The Importance of Display Calibration

There was, for a long time, a difficult-to-define color type in photographs that I admired. Finally, I learned that the color that was seducing me so much was produced by a now-extinct film called Kodachrome. Most of my photographs are ultimately displayed in black-and-white. The reason is utilitarian: since my images are from the streets, they aren’t taken in a controlled environment, and too much color in the scene can distract the viewer. At the time, this was the perfect excuse for investing so little time in learning about precise color correction. Oh, poor, naive me.

One of the most common description I found in Fujifilm camera reviews involved a thing called "Film Simulation". Within this small repertoire of effects lived the king of color films, for me and many other photographers: the famous Kodachrome, dubbed "Classic Chrome" in the world of digital photography. Fujifilm humbly describes this profile as offering "Added tonal depth for a documentary photography look." The Classic Chrome profile is a pretty precise simulation of Kodachrome’s behavior when exposed to light.

Almost immediately after un-boxing my new camera and turning it on, I searched for that profile. I was astonished with the colors that my camera's LCD screen was showing me. But something odd happened next: after importing the RAW files into my computer, I stopped seeing those wonderful colors. I blamed it on the Adobe Lightroom Software I was using, since it was outdated. I decided to upgrade, and found that in the new version of Lightroom I could choose the camera profile for the image, just as if I was changing White Balance settings. This was amazing to me, because I could switch between Velvia, Provia, Astia, Across, Standard, and the wonderful Classic Chrome. But I still wasn't seeing the colors in that old seductive way.

It's here where a life-changing event came into play – an event that took me back to my photographic childhood. The simple trick is called display calibration. It was a huge mistake on my part to have been working all these years without adjusting my displays, I know. Shame on me. But I hope my experience will help someone else out there.

It all started thanks to a friend's concern for calibrating the screens on his computers. After doing so, he discovered a massive difference in the "before" and "after" calibration results. He bought this software, which within a couple of clicks after installation calibrates the screen in a fairly precise and curious way. The process takes about ten minutes, and is almost standalone. I really appreciated the gesture, because my friend had invested about $200 in the system and gave free calibrations to a group of fellow photographers.

Photographers invest a serious amount of money in gear, which create files that are visualized on our built-in camera screens to a different screen altogether. After learning the importance of having all my devices calibrated so they interpret light in a precise way, I now consider (like many out there) that calibrating displays as a top priority.

Here are a couple of reasons why we should calibrate our displays:

Every Screen is a Different World

Most people nowadays view photographs through screens, and each and one of these screens reproduces light in a unique way. Most screens today are very bright, and offer many kinds of screen qualities. I'm not going to lie: my computer is certainly not the most powerful thing on the market, but it does what I need it to do, quickly, in a way that doesn't affect my workflow. All displays must be seen as machines, and every machine, over time, suffers wear either from mechanical stress or deterioration of its internal components. As contradictory as it sounds, standards are helpful in the creative world. Formally, I have studied the Science of Quality Management, and standards are something I have been keen on for a long time. Standards allow us to do things well, repeatedly, with an openness to improvement.

It helps us print exactly what we see

The world of printing is another discipline by itself, with its own peculiar tricks and techniques, and it is totally foreign to most photographers. Seeing our printed work is also a delight, a fundamental part of our relationship with our images. If we can set our displays according to a standard (which is logically rigorous for almost any serious printing professional), all our images can "speak the same language" as the machines used by the people we trust to convert our work into a physical thing.

There are many ways to calibrate our displays – from using the settings on our devices, to the integration of highly sophisticated devices designed exclusively to see and measure light in ways far beyond our understanding. The important thing is that the decision we make helps us attain the exact color standard we seek. Remember, we have invested significant amounts of money in our photographic equipment, so it is logical and wise to invest a little more toward the way we see the results that our photographic devices produce.

This action has undoubtedly changed the way I see my photographs (and many other things, like movies and photographs online). Today I can say, without fear of being mistaken, that even if the streets present environments with a low level of control, colors can help deliver the photographic message more efficiently. This is totally contrary to what I believed before I felt comfortable working with color – that is, before I calibrated my computer's display. My next step will be to invest in a good monitor that allows me to reach very close to 100% of the existing RGB color spectrum.

