Using Lightrooms graduated filter and adjustment brush to correct a landscape photograph

Vermont-Mount Mansfield-Winter-Clouds-landscape photograph
My final corrected image of Mount Mansfield in Winter from a camera raw file.

The initial image capture is only the beginning

When we capture our original camera raw files we need to look at them as simply the start of expressing our artistic vision. We are doing more than  just making an image. We are gathering enough data in our raw files to be able to realize that start into a finished image.

The image editing process is different for everyone but all of the tools are the same. Like in cooking there are a thousand different ways to peel an onion but eventually we get to the same result no matter what method we use.

It is the same for our raw files in that there is no one correct way to get there but by using the power  of our raw files we can come up with a final, polished and corrected image.

How can we get there? What tools do we need to achieve our photographic vision. The answer lies in The graduated filter and adjustment brush in Lightroom.

Camera Raw files are boring

The raw files come straight out of the camera with no processing so what you’re seeing on import into your computer is exactly what you shot. Keep in mind though that unlike a JPEG which is processed in camera, Raw files are flat and boring.

They need processing to bring out all of the best data in the image so a well composed and properly exposed image is essential. While JPEG’s tend to get corrupted over time as they are an already edited image, Raw files can be re edited over and over until your final image emerges. Take for example my original image file for the above image and it’s histogram in Lightroom…..

Vermont-Mount Mansfield-Winter-camera raw file example
View of Mount Mansfield with fresh snow and clouds from a field in Underhill, Vermont
Lightroom-histogram-camera raw file-example raw file image-landscape photography
My example image’s histogram from Lightroom.

Now this is a typical example of a camera raw file as it is straight out of camera. You can see that the image is rather flat with no contrast and there are some issues that need to be addressed in the editing process.

A scene like this can be difficult to shoot as the clouds bounce around bright light at times with the sun popping in and out from behind them. Couple that with it being Winter and the snow being really reflective and you have a pretty tricky exposure situation on your hands.

My Histogram is actually looking really good as the image was exposed to the right just before the highlights would be blown out. This is good as we can pull those highlights in during the editing process without messing up the shadows or making the image to dark. The issues I need to address are easily fixed but do require some time….

  1. The upper portion of the image with the clouds – It’s a little too bright at the top and you can’t really see a lot of the darker shadows in the clouds, Those highlights wash everything out and there isn’t much detail. The blue is washed out a bit as well even though when I shot this it was much closer to what the finished image looked like….That’s the trick really. Making our image look dynamic and just as we shot it without going overboard with out edits.
  2. The Mount Mansfield range in the middle ground – There are nice highlights there but it’s the shadows that are somewhat washed out due to some haze and the fact that in the image it’s snowing on Mount Mansfield itself as I was shooting. It’s really not bad but it just needs some work to make the image more appealing.
  3. The band of trees and forest below the mountain – Again this area is flat and has no contrast. The clouds were casting some interesting shadows in this area and it just isn’t dynamic enough for me. I need to add some contrast and depth to this area as the foreground draws you in and leads you through the trees and to the mountain beyond.
  4. The foreground – This area here is ok but it just needs to be brightened up with some contrast added.  All of the grass sticking out of the snow gets washed out in all of that white so I also would like to see some contrast here as well.

The graduated filter and adjustment brush tools

So we have our camera raw file and I am feeling pretty good about it but I know that this image can be so much better. The main tools that did the heavy lifting on this image were the graduated filter tool and the adjustment brush tool. Both of these tools are great as you can target them to specific areas and use them multiple times within one image.

The graduated filter tool is very handy for corrections because unlike a traditional filter You can spin the tool 360 degrees making it more versatile for correcting landscapes. Manual filters and their holders are a bit more cumbersome in the field so I use them to get my images as close as I can then do more detailed corrections with the graduated density tool.

The other great thing about the tool is that you can use them multiple times in an image where this is not possible manually so it opens up some more opportunities in images that otherwise might not make the cut. I use them quite liberally because I can use one for a clarity adjustment in one area of the image but I can also use one to enhance color in the sky of a sunrise or sunset.

You can selectively use them for different edits just like you ca with the adjustment brush…..While the graduated density tool is used for more broad edits over bigger portions of the image you can use the adjustment brush for more targeted, precise adjustments in select areas to really build on your vision for the final, corrected image.

The adjustment brush work just like any other brush in Photoshop in that you can change its size and use it for specific adjustments in very localized parts of your image. You can also use it multiple times per image so say you want to make an exposure adjustment in one specific area you can just brush the area you want to change then move the appropriate sliders.

Using both tools on our image

Without getting into a very long conversation about my workflow I used three different graduated filters in the image to target the sky, the middle ground and the foreground. The image had a great deal of highlights to contend with and it also needed some contrast and haze adjustments.

Now these initial edits really improved my image however I performed four corrections with the adjustment brush to really make the image pop and take care of some of its flaws. One edit was made for some of the highlights in the clouds, another was used for the mountain to get rid of the haze and add in some contrast, Another was used on the middle ground forest and trees to add contrast and another was used on the foreground to bring out the contrast in the grasses and add some pop to them.

Essentially my workflow goes from a starting point which is a landscape preset I use on all of my images as an overall first step. I then hone this some more with some basic edits again to the overall image and then I dial in more concise edits with the graduated filter tool and the adjustment brush.

Some images require more and some less and it all depends on where I want to go with the final outcome. Editing is as subjective as wine tasting and how we best utilize the tools at out disposal. This image was quite flat to begin with and originally I made a really nice black and white out of it but I also felt the color version was quite nice as I love the blue color in Winter scenes. Lightroom has a lot of powerful tools including ones that may be overlooked and the graduated density tool and adjustment brush can really help to lift your images from boring to exciting.

A how to guide for Salt Printing part two-An alternative photography process

Continuing on in my how to on salt printing series I will finish up in this post on the rest of the equipment that you will need to start making your prints. You really don’t need as much equipment to get started as in developing film so it is relatively easy to get set up to do salt printing.

lets dive right in to the rest of our gear:

The transparency sheets

After a great deal of research online I finally came across the Pictorico line of transparency sheets. I had to read a ton of really old forum conversation threads and amazon reviews to find out that this is what you want to use. These sheets are made for working with alternative photography processes so you are going to want to spend the money and get them as they do work in inkjet printers.

