This year’s conference dates got pushed well into June due to some previous commitments and a conflict with Fathers’ Day weekend, but little did we imagine that we would pick the two hottest days of the month. The day before and day after were right at the normal average temperature for June in the San Francisco Peninsula at 85 degrees…but Thursday and Friday, the temperature jumped to 95 and 98, just 3 degrees from the record highs for those days.
After adding some additional fans to circulate the “hot air” (excluding our talented speakers), the sessions continued with just a little more tropical atmosphere than we expected.
Over 65 Better Light owners and staff participated in our fifth event in the past six years. Eleven mini-seminars provided new information on digital technology, scanning back techniques, and lots of new ideas to stimulate innovative and profitable use of the Better Light scanning back.
As it has been from the beginning, the Owners Conference is an educational opportunity rather than a profit-motivated event. The two-day meeting was priced at $150 per person to cover expenses and meals, including an on-site barbecue dinner Thursday evening. “We don’t need to overcharge for this event”, stated Mike Collette, president of Better Light, “this is a unique opportunity for our owners to meet with their peers and share ideas and issues common to their businesses. Besides, all of us at Better Light enjoy the conference just as much as the owners…and we learn a lot about what they need for their photography ”.
From last year's conference, we saw that there was a definite interest in color management issues, so the focus of this year’s programming attempted to answer some of these questions and provide additional ideas and inspiration to the art reproduction, landscape, and architectural photographers that made up the majority of the audience. This article will provide a general overview of the activities, but to get the full benefit of this opportunity…”you just gotta be there ”.
The nearby Marriott Fairfield Inn and Suites was our “headquarters” hotel, and once again they hosted a welcome reception for us on Wednesday evening. It was a chance for people to get to know each other, share a few stories, and make plans for dinner or transportation to the studio in the morning. The whole lobby was filled with “scanning buzz”, with small clusters of people exchanging ideas on everything from camera cases to mosquito repellant.
Early the next morning, the owners were greeted at the Better Light offices and demo studio with coffee, danish and bagels. After initial introductions, our host and Better Light’s president, Mike Collette presented some of his concepts relating to color accuracy, with his typical in-depth perspective.
The varied factors in digital color reproduction were discussed to show how a device can render color, showing the realities of how the actual performance differs from the theoretical. Measuring devices, varied color spaces, reference charts, illumination, and software tools all can contribute to less than perfect results, although expectations may be too high based on our understanding of a color managed workflow.
"Perfect” is not essential…as long as know what you are getting, and how you got it. Mike summarized saying, “Our intention is to produce a device profile and workflow that consistently delivers the most accurate color response compared to a standard response ”.
The inquisitive mind of Mike Collette would not be satisfied with the retail color targets, so he created his own reference chart to examine his camera profile’s tonal behavior. “A good profile must be well-behaved throughout the tonal scale (gray values) as well as in the color patches”, Mike added. Download nuSHADES.tif as a digital color test image.
Next up was Rudy Harvey of Palmdale, CA (www.thecolorspace.com), operator of Colorspace, a consulting firm specializing in color management for the printing and digital imaging industry. He is also a Better Light user for his art reproduction work. Rudy continued the color discussion with more information about color spaces and how they interact for a successful color-managed workflow.
There is no “magic formula” or perfect combination of color space, profiles and equipment to guarantee results, primarily because every situation is different. You need to provide the type of files that the clients are expecting. “If you don’t know what they require, call and ask”, Rudy emphasized. “If they can’t answer the question, send sRGB…remember it’s a 2.2, sRGB world".
After a lunch break, Mike Collette teamed up with Peter Grote of Mountain Architecture in New Hampshire to share some images and insights about photography in the great outdoors. Mike stepped in for Jim Collum of Santa Cruz, CA who was unable to attend, sharing some of the great images Jim had recently made in Cambodia at Angkor Wat, the largest religious monument in the world, as well as landscape images done on the coast of California. Some of his work can be seen on his travel blog collum.omniblog.com.
Peter Grote has traveled the world to capture breathtaking, "mountainous architecture" with large format cameras for many years; now most of his work is with the Better Light. He shared some of the preparation, equipment modifications, and anecdotes for his last trip to the Annapurna range of the Himalayas in Nepal.
Getting back to studio techniques, Dave Christensen of NorthLight Products in Redwood City, CA (www.northlightproducts.com), presented some practical suggestions to enhance the texture in artwork through lighting and image processing. Current trends in art reproduction and giclee printing make optical image capture more desirable than other scanning methods. “Showing more brush stroke texture in the reproduction, will make your product different and help attract new clients and justify your rates,” Dave stated.
Better Light owners can use directional lighting to create texture that adds dimension and depth to improve the image when printed on a flat surface. The new ViewFinder feature SuperView is a great tool to use to check the texture in the capture since it provides a cropped sample area at the selected high-resolution.
Dave’s presentation on lighting artwork for texture is one of the programs available for download (see link at end of article). In addition, Dave offered brief demonstrations in Photoshop using the High Pass Filter and techniques in Painter 9 to express brush strokes in the art by manipulating the image luminance variations as a post-production step.
Being in the business of art reproduction does not always mean you are scanning an oil painting on a stretcher frame. At times we may be asked to scan a book for digital access or rare books for high-resolution archival purposes. Jerry Skapof, a Better Light reseller and owner of Academic Imaging Associates in Vermont (www.academicimaging.com), showed how to turn your Better Light into a book scanner.
Normally, a Better Light owner will not be asked to compete with the lower quality, high-volume book scanning machines. Rather, our scanning back will excel in the archival role with oversize and fragile rare books and manuscripts. With the aid of a sturdy vertical copystand and a book cradle…you’re in business.