Originally Published at Light Stalking

Why a Career as a Photographer Might Lose You All Your Loved Ones

This may sound funny, but when we pursue a photographic career, we gradually slip out of certain social circles into a more intimate space. Photography starts with a slight tickle in our life, and it gives us two options. The first one is to be delighted by it, but quickly drop it after realizing that it’s not the discipline for us. No hard feelings – many photographers have started out with other creative disciplines and finally fallen into the lovely claws of light. The other option is to become so in love with photography that eventually we become "passionate photographers". Here, the title of professional or amateur is no longer valid. If you have a true passion for photography, then you’re a passionate photographer. And there’s nothing left to discuss.

We love to wake up early

Not everybody has a good time waking up, especially early in the morning. We, as photographers, love to wake up when the light is soothing and the streets are less crowded. This is something not well appreciated by others, especially those who may live or travel with us. Just as you should not be willing to trust a tattoo artist who has no tattoos, don't trust a photographer who has trouble waking up early.

We love overcast days

This point is similar to the previous one. Photographers love the soft light of overcast days. Many people love to stay inside, perhaps to have a little brunch or just chill during overcast weather. Instead, we’re lured outside. Simple as that.

We lose track of time

We will, without a doubt, lose track of time while talking about anything that has the slightest, most remote relation to photography. A small and random social pleasantry can result in a two-hour (or longer) conversation (or monologue) if it triggers a photography-related thought. Meanwhile, our companions will just walk away from us.

We make movies impossible to enjoy

We always have something to say when it comes to movies. We make comments about the awesome light, the incredible cinematography, the Director of Photography’s poor decisions and, most annoyingly, we pause the movies a lot so we can appreciate the still image. I understand why regular people can’t stand us, at least for certain activities.

We love to wander the streets alone

Regularly, friends and loved ones like to remain calm in a fixed place to chat and have a nice time. For them, wandering aimlessly through random streets is not the most appealing thing to do. For me, as a former street photographer, I love to be in my zone – and that is on the streets, lost and happy.

We often skip meals

I don't know if this is standard, but for me it definitely is. I’ll skip food if I have a chance to get good pictures. I just don't need the food. I get extra energy from, I don't know, photosynthesis (how awesome is that photo-synthesis!). I would rather keep walking the streets than waste time in some restaurant. This one has a higher level of freakiness, because I have been on photo walks (which I don’t always enjoy) where I have refused to eat in order to keep shooting. My fellow photographers have a different way of seeing things. They need to eat. I don’t get it.

We see public transportation in a different way

We see public transportation as a world of possibilities. By travelling alone, we won’t make anybody feel embarrassed about our weird habit of taking pictures of people inside the metro, for example. Also, we'd rather be at a train station than in a shopping mall. The weird list just keeps getting weirder.

Forget about asking us to delete a picture

I don't know why, but this is a common request from friends and family when we take a couple of shots of them using our style. They will ask to see our pics, then ask us delete the ones they don't like. How preposterous is that? I’ve met photographers who don't delete a single picture they take, and their decision must be respected above all. I do delete photos, but during my editing process. I never do it in the camera, no matter how awful the shot.

We don't like to Photoshop things for you

"Hey, you’re a photographer, right? Could you please Photoshop this flyer for me?" Need I say more? These types of requests are just totally off the table. Please stop homogenizing completely different disciplines that use a powerful tool for completely different purposes.

We won't share images right away

It is okay for you to ask us to take a couple of pictures for them in a casual, ordinary moment? There’s really no problem with this at all, but things will be a lot easier for your social media dynamics if you lend us your own phone to do this. Using our camera to take random pictures will definitely take longer and feel like an eternity compared to your usual social media behavior, which is to publish things right away.

Obviously, this was a humorous post. But it doesn't mean it doesn’t contain grains of truth. The big conclusion here is simple: find a loved one who has huge patience with you in this matter (trust me, it wasn't easy for my partner to develop this patience). And remember to be less selfish when being part of a hanging-out group – that is to say, friends and family who are normal and not crazy about photography. They love us, so let’s give them some quality time once in a while.

