Sunday, June 17, 2007

Digital Photography: A Two-Edged Sword

Beginning and novice photographers often attempt to race up the learning curve as fast as possible. Today, using digital imaging technologies, the learning curve has been exedited, sometimes producing better and better photography from less and less experienced photographers... sometimes, that is.

Back in the day, most student photographers learned with 35mm film SLRs. Given today's technologies, that was probably the worst and most difficult way to learn. Why? Because of the lag time--sometimes days, sometimes weeks--between snapping a shutter and seeing the results. Sure, some students used cameras with Polaroid backs and doing so helped them immensely through the learning process. But many of us didn't have cameras with Polaroid backs and we plodded along, capturing images and waiting to see the results. Often, by the time we saw those results, we'd forgotten how we captured them.

So that's today's good news for people learning photography. The not-so-good news is that many new(ish) photographers, hoping to ramp up their skills, rely too heavily on the so-called "creative mode" functions of their digital cameras, i.e., they attack the learning curve as auto-shooters. (And I ain't talking about photographing automobiles. D'uh.)

Whenever I'm helping someone learn the art and craft of pretty girl shooting, the first thing I tell them is to set their cameras on "M" and learn how to manipulate exposure and color and depth of field and all that stuff. In other words, to put themselves in control of the images. Truly, that's the path new photographers need to take if they hope to become competent photographers: As pretty girl shooters or photographers of any other genre. While light meters are extremely helpful, you don't absolutely need a meter to accomplish this. Taking the time to learn how to bracket and to read a histogram might be a bit more tedious than taking meter readings, but you'll learn so much more when you--not hardware-designing, algorithm-writing, camera engineers--are in control of what you see in your viewfinder.

The pretty-girl jail-house guard at the top is Maya. MUA was Lee Garland. I captured this image of Maya a few weeks ago using my Canon 5D with a Canon 28-135 IS USM. ISO 100 f/5.6 @ 125. Three light sources were employed: A 5' Photoflex Octodome (for the main) and two edge lights working behind her from either side, one of them modified with a Chimera medium strip soft box and the other with a small, silver, umbrella. I hit Maya a little harder than usual with the edge lights as I wanted to really "pop" her off that dull, concrete block wall. If I ever have to go to jail for something I didn't do (I'm innocent, I tell ya!), I can only hope someone like Maya is assigned as my guard!


Groovemerchant said...

I agree completely with you on this JimmyD. Too often "photographers" are able to make decent pictures for publication just by using their LCD to make sure they got the shot. Where's the challenge? I always shoot manual everything, even in those extremely rare instances when I have to use on-camera flash. It forces you to think about what your doing.

benjamin lambert said...

ok, i'm getting a hold of exposure and depth of field, but how can i manipulate color with camera settings?

thanks for your blog and all the inspiration

jimmyd said...


Manipulating color temp with camera settings (i.e., with digital cameras)is most often accomplished by changing the white balance settings. For instance, you can "warm" an image or "cool" an image by adjusting the white balance.

Most all digital SLRs have default white balance settings. They range from tungsten to strobe to daylight and more. A lot of them have more than one default daylight setting depending on whether it's a cloudy, overcast, day or you're in bright sunlight.

Go out with your camera and mess with those settings and see the results. What you don't want to do is choose auto white balance as your default white balance setting... that's letting those engineers decide what's best instead of you making that decision.

benjamin lambert said...

i shoot raw, and of course, as soon as i read that i felt like a dumb-ass. thanks for setting me right.