Absolutely thrilled to receive the good news from Los Angeles that three of my pictures have been judged into the winner’s circle with honourable mentions and that two other images have been nominated, in the 15th International Color Awards, from close to 6800 entered images.
Many thanks to all the judges (The Armory Show, New York; The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles; The Art Channel, London; V&A Museum, London; Koller Auctions, Zurich; Preus Museum, Norway; Publicis Groupe, Warsaw; Fila, New York; Chung | Namont Gallery, San Francisco; Kolle Rebbe, Hamburg; Tilton Gallery, New York; Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee; Cornette de Saint Cyr Auctions, Brussels; Podbielski Contemporary, Milan and RedKite NFT, London) and many congratulations to the other winners.
As some would have seen, I’ve started to branch out into creative still life photography, specialising in fountain pen and stationery. It was a thrill to see one of these pictures receive an honourable mention.
Here are the five chosen images. All photographs were made using Lumix cameras, using Leica DG, Olympus and Voigtlander lenses. The images were shot in raw, processed on an Apple Mac Pro with Eizo CG monitors and processed using Adobe LightRoom Classic and finished in Exposure Software’s X7.
Honorable Mention in Portrait | Coal Miner
Honorable Mention in Photojournalism | Memorial Wall For Covid Victims
Honorable Mention in Still Life | Liquid Teal
Nominee in People | Coal Mine Shift Manager
Nominee in Photojournalism | Covid 19 Memorial Wall
Three Honourable Mentions at the 16th Annual Black & White Spider Awards
Very happy to share that several of my monochrome images have had awards success at the BW Spider Awards. During the online Gala Ceremony, attended by by over 11,000, I was thrilled to receive three honourable mentions and also discover that five other images had also been nominated.
Shot on a Lumix S1 and a Sigma 85mm f1.4 DG DN Art lens.
Shot on a Lumix S1R and Sigma 85mm f1.4 DG DN Art lens.
Shot on a Lumix S1 and S Pro 70-200mm f2.8.
Shot on a Lumix LX100M2.
Shot on a Lumix G9 and Leica DG 50-200mm.
Shot on a Leica SL2 and Sigma 85mm f1.4 DG DN Art.
Shot on a Sigma fp and Leica 35mm APO Summicron SL.
Shot on a Sigma fp and Leica 35mm APO Summicron SL.
All the images were shot in raw and processed on an Apple Mac Pro (2013 model) in Adobe’s Lightroom. The monochrome work was then finished in Exposure Software’s X6. To maintain absolute and precise control during processing, calibrated Eizo CG monitors were used.
Jargon that gets introduced into any conversation about working on a computer, ranging from moans about things taking too long to physically painful woes. As creatives though, we’re using computers in much more in-depth and involved ways. Photography, video, audio and so on, bring with them much more complex creation software, which moves us away from typing, some mouse usage or simple cut and paste shortcuts, into a myriad of easily confused and forgettable keyboard shortcuts, some involving a fair amount of finger dexterity. Add to this the operating of a cursor applying a brush or a cut on a timeline, and it’s very easy to start doing advanced level yoga with our fingers on a keyboard and mouse or probably even worse, trackpad.
Spending hours editing and processing a big assignment, or sometimes weeks editing long term projects, made me realise I had to find a better way of working. Around seven years ago, I bought a Contour Design ShuttlePRO V.2 and programmed it for use in Lightroom. This lived on the left side of my keyboard whilst a Wacom tablet lived on the right hand side. The concept was simple; program often used commands and key strokes into the unit, operate it with my left hand, whilst the right hand operated the Wacom pen. Much more efficient and also ergonomic.
The Shuttle Pro though wasn’t perfect. The keys stopped responding properly after a couple of years and I wanted something more designed for creative use, rather than as an office tool which could be re-purposed. Also, the software left much to be desired. At The Photography Show at the NEC around three years ago, I was walking past the Loupedeck stand and caught a demonstration of the Loupedeck+. At the same time, a colleague walked past, saw me watching the demo and told me he’d been using one for a while and loved it. I was sold. Passed over my credit card and walked away with it under my arm.
