About two months ago I received an email from TotallyRad! Inc, a company known for awesome Photoshop actions and Lightroom presets. They asked me to review their new film presets for Adobe Lightroom – presets that allow photographers quickly and easily edit images so that the final product looks as if it were shot on different types of film.
I am a huge film photography aficionado – I shot film professionally for many years and even when I switched to digital for all of my commercial work I still shoot a ton of film for personal projects. When VSCO came out with Adobe Lightroom presets about two years ago, I was completely blown away. They did an amazing job of replicating all the wonderful tonal properties of different films and crossing the bridge between digital and analog images.
When TotallyRad! asked me to review their new presets, I was very hesitant – while I generally embrace change, I’ve been in love with VSCO film presets for so long, I did not want to try another product. A few weeks ago I finally got enough free time to sit down and play with Replichrome presets for a few hours. Let me tell you, they are pretty damn great.
While VSCO offers separate sets of Lightroom presets specifically calibrated for Nikon and Canon cameras, Replichrome presets are split based on commercial film scanners – Noritsu and Frontier.
I edited a single image using most presets by both VSCO and Replichrome. All Replichrome edits were done using Noritsu presets (since I prefer tonal qualities of that particular scanner). Each pair of images has a Replichrome edit at the top and a VSCO edit on the bottom. Even though both companies offer presets for simulating under- and over-exposure, I edited this image using standard exposure setting. The image was straight out of the camera and edited ONLY using the presets.
Fuji Reala 100 (Replichrome only)
Kodak BW 400CN (Replichrome only)
Kodak Portra 160
Kodak Portra 400
Kodak Portra 800
Kodak T-MAX 3200
Kodak Tri-X 400
I admit it. I am a film addict. I got my first camera in 1985 as a present for my 8th birthday and have been shooting ever since. My introduction to photography had one condition – my mom told me that I would get allowance money for film only if I learned to develop and print it on my own. I spent the next couple of years of my life begging, borrowing and, on one special occasion, stealing darkroom equipment and chemicals. By the time I was 11, I had a fully-stocked darkroom and would spend every free moment tinkering with an antique Soviet-made enlarger and inhaling toxic chemicals in a poorly-ventilated closet (which probably explains a lot about the way I turned out).
Around 2005 I made a jump to digital equipment for my commercial work – at the time I did a lot of product photography and burning through 50-60 rolls of film per shoot was just getting too cost-prohibitive.
Even though more than 90% of my work was shot with digital cameras, I never stopped shooting film. I sold my Hasselblads, but kept a few Mamiya 645 cameras, plus about 20 (that’s right, twenty) 35mm film cameras that I accumulated over the years.
For years I have tried to make my digital photographs look like film and have always failed. Commercially available Photoshop actions didn’t quite cut it – the results never looked like what I was used to with film. When I tried to tweak settings on my own, the results were abominable.
A few months ago my friend Jenny Karlsson told me about VSCO Film Lightroom Presets from the Visual Supply Company. At first I was skeptical – over the years I wasted hundreds of dollars on presents and actions that supposedly emulated film. I finally decided to give VSCO a shot. I was blown away. Being true to my geeky self, I ran a few tests. I shot a roll of medium format Fuji 400H, Ilford HP5, Kodak Portra 800 and Kodak T-Max 3200. Then I shot a bunch of digital frames, edited the raw files in Lightroom using corresponding VSCO film presets and compared the results side-by-side. Like I said before, I was blown away. I don’t want to publish a ton of test shots on my blog, but if you are a skeptic, try to tell me which of the photos below were shot with Mamiya 645 + Ilford HP5 and which ones were shot with Canon 5D Mark III and edited with VSCO film:
Last night I gave this presentation to an amazing group of Pittsburgh photographers at the Pittsburgh Pictage User Group (PUG). I am a huge geek and found a great niche for myself and my business – combining photography with engineering and becoming a cross between a photographer and a mad scientist. I build things because I can, because it is interesting and because some of what I build is actually useful to my clients. And because in my spare time I am Batman. Don’t tell anyone:)
I finally got a few minutes of downtime from editing so I made a few updates to my Lightroom Reporter application. I got a lot of wonderful feedback from my photographer friends; based on that feedback I added a few new features. You can now report on statistics by camera/lens setting, adjustments and presets used. If you are interested in trying this app out, shoot me an email. This is probably going to be the last version I release in Adobe Air – I started learning a programming language called Lua so that I could rewrite this application as an Adobe Lightroom plugin.
