Along with normal how-to articles and essays, I’ve always liked reading and writing very technical, nitty-gritty articles about photography — sometimes, articles on topics that rarely come up while actually taking pictures. In fact, I usually don’t even use my own sharpest aperture charts in the field, as useful as they are, since I don’t like carrying around charts. So, then, does all that technical stuff matter? Is it even worth talking about in the first place? These questions are very important to ask, since most people don’t want waste their time on topics that are unnecessary for their photography — do these articles actually help? There are no easy answers, but a recent trip I took to Death Valley makes a compelling argument for why some of this highly-technical information really does matter.
ISO invariance is one of the most talked-about topics in photography today, yet most people don’t really understand what it is. That isn’t a surprise; ISO invariance can be very technical and counter-intuitive, and it doesn’t fit well with many photographers’ general understanding of ISO. However, ISO invariance is an important topic, especially since many cameras today are close to being ISO invariant. If you want to maximize your camera’s dynamic range and avoid using “useless” ISO values, this topic is directly relevant to your photos. So, what is ISO invariance, and how can you use it to your advantage in your own photography?
Two recurring questions that we often see from photographers are: “I have color management properly set up on my computer; why is it that the color is different between an out-of-camera JPEG and, say, Lightroom (substitute with your favorite 3rd-party converter)?” and “Why is it that the particular color on a photo is different from the actual color?”. In this article, we will go over why color from images is reproduced differently on camera LCD screens and monitors, and the steps you can take to achieve more accurate colors.
On any photographic forum, it doesn’t take much effort to find old or new discussions on how to set the “proper” exposure while shooting, and even what exactly “proper exposure” is. The question of setting exposure was and is one of the most commonly-discussed topics on forums and blogs. Newbies (and not) bring it up again and again and receive all sorts of explanations – long and short, deeply “scientific” and completely “practical”, starting with advice to use the in-camera histogram, “zebras”, manual exposure mode, corrections and compensation, special camera modes to increase the dynamic range and increase the reliability of the histogram and other overexposure indicators, a separate exposure meter, Adams’s exposure formula, metering the incident light, spot measurement, a grey card, the back of one’s hand, green grass, an ExpoDisk, the sunny 16 rule, Magic Cube, etc., etc.
DIY projects are always popular, so we’ve decided to throw another one into the mix. This particular little idea comes from a problem that many photographers have – where do you get a good, small, white/gray surface to use for white balancing your RAW shots in conversion?
Recently I returned to one of my enduring passions: shooting film. I’m Italian and I recently moved to California. In Italy, it’s really hard to find a good lab to develop film and it’s even more difficult to find rolls of film of the brands I like. Here in the US, I felt reborn with new joy: everything is so much easier when it comes to shooting film. All over the world shooting film is getting more popular, it’s in fashion again, and it’s even possible to find photographers returning to analog, ditching digital for paid jobs. In Italy, the business of photography completely revolves around shooting digital: almost no one thinks about film anymore. So for me, it was amazing to take my four 120 rolls to the lab to discover they could be processed only after the order for the previous customer was finished… the lab told me a well-known company with a blue logo based in the Bay area had just delivered a big batch of 70 rolls for processing! I was kind of sad when I discovered my batch was delayed by 48 hours (beyond the usual 24 hours needed for developing, printing the contact sheet and scanning everything in high resolution), but I finally received my processed rolls and you can see some results in the images of this article.
Suppose you have read somewhere that the dynamic range of your camera at a certain ISO setting is 11 stops. And here comes the immediate question – how can one use such a treasure to its full potential? Optimal exposure for RAW is the answer. But now we need to explain what we mean when we say, “optimal exposure for RAW”. Let’s start with one of the problems, which arises as a result of non-optimal exposure for RAW. Here is a typical wide dynamic range low-light scene. According to Sekonic spot-meter, it is wider than 11 stops:
As we already mentioned in the previous article “Where are my Mid-tones?“, most raw converters apply some hidden adjustments to a raw shot, often resulting in a bumped mid-tone, clipped highlights, and compressed shadows. This is done to make the shot look good, but can also lead to all sorts of confusion. If you are using or planning to use some raw converter, you may want to know what “beautifiers” it applies, and their price.
We’ve gotten several emails, the most recent and the best phrased one from a reader of Photography Life, with questions along the following lines:
What happened to my mid-tones? I set the exposure using exposure meter, opened the shot in Adobe Lr (or Adobe Camera Raw, or some other converter) … and the shot looks overexposed and everything from mid-tone and up looks very flat. If I shoot in RAW+JPEG, the JPEG looks OK, while the RAW is not. Should I expose lower?
We’ve decided that the reply to this question belongs here.
You may find this article to be useful in a practical way, not just as an isolated case of RAW data damage. Often, just a casual look into raw data provides arguments allowing one to persuade technical support that there is a problem with your camera body that needs to be addressed. The case started with this post at DPReview: