The Confessions of a Digital Immigrant

Bakarwal Gujjar 1989 - Photographed on slide film. I am guessing Ektachrome given the blues.

Bakarwal Gujjar 1989 – Photographed on slide film. I am guessing Ektachrome given the blues.



A Gujjar buffalo herdsman – 2012. Photographed with a Canon EOS 5D Mark III


There are two terms today that seem to categorize the world. Two terms that describe the entire world as we know it; they are digital native and digital immigrant. 1 In short, digital natives are those who never knew the world without the internet and digital immigrants are everyone else. Some of us immigrants speak “digital” like a native, while many of us are still trying to figure out Facebook. We may be fluent, but we are no natives.

As digital immigrants some of us are in a unique position to comment about both sides of the digital divide and how we see these changes affecting us. Some of us on the other hand are much like the frog in the proverbial pot of water, as the heat slowly increases we don’t see the change as it is so gradual. Mind you I am not trying to comment on what is good or what is bad with our current digital world, I’m just highlighting some of the changes this migration has seen.

I migrated to the digital world from the analog world along with all the other digital immigrants my age. If I had to identify one area that was the biggest barrier to my growth in photography I think it would simply be money, not technology. As a young photographer I struggled with the huge investment in camera gear, darkroom gear and the biggest cost of all film and processing unlike young photographers have to deal with today. Photographer Nevada Wier and I don’t see eye-to-eye as to whether the digital world is really cheaper or not. Check out my interview with her on the “Depth of Field podcast where we talk about this issue. (She takes issue with me on this point at 6:55 on the timeline.) I’ll stick to my guns on this. I still believe overall it is cheaper to get into photography today than ever before. Cameras and lenses are better and cheaper than ever. Yes, some software is pricy, but with options like the subscription model for Lightroom, you can get a month’s usage for less than two gallons of Milk (in America 😉 ).

Let’s think about this for a minute. The cost of chrome (slide) film and photo processing in 1976, the year when I graduated from high school, was somewhere around $15. A roll of 36 exposure Kodachrome would cost somewhere around $10 to $12. The processing was often only 2 or 3 dollars after that. So call it a total of $15. Today that same $15 is inflated2 to $63.46! Just buying and processing two rolls of Kodachrome is more costly than a year’s subscription to Lightroom and Photoshop today. Given that price, there was very little chance that a kid of my means would be able to experiment with frame after frame of trial and error to learn from my successes and failures. I got as good as I could through high school classes and later in university classes through a slow and costly process. But today, you can shoot as much as you want and waste as much digital data as you like at virtually (pun intended) no cost. By the way, that process of learning from your successes and failures took at the least a week or more as you waited for your slide film to be processed and returned. Today as we all know it is instant.

But here is a thought. As a photographer today I can shoot until I run out of memory, then delete and shoot some more. With this “digital excess”, if you will, are we really learning as much from it as we can or are we becoming sloppy and lazy. Reality is that creativity thrives under constraints.

“…the imagination is unleashed by constraints. You break out of the box by stepping into shackles.”

Jonah Lehrer, Imagine: How Creativity Works

When we put limitations (intentionally or unintentionally) on ourselves like time and resources we unleash creative juices we never thought we had. Don’t misunderstand me, I am not for one instance saying that the digital revolution has stifled creativity as a whole. But I do think that it might work that way with some people. The amazing wealth of information can also serve to be overwhelming and distracting. Remember a few years ago the book that was making its rounds in the creative community? It was titled, “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield. He talked about how so many things fight for our attention. At the top of this list has to be the internet —  Facebook, Twitter and Instagram in particular. I am not alone in this observation; article after article is written about how the internet is stealing our time. With the ease of photographing and processing all your thousands or tens of thousands of images at home on your personal computer comes the risk of distraction or as Pressfield calls it “resistance.”

For me, being a digital immigrant has been a huge blessing.  I would never go back. Gear cost is less than ever. Photographers have been given complete control over over the creative process. I never would have been able to clone, dodge, burn with the detail I can do with Photoshop. If I choose I can leave my graduated filters at home and use Lightroom’s graduated filters and more. The digital era has made all this possible. Light, a company who uses new camera technology has a touch screen user interface that uses sophisticated depth-mapping technology. Meaning, you adjust focus and depth of field even after a photo is taken, all the way to f/1.2!

I love being able to look at the photo I just shot, critique it on the spot and shoot again. It has opened new doors for me to do the same with others in workshops across the globe. I would never want to return to the days of analog.

My migration continues as I have moved from shooting large heavy DSLRs like the Canon 5d MK III to lighter weight and stealthy cameras like the mirrorless Fujifilm X-T1. As tech continues to get smaller and lighter and more efficient, this movement to mirrorless cameras allows less attention to be drawn to the photographer as they are much less intrusive and nondescript.

