It has been quite a while since I posted any of my photos, and that is the whole point of having a camera, right? As I said above, my wife’s orchids are very happy, so I took a few photos the other day. Shooting things like this is fun because you can really experiment with the composition and see the little changes that can make a big difference. One tip from Kelby’s books I remember constantly is the concept of looking for compositions beyond what you walk up to – sometimes “the shot” is just a step or two away…
I was sitting around watching March Madness and playing with my D90. During a commercial break, I was goofing around shooting my DirecTV receiver that was ten feet or so away. Since it was a black box with blue lights, it was obvious that I wasn’t cleanly pressing the shutter. In fact, I realized I was “punching” it. Maybe I’m guilty of skimming the books I’ve recommended here a number of times, or maybe the lesson on good shutter technique was too subtle for me. So I shot at a deliberately absurd hand-held shutter speed of 1/2, played around with a couple lenses and experimented a bit. Before get to what I came up with, let’s look at what I was doing until today:
So…now I know why some of my hand-held shots aren’t as sharp as I’d like – my technique is terrible. I have always tried to be smooth as I pressed the shutter, rolling my finger across the button (I do recall this from my first read of Scott Kelby’s Digital Photography series, but this made it pretty clear I was bouncing the camera. It was clear after a few minutes that the biggest culprit was not pressing the button, but actually releasing it! After a few minutes of trial and error, I found a style that made a big difference.
Net: I roll smoothly across the button and don’t move my finger at all until the shutter cycle is complete. The improvement was pretty significant:
Better, right? The heavy crop and very low light don’t make this very sharp, but it certainly illustrates how much less movement is in the release. What about the big, heavy 80-200?
I’ve still got room for improvement here, but I was still in my Al Bundy couch pose and the 80-200 really is a big piece of glass. Net: the shake is reduced by at least 2/3, and I’d say good posture and a little more focus on my hand-holding technique would give better results – it ain’t bad for a hand-held shutter speed of 1/2 with a station wagon strapped to the front of my D90! Realistic shutter speeds would help, too.
I’m sure there are photographers reading this and saying “Well duh!” and I’m hoping that when I re-read my Scott Kelby there isn’t a completely obvious tip on this.
In the meantime, I hope it is helpful to other Enthusiast Photographers. For me, I’ll be doing a little more research and reading on the basics of shutter and hand-holding techniques!
As I posted a few days ago, I was asked to shoot some photos for a company event. Since I’m much more of a kids-and-landscape shooter, usually using available light with maybe a little of fill from the on-board flash of my D90, I was a little intimidated. Arming myself with a borrowed a SB-900 flash, I re-read a lot of Scott Kelby’s words of wisdom, surveyed Flash 101 from Dave Hobby at Strobist and even reached out to some pals in the BMW community in the photography subsection of the Off-Topic forum for some very useful practical advice and experience.
The good news was I had a chance to go see the venue the day before and test some things out. The bad news was it was a tough environment: a vaulted area of a high school library with a mix of fluorescent, incandescent and muddy, cloudy light from a window. I shot a number of test shots, trying to dial in the best combination I could come up with of exposure, reasonable shadows and an editable file to work with. I had a large, white vertical wall about 12 feet to the right of the podium I could use to bounce, which was useful. I entered the day stressed – I’d dreamed about flashes and focal length during a restless night.
So how did it go? Overall, I’d call it a success. The team got the photos they were asking for and I came away with a few shots I liked. One of my least-favorite (a group shot with a throng of other cameras around me a and a wilting SB-900), got picked up in the business wire story about the event. My favorite shot of the day was the one at the top of the page. I was shooting Manual, mainly at ISO 400, with a shutter speed of 100 (to get a reasonable freeze with the flash) and aperture of f/8 so the background was clear.
A few lessons learned:
- (with a nod to Scott Kelby) Charge everything the night before.
- Pack the night before with the idea of accessibility for whatever you’re likely to use or might need quickly (like spare batteries).
- Before you leave the house, check that everything successfully charged, and take one practice shot with your camera (another Kelby nod :)). Look at the settings information and make sure it agrees with what you intended. If you don’t have your camera set to lock unless there is a memory card in it, double-check that you have a card and an extra.
- Get there early. There is no substitute for having a chance to look around a bit beforehand, not to mention the value of staking out your spot 😉 – things got awfully crowded when the real press guys showed up with video cameras…
- Bring three sets of batteries, or maybe better said one set more set than you think you’ll need. This is especially true of the batteries for the flash. I brought only one extra set. It was enough, but I was sweating it…
- Shoot JPEG or JPEG+RAW if you need to give something to someone else quickly. Since there were multiple press offices involved, I was asked to hand over photos before I left. A real pro would probably be shooting JPEG only in this situation and be done with it, but I also shot RAW since a fair number of the photos I shot will become internal stock photos, and I wanted the change to make them look as good as possible. Plus, as an amateur, I wanted the defensive depth of a RAW file in case I missed something and had a quick chance to edit on the fly.
