Don’t use black backgrounds for editing photos

While dark environments, such as Apple’s Mojave, or the default settings for Photoshop & Pixelmator Pro, may look fashionable, they are terrible for editing photos.

Why? Because they screw up your ability to see tones properly. Using a dark background will trick your mind into producing a print that has clogged up shadows, and is overall too dark.

Don’t believe me? Check out the image below.



See that grey band in the middle? It is exactly the same shade of gray all the way across. The left end is NOT lighter than then right end.

Set your editing tool to as light an environment as you can, and change the background to white, to keep your brain from messing with you!

On copyright (US)

on copyright.

First: INAL (I’m not a laywer.)
I have, however,  read and closely followed copyright for a decade or more.

Here are some quick, general points:

“Prior to what year are works in the public domain?”
1923. (It’s 2008 now, and with extensions, copyright attaches for 95 years.) In general, for works created on or after January 1, 1978, the term of copyright is the life of the author plus seventy years after the author’s death. (See page 4 in the circular listed below.)

“Only published works can be copyrighted.”
Wrong: Copyright attaches the instant you have created the item. The item must be in tangible form (ie, ideas cannot be copyrighted.) That is so fundamental that it’s the subject of the very first paragraph of the very first circular from the copyright office.*

“So why register a copyright and pay the fee?”
Because without that, you will not succeed in getting damages for infringement in court. (You can sign up for electronic submission and registration, and submit images in bulk for one fee. Doesn’t make it easy, but certainly makes it easier than it was.) Without registration, your remedy is to stand on the court steps and stamp your feet.

“Can I just mail myself a envelope and use the post office time on the cancelled stamp?”
Sure… but you can also stand on those same court steps, and whistle “Dixie” and get the same legal effect: none.

“The first four bars of music; the first 2 sentences; the (other magic pixie dust) are can be used without infringing.”
See “whistling Dixie” above. (That’s nonsense.)

“What about fair use?”
Whole can-o-worms. The basic answer is: Ask the copyright holder. To cover fair use would take more than a few dozen paragraphs. In a nutshell, it’s not cut-and-dry and is settled in court, on a case-by-case basis (and case law is all over the place on it.) Some bits of it are reasonably clear (such as using copyrighted images in an actual educational institution [but if you print them in a PDF which can be taken off-campus, the ice just got a lot thinner]). You may quote or reproduce for legitimate criticism. (But you can see how vague words like ‘legitimate’ can lead to sticky situations. Like I said: can-o-worms.)

Basically, if you’re claiming fair use (like Richard Price or Jeff Koons) instead of getting permission from the artist first, be prepared to defend yourself in court. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

More info:

“What is proper copyright labeling?”
© year name (or Copyright[or Copr.] year name)

*But please, don’t take my word for all this. Instead, start here:

That’s the basic, fundamental US copyright circular, and it is the entrance portal to the rabbit-hole that is copyright law.

Solo show at the Triton

“Contiguous: Line of Sight” is my  solo show at The Triton Museum of Art, in Santa Clara, California. It runs from Feb 10 to May 13, 2018. You are cordially invited to drop by at any time.

MPC Art Gallery show

The Monterey Peninsula Art Gallery exhibition (myself and my wife) actually started on October 3rd, but  the opening was on the 13th. I’m just back, and a friend took this picture of my wife’s presentation. Thought I share it.


IMG 5440

Fast, excellent raw file viewer

Need a fast and accurate camera raw file viewer?

This one, cleverly named “FastRawViewer” is well worth a look, not to mention the extremely modest fee:

Scroll to the bottom of the page for some reviews by names you’ll likely recognize. The same folks wrote RawDigger, so they know whereof the speak… (so to speak…)

Highly recommended.


DPI, PPI, pixels and size

It’s surprising how often I see a call-out, a request, for a digital image something like “2000 x 3000 @ 72 dpi”.

That’s actually nonsense.

A digital image’s size is its size, period. “2000 x 3000 @ 72 dpi” or “2000 x 3000 @ 300 dpi” is not going to change the size of the file. The file is 2000 x 3000.

What it does do is say “If I print this at 72 dpi, the resulting print will be  27.7″ x 41.6″, but if I print it at 300 dpi, the print will be 6.6″ x 10″.

It would be very unusual for a person making a print to ask you to embed the dpi in a file, since that’s something they will set themselves. 

However, it does make sense to use “dpi” if the size specification is in inches instead of pixels (as in dots per inch):  “send me an image that’s 5″ x 7″ @ 300 dpi.” That file will be 1500 x 2100 pixels. (5 x 300 = 1500; 7 * 300 = 2100). Equally, if someone asks you to send them an image specified as  just “5 x 7” – then you have no idea at all what to send (unless perhaps you send them an actual 5×7 print instead of a digital file.)

Digital files are specified by either just pixel dimensions OR by inches and dpi. Mixing one with the other makes no sense.