Change is never easy. Every immigrant is uncomfortable for a period of time. But there is no going back, that boat has sailed. As a Digital Immigrant I can either complain and be a curmudgeon or learn to navigate in the digital world. As I do, I quickly uncover the treasures that await.



The Radiant Vista

I am not sure what happened over at The Radiant Vista, but the good thing Craig Tanner, Mark Johnson and Matt Gibson had going over there went up in smoke. The Radiant Vista is no more. But the spirit of it continues on in at least two websites by two of the three. Craig Tanner, one of the founders of TRV has founded a new site called The Mindful Eye. Craig was the philosophical part of TRV, with articles like “The Myth of Talent“. To be quite frank, it was way to wordy for me and I never made it through more than a few paragraphs and some of his esoteric stands on imaging were a bit to zen for me. But you can’t deny Craig’s talent. He is a very good and well rounded photographer. Take a look at his gallery and you can see that.

So Craig has put together what amounts to another TRV. He has a Daily Critique where he takes your image and gives it a once over. I think it was from Craig I first heard “In a perfect world…”, now used by so many critics. He also has tons of videos and some podcast. Craig is definitely sharing the love.

Then, Mark Johnson who was another third of TRV has beefed up his site to some degree as well. Mark continues his Workbench that he started at RV. Like the Daily Critique, Mark uses your image, but rather than critiquing it he plays with it of sorts. He uses submitted images to teach color correction or retouching or he may explore compositing. Like the Photoshop Workbench, he has other video tutorials that are designed to help you learn Photoshop. Unlike the Workbench, these tutorials focus on very specific, high-demand subjects such as basic Photoshop 101, Color Management, and Sharpening. All video tutorials are free of charge.

Both Craig and Mark offer workshops. So check out these guy’s new sites and enjoy.

Lightroom Plug-ins make Life a Breeze.

Ok, maybe that title is a bit of an overstatement.

We all know Adobe Lightroom is powerful. Most of my editing and post processing these days is done in Lightroom, and no longer in Photoshop. In fact, I would say with the advent of Lightroom 2 and local adjustments (see my video HERE) 95% or more of my work is done in Lightroom now. But there are fun little secrets that make this application even more powerful useful for more than photo processing. How many of you use Flickr, Photoshelter, SmugMug? Did you know that Lightroom, with the added help of a few free (yes, free) plug-ins can make your life soooo much easier?

Here’s how it works. I am going to show you with the Photoshelter plug-in, but it works the same with all the above and more. There are two ways to start. The easiest is to follow this link to Adobe’s Lightroom Exchange HERE. This is a warehouse of Lightroom plug-ins. Here you will find plug-ins for exporting to the sites I listed above. But, you will also find all kinds of cool plug-ins for web templates, develop presets and more. Most are free! So poke around and enjoy. I said there was two ways to start. The other way is to open Lightroom and go under the new to Lightroom 2 “Plug-in Manager.” This is a handy dialog box that will take you to the Adobe Exchange site by clicking the button on the bottom left of the window. But it is more useful than that, because it now is the simplest way to import your plug-ins. Once you download the plug-in you want to use, in this case the Photoshelter plug-in, then just hit the ad button and ad it to your list of plug-ins. Simple, no more searching for the folder where the plug-ins reside, it does it for you.

 The new to lightroom 2 “Plug-in Manager.”


So now you have the Photoshelter plugin loaded or the Flickr plug-in or whatever one you want. Now, you need to select the images you want to load. I chose the Arches of Delhi gallery I made last week. Make sure you have captions and key words already embedded in the image. This is the beauty of this method. Now export like you would do normally export a photo and bring up the export dialog box. Here you will see at the top of dialog box a small pane, click on it and choose which plug-in you want to use.

You must choose which plug-in to use.

You will see the list appear. Once you choose the plug-in you will need to log in to your account. Don’t forget, you have to have an account with any of these services to use them. That may seem like a no-brainer, but… Anyway, then just work your way down the dialog box panes. Name the file, make your setting choice, your size choice, sharpening, etc… Finally choose an existing gallery or make a new one.

Just work your way down the dialog box panes.

Then upload.

Once uploaded, Lightroom will tale you to the site and you can make any changes to the photos in Photoshelter or whatever site you uploaded to.

Your captions and other IPTC data that was embedded from Lightroom 2 follows your image to Photoshelter.

These plug-ins will save you a ton of time and make uploading to your favorite site a breeze. I hope this helped. You can view this gallery in Photoshelter HERE.

