The fascinating Laowa macro probe lens

I’m not sure how I learned about it. One day it showed up on my computer screen, and I jumped. Today it arrived on my front porch.

It’s strange and curious and fascinating and some might say useless. I have other thoughts: I think it might be an terrific addition to my camera bag (though my bag won’t fit this lens).

When I first tried to get one, they were back-ordered, and they are expensive. In the weeks since I learned of its existence I have tried to learn everything I can about the lens. How big is it? How does it work? What’s the point of the long probe? Do I need waterproof? How much does it weigh?

This is my annotated illustration of the Laowa Probe lens. Though I have tried to measure and record the dimensions of the lens as accurately as possible, I may not have everything perfect. Please let me know if you find any errors in measurements.

I don’t yet know the answers to all of those questions, but I can answer many of them. I spent the afternoon and evening today measuring and illustrating the lens. This might help others who are considering this lens for video or still photography. If, for example, you want to use a follow-focus motor or adapter on this lens, you can use my illustration to get the necessary drive gears. If you want to submerge the lens in liquid, you now know exactly how deep you can go.

If you want to power the built-in LED lights in the tip of the lens, you will need a USB power supply. I had one on my desk, and I’m charging it now to use in the morning to power the LED lights. I think this will be very interesting. A USB cable with the correct plug comes with the lens.

I have read everything that I can find online, and watched many videos about the lens (start at B&H Photo). I scoured the Laowa web site and watched their videos. I made screen shots and attempted to get accurate measurements of the lens, but was unable to get it exactly right (I also wrote to Venus asking for the technical specs, but they did not respond).

So in the morning I will take the lens out into the wild of my community, attached to my new Canon EOS R camera, and I will make as many photos as I can to show you more about what this curious thing can do.

My initial impression is that it is a very well-built lens. It’s sturdy and it feels good at the controls. Aperture and focus are smooth and effective. The lens looks nice, and it fits the camera perfectly. I had to make a few changes in the menus on the EOS R in order to get the camera to take photos with “no lens attached” to the camera. This lens has no electrical contacts, so the camera does not see it there. To the camera, this looks like a body cap.

The model I have has two 48-tooth gears on the focus and aperture rings. This is the Cinema version of the lens, which costs more than the still photo version without the gears.

I’ll report on my work with this clever device as I can. Stop by in the near future to read about my adventure.

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My new Canon EOS R mirrorless camera
and a new world of high ISO shooting

I was excited when Canon and Nikon both announced their mirrorless pro (or semi-pro) cameras last fall. The time had come. Sony has been in the market for three generations now, and Canon had made a few attempts (EOS M, etc.) at mirrorless devices. I bought two EOS M cameras, which I like a little bit, but they have frustrating controls and they are difficult to use in sunlight (they have no eyepiece viewfinder, only an LCD which is useless in bright light). Those cameras are gathering dust on my shelf now.

This is the new camera in its first few minutes out of the box. I am excited to learn more about it, and I am sure I will be happy with the silent feature!

I shoot a lot of classical music concerts, and for me the most exciting feature of mirrorless cameras is the ability to shoot in absolute silence. I am usually taking photos from inside the performance hall, and I am hampered by shutter click-clopping. I thought the Sony would be great for this because it can shoot in silent mode.

I rented a Sony mirrorless camera last summer for the music festival, and it frustrated me. Battery life was ridiculously short, some of the menus are incomprehensible, some of the controls are in places where no human can operate them, and overall, I found the Alpha 7 to be an uncomfortable camera to use. (You’ll get used to it! They told me. I didn’t.) I loved the high resolution sensor and the resulting photos, but it was too difficult for me to use.

I clamped the Sony high on a wall and put it on radio control using Sony’s nice iPhone app. This required a ladder and a very early arrival at the concert location. I practiced and it worked beautifully. But the battery died before the concert began and I got nothing. Assault by battery.

The new Canon EOS R is also capable of shooting in silent mode. I rented one for a week in February from my friends at Borrow Lenses dot com. I decided to give it a try.

