Is it really worth the cost and time in the learning curve to print my own vs just using a professional printing house to get started?
Here is my answer:
Absolutely. The reason why I go into the trouble of printing all my work myself is because of two very important reasons:
A – I can do a better job than any lab. That’s because of my experience printing my work. No one knows my work and what I want to express in my prints better than me. I also know that I do not want the generic look that most lab operators give to prints. What this means is that there is no such thing as a single version of a print. There are as many versions as there are lab operators. What I want is my version!
B – The value of my prints is in large part due to the fact I make my prints myself. Who wants an Ansel Adams printed by someone other than Adams? Not me. Same with my clients and collectors. They don’t want an Alain Briot printed by a lab operator. They want an Alain Briot printed by Alain Briot. The value is in having a print made by me, not a print made by someone called ‘staff’.
The same reasons apply to you. You can learn how to print your work to my standards with my Printing Mastery Workshop on DVD. I explain which papers I use and every other aspect of the process in these tutorials. This tutorials are similar to attending my 2 days Printing Mastery Seminar except you don’t need to travel, you don’t have to remember everything in 2 days which is almost impossible, and you can study at your own pace, anywhere you like. Here is the link:
We all make resolutions at the start of the year. However, for many these resolutions disappear into the ether around the end of January. Quite often, thirty days is what it takes for old habits to return, for resolutions to be forgotten and for goals not to be achieved. This is in part why I am publishing this essay at the end of January. This is the time when many of us need help achieving the goals we set for the year.
So how do you do it? How do you achieve your goals? How do you stick to your resolutions for the long term, the whole year, and not just for a month? Here are a few tips that have work for me and I believe will work for you as well.
2 – Focus on your vision
Vision is your guiding light. Vision is what you see that others cannot see. Only you know what your vision is and why it matters to you. When setting your new year resolutions, let your vision guide you. By doing so you will set goals that are meaningful in the context of your entire life, not just in the context of this year alone. These will be goals that matter to you and that are are worth committing to. They will be goals that make the hard work needed to reach them worth it. They may be new goals or they may be goals you have been meaning to achieve for a long time. Either way reaching these goals will help make your life meaningful and build your self worth.
3 – Set specific goals
Setting specific goals is half the battle because a goal set is a goal that is already partially reached. This is because setting a specific goal forces you to define the path you will follow to reach this goal. Once that path is set, all you have to do is follow it.
4 – Set specific deadlines
Setting goals is important but without deadlines nothing gets done. Deadlines set a line in the sand, so to speak, a time by which things must get done. Again, be specific when setting your deadlines. For example say: I will have 12 fine art prints matted and framed by June 30th. Or, I will have my folio project that includes 12 prints, an artist statement, a biography printed, packaged and ready to show by July 1st, 2014.
5 – Start with what is hard, reward yourself with what is easy
Make a list of what you have to do each day, then give a letter to each task. A for the most important and difficult tasks, B for the second most important tasks, C for the less important tasks and D for the easiest tasks. Start your day by working on the A tasks, the most important and difficult ones. When those are all done, move to the B tasks. Don’t move to the B tasks until all A tasks are done. Do this for all the tasks on your list. By the time you get to the Ds you will find them so easy that they will feel more like rewards than actual tasks.
6 – Define success in your own terms
Success is different for all of us. Therefore you need to define what success is for you. Don’t define success as others see it. Define it as you see it.
What constitutes success for you is most likely different than what constitutes success for others. Your goals, your desires and overall what you consider to be success in a specific endeavor is unique to you. Don’t worry about it. Whether what you want is more or less or different than what other people want is irrelevant because you and them are different people in different situations focused on different goals.
7 – Be realistic
Only realistic goals get done. Overly ambitious goals are discouraging because they are so lofty that we feel we will never reach them. Unrealistic deadlines have the same effect. When deadlines are set too far in the future they make us feel we have all the time in the world so we never get started. When deadlines are too short they make us feel we wont’ have time to get things done. Either way we get discouraged before we even begin working on our goals.
