46 Minutes of Your Time

Many of you won’t care, but some of you desperately need to spend the time to watch this video.

It’s Ctein demonstrating actual dye-transfer printing (to Michael Reichmann of the photo website Luminous Landscape).

Many of the interesting parts of the process are done in normal room light, so you get to see the real thing, and you see the equipment and hear about the process for the bits done in the dark.

Watch this!

And, we’re coming to the end of the sale on the remaining inventory of Ctein’s dye transfer prints, info here.

Probably the Last Ctein Dye Transfer Print Sale Ever

All my life dye transfer has been the top color photo printing process. And for a long time I’ve been privileged to be a friend of one of the very few people who ever did dye transfer printing.

Kodak discontinued the materials in 1994, and Ctein finally closed down his darkroom in 2013. There have been a couple of print sales along the way, too. This one is probably the absolutely final one. This is selling off all the prints remaining in inventory.

Here’s the official press release on it. Note that the first URL given is the top level of The Online Photographer; you’ll need to check “Recent articles” in the left column to find the print sale post when it goes up on Black Friday.

Expert West Coast Photographic Printmaker to Liquidate His Entire Inventory of Rare and Prized Color Prints

San Francisco area photographer and master printmaker Ctein is offering his entire lifetime archive of rare traditional dye transfer prints for sale. The sale will take place on The Online Photographer website (https://theonlinephotographer.typepad.com/) starting at noon Pacific Standard Time on November 29th, the Friday after Thanksgiving, and continue for seven days only.

Ctein (his only name—pronounced “kuh-TINE”) is selling full-sized 16×20-inch dye transfers for only $650 per print on a first-come, first-served basis. More than 250 images will be offered. Interested readers can view these in advance at http://ctein.com/2019TOPDyeSale.htm.

Ctein, among the best-known and most accomplished of the dye transfer printers, worked in the medium for 40 years until he closed his darkroom in 2013. Now, connoisseurs can own a beautiful, genuine dye transfer print for their own collections.

Dye transfer, widely acknowledged to be the Rolls-Royce of traditional color printing methods back in the era of film photography, was extremely difficult to master and expensive and time-consuming to practice. Dye transfer prints have a distinctive beauty and purity of color. They have a greater color gamut and deeper maximum black than even inkjet prints, and were among the most permanent of all color processes.

Such prints were always rare and always expensive, and master printers in the medium have always been few and far between. By 1994, when Kodak finally discontinued making the materials, most of the active dye transfer printers in the US could fit in a single living room. Now a scant handful are left.

For more information, please contact Ctein at ctein@pobox.com or Mike Johnston of The Online Photographer at mcjohnston@mac.com.

Somewhat Snarky Observations About Post-Processing

Now and then I see people claiming it as a virtue that they don’t “do anything” to their photos after they come out of the camera.

Like most religious wars, neither side is totally lacking in value.

Ansel Adams said “Yes, in the sense that the negative is like the composer’s score. Then, using that musical analogy, the print is the performance.” (Sheff, David (1 May 1983), Playboy Interview: Ansel Adams, p. 226) With film, the negative doesn’t look anything like the final image (true enough in black and white, far more true in color), and everybody understood there were decisions required to get from there to a print. Everybody knew it was very important who did your printing (and many people did their own printing in the darkroom, at least until they got successful enough to hire a first-rate printer to work for them).

The actual data recorded by a digital sensor is even less like an image that could mean anything to a human—the Bayer filter array records each pixel in one color, and those are then combined with complicated algorithms to make a color image of the result. But software to do that is built into our cameras, so it’s possible for people who are ignorant of that (or just haven’t thought about it much) to have the idea that the JPEG that comes out of their camera is what the sensor actually captured and any change from that is a distortion.

Okay, it’s time to strip off a couple of important but unusual branches of photography explicitly. In scientific, forensic, and probably some other specialized branches of photography one is basically recording data rather than making images. The photographer needs to be prepared to argue (or formally testify) that the image accurately represents reality in the specific ways that matter (and may wildly distort other aspects of the imaging if necessary to make the thing they’re illustrating more clearly visible in the images). These are extremely valuable, important, areas of photography, but they don’t participate in stupid arguments about “altering” photos; they have clear formal standards and principles, and they’ve had them for many decades.  This argument isn’t relevant to them.

The experience of actually being in a place, seeing it with your own eyes, is complex and largely synthetic (built up in your brain).  We see full resolution with only a small portion of the retina, but the way the eyes move around and the brain treats the results makes us feel like we perceive precisely everywhere.  Our eyes can see detail in a vastly greater brightness range than cameras can, and that also enters into our perception.  It’s usually desirable to print camera images so they resemble what we think we see, rather than what we actually see at any one point in the scene.

One of the most obvious areas is white balance. Leaving the camera on “auto” white balance somewhat masks the issue (letting the camera make what is essentially a post-processing decision in digital), but it’s quite common to want to make the color captured outdoors in open shade look much more like the color captured indoors under incandescent light than it actually is. This can be done more accurately in post-processing generally than by relying on “auto”.

