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Archive 2012 · Frustrated Photo-dork needs Advice Badly
  
 
jmooney
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p.1 #1 · 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

http://www.flickr.com/photos/76802173@N00/4655102341/ (sorry he disabled embedding)


Untitled by simple tess, on Flickr


the road not taken by wild goose chase, on Flickr



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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



Mar 17, 2012 at 09:45 PM
Monito
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p.1 #2 · Frustrated Photo-dork needs Advice Badly


jmooney wrote:
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.


Sounds like you are underexposing. A good DSLR or interchangeable lens camera (ILC) will have about twice the dynamic range of slide film and in good hands will have a touch more than colour print film, though some practitioners can take colour print film a bit further.

Noise comes from underexposing, which pushes midtones down into the noise floor. Are you raising your exposures in post processing? ISO 400 is the limit of some smaller cameras, but even a modern ILC should have no trouble with ISO 400.

You are an IT manager. Is your monitor profiled, or at least calibrated lately? Are you using colour managed tools?

Have you shot with a gray card or step wedge or ColorChecker in the scene? That will help diagnose exposure problems.

Shoot in Raw mode.

Look up "Expose to the Right", which means to use the HistoBlinkyMeter (rear display histogram with highlight blinkies enabled). Then you expose as far to the right as you can without mounding up or peaking on the right, and without getting blinkies except in unimportant highlights (chrome on a sunny day). In the Raw conversion, you push the tones down into a proper range.

What cameras do you have in your possession currently? Can you post an example photo of yours that you think misses the mark but should hit it but doesn't?



Mar 17, 2012 at 09:56 PM
jmooney
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p.1 #3 · Frustrated Photo-dork needs Advice Badly


Monito wrote:
Sounds like you are underexposing. A good DSLR or interchangeable lens camera (ILC) will have about twice the dynamic range of slide film and in good hands will have a touch more than colour print film, though some practitioners can take colour print film a bit further

Noise comes from underexposing, which pushes midtones down into the noise floor. Are you raising your exposures in post processing? ISO 400 is the limit of some smaller cameras, but even a modern ILC should have no trouble with ISO 400.


Yes, I usually seem to have to add fill light to just about everything.

You are an IT manager. Is your monitor profiled, or at least calibrated lately? Are you using colour managed tools?

Just using the Apple built in stuff, I don't have any profiling devices

Have you shot with a gray card or step wedge or ColorChecker in the scene? That will help diagnose exposure problems.

No I haven't done that but I will try.

Shoot in Raw mode.

I've done both ways and still much the same result

I will try that.



I have a Panny G2 currently.

This one has a lot of noise in it:


P1010017 by jmooney776, on Flickr

More noise and when I tried to bring up the exposure it got noisier. Same happened with sharpening. This was shot in open bright shade.


P1010024 by jmooney776, on Flickr

These are just two example I can put my hand on quickly but it's not just this camera or today, I feel like it's been happening for a long time.

Thanks for the advice so far.

Jim



Mar 17, 2012 at 10:13 PM
Monito
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p.1 #4 · Frustrated Photo-dork needs Advice Badly


Always shoot in Raw mode unless you have a very good reason and know exactly what you are doing digitally.

The first one looks fine. Good lighting, good moment. Have you tried printing it? Doesn't seem noisy at web resolution, but I see how it could have some in those darker areas, of which there is a lot. There is some moiré on the top right, but that might just be a web resolution artifact. Can you post a 100% crop of an area you feel is too noisy? [Zooming in to 400% I can see the noise now. Not good.]

It seems possibly a touch underexposed. Do you have exposure compensation set off zero? If it is at zero, try setting it to +1/3 or +2/3 to give just a touch more exposure.

The second one is gray because it is definitely underexposed. But that is primarily a combination of the flat lighting and the photographer not compensating. Essentially the camera alway wants to average everything to middle gray, with some smarts in some cameras for center weighting or facial recognition and other more exotic stuff, some of which is junk.