In the short time between the UPS truck’s arrival and the beginning of the Bach Cantata, I figured out enough to set the camera to Silent mode, to figure out how to use the basics, and I began shooting. Where normally I shoot with my Canon 5D Mark III cameras, I wait for the fortissimo parts so that the audience is unaware of my noisy shutter. With a solo violin there are few fortissimos, so I would not have gotten much on this occasion. But the R makes no sound, so I shot like crazy! I took 600 photos in 90 minutes. Part of this was to experiment with the silent operation, part of it was to become familiar with the location of the controls, and to learn how to shoot with this new device.

I also experimented with all of the available ISO settings – all the way up to 26,500. I seldom shoot with high ISOs because of the noise, but on this occasion I let those constraints fall by the wayside and used the camera to explore every nuance of the performance.

These images show the before-and-after of noise reduction in Adobe Camera Raw. I shot both under poor lighting circumstances at a private residence. The ISO was set to 26,500. Then I applied noise reduction in Camera Raw. These are enlarged substantially, probably 4X normal (it’s a bit hard to show this kind of thing on a web site). The image is of Scott Yoo, Music Director and violinist, of San Luis Obispo’s Festival Mozaic.

Over the next four days I shot several thousand more photos in three other locations. I learned to love the electronic viewfinder. I discovered that I can focus better in low light cirsumstances with that viewfinder than I can with my optical viewfinders on the 5D cameras. I enjoyed being able to see clearly what the shutter speed and aperture are. I loved the display of information inside that little window.

I tried portraits in the sudio at the university, but was frustrated there. I couldn’t shoot with strobe lights in an otherwise unlit studio; it was too dark for the electronic viewfinder on the R. I plan to explore this further, and I will write about that separately.

When my week of rental was up I returned the camera to Borrow Lenses, and I went back to my regular, boring life.

I experimented with my high ISO shots from the R. I discovered that even at ISO 26,500 I was able to get reproduction quality images. I found that much of the noise, though quite significant, can be removed in Adobe Camera Raw, making the images usable at that very top ISO setting. These images are better than I get when I shoot at lower ISOs on the older 5D cameras. I attribute this to Canon’s improved Digic chip in the EOS R. It’s two generations newer and more sophisticated than my other two cameras.

I found myself longing for the R, and planning for my summer music festival shooting. Should I rent again or should I just break down and buy one? I chose the latter, and last week my R showed up on my doorstep. I was so excited! I left it in the box for a whole day, then I set up a tabletop studio in the dining room before I took the plastic bag off the camera body.

A camera is only clean once, and I wanted to photograph this one while it was still absolutely pristine. This was fun. I had not even installed the battery and I was taking portraits of this new camera to illustrate this article.

I also got the 626-page instruction manual, and started poring over that to learn about the buttons and menus and controls. Where is the depth-of-field preview button? Oh, you can program that into one of several programmable buttons or the strange multi-function bar on the top-right on the back of the camera (I haven’t found anyone yet who says that’s a nice thing – except Canon).

I watched a multitude of YouTube videos made by Canon and by reviewers who are doing what I am doing – testing to see how we like the new camera. Many do like it, some don’t. Most of the photographers who were expecting a great video camera in the R are disappointed by its cropping of the sensor when shooting in 4K. I’m not a video guy, so I let that shortcoming pass me by. Most pro photographers agree that this is a nice camera, and that Canon has broken new ground with this one. Most are also saying that we will see more from Canon on the pro mirrorless front; this is inevitable. Some are waiting until Canon comes out with the next mirrorless offering, which will be much better.

I have mine now, and I am quite pleased by its silent shooting mode, its seamless ability to use all of my current lenses (I can’t afford the new R-series lenses!). This will be a great camera for me and my music festival work, and I will follow up with more reports on how the camera behaves in various shooting situations.

I think it’s a nice camera, and I am looking forward to using it a lot during the summer festival. I’ll probably shoot a few thousand cellist photos with it (and a few hundred French horn players too!). And no one in the audience will be bothered by my camera’s noisy shutter. That is a thing of the past.

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Cal Poly’s TAGA students win the Kipphan Cup at TAGA 2019

The Cal Poly TAGA team has won the prestigious Helmut Kipphan Cup at this year’s conference of the Technical Association of the Graphic Arts.