A realistic goal is a goal you know you can achieve with the time and resources you have available to you. Only you know what is realistic. Just like success is individually defined, what is realistic is individually defined as well. What is realistic for you is different than what is realistic for others. When you set realistic goals you give yourself the opportunity to succeed. When you set unrealistic goals you set yourself up for failure.
To be effective deadlines also have to be realistic. For example, a good rule of thumb for finishing a photography folio project is 6 months until completion. This time frame works well for me and for my students.
8 – Quantify
Even though you defined success in your own terms, it is challenging to achieve a goal that is not quantified. To achieve your goals you need to define them precisely. The first step is to quantify these goals. This means putting numbers on what you want to achieve. How many fine art photographs that you will be proud to show to everyone do you want to create this year? How many projects do you want to complete? How many locations do you want to photograph? How many workshops do you want to attend? The list goes on; these are just examples.
9 – Check your progress regularly (daily, weekly or monthly)
Mark Twain said that bad habits must be pushed out of the house one step at a time. They cannot be kicked out because if you do that they will return. Instead, they have to be persuaded to leave, making it clear that they are unwelcome so they do not come back. This is done little by little by making sure at regular intervals that we are on our way to betterment, whatever the endeavor might be.
Whatever resolutions you took, whatever goals you set, make it a habit to ask yourself regularly what you did so far to reach these goals and resolutions. Do this each day for daily goals. Do it each week for weekly goals. Then at the end of the month do a monthly check during which you list all that you did this month in regard to reaching a specific goal or following through on a specific resolution.
Doing so makes you accountable for following through. The goals you set are no longer abstract ideas. They are now live actions that you are working on daily and for which you must show weekly and monthly progress. Accountability is the keyword here. Making ourselves accountable for the goals we set means we feel responsible to achieve these goals. Goals and resolutions are no longer a ‘maybe’ proposition. Instead they become a ‘must,’ something we have to get done.
10 – Be creative, not competitive.
Competition means trying to outdo someone else. Creativity means finding unique ways of reaching our personal goals. When you operate on the basis of competition you focus on others. When you operate on the basis of creativity you focus on yourself. Eventually what matters most is you. Reaching your personal goals has nothing to do with how well, or poorly as the case might be, others are doing. Reaching your goals is not a matter of outdoing others. Reaching your goals is a matter of outdoing yourself. The way to achieve this is through creative thinking, by making the necessary breakthrough, the leap of faith that will allow you to make the changes you need in order to reach the goals you set for this year.
11 – Don’t worry
There will be obstacles along the way but those can be dealt with in due time, whenever they show up. The problem with worrying about things that have not happened yet is that it means worrying about things that are vague and undefined. Most of our fears never materialize. However, in the process of worrying about what would happen if they did, we waste our time and damage our health. Nobody dies of hard work but many die of worry. The expression ‘worried to death’ attests to this. Don’t join the list by worrying unnecessarily about things that might happen. Just move forward by working on your goals and deal with problems when, and if, they show up.
12 – Focus on the positive
Focus on what you want, not on what you don’t want. The mind finds ways of obtaining what we think about. Therefore think about what you want and you will get what you want. If you think about what you don’t want, you will get what you don’t want. In other words, as Henry Ford put it, whether you think you can or think you cannot, you are correct. Therefore think that you can. Think of concrete ways of reaching your goals and you will be on your way to making things happen.
13 – Get help from people who are where you want to be
Don’t reinvent the wheel. The wheel has been invented and all you need to do is learn how to use it. To do this get advice from those who have been there themselves. Only those who have been where you want to go can help you get there in a practical, efficient and successful manner. They are realistic about it and they know exactly what it takes to get there. Their advice will get you there faster than you ever will on your own.
14 – Don’t do trial and error
The trial and error process is wasteful of both time and money. If you are like me, your time is precious. Certainly, money is important as well. However, for many of us time is more valuable than money because we can make more money but we can’t make more time. Therefore, if we can afford to, using money to reach our goals is the most efficient approach.
15 – Focus on both soft skills and hard skills
Both set of skills are important and necessary for success. Don’t focus on one or the other exclusively. Instead, set goals that foster the acquisition and the development of both. If you are not familiar with these two skills, read my essay titled Soft Skills and Hard Skills because it describes what they are in detail.