Several book cradles are manufactured, each with their pros and cons and high price tags. One of the most efficient and affordable is the Boston Rocker Brittle Book Cradle. It was designed by Bill Smith of Boston Photo (www.bostonphoto.com), a Better Light user (of course).
As you may know, Better Light also provides the electronics and software for the Panoscan camera which uses Mamiya 645 lenses to achieve unique panoramic images, including the fully spherical 24mm fish-eye lens that produces 360-degree virtual reality movies. Ted Chavalas, president of Panoscan (www.panoscan.com), presented a series of topics which expand the opportunities and applications of a panoramic device.
Ted covered a number of topics in depth (before and after dinner) including the basic types of Virtual Reality imaging and what techniques and software are needed. Panoramic images need some preparation for the software application to create a cylindrical VR image. One step is eliminating the overlap and blending the beginning and end of the scan to disguise any scene changes during the capture.
With the challenging environments that the Panoscan camera must capture, as well as the increasing use of the Better Light for landscape and architectural applications, exposure and dynamic range have become concerns. Ted continued his presentation after dinner, with an overview of High Dynamic Range Imagery. In short, an HDR image has a lot of detail in the brightness range from deep shadows to bright highlights – typically a range that cannot be captured with traditional photographic techniques.
But, wait…there’s more! Panoscan has been developing techniques and software to allow the scanning camera to be used for Photogrammetry…the measurement technology in which three-dimensional coordinates of points on an object are determined by measurements made in two or more photographic images taken from different positions. All three of Ted’s presentations are available for download.
Despite the heat of the day and the aromas of the charcoal BBQ cooker outside of the office, everyone managed to stay attentive until the dinner bell rang. For the third year, we have had a great meal of ribs, chicken and all of the trimmings, topped off by cool watermelon slices.
The dinner break provided another opportunity for people to gather in small groups and continue discussions about all aspects of photography, art and business…you could sense the fellowship and hear the ideas gurgling…or was that just from eating too much!
Informal breakout sessions continued on into the evening with discussions about color management, art reproduction and the unexplored opportunities of panoramic photography.
The next morning started with an overview of the latest ViewFinder™ software by Larry Guyer (www.alacartedigital.com). As a foundation of the discussion, a table format of the extensive features and functions of the software were identified as available in the SCSI or HS (USB-2) models and if currently included in the Mac or Windows software versions. This “Cliff Notes” for ViewFinder table can be downloaded as well as a Macintosh Keyboard Shortcuts list prepared by our software programmer Marty Gregory.
Over the past months, Robin Myers of Better Light has been working on a series of tests comparing capture profile workflows. As part of a scientific paper he is writing, Robin made comparisons of different color targets and profiling software packages to determine their comparative accuracy and value. A summary of these findings will be available at a later date.
In addition, Robin presented an updated procedure for working with the Repro Tone Curves included in ViewFinder software. Over the past year, he has found that the natural falloff of the light source and “Cosine Fourth” vignetting in lenses can dramatically reduce accuracy when making a camera profile. He has prepared a paper describing the recommended work flow for art reproduction applications, which is included in the download index.
Returning for a second year, Jim Morris of Silver Springs, MD (www.morriseditions.com) offered more insight into his work with commercial and architectural assignments using the Better Light scanning back. Many of his assignments required extreme views with very little working space, so he created his own system for extreme wide-angle photography (180 vertical view) using the Mamiya fish-eye lens with his Better Light mounted on the Pano/WideView™ motor assembly.
With this fish-eye perspective, or by using the Pano adapter with his other lenses, Jim can capture everything his clients have challenged him with so far. Many of the final images delivered to his clients have been cropped from wider panoramic captures for a unique composition not readily obtained with conventional imaging. The fish-eye images will often need correction with panoramic software applications to correct visual distortion.
Next on the agenda was Richard Politowski of Color 3 Lab in San Francisco (www.color3lab.com). Color 3 Lab has used the Better Light scanning back for their copy station for a number of years. In his work, Richard had noticed color metamerism failures with certain subject, substrate and lighting combinations. We are all aware of the cautions about viewing prints under the proper lighting…but how often does the client use the the right lighting! Through a series of tests Richard showed how variations of photographic media, color charts, and fabrics would change when photographed under different types of light and subsequently viewed under different conditions. Some subtle, some dramatic…metamerism failure is a situation we face nearly everyday and it cannot usually be corrected by color profiles alone.
And last, but not least, Kerby Smith of Para Communications in Oakhurst, CA, woke everyone up with a short presentation of infrared nude figure studies. Inspired by the IR landscape photography presented last year by J Michael Sullivan, Kerby took the effort to see how it would work with people. During a session at the Kim Weston Wildcat Nudes Workshop in Carmel, CA, Kerby took on the challenge of people photography using the Better Light Super 6K scanning back and the adapter for a Mamiya RB-67.
The square format of the RB-67 uses about 3/4 of the scan back imaging area, plus the lenses are faster allowing for very quick scan times. Without the IR filter, his exposures were short enough to make it quite easy to work with the experienced figure study models at the workshop.
Kerby had a number of examples with and without the IR filter in place, which created a very unique rendering of the photo…much of the image looked like a black and white or tinted print, but a few touches of color remained to tease the mind. Unfortunately, the model releases do not allow publication of these images …see, I told you that you had to be there!
Well, that’s about it…and chances are you are reading only a fraction of the seven pages of the original draft of this article. We have looked at ways to record or video tape the conference to share with others, but there is so much that goes on beyond the podium, we just couldn’t do justice to this “revival meeting ” of Better Light “believers”.
Next year…get your reservations in early and join us for a great experience.
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P.S. Saturday a group of shooters went to Pebble Beach on the San Mateo coastline for a day of scanning. View some of the results of their trip.
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