For most of us, the process of taking pictures is digital from start to finish. The picture is captured by a digital camera, uploaded to a computer, optionally imported into Lightroom, Photoshop, or some other processing application, and then is typically viewed on a monitor or a device LCD, probably in a browser window. However, there’s something really neat about seeing a printed version of a photograph. Even though I scarcely used a camera during my childhood, I was always thrilled to see pictures after my dad brought them back from the one-hour photo processor (unless the pictures were of me – I hated having my picture taken). Now, it takes a bit longer than an hour to get prints delivered – unless you go to a local Costco or other print shop – but it’s no less delighting.
Free Adorama photo book
Back during the summer, I bought some camera equipment from Adorama. If you spend over $200, they give you a free 8×8″ 14-page photobook through AdoramaPix, which was a happy surprise for me since I didn’t know about that before placing my order. I had thought that a photobook would be a cool thing to make but I wasn’t sure whether it was worth the time, effort, and expense. However, I remembered when super rats made his photo doujinshi a few years back and how cool it looked. I had wanted to buy a copy but I was broke-ass and unemployed at the time. I also remember that meronpan was very pleased with the way his AdoramaPix prints turned out. When I was apprised of the free photobook offer, I figured this would be a good opportunity to see how my pictures look in print and to assess AdoramaPix’s quality and level of service.
Putting together the book was actually rather difficult. Not because of AdoramaPix’s layout tool, though; on the contrary, their tool is very easy to use and quite well-designed. However, I have no experience with print layout, and even deciding how big I wanted to make my pictures required some thought. I like big pictures so I figured I’d use one picture per page, and since I know nothing about layout, I decided to go with a very simple format, with a black background and small photo captions.
The other issue was deciding which pictures to include. I needed fourteen pictures, and as I wanted to include only one photo per figure, I had a tough time picking fourteen pictures I love enough to have printed.
One other problem, albeit a minor one, was that a couple of the shots I wanted to use were taken with my old Rebel XS camera. It’s a 10 megapixel camera and back then, I was very sloppy with framing since I always intended to crop the image. However, the pictures seem to hold up very well, even after requiring some heavy cropping. I’m really glad I don’t use a tripod anymore, since it’s a lot easier to compose a shot handheld than on a tripod, particularly the broken pan-and-tilt Best Buy-brand tripod I used to use. I’m also glad I use an 18 megapixel camera now; not that I put a lot of stock in megapixel counts, given that 99% of the shots I share are displayed at relatively low resolution on the internet, but if I need to crop, having that big a picture gives me a lot of latitude.
The quality of the photobook is superb. Not that I have any experience with making or viewing photobooks, but the pictures look fantastic. A particularly nice feature is that Adoramapix binds the book so that they open flat, making it easy to view photos that are spread across both pages. I’m definitely very pleased with this book. I probably should’ve brushed the dust off of the pages before taking pictures, though.
Since this was just a trial book to experiment with layout, I labeled this book “Volume Alpha.” I’m sort of thinking of making a longer, more elaborate book for myself, probably in 3:2 size rather than square format, but I don’t have all the pictures I want to include yet. If I do make another book, there are a few things I’d do differently. An obvious one is that I wouldn’t place pictures on the inside covers, since they are glued to the covers and are creased near the top and bottom. I should have also paid more attention to page bleed, since some of the text is positioned very close to the edges. And last, I’ll forgo color corrections because my monitor is calibrated and I’m a control freak. I recently got some 8×12″ prints made without color corrections and they look fantastic.
I’m a big proponent of post-processing. For me, taking pictures means getting them as ready as I can for processing. I bought Lightroom during the summer when Adobe was doing one of their periodic $100 off sales and I’m slowly learning its capabilities. I also picked up Photoshop and I use both applications, Lightroom for setting exposure and exporting the RAW files to TIFF, and Photoshop for color tweaks, sharpening, and layering and masking if necessary. To make the photobook, I reprocessed all my photos at full resolution. In some cases, they look quite a bit different than they did the first time I processed them.