16 – Conclusion
Nobody is perfect, myself included. However, we can all improve our success by following the simple steps listed in this essay. If we do so we will be on our way to keep our 2014 resolutions. Eventually, it boils down to a simple approach: focusing on our vision, defining success in our own terms, quantifying what represents success, not letting negativity get in our way and going for it.
Be sure to also read our Start the Year in Style Special offer at this link and save money on our workshops and consulting registrations.
About Alain Briot
I create fine art photographs, teach workshops and offer DVD tutorials on composition, image conversion, optimization, printing and marketing. I am the author of Mastering Landscape Photography, Mastering Photographic Composition, Creativity and Personal Style and Marketing Fine Art Photography. All 3 books are available as printed books on Amazon.com and as eBooks on my website at this link: http://beautiful-landscape.com/Ebooks-Books-1-2-3.html
You can find more information about my work, writings and tutorials as well as subscribe to my Free Monthly Newsletter on my website. To subscribe simply go to http://www.beautiful-landscape.com and click on the Subscribe link at the top of the page. You will receive 40 free essays in eBook format immediately after subscribing.
To celebrate the publication of the new Advanced Marketing Mastery Workshop on DVD, the 6th tutorial in the Mastery Workshops on DVD collection, we are offering a special offer to help you complete your collection.
I make it my challenge to photograph well known locations – icons as some people call them – in a new way. This is one of the reasons behind the ‘avant garde’ part of the title. While I also photograph little known locations, I find it inspirational to photograph locations that are well known. The challenge of seeing a location photographed by many with fresh eyes is a challenge that gives me motivation to create images that have not been done before, images that fit within a tradition while at the same time challenging this tradition. The rebellious spirit that motivates this approach is part of my work. It is assotiated with a focus on form and color, both of which are modified at will to fit my vision.
We visit this location during our Navajoland Workshop. Here is next year’s Workshop description:
No one is an artist unless he carries his picture in his head before painting it,
and is sure of his method and composition.
Composition is an important aspect of good photographs. I have written about it at length in my books and my essays, and I continue to do so. Here I want to offer some remarks about composition that I wrote recently. These are not organized the way my essays or book chapters are. Instead, they are simply numbered and they are not necessarily related to each other. Read it as a loose list of items written as they crossed my mind and that I wanted to share.
1 – About Photographers A great photographer has, above everything else, a great eye. Camera gear is important but secondary. Great photographs are the result of acute seeing abilities. If anything, the best gear is the one that frees the photographer from thinking about technique and lets him or her free to concentrate on seeing.
In landscape photography the photographer must be able to follow changes in the light, the weather, the clouds, the shadows, etc. as they happen. This means being able to shoot continuously while exposing, focusing and completing other technical tasks accurately. Only then can the photographer follow his inspiration and work his way through the multiple opportunities offered by the subject, the light and the weather.
Blue Mesa Cottonwoods Horizontal composition
Sometimes trying both vertical and horizontal compositions of the same scene can lead fruitful results, as in this photograph of a row of cottonwood trees in fall colors set against a shaded mesa. The horizontal composition allowed me to fit more trees in the foreground than I could in the vertical composition, resulting in an image that has more ‘breath’ and spaciousness than the vertical composition. The tree that is the ‘hero’ of the vertical composition is only one of the characters in the horizontal composition, further adding variety and interest to what is my favorite of these two images.
Blue Mesa Cottonwoods Vertical composition
2 – About Upgrading Gear It takes time to get used to new equipment, software and other tools. Doing so is not automatic. Even though there are many tutorials available, we need to practice in order to get used to new gear. This can take weeks, months or even years.
If you constantly change your gear you never become fully familiar with it. You may also miss some new and important features. You have to work with tools for a while before you become fully conversant with them. You have to ‘make friends’ with your tools before you can become intimately familiar with them.
