Visionary Wild, LLC • 2200 19th St. NW, Ste 806, Washington, DC 20009
E-mail: email@example.com • Tel: 1-202-558-9596 (9am to 6pm, EST). • Justin Black’s iPhone: 1-202-302-9030
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Welcome to the Visionary Wild Blog, featuring essays on photography, special offers from our sponsors, upcoming events, and news from our instructors. We invite you to share your comments by clicking the post heading and entering your thoughts in the comment box at the bottom of the post page. The Share This button associated with each blog post enables sharing via Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites.
2) Import images into Lightroom (LR).
3) Process each image as you normally would, paying attention primarily to the highlight values in the darker image, and the shadow and mid- tone values in the lighter image. You generally don’t need to worry about correcting clipped highlights in the lighter image or clipped shadows in the darker image, since you probably won’t be using them.
4) As a starting point, it’s a good idea to set identical values for the following settings:
• White Balance (Temp and Tint)
• Presence (Clarity, Vibrance, Saturation)
• HSL and Color sliders
• Detail (Sharpening, Noise Reduction)
• Lens Corrections
• Camera Calibration
The easiest way to set these identically is to select both images and use the Sync Settings function. You can always depart from the synced settings if you wish.
5) Once you’ve made LR adjustments to each image, select them both. In the LR menu at the top of the screen, go to Photo > Edit In > Open as Layers in Photoshop.
6) In Photoshop (PS), you’ll see that both images are open as layers, one above the other.
7) Add a mask to the top image by going to the Layers window, clicking on the top image, and then clicking the mask icon, which looks like a grey box with a white circle on it.
8) In the Layers menu, click on the white mask symbol to the right of the top image layer. This will set you up to work on the mask.
9) Select the brush tool, and set the color to black, opacity to 100%, and hardness to zero.
10) Paint on the mask anywhere that you want to hide the top image and let the bottom image show through. You can vary brush size, hardness, and opacity, and switch back and forth between white and black to refine the mask.
11) You should now have two exposures blended into one. At this point, you can add adjustment layers above the original images and proceed with your normal PS workflow to finalize the image, or simply Save As the file back to the original folder that they came from. The composite image will be automatically added to your Lightroom catalog.
1. To tone down the whites in an image, select them using Color Range. Add any adjustment layer, and change the layer blending mode to either Multiply or the slightly stronger Linear Burn. Then drop the layer opacity to taste.
2. When shooting frames for a panoramic, manually setting camera exposure is more precise than using an autoexposure mode. Use the middle of the panoramic scene to set the base exposure. If you’re shooting RAW files, you can leave white balance (WB) set to Auto. When processing the files in Adobe Camera Raw, or Lightroom’s Develop module, select one image and drag the WB slider from the “as shot” position to a distinct number. Now sync all the other frames to that WB.
3. Make a preset to rename your files in Bridge or Lightroom based upon the capture date. When you travel, reset the clock in your camera to the local time zone. This way, all your image captures will match up with your itinerary and there will be no confusion as to location. Just remember to reset the clock when you get home.
4. Photoshop’s Ctrl/Command+Z undoes the last step you’ve taken. But using it immediately a second time simply undoes the undo you just made. To step backward more than once, use Alt/Option+Ctrl/Command+Z.
5. When preparing an image for printing, as the final step add a 3 pixel black hairline around the perimeter to define the edge. Three easy ways to do this:
6. Opening several similar images as layers in Photoshop (from either Bridge or Lightroom) aligns the outer dimensions of the images. To align the contents, select all the layers, and then do Edit > Auto-Align Layers.
7. Make a brush to add your name and copyright to images. Make a new white document no larger than 2500 pixels long dimension. Add the copyright symbol and your name. Then do Edit > Define Brush Preset. For a signature brush, write your name on white paper using a black marker, photograph it (jpeg, small, fine), and size the image to no larger than 2500 pixels. Using Image > Adjustments > Levels clip the image to pure white and pure black. Save as a brush, Edit > Define Brush Preset. If you use either of these brushes on a new layer, you can add Layer Styles (drop shadow, etc.) to that layer.
8. Caps Lock toggles the cursor display — for example, from standard to precise.
9. Use the often overlooked Image Processor (from Bridge: Tools > Photoshop > Image Processor) to quickly create new file types. Select the images, choose an output location, select the file type you want, specify the quality and size, and click Run.
10. When making selections, remember that the “marching ants” only show pixels that are at least 50% selected. Outside of the “ants” are pixels that are also selected, just at a lesser amount.
These tips originally appeared as part of an article John wrote for Photoshop World magazine. John co-leads our Vision Workshops series with Jack Dykinga and Justin Black, and in 2014 will lead trips to New Zealand, Iceland, and Patagonia for Visionary Wild.
Our friends at Hunt’s Photo Video and Ilford are sponsoring a free webinar on fine print making,
What are the aspects and qualities that make for a Gallery-Quality Fine Art Print? Exacting color, smooth tonal transitions, a well-balanced contrast range and the best paper choice for the image all come together to make a print worthy of hanging in most any venue or location. Color workflow, soft-proofing and what fine edits to make will all go a long way towards making your results both accurate and repeatable. In this presentation, we’ll explore the process, tools and techniques from edit to output that allow you to produce a print both you and your collectors will be proud of.
by John Shaw
Editor’s note: There’s a lot of photo-mythology floating around out there. Visionary Wild instructor John Shaw puts a few of his favorite myths to rest.
1. Images for the web should be sized at 72 dpi. First of all, “dpi” refers to dots per inch, and computer screens have pixels, not “dots.” But “72 ppi” is also false. Pixels dimensions are the only criteria for computer images. 1200 pixels are 1200 pixels, whether they be 1/inch or 1200/inch. You still have 1200 pixels. Say you have an image that’s 1000 x 500 pixels at 72 ppi. How many total pixels is that? 1000 x 500 = 500,000. Resize to 1000 x 500 pixels at 300 ppi. How many total pixels is that? 1000 x 500 = 500,000. Exactly the same. If you’re resizing web images to 72 ppi, you’re simple adding a useless step to your workflow.
2. Mac monitors use 72 ppi while Windows ones are 96 ppi. Sorry, this is a myth. If it were true, a monitor would have to change resolution depending on whether it was connected to a Mac or a PC. Want to know roughly what the resolution of your monitor is in ppi? Measure the horizontal width of the screen and divide this into the horizontal pixel dimension at the monitor’s native resolution. My laptop’s screen is 1920 pixels wide, and measures about 13.5 inches horizontally. 1920/13.5 = about 142 ppi.
3. You should set Adobe RGB in your camera if you’re shooting RAW files. While this might affect the image displayed on the camera’s LCD, it does not directly affect a RAW file. After all, if Adobe RGB were actually applied, the file would no longer be RAW data.
4. For the best RAW file results, set a specific white balance in the camera. Don’t use Auto White Balance. RAW files have no white balance. Just as I said above, if a white balance were applied the file would no longer be RAW. A specific white balance is only set when the file is processed into a standard graphic file format such as .psd or .tiff or .jpeg; that is, when it is no longer a RAW file.
5. This RAW image is how it appears right out of the camera. Not true. A RAW image has to be rendered in some way before you can even see it. Exactly how it is rendered depends on the default settings of the RAW conversion software you use.
6. You can evaluate exposure by looking at the image on the camera’s LCD. You can adjust the LCD’s brightness on almost all DSLRs, so exactly which level of brightness would be “correct?” Sorry, not true at all. For that matter, the camera LCD most certainly is not a color corrected and calibrated monitor. You can evaluate composition; you cannot evaluate color or exposure. You definitely should use the histograms for exposure information.
7. Always use a UV filter to protect your lens. From what? Dirt and fingerprints? Then you must take the filter off for every shot, otherwise you’re shooting through a dirty, fingerprinted filter. Use one for “protection” only if you can state from what it is you’re protecting the lens. Salt spray? Yes, this might be an answer, but I live about 100 miles from the ocean and on the other side of a mountain range, and if there is salt spray here, protecting my lens will be the least of my worries.
8. 12 frames/second is better than 10/frames per second. In what way? Neither one guarantees you’ve caught the peak moment. Consider this: let’s assume a shutter speed of 1/1000 second. 12 frames/second captures 12/1000 of the action, and misses 988/1000 of it. Holding down the shutter button at the highest frame rate yields lots of images, but not necessarily the one you wanted.
9. Always underexpose a half-stop to richen the colors. Intentional underexposure with digital cameras is one of the worst things you can do. It simply adds noise.
10. Professional photographers get all their equipment free from the camera manufacturers. Boy, do I ever wish this were true, but it isn’t. For that matter, I wish it were true for cars and houses also.
11. All information on photography forums is true. You might remember back when there was an actual discussion about using Scotch® tape to clean camera sensors. I’m fairly sure someone fell for this, and actually tried it. We all know that it’s not Scotch® tape you should use, but duct tape, right? (Well, I read about using duct tape on the Internet, so it must be true.)
CLICK HERE to check out John Shaw’s blog.
By John Shaw
If you’re a RAW shooter you should already know about ETTR, Expose to the Right. The theory behind ETTR is that the best image capture for the most possible information is when the histogram is pushed to the right, to the “bright” side. Just keep adding exposure until that histogram is over to the right side of the graph.
OK, but how far to the right? You definitely don’t want to clip the highlights. DSLR cameras have a clipping warning display, the “blinking highlights,” or “blinkies” as they are commonly called, which shows up on the camera’s LCD. Many cameras will even display the blinkies for each individual color channel, besides the composite luminosity. But remember that the image displayed on the LCD is not the actual RAW file; it’s a jpeg thumbnail created on the fly by the camera. Camera manufacturers have coded in some headroom with the blinkies, as they don’t want customers to be angered at blown out highlights.
Fine. But I would suggest running a test to determine exactly what the correlation is between when the blinkies start, and the actual clipped highlights in the RAW file. You can easily run a test to determine this. Set your camera to Aprerture Priority, lock it firmly on a tripod, and aim at any scene. Increase exposure until the first blinkies appear. Note this frame (probably the easiest solution would be to delete any previous frame you shot to get to this point). Now shoot several more frames, using Auto Compensation to add 1/3 stop to each successive frame. Open this series in your RAW file software, such as Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw, turn on the clipping warning in the software, and check each frame. I’ll bet that the starting frame, the one the camera blinkies said was clipped, is actually not clipped at all. In fact, you might be surprised at just how much headroom you have. With my particular Nikon D800E and a medium toned test subject, I have to add 1.3 stops beyond the blinkies before the RAW file has clipped highlights.
So what’s the point of doing this? Why worry? Well, with digital capture, noise lives in the dark exposures. If you want the best possible data, start with the best possible exposure. With my particular camera I’ll add some extra exposure whenever the subject is such that I can, especially when working at higher ISO values where noice is always a problem. Recently I shot a landscape at ISO 1600. I shot at both the metered ETTR exposure, and at my “extra 1.3 stop” ETTR settings. The difference was remarkable. The first image needed noise reduction. When I looked at the second shot, the one when I had added 1.3 stops, the image on the LCD appeared almost washed out. But when I reduced the exposure in Lightroom (my standard RAW file software), all the noise was gone. In fact, my tests suggest there is even a slight difference when the camera is set at base ISO 100, where I use the camera the most.
Does this really matter? The answer depends on how compulsive you are about quality, the realities faced in the field, and on how the photograph is to be used. Just remember, ETTR is for RAW capture only. And you don’t want to lose an image by blowing out the highlights. There are indeed some scenes with the highlights already maxed out.
Once you know how the blinkies in your camera correlate to the actual RAW histogram, a simple and safe solution — particular for static subjects such as landscapes – is to set your camera to bracket another frame that is 2/3 stop more exposure than the ETTR histogram on the LCD. When I shoot with my D800E, I know that I’ll be adding that extra bit of light whenever I can.
John Shaw is one of the most highly respected nature photographers in the world, and Visionary Wild is proud to include him among its instructors.
