A digital B&W epiphany

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With the previous article on HDR, the zone system and dynamic range as background, I can now explain exactly what my B&W discovery was: it’s mostly to do with the highlights, but only in certain areas. And to make things more confusing, creating a natural-looking – perhaps even filmic image – required me to take processing steps that were both highly counterintuitive, but also go against everything else I’ve done and used successfully in the past. Read on if you dare; I can’t promise enlightenment, but I can certainly try for insight.

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Demystifying HDR, the zone system, and dynamic range

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My eyes, my eyes! I had to work quite hard to make this as a) I don’t own any of those filter programs and b) I don’t do this kind of hyper toned, overlapping HDR. The actual, final version of this image is at the end of the article.

HDR/ High Dynamic Range photography is perhaps one of the greatest blessings and curses of the digital age of imaging. On one hand, we have retina-searing rubbish that’s put out by people who for some odd reason celebrate the unnaturalness of the images, encouraged by the companies who make the filters that make doing this kind of thing too easy – and on the other hand, there are a lot of HDR images out there that you probably wouldn’t have pegged as being anything other than natural. There is, of course, a way to do it right, and a way to do it wrong. I use HDR techniques in almost all of my images – I live in the tropics, remember, and noon contrast can exceed 16 stops from deep shadows to extreme highlights – we simply have no choice if you want to produce a natural-looking scene.

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Rational love: the D800E long term report

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It’s been nearly two years since the D800E was released. In the meantime we’ve dealt with left focusing issues, comparisons with much more expensive cameras (here, and here), the fact that most of the Nikon lens stable doesn’t really match up to the capabilities of the sensor, focusing issues with MF glass – now that we have lenses like the Otus and 2/135 APO, and its use as a scanning device for film – amongst other things. It’s become my go-to camera when an image needs making, under any circumstances, and with any given set of requirements. Yet it’s honestly taken me two years to warm up to it. Here’s why.

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Objectivity, subjectivity, time and deleting images

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How many of you have given serious thought to how you evaluate and delete images? From repeat experience, I find that it matters more than you might think. Today’s article examines this in a bit more detail: surprisingly, this is one of the very few times when producing better final images has nothing at all to do with the actual image capture…

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Repost: Defining style, and finding your own

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I think of this image as being very characteristic of the way I shoot these days – and you can probably guess that it was one of mine, even without the frame. But what does that mean? Why and what is it that makes it so – and more importantly, how do you consciously add your own visual signature to an image?

Introduction: This was an earlier essay written on a tough topic: something that is fundamentally important for all serious photographers, yet is extremely difficult to define in a strict technical sense due to its very nature.

In hindsight, I realized that it might not be something that a lot of photographers consciously consider at the time of capture; it might come up come post processing time, but you really need to have it in mind before you even hit the shutter. There is of course far more detail than I can possibly cover in a single post – we tried to put everything into a single 2h video, but we landed up needing 6 hours in total to be comprehensive. I probably should have reposted this as an introduction to the latest two videos, but better late than never! Think of it as context, preface and explanation for Making Outstanding Images series: Exploring and Processing for Style.

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What makes a ‘good’ lens? (part II)

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This might seem like a very obvious question, but the moment you try to define a set of criteria to quantify ‘good’, you soon realize there’s quite a lot more to lens performance than immediately meets the eye. So, for those of you without the ability to try a large number of lenses – let alone samples of the same lens – how do you know if the one you’ve got is ‘good’?

Continued from part I.

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What makes a ‘good’ lens? (part I)

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This might seem like a very obvious question, but the moment you try to define a set of criteria to quantify ‘good’, you soon realize there’s quite a lot more to lens performance than immediately meets the eye. So, for those of you without the ability to try a large number of lenses – let alone samples of the same lens – how do you know if the one you’ve got is ‘good’?

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Being a photographer is an attitude

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There are a lot of people here. A few are taking pictures. How many of them are really photographers?

The media, commercial entities – camera companies, software companies, cellphone companies – are all trying to convince us that anybody can take great pictures, and is therefore a photographer. Right and wrong, I think. Being a photographer is far more than equipment, more than luck, more than intuition, more than practice…it’s an attitude.

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Pushing print limits

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In the next few days, this image will make sense. This article will be the beginning of an intensive series focusing on printing and output.

Let’s again start with the simple question of ‘how many of you print’? For those that do, inevitably, your development is going to look something like this:

  1. Make your first print – marvel at how different it looks to the screen version
  2. Make larger prints, start to note that the detail still holds and in fact you’ve got much more resolution than you actually need even for the largest prints you’re willing to pay for/ have space to hang
  3. Pause for a moment and then decide to try making your own prints because it’s cheaper and more convenient
  4. Buy a home photo inkjet, find that it takes half a dozen tries to get one good print, add up the costs and find that ink and paper will bankrupt you in short order; worse still, lab results are still better
  5. Stop printing for a while
  6. Go back to using the lab because your print heads have clogged and the ink has dried up, and it would be cheaper to buy a new printer than replace the cartridges and heads and you really don’t want to go down that route again…
  7. Find a better lab – assuming you’re not happy with what you’re getting
  8. Start to wonder what you’re going to do with all of these 24×36” prints; you have rolled up tubes and prints all over your house
  9. Abandon printing or start selling your prints so you can make more prints
  10. Start wondering what’s next?

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Film diaries: thoughts on the psychology of shooting film vs digital

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Would I do anything different in digital? Probably not, other than be frustrated at my inability to obtain this tonality.

Here’s an interesting question: why is one’s yield (or keeper) rate so much higher with film than digital? Let’s take the stats from my excursion to Europe, and keeping in mind I apply the same quality thresholds to both film and digital:

Ricoh GR, single shot: 137/1795, for a 7.6% yield.
Olympus OM-D, mostly single shot, some burst: 54/2370, for a 2.4% yield.
Hasselblad with B&W film (Fuji Acros 100): 76/168 (14 rolls), for a 45% yield.
Hasselblad with slide film (Fuji Provia 100F): 28/60 (5 rolls), for a 47% yield.

Digital overall: 191/4165, for a 4.6% yield.
Film overall: 104/228, for a 46% yield.

That’s ten times higher. What gives?

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