This is what mastery is all about. Mastery is not only knowing what to do or how to do it. Mastery is also, and primarily, knowing why and when to do something. Mastery is focusing on the why, on the motive, instead of the what, the technique. When one seeks mastery one is no longer concerned with not knowing how to do something. Instead, one is concerned with knowing why something needs to be done. Mastery is using specific tools for specific reasons, not just using tools because they are ‘new’ or ‘better.’
Mastery is often counterintuitive. It often goes against common sense or has an iconoclastic side to it. There is often a unique or unexpected aspect to the choices made by masterful practitioners. However, a common characteristic of the masters is that they can explain clearly and convincingly why they made specific choices. In other words their choices are not accidental. Rather, they are deliberate, thought-out decisions made for specific reasons.
In art, these specific reasons are related to the desire to express a personal vision. The goal is to make this vision visible to all instead of keeping it in our mind. The goal is to use gear and tools to make our vision a reality that everyone can see. The goal is to make what is in our mind’s eye visible in our photographs. The true artist falls in love with his vision.
3 – Processes and variety Using a variety of processes is nice, but variety of vision is more important than variety of techniques.
So what if the techniques you use are always the same? As long as they serve the needs of your images well, what need is there for more? In the darkroom we used nearly always the same processes and techniques. Variations were introduced only when dealing with recalcitrant images. The process was otherwise standard.
What changed was our vision for each image, The processing variations introduced as we went from one photograph to the next consisted of altering the process slightly for each image to make the images match our vision. For example what changed was how long we exposed the paper, or how long we developed the image, or the timing of some other aspect of the process. What did not change much at all was the process we used to go from vision to final print. That process, for all intended purposes, was pretty much standard.
Today there seems to be a focus, indeed an obsession at times, with using new techniques. While refining the process and introducing changes is important, what we are talking about here is something quite different.
What we are talking about here is change for change’s sake, not change for vision’s sake. The changes we see today do not necessarily make the process better. What they do essentially is make the process different. More often than not they do not bring significant improvements. In fact, occasionally they bring a degradation of image quality.
Using different techniques because of novelty alone is therefore something to watch out for. Just like new cameras do not necessarily mean better images, new digital techniques do not necessarily mean better master files or better prints.
As is often the case in art, the artist and the artist’s vision are what needs to be improved and worked on. The artist’s tools, for the most part, are rarely the issue. Most artists have tools, or software, whose capabilities far exceeds their vision. It is depth of vision that is most deserving of our attention.
4 – About printing From a technical standpoint raw captures are characterized by being low contrast, low saturation and somewhat blurry. Starting from a low contrast, low saturation and blurry original file requires having a vision for the final image. The original raw file alone cannot act as guide. The final image has to exist first in the mind of the artist, second in the final optimized file and third in the fine art print.
The ability to translate what one sees in his mind onto a piece of paper is directly related to the artistic and technical virtuosity of the photographer. Achieving a fine art print involves much more than moving sliders and adjusting “things” in LR3 or other software!
Zabriskie Point Sunrise #1
In this second example the difference between the two photographs is essentially the amount of sky present in each of them. The photograph above has less sky than the one below. However, it is my favorite of the two. I spent a long time deciding why until I realized that including more sky took my attention away from looking at the badland formations in the foreground. By including a lot of sky, the photograph became primarily about the sky. By including less sky, the photograph is both about the sky and the land. The outcome is a more balanced photograph, one that is more pleasing to look at in my opinion.
Zabriskie Point Sunrise #2
5 – About field work – When I get to a location that I want to photograph I do not unpack my camera gear right away. Instead, I put my bag and tripod down and spend a good amount of time looking at the landscape, taking in it, studying the colors and considering different compositional possibilities. Before taking photographs I first want to view the scene without a camera.
This is because I hardly ever find the strongest composition right away. Instead, I find compositions that I like by walking the scene, by stopping to study the possibilities offered by different viewpoints and at times by stopping and letting the scene ‘soak in’ so to speak. I do this until I see a specific angle that I find particularly inspiring. Only then do I unpack my gear and set up my camera and tripod. Because of experience and familiarity with my gear, doing so takes only a minute or so. I can’t remember an instance in which I lost a shot because I waited to set up my gear.