In memory of the innocent lives lost at Sandy Hook School in Connecticut, Visionary Wild has pledged to donate 5% of all new workshop enrollment fees received between December 15, 2012 and January 31, 2013. Funds will go to support organizations providing counseling and other vital services to the children, families, and staff of Sandy Hook School. If you are looking for ways to help but aren’t able to join us for a workshop, Newtown Youth and Family Services is a worthy charity that is presently providing much needed services to that heartbroken community.
This Arizona Public Television interview with Jack Dykinga really captures what he’s all about.
Visionary Wild instructor John Shaw talks about his forty year career in natural history photography, describing how he got hooked on photography, what keeps him inspired, and a little about his workflow.
In January 2012, photographers Jack Dykinga, John Shaw, and Justin Black collaborated on our first Vision Workshops at Santa Catalina State Park in Oro Valley, Arizona. Cinematographer Austin Andrews joined the group for a few field sessions in an attempt to capture the experience. Jack, John, and Justin are returning to Santa Catalina State Park for two more Vision Workshops in February 2013.
On occasion, we offer special photo expeditions outside of the “regularly scheduled programming” listed in the Workshops section of this website.
This September 20-26, we are offering a photo trip into the beautiful alpine High Sierra backcountry west of Bishop, California, for a small group of nine participants. The instructors on this trip are renowned Sierra Nevada landscape photographer Jim Stimson, and Visionary Wild’s Justin Black. Our good friends Mike and Tess Anne Morgan of Bishop Pack Outfitters will support the trip with expert mule packing service to carry all our gear into and out of the mountains, and guided riding mules to carry us! Our expert backcountry chef and camp manager will take care of meals so we can focus on photography. CLICK HERE for more information from our online newsletter.
“The Sierra Nevada has been my backyard and playground for over 35 years. There are few landscapes on the planet that are so gloriously appointed with soaring granite spires, crystal clear lakes, vibrant green meadows, rich beds of flowers, and autumn splashes of color, so I consider myself very fortunate to call the Range of Light my home. I enjoy the inspiring challenge of photographing the grand landscape or the intimate details at my feet. It’s one of the best places I can think of for an adventure with a camera.” –Jim Stimson
June 3-20, 2013, we are offering a wildlife-oriented African Safari led by Justin Black for an even more intimate group of five photographers to visit Etosha National Park in Namibia, Chobe National Park in Botswana, Victoria Falls, and cheetah and white rhino preserves in South Africa. As of June 30th, 2012, only two spaces remain available. Our group will work with some of the best guides in the business and will use new, heavily customized safari vehicles at Etosha, and a highly specialized six-seat photo boat on the Chobe River. These platforms offer the best photographer positions available anywhere in Africa, with each photographer having his or her own 360-degree rotating photo chair with 360-degree revolving camera mounts that make working with big lenses a breeze. To top it off, we’re providing loan of big glass through Nikon South Africa, so you don’t have to lug it to Africa with you. CLICK HERE for more information.
Our January 2012 Yucatan Expedition was a great success thanks to the contributions of leader Jack Dykinga, our excellent guides Alfredo Medina and Sara Fuentes, and a superb group of participants. After meeting the group in Merida, we were welcomed by the friendly staff of Hacienda Itzincab-Cámara, a beautifully restored and updated 19th-century estate with lush tropical gardens an ancient Mayan pyramid rising just behind the main house. The hacienda served as our private base camp as we visited several stunning cenotes and caverns, working as a team to light paint the interiors when darkness prevailed. Once we had finished photographing, the cool, turquoise water of the cenotes often beckoned us to cool off with a swim. For the last two days, we made our way west to the Ria Celestún estuary, and made excursions by boat to photograph the flamingo colony, numbering in the tens of thousands. The following gallery of images were all made on the trip. We’re going back in January 2013, and we hope you’ll join us! CLICK HERE for more information or to register.
Jack Dykinga has written an article about his experiences exploring and photographing Yucatan’s cenotes, published in the June edition of the LiveBetter newsletter on the Center for a Better Life website.