Note: The maker of the plugin wrote me and I realized I did not give a link to his site only to Exchange. Sorry about that oversight. The company is called pact software and you can find this plugin HERE.

Steve McCurry Sharp

One of the fun and quite frankly, thrilling things that digital imaging has been able to deliver that film never did, is the ability to give you truly razor sharp images. Yeah, we had sharp images in the film days, but not like what we can get now. With the digital cameras ability to grab detail and photoshop’s many techniques in sharpening, we have surpassed film by miles. Over the past two Lumen Dei workshops we developed an expression that might be taken disrespectful toward the Guru of travel and world photographers, Steve McCurry. Continue reading

What Blogs do you read?

Ok time for you to give back? I have a certain few blogs I check everyday. Here is my list:

  1. PixelatedImage Blog – David is one of the best writers I know and is always inpserational.
  2. Joe McNally – Joe is one of the best photographers out there and is always willing to share. And by the way, Joe’s blog was a stitch today!
  3. Chase Jarvis – Chase is awsome. Talk about some who shares knowledge. This guy rocks and he produces some pretty mean videos as well.
  4. The Travel Photographer – Tewfic El-Sawy always has some great links to some very cool slideshows.
  5. Photoshop Insider – Scott Kelby is, well Scott Kelby a must read.
  6. TED Blog – This is always a way to stay up on what the “world” fines important.
  7. Gavin Gough – Gavin has great insight and I just love looking at his images.
  8. A Photogrpahy Blog– Rachel Hulin digs up some great images and is always good for a hoot.

OK – Now it is your turn. Who do you read? I know you are out there, I see the states. So please don’t embarrass me and not respond. Or I am going to have to have my mom email for 50 different computers to cover my Arse!

PS One more I almost forgot to list. What the Duck. A must read. Not only is it funny, but it speaks volumes!

Sometimes a picture is worth the extra effort.

Final image

Original #1

Original #2

Yesterday, my wife and daughter and I went with some Malay friends to the Kampon or village. We played in rice paddies and ate a lot of good food and drank a lot of fresh coconut juice. I took a few images of our host’s children. One was particularly nice, but… not quite. It looked as if I had started taking pictures of war amputees. Poor girl. Poor me, what a lot of potential! So, I decided to work a little extra on this image. I thought you might like to see how I did it. It wasn’t really that hard. I don’t normally work on an image like but, this there was something about this little girl and the setting that I wanted.

First I took the images that had the “good” face, and simply copied the face.

Then I pasted the good face onto the not-so-good face but good body of the next image. I then made a layers mask and softened the edges so it would blend well. I also transformed the size of the face to match the size of the host image. To do that select the layer of the image that needs to be sized. Then do a Command T (Control on a PC). This gives you a selection that you can now size. To size uniformly hold the shift key and then pull the corners till the image looks right. It is all subjective.

I also cloned out some of the “old” face to make the blending easier.

Here you can see all the layers and masks. Click to view larger for more detail.

Then I added some more room below the coconuts and did the same thing. Made a layer mask and softened the edges.

Trust me, this is pretty simple. Anyone can do it, but you have to start using layer masks. I am always amazed at how many people use Photoshop and do not use layer masks. It is very simple and non-destructive. I am sure there are other ways I could have blended these images but this was quick and easy.

Any questions, just email me or skype me. Here isone more shot from yesterday. These kids are just too cute.

Oh! and Salamat Hari Raya Aidilfitiri!

Nicole Gibson Brings Home a Guru!

A hearty congratulations goes out to Nicole Gibson for winning the Vincent Versace Award at Photoshop World Expo in Las Vegas. Nicole is a good friend and one of our participant in the 2007 Lumen Dei workshop in Kashmir. In fact, it was her image of a Kashmiri man viewed through a flock of pigeons taken on the Lumen Dei tour that took the Guru Award. The image is outstanding and well deserved. Not sure, but I think Nicole walks away with a tidy little prize booty as well. Well done Nicole!

And the winner is….

…Thai Yuan or as he is known to his friends as T.Y. There were sooo many great shots. It was way too hard for me. I never, never want to judge images again, well at least not alone. I had short listed the winner to around a dozen images and then today I picked this one. Below I will list the others that came in close.

Why this image? The lines converging to the boy are very strong. They come from every angle, including the man looking at the boy. I wanted an image that showed good composition as well as gave a sense of Penang. I think this does it all. Congatulations to TY, he will be getting a copy of Scott Kelby’s new book “Lightroom 2 Book for Digital Photographers” in the mail soon.

Like I said So many great shots, where to begin and how to choose. Here where several runner-ups. Let’s do this again, but this time, I am not judging!