Learning More About How Little I Know

I set out today to take shots like this, thinking it was as simple as could be. I carried my wobbly tripod and remote shutter release. It’s not that easy!

HDR image of a field on Tuttle Avenue, Hamden, CT

Mill River Hamden, CT HDR

Like many photographers, I play around with HDR (high dynamic range) photography. It’s a method of extending the dynamic range of a digital camera. Your eye can see subtle detail in very dark darks and very bright brights. A digital camera cannot. There is a finite distance between the darkest and brightest it can resolve. That range can be moved, but it’s limited.

With HDR photography a series of pictures, each with the range shifted, are merged. The new resulting image has more range than any of its component shots. The shots at the top of this entry from an open field for horses on Tuttle Avenue and the Mill River near Sleeping Giant Mountain, are HDR pictures.

100% crop of Tuttle Avenue field HDRWhen you look really closely, there are problems. I’m not sure how to eliminate them and I can’t seem to find anything about them online. This photo on the left is a 100% crop (pixel-for-pixel on the screen) of the Tuttle Avenue horse field HDR image. Since the leaves are blowing around slightly, there are strange ghostly artifacts in the trees and places where the blue sky pokes through. The original is a huge image, 12 Megapixels. There are similar problems with the Mill River shot. I’m not totally sure this would be seen in most prints–though it might. It definitely would in an oversize enlargement.

I set out today to take shots like this, thinking it was as simple as could be. I carried my wobbly tripod and remote shutter release. It’s not that easy!

The more I do photographically the more I understand great photographers are expert technicians. That’s much more important than being a great artist. I suspect my opinion is anti-intuitive for casual photo viewers.

I want to be a good photographer. I’ve got a lot to learn.

It’s Not The Camera

I am a photographer. That’s my hobby.

I’m a good photographer. I’ve seen the work of great photographers. Their best shots are better than my best shots. I’m OK with that.

I take a lot of care with the mechanics of my photography. I try and think through shutter speed, aperture, lens focal length and film speed (it’s still called that) before I press the shutter. I don’t always get it right, but at least I think about it.

As a photographer there is a question I’m asked all the time. In fact, I received this yesterday:

Hey Geoff,

I just saw the most recent batch of pictures you had on your site, and they’re amazing. I was just curious, what kind of camera do you use? I’m sure you have said it before on your site, but I don’t recall. I really want to get into photography and your camera seems to take really great pictures. Any info would be great. Thanks!

Let me repeat the operative part: your camera seems to take really great pictures.

I know the writer meant well. I would guess every photographer gets asked this question from time-to-time. It misses the point. It used to bother me. Oh hell, it still bothers me, but I’ve gotten used to it.

There is an excellent shot of Helaine, Steffie and me, taken a few years ago in Newport, RI. The sky had turned blood red at sunset. I’ve never seen anything like it.

I set the camera and handed it to a passerby. His shot was great, but it’s really my shot. If he would have just pointed and shot, the effect wouldn’t have been as vivid. I took the picture!

My camera is a Canon Digital Rebel. It’s the original 300D. I usually carry 4 lenses which go from 10 to 300mm.

It takes better pictures than when I first got it.

Photography As A Competitive Sport

I love taking photos. Hopefully, my skills have been increasing over time. Now with the new camera, I feel like I have the tools to be a better photographer, maybe even a good photographer.

I go around the web reading as much as I can, trying to learn technique from others. Some of what I’ve read has been helpful, though there have been head scratching moments as well. I especially like Digital Photography Review and its camera specific forums.

More than anything else, it is interesting to see when others post their best shots. How did they do it? Do people really have that much forethought before clicking away? I can do better. I have done worse.

Last night, after leaving DPReview I went to a site I hadn’t visited in a long time, DPChallenge This is a site that runs photography contests. There’s always something being judged, another open for entries to be judged next week.

When I saw the open topic, Team Sports, I smiled. I had some shots from Steffie’s field hockey game taken within the time frame the challenge provides. I entered one.

Now a day later I can see how my shot ranks – about 6.3 of 10. That number will change a bit as more people like or dislike my shot.

Originally, I though 6.3 was pretty awful – and then I looked back at some previous weeks. These people are really tough judges. A 6.3 won’t win the challenge for me, but it’s a reasonably good grade.

The next topic for entries is “Touch.” I haven’t come up with anything yet, but I’m thinking. Shooting specifically to fit a topic really is a challenge. I think I’m up to it.

The Difference Between Snapshots and Photos

As a teen, my father gave me a Konica Autoreflex T camera. I loved that 35 mm camera and thought, because it was a 35 mm single lens reflex, I would be a good photographer. Of course, it wasn’t so.

I never improved my shooting with that camera because I didn’t pay attention to what I was doing, and feedback came (in the form of pictures) a long time after I had taken them. By then, I had forgotten exactly what I did to get what I got!

With digital, it’s different. the camera can make a difference, but the biggest edge is being able to see you photos instantly – first on the camera’s display and later on the PC screen.

By the way, though I love my Canon, I think the lcd screen on the back is awful and pictures always look like they’re in soft focus.

When you’ve taken 10,000 photos (and I think I am approaching that number), you begin to understand how what you do translates into what the camera puts out. Unfortunately, the Canon is very different from my Fuji and I am having to relearn many techniques.

What has surprised me the most is how much can be improved after the fact. In my case, I use Photoshop and a variety of plugins and tools. I think, more than anything, Photoshop (or other tools which work just as well) can take a snapshot and make it into a photograph.

I am not above altering reality to get a better shot. Lighting levels get changed. Focus can be sharpened. Often parts of the photo that don’t belong can be retouched and removed.

Here’s an example. The first is a shot as it came from the camera. The second has been sharpened a bit, had some noise removed and had the levels of the darkest object (and only the darkest objects) brightened a tiny bit to add a little detail.

These are tiny images. The originals contain a whole lot more pixels, producing a lot more detail. Still, I think what I did makes a world of difference – but you can judge for yourself.