Friday, 17 October 2008


I was fortunate enough to visit two major photgraphy exhibitions yesterday. The first, at the National Portrait Gallery in London, was the massive Annie Leibovitz - A photgrapher's life, 1990-2005. This is a magnificent exhibition, with some stunning, and incredibly moving contrasts between Leibovitz's public works and her private images, including some particularly heart-wrenching images of Susan Sontag's struggles with cancer. I have long been a fan of Leibovitz's work, and I found the exhibition inspirational. The massive prints - especially her landscape shots of Monument Valley and Wadi Rum - convey something that no book or magazine reproduction can manage. The Monument Valley shots are particularly interesting, as the captions suggest they were taken from a helicopter, and are far from technical perfection, but still seem to convey the spirit of place.

Of the public works, standouts for me were her portraits of Richard Avedon, William Burroughs and Leibovitz's mother. Hugely moving and quite inspirational. Her mastery of light and lighting is outstanding.

In complete contrast, at The Royal College of Arts, is Sarah Moon 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. This is a major retrospective of Moon's work, including 130 black-and-white photographs, 20–30 large-scale photographs and two film installations. This exhibition coincides with the launch of a book of Moon’s work published by Thames & Hudson and another show at the Michael Hoppen Gallery. Olympus are one of the sponsors of the exhibition, and I was lucky enough to get a ticket to the launch/ reception via the Olympus UK E-System Forum.

I'm less familiar with Sarah Moon's work, perhaps because I have little interest in "fashion" photography. However, I was completely gobsmacked by the contrast with Leibovitz. Moon's images are ethereal, reminiscent of dreams, whereas Leibovitz penetrates to the reality by (mostly) acute focus and observation, with her sitters either confronting the camera directly or apparently unaware. Perhaps because of my background in news photography, I find Leibovitz's images more appealing and easier to access. Nevertheless, I find myself repeatedly thinking about Sarah Moon's less hard-edged view of reality in a way I certainly wouldn't have expected at the time. However, I find it difficult to see how fashion images that - however "beautiful" - convey only the broadest brush impression of fashion can be regarded as successful. Nevertheless, we were told that she is highly regarded by many in the field, including Gaultier and Issey Miyake (and examples of her work for both designers are included). Although I "enjoyed" it less, I found the Moon exhibition very thought-provoking and a "slow burn". Definitely also recommended! I found the gallery space and the cluttered "arrangement" mildly annoying however.

It was good to meet up with other members of the Olympus UK Photo Safari Group at the launch, including Brian Mosley (and Mrs Mosley), John, Tim, Simon and "Photo Owl". One of the huge advantages of belong to these groups is it makes events like this much less lonely! Especially when surrounded by fashionistas...

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Lightroom Presets

Looking back to my last post, I see that I was worried about stickiness in the sliders in Lightroom 2.1 Release Candidate. I'm happy now to update this and say that the issue went away: most likely transient conditions on my below-optimum PC. I really must upgrade my RAM!

One of the most common requests we seem to get over on the Flickr Adobe Lightroom group that I co-admin seems to be about develop presets. Second only to requests about Colour Management that is. I suppose when you've been using a piece of software fairly intensively for nearly two years, it's diifcult to remember how complex it can be for someone coming to the package fresh. I was reminded of that vividly yesterday when I was struggling with setting up additional external editors - despite following the instructions on the LR Forum, I just couldn't see what I was supposed to do. It was a real "Kickself" moment when I realised what I was failing to do...

Develop presets, however, are more annoying, because some people are charging significant money for what is really not a lot of work. As with so many things, of course, if it's worth it then it's worth the money, but it does hack me off that people want to go down the paid-for route, rather than trying to understand what the sliders do and work out their own solutions. There are vast quantities of free presets out there at the touch of Google, and they can show - vividly - what happens when you push such-and-such a slider this way or that, giving a sound basis for your own efforts.

When I started out with LR I downloaded loads of presets, but I now hardly use any of them. The exceptions are a set of WOW black and white presets, and, currently Sean McCormack's excellent "Dragan" presets. Both are used as a basis for further work rather than as the finished product. Sean has also produced the only presets I've ever paid for - a handy set of "instant" settings for the new LR2 grad adjustment. Definitely worth the 5 Euro cost for the time and trouble it's saved me! I look on it as the price of the couple of pints I'd have happily bought Sean for saving me all that effort to work thru and systematically make up Grad settings in different hardnesses, levels and divisions.

As for other paid for presets - like the ones I saw today that cost no less than $70 (or $150 for three different sets), for goodness sakes look aorund first and see what's out there, free, before flashing the credit card.

Here's an example of Sean's (free) Dragan presets in action: the image is from a photo trip to Kensal Green Cemetery in London with the Olympus UK E-System User Group in August 2008.