In case you were wondering why my website looks different… Well, I wrote (actually coded from scratch) my original website about 12 years ago, before platforms such as Blogger or WordPress even existed. Over the years the look of the website changed, but the underlying code stayed for the most part untouched. Rewriting an old codebase is a pain in the neck in the best of times; doing it while I’m in the middle of a photography season, working a full-time job and teaching a class is just plain suicidal. To make the long story short, my old trusty website was just too cumbersome to manage and I had to put it out to pasture.
I would have migrated a long time ago, but because my old website is all custom-coded, there was no easy way to migrate content to WordPress. Finally, last night I decided to bite the bullet and spent 3 hours writing a script to move data into WordPress’ MySQL database. I’m still tweaking things here and there, but for the most part content migrated with no glitches and looks better than ever before.
A few days ago I wrote about my idea for an application that would report Adobe Lightroom statistics. I asked all of my photographer friends to tell me what statistics would be useful to them and I got a few really good pointers. Last night I could not sleep so I spent a few hours and hacked together the first version of my app. I wrote it for Adobe Air so that it would run on any platform. Chances are that you already have Adobe Air installed on your computer, but in case if you don`t, you would need to download and install it before installing my application (Lightroom Reporter). You can download Adobe Reporter here. Right now this first version only displays some basic camera and lens usage statistics. I already started working on additional features such as getting statistics on editing habits – how often do you adjust exposure, crop, etc… If you can think of any other statistics that would be useful, please drop me a note – I`m making this software available for free, so making it better would benefit (hopefully) everyone.
I firmly believe that everyone should have basic programming skills. Whether you are a photographer, a mechanic or a doctor, pretty much every system in today’s world is ran by software; understanding how that software works will lead to better understanding of tools that you use to do your job and will make you a better professional. A little while ago Wired magazine ran an article about a Facebook software engineer who taught his 8-year-old daughter to program – he even wrote a book (cleverly titled Lauren Ipsum) to explain programming concepts to young children. Let me make my case as to why photographers need to have basic understanding of coding and databases. A few days ago my friend Jenny Karlsson sent me a link to an Adobe Lightroom plug-in that would tell you what focal lengths you use the most in your photographs. Such information is really useful if you are trying to decide what lens to purchase next. After talking to Jenny I decided to investigate this question further – I wanted more information than just focal lengths. I wanted to see what lenses I used most often; I wanted to see in how many of my photos I used fill flash (I’ve been told that I’m too obsessed with artificial lighting). There are plenty of plug-ins and stand-along programs out there that would pull that information for you. The caveat is that good apps cost money and crappy apps are just that – crappy apps. I did a quick Google search on “Developing Adobe Lightroom 4 plugins” and one of the first hits took me to a document describing Adobe Ligthroom 4 SDK (software development kit). After skimming through the documentation for a few minutes, I learned that Adobe Lightroom stores its data in an SQLite database – a standard approach to local data storage for most desktop and mobile applications. There are several free applications that allow you to look at SQLite data. The ones that I use the most are SQLite Manager plugin for Mozilla Firefox browser and Run!. SQLite Manager requires that you have Firefox installed on your computer and Run! requires Adobe Air. All the examples in this post use SQLite Manager, but Run! has a very similar user interface. Download and install Firefox and SQLite Manager plugin. If you are using Microsoft Windows, start SQLite plugin by clicking the orange “Firefox” tab in the left top corner of your browser window, then selecting “Web Developer” and “SQLite Manager”. On a Mac, go to Firefox → Tools → SQLite Manager. When SQLite manager launches, click the “Open” icon at the top menu bar. Browse to the location of your Adobe Lightroom catalog (a file with “.lrcat” extension). Make sure to select “All Files” in format choices. Double-click on Lightroom catalog that you’d like to load. Once Lightroom catalog loads, click on “Execute SQL” tab. On the left-hand side of window you’ll see a list of tables that contain all of Lightroom’s data. On the right you