RAW versus JPEG

Today’s topic comes at the request of one of the newsletter subscribers (Hi Bob!).  He has a camera that allows the option for saving files as jpegs (.jpg) or RAW files (.CR2 in his case) and he wanted to learn a bit about the two formats.  Each format has its pros and cons but if the best possible image quality is your goal, I’ll always tell you that the RAW format is your best option.

A handsome dog to add some guapo-ness to the post.

A handsome dog to add some guapo-ness to the post.

To begin, I have to mention that RAW files are are not photographs – they hold the building blocks for making photographs.  Think of them as digital negatives.  Back in the film days, you’d take your roll of film to the lab and you’d get back little strips of negative film along with your prints.  RAW files are like those negative strips – they can be used to make prints (or digital images) but they first need a bit of work.  It is also worth pointing out that the term RAW file(s) is a generic one and it doesn’t have a set file extension.  Depending on your camera’s manufacturer, your RAW files may have the .CRW, .CR2, .NEF, .DNG, or something else completely.  It doesn’t matter what kind of file you have, the things that I’m writing about here apply to all RAW files so if your camera can generate them, then this post applies to you.

Of course, that’s kind of a big if – not all cameras have the ability to output RAW files however all cameras can generate jpegs and there’s something  to be said about that universal format.  The biggest pro for the jpeg format is that it is a ready to go file.  When the photo is made, the camera applies settings that give the image contrast, a boost in saturation, sharpness, and more – basically it does everything the camera engineers determined you would want the camera to do for you so that you can print it or share it on the web without any fuss.  The downside?  Some engineering team that doesn’t know the first thing about you or your scene decided for you how you want your photograph to look.  Did they get it right?  Maybe so – they are pretty clever and they do know what people like in an image but as with anything in life, a one size fits all solution is rarely the right answer for every problem.

Spring is not an engineer - she just plays one in this post.

Spring is concentrating on today’s lesson.

RAW files on the other hand only offer a suggestion of what an image might become.  All digital cameras record the number and intensity of the photons hitting the sensor chip.  If you order up a jpeg file, then the camera will take that raw information and it will stamp in all of the presets to create a final usable image. I’ve already mentioned some of those presets determined by the engineers, but your choices are also included in that file including decisions on exposure and white balance setting.  RAW files on the other hand are pretty much served to you as the information is received with a side helping of suggested settings.  Those files have the record of light hitting the sensor of course but they also embed things like the white balance and exposure settings so that the software you use has a starting point.  The software then applies a secret recipe of its own to decode the raw data (more clever engineers) but unlike what happens in the camera, the image is left incomplete and it is up to the photographer to decide how the final image will look.  The flexibility of this format allows you to increase or decrease the exposure, change the white balance setting after the fact, change the color saturation, and even change one color to another (see below)- all without ruining the image quality (well, you can ruin it if you try hard enough).  Sure you can make some of those same changes to a jpeg file, but NO WHERE NEAR to the same extent as the RAW file.

See how easy it is to change the colors?

So I’m going to leave it at that but I want to share with you a pair of videos to show you how these RAW files can be worked on in post-processing to bring that digital negative to to the point where it can be shared with the world.  In the first video, I talk at length (about 15 minutes) about the workflow process.  If you don’t have the patience to watch that one, you can just see the edit in action in the second video (same image – just no talking to slow you down).  Let me know what you think and if you have any questions.


Blah, blah, blah version.

Wow, that was quick version.

 

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On the future of digital imaging

I read an article the other day that got me thinking about the future of digital imaging.  Photography is a part of that conversation even though for most of the history of photography, it was clearly an analog medium.  Today those old images can now be (and oftentimes are) brought into the digital age.

Anyhoo, the article was about a CGI (computer-generated imagery) artist and the way that his work has appeared in advertisements, movies, and television.  Adam Tooby has been working in the industry for the past two decades and his work is what I’d consider to be photo-realistic.  You can check out his website at http://www.adamtooby.com/ to see his work for yourself.

