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søndag 10. november 2013

What Makes a Good Photo in Digital Photography......WIth or Without Olympus....

The last blogg was unashamedly Olympus FT system orientated...but I have to lecture and do a workshop for the canikon-clones and iPhone generation....

So what makes a good image? How do you set out to take good images? How do you post process to create or polish good images ?  How do you learn from your mistakes and bad images ?

 The latter being a good starting point - in the days of film I remember I was always a lot more cautious with "precious" colour reversal (slide) film than with prints, and the results were generally chalk and cheese. Coupled to years of dire processing quality for prints, for a while it was like I forgot to take good images in colour print film..

The digital age turned that on its head for me and many others: now we amateurs can churn out what would have been professional standard 20 years ago, pathetically easy and not even with a single lens reflex: we can make great looking images for the "cheap screen print media" equivalent, Facebook, on our mobile 'devices'. The real difference here is that we learn on the spot, we have instant play back and can reject what we did not like, and fine hone in on what we want to achieve in terms of composition, light and moment on any camera set to program- mode, or on your average 8 mpx camera telephone.

Also now we can take a lot of images and as I say, evolve something eye-catching in real time, or run off dozens of shots in action or people or variable light scenarios. We are on the light box, with instant developing lab in the field which only top pros used to have in film days, and they most often used the better polaroid cameras for "samples" while shooting 35mm or WF, adding to the expense of the studio or shoot.

Live-view of course is a fact of life now, with Olympus leading the way with long exposure "development" live view which I think is just fantastic. But on our mobiles and tablets, we can see straight away the limitations of dynamic range for example when shooting towards the sun or lighter areas. We can adjust accordingly. I don't see tablets with in built cameras taking over the pro level or even hobby level photographer's camera, but they are already linked by WiFi and soon many photographers will be using the pad to control their quality camera and have a different experience in the studio, being free of the classic "face behind the lens, one eye shut". This is an interesting by product that the mobile device means we actually think more outside the frame and hold the action to shot continuity closer now- we are grabbing images from the thin air in front of us  by using a thin screen while both our eyes are experiencing the Scene.

This is all good: however to get up that ladder of quality more we need to be able to use a decent interchangeable lens camera system with highly controllable depth of field and exposure controls, quality optics and sensor dynamics etc. Why ? Well one thing I enjoy is knowing the limits of a camera and working around them or to the strengths rather than weaknesses. Mobile device cameras by in large have enormous depth of field,with hyperfocal distance being just some centimeters in front of the camera for instance: this means that you can achieve great shots where all the foreground is sharp in focus as well as the mid to back ground.  However you are then stuck with that or you have a lot of work to do in post processing to mask off and blur areas of the image.

Fuji have a twin shot system in their latest compacts where a second shot is taken out of focus and the face is identified and a short depth of field with a soft background is automatically created, with varied results for now: this is no doubt in the baking at an App' maker for iPad if not on the AppStore already, I haven't looked !

So there are limitations in smaller cameras, where optics and quality sensor electronics will win every time.  Also for larger images, for longer telephoto lengths and for poorer or more varied light scenarios you will not capture a decent shot with a mobile device or small compact.

Pixel Peeping IQ Type People's View

The "High IQ"  brigade are generally speaking on the internet or at the camera club, purchase snobs who are amateurs with a "big investment in glass" ie they own a system with many low F stop lenses. Also they spend a lot of time post processing and correspondingly, shooting raw so they can feel all special when they process over to jpeg.

What they will tell you is a good image, will be a technically good image and aesthetically most often they are either worthless, or at best, formulaic- where the photogrpaher is !quoting! ie  referring to earlier shots or the 'golden rule" break down of the image zone.  If you meet them on the internet, then look at their galleries and you will either find a lot of weird lab type stuff comparing cameras so they can get purchase re-inforcement, or some very typical facsimilies of what stock photographic galleries have churned out for many decades- we can find our selves being  kind of taught by a numbing overload of visual repetition when we go through a theme from a stock library. We are talking hobicats on the beach, bugs on flowers, grainy shots of ethnic people, mountain ranges with a withered tree in the foreground......been there before ....they are trying to copy what the greats have done before so that they can tick off another days shoot with little if any original artistic merit.

When you talk to photojournalists or the papparazi in particular, then sure they are using great cameras like the D3 and 5 D ....but their concept of image quality is on image value: do they have the one shot which captures a particular moment well enough to convey what the editors want to see or more importantly say?

My answer to the "IQ pixel peeper " Bridage, is go look at the technical image quality of Anton Corbijn, my favourite photographer: technically you can criticise nearly all his published images, but he has a style of capturing rock groups in particular in a heavy, dramatic yet nonchalant  way which conveys the coolness or pretence or hopelessness of their alter egos. For instance, in some ways his styling and images made U2 change their music for what became the renaissance Achtung Baby albumn and tour.

My Venn Again

I think the Anton Corbijn point illustrates why I have the sectors and overlaps I want: please take a look through his images on the web. As you will see above, I beleive that images to be of quality and value have to live within the overlap of what I identify as the three main contributing fields: however photo technicality need not be included in a high value image: you can drift away from the previous rules of technical good image into relying on capture and portrayal in the message and feeling coupled to your composition: this is  in the realms of images taking without care to good exposure, where focus and depth of field are imperfect and where action could be blurred - in the area of fortuity and pointing your camera suddenly upon something which stuns you without attention to dial settings.

Very technical images are in my opinion, not good images: they are technically correct, soul-less images. If you are formulaic-ally copying image library shots then you are in the top sector here and you are fooling yourself: however, you may learn how to take a technically perfect shot so that when you see the composition and moment come together, or create it yourself,  then you hit the sweet spot in the middle of the diagram.

There may be some artistic merit in the extreme poles of feeling or composition where the other element is lacking and the technical execution is nowhere near by.

The Circle Of Life Long Learning and Being Nimble on Shoot

This blog and some of the last have been philosophical about what we want to do when we raise camera to scene and subject, or when we go out to find that scene and subject we want to capture.

As I say above, we live in an age where money and time are actually no longer hindrances to taking wonderful images: there is no need for dark room, no chemicals, no rolls of film. Our zoom lenses are faster and sharper than the 35mm rubbish of 30 years ago. Even our mobile devices take significantly better images than the vast majority of compact film cameras ever did. Now we can learn on shoot, but also we can learn in post processing. In running off hundreds of shots, using the light box on contact prints and finally in dark room is where many photographers pulled out their living over what the even well equipped hobby photographer could in the 1970s say.

We learn to capture better shots which need less if any adjustment in the dark room and to then avoid needing to crop very much even by using lenses and by moving our selves ( a good discipline currently with most mobile devices having no optical zoom so you have to walk about, a bit like in the days of my youth where the only lens you could afford was the nifty fifty sub f2.0 prime).

In our modern bright dark room, we can indeed rescue shots by cropping, correcting and enhancing whereas we can also create our own completely ersatz world of artistic images with the original capture as a distant ancestor of the final product. In the middle ground there we can though make well captured images technically better for different media formats, or improve and perfect the composition and artistic feel to suit our own tastes or objectives.

I feel myself though, shooting with Olympus's matchless in camera jpeg engine, that if I am using a lot of time in post, then there is something I should be learning in taking better images in the field, street or studio.

Image Quality and Photograpic Value in the New Media Age -?

I come back to this: my DSLR is in for repair, my compacts either worn out or sold. So I am down to my mobile for this week

...and that reminded me of the company mobile I had which I ended up taking some stunning shots and stitching some amazing panoramas with....

Where will an image live these days? If the image is beyond HDMI by only 30-40% in pixel count, then you do no need any more resolution because no one will see the image close enough to tell. If you are not a pro publishing in the few die hard corner stones of the "killer keeper" image, like Nat'Geo, then your images are going to be seen on mobile devices and at a maximum HDMI standard screens by in large: in that sites like Facebook are going to compress and compromise the technical IQ more. So you are really aiming for impact: Catching the eye and conveying a message or evoking a feeling.

As I wonder around with my small android phone with a 5 mpx camera, I am aware all the time of taking many shots of my family when the light or action is favourable to making a unique capture of the day or look or feel. I understand the vast limitations in tonal depth and dynamic range, in low shutter speeds, the poor edge sharpness in the camera, and the fixed focal length most of all. Yet I enjoy this. I work to the camera's stregnths which is on churning out highly saturated, sharpened and contrast enhanced images which lend themselves to facebook and so on. In fact in terms of my image quality in the last couple of weeks I would say that composition and moment -capture are way better on average.


"Beauty is in the eye of the beholder", but the message and what you want to share to your circle of friends and family or what you want to tell the world in provocative imagery is very much in your own hands. Understanding where you are going wrong in terms of the three sectors I lay out, will help you to get back on course to higher value images which other people find inspiring, emotional, shocking, warming, or awakening in style and content. Most of all in the new media age, your images will need to stand out and pass the thumbnail-click test and that is where the sweet zone of image capture is where you are going to score if you can get more of your images in there.

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