28 January Q&A answers, part II

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Continued from part I after the jump

Monica Lord: I’d like to understand your exposure compensation considerations as you spot meter a scene and why you don’t just judge your exposure by looking at live view.
Live view metering is not practical when using a DSLR, and this is probably where you got the idea I do this. With mirrorless I generally use the histogram or blinking highlights but NOT judge using EVF/LCD brightness as this can be misleading, especially outdoors. You still need to be careful as the histogram/highlight warning reflects the JPEG preview image, not the full latitude available in the raw file (which is inevitably more). The only way to be certain of light levels as well as overall exposure range required, is to use the spot meter. Furthermore, on very high contrast scenes, small but important areas may clip but not be reflected in either histogram or highlights due to lack of resolution for those metering methods. So, the spot meter remains useful even with live view.

Mike Ross: What do you think of photography as a type of immortality project (Becker-Denial of Death)?
In theory – it makes a lot of sense. But it only works if the work itself continues to be seen and appreciated beyond the passing of the creator, and that’s contingent on it continuing to be interesting and relevant. One could argue that Da Vinci has achieved immortality in this sense – I don’t think he set out to do so, though. And certainly not every work will have this potential.

Robert: Are the Zeiss Otus line of lenses still the benchmark for 35mm today?
Yes, though the performance gap to other lenses is diminishing somewhat. Chasing that last tiny bit of diminishing returns is always going to result in higher cost/weight/complexity, and I suspect we won’t see another one in the line given the number of constraints inherent in the product itself. E.g. yes, the 85 Otus is better than the Nikon Z 85/1.8 S, but not by so much as to be noticeable most of the time even on the Z7 – and the 85S has AF and is one third of the weight. Yes, I lose 2/3 stop, but that’s really only an issue at the very edges of the envelope.

catpro: Have/do you use an incident and/or spot light meter? If you do, what brand/model do you prefer?
I just use the spot meter built into my camera.

harry: You don’t seem to use prime lenses much anymore. With the quality of modern zooms, do you think their day is dwindling?
Yes and no – primes will always be faster and higher quality, though as you point out – the latter gap is shrinking with modern zooms. However, an f2.8 zoom is still going to be larger than several f2.8 primes in the same range (if you can find them) – and usually it’s more like one f1.8 prime at either end of the range is about the same weight as the zoom. There are still reasons for primes, but they’re rapidly shrinking. I mainly still use the 19 PCE for architecture/interiors, the 85 PCE for product/watch photography and the 85/1.8 S for cinematic/portrait. Note that two of these are special purpose, and I doubt we’ll see a tilt shift wide zoom or macro zoom anytime soon! I suppose smartphones count as primes too – even if you have multiple camera modules. This is probably the best example of a collection of primes being more size critical than a single zoom.

Kjetil: Cameras are getting more and more sophisticated and the menues are getting longer. What are your hopes for the next 10 years regarding technology? How can it best support creativity?
Simplification: let the technology decide in cases where we don’t need to know the details (auto ISO, auto WB etc are good examples of this). Give us the flexibility to change it later if we need to. Use computation to reduce physical size/load to increase comfort for a given image quality level; we’re already seeing this in smartphones and to anybody who started out in early digital, the results are pretty staggering. Beyond that – it’s still down to the people doing the shooting. One big thing that’s gone largely undiscussed is the opening up of a lot of places to being photo-friendly, realising that social media and organic promotion is the best and un-buyable kind. Museums that banned photography are now giving you IG hashtags! Combined with the proliferation of imaging devices amongst the masses, this is of course great for us serious photogs to blend in – but it also means often having to compete with a sea of phone screens for a vantage point. As I said earlier: it’s down to human factors again.

Nick: Curious on your thoughts re: documentary photography. Specifically, what is the future of documentary photography? Does anyone even care? And what will be the role of photojournalism in an age of smartphones and link-bait listicles?
Old-school tell-a-story-in-images photojournalism will continue but become ever more niche given video prevalence and ability to both stream high quality and extract stills where needed; there’s still something far more timeless about a static image that doesn’t require dedicated playback devices. However, if you think about it in a different way: social media is the new documentary. It isn’t always significant news-wise at a wider scale, but it matters to the people involved. And if there is something widely significant, we now have a lot more potential points of view (as well as the risk of fake news hysteria). Smartphones bring both immediacy and reach – how people choose to use this is not something we can predict, as a lot of it is reactive (as documentary photography itself, is) – who’d have thought a lot of social media would now go private after a relatively short public period?

