Well that’s Christmas and New Year over with, at least for another year. It was great in that I managed to see many of my family, some of whom I don’t get to see that often. On the down side I ended up not achieving much on my ever growing list of work. Current projects that I intended to finish over the period (and didn’t) included:
- Publish my latest book “Beginning Photography the Right Way”
- Launch a new set of Lightroom Presets called the “Polaroid Construction Kit” and which as the name suggests allow you to give images a “Polaroid look” in Lightroom.
- Produce Video Tutorials to support my “Essential Photoshop” book. I have wanted to do this for a long time but only now found software that I’m happy to work with.
- Finish the new website as there are some areas that need further development.
I did manage to:
- Publish the quarterly newsletter including a video tutorial
- Shoot some new material in the Lake District (see above image)
- Answer all the many emails that came in over the holiday period
I think it’s about time I set myself a strategy and defined some goals for the year or I could find myself busy without achieving anything. Hopefully I can include shooting lots of new material and sharing some video tutorials.
It was an early start yesterday. Up at 4:30 in the morning in order to make the 2 hour journey to Ullswater in the Lake District for a dawn shoot. Despite the early morning start it was without question one of the most enjoyable days photography that I have ever had.
Overnight the temperature had dropped like a stone and there was a thick haw frost on the ground. Most waters in the Lakes had a thin layer of ice starting to form around their edges but because the temperature had dropped rapidly the deeper water was still cooling. Instead of ice covering their surface they had a wonderful mist and the conditions just got better as the day went on. The image you see above is of the boat jetty near Pooley Bridge, at dawn. Captured on the Olympus OMD EM5 with Olympus 12-40mm lens and a 0.3 ND Grad on the sky. Aperture was f/9.0 (a mistake as I would have shot this at f/7.1 usually). ISO200 and shutter speed 1/125″.
So you might ask, what is the important decision? The answer is, that I have decided to sell the Nikon D800; but I want to explain and share my reasoning.
Firstly, this is the third trip I have made where I can’t bring myself to carry the extra weight. When I returned from Bolivia I suffered a prolapsed disk at the base of my neck and for a while it looked like I might need major surgery. Fortunately, this is looking less likely now but the pain over the past couple of months has been unbearable at times – and pain killers just didn’t have an effect on it. I was finding that even trying to lift and support the heavier equipment was aggravating the pain.
OK, so this might be a temporary condition (I certainly hope it is) but other things are more permanent and important. One of the reasons I bought the D800 was that a lot of people were claiming how the image quality is exceptional with the right lenses and I would agree, yes it is. The camera would perform very well even with lesser quality lenses but needed a little more adjustment to really bring this out. But the important point is, the image performance is no better at low ISO (which I use almost exclusively) than the EM5. In fact, the corner and edge sharpness of the EM5 images beats the D800 even with high quality lenses.
All I really get with the D800 is an image file that produces a 24.5″ inch image rather than 15.36″ at 300dpi. Does this additional image size matter? Well, unless I am going to be making a print larger than 30″ and look at this with my nose pressed against it. You really need to be doubling the print size to notice the difference in output quality due to the way inkjet printers work. If you print on Matt paper then you might even need to go larger than this. As for output to the Internet, there is no benefit to having more pixels and then throwing most of these away by downsizing the image.
Where the D800 does score well over the EM5 is in the RAW files. I seem to be able to push these all over the place in editing and see almost no noise, even in shadow areas. This is very nice but again it comes with a downside. The RAW files from the D800 do seem to need much more processing in comparison to the EM5 RAW files. It’s almost as if the D800 RAW files are a little flat, possibly to the additional dynamic range the camera has. Whatever the reason, it feels like I am having to relearn how to get the most out of the camera and I don’t really have time for that at the moment.
The final and most important problem is that the D800 really doesn’t suit my style of shooting. What I don’t like to do is pop the camera on a tripod, spend a lot of time getting into position, check everything and then make one or two good exposures. This just doesn’t work for me. My approach is to move around and into the subject, taking lots of pictures and checking them regularly. As I work I find images that I like or things I like about an image that I work with to incorporate. The shots gradually get better until I arrive at the image I want. This style of working isn’t for everyone but if it’s your style, you will find it hard working with a large DSLR.
I do have to admit though that I didn’t always recognise this. It was only when I moved to the EM5 that my shooting style really started to develop in this way and that I started to feel free. Now when I try to go back it’s as though I am constrained and I have lost that feeling of freedom and spontaneity.
So, this is my reasoning but I will caveat it with a final thought. I reserve the right to change my mind. As I was writing this I was looking back at some of my RAW files from the D800 and they do have a quality that I really like. I’m just not sure it’s enough to make me want to keep the camera.
I was out walking yesterday in the Lakes – what a mistake. The weather was dreadful. It was windy, foggy and the rain was driving down hard. Despite this I managed to pull out the Sony RX10 and rattled off a few frames. I quite like the one above as I think it conveys well just how poor the weather was.
New Website Call
I’m also going to be taking some time out shortly to build my new Lenscraft website. I know that quite a few people who read the Lightweight Photography blog are members of Lenscraft so I would like to publicise an offer. If you are a Lenscraft member, have your own website and would like me to add a link in the “Members Sites” section, email your details to me at email@example.com. I just need your name and a link to your site. Obviously feel free to return the link but there is no requirement.
Isn’t it strange how your taste in photography seems to change. I shot this image just over three years ago. I recall considering this a poor trip at the time as I didn’t really come back with any “high octane” dramatic shots. What I did get was quite a lot of nice, tranquil scenes which I relegated to a folder on my hard drive and promptly forgot about.
Last week I was clearing out some images in order to start work on my new website (coming soon). That’s when I saw this image and wondered why I hadn’t bothered very much with it. Now that I look at it, I really like the scene and the colours.
I hope you like it and have a great weekend.
Following my last blog post on the Essential Skills for photography, the question was posed “Where I’m stuck is the step between picking the strongest image and playing with software. How do I decide what to do with it. ” This seemingly simple question is one of the most fundamental in photography and is one that I found myself wrestling with for a number of years. This is how I resolved the for myself. As I am a Landscape Photographer I will speak about scenes but you can apply this approach to most forms of photography.
The key to deciding how to edit an image doesn’t start when you download the image to your computer, it starts much earlier. It even starts before you even lift the camera to take the shot. It actually starts when you spot the opportunity to capture an image. When something catches your eye and you recognise there is a photograph to be taken, at that moment you should be working out what has captured your attention.
Having identified something that is attracting you to a scene you will begin to take photographs. It’s unlikely your first image will be what you wanted (if it is you are either amazingly talented or very lazy) so you need to experiment with angles and composition. As you work with a scene your vision for the image should become stronger. This is the vision that will become so important when you come to edit your image later.
Having a strong vision is the key to understanding how to edit your image.
Having selected the image that you want to work with; the one that best represents your vision, you should ask yourself 2 questions:
- What defects is the image suffering from that I need to correct? Perhaps it’s too bright or it looks a little flat. Perhaps it has a lot of dark areas which look ugly and need to be opened up. Spend time looking at the image and identify what you don’t like about it. Defects in the image hide your vision from the viewer.
- Now consider your vision and ask how can this image be enhanced to better convey my vision for the photograph? This should take you right back to the reason for taking the picture in the first instance. Why did you take the picture? How can you emphasise this aspect of the image to the viewer?
As you consider these questions, make notes about the changes that you would like to make. Don’t try to get all technical about how you will make the adjustments, just describe the changes. If you want to make some dark areas lighter, write that down. If you want to make the pinks more vibrant and colourful, write it down. If you think the image looks a little hazy and you want to give it more snap, write that down.
Once you have the list of changes you need to write out a plan for the adjustments you will make. Start with the global adjustments and work down to the smaller localised changes. Also try to make the corrections and fixes (question 1) before you make the enhancements (question 2).
I hope I haven’t made this sound easy as it’s not. It takes years of practice to develop your own styles and preferences as well as the skills necessary to be able to make the adjustments. But preserve and improvements will come.
In this final blog post of the series I will introduced the sixth skill that I believe is essential in producing great photography.
There are two aspects to this:
- Technical skills to be able to make the adjustment
- Aesthetic skills so that the adjustments are pleasing and not taken to an extreme
For the first element you must understand the image editing and adjustment tools that you use. You must also seek to use the best and understand how the different controls can be used to manipulate he image. You also need to understand this from the perspective of a photographer or an artist. You are not interested in lightening an image or adjusting the contrast, you are interested in creating illusion. Illusions such as sharpness and clarity. You need to understand how to control and manipulate light.
As you master your chosen tools you also need to understand the aesthetics of the adjustments you make. Your adjustments should be believable and realistic. Take your adjustment too far and the image will appear ugly. This is art and this is where you can truly introduce your vision.
Now it’s your turn. What have I missed? Do you agree with the skills discussed or do you find the concept of these skills too vague? Let’s share some opinions.
