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|| News Item: Posted 2005-08-04

Sports Shooter Conversation: With Gerry McCarthy and Chip Litherland
By Robert Hanashiro, Sports Shooter

(Sports Shooter conducted a question and answer session with Gerry McCarthy of the Columbia Tribune and Chip Litherland of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. The topic to be covered was use of Photoshop but turned into a wide-ranging talk covering ethics, contests and archiving.)

Sports Shooter : Ready?
Gerry McCarthy : Yup.
Chip Litherland : Fire Away.

SS: Cool! Here we go:

SS: OK let's get right to it: What is "too much" Photoshop?

GM: Hmmmm ... That's a tough one, because I really do believe in the idea of personal "vision" --- even in toning --- so the answer is subjective. I do think, though, the intentional altering of content for "dubious" purposes is "too much".

CL: Too much Photoshop is when it's noticeable and takes away from the original content of the scene that you photographed. This by no means the RAW file, because digital files are really horrible sometimes.

SS : Define "personal vision".

GM : I think the only place I have complete control over the "look" (I mean that in a lighting sense) is in the studio or under completely controlled lighting situations There, I can really shape the way my subject looks, complete the mood and such.

CL : Ha ha ... I think personal vision is exactly what it sounds like. But I think that vision can be translated through your photography and by Photoshop.

GM : Out in the field, I have to work with what I have, but that shouldn't negate *how* I see the scene.

CL : But in the end, I think there needs to be some control into creating a vision through Photoshop.

SS : So how does that "personal vision" translate into toning for your paper?

GM : So, I'm willing to utilize toning during the editing process to compromise between the two. BUT, I never try to create lighting situations that weren't there, if that makes any sense. Nor do I alter content in an attempt to deceive our readers.

CL : My toning for the paper is probably over what I post on Sport, because I tweak my colors a bit over to make up for the loss from printing on muddy off-white crap.

GM : I'm the opposite. What I send to our image techs is usually a little less "contrasty" and saturated than what gets on the web -- just how I was taught to do things. But the basic idea is there -- my decisions on what to emphasize and de-emphasize (through dodging and burning) is basically the same for both outlets.

SS : Chip when you say "control" what do you mean?

CL : By control as in self-policing of your own use of the technology. Only I know how blue that sky was, or how red that wall was when I originally photographed it. I can obviously make it pop more in Photoshop easily

CL : So restraint might be a better word.

GM : That's a great point, Chip.

SS : Brings up that old story about the O.C. Register ... they had a photo of a polluted river ... was brown and yucky. The scan department thought the photographer screwed up and they made it nice and blue for the paper.

CL : Gerry, you mentioned imagers … and Bert, exactly.

GM : Question, though: What about shooting the same scene on, let's say, some really great chrome. Obviously, it's going to intensify the colors that are already there. Would you feel the same way about going back and returning the colors as you saw them?

CL : I want to make sure the imagers know what I want that frame to look like and how it was when I shot it, so I'm incredibly anal before handing over a file.

SS : We used to have an entire staff of imagers ... hold over from the scanning days. But now we have only 2 people. They have to handle all of our staff photos AND wires...

GM : Same here, Bert, but on a smaller scale.

SS : A lot of our photos are toned by the pre-press people in production, not people in the photo department.

GM : Best I can tell they just proof the image for our Goss press.

SS : Or noted toned at all before hitting the page …

GM : Why would you NOT work at a paper you couldn't tone at?

CL : I wouldn't want to, because while I believe there are some amazing imagers and people out there that know what their doing with files, I want some control over what my images look like.

SS : Our policy used to be that the photographer just cropped, captioned and sent the images. Now that has changed somewhat.

CL : Man, I couldn't do it. I have a hard enough time handing over a raw take to someone.

GM : On some level, you still want some sort of creative control over the way your image "looks" ... right? See, what I've always admired about your work is the great blend of content and mood.

SS : Yes, back to what you said about a photographer's vision.

CL : Photoshop is a HUGE part of my "personal vision," I guess you could say.

GM : And there's where I agree with you about "restraint" --- toning should never be a means of compensating for a lack of content.

