I set this up to auto-post on 9/1 and hopefully it will work!
This is one of my favorite photographs from a visit to the northern Outer Banks back in 2009, and I thought it might make a nice intro to fall. The nice clear sky hints at the return of autumn while retaining just a hint of summer’s warmth. I had walked around this building earlier in the day and loved the windows. The possibility of a reflection of the sunset in those windows at dusk were what brought me back.
The building is known as The Whalehead Club and is located at Currituck Heritage Park near Corolla, North Carolina. It is the restored private residence of northern industrialist and conservationist, Edward C. Knight Jr. and now houses the Whalehead Club Historic House Museum.
Several weekends ago, Kathy & I were having an interesting discussion about why someone should or should not shoot in Program or Auto mode on their camera instead of using one of the “serious” modes such as Manual, Aperture Priority or Shutter Priority, and what might be right or wrong with that. I don’t think there is anything wrong with that, actually.
Kathy knows more about the workings of a camera than a lot of people I know who have spent much more time in photography. But she also knows that trying to remember all those things can sometimes take the fun out of just going out and making photographs. So she asked me, and we talked about, “what’s wrong with just shooting JPEGs in Program Mode?” What’s wrong, indeed? Kathy & I were talking more in terms of the camera, in many cases, being smarter than we are. And to a certain extent, she makes a very, very good point.
My very first SLR was a Konica TC that I bought back in the late 70s, and while it had a meter, it was Manual everything, so when I set the aperture, a little needle would tell me whether my shutter speed was high or low, so I adjusted until I had it where I wanted it. And I learned about things like exposure compensation the hard way, after I got the film back and tried to remember what I did! But because I first learned photography with a camera that only had manual controls, it’s pretty easy for me to think in terms of aperture or shutter speed on the fly – I have “Program Mode” in my head!
I put the Konica away sometime in the 80s then shot for years with a number of different point & shoot cameras while the kids were growing up. This worked fine until I decided to get back into photography more seriously and bought a Nikon N70 around 2000. It had auto-focus and auto-metering! But I mostly shot it in Manual and Aperture Priority because that’s what I was used to. I would venture to guess that most people buying that camera, however, probably shot it in Auto mode.
Shortly after buying the Nikon, someone suggested that I needed to buy a medium format camera, so I went out and bought a Mamiya 7 rangefinder and a 65mm lens. Soon after I added a 50mm lens and a 150mm lens. That camera was manual everything with a funky little meter that, once you learned how to use it, worked pretty well. Again, I was perfectly comfortable with the manual exposure controls and manual focus, because that is how I learned. I eventually ended up trading all that Mamiya film stuff in toward a Canon 5D. And I’ve wished for that Mamiya 7 back until recently, when I got my 5D Mark III. That is the first camera I can say is better than the Mamiya 7, but that’s a story for another post.
In a recent post on his blog, Paul Lester talks more about how people are perfectly satisfied with photos they are taking with their phones. No controls, no exposure compensation, no thought, just point and shoot. Paul recently met and talked with photographer and teacher Ibarionex Perello who told him that he no longer teaches aperture in his classes, because no one wants to know about it. Students can’t be bothered learning about depth of field or the effect of aperture on shutter speed. They just want to take pictures. I’m sure some of them will eventually drift into the World of Manual as they explore various creative options, but most of these students will be perfectly happy using their cameras in Program mode, and if they want to get creative with their photos, they can always do that later with software.
Along this line, some of the commentary surrounding the recent Canon EOS-M camera has fascinated me. Like the Nikon mirrorless cameras, they are designed to shoot primarily in Program or one of the various “custom” or “scene” modes. While they do have the ability to shoot in a manual or semi-auto mode, those controls are menu-based instead of accessed simply by turning a dial or two. This has fostered some real debate. Hardly anyone has actually touched one of these cameras yet, let alone shot a few photos with one, but immediately the analysis and commentary began. People started using words like (and you can find them easily) “crippled,” “mundane, run-of-the-mill, off-the-shelf-with-spare-parts,” “uninspired,” No EFing Viewfinder!!! Well that is a deal-breaker for me.” Every camera that is introduced inspires its share of forum jockeys who are too busy making excuses about every camera that comes out that they never get around to actually taking photographs. Give me a break!
