Workflow and the importance thereof
Digital photography and all its different aspects should be fun and not a burden I believe. To newcomers photography often are full of surprises. I was discussing photography with Fred and he was saying, "It looked so simple when discussing the new camera with the sales guy in the shop. Nobody told me I need editing software, a second camera battery and in my case not only a new PC but also PC training" Hearing that, I can understand that many people are lost when taking up digital photography for the first time. It all can be a little scary to say the least. I am sure many readers can tell his or hers own story when thinking back to the first few weeks with his or hers new digital camera. I read of a guy who took pictures until the memory card was full and for weeks he believed, that was it, the camera is now full.
It is not rare to read about people not knowing what to do when the memory card is full. In one case I was told the person thought he had to go buy a new camera. In this short article I will discuss what you typically might have to plan for as you get to know your new camera better.
Typical questions one hear from folks that are new to digital photography, are:-
Do I need a PC?
Do I require special software?
What happens to all the images I take?
What is the difference between RAW and JPEG?
Do I need to set-up my camera for "best" settings?
What is dynamic range, noise, should I care about these terms?
Then there are a host of technical terms making things even more complex. Should I worry about sensor size?
I think what makes digital photography so scary too many folks, are the fact that it is so different to the old style film photography. I was sitting in a coffee shop looking at two older ladies having fun with their mobile phones. I could not help thinking, look at the two girls taking pictures of each other, they most probably uploading pictures of their coffee break onto Facebook, while tweeting away on the side.....;-)
Well looking a little closer I could see the girls were trying to understand how to use the camera in the phone. They would try a setting, take a picture and then see if they did it right. It was only after some time plus with the help of a young waitress that they managed to take the pictures. I could not help thinking...wonder what will happen to those pics?
In a similar way there are loads of people that buy a new digital camera not knowing what the differences really are between old style analog photography and digital photography. Let's discuss digital photography and while doing that I will answer some of the above questions, trusting that it will help you to develop a better understanding of what digital photography really is all about.
Lets look at Workflow
What is workflow and what would you recommend?
By now you most probably know that the memory card replaced the film role in your old 35mm film camera. Just like the 35mm film role the images on the card needs to be removed from the memory card when the card gets full. To do that one needs to connect the camera with a cable to a PC and then one can transfer the images on the memory card onto the PC hard disk. On the PC one can correct the color of the images by editing the images, one could save the images in a catalogue or one can decide to print some or all of the images that was on the memory card. This process of taking images, downloading them to a PC, editing or printing the images, preparing the camera for the next shoot, is all part of a typical workflow for photographers.
Should one buy editing software in addition to what was supplied with the camera? This is a question with no clear or correct answer. Most of the supplied software is really good and in many cases all you would ever need for the camera. In most cases they both PC and MAC ready.
The reason for having software is threefold. First one typically correct possible problems like exposure, color or other during the post processing phase. Secondly one would use software to organize all the images one take. Finally one would use software to prepare slideshows, print images or preparing photo books.
The question should one buy software in addition to what was supplied is at first more a case of what are you willing to learn, one set of software or several options. Digital photography has a steep learning curve and one should do everything possible to make the learning curve less complex. For example Photoshop Elements is one of the most widely used software packages, it answers all three questions we discussed plus it can do much more. The biggest advantage is that one can find loads of training videos on the web, covering almost all aspects of Photoshop Elements. This makes it really easy to learn and master the software. My personal favorite website for learning Elements is “The Elements User”.
Pixelmator (above icon), a surprisingly flexible image editor and combined with the installed Mac software (iLife) it is an really interesting alternative to Photoshop Elements. Again the learning curve on this option is really made simple in so many ways. Maybe it is not as well documented as Elements but it better integrates with the Mac PC. Aperture 3 is another interesting option but a little outdated I think.
My first reaction would be, yes without a doubt. On the other hand, that is not completely true. One can manage without a PC, especially if you live in a bigger city with large food stores, camera shops and large medical supply outlets. These stores normally offer image printing services. They will also transfer your images from the camera memory stick to a CD plus they will include a image summary sheet if you ask. With this kind of service there are no big difference between film and digital.
Printing the images in a store is one option. Having your own personal computer is another option. Different to the old days, digital photography is a combination between, taking the images, editing them, and filing or cataloging them. Digital photography enables the photographer to have more input in the image editing process . I can recall the days I had to ask the printing machine operator to use my preferred settings when developing my film role. If they made a mistake then my negatives would forever be incorrect.
Should one edited images or should I not edit them, today still are an open question. I believe digital photography is so radically different to the old film days that one should not compare the two formats. Many traditional photographers believe that optimizing digital images should not be allowed. As said, personally I think a little different and the reason is simple. The nature of digital photography is such that without post processing the RAW data coming of the sensor, much of this data will just be lost. The image out the camera therefore were edited in the camera using a build in camera processing sequence. This processing sequence was designed to suite many different "image" situations and are therefor tuned very neutral. Keep in mind that the camera has only limited space and computing power.
The real advantage of digital photography is the huge amounts of data recorded on the sensor. That dat in the hands of an artist can result in wonderful works of art. I saw an image recently that took the editor days to prepare after the image was taken. Please do not limit us by not allowing us to edit the image I hear artist say!!
The digital images saved on the memory card is as important as the negatives you had in the old film camera.... How many of us did not plan and years later your old analog or film picture collection is in a mess. It is of utmost importance to have a good image organizing plan, whether it is for an iPhone image collection or for a digital camera image collection.
For example if you decide to use a Mac then you will have access to one of the most powerful editing plus organizing solutions on the market, iPhoto. Many would disagree I know but lets look at iPhoto a little closer and I think you will agree its a awesome solution.
