Cheating with digital

Photographs should not be significantly altered in post. It’s cheating. This is how I feel. I suppose if you consider yourself a “digital illustrator” rather than photographer, then sure, but otherwise, it’s cheating.

And oh my how easy it is to cheat these days. Here’s an example. I took the following photo yesterday during a walk at the beach with my daughter.

Ok, I lied, the photo I actually took was this one…

Pretty similar, right? Except that my photo had no birds in it, and the sky was dull and boring, as far as skies go.

It took me about 4 clicks in the latest version of Luminar to replace the sky with something slightly more dramatic and to add a few birds, just for the hell of it. The result is the “same” photo but just jazzed up a little, right?

No, it’s not. It’s cheating and it’s not what happened. My goal when taking photographs is to record things I’m interested in or to show how I see things. I realize not everyone feels this way, but cheating like I did here ruins the photo for me. Yes, if I were scrolling through Instagram I’m sure I’d prefer the altered version, but it’s not how I want to do things.

It’s so tempting, though! If it only takes a few clicks to go from decent to Wow!, why wouldn’t I? I’d like to make the slippery slope argument here. I mean, just look at how awesome this sunset photo is!

KaBlamWOW!

But, you know, some hard-working photographer somewhere is spending days getting to beautiful places and waiting long hours for just the right moment. Then, finally, the light and sky and everything comes together for the shot. By cheaply and easily altering my images, I diminish the work done by those who are out doing it for real. It feels wrong. It feels like cheating and I want no part of it.

The MyHeritage Photo Enhancer

I ran one of my favorite found negatives through the MyHeritage Photo Enhancer and I have to admit it’s pretty impressive.

Before and after

The photos are enhanced using this specialized technology and are not manually retouched in any way. The technology infers what the original faces may have looked like by bringing blurry low-resolution or low-quality photos into clear focus.

The process focuses on faces in the photos and leaves the rest alone. It’s worked amazingly well on the handful of images I’ve tested. I want this for all of my very old negative and photo scans. Unfortunately, it requires a subscription to MyHeritage, in which I’m not interested.

The technology behind all this is licensed, so it must be available elsewhere. If you know where I might find it, drop me a line.

Cameras I'm using and cameras I want

Here are the cameras I use regularly enough to claim that they are “being used”, in order of most-to-least used.

Digital

  • Ricoh GRIII
  • Leica Q
  • Fuji X-Pro2
  • Fuji X-T3

Film

  • Leica M6
  • Fuji Instax SQ6
  • Leica M3
  • Hasselblad 500C/M

Obviously, this list is way too long for anyone claiming to be a serious hobby photographer: “It’s not the camera, it’s the photographer, blah, blah…”. On the other hand, it’s a fine list for someone—me, for example—who enjoys photography but really likes cameras.

The past few months have seen me shoot very little film, but I must admit that the Leica M film bodies are so wonderful to hold that I pick them up and shoot a frame or two of whatever just for the tactile pleasure of it. They really are more to me than just cameras. They feel astonishing and could be the most beautiful man-made objects I’ve every used.

And yet, I mostly grab the little GRIII. I’m kind of in a digital mood lately.

What if I could have that Leica M feeling, but with digital? Good question! That’s what I’ve been wondering! :). So right now the camera I want is a Leica M10. Or specifically, the M10-P. I don’t want the new M10-R because, well, there’s no used market yet and who needs 40 megapixels? I don’t.

I can’t stop thinking about it. I already have the 35mm Summicron ASPH which is my favorite small-format lens of all time. Wouldn’t that be a wicked combination? I had an M8 years ago and that camera sucked. Chunky, slow, terrible in low light, and needed a filter so the blacks didn’t go all magenta on me. From what I can tell, the M10 is finally there. It’s a true M camera, but digital.

On the other hand, there’s the Leica SL2. In-body IS, wicked-good construction, world’s greatest EVF, damn good video (the M10 doesn’t even have video), and the option of using fantastic auto-focus lenses or my M lenses with an adapter. It’s a huge beast, but I kind of want one.

Then there’s Linhof 4x5 Master Technika. Of course I wouldn’t get a new one, at that price. I still enjoy making 4x5 portraits, but my 1950s Crown Graphic is beat to shit and doesn’t really “spark joy”, as they say. I think the Linhof would.

I can only have one of the above, and probably shouldn’t have any, but I’ve found myself trolling eBay and the other usual outlets. I can’t wait to see what I do.

Shopping list

I may take a break from 35mm film

As much as I love using my old 35mm film cameras, I haven’t been enjoying film lately. I’m trying to figure out why that is.

My hunch is that I have grown impatient with the delay between shooting a frame and being able to see/print/share that frame. Having been under “stay at home” instructions for months, I don’t have the creative gumption to shoot 36 frames around the house of the same people and things. It can take weeks to finish a roll, during which I lose interest.

The confusing thing is that although I’m finally set up for darkroom printing, I am only able to print from 35mm negatives. It doesn’t seem wise to get everything configured just right and then not use it, but here we are.

It’s not film itself that I’m uninterested in, but rather the long wait between exposure and print. To help with this I may limit myself to 120 and/or 4x5 formats. A roll of 120 in the Hasselblad is only 12 frames. And 4x5 is practically as fast as digital1.

The Hasselblads are fantastic, and have recently been CLA’d and work like butter. No problem there.

My 4x5 cameras are another story. The Speed Graphic has a light leak and the Crown Graphic (1947) is covered in gaffer tape, has no rangefinder, and is a beat up mess. This has me shopping for a Linhof or similar. Something more modern, less flakey.

90% of the time I shoot 4x5 on a tripod, but once in a while I do it handheld, which is silly. And yet, I often go back to the following photo. It was taken with the Speed Graphic, indoors, low-light, handheld. I love it. It’s sharp, has terrific dynamic range, and looks how I like my film photos to look. I want to make more of these.

Fusionary (2013). 4x5 Speed Graphic. HP5+

One thing about 4x5 is that I can still make prints if I don’t mind simple contact prints on 5x7 paper, like the print shown above.


  1. Well no, it’s not even close. What I mean is that I am able to expose a frame and develop it immediately. This removes the time waiting for a finished roll. [return]

Scanning film negatives with a digital camera

Scanning film negatives with a flatbed scanner is a pain. All scanning software sucks. Every one of them. Fidgeting with negative holders is a joyless, tedious drag. And the whole process is slow. So very slow.

I’ve been experimenting with scanning film using a digital camera. I’ve processed a few rolls this way and it’s working quite well. Here’s my setup:

They key to this is a combination of the MK1 Film Carrier and Negative Lab Pro.

The MK1 Film Carrier from Negative Supply makes quick work of scanning a full, uncut roll of 35mm film. I feed the roll into one end and turn the knob to reveal each frame in turn. The film is held nice and flat and it operates smoothly. I was part of the Kickstarter campaign so I didn’t pay the full price of $329, which is good because although the device is nicely designed and made from machined aluminum, that’s a lot of money for what it does.

Negative Lab Pro is a plugin for Lightroom Classic that handles conversion of the original Raw “scans”. It’s really meant for color film scans, but I also use it for black and white. I originally used it for processing color negative film scans from the Epson scanner and it did such a great job with those that it became an integral part of my workflow. It even adds a metadata section to Lightroom for adding Exif data like camera make, model, lens, film stock, etc to each frame. This is very handy and replaces my command line version which I frequently forgot to run anyway. I don’t use Lightroom for my normal Raw processing, but I keep it around just for NLP.

The other components of this new scanning workflow are a small lightbox, a Fuji X-T3 with the 7Artisans 60mm Macro lens, a copy stand, and Capture One Pro.

The 7Artisans lens was a cheap Macro option for the Fuji and it works fine. Capture One Pro does a great job at tethered capture so I can make sure focus and framing are spot on for each frame as I work through the roll.

This method of scanning a roll of 35mm film is fast! I used to have a Pakon scanner that was even faster and easier at the actual scanning process, but was expensive, unsupported, cumbersome to get working, and required that I maintain an old Windows XP laptop.

My new digital film scanning process looks like this: 1. Feed the film into the MK1 and check focus 2. Use Capture One Pro on the tethered MacBook Pro to capture a frame 3. Advance the film to the next frame and repeat 4. Import the “scans” into Lightroom 5. Crop and rotate the first scan, then copy and paste those adjustments to all remaining frames 6. Select all scans and open Negative Lab Pro 7. Convert and save TIFF copies

This entire process takes maybe 15 minutes and the results look good to me.

