Photography

A tweak to the photo workflow

I’m trying to stick with the Adobe suite for processing, editing, and managing photos.

I prefer Capture One’s editing process, but Lightroom Classic has everything else going for it, (ecosystem, tooling, ubiquity, etc.) so that’s where I’ve settled for now.

But I’d love to take advantage of Lightroom CC on mobile and my laptop. CC and Classic will sync, but if not handled properly the whole enterprise can quickly turn into a mess. What I was doing is to import into Classic, edit, export, then add the “keepers” to a synced catalog (or “all synched photographs”) so that those photos would be available everywhere. The problem is that this takes diligence and consistency. It takes work. I’m not good at consistency, and I end up frustrated and bailing on the whole thing.

So here’s what I’m trying. I’m reversing the process and importing directly into Lightroom CC instead. I cull and rate the photos there. I do simple edits and enter captions. For any images I’m more “serious” about, I launch Lightroom Classic which automatically syncs all the images from CC. While I’m there I copy the files to my usual places on the filesystem and rename if desired. All this can be done in Classic and the photos still remain synced and available in CC.

One downside is that when syncing from Classic to CC the photos don’t count toward my subscription’s storage, which is nice, but going the other way takes up space. I think this will be OK. If I do come home with cards chock-full of images I’ll just start in Classic instead.

This also means I can enable auto-import from my phone’s library and have everything show up automatically. I have to be careful here, because if I want to keep Apple Photos app as my final library (for sharing, showing people, and ease of OS integration) I can end up with duplicates this way.

Lightroom CC is a more pleasant place to live than Classic, so for 80% of the time it’s good enough. For the other 20% I head over to Classic.

Update July 11, 2021: I’m mostly back to only using Lightroom Classic. Too many moving parts trying to wrangle both.

Selling cameras is usually a mistake

I’ve owned a lot of cameras and lenses.

More than average , I’d say. I’ve of course sold more than I currently own. With few exceptions, I regret selling any of them.

Remember how the Nikon F6 printed exposure data between frames?

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Self-portrait with horse head. Nikon F6.

Or how nice it was having aperture-priority auto-exposure on the Leica M7?

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Lobster Buoys. Mount Desert, Maine.

Or the Mamiya 6 with its giant square negatives in an easy-to-shoot package?

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Self-portrait with eggs. Mamiya 6.

I’ve been thinking about this lately while pondering all of the money I have tied up in various cameras and how infrequently I use some of them. My head tells me to sell everything I’m not using often, but my heart won’t let me. I always, always regret selling camera gear, so I think I’ll hang onto all of it for now. At least until circumstances dictate that I cannot.

A reluctant Lightroom user

I’ve never loved editing photos in Adobe’s Lightroom (Classic) . It does the job fine, and it has all the tools one might need, but it’s no fun. I prefer editing with Capture One Pro .

As much as I enjoy the editing process in Capture One, it otherwise feels like working on an island. C1 has no way to sync photos, the plugin/extension options are very limited, and while it works with other editors, it doesn’t do it as seamlessly as Lightroom. And so on.

Lightroom’s ecosystem is hard to beat. It works with nearly everything. I can sync with the mobile Lightroom CC library. It works with every plugin one could possibly want (most notably, Jeffrey Friedl’s and Negative Lab Pro .) There’s no end to the presets and styles available. If I want to do something with a photo, Lightroom is more likely to be able to handle it.

Lightroom’s cataloging is more capable than Capture One’s. Or at least it feels easier to use. I’d prefer not having to rely on a specific vendor’s tool for managing my lifetime of photos, but it’s better than only having them scattered in folders. Believe me, I’ve tried it that way numerous times. It’s liberating, but only for a moment, then it quickly becomes frustrating.

And of course I don’t like having to pay a monthly subscription to Adobe. That said, for $20 a month I get Lightroom Classic, Photoshop, Lightroom CC on all my devices, and 1TB of cloud storage. It’s a pretty good deal.

While I’m still looking for excuses to go back to Capture One, I am, reluctantly, back in Lightroom Classic for the majority of my photo management. For now.

It’s not a good darkroom, but it works

My last house had a proper darkroom. It was a little janky, but there was a big sink, room for three enlargers, a wet side, a dry side, etc.

When I moved into my new house, I originally planned to turn an extra room in the basement into a shiny new darkroom. That didn’t happen, so I’ve been using the bathroom instead. It works fine.

Here’s my fancy darkroom.

The basement bathr…ehem…darkroom

The worst part of the whole thing is that tiny faucet. At minimum I should put in a tall one. As it is now, I need to fill a 1qt measuring cup, and then use that to fill containers. It’s a pain. The HomePod is nice because I can just tell it what to play in the dark.

Print washer

I don’t have a fitting for the faucet to run a hose into the washing tray, so I just let the faucet pour into it.

Film and print dryer

I ran some string across the shower to use as a hanger for drying prints and film. Works great.

Enlarging side

Here’s the meat of the operation. This is the bathroom closet, converted into the “dry side”. There’s room for this Leitz Focomat V35 enlarger. The V35 is a fantastic piece of equipment, but only enlarges 35mm film. I’m considering something that can do medium format as well. I have two 4×5 enlargers in storage but there is no way they’d fit. I can, however, make 4×5″ contact prints on 5×7″ paper. I love making those, so that should do.

Paper and supplies

There’s room for all sorts of photo paper and chemicals. I’ve only been making enlargements up to 8×10″ so some of this is no longer needed but I can’t bring myself to get rid of it. I also store my film scanner here.

Anyway, that’s it. That’s my darkroom. I was planning to not shoot any film in 2021 but I don’t think that’ll stick, so I dusted everything off and mixed up a fresh batch of chemicals in preparation for spending more time here.

I forgot I wasn’t going to shoot any film this year

It’s not that I made a promise or anything, but I had no intention of shooting film in 2021. I put away my scanning rig, stored the chemicals, and placed the cameras on a shelf.

I’ve been so excited by the new Leica SL2-S that I figured I’d just spend my time with that camera for a while. You know how I am, though. I picked up the M6 and saw that it was loaded with film and couldn’t help myself. That camera just begs to be used, once you touch it.

Anyway, I made a few mirror self-portraits, annoyed the dog, and documented the state of my desk. The usual mundane stuff one shoots when bored and holding a camera during a pandemic in winter.

I finished the roll of Tri-X, shot at ISO 800, and processed it in HC-110. I love HC-110 because it lasts forever on the shelf, and is easy to mix and use. I’m no longer experimenting with various developers and processes. They all look basically the same to me, and HC-110 is cheap and easy.

It remains to be seen how much film I shoot, but I’ve dusted off the gear and I’m ready for whenever the mood strikes.

The answer to “Whom should I let manage my photos?”

You’re lookin’ at him.

I’ve been asking myself, “Who[sic] should I let manage my photos? ” as a way to talk myself into letting Lightroom and the Adobe ecosystem take over the nitty gritty of file and library management. In the end, I couldn’t go through with it, so I remain in charge.

Yes, it can be a pain to deal with files, folders, storage, backups, naming, and so on. But, managing things myself is the way I’ve always done it. One of the most important things I “own” are my photos. Why would I give up any control over them? For now, at least, I’m not going to. I’m back to my process of culling, naming, tagging, and cataloging with Photo Mechanic Plus and editing in Capture One Pro.

So, 2021, here we come!

Who should I let manage my photos?

I have for many years kept my photos properly named and in a dated folder hierarchy on my hard drive:

/2020/12-December 2020/2020-12-02-Alice.dng

This requires that I import my photos from a card, then add metadata (Title and Caption), then rename them with the capture date and title, then put them into the proper folder, where they live forever. Whew!

Another step later in my process is to “burn” a copy of each edited RAW file to a JPEG that lives right beside the original. I also create a copy of the best photos in my “Digital Print Archive”. The DPA is swept up and uploaded to Google Photos, Flickr, and my Synology, automatically. This gives me ways to share and organize them later. It also provides the content-based search and face recognition that is so handy.

It’s a good system. Solid. Future-proof. Backups are a known quantity.

But I’m tired of doing it. I’m tired of copying, moving, renaming, archiving, burning, etc. Basically I’m tired of managing everything myself. I edit my RAW files in Capture One Pro and deal with culling, naming, and distributing using Photo Mechanic. They’re great apps, but expensive and so flexible that I spend way too much time tweaking my process.

Some days, today for example, I’m tempted to import everything into the new Lightroom and let Adobe take it from there. This battle has been raging for a few years now and I cannot for the life of me settle it.

The truth is, Lightroom can be configured to keep all of the original RAW files on a local drive, in dated folders, automatically. This helps alleviate my fear of going all-in with cloud storage. I can’t rename files from within Lightroom, but at least I know they’re there. I’ve tried importing, culling, renaming in Photo Mechanic and then importing into Lightroom, but if I’m going to bother with all that I should just stick with C1.

Lightroom isn’t even close to Capture One on features, power, or flexibility. But it syncs my photos to all my devices, including my iPhone photos. I don’t have to do anything. That’s a huge benefit. 90% of my images can be processed just fine in Lightroom. If I want, I can always process the other 10% using Capture One (or Photoshop, I suppose).

This post is just me trying to talk myself into yielding to my lazier tendencies and moving everything to Lightroom. I’m still noodling on it, but don’t be surprised if there’s a new post soon about how I switched to Lightroom (again). Maybe then I’ll spend more time photographing and less time playing with my editing workflow.

(UPDATE January 3, 2021: Here’s the answer )

Manual Schmanual

I’ve prided myself on my ability to shoot a Leica M3 or Hasselblad 500C/M with no meter, no auto-focus, and no auto-exposure. Who needs it? Real photographers certainly don’t! Plus, being fully mechanical means that the cameras require no batteries and should be repairable forever. It’s a badge of honor.

Except, and maybe I’m getting lazy in my old age, I’ve grown to like letting the camera do at least some of the work. In fact, I prefer it. They’ve gotten pretty good at it and if I’m honest they do things better than me most of the time.

I guess it depends on the camera. For example, the big 4×5 cameras are slow, deliberate beasts, so having to adjust things just so is part of the experience. On the other hand, when walking around with a digital or 35mm film camera, I want something fully automatic. Since most of the time I’m in walking-around mode, this means that most of the time I want to let the camera do the work.

The realization that I now prefer automation came to me after I bought the Leica M10-P. The Leica of course has a meter and aperture-priority exposure. But it needs to be focused manually. When I must manually focus, I love using the Leica’s rangefinder, but unless I’m range-focusing in bright light there’s no way I’m faster at it than I am with a modern auto-focus camera. Also, it takes two hands and sometimes it’s better when I can just lift a camera to my eye and press the shutter.

Manually focusing a camera is a pain I simply don’t feel like dealing with.

So, I’m finding that although I have my dream camera available, I most often pick up the little Ricoh GRIII. The Ricoh is much faster to use and, honestly, the images are comparable to the M10-P (shhhh, don’t tell anyone).

The same thing has been happening with film cameras. I stopped using the fully manual, no-meter-having Leica M3 and M4 and started using the M6. I wanted a built-in meter. Even more surprising is that lately I’ve been grabbing the big old Canon EOS-1v or Nikon F100 instead. Those cameras don’t have anything approaching the soul or joy of use of a Leica, but I kind of want to point and shoot and move on, ya know?

I don’t know if this slow drift away from manual cameras is simplyi a mood swing or if it’s permanent, but it’s changing how I think about shooting.

A variety of 35mm SLR film cameras

Here are my remaining 35mm SLR film cameras. Clockwise from front-left, they are.

Canon AE-1 Program. An AE-Program was my first real camera. I received one  from my parents as a graduation gift. Today, though, it’s my least favorite. It just doesn’t feelgood to use.

Nikon F100. This might be the single greatest deal there is when it comes to film cameras. These are semi-professional, high-end cameras that sold for around $1,400 (In 1999 dollars. One would cost more than $2,100 today). These can now be found for under $300. Great cameras.

Canon EOS-1v. The 1v was the best film camera Canon ever made. Or will ever make. It’s a solid, water-resistant, workhorse brick of a camera. I think if I were forced to keep just one SLR this would be it (with the F100 a close second).

Nikon F3. In production for nearly 20 years, the F3 is was a professional staple for as long as any camera I can think of. Mine is in great shape and works well, but I’m not in love with it. I can’t put my finger on the problem, but I never seem to reach for it other than to be sure and run a roll or two through it each year.

Olympus OM-1n. What a wonderful little jewel this is. And by little I mean little. Just look at it compared to the others. My copy is interesting because it came in a box of gear I bought on Craigslist. It was all dented and bent and basically unusable. The guy I bought it from said that it had literally fallen into a volcano (he was a geologist). I had a local camera repair shop attempt to fix it, and they did. It works great still today. The OM-1n has one of the biggest, brightest viewfinders I’ve ever used. I love it. I wish it didn’t use mercury batteries, though. I’ll never get rid of this one. I used to have a couple of the later OM-2ns and often consider picking up another.

I’ve been thinking of selling some of them. Instead, I’ve been loading them up with various films and shooting with them. It’s been so much fun that I’ve changed my mind and I’ll be keeping everything. At least for now.

Using the Skier Sunray Copy Box 3 for digital film scanning

I hate scanning film negatives. Especially color film negatives.

Scanning software is universally atrocious to use. Getting good color from scanned film is such a hit-or-miss (mostly miss) proposition that I’d largely given it up.

Many people are moving from using film scanners (flatbed or dedicated) to “scanning” with digital cameras. I’ve been skeptical of this, but ever since the introduction of Negative Lab Pro it’s become more interesting. NLP makes it easy to get decent color from a digitally scanned negative.

To scan film using a camera, you need a copy stand to hold the camera, a lightbox or other bright, even light source, a macro lens, and something to hold the negatives.

I’ve been using my Fuji X-T3, 7Artisans 60mm Macro, Kaiser Slimlite, and the MK1 from Negative Supply . This all worked pretty well, but was limited to scanning 35mm film. I also shoot 120 and 4×5. Putting together a kit for every format using the pricey Negative Supply gear would run me well over $1,000. More like $1,699 for the pro kit .

I started looking around for something a little more reasonable and found the Skier Sunray Copy Box 3 . The kit for 35mm, 120, and 4×5 costs $299, so I took a chance and ordered one.

My scanning station looks like this…

Skipping to the chase, the Sunray box works great. The light source is ridiculously bright, allowing me to stop down and keep a fast shutter speed to avoid any shake. The holders are easy to handle and do a good job of keeping film flat. I was able to digitize a roll of 35mm film in less than 10 minutes.

My workflow for this is a little convoluted, since I use Capture One Pro for editing but NLP requires Lightroom Classic. I import the “scans” into Lightroom, crop, and convert in NLP, save TIFF copies of the edited RAW files, then move them into my C1 library for finishing. I’m still working on making this more efficient, but I’m getting the hang of it so it gets easier every time.

If you are looking for a (relatively) inexpensive way to scan film negatives using a digital camera, the Skier Sunray Copy Box 3 is a very good option.