- Watch the flash carefully. I’d heard about the SB-900 thermal shutdown, and wondered if it was as bad as described. I’d have to say yes. I could have made things easier on the flash by shooting at higher ISO, but I was only shooting at 80-100 focal length – I didn’t think I was taxing it very hard. I was wrong. About halfway through, I’d shot enough pops to wear out the batteries (which I’d done some test-shots with the day before), and soon after swapping in the new ones, the thermal switch popped in. I moved to a slightly higher ISO, and shot with the on-board flash while the SB-900 cooled off – I removed it, turned it off and set it aside. I’m sure more than a little of this was due to the photographer – I don’t know flash well, I probably could have shot with different settings to ease the load on the flash and I was probably over-eager to get a lot of shots. Getting good facial expressions is a trick, so I compensated with more snaps. There is a reason pros shoot with a D3s in machine-gun mode :). The SB-900 cooled down fairly quickly, and I shot with a little more discretion once it was back in action.
Overall, I’m happy with the results and everyone else seems to be, too. I edited the photos I had and felt like the results were very reasonable, though even the shot at the top of the page could use a little white-balance adjustment. I wish I’d had a little more positioning flexibility so the logo of National Academy Foundation wasn’t partially blocked. I debated moving and decided to stay put. I have to say I’d avoid the SB-900. I’d opt for the Enthusiast-Photographer-level-and-price SB-700 or maybe the pro-quality and apparently more graceful SB-910 used or when the price comes down a bit. For now, the SB-900 goes back to my buddy Kevin with my sincere gratitude and I’ll go back to more more normal photography pursuits. For the future, I’ll add a flash to my “want-in-the-bag” list, and continue to learn about off-camera photography. Of course, if I can wangle a D3s from work to be an on-call photographer…
Any C&C, suggestions or tips on the photo above or the shoot in general are welcome!
Have you ever seen the term “GWC” on photography forums? Usually, you’ll see it if you hang around the places where they talk about wedding photography. It stands for “Guy With Camera”, and generally it isn’t a positive term. It is what the pros call a guest (and apparently usually a guy-guest) who brings his DSLR to a wedding and/or reception and shoots photos. Some photographers don’t like GWC’s, while others seem not to worry about it.
I have to admit that I have been a GWC at a number of weddings. I’m proud of it – my friends have some photographs they treasure, and generally my photos are more candid-type shots that I hope wouldn’t compete in any way with the official photographer’s ability to make his/her money. My shots are personal, and they clearly aren’t professional, especially since in those days I wasn’t at the level of knowledge I am now about my equipment and especially exposure and composition.
I’ve also always made a point to stay out of the official photographer’s way, and I’ll usually try to find a quick moment to let them know that and that they are free to let me know if I need to move, stop shooting, whatever.
Then there is the other side. For example, when your workplace knows you like photography and have some decent equipment. I got asked to shoot a company event that will be attended by a senior executive and the Governor of our state, and I said “yes” before I even thought about it.
Now I’m thinking about it, and I’m worried.
Firstly, I don’t own an off-camera flash. The good news there is my buddy is loaning me his SB-900, which was Nikon’s flagship pro-grade flash until a recent update to the SB-910. The bad news is I haven’t used anything other than my pop-up flash for…ten years? YouTube has some help, but sorting through YouTube isn’t much fun.
Secondly, I won’t have much of a chance to see the venue before the event.
Thirdly – well, even if their expectations are low (they’d hire a pro if they weren’t), mine aren’t. I want to do well.
So what is a nervous Enthusiast Photographer to do? I go back to Scott Kelby and his Digital Photography series. I’m guessing the sections on weddings will be the most helpful, but I’ll be scanning for flash techniques, too. I’m also going to re-read Lighting 101 on Strobist.com, which is a great resource.
I’m probably worrying too much about it, and I’ve got great equipment, but photography is about getting it right, and I want to do that! Suggestions welcome!
Apologies for a long post, but I thought I’d throw some of my favorite images from 2011 out there along with the lessons they came with. I hope you’ll find it worth your time!
I’ve tried not to make this blog too much about my own photography, but I took some time today to reflect on my journey this year and how far I’ve come. I got my D90 around Christmas last year, and shortly after that I read the two books that really opened the door to the world of photography for me. I don’t think I can overstate the impact Scott Kelby’s Digital Photography books and Bryan Peterson’s Understanding Exposure had on my ability to understand what my camera was capable of and how I could get out of the “Auto” and scene modes and really take control of what I was doing. It has been really satisfying, and a source of great fun for me in a year when a lot of things weren’t so fun. I doubt they’ll ever see this, but I’m extremely grateful to both of them.
I was finally brave enough to try out a Photoshop tip in Scott’s first book on my favorite photos of 2011, and I was really pleased with the results, so I’ve posted them all here. I’ve added a few comments about each photo, what it meant and what it taught me. I hope they’ll be of some use to you, or at least that you enjoy the image! (The WordPress photo hosting leaves a little to be desired, so clicking on each will link you to the Flickr page.). On to the photographs!
This photo was one of a set I took not long after finishing Scott’s books and really having some time to digest them. My mother-in-law lives in Charleston, and I got out before dawn one morning while we were visiting. I had no idea what I was going to shoot or really where I was going, but this boat was one of the first things I shot. It showed me how valuable my tripod really was to getting a shot like this! I was determined to shoot manual, and I must have taken forty photos, with varying shutter speeds and aperture settings. I hadn’t read “Understanding Exposure” yet, but when I did, I was thinking about getting this photo the whole time.
Something about this statue and canon eternally facing out to the harbor struck me, and I had to take a picture. What I remember most about taking this photo was that I kept the tripod legs folded – the composition standing up lost the searching feeling this image has, and brought the trees into play. It was an early lesson in thinking about up/down dimensions when composing.
