Well, I shipped off 20 pounds of used camera gear this past weekend, and plan to use the proceeds to form the cornerstone of the next collection of gear. After nearly 14 years of lugging around the Canon stuff I’ve decided it’s time to bite the bullet and try something smaller. The decision is not entirely straightforward or simple, as I tend to be a very loyal consumer, and there is still a lot to love about the full frame cameras. And while I’m hedging my bets by hanging on to a solid collection of full frame gear, I’m pretty sure I can predict what is going to happen.
Many readers of this blog know that I have been exploring this move for some time. Over the last several months I rented a Fuji X-T1 and an Olympus OM-D E-M1. Both are wonderful cameras and have their pluses and minuses, and I know people who are faithful to both brands.
I was pretty sure that my choice was going to be the Fuji, so over the 4th of July weekend I rented it again, this time trying both the 18-55 and the 18-135 lenses. I haven’t yet placed the order – the sale prices expired before I was ready – but once I’m ready to go I’m planning to buy the X-T1 with the 18-135. My rationale is that it will be an excellent travel lens for those times when I only want to take one camera and lens, and it will give me just about all of the coverage I could want. Eventually I’ll probably buy at least one or two of the “pro” lenses, and I really want to try some of the excellent Fuji prime lenses, so I’ll keep my options open.
So while I continue to work on Colorado images, I wanted to process the Fuji files in order to evaluate them, and figured I might as well post a few. I know it’s possible to do with any camera, but I really like the fact that I can easily create a develop preset in Lightroom to quickly process a bunch of files. For the most part the results are very good with little fiddling. These have had a little bit of extra work done to them, but for the most part they are as shot with a Lightroom preset applied.
Ever since I started using Lightroom to process and manage my photos, I have continuously updated and improved my workflow. I’ve used my workflow as the basis for teaching Lightroom classes, individual tutoring and consulting. I carefully devised a workflow that suits my needs, primarily of organizing and identifying my photos, as well as using the various tools such as Pick flags, color labels and star ratings to tell me exactly where in the process a given photo or group of photos was.
As efficient as my workflow has been, one of the big downsides is that I was spending a lot of time in the Develop module for each of my photos, even those that were mostly “snapshots” and would probably never be printed or posted on my website. What eventually happened was that I only had a small percentage of photos that were marked as “finished” and had thousands of photos that had not been processed. These files are ones that I had marked with a Pick flag – meaning that I thought there was some merit to the photo that warranted further processing. And that backlog was getting larger and larger, to the point where I thought I would never get them caught up.
Part of my workflow over the years has been to create a group of Develop presets to apply to these photos when I import them from my card. I have a set of presets that take care of 90-95% (or more) of the work I do on a photo. But as good as these presets are, they won’t address things like dust spots and crooked horizons, so I would still go in and spend countless hours tweaking and fine-tuning all of those photos, regardless of whether or not they will ever see life beyond my hard drive.
One of the many lessons from my recent experience with dipping my toe into the mirrorless camera pool is the realization that the files from the Fuji X-T1 hardly needed any follow up tweaking. I was so impressed with the files right out of the camera that in many cases I didn’t do a thing to them, and anything I did do was purely aesthetic, or “because I could.” It was playing around with the files from that camera that made me take another look at my regular workflow and realize that the files from my Canon cameras were also really good, but that I had gotten myself in the habit of working with all of them that I had lost sight of the fact that all that extra work wasn’t really doing anything significant toward improving the photographs, but it was taking an enormous amount of time!
I have had a really difficult time letting go of the idea that every photo had to be “completely done” before I marked it as done. Since most of my files never go beyond my own computer, it’s been my own personal hang-up, and I decided that if I wanted to change it I could, so I did. For the last month or so I have been trying really hard to “trust the Force” and let the presets do their work. I still review each individual file for level horizons, dust spots or other things, but have been working really hard to only make those few corrections and to – as much as possible – leave my hands off of those other controls. So far it has worked pretty well. I can get through a lot more photos at one time, and the extra efficiency leaves me the discretion to spend more time with a particular photo or group of photos when I want to. And gradually my backlog is starting to recede, and that is a really good feeling.
In an upcoming post I will talk about some of the benefits of processing old photos with the new software and will show some examples. Sorry, but that will have to wait while I work on some more photos!
When I started going back through my photos from 2006, my first thought was “gee, this isn’t going to be as interesting as 2005.” Not so, I think. We maybe didn’t travel to Alaska, but we still managed to haul ourselves to some pretty interesting places!
It was in 2006 that I sold my Mamiya 7 film camera and bought the 5D. A lot of these photos were taken with the 20D, and a few of them were taken with my Powershot G5! I need to dig that camera out of the closet and play around with it. It was a pretty nice camera and would a bit “retro” to be carrying around now! A 12 year old digital camera is pretty Old School, just like me. 😉
One of the things that I had forgotten about with the 5D was the fact that that big old sensor tended to attract a lot of dust. And since I was typically shooting landscapes on a tripod I tended to use pretty small apertures. I didn’t know what a self-cleaning sensor would be like just a few years later, but these photos have and had a lot of cloning done. Thank goodness for the dust removal tool in Lightroom!
This is another case where the newer process version in Lightroom really brings out the goodness in some of these old photos. I’m working on a before & after post to show some examples, but between the differences in the software and my own changing personal taste (me, taste?) there is quite a difference in some of these.
I’ve recently begun a project to go back and “finish” processing photos from prior years that I never got around to finishing. These are photos that I had marked as “Picks” but for many reasons just never took the time to finish. It’s been an interesting project so far, and there have been a few photos that, now that I have gone back and looked at them again, are ones that I wonder how I overlooked.
I’ll write about the details in a future post, but my Lightroom catalog contained more than 8,000 photos that had Pick flags but had not been processed. That number is miniscule by many people’s standards, but it has been a huge personal monkey on my back for a long time, so I decided to do something about it. I finished 2011, then decided to go back to the Beginning of Time. So far I’ve completed 2005 and the number is now down to 6,700. Woo-Hoo! 😉
2005 was a good year. I purchased my first digital SLR, a Canon 20D along with a few lenses in April that year. We traveled to the Smokies early that year, and I have a few decent photos from there and spots along the Blue Ridge Parkway.
In May we headed to the Outer Banks of North Carolina for a week. We also spent some time in the mountains later in the month.
In July we took the first of our two trips to Alaska, this one to celebrate our 25th anniversary. That was a Really Big Deal, and I brought back a few decent photographs.
After that it was back to North Carolina, mostly the mountains in the fall, a cruise and that was about it. It was a fairly “light” year as far as photos are concerned, and my Lightroom catalog for 2005 now contains only 755 photos. I was still shooting film then, and there are about 90 scanned slides in a different folder. Chances are if I ever decide to use any of those they will need to be rescanned, since I don’t think they are up to today’s standards. Plus, the more I work with digital files the less I want to work with the old film scans.
My conclusion after looking at all these files is that I was still a very “subject oriented” photographer back then. I made a lot of documentary shots, with a few of them showing signs of what I feel I am looking at today. Considering that I was just learning digital photography and really just getting started in photography in general, it shows that I still had a lot to learn but had a pretty decent start.
Generally when I am in the process of taking a photograph, I have a basic idea what it is going to look like when I am finished processing it. When I’m sitting at the computer working on an image, it just sort of “develops itself.” Most of the time the direction I need to go with an becomes pretty clear to me. I open up an image in Lightroom, work on it a bit, and after a few basic tweaks it is pretty much done. Unless I’m going to make a print, there isn’t a whole lot more I do.
This particular photograph has me a little perplexed. I processed it exactly how I expected to. It’s a little more processed than usual, but there’s quite a lot of dynamic range going on here. But for some reason, I just can’t seem to get comfortable with it. There’s nothing really “wrong” with it, in fact a lot of people would probably wish that they had taken it themselves. But for some reason I am struggling with it.
It’s a typical Cowee Mountains Overlook sunset. It’s got a nice sky, detail in the foreground, and there’s a lot going on. Too much, I think. It is a very “busy” image, as opposed to a lot of my photographs that are a bit more simplified. I’ve definitely processed it a lot more than I usually process an image. Maybe that’s it, I’m not sure.
I think the thing that I keep coming back to is that it doesn’t seem like it’s mine. It’s the sort of landscape photograph that I’ve taken for years, but I just can’t seem to connect with this one. No, I didn’t switch memory cards with someone by mistake, but it’s just such a departure from the type of photography I’ve been doing recently that I may just have to spend some time with it to figure it out. In the mean time, it just doesn’t feel like my style, and I find that interesting.
I’m still not convinced that this is the successful photograph I thought it would be when I made the frames, but I’ve enjoyed working on this one. I originally envisioned a high-contrast, low-saturation photo and thought it might work in monochrome, but (a) I think I’ll always be a color sort of guy, (b) I never did get the hang of what a black & white photo is “supposed” to look like, and (c) I might not be working on a good enough example. Hard to say.
I think it’s a pretty interesting scene. It’s a little cluttered, but I feel it has good balance and good light. In the post sunset twilight I was trying to capture an old-timey look that would suggest a vintage photograph, although not necessarily black & white, rather than one taken with a new-fangled digital camera.
I recently sold a couple of prints to a repeat customer, and before I made the prints I went back over the files, as I often do, and made a few tweaks to take advantage of a more recent version of Lightroom than I used when I originally processed the photos a few years ago. As I was going through my library, specifically the folder where one of those prints resides, I went back and looked at some of the other photos in that folder. As often happens, a number of my “picks” for that day hadn’t been processed, and I was playing around to see what some of them might look like processed. I came across this version that I think I like even better than the first. It is a different flower, but the composition and the lighting make it a bit more dramatic than my original favorite. I made a small print of this one, but think I may have to go a little larger and make one to hang on the wall.
My “former favorite” is below. I’ll be interested in thoughts on how the two compare.
I guess it’s human nature that we find comfort in returning to things and places we have been before and know well. Even when we have moved on to so-called “bigger and better things” we never completely get away from our past. Whether that is good or bad is to be determined, and is up to each of us to decide.
While it’s where I started my “serious” photographic endeavors, I find myself doing very little classic “Nature Photography” these days. Not that there is anything wrong with it, as there are few things I enjoy more than standing at an overlook in the pre-dawn cold or the late evening dusk waiting for that Magic Moment. But there’s just so much more to do than that. As much as I love it, in many ways, as a photographer I’ve moved on.
I need to be a little cautious here, because I have a lot of good friends for whom nature photography is exactly what they want to do, and they spend all of their spare time, effort and money doing it. So I’m not trying to make myself out as better than anyone, or suggest that I am more of an artiste than someone else, just because I like taking photographs of peeling paint and shadows. It’s just that after a few hundred sunrises and sunsets, eventually they all sort of started looking the same to me. While I still do my share of sunrises and sunsets, flowers and bugs, there’s only so much time, and I want to see what else there is!
So with all that said, this month’s calendar is one of those cliché photographs from an iconic location. Morton Overlook in Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of just a handful of places you can shoot sunset standing next to your car. Plus, it often has just the right combination of good light and interesting sky that it often produces interesting results. The downside, however, is that there is really only one view. You seldom need anything but a 24-70 lens, which is what I used for this photo. You can go wide or long within those limits, but for the most part that’s about what you have to work with. The rest is up to the fate of the weather conditions. Makes it a little hard to be contemplative or creative, it’s mostly a matter of luck.
This was taken with my long-obsolete Canon 20D and the now-ancient 24-70 lens. Re-processed in Lightroom 4 to take advantage of some new technology. Still not a bad photograph, I’d say. And I’ll have that lens with me for a while!
On my previous post, Monte asked about how the HDR version of that image came out, and as it turned out I didn’t do an HDR series on that particular photo so I didn’t have anything to compare. Just for kicks though, I went back and found an image where I did do a bracketed series including an in-camera HDR file.
Most of my readers know that I really dislike futzing around in Photoshop, so I probably didn’t do the HDR version justice. But while there are things I like about it, I’m really a fan of the contrast you get from a single file. While the HDR version perhaps shows more “detail” I’d rather see the contrast. Of course I’m a fan of rich, dark tones in my photos and HDR kind of defeats the purpose for me.
I’ve made these files a little larger for those who want to pixel peep. But please don’t criticize my Photoshop skills. Because, especially for things like HDR, I’m really out of practice.
Walking around the inside this covered bridge last weekend, I knew that it was the perfect subject for some HDR. I’m not a particular fan of HDR as a rule, but knew that this would be a good place to give it a try. I took a series of bracketed shots using the in-camera HDR feature in my camera. But when I got to playing with it in Lightroom, I decided to see what it looked like without actually blending the frames. As it turns out I think that I actually like it this way. I’ve had to make some pretty extreme exposure adjustments and it’s as noisy as my neighbor’s dog, but I think I’ve got the final result that I envisioned when I took the photo. And ultimately, if I get the result I’m looking for it really doesn’t much matter how I get there, does it?
Here’s a “before” shot just to see where I started: