If you've been following this blog for a while, you've probably gathered that I'm fussy. Even finicky. Now mind you, I have friends who are far MORE nitpicky than I am --- they're the fussbudgets who tend to produce incredibly sharp pictures no bigger than 8 x 10, over which they've labored for the past two months --- you probably know people like them. THOSE folks use calipers to check that their french fries are consistent and fold their sandwich wrappers into origami. Now THAT's finicky. I'm not like that. Not at all. Nope. Never. No way! But yes, I'll admit to getting very anal trying to make an image right.
Now to the lesson in humility. I recently contacted a stock photo agency specializing in panoramas. This is not a microstock house; they are high-end and have been around for 30 years. Their instructions for submitting were detailed and precise: Adobe RGB, TIFF, 40 megs or bigger, sharp throughout the image, no dust spots, no visible stitch areas, etc. Submit 30-50 jpeg samples PLUS 5 full-bore tiffs.
No problem. These images were good! I sent in the required CD and waited. After a week or so I called to follow up, and the photo director of the stock house took the time to review some of the pictures with me. We looked at a number of pictures at 100% size. Not print size. Actual pixel size.
"There, see, under the 22 inch mark, see, there's something off about the rigging on that trawler (1 of about 100 in the picture)."
"And in this one, see where there appears to be a fuzzy area, while the next bit is much clearer? I'm guessing that the first of your 3 or 4 images in this pano wasn't quite as sharp as the following ones. Won't do, I'm afraid."
A couple of my images were OK. As in two. Out of 30. I needed to resubmit additional pictures, now that I really understood the requirements.
Shot with P25 22mp digital back on a Mamiya 645 AFD camera. Everything's there in this actual pixel size crop.
Same camera, but depth of field too shallow. That's what I intended, but the image won't work for them.
As you may guess, this was a painful conversation. But it was VERY helpful, and I'm grateful to the photo director for taking the hour she spent with me on the phone.
I learned some things. First, if you're going to work with a camera under 10 megapixels, you have to produce a perfect print, drum-scan it, and hope, because when you CANNOT res up an image to appropriate sizes without either some degree of pixelation or lack of sharpness. You're better off using a full-frame 12 mp or bigger camera, and medium format is better still.
I learned that sharpness counts ... to a degree you wouldn't believe. You can reduce noise and sharpen, but you have to do it VERY carefully to avoid even the hint of haloes or artifacts. And you'd better get rid of any chromatic aberration (purple fringing, for instance).
I learned that you really to have to be, literally, a pixel-peeper, as well as a darn good photographer. You have to review your images, and edit them, at actual pixel size. And in the pano world, you had better have that tripod level!
Now you can argue that NOBODY, but nobody, is going to print to a size where minor issues are going to show. And you'd be right. Unless the somebody is an art director who simply can't abide any kind of imperfection and who also has eyes sharp enough to see what you've missed.
But for rights-managed, high-end panoramas for stock, that's where the bar is set. As of this writing, I'm waiting to learn if the additional images I submitted do pass muster and I can go under contract to these folks. I hope so. But I really appreciate learning a little humility and recognizing that my work can certainly take another step up technically. Now if I could only afford a new Phase Camera with 75 MP back, the technical side would be no problem. But failing that, I'd better emulate my truly anal friends and pixel-peep with the best of them.