A camera is a tool for learning how to see without a camera. Dorothea Lange. 1895 – 1965
Please click on any of the photographs to see a larger view.
I’ve been thinking a lot about cameras and photography recently and appraising my equipment and image processing workflow. My photography has meant different things to me at different times in my life, but has been an important constant since childhood.
Ideally, I’d like to swap my now rather heavy DSLR for a smaller, lighter model, as my use for it has changed in recent years. But at the moment, I can’t make the numbers work for me or justify the additional expense. I was lined up to trade in my heavy DSLR for a lighter modern model, but the retailer concerned reduced their part-ex offer to me at the last minute, so in rather a fit of pique and annoyance, I asked them to just return my old camera to me and took the new camera out of my shopping cart.
I took ownership of a new (at least to me) computer a few months ago and am gradually replacing software for the multitude of things I use my computer for, so image editing processes were important things to consider.
Until my last computer got too tired to handle it, I habitually took all my photographs in a RAW format to process later and would never consider buying a camera without that functionality. But I had more recently started working just with JPEGs – it seemed a better solution with the bridge camera and compact I was currently using as walkabout cameras.
If you’d like to see an even larger version of the bluebell woods to the right, I’ve also uploaded a large version of the file – sometimes with detailed images like woodland, you need to see them large to appreciate the details. I wish I was there right now, perched on a log with a cup of coffee, a book to read and to just enjoy the birdsong.
But having installed several trials or free programs for RAW conversion, now my computer can handle it, I started looking out older photos from different cameras to test with and it has been fun to tinker with images again. The program I’ll probably settle on using is so feature-full that it’s going to take some time to learn in order to get the best from it.
Although I have concluded after several days with the programs open and periodically tinkering with them, that I’m still getting better results with JPEGs with the two general purpose walking cameras I’m using, the RAW format files just don’t seem to work as well (almost certainly down to some degree to my own ineptitude) as the cameras own purpose designed processing algorithms. Whilst I can certainly improve exposure, tonal range and colour, it seems to be at the considerable expense of noise and deteriorating image quality – probably due to their tiny sensors. So the exercise has been worthwhile, even if what I take from it is ‘as you were’.
But revisiting some of my old RAW files from the DSLR (and the previous model), those certainly do very well. I’ve got great results even with quite old files with the new apps and have rescued images I’d written off as unusable.
It has however thrown into sharp relief the quality of image that I get from the DSLR (even though it’s a 10 year old model) compared to the newer digicams and made me even more determined to get a smaller walkabout DSLR model.
I’ve salted a few of these recently re-worked images above. It has been enjoyable, whilst I count down the weeks to some holiday time, to look again at some of my favourite spots as I work on the images. It’s not quite the same as being there, but for now, whilst we have another summer of unseasonably poor weather, it’s been a little treat.
This image on the left, of a new path we walked over the weekend, is an example of what I mentioned above about working with JPEGs. Due to the extremes of light, I took it as a large JPEG and a RAW file together (on my bridge camera) and spent some time trying to get the result I wanted from the RAW file and wasn’t especially happy with the result. So I opened the JPEG and used my usual workflow and within 5 minutes had got a much better result. I doubt that would be the case with RAW files from my DSLR, but certainly with this camera and its tiny sensor, I don’t seem to be gaining enough to be worth the effort. It also trains me to ensure I get the exposure right at the point of taking the image and not allowing myself to be sloppy, knowing I can pull it back in processing, so perhaps this is a complimentary technique to ensure I keep my mind on good camera practice.
I do however have my camera set up to give me the best possible neutral file to work with, knowing that I like to post process my images to my preferred result later in software. I keep processing parameters to a minimum, like sharpening, contrast and saturation.
This means that my images tend to come out of the camera looking a little soft, flat, dull and bland. Which is fine by me, it preserves highlights and detail and gives me a good neutral foundation to work with. This wouldn’t work if I wanted to print directly from the memory card or wasn’t prepared to work on images, but for me, that’s half the fun. It’s not an approach that most people would wish to adopt, but I see it as a pseudo-RAW intermediate format; the best possible JPEG data is recorded, but it certainly needs to be knocked into shape visually. So until I can find the pennies for a new DSLR, I’ll use my old one when that’s needed and make the best of what I already have.
My work this week:
I’ve not just been tinkering with photos and thinking about cameras this week, I’ve put in some quality time with some silver clay. I bought some at Christmas when it was a good price, but this is the first chance I’ve had with the time to crack it out and get something made. My copper wild rose pendant sold soon after going on sale, so I also wanted to try a smaller one in silver. I scaled down the component shapes and worked in just the same way as previously, except I replaced the round disc I’d used as a base on the back of the copper one with a proper calyx shape, so that it’s as nice on the back as the front.
I’ve always been very fond of simple, uncluttered jewellery and especially silver with sleek lines. I wasn’t sure how sleek I could get with silver clay, so this pendant was a bit of a trip into uncharted waters for me, but it worked rather better than I’d hoped. I also love marquise shaped stones and have had a few put aside for the right design for some time. I decided that the greater shrinkage rate of copper clay might render it unsuitable for setting a stone with such a long perimeter distance (a lot of distance to shrink and potentially crack), but it worked perfectly in the silver, which I’m finding only shrinks around 5% from dry after firing.