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Thread: Frustrated Photo-dork needs Advice Badly

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    Member jmooney's Avatar
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    Frustrated Photo-dork needs Advice Badly

    Hi All,

    I'm looking for some advice here as I'm nearing my wit's end.

    I LOVE photography. I love looking at it and I love making it and talking about it and thinking about.

    I like shooting film and do but need the convenience of digital at this point for the majority of what I do. I don't have access to a darkroom and even if I had one I wouldn't have time to use it.

    I do have access to a computer and being an IT Manager I'd like to think that I'm pretty good at using one, especially since I spend my days helping other people use theirs. The flip side of that is that I spend all day at a computer so I don't want to spend all night at one editing photos and for all I can bend computers to my will, I can't seem to make good, sharp photos come out of mine.

    I've tried about 12 different cameras over the last 5 years and all were mostly disappointing for one reason or another and try as I might with Lightroom and Picasa I can't get them to do what I want. My frustration is at an all time high and I'm feel like never using a camera again. My latest experiment is m4/3rd with a G2 but even at ISO 400 there seems to be a ton of noise and this sensor seems to have about half the dynamic range of slide film.

    I'm not an idiot, I know how to take picture, I've been doing it for years. I know have a nice Mac, software, and an Epson R2880 so I have to tools to produce great prints. I've bought prints from Lenswork and they use the same paper and same ink set (in a larger format printer) and I LOVE what I see but I can't seem to get my equipment to do this. Maybe it needs more effort than I'm putting into it but I can't believe there isn't a way to take a picture and make a quality print from it that doesn't require hours per photo. I'm not looking for a silver bullet but I feel like it can't be this hard if everyone else is doing it.

    Here are some examples of photos I like and would like to make mine look like:


    San Donato by Choollus, on Flickr

    IMG_5475 | Flickr - Photo Sharing! (sorry he disabled embedding)


    Untitled by simple tess, on Flickr


    the road not taken by wild goose chase, on Flickr




    Maybe I'm asking too much, I want to figure this out, I want sharp, nicely colored, noise free images that can be had with a few minutes work per image. Is that too much to ask? (This isn't rhetorical)

    What's the easiest combo of things to use to get me near here? Camera, software, etc. what do I need? I'm not looking to buy my way to it but I do need these tools to make the images. I've got the vision and the subjects, I just need to capture them.

    This isn't a whine-fest at all, so please don't accuse me of that. I really just can't seem to figure this out and I'm asking for help. I'll appreciate it more than you'll know.

    Take care,

    Jim

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    Re: Frustrated Photo-dork needs Advice Badly

    I am not sure this frustration has anything to do with the camera/gear at all.

    Dynamic range of a print is what?

    Good light to capture the images and decent post processing (if you like B&W images just use the dynamic contrast BW setting in your G2 and use the jpg to print) would do, I think.

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    Member jmooney's Avatar
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    Re: Frustrated Photo-dork needs Advice Badly

    Quote Originally Posted by Vivek View Post
    I am not sure this frustration has anything to do with the camera/gear at all.

    Dynamic range of a print is what?

    Good light to capture the images and decent post processing (if you like B&W images just use the dynamic contrast BW setting in your G2 and use the jpg to print) would do, I think.
    Thanks Vivek, I'm going to try the BW setting you suggested and see what it can do.

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    Re: Frustrated Photo-dork needs Advice Badly

    there's nothing wrong with your equipment, jim.
    you need to learn how to exploit it effectively to achieve the results you want.

    i think you might be at the point that a workshop might be useful. having others around you to ask questions of and listen to would likely do your photography more good than most anything else.

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    Member jmooney's Avatar
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    Re: Frustrated Photo-dork needs Advice Badly

    Quote Originally Posted by Godfrey View Post
    there's nothing wrong with your equipment, jim.
    you need to learn how to exploit it effectively to achieve the results you want.

    i think you might be at the point that a workshop might be useful. having others around you to ask questions of and listen to would likely do your photography more good than most anything else.
    Thanks Godfrey I hadn't considered that, but I will look into it for sure as I think you are on to something.

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    Re: Frustrated Photo-dork needs Advice Badly

    Hi Jim,

    Virtually every good image you see will have been post processed, initially taking far more time than you are prepared to take. They will be processed differently for the web compared to for print, for example. For high quality home prints you need to get into colour management, raw images and the like.

    Most likely you are pixel peeking too much, (on a monitor that is far too bright) and if you have the quality of subjects do you also have lighting (time of day), etc?