CL : Content is key, but a beautiful looking frame gets it through the door --- if you know what I'm saying.

GM : Right --- my point exactly. So again, I think, back to Bert's original point, problems arise in Photoshop when it goes from being a tool to being a crutch, if that makes any sense.

SS : So having the photographer involved some how is important.

GM : In the toning of an image?

SS : In how the photo looks and appears in print...

GM : I'd say so, but I'm sure lots of people feel very differently about that.

SS : I was always a little frustrated with our workflow.

CL : Yeah, that's horrible. I've had images where that golden sunset light has been pulled out by an imager. That's wrong ... it destroys my vision and takes away from the truth (lower case t) of what was there

SS : Yes ... and to tell you the truth, sometimes it was a relief. I'd be at a night game here in LA. Our deadlines are basically East Coast. So cropping and caption a photo only takes me a minute or two. I could send about 6 photos and the wire photogs were still toning their first one. I'd see them working 15 - 20 minutes or more.

GM : Good point too. Careful, deliberate toning does take time. But I think everyone creates their own flow that works for them

CL : True. I have to do that as well on deadline, but I don't think I've ever been happy with some else's tone job.

CL : I usually cringe the next day.

GM : Well, that's where I get a little lucky working the night shift at a p.m. (Monday - Friday) paper.

SS : Like having Rembrandt touching up the Mona Lisa?

GM : I can *usually* take my time with stuff.

SS : We're all pretty possessive of our own work I'd say.

CL : I have my workflow down to a science. There are a lot of tools in Photoshop that I don't know how to use, but the ones I do know how to I make the most with.

SS : Can good toning be done in the field? On a laptop monitor?

GM : Not our laptop!

CL : Not that all my work is a Mona Lisa - in fact its sometimes more like Lisa Simpson.

CL : Laptops are horrible for toning.

GM : But I've gotten a better feel for it over time -- still won't do anything beyond color correct on it, though. For some reason any dodge/burn I do on it looks really severe back at the office.

SS : That's what I've always felt ... but here I am at games on deadline and I see colleagues spending lots of time toning for their paper or their wire service.

CL : We're all getting laptops (finally) here, but we're going to be coming back to the office, plugging into a workstation and toning off larger normal monitors

SS : One of my pet peeves with wire photos is: We get these images but we have no clue how much "work" has been done to them (usually)...

SS : Especially when it comes to file size.

GM : Is that a bad thing, Bert? Oh, I see what you mean.

CL : I think where I make time for toning is in my editing. I'm a very, very light shooter and I'm usually edited by the time I get back.

SS : I am not talking about ethical concerns but when a file is "worked over" too much and then the paper gets it, then there isn't much we can do to it on our end for our needs (and presses).

GM : Right --- I get you.

SS : I think maybe in the "old days" with smaller camera files it was a real concern because we'd get these 15 meg files ... and they were shot on a NC2000.

CL : I can totally see that frustration for an editor. But I think editors should only be hiring photogs that they are comfortable with.

CL : Wire services are probably a different story.

SS : But the concerns are still the same because if too much is done initially, then the file is

CL : I've had AP call me on a couple occasions about a frame they questioned.

SS : Really? Why?

GM : That's funny, Chip.

CL : I've been asked "We really like this image, but did you use filters on this frame?"

SS : Wow! There's the pot calling the kettle black!

GM : So do they ask you to send them the unworked image?

CL : No ... they usually just want to cover their ass and say they asked. Then it's the photog's fault if something unethical was done.

SS : I've seen some wire guys spend 45 minutes on a photo from a game then I see it when I get home on the wire and wonder where that bad color in my frames came from!

GM : You know, it's funny. Our paper takes part in AP panorama submissions, and they regularly ask us for stories we run in our paper. They've picked up a couple of mind that I worked on for a while and toned to my "liking".

CL : I have no problem handing over a raw image to show someone if their concerned though.

GM : And I worried they'd be in touch with me…

SS : None of us should. Well, I know a couple that maybe shouldn't.

GM : No problems yet, though.

CL : I know my own ethics, and I always stick to them. My own ethics have roots in what is acceptable in the field right now.

GM : That's a good way of looking at it, Chip

SS : Jack Gruber and I have had this discussion several times: There is toning for the paper and there is toning for contests or making prints. What's the difference?

CL : And that's changing ... which scares me tremendously.

SS : Changing???

CL : I see more and more "straying" as a new batch of photographers are brought up in a digital world.

GM : What do you consider straying?

CL : As in there have been too many instances where a photog has used Photoshop to save their picture.

GM : As in, the content sucked but the toning is nice or, the capture was bad and they tried to fix it?

SS : I also think that Photoshop has made many of us a little lazy ... we know that we have this very powerful tool that can save our butts.

CL : Both ... and "a bad capture" is just another way of saying a bad exposure on the photographer's part.

GM : Right

GM : That's what I meant --- poor exposure

CL : Totally.

SS : When the SB-24 came out and made fill-flash was easier and looked good we all used it. To death (film days alert!).

SS : The Photoshop comes around, we can go into a file and really "save" things and now fill-flash is dead!

GM : Well I know I fit the bill in that case --- I agree that, in some ways, PS has made it easier for me to settle on a frame that, maybe, I should have used a little fill on or opened up a bit. But the funny thing is, Bert, fill-flash is still creating something that wasn't really "there".

CL : I came into the field at a really great time I think. I was taught in school the darkroom ways, then I worked in a color lab for 3 years in college. By the time I was out of school digital was the only way people were working.

SS : Yeah ... but if it was good enough for Eugene Smith it's good enough ...

GM : I agree.

SS : I think that's where a lot of trouble comes from. Not enough grounding in film and printing!

CL : I would throw my flashes in the ocean if they belonged to me --- alas, I stray.

GM : I started on chrome (which kicked my ass), and that's influenced what I expect from an image

SS : I'm an old fart. We spent hours in the print lab at Fresno State and learned more about exposure.

GM : Are more schools getting rid of their wet labs?

GM : Seems that way. Which is a shame, since it does ground you in the basics better than digital ever will, I think.

CL : All I learned about color and toning came from that job in the photo lab at a camera store in Boulder, Colorado. I looked at so many craptacular photos all day that I really learned what not to do.

SS : I think a lot has to do with economics. And the thought that no paper uses film anymore. So why teach it? If they haven't completely done away with film, it's maybe just one class.

GM : The logic makes sense, but is still just a little sad. I'm pretty sure I'd shoot a lot differently had I not started with the traditional stuff.

CL : Well, I think that if you're going to ditch the wet labs, then their needs to be a move for schools to teach Photoshop to the kids more.

GM : So that leads to what you were saying, Chip.

GM : Younger photogs --- all DIT --- are changing the way PS is used ... Not necessarily for the better ...

CL : Well, yes and no.

CL : There are a lot of "old farts" that have had to adjust and learn Photoshop...

SS : Sometimes I feel like my job has become more "technician" than "photographer".

GM : You know, the funny thing is, I feel justa little different. I feel like digital with its very limited exposure latitude and other technical flaws has forced me to think about light a lot differently.

GM : Whereas with a neg, I had some room to wiggle, out in the field (with our D2's) I
*really* have to think hard about what the frame should look like. Where my highlights are, where my mids and shadows fall. Make sense? In that sense, digital hasn't been a completely bad thing,

CL : Totally ... that's a good segue back to toning.

CL : A good exposure and a perfect raw file is soooo important in digital. Especially for toning.

GM : Right on.

SS : I have had this discussion several times, there is toning for the paper and there is toning for contests or making prints. What's the difference?

GM : And Bert, I don't think there should be a difference. [I'd be flamed for that!]

GM : But there is one because of how different papers feel about toning.

CL : I think there is a toning difference.

SS : OK ... For instance?

CL : For one, B&W is used incredibly more for contests.

GM : I guess my point is, I think it's just a little ... weird ... to think that your readers can handle one thing, while your peers can handle another.

SS : Oh boy ....

GM : He he!

GM : Agreed, Chip --- not just more B&W, but much more aggressive toning.

CL : For two, last year's contest's winners in POYi and World Press were saturated with "Hand-of-God."

SS : I created a 30-minute debate during a couple of contest judgings for my stance on converting to B&W for contest entries.

SS : And got hammered by the other judges.

GM : Why shouldn't the readers be exposed to that -- how is the "truth" the pluck down their $1.50 for any different than the truth we acknowledge with each other.

SS : I like to be a pest sometimes.

CL : Ha ha ... I also read Scott Strazzante's response in Sports Shooter a while back.

CL : I'm all for B&W. But I use color sooooo much more now as a storytelling and compositional device in my work. It can be a real advantage when used right.

SS : Yes ... and I love that about your work.

GM : "Color as a compositional device ..."

CL : And "aggressive toning" is a perfect way to put it, Gerry.

SS : That's the key ... knowing when to use it.

GM : Great way to put it, Chip

SS : I guess what I am getting at is that we should know the limitations of our presses ... and our pre-press personnel. Black and white conversions from color digital is like voodoo art to me ...

GM : Good point, Bert, which, again, is why I don't send high contrast images to our techs ...

CL : True. But for contests, you know it's a whole different ballgame. It's where your photos can be seen for what they are. That's why NPPA clip contests are so frustrating. Something could be out of registration or completely muddy.

SS : I remember Tri-X and D-76. My digital files shot in color don't look like that when they're in black & white in my paper. Today's a good example.

GM : BUUUUT, the basic toning idea is still there. That's important to me --- the reader is my primary audience, not Sports Shooter, not APAD, not contests.

SS : OK the $10,000 question: RAW? Or JPEG?

GM : JPEG here.

CL : JPEG all the way ... If I were freelance, it might be a different story.

GM : I'm trying to get us to move towards RAW, but it's not happening yet.

CL : But I know how big my files are running and on what kind of stock. I don't need the extra burden of dealing with RAWs.

GM : Probably would never happen for our sports stuff, but for projects and what not it would be nice.

CL : I don't think I've ever shot a RAW file.

GM : I touched one once ... it smelled like a crisp $20.

SS : Lots of issues when shoot RAW ... especially for a Canon shooter.

CL : Well, I take that back ... I did for a magazine once or twice. But when you're shooting with small MB cards, it's counterproductive

GM : That's another issue we have here too, Chip. Not enough memory

SS : And time.

GM : And time.

CL : True They're now even telling us to size down our JPEG's even more to save server space.

GM : Really?

SS : Wow!

GM : What if advertising or someone wants to make a larger print in the future

CL : Yeah… they're like "What's the point, you're photos are being run that big anyway."

CL : That's true, I guess ... erg.

GM : Aw man. That's too bad.

SS : As they say ... it's easier to down size than up-size. Size matters. For Canon shooters ... running the buffer is a HUGE problem.

SS : I always tell people that storage is the biggest issue with digital.

GM : It's a massive issue. We experience problems with it even here at our smaller daily

SS : We don't input everything into our Merlin archive. But the entire take from a shoot is burned onto DVD.

GM : Same here --- everything "archived" from our DIT files is burned to CD, not DVD.

CL : We don't even save our takes.

GM : What?!?

CL : They save the handful of photos were turn in on a given assignment and that's it.

GM : You mean you only save what runs?

GM : Oh, never mind. 'Argh

GM : You're not encouraged to archive from your shoots? I mean, you don't save more than you'd feasibly run?

SS : Could be a good thing. It takes a tremendous amount of time to CL ear the cards onto drives, caption and then burn onto DVDs.

CL : I save the takes I want to keep around for my own use That's it.

GM : Right.

CL : I say I save maybe 1 out of 5 shoots.

SS : But it is comforting at night to know that the frames I accidentally shot of the trunk of my car are on DVDs. Man I burn two copies of shoots: One for our library and one for here just in case the library loses it or it gets lots in FedEx! Takes a long time and I'm not sure editors realize how time consuming this is …

GM : Somewhere in TDMN archives are a series of photos I took of myself in a mirror ... forgot to delete them when I ingested the card.

CL : That's hilarious.

CL : Ha ha ... so toning?

GM : Right, Chip, back to toning.

SS : I have a very good friend who works for a major national magazine and he and I have gone around in circles about ethical practices with regards to digital manipulation. In his mind there is no difference between removing a distracting tree in the background (that has nothing to do with the message of the image) and dodging a face that's so deep in shadow under a hat that it's almost black.