I don’t really want to go too far into the article because I don’t really want make this post about one person but rather it got me thinking about the industry as a whole.  That said, while I appreciated Tooby’s images, the thing that really got me thinking was that they included a photographer’s point of view on Tooby’s work.  The crux of this photographer’s argument was that CGI artists are effectively cutting into his market and he felt that it was somewhat unfair that a person can sit at a computer and make imagery that competes with his (complicated and sometimes risky) projects that he is doing in flight.  This photographer has been working for a quarter century doing this type of work so he’s effectively been working five years longer than Tooby.  He said that he’s afraid that someday soon we won’t be able to tell the difference between Photoshop and Kodachrome (an iconic film stock).  The rebuttal came across as a bit of jealously to me but it also suggests that we, as content creators, need to keep up or we run the risk of becoming obsolete.

A digital capture of my grrrl Maebe.

A digital capture of my grrrl Maebe.

See, the thing is, we are already well past the point of being able to know if an image was created on film, on a digital camera, or was made completely by the computer.   Take a look at these examples – I spent maybe 10 seconds on each version past the original and they give a pretty close approximation of the various film stocks.  Imagine how close they’d look if I’d spent five or ten minutes on each?  Would you be able to tell the difference?

Kodachrome They give us those nice bright colors They give us the greens of summers Makes you think all the world's a sunny day.

Kodachrome
They give us those nice bright colors
They give us the greens of summers
Makes you think all the world’s a sunny day.

Or how about Fuji Portra?

Or how about Fuji Portra?

Or do you remember when the Polaroid film was a little past its prime in the film cartridge?

Or do you remember when the Polaroid film was a little past its prime in the film cartridge?

Or maybe your family has some old Autochrome prints (from around 1910) that have been abused over the years.

Or maybe your family has some old Autochrome prints (from around 1910) that have been abused over the years.

If we as an industry do not recognize that, how can we stay relevant?

It’s probably worth mentioning that I think that some genres of photography are, to a certain extent, more immune to the changing times than others.  For example, while commercial work (like aircraft or automobile imagery) might incorporate more and more digitally created content, family portraiture will not.  That isn’t to say that family portrait photographers can rest on their laurels, just to say that an average family is always likely to want nice portraits of their family and they are not likely to even consider, much less have the means to pay for CGI portraits.

I’ve wrote in the past that staying relevant might mean adding video to our bag of tricks and I definitely think that is an important skill set for photographers to master and not just for stock photography.  Commercial photographers especially are increasingly being asked to include some video footage during their still shoots because it can be less expensive than hiring two separate crews and because it allows for a more consistent look between the still and motion footage since they are both created by the same team of artists.  It helps that we already know our way around exposures, cameras, and lenses, but the learning curve is still fairly steep because we need to learn about audio and we need to consider how we frame and light our subjects as they move through the frame (how do you apply the rule of thirds to a moving object?).    Still, when it comes to learning the ins and outs of video, we are undoubtedly ahead of the curve compared to someone just starting out.  Of course if I was in the motion picture industry, I might be worried about still photographers taking an increasing percentage of my business but that’s a topic for another writer.

So what else might we consider doing to help stay relevant?  Well, learning CGI might be a possibility and in fact, I recently read about a pair of photographers who have begun creating three dimensional representations of their work using a video game platform which admittedly sounds pretty cool.   I’ve also read about a photojournalist who has experimented with using video game platforms as a means of sharing telling a story with his imagery.

Mostly I think that we need to be cognizant of the fact that photography might not actually be the best tool for every job.  We don’t necessarily need to be on the cutting edge of the medium even though that might be an exciting place to be but I do think we need to be aware of our continually changing environment.  It probably also means that some of us might need to revisit our business models because at some point in time, it will become more cost effective for companies to hire CGI artists than it will be to hire photographers for certain types of jobs.  The key is to keep costs as low as possible while still maintaining a profit margin which is really no different than it is for any other business.  Do you think Barnes & Noble regrets the day that Amazon.com was founded?  Probably so – but unlike other bookstores (sorry Borders), they’ve found a way to stay relevant by continuing to serve their core customer base, compete in the market, and earn over a billion dollars each year.

There’s no one right answer for every photographer.  Instead, we need to keep our heads out of the sand and figure out what will work for our individual needs.  Sadly, some will not make that transition.

M_Kloth_head_in_the_sand_5886

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Tips for photographing cats

A few weeks ago I shared some tips for photographing dogs so this week I want to share my tips for photographing cats.  So without further ado…

Step one:  Find a willing cat to photograph.

He's got cat class and he's got cat style.

