Consulting the rules of composition before taking a photograph, is like consulting the laws of gravity before going for a walk. Edward Weston
Photograph: a picture painted by the sun without instruction in art. Ambrose Bierce
Further to my previous post on camera choices and image processing workflow, I had a change of mind. I decided to go ahead and buy the small DSLR I wanted (Canon 100D), to replace my rather large and heavy model (Canon 20D), which I’ll sell privately to off-set the cost.
In my defense, there was some degree of rationale in my thinking. I’d bookmarked the camera at several retailers and as a replacement model has been rumoured, I was monitoring prices, expecting there might be a reduction if a new model was announced – I’d picked up previous cameras at good prices in such scenarios.
At one retailer, they suddenly dropped the price a little over 10%, without any mention of doing so and the unit at that price didn’t seem to appear when searching for it independently on their site. If I hadn’t bookmarked it, I might never have seen that price. So I monitored it over a few days and it fluctuated several times by odd, small amounts, like 67p.
As it was less than a week until the manufacturers cash back offer was due to end, I decided to go ahead. It might well come down if another model does come out soon, but I’m still pretty happy, coupled with the cash back offer, that the price was as good as I was hoping for anyway. As I’m going on holiday soon, it would be a shame to miss the opportunity to take it with me, so the decision was made.
I was actually pretty happy to see that the price went back up again the very next morning, even before mine had been delivered, so my timing had thankfully been spot on. I have a slight suspicion that the lowered price might even have been a mistake on their part as it made it very competitive.
Having got the rather diminutive camera I have also decided that I’ll probably sell my one pretty decent lens, an ultra wide angle that looked as sexy as hell on my larger DSLR, but is very front-heavy and unbalanced on the smaller body. That, as such, wouldn’t bother me, but it is wide enough at the front that when you put the camera down, it rests on the wide front of the lens, not the base of the camera body. I’ve not used it as much as I expected, so selling it, with the other body, might well cover most of this new camera.
Whilst I love my Fuji HS20 bridge camera for a lot of reasons, I’ve always missed not using a DSLR – the gorgeously creamy smooth shots, better detail in features like grass and foliage and especially the great quality at higher ISOs and the speed of reaction, from establishing focus to taking the shot.
The digicams, on the other hand, seem to think about it for a while, then decide if they feel like taking the shot – at least that’s how it feels if you’ve just spotted a barn owl flying past you at eye level 15 feet away, as happened recently. The tree shot above left is a good example of the lovely lighting I see regularly as we drive along the single track road and have failed to capture many times because the camera couldn’t get focus on a moving target. I often take photographs out of the moving car window (as a passenger I hasten to add) and the speed of a DSLR is much more suited to this practice.
I have always liked to develop my own images from RAW files (the camera just saves the raw data of the image and you use software to turn it into an image on a computer subsequently) and I like blending exposures from tricky scenes beyond the dynamic range capability of the camera. Our eye/brain combination is so clever, that a camera is really up against it when trying to capture a dramatically lit scene in an instant single frame, where our eyes scan it rapidly and make complex micro-adjustments that form the whole scene we ‘see’ – complete with details in the fluffy clouds and also under trees, deep in shadow.
The sunset scene above and the banner shot at the top are such examples. I know that those images now represent how the scene actually was, as the sun set and left the land bathed in the most fabulous golden glow, just before the colour left it almost completely. It was too dark to see much of the landscape detail within minutes of taking the shot. It’s a fleeting light show that’s hard to capture and the camera wasn’t able to catch all of that subtlety in one frame, without my help. It didn’t help that I was trying out auto white balance and it corrected that orange glow for me, rather defeating the object, which is why I rarely use it – cloudy or shade white balance is better for sunsets as it tends to leave the colour largely alone.
What I like to do is develop 2 versions (or more) of an image. One – as in this case above – to capture the sky as it was and another with more detail of the land, bringing back the detail in line with what I’d seen. With lighting that dramatic (and it was possibly a bit darker than it might look) it’s not possible to get both looking good in one frame without some post-processing assistance.
I then blend them together in one composite image to get the best of both. Ideally, if I had my tripod, taking two separate images, one exposed for the sky and one for the land would no doubt give a better result, but this is an intermediate way of getting almost that result. I don’t see it as any different from dodging and burning in the darkroom under the enlarger, which I’ve also done. I’m going to try exposure bracketing next time to see if I can get the individual frames close enough on alignment, hand held, for it to work, it might be a good compromise.
On the down side of going out and about again routinely with a DSLR (I’d stopped carrying the other one, purely because of its weight and size), I’m having to re-acquaint myself with the geometry of the much shallower depth of field achieved with the significantly larger sensor in a DSLR. I’ve got rather spoiled by not having to worry about it, due to the tiny sensor in my other compact cameras and at the moment, it accounts for several less than stellar results with the new camera. It hadn’t taken me long to stop giving it conscious thought as I worked – a habit I quickly need to re-learn.
It is, of course, also a creative bonus too – allowing the subject to be isolated from the background, like the grass to the right and the deep red scabious flower above, dropping distracting details and texture from backgrounds, or just leaving enough to give the frame context.
But none of this has addressed my earlier workflow concerns, far from it, it has opened a whole new can of worms and the battle continues. I love working from RAW images, but can’t afford the best software for doing so, so I’m trying to settle on something that will work for me with minimal outlay. I have two pieces of free software at the moment, each of which has its merits, but neither is an outstanding winner in addressing the way I like to work and the things I photograph. I think this is partly due to my lack of expertise with them. The software is much more sophisticated and capable than when I first started tinkering with RAW files about 15 years ago, so I see another learning curve to climb ahead of me.
My work this week:
Quite a bit of my time of late has been taken up with working on commissions and re-working older designs that still sell well. I occasionally re-visit pieces when I come to make them again, to see if the design or methodology can be improved upon and this necessitates the taking of new photographs and re-writing the product description where the item changes. This can seem as though I’ve not made much, but it’s a perpetual process of keeping on top of designs and ensuring that as my skills improve, so does what I offer my customers, just as it should be.
I do have two new silver pieces from my recent period of working with silver clay: