BY LARRY GUYER
No one would deny that 2009 has not been a great year for small business owners, but despite all of the budget cuts and belt tightening, our 8th “Almost Annual” Better Light Owners Conference was only down about 10% from our highest attendance.
Sixty-one owners and Better Light staff enjoyed two days of inspiration and technical insights provided by a dozen speakers. Some “veterans” have said that this was the best programming that we have presented for our conferences…my thanks to our speakers for doing such a great job!
This year we returned to the Better Light offices in San Carlos, California for the event site. Our large demo studio is a very comfortable and convenient venue for 60-70 people. Surprisingly, we had a high percentage of the group that traveled quite a distance to attend. For the second year in a row, Tony Brownjohn traveled from New Zealand; Eduardo Sacayon came from Guatamala; Geoff Kilmer flew in from Virginia for his 5th conference; Reg Van Drecht and Mark MacDougall have attended the last four events from New Brunswick, Canada. Others came from New York, Louisiana, Texas, Ohio, Kentucky, Florida, Missouri, Illinois, and Hawaii, plus more from the West Coast.
The programming was as diverse as the specialties of the audience…covering topics such as high-dynamic range imaging, infrared landscapes, scanning ancient artifacts, soft-proofing, food photography, 3D object movies, the aesthetics of photography, and Better Light’s new ColorSage Direct Spectral™ workflow.
The word is out…the Better Light Owners Conference is a great bargain and valuable resource to gain new ideas and knowledge related to the Better Light scanning back. Plus, it is a unique opportunity to socialize and exchange ideas with your fellow Better Light owners who face the same challenges that you do.
This conference report will give you a taste of what was discussed and entice you to join us next year.
The Wednesday evening reception has become a regular feature to kick off the event. This casual get-together, hosted by the Marriott Fairfield Inn in San Carlos, gave us a chance to meet new people and catch up with old friends. Throughout the lobby area you could find small groups of photographers talking about recent projects, new equipment, and sharing techniques that have helped them improve their work. After a little wine and lots of conversation, small groups headed for neighborhood restaurants to dinner and further discussions (and probably more wine)!
Thursday morning came pretty quickly, but everyone was on time to kick off our 8th “Almost Annual” Conference. Following introductions, Mike Collette, Better Light’s founder and President, presented the new ColorSage Direct Spectal™ workflow for fine art reproduction.
Although the product was officially announced last fall at Photokina, most of those attending the Conference had not heard much about the benefits of this unique workflow. ColorSage is a new software product from Better Light that is powered by HP Artist Software and combines direct spectrophotometer measurements from the original artwork with the spectral characteristics of the scanning back and light source to generate a spectrally-corrected RGB image for printing.
A raw file from the Better Light scanning back is processed with the spectral data, eliminating color reference charts and camera profiling. Non-uniform lighting is also compensated for in ColorSage to make it easy to light for texture on the original.
Spectral measurements can be made with an X-Rite i1 Spectrometer or with several non-contact devices. Currently, an HP Z3200 wide format printer is required to run ColorSage, but the profiled files can be output on other printing devices. Click here for more information on ColorSage.
Better Light has worked with Hewlett-Packard engineers for several years as this concept evolved. The response of this new color control workflow by the attendees was encouraging. The first prints…straight from ColorSage to the printer…were very impressive and it was easy to see how much production labor and materials could be saved.
RANDY HUFFORD, Limited Editions Maui, Kula, Maui, HI
We all recognize that the Better Light scanning back can provide outstanding images, but we all struggle to maintain this quality throughout the workflow. Randy Hufford is a well-known industry speaker on many subjects related to digital capture, quality control, and fine art printing. His presentation covered the basics of soft proofing that allows you to view, on your computer monitor, what your print will look like when it is output to a specific media.
The slide show included a discussion of a delta-E tolerance exercise from Pilot Marketing, a fast and simple way for a person or company to determine a tolerance for acceptable color match. This quantitative test will be a foundation for your quality control efforts to better understand your equipment, your workflow and your customers color tolerance demands.
Randy continued with the importance of proper viewing conditions and a step-by-step procedure to optimize your monitor setup for accurate soft proofing.
Software Cinema (www.software-cinema.com) has just released a five DVD set by Randy titled “The Perfect Print”. The first title is “Calibration – Steps to Soft Proofing” that covers this topic in more depth, plus techniques for reproducing original art with the Better Light scanning back. You can review his Conference slide show and his marketing presentation at this link (be sure to look at the “Welcome” and “Albums” links at the top of this page): http://web.me.com/randygoeswild/betterlight/Albums/Albums.html
TED CHAVALAS, Panoscan, Inc., Van Nuys, CA
Panoscan, Inc. is a specialized panoramic camera system that uses the Better Light scanning technology and ViewFinder™ software. Ted Chavalas demonstrated how our “first cousin” is used for a wide variety of unique applications such as making tactical maps of schools and critical buildings for security and emergency reference.
Law enforcement departments use the self-contained panorama camera to also document crime scenes in high resolution as a more objective coverage of the scene — the photographer does not have to decide on every small detail to photograph at the moment, since the panorama image has plenty of resolution to see little things that might not have been recorded otherwise. These panoramas can be enhanced with “hot spots” to link to close-up detail photos or other appropriate links so the jury can experience the full crime scene without having to travel to the location.
Ted showed some of his customized accessories that Panoscan has developed to improve quality and efficiency in the imaging process. The company has designed a new 46mm APO fisheye lens; an unusual looking (but very effective) battery powered, LED lighting unit that provides a bright 180 degree “arc” of light for the fisheye; and Image Verifier, a special software to encode the image file to show if even one pixel has ever been altered.
Other applications include virtual tours for hotels, real estate, tourist locations and even interiors of cars and aircraft. You can learn more about these fascinating applications and Panoscan products at www.panoscan.com.
TIM FLEMING, eCre8.com, Clovis, CA
Landscape photography is often taken for granted. It’s easy to overlook the patience, expertise, time, and luck that contributes to an exceptional scenic photograph. Tim Fleming shared some of the preparation and techniques that have produced quite an impressive collection of infrared landscape photographs (www.ecre8.com/IR_Gallery/IR_Gallery.html). He emphasized that you must allow time, “The best images aren’t usually created on the first visit to a location, and it may take three or four trips to get the best angle, best time of day, and the ideal weather”.
The Better Light scanning back is very sensitive to the Infrared range of the spectrum. Better Light has not attached the infrared absorbing filter (green glass filter) permanently to the sensor, allowing infrared photography to be done on any of the scanning backs. With the optional use of an IR filter to also block visible light, it is possible to create a range of unique photographic effects. “With IR photography outside you must expect the unexpected”, Tim noted, “Sometimes the image looks like it is ½ negative, ¼ normal, and ¼ solarized”.
Tim admits that many of his images are “everyday tourist sites”, but with the infrared techniques, he is looking at them in a new way and creating a different impression of the scene. “I’m challenging people to see familiar subjects in a new and interesting way”, Tim added.
The tip of the day was Tim’s discovery that the hum of the scanning back at certain line times will attract all of the mosquitoes in the area to gather in a cluster over the camera…the bad news is that after the scan is finished, the mosquitoes headed for the nearest photographer!
KEN & BRUCE ZUCKERMAN and MARILYN LUNDBERG
The West Semitic Research Project, Palos Verdes, CA
Occasionally we have the opportunity to get a behind-the-scenes look into a fascinating application of the Better Light scanning back, and such was the case with the presentation by Ken and Bruce Zuckerman and Marilyn Lundberg. The West Semitic Research Project is affiliated with the University of Southern California School of Religion to use advanced photographic and computer imaging techniques to document objects and texts from the ancient world including the Dead Sea Scrolls.