This shot of Yoko is one of the older shots I took. I really like this shot but it’s very dim and muddy, and it needs a lot of help. Compounding its problems is the fact that I shot it in JPEG mode. Back then, I didn’t have much hard disk space so I never shot in RAW. Conventional wisdom says that if you want to post-process a picture, you should always shoot RAW, which isn’t quite correct; you can still make quite a few tweaks to a JPEG photo. One thing I did to this picture that I don’t usually do is I duplicated the background layer and ran one of Topaz Labs‘s style filters on it, in this case the Bold Detail preset in Topaz Detail. I dropped the opacity down to about 65% so that the effect wouldn’t be quite so apparent, and I’m pretty happy with how it turned out.
Similarly, this is an older photo that was shot in JPEG mode. I still like the way it looks, and I mainly wanted to bump up the contrast a bit for printing. I did a bit more to it, including masking part of the image to get a more defined brightness gradient going from left to right, but in the end, I don’t think it looks too different than the older image.
Incidentally, here’s what the original image looks like:
One reason I’m glad I use flashes rather than desk lamps is that I don’t have to deal with the green tint you get with fluorescent bulbs.
This is a very recent shot, having been taken back in April. I wasn’t using Lightroom at the time, though. Needing a shot for the cover of the book, I felt that this one would be a good candidate after a little more work.
I think the skin tone in this newer version is much better. The image is also brighter, although whether that’s better is more of a personal opinion rather than an objective observation. I boosted up the blue values in part of the background just to get it looking a bit more interesting, and I really like how the left side of the picture is a bit warmer, with a ruddy background and darker tones, while the right side is brighter and cooler. I also feathered a selection around Undine’s face to bring up more detail and contrast there.
I’ve always been bothered by the way Tamaki’s right eye looks like a dark hole in her face. This was one of the pictures I was sure I was going to include in the book, but I knew I wanted to fix that problem with her eye.
Lightroom has limited masking capability via its Adjustment Brush tool. After opening this image in Lightroom, I painted over her right eye and brought up the exposure value.
Like with most of the other images presented here, I increased the brightness as well. I think the one change to her eye improves this picture a great deal.
I didn’t include this image in the book, mainly because I was equivocal as to how much I liked it. On a whim, I ran a different version of this image through Lightroom and got this image, which I like quite a bit better:
I jacked the hell out of the color saturation to get a more interesting look and dropped a big vignette on the lower right and upper left corners to emphasize the diagonal nature of the image. I also cleaned up her eyes a bit so they stand out more. That’s sort of a common theme here: the eyes are really important, and a little effort is worth spending to get the eyes looking good.
Experiments with Monochrome
I don’t shoot much in black and white. This is mainly because I do not think figures make great subjects for black and white photos, but since I suspect that my opinion is completely wrong, I’ve played around a bit with some of the black and white settings in Lightroom. One of the cool things you can do is convert an image to black and white and then apply split tone coloration. I took a few photos and tried out a few techniques, though in these cases, the two colors used for the tones were fairly close in value, so I’m not really sure if you’d still call it a split tone or not.
Rei Ayanami is an obvious candidate for black and white pictures. I gave this image a bluish tone, and then gave it a blurred look somewhat similar to a Lensbaby lens. I’m not too thrilled with how dark her eye looks; I probably should have brightened it a bit. Incidentally, Rei is also an obvious candidate for selective coloring, but there is no way I’m going to do something like that.
This is something of a throwaway picture, in that I haven’t yet reviewed this particular figure. As with Rei, the purple tone was dictated by the color of her hair. I like the tones of the shadows on her body but in this case, I think I prefer a color treatment. This isn’t exactly the same photo but demonstrates what it looks like in color:
I didn’t use this image in my review of this figure, so I was curious to see what it looked like as a split-toned image. I really like the way her eyes look in this rendition, and there’s a three-dimensional look to her skirt and hand that I think is very attractive. In this case, I think the black and white conversion works very well, and while I’m certainly going to be sticking with color for most of my stuff, I’m going to be looking for opportunities to make images like this one.