With both of these systems, I had to add printed labels onto the keys I had programmed. Otherwise it becomes too much of a head scratcher trying to remember (although given enough time, it does become muscle memory, but for the initial weeks and months, labels are definitely needed). I’d seen various, often gaming targeted, keyboard type devices with small OLED panels which could display labels, but non were suitable for my needs. Then came along another product from a company I had already trust in; the Loupedeck CT.
The company calls this unit a “precision editing console for creative professionals”, with “endless customisation”. Well, they’re not wrong! Whilst the Loupedeck+, which I’m still very fond of and do recommend, was primarily aimed at LightRoom users, the CT opens up many more applications, with the bonus of having customisable workspaces and pages of programmable keys with icons that show what they each do. No more printed or scribbled labels needed! Plus, having the added ability of having multiple pages, each touch key can take on multiple uses, so an ever changing set of labels on the touch screen, is a tremendous help indeed.
Before I get into my thoughts and experiences, I decided to make this a long term review, for two reasons. Firstly, the CT is as complex or as simple a product as you wish it to be. The Loupedeck CT software already comes with customisation for a variety of different photography, video, illustration applications as well as the OS itself. So, it’s good to go, straight out the box. Or, you can spend time with it and create your own customisation; from modifying the existing setup with the odd key here or there, to fully making up your own workspaces, buttons and so on, which if you want to do it properly, will take a little bit of time to design efficiently, so it suits you perfectly. The actual software is very user friendly and easy to customise. The second reason for making this a long term review, was a colleague told me he had read a report of build quality issues with the knobs on the Loupedeck CT. This did surprise me as the unit felt very well built and constructed as a premium piece of professional grade hardware. As a result of these points, especially the latter, I decided to use it for a while, in a full on professional environment, before writing up my review. The Loupdeck CT has sat on the left of my keyboard for months, whilst to the right of which is a small, Wacom Intuos Pro tablet (highly recommended). As a side note, these two peripherals work perfectly together and fulfil the same ethos of taking away physical strain and fatigue, whilst adding more precision at the same time. Add a quality twin monitor setup (my choice is Eizo CG monitors with built in calibration) and you’ll have a sweet setup that helps you fly through editing and gives you precision when processing.
Even in Finder, the OS controls make it a very useful tool to have. I have LightRoom and Photoshop programmed on two launch keys. One tap and the software I need starts up. Even something like the Calculator becomes easier to use; tap the Calculator button and the CT itself turns into a calculator keypad. You even get a snazzy analogue clock in the centre of the main control dial. The Launchpad, Siri, a new Finder window or System Preferences are all one button touch away.
Getting back to the customisation aspect, the best piece of advice I can give is to live with the CT as is for a while. Use it extensively and get a feel for how the unit works. Soon, you will organically start to realise what’s missing for your own particular needs. We all have our way of working with the software we use. Our own individual quirks or specific workflow needs. Its this extra time spent, that’s time well spent, as it will not only get you used to the various touchscreen and hardware controls, but will help you mentally map what you would like to customise and add, for your unique workflow needs.
If you do a lot of work on location or a lot of travelling, one huge bonus the CT has over the Loupedeck+ is that its size makes it travel friendly. You can even get a travel case for it. A strange addition, until I thought it through, is that it has 8Gb of onboard memory, which just shows up as a removable drive, when the CT is plugged in to your computer. This is perfect for keeping any custom settings backed onto, the driver software, along with any other custom presets you may have for other software, meaning that you could just plug the CT into any machine and have it set up for your custom needs, within minutes. Fully self contained, on location tool.