On May 13th we completed our ten-day, 226-mile raft trip down the Grand Canyon, that I led with Visionary Wild instructor Jack Dykinga. An amazing group of ten clients plus our superb AZRA boat crew, Randy Tucker and Katie Proctor, made the trip one of the best we’ve ever done. Drawing on insights gained on earlier trips down the Colorado River, we were able to pull off a phenomenal itinerary, including some well-known Grand Canyon highlights and some little-known spots that are nevertheless a photographer’s dream come true. All of the images in the following gallery were on this trip. Participant Chuck Turner has written a series of excellent blog posts on the trip, which you can read by CLICKING HERE.
On our last day on the river, our intrepid raft guide Katie Proctor kindly shared with us her original poem about the lingering impact of a Grand Canyon raft trip. She left most of us crying tears of joy. Katie has kindly permitted us to reproduce it here, and it appears below the image gallery.
We are planning another Grand Canyon raft trip for the second half of September 2013, and we invite interested parties to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to be added to the waiting list. We hope you’ll join us! –Justin Black
Raven Awaits You
by Katie Proctor
You were there
You newly fashioned Cowboys and Cowgirls
Where Water blasted over Rock,
careened through narrow canyons
and seeped quietly down salmon colored stone.
You were there
Mouth agape in a kind of “Rock shock,”
looking at ancient wise Rock.
You got the suspicion that all the commitments and deadlines you thought so
were embarrassingly trivial.
At least for now.
And now is all there is.
You were there
when you realized this place was not magic.
Its affects, real!
Reality doesn’t hold a candle to the realness of this place.
You were there
in this place where clean becomes relative
dryer sheets ineffective
and the scent of your own self
You were there
when the boat soared up
and crashed back down
in your face
in your ears
up your nose
in the crevasses between your neck and jacket
down your pants
up your legs
down your throat
tousled your hair
wiped you clean
took your inhibitions with its cascade
released you of your droning thoughts,
the web of anxiety cramping your heart,
your steadfast visions and plans for the future.
Washed clean your idea of “The Way Things Ought to Be” and left you
Alive and smiling.
You were there
when subtly, slowly
Rock revealed to you that something so solid and still
can move you.
You can move mountains.
You were there
in Rock’s presence when your power scattered and just before you uttered the word
to your friend that these walls make you feel “small”, “insignificant”
you remembered your place.
you may have previously thought that your average size footprint didn’t matter
much at all in this Grand Scheme.
These same Rocks will be a witness to your impact for a millennia
after the short decades you were here.
You were there
when the question was posed to you
from the silently serious Rattlesnake
from the peering and ponderous Big Horn
What will you do with your great power friends?
What did you leave?
How did you love?
What did you learn when the stars poured down through that sliver above and
To open your eyes and your soul?
When you think you are insignificant remember the stars are bearing witness to
your one miraculous life
Rattlesnake is watching.
Coyote waits to see.
You were there
When you realized that this was more than a check marked off your “bucket list.”
Eventually that crumpled article torn from that Magazine’s “Top 10 Things to Do
in North America”
The Transformation has occurred.
And you will feel
even from far away
in an office building in a distant metropolis
under florescent lights at the supermarket
or in that space between breaths when you crave Earthy connection.
You will know.
Perched among soaring walls and quiet pools.
Near pink sand beaches and quavering Evening Primrose.
Blacktail waits in stillness.
You were there
You are here
© 2012 Katie Proctor. All Rights Reserved by the author. Reproduced here with permission.
There is nothing like exploring sublime landscapes with a group of friends who share a love for photography and wide open spaces. Immediately after the Thanksgiving holiday, Jack Dykinga, Jeff Foott, and I led a week-long overland photo expedition with nine other passionate photographers, visiting some stunning backcountry areas in northern Arizona. As the guest of a gracious Navajo elder, we first explored and photographed a very special location characterized by dramatic red rock sandstone hoodoos and dinosaur footprints 200 million years old. We then traversed over twenty miles of sandy 4WD jeep trails to one of our very favorite Colorado Plateau locations, a photographer’s paradise of swirling petrified sand dunes, intimate abstract designs, and grand vistas overlooking the Grand Staircase leading down to the Grand Canyon. Our merry band was joined by Chris Collard, Editor-in-Chief of Overland Journal magazine, Laurie Rubin of Nik Software, and Tom Hanagan of Four Wheel Campers.
The days were so full of photographic opportunities that many of us had to force ourselves to take a break in order to get some food and a nap, and the photography didn’t end at dusk. Working by the light of our headlamps, we set up Nikons with MC-36 intervalometers to shoot five-hour multi-exposure star trail images, the results of which can be seen in Jack Dykinga’s stunning image in the gallery below. After a week of intense photography and fulfilling camaraderie, we exchanged hugs, said our farewells, and set off toward home.
The Arizona Overland Expedition was a prototype, testing a model for more overland adventures to come. Stay tuned for exciting overland trips in 2012.
Here are some highlights submitted by the group.
This video featuring photographs by Jack Dykinga and Justin Black from previous Grand Canyon raft trips captures the beauty, majesty, and intimacy of a photographic adventure in the canyon. Add marvelous camaraderie and bit of adventure and you’ve got an experience you’ll never forget!
At a gala event in London sponsored by Veolia Environnement, Visionary Wild instructor Daniel Beltrá has won the 2011 Wildlife Photographer of the Year Award for his image Still Life in Oil, a striking shot of eight brown pelicans rescued from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in June 2010.
Beltrá made the photograph at an ad hoc bird-rescue facility on the Louisiana coast. ‘Crude oil trickles off the feathers of the rescued brown pelicans, turning the white lining sheets into a sticky, stinking mess. The pelicans are going through the first stage of cleaning. They’ve already been sprayed with a light oil to break up the heavy crude trapped in their feathers,’ Beltrá explained. A statement from the judging panel described the image as ‘a strong environmental statement, technical perfection and a work of art all rolled into one. The sheer simplicity of this powerful image makes it really beautiful and shocking at the same time’
The international judging panel of respected wildlife experts and nature photographers reviewed more than 40,000 entries from aspiring amateurs and established professional photographers from all corners of the earth. As a sign of the competition’s growing international reach, this year saw first-time submissions from countries as far afield as Cambodia, Moldova, Brunei and Kyrgyzstan. There was also a notable increase in photographs submitted from countries such as India, China and Russia.
Now in its 47th year, the competition is owned by the Natural History Museum and BBC Wildlife Magazine and is sponsored by Veolia Environnement. It is internationally recognised for taking a lead in the artistic representation of the natural world and continues to be held in high esteem with a reputation for being the Oscars of the wildlife photographic calendar.
The winning images will be featured in an international exhibition beginning at the Natural History Museum, London, on Friday 21 October
This important photograph is presently touring as part of Beltrá’s exhibit, Spill, at the Long Beach Aquarium in California, and at Roca Gallery in Barcelona, Spain. Limited edition prints are avaible as follows:
Oil Spill #20 – Still Life in Oil
Limited Editions: Mounted Size: Price:
8 48 x 60 $10,250
10 40 x 48 $5,500
15 25 x 30 $3,500
Prices are for unframed, museum quality mounted, archival prints.
Shipping and sales tax not included. For more information and edition availability, contact Susan Newbold at email@example.com.
Visionary Wild instructor, Polar explorer Chris Linder produced this stunning video featuring his photographs from his latest expedition to Iceland this past August with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute researchers. Chris and landscape photographer Justin Black will lead a photo expedition for nine passionate photographers August 12-19, 2012, which will visit Iceland’s puffin colonies, coastal landscapes, glaciers, iceberg-filled bays, and dramatic volcanic interior. Click here for more information about this exciting expedition!
The November 2011 issue of Outdoor Photographer magazine features an article by Justin Black about ways to add greater meaning and purpose to your photography. You can read the full text and see the accompanying photos here:
“Polar exploration is at once the cleanest and most isolated way of having a bad time which has been devised,” wrote Apsley Cherry-Garrard of his time with the 1910 Scott expedition to the South Pole. And that’s how most of us still imagine polar expeditions: stolid men with ice riming their beards drawing sledges and risking death for scientific knowledge. But polar science has changed drastically over the past century—as Chris Linder shows us, brilliantly, with Science on Ice.
The result is a combination travel book and paean to the hard work and dedication that underlies our knowledge of life on earth. Science on Icetakes readers to the farthest reaches of our planet; science has rarely been more exciting—or inspiring.