Every single scene you stand in front of doesn’t look best cropped to 4:3 (or 3:2 or 6:7 or 16:9 or 8:10). Making a fetish of “not cropping” (by which people mean cropping only in the camera and hence always using that exact aspect ratio) will make your work less good. (With miniature cameras, especially 35mm and smaller, and early digital captures, cropping too much could highlight technical issues (grain, etc.), and it was good practice to try to frame tightly to minimize cropping later, yes. But that’s “try” and “minimize”, not make a fetish of completely avoiding.) Mind you, the look of prints with a natural black border from an oversize negative carrier really is rather nice.

When photographing a static scene with a long span in time, it’s useful to make precisely-exposed images that capture the scene as well as possible. This saves some time later, and results in better technical quality (often just very slightly better, but sometimes vastly better). And old slide photographers who projected their original slides (that is, amateurs) were very aware that there was no option for them to adjust exposure later, or cropping either.  However, those of us who photograph dynamic scenes, perhaps with changing lighting as well, and us moving through them constantly would frequently miss our best shots if we took the time to get perfect exposures each time. Yes, as we get better we judge the exposure better by eye, and just work faster, and that has technical benefits to the work that are not to be despised; but the ability to shoot quickly is very often the difference between a brilliant picture and a useless picture in dynamic situations, and using post-processing to make that brilliant but technically somewhat under-exposed picture look excellent is IMHO entirely appropriate.

Making exhibition-grade images often involves a lot of local brightness adjustment—”dodging” and “burning”, deliberate “vignetting” (or correcting corner falloff in your lenses; the opposite of vignetting), gradient filters (and people used split neutral density filters on their lenses when taking film photographs sometimes, especially slides, because of the narrow brightness range they could capture), and so forth. Darkening areas to suppress distracting detail, creating brightness patterns to lead the eye, emphasizing the important features.  Pablo Inirio was the master printer of Magnum Photos for decades, and Magnum has released a few of his annotated workprints for printing important photos.

Zoom Lenses — do you use the full range?

I’ve heard it asserted that many photographers use only the extreme focal lengths of their zoom lenses.

I haven’t thought this was true of me, and today I had Lightroom plow through the numbers for a wedding a shot last Saturday (plus the rehearsal Friday); and it isn’t true of me.

Focal lengths used with 12-40/2.8

Focal lengths used with 40-150/2.8

I do however use them at their long end more than elsewhere; no surprise there, I’ve always been a telephoto guy.——

Annoying Aspects of Modernity

My primary camera came back as “beyond service life” and hence unrepairable.  Even the guy at the camera store was surprised, he had to look up when it was released (it was announced in February of 2012).

Olympus OM-D EM-5 “beyond service life”

Meanwhile, I could easily get a Leica M3 (made around the same time I as) or a Nikon F (about 5 years newer than the Leica) repaired. Of course those two are special cases, they’re both regarded as important classics. And, being old-school completely mechanical cameras, the parts they need can be manufactured pretty easily today, without any help from the original manufacturers.

This was my only video camera and my primary still camera (though the D700 still does a much better job on roller derby and in dark bars and music circles).

I’ve been playing around in my head with where to take the camera collection from here, given that both sides (this Micro Four Thirds body and the lenses for it, and my Nikon D700 and those lenses) are getting old by modern standards (the D700 is even older, having been released in July of 2008; I’ve already had one autofocus system repair). This is rather financially constrained, among other things.  (Some of the Nikon lenses I’m using I bought in 1981, and they still work fine, and still could be repaired though perhaps not by Nikon themselves.)

I think it’s time to abandon flappy mirrors; they’re a silly idea in digital cameras. However, full-frame sensors do seriously better in low light than smaller ones (no smaller sensor has yet matched the specs of my 2008 D700 full-frame sensor), and DSLRs have better auto-focus for tracking and fast action than any mirrorless (except possibly maybe the hugely expensive top-of-the-line Sony A9, which doesn’t take any of my lenses). And there aren’t many full-frame mirrorless lines; there’s the Sony, and a Leica (which makes the Sony look cheap).  But the state of the art in sensors and electronics is advancing constantly; while no smaller sensor has caught up to my D700 yet, they’re close, and no doubt will catch up soon. Of course today’s full-frame sensors are five generations (or some such) better, and still well ahead, but at some point something becomes “good enough” and it’s not worth paying hugely for small improvements for most kinds of photography. Nikon is allegedly about to release their own mirrorless full-frame system, but how well it will work with old Nikon lenses is anybodies guess. For that matter how well it will work at all is still up in the air.

With financial constraints, concentrating back into one system is nearly certainly the way to go, and for cost and flexibility the Micro Four Thirds seems to be the best choice starting from where I am.

Have to think about it; I wonder what I’ll actually do—and when?