Do you honestly think that a company with the research and marketing budget that Canon, Nikon, Pentax, Olympus, Sony and others have is going to bring out a brand-new camera that is such an immediate failure that no one will want it? Probably not. It’s just that so many of these photographer wannabes think that no one else in the world could possibly want to shoot in Program Mode. In truth, I think these cameras are aimed squarely at a very clearly-defined market. It just ain’t us, sorry. Canon will probably sell millions of those cameras. And that will fund the next 5D megacamera that I’ll want!
There is absolutely no reason that a person with a basic level of interest in photography has to shoot in anything but Program to be serious about their photography. Granted, for a lot of us more serious folks, the ability to control exposure and depth of field is critical. But we often forget how long it took us to get to the point where we were comfortable with manual controls. I shot in Manual for years before I really learned how to control background blur or balance exposure between a bright sky and a dark foreground. But today, some cameras can figure that out for you, and for all the money we pay for our equipment, we might do well to just let it!
So anyway, someone who is starting out and just wants to let their camera take pictures will do perfectly well over 98% of the time. And if they shoot JPEGs and learn how to properly expose their shots they won’t need to work on their photos in software. What a deal! I know a number of successful commercial photographers who shoot everything in JPEG and beat the snot out of a lot of people who shoot RAW. Granted they are probably using manual controls and are sometimes using studio lighting, but if you know what you are doing, it’s no different than shooting slide film. Remember that?
In many ways, photography is like riding a bike. We don’t start off riding the fanciest machine that a Tour de France participant would ride. As kids we start off with a single-speed bike with training wheels. As adults getting back into cycling we might dust off the old “10-speed” and ride it around for a while. Eventually we will decide that we could be more comfortable, ride faster or generally be happier with something newer, lighter or more advanced. If we get really serious we buy the shoes, the jersey and the spandex shorts so we really look the part.
The same holds true for photography. Those starting out will use their phones, their point & shoot cameras or their SLRs – all in “P” mode. And for most people that’s as far as they’re going to get. A few of them will start experimenting with things like depth of field and shutter speed and realize that the camera they are using might not suit their needs. At that point they might move up to something with more manual controls, or they might just make do with the camera they have.
Kathy understands a lot of the mechanics of photography, but wants to spend more of her time looking at the scene in front of her and pondering composition and expression and less of it on figuring out the right f-stop. And I support that. If she gets turned off now by all of the technical stuff and gives up the camera entirely, than how is that success? If she can enjoy what she is doing now, and later gets to the point where she wants to do more with the controls, I think that is perfectly fine. And if she never moves beyond the “P” setting but enjoys her photos, that is perfectly fine and I support it! There are many ways to do this photography thing, and very few of them are wrong!
Well, how did that happen? We just finished June and already July is over! Of course that means we are edging toward Fall, and an end to Summer’s heat is just around the corner.
Price Lake is a hit-or-miss spot for me photographically. A decent photograph here generally depends on getting something interesting to reflect in the water. Sometimes it is fall color, sometimes you can catch some good clouds at sunrise or sunset. Such was this case on an August morning back in 2005. One morning prior to attending the annual Camera Clinic at Grandfather Mountain, I was up to shoot the sunrise and shortly after the sun came up I ventured down to the lake to see what was happening. It’s a little hard to see in this photo, but a nearly full moon was playing hide-and-seek in the clouds. I got a few shots with the moon in the clear, and a few with it partly or mostly obscured.
This photo was taken with my Canon 20D and 17-40 lens. It was originally processed using Photoshop Elements, then reprocessed using each of the prior versions of Lightroom. For this calendar I converted the file to Process Version 2012 and updated my settings one more time. It’s amazing what newer software can do with photos that were taken with cameras that are now sitting in storage.
I ran into a friend of mine the other night, and he walked up to me with an expectant look on his face and asked, “so how is it?” I looked at him with a puzzled look that I hoped read as “so how is what?” And he said, “the camera, the Mark III. How do you like it?” Ohboy.
This friend, we’ll call him ‘Bob,’ has frequently sought my advice on cameras and lenses in the past. I like ‘Bob’ and he’s a nice guy and good friend, and the fact that he asks my advice means he is also smart. 🙂 But ‘Bob’ has asked my opinion on cameras before, in fact, he has been the subject of my blog posts before (sorry, ‘Bob’). But I’m afraid that he may just not like my advice.
‘Bob’ shoots with a Canon 40D, which is a very good camera. I own one, still use it and some of my photos from it have made me money. It’s still in my bag, although it has been relegated to third position behind my 5Ds. Right now I am using it to hold my Holga lens, but at any time I could throw another lens on it and it would work fine. Either way it will make good photographs, at least as good as I am able to make.
When we spoke 8 or 9 months ago, ‘Bob’ was thinking about buying a new camera and was vacillating between a 5D Mark II and a 7D. He had seen photos taken by friends with newer cameras and was convinced that their photos were “better” than his. I told him at the time that if he wanted a new camera he should just pick one, then take it out and use it. Either camera would have been, and still would be, a great choice.
What ‘Bob’ told me the other was that he never bought a camera in November. But now he was getting ready for a trip to Europe and felt like he needed to make a decision. He had recently rented a 5D Mark III and really liked it, but he decided he didn’t want to spend that much money. Which is quite understandable, it’s an expensive beast. So ‘Bob’ decided to buy an “interim” camera and picked up a refurbished 7D. That’s a very good camera, and one he might have purchased back in November. But he’s thinking of sending it back. The problem, he said, is that when he compared the photos from the 7D with those from the 40D, he didn’t feel like he was seeing the improvement that he thought he should be seeing. But he felt like the files from the 5D Mark III were a lot better than those from the 7D. Uh, huh.
He then started talking about Nikons and something about 36 megapixels and whether Canon was going to match Nikon and maybe he should just buy another lens and what kind of lenses he should consider. I kind of zoned out. Yes, there are cameras with lots of megapixels and big sensors, and huge dynamic range, and there will be more tomorrow. And there will be more the next day and next month and next year. But what are we going to do today? What can I shoot now?
I bought a 5D Mark III in April, which it turns out was a little ironic since the June issue of a newsletter I write for contained an article I wrote about how gear didn’t matter. I even stated that I didn’t think I was going to buy a new camera. And then I bought a new camera (I wrote the article in January – things change). But I didn’t buy it because I thought it would improve my photography (honest!). I bought it because it was time to upgrade my tools and I wanted to have the latest technology, so that the photos I took with it would give me the best results possible. The best raw materials, if you will. But it is still up to me to take the photographs, and I only hope I can do it justice.
But that makes it hard for me to tell ‘Bob’ not to buy one.
One of the things I’ve found about the 5D Mark III is that the camera is so good that it amplifies my mistakes. That’s good in that it forces me to work harder, but bad because it’s easy to screw up. One thing I’ve learned with this camera is to stop looking at the files at 100%, since that magnification is way too high. My new default is 50% for that camera, going to 100% when I really need to get fussy. Otherwise, at 100% you are imagining flaws that aren’t really there. Yeah, it makes nice files, but if the photo is crap it’s just a nice file of crap.
Long afterward – too late for me to say anything to ‘Bob’ (I always get my best thoughts hours later!) – I thought that what he did was a lot like test driving the Mustang and buying the Focus. If what you really want is the Mustang, you’ll never be happy with the Focus. But if you know you’ll never cough up the money for the Mustang, don’t drive the Mustang. I think ‘Bob’ wants the 5D Mark III, and until he buys it he won’t be happy.
In many ways, ‘Bob’ represents a lot of us. We are our own worst critic. Often I look at my own photos, whether on my computer screen or on a print I have made, and I feel disappointed because I don’t think they measure up to what I see others show. Other people’s photos often look better than mine. It’s an example of “the grass is always greener” principal. Our photos always look worse to us than they really are. But then I see one of mine hanging on a wall or online next to others’ photos and I think, “hey, that looks pretty darned good.”
We all have the desire for that Magic Button, whether it’s a camera, a lens, a tripod or a computer, we often feel that there’s that “one more thing” that will make us the photographer we know we can be. But you know what? That’s just not the case. The problem is that, except to the extent that a new camera motivates us to get out and use it, it doesn’t really improve our photography. Sure, a new camera might produce nicer files, but nicer files don’t necessarily mean better photographs.
My advice to ‘Bob’ was to pick a camera and get out and use it.
I finally got a chance to spend some time at the computer today and decided to work with some of my fireworks photos from July 4th. I knew when I took the photos that I would be making some composites in Photoshop. These were all taken handheld with the 5D Mark III and the 40MM 2.8 pancake lens, f4 at ISO 3200. My shutter speeds ranged from 1/5 to 1/50 of a second.
All the photos had some initial processing in Lightroom, including a little sharpening and noise reduction, then were composited in Photoshop. Once I brought the composited file back into Lightroom I added a little more punch in contrast, vibrance and saturation.
There’s no question that these are more than a bit over-the-top from the standpoint of reality, but that’s what artistic license is all about. This is what I saw and this is what I felt, so here it is!
This was the first time I had used Photoshop on any 5D Mark III files, and I must say that I seriously challenged the capabilities of my 5 year old iMac. Each file is around 1 GB, and I had some serious beachball action (it’s a Mac thing) going from time to time. If I do much more of that I’m going to need to look at upgrading the computer hardware a little sooner than I planned.
Kathy & I had been trying to find a weekend to head to Waynesville, NC – our favorite little town in the NC mountains – since March. With the exception of our Alaska and California adventure, things just haven’t been very conducive to getting away for the last several months. We finally had our chance this past weekend and took advantage.
As luck would have it we didn’t get a lot of relief from the high temperatures, as Waynesville – while about 10 degrees cooler than Charlotte – was still unseasonably hot, to the point where most of the HVAC systems were doing their best to keep up. Most of them were up to the task, a few were not.
We wisely headed out early and got our in-town sightseeing done early. In the heat of the afternoon we headed up to the Blue Ridge Parkway for a few hours, and while it was 97 in town, it was an unusually warm but relatively cool 84 at Waterrock Knob, an overlook and visitor center at 5,820 feet. After a stop for ice cream it was back to town for a nice dinner and some rest in our thankfully-air-conditioned room.
Sunday was spent getting back to reality, and after a stop in Statesville here we are. A couple of work days with a holiday sandwiched in, and before we know it we’ll have another weekend!
No serious photography this trip, but I had a camera with me at just about all times!
Kathy & I make frequent trips to Marion, NC to visit our friends at Bruce’s Fabulous Foods on Main Street in Marion. We stumbled on Bruce’s a few years ago and have been making regular visits ever since. This past Saturday we made our most recent pilgrimage.
I’ve had an ongoing love for train stations and enjoy photographing them. Not sure exactly why, but I do. We often plan trips around train stations just to check them out.
The station in Marion is one we had visited before, but with a new camera to play with it was time to stop by again! The light was a little tough and we were hungry, so we didn’t spend a lot of time but I got a few shots.
I’ve gotten a little more time to shoot with the 5D Mark III over the last few days. Saturday I was teaching a digital point & shoot class for The Light Factory, and part of the class time is spent out actually taking photos. What a concept – a photography class that actually goes out and takes photos…amazing if I do say so myself! I cheated a little and took the 5D, with full disclosure to the class, of course. And after using my G12 in the previous session.
I’ve still a little vexed by what I feel is most likely a learning curve in Lightroom…my files seem to be coming in flat and dark, and only after applying a pretty aggressive tone curve adjustment can I get them where I want them. I thought maybe I had some kind of Auto Tone turned on, but nothing I see indicates that I do, and even if I did I think the images, if anything, would look lighter instead of darker. I also saw on a video tutorial something about some automatic highlight suppression that Lightroom is doing, but I haven’t found anything definitive about that. So for now I’ve got something that works and I’m using it.
I’ve posted this photos a little larger than usual in case anyone wants to do some peeping. Click on each photo to make them bigger (dare I say “embiggen?”). They look pretty good, I think.
For those of you who I forced to spend a few extra days in March…sorry. The weekend got away from me and before I knew it, well you know.
One of my favorite sunrise locations at any time of the year is Pounding Mill Overlook, on the Blue Ridge Parkway just south of the junction with US-276 that runs between Brevard and Waynesville. It’s either hit or miss here, but generally speaking if you aren’t socked in with clouds you’ll get something worth pulling the camera out for. Fog in the Pink Beds is always a good bet, and a nice golden glow from the rising sun makes for a doubly special sunrise.
Things may be a little quiet here for the next week or so as we head out on our next adventure, but with any luck I’ll come back with some nice shots of the Shenandoah National Park area. They had a little snow at Big Meadows this morning, so you just never know what you might run in to!