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Has the move to digital changed anything?

Hi Everyone.

I’m working on a project that will be focusing on the
changing–already changed?–frontier of craft and art photography.
This of course, being the move to digital.

I wonder what questions people have.

Questions about the mechanics–files and formats–or about
expectations and responsibilities regarding post production work such
as Photoshopping and adjustments.

Also, how are people presenting their work stylistically? Have you
considered the trends and fashion in background selection,

Are you conducting the business of documenting your work in the same
way as you have been but simply changing the mechanics from a analog
to digital (camera and medium)?

Or has the move to digital changed everything?

Has the web changed how you document your work?

Thanks in advance.
Andy Cooperman

Hi Andy,

Having shot jewelry and small product work semi-professionally for
years, going way back into the days of film, I can say that it’s
certainly made things a whole lot easier and quicker. Better?
Interesting question.

It’s also raised the bar into what would have been the stratosphere
back in the days of slides, in terms of expectation of visual

I did a lot of scanning a while back of some big-name jeweler’s show
slides from the 70’s forward, and was stunned by how sloppy they
were, by modern standards. Dust & fingerprints, blown highlights,
speculars, distracting backgrounds, you name it.

Now, with photoshop, there’s simply no excuse for any of that. It’s
not that one can photoshop, but rather that one must photoshop,
to reach even a minimum level of acceptability. While I was living in
Santa Barbara, (mecca of affordability that it was) I also worked as
a graphic designer/prepress monkey. At least half of that job was
photoshopping just about every image that came in the door. If
you’ve seen an image professionally printed at all, anywhere, in the
past 10 years, it’s been photoshopped to within an inch of its life.
Period. “Real” isn’t nearly good enough by modern standards. Part of
it is simply adjusting the incoming image data to yield output that
more-or- less matches what the camera really saw, as reflected by the
limitations of our particular printing presses and processes. Just
because your camera recorded the data, doesn’t mean that the output
mechanism is going to give anything like a similar output without
some pretty massive tweaking.

Of course, once you’re in there digging around, it becomes almost
automatic to fix little dust bunnies, or those annoying little
scratches that you never notice until you’re looking at them blown
up 500% on the monitor. The reflection of the lens? 5 minutes, and
it’s gone. Color balance? Axiomatic. Boost the contrast? Always.
(Partly to compensate for the lack of range of the camera sensor,
partly to compensate for how the brain remembers images. (The brain
always oversaturates remembered colors and images. ))

Then the real question becomes where do you stop? That has to be one
of the original “slippery slope” questions.

I have a sort of two pronged theory about it. If it’s supposed to be
a documentary image of a single one-off piece, leave it alone beyond
color balance and cleaning up the background. Don’t mess with the
piece itself. (Essentially: fix procedural or perceptual errors
introduced by the mechanism of the photography. Don’t alter the

If, on the other hand, it’s a publicity image that’s intended to
represent the Platonic Ideal of a production piece, then polish
until it gleams.

In terms of image fashion, if you shoot with the intent in mind to
remove the background digitally as the first step, it lets you swap
in whatever background you want, whenever you want, and rebrand the
images as many times as you like, over as long of a timeframe as you
like. Which lets you follow fashions as closely and frequently as
you want. If you go down that road though, at some point you spend
more time fussing with your images than you do actually making the
pieces in the images. There comes a point of diminishing returns in
the real world, but that doesn’t limit the possibility of what
could be done.

For a while, I had a standard background image that I used in all
the images of my production line, to unify the images. Now, doing
only one-offs, I usually use a black-glass reflection that’s done
during the shoot. No photoshop for that, because it’s a real PITA to
do right digitally. (Would require an entirely separate photo to
generate the proper reflection. Simpler just to do it right the
first time, in the real world.) Partly I do it that way just
because it’d be impossible to fake digitally. Simple little stuff
like that speaks to authenticity, at least to those who know enough
to spot it. (Doesn’t mean I don’t photoshop the scratches off the
glass though…)

In terms of shooting, digital is night-and-day easier than film ever
was. For serious stuff, I shoot tethered into my laptop, and check
exposure and focus while zoomed in hundreds of percent, targeting
specific areas of the image. Do I want that stone sharp and
sparkly? No problem. Check it as the shutter clicks, and adjust as
needed, rather than waiting for the $15 processing of the $10 roll
of film to come back the next day. Need a bunch of pictures? No
worries, they’re free. Want to start shooting at 3 AM on the night
before the piece has to go out Fed-Ex? No need to scoot out for film,
or wonder if you got a good shot, now that it’s too late to
reshoot… Need a B/W of an image where you only have color shots? No
problem. (I really had that happen to me once, and had to spend a day
frantically reshooting on BW film. Now? 10 seconds in photoshop.)

Given the ease and affordability, I document much more, and much
better than I ever did in the bad old days. I sold my last working
film camera years ago, and wouldn’t ever go back. (I still have my
Minox, but that hardly counts.)

As far as the web goes, that hasn’t changed how I document, but it
has changed how I share images, and with whom. I do sometimes shoot
informal pictures of work in progress, and send it around to my
friends, either as a “see the new cool thing” or “What do you
think?” images. It lets you do informal virtual critiques much more
easily than previously.


Brian- Thanks for your expert input into this very interesting

I love having a digital camera and photo booth. It’s so easy to
document our work. I shudder to think of all of the nice pieces that
I’ve made over the years that didn’t get documented at all.

You make a very important point about going too far in photo shop.

When I open a new JCK I see photos of colored diamonds and colored
gold that are just too good to be true. The pinks are so hot and the
yellows are too intense to be real. It’s almost false advertising to
me. Just as are the gorgeous ladies in my sweetie Tim’s Playboy

On the flip side of the issue, I see a lot of close ups of stuff
that shouldn’t be. Especially in setting work. I can see flanges on
the prongs, ragged edges on bezel setting and file marks.

So, how far is too far with photo shop?

Have fun and make lots of Jewelry
Jo Haemer

Hi again Andy,

You knew I wasn’t done, right?

The more I think about digital images, and manipulation, the deeper
the rabbit hole gets.

I gave a talk about digital imaging and image manipulation at SNAG,
back in 1996. While the technology has certainly moved light-years
since, the fundamental issues remain the same. Essentially, where do
you draw the line in how much ‘polishing’ is too much?

There are some real puzzlers involved in all this, and photographs
of jewelry type objects have the greatest concentration of conundrums
out of any subject I can think of.

So, you want to create an “accurate” image of a piece. OK fine, but
what’s “accurate”? “Accurate” to what the camera saw, or "accurate"
to what a human eye would see in the same situation? There’s no way
to create an image that’s a 100% perfect recording of the object in
front of the camera without screwing with it in photoshop. You
just can’t. The camera’s sensors don’t have the dynamic range, the
lenses distort the image, the list of shortcomings is long, even with
pro- level gear.

Jewelry, being small and reflective, is sort of the ‘perfect
trainwreck’ of nasty shooting issues.

To whit:

Reflections. Yeah, we all know this one is a PITA, but it’s even
worse than you think: ever wonder why you have to work so hard to
get your diamonds to sparkle the way they do to your eye? Simple: the
camera has one lens. You have two eyes. Your eyes are 3 inches apart,
so they’re picking up two entirely different sets of reflections.
Your brain merges them together, so that you ‘see’ both sets as
though they were one. No way on earth to photograph that. The only
way to pull off something similar is to merge two photos with
slightly different reflection sets together in photoshop. No, it’s
not anything like “accurate” to what was in front of the single lens
of the camera, but it’s a pretty good fake for what a person’s two
eyes would really have seen.

It’s not just stones that show this problem. Any reflective surface
will do the same thing, and the closer you get to the subject (like
if you’re shooting jewelry…) the worse it gets. Don’t believe me?
Take a polished ring, put it on the table in front of you, and look
at it from 6 inches away. Now close one eye. Notice that the
reflections ‘moved’? Switch eyes. Notice that they moved again? Now
open both eyes and really look at the reflections. If you’re good at
it, you can pick which eye you’re paying more attention to, and
’move’ the reflections around just by concentrating on the image from
one eye or the other.