I’ve been so lucky to have been a lot of places in the world (mainly on business), but Rio was my first big trip after rediscovering photography. Not a bad place to go! I actually struggled a great deal. Knowing I wasn’t likely to ever return to this iconic place and with tough, hazy conditions, I was a little stressed out about getting the shot. Coming home, I wasn’t immediately happy with many of my photos, but these photos helped show me the value of shooting RAW and learning my editing tools. This image has come a long way from the first time I saw it out of the camera, and I’ll treasure it for my whole life.
This photo probably gives you some insight to how difficult the conditions were. It was very hazy and bright. What I finally learned here was that I needed to relax, enjoy the moment and recognize than an Enthusiast Photographer is shooting for fun, not a paycheck. This isn’t a magazine-quality picture, but it means a lot to me. I wasn’t exactly feeling it photography-wise, and I was a little flustered, and I decided that was OK. Things went much better from that moment on!
I’d been driving by this old shed for years, and it suddenly occurred to me it has all the texture and color I look for when I want to take photos. I got out to shoot early one morning to a very disappointing dawn sky, which forced me to change what I’d expected to do that morning. The lesson here is you can’t always predict the weather or conditions, so you have to go with the flow. Instead of a blazing orange sky I have long, wispy green grass, which I think is a great counterpoint to the building.
A couple other notes here. First, this shed isn’t in a remote area – there are lots of developed neighborhoods all around it, and I’m standing in the shoulder of a fairly large road to take the shots. Sometimes you create an illusion with composition, and that is a lot of fun. I composed them to take the newer house off to the right out of the frame and ensured the power lines and other modern elements can’t be seen. Also, this building was boarded up and sealed not long after I took these photos, so it was a very good reminder not to dawdle when you get some inspiration – the chance might not be there tomorrow…
I spent every morning of our week at the beach watching the sunrise from the porch with my 9-year-old son. The composition was limited to the porch where I was drinking coffee and talking with him. When I posted these on various forums, I inevitably got comments about the two old posts from the pier that was taken by a hurricane years ago. The suggestions were that the posts are distracting and that I should Photoshop them out. But sometimes photographs serve just to remind you of a special time or place. Those posts are like an old scar on the face of a wizened man, and I’m not taking them out. They remind me of those conversations with my son and the nice old house we stay in every year. In other words, sometimes you just have to listen to yourself. 🙂
This was one of the images that benefited a great deal from Scott Kelby’s instructions on using the Unsharp Mask tool with Lab Color and the Lightness Channel in Photoshop. Now if it sounds like I know what I’m talking about, don’t be fooled. I’m just parroting what I read in Scott’s book, and true to form, he doesn’t bog you down with a lot of jargon and details, he just tells you how to do it. It was easy and the results are good. Sometimes the “why” can come later, and that isn’t a bad thing.
The outing during my November visit to Charleston was a bit of a bust. I was so busy getting out to shoot at dawn that I didn’t have a clear idea of what I was shooting or where I was going. The result was I wound up back where I’d been before. The good news is I got a shot that is a nice example of exposure. My first visit with the boat had much better color, but this time I was more aware of getting the exposure right, and the result is a better and sharper image. The wisdom gained from that day was to have a particular goal in mind every time you go out: shoot for color or texture, unusual shadows, whatever.
Even if you don’t stick to it, no plan up front runs a high risk of an aimless and unproductive outing.
This is another image that saw great improvement from the “Unsharp Mask” technique, but also a reminder about being ready and aware. I was taking shot after shot of the pilot boat that I completely missed the sounds of this other boat pulling away from the same dock and heading for the rising sun. The focus was pretty soft, but the benefits of the full RAW information and Scott’s Photoshop tip helped recover most of an image I really wanted to capture but wasn’t quite ready for…
This was the last frame of my last shoot of 2011, and it is already one of my favorite photos ever. There were several lessons on that shoot, a few of them detailed in my previous post “Deep in the Woods” (net: carry a flashlight and think about darkness when you’re off the beaten path), but there were a couple more lessons I took away from that day.
In my haste to get back to my car before it got really dark, I noticed as I was driving out of the park that the light was still getting better and better. I wavered, but finally pulled over and went looking for a clear place to shoot over the water at the marvelous colors in front of me. The moral here is don’t be afraid to stop and grab a few quick shots. Anyway, as I hurriedly fought my way through the brush and brambles again, the scene above just struck me. I immediately stopped, set up my tripod and started shooting. The branches set against the sky were just so visually interesting that I couldn’t pass them up.
It cost me the opportunity to get the clear shot across the lake, but I’m positive that that shot wouldn’t be nearly as compelling (at least to me) as what I did get, and it reminded me that I have to keep my eyes open even when I’m on the way to the shot I think I want. The unexpected can be more powerful, and while the colors of the photograph I missed would have been really nice, the image itself would have been a little pedestrian. What I got was a lot more fun, and I knew it as soon as I saw it!
I’ll also mention that my new tripod and especially the L-bracket came in very handy here. My spot was on a very uneven set of ground, and I don’t think hanging the camera over in the drop notches of a standard ball head would have been much help to sharpness during the long exposure. The RRS BH-40 and the L-bracket were heroes for this shot!
I hope these have been useful and enjoyable! Among other things, I’m busy writing up my 2012 Photography Goals and Resolutions. I’ll publish mine soon – what are yours? What were the big lessons of 2011 for you?
Thanks for reading, and please let me know if you have any topics or questions I could use for a blog!
HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!
Anyone who has subjected themselves to the alternately useful and abusive site that is KenRockwell.com has probably noticed a fairly consistent theme from him: Equipment won’t make you a better photographer.
He makes this point again in one of his more recent and less useful posts comparing the Nikon D7000 to the Canon 5D Mk II, noting “If you’re still wasting your time worrying about such trivia, I doubt you’ll ever expend the hard thought required in actually making great pictures, as opposed to merely armchair shopping for cameras. Time spent worrying about equipment is time not spent on concentrating about your image, so if you waste time comparing cameras for too long, you’ll probably never make much in the way of exciting images. Worse, when making this choice between today’s two top DSLRs, you’re also committing yourself to a bank of one brand of lenses or another.”
First of all, I think it is a very strange to compare these two cameras. At the end of the day, a Nikon D700 is the most direct competitor to the Canon 5DMkII, and it is an inane observation to say that by choosing between a Nikon and a Canon you are committing yourself to the lenses compatible with those manufacturers (duh). I also take exception to the condescending tone being used – vintage Ken. But at least the thought being expressed here is important, and it is consistent with my thoughts in one of my early posts that said the best upgrade for a race car is to upgrade the driver.
So I am, shockingly, agreeing with Ken: Photography is no different – a great photographer is good with a shoebox camera. A terrible one would take poor shots with a D3s.
But let me add a caveat: Good gear can be more forgiving for the Enthusiast Photographer and allow you to get better results. It can enable you to get a shot you can’t without it. For example, my shot of Christo Redentor would have been a lot more difficult to frame with my 35mm f/1.8, the only other lens available at the time. But the equipment only gets you so far.
These days, almost any DSLR is going to be pretty darn good – choice there comes down to budget (for what level of camera) and handling preference (Nikon vs. Canon vs. Sony and others) in my opinion. Having a good tripod, a well-designed bag or the right lens can absolutely improve your photography by giving you a better platform and by putting less in the way of you getting the image. However, If you’re struggling to make use of your tools, it won’t matter much.
The net is one should balance gear procurement with the continued focus on the acquisition of knowledge and building your skill. Plus, just get out there and shoot!
In one of my very first posts on this blog, I recognized Scott Kelby as they guy who helped me get off AUTO-everything and take control of my photography. His Digital Photography series opened the door to what I’m doing today, and I’ve been very grateful to him for those books.
Lucky for him, I’m not the only one who appreciates him. He was just recognized as the Photo Focus Photographic Educator of the Year. Congrats to Scott!
I got the chance to upgrade my tripod setup, and I jumped at it. I was able to sell my existing Manfrotto legs and head for good money, and I found a great deal on a Gitzo 2531 with a Really Right Stuff (RRS) BH-40 ball head. They are on the way.
And so now I wait.
I hate waiting.
I really, really, really do.
Needless to say, I’m looking forward to the new setup. Honestly, it is probably what I should have gotten starting out, but lots of factors determined what I bought the first time, and now I’ve gotten a chance to take a big step up. I’ll write up a full review with details, comments, photos and thoughts, but here’s a few things to chew on if you’re an Enthusiast Photographer thinking about tripods (hopefully you’ve already read my post “The least sexy upgrade, and it isn’t in your bag…”).
First – think ahead in your purchase. If there is any chance you’ll wind up with bigger lenses later, take that into account now when you’re buying your tripod.
Second – buy the best tripod and head you can afford. The good news is that these are pretty much like good lenses – they don’t tend to lose much value over time. This isn’t to say you have to buy a $1200 tripod and head setup. If you can’t afford carbon fiber, go with aluminum. Manfrotto’s 055XPROB is a very nice, affordable, solid setup with great height and a nifty optional carry strap. But as usual, I’m ahead of myself. Look at your future potential weight needs and buy the best stuff you can. Much like in the world of laptops, the lighter you go, the faster the price escalates. Unless weight or travel size is absolutely critical, I’d go with a nicer head with heavier, less exotic lenses until you can afford nice everything. A bad head will make you miserable. More on heads and legs in another post – it is another example in the photography world of a subject that has huge dimension, learning curve and spread of opinions.
Third – don’t be intimidated by the brand snobs. Some say if you don’t have Manfrotto, Gitzo or RRS, you’ve got a bad tripod. Here’s the net: most of us aren’t professional photographers out with a bag shooting for paychecks and running our gear hard. We’re Enthusiast Photographers, right? That means we’re out mainly on the weekends (if we’re lucky) and on the occasional set shoot or vacation. We don’t need the stuff built to survive a war zone. Benro, Induro, Sirui and Vangard have pretty decent products and lower prices from what I’ve read and the limited amount I’ve been able to handle them. Yes, the cheap ones are probably built in China. There is nothing wrong with that. You won’t get ultimate features or ultimate quality, but I suspect you’ll get a fine level of both. I’m not saying you shouldn’t consider the nice brands. They are great – I have no doubts I’m going to love my Gitzo. The fact that Really Right Stuff is entirely made and sourced in the USA is terrific, and they are just plain beautiful – the pinnacle of tripods. But I can’t afford or justify them at this point. Net: You can get a very nice tripod for reasonable money.