In this case it looks like straight-forward metering. The biggest source of reflectivity in the picture is the white T-shirt. As the camera makes the average middle gray, the T-shirt is just a bit above middle gray because the darker tones in the rest of the scene pulls the average down.

So you need to realize the light is very very flat and raise the tones, perhaps as much as a stop or even more. Trust your histogram and learn how to read it.

There are noise reduction tools and sharpening does actually increase noise. For really sophisticated noise reduction you can use edge masks but we'll leave that for the master class.

Did I remember to say to always shoot in Raw mode?



Mar 17, 2012 at 10:39 PM
 

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Monito
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p.1 #5 · Frustrated Photo-dork needs Advice Badly


Here are two renderings of the images (I can take them down if you do not wish them here):





The originals are definitely underexposed. More could be done with Raws.



Mar 17, 2012 at 11:02 PM
jmooney
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p.1 #6 · Frustrated Photo-dork needs Advice Badly


Monito wrote:
Here are two renderings of the images (I can take them down if you do not wish them here):

http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v467/billb6/Photosites%202012/6844478758_747ee97bf5_z-ps.jpg

http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v467/billb6/Photosites%202012/6844479114_04b1028149_z-ps.jpg

The originals are definitely underexposed. More could be done with Raws.



Thanks!

This does shed some light (no pun intended) on this. I will start giving more exposure and see what comes out of it. I was under the impression that you should preserve the highlights at all cost and therefore would honestly never have thought to give more exposure. This is very helpful, thank you.

Jim



Mar 17, 2012 at 11:20 PM
Yohan Pamudji
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p.1 #7 · Frustrated Photo-dork needs Advice Badly


Thanks, monito, for pointing me here. Hopefully I can lend some helpful tips, although what you've put down should be very useful info for Jim.

Jim, I agree that you're underexposing. I would side with monito's versions and tried to expose that way if I were shooting those scenes. Preserving highlights at any cost is only useful when you positively, absolutely need the detail in said highlight areas, for example in a wedding dress. Even then a bit of blowout of white areas isn't such a dreadful thing. The most important thing is to get the subject properly lit. If that means white tee-shirts look a bit bright then for me that's not an issue.

FYI I shoot both Canon (5D) and m4/3 (an E-P1 for 2 1/2 years, and now an E-P3). While the m4/3 is a touch noisier, with proper exposure you won't have to add exposure in post, which in turn avoids some of the problems you're seeing here. With m4/3 you have to be more careful about underexposure since there's a bit more noise to begin with, but nothing debilitating if you expose with care. With both my 5D and E-P3 I'm at +1/3 exposure compensation by default and add more or less compensation depending on subject.

On the post processing side adding just a bit of contrast adds some pop to pictures and brings out the colors more. It's amazing how adding contrast can really lift a dull photo. It's not always applicable for instance in scenes with a lot of range between light and dark, but in general it's a quick fix that works well.

Shooting RAW is a good suggestion. RAW + Lightroom is a great combo--easy to use and powerful if you want to get more in depth with it. Adding medium contrast is a 1-click operation in Lightroom. Most of my processing in Lightroom is adding contrast and a touch of saturation and that's it. With a solid exposure that should be a good starting point to process all your photos. RAW doesn't have to be time consuming.

Also worth keeping in mind is that what looks bad at 100% magnification on a monitor often doesn't look nearly as bad in print, especially smaller prints. If you do a lot of printing you should be able to produce some nice prints even from photos that look a bit noisy when scrutinized on screen.

Hope that helps.



Mar 26, 2012 at 02:02 AM
jmooney
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p.1 #8 · Frustrated Photo-dork needs Advice Badly


Thanks so much for your response and suggestions. Tons of good stuff in there. I'm going to add it all to my list I'm keeping of things to try.

Take care,

Jim



Mar 26, 2012 at 12:29 PM





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