Colour processing Madam Tussauds photographs in Aperture

Yesterday I published several photos from Madam Tussauds, Sydney and mentioned the lighting at the museum was challenging. I briefly explained that I’d done the post-processing in Aperture by using a Portra preset and a lot of fiddling with white balance.

A few people contacted me asking if they could see the before and after photos. I think it’s a great idea, so here we go. Let me explain the process in a bit more detail.

Taking the photographs

As I mentioned yesterday, the photographs were shot in RAW with a Fuji X100S. I kept the aperture wide open at f2 for the most part and even with that the ISO was hovering between 1600 and 3200.

The lighting was extremely varied and obviously I couldn’t influence it much. Flash is not allowed in the museum, and it probably would’ve killed the atmosphere anyway. Obviously, I couldn’t change any lights either. All I could do was use my body to reflect a little bit of light off my light coloured shirt.

The overall ambient light was almost red and not bright enough. Some sculptures had blue and violet lights coming from the sides which made them look really cool in the museum, but a pain to photograph.

Post-processing the photographs

As soon as I got back home, I imported all 211 photographs into Aperture. I did a quick edit to pick my favourites and from there did a second pass to select the ones I published yesterday. Most of the photos are of my daughter playing with the props and interacting with the sculptures. The museum is very kid-friendly and they encourage people to touch and experiment with things.

Once I had narrowed it down to about 20 photos of sculptures, I went in to the Adjustments pane in Aperture and tried to colour correct the photos.

This is what they look like straight out of the camera:

Aperture Presets Before

The first thing I tried was the Skin Tone control in the White Balance brick. It often works really well. Just click on the eye dropper icon and then click somewhere on the skin. I find selecting the cheeks works best.

That instantly made it a lot better. It removed the redness and brought out other colours. But it still wasn’t right.

Right, of course, being subjective. What looks right for you might not be what looks right for me. And since I don’t know what Einstein’s skin looked like in real life, I’ll just have to pick what looks good to me.

After toying around with the Skin Tone slider a bit I decided to try the Neutral Grey control. I clicked on his shirt, which is supposedly white, but that didn’t work. Then I clicked on the grey line behind him on the left side of the photo and that got me really close. A little fiddling with the slider got me 95% there.

I then put the Black Point down to zero in the Exposure brick. The default was 3.

After that, I applied the beta version of the Portra preset for Aperture from Rob Boyer that I mentioned yesterday. It’s very subtle but does an amazing job. As a side note, I haven’t had time to experiment with the final version, but going by the beta I’m sure it’ll be awesome.

I honestly never used Portra in the film days, so I have no idea what it looked like. What I do know is that this preset makes the images come alive in a very natural way.

For most of the photos, that was it:

  • Fiddle with White Balance
  • Reduce Black Point
  • Apply Portra preset

Here’s what Einstein looks like after the tweaks above.

Aperture Presets After

Some photographs had mixed light and weren’t as straightforward. For example, Bruce Willis was under red-orange ambient light but had purple, pink, and blue lights around him.

For these, I followed the same process except I manipulated the colour a bit more with a Curves adjustment. I went into the RGB channels and adjusted them until it looked right. For some, I also reduced Saturation a tad.

Chicago Sun Times fires photographers to replace them with iPhones

The New York Times writing about the Chicago Sun Times firing it’s staff photographers a couple of weeks ago:

The Chicago Sun-Times laid off its entire full-time photography staff …, including a Pulitzer Prize winner, in a move that the newspaper’s management said resulted from a need to shift toward more online video.

The shift toward online video makes sense. Paper-based newspapers are a relic of the past and the devices we all have are perfect for video. Smartphones, tablets, laptops, and desktops almost beg to display video. Hell, some will even watch video through their glasses. But more importantly, I assume most news “readers” today prefer to watch a video than to read a long essay.

But I don’t believe that “people want to watch online video” is the main point in this case. The real issue is that content consumers, in general, don’t like to read long texts anymore.

People are getting lazy. Facebook, Twitter, et al have gotten us used to quick fixes. A few bursts of 140 characters is frequently all people want. An article with more than 250 words is often considered too long.

This is exactly why this doesn’t make sense to me. A photograph with a caption can be very engaging. A series of photographs can tell a compelling story. And people want stories. The Boston Globe wouldn’t be publishing The Big Picture if nobody showed up to see the amazing photography.

Of course, I don’t know the full story. I have no idea what’s happening inside the Chicago Sun Times that would suggest this was the right decision. I can only comment from the outside, but from here it seems like a really dumb move.

And then reading (yes, I still enjoy reading) that they plan to replace the photographers by “training its remaining staff to take photos with iPhones” just makes me want to bang my head against the wall. What the hell are they thinking?