Yes, your brain is photoshopping the image on you.

So, is the goal to make a photograph that’s an accurate reproduction
of what a machine recorded, or what a person would have seen?

Can’t even do that in one shot, really.

Dynamic range: camera sensors are getting better, but they’re still
not anywhere near as good as the human eye is, in terms of the
ability to adapt to areas of dark and light in an image. (AKA dynamic
range) The eye has tremendous range that it can cover. What’s worse,
the brain steps in again, and ‘builds’ synthetic contrast
automagically. Essentially, the brain picks the darkest area in a
scene, and defines that as ‘black’, and then picks the lightest area,
and calls that ‘white’, and stretches out the luminance range between
that to give as much contrast as possible, regardless of what a light
meter might have picked up objectively. (Pretty much exactly what you
do by adjusting the levels in photoshop.) The brain also has the neat
trick of ‘remembering’ high and low value images in stages. It picks
up the bright areas, locks those into memory, and then resets the
eye, and picks up the dark areas. Once it has both sets of data, it
paints them into one semi-coherent image that you ‘see’ as though it
were all happening at once.

So, once again, your brain’s photoshopping the image without telling
you about it.

You can do this exact same thing in photoshop, by combining two
differently exposed images to get one image with improved dynamic
range. So is that ‘altering’ the image? or is it just fixing an image
previously crippled by the limitations of the recording gear?

The lenses distort the image slightly. Photoshop can correct for
this, if you’ve got the right distortion map for the particular lens
you shot with. (not as hard as it sounds.) Is that ‘altering’ the
image? or again, just fixing a screwed up recording?

And then, of course, there are the limitations of the viewing media
of the image. Yes, you can have ‘perfect’ data stored in a file
somewhere, but it doesn’t do any good unless someone can see it.
Which means it must be displayed. Which means you have to take into
account the gamut, dynamic range and aspect ratio of whatever you’re
displaying/printing on/with. Which opens up a whole new can of

So, do you keep massaging the image data to give you…what? What’s
the intent for the final image? Once you start down this road, where
do you stop?

What’s “honest” and “accurate”?? I can make a case for just about
any image modification you care to name short of outright

As I said in the last post, if I’m trying to do a semi-accurate
picture of a specific piece, I’ll do anything I like to the
background, but not alter the piece itself. Much. It’s the "much"
that’s the killer. Yes, I’ll always adjust the contrast and dynamic
range. That’s standard, and the eye does it automatically. I rarely
go to the trouble of shooting multi-angle reflection shots. Major
pain in the tail. Only worth it for specific shapes and situations.
(try shooting a reflective hemisphere sometime…) But I’ll usually
remove dust bunnies, even if they’re on the piece, as those are
artifacts of the specific shooting situation, not the piece itself.
Those sorts of things get removed, even if they involve retouching
bits of the piece.

Now that you’re ‘fixing’ parts of the piece itself, even if only
dust bunnies and bad reflections, where do you stop? Where’s the line
between an “accurate” photo and a digital painting?

The other question is: does it matter? PR shots are all retouched to
the max, as a matter of course. Reality isn’t close to good enough.
What’s the purpose of the image? If the purpose is a PR shot, then
you simply don’t have a choice. Grab the Wacom tablet, and get busy.
If it’s documentation, do you bother doing anything at all?

At a certain point, the sheer overhead of time and expense involved
in massive retouching limits how much truly insane work is going on.
It takes time, and skilled retouchers don’t come cheap. Time and
money are the only limiting factors though. Any thoughts of 'honesty’
in images went out the window a decade or two back, at least in the
big leagues. Any photos that are close to ‘as shot’ are that way
because the photographer was very good in the first place, not
because anybody had the first thought for making an ‘honest’ image.
Do enough retouching, and you discover that its usually cheaper and
faster to just shoot it right the first time, rather than spend hours
tweaking around in photoshop.