Posts in Productivity
The Nikon AIPP Event and finding your rat

Whilst driving back from this fantastic event in the Hunter Valley, I killed the hours catching up on podcasts and chewing over what could be learned from such a gluttons' feast of information that The Event was. As sometimes happens "Roderick on the Line" was my first queued podcast. John Roderick is a Seattle Indy Rocker, with a bizarre mix of towering ego, deep intelligence, wet yourself humor and espouser of common sense.

It was great timing because John's podcast started with a story of how a deeply domesticated ribbon wearing Dachshund lept from the arms of its unsuspecting owner to chase a sewer rat down a hole. The dogs gentle owner could only stare shocked as the rat and the hound accidentally bumped into each other and it threw the primeval switch on the dog. The owner had 'never seen that behaviour before' just as all dog owners say after that switch is thrown.

The story of the dog's switch being thrown reminded me of what many of us are looking for in life; "What was I put on earth to do?" And many of the speakers I saw at The Event clearly know their answer. They know their rat, what is instinctual to them, what makes them happiest. The lineup of speakers for this AIPP annual conference was breathtaking, The Event is now world class, and attracts real talent.

I'll define people with "real talent" as those who have dedicated themselves to their craft, and have pushed it all the way. They were not 'discovered' like so many of the celebrity generation, they have worked to this point, they have sacrificed, reinvented, and slogged their way to the top without a lot of second guessing or complaining. A few speakers were still climbing, but in all of them, you could see them chasing their instincts like that dog, following where ever they led.

So over the next few months I will let you know my impression of those I saw, and try to impart some things I learned from them. If you want to see some of presentations (note, not all could be recorded), you can pay to view the sessions that were recorded by the AIPP here:

Email drama and the 3 steps to fix it

I recently had an email inbox become corrupt on me. No David, it did not start taking bribes, it jammed up and refused to reveal anything I searched for. I use Apple's, and have done so for many years. It made me very nervous. Email itself can be a source of anxiety, and there is a study shows some people suffer from email apnea, they stop breathing whilst dealing with email! As I understand it, modern email programs hold everything in a big database, and there is nothing harder to unpick than a large, corrupt database. I had cleared out my inbox a while ago, but still it had 20,000-ish messages. Gulp.

Using the rebuild mailbox feature of I managed to get it stable, but it started me thinking that having 20,000 mail messages in my inbox is a bad idea. How do I achieve the ideal of "Inbox Zero" that Merlin Mann espouses, where email is a tool not an anxiety?

I rely on my email to store documents and conversations, but should I? I also have this huge back-log to deal with and this prevents me trying anything, I don't want to sort through 20,000 messages! How do I fix this?

After research, consideration and a trial, I chose my solution:

Starting with an uncorrupt email Inbox:

1. Archive. Go back a few months, decide the cut-off point you are comfortable with, you will have to sort out everything after that cut-off point, I chose 6 months. Make a new mailbox folder and title it with the date range it represents, then move all those emails before the cut-off date into it. Most email programs have an archiving tool, so archive that mailbox, copy it to your back up system and delete the mailbox from your email program. Now you'll have an archive, albeit a messy, bloated one, you can wade through one day should you need to.

2. Sort. Make two new folders, one labelled "Important" and one "Keep". Go though the remaining history you have left in your inbox and decide what to delete, what to keep and what is important. Be rigourous, be cruel. Think of it as a pile of letters to file. I found myself deleting two thirds of the history, and it felt good. The "Keep" folder will get archived when it gets large, but it will contain items you have chosen to archive, the "Important" folder will always be there for you.

3. Keep sorting. Turn your email program's 'auto check' off. Incoming email is really distracting, it will keep you entertained endlessly. When you are ready to run triage on new email, allow it to tumble in. Work through your mail flagging things that need more than 2 minutes respose time, reply those 2 minute messages, delete the deletable, unsubscribe from the rubbish, tune the spam filter, move those you must keep to the "Keep" folder, and those that are critical put in the "Important" folder. And finally, get to the flagged items when you are ready to sort them out properly. Once they are dealt with, choose the 'Keep' or the 'Important' folder as needed.

The secret is in making the decisions when you read the emails for the first time. This is really only possible if you are concentrating when you check your email, so turn off auto check, and be ready to focus on email triage when you are ready.

Phew. It feels good.

Take control of your inbox and stop it from becoming a source of anxiety.


