Photographer?

A fellow photographer posted an interesting article asking “Does Photo Editing Dilute True Photography?”. It raises a number of questions that are now swimming around my head demanding answers.

In camera

Lynda uses a term “straight out of the camera (SOOC)” and argues that there is no such thing. I see what she is saying, but I disagree. From the reading I’ve done on the way that digital cameras work, they are somewhat more complex than a lens focusing light onto a sensor. I recall that Canon had a problem (with the 5D?) that caused image defects under certain extreme conditions; it must be quite a complex process.

I would hope that I could pick up any digital camera and obtain a similar result from each. There will be differences, the closely guarded proprietary secret algorithms used to convert sensor data to (usually) JPEG. So all digital cameras do some processing to convert light to a digital image. The processing is done in camera and there is little that the photographer can do to influence it.

Except that the photographer can influence it. With an SLR the photographer can alter the image. They can change the exposure level, add flash, change white balance, effectively crop the image by changing/zooming the lens. Even point and shoot cameras allow the image to be captured in monochrome. All of these changes are “in camera”.

Post-processing

So, is there anything wrong with altering images once they leave the camera? I don’t think that there is, images have many difference uses. If a camera provides the easiest starting point to create an image then so be it. So, as Lynda asked, is photo-editing just a cop-out for the untalented photographer? I don’t know. So I asked myself this:

If you were asked to judge a photography competition then (1) what would be your submission criteria and (2) how would you score the submissions?

Would your entry criteria be point and shoot cameras only? No post-processing? Colour only? Would these criteria exclude a potential Ansel Adams from entering? So what if you allow printed submissions? The film photographer gets a second bite (or nibble perhaps) to influence the image when printing it from the negative.

Pre-processing

D.O.G.So would you allow monochrome submissions to the competition? Would the photographer be allowed to use coloured filters? These can significantly alter the way the camera “sees” light. Is this pre-processing??

Might the composition of the image be considered pre-processing. The image to the right doesn’t truly represent what I could see when I took it. In front of me, out of frame, was the horse box. To my right a wall, my left the steps down to the field. I may have set white balance to daylight, but that’s because cameras struggle with that (see my previous post Whiter than white).

Okay, so I think most would agree that the photographer should be allowed to point the camera where he pleases! But what about a different lens?

One of my favourite photographers is Henri Cartier-Bresson. He is best known for his candid street photography. He used a Leica with a 50mm lens. He didn’t crop the captured images. He never used flash. He didn’t post-process during developing/printing. In 1957 he is quoted as saying:

Photography is not like painting, there is a creative fraction of a second when you are taking a picture. Your eye must see a composition or an expression that life itself offers you, and you must know with intuition when to click the camera. That is the moment the photographer is creative, oop! The Moment! Once you miss it, it is gone forever.

Perhaps I shouldn’t call myself a photographer?

More!

A recent lesson that I’ve learned is to take more photos. I say “learned”, but it’s something I already knew; I suppose that we all need reminding of things occasionally.

I was at #thinkvis, a day ahead of the event, to capture the pre-party. Dom (@theHodge) had put together a stunning pick ‘n’ mix for attendees. He wanted photos of it, so that’s what I did.

I took plenty. From different angles, with and without flash. Then I had an idea. I could take a whole series and stitch them together to make a panorama! So I set about that, creeping along the floor on my knees, taking a shot every few “steps”. How I wish I’d taken more!

Stitching them together took hours. The perspective change between images was such that I had to correct each of them three times (three sections in each). It would have been easier if I’d taken a few steps back and used my 20mm. It would have resulted in less work, and the image would have been cleaner, but it would have been much smaller too.

So, don’t hold back, you can always delete the images you don’t want, just make sure you capture them when you have the opportunity.

Pick 'n' Mix

Whiter than white

AlienSomething that all digital cameras struggle with is white balance.

In order to judge “white” the camera needs:

  • a white object in frame
  • white light

Humans do a pretty good job of interpreting white. We have knowledge that cameras don’t. We recognise the objects for what they are and this gives us hints about the colour we expect them to be. But even we struggle sometimes; the colour of cars under sodium street lighting for example.

I’ve found that it’s often best to set white balance manually, though this needs care too. I have on occasion set the camera to daylight when I should have chosen cloudy, resulting in a blue cast across images. Auto generally seems to work well when flash is being used.

The PRE setting

The D300 has an excellent tool in helping set white balance. By setting white balance to PRE and then d0 you can take a measurement of “white”. Upto 5 white balance measurements can be stored and named. This is a really handy feature. I have measurements for rooms around the house so that they can be quickly recalled.

The K setting

Sometimes you won’t have a white object to measure off. By setting the camera to “K” you can force the white balance to anything you like. The default value is 5000k, which is sunlight. I used this setting to take the photo above. I wanted to capture the true colour of the light without the camera trying to correct it.

Check your settings!

FM3aOne of the first lessons that I learnt!

For many, myself included, the road to digital SLR is paved with point and shoot cameras. These default to auto everything; aperture, shutter speed, ISO and white balance are all set by the camera.

The default for SLRs is the opposite; the photographer sets everything. I soon found that the photographer also needs to reset everything. The one that frequently catches me out is white balance.

The D300 has many menu options but also a neat feature called “My Menu”. This menu is made up of other menu options that the photographer uses often. My menu includes:

  • Set Picture Control – which would normally be set to Standard
  • White balance – usually Auto
  • Non-CPU lens data – ’cause I still use AIS lenses
  • Flash cntrl for built-in flash – I can never remember where it is otherwise
  • Dynamic AF area – sometimes useful