First it is a 100% Mac integrated solution and it therefor is easy to drop an image into a Pages document, a mail or any other document you might be working on. It has face recognition that helps the user build simple and logical cataloging rules. Then it also has GPS functionality that helps the user cataloging an image based on where it was taken. Mac's basic image software, iPhoto has great editing functions plus the ability to do simple but effective RAW editing. It is very fast to work with also when the image collection growths. The above are basic, there are many more functions in iPhoto.
Having listed the basic functions for iPhoto, basically pointed out what one would look out for, when deciding on buying an image organizer/editor solution. In addition both Aperture and Photoshop Elements has great build-in organizers. Nowadays we also need to consider building a collection of video recordings. More and more cameras has build-in HD capability. The quality of video has improved dramatically and therefore the enthusiasm for taking video with a digital camera.
Personally I think iPhoto combined with Pixelmator is a killer solution and worth considering…….
Differences - JPEG and RAW?
Today the most widely used image format is the so-called JPEG format. Digital images can be saved in a number of different file formats (TIFF, JPEG, PNG, PSD, GIF) each with its own advantages and disadvantages. The JPEG file type was developed in the early web days. It was developed as a method of compressing or reducing the image file size. It made it easier to mail or upload and download images. For the beginner my advice is to work with JPEG files for at least one or two year before going to the RAW format. Taking a step by step approach learning all the different and oft new techniques is far better than trying to do all at once. Two important things I will recommend to you from that start. Set your camera JPEG format to "Super Fine" mode (less as possible compression) and always shoot in both JPEG and RAW mode. This will help you go back and edit your keepers once you mastered better post processing techniques.
Unique camera settings?
Cameras use different levels of in-camera image editing. Compact cameras will apply more sharpening to make the image look snappy. Advance compacts are more neutral and SLR cameras tend to have minimum editing or especially sharpening done in the camera. Keep in mind that the camera only have limited processing power, cameras were not really designed to perform unnecessary or advanced editing steps. Depending at what stage the user adjustments are made in the camera will determine if the changes are degrading the image file quality or not. When using PC image editing software one can take better care not to negatively impact the original image file quality. How does it happen that the image file are damaged? When working with JPEG files one should always work on a copy and not the original. The JPEG format further compress the file every time it is saved therefore each time degrading the file.
Often people think one can correct so called image "problems" by adjusting sharpness, contrast and saturation on the camera. Any experienced photographer who mastered good image editing techniques will never "correct" an image using these camera adjustments. First these adjustments does not get applied across all three the color channels equally and secondly they most probably destructive of nature. I think important is to really establish if there are serious image problems with any digital camera before doing any in-camera adjustments!. Personally I do use a few camera settings unique to my own style in my camera, but I will not try to alter or "correct" image quality in the camera. . It is far better to take the JPEG in its default format and to do a few adjustments using the PC.
In one instance I can accept when photographers adjust the image in the camera. That is when photographers specialize in the art of photography and perfecting the image in the camera. Mid and pro range SLR cameras are very flexible today and its possible to tune these cameras to nearly fit the photographers needs perfectly. The adjustment as described is typically not to correct a camera image weakness but rather to have the image reflect the photographer's style, similar to what other photographers will do on the PC. Even in this case I personally prefer to do these changes in my post processing workflow on the PC. Doing it in the PC I find is just so much more flexible.
Finally I like you to consider this when "correcting" an image in the camera. The scale the adjustments offer in the camera are often in steps of 4 or in seldom cases 6 to 10 steps. If you therefor tweak the sharpness on a 4 step scale, each step will result in a sharpness change of 25%. That is HUGE in any digital terms and especially in case of image sharpness that could permanently damage your image. Therefore again, please do not tweak your images in your camera using special setting you read all about on the web. I really believe those offering this advice does not really know what they do!!!
Dynamic Range, Noise, Jaggies... ?
These terms are all real challenges with good arguments modern digital photographers needs know about and needs to live with. Its well worth it doing additional reading on these terms when getting into digital photography. Again when starting with digital photography, my advice is to ignore all the popular forum and magazines created problems until you more comfortable using your camera. For example people are spending a lot of time discussing things like dynamic range, DOF (depth of field), DR (dynamic range) and many more aspects of different cameras. Typically your digital SLR camera's dynamic range differ between 8,7 and 11,3 f-stops. The human eye can cope with as much as 16 stops plus a really bright summer day can go as high as 20 stops. That means each and every camera has a limitation and in relation to real life situations plus the differences between cameras are really small. The only digital camera I know that are "coping" well with DR is the new E-M5 from Olympus. All previous models plus those in the Panasonic four thirds range suffer from a limited DR. Therefor if I read somebody complaining about a camera not having a good dynamic range (DR) and that he or she lost images base on poor dynamic range, it tells me the person will never learn the right techniques to optimize dynamic range. Its like with all things in life, if you focus on the negative, you miss the opportunity to see the situation in the correct perspective.
Most popular arguments has similar answers to the one above. Fact is the digital image sensor is not perfect yet. To me that makes digital photography more interesting, it creates other opportunities like HDR techniques. Digital photography has many different disciplines, it starts with taking the images, in most cases people use a PC to upload and organize their images and in my opinion one of the most rewarding aspects is the positive results one gets when working on editing digital images. Never before was it that possible that one could tune an image to really look like the day I took that image. If one go one step further one move into the creative realm with even more fun.
The secret is to stay focused, believe in the choice you made, the camera you bought is great and work hard to get to know and to master the different aspects of digital photography.