Friday, February 28, 2014

Camera Innovation

How Much Does It Really Matter?

I don't write about camera gear on my blogs. I prefer to discuss my photographs and the adventures that I encounter in the act of shooting. 

Plenty of people blog about photography equipment. I don't feel the need to jump on the bandwagon. However, today, I'm ready to make an exception - sort of.

Opinion Piece

The author of a respected photography blog wrote recently about what he perceives to be a lack of innovation by camera manufacturers. The piece was detailed and well written, and I found myself agreeing with most of the author's conclusions. 

However, hours later, it dawned on me that such criticism, though entertaining for the reader, actually matter very little.

Turkeys Beware

Markets are self-correcting. If a manufacturer introduces an ill-conceived product, the public won't buy it. The product's designers and marketers will try to understand why the product wasn't popular. Eventually, they'll offer new products that, hopefully, avoid the pitfalls of the previous models.

Customers can complain. Bloggers can demand changes. But ultimately, sales keep a company in business. When sales tank, manufacturers listen. And they innovate - or at least they make the attempt.

El Dorado 

This is a rich and rewarding age for anyone with an interest in photography. Today's cameras are very powerful, most lenses are very sharp, and there are models to fit just about any budget. If you like to take photographs, you'll find an embarrassment of riches waiting for you at your local camera store.

How much innovation do we require? How much more capable, compact, and economical do cameras need to become? 

a photo of a view camera at hurricane point big sur
The View Camera in Action - Big Sur, Califormia

Newer isn't necessarily better. We've all seen portrayals of photographers from "the olden days" stooping behind large, wooden cameras and viewing their images from under a black cloth. This "view camera" design is still in use today, and they are some of the most powerful cameras in the professional's arsenal. 

Creating Photographs

Innovation is important, but dependence on innovation is foolish. Requests for newer and better tools often betray a lack of motivation and effort. If someone is unable or unwilling to produce photographs until some manufacturer makes it easier for them, I would question their dedication. 

The equipment that's available today features capabilities that exceed what most of us could have imagined a few short years ago. We have enjoyed generation upon generation of advances in lens and sensor design, image quality and dynamic range, autofocus systems and image stabilization. 

In decades past, photographers made sharp, striking images with far less powerful tools than the goodies that you can pick up today at your local electronics shop. Pick up a copy of LIFE or National Geographic from the Sixties or Seventies. The photographs are amazing.

We can spend our time and energy lamenting the absence of exciting innovations - and even that, I question, because a number of outstanding cameras have been introduced in the past few years. - Or we can invest our time and energy creating photographs. 

Which is precisely why I don't like to waste time discussing gear on my photography blogs.

Image captured with: 
Canon EOS 5D Mark II, EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM

View camera (pictured): Ebony SV45-TE, Gitzo tripod, Really Right Stuff head

Light happens.  Be ready.  Shoot hard.

Copyright © 2014 Daniel R. South
All Rights Reserved

Monday, February 3, 2014

Rating Photographs Constructively

Four Views of Death Valley

It's not easy to rate one's work objectively, but there are advantages to be gained from making the effort. If we want to feature our best photos (for clients, for a website or a photo book, for instance), we need to be able to select the best shots from a larger population. The rating process can also help us to identify our own strengths and weaknesses.

Photo editing and organizing software titles usually provide a "rate by stars" feature.  The number of stars indicates a level of quality.  Typically, a five-star rating is considered the best, but one could flip the ratings system and mark with best work with a single star if they wanted to. (Canon users might like this inverted system, since Canon's best cameras are marked with the number 1.)

a photo of the general store at the rhyolite ghost town in nevada by daniel south
Technically competent but not difficult to reproduce. Rating: **

As for what each level of stars means, there are different options.  But before we discuss applying stars to photos, let's compare for reference the way that a movie critic might use the star system to rate upcoming films.

The Movie Critic's Rating System
* - A really bad film. Don't waste your money.
** - Disappointing. If you must watch it, wait until it comes on TV for free.
*** - A good, solid film, but nothing special.
**** - A very good film with few if any flaws. Highly recommended.
***** - An outstanding film. A contender for Best Picture. A must see.