He’s got cat class and he’s got cat style.

Whoops – take two.

Willing cat model - check!

Willing cat model – check!

That seems a bit obvious but I include it only to point out that some – wait – this seems familiar…  So it turns out there are going to be some areas of overlap here…  Let’s try that again…

Just as I mentioned with dogs, some cats are going to be camera shy while others will be total hams.  I’ll bet that you’ll have a pretty good idea where your cat lies on that spectrum.  I’ve obviously photographed my share of each in my work with adoptable cats and I’ll let you in on a secret – generally adoptable cats are a little attention starved so they make really good subjects.  Most of these cats seem to think that anyone freeing them from their kennel is a cat person so they are worthy of their attention and if they get a little play time out of the deal, so much the better.

Step two:  Find a good location for your session.

This isn't ideal for your portrait session.

This isn’t ideal for your portrait session.

Just like with dogs, people, flowers, well, just about anything, you’ll ideally want to find a nice spot that doesn’t have a lot of clutter in the background and that has decent lighting.  In the above photo, the lighting is okay (I triggered my studio strobes) but the clutter factor is MUCH too high to make this a great shot (or even a good one really).  So why did I take the photo then?  Good question – I took this photo because I was amused at how cats always seem attracted to my camera bag.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone to photograph cats only to find a cat on my bag.

Step three:  Eliminate distractions so that your cat focuses on you.

I see you.

I see you.

Just like with dogs or people, sometimes you’ll want to capture a profile but let’s face it, cats have amazing eyes so you’ll want to get some photos where they are looking at the camera (or just off camera) too.  For this photo, I was working alone and I had Trey tracking my hand above my head so that I could get plenty of light to shine in those beautiful multicolored eyes of his.

Step four:  Use an assistant.

Having someone play with your cat while you capture photos can make for some really fun shots.

Having someone play with your cat while you capture photos can make for some really fun shots.

You might have noticed that I’m starting to veer off from what I told you about photographing dogs now.  This is one that I could have included there too but while I think I can most always get some good photos without an assistant when photographing dogs, I think it really helps with cats.  Why the difference?  Well, I think it comes down to the way that they play and the toys that they like to play with.  Dog toys are pretty much squeak this or toss that which basically means that they can be managed with one hand while operating the camera with the other.  Cat toys require a bit more work mostly because cats seem to like fast and/or sporadically moving objects.  That said, even if you possess more dexterity than I do and can manage making the cat toys move in enticing ways while holding your camera steady, cats move a LOT faster than dogs so you really need to be ready to capture the action when it occurs.  A second pair of hands can really help with that.

Step five:  Use plenty of light.

Now do you understand why I use seamless backgrounds when photographing at animal rescues?

Now do you understand why I use seamless backgrounds when photographing at animal rescues?

In the above photo you can see that I prefer to use studio lighting.  This allows me to capture a large depth of field at a fast shutter speed both of which can be very important for potentially fast moving subjects.  That isn’t to say you need studio gear for your photos but if you want to capture your cat in action, you’ll need a lot of light.  Want a photo of your cat napping?  Then you can get by with a lot less light but you’ll almost never regret having a lot of light even for those kinds of images.  Oh, and just as you want to consider the light source for dogs, you’ll want to consider your light source for cats.  Avoid using your on camera flash if it is located directly above your lens for the same reason you want to avoid it for dogs.

Step six:  Don’t use toys or treats for your session.  Alternately, use toys and treats for your session.

Is that a toy?

Trust your instincts here.

I made a pretty good argument for not using toys and treats when you are first getting started working with dogs.  I said that it was easier to ramp up the energy for a session than it was to bring the energy back down.  That can be true for cats too but I’ve learned a few things that make this tip different for cats.  First – while you can almost always find a treat that will capture your dog’s attention, that may or may not be the case for your cats.  If say, 80% of dogs will be treat motivated for your session, it’s probably closer to 10% for cats so you’re not too likely to bring the energy level too high with food.  Toys might be a different story but it really depends on the cat.

Step seven:  Don’t use catnip.

See how big those pupils look?

See how big those pupils look?

One thing I avoid pretty much at all cost is catnip.  A stoned cat is not going to be as cooperative and your images will not show your cat at its finest hour.  I’ve tried using catnip on maybe four or five cats over the years and the photos from those sessions were always worse after I brought out the catnip.  Want another reason?  Those little flakes are messy and will just need to be cloned out in post-production.

