photography workflow, photoshop, and gamma

A few weeks ago I lamented that iPhoto doesn't match the way I like to organize my photos, and was thinking that the way to go was to buy a copy of PhotoMechanic and use that instead.

Well, I finally got a copy of Photoshop CS2, and it turns out that it includes a tool that does pretty much exactly what I want! The file browser dingus in "Adobe Bridge" gives you a bunch of different views for looking at, rating, and pruning thumbnails, and it approaches it as "visualizing the contents of a directory" (which I like) instead of "I've sucked all your photos into some scary proprietary database, and now I will show you search results" (what iPhoto does).

So I think that now the way I'll be doing it is:

  • Copy photos off camera to a YYYY-MM-DD-title/RAW/ directory;
  • Copy that to YYYY-MM-DD-title/EDIT/ directory;
  • Edit those through Bridge and Photoshop;
  • "Tools / Photoshop / Image Processor";
    Output to a web directory;
    Resize to fit 900 x 750.

The "Web Photo Gallery" command looks promising, but none of the templates generate pages that are very close to the layout that I use today, so I guess I'll just keep using my script to generate those. (Maybe someday I'll poke around and see if I can customize Photoshop to do it my way instead.)

It's been a long time since I've used Photoshop, and it really is an amazing program. It's no wonder that it has no competitors. The last time I used it seriously was, I think, Photoshop 3.5, which was the last version they released for Irix. Since then I've been using GIMP, which is a decent program (in that it's approximately equivalent to Photoshop 3.5) but man, the real thing is just leaps and bounds ahead. And so fast!

I am especially thrilled by "Image / Adjustments / Photo Filter" and "Image / Adjustments / Shadow/Highlight". Those two commands let me do in a couple of seconds what I'd spent ten minutes doing with "Levels" in GIMP!

I'm still not sure what the Right Thing to do is with respect to gamma. The default Mac gamma is brighter than the default Windows gamma, meaning that on a Mac, you see more detail in the dark areas. I guess my Linux box was calibrated in a Windows-like way, because when I look at my old galleries, a lot of the pictures look kind of washed out, and (even worse) I can see blocky JPEG artifacts in some spots that previously looked solid black.

So I guess the thing to do is leave my monitor set at "Mac" gamma, and when I'm editing pictures, err toward "too bright" instead of "too dark". That means that the failure mode might be that a picture looks too dark to some users, which I think is better than icky JPEG artifacts being visible to some other users.

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18 Responses:

  1. bassfingers says:

    You probably want to go ahead and switch to Gamma 2.2, D65, and if your default RGB colorspace in Photoshop is Adobe RGB, you'll want to include a profile change to sRGB before you save your jpgs. This will give you the most consistent appearance between Macs and uncalibrated windows boxen.

    As to the Web Gallery templates, they're not too bad to work with... /Applications/Adobe Photoshop CS/Presets/Web Photo Gallery is where they're stored, and the online help has a list of tokens you can use as placeholder variables.

    • bassfingers says:

      and, of course, by "online help", I just mean the HTML files that come with the program; and when I say /Applications/Adobe Photoshop CS/... there might be a slighlty different name for CS2. I haven't upgraded yet.

      BTW, when did you give up the domain? Years ago I coveted that domain name, but you were camping on it...

      • jwz says:

        I think I gave that to domain-fetishist <lj user="cyantist"> a few years ago, and she never did anything with it and eventually let it expire.

  2. substitute says:

    One thing I really like to do now is put stuff in the EXIF/XMP metadata (embedding a creative commons license and various info about the photo), so that when I put it on Flickr all that stuff is available both on their web interface and in the image itself. The metadata gets stripped out when you "save for web" but if you take the extra step of sending it to ImageReady and then saving optimized with the metadata, you kinda get the best of both worlds.

  3. gytterberg says:

    Supposedly the "right" gamma level is somewhere between standard Windows and MacOS, so you might want to calibrate it yourself. There's no shortage of charts on the internets, but have some aspirin on hand - takes lots of squinting. I had mine all nice and pretty until I accidentally torched my .xsession file.

    • vxo says:

      I held a sheet of wax paper over my screen to get the calibration done. Try as I may, my eyes refused to be fooled by squinting alone.

  4. bitpuddle says:

    I leave it on Mac-standard gamma; screw those other people.

    If you know someone with a hardware calibrator, borrow it and calibrate your display. Starting from a calibrated baseline makes a big difference, particularly with an LCD. The SpyderPro is ~ $150, the Getrag is about $250. Both do an excellent job.