Colour correcting using a reference image

Many people do not realise that an image will require colour correction before printing. Digital cameras have improved greatly, but they are still a long way from providing good consistent skin colour across a variety of scenes. And whilst the light may have become cooler as the day wears on, you don't have to put up with prints where the skin looks graven. If you are not colour blind, and you have a good calibrated monitor and software, you can adjust your images to look however you want. Making skin tone look natural and healthy across a quantity of images is tricky, but can be learned if you want to spend the time practising it. At AtkinsTechnicolour we employ 4 colour correctors, all of whom have been in this work for more than ten years, and even they use this trick to keep on track.

We use a reference image, we call it Shirley. Shirley had been used for almost 30 years to guide our colour specialists to ideal skin tone. Shirley is not representative of the world's skin tone, but the look and feel is good; how dark are the shadows with details, how white the whites, how bright the mid-tones need to be, etc.

Whenever we colour correct, we open up the shirley file and have her sitting to the side of what we are correcting, the colour corrector's eyes dart between Shirley and the target image estimating what needs to be adjusted to match.

In Adobe Photoshop, it is easy to accidentally adjust Shirley, so we always lock the file or make it "read only".

In Adobe Lightroom there is a new feature that allows you to lock an image to a second window that floats over what you are working on (right-click on the image and choose 'lock to second window'). This is where we put Shirley when we work in Lightroom.

Below is a youtube video we have made to explain using a reference image, it may explain things better.

Please use Shirley. or your own reference image, just make sure it prints well through your print system. I can guarantee, it really helps, when you get used to using it, your work will sing.

And if this is all too much for you (and we want to scare you into doing it properly), colour correction is our specialty, we would love to do it for you.

Open House - June

Open House for June. John Clarke will lead attendees through monitor profiling using Xrite’s latest software.

Xrite purchased Gretag MacBeth several years ago and they have just released their new software that is a result of the merging of the two great colour science companies. John is one of our colour specialists and spends a few hours each week assisting people with monitor profiling.

When: Jone 29th, 4-5.30pm Where: AtkinsTechnicolour Cost: Free

What happens between 245 and 255.

I was watching American Idol and was interested to hear every contestant singing 'flat out'. These are very talented, very inexperiened kids, belting out songs. They are packed with singing power but they are lack subtlety. They go from 245 to 255 in one giant leap.

By 255 I am referring to the maximum RGB value, which is pure white. 245 is a very light tone it can appear white, but it will contain detail. The zone between detail and no detail, control and out of control, is where greatness lives.

The "Idol" singers think the audience want their 'everything' in each performance, but it starts to resemble yelling. Enticing listening involves subtlety. You need contrast and harmony, you need restraint. Show how you can control near your limits.

Let's look at another example, album design. If every page has faded backgrounds under multiple images, the viewer will tire from the visual assault. If every page is full bleed, none will stand out. If every page is a tiny image in a field of white, most will be ignored. Great design follows a rhythm, the viewer will not be allowed to ignore, they will be carried along by subtlety. They will be lulled by harmony, and awoken with contrast.

AtkinsTechnicolour's biggest challenge as print providers is how we manage those last few steps to maximum saturation on our printers. Great colour management is about the subtlety of those last few steps of tone. We remake our ICC profiles regularly to optimize these steps, we don't want you to see the steps. We want to make the best out of the variety of outputs we have, and yet have them perform similarly so you get a predictable 'best'.

So you can wang out some HDR effects, you can hyper-sharpen, whack a vignette on everything and I'm sure you can diffuse glow, but can you hold back? Can you let a great subject hold the viewers attention without laying on the photoshop? Do you even have a professional grade monitor that will display the difference between 250 and 255?

Being great at something, being professional grade, involves doing it long enough to explore the limits of your talent. To expand your limits by constant practise. To have the understanding of those last few steps from in control to your out of control. Being great is being subtle. By Paul Atkins

Take the ‘Focus’ challenge with me.

How do you spend your time on your computer? Our own ideas of how we spend our time are distorted by everything from wishful thinking to guilt, wouldn't it be great to get an actual measure of what we are doing so we can make informed choices? Perhaps for you the idea is too scary...

Well I have decided to give it a go, and invite you to join me. I have installed RescueTime on my computer. RescueTime is free software that tracks what you are doing, it notes what you program you have active and are focussed on, how long you are active in it and periodically presents you with the data.

You can't feel it running, it doesn't seem to tax your computer performance, and it is both mac and windows compatible.