I follow this process because I like to keep the possibility open that there may be an image here. At the same time I also want to keep the possibility open that there may not be an image here. Therefore, to find out which of these two possibilities is true, I wait patiently until the image reveals itself to me, or not, as the case might be. There isn’t always a photograph in a location, not matter how promising it may be.
6 – Creating simple images is not simple The most simple images are often the most effective images. However, creating simple images is not necessarily a simple process. To be able to simplify a composition one must have acquired a variety of ‘visual reflexes.’ These ‘visual reflexes’ consist of things that one does automatically, without thinking, because these things have been practiced so many times that they have become intuitive.
Sometimes this means proceeding quickly through the construction of the image, and sometimes it means proceeding slowly and moving through each step carefully. Sometimes it means using finesse, and sometimes it means moving forward intuitively.
It may also mean finding out what is the weak area of an image and looking for ways to strengthen it. Or it may mean having the patience necessary to wait until everything comes together, until the light and the subject are balanced and become equally interesting.
Sometimes it means letting things be, for example letting objects fall where they may without worrying if they are in the right place or not. On the other hand sometimes it means controlling the position of each element until everything looks right.
Sometimes it means taking one photo after another while fine tuning the composition, until the perfect image is found. Sometimes it means working quickly, knowing that there will only be enough time to take one photograph, two at the most, because the light is changing very quickly and there is no time to waste.
Sometimes it mean finding ways of making the subject come alive. Sometimes it means letting the subject speak for itself.
About Alain Briot
Alain Briot creates fine art photographs, teaches workshops and offers DVD tutorials on composition, image conversion, optimization, printing and marketing. Alain is the author of Mastering Landscape Photography. Mastering Photographic Composition, Creativity and Personal Style and Marketing Fine Art Photography. All 3 books are available on as printed books Amazon.com and as eBooks on Alain’s website at this link: http://beautiful-landscape.com/Ebooks-Books-1-2-3.html
You can find more information about Alain’s work, writings and tutorials as well as subscribe to Alain’s Free Monthly Newsletter on his website at http://www.beautiful-landscape.com To subscribe simply go to http://www.beautiful-landscape.com and click on the Subscribe link at the top of the page. You will receive information on downloading the table of contents, plus over 40 free essays by Alain, immediately after subscribing. Alain welcomes your comments on this essay as well as on his other essays available. You can reach Alain directly by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The photograph above was taken during our Joshua Tree workshop this May. It is a single capture. Because of the dynamic range of the Phase One back that I use, and because of my processing technique, I was able to get details both in the shadows and highlights.
I initially wanted to do this image as a silhouette, the way I did in my previous visit to Joshua tree, but when I started processing the image I realized that the feeling of dawn breaking over the horizon would best be expressed by having some details in the shadows. Not a lot, but some, enough to give the feeling that night is breaking away, that we are starting to see into the shadows and that light is slowly filling the landscape, pushing away the cover of darkness and revealing details that could not be seen previously. I also want to express the feeling of warmth and color that comes with a late spring sunrise, as well as the transition between day and night.
This is why I made the top of the image a deep blue, dark enough to give the feeling of night breaking away, but not so dark that we feel it isn’t dawn yet. That’s also why I gave the lower portion of the sky, the part over the horizon, a yellow/pink/orange glow, to both echo the color of the sun rays and to contrast with the deep blue of the sky above. Color is very important in my work, and control of color is one of the aspects of digital processing that I enjoy the most and that I have learned to master over the many years I have been practicing photography.
High Dynamic Range (HDR) images are very popular discussion in photographic books and magazines. It is also a very old procedure almost old as photography. Nowadays with availability of digital cameras and image editing software, this technique is very commonly used by photographers. For successful use of the procedure, a common sense is essential. Difficulty level is from very easy (dodging and burning in Photoshop) to hard (combining an image of the sky through branches on an image intended for large print photograph).
The first photographer to use this technique was Gustave Le Gray in his images shown in London in 1856. At the time negatives were more sensitive to blue light then to red and green. As a result, the sky would be rendered in white and subjects on earth in shades of grey. So he exposed one photograph for sky and the second one for subjects on the ground. When making prints two negatives were masked. One was used for sky and the other one for the ground.
