C. David Tobie: SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) and its effects on Photo and Video Editors

IceSculpture

Recent studies have found a new type of light sensor in the eye, in addition to the rods and cones we are familiar with for color, and black and white vision. This type of sensor has nothing to do with vision, but may have a big impact on photographers and videographers, as it relates to a condition commonly seen in those who edit images for a living. This article will describe that condition: Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), its symptoms and its triggers, as well as offering suggestions to avoid SAD when doing photo and video editing work under controlled light conditions. Lets take a look at how SAD works.

Imagine that you are a caveman (or woman) who had been wandering the wilds for the last several months. Now it is the cold or rainy season, and you are staying in your cave, near the fire. In order to conserve energy, and help you make it through this season, your body triggers the “hibernate” signal, and several things happen.

First, you start craving carbohydrates. And the carbs that you eat start forming more fat than in other circumstances. This adds both insulation, and extra energy storage. You become more lethargic, with reduced energy, increased sleep cycles, even reduced libido. These changes allow you to stay in the cave, instead of feeling the urge to wander the countryside looking for more food, etc. This describes what happens, but it is also important to understand how it is caused.

The newly discovered sensors are simply luminance detectors, involved in setting our day/night cycle, but also our seasonal cycle. If multiple days go by without high light levels, then the detectors produce chemicals that are key to the hibernation response. There are other factors, though how they interact with the light level sensors is complex. Getting generous amounts of physical exercise also assists in avoiding the hibernations response, as does keeping mentally active and happy.

We still inhabit Stone Age bodies, and these responses are still lurking inside us. It would be easy to think of SAD as a medical condition afflicting some small percentage of humankind. But research seems to indicate otherwise. In the more northerly regions of Scandinavia, where there is little or no sun for months at a time in the winter, virtually all residents show symptoms of SAD. In the year-round sunshine of Southern California, on the other hand, most people aren’t aware of SAD ever triggering.

But SAD is not just for those arctic Scandinavians. Large areas of Northern Europe and the Northern West Coast of North America, while much warmer than the Arctic, are still very gray for months on end. This also increases incidences of SAD.

Now lets move on to the specific jobs of interest: those who spend much of their time in the low-light environments ideal for work on color calibrated displays, typically editing photos or video. It is easy during the shorter winter days to start work before the sun is high, and stay at it until it drops again. Unfortunately, this may be what triggers SAD. First, our eyes are not getting the bright sunlight that keeps the luminance sensors from triggering, plus we are not getting much exercise or physical activity. So we may find that we are gaining a bit of weight, feeling less inclined to go to the gym, and generally not being as active.

Medical options are available for SAD treatment, such as high-luminance daylight balanced light sources. It is important to be quite close to very bright light sources to reach the required dose, so don’t think that replacing the ceiling fluorescent tubes with daylight balanced bulbs will do the trick. But once you are aware of the issue, in many areas there is enough sun, on enough days, to use that as your therapy light source. Those places too gray, or too close to the Arctic Circle, will require artificial light sources instead.

Notice that it is short doses of high level sunlight that are the key here. So while working in a dim editing environment may be the problem, increasing the room lighting while you work is not the solution. That will make your editing environment less effective, while never reaching the brightness levels needed to avoid SAD. So think of SAD treatment, in the form of light and exercise, as something to be done in small doses on breaks, and especially at lunchtime, rather than something that requires changing your all-day work environment.

The best prescription for avoiding SAD turns out to be in-line with the best advice for healthy computer work in general:

  • Take frequent breaks; and by breaks, this means getting up and moving. Don’t eat your lunch in front of your screen.
  • Alternate sitting and standing. If you can’t do your editing work standing, then perhaps you can set up a laptop on a higher surface for other tasks such as email.
  • Get out in sunny locations for at least one longer session in the brightest part of the day. Ideally get outside and exercise at this time. If not possible, consider SAD lights as an alternative.
  • See that the others working in your environment are also aware of SAD, and the value of these methods to avoid its onset, as well as to improve health and energy levels in general. Happy Editing!

C. David Tobie

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Changes to Lightroom Licensing: Adobe’s Other Shoe Drops

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Adobe created a tempest in a teapot when they announced the subscription plans for most Adobe applications. Due to the heavy resistance amongst photographers, they crafted a special plan, at a very tempting rate, that offered just Lightroom CC and Photoshop CC for $9.99 per month. That was enough to mollify many photogs, and over time, some of those who dragged their feet initially have joined this custom subscription plan. Life moved on.

However, I still run into photographers, ones who think nothing of buying the latest premium lens or camera body, who are still in the “I want to buy it, and own it forever” camp. Forever isn’t actually forever, but the sentiment is still the same. One very advanced photographer/videographer recently told me that he’s fine with his now-outdated purchased copy of Lightroom, and that it seems Adobe is going to continue supporting new cameras for it, so that’s all he needs.

Enter AdobeMAX 2017. Amongst the spectacle and the visual fireworks, came the announcement of this year’s product lineup, which contained a few fireworks of its own. The for-purchase version of Lightroom will no longer be updated, and at some point in the near future will not longer be sold. Anyone paying attention would have realized that this other shoe was bound to drop before much longer, so in that sense, this is not surprising.

On the other hand, it is inevitable that those who have been making do with the now outdated standalone software would be upset, and a second hullabaloo would ensue. I’m sure Adobe has been expecting it, though certainly not looking forward to it, just as they were well prepared for the initial explosion when the subscription model was introduced. I can envision their experts warning them to hunker down, weather it, not respond to incendiary posts, and all would be for the best in the long run.

I’ve read my share of those incendiary posts, and they have been educational, both in expressing other views on the process, and in highlighting the pain-points in the transition.

One thing that came into focus while reading them was that there was a similar sea-change made, not that long ago; not by Adobe, but by Apple. Remember when Final Cut turned into Final Cut X, with an interface borrowed from Apple’s consumer product, iMovie? And a number of critical features were suddenly missing? Well, that’s not so different from Adobe’s new version of Lightroom CC, which is simplified, offers some web advantages, and has been provided with a much larger cloud storage limit, but which has many limitations not present in the previous version of Lightroom CC.

If the Final Cut model is followed, eventually some of those features will be reinstituted, but its important to think about why both these companies made changes that they were aware would upset their user-base. In both cases, a larger audience was developing, one outside the current professional base; one that needed an easier interface and other simplifications. And the answer, in both cases, was a new, simpler to use application.

But what of the old user-base? In Apple’s case, some hung on, and regained needed feature over time, but many migrated upsteam, to Adobe’s products, to differentiate themselves from the new amateur users. In the case of Lightroom CC, there is no crisis here, the previous application has not (at least at this point in time) been discontinued; it has simply been renamed.

We could ponder the psychology of the quick switch Adobe has pulled: a new, reduced feature, cloud-centric app with the name of the old app: Lightroom CC. And a new, less than flattering name, for the previous app: Lightroom Classic. We’ll hope that the new Lightroom CC will not suffer the fate of the New Coke, but that example is not without value, because Coca-Cola’s method of walking back the failure of New Coke was to introduce a product… wait for it… called: Coke Classic.

Clearly Adobe needed the full strength of the plain, unadjusted Lightroom CC name for the new product. And just as clearly they needed to create a perception that the previous product, with its more advanced feature set, was not an innately superior option, so could not be called Lightroom Plus, Lightroom Pro, or anything else that implied a lack in the new cloud-based version. So, the professional photographers, in addition to all the other indignities they have suffered in the declining pro photo market, were saddled with Lightroom Classic. I can almost envision a tag line to go with it “Lightrooom Classic, for the Good Old Boys.”

So what does this all mean to the good old boys? Those currently paying their $9.99 subscription price each month can pretty much ignore the new Lightroom CC, continue using The Real Lightroom, as well as Photoshop, store their huge hoard of images locally, take care of their own remote backups, and in general, do what they have been doing for the last few years. It will all work the same way it always has… at least until Adobe drops the next shoe.

Those using older, purchased, versions of Lightroom will hear the loud ticking of the clock; they are already missing some nice, recent tools, and soon they won’t have new camera support, so things will break at some point. Forcing them to join the $9.99 subscription program (still a bargain), and use what will now be called “Lightroom Classic”, which will work with all their libraries and images, and offer a few new tools. Not such a huge trauma, after all.

iPhone 7/7+ Raw Capabilities

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Would an iPhone 7 raw capture have produced more shadow detail, more highlight detail, and less sky noise than this iPhone 6 standard camera shot?

While the internet is flooded with negative articles about the iPhone 7 series and how little new they have to offer (a great way to get clicks, whether you have anything meaningful to say or not), there are, in fact, a number of very interesting new features, especially in the 7+. I will wait to discuss the dual cameras and what they offer for phone photography, as well as the wide gamut P3 colorspace of the new iPhones, until I actually have one in hand (the prudent way to write about any product), but in the meantime I can’t resist commenting on another feature of the new phones, or for that matter other recent iPhones, running iOS 10.

That would be the ability to shoot raw images. Not that the native camera app which Apple supplies (and which accounts for the vast majority of images shot with iPhones) offers such an option; but it is available for third parties to use. Adobe is making a splash by supporting this capability in their Lightroom camera function. But first, lets step back, and think about what raw really means.

