This blog is a response to a very well-known photographer and teacher who, in one of his photo shows, declared some truths about photography he thought were unpopular. He said, "well, someone had to say it, and it might as well be me." One of the "truths" he stated was that no professional-quality photograph was made with just a combination of ISO, aperture, and shutter speed settings, and that if people say that they are lying. He stated that photography is not about the camera, but more about the software the photographer has. Personally I think this is ludicrous, and he has lost his mind! I understand that some of my opinions in this blog post may not be popular with some of my photographically-inclined peers who love software, but someone had to say it. I figured it might as well be me.
As a photojournalist, it is important for things to look as realistic as possible. Some photojournalists prefer to use black and white (James Nachtwey for example), and some like to use color (Remi Ochlik). I shoot both black and white and color because I believe there is a time and place for both.
HDR, retouching, etc. have traditionally been considered taboo in the photojournalism field, but are they wrong? Again - my standpoint on this issue is that there is a time and place for everything. Have I composited a more interesting sky into my images? Yes. Have I used HDR? Yes. Have I retouched someone's face? Yes. Have I sold an image straight out of camera? Also yes. A few times.
Wait... what? Am I crazy? (Click read more if you can't see rest below.)
This is an example of an image that I sold to a magazine editor based on her seeing it in the viewfinder of my camera IE straight out of camera. (I did do a bit of minor dodge/burn and added emphasis to the lens flare later.)
The Great Sphinx at Giza - Canon Rebel xTi with EF 50mm 1.8 at f/5.6 and 1/500 sec. ISO-100 Pattern metering. WB at K7500 Lights were set up in front of the sphinx to keep it from being silhouetted.
So this shows why it is important to get an image right in camera as often as possible. She saw it, liked it, and bought it. I decided to add the changes later to please my nit-picking. Of course, there are other images where I added a more-interesting sky (the one with the man in Giza and pyramids in the background visible here
), and I even have one that I used HDR for (the Philae Temple at blue hour visible here
Neither the HDR photo or the Giza photo have been used on a magazine cover. I also am limited a bit on where I can show them because some galleries and magazines still consider techniques like that as big no-nos. For example, National Geographic, Outdoor Photographer, and the New York Times.
Digital editing software is a great gift that we now have available at our disposal for a relatively-reasonable price. In the past, film was "edited" with dodging and burning, and it did indeed take people a while to come around to these techniques when they were first used. Yes, enlargers are expensive, and developer, film, and other chemicals also not cheap in the long run, and neither is software.
However, too often do I hear other photographers say things like "it's okay I can fix that in post." Don't fall into that hole! It helps to know how to do things correctly in camera, because then you can use the software for what it is for: to enhance the photograph, and you may not have to buy as much of it.
Are you planning to shoot portraits? I get a lot of clients asking me to "fix" things about them they don't like. Lighting and wardrobe choice will also "fix" those things for them, and those tools are a lot less time-consuming for the same price.
A model in a wispy dress and seen in appropriate lighting. Canon Rebel xTi with 18-35mm stock lens at 28mm f/4.5 1/4 second ISO-200, WB at "Cloudy." Alienbees strobe lighting. Only digital software use was to convert to black and white, and add watermark / metadata
There are certain things that cannot be fixed in post-processing (yet, anyway.) You can't really fix bad framing. Sure you can crop, but you can't move the finished photo a step to the right or left, and sometimes cropping leaves odd photo sizes. You can't fix an out of focus image. You can't fix a poor choice in depth of field. To an extent, you can fix a bad choice in white balance or a poor exposure choice, but usually the image looks far better if that is just done correctly first.
Working Firemen - (Back-focused) - Canon 5D Mark II with EF 85mm f/1.2L at f/1.2 and 1/250 sec. ISO 1600, WB K1200, ambient light. Straight out of camera except watermark and metadata.
Moreover, I don't understand why anyone would waste their money on an expensive camera if they're not going to use it correctly.
-----Apertures / F-Stops------
If you're going to photograph something that is far away and you want the whole image in focus, you want to use a smaller f-stop. Most landscape lenses go down to f-22 or smaller. Using a bigger aperture might make either the foreground or background blurry. Likewise, if you want that effect, use a big aperture. Most portrait lenses go as big as 2.8 or bigger.
A smaller aperture is a smaller opening in the lens, and therefore less light passes into the camera. A larger aperture is a bigger hole, and lets more light into the camera. The depth of field for a bigger opening is shorter, but for a smaller opening, it is longer. (With apertures, the smaller number is a bigger opening, and the bigger number is the smaller opening.)
The Origin of the Burn - Canon 5D Mark II with EF 17-40mm f/4 L at f/4 1/2500 sec. ISO-200 Center-weighted average. WB at cloudy. Straight out of camera except watermark and metadata
The above image was shot with a larger aperture to be realistic to how it looked and give the image some depth. The cliff face shown was a far in the distance and not sharp to my vision, so I didn't want it sharp in the image. Using a smaller aperture would have made the canyon look less vast.
Red Cliffs in Gilman - Canon 5D Mark II with EF 17-40mm f/4L at 17mm and f/20 and 1/50 sec. and ISO 200. WB set at "sunny." Straight out of camera except watermark and metadata.
The above image was taken in Gilman, New Mexico about 2 hours before sunset. A small aperture was chosen to make sure the whole image was as sharp as possible. This time of day is ideal for landscape photos to pop with vibrant colors without using HDR techniques because of the way the sun is hitting the landscape. You will have to face away from the sun though, so be careful not to get your shadow in the photograph.
-----Shutter Speed / Exposure Time------
If you're photographing something that is moving and you want to freeze it in place, you want to use a fast shutter speed like 1/8000. If you want to blur the motion a bit, you might want to use a slower speed like 1/50 (depending on how fast the object is moving.) Advanced photographers might utilize a method called panning where they move the camera in line with the object to make it clear and crisp but everything else will have a motion blur.
A smaller shutter speed allows the aperture to be open for a shorter amount of time, often a fraction of a second. A larger shutter speed has the shutter open for a longer period of time. This is also known as exposure time. Some photographers can have their shutter open for an hour or more if they are photographing stars, clouds, or water movement. Whereas, sports photographers sometimes have their shutters open for as short as 1/8000 of a second.
Nixon Machichim - Canon 5D Mark II, 85mm f/1.2 L at f/5.6 and 1/1000 sec. ISO-800, No flash or other lighting, WB at "sunny." Straight out of camera except square crop, watermark, and metadata.
Because of the orientation of the above shot has him running away from me, it was best to freeze the motion rather than blurring it. "Panning" is a tool used when a subject is moving perpendicular to the direction you are standing. To view an example of "panning" click here.
Reach for the Stars - Canon 50D with EF 17-40mm f/4L at 17mm and f/5.6 for 1 hour 44 minutes at ISO 800 - flash with strobe return (also in-camera noise-reduction). The stars were shot first, and then the camera was covered and shifted down while the shutter was open to shoot the model - each shot of him was a separate strobe flash and the ground was lit separately. Straight out of camera.
I considered shooting the above image as two images and making it a double exposure on my computer as a way to mitigate the risk of having it not turn out (waiting 1 hour 44 minutes and then another 1 hour 44 minutes for the noise reduction is a long time. No second chances), but the image was being used for a showing that did not allow any sort of software use. I had to shoot it this way to get it into the gallery showing.
-----ISO / ASA Speeds------
ISO and ASA are the same thing. ASA is the older name for the current ISO film speed. If you are shooting digital, you can still set the ISO speed to simulate the speed the film would have. Typically an image taken with bright sun would require an ISO speed of 100 or 200. An image taken in the shade would usually be at 200 or 400. An image taken in low light or night time would need 800 or 1600. Some digital cameras go lower than 100 and some go higher than 1600. The lower the ISO number, the lower the noise you will see, and the higher the number, the more noise will be in the frame. Some photographers shoot low light at a low ISO and just leave the shutter open longer to alleviate the noise problem. Some use software to get rid of it. Some people embrace noise and even enjoy it.
Lower ISO values in low light are often used when photographing flowing water or the earth rotating under the stars.
Lime Kiln State Park - smaller waterfall - Canon 5D Mark II, EF 17-40mm f/4L at 17mm and f/22 for 3.2 sec. ISO 50 with WB at "shade" - a LEE filters 6 stop Neutral Density filter was also used. Straight out of camera except watermark and metadata
Most DSLR cameras have the option to change the white balance. When photographing people, I like to use one of the normal settings that agrees with the lighting I am using. Sunny white balance can be used with direct, hard sunlight. Cloudy can be used when it is overcast or if the subject is in the shade. Some cameras also have a shade setting. Tungsten light is red light, so there is a setting on your camera to accommodate that and help skin tones to appear normal instead of red. Tungsten light is used inside most buildings. Fluorescent light can have a blue hue, so likewise there is a setting on the camera to accommodate that. If your camera has a K function, remember that the smaller the number the more blue the hue will be in the finished image. The larger the number the more red the hue in the finished image.
Burning Sugar Cane - Canon Rebel xTi with EF 75-300mm f/4-5.6 at 300mm f/8 and 1/2500 sec. ISO 400 and WB at K9500. Straight out of Camera.
How do you know what settings to use? Your camera has a light meter in it. Most of the time, you will achieve a successful, balanced photo by making sure you set your settings so that the line is in the middle dash / 0.
Depending on the lighting, you might not choose a dead-center setting, though. For this reason I have seen many photographers bracket even if they don't intend to make an HDR image.
At a later date, I will put out an ebook describing how to use lighting techniques to create a great image "in camera".