Monday, 9 March 2009

Photography is a bottomless pit.

Photography is a great hobby. For most, it’s pretty accessible. You don’t need a DSLR. You don’t need lots of megapixels. Within reason, you can get similar results for most types of shot with a normal point-and-shoot with some manual controls, as you can with a £5000 professional DSLR. I say within reason, because many situations are helped a lot by having better manual controls, better performance in low light, and a more versatile selection of lenses and accessories. Plus, unless you are enlarging prints to a poster size, you don’t really need 10MP sensors. In fact, one could argue that more pixels lets you relax your composition a little, as you can crop and still retain a lot of quality. I know I’ve fallen into that trap before.

However, no matter how accessible photography is for the hobbyist, once you start to get into paid work, it becomes a lot more difficult. If you’re just shooting for yourself to show online or in a photo album, you can get away with a lot of things you couldn’t in a professional situation.

For example: colour calibration. Most people don’t know or care about it. If the picture from the printer turns out slightly different from the one on the screen, then that’s the printers fault, right? Well, no. You have to calibrate your monitor to show the correct colours. You have to profile your printer, so software knows it’s capabilities and can adjust the picture accordingly. You have to be careful when transferring pictures in between programs, as some use different colourspaces. It’s all stuff that’s important for a pro, as you can’t get away with having colours that aren’t accurate. However, for a beginner looking to sort their colours out, it’s overwhelming. Just a glance through this page reveals how in-depth you can go with it. It’s a lot to read for someone who just wants to print a picture how it’s shown on the screen.

There are similar problems when it comes to post-processing. Go onto any photography forum, and there will be multi-page threads discussing the best way to organise and edit photos. Do you use Lightroom, Bridge, or the one that came with your camera? Do you do RAW edits in that program, or Photoshop? How in-depth should you do your editing before switching to something like Photoshop? What’s the best way to go about sharpening a photo?

There are multiple ways to achieve the same (or similar) effect in a program like Photoshop. People will constantly argue about the best way to do something, and this is extremely confusing for someone just getting into this sort of thing. I’m still not sure on the best way for what I do.

Currently, I import photos from a memory card using Lightroom. Lightroom organises into folders in the naming format “yyyy_mm_dd”. I then add tags to the photos, and maybe make a collection if they’re all the same subject. I then go through them, and flag my favourites, then develop these using the develop module in Lightroom. I do as much as I can using the adjustments in Lightroom, and only export to Photoshop when I need some more control. When I’m done, I usually export to jpeg in a subfolder named “Edited”, with size and output sharpening based on where the photos will end up.

I feel this gives me a decent amount of control, but I’m always looking for a better way to do things. I know that I need to learn more about sharpening and masks in Photoshop. My problem is that I am partially colourblind, so things like white balance and tints are very hard to judge. I do my best, though.

Don’t even get me started on lighting. That’s another post.