The Kipphan Cup is awarded to the university team whose technical journal is judged to be the best entry in the annual event. Scoring in based on technical writing, design, production quality and the quality of an online component that supplements the journal.

Cal Poly students are awarded the Kipphan Cup at the 2019 TAGA conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota. From left to right: Liam O’Hara, TAGA President, Lauren Helms, Cal Poly TAGA President, Erica Taylor, Jessica Rose, Nicole Cullop, Ana Gonzalez, Aileen Vasquez, Kayleigh Macdonald, Hannah Nguyen, Bruce Leigh Myers, Education V.P. of TAGA.

Students in the Cal Poly chapter began work on their journal in September, 2018, shortly after classes began in the Fall quarter. The team assembled technical papers, and in two cases, invited student scholars to produce a technical paper specifically written for the journal. Those technical papers were written and edited in the Fall quarter while the TAGA team worked on the design and planning of their printed journal. In January, with all of the technical papers in-hand, production began.

The TAGA journals are expected to be produced by students, if possible, and the Cal Poly team did all the work, from cutting paper to binding and packaging the final works. Hundreds of hours of work are spent each year in production, and this year’s journal featured several complex printing processes that helped to distinguish the finished work. The students wanted to deboss the separator pages of the journal, and to do that, they cut polystyrene printing plates on the Kongsberg iCut machine, a computerized cutting and prototyping machine made by ESKO. Those polystyrene plates were then mounted on wood blocks for the printing press. Students used a 1960s era Heidelberg “Windmill” press to perform the debossing on their pages.

Awfully excited! Cal Poly TAGA President Lauren Helms and Kayleigh Macdonald show their excitement on winning the annual student prize at this year’s TAGA Conference.

The TAGA journal was printed by electrophotography on a Konica Minolta C1100 digital press in the Graphic Communication Department. That machine produced the full-color components of the book. The covers were also printed on the Konica Minolta machine.

After printing, the covers were enhanced with gold foil and clear digital embossing effects using an MGI finishing machine. Each journal cover went through several steps of post-press finishing to make the covers look and feel more impressive than a simple printed sheet. The students also personalized each copy of the journal with the judges’ names; this was also done in the MGI digital foil machine.

Hannah Nguyen, the Design Director for this year’s journal, took advantage of the many printing technologies available to the students to produce a beautiful book. Many processes were used: electrophotographic printing, digital embossing, digital foil enhancement, letterpress debossing, letterpress scoring, perfect binding and trimming on the department’s Polar computerized paper cutter. It was an impressive amount of work, and the students had the opportunity to learn by doing (Cal Poly’s motto) as they produced their award-winning journal.

All of the TAGA university students assemble for a group photo.

At the conference, held this year in Minneapolis, Minnesota, eight Cal Poly students were in attendance. The students attended numerous conference technical sessions, a student banquet, and attended several sessions where they met and mingled with the students from the other universities who attended the conference. Universities represented included Clemson (Clemson, SC); Ryerson University (Toronto, Canada); PEGORA (Grenoble, France); Rochester Institute of Technology (Rochester, NY); and Ball State University (Muncie, IN).

This is Cal Poly’s second win in three years. The students have possession of the Kipphan Cup for the year, and it will be on display at Cal Poly in the Graphic Communication Department.

Work has already begun on the TAGA student journal for 2020. A new team is being assembled, designs are being prepared, and the presses will be running soon! Cal Poly’s victorious TAGA students are excited to develop and print the next journal for the competition next year.

For more information:

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300,000 readers!

Greetings, good souls,

In late August of this year The Blognosticator reached and exceeded 300,000 readers.

I was not tracking it closely at the time, being caught-up in beginning of the school year activities, but it happened, and now that I have a moment I am saying thank you to all of you who take the time to read The Blognosticator.

Best wishes, and come back soon to see the latest blogs and controversies of the graphic and photographic arts.

Brian P. Lawler


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The case for using DNG as your primary file type

I have files created by a Kodak-branded, Canon digital camera from this century that can no longer be read. This is my second case of file obsolescence; the first being Kodak Photo CD files that cannot be read by any existing commonly used software (I did find a solution to reading Photo CD discs that involves a UNIX program and using Terminal to control it).

Photos from the old Kodak/Canon camera are not readable with anything I can find. But fortunately I don’t care, because I don’t have an archive of photos from that camera.

