Thursday, April 22, 2010

Digital and hints.

Over the years a lot of people have asked me how they could improve their ability to capture images with their digital cameras.  This is just one 'hint' that will give you much more control than without it.

First of all, digital image files have lots of detail in areas where a film image does not.  If you shoot slides and underexpose in order to make the colors more saturated, you can also expect that the darkest shadows in a typical landscape scene will 'drop out' or 'block up'.  I.e., they will be just black and without details.  But, when you underexpose a digital capture--in order to avoid the most handicapping problem of 'blown-out' highlights--areas where there is simply no data, blank....NUTTIN'--there is still detail in even the very dark shadows.  It isn't necessarily even visible, until you use the tools available to you in most image manipulation programs....okay, in PHOTOSHOP.  Let's not mince words here: Adobe Photoshop is, has been, and likely will remain the dominant software for photographic manipulation.  If you don't at least have the consumer strength version, Photoshop Elements, you are using something that is a wannabe program.

If you are taking digital pictures and NOT using a computer to process and improve them, then you are realizing about a quarter of the potential of digital imaging.  Automated 'point and shoot' cameras are very, very good these days....but, that doesn't mean that they are able to wring the full potential out of an image.  To do that you need to dive-in and use Photoshop--on at least an entry level initially--to adjust and improve what the camera did.

And, if the whole proposition intimidates you, then welcome to the club.  Every first-time user has felt that way at some level.  You need to find out what the basic controls are and--like driving a car--what to do to make it make it do what you want to do.  You have to be a beginner before you are a's like life, eh.

So, here's the BIG TIP:  if you figure out how to set your camera on 'manual' and have the ability to adjust the exposure of each shot you can make sure that you have data, i.e. detail and subject matter, in the entire 'blown highlights'.  By underexposing by about 2/3 rds of a stop, you can come away with images that are ready to be 'photoshopped'.  They will appear a bit darker than you might prefer....but they will not have blank areas.  This means that by using 'levels' or 'curves' or--better yet--'highlights and shadows' in Photoshop, you can set the contrast of the image so that it has detail in BOTH shadows and highlights....and that is HUGE.

In the bad old days of film, you were facing a set of choices that were all less than ideal.  And, perfectionists, and professionals went to great lengths--using all manner of tricks and techniques, tools and skills--to arrive at the same point that pretty much anybody can today....just by taking the time to find out how.

Trust me it will be worth the effort and your photographs will take on a much richer and more appealing appearance. The below image would be rather plain and even boring without using the available tools to improve it...nothing fancy, just basic adjustments. 


Stark Raving Zen said...

Beautiful! Thank you! :)

Painting the Light said...

Okay, you're not gonna believe this...but this is ANOTHER house I've taken photos of because I wanted to paint it. Yes, really. From pretty much the same angle as this, pulled over on the shoulder of the highway, I got out of the car and took a bunch of photos, probably about a year ago. This is starting to get creepy. Or maybe it's just that there are a limited number of "stand-out" homes/farms in Maine, and we both seem to have hit them all. Or maybe we just both like to drive the back roads of Western Maine...


Painting the Light said...

P.S. I forgot to say, spectacular photo!