More notes about Mylio for photo management

I started using Mylio for photo management a few days ago and it’s gone swimmingly so far.

I still prefer keeping my photos organized as files in folders on my hard drive. I use Capture One for editing raw files, and then I export the “keepers” to what I call my Digital Print Archive. This is comfortable for me. It feels permanent and manageable. The problem is that I lose out on the features of tools like Apple Photos or Lightroom or Google Photos. I don’t have face recognition or automatic organization by date and/or location. I don’t get automatic sync across devices. I feel left out.

For the past couple years I’ve added everything in my DPA to Google Photos. This way everything is available everywhere, at least for viewing, and I get all the fancy tools. Still, Google gives me the creeps. I could use Lightroom but I don’t want to rely on a cloud solution.

This is where Mylio comes in. Mylio doesn’t use a cloud. It syncs peer to peer whenever devices are on the same network. When they’re apart, changes are saved locally until re-connected. There is some form of https-based sync, but I’ve not investigated how that works

I started out by using my DPA folder as a “Source Folder”, meaning all changes to that folder are mirrored to all devices running Mylio. All managed files are also synced to one or more “Vaults”. The key difference here is that I can use any number of things as Vaults and everything is mirrored to each of them. Currently, I have a single vault on an external USB drive. The beautiful part is that my folder structure is mirrored both ways. In other words, I can move files around in folders, create folders, etc, and that same folder structure is synced to the Vaults and each device. It’s like the best of both worlds: Local management and cloud sync all in one.

Once I got comfortable adding my DPA folder, I also added other folders. Things like “Projects” and miscellaneous folders with avatars, watermarks, and misc logos and images I use other places. Here’s what my top-level folder view looks like now.

Top level folders in Mylio

Note the Apple Photos folder is just what you’d expect, all of my iPhone photos have also been imported. I used to manually import from my phone into Capture One. Now I don’t have to.

Mylio has a bunch of other tools as well. Batch renaming, automatic organization into folders, exports to Flickr, and so on. Here’s the area of Mylio showing my devices, locations, Exif summaries, etc.

Mylio nerdary

So far I only have around 20,000 photos in Mylio, but it still feels very fast. Syncing happens almost instantly. Best of all, everything is kept exactly where I want it.

Mylio is worth a look.

Gallery of meals

The only thing I’ve been photographing lately are my meals.

It started as a way to test Lychee as a gallery, but I kept going. Now it’s a habit. I don’t pose them or anything. I just set the plate down on my desk and snap a photo from above.

Using Mylio for photo management

In Bringing my photos in from the cloud I wrote that “Photo Mechanic is my Librarian”. That may be changing now that I’ve started testing Mylio as a way to sync, backup, and manage my edited photos.

Here are a few reasons I’m testing Mylio:

  • Photos are synced quickly everywhere and the sync is very robust and seems to work well
  • Mylio does NOT keep my photos in any sort of “cloud” storage. Everything is managed right on my devices, as files that I can see right in the finder if I choose to.
  • When using “source folders”, Mylio maintains my original folder structure.
  • It has flexible storage rules. I can determine whether any device keeps full copies, thumbnails, or an in-between preview version.
  • Everything works offline and syncs when back on the network.
  • Vaults can be on internal storage, NAS, or even cloud storage if I wanted that.
  • I can keep multiple “vaults” which then gives me additional copies of each original.

I still export all “keepers” to full-sized jpeg files in my Digital Print Archive. I have this DPA set as the “Source” folder for Mylio. This means everything in the archive is immediately available to Mylio on all devices. If I organize folders using Mylio on my phone, the same folder structure changes are mirrored in the DPA. This is exactly how I want to work.

My old system required that I import iPhone photos occasionally and export them to the DPA from Capture One. Now, I have the iPhone’s photo library automatically imported to Mylio. I ruthlessly cull photos from my phone so I end up with only “DPA-worthy” photos anyway.

I’ve read reports of people with more than 1 million photos in their Mylio libraries, and they have nothing but good things to say about performance and capabilities. That’s encouraging.

So, Mylio is my new librarian. It replaces Photo Mechanic in that role. I lose some of the fancy bits of PM but I gain enough convenience features (e.g. face recognition, maps, calendar integration, etc) to make it worth the change.