This team has modified and fabricated equipment to accomplish their demanding photographic challenges. Ken has an engineering and photography background that has helped with many setups. “We have quite an extensive bag of tricks and many years of experience that can put to use to digitize a particular object. One of our favorite tools is the Better Light scanning back. It has taken our work to a new level since high resolution images are so important to the capture of fine detail and the need for close-up study by scholars”.
Bruce, a scholar and teacher of the Bible and ancient Semitic languages, emphasized the fact that most photography of ancient artifacts is not successful because the photographer is not educated in what to look for. “We understand the subject matter and can recognize what is important and what details need to be captured to reveal important data”, he added. The team is widely known for their photographic prowess and has traveled to many parts of the world to photograph valuable historic subjects.
Marilyn also holds a Ph.D. in Old Testament Religion and teaches Hebrew and Biblical Aramaic, while expanding her skills in digital technology. She demonstrated the virtual archive, InscriptiFact, where many of their images of ancient inscriptions with metadata will be made available to the scholars, students and the public. The database is a state-of-the-art image resource allowing the viewer to use full screen mode, compare up to five images at a time in high-resolution, resize and move digital objects.
For more information on The West Semitic Research Project photography work, visit http://www.usc.edu/dept/LAS/wsrp/information/.
RANDY HUFFORD, Limited Editions Maui, Kula, Maui, HI
Since he traveled so far, we put him to work again for a special session following our Thursday evening BBQ dinner. Randy Hufford is an extraordinary photographer, having earned the Master and Craftsman degrees from the Professional Photographers of America and is a recipient of other industry awards. He has worked for notable national clients, as well as operated a successful commercial color lab in Maui for many years.
We wanted to learn more about Randy the artist, and what has motivated him and how he prepares and markets his own work to commercial clients and in galleries.
“Art is that which is made with the intention of stimulating the human senses as well as the mind and spirit”, Randy began. “You have got to have a dream, some goal of what you want to do with your life and your skills”. He highly recommended the book “The Art of Selling Art” by Zella Jackson to gain that motivation.
“What we do for money may not be the motivation, but being successful and earning more money can help us do the things we really want…to fulfill our dreams”, he added.
Continuing to pursue photography for your own gratification and seeking new knowledge and creative techniques will improve your product. Presentation is a key to raise the perceived value of your art. Randy now uses a float mount and framing on all of his gallery images to improve the display and increase the price.
Taking advantage of every opportunity to let people know what you do will increase your business and fulfill your dream. Attend gallery shows and mingle with the artists to promote your scanning work, build relationships with gift stores, restaurants, businesses and other locations for consignment sales, and extend your circle of influence to take full advantage of networking.
You can review this presentation at this link and get more in depth information in Randy’s “The Perfect Print” DVD series. Click here for a full list of resources and product links from Randy’s presentations.
LARRY GUYER, A la Carte Digital Studios, Foster City, CA
A Better Light conference wouldn’t be complete without some information about the ViewFinder™ software that controls the scanning back. Larry is the former marketing director for Better Light and now a “traveling tech rep” through his Archetype Digital Imaging Alliance partnership with Ben Blackwell and Mary O’Connor. Archetype offers installation and on-site training for new and existing scanning back owners, so Larry’s presentation offered suggestions that remedy some of the common obstacles.
The new ViewFinder Tutorial is posted on the Better Light web site and was introduced, showing some of the steps to successful scans — including working with tone curves, use of the digital focus tool, and Tone Zones. One of the best uses of Tone Zones is to assist in the balancing of the subject lighting, especially for art reproduction, and this new tutorial provides guidance to optimize the position of your lights.
“We’ve come a long way in imaging technology in the last ten years since digital came on the scene, but we can’t forget the principals of photography and physics that contribute to the proper exposure”, Larry reminded the group. “Auto Balance removes the color cast related to subject illumination, the Camera Profile will optimize the reproduction of colors, contrast and tone controls are achieved with the use of the Tone Curves, and Exposure…that has a few more variables”.