The threat of photo file obsolescence

The idea of photo files becoming obsolete is a scary one, because it points out one of the great threats to society. Sometime in the future we will no longer be able to access our images with any existing software.

A few years ago, while preparing for a show in the local art museum, I scanned a number of five-foot-long strips of Kodak Cirkut camera film. Some of these film negatives were more than 100 years old. They still work perfectly; there are clearly visible images on them, and they were transferred to digital files by scanning.

I would like to know that photos I take today will still be useful 100 years from now. Current file types including most camera-specific Camera Raw files will probably not be legible beyond a decade or two, and the companies that make the cameras that create proprietary files have no incentive (in fact they have the opposite) to support their files beyond a reasonable period of time – ten years, 20 years?

Innovation drives new camera capabilities

The constant pace of innovation and improvement in camera technology will drive this. Bigger sensors, better color capabilities, greater bit-depth, white point recording, expanded gamuts, and more (perhaps post-processing focus information can be encoded) will force camera manufacturers to move to more capable versions of Camera Raw, and perhaps we’ll have new storage technologies that supersede the SD card, and others that we find so handy today. It’s inevitable.

At some point Canon, Sony and Nikon will each say, “Enough!” for their current storage schemes and they will move on. Adobe, which now supports hundreds of different Raw formats, will inevitably abandon support for the oldest of them and move on.

And that will be the day that we need to go back to some 30-year-old image and open it anew. But on that day the image will not open. It will be lost to technological obsolescence. That will be a dark day.

That day will come soon. (Ironic note: It’s happening now! The new Canon .cr3 file will make the existing .cr2 file obsolete soon.)

We need obsolescence-proofing now

Fortunately we have a solution on hand today, one which will prevent obsolescence for some time, and one which we can all adopt immediately to stave-off the possibility of image obsolescence for a while. The idea of any software working in 100 years is unlikely, but not unimaginable.

This file is the DNG – or Digital Negative file. It was created by Adobe in 2004, but has now been made available by that firm to the world community. It has also been offered to the International Standards Organization as an ISO standard, one that can continue to be used in open-source software, and one that may prevent, or at least forestall obsolescence.

Professional archivists are encouraging everyone to use the DNG file to prevent file type obsolescence (as I am describing here).

How do we get to DNG?

The simplest way to put our images into DNG format is to import images from camera cards using Adobe Bridge, and its companion application Photo Downloader.

Photo Downloader does not sport the finest user interface (far from it!), but it does several things that no other application can do while simultaneously downloading images to a computer. It can do all these things – simultaneously:

It can also delete the files from the camera card, something I do not recommend. I never delete a photo from a camera card until I am confident that the images are safely stored on a local computer. And, even then I don’t erase the camera memory card until the next time I use the camera.

This is Adobe’s Photo Downloader application, which is accessible only from Adobe Bridge. Once there, choose Advanced Dialog to get to this window where the better features are available.

This software is only available from the File menu in Adobe Bridge, which is only available to those who have the Adobe Creative Cloud.

It is only possible to read photos from a camera memory card, and not from a folder of existing images. (Bridge can also read images from a camera connected by a USB cable to the computer, but that uses a different application which is not as capable.)

The technique: put a memory card into your computer, or to a card reader. Run Bridge, choose File>Get Photos from Camera, and then choose Advanced Dialog from the application that opens (it’s called Photo Downloader).

Once in that application, choose the images you want to download (start by clicking the UnCheck All button). You can click on one image, then shift-click on the end of a range of photos. Non-contiguous selection does not work in this application, alas.

Choose the destination folder in the upper-right corner. Choose whether to subdivide the images into folders, and by which criteria (I seldom do this). Then choose Advanced Rename, and choose Text + Sequence Number (and other variables that you may want). I always put a space after the text to separate it from the sequence number. Be sure to allow enough digits in the sequence number to accommodate all of your images.

And, this is the most important part: Check the Convert to DNG check box.

You can also add metadata from your own list of prepared metadata, you can add your own copyright claim to all of the images, and you can write copies of the photos to a back-up disk if you wish.

Then choose Get Media.