Raw means nothing, unless there is more than 8 bits (256 levels) of meaningful data available. So the value of raw functions of any type with iPhones will depend on how much meaningful raw data is actually captured, and made available for use, from these phones.

Experience with DSLRs and mirrorless cameras has shown that ten bits of data is good, and twelve bits is better. But where does such “extra” data show up, since screens often don’t display more then 256 levels per color channel anyways?

It shows up mostly when you make significant adjustments to the file, to open the shadows, or enhance the highlights. And the peculiar way that bit depth in files works, extra bits allows us to keep much more highlight detail, while leaving more bits for further down the range. However, unless the dynamic range captures meaningful data, not noise, in the deep shadows, then the value of that extra depth is questionable.

So what we will be looking for from raw capture as we test the iPhone 7 and 7+ (and iOS 10 with phones from the 6s forward) is the ability to produce more highlight and shadow detail, and the ability to make big density shifts in editing software, without causing “thinness”, which shows up as posterization in one or more zones after the edit has been made.

How will the iPhone 7 series perform in raw mode? These are tiny sensors, which are therefore prone to much more noise, especially in the shadows, and in dim lighting. Perhaps the 7+ with its dual camera functionality will be able to reduce that noise a bit, but  don’t expect  raw capture from the iPhone 7 and 7+ to respond like a recent generation DSLRs when editing. But we can hope that this will provide at least incremental improvement on previous iPhone images.

The real question is whether the improvements by shooting with Lightroom raw, over the standard iPhone camera, is large enough and frequent enough for us to use the Lightroom camera as our default, go-to choice for shooting.

Copyright C. David Tobie

What Photoshop Is Used For Today

We hear a lot about Photoshop being used to make models impossibly thin, or remove every sign of wrinkles from someone’s face. Photoshop is no longer the day-to-day photo adjustment app (that’s Lightroom’s job); but it is an invaluable tool for a certain type of photo related work: masking and compositing.

The image below shows the before and after versions of an image. Clearly the before was shot for graphic design use, as it lacks the foreground element to make it a final image in its own right. However, that’s exactly what’s needed to create the type of commercial image required to advertise this gelato cart business.

GelatoBaristaCartCombo

This type of image makes it possible to create business cards, brochures, and websites before the cart is actually available. In fact, the “Photoshopping” of the cart into the scene is not the only digital trickery here; the cart does not actually exist, it is a rendering produced prior to building the cart for final okay of paint color and graphics.

If the final image below leaves you hungering for gelato, and you are looking to hire such a cart for a special occasion in the Miami area, contact mritzer@gelatobarista.com, and inquire about availability. Buon appetito!

GelatoBaristaCartFinal

C. David Tobie

Warning: Major Data Loss Potential in Photoshop CS6 & CC2015

As an expert Photoshop user I am meticulous about my processes and I do not expect to lose work. Today I have lost the same job, not once, but twice, before I figured out what was causing the issue. Let me share this “feature” with you before it costs you hours of labor as well.

In Photoshop CC2015, as well as CS6, the dialog box for converting a file from one colorspace to another has a line at the bottom named “Flatten Image to Preserve Appearance”. No matter what well-meaning goals Adobe had for including this box, and defaulting it to checked, the results of doing a conversion of a multilayer file with this box checked can be catastrophic. All text layers are lost as text, all layers are lost as layers, and the resulting converted file is a flattened, one layer image. Unless you notice this change before saving the file, then you have a major data-loss situation

Convert to Profile Window

So, if you value your layers, and all the work they represent, uncheck this box before converting. And from now on keep one eye on the bottom of this window, rather than converting without checking these options, for fear that this option may once again have become active, and ready to lose your layers and your work!

C. David Tobie 2015

Creative Sunblocks

Shots into the sun can be a challenge, particularly with the more recent iPhones and their sapphire lens covers, which cause a lot of flare with shots incorporating a bright light source. Using sunblocks is one solution. When an object is available that can be used to block, or at least partially block, the sun, the resulting image can have better contrast and detail, as well as reduced artifacting. A convenient tree is the most common choice, and classic, especially with a palm tree. But using foliage at a corner of the image can get good results in a less obvious manner, as can other image elements. Even sunset shots can benefit from sunblocking, as the last of these images shows. So remember your sunblock!

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C. David Tobie

Conflicting Color Palettes

Color palettes are groups of related colors, such as primaries, or pastels. There are palettes associated with certain holidays, or seasons. Conflicting palettes can create striking images that grab the eye, and demand further consideration. This can be valuable in locations where images compete for the eye. The image below includes two classic color palettes: the hot summer colors of the sailboat, and the more natural fall foliage colors of the trees. The challenging relationship between these two palettes creates a memorable, and eye-catching, image.Sailboat-1

C. David Tobie