I am very keen to find out if, what I think I am doing, I am actually doing. I want to be more productive and I am prepared to be scientific about it.

If you want to join in and improve your focus with me, read more about this cool tool, follow the link to RescueTime:

About the URL: in signing up they gave me an affilliate link, you don’t have to use it, but it gives me added features and time for free. If you want to go direct, use:

5 things I learned from Kodak.

I am off to Kodak Rochester in June and I expect to see little will have changed. The Chapter 11 protection that they have filed is a move that allows a company in trouble to put it's debt on hold whilst it restructures. Kodak has many profitable arms, and some unprofitable, but it's biggest problem is it's structure. 130 years builds up quite a tangle! So what went wrong…?

A big profitable company will do two things to improve itself:

Firstly it will invest in research and development. Kodak invented a great deal of what we understand as photography, thousands of imaging patents are held in their name. Their most  astounding invention was digital photography, and it has been the main cause of their drop in revenue.  Like a greek tragedy, they invented their own downfall. But what does a forward thinking company do? They made the future.

Secondly it will invest in it's staff. Kodak had some of the best employment conditions throughout it's history. Kodak practically built the city of Rochester for it's people. Employment terms and conditions can only remain stable or improve, in a first world country they almost never drop.

This is where they find themselves, in a mansion living like paupers, unable to fix it up without asking for help.

In the light of Kodak's chapter 11 protection in the USA, I began to ponder our 76 year relationship with the yellow behemoth and the influence they have had on us. Here are 5 things Kodak taught us:

1. Customer service.

Kodak had many branches of their business, and sometimes a client would find themselves between the different arms. For example, as well as Kodak professional film, we also stocked Kodak amateur films. In the 1990s we had to buy these from a different part of Kodak, and although our overall spend with Kodak was huge, the spend with "amateur" branch was low and attracted less discount than the local minilab would get! We also had to deal with different sales and ordering people. This was madness.

Each client should be treated with consistency, regardless of what they are buying from you. They must have 'a' point of contact for all of your products and their potential needs to be viewed as long term. Treat everyone as a 20 year customer, do it right and they will become one.

2. Always move forward.

Whilst Kodak have struggled to make digital imaging profitable, they still went forward. If you find yourself heading in a new direction, and it is one that really interests you, evaluate the market, see if it is a unique offering, then go for it. To attract good customers you need to show your passion, doing the same thing year in and out will leave you jaded. Take a new direction, throw yourself into it.

You would think the manufacturing of film would be one of those items Kodak wants to abandon, but consider these two points. The motion picture industry are still heavily film based, if movies are not shot on film, many cinemas still rely on film distribution due to the high cost of digital projection. Secondly, Kodak's film coating plants (one in Denver Colorado USA and one in Birmingham UK) are state-of-the-art utilising 'just in time' manufacturing. They can switch to coat any emulsion inside a day. Providing there is a market, Kodak can produce film more efficiently than anyone else.

3. Listen.

One of the gems offers by Kodak is the DP2 production software we run. Each year Kodak holds a conference in Rochester for the users of DP2. What sets Kodak apart from any other software provider is how it sits attendees together with software engineers to plan the development of DP2. The actual coders sit up front and listen. No PR barrier, not spin, just ask and answer.

4. Make the hard decisions early.

If you feel you are going down the wrong path, back track or change direction as soon as you can. Don't leave it long to make the difficult calls, it may become too late. Kodak needed to act more decisively earlier. But thanks to America's supportive bankruptcy laws, they have a last chance to make the changes.

5. Partnerships and relationships.

In our industry, we are essentially custom manufacturing each item, as each print is different. Suppliers of custom one-off products cannot be expected to get it right first time every time. The relationship is more important. A long association will ensure both parties get what they want as often as possible as they grow to know each other better. Your relationship with your supplier must be seen as a partnership.

Our 76 years with Kodak has been incredibly rewarding, we look forward to the future and learning more from this impressive company.

Paul Atkins.

What is a problem?

"A friend once said to me: “Fulghum, you don’t know the difference between an inconvenience and a problem. If you break you neck, if you have nothing to eat, if your house is on fire – then you have a problem. Everything else is inconvenience. Life IS inconvenient. Life IS lumpy. Learn to separate the inconveniences from the real problems. You will live longer. And you will not annoy people so much.” I know think of this as the Fulgum reality test: Life is lumpy, and a lump in the oatmeal, a lump in the throat, and a lump in the breast are not the same lump. One should learn the difference.”