Converting Camera Raw images to DNG

Suppose you have a folder of Camera Raw photos on your hard drive, and you want to convert them to DNG. You would want to do this to create a DNG archive of images from those photos you have already stored on your hard drive.

This is Adobe Camera Raw. In the lower-left corner is a button for saving in a variety of formats, among them DNG. This is useful for converting a number of Camera Raw files from their native type to DNG.

To convert one or more images from Camera Raw to DNG, chose a batch of images and hit Command-O (Open). This will cause the images to open in Adobe Camera Raw. You might get a warning dialog indicating that you have selected a large number of images to open at one time. Click Continue.

Once they open in Camera Raw, select all (Command-A). Then choose the Save Images button in the lower-left corner of the window.

A new dialog will open. Choose Save in Same Location (or you can save in a new location). Choose .dng as the image suffix, which will automatically select the conversion to DNG (though you can overrule this – don’t!).

Click the Save button in the upper-right corner.

It will take about one second per image to convert the files. You can continue to do other things while this is happening.

Converting with the Adobe DNG Converter

Another technique is to use the free Adobe DNG Image Converter. Download this and install it on your computer. It has a logical interface. This application can convert Camera Raw images in any folder into DNG files. It does so quickly and effectively.

Once the conversion is complete, you will have a folder with .dng files in it. Those images are saved in the most obsolescence-proof format currently available.

You can be confident that your photos will work in the future. How long? No one knows, but I assure you it will be longer than if you do nothing with your files.

If you take steps to import all new images into your computer in DNG format, and to archive your photos in DNG format, you may be able to avoid the dark day when you will no longer be able to read your photo files.

DNG files have advantages beyond obsolescence-proofing. Those pesky .xmp “sidecar” files that are created when we open Camera Raw files on our computers are gone! (In fact the same data are embedded in the DNG files). This saves some occasional grief when working with images that have been opened previously when the .xmp file has been misplaced.

Note: DNG will not convert from JPEG images. The file format is limited to Camera Raw files.

I am also confident that JPEG images will be legible for many years, due to their ubiquity, but that is not a reason for using JPEG as your primary file type. JPEGs are not designed for archival purposes. They are for the web and social media uses, not for high quality imaging.

Download a printable version of this essay by clicking on the image below:

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Getting the Typographic Tremors
reading historic roadside signs

I just returned from a 2,018-mile journey up the coast of California, into Oregon, then back by a slightly different route.

Along the way I visited and camped in National Parks, State Parks, National Forests, and private campgrounds. Along the way I stopped to visit beaches and lighthouses. I hiked through redwood groves and wondered at wonders all along the route.

And I practiced typographic criticism all along the route. On nearly every roadside information sign I grimaced as I found typographical errors, stylistic inconsistencies and major typographical gaffes.

Bronze busts with errors, the most costly of the genre make me want to scream: “Doesn’t anyone proofread these things before they are cast?!”

An example: at AT&T Park, home of the San Francisco Giants, all of the quotes painted (printed?) on the walls are made with incorrect quotation marks and apostrophes. And, to make them even worse, all of the quotation marks are followed by a space (don’t do that!) at the beginning, and preceded by a space (don’t do that either!) at the end. Willy Mays is my lifelong hero; why insult his quotations with bad typography? (Mays is still alive.)

At the Umpqua River, I visited the lighthouse, now operated by the county of Douglas, which keeps it running for navigators at sea. It is a beautiful historic lighthouse featuring a working Fresnel first-order rotating light, apparently the only one of its kind still in operation in the world.

In the museum next door are delightful exhibits that describe the lighthouse and its storied past. It’s quite a place.

I have circled the typographical errors on this informational sign. I could almost not read it for the stumbling blocks of misused marks, etc. Remember my motto: Don’t interrupt the reader!

On a sign in that museum I found 56 typographical errors (I consider incorrect spacing, incorrect apostrophes, incorrect dashes, incorrect quotation marks, to be errors. That’s the point of these essays). Fifty-six!

It starts in the headline, and continues to the bottom, every single apostrophe and quotation mark is wrong. There are ellipses with two dots (don’t do this!), ellipses with dot-space-dot-space-dot (nor this!). There are spaces before closed-quotes, and spaces after open-quotes. None of these is correct.