One thing to note when using them is to always hold them up to the light and inspect them before use. Once in a while just like with your paper there will be some kind of anomaly they may interfere with your image. After several packs I have come across one or two sheets that couldn’t be used because of some random spotting. It’s rare but it does happen.

One other thing to note that when printing on these I always set my images to print at a higher dpi. With my digital work I always go with 300 dpi but at these lower settings with negatives and transparencies I found you will see more lines from where the print heads move across the transparency sheets. For my salt prints I use 600 dpi and I have never had any issues with it. You could go higher than that but for me 600 has worked great.

Something to tack your paper too

This piece can be simple and cheap but you will need something to tack your paper too in order to keep it flat while coating and drying your paper. Here I am using a Styrofoam block I had lying around the house with some basic thumb tacks.

You really could use anything for this purpose but it should be flat and something easily thrown away as you may get chemicals on it. This thing was cheap and it serves its purpose.

A smock of some kind and safety glasses

You are going to want to wear something over your regular clothes to minimize any chemical spills you may get on your clothes. I am always careful and handle the chemicals with safety in mind but accidents happen and you want to be prepared. Here I am using an old chef’s jacket I had in my closet. In my day job I am a chef and had this lying around but it’s heavy with long sleeves and it just works. Again you could really use anything for this purpose. The safety glasses are self explanatory. You really don’t want to screw with your vision so you will need at least some minimal protection in case of spills or splashes.

Developing trays

For salt printing you only need two trays, One for washing your print in water and one for your fixer. It doesn’t matter what color they are really but I used a white one for my water wash and a grey one for my fixer. These are cheap and you can find them anywhere.

Odds and ends

In this image are some odds and ends you will need including:

  • rubber gloves-you really want to be careful mostly with the silver compound as it can stain your skin black. These are a necessity and give you protection from handling the chemicals.
  • LED yellow safe light. You cam buy these in any hardware or building supply store and they are not very expensive. I chose yellow but you could use red also. I chose LED lighting for its efficiency and long-term usage. Again here we are adapting modern technology to a very old process.
  • squeegee you can find these anywhere….Amazon, hardware stores or janitorial supply stores. You don’t have to spend a lot of money it just has to be of decent quality as you will be using it to get water off your prints which will be essential for proper drying of your paper. This one I got on amazon for around $7.00.
  • Measuring spoon – You only need a to measure teaspoons for your fixer and this simple one I bought at the grocery store works well. Just label it and keep it away from your other kitchen utensils…only use it for your fixer.
  • Tongs- I bought a pair of really cheap tongs and two is all you will need to salt print. You need one for the wash and one for your fix and while I notice their shortcomings as a cheap alternative to more expensive ones they have performed well for over a year now.
  • Face mask – The chemicals for salt printing are nowhere near as bad as collodion is but there are vapors present and you do want to protect yourself. These have been adequate so far but in the future I will get the respirator type to exercise even more caution.
  • Two small mixing cups – You will need two small cups for portioning out your salt and silver solutions. We have tons of these little medicine cups around with a four-year old in the house and they are perfect for measuring out your chemicals. Just be sure to properly label which is which, I use one for the salt solution and the other is for the silver.

One quart container with lid (not pictured)- While it’s not in the picture you can get plastic or metal one quart containers for mixing paint at any hardware or home improvement store. I use one to mix one quart of fixer that I keep on hand for making prints.

I saved the exposing light for last because it will require a lot of explaining as it has been a thorn in my side since I started salt printing. Here is some images of the light I am currently using and then I will get in-depth about why it is such a pain in the ass…..

This is a cheap way to have something on hand to expose your salt prints. UV exposing boxes cost thousands and all they are really is just wooden boxes with fluorescent light fixtures put inside them. This really isn’t economical for most people and unless it’s LED lighting your wasting electricity. I wanted LED’s to save on power consumption and I needed something small, light weight and portable that didn’t cost thousands of dollars. The original box that I built consisted of an 11×14 shadow box frame with LED strip lights mounted inside with a power plug. Strip lighting is great because you can cut the strips and make it into any shape that you want only the cut strips need a connector to attach them together. This set up while cheap proved unusable for a few reasons..

  • The LED strip lights are too under powered with exposures taking over an hour to complete. Better than using the sun but still not good enough.
  • The connector strips used to attach one piece of strip lighting to another are the weak point in that scenario. You only have so much length of the strips and connectors before you start losing power, It gets weaker the longer the strips and the more connectors you use. The strips can be quite flimsy and it can be difficult to get a solid connection making shorts common with this setup.
  • Unless you mount the strips right next to each other you will have strips of over and underexposed spots on your salt prints. Not acceptable to make quality prints.
  •  I abandoned this approach as it’s cheap but does not work very well.

Eventually I came across these LED floodlights that are used for concerts and lighting shows. These lights are great because the are cheap, LED and efficient meaning short exposure times and you can just plug them in and go. This particular unit covers a 5×7 area which is the size I like to print at however after about a year of using it I am finding some drawbacks that has required some hacking of the light unit…

  • The LED’s are mounted in a small square in the center and reflected outward with a metal insert under the glass of the light. Using the light as is creates hot spots in your exposure in the center if the light is too close to the glass of the contact printing frame. To mitigate that I moved the light away from the glass a few inches and through some testing have found that this spreads the light to far out creating really light exposure on the edges of your image area. That’s just not good enough for prints that will be exhibited or sold. I want an even exposure. I have experimented with several distances and can’t quite get the even exposure I am looking for.
  • I did a test where I turned all the lights off and flipped the light so it was shining towards my face with the glass from my contact printing frame for reference. The goal was to see where exactly the light was shining at different distances. This way you can see where exactly the light is shining and how far it is spreading or falling off from the center and at what distance it does the fall off at. Sure enough my the distance I was exposing at is wrong, This light likes it around an inch off the glass which gives a nice 5×7 exposing area with no fall off.
  • The LED’s in the center are another problem as that’s where they are at their brightest and at one inch off the glass does cause a hot spot in the center of your exposed image. My solution right now is to simply cover the LED’s with small squares of copy paper to reduce the light’s intensity and evening out the exposure. I have not as of yet made an actual print this way, I am only in the experimenting phase.
  • These floodlights have a glass covering over the LED’s with a black border on the glass with an interior silver reflector. Both of these together get reflected onto the image when held at certain distances. I never noticed it before as currently I am exposing prints with the lamp about three inches away but up close the lines from the shape of the reflector are clearly visible.

All of these issues coupled together make exposing a big pain in the but however they can be overcome. Currently I am tinkering with removing the silver reflector and the glass top and that should solve the issues. I really want this light to work 100% as it is a good cheap alternative to spending thousands on an exposure table which would make the process financially unworkable. I will report back when I can get to making some prints with my hacks on this light.  So there you have it, Two posts covering everything you need to start salt printing!

See part one of this series right here! The header image in part one is an example of what is wrong with my lighting setup….That image shows a nicely exposed center but at the edges is where the light really falls off. That tells you that I am holding the light too far away.

A how to guide for Salt Printing part one-An alternative photography process

 

A alternative process photography salt print of a field of daisiesFinding my alt process medium

I first came across salt printing during my initial research into the wet plate collodion process which was something that I wanted to attempt for a number of years. I decided in the end to focus on dry plate tintypes which are far less dangerous to produce and the subject of a future blog post.

I looked at a ton of different vintage processes and finally settled on salt printing as the best medium to start learning how to do alternative process work. Like any of these vintage ways to print images there are a lot of points in the process where things can go wrong and you have to learn to embrace flaws. Salt printing is a good first step because…..

  1. You do not need a traditional darkroom. You do need subdued lighting and you have to use a safe light but the room does not need to be completely dark. In my case I use my kitchen as there is only one window to cover and I have a source of water. I take great care to clean and cover all of my working surfaces and remove any items where there could be a chance of contamination. alternatively you could also use a bathroom.
  2. There are only four chemicals involved in the process and compared to other processes they are relatively safe. While great care and respect must be taken when using these chemicals, I do store them in my home but out of the way where only I can access them. They are also available in kits so you don’t have to have a chemistry lab on site  to make salt prints.

A minimum amount of equipment is needed, Some you can be thrifty and cheap on but some of it You should really spend money on to get the highest quality. Everything I use for the process can be kept in a space the size of a dresser drawer.

The negative side 

You control the entire process from image capture to printing and it will give you appreciation for the history of photography. You have a physical object you can hold in your hand that is one of a kind and the process is well suited for portraits.

There are a few minor negatives to the process but nothing that can’t be overcome with lots of trial and error. Hopefully with these posts you can avoid some of what I had to go through as the information online about salt printing is fragmentary and outdated. The negatives are…..

    1. It takes some time to do even two or three prints so you have to set aside a good chunk of time to print. I have gotten my exposure times down to less than 15 minutes but between coating and drying the paper, printing and exposing you are looking at close to an hour for one print.
    2. Whatever you use for a light source to expose the prints will be your biggest issue. This is something I have tinkered with for over a year now and still I feel the exposures need work. I will go into more detail when I get to the exposing part but you can either spend over a thousand bucks for an exposing table or go cheap. The sun was used when the process was invented but this is too inconsistent and it would take all day to make a print.
    3. Embrace flaws and take mistakes in stride. There are a lot of steps in making salt prints and when you are adapting a process invented in the 1800’s to modern techniques you will make mistakes along the way. No two prints will ever come out the same and there will be times when a print or two just will not come out. My hope with this series is to help you keep the mistakes to a minimum as I think I have made them all trying to adapt this process.

The gear you will need

Salt printing chemicals

An image of the chemicals in brown bottles used in the salt printing process

Thankfully all of the chemicals that you will need to do salt printing can be found in a convenient kit made by  Bostick and Sullivan. You can buy the kit online from their website, It comes well packaged and protected  and it’s cost is reasonable. The kit contains full instructions, eye droppers for the chemicals, fixer (sodium thiosulphate), salt solution, silver nitrate( makes the paper light-sensitive), And potassium dichromate for contrast in the prints. In a future post I will detail the entire process of making a print.

The contact printing frame

The contact printing frame is one of the more crucial parts of this process so I would recommend either finding a vintage one like I did, buying a brand new one which can be extremely expensive or being crafty and making one yourself.

I experimented with making them myself but in the end I wanted a vintage one because I felt the process warranted it. It took me about a year of looking to find one in  decent shape but the 8×10 in the above images was at a reasonable price considering it was 70-90 years old.

The frame consists of a wooden outer frame with a glass front and a wooden, hinged back with pressure springs to hold the paper and negative tight against each other and the glass which is important to maintain sharpness. The hinged back allows you to check the print during development without disturbing the registration between the print and your negative.

Your printing paper

I use Bergger cot 320 8×10 sheets that come 24 sheets to a pack. Your paper is another one of those items that I would not cheap out on. Spend the money, You will save yourself a ton of frustration by trying to use cheap or inferior papers. This paper is made for alternative process work and most importantly dries flat. I dry my prints about 3/4 of the way and then press between heavy books, This way you will have a flat print for printing that is not warped or crinkled.

Print screen and a squeegee board

Now here are two things that you will need that you can most certainly go cheap on and it  won’t hurt your prints in the least. The print screen is used to evenly dry your prints. It allows air to flow over and under the print and these are used for regular film prints as well. You can buy them but here I simply took an old picture frame and taped window screen to it. Cheap and things I already had lying around. In the future I will construct a better one but this works for now.

The squeegee board was just the glass from the frame I used for the print screen with some tape around the edges for safety. It really helps to have a flat surface to squeegee prints and this does the trick nicely and basically it cost nothing.

Self healing cutting mat and hair dryer

The cutting mat will be useful in marking where to align your negative before you sensitize the paper. You can then use those marks to align your image and you will have a guide for applying the chemicals when you are under the safe light. I use 8×10 sheets of paper but my image area is 5×7 because I like the look of some white area around the image. The mat lets you be precise when centering the image and applying the chemicals on your paper. You can find these at office supply or art supply stores and the run around 20 dollars.

The hair dryer is used to simply to speed up the drying time when your chemicals are applied and to dry your finished prints. This is a cheap one that has a high and low setting and you can find them at any pharmacy.

In part two I will go over the rest of what you need to get into making your own salt prints. You really don’t need much equipment or space and with the exception of the contact printing frame can be found just about anywhere or online! Check out part two in this series detailing the rest of the equipment you need to make your own salt prints!

How to mount a photo print for framing or sale in eight easy steps

A salt print of a young female ready for mounting and framing

As photographers mounting and framing our own prints is the culmination of all of our hard efforts at image capture. Today we will be discussing the best, easiest way yo mount your images to mat board in a professional manner. In this way you can either package the print in a plastic sleeve for safekeeping and sale or prep the print for framing.

The image above is a salt print that I produced from a digital file and the one I will be using to mount the print to mat board. I use a special paper for alt process printing that doesn’t warp or crinkle when dried so I won’t have any issues when I go to attach the print to the mat board. By doing this process ourselves we can have more of a physical connection to our work as well ad delivering a hand made product to our customers.

A list of materials for a premium mounted print

When we mount our prints we want to make sure that we use the best mounting materials that we can find. There is no sense in shooting and editing to craft the perfect image and then mounting on cheap mat boards or using non archival materials. While more expensive the better quality materials will last longer and provide many years of viewing pleasure to your customers. You really want to reassure your buyers that your prints will stand the test of time.

The following list contains everything that I use to mount my prints. This list is not the be all, end all of what you could use it’s simply what works best for me in how I want my work to presented to clients.

  • A print. For the salt prints I make myself The paper I use is Bergger Cot 320 8×10 sheets. It is made for this type of alt process work and dries flat without warping and I would highly recommend that. For regular printing I get all of my prints at mpix.com. I have used them for years, Would highly recommend them and they ship prints flat and well protected.
  • Mat and backer board. With these I do not go cheap. I always use archival mats and backer boards. Its not worth it to go cheap and the presentation of your work will suffer. Spend the money and get archival and acid free materials. I use redimat.com for this as they have all the supplies you would want and sell convenient kits that include the mat, backer board, hinging tape and a plastic sleeve for the print. Expensive but worth it because you wont have to track down all of that individually. I highly recommend them.
  • Hinging tape. This is what you will use to attach the mat to the backer board and the print to the mat. My preference again is for acid free, archival tape that is self adhesive. You can also use hinging tape where you have to apply water to make it sticky which is what I used in this example but the self adhesive is much easier to work with
  • Plastic sleeve. Your options are limitless here so I won’t get into what you should or shouldn’t use. Again I use the redimat kits and they come with clear sleeves. Clearbags.com, dickblick.com and bagsunlimited.com are a few places that I have bought them from in the past.
  • Something to sign with. Again this is just personal choice but I am now using a calligraphy pen with black ink to sign both the print and mat. I personally just like the look of the ink strokes but you could use pencil or whatever you like. Ansel Adams signed all of his prints in pencil.
  • Scissors, small brush. It really does not matter what scissors you just something sharp. The small brush is only if you are using hinging tape that needs water to make the adhesive active. The brush makes this step much easier.
  • Dust blower. While not entirely necessary I use one before I seal the print in it’s sleeve to make sure there is no stray bits of dust on the print or in the sleeve.

The eight steps

Now the fun part can begin. After you utilize these eight simple steps all of your hard work will come to fruition in the final packaging of your image.

An example of mat board with alignment markings to mount a photo print

place the mat against a light source like a window and align the print behind the mat opening. In this way you will be able to see the edges of the mat opening and where to perfectly align the print with the opening. With a pencil make light guide marks at the edges of the print on the corners. You will use these guides later to align the print for attachment to the mat. In the image above you can see my pencil marks where the print will attach.

2. An example of mat and backer board placed together and ready for hinging tape

lay the mat and backer board down on a flat surface and align the two half’s together making the seam as tight as possible. There are always variations in size with these and there will be times where the sizing is slightly off. These size imperfections are nothing to worry about, Just align the two half’s as close as you can. Your really talking a variation of 1/4 of an inch or less….the backer board is only there to give the print strength in an acid free environment.

3. An example of mat and backer board that have a hinge and ready to mount a photo print

Using the hinging tape attach the mat and backer board together. You can do this in a few different ways, one giant piece, Two pieces like I did here in the example image or three pieces. I have always done three but here I just wanted to see what two would look like. Apply a thin amount of water to the tape if your using the non self adhesive kind with a brush and carefully hinge the two pieces together. You want enough water for the pieces to be tacky but not so wet that they slide around. In the picture above the tape is still slightly wet.

4. Example of an artist signature in calligraphy style on a photo print

Sign your print. Again this will be personal preference as to what you use to do this with. I have been using a calligraphy pen lately simply because I really like the look of the ink strokes, I think it gives the print a vintage, Polished feel to it.

5. A photo print on a hinged mat board with hinging tape strips and water ready for mounting

Place your print in the guidelines that you made in the previous steps and cut four pieces of hinging tape. You can also tear the pieces of tape but I chose cutting…i just have never noticed a difference in tearing it versus cutting it. Here in this example image I have everything ready…..water and brush, print and mat, And my four pieces of hinging tape.

6. A signed photo print mounted to mat board with a t hinge

Attach the print to the mat with the strips of hinging tape using a t pattern….one strip in a horizontal position, half on the print and half on the mat and another piece in the vertical position covering the half from the horizontal piece on the mat only. In the example image above you can see the t pattern made by the strips of hinging tape.

