Friday, September 28, 2007

Which for a newspaper?

Today one of my clients asked me to send them a pic for the newspaper ahead of the rest, which I'm still editing. Think they'll go for the action shot? My money says that the typical paper would run the vertical palm tree shot, or crop a vertical out of the wide landscape. Time will tell... Incidentally, this wedding took place at the beautiful Hotel Galvez in Galveston.

More Black and White

Lately I've been throwing more black and white into my wedding mixes. I definitely still include way more color, but b+w is on the upswing with me right now. I can't explain what inspired this, but I'm sure it's here to stay. Amanda and Jody got married at their gorgeous home church in Rosenberg, followed by a reception in a classic country dance hall. I love the old dance halls. They have a lot of character. And really bad lighting. But bad lighting never stops us.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

UT Video Game Archive

If there's two things I believe in, it's historic preservation (kinda jives with photography, right?) and video games. Put those two together, and it sounds like the new UT Video Game Archive at the Center for American History. As a guy who proudly sports a full size Ms Pac-Man in his living room, I could not resist the chance to throw money at this cause celebre, especially if it would get me the chance to attend a party on the sprawling property of Richard Garriott.

I first encountered "Lord British" on the Commodore 64. That's a screen shot of Ultima III, the game that seriously interfered with my third-grade year. So much in fact that it possessed my friend Brennen to create this masterpiece of fan artwork...

In addition to great game play, Ultima III possesses one of the greatest game soundtracks ever. If you haven't already, you should play it now for that reason alone. Software developers keep porting this game to new operating systems after 24 years for good reason. But back to the party...

There was a small tent full of full size arcade and classic console games. These two guys are playing a 1972 prototype Odyssey console, which is the brown box you see on top of the monitor.

Music and auction took place in Garriott's medieval style Curtain Theatre, which is modeled somewhat after the Globe Theatre, or so they say.

This shot was a fun test of pushing the new Canon 1D Mark III to its limits. Taken at ISO 6400, you can still clearly make out raindrops streaking in front of the stage. Nice.

The band featured this guy, known as Fat Man, who wasn't really fat. His trench coat was covered in artwork from tons of different video games, which left me wondering how many of them he worked on.

And just before the live auction, Lord British himself gave a little speech.

A two-man bidding war hit an incredible $5,000 for a plastic tub filled with about a dozen early-run editions of Origin games from Garriott's personal collection. If any one item drove that price, I'm guessing it was the "version 1" copy of Akalabeth, of which Garriott announced that only 20 copies ever existed--so few because this was the famous homemade Ziploc bag version that preceded the fancy commercial distribution. All said, it was an interesting evening, and the Mojitos were damn near flammable.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Learn How to Spot Cheap Tricks

Many photographers, often inexperienced ones, will apply one-click automated "actions" or "presets" in Photoshop in an attempt to make their pictures look more "professional" than they really are. From my point of view, these mass market tricks perpetuate the disease of sameness in the world of photography. Most of my clients intuitively sense our common disdain for the sameness and state it as a reason for hiring me. But I've seen so much of it in recent weeks that I thought it would be fun to blog it. So today I'm going to teach you how to spot the most obvious and hackneyed cheap trick that's in use today. Once you know, it's very easy to spot!

And before we get carried away, remember this: visual effects, even cheap ones, can be a good thing when applied judiciously. So this is not a blanket tirade against cheap tricks and their purveyors. To me, it's a major red flag when I see a photographer's entire portfolio, or large chunks of it, obviously churned through the same exact action. I would personally never hire someone whose entire portfolio was done in the same action or preset. Yech.

So to the point, here's the demo image we're about to discuss:

So what's going on here?

Right now we're suffering an ongoing revival of a 19th-century effect known as vignetting, which is the practice of progressively darkening an image from the center to the corners, as in the right-hand example above. The left-hand image is the original, unaltered image. A strong vignette helps sloppy photographers by hiding what's in the corners, thus requiring less attention to composition. Personally, I like to see interesting things in the corners, not a blob of artificial shadows.

One reason the vignette has exploded this year is that a certain well-known California meta-photographer (a term I've coined to denote a photographer who dedicates a significant portion of his/her professional efforts to selling things to other photographers) has been seen, in one of his own sales videos, adding a strong vignette to the presets which he sells for $49. Because this meta-photographer is a marketing genius, he has legions of followers who will do whatever he does. And he's not alone. Other meta-photographers sell similar presets and actions.

Vignetting often appears in conjunction with an effect known as "diffused glow," which you can see on the dress in the right-hand example above. Followers of another meta-photographer may refer to "Tasty Glows" (really, I'm not kidding). To make the demo above, I spent about one minute creating an action which will subsequently repeat that effect in a single click, any time I'd like. In my opinion, nobody should ever get tricked into hiring a photographer based on this particular look, as you could learn to do it yourself in five minutes flat. And if you buy digital negatives, you got the rest of your life to apply special effects yourself.

In short: It takes talent to create a good photo, but it only takes one click to apply hackneyed wedding effects. Some photographers use visual effects as a tool, while others use them as a crutch for lack of experience or laziness, or maybe just bad taste. You gotta be careful out there!