Review of Science on Ice:
“Science on Ice gives the reader a glimpse into the challenges of conducting field research in the extreme and isolated environments of the Arctic and Antarctic. I came away with a new appreciation of both the risks and adventures scientists experience, the creativity and adaptability they must possess to work in difficult conditions, and most of all, the fact that they are normal human beings with a strong sense of curiosity that fuels their work. This book will help us understand these distant reaches of our world, and] it has enormous potential to spark the minds of future would-be scientists.”—Amy Gulick, photographer and author ofSalmon in the Trees: Life in Alaska’s Tongass Rain Forest
A question recently came in asking if it is ok to use the camera’s program mode, as opposed to manual, aperture priority, or shutter priority. Other than being bound by the laws of physics, there is little or nothing in photography that requires orthodoxy, “right” or “wrong,” “ok” or “not ok.” Shooting in Program mode is fine if that’s how the photographer chooses to shoot and if it doesn’t get in the way of making the envisioned photograph. As with any photographic tool or technique, however, I’d always recommend that the photographer understand what the camera is doing and be able to express the reasons he or she is choosing to use that particular mode over another one.
I primarily do landscape work. Back in the days of shooting color transparency film, virtually all of my work was spot metered and shot in manual mode, because film was unforgiving and that level of careful precision was how I achieved the best possible results. Now, with digital, the way the medium responds to light is different, so calculating optimal exposure is different. The color Matrix meters these days are quite good at evaluating not only overall luminance, but also the tonal range of each color channel (red-green-blue), so they have certain advantages over traditional metering methods when it comes to exposing to match the performance of the sensor in the camera. We are also able to confirm the exposure we want with the histogram, so for many types of photography there is a good argument to be made that shooting in an automatic mode makes the most sense most of the time. It is always possible to bias the exposure one way or the other using exposure compensation, and to shift shutter speed and aperture as desired.
There are certainly exceptions, but since going [almost] all digital, I am mostly using aperture priority, auto white balance, and Matrix metering. I shoot RAW 100% of the time, expose for maximum data/minimum noise (biased toward overexposure without clipping color channels, otherwise known as exposing to the right), and set correct tonalities, color balance, black point, etc. in post processing. I could achieve the same results in Program mode, but it would require the extra step of shifting the exposure to the aperture or shutter speed I wish to use.
At the end of the day, it’s important to identify and understand a simple set of camera settings, tools, and techniques that are legitimately helpful in making the images you want to create, and then concentrate your attention on concepts, themes, light, composition, color, and gesture. As a photographer, one of your goals should be to get the camera out of the way of your vision and creativity. –Justin Black
A new photography site called PhotographyTalk.com recently recruited me to serve as a professional contributor to their forums, and while browsing recent posts I came across a topic in one of the forums asking which is more important, the act of recording the original raw image or the post-processing necessary to create the final photograph that represents the photographer’s expression of the image. It got me thinking that there’s something more important than either of those options: the experience of simply being there.
Just being present to witness whatever it is we choose to photograph, even if no image is recorded, is of tremendous value. For instance, I tend to be out “in the field” before dawn only when I plan to photograph at sunrise, and I’m incredibly grateful that over the years photography has provided the motivation. The time I’ve spent out in the pre-dawn light watching the first rays of the sun play across the atmosphere and landscape is precious to me. I can’t count the number of places that photography has taken me, and I’d rather have those experiences and memories incorporated into my being than a set of perfect photographs but no memories or lessons learned. One of the greatest things about photography is that it encourages us to get out, look into the world, and be a part of events that we might not otherwise encounter.
Of course, I take for granted that every image for which I have a meaningful application will require some amount of work, be it basic RAW conversion or more involved Photoshop work, to prepare it for publication or printing. I also consider processing essential in terms of my expression of what I am trying to communicate to the viewer. So, yes, it is important, and as Ansel said (and I paraphrase) it’s like the performance of a musical score, but give me the personal memory of an exceptional moment in nature over a perfect finished print any day. In our long rush to master technology and technique, it’s important to remember to live life to the fullest and make the most of every new experience we’re fortunate enough to have.