    If you want to stick with lightroom, then get a decent book or two. Maybe visit Kelbytv.com, or elsewhere, see what tutorials are available - some for free if you search through the stuff on that site.

    If I used lightroom, I would ask you to send me a couple of your images, maybe I'd be able to shift towards something you liked, and tell you how.

    The camera is only half the imaging system in most cases.

    Like most things, it looks easy, and is easy when you know what you are doing. Often folk forget how difficult it was to start with.

    Enjoy the learning process.

    Best wishes,

    Ray

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    Senior Member Per Ofverbeck's Avatar
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    Re: Frustrated Photo-dork needs Advice Badly

    Quote Originally Posted by jmooney View Post
    ...
    I like shooting film and do but need the convenience of digital at this point for the majority of what I do. I don't have access to a darkroom and even if I had one I wouldn't have time to use it.

    ...
    To put it bluntly, here´s the heart of your problems, I´d say.

    While digital is indeed more ´convenient´ than silver, there´s a learning curve that just cannot be skipped over.

    Being good at something worth doing takes time and effort, and countless tries and disappointments. So, if you can´t spare the time a darkroom would take, you won´t get very far with digital either, I´m afraid. It has nothing (not much, anyway) to do with your familiarity with, and knowledge of, computer use as such; this is an artistic medium, and the important decisions are aesthetic ones, not technical.

    So: just find the time, and be patient. Obviously, reading and workshop attendance will help a lot, too.
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    Re: Frustrated Photo-dork needs Advice Badly

    One of the first things I would do is get a good calibrator for your monitor and use it. The other is don't be afraid to experiment in Photoshop or Lightroom, just to see what happens. The best way to learn is hands on.
    Alan

    Selection of work: http://weinschela.zenfolio.com

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    Re: Frustrated Photo-dork needs Advice Badly

    I agree with the rest. It's like asking why you don't play golf like Tiger Woods, even though you have the same clubs. I don't mean that in a patronizing way. It's not the equipment, it is the experience. What you are really after is two or three separate things.
    1. Identifying what you want out of your photo.
    2. Identifying what the raw photo lacks, or where it is deficient compared to what you want.
    3. Having the experience and skill to translate that desire into the final print.

    Like anything, you either need to put in the time, OR you need to give it to someone else who has put in the time. I also agree that a workshop or just spending time with someone who is skilled at it will benefit you. When I was learning from a master printer at ICP, I would bring him what I thought was a finished print. He would say, "why don't you burn 20% more in this area" or "have you considered using a bit of bleach on those highlights?" or some other snippet. I would go back and do it, and all of a sudden the print would be dramatically better. I could easily recognize the improvement, but before he suggested it, I could not have told you how to get there. You can certainly learn on your own, but it is very helpful to have someone who has a wealth of experience to share, if only so they can keep showing you examples of how to solve problems you did not even know where there to begin with!

    My main suggestion would be to sit down with images you like, and really intensely examine them. What are their shortcomings? How might they be fixed? What was the original scene like? Was the light really that blue, what was the contrast actually like? Did that shade of green come out just right? Having an attentive eye to how things look naturally is very very helpful, even if you decide to go for an unnatural or enhanced look later. There is a reason why painters work on still lifes in the studio. They don't go anywhere...In order to get to the point where you can just sit down and quickly process images, you need a lot of practice identifying shortcomings and then knowing what to do to counteract them.

    The other thing I would recommend is to drastically cut down on the number of photos you intend to edit. Rather than work on every photo you shot at a given time, choose one or two and focus on them. If you have an hour, instead of spending one minute on sixty photos, spend 30 minutes each on two photos.

    When I am printing for clients' exhibitions, I usually spend at least 30 minutes to an hour per image if I can. For my own exhibitions, it's usually closer to 3 hours per image...you need to engage with the work.

    Just be glad you are not a painter! You might even consider reading "Ways of Seeing" by John Berger. Rather old by now, but a very good book on visual arts and culture.
    Last edited by Stuart Richardson; 18th March 2012 at 15:56. Reason: grammar, grammar, grammar
    My photos are here: http://www.stuartrichardson.com and more recent work here: http://stuartrichardson.tumblr.com/ Please have a look at my book!
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    Re: Frustrated Photo-dork needs Advice Badly

    I do think all that I wrote above is more important than technology or specific techniques, but there are a few things that can save you a lot of time and effort.