There are sentences separated by one space (correct!), and there are sentences separated by two, three, and (maybe) four spaces.

There are hyphens used where there should be a long dash (I don’t care which one).

There is an ampersand used in prose where the word “and” should be used.

It goes on and on and on, and it made me quiver with the Typographic Tremors. Someone was paid – a lot of money – to make this sign and erect it on the site.

Why not do it right? Why not consult with a typographer who can point these errors out before they go to printing, mounting and erection?

I am willing to do this for any organization – be it a National Park (they have a staff typographer at Harper’s Ferry) or a local landmarks commission. I stand ready to critique and mark-up any historic marker signs and placards. Send me a PDF! I’ll do it with a smile. No charge!

And, then the viewers of the signs can appreciate their beauty and information without getting the Typographic Tremors.

Posted in Language and grammar, Mistakes you can avoid, Typography | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

I’m sick @ tired of symbols being used in prose & running text

In addition to hearing professional news announcers use singular verbs with plural nouns (There’s thousands of reasons to do this…), which makes me very grumpy, I often see symbols like @ and & used in running text. This is offensive to the seasoned typographer. Don’t do it!

Remember the overarching theme of these essays: Never interrupt the reader!

This is an exaggerated example of the use of @ and & in running text. If you squint, you’ll see the blobs. These, in addition to being visually unpleasant, cause the reader to stop, translate, and then continue. It’s typographically unwise.

In general, the ampersand and the at-symbol are used to abbreviate things when space is tight. In running text – books and similar typography – one should not abbreviate any word. The words “and” and “at” should be spelled-out. This is also true of abbreviations for states – CA, MO, AZ, etc. These should always be spelled-out, except when used as an address. California is a beautiful word; CA is an ugly postal code. Don’t use the postal code in text.


These characters – @ & and abbreviations like CA, create visual blobs. Blobs interrupt reading because the reader has to stop and interpret them, converting them back to words. This takes time and it interrupts the reader. That violates our objective of never interrupting the reader.

…and this is the same text (from Les Miserables) with the words at and and used correctly. It reads smoothly.

And excellent typography does not interrupt the reader.

Read about getting the typographic tremors in the next blog.

Posted in Typography | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

I have a preposition for you!

Prepositions are parts of speech that declare where, and when, and they are important to proper language.

Typographers have a responsibility to place prepositions where they belong, and not to hang them at the end of lines.

I often see them used correctly, but placed incorrectly. Prepositions belong with the words that follow them (most of the time).

So instead of putting a preposition at the end of a line, and allowing its prepositional phrase to be on the next line, keep the preposition with its expression.

Note the hanging prepositions in the third, fifth, sixth and seventh lines of this invitation. They are all incorrect. They belong on the following lines with the words they describe.

In this version, I have moved all the prepositions to the correct locations. Try reading the two, and I think you’ll agree that this one reads better. It’s refreshing to read excellent typography and not be distracted by hanging prepositions.

I believe that this should also be true of conjunctions – and, or, for example. Keep the conjunctions with the words that follow so they don’t hang on the end of a line.

All of this is a goal for typographers, but it is often impossible to accomplish due to the line length, or getting the type to fit into a certain space. When you can’t get these pesky words to go with the words that follow them, just do the best you can.

The most important message in this short essay is to pay critical attention to the words in every line. Look! Look closely, and read the copy to be sure it reads correctly and smoothly.

Remember the overarching goal of excellent typography: Never interrupt the reader!

Read about using symbols in prose in the next blog.

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A pretty good argument for using ProPhoto RGB
as your working color space

Photographers discovered 20 years ago that sRGB is a really bad color space for professional photography. So we all changed to Adobe RGB 1998.

The reasons for doing so are important: Adobe RGB has a larger overall gamut, and conversion to CMYK print gamuts like FOGRA and GRACoL leave colors largely unchanged. Skin tones are rendered slightly better in Adobe RGB, and cyan-green colors are possible in an image, where they are clipped with the much smaller sRGB color space. It was completely logical.

