Saturday, December 22, 2007

Digital Photography Workflow, Part 1

Digital Photography Workflow, Part 1

What Your Software Can't Do:

I'm planning to make a series of posts about digital photography, mostly about what happens after the pictures are taken. I grew up shooting with film, getting the rolls processed wherever it was cheapest. Now, the level of control I have with shooting RAW digital has me spoiled for anything else. My strengths in photography are dynamic compositions and capturing interesting moments. My weaknesses are exposures and patience. I like to set the camera up once per location, and just shoot without thinking much about settings. I hate using filters. RAW is perfect for me.

Here is what your software can't do, even when you start from RAW:

1. If it is out of focus, it will always be out of focus. Use on-camera preview to make sure you hit focus on important shots while you still have a chance to retake them. Be familiar with how your lenses behave with your camera's autofocus. Be ready to switch to manual focus if the autofocus isn't cooperating. Learn how to use the diopter adjustment on your viewfinder to compensate for your own bad eyes. Sharpening may bring back a shot that is just a bit out of focus, but this will only look good in very rare situations. Worth a try, but it is best to just take another picture that actually is in focus.

2. If you totally blew out the highlights, sorry, they're gone. In bright settings or when using the flash, I'll set my exposure compensation to deliberately under-expose in order to avoid this problem. Bibble does have a highlight recovery tool, but it can't do enough if you really saturated your pixels. If you take a questionable shot, check the in-camera histogram to make sure there isn't a spike right at the bright edge that may indicate you've lost information. Again, just taking another picture after adjusting the exposure compensation will be your best insurance.

3. If you want the effects of a polarizing filter, you actually need to use a polarizing filter on your lens. RAW doesn't keep track of the polarization of the light hitting the sensor. Though, that would be REALLY FREAKING COOL if someone built a camera that could do that...

4. If you didn't shoot at a high enough resolution, or zoom in as far as you wanted to, there isn't a good way to get the information back. Memory is cheap. Buy more, and always shoot at the highest resolution for your camera. (Note, this doesn't mean using the .tiff setting. If you aren't using RAW, you may as well just use the finest .jpg because the .tiff setting never seems to have enough extra information to make it worth the file size.) Bibble lets you choose the resolution you export to at the final processing step, so you can make smaller res files to put online after the fact. But you never want to set your camera on a smaller res, because that is just telling fate to give you the best photos ever. If your camera was on 640 x 512, you will never be able to print those photos.

5. If you shot with an unflattering camera angle or lighting set up, your subject will not like the photo. Resist the temptation to shoot from below - the undersides of chins and insides of noses are not attractive vantage points on most normal people. Use fill flash outside, use bounce flash from above when inside. Study pictures to get a feel for the lighting and viewpoints that make people look good.

6. If you missed the shot, all you have left is the story about the one that got away. My camera has a setting that I call "take the damn picture" that tells it that when I push the button, I want it to take the photo instead of complaining that it can't find the perfect focus. It is officially called "release priority" in the instruction book. (As an extra source of aggravation, this setting defaults back to "focus priority" each time I replace the battery.) Also, don't delete in-camera. Buy more memory cards instead. Even nearly black frames (flash wasn't fully charged...) could have a great moment hiding in them, which you can recover if you are shooting RAW.

Thankfully, this is a very short list compared to the photography sins that can be forgiven by using a good RAW converter. I like Bibble, and I have since I got my DSLR. They were one of the few at that time that would support my camera (Minolta 5D) and my laptop (Apple iBook G4). Bibble only costs about $70 for the Lite version, and I've had free upgrades to all new versions since then. I'm also impressed by the customer service. One time I was having a big problem with Bibble crashing and I couldn't find an answer in the forums. My desperate email for help was answered by the main man, Eric Hyman. In twenty minutes. At 10:30 pm. Sweet.

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