Step eight:  Have fun!

Adios amigos!

¡Adios amigos!

 

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On social media

According to statista.com, this year we can expect the number of people having social media accounts worldwide to reach 1.96 billion.  Considering that there are only 7.3 billion people in the world, that’s a pretty big number so it’s no surprise that artists have tried to tap in to that pool to showcase their work – but is that a good idea?

Before continuing, it is important to note that by a wide margin, Facebook is the king of social media with  71% of online adults on that site alone.  To put that in perspective, LinkedIn (a business marketing site) and Pinterest (a ‘these are the things I like’ kind of site) come in at second place with just 28% of online adults using each of those sites.  Instagram (owned by Facebook and is just photos with captions) is at 26% and Twitter rounds out the top five at 23%.  Each site has their own characteristics and each site has their own Terms of Service (TOS).

So then, we’ve pretty much established that you have at least one social media account already so the above shouldn’t really hold any surprises.  Also, you like what I have to say so you should probably follow me on my social media sites (right?!?).  I’ll make it easy for you – Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Tumblr 1, Tumblr 2, and Twitter.   I know that seems like a lot (and it is) but many of those accounts are linked so that if I post something on Instagram for example, it will show up on my Tumblr 2 account, Twitter, and Facebook and that automation is key because each account has a different set of followers and it allows me to easily push content out across to many people with the least amount of effort.  That isn’t to say that each account has identical content – just that that is a good starting point.  It’s also worth mentioning that to fully engage each of those sites would in and of itself be a full time job and I admittedly do not utilize each site as fully as I could (or should).  If I kept up with each site as fully as I could in order to maximize the benefit, my pack would only recognize me by the back of my head because I’d always be facing the computer.  As it is, I spend a LOT of time sitting at my desk.

It is also important to note that talking about social media means talking about a moving target.   For a little while now, the big platforms have been the big platforms.  Some come and go (sorry MySpace), others are relatively late to join the scene (hello Snapchat) but there is also a lot of change within the top platforms.  Do you remember complaining about the new Facebook layout?  How about the one before that?  All of which is to say that what I write about today may or may not be relevant next month, next year, or even tomorrow but rather is the ‘truth’ as I see it today at least so far as it relates to people (and businesses) that create original content.

I was worried there was too much 'blah, blah, blah' and not enough 'oh, what a cute dog' so here you go.

I was worried there was too much ‘blah, blah, blah’ and not enough ‘oh, what a cute dog’ so here you go.

It would be easy to fall into the trap of complaining about the good old days but I won’t – I’ll only point out that as these platforms shift from private businesses to publicly held corporations, they have a fiduciary responsibility to their shareholders to earn money so they can no longer afford to give away services for free.  That means that they hold back some published content from followers hoping to entice those businesses to advertise to reach their audience.  It also means that they are selling the heck out of your personal data.  In fact, I recently read an article stating that a postdoc fellow (and now a new Facebook employee) came up with an algorithm that showed that with as few as 300 ‘likes’, that Facebook can build a profile about you that is BETTER THAN one that your significant other could build.  In fact, with only 70 likes, a profile can be built that is more accurate than even your closest friends build about you.  That’s kind of scary and it is no wonder that Facebook (and others) have gotten into the data mining business.   Do you want to help them build a stronger profile – well then Take the Quiz!  It seems we either can’t fathom what this means or we don’t care.  Maybe it’s a little of both.

That’s all well and good (or evil and horrible – whatever), but of course, I want to get down to what it means to use social media for sharing intellectual property (i.e. photographs, paintings, etc.).

Lyle doesn't care if the whole world knows that he loves Buddy Biscuits.  Or ham.  Or carrots.

Lyle doesn’t care if the whole world knows that he loves Buddy Biscuits. Or ham. Or carrots.

In a perfect world, an artist would create a work, make it available, and someone would buy it for $6.5 million.  It doesn’t work like that for most of us.  We’ve pretty much passed the point where we can get by without some sort of digital footprint.  As business owners, we all need to find clients whether that means clients to commission new work (portrait session for example) or to buy an existing work (fine art prints for example).  Because our work is our intellectual property,  ideally we would like to control that content completely.  This means we would use our own web hosting platform where people would come to our sites to view our work and purchase our services.  The problem is that it can be very difficult to get people to visit your website – how can they if they don’t know you exist?  Surely they are not going to dig down to page 40 on the Google search to find you so it makes sense to use social media to help connect to your audience.