This is a 3D view of the ProPhoto RGB working color space (available in Adobe Photoshop) compared to the Adobe RGB 1998 working color space. The ProPhoto extends beyond the human visual spectrum on the blue axis in order to accommodate a larger range of violet, cyan and green colors. It is also very slightly larger along the red-green axis, which includes the colors described in this essay.

About ten years ago I was counseled by an Adobe trainer to switch to ProPhoto RGB, a significantly larger working color space. His argument was strong, but I didn’t think it affected me. Someday, he argued, Canon would come out with an ink-jet printer that has such a huge color gamut that I would be begging for it. If I started converting all of my images then into ProPhoto RGB space (this is done in Adobe Camera Raw), I would be able to take advantage of the impressive gamut of that future printer, and I would enjoy the benefits.

Soon, I followed his example and I switched to ProPhoto RGB, applying it to all of my images. My images did not improve (they were just fine in Adobe RGB), but I felt pretty good about my ability to take advantage of a future printer with much more color than my current printer (an Epson 9800). I never expected my images to improve, but I did want to be on board when that new huge-gamut printer came along. To date it has not.

Over the years, probably more a result of being in step with other photographers, I switched back to Adobe RGB 1998. My photos still look good, and I seldom get any reminders from the Color Settings palette reminding me that the color profile I have in my photos is different than the color settings I have established for the Adobe Creative Cloud. My work flow just works.

This past week, however, I encountered a situation while photographing an oil painting where the difference between ProPhoto and Adobe RGB made the difference between  success and failure.

I have been working for months to learn a new technique for making reproductions of paintings. This involves much discipline: accurate lighting, precise exposure, perfect camera positioning, building and applying an excellent input profile (applied in Adobe Camera Raw), and then adjusting the black-point and the white-point to get the best possible tone range in the resulting images.

I don’t want you to think I’m new to fine art reproduction photography. No, I have been doing it rather badly for decades. I have spent countless hours and many dollars building the right set-up, measuring and preparing the lighting, and taking slightly unacceptable photos of paintings.

In January of this year I attended an inspiring seminar on fine art reproduction by artist/photographer Christopher Campbell and software developer Franz Herbert. The two presented at the annual Color Conference, an event hosted by the Printing Industries of America. It was the best seminar I have attended in years. At the end, Mr. Campbell showed two samples of paintings and reproductions that were indistinguishable. Franz Herbert demonstrated BasicColor Input, the software he develops for BasicColor, a German firm that makes profiling and profile editing software.

This is a comparison of the ProPhoto RGB working color space (black wireframe) to the image capabilities of a Canon 6D digital camera. The size of ProPhoto is important to capture such a large potential volume of colors captured by that, and similar cameras.

As a result of attending that seminar, and doing considerable reading after, I developed a work flow and apparatus for fine art reproduction photography. I built a special wall mount for paintings; I bought clamps and aluminum bar stock to mount my strobe lights in the correct position for this kind of work. I got a new Color Checker SG target from X-Rite, and bought a pair of lasers to aim the lights.

In February I got a copy of BasicColor Input, and began the process of learning how to make and use Camera Raw profiles (I have used ColorChecker Passport for years). In late April I assembled all of this in the studio at my university. I brought my own strobes over (they are better than the lights owned by my department). I set up my lights, measured their positions exactly, and then aimed them using the lasers.

I bought a Hasselblad alignment mirror on eBay (by mail from Hungary), and I bought a Zig-Align mirror for the Canon macro lens I planned to use for this activity. The two mirrors are used to square the camera to the artwork: one goes on the artwork wall, one goes on the camera lens during the alignment stage.

Once assembled, I showed my students how the system works. We set up the Color Checker SG and we made exposure calculations to get the images in the camera – a Canon 6D. We then made profiles using the BasicColor software, and learned that the errors in color from shooting to profile were too high: my average Delta-E was in double-digits. I photographed the painting and opened it using the profile we made. Printing that image to Epson Somerset paper we could see that the color was too orange. Cream colors in the original were just wrong. I worked with the image to make it look better, but it got worse.

Back in the studio, I recorded a custom white balance in the camera, a step that I had omitted in the first round (though suggested by Christopher Campbell and Kevin O’Connor). Then I photographed the Color Checker SG again, and made a new profile. This one turned out much better: average Delta-E of 2.46, peak Delta-E of 5.3.

