a6 May 2013

Thoughts: Think about output not tools

One of the common mistakes is to focus on the tools a bit too much. It's easy because there are so many of them - from hundreds of lenses (both zooms and primes), focal lengths, choices of exposure (both aperture, shutter speed and ISO), filters (neutral density, polarizers, warming or effect filters), tripods etc. during shooting phase. But it gets even worse when you get to the post-processing. Apart from simple tools like contrast or saturation enhancements there are whole workflows which can be considered as tools - HDR, fusion or manual blending being the most interesting for me as landscape/HDR photographer. You can also use various plug-ins like Topaz Adjust or Nik Viveza. Possibilities are virtually endless.

Such a great choice makes it very tempting to try various things hoping that one of them will work brilliantly. And in some cases it will. But it's not always good to leave everything to sheer luck. It's much better to control what you do. It's better to know each of the tools and choose appropriate one for a given situation.

One more problem is that many beginner photographers try some tools just because they are trendy (like HDR or manual blending) without fully understanding what they are really about.

But what you have to bear in mind is that it is not a tool that is important in a creative process. Tool is just a helper, something that can help you in achieving a certain goal. And this goal should be a photo you would like to take. Do you want vibrant colours, dramatic mood, smooth water? Think about what you want to get in your shot. What emotions you would like to show. Then think about what tools would be necessary to create such an effect. For instance for smooth water you would need longer exposures. To get longer exposure you can for example:
  • Use neutral density filter to stop some light,
  • Use slower aperture (eg. instead of f/8.0 you could go with f/16.0).
Both tools will give you longer exposures but please note that they aren't exactly the same. Each filter degrades image quality a little bit. Using slower apertures like f/16.0 in turn gives you bigger depth of field than using f/8.0 but at the same time this aperture might be less sharp than f/8.0 (which is often the sharpest aperture of a lens).

As you see there are often various tools to achieve the same effect. Another example - increasing dynamic range. There are numerous ways of achieving this: you can use gradual density filter (both soft- and hard-edged), you can use HDR and tone-map it, you can use exposure fusion or you can manually blend the bracketed photos. Each of the approaches has its pros and cons (eg. HDR & tone-mapping increases local contrast but might also enhance noise) and you have to decide based on the situation you deal with and what effect you want to achieve.

So summing up - when taking a photo think what you would like to take and then think how you do that. Never reverse this order.

Technical details:
Camera: Canon 5D MK II
Lens: Canon 24-105 f/4 L IS USM
Focal length: 24 mm
Aperture: f/8.0
Exposure time: 2.5 s ("middle" exposure)
ISO: 400
Number of exposures: 5
E.V. Step: 1
Flash used: no
Tripod: yes
Filters: no
Software: Magic Lantern 2.3, Photomatix Pro 4.2.6 (Exposure Fusion), Lightroom 4.2, Photoshop CS6
Photomatix Pro settings: download

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