So then, what do we need to know about using social media to reach an audience?  These are the lessons I’ve learned over the years.

  1. Read the Terms of Service and be sure that you are happy to agree to those terms.  Did you notice that I’m not on Pinterest?  That’s because when it first started out, the TOS were VERY unfavorable to photographers.  They asked for too many rights and they essentially said if they ever got sued because of content you posted, they were going to sue you for damages.  Warm and fuzzy, right?
  2. Register your work with the copyright office (best done before you upload it to any website or even show it to a client).  It costs $35 to batch register as many images as you like so long as they are ‘unpublished’.  Previously published works (yes, including to websites) require a bit more work.
  3. Don’t waste your time on Candy Crush (or what ever the new game is).  If you want to take a break from work, then do something meaningful like snuggling your dog.
  4. Be sure to include your information on those photos – metadata (information written in to the file itself) is a great way but some sites (Hello Facebook) will strip that data out as the image is uploaded so it is probably a good idea to include a watermark too (again, check the TOS to know how the sites deal with your metadata).
  5. Only upload low resolution images.  If you only upload a version that can be printed out at 2″ x 3″ then you don’t have to worry about someone making their own prints of your work.  (The watermarks help with that part too.)
  6. Take some time to learn the unofficial rules.  The Field of Dreams movie told us that ‘If you build it they will come’ but let’s face it – that was fiction.  If you post something chances are few people will see it unless you do something to promote that work.  Maybe that means spending a few dollars to ‘boost a post’ or maybe that means learning how to hashtag but it’s not enough to just post an image.  Talk to an expert and ask them what works for them.
  7. Don’t sweat the small stuff.

It’s that last one that I want to conclude with today.  Chances are good that your images will be used in ways that you do not expressly authorize.  For example, I posted this photo on my Tumblr site:

You can tell it’s getting cool in Tucson, the Tiki is wearing his hat.   The Hut on 4th Avenue. http://michaelkloth.tumblr.com/post/101953152346/you-can-tell-its-getting-cool-in-tucson-the-tiki

You can tell it’s getting cool in Tucson, the Tiki is wearing his hat.
The Hut on 4th Avenue.
http://michaelkloth.tumblr.com/post/101953152346/you-can-tell-its-getting-cool-in-tucson-the-tiki

And the photo showed up here:

http://bodyart.batanga.com/5130/10-grandiosos-y-exoticos-tatuajes-tiki

In an ideal world they would have said, “Hey – I love that photo, let me give you lots of money so I can use it on my website!”.  Instead, I had a decent idea that it had high potential for being ‘appropriated’ so I did a search for the image and found it on this article about Tikis.  I certainly could have asked them to take it down and I am within my rights to ask for compensation (most countries agree to honor the copyright claims originating in other countries) but instead I allowed it.  Why?  Well, first of all, it does give me some exposure (they at least included a photo credit) so it is possible that it might drive some business my way (but not likely) but it actually provides me some educational value having this image out there.  See, here I am writing about it to you and I use it as an example when I lecture about copyright to my students.  It is an example of one of the most commonly occurring types of copyright infringement and by allowing them to use it, I have a ready example that I can relate to my students from a personal point of view and that’s worth something to me.

The cool thing about social media is that it can facilitate a story going viral.  It doesn’t happen often if an image (or a series of images) takes off, it can lead to some good publicity.  The Tiki image hasn’t gone viral yet and while I can’t exactly say I’ve had any image go viral, I have had some pretty good publicity that has come from posting my work online.  A couple of years ago, My Modern Met founder Alice Yoo, came across my work and wrote an article about me and my work with cats.  That story really made the rounds and I saw many versions of that reposted all around the world.  Did it make a big difference in my business or life?  Not really, but it did lead to some additional licensing avenues that I hadn’t previously had access to and, well, it was cool to see my work enjoyed all across the globe.

So in the end, my advice is to use social media but go into it with your eyes open.  Understand the risks and benefits before you decide if a platform is the right one for you.  And don’t sweat the small stuff.

