My earlier post about copying deserves a little clarification. I wrapped up with a "be judicious" throwaway remark. Not that what follows is necessarily clarifying, but it unpacks things a bit, I hope, and perhaps provides some food for thought.
I think that what this really means is that you should automate and hide whatever makes sense for your work. That means that you need to know what your work is about, in this moment, and really think about what you should and should not tuck in to an action, a macro, a preset. Since your concepts can change, you probably need to try to retain some notion of what you're automating. Perhaps review your actions, presets, macros, at the beginning of every new project just to refresh your mind about what your fingers have learned to do automatically.
I could, without much effort, develop a collection of methods for producing a convincing Wet Plate look to a digital photograph. I could crank out beautiful fake ambrotypes all day long with it.
But there's absolutely no way I could reproduce the glorious disasters that fill the pages of Sally Mann's What Remains. This book delights me despite being remarkably hard material to look at because of these disasters, and also the little note on the back talking about "technical brilliance." On the one hand, sure, Mann is excellent at a lot of stuff and it a fully competent technician etc and so on; but on the other hand this book is entirely made of up beautiful examples of the infinitude of horrible ways wet plate can go wrong. In the movie of the same name, she mentions (probably somewhat tongue in cheek, to be sure) that she lives in fear of mastering the wet plate process, because so much would be lost.
Make no mistake, I love the book (duh, insert girlish squeal).
Of course there's a reductio argument here if you're not careful, and you wind up having to manually adjust every pixel by hand, and that's just silly.
But somewhere in there, there's a degree of automation that makes sense.
Over at LuLa there's a tempest in a teapot. Apparently Adobe managed to break hyper-accurate printing in the most recent editions of their software on Macs. Mostly, the differences manifest when you print out a test chart, and then measure it, because the differences are, in most cases, quite near the edge of visibility. Obviously this is a problem for a few people, but for most of us, eh, whatever.
But it illustrates clearly what a certain class of people doing color printing are up to. They've got a bunch of technology in play to make the printing process automatically hyper accurate. Most of the people who are calling for Adobe to abase themselves and Fix This Instantly are not, I will warrant, people with any particular external need for hyper-accurate color, they're just convinced that their boring landscapes will be ruined if the blues are a trifle off.
An aside. Mark Segal wrote a piece up on this TECHNOLOGICAL CATASTROPHE in which he provides test swatches illustrating correct color and wrong color. I read the piece first on my phone and there was literally no difference between correct/wrong visible. Now on a different screen, there's a difference visible in the blues, but not in the greens. Not sure what the hell Mark was thinking attempting to illustrate these differences with a JPEG on the web.
Those of us with wet darkroom experience surely all recall that time when we botched up the timer, dropped something, mishandled something, and got a print that was not at all what we had in mind but which pointed the way. Oh my god, we'd say, that's why it was looking insipid. I need to print the whole damn thing way darker. How could I have not see it?
With properly functioning color management that will literally never happen. It can't. The purpose of color management is, literally, to prevent that from happening. Digital technology enables, encourages, methods of ensuring repeatability. It encourages us to convert the entire process of Art Making into a sort of assembly line. It, essentially, leaves you all alone in the process of Art Making. You have to make all the choices yourself, you have to know a priori what you're trying to do. A proper muse knows when to knock over a paint pot. A proper artist should know this, and not nail the paint pots to the bench. Too many paint pots too firmly fixed and, I claim, the muse simply leaves in a huff. Figure it out yourself, asshat, she says, and like mist she is gone.
Automate what seems right to you, but from time to time, throw it all out and start anew. Give your muse a little room to work.