And finally,  the proverbial “72 dpi” – which is probably wrong on a couple of counts, unless you’re printing a huge image, meant to be viewed from a great distance. It would never work for a printed photograph.

The person specifying “72 dpi” is probably thinking of a computer monitor screen, but as far as I know, no computer monitor has been made at 72 ppi (notice: PIXELS per Inch, not DOTS per inch) in well over a decade, perhaps 2 decades. Today’s monitors pretty much begin at 94 ppi and go up from there. And even then, specifying a ppi for a monitor is meaningless, since the pixels per inch of a monitor is fixed, and cannot change (whereas one can print at any chosen dpi.)

PPI (Pixels per inch) is used for displays, such as monitors and TVs; dots per inch (DPI) is used in the printing process. (It is usually true, with rare exceptions, that 1 ppi = 1 dpi.)


Monitor checking / test


is a great Photoshop file, with several layers, each of which you can view on your monitor as an aid in determining how well your monitor is calibrated and profiled.

Highly recommended.

Free, but requires an email sign-up. I joined them several years ago, and get an email once every blue moon.

(Oh, and if you’re of a mind, join and make a contribution while you’re there…)

Yeah, but is it Art (transcript)

Well, a journey that began a year ago has finally arrived at its destination, and I have at last posted the text (as a PDF) of my talk at the Center for Photographic Art in January of this year.

The zipped file is here:
and the unzipped pdf is here:

Fair warning: this is not a “light read” – the PDF is 37 pages and over 13,000 words long. You may, or very well may not, agree with my take on the topic “Yeah, but is it Art?”

Feel free to discuss (or vent) here or via email. Just keep it civil.

Fixing over-sharpened images in Photoshop

Here are two approaches to fixing over-sharpened images in Photoshop. Both rely on the blending mode you are using.

The first is “before the fact” – that is, if you have not sharpened the image yet, do this:

1) duplicate the image, which will place an identical copy above your base layer.

2) do your sharpening on that duplicated layer. If the sharpening produces the dreaded white halo, do this:

3) set the blend mode of that over-sharpened layer to darken;

4) zoom into a problem area and set the opacity to about 66% to start.

5) watching the screen, adjust that percentage as needed.

Using this technique, you may end up with some pixel size darker artifacts, but they will, in the finished print, be basically invisible.

6) you may need to add a gamma adjustment layer to finish it off.

This approach saves considerable time when the halos are many, and spread throughout the image.

If instead you have the halos around mountain or roof-tops, or similar dark vs only slightly less dark areas, or you only have an ill-sharpened image, then you can fix the image without resorting to a new layer.

Using pretty much the same method, do this:

Using the clone stamp tool, create a brush that is soft-edged and 3 or 4 times the size of the halo. There is room for “slop” in this, and since you’re going to trace over the halo, you might as well make it easier with a larger brush.

Option click to select the source from the LIGHTER of the two areas (but not the halo itself.) For example a lighter sky with a darker roof-top. Option click the lighter sky.

Then set the blending mode to darken, and simply brush away the halo.

If you have been pixel-peeping to fix halos, either of these techniques will truly make your day.

My friend, Al Weber

Al Weber  passed away Feb 27, 2016. He was my friend, although others certainly knew him better or longer. What we shared, he shared with all: his love of photography. Because we both had a similar sense of simple designs and abstracts, we enjoyed sharing our images with each other. 

More than any other single person, Al changed the course of my journey thru photography. Yes, I’ve been shooting for almost 60 years, but I didn’t really get serious about it until a dozen years ago. Al was the juror for a show at the Center for Photographic Art, in Carmel, a while back, and not one, but two of my images were selected by him for the walls of that storied institution. As we talked about them, we felt a kinship, and I visited him many times at his home. His wonderful wife, Suzie, would putter in the kitchen, or out in the garden. The dogs would bound around excitedly to have someone new. The cat would  hide in the bathroom. Al and I would talk until he got tired.

He honored me greatly by choosing me to be the speaker at one of his famous King City Rendezvous.

And he fell in love with one of my images, “Basement Bistro” and insisted that if I’d print it big, someone would buy it. I felt I was in no position to disagree, so that 13 x 19 print became his, and I had another printed at 36 x 54. One thing led to another, and the big print became the first of my pieces to be collected by a museum, and now resides at The Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento.

But as great a high-point as that was, the most meaningful thing he ever said to me was on one of my last visits, a few months ago. I would always come out with a  handful of photos to show him, and I’d always ask “what do you think?”

On this visit, after going thru a dozen images or so, he said to me “You know, I’m concerned that you always ask what I think. You’re every bit the photographer that I am, and what I think isn’t anything you don’t already know. I like your photos, so quit asking.”

That was Al. Pointed; a bit gruff and as honest and passionate as the day is long. Yes: I am pretty confident in my work,  but you have no idea how much it meant to me to hear Al Weber say those words.

Al: I’ll miss you. You changed my life my friend, and I shall never forget you.