    • nonbinary says:

      I second this. Lock yourself to a standard, then learn what that standard means to you. Know that when you save for web that it'll be slightly this way on most PCs and slightly this way when on most Macs, that LCDs will generally do this and tubes be a bit that. Print will get a dot gains, color casts from paper, etc...

      I long since gave up having a "correct" monitor. Back when I had budgets to pay top dollar for high-end tech stuff I realized that consistency was the key as nothing on screen ever looked like the final print job anyways, so why bother. And for on-screen publishing it was even worse. It was only the consistency that mattered as every target medium would turn out differently regardless of how nice the used car was that I could have bought instead of the over-priced monitor. Same with printers. Even the "you can't afford this for the office" proofing devices all have their performance biases, so you still have to be smart and compensate for them.

      • bitpuddle says:

        Not to be picky, but color management has come a long way. With a correctly profiled workflow, you can get consistent color from camera to final print or monitor, whichever is your target (limitations of the final output notwithstanding).

        Most people viewing on the web don't have calibrated displays, but working with one will help keep a reasonable baseline without crazy color shifts or similar.

        • nonbinary says:

          Oh, I agree, it totally has. But like with everything there's a law of diminishing returns that takes place with it. My background is more with print work, and modeling CMYK ink on a screen just isn't accurate no matter how much money and time you throw into it. Mind you though, that I'm the used car sales person worst nightmare as I can walk onto a lot and pickout all the body panels that have been repainted and watch the sales persons jaw drop as they need their fancy electric gizmos for the same task--to be able to sense the color shift of the new paint. They know what cars have been wrecked, but they sure don't expect me to know too.

          For on-screen stuff, not only is it most people without calibration, it's virtually every single person. For print work I'll run with a CMYK color swatch book, with samples of all the various combinations of ink densities in 5% increments and fine tune by the numbers. Then I'll ideally work with a trusted or at least capable print vendor and specify "make it look good" for color matching.

          In a raw, regimented production environment I could see myself getting more excited about calibration profiles and whatnot, like if doing endless catalog pictures of similar merchandise. But my real world experience makes every image a special case scenario. In the last year I've done lots of pictures of artwork, paintings specifically, and even with everything set and locked-down the "experience" of the different paintings requires some diddling with the image even though, theoretically, everything but the image captured is exactly identical.

          Great color is both an art and a science.

  5. silveryblu says:

    Photoshop's auto-adjust features are pretty reliable for digital photos, so you can set up an action to auto-adjust brightness/contrast or whatever, and do a batch run on all your photos and go make yourself a cup of tea. Or a Captain's a Coke, whatever.

  6. allartburns says:

    CS2 also has excellent support for camera raw images in Bridge. The batch automation tools in CS2 are pretty easy to use and configure.

    My favorite right now is being able to make "droplets": scripts of actions saved as in a file that can be treated like an application icon. You just drag some images onto the droplet, it launches CS2 and runs all the actions on all the images. You make a droplet by doing things in CS2 and just saving off the command history. Much easier than DPAINT and AREXX, that's for true.

  7. jwilkins says:

    The shadow/highlight tool is overrated. You can achieve similar results with the curves tool with less distortion.

  8. otterley says:

    It's been a long time since I've used Photoshop, and it really is an amazing program. It's no wonder that it has no competitors.

    Next thing you know, you'll be telling us how great InDesign is compared to groff. ;-)

  9. otterley says:

    So I guess the thing to do is leave my monitor set at "Mac" gamma, and when I'm editing pictures, err toward "too bright" instead of "too dark". That means that the failure mode might be that a picture looks too dark to some users, which I think is better than icky JPEG artifacts being visible to some other users.

    I disagree. I'd rather have a failure mode that is too bright than too dark, because you can always turn your brightness down to nil, whereas you can only reach a certain upper limit on brightness. Recall some of the really bad Web sites you've seen with, say, dark purple or dark red text on a black background. Those were probably calibrated on a Mac, and looked fine there, but on a Windows machine, they were nearly impossible to read. And, if your monitor couldn't give you enough contrast, you were pretty much well fucked - the best you could hope (assuming the content were critical in the first place) was to "select all" and make your browser show the text in reverse video.

    • jwz says:

      I hear ya, but I still think that "too dark" is bad but "visible jpeggery" is even worse.

      And if my monitor is set "dark", I will introduce artifacts, because I won't be able to see them.

      Hopefully this will all be less of a problem once LCDs finally kill CRTs. At least LCDs don't get darker with age.

      • otterley says:

        I'm not certain the wide availability of LCDs will cure the problem. I have a cheapo NEC flat panel at home, and its contrast ratio is much lower than that of the much pricier Dell UltraSharp flat panel on my desk at work. The Dell is noticeably brighter than the NEC. So, I suspect we'll be stuck with this problem for a long time.