Again, I photographed the painting and opened the image in Camera Raw, applying the new profile. On printing it, the cream colors were much better, but still visibly wrong.

This is a projection in 2D of the colors in a recent fine art reproduction image I made in the studio at my university with the Canon 6D camera. Notice the colors that extend beyond the triangular gamut of Adobe RGB 1998 at the top-right; these are the cream-yellow colors described in this essay. This image was created in ColorThink Pro software, which can plot various color gamuts in 2D and 3D space.

In Adobe Camera Raw I changed the bit depth of the photos from 8-bit data to 16-bit data and tried again. The result was the same: cream colors that were orange. I reconsidered everything that I was doing, attempting to figure out how to make it better. I seized upon the idea of the color space, wondering if Adobe RGB is too small for the colors in the painting. I changed the color space to ProPhoto RGB and tried again. Bingo! I could tell immediately that the cream colors had been captured and converted to Adobe Photoshop correctly.

…and this is the same image superimposed on the 2D gamut chart of ProPhoto RGB. You can see that the larger working space accommodates nearly all the colors in the photograph, doing a much better job than its slightly smaller counterpart Adobe RGB 1998.

After analyzing the two gamuts side-by-side, I realized that the most significant difference between the two (in this case) is a small strip of land along the red-green axis, passing through the red-yellow-orange areas of the image. ProPhoto RGB is slightly larger along this axis (there is not much room to move there), but this was exactly the area where my colors were being clipped into the smaller Adobe RGB color space, and this was pushing the creams into stronger reds. When I used ProPhoto RGB, the colors were being recorded and passed correctly to Photoshop, and they were remarkably better.

The resulting image, and the print I made from it are nearly perfect. It is the most satisfying result that I have ever made.

To download a printable version of this essay, please click on the image below:

ADDENDUM May 18, 2019
This article presumes that other software will play fair with ProPhoto RGB. In the months since I posted this essay I have discovered that Adobe InDesign CC is not always content to accept images with embedded ProPhoto RGB ICC profiles.

In a couple of tests I have done making 19 x 25 inch press sheets for the Heidelberg press at Cal Poly, I discovered that InDesign mysteriously loses the embedded ProPhoto RGB profile when these images are placed in InDesign. Instead of acknowledging the profile and processing the image correctly, InDesign says that the image has no profile at all, and substitutes the document default profile (whatever you have set in the Color Settings for InDesign). In some cases, InDesign does acknowledge the profile while in others it does not (about half the time it does not work correctly).

The simple solution to this is to use the control Object>Image Color Settings to reassign ProColor RGB to each image whose profile has been dropped. Another solution is to set ProPhoto RGB as your default RGB color profile, and then any image whose profile gets dropped will default, correctly, to the default.

The latter solution will cause severe color shifts to images that are not ProPhoto RGB. For example placing a small-gamut image (perhaps sRGB) image without an embedded profile would cause it to be rendered by the much larger ProPhoto RGB color profile on output, scaling the reds, green and blues to extreme versions of those colors, and nothing like the original image.

I don’t know if Adobe is aware of this problem, but now you are!


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Making indentations more attractive

As I mentioned in my last article, I believe that one should either indent, or space-after paragraphs in running text. Not both.

And, when using a common indentation to create visual cues for the reader, I believe that you should take it one step farther, and not indent the first paragraph in an article, nor the first paragraph after an illustration or a caption.

This three-column page is made less attractive by indentations in three places where I believe there should be no indentation. I have chosen small indent values (0.22 in.), and I want to eliminate the indentations where marked in yellow.

My reason has to do with coloration – the texture of the printed page. Indentations where they are not needed should be eliminated. This is an easy task in Adobe InDesign. I make two copies of my primary Paragraph Style, one with an indentation, the other without (they should be otherwise identical). The un-indented version will be used only occasionally to make the page look better.

This is the same page with those indentations removed. It’s subtle, but effective. All excellent typography is thoughtful, making the experience of reading pleasant for the customer.

I work to avoid odd open spaces that have the potential to confuse the reader. And, if you have read my other typographic essays, you know that my primary motivation in typography is to avoid interrupting the reader – ever.

Read about prepositions and prepositional phrases in the next blog.

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