Fourth – start at the top and work your way down. I’ll cover this more in the head and legs section, but you would do well to think about the plates you’ll be using to attach the camera to the tripod. There are proprietary plates on the least expensive heads that will limit you later. Manfrotto’s heads work only on Manfrotto tripods and have some limitations I’ll cover later, too. Then there is the Arca-style plates used by Arca-Swiss, Acratech Kirk, RRS and others. It is a standard, sort of, and it offers the broadest flexibility. I’d venture to say it is the preferred platform for most of the most serious photographers. Your plate decision is generally going to make your head decision (generally Manfrotto vs. the Arca crowd), and from there you are about budget, load and usability.
Fifth – for tripods, less sections is generally better than more sections. Prefer three sections to four. It isn’t an absolute, but it isn’t far from it. The higher-end CF 4-section legs are fine (RRS, Gitzo, et. al.).
Anyway, this is a lot more than I intended to write. Mainly I’m really hating that I’m waiting. If you have tripod thoughts, suggestions or questions, let’s hear ’em and I’ll incorporate them into the head and legs post. Which I’ll write after I’m finished waiting for my new toys. In the meantime, Thom Hogan has a good read on tripods and the process most photographers go through when it comes to support.
I was looking through Ken Rockwell’s Guide to the D90 and noticed a typical barb from him when it came to the section of the BKT button:
“This button is used to set the various exposure bracketing modes. This is a hold-over from film days, and was a bad idea back then, too. Don’t guess at exposures when you can look at your LCD and adjust from there. HDR weirdoes might like it, but you shouldn’t need HDR if you do your lighting and use fill flash properly.
Forget this button.”
(and before you say it, yes, I use Ken’s site. If you’ve read some of my other blogs, I do use and recommend his site as a resource for guides on settings and menus, etc. His reviews can be a bit hyperbolic, but if you can get past all his arrogance and posturing, there is some great information there.)
Immediately, I was offended, for two reasons: First, it is astounding to me that he’s writing a guide on how to use the D90 and he’s essentially skipping a whole button because he doesn’t like it??? Second, the comment about HDR is just uncalled for – you may not like or approve of HDR Ken, but you could be a big boy and explain how the button works. Interestingly, he seems to have grown up just a little bit, since his D7000 review doesn’t take a swipe at HDR, giving at least a minimal explanation of the button and his coverage of the D5100 leaves it at “try it and you might love it”, noting that he doesn’t use it.
For some reason, it also make me have the thought that if you asked me who in the photography world, I’d immediately say Trey Ratcliff, the HDR guru and soul of the really cool Stuck in Customs website.
So far, I haven’t tried HDR (or High Dynamic Range photography), and I’ll admit to having slightly mixed feelings about it. But so much of Trey’s work conveys something powerful and beautiful that I can’t condemn it.
I’m guessing you already know what HDR is, but for those who don’t know, I’ll take a swipe at explaining it from an interested outsider’s perspective:
Have you even taken a picture that shows a much different atmosphere than you were actually experiencing? It is darker, more shadowy than reality, or maybe it seems much flatter that the scene you were looking at? The roots of HDR are to allow an image to mimic the way the human eye and brain see the world. Beyond that, folks engaged in HDR processing take advantage of the tools to also enhance the colors, saturation and a variety of other things that take the image beyond reality, but give it the ability to convey something in a way standard photography doesn’t always achieve.
It is typically accomplished by taking several shots at three or more levels of exposure. If you’re guessing that having a tripod for shooting HDR is a good idea, you’re right. It isn’t required, but it will make things a heck of a lot easier. Anyway, you’ll have one or more dark exposures, a normal exposure and one or more bright ones. Each image is going to have detail and parts of the image exposed in a way that the others won’t. You use special software to merge the multiple exposures into a single image that allows you to take advantage of all the detail and information in the multiple images. In each image, parts will be under- or over-exposed, but other parts will be perfect. You get to use the best parts from the multiple photos to create a single HDR image, then use other tools to instill the mood or atmosphere you’re going for.
For some reason, it is one of the most divisive issues in the photography world. I can only imagine it is similar to what the Impressionists went through in early struggles for acceptance. There was much division. They were mocked. They were controversial. Mainly, they broke the old rules. They expressed themselves in a way that was new, just as Trey and other HDR devotees are today. I’ve shown some examples below, but I highly recommend you view them full-size on Trey’s site – they are best experienced on a big monitor.
It is no surprise that Ken isn’t a fan of HDR – not only is it “tweaking” to a level that must make him twitch uncontrollably, but the best format to shoot for use with HDR is RAW!!
Like anything else, there are degrees of HDR. If you look at Trey’s work on his page explaining HDR, you pretty much see the span: realistic to hyper-realistic to surreal. At least for Trey, the goal is to covey something – a feeling, a moment, a mood, the atmosphere when the photo was taken. Sometimes that takes him beyond what your mind believes, but virtually every one of his images is evocative of something in my head. He doesn’t feel burdened by trying to make it look exactly has he saw it – he’s communicating the energy he saw it with.
When he talks about it, I almost hear him in a Yoda-voice describing The Force and the energy that surrounds us all. Frankly, it is pretty cool to hear his quiet passion for photography and this method of processing, which is why he’s the guy I’d pick to hang around with: First of all, you’re likely to be somewhere interesting, and you’re absolutely not going to be bored, either. He’s an interesting but humble cat.
His zeal is infectious, and it is clearly a liberating device for his disciples. Shots that look very average un-processed can be very powerful through HDR. Personally, the more surreal the shot the less likely I am to really enjoy it, but I do appreciate the form overall. You can call it a lot of things, but you have to work hard for an HDR shot to be boring. Not everyone does it well – sometimes it can be garish and exaggerated. That said, I see a fair bit of HDR that isn’t my taste but is still clearly well done.
What is my opinion of HDR? Anything that expands creativity and challenges the norm in such a positive way can only be a good thing. I didn’t make the reference to the Impressionists lightly – I do think what HDR is offering to the world of photography is just as important as the dimension Monet, Renoir, Manet, Cassatt and so many others gave us in the world of painting. The debate it creates can be ugly at times, but I think ultimately it broadens the world of photography and the number of people who consider themselves photographers.
So why haven’t I tried HDR? I own a camera with a BKT function. I’ve got some great glass (though I really want a Tokina 11-16 f/2.8). I shoot RAW (even one RAW image can be used to create an HDR image). I own Photoshop and multiple computers powerful enough to use the software. I could even afford to get Photomatix since Trey’s site has a 15% off coupon code and his on-line class is less than a hundred bucks. Mainly, it is a matter of time and the fact that I’m trying very hard to be good at the basic, classic photography before I start adding dimensions like HDR. That said, I’ll probably be shooting with the idea that I’ll come back and play with HDR later. Maybe I’ll even find a way to meet Trey!
What do you think about HDR? How many of you have tried it? As always, if you’re reading this, I’d love to hear your perspective! I appreciate the time you took to read mine!
I’ll warn you now – this is longer than I expected. A lot. If you’ve read my blogs at all, you’re used to it by now, but this is a whopper! I hope and think it is worth your time if you are an enthusiast photographer trying to decide what format you should shoot. It also has an angrier tone than my typical post, but condescending misinformation makes me boil a bit. Lastly, if you’re new, you might want to check out my post “Are You Like Me?” (complete with disclaimers ;)) On with the blog:
If you want to get an idea of the worst kind of writing (and advice) in the photography world, start with Ken Rockwell’s rant on the topic of JPEG vs. RAW. He’ll tell you you don’t need it. He’ll scare you that your files might not work one day. He’ll insinuate that you have a hoarding problem for keeping them. He goes as far as saying “Raw is a waste of time and space, and doesn’t look any better than JPG even when you can open the files.”
What an absolute load of baloney. The whole article is a bunch of condescending, opinion-based, misinforming invective, and worse, it isn’t even factually correct in a few spots (we’ll get to that in a bit). Maybe it is an artifact of something written almost three years ago, but as someone who sees himself as a thought leader in the photography world, Ken should take responsibility and update his post on this controversial topic. Allowing it to stand on the internet is an embarrassment for him. Personally, I think he just enjoys being controversial. It drives people to his site, collects ad revenue for him, etc. He’s a shock jock driving his paycheck.
If you want a good laugh, Jared Polin has a series of amusing videos (if fairly repetitive – he could have stopped at two) rebutting Ken’s position: I tried to boil it down a bit, and I see where Jared failed, but I’m being slightly more concise than 11 YouTube videos. 🙂
My opinion is there are times to shoot JPEG, and times to shoot RAW. For me, if I’m doubt, I’ll shoot RAW. So when do I shoot JPEG? Any time when the pictures aren’t a big deal – neighborhood parties, pictures of my kids projects, etc. – the quick shots I just want to capture and get out of dodge, especially if I don’t want to burn storage space. 75% of the time when I’m shooting JPEG, I’m shooting on Auto, too – which happens less and less. There are serious photography situations that might recommend JPEG, but I don’t shoot them at this point. Here’s the net for me: RAW offers the best chance at the final image I want, and it isn’t hard or time consuming.
At the end of the day, a RAW file is just like a digital version of a film negative. It gives you as much data as the camera and settings are able to deliver, and that allows you more control over what the final image looks like. I want the control. I like the control. It makes the end result better. I edit almost all the photos I liked a bit anyway, RAW just offers me broader and finer tools. That makes me a stupid, non-pro, info-hoarding time-waster in Ken’s book. If I was a nature or sports photographer and needed to shoot lots of images in an extended burst, it might be a little different. That said, there are a lot of highly successful sports photographers that did well with film, where your “buffer” was the number of pictures on a roll (meaning you had to stop shooting, pull the old roll out and put a new roll in after 36 shots – how quickly can you go through 36 shots now?). If these guys could be successful without today’s machine-gun frames-per-second, isn’t some discipline in shooting a good thing if RAW gives you better editing and detail? I also see press needing to hand photos to someone immediately following a shoot as likely JPEG shooters.
It certainly isn’t for everyone. Maybe three years ago there weren’t as many commonly available tools to work with RAW files and they were hard to use. Today you have lots of support and lots of easy-to-use choices. If you don’t have the tools to edit RAW or you just want to trust what the camera can do for you in JPEG mode, there is nothing wrong with that. JPEG is simple. JPEG is smaller. JPEG is easy. You can customize your JPEG characteristics in-camera. But JPEG is a file refined to a point and the rest of the data is thrown away (to make the file smaller and use less space). That is fine, but have you ever tried to make an enlargement from a 5×7 print because you didn’t have the negative? I have, and it came out terrible. That is because the print didn’t have the information the negative had, and the negative would have made a perfect enlargement. See where this is going?
If you’re spending any significant time improving your photos on your PC and you consider yourself a photographer, I think you should shoot RAW most of the time because RAW has all the information you captured. The only real downside is the size of the files, and storage is cheap. Ken makes it sound like you have to spend huge amounts of time fixing a RAW file so it looks good. I don’t spend much additional time at all. It’s easy.