    1. Consider something like a Color Checker Passport. Having a gray card and color chart with you to shoot in a scene will make it dramatically quicker to get to neutral in your processing. Shoot a frame of it every time the light or scene changes significantly. Then when you process you have a custom profile, or just a baseline that will very quickly make things neutral. (Keep in mind though, that you don't always want perfectly neutral results.)

    2. Consider shooting manually. If you stick to a given shutter speed, aperture and white balance when you are shooting any given scene, it makes it easier to batch edit. If you shoot autoexposure and auto-white balance, every image is going to be a little different. If you want them all to look alike later, then you are going to need to work on them individually, thereby taking a lot more time.

    3. If you don't already use it, consider Lightroom 4. In my opinion, Lightroom is the best end to end solution for basic image editing. It is very quick to use when you learn it, and the image editing tools are very intuitive. The print engine, sharpening engine and noise reduction engines are also well designed and useful. It is that much better now that it has integrated soft-proofing and lens corrections. Finally, it is updated all the time, so it gets better and better.

    4. Profile your monitor, and keep that profile up to date. Learn how to use soft-proofing, and if you can, also profile your papers. There is nothing more frustrating than have the image exactly how you want it on the screen, but then not being able to get that onto the paper. Keep in mind, however, that one is a reflective media and another backlit, so they are never going to be EXACTLY alike, but it is possible to get very very close.
    My photos are here: http://www.stuartrichardson.com and more recent work here: http://stuartrichardson.tumblr.com/ Please have a look at my book!
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    Re: Frustrated Photo-dork needs Advice Badly

    "I want sharp, nicely colored, noise free images that can be had with a few minutes work per image."


    Actually, that isn't to much to ask. If I had to spend a bunch of post time on each of the 500 to 1000 wedding images I shoot on any given Saturday I'd never leave the computer chair.

    Note: While you have posted shots that represent what you would like, you've posted none that show what you are shooting, and why you don't like them. Also, remember that everyone takes a crap shot here and there, you just rarely see them proudly posted (well maybe some : -), so the shots you posted as good examples really don't mean much in this context except to say what you do like, not what the problems may be.

    Seems there are two areas of "craftsmanship" you need to evaluate and tighten down ... shooting and processing.

    Camera craftsmanship is a matter of mastering any given camera and avoiding its weakness while exploiting its strengths. I would think it hard to master any camera IF you have had 12 of them in the past few years. However, once you really do master any given camera, it usually provides the skills to master the next one.

    SHARP IMAGES: Given a decent optic on the camera that actually can take a sharp image (don't assume this until you test it on a tripod) ... then this is more about technique and light than anything else. Steady hand-held shots at a shutter speed YOU can hand-hold. Sharp "looking images also have a lot to do with contrast in the scene ... shoot something in the fog or hazy noon conditions and compare it to something shot in the crisp, directional morning light.

    NICE COLOR: This is all relative ... but since you did post shots you like, with color you like, you had to have done that evaluation on your computer ... so you should be able to get there on your shots also. My first question is whether you are shooting RAW files or Jpegs? The second question is whether you are setting auto white balance or selecting per conditions or setting a custom White balance?

    Color also has a lot to do with the quality of the light you are shooting in. Sun blasted lens flare or super hazy lighting will wash colors out ... most of those shots you posted look to be shot in nice diffused light that deeply saturates the subject colors.

    NOISE FREE: This sounds like an exposure issue to me. Often noise is the result of "cheating" the exposure and trying to fix it in post. Plus, the higher the ISO, the more likely that the dynamic range will shorten and shadows start blocking up. I do not know your camera or what abilities it has in terms of dynamic range, but I do know that some cameras are better than others.

    Once you maximize the camera craftsmanship, it should lessen the post work needed ... but NOT eliminate it. Most all digital images need additional work but it need not be so time consuming. Good technique and good light = less work, however, if you shoot a bit sloppy and don't pay attention to the lighting direction and quality of light, and shoot anyway ... then expect a LOT of post work with not so great results.

    -Marc

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    Member jmooney's Avatar
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    Re: Frustrated Photo-dork needs Advice Badly

    Thanks to all for the great advice. There's a few things I've concluded since post and carefully reading all your responses:

    -I need to take a Lightroom workshop. Being in my line of work you can get over confident that you can figure out any software in 10 minutes or less, I've been kidding myself on this one and really need to learn how to use it properly.

    -I've experimented with RAW and JPEG but have always used AWB and that seems to not be a great idea.

    -I need to stop being so hard on myself and shoot more.

    Thank you all again, your advice has been invaluable.

    Jim

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