GM : That's a tough one.

SS : I see his point. But removing a tree?

CL : I think there is a world of difference between pulling out a face and removing a tree.

GM : Faces make sports photos, at least to me, along with great moment and as long as the information is there, I don't really think pulling it up is as bad as cloning something out.

GM : It's not like he pasted a properly exposed cutout of the player's face into the frame in question. The information was already there in the image.

SS : I told him fixing something that IS there is different than removing something that is there.

CL : It really gets to me when I hear about these things... I don't even know where to start.

SS : So why is there a different standard??? Magazines verses newspapers.

GM : Hmmm ... I don't read a lot of magazines, so I can't comment.

CL : I don't know? I often hear about pressure in the magazine world for their shooters to
get the shot. A lot of imagery is considered "advertising."

GM : Here's a question: Is the front of a magazine editorial or commercial?

SS : There used to be the thought that the cover was a marketing tool not an editorial product.

CL : It's frustrating that a magazine can continue a background on that premise whereas my crappy background has to stay.

SS : But how does the reader know the difference?

GM : I'd argue the former, in the same way a newspaper headline or 1A image is.

SS : Cover is marketing. Inside pages editorial?

GM : Right --- that's my point, Bert. Readers assume there likely is no difference

CL : I think magazines face a much broader form of competition, so they have thinned their rulebook to compete.

CL : I think I would be pissed if I were one sport mag shooter and I got a shot with a ball in it, and another just cloned theirs over a bit and sold it.

GM : The question is, are the sports magazine shooters actually not happy about the trend?

SS : There you go ... competition.

GM : What about shooters for news mags like Time, Newsweek, etc.?

CL : I don't know. I also think there's a different ethics code even before an image is shot with magazines.

SS : It is shocking sometimes what I see... and what I don't see and hear about because I can't tell the difference!

CL : I've seen and heard too many phrases like "Can you move?" or "Just a little to the left, Mr. President."

SS : Ohhhh. Ugh. Try being at the Olympics and photographers yell out at the awards ceremony: "KISS THE MEDAL!" BITE THE MEDAL!"

CL : I think that's where personal responsibility comes in. All we have in this field is our name. That name is attached to our work.

GM : Good point, Chip, but different people from different outlets (mag, TV, etc.) will always have a different view of what is/is not appropriate in their work

SS : Yes. Personal responsibility is key. And important. And some don't have it. They look upon their work as a product.

CL : Exactly ... Mark Reis from the Colorado Springs Gazette has told me more stories about the Olympics than I know what to do with.

GM : It's just hard to think we could all agree on some level to do the same thing. Who here would be willing to compromise their way of doing things?

GM : Why should a mag or TV shooter, then? [Note, I'm not condoning anything -- just playing Devil's Advocate here.]

CL : Well, if it means getting a shot that can both sell to a news mag and a Nike ad, then you're going to have a tough time convincing some.

SS : Especially when they have an editor screaming at them or a director or producer screaming in their ear.

GM : Exactly! Which is why I think all we can do, as newspaper shooters, is stick to our guns and apply our ethics to our work.

SS : As the saying goes: "A little bit of s is dangerous" and I think this is really true with regards to using Photoshop properly. You know what an adjust layer is and all of a sudden you're a Photoshop "Genius" ... at least in your own mind.

GM : Again, I don't think using PS to it's full potential is that much of a help. As far as I know, Chip just uses careful lassoing

CL : I know what an Adjustment Layer is, but why use it? Same with the History Brush?

SS : See ... I read too many books!

GM : Look at the end result. His stuff blows a lot of other people's away. And he's kept it simple

CL : I use Selective Color, Levels and the Lasso Tools religiously. I do almost everything with those.

SS : Everyone says "Adjustment Layers", "History Brush"…

GM : Same here. But replace Levels with Curves and add a little HB.

CL : I really know about 10% of what Photoshop can do, but what I know works for me.

SS : Describe your workflow.

GM : And, after converting to sRGB, I sometimes go channel by channel in Hue/Sat if anything is still flat.