will see a text field where you can type in your queries. Database queries are written in SQL (Structured Query Language) – it’s fairly standardized across all database vendors, so you only have to learn it once. Copy and paste the following query into the text field and click “Run SQL”. SELECT focalLength, COUNT(focalLength) FROM AgHarvestedExifMetadata GROUP BY focalLength ORDER BY COUNT(focalLength) DESC You’ll see a list of all lens focal lengths that you’ve used in your photographs. Now type in SELECT b.value, COUNT(b.value) FROM AgHarvestedExifMetadata a JOIN AgInternedExifLens b ON a.lensRef = b.id_local GROUP BY b.value ORDER BY COUNT(b.value) DESC and click “Run SQL” Now you should see a list of all lenses used to take your photographs and you’ll be able to easily tell which lenses you use most often. When I have a bit of downtime this winter, I would like to write a cross-platform application that will pull statistics from Adobe Lightroom and Apple Aperture. I am planning on releasing this app under Creative Commons license, which means it will be free to use and modify. If you are a photographer and would be interested in being able to compile statistics from Lightroom or Aperture, shoot me an email or post on my Facebook page and let me know what statistics would be most useful to you. If you are interested in learning more about databases, check out http://www.sqlcourse.com/index.html and http://beginner-sql-tutorial.com/sql.htm for SQL tutorials. If you want to learn a programming language, Python is a very useful language to know. It has reasonably low learning curve if you are trying to do simple things and it has many built-in libraries for dealing with text and image files. If you actually want to know the engineering details of how digital cameras work, I highly recommend the following books:
Check out this handsome guy! His name is Jonathan and a few days ago Jenny and I photographed his Bar Mitzvah. When we got to the party, Jonathan`s mom asked me if I could shoot a short video clip of their grand entrance. Normally I don`t shoot event video; I`m not a videographer and the only time I actually do anything with video is during engagement sessions or when I am doing work for my corporate clients. However, since the family only wanted a few minutes of video, I put my second camera on a tripod, put an LED panel in the hot shoe, pointed the whole setup at the ballroom`s entrance and hit “RECORD”. Now, my primary job (really, the only job) was to take still photos and that was what I concentrated on. I did not really pay much attention to what was going on with the video rig behind me. When the family`s grand entrance and speeches were over, I grabbed the tripod with the video setup and moved it off the dance floor. As I was dragging it to the corner where my spare gear was stored, I noticed that the camera was off. At a closer look I saw that the battery door was open. I closed the battery door, turned on the camera and hit the “PLAY” button. To my horror I realized that the video that the family wanted so badly was corrupted. I don`t know if somebody accidentally bumped the tripod or opened the battery door with malicious intent, but the result was the same – I had 1.35GB of corrupted video. When I got home I stayed up half the night trying to find remedies for fixing this problem. I found a piece of software for Mac OS called Treasured – it analyzes corrupted video files, sends information about scanned video files to a http://aeroquartet.com (movie repair service) and they (movie repair service) give you a quote for restoring the damaged file. In my case, the quote came out to $119.00. After more searching, I found two open-source scripts (one written in Perl and one in Python) that claimed to be able to fix corrupted MOV files. Neither script worked out of the box; luckily I know both of these programming languages and after about 3 hours of tweaking I was able to get the Perl script to work. Unfortunately, that script only managed to extract the video stream from the corrupted file – the audio was still missing. Finally, I came across two software packages – Grau GbR and Pro Maintenance Tool by Digital Rebellion (actually, Jenny found the later for me). Pro Maintenance Tools managed to recover video, but not audio, and did a much better job of it than my hacked Perl script. Grau GbR managed to recover everything! The only caveat was that the free version of this software only recovered half of the video file. To do a full recovery, I had to buy the full version (good for recovering up to 5 video files) for 29 Euros (approximately $40). They have an unlimited version available for 100 Euros. So, if you ever find yourself in a situation where your camera shuts off while recording, you have a few options: Grau GbR Pro Maintenance Tools iSquint (supposedly works for smaller videos) Python script (did not work for me) Perl script (worked, but did not recover audio) Treasured Good luck:)