Not finished, nor ever expect to anytime soon, going back and spending a good part of the weekend reading “prints too dark” complaints and commentary on digital photography forums. It was no trouble finding plenty of examples posted on popular digital photography web sites. What was surprising was the diversity of situations described involving the problem of getting too dark prints, leading to a great variety of speculation as to what was causing the darkness of the prints produced, as well as just as wide an expanse of suggestions of why there is a problem and what fixes might be applied.
Yes, digital technology change is like a merry-go-round. Everyone who participates in the technology is on board. But if you will notice watching a merry-go-round some of the “horses” go up while others go down and some have higher trajectories, for the older kids to ride. And, there are no parents sitting in the seats between the “horses”. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs are still in a race no one can win, but cheap in America always outsells good products, and nothing good ever comes inexpensively.
Have you ever blown through a red light in your car, and as soon as you got through the intersection you realized what you had just done? Other than worrying about whether a cop saw what you did, you may have realized that your eyes saw the red light, but your mind did not register the perception and respond as usual so you could stop and wait for the light to change. What this kind of incident illustrates is that human vision is made up of two distinct functions, what our eyes see and what our mind perceives. As well as a third factor memory, which allows us to not pay conscious attention to everything familiar our eyes see in the course of daily activities, otherwise we would never get anything accomplished if we had to consciously deal with everything in our vision familiar or not.
The severity of and multiple factors that caused the recent economic crisis are a force of change. For a time fear has frozen activity economically among a lot of people at all levels, but that will thaw as people find they need to get along in their lives and the market for essentials remains substantial, even automobiles will pick up in sales as many will need to replace what they have out of necessity. And as most people get back to their lives, they will also return to the activities that are essential only to their enjoyment of life, including photography.
This rather enigmatic movie title came to mind this week after engaging in both live and virtual e-mail conversation about the problem of “prints too dark” I have reported and commented on recently. It seems those most likely to have a knowledgeable understanding of the technical cause of this phenomenon, and any possible solutions are the least likely to want to admit the problem even exists. And if photographer computer users are obtaining too dark prints it is because they are at fault: either their home/office environment in which they do their photo processing on a computer is non-standard or their illumination for print viewing is inadequate.
With the first photography show of the season open in New York, this 3rd week of October, many companies took the opportunity to showcase new products. And they have been both generally and specifically prevalent with all kinds of release e-mails added to my new product folder. I can’t say that I paid detailed attention to them all. Even though Mamiya for instance had significant new digital camera models with alluring features. More general and broader new products affecting how digital photography is edited and processed got a much deeper perusal in my reading and some digging to get below the fluff to the real stuff.
The “prints too dark” problem inadvertently involves almost every aspect of computer image processing, displays, printers and their drivers, color management, and of course image editing. Yet it is just a single issue of prints that don’t match the screen in density/brightness. The explanation of why the problem seems insoluble is that all of these separate but involved functions are the domains of companies which compete with one another in a marketplace that discourages standards. For instance the driver interface for each brand of printer is different, as are the on-screen controls of each brand of LCD display. And of course the people who run these companies and the technical people who design the products do not see reality from the same perspective as users, who of course are an even more diverse population.
This last month my e-mail in-box has been rather full of messages in response to my article about Print matching on page 68 of the December issue of Shutterbug. The article seemed to hit a raw nerve, and my curiosity as to how extensive the problem is, was more than satisfied when I ran a Google search on “Prints Too Dark”, which elicited 1,930,000 results.
I just received one of many statements from photographers that the current digital technology is complex and confusing, so it’s hard to understand. I could assume from that many think digital follows what analog film photography established. But that also assumes that the photographic process was understood as it has been for over a century, but sadly both assumptions are mixed up by many mythical and fantastic ideas and beliefs that have confused many if not most for as long as the 50 some years I’ve been a photographer. And it has not been helped by an industry and technology that now uses terms like resolution, which on film meant how fine the detail was resolved sharply, to its digital meaning that defines the size of an image in pixels.
In my last post I mentioned that I had just purchased a Sigma DP1s that has just been released to the market. Don Ellis informed me that Version 5.6 of Adobe Camera Raw, I had not yet installed, had support for this odd camera with a Foveon 3 sensor chip - that’s fast and indicates Sigma’s use of the Foveon is catching on even in a camera design that is not the usual but with a fixed focal length lens. I tried using Adobe Camera Raw with some DP1s files and had to agree with Don Ellis, that like most 3rd party convertors, it falls short of the camera manufacturer’s software.. But that does not fully satisfy me so I went to Lasersoft and they were interested in providing support for the camera with their SilverFast DC and HDR, so I did what I could to help them with the project.