End of Year Work

By Roger (18 December 2014)

Man, is it already the end of 2014? How does the year go by, so quickly? It seems like just a couple of months ago, I was talking about how to light your interior for easier Christmas photos, without blasting a flash into the holiday revelry. This is a good time to review that blog and make your preparations for your holiday fun. (In case you missed it, the link to that blog is here.)

You don't want a flash to spoil this mood

You don't want a flash to spoil this mood

At the end of every year, I do a review of my catalogs and delete superfluous photos. These photos are fine, technically, but they're dupes or just aren't interesting enough to keep on the hard drive. We've talked about doing that in past blogs.

This is, also, when I put some real effort into cleaning up some admin tasks in Lightroom. To help me with the deletions and admin junk, I have created some Smart Collections. (Mark explained them, back in 2012, here). I'll go into detail on one of them, but they all help me find the photos where I still have some decisions to make. Lightroom puts these in alphabetical order, so I'll go down them that way. When you create your Smart Collections, you decide what to call them, so, if you want them in a certain order – you're more OCD than me – choose your names accordingly. The most important one to me is the Still Unrated collection.

Smart Collections Workflow

Smart Collections Workflow

No City. This is an easy fix. This is one of the first areas of the Metadata section I fill in, immediately after import. So, how can there be some without an entry? Well, none of us are perfect, so I may have missed a couple. I'll click on this smart collection; enter the city; and Lightroom will automatically remove them from this collection. But, usually, these are photographs for which I don't know the location. A quick example? When I'm restoring old photographs for clients or from my genealogy work, I may not know where the original was taken. Most years, I won't ever get to zero here.

Easy Restoration, but what's the location?

Easy Restoration, but what's the location?

No GPS. I love geo-tagging my photographs. I have a GPS that puts coordinates directly into my camera's metadata when the GPS is connected. I don't always use it because I don't always care about the location of certain photos – portraits, for example. Again, restoration photos.

These types of photos are my excuse for that number never reaching zero, but the bulk of them are just photos I haven't gotten to, yet. Since they were taken when my GPS was not connected to the camera, I'll have to enter the geo-tag in the Map module. I do this, little by little, when I have free time. As you can see by the large number, I'm a little behind on that task.

I'm going to skip to my Without Keywords collection because this is one that will, absolutely, be reduced to zero during my end of year review. All my photos need keywords. Obviously, I've missed a few (hundred) this year, but that is just carelessness. I must have been in a hurry the day I imported them since most of them are from the same day's shoot. No excuses. Bad photographer!

And we arrive at the most important one for me: Still unrated. I use this one as part of my normal workflow. This Smart Collection is always in “Date Captured” order. The way I use this one requires a little more explanation.

After importing my photos, I, first, do a quick scan of them. Any bad photos – blurred, photo-bombed, closed eyes on portraits, etc. – are immediately deleted. Not removed from the database; deleted. I never want to see them again. They never occurred. ;-)

On the second scan, I look for photos I like. These are put into my “Quick Collection” by pushing on the short-cut circle, in the upper right-hand corner of each photo. These are the keepers. Later, they'll be post-processed and sent to clients; shown to others; or posted somewhere. When all the post-processing is completed, they are given a rating. When I'm extra-pleased, they may end up as a portfolio photo.

The first two scans are very fast. They eliminate the bad shots and identify the ones that strike me at a glance. This leaves many other photos unrated. If I have time, I'll do a third scan, and pick some of these for post-processing and rate them. If there isn't time, they'll remain unrated until I get to them to make a final determination of their fate. Here is an example.

Peregrine Falcon

Peregrine Falcon

There is nothing wrong with this peregrine falcon photo (aside from the fact that I need to clone out the tethers). The focus is sharp; I like the bokeh; I even like its composition. It just didn't grab me, like the one I posted in last month's blog. It is part of a large volume of bird photos I took at my bird shoot last month. I overshot the event because I don't shoot this type of thing very often.

I don't want them to be deleted right away because, sometimes, I'll change my opinion on their relative merit. Someone may ask for a specific kind of peregrine photo. Maybe, I'll want part of them for a composite. Who knows?

I gave you a hint about these photos early in this section: This Smart Collection is always in “Date Captured” order. After six months or so, I'll re-evaluate the number of unrated photos from this shoot. Some will be kept – just in case. I may find one that I really like and somehow overlooked. Some will, then, be deleted because I think they're never going to be needed.

One more example.

Harpers Ferry Re-enactors

Harpers Ferry Re-enactors

This unrated photo came from my last trip to Harpers Ferry. The re-actors are sharply focused. I like the light, coming from camera-right, and the rim lighting it creates on the men. That day, however, I was concentrating my effort on portraits, and I posted my favorites a couple of blogs ago. This one may make the cut, later. There's a fire burning (maybe a shot to play with the new Photoshop fire tool). Maybe, I'll change to a vertical crop of just the two men on the left and use it in my sesquicentennial project. Time will tell.

In any event, you may want to come up with your own Smart Collections that help your workflow and cue you in on tasks you still haven't completed. (I think you need a No Keyword one, at the least. I will never understand why photographers don't take five minutes to keyword their work for easy searching.) And, of course, you don't need to wait until year's end to work on this stuff.

I hope your holidays will be as much fun as mine. I intend to shoot lots of photos of my favorite people in the next couple of weeks. Oh, and I probably will not be putting up a blog, next Thursday, since I'll be having Christmas dinner with those very people.

“Real Photographers always…”

A great friend of mine, whose family might blame me for hooking her on photography, was having some troubles with her camera.  We walked through some questions on the ISO settings, and we discussed some things to check out.  In the course of our online chat, she said it was so frustrating that she was thinking of just going back to Program mode and giving up on manual.   She seemed very surprised when I told her that I shoot mostly on Aperture priority and not in manual mode.   She had been listening to those photo snobs who try to tell you that unless you are constantly tweaking your controls in manual, you aren’t a real photographer.     I don’t pick up a camera to play with controls, I use it to match what I see in my mind, what I see in my viewfinder with what comes out at the end. 

Back in the day (A Wednesday, for those keeping track) when cameras had no brains, manual was the only way to shoot.  It was certainly how I learned.  Today though, we aren’t really using cameras.  We are holding very advanced computers, designed by experts who understand light, image processing and photography.   I absolutely agree that photographers need to intimately understand the relationship between shutter speed, aperture, ISO in getting a good exposure.   But if you understand those things and your camera controls, you can focus on your subject more than on your camera.  In selecting either Aperture or Shutter priority modes, you have already made the most important decision for that image.  

Aperture Priority to get the table in focus

Aperture Priority to get the table in focus

Shutter priority to slow down the water on the rocks

Shutter priority to slow down the water on the rocks

You have determined that depth of field or the speed of the subject is what you need to get that image.  They are going to give you a nice evenly exposed picture, but we know that is not enough.  OK, how about controlling your metering mode.  Just choosing point focus versus area focus completely changes how the camera sees the light.  Then overriding those settings in ±1/3 increments with the exposure compensation gives me the precise control I need. 

Don’t let anyone tell you what a “real” photographer does; unless it is to capture great images which freeze moments in time, reveal emotion and tell your audience how the world looks to you.  

Shutter priority and yes that was cold

Shutter priority and yes that was cold

Aperture priority to make the background soft as this baby enjoyed the Christmas concert

Aperture priority to make the background soft as this baby enjoyed the Christmas concert



Prime Lens

By Roger (7 December 2014)

If you have just begun with your photography, odds are you're using a zoom lens, instead of a single focal length, prime lens. And why wouldn't you? The manufacturers typically include a zoom with the camera you buy. Zoom lenses are more versatile as they allow you to conveniently carry many focal lengths, all in one lens. You may not realize it, but the manufacturers used to ship new cameras with a 50mm lens or “normal” lens. “All” the professionals used prime lenses, not zooms. Zoom lenses of old were not noted for their quality or longevity.

Things have changed some. Zoom lenses, today, are much higher in quality, and the high-end zooms are weather-resistant and durable. But there are still many reasons a good prime should find its way into your camera bag. Let's review a couple of the advantages to using prime lenses.

Our youngest grandkid, with an 85mm lens.

Our youngest grandkid, with an 85mm lens.

The most important aspect, to me, is prime lenses tend to be much sharper. It's a noticeable difference, too. Their design is simpler because they only have to perform at a single focal length. They tend to have less distortion and chromatic aberration because of their simpler design. This is more noticeable on today's high definition, digital cameras than it was when we were still using film.

Dim light in the pub, but my prime lens got the shot.

Dim light in the pub, but my prime lens got the shot.

Prime lenses, usually, have wider apertures. You'll find most of the good primes have much wider aperture capability than typical zooms. Yes, you can buy zooms with constant f2.8 or f4 apertures, but have you priced these? They are very expensive, so the majority of new photographers don't own them. My primes can go to f1.8 or f1.4, again, a noticeable difference.

This matters to us people photographers because those wider apertures equate to better bokeh, or blurred backgrounds. The wider the aperture, the narrower the depth of field you can produce. Check your zoom's aperture capabilities; it's probably f3.5-5.6. In other words, the further you zoom, the smaller the aperture. You want wide apertures for blurred backgrounds.

This doesn't mean you should open every prime lens as wide as possible, it just gives you more control over the depth of field you want to use. Your viewer's eyes will, naturally, go to the most in-focus part of your photo, so, when you use your depth of field properly, you can direct their eyes where you want them. If you look closely at the photo of the captain, below, you'll see most of the photo is not rendered sharply – just the important part that holds your interest.

Direct your viewer's eyes with a narrow depth of field.

Direct your viewer's eyes with a narrow depth of field.

And, of course, wider apertures mean the lens can bring in more light to your sensor. Very important for night shots, like the one below, or when you want to freeze movement with a fast shutter speed. Remember, the difference is logarithmic, with every full f-stop you open the camera, you double the light. So, from f5.6 (typical on lower cost, variable aperture zooms) to f1.4 is 4 stops, but 16 times the amount of light. That's a huge difference.

Night-time photowalk, with my 105mm prime lens.

Night-time photowalk, with my 105mm prime lens.

So, why doesn't everyone pitch their zooms and carry a full camera bag of primes? One word – convenience. With all their faults, zooms are great for times you only want to drag along one lens. I own three zooms for exactly that reason. I'm not telling you that zooms are worthless, just letting you know there are very good reasons – besides gear acquisition syndrome – to own a prime or two.

If you want to begin with an inexpensive one, start with a 50mm, f1.8. The ones that used to come with our new film cameras. This light lens is always in my bag; it was the lens I learned on. Today, they cost about $150; the 50mm, f1.4 is about $425

For my people photography, I have the 85mm and 105mm. Their slightly telephoto qualities make portraits more pleasing to the eye, amongst other advantages that I mentioned a couple of years ago, when we went through lenses (here is the telephoto blog).

Give prime lenses a try, and learn to zoom with your feet. They have some very distinct advantages and will ratchet up the fun meter.

The sharpest lines come from prime lenses.

The sharpest lines come from prime lenses.

Thanksgiving Wrap Up

Well, last week saw us heading up to CT for the holiday.  We left on Tuesday, because of the projected snow for Wednesday.  Apparently, everyone else on the East coast had the same idea as our drive North took a few hours longer than expected.  Still it proved a smart choice as they got about 6” of snow.  Luckily for us, my cousin had everything we needed there.  She even had the table pretty much set up and it looked very nice against the snowy background.  

I pushed the Exposure Compensation up +2/3 EV to ensure the background brightness didn’t overly darken the table. 

I love using my 105mm macro during the holidays.  Zooming in on the details, can help recall how much effort goes in to making the holidays memorable.  

By cropping in while composing your image, you can use large color block elements, like the pumpkin as a framing device for the other vibrant colors in your image.

One of our joys in visiting my cousin is the opportunity to see Cara, the wonder dog, their Great Pyrenees.  She is the sweetest, most laid back creature anywhere. With her long hair and Basque sheepherding tradition, she loves this time of year.

Majestic creature guarding her flock

Majestic creature guarding her flock

Finally as I wrote about last blog, here is our perfectly cooked boneless turkey. 

While we were toasting to friends and family I was thinking nice thoughts about all my photographic family as well.  Thanks everyone for sharing this passion for creating images.