait 14 x 11 inch Presentation Box, and I expected it to open along the top edge, so that I would be looking at the book in the correct orientation, and the box opens at the top, along the short edge. However, when my package arrived, I was surprise to see that it opened along the long edge, so my book is essentially rotated 90 degrees clockwise when I open the box.
Straight away I contacted the Zno support team, and asked for a replacement. I assumed they’d packed the wrong orientation box. They came back to me saying that it was correct, and they would not give. After a few rounds of communication, I found that both their Landscape 11 x 14 inch box and their Portrait 14 x 11 box are identical. They both open along the long edge.
This to me is absolutely ridiculous. First of all, if that’s the case, they should just have one option for an 11 x 14 inch box, not a Landscape and Portrait option. But, as I mentioned to the support team at the time, I find this to be a really quite poor decision on their part. If I’m going to be paying more than $700 for a book of this quality, I really want the presentation to be 100%, and I don’t feel they have achieved that with the design of this box. Other than this, I’ve been very happy with Zno, but they’ve messed up big time on this in my opinion.
Making Your Zno Book
OK, so let’s quickly also look at how you go about making a book with the Zno system. I’m not going to do a tutorial as such, because the system is really so easy, I don’t think it’s necessary. Plus, there are a lot of different options, and other products, such as wall art, calendars and custom clothing, and I can’t cover them all, so let’s just touch on the key aspects of creating a book to get you started.
To start the process of creating a book, you can simply navigate to the page for the style of book you want to make on the Zno web site, enter your options then click the button below the options to actually make a book. If you don’t yet have an account, you can register right there, or login if you do have an account.
Once you have an account and know what you want, you can simply login, and click on the Create link at the top of the page, and start selecting your options. Don’t worry too much about the settings that you chose initially, as you can change them later with the Book Options link at the top of the page once you are editing your book, as you can see in this screenshot (below). Don’t forget you can click on the images to view them larger. To stop the images from automatically advancing, just hover your mouse over it.
Zno Book Options
You can also get to your old or unfinished projects by clicking My Projects under the My Stuff menu once logged in. I’ve opened my new Namibia book project to show you what it looks like as we get started on the process of putting this together. You can see that I’ve chosen a Rustic Brown Genuine Leather cover this time, as I think that suits Namibia well. I’m also going to Artisan Matte paper, partly to see what it looks like, but I also think that will suit the content better.
Before you upload your images to place them into your book, I’d recommend downloading the Zno ICC color profiles and installing them on your computer, so that you can soft proof your images in Lightroom or Photoshop. Just click on support and search for “ICC profiles” and you’ll see a page from which you can download them. In the Lightroom Develop module, hit the S key on your keyboard to enter the Soft Proofing mode, and the first time you use a new profile you need to click Other at the bottom of the Profile pulldown, and tell Lightroom which Profiles to load. Then just run through your chosen images to ensure that they look OK. If you need to adjust the images, as long as you are still in Soft Proofing mode, Lightroom will offer to make a virtual copy of your images which I love!
Once you’ve soft proofed and adjusted your images, you’ll need to export them at 300 dpi in the sRGB color space, then hit the Upload button under the Images tab in the left sidebar of the Zno Book Editor page, and select the files that you want to upload. Once you’ve selected your images you have to hit the Upload button to actually start the upload. I’ve only uploaded a handful of images for now, for the Namibia album, as I haven’t finished my final selection for the book yet.
Zno Upload Images
Note that I didn’t resize my images for the book. Zno doesn’t say that you need to, and I would prefer to keep all the detail available in the images, so I just export at full size. Once you’ve finished uploading your images, placing them on a page is just a case of dragging them to the page from the left sidebar. As you can see in this screenshot, I’ve started by dragging a photo of a Himba girl to the cameo window on the cover of my Namibia book.
Zno Image in Cameo
On the main pages of your book, before you drag your image to the layout, select a Layout from the selection at the bottom of the Book Editor window. I’m going to select the full page layout, which is the third from the right in this screenshot (below). Note that because we’re going to lose a little bit of the top and bottom of the image in this aspect ratio book, you can click the Crop button from the toolbar below the image, then grab the image and move it up or down to get a better crop. I’ve moved this first image down to decrease the dark area and show more of the sky.
Zno Layout Full Page Image
Note too that you will lose some if not all of the image that is displayed after the little red line that you can see around the edges of the page. If you prefer to just see the image without the bleed area, click on the eye icon in the toolbar of the Book Editor.
If you want to layout two portrait orientation images on a page, click the “change” option in the bottom toolbar, next to where it says “Select Layouts for 1 image”, and select “Images 2”, and you’ll see a whole new rage of layouts to choose from. Have a poke around in the other numbered selections as well, to see what’s available. The number of options is really quite astounding.
Zno Two Portrait Orientation Images
Pretty much all of the elements that you can add via the Layout presets are customizable. If you need to add text, just click on the “T” button in the top toolbar, and you can add a text box anywhere on the page, and change the font, the character size and color and justification all with the toolbar below the text box, as you can see in this screenshot (below).
Zno – Adding Text
OK, so I’m getting carried away talking about the options, but hopefully this has given you an idea of how easy it is to create a beautiful book in the Zno Book Editor. It is possible to download templates and create the pages yourself on your computer, but I honestly think that with this much power in the online editor, for me at least, I can’t see me ever going to the trouble.
If you need to leave your project for a while, just click Save in the toolbar at the top of the page, and I usually then click the Zno logo in the far top left of that toolbar to leave the page. You are actually then asked again if you want to save the project, and I do save it again. From there, you can get back to your project from the My Stuff menu, as I mentioned earlier, and pick up where you left off. You can also go back to your old projects and order a new copy at any time.
At this point in time, to order a copy of my Iceland book, as an example, with the Genuine Leather cover with the maximum number of Thin sheets, which is 35, it would cost $676 dollars. The leatherette Presentation Box with the hinge on the wrong side is an additional $45, so you’re looking at $721 for the products, plus a ridiculously low shipping cost of $15, or $25 for priority shipping. You can also add $5 for Drop Shipping, and then Zno will not include any of their marketing material, so you could ship your book directly to a customer.
I should of course also mention once again that my Iceland book pretty much maxed out the specs, which is another reason it was so expensive. There are other much cheaper covers, such as a Paper Cover from $30 and Hard Covers from $35. The Linen Cover starts at $40 and the Bling Covers are the same as the Leather Covers, starting at $45. There actually is one more expensive cover, which is the Crystal Cover from $70, which looks amazing, as does the Metal Cover which is only available to Pro Plan members.
Over the last seven months or so since signing up, I’ve often received discount codes, to reduce this, and if you sign up for the Pro Plan, you can start to make further savings, but these are the standard prices that I’m seeing as of June 2016, and obviously these are subject to change.
Apart from my disappointment regarding the hinging of the Presentation Box, I have actually fallen head over heals in love with Zno’s books, which is why I’ve put this review together today. I will be working on my second book of my Namibia work in the coming months, and may share my thoughts on that too if you are interested. I’ll also probably create some other books with the various covers over time, just to check them out.
If you are interested, do head over to zno.com and check out their product line-up. You might also try one of their trial products, which they sell for just $5 to give you a taste of their quality. There aren’t many companies that are that confident in their products, but for good reason, Zno seem to be just that confident.