Setting the Tone Curve to establish the dynamic range and contrast of the image is the first priority since the selected curve will have a significant effect on the exposure. The ultimate image exposure is going to be controlled by four things: Light Intensity, Time (line time), Amount (f-stop), and Sensitivity (ISO).
For more information about the control of exposure with the “Law of Two”, refer to the Speakers’ Tips page.
MIKE COLLETTE, Better Light, Inc., San Carlos, CA
Capturing and Rendering Wide Dynamic Range Scenes
Landscape photographers have been challenged technically and esthetically by high-contrast scenes having both direct sunlight and deep shadows. Mike Collette explained that the brightness range far exceeds what the print is able to render, so some compression method(s) are necessary. Color rendition will also suffer from this need to compress tones. The esthetic challenge is getting the output image to represent the photographer’s vision of the scene within these technical limitations.
Digital capture has given us new capabilities to do a much better job of rendering wide-range scenes. The Better Light scanning back has a dynamic range over 11 f-stops when used at low ISO and short exposure times.
Setting the optimum exposure is vital to preserve as much of the dynamic range of the sensor as the situation will allow. Increasing ISO by 1 f-stop “costs” 1 f-stop of dynamic range, Increasing the Line Time “costs” ½ f-stop of range…but also doubles the scan time. Using a gentle S-shaped Tone Curve to translate the data will preserve the full span of raw data values captured by the Better Light sensor and produce a more useful distribution of 16-bit data values for post-capture processing. See the Tips Page for more information on Mike's Ten-Stop S-Curve.
Using the Ten-Stop S-Curve with the Better Light scanning back facilitates expressive color photography in formerly “bad” lighting…and since the greater part of everyday is often “bad” lighting you have more possibilities for photography. “Scanning backs prefer abundant light so you benefit from faster scans and enormous dynamic range, plus shadows can now be part of the color composition, instead of being avoided”, Mike added.
The full slide presentation with example images can be downloaded and viewed as a PDF file (9 MB).
STEPHEN JOHNSON, Stephen Johnson Photography, Pacifica, CA
Stephen Johnson is a photographer who has been on the bleeding edge of digital technology since Mike Collette’s first prototype scanning back in 1993. His outstanding landscape photography and knowledge of all things digital has earned him national respect as an artist, author and educator.
“The advance of high-end digital cameras, with their unique abilities to see and record light, have the potential to change many of the ways we think about photography, how we think a photograph should look and provides a convenient means to deliver a very different visualization of our world.”, Steve began.
As a photographer we have decisions to make for your point of view and representation of the scene you are photographing…a choice between aesthetics and Idealization.
“I was never much interested in changing or embellishing, but I was very interested in trying to record what I saw”, Steve said. “For me, seeing color has always been about an attempt to make the sand look like sand and the trees look like trees. If there was a power to the vision, it was in what I saw to begin with, and how I photographed it, not what I did to it later”.
Photographs have an implied reality…that what you see in the print was really in front of the camera. Digital photography has enabled modern image makers to make their photographs not only from what they saw, but what they felt, moving the results toward the realm of art. A digital manipulation can easily operate and inspire in the same context as painting, as an imagined scene through the creator’s eye. Can we define what is good, what is bad? Probably not. It is the photographer’s choice on how he uses his tools and how he interprets his vision.
“What I appreciate about the Better Light camera is the ability to record the scene faithfully.” Steve continued, “The fact that I can maintain a delicacy, an honesty, and a color balance that’s fairly accurate in how the files are recorded has become critical to me. My goal is to record the real light, and the real scene, challenging myself to really “see” what I am looking at and reserve the incredible wonder that I am seeing”.
Steve Lalich Lalich Resources, Inc. Grant Park, IL
There are only a handful of Better Light owners that do any amount of food photography, but Steve Lalich’s presentation “What’s Cooking in the Food Studio” became the hit of the Conference.
His business began as a marketing communications firm that also bought photography for their clients, until one day Steve decided, “I can do this”! Starting with minimal equipment and (old fashioned) film, the path to his current role as a food photographer had a few “forks” in the road.
His client base was business-to-business in the food industry, so he had the time to grown and learn — but even his “mediocre” photography was leveraging placement for his clients publicity, which stimulated more work and new clients. Steve credits his purchase of the Better Light scanning back as a huge step forward to improve the quality of his work and the further improvement of his business.
Switching from film to digital gave him much more time to be creative and the instantaneous feedback gave him the opportunity to improve his lighting, experiment with selective focus and camera angles and build client satisfaction.
Earlier this year, a cookbook with 50 of his full color photographs won “The Best Corporate Cookbook in America” award by the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards. “A Century of Flavor” was published by Nielsen-Massey Vanillas, purveyors of vanillas and fine flavorings, one of Lalich’s regular clients. The cookbook is now qualified for an international competition in the same category.
Food is truly Steve’s passion. He loves to photograph it, talk about it, cook it, and of course eat it! His company now provides a full range of services to his clients in a great environment about an hour south of Chicago, with a staff that actually has fun coming to work everyday.
MIKE RICHARDSON, Richardson Photography, Torrance, CA
“The Rev”…is a long-time believer in large format digital in commercial photography, Mike Richardson has continually challenged the scanning back in all types of product, location, architecture, and panoramic assignments…and has done it efficiently and profitably.
Unable to attend the entire conference (he’s always working…) Mike was going to fly up from Los Angeles Friday morning and return that evening. As folks gathered for the start of the day’s programming, my cell phone rang…it was Mike…”Dude, they just cancelled my flight and I’m not sure when I’ll get on a plane”. A few hours later…”Dude, I’m still in LA and “hopefully” will be on the next flight at 11 a.m.”. We juggled the schedule around to keep the sessions moving, but I must admit, I was pulling my notes out as an emergency presenter.
Shortly after lunch, in strolls Mike…calm, cool, and professional, just like nothing happened. I would have been a wreck! So...on with the show.
Always on the edge of technology, Mike ran his presentation from an application on his iPhone, beginning with a quick review of the wide range of photography he does from products to art reproduction, and now including work as photographer for the University of California football team web site (cool duty indeed). He has a 2500 sq. ft. studio space in Torrance, CA, but will travel anywhere and work under any conditions — one example was shown with him and the scanning back high up on a sissor lift on location in Houston, TX.
He added the Better Light Pano/WideView™ Adapter several years ago and has done panoramic images for hotels, real estate and architectural clients. The pano adapter can also be used to create interactive 3D object movies as another service to attract new clients and increase profits. Object movies are a creative and innovative presentation for commercial products or dimensional artifacts for a museum or collector. Some examples of Mike’s panoramic work are posted on his website and more details on creating object movies are included on the Speaker’s Tips Page.
The Better Light owners are a unique family, unlike any I have seen in any other trade organization – so talented and yet very interesting in learning and sharing ideas to improve their work and elevate their creative satisfaction.
We are all very fortunate to be working in photography and even though times are tough right now, there is no reason why we can’t have fun doing what we love and get the additional satisfaction of producing something uniquely creative.
I want to again thank all of our speakers on behalf of everyone at Better Light and all of our attendees at our latest Conference. It is a pleasure to be part of producing this “almost-annual” event. I look forward to seeing you all again next time!
Next year…get your reservations in early and join us for a great experience.
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2008 Conference – "Conference Returns to the East Coast"
Summary and Photos from our 7th Conference in Salem, MA
2007 Conference – "It's Not Easy...But, It's Worth It!"
Summary and Photos from our 6th Conference in California
2006 Conference – The Hottest Ever
Summary and Photos from our 5th Conference in California
2006 Post-Conference Field Trip
Owners' Images from San Mateo's Pebble Beach
2005 Conference Emphasizes Varied Applications
Summary and Photos from our 4th Conference in California
2002 Conference Followed Photo Expo East
Summary and Photos from our 2nd Conference in NYC
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