Originally Published at Light Stalking

5 Books That Every Photographer Should Read

The world of photography is filled with many accessories and gadgets – from lenses, to fairly simple and peculiar add-ons like camera bags and release buttons – that tantalize us and beg us to include them in our repertoire. But there is a category of goods that, for me, is at the top of things in which every photographer should invest, even if they are second-, or third-hand (or countless-handed). They always manage to fulfill their role in teaching and inspiring us. These peculiar articles, which don't lose their value with time and owners, are photography books. There are a variety of types: academic (from dummy to engineering level), playful, philosophical (for lovers of aesthetics and other philosophical streams), and photo books, which are loaded with beautiful images for us to look at.

Here is a book for each of the categories I mentioned above.

Academic

-          Michael Freeman - The Complete Guide to Black & White Digital Photography

This book was perhaps the most important to me in my life as a photographer. Seven years ago, after losing my point-and-shoot camera, I decided to get a DSLR (just like the pros). I bought all my gear in the U.S. and looked for a book that would help me take images I liked better. I entered a Barnes & Noble’s store, and for some reason I was driven to buy this book. I enjoyed black-and-white photography, and this book seemed to me like the obvious choice. Thankfully, I was not mistaken. It became my bible. It taught me the importance of black-and-white post-production in the digital world. With this book, I learned to contrast with color channels and to discern which areas deserved better care in post-processing.

Freeman is a natural teacher, and his books are wonderful for anyone who has a minimum of self-taught discipline. This book is an extremely easy-to-understand guide, and its size is perfect not only for reading, but also for appreciating the images that illustrate it. Its scope is quite broad, contextualizes the reader in the monochromatic tradition, and even teaches us about alternative print formats. I totally recommend it for people who have even the slightest interest in digital black-and-white photography.

Playful

-          Roland Barthes - Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography

This book is quite funny (at least, I found it so) and is perhaps one of the most oft-mentioned documents in the world of contemporary photography. It is not a treatise on photography as an art, nor is it a book on the history of the photographic discipline. Barthes approaches photography in a contemplative way and seeks to decipher the expressive symbol. He tries to understand the artistic object as such. He takes as his starting point a handful of photographs in order to discover "a new science". It may seem like a rather complicated approach, but he knows how to do it in a playful and digestible way. The most important thing I learned from this book were the two valuable concepts of "punctum" the "studium" for reading an image in a contemplative way.

Philosophical

-          Walter Benjamin - On Photography

To me, Walter Benjamin is the philosopher who has approached photography with the greatest passion of all (Theodor Adorno also approached it, but didn't dedicate a complete book to it). He wrote an essay called "A Short History of Photography" in 1931, and his book "On Photography" is an approach to the medium from a much wider perspective.

In this book, he discusses everything from commercial photography to the scientific uses of photography. Benjamin began talking about photography when he postulated his theory in "The Work of Art in its Technical Reproducibility", which analyzes the differentiated nature of photography – which lacks the "aura" of a unique work – compared to works of art that cannot be reproduced.

Photo books

-          Mary Ellen Mark - 55S

For me, photo books are for me (and for many photographers) the summit of any photographic career. To see a work printed in a compendium that covers all the intentionality of the discipline is a delight.

This is the type of book that we as photographers should invest in the most. This one, published by Phaidon, presents the artistic intentions of Mary Ellen Mark as expressed through the photographic medium. For photographers like myself, who love social and documentary work, this book is a jewel. Each image is generously captioned to give us an idea of what was happening in front of Mark’s lens. Her work is a symbolic narrative that leaves us breathless – and more importantly, invites us to think like few photographers in history have caused us to do.

Easter Egg

-          Magnum Contact Sheets

This book is the Holy Grail of photography for me. The greatness of this book (which is immense) is that it transparently presents the "behind the scenes" of some of the most iconic photographs ever taken. It does this not only through text, but with one of the most useful tools of the editors: the contact sheet. Through this book, we can feel less guilty for not capturing transcendental images in a single shot, which we have naively come to believe is possible. We all tend to think that the iconic images of Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson and others were the result of the sublime ability of each photographer to capture scenes with a sort of magical, highly efficient photography. In fact, our belief is not completely accurate, and this book helps us see this fact for real.

I’m not saying we should be comfortable and simply stop looking for the "decisive moment". I’m just saying that we mustn't feel guilty for not being able to achieve iconic images with a single click, as we think the great masters were able to do every time. In this book, we can see photography in a more human way. Of all the books on this list, I consider this one absolutely essential.

Originally Published at Light Stalking