Visible light, that’s what we see, can be rendered with camera with ability to capture Dynamic Range of 30 f stops. Nowadays, cameras can capture roughly 5-10 f stops in one image depending of the sophistication of a camera. As a result, a camera can capture only a window of the visible light in one single image. The intent of HDR technique is to widen this window. In simple words burned highlights and unexposed shadows in an image need to be revealed.
When to Use It
Use of HDR technique is to be avoided unless it is necessary. For example, at noon on a sunny day shadows are harsh. That means a part of rock facing the sun and part of the same rock in the shade will have different intensity of light. This difference can be several f stops. In order to photograph this subject one would need to adjust exposure for sunny side of the rock and the second exposure for the part in shade. In the office these two exposures would be combined using image editing software to create one image. The better option would be to come at the location early in the morning or late in the evening and photograph the same subject. This time only one exposure is needed because the light does not create harsh shadows.
To conclude, in some instances choosing appropriate lighting conditions gives better results than applying the HDR technique.
HDR technique is a tool available to a photographer in creating a desired image. As mentioned earlier it is to the photographer‘s common sense to decide to use it or not. Some other procedures one can use instead or in combination with HDR technique:
Chose appropriate lighting condition. Come on the location at the dusk or down when shadows are soft.
Acquire an advanced camera which wider dynamic range.
Use artificial light (flash) or reflector to lighten the detail in the shade.
Depending on your subject and type of photography, the photographer chooses the appropriate approach.
In some cases we can avoid HDR procedure by choosing appropriate lighting conditions, but in others this is the only way we can present a subject. For example, at sunset and sunrise sky gets spectrum of warm colors. In order to catch warm colored sky and the ground, it is necessary to use HDR technique. So take one shot for sky and the other for the ground and then combine them in an image editing software. The image (Figure 1) shows sunset, where I could not avoid HDR technique.
Figure 1: Zion Sunset
When subject with lot of shadows is photographed, some shadows lose detail and become plain black. The best way to render such subject is to photograph it in optimal lighting condition. Sometimes we can’t camp on location, drive late in the evening or can’t afford camera with high dynamic range, so remedy is to use HDR procedure. In Figure 2 is shown example of such situation.
Figure 2: Sands of Time
The simplest way to combine two images in photo editing software is to use eraser. Load up the image with most of the detail on the top layer. In the bottom layer load up an image adjusted for shadows or highlights, which ever you want to reveal on the top layer image. Make your top layer active and choose eraser soft brush with opacity 5-10%. Now go over area which you want revealed a few times. When you are happy with outcome flatten the image.
This is not the best way to combine images, but it will get you going in no time.
HDR procedure is a tool in the tool box of a photographer. At the end of the day is personal preference to use it or not and when to use it. The most important aspect is your imagination.
References: Alain Briot, “Mastering Landscape Photography” Beaumont NewHall, “The History of Photography” Michael Freeman, “Pro Photographer’s D-SLR Handbook”
Adobe’s ‘creative cloud only’ announcement – the news that Adobe software will be available only as cloud-based subscription service instead of as traditional software packages one owns and installs on their computers- came as a shock to most photographers who use Photoshop.
I received lots of questions about how the ‘cloud’ works and what one should do. Here are my thoughts and recommendations:
1 – Upgrade to CS6. It’s a very good upgrade and who knows it may be the last opportunity to buy Photoshop that you can keep on your computer! I have it and I’ll keep it!
2 – I have a feeling Adobe will be forced to offer an alternative to the cloud. There’s multiple reasons why, one of them being the requirement to have online access to process images in PS. What if you don’t have online access for whatever reason? No photoshop possible?
3 – What about opening photos that you created a long time ago? Impossible unless you are a cloud subscriber. This means you have to pay the monthly fee, even if you don’t need photoshop, just to open your photos? That’s not right. Of course we can convert psd files to tiffs or other format, but when your photo library features several hundred thousand images, as mine does, that’s easier said than done!
4 – Here is the ‘official information’ from Adobe: