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February 15th, 2009

How I Spent My Valentine’s Day…

I’d been thinking about the self-publishing options available to folks now (see my post below), and I found myself that morning scanning through some web links about photo book publishing.  I’ve wanted to put together a book of my art photography too.  I began scanning pages of comment about how well Apple’s online photo book publishing mechanism works with Aperture…the Apple photographer work flow software I use. 

I discovered several insights into the problem of color management I’ve been wrestling with, ever since I got a request, that came with a promise of actual money, for a print of one of my Puerto Valarta images.  It took me so many test prints to get the colors right off the printer, that I actually lost money on it.  But it was worth it to me, just for the satisfaction of knowing I had a fan of my art photography out there who was willing to give me good money for a print they’d particularly liked.

Here’s the image that gave me so much trouble:

 

This is off the Puerto Vallarta gallery.  You can’t really see it in this JPEG, but the actual image is rich with delicate detail in the floor tile and brick work, and there are so many beautifully subtle colors and gradients.  I love it myself.  But getting what I saw on Bagheera’s screen (Bagheera is my art room Mac) to match what I got from my printer, a very nice Epson R1800, turned out to be a royal hassle.  This JPEG doesn’t do it much justice either…but I wouldn’t expect much fidelity from a JPEG.  The printer was another story.  I spent a lot of money on it to get something I could produce art quality prints with and I had no idea it would turn out to be so hard.

The worst…and you may find this hard to imagine…was that damn beige wall around the brick archway.  I could not for the life of me get it right out of the printer.  I could get the tile floor.  I could get the brickwork.  I could get the lovely wood in the shadows, and in the bright golden light of the morning sun in Puerto Vallarta.  I could get the dog perfect…just perfect.  I could not get that goddamned beige wall.  It starts out with a distinctly reddish cast at the far end, and gradates over the stucco to the lighter, paler beige in the near end.  It is just lovely if you get it right.  But I kept getting a yellowish wall, or an orange-ish wall or some puke colored wall.  I was having fits until finally, just by accident, I hit on a combination of Aperture output settings and printer color settings that got it right, and I was able to give my customer a good print of it.

This…I thought…cannot be right.  I’d taken a profusion of notes during my struggle to get a good print of this image and looking through them the only thing I could say for sure is I had a combination of settings that would work on That One Photo and probably I’d have to do it all over again for any others.  I knew there was this thing called "color management" you could enforce…somehow…which was supposed to use the color profiles of your printer and monitor to make sure that what you see on the screen is exactly the same as what you see in the final print.  But whenever I looked into any of these color management systems they were all horribly expensive to buy and more complicated to install and use then I had the money or the time to fool with.  There had to be an easier way.

Last summer I was asked at the last minute to do the photography for a relative’s wedding. Some of the photos I took were with the Canon 30D digital SLR.  But some shots, the critical couple and family portraits were done with the Hasselblad.  I’ve been hemming and hawing for months now about getting them prints because I knew it was going to be a massive effort to get each individual print right.  They’ve been very patient, but it’s been embarrassing.

So I’m reading this article online about using Aperture to publish photobooks via Apple’s photobook service, and I see a simple, straightforward explanation of how Apple’s own internal color management system works that I’d never been able to find while I was struggling with the Puerto Vallarta photo…and suddenly everything snapped together for me. 

I had only a vague idea that Apple even had color management built into the operating system.  And there it was, laid out for me in an simple step-by-step process, to set it up in Aperture.  Apple’s system is called "ColorSync", and since it was built-in to the OS, it Was as simple as I thought it had to be.  Just a matter of getting the latest color profiles for my printer installed and then, in Aperture, switching on the onscreen proofing and making sure it was using the printer profiles.  The default is the Apple RGB space.  On the printer side instead of trying to set up a third-party color management system, I just switched on ColorSync.  When Aperture printed, I just had to make sure it was using the printer profile for the particular kind of paper I had in it when it sent output to the printer.  That was all I needed to do.

I ran a test print of the image above through it and it came out…perfectly.  Then I got into the wedding photos I’d taken last summer.  The wedding portraits were all taken outdoors under a tree with a little lake behind it and the lighting conditions kept varying because the bright puffy beautiful clouds in the background kept passing in front of it.  I picked out an image of the couple that needed some adjustments in the light levels and tweaked until I got everything to my satisfaction.  Then instead of making a test proof print, I just sent it directly to the printer using the ColorSync setup and the expensive high gloss paper.  I wanted to see the final product right up front.  It came out exactly right.

I was thrilled.  Now I could make as many art prints as I wanted and not have to worry too much about wasting paper and spinning my wheels searching for the right combination of printer settings to get something to print the way I wanted it to print.  I started work on the wedding prints I’d been promising my family…the southern Baptist side down in southern Virgina…for so long.  It was great.  Everything was coming off the printer perfectly.  Just perfectly.  I was delighted.

I’d printed up a nice 13" by 19" print of the couple’s wedding portrait, and thinking to myself with that sense of completeness and inner satisfaction an artist gets when you have a head of steam up and it all comes together and its all perfect that, Hey…They’re really going to like this…  Hopefully it’ll make up for the delay in getting it all to them…  And then I realized what I was doing.

It’s Valentine’s Day, I’m 55, I’ve been single almost all my life except for maybe that short affair I had with Keith ten years ago and even that was more a roller coaster of yes we are no we’re not yes we are no we’re not until he dumped me…I’m sick, absolutely sick with loneliness and despair is settling in to keep me company in my old age…and here I am happily, cheerfully even, working on other people’s wedding photos.  Like…this is what my life was always meant to be after all.  I exist, to serve other people’s happiness.  I was born to watch other people get a love life and settle down.  Keith settled down.  My first high school crush is happily settled down and has been for over thirty years now with the person he calls his soulmate.  And a certain heartless jackass I know in Arlington Virginia keeps telling me my problem is I just don’t work at it enough, like a sanctimonious billionaire who thinks the only reason people are poor is because they are lazy and just don’t want to work.

I get to watch it all…the parade of life.  I get to point my camera at it.  I get to make drawings and paintings of it.  I have the skill…and the eye.  I get to document it all as it passes me by.  That’s why I was put here on this earth I guess.  I think I saw it, finally, last night.

How I spent my Valentine’s day: I made other people’s wedding prints.  Trust me, it wasn’t what I’d planned on doing.  If someone had even suggested it I’d have laughed in their face.  I’ll do them later…just not Valentine’s Day.  Not when I’m so lonely while the whole fucking world celebrates being in love.  And it just…happened.  Like an omen.  Like a tap on the shoulder reminding me I have a place in this world, and that’s not it.  How I spent my Valentine’s day: I made other people’s wedding prints.

Well…I need to go get some more photo paper.  And…ink. 

 

[Edited a tad…]

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