Sunday, January 10, 2016

Writing and Photography in the 21st Century #4

Photoshop. Perhaps I should have a little trademark symbol beside that word. But actually, I'm using it as a verb—one that has become very popular in the last decade. "It's been photoshopped," someone might say, when looking at a picture—especially something of a unique design or quirky presentation. "Photoshop it," is phrase I hear among picture takers when they think something isn't quite right with their image. When used in these contexts the verb isn't referring strictly to the Adobe product, but to a process using any software program designed to manipulate and/or enhance photo images. Many of them out there: from Adobe, Corel, and other imaging companies that have been in the business for a while; Microsoft has one built into their Office packages; most digital cameras come with software specific to that camera and company, and they also offer limited editions of software from other companies.

I often hear viewers at art shows say—"Oh, it's been photoshopped."—usually with a roll of the eyes.

Taken with a film camera and "darkroomed."
Before all the digital cameras and the accessories that go with them, a professional photographer usually had darkroom skills, or had access to a tech with those skills. I had my own black and white enlarging setup and had access to darkrooms with color enlargers that I could rent by the hour. The darkroom was where the film was developed (a lengthy, chemical-laden process), and where the prints were made (another lengthy, chemical-laden process). Adjustments (or miscalculations) that would affect the images could be made in either or both processes.

Darkroom photo manipulation isn't out of the ordinary. While enlarging a print, the exposure time can be adjusted, filters added to affect the tone and color of an image, implements are used to dodge (keep sections from developing) or burn (enhancing the developing time). Enlargement exposure time could be increased of decreased to compensate for under- or overexposed frames. Negatives can be overlaid for double-exposures or a dramatic effect. Different types of paper gave different results; finishes can be added while the print was drying. I had special photographic paints that I used to touch up scratches, get rid of red eye or add some artistic effort to an image. I mixed my colors, had special brushes; the corrections were nearly impossible to see. Back then (a mere twenty years ago), many photographic enterprises existed, and were noted for their work with specific types of film, or producing unique products. Most of these have gone out of business or, like Kodak are struggling to find their niche in the rapidly changing photography scene.

But in the 130 years or more of what is now archaic print image production, clients, patrons and other viewers never grumbled, "Oh, it's been darkroomed."

Now many mid-range cameras come with built in darkrooms; after an image has been captured, the exposure, cropping, and even some special effects can be done in the camera before the image is ever uploaded to a computer (it's been cameraed!"). Most people who own a digital camera have the software that comes with it and can buy more of at any office or big box store. Software programs are also available online for download, several for free. Hence, photoshopping an image is not a big deal compared to the expense of the old-time darkroom.

As new cameras are developed, new software springs up, too. Special programs area available to use with imaging from for mobile phones and tablets.
Enhanced with digital painting and some "photoshopping."
At shows, when people study my work and ask, "Did you photoshop it?" I honestly respond, "No. I don't use Photoshop™." True, I'm playing a language game with them, but it gets their attention and allows me time to explain the software I use and how I choose my brushes and palette, decide on texture and digitally paint my own backgrounds. I tell them about the darkroom days. Several have looked again at my work and bought a print; many more leave with a different attitude—I hope.

What's a professional to do? Just as it is with professional writers, professional photographers have to be certain their craft is finely honed. Finding a photographic specialty is the same as choosing a certain writing genre. Once decided, pursue it to the hilt, and don't let naysayers bring you down. It is often difficult to find acceptance and affirmation of any type of artistic work in the general public. It's even harder now, when all the I-wish-I-could [publish a book, do photography] folks suddenly can.

Visit my galleries

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Thursday, January 7, 2016

Writing and Photography in the 21st Century #3

Technology in the 21st Century is making many things obsolete. My friend Mike Coleman, an experienced business writer, made an interesting comment on how his freelance life as changed. He has written copy on contract for ad agencies, PR firms, corporations--anyone with a marketing budget--for more than a decade. (You can find him on LinkedIn and his blog about his adventures in singing.) For him, the new technology has let him work independently from a home office with little travel and clients anywhere in the world. I have also experienced this. It's great!

He also said:

"I remember in the mid-90s when I started freelancing I bought a $700 fax machine and thought it was the coolest thing since sliced bread. My main client was SAP America, one of the leading tech companies in the world, and they communicated mostly by fax with me, marking up the copy I faxed them and faxing it back to me so I could produce revised drafts. How things have changed today. I junked the fax machine a few years ago, don't even own one now."

The changes will keep coming, and while getting used to them can cause a few headaches, the benefits are many.

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Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Writing and Photography in the 21st Century #2

Not to long ago, I had a conversation with a photographer who works in the advertising industry. He is often on location in a variety of settings. He began his career using film cameras. A shoot would entail having enough of the right speed film for the setting, taking and developing his images, culling the lot, making proof sheets, sending them to his agency...Perhaps if he were in a place with adequate facilities, this could be done in one-three days.

In the 2000s things changed. Good film became scarce, and high-quality processing even harder to find. He switched to digital.

Benefits: he can now shoot on location and change film speed as needed, cull and crop images right in the camera if he wants to, or work them in a laptop; no development costs, often no proof sheets to print since he can upload his finals to the agency with maybe only two hours from when he made the shots.


But he mentioned some not-so-terrific things, such as on-site agency people looking over his shoulder to see his pictures while he examines them; a lot of kibitzing; and once a company man held up a point-and-shoot digital to show him his own shot he thought was better.

He likes to be employed, so he didn't say where that little camera could be put.

I imagine that some small business have already decided that hiring a professional photographer seems redundant: "Here's a decent camera. Give it to Cathy, she has a good eye." And if Cathy's pics are just so-so, they get the secretary's grandson to "fix it" in Photoshop.

Ah, Photoshop (and other programs of that ilk)....Well, that's for another post.

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Friday, January 1, 2016

Self Promotion - Use What You Know

I'm not one to hit the road on a big self-promotion tour, but I've found that the side route works rather well and can be used years after the book came out. That is, talk about and publicize the history behind the story and/or your experience as a writer.

For three of my historical fiction titles Hammer Come Down, Kansas Dreamer and Spotted Flower and the Ponokomita, I've developed presentations based on the history that is in the story. The Spotted Flower presentation has been picked up by the Humanities Montana Speakers' Bureau; that gives me even more visibility.

When I'm called for a presentation, I often arrange a book signing at the event or the local library. Smaller communities especially like this. I take copies of all my titles, and usually sell more than the title about which I spoke. I also donate 15% of the proceeds back to the Friends of the Library. By letting the organizers know I will do this, they often initiate a lot of advertising. I've had radio-spot announcements and newspaper ads that I never had to lift a finger to produce. So this becomes a double shot for the pocketbook: a speaker's fee and, quite often, decent book sales.

My colleague JR Lindermuth says: "Excellent advice, and the suggestion can be adapted to fit most any genre. On a smaller scale, I have used it with my historical novel, Watch The Hour, speaking to historical groups, libraries and clubs on the trials of the immigrant Irish in the coal region."