Here’s a nice YouTube video I found that illustrates what kind of flexibility RAW gives you:
In the name of saving storage, I will say that you should dump the bad files. It is a hard thing to do, but if the image is bad, delete it. It won’t get any better sitting on your hard drive, and digital makes it too easy to take a LOT of photos – the old days when each *click* cost you money are gone, and if you ever had that limitation, you don’t anymore. So no matter what you shoot, pick the keepers and dump the rest.
But let’s get to Ken’s points and my perspective: (note: these are all copied directly from the link above, except where I paraphrase as noted. If I have misconstrued Ken’s point, I apologize, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t.)
“Get it right in-camera” and “Prolific shooters shoot JPG because time is money and we are able to get things right the first time.”
Gee Ken, I’m sorry I’m not as good a photographer as you. And when you shot film, you didn’t use any special techniques processing the negatives, did you? Even pros make mistakes. I once heard one tell a story very similar to a vacation situation I had: I left the white balance on Tungsten and all my outdoor shots looked green. If I’d been in JPEG, they would have been nearly useless. RAW gave me the ability to easily fix it completely. Yes, pros check and re-check, but sometimes we all make mistakes, and I’m definitely no pro – why not give myself the best chance for a great photo? Frankly, I kind of want to punch “get it right in-camera” snobs in the nose. I strive to take the best image I can in the camera, and there is nothing wrong with improving it from there.
“RAW requires dedicated software to read”
Possibly that was true in 2009 (though I think he was being selective in his view), but today, Windows XP/Win7/Win8 and Apple OS X all have native support for RAW codecs for a huge variety of cameras, and the manufacturers seem pretty intent on keeping them up to date. Freeware editing software like Picasa and others recognize RAW. And, of course, Adobe Lightroom, Photoshop, Elements, Apple Aperture, Apple iPhoto and many photo processing programs fully embrace the RAW format.
“Raw is OK if you only shoot a few dozen images and you want to play around with each of them in Photoshop; JPG is best if you need hundreds or thousands of images each day and get them right in the camera to begin with” and “If you’re shooting action RAW doesn’t work”
What he’s saying here is that RAW files are larger than JPEG (which is true). Guess what? Storage is cheap! Buy bigger cards and a big external hard drive (a 2TB – 2,000GB! – drive is as little as $100 these days) and manage what you have. Also, wouldn’t shooting hundreds or thousands of JPEG images each day fill up a lot of storage, too? Wouldn’t that require lots of time to sort through and manage? And how can you be careful and thoughtful enough to get thousands of JPEGs right in-camera? Ken talks himself in circles sometimes.
As noted above, if you’re shooting action (sports, birds in flight, etc.), JPEG is probably a better bet – you’ll need to shoot more frames faster, and JPEG won’t fill up your camera’s buffer as quickly, especially if you aren’t shooting a pro body. If you do that kind of thing and want the advantages or RAW, shoot selectively and get a good, fast memory card (I use Lexar Pro and many swear by SANDisk Extreme cards). It won’t replace a big buffer, but it will help. Ditto for press who need to hand their photos over immediately.
“Raw is a waste of time and space, and doesn’t look any better than JPG even when you can open the files.” and “Time is money to people who need to make money from photography.” and “Image quality is the same in JPG and raw”
Thanks for the reminder never to hire you, Ken. I want someone who is going to take the time to give me a great image and not see it as some kind of race. My guess is that outside of news photography (which are either printed or on the web in a very small format and where time is so critical) that very few commercial images are published without extensive post-processing (whether JPEG or RAW). Wedding photos are extensively processed, too. Also Ken, you understand that the vast majority of your readers aren’t pros, right? Lastly, RAW files not only render to finer detail, they preserve more detail that can be recovered if exposure isn’t correct (see the video above). I’m guessing that there is a similar benefit with sharpening and other post processing tasks: there is more information to work with. If you look at reviews of cameras on dpreview.com, it is pretty clear to see where the jpegs lose fine detail that the RAW file preserves. For most of us, RAW is worth it for the final quality we can achieve as well as the forgiveness factor it provides.
(paraphrased) “You’re doing the same thing the camera is doing, so why bother?”
This is the one that really kills me (well, other than the “in-camera” thing). Every camera has its own in-camera methods of tweaking JPEG files so they look their best. You can even go into your camera and adjust the settings for things like color saturation, sharpness and more. My question is this: If you really care about the output, why would you put a tiny piece of electronics in charge with a very limited set of instructions on how to “improve” the image and apply those instructions generically across all the photos you are taking?? Ken makes it sound like there is a little wizard in your camera making them the best they can be with no additional effort on your part! To be fair, the camera is pretty capable at what it is doing, and if you’re happy with it, that is great. But for many of my pictures, I’ve been very unhappy with the camera choices and since I don’t have the RAW data, I can’t fix it as well as I’d like. Think about it: what has more processing power and more sophisticated software, your camera or your PC?
More importantly, if you need to adjust the white balance or colors, you have far more flexibility with RAW than JPEG. I’ve got an experiment in mind to demonstrate this – I’ll do it in a future blog. But the camera isn’t going to do this for you very well, and JPEG will limit your ability to do it on your PC.
“If you love to tweak your images one by one and shoot less than a hundred..RAW could be for you” and “Raw is designed for people who intend to spend a lot of time twiddling with one image at a time.”