David: I always shoot in color even though my camera does have a black and white mode. For street photography 99% of the time I convert my keepers to B&W. At times I will also convert candid portraits of family members or friends to B&W.

The only reason I convert any photo to B&W is because it isolates the subject better than the color version. Okay, I’ll admit I will sometimes try to save a photo with severely blown highlights by converting to B&W. When it works (rarely) it usually only works good enough to save a family photo that, for various reasons, I did not want to delete. But that’s an altogether different issue.

My two related question are:

Do you intentionally shoot in B&W or do you shoot color and convert and, more importantly, does it matter? That is, if you know you your final product is going to be B&W should you shoot in that mode because you will get better results or just to save processing time?

Is there anything one should do differently when shooting B&W versus color? I assume basic camera operations are the same but is there a different mind set or way of looking at the subject or surroundings that one should take into account?
I know whether I want mono or color when seeing the scene (i.e. before capture) – sometimes I now shoot B&W direct SOOC since I have a jpeg profile I like for the Z7. Generally, if color is distracting, B&W is preferred; if color is helpful or isolating the subject, or creating the mood, I stick to color. In both cases you still need contrast, though. And I’ll still shoot a raw file (obviously color) if I need to tweak the channel mix later for B&W.

Marcosatoriphoto: Why do you prefer Photoshop to Lightroom? You wrote about it, some times ago, and I can’t find your post. The real question is: will you ever do a Master Technique and Workflow about Lightroom? Thanks!
Lightroom’s edits are not sequential, Photoshop’s are, and this makes a big difference if you use multiple curves. On top of that, retouching options are limited in LR and it’s just an extra step/program you don’t need. You can ignore the bits you don’t need in PS, but you can’t add them back in with LR. Finally, there’s the whole mess of cataloging: I can organise my images in folders using the OS and view them in Bridge, and export independently of LR; but if you have multiple computers and an archive too big to fit onto a single drive, LR becomes a synchronisation nightmare. For these reasons, LR will never replace PS (and I don’t even use it at all) – so there will never be a ‘Master Technique and Workflow’, because the results will always be inferior to PS (and therefore not master-level 🙂 ).

Steve Bagness: Everybody here in the UK now seems to shoot weddings in a documentary style, using only primes and available light.If you photographed a wedding would you be a prime man and what focal lengths? I would love to see a “cinematic wedding”
I actually did this once for some friends. Shot with 24 and 85mm. It was also primes and available light…

Mike: Assume you have a serious hobbyist photographer with quite a bit of gear and funds are not an issue. If artistic development is his priority, what would you recommend re: cadence of buying new gear that’s nice-to-have but not necessary (e.g., a second, but different, model of lens in a similar focal length is “nice-to-have”; whereas a new focal length is “necessary”)? When is buying new gear harmful to artistic development? When is it beneficial? Asking for a “friend,” who may or may not be looking to justify his GAS 🙂
It’s harmful when you don’t know why you’re buying it, or what creative opportunities it brings. I’d do the opposite: pick one thing – doesn’t matter what it is – and one thing only from the pile, and use it til you’ve mastered it. Then repeat.


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  1. Your link to Part 1 (before the main body of text) is broken…

  2. Glad to see your comments on PS vs LR. I’ve said exactly the same thing to a number of folks who wonder why I haven’t “evolved” to to LR. I’ll be sure to direct them to your comments when appropriate.

  3. “It’s harmful when you don’t know why you’re buying it, or what creative opportunities it brings. I’d do the opposite: pick one thing – doesn’t matter what it is – and one thing only from the pile, and use it til you’ve mastered it. Then repeat.”

    Incredibly sage advice. I ended up dumping my Nikon Z stuff, not because it was bad, but because I wasn’t even close to mastering what can be done with my existing m4/3 stuff. Luckily, I was able to sell everything for what I bought it for, but it was a good learning experience.

  4. Thanks for including my question in your Q&A, and for all those great metering links at the bottom of your post. I had never really focused on the advantage to better exposure of doing positive exposure compensation with shutter speed and aperture rather than the exposure compensation dial and auto ISO. Many thanks!!!


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