So, almost five months on, I have sat down to type out my thoughts. To address the second point first, the one of build quality, I haven’t had a single issue with neither the hardware, nor the software. Every dial, button and touchscreen interface has worked flawlessly since I first plugged it in, around the middle of November 2020. In this time frame, I’ve gone through at least 10,000 pictures (assignments, personal shoots, competition edits, putting together talks and presentations, as well as putting together images for my new forthcoming website. Just as my Loupedeck+ never gave me a single issue, the Loupedeck CT has just worked and blended invisibly into the background, letting me work efficiently and without fuss. For me, this is always the mark of a good piece of equipment or software; something that empowers you to work well, without making itself apparent and just fading into the background. I’ve even gone through a major OS change, going from Mac OS Catalina to Mac OS Big Sur on my 2013 Mac Pro, without issue. Incidentally, Windows is also supported, although I’ve not tested the unit on a Windows machine.
There are two main things the Loupedeck CT allows you to do; work with efficiency and work with much better control over the tools you use within your chosen applications.
The added control comes with having tactile knobs (which have gentle clicks as they are turned) to turn when changing controls such as exposure, contrast, colour temperature and so on. You have so much more fine control on making either small tweaks, or turning the knob at speed and making large changes to the onscreen slider. It allows you to do all of this whilst keeping your cursor where it belongs, on the image itself and not constantly moving in a frenzy between processing controls, brushing and so on. The second huge boost for control is having the main control dial allowing you to change brush size and feathering size, again without needing to move the curser off your photograph and onto the processing modules to the right. This lets you brush on precise masks when working, giving you much more control and also allowing you to do this efficiently and not constantly taking the cursor or your concentration off the area you’re working on. It helps you keep a flow, which is not only much more efficient, but much less irksome and creatively rewarding, during long editing sessions. Creativity should flow, unhindered.
After much procrastination, I realised the company’s own settings for LightRoom Classic, generally suited me just fine. I used the pages in the control set as they were, but with use, started to change out some of the buttons for ones which suited me. On a page like the Presets, I removed all the existing presets and instead added all of my custom raw presets, which were already saved in LightRoom. The Loupedeck software interface is a joy to use and very simple. Just drag and drop. That’s it. The Loupedeck CT is updated live as you make changes, so as soon as you switch to your software, you’ll see the remapping and relabelling has already been done; you’re good to go. Very elegant and very simple. The possibilities are also pretty endless, so if you have extremely specialised needs, you can customise to your heart’s content.
In use, the hardware gives you the physical buttons, dials and touchscreen buttons, as mentioned. You also have two segments on the screen which label the six smaller dials, so one instantly knows what they are mapped to do. Swiping this same screen, takes us to the next page, which different dial operations and touchscreen buttons.
The CT also has an amazing main dial, in the lower portion of the unit, positioned centrally. This offers super precise control to change values or movement. The genius part though, is that it also has a circular display in its centre, which displays a plethora of functions, depending on what software, module or page one is on. Did I mention this is a touchscreen too?!
As for the touchscreen’s virtual buttons, to keep with the tactile nature of the unit, each press has a haptic feedback alongside a generated sound, so in use, one is assured of having pressed the button.
This is an extremely useful design. If for example when in the Develop module, one press on the touchscreen button ‘Basic Panel Wheel’, brings up on the circular touchscreen, all the processing sliders, in the same order as they appear in LightRoom. You can swipe up or down, from one to the next and if you decide to make a change, you just turn the main dial clockwise or counterclockwise. Then swipe to the next and so on. Elegant, fast, simple and precise, without taking your concentration away from the photograph, rather than having to constantly look to the onscreen slider and move your cursor there to change a value and have your eyes darting back and forth as you change a value and then look to see the change on your picture.
So, as well as cutting down on physical fatigue of hand and digit, it also helps hugely reduce eye strain, as one doesn’t have to constantly keep looking at various panels, sliders and the image itself. Whilst a quick edit now and again won’t result in much fatigue, add a large shoot with several hundred pictures and this fatigue quickly adds up. Now multiply that by a couple of times a week and in no time, you can have either have fatigue and eye strain, or you can choose to just have precisely edited and processed work, done comfortably.
So, is it all good news?
Well, the unit is expensive. The cost reflects the build quality and its ability. Whether it’s good value or not, will probably entirely depend on if one realises it’s true worth or not. Anyone who has ever used a similar product to aid in faster, smoother and less fatiguing workflow, will immediately realise its extra abilities and see its value. Those who are still struggling with just their trackpad and cramp, may need to research this a little more. I remember many years ago, well before Loupedeck was around, forward thinking colleagues were getting musical MIDI interfaces and programming them to move sliders in LightRoom. No where near as elegant, but it was the start of realising that we needed a better solution for longer editing sessions.
With use, familiarity kicks in and muscle memory begins to form, allowing very fast use, switching from Library tool sets to Develop tool sets, swiping to get to secondary pages of control dials and touchscreen buttons and so on. Being a tremendously capable and thus complex machine, does mean to get the most benefit, one just has to spend a little time with the CT. As mentioned, it works straight out the box; simple. The more time spent though, the more you realise just how much it can do. So whilst the learning curve is not steep at all, exploration and mastery of just how capable it is, will take a couple of weeks of use. My advice would be to just dive in and get started. It comes together quickly enough.
I found that without really noticing, I’d transitioned from looking and hunting for a function I wanted, to just doing it. I’d liken it to learning to ride a bicycle or drive a car; suddenly everything just comes together and rather than thinking, you’re just doing.
Based on how well my Loupedeck+ has performed over the last two years I’ve used it and based on the build quality of the CT, which feels much more substantial and solid than the Loupedeck+, I have no hesitation in thinking that the CT will be a good investment as a piece of professional grade, daily use equipment, which will last many years.
Taking into account just how customisable it is, means that the software with which we use it, in my case mainly Adobe LightRoom Classic, the unit will adapt to changes or new controls introduced during updates to these programs. Remember how Adobe brought out the Texture control? Brilliant tool, but the Loupedeck+ couldn’t physically have a labelled slider, so had a programmable dial reprogrammed instead. With the CT though, as it’s so highly customisable, I don’t foresee any such issues. It will just adapt, with keys and dials just remapped to accommodate, along with a nice graphical label showing exactly what’s what.
Weighting up all these variables, including the price of the unit, I conclude that it will be an investment very well made. Cutting out fatigue, cramps or strain, whilst allowing a faster workflow with more precise control over processing, makes it a great product. It’s a no brainer in reality. So, whilst an expensive peripheral, my experience is that it’s not overpriced and considering the workflow and health gains, it’s actually of good value.
Working efficiently and without fuss. Our tools should never get in the way of our creativity, which must flow unhindered. The Loupedeck CT has done just that. Let me work without being aware of it.
The four images were all photographs I had made as part of my ongoing reportage on the COVID 19 lockdown in 2020.
Three of the images were made using the Panasonic Lumix S1 and the fourth (Of opera singer Julieth Lozano) was made on a Panasonic Lumix S1R. The lenses were all Lumix S Pro lenses (16-35mm f4.0, 70-200 f4.0 and 70-200mm f2.8). The raw files were edited and processed in LightRoom Classic and finished in Exposure Software’s X6 plugin.
With the constant need for more storage, when my current storage got down to a few hundred gigabytes of free space, the time came to expand. I was very happy to spot that OWC had brought out a new 8-bay solution, which I had somehow missed. So I ordered the OWC ThunderBay 8-Bay Enclosure to expand my photographic and video storage.
I’ve been using various OWC external storage boxes for many years now. My current storage for my picture library (including video) was residing on a four bay ThunderBay box, filled with WD 6Tb Enterprise class hard drives. These were all left as individual drives, connected via Thunderbolt 2 to my Mac Pro. Once the fourth drive was down to a few hundred gigabytes of free space, it was time to plan ahead and upgrade.