There are good movies and great movies. There are movies that are somewhat disappointing and others that are laughably bad. The Movie Critic's Rating System has to cover all of these bases.

a photograph of impostor rock on the racetrack playa in death valley by daniel south
Exotic locale. Technically challenging (infinite focus). Rating: ***

But when it comes to our own photos, do we need to mark the bad ones with a star? How about just not rate them at all? Does this rating system make sense for a photographer who is sorting through their work?

Photo Rating System Number 1 (From Bad to Great)
* - A bad photograph. I regret that I took it.
** - A disappointing photo. I could have done better.
*** - A good, solid photo, but nothing special.
**** - A very good photo with few if any flaws.
***** - My best work. I'll show it proudly.

I'm sure that lots of people use this method to good effect, but personally, I find that it doesn't offer enough gradation. Why would I bother to tag a bad photo with a star or a disappointing shot with two stars. It's a waste of stars. Just leave them unrated. Further, if ALL of my good photos get four- or five-star ratings, how would I identify my very best work? I've already run out of stars.

Same locale and technique, but adds a unique sky. Rating: ****

Here is the rating system that I have adopted for my own work. It provides several levels of "good" within the five-star range.

Photo Rating System Number 2 (From Good to Better to Outstanding)
* - Good. A better than average photo. An image that caught my eye upon initial review and shows potential that I might want to explore in the future.
** - Better. A solid image with no perceivable flaws. Work that I would feature proudly on my website. (This is the level where viewers start to say "Wow!")
*** - Exceptional. Beyond technical competence. An image that is emotionally stirring or represents special conditions or circumstances that could not be easily repeated.
**** - Outstanding. Perhaps the best image in an entire collection.
***** - Rare. Among my personal best. The type of image that we don't make many of over the course of a year.

This is the system that works for me. It offers the opportunity to classify my work with varying levels of "good" so I can differentiate the rare gems when they come along instead of wasting stars on mistakes and disappointments.

Mundane or flawed images simply don't get any stars. If an image has even a single star it means that I thought highly of it enough to separate it from the pack. Most of the images that I display publicly are ** or ***, because four- and five-star ratings are reserved for rare and exceptional work. 

a photo of zabriskie point at sunset by daniel south
Technically challenging (exposure). Once in a lifetime sunset. Rating: *****

What are the pros and cons of the rating system that you use? Do you use stars at all, or do you use another rating system (colors, flags, keywords)? How well does your system work for you?


        Canon EOS 5D Mark II

        Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II
        Canon TS-E24mm f/3.5L II
        Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L

Light happens.  Be ready.  Shoot hard.

Copyright © 2014 Daniel R. South
All Rights Reserved

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Happy Super Bowl Sunday!

Happy Super Bowl Sunday from New York and New Jersey!

a photo of the empire state building at night with traffic trails new york
New York

a photo of the barnegat light lighthouse on long beach island new jersey by Daniel South
New Jersey

Light happens.  Be ready.  Shoot hard.

Copyright © 2013 Daniel R. South
All Rights Reserved

Exotic Croatia

Jewel of the Adriatic Sea

Exotic Croatia has been one of the most popular galleries on our website. Nevertheless, I decided that it was time to shake things up a bit. :-)

a photograph of a Serbian Catholic Church in Dubrovnik Croatia by Daniel South
Serbian Catholic Church in Dubrovnik

Croatia is a wonderful travel destination featuring amazing sights - Roman ruins, seaside resorts, world-class art museums, and the most amazing walled city that I have ever seen (Dubrovnik)

a photo of a roman amphitheater at pula croatia by daniel south
Roman Amphitheater at Pula

The Croatian people are open and engaging, their food is excellent, and the climate is very similar to that of Italy, their neighbor on the other side of the Adriatic Sea. 

a photo of the croatian flag at sibenik by daniel south
Croatian Flag at Sibenik

In recent weeks, I have fine-tuned every image in the collection for maximum sharpness and impact. I hope that you'll enjoy the updates.

Please click here to view the full gallery.

Light happens.  Be ready.  Shoot hard.

Copyright © 2013 Daniel R. South
All Rights Reserved