And don't forget to snuggle the ones that you love.

And don’t forget to snuggle the ones that you love.

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On the Art Establishment – Revisiting Peter Lik’s work

It has been a busy week of moving heavy things.  That’s not great for photography but it did give me some time to think about an article I read earlier this week and I thought the topic was worth revisiting.  A few weeks ago I wrote about photography as art and specifically in relation to Peter Lik’s landscape photography.   In that post I wrote that Mr. Lik has worked hard to establish himself as a master photographer and that, in addition to his technical abilities, he is a master at marketing and selling his work.

Last Saturday, The New York Times published an article about Mr. Lik and while I think author David Segal provided a fairly balanced story, I think Mr. Lik comes across as, well, not the kind of guy I’d like to meet.   Two quotes in particular jumped out at me in the article.

I’m God.  Nailed it.
-Peter Lik regarding his success as defined by having a gallery in Caesars Palace in Las Vegas

Just a nice shot of Yosemite.  Right place at the right time.
-Peter Lik in response to master photographer Ansel Adam’s work in Yosemite National Park

So clearly there is some ego involved – but let’s face it, every artist has an ego.  I have one, I’ve seen it in my least adept photography students, and I’ve witnessed it in each of the artist interviews I’ve done for my intro to art classes.  I think that might be an essential characteristic for artists to have if they have the desire to share the product of their creation with the world and I don’t think that is necessarily bad.  The hope is, of course, that we can temper that ego with some humility – balance in life is good.

But this post isn’t really about how much ego Mr. Lik has but rather that he has been called out by the art establishment for, essentially, ‘doing it wrong’.

Before I continue, I’ll admit that in a way I am a part of the art establishment – I am a working artist and I teach art courses at the university level but I’m really the proverbial small fish in the big pond here.  When I write about the art establishment, I’m really referring more to the art critics, art dealers, galleries, museum curators, and big art auction houses (think Christie’s or Sotheby’s).

Peter Lik owns fifteen galleries and those galleries sell his prints in over a dozen major cities.  According to the article, he’s sold more than 100,000 of his photographs totaling more than $440 million in sales which puts him pretty much in a class of his own.  You might think that with those kinds of numbers the art establishment would be eager to embrace him but it is clear that just isn’t the case.  It seems that they don’t like his sales methods.

I’ve come to know a number of successful working artists over the years and one thing that has struck me is that, as a whole, we are really bad at marketing ourselves and our work.  In order to achieve any sort of major success, artists tend to need a bit of luck, a bit of help, and sometimes even to die.   Basically, we need the support of the art establishment if we are to have any hope of making it big.  I think the issue that the art establishment has with Mr. Lik’s work is that he’s found a way to make it on his own by using a sales formula that is highly successful.

It is almost comical in the way that they are discounting his $6.5 million dollar print sale because it did not go through ‘the proper channels’.  In fact, they didn’t even know the print existed until the PR media release announced the sale, but because it was brokered through an attorney and the buyer remains private, some have even gone so far as to hint that the buyer might not be a legitimate third party.  (Hmm, I wonder if I ‘privately’ buy one of my prints for big bucks if that will raise the price that ‘legitimate buyers’ will spend on my work.)  Mostly it has the feel of sour grapes to me.

One thing that I can say with some certainty is that Mr. Lik’s works will never achieve the same historical standing as that of artists who have been embraced by the art establishment and that’s not just because they are snubbing his work.  The real issue here is that his marketing is geared exclusively toward everyday (well off)  buyers.  These buyers see that each print is sold as a limited edition of 995 prints and as the line sells out, prints become increasingly expensive.  According to the article, early prints in the edition sell for $4000 while the last print can sell for $195,000.  To the uninitiated, that implies that his work appreciates in value.  To those in the know, that means that he is FLOODING the market with identical prints and there are too many prints in the market for buyers to even recoup their initial investment in most cases.

So then, what’s the bottom line?  By all means, purchase one of his prints if you like his work and can afford it.   I’m sure that it will look beautiful on your wall.  Just don’t call it an investment.  In that regard, Mr. Lik himself offers the perfect analogy:

It’s like a Mercedes-Benz.  You drive it off the lot, it loses half its value.
-Peter Lik on the poor resale value of his prints.

 

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