Before I continue, a few explanations on why use multiple drive bay enclosure boxes, over getting individual external drives. In a nutshell, its to keep things nice and tidy. Declutter. With a box storing 2, 4 or 8 hard drives, you only need one electricity plug and one connection cable to your computer, not 2, 4 or 8. It also means that my entire picture library is always available; many colleagues have to unplug and plug in various hard drives to try and find more historical work. Lastly, the constantly attached library also means that Cloud backups can happen fully and properly.
The ThunderBay enclosures aren’t hardware RAID boxes, but give you an option of using SoftRAID (a software RAID, available in two versions) by OWC. It’s not something I personally use. All my drives in my ThunderBay enclosures have always been used as individual drives (I do use hardware RAID 5 in other enclosures as backup boxes). These individual hard drives are then backed up to my RAID 5 box using Carbon Copy Cloner, backed up offsite manually (per assignment) and also backed up in the Cloud automatically, using Backblaze. Incidentally, that Backblaze referral link will give us both a free month of Cloud backup, if you’re a new customer.
Once the OWC ThunderBay 8-Bay TB3 Enclosure arrived, I simply shut down my Mac Pro, took out the four hard drives from my previous ThunderBay 4-bay enclosure, installed them in the 8-bay enclosure and added the fifth, new drive. Each drive screws into its own drive tray using the supplied screws. After some research, I also decided to try a Toshiba Enterprise class hard drive for the first time. I opted for the Toshiba 8.0TB MG05ACA Series SATA Interface Enterprise Class Hard Disk Drive, also available from OWC. This leaves three bays free in the box, for future upgrade needs. It’s an extremely elegant, practical and future proof solution for one’s never ending storage needs.
Something worth thinking about, if your current storage involves multiple external drives, with a spaghetti like tangle of cables. If you’re not worried about warranties, you are extremely careful and are happy to take the risk (there is always risk present in doing anything with the innards of computers and related equipment) is to physically transfer those individual SATA hard drives into a ThunderBay box. Declutter and become more efficient. The intelligent design also allows 2.5” drives to be used.
However, the best option would be to transfer the data onto new hard drives. I tend to swap out hard disks every 4-5 years, as they all have finite life cycles. Also it means that as hard drives increase in size, the physical number of drives needed is less.
Lastly, always backup your work. You need everything on at least two physically different drives, but ideally three. One set being kept in a geographically different location. Ideally, a final layer of safety would be a Cloud backup.
The OWC Aura Pro X2 1.0TB NVMe SSD Upgrade for the Mac Pro 6,1 (Late 2013)
The Mac Pro (Model identifier: MacPro6,1, late 2013) is a frustrating machine in some professional environments. On the one hand, it’s a genius piece of design, with a radically revolutionary cooling system which works wonders, very quietly, in a form factor which is truly unique.
On the other hand though, it’s an extremely limited machine that allows for extremely little internal expansion; something which frustrates many professional users, myself included. Around five years ago though, I had to take the jump and reluctantly got a middle specced machine. My two previous Mac Pro machines had been the affectionately known as the cheese grater chassis. Hugely expandable, with four internal hard drive bays, several expansion slots and dual optical bays that many, including myself, converted to housing SSDs. However with the need for more video and larger raw files, the time came and I got my Mac Pro (3.5GHz 6-core Intel Xeon).
I these expandability terms though, the 2013 Mac Pro though, is extremely limited. One of the big problems is single internal hard drive; in this case, a blisteringly fast NVMe SSD, which is tiny in physical size, and unless you have sizeable funds, is also small in capacity when bought from Apple.
I made do with the built in 256Gb SSD for around 4 years. Moving my Desktop and Document files to my iCloud kept things manageable, but I could only ever have around 22Gb of free space, which would occasionally fill up with cache files (no idea from where, as everything configurable was always assigned to an external SSD attached via Thunderbolt 2 for scratch disk purposes) and constant system messages telling me to clean up my Macintosh HD. Super frustrating, a time waster when on deadline and impossible to do as there was nothing to throw away or configure differently.
I’ve been a huge fan of OWC, having used their various SSDs, RAM and external drive boxes for probably over a decade. In fact, this very machine’s RAM was upgraded as soon as I bought it from the standard 16Gb, using the 64.0GB OWC Memory Upgrade Kit.
In the end, my frustrations pushed me to looking into upgrading my Mac Pro 6,1’s internal, Macintosh HD, SSD. After a few days of thought, I realised the sweet spot, both for usability and financially, would be opting for the 1Tb size. I also decided to go for the kit, which includes an external case called the Envoy, to house the Apple 256Gb SSD and use as an external drive. So I headed to OWC’s European shop and ordered the Aura Pro X2 SSD for Mac Pro 2013 1TB Kit. The other capacities available are 240Gb, 480Gb and 2.0Tb.
As with everything from OWC, all the specialist tools you need are supplied, along with superb instructions on their website. Upgrading the SSD is very straightforward and most should be able to do it. One crucial thing to check is that you’re running macOS High Sierra 10.13 or later. This is an absolute must, as with High Sierra onwards, the firmware of the Mac Pro 6,1 is updated automatically, which will allow for support of the OWC SSD.
Although I have a Time Machine backup that runs constantly, for extra safety, I formatted a Samsung T5 SSD and made a fresh Time Machine backup onto this (you can have multiple Time Machine drives). I also got another external drive and using Carbon Copy Cloner, cloned my Macintosh HD. Always better to be safe!
As with anything computer related, switch everything off and never touch any part of any circuitry. The static charges that we can build up can fry circuitry, so take your time, be careful and don’t touch anything that’s a circuit or a connector. Once the outer case is remove, you simply unscrew the one retaining screw for the Apple SSD and slide it upwards and out. You need to carefully attach a small heatsink onto the OWC SSD to allow it to cool properly. Whenever attaching a heatsink, its always paramount to make sure you don’t touch the surface of the chip, to ensure it’s clean of any grease or debris. This allows the heatsink to adhere fully and properly, aiding in removing heat to maximum efficiency. Then install the OWC SSD card (firmly yet gently, making sure it’s seated completely in the socket on the motherboard), secure it with the supplied retaining screw, put the outer case back on, lock, attach your cables and you’re almost ready.
I opted to use the Time Machine backup on the Samsung T5 to restore my Mac onto the new OWC SSD. On power up, I held down the Cmd-Opt-R keys until a startup screen appeared. Then formatted the drive using Disk Utilities to APFS. Once done, I chose the Restore From Time Machine Backup option. Chose the Samsung T5 as a Restore Source, then chose the new OWC SSD as the destination, which I had named Macintosh HD in Disk Utility on the previous step and clicked on Restore. There are full instructions for formatting the OWC Auro Pro X2 SSD and the various ways of installing or restoring your data on the OWC website. With every step, you have a helping hand. Just make sure you make a couple of backups as I did, as a safety and peace of mind measure.
I went off to get some dinner, but I think in under an hour the “new” Mac was up and running. As always after a restore, you may need to log back into a few things, but apart from this, everything was running smoothly and perfectly.
I’ve been using my Mac Pro with my new 1Tb OWC Auro Pro X2 SSD for thee days now. I haven’t switched off the machine and it’s been purring along, speedily and without any errors or space issues. With the mightily impressive new Mac Pro (2019 model, MacPro7,1) being so ridiculously expensive and priced well out of the single creative professional’s budget, many of us will be looking at upgrading our current machines to get more out of them. Apple Macs have in my decades of experience, shown that they work well for many years; much longer than one would expect a computer to work. However with more demands from us with bigger raw files, heavier bit rates and ever larger video pixel sizes, our machines need the occasional boost.
Even with the upgradeably challenged form factor of the affectionately called Dustbin Mac Pro, changing simple things like the SSD and upgrading the RAM to 64Gb (128Gb is possible, but from my research for most workflows won’t bring much if any improvements over 64Gb – your needs may vary though, so do your research), can bring a new lease of life and usability. Plus, it comes with a five year warranty. Its a no-brainer!