In an earlier post we spoke of exploring your subject in order to realise a clear vision and strong communication. It’s likely that this will result in many photographs of the same subject with only small variations between images. What we can’t do is present all these variations to our audience and expect them to select the best one; that’s our job as the photographer. I recall attending a wedding where the photographer was shooting continuously. When the bride and groom received the proofs the photographer had presented them with almost 1700 images and expected them to pick the 20 they liked best.
Being able to edit your images in order to select the best one for any particular subject is an essential skill that’s often overlooked. Let’s say we are faced with 20 image variations for a subject we have been shooting and we need to pick the best one. Which is best is quite subjective but:
- It must have a strong composition – if we can’t recognise a weak composition to weed out poor images we need to study this.
- Of all the images with a strong composition, which one conveys our vision and communication best? If we don’t know, it’s because our vision isn’t as strong as we thought it was and we need to spend more time developing this.
- If we are producing a series of images we need to ensure all the images work together. If we have one image that stands out above the rest we will make all the others appear weak. If we have one weak image it will stand out and damage the story being told.
If we really do have a few images that are similar and all very strong, just pick one. The rest of the world will never know we had a difficult choice to make. They also don’t care; they just want to see a great photograph.
I will introduce the final essential skill tomorrow.
In my previous blog post I introduced the third skill that I believe is essential in producing great photography. Today I will try explain another of these essential skills.
Understanding your equipment
Now please don’t confuse this with knowing how to use the features of your camera. The ability to pick up and control a camera is a given skill that every photographer needs. No, this skill is about understanding and appreciating the characteristics of the equipment at your disposal and understanding how we can use this to strengthen our communication with our audience.
An example to understand this a little better is if we were shooting a portrait. The subject would need to be the person in the image. What we therefore want to avoid is having multiple people dominant in the frame as these will be distracting. If our composition and technique is very poor it may leave our audience unsure which person is the subject. To make it clearer we might chose a long lens so that we can concentrate on a single person in the frame. We might also use a wide aperture to create a shallow depth of field. This will ensure objects behind our subject are thrown out of focus, so emphasising the subject still further.
A second example is where we use of Wide Angle lenses in Landscape Photography. Unless we move in close to our subject and include something in the foreground, the image loses impact as objects recede very quickly into the distance.
These examples are about understanding the characteristics of your equipment and then being able to make decisions about how use them to create strong compositions.
I will introduce another essential skill tomorrow.
In my previous blog post I introduced the third skill that I believe is essential in producing great photography. In today’s post I will explain another of these skills.
This is probably the first of the recognised traditional camera skills and one the many people will answer with when asked what do you think are the essential skills for photography. But a lot of people when starting out in photography (myself included) struggle with knowing how to create strong compositions. I can remember reading lots of books on the subject but never quite grasping what was being said. What I had failed to understand is that composition can’t be reduced to a set of rules that if followed will produce the best compositions.
Whilst it’s true that a strong composition is recognisable, it’s almost impossible to arrive at the perfect composition. What you need to strive for are strong compositions. Whilst you can follow some guidelines, it’s better to train yourself to recognise good composition as well as the faults of poor composition.
If your composition is weak it will hamper your photography as it will hide your vision and communication. When you get it wrong, the composition will jar with the audience and they won’t invest the time necessary to appreciate your work. Your communication will be hidden by the noise of poor composition. It’s a little like experiencing a small amount of static on the telephone line. Whilst you can still hear the conversation it becomes more difficult to hear the message, requiring more concentration. Your audience is choosey with their time as it’s precious. If they can’t hear your message clearly, they will move on to another message that is clear.
I will introduce another essential skill tomorrow.
In my last blog I introduced the first skill that I believe is essential in producing great photography. In today’s post I will try to explain another of these skills.
Communication and Vision
Vision is about understanding what we have seen that inspired us to want to take a picture. Once we understand this we can begin to think about how we want to represent this to others. This recognition is something that we need do this at the point we take the picture. If we don’t we will probably find later that we just didn’t quite capture the image right.
When we notice an opportunity and decide to take a picture, we may not make the best capture on the first effort. To know we have achieved the best result we need to take time (where possible) to explore a scene or subject. This is not just to check things such as composition and technical image quality but also to ensure our vision comes through as strongly. If you are not clear about what our vision is, how do we expect others to understand and appreciate your work.
The same argument also applies to being able to select the strongest image that best represents our vision. And when we come to work on our best image we need to understand how we want the finished image to appear. How should it look in order to best represent our vision. We need a clear image before we start to work on any adjustments.
The reason I included communication under this heading is that our image or images need to communicate our vision. We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that our photograph is our medium of communication but our vision is our message. The clearer our vision, the stronger and communication, the better people will hear us.
I will introduce another essential skill tomorrow.