7. A finished alternative process salt print mounted and signed to mat and backer board

Fold the pieces of your now hinged mat together and lay the print facing up on your work space. You can now sign the mat in the lower right corner or wherever you wish.

8.

A signed and mounted alternative process salt print inside of a plastic sleeve

The final step is to place the mounted print into a protective plastic sleeve. It is hard to see in this example but there is a sleeve! Now you can get sleeves with the adhesive strip on the bag flap or on the bag itself. I always go with the strip on the bag because when it’s on the flap there is the potential of harming the print or the mat.

The final product

So now we have a final piece of artwork that was packaged and presented in eight simple steps. It is daunting at first to add in the steps to mount your work but your buyers will notice the craftsmanship and materials.

How to price a Photography print for sale

Maine-Atlantic Ocean-Sunset-Marginal Way
The Atlantic Ocean at sunset along the Marginal Way in Ogunquit, Maine.

As I am building out this site and trying to finish up some last details before it goes completely live I wanted to talk a little bit about how I price my prints and all of the factors that go into my pricing structure. I am very sensitive to cost issues and  the main goal is to strike a balance between an affordable price, getting my work out there to be seen and enjoyed while also making a profit on all of the hard work that goes into making images. As most photographers know, making a profit on our work is what allows us to continue producing high quality images. While making money is not my highest concern it does play a factor in what I do.

To often photographers can just come up with arbitrary prices out of their heads and to me this just doesn’t take into account all of the costs that come into play with photography work nor is it a sustainable business model. I need my prices to be consistent, fair and not just taken out of thin air. While I don’t want to get too into the nuts and bolts of why I price the way I do, I would like to offer some guidelines for others trying to price their work but also give my buyers some information as to everything that goes into my cost of producing images. A lot of thought and care has gone in to my pricing and I feel it does strike a good balance with the premium product that I want buyers to receive.

How do I determine the price that I charge for my work? The formulas…

The easiest way to come up with a consistent pricing structure is to:

  1. Markup = 100 divided by 35 (35% cost of goods…See below) = 2.85
  2. Determine your cost for producing and shipping a print product. List out everything that is required from the print to the shipping costs. (See my list below. Also include your time calculation into your cost.)
  3. Multiply your cost by your markup to come to a final sale price for your image

This is probably the easiest part to figure out but does require a bit of math so that our pricing stays consistent. This is key because we want to accurately quote a price to a buyer and it had to be the same from buyer to buyer. Pulling a random number out of the air just won’t work and even worse you could be under charging by using this strategy. Take some time, figure out every last cost that goes into your work and your figures will accurately reflect that with an honest price.

The first thing that I did to have a more consistent pricing structure was to use the 35% cost of goods pricing structure for everything that sell. The cost of goods is simply all of the money that I spend for the inventory that I sell. In my instance under this model 65% of the total artwork price is profit and other fixed costs while 35% covers all the costs to produce, package and ship a piece of artwork.

Using those numbers I divide 100 by 35 to get 2.85 which is now my markup. Next I simply take the total cost of an item and multiply by 2.85 to come to the final sale price of a print. It sounds complicated but it’s accurate and consistent, Not a random number. You will always be able to quote a price from buyer to buyer and it will always be the same.

The second thing I like to do is to make a list of every single cost that it takes to produce and package my work. Everything from my time to the products I use have a cost and I need to figure out a monetary value per print size and per print product what I am spending on those items. The final sale price of my work is based on the following list and a few math formulas.

And the final calculation you need to make is for your time. Your time is valuable and it must be accounted for when figuring out a final sale price of your prints. The formula for your time is to take your wage (What you would like to make per year) divided by 50 weeks (assuming two weeks off for vacation) divided by 40 hours per week divided by 60 minutes which will equal your per minute wage. Once you know how much time has been invested into an image (for me I factor about 1/2 an hour to an hour per image excluding drive time and shooting time. I really am only accounting for my processing and prep time to ship the image to the customer.) To me it’s a trade off…I concede some of my time and do not include all of it in the final price so that I can offer a competitive price for my work and get it out there. Again this is a subjective formula as everyone is different but it’s a very good starting point to accurately calculate your sale price.

What costs go into every print product I sell?

Of course everyone’s list will vary from mine to some degree but generally this is everything that goes into the cost of my prints:

  • The paper or metal print itself
  • Archival quality mats, backing boards, plastic sleeves and hinging tape
  • Protective box for shipping
  • Shipping both to me and to the customer
  • A printed certificate of authenticity
  • My time editing and prepping the print
  • Salt Printing Chemicals and supplies including specialized paper for the prints and transparency sheets for the digital negatives

On top of this are the hidden costs that come out of any profit that I make. Here I am not even including driving time, wear and tear on my car and gas but along with this are the costs that must be factored into profit for “keeping the lights on” which are:

  • Yearly domain name registration
  • yearly payment for this sites theme
  • Monthly payment for website hosting
  • Monthly payment for Adobe  Creative Cloud subscription
  • Computer maintenance/ upgrades – custom-built windows based computer for image work costs roughly $1500 to $2000 and will last ten years. Current computer build is ten years old and due for replacement.
  • Camera gear maintenance/ Upgrades
  • Stock on hand for print sales including all packaging material

Pricing is subjective but should be consistent

Here I am only offering a guide as to how to get started with your pricing. In building this site I wanted to present to buyers how I structure my prices and what is actually going into the piece of artwork that they are buying. Customers are putting a lot of faith in me as to the high quality of the work and materials and I want them to be assured that they are getting the most value for their money. To be fair, Pricing is different for every photographer or artist but in my mind it must be consistent from customer to customer. Picking a price off the top of your head just is not going to account for all of the variables that you may encounter in producing your work. Remember…. Be fair, Be consistent, Offer high quality and value through a superior product and service. Above all make a personal connection with your customers!

 

 

How To Copy And Paste Develop Settings To Multiple Images In Lightroom

Digital cameras offer the photographer a wealth of features that were never possible with their film counterparts. We can look at histograms to check our exposures and change our ISO’s without giving it a second thought and we can shoot multiple images of the same subject without having to worry about the costs of film development. I am primarily a Landscape and Business Photographer and just about every shoot I do has me shooting multiple sets of the same image whether it be for a focus stacked Landscape image or a series of portraits of the same person with slightly different poses.

I always shoot in Raw and of course these images need a bit of editing to bring out the best that they have to offer. The problem especially when you are working for a paid client is speeding up the editing process and applying a series of edits from one image to several images. For my purposes here I will e dealing with a focus stack set of a Landscape image but you can use the instructions here for any set of images that will have or need the same set of edits like white balance for instance. This is a quick and easy way to speed up your process and have all of the images in your set look exactly the same!

1. In the develop module select the first image in your set of images and make your edits as normal. (I originally shot this image as part of a focus stack set however I had shot another one, same composition but where I achieved good focus throughout without having to focus stack.)

photograph in Lightroom 4
The first image in my stack. This image is straight out of camera with no edits.
Lightroom 4 flagged filmstrip images
This is the flagged set of images that we will be working with. As you can see they are all the same composition straight out of camera with no edits so far!

Below are all of the screen snips for all of the edits that I made on this first image. These are what we will be copy and pasting to the rest of the images in the set…

Basic develop edits.
Basic develop edits.
Sharpening edits.
Sharpening edits.
Lens profile correction edits.
Lens profile correction edits.
Chromatic Aberration edits.
Chromatic Aberration edits.

2. In the setting menu click on copy settings and in the settings box that comes up select all of the edits that you have made and then click copy.

The copy settings dialog box with all of my edits checked.
The copy settings dialog box with all of my edits checked.

3. In the filmstrip with the next image in your set highlighted hold down shift and click on the last image in your set. You will see that now all of your images are highlighted and active. In the screen snip below you can see the highlighted images and the symbol in the corner of the first image showing that edits have been made on the photograph…

The highlighted filmstrip images.
The highlighted filmstrip images.

4. Click on any image in your highlighted set other than the first one you have already made changes too and in the dialog box that pops up choose develop settings/ paste settings. You will see lightroom apply all of your copied settings to the rest of the images in the stack!

It really is that easy! When you have multiple images of the same subject or that need the same settings such as white balance this is a great way to make those changes quickly. We all want to be out shooting instead of sitting in front of our computers and this is one of those quick and easy Lightroom tricks that will get you out shooting that much faster!

You can find me on G+ here!

How to draw the viewers eye to subjects of interest with less than ideal skies in a landscape image

Barge poles at sunrise with light house,breakwater and mountains. Lake Champlain. Burlington, Vermont.

Landscape photography is kind of like gambling as it is so dependent on the weather.

You take as many precautions as you can, Do all of your research to get the best image and the weather can change on you in an instant leading to little to nothing to show for your hard work.

For me I have always looked at the pursuit of great landscape image like a duel between the Yankees and the Red Sox. While the games themselves are always filled with excitement they can bring you to these incredible emotional highs or lows.

Landscape photography is no different here in Vermont where we are always subjected to quickly changing conditions and challenging lighting scenarios. The real trick is how to overcome so-so conditions and pull a beautiful image out of what would otherwise be boring.

Can boring really be beautiful?

I have been through this scenario a thousand times shooting landscapes where you roll up to your intended composition and the sky just totally craps out on you leaving you with some decisions to make. Is there really nothing to shoot at the location? Do you leave? Do you continue on as a scouting mission? In the image that I captured above there were a few elements that drew me and made me want to stay versus throwing in the towel. Who wants to do that when you can employ all of your creative powers to shoot what others may dismiss….

The color palette- While the clouds crapped out on me the haze in the background sky caused the rising sun to create a lot of pink and purple hues in the sky. The sky may not be as dramatic without some big, puffy clouds in the background there certainly was some really interesting color.

The thin layer of Spring ice- Due to the air temperature while I was shooting there was a very thin sheen of ice which was covering the lake. The ice was reflecting all of the awesome color in the sky back up into the scene surrounding everything with this wonderful, purple color.

The weathered look on the barge poles- Normally during the summer season the area here is covered with boats making this image impossible except in the Winter time. These wooden poles take a lot of weather and abuse over the years but they have this time tested quality and weathered appearance that i did not want to pass up.

The elements in the background- There is almost an s curve in this image as your eyes move from the poles to the lighthouse and then on to the snow covered mountains beyond. The wooden poles draw you in front and center but the rest of the elements tell the story…..The lighthouse and breakwater are surrounded by water well above normal levels and you can clearly tell that Spring has come as the snow is melting on the mountain tops beyond.

Cropping- By cropping tight on the poles I got rid of any distracting elements including just a hint of clouds in the sky. Much of the scene here was on the boring side but the tight crop told the story of the image with just the right balance of elements better than a wide shot of really nothing in the sky. The purple colors act as a backdrop making the foreground really pronounced.

So how do we draw the viewer in?

There are a number of ways to move the viewer through the image but when it comes to challenging conditions it becomes much harder. This is a time when all of our time spent honing our craft comes into play as well as our artistic vision. You have to ask yourself in this situation how do I make something out of nothing? What is the best way to tell my story? In the image above I used a number of techniques to bring home a decent image including….

  1. Composition and the s curve- The s curve is a classic composition technique that is very effective for leading your viewer through your image. In my case here while not a typical s curve the ridges of ice just behind the mooring poles do form an s curve leading your eye from the poles to the lighthouse and then over to the mountains.
  2. Tight cropping- The original capture is not much different from this final image with the exception of a slight crop on the top and bottom of the image. The tight framing allowed me to get just three elements into the frame that tied together to the location while avoiding anything that made the image too busy.
  3. The change in seasons- Suggested in the image is the change from Winter into Spring. Here in New England this is a welcome change and the image includes ice, snow covered mountains, thin lake ice, and higher than normal lake water due to snow melt which is visible at the lighthouse and breakwater.
  4. Color- Color is always an effective way to draw in our viewers and here the image is dominated by shades of purple. The poles, lighthouse and mountains really stand out in all of the purple giving the image a lot of contrast.
  5. Dominate foreground- Prominent foregrounds are the start of our story in the image and begin to lead your viewer through it. Here the barge poles split the frame in half but the curving lines of the ice lead you from the bottom of the image to the poles then on to the lighthouse and the mountains in the background. The foreground puts the viewer in a specific place and they are not left wondering where they are.
  6. Contrast between elements- In my image there is some really nice contrast between all of the main elements in the image. While the wooden poles are somewhat dark in the foreground the lighthouse and mountains really standout as the foreground fades from dark to light in the background. The colors are subtly different in the lighting transition which adds a bit of drama and the white elements in the frame really stand out.

Conditions always change but your artistic vision does not

Weather and lighting conditions are constantly changing and something we will always have to contend with when shooting landscapes. There will be times and I can attest to this that you will simply get skunked when it comes to landscape work. While we are always free to walk away I personally love the challenge of finding an image in challenging conditions. It sharpens your artistic vision, Frees you creatively and when the time comes to make images in stellar light  you will be ready.

 

 

How to mount a photograph on mat boards, Part two: The Technique

1. Remove the mat from the plastic sleeve and inspect for damage. (nicks, cuts, bumps, dents, etc…) Flip mat over so the side that the print will be mounted on is facing up. Measure and mark ¼ inch out from each side of the mat opening. Line up edges of mat board on the cutting mat grid lines and with your t-square lightly mark the ¼ inch guidelines all the way around each side of the mat opening. This guideline is to help in the placement of your print, It is a good way to see where the print will go visually and allow you to get it centered over the opening. Remember also that no mat opening is ever totally square or centered so use your best judgement when marking these guidelines.

 

marking guidelines for positioning the image.

 

 

Marking the guidelines with a T- square.

2. Dry fit your print within the guidelines to make sure that it is centered and square. You want there to be a ¼ inch overhang of the print and the mat opening.

 

 

dry fitting the print to check for accuracy.

3. On the roll of hinging tape measure and cut 16 pieces about ¼ inch in size lengthwise. You want to pieces of the tape per hinge and two hinges per side. In the research that I have done all the advice says to not cut the hinging tape but to wet and tear each piece. The torn edges can be smoothed out and supposedly you get better adhesion to the print and mat. You can do this either way but I have done both and never noticed a difference between the two, I always cut mine in the interest of saving time. I have done many images by cutting the hinging tape and have never had a problem with the tape coming lose or the print popping off of the mat.

 

 

marked out strips of hinging tape.

4. Place print in the guidelines and set into its final position. Line up the pieces of hinging tape into two piles of eight pieces each with some space between each piece. When you start wetting the pieces you will get a small amount of glue on your hands and the pieces are small enough that they can be hard to manage. The space between each piece is to prevent them from sticking to each other while you work.

 

 

the cut pieces of hinging tape for the print.

5. Wet only eight pieces at a time with the small paintbrush dipped in water. It is crucial to not put too much water on the hinging tape as it will become to saturated and will not stick well. Frustration will follow at this point, Put just enough water on the tape to activate the glue and then wait a few seconds for the water to begin to dry and for the glue to become tacky. It is always a good idea to practice this first a few times, Depending on the humidity levels the water can dry too fast which you don’t want either. Working with one piece at a time, You want to make a “t” shape with the two pieces. The top of the “t” should be on the mat board while the bottom of the “t”  should be attached to the print. You should have two of these hinges per side. Once you have used all eight pieces continue on with the last eight pieces and the other two sides of the print. Noy some may be inclined to just cut one long strip for each side instead of the smaller ones…Don’t do this…ever. The reason for the small hinges is two-fold. One is to hide the hinge behind the artwork but the other is that the print and the hinges will expand and contract as the humidity levels change. The small hinges will allow this without warping or buckling the print as one long continuous strip would do, ruining the print. I have done the long strip as a foolish rookie and what happens is that the print will eventually pull away from the mat, The hinging tape just will not stick. You have been warned.

 

 

Applying water to the hinging tape.

 

 

the mounted and hinged print.

6. Let the hinging tape dry for a few minutes and then flip over the mat so that the image is facing up towards you. With a spare or scrap piece of paper and an exacto knife, measure and cut out a long rectangle 1/8 to ¼ inch in height and as long as the sheet of paper. My handwriting is terrible so I use this as a simple guide when I am signing the print. I think it just adds a little polish to the entire package.

 

 

A cheap and easy way to get your signature straight and even.

7. Center the signing guide on whatever side will be the bottom of your print , Slightly below the mat opening. I am not a huge fan of giving each image some sort of “name” so I simple put the location and then sign and date with the year I mounted the image.

 

 

The signed print!

8. At this point you can now use the canned air to blow off any dust or contaminants from the front and back of the image.

 

 

Dust removal.

9. Place business card or thank you note inside the plastic sleeve with the mounted print and seal the package.

 

 

Putting my business cards inside the print package.

10. There you have it… A signed and sealed print ready for sale or delivery to your customer in a neat and professional package.

The mad photographer!

 

 

How to mount a photograph on mat board, Part one: The tools

Mounting a print to mat board is one of the many skills outside of shooting images that is a part of every Photographers tool chest. We are jack-of-all-trades, Renaissance men and women who are artists, business people, printers, computer wizards, software nerds, Weather reporters, travel guides, givers of advice, teachers, searchers and dreamers. We capture small moments of time and then have to figure out the best way to display those moments for all to see.

It can give one a great sense of accomplishment to really be in control of the entire process from capture to display. Learning how to do this however was sort of like trying to figure out who the killer is in a mystery novel. You get bits and pieces of information from various places and once assembled the brain finally kicks in and sees the entire puzzle.

It took me quite awhile to figure out the proper way to mount a print. Like the new guy on the team who wants to impress I said to myself “ This can’t be hard…Who needs instructions?” I am laughing to myself because I quickly found out that improperly matting a print just causes you way too much grief and aggravation, Not to mention cash from wasted prints. Being a person not to be discouraged by my earlier feeble attempts, I soldiered on and with practice and lots of research learned how to properly mat an image. It is actually quite easy when learned and customers who buy your prints will appreciate the fact that the artist captured and mounted the image which gives it more of a handmade quality. I finally feel like the process is complete when the image can finally be displayed.

There are several tools needed for the task which I will outline below. Some are a little more expensive than others but not so much to make doing this project really expensive. A small, clean work space is needed for the task, I used our dining room table which is small but adequate. You want dust kept at a minimum because it has a habit of clinging to the print and the mat so make sure to clean your work area prior to mounting the image. It’s just a precaution as nothing is more frustrating than finally slipping the mat and print into a plastic sleeve only to see dust or other contaminants in the sleeve…Just be wary of this.

1. The print – The print used here came from Shutterfly.com. I use them for all of my printing and have never had a problem or issue with their service. They use Fuji film crystal archival paper and inks and the prints look great. The print in this article is 11×14 inches in matte format, Shutterfly does not do glossy in any print over 8×10. My only complaint with them is that any print over 8×10 is shipped in a roll tube and not flat, When the print arrives you have to press it flat for several days to remove the curl. It is actually a pain because the print takes longer to deliver to the customer and it is very difficult to mount the print unless it is flat. 11×14’s at Shutterfly cost $7.99, I have a print package plan of 30% off any order so the total cost for this print with shipping was $8.58.

11×14 matte print from Shutterfly.com

2. The mat – You want to use a good quality, archival and acid free mat. You don’t want to buy to cheap of a mat as they wont be archival and most tend to yellow with age because they are poor quality. The black mat here was purchased at Creative Habitat for right around $6.00 dollars. It is a good quality mat although not museum grade. Normally I would have ordered it online however it is much cheaper to order several than one at a time so in this case I bought one locally. The same goes for the plastic sleeve, I would have preferred to have bought sleeves online but since I am only doing this one print at the moment I decided to save the sleeve it came in and reused it for packaging.

Black mat board for the image.

3. Hinging tape – Use a good quality, archival and acid free hinging tape. It is the main component for attaching your print to the mat so don’t be cheap here either. Hinging tape comes in two forms, Self-adhesive (pressure sensitive) which requires mineral spirits to remove or the gummed type that requires only water to activate the glue and for removal. I used Lineco’s hinging tape with a 1”x 130′ costing $11.00 dollars. It is a great tape, works well and this small roll will last awhile depending on how many prints you are selling.

Gummed hinging tape that I use.

4. Plastic sleeves – Good quality plastic sleeves of archival quality should be used along with a filler board for support behind the mounted image. The can be bought in all sizes and they are similar to comic book sleeves. Always be sure to purchase ones that are designed to fit a print that is mounted to a mat board otherwise it will be a tight squeeze in the sleeve. They are relatively inexpensive and they come in packs of 100. In this case as I was only doing this one print I reused the sleeve the mat board came in to  conserve resources.

5. Canned air-I always have these around and can be purchased from any computer store or warehouse stores like Costco. They are great for cleaning your computer hardware as well  as blowing any dust off of the print when packaging. Never mount a print without some of this around.

The canned air and the container I used to hold the water.

6. Three small items you will need also are a simple pencil for marking, A small detail paintbrush for brushing water on the hinging tape and in the case here of a black mat, Some type of white marking pen for signing the mat. I used a Pentec gel pen with white ink which worked well here. All can be purchased at an art supply store or office supply store and are really cheap.

Small paintbrush, pencil and signing pen.

7. Water container – Any small container will do and you don’t need a huge amount of water for the hinging tape. Use your best judgement here.

8. Paper towels – Any kind will do and these are cheap as well. You want these to clean up any water spills or for periodically cleaning off your hands. Small bits of glue will adhere to your skin if you are mounting a number of prints, Over time this glue builds up on your skin and creates these black smears on the print and mat. Work clean and always clean your hands every so often.

Cheap, handy paper towels!

9. Drafting T-square – A 24 inch one should be sufficient and costs about $11.00 dollars at staples. A t-square is important for getting straight lines when you mark the back of the mat. You want the print to be square and straight because it will extend ¼ of an inch past the mat opening.

10. Logan mat cutting rail with ruler – While not essential to this task, I have one and use it in the process for measuring. It is simply a long metal rail that either a straight or 45 degree mat cutter sits on allowing you to cut mat board. I like to cut mat board myself with the benefit of it being cheaper to buy than precut mat’s, However pre cut ones are cut by a computer and will always be straighter and look better than I can do myself. The final presentation will look more professional and it will be appreciated. The cost for a 24 inch Logan team system mat cutting rail is about $40 to $50 dollars. Expensive but I do use it enough to justify it.

Household scissors, Drafting t-square and a mat cutting rail with ruler.

11. Self healing cutting mat – This mat is self-healing which means when you cut on it the cuts in the mat close up and it can be reused many times over. This is an essential tool for this task and trust me, You don’t want to do this project or any mat cutting with out one. There is a grid on the mat in 1 inch increments for allowing you to get straight and even cuts. You never want to use cardboard to cut mats on because… As you cut with a mat cutter across the mat board, Cardboard has a tendency to bunch up under the razor blade making it skip on the mat board. Your cuts will be uneven and looked ragged. Always use a cutting mat of this type as it is designed to avoid this problem. I use a plain Staples brand one which cost about $10 dollars. In this instance we are not using it to cut on but  as a guide for marking lines on the mat.

Buy one of these! Trust me don’t cut mat’s on anything else…it wont work. You have been warned.

12. A handy pair of household scissors – Simple and cheap.

13. Business cards or some type of thank you note-While not entirely necessary, I think it’s nice to stick either a business card or a thank you note inside the print when packaged. It’s a nice gesture and you will be remembered for it. I am currently using the mini business cards from Moo.com and a package of 100 costs $20 dollars. These are great as they are a unique product and  you can use 25 different images per 100 for the front of the card, making each one you hand out different.

Moo mini business cards each with a different image.

(Please note – I am not paid nor do I receive any compensation from any of these companies. I list them because I use all of these products and believe in their quality.)