I don’t spend an enormous amount of time tweaking 90% of my RAW images. I’d say I edit only slightly more than I did with my JPEGS. I’ve noticed my better lenses give me better RAW files that need less adjustment, but even before I discovered RAW, I adjusted my favorite photos. These days, I’m a better photographer, and what I’m adjusting has changed, but I still take the time to improve the images I like the most. Maybe I’m in the minority of the world of people who own a DSLR, but I think I’m in the majority of photography enthusiasts, and I’d dare say pros possibly outside of the news/sports press (but I’d bet there is tweaking going on there, too…)
“RAW becomes obsolete”
This is potentially true, but fear-mongering garbage nonetheless for this reason: It is only a problem if you never convert your images to JPEG (or TIFF, etc.). If you’re sharing these pictures at all (uploading them to Flickr, Picasa, SmugMug, etc., posting them on Facebook, emailing them to friends and family) they are getting converted to JPEG! Automatically! If you’ve edited a picture in Photoshop or some other editing software, it is going to make you save it in some non-RAW format. I also read an article recently from a guy who was re-editing old RAW files from his flower-of-2001-technology D1X with improved results. In other words, not only is the very old D1X RAW format still current and compatible, newer editing tools are doing a better job with those files. So I wouldn’t worry too much about obsolescence.
To be totally safe, you should occasionally archive your favorites to a CD or DVD in JPEG format and print the ones you love. There is no monstrous process to getting RAW files to JPEG. It happens naturally.
(paraphrased) “RAW isn’t customer ready”
Here Ken again assumes his audience are pros or wanna-be’s who think if the pros do it then it must be for them. Anyway, what’s the point? A film negative isn’t customer-ready either. Very, very few pros gave their clients access to their negatives since they aren’t finished images. The rest of us just care about getting the best photograph. If you really want something you can instantly hand to someone, use the RAW+JPEG setting in your camera and have it all. Of course, if you’re press and you need to shoot at the highest frames-per-second and/or need to hand photos over immediately (or even real-time), JPEG is going to be the choice.
“Raw records usually with 12 bits, but a linear 12 bits. JPG uses only 8 bits, but these are after the log and gamma conversion, and thus preserves the 12 bit precision at the shadow levels where it’s important!”
I’m going to give Ken the benefit of the doubt that in January 2009 the dynamic range and/or resolution of cameras just wasn’t enough to see the difference, and that he honestly believed this statement is true (even if his Nikon D3 review is dated a year before that…). Today, I’m confident it isn’t true. The current generation of cameras generally has excellent dynamic range, and a JPEG is absolutely going to lose detail in the shadows. Again, check out the image samples on DPreview from a Nikon D7000. In the same review, if you go to their comparison page and compare ISO 400 D7000 JPEG with D7000 RAW in the shadow area where the spools of thread lie, there is a significant amount of additional detail in the RAW file. The detail we’re talking about is very fine, but frankly, I want to make the decisions – not the camera. There are times when it is the difference between having an image and not having one. And frankly, the quote above is a load of hooey. There is undoubtedly less information in a JPEG file, and the area JPEGs suffer most is in the most or least exposed areas of a picture. This is where JPEG decides an over-exposed area is all white or an underexposed area is black (or whatever) and just saves the room in the file. A RAW file allows you to recover details in the shadows and the over-exposed areas you’ll never see in a JPEG. The video above is excellent documentation of that absolute fact. Ken’s statement above seems to be assertion that a JPEG has the same fidelity as a RAW file, which is just plain untrue.
“Each camera maker has its own incompatible format.”
This is absolutely true. If you’re an early-adopter of the latest thing, be ready to wait for the software tools and operating systems to catch up. Sometimes it is fast, sometimes it isn’t. It is driven by how early the camera maker closes their “spec” for the file and provides it to the Microsoft, Adobe and Apples of the world (and how busy they are when they get it!). Every camera also comes with software that can be used to import and adjust your RAW images to a certain point, from which you can export to JPEG and finish anything else you need to in Photoshop, etc. If there is a single point where I think Ken is being generally fair and on-target, this one is it. And he’s still not giving you the whole story.
One non-Rockwell-quote-related tidbit: Ever saved an edit of a file and wish you hadn’t? Ever cropped something and later realize you cut something out you really wanted? No worries with RAW. You can edit the file as many times as you want, and never change the RAW negative. Programs like Lightroom or Aperture are only saving the changes, not changing the original file itself. So you can make as many different versions as you want, and they’ll never limit your ability to go back and take a different approach.
So that’s it. Is it wrong to shoot JPEG? Absolutely not. I think most “family shooters” who have a DSLR for more control and interchangeable lenses don’t care and will prefer the convenience and out-of-the-camera quality of JPEG. Many shooters of birds in flight and sports will want the speed JPEG offers. I’d guess a fair number daily news photographers shoot JPEG since their photos are due immediately and never make it much bigger than the size of a wallet photo. If you want it quick, simple and small, JPEG is great. There is no reason a JPEG can’t be an amazing photograph.
If you want to be able to optimize for the best image and have as much information as possible, go RAW. If you can’t decide, your camera almost certainly has a setting that will give you a RAW and a JPEG. I shot this way until I realized how much more flexibility I was getting editing the RAW photos and how much more I enjoyed the final result, and now JPEG is the exception to the rule. My guess is you’ll wind up in the same place.
I’d love to hear your opinions, and any other questions on this topic!