GM : Again, my workflow is almost the exact same as Chip's, but I use Curves instead of Levels, and HB for anything really precise.

CL : My workflow begins with a solid base exposure. Then I do some general level adjustments. After that I use the hell out of the laSS o tool (with a decent feather (40 - 80
pixels) and work all the little areas in my frame individually. As if they were mini photos.

CL : Then I use Selective Color and adjust my colors. I think that is what a lot of people are missing - knowledge of the color spectrum.

SS : How much time do you figure a properly exposed frame would take? Lasso tool takes time... at least for me.

CL : I spend more than most.

GM : Same here.

CL : Because I'm anal.

CL : I spend like 30 minutes on a frame I really care about.

SS : WOW!!!

GM : If the exposure was *really* solid (and I do mean close to perfect), 5 - 10 minutes.
For most work, 10-15 minutes. Longer for anything I "care" about, too. Like pictures of our cats

CL : On deadline probably the same as Gerry.

SS : How do you get a precise "Lasso"?

GM : Takes practice.

CL : By lassoing within the area you need to dodge, and outside of the area you need to burn. And use a 40 - 80 pixel feather so the lines aren't there.

GM : I still make mistakes, but you just start over and keep learning.

CL : I hardly ever use the Dodge and Burn Tools. Most of my time is usually spent just going between the Level/Lasso thing and Selective Color.

SS : Why don't you use them?

GM : I'd use HB before the Dodge and Burn Tool, personally.

GM : The latter two just aren't as precise, at least to me ... too easy to go too far

SS : I know for me the burning tool looks to muddy.

CL : I don't know. It seems like the Hand-of God returns more with them. I feel more comfortable the other way.

CL : Exactly.

SS : Yes I guess it is more precise and using the Feather.

GM : I'm a corner burner, though, so I will use HB for that

CL : Selective Color is by far my favorite thing in Photoshop, though.

SS : Why?

GM : Agreed, Chip. The things I hear most people complain about with their DIT files could be easily solved by learning to use Selective Color a little more.

SS : What does selective color do ... and why?

CL : You have so much control over the individual colors in the spectrum. You can adjust say, the blues in your sky, by taking yellow out and adjusting the black slider to adjust just the density of the blues.

GM : Exactly! I think it's easy to forget how many colors are "in" individual colors!

GM : Just taking the time to "play" with SC will show one that.

CL : Yeah, like if you have a red shirt, you can adjust the hell out of it by taking out Cyan. Color works in opposites and learning that and using Selective Color is much more precise than Color balance.

GM : Yes, and if you're careful, you can usually solve (or come close to solving) some gamut problems with RGB to CMYK conversions.

SS : But takes time.

CL : Color balance adjusts everything in the image, whereas Selective Color gives you the control to adjust your green grass , your blue sky, and that yellow string bikini (Gerry).

GM : Dude ... how did you know?

CL : It does, but Michelangelo didn't whip the Sistine Chapel out in 30 minutes did he?

GM : If he'd been on a newspaper deadline he'd of had to. And what would that look like?!?

CL : Ha ha totally! Then they would ask him if they had something that showed God's face more.

GM : He he he.

GM : Or a vertical

CL : Don't tilt it.

SS : Don't get me going on tilted photos!

GM : While I agree that Photoshop (specifically overuse of it) is a good and important topic for discussion, I think it can get overdone. We should worry more about our craft --- how we shoot, what we shoot, why we shoot.

GM : And not about how we tone.

CL : I think Photoshop is probably the most underused and overused thing in our industry. Concentrate on your shooting ... but don't rely on Photoshop to save your ass.

GM : I think it has become a crutch (wasn't "signature" the word in the 80s?) for me --- my wife points it out all the time

CL : On the flip side of that, I think that knowing how to tone your work is probably as important to composition, lighting and your moment.

GM : I'm starting to try and use elements in my frame to do this better. Work harder on my layering, and create the potential mood I see in my image with it

CL : What good is a moment if it's lost in a cloud of blown out highlights and flat color?

GM : Instead of relying on my own personal gimmicks.

GM : Great, great point, Chip.

Related Links:
McCarthy's member page
Litherland's member page

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