What’s the plan here? Turn the Chicago Sun Times into YouTube?

Pulled the trigger on VSCO FILM 02 for Aperture 3

Jessica - Shot with Panasonic GF1 and processed with VSCO Film 02 for Aperture 3

Jessica – Shot with Panasonic GF1 and processed with VSCO Film 02 for Aperture 3

I finally gave in and bought VSCO FILM 02 for Aperture 3. I’ve been experimenting with adding a layer of real film grain to presents in Aperture 3. It’s been a huge learning experience and I think I finally have something I like. I’m planning on making it available here soon.

However, I’ve always wondered about the VSCO presets. From looking at the samples on their website, they look really good, although overly expensive as far as presets go. But after asking Robert Boyer and Patrick La Roque on Twitter about them, I decided to pull the trigger and buy one.

I decided on VSCO FILM 02. I’ve only had it for a few days and still going through it, but so far I like it. I’ve mostly experimented with the black and white presets and the film grain. It’s obvious they spent a lot of time and attention on it. I’ll write my thoughts once I’ve had enough time to really get into it.

The two photographs here have the Ilford Delta 3200 and Fuji Superia 400 film grain presets added. Nothing else.

Jessica - Shot with Panasonic GF1 and processed with VSCO Film 02 for Aperture 3

Jessica – Shot with Panasonic GF1 and processed with VSCO Film 02 for Aperture 3

Subscribing to the site

Last week, Google decided to kill Snapseed Desktop. But that wasn’t all that happened. At the same time, they announced the death of several other services, one of them Google Reader. That got me worried about 2 things:

  1. Many of you have subscribed to the site via RSS and most are using Google Reader.
  2. My RSS feed is managed through Feedburner, another Google service which might be discontinued at any moment.

In light of this, I’m moving my RSS feed out of Feedburner and using the one built into Squarespace, the platform where this site is hosted. If Google ever decides to discontinue Feedburner (which I think is likely) it won’t affect us.

Please re-subscribe to the site using this feed URL:

I realise this is a big ask and I might loose some of you, but it’s for the best in the long run. I sincerely hope you’ll stick around.

I’ll post a reminder in a couple of weeks. The old RSS feed won’t work after that.

Subscribe via email here:

Even better, I’ve now added subscription via email. This is a great option as it doesn’t depend on a third party service. Your email will be kept private and never shared. I won’t do anything I wouldn’t like done with my own email.

2013 Project 365:010 Judgemental Stare

Project365 010  Judgemental Stare

In 2013 I’m doing another Project 365.

I did it in 2010 with all black & white photos taken exclusively with an iPhone. At the end I did a video with all 365 images that I think turned out pretty good. It was an interesting experience and I’m glad I did it, but it sure was tough.

I tried it again in 2011, but didn’t get all the way through. I only did 233. Life got busy and I dropped the ball. A smart folder in my Aperture Library shows me I only shot 282 photos with my iPhone in 2011. Looking closely, I can see most of the ones that weren’t part of the 365 project were photos of whiteboards at work or things I wanted to remember. Not really “photography” photographs at all.

In 2012, I didn’t even try to do a photo a day. And I shot a total of 304 photographs with my iPhone. Contrast that with over 1,000 in 2009 and almost 600 in 2010. I’m not sure why that happened, but I’ve decided to do something about it.

I will shoot every day with my iPhone in 2013.

You’re not going fast enough

On the same train of thought from my previous comment about the difficulty of following through on creative ideas and actually producing something, I remembered an awesome quote by Mario Andretti, one of the legendary racing drivers, who said:

If everything seems under control, then you’re not going fast enough

Although he said it in the context of car racing, it’s a great quote that applies to all aspects of life, including creativity.

Life is busy and there never seems to be enough time to get it all done. I sometimes wish I could stop time just long enough for me to catch up, but then I think of that quote and it changes my perspective. The last time everything seemed to be fully under control I got so bored I ended up making fairly drastic changes without much planning.

A little bit or chaos is a good thing.

An Ode to Creative Work by Behance

I just came across this video while taking a few minutes to catch up on my RSS feeds and clear my brain (aka procrastinating). I’ve been so busy the last few weeks that I haven’t had any time to focus on my photography.

Every time that happens I get restless and moody. I don’t like it.

I’m not sure why, but this video made me smile. I especially love this line:

Creativity may come easy, but creation is hard.

So very true. I have a million ideas I haven’t acted on. Finding the time is hard. Getting in the right frame of mind is hard. Deciding what will be left undone in order to focus on one of these ideas is hard.

But it has to be done or I’ll go crazy. I don’t like being restless and moody.

[vimeo 52184081 w=700 h=393]

An Ode to Creative Work by Behance from Behance on Vimeo. A film about the opportunity, hardship and responsibility of creative work.