Thursday, October 30, 2008

A Quality Affair

This is the second article on the 'Basic Concepts' of Photography and a general framework for upcoming blogs that will teach you what you need to know. The first was based on giving the reader an understanding of basic Exposure, what it is and how it relates to Aperture, Shutter Speed, ISO and Light.

In this second article I write about a second topic that I believe readers need to understand before we move on and get started from the beginning. This basic concept is essential to great photography and it is the basis for achieving high quality images. It is the pure and simple concept of 'quality' or what I like to call 'The Art of Photography.

Photography is a skill much like blacksmithing, woodworking or even writing. There are rules and theories that must be learned and basic skills that need to be mastered. And, much like the other 'arts', it needs to be mastered to become technically proficient to be able to create high quality photographs. I know what you are going to say here, 'What about . . ." yes, I know. Just remember that the best artist can design a great and worldly sword, but he will not be able to craft it without the blacksmithing skills that are learned over many years of apprenticeship.

The point is that the 'Art of Photography is not 'Photography as Art!' Yes an artist can use Photography as a medium to create visual images but even the best artist could not create a high quality image without and understanding or mastery of photography. That is what this blog is about, the Art of Photography. About the skills required and the knowledge and understanding required to create very high quality images.

Then, as someone that as mastered the techniques of photography, you will be able to use your artistic talents to create incredible high quality art.

We need to define 'high quality' if we are going to give ourselves a goal that we want to achieve or attain before we can call ourselves masters. We also need a list of the required basic skills that we need to learn. And like with any other craft, we need to study the works of other masters. Once we fully understand and have mastered all the basics, techniques, styles and rules that govern the Art of Photography, we will have the knowledge and tools required to create masterpieces.

Now obviously I will not be able to teach you to become a true 'master'. But, trying your best to achieve the greatest possible results, is all we can ask.

As far as setting a goal for ourselves here I think that a proper understanding of the basics are a must, and I will list these in an upcoming blog. Setting a goal that is achievable by everyone that reads this blog is also important. How about a simple task such a printing an 8" x 10" image that is Tack Sharp, properly Exposed and White Balanced and at least properly Composed as per Standard Composition Rules! I would suggest that the average DSLR is capable of doing this at 11" x 14", but then everyone would need to buy a new printer which is just not feasible. If you would like to raise the stakes a little and to push your limits, you could always take half of your Digital Negative and then print that at 8" x 10".

Readers may ask why printing a high quality image is so important? Why can we not simply just post images to the web? The answer is rather simple and yet shocking. The Internet, Computers and Digital Picture Frames are solely responsible to the decline in general photographic quality and it is an on going trend. I could argue this point at many levels and from many angles, but I will give a few simple basic reasons here and save the details and other reasons for upcoming articles.

Digital images are first and foremost limited by the technology of digital imaging. The technology has greater limits that are inherent in the digital world that are not in film. Parameters like limits imposed by digital sensors such as Tonal Range, Noise, and Colorspace can all have negative effects. But the biggest reasons for common day poor quality is the use of images on digital equipment. People rarely ever have images enlarged nowadays to 11" x 14" or larger but rather usually just view images on computer monitors and digital picture frames. On occasion standard 4" x 6" prints are made and passed around.

Why would this be such a problem? The limits imposed by digital cameras are further enhanced or rather further limited by digital display. Digital displays almost always have lower resolution and again almost always have much smaller Colorspaces. These two factors alone cause people to look at images that may look great on a monitor, but will almost always look like poor quality images once enlarged onto photographic paper. Colors will not look accurate, White Balance will usually be off, Tonal Range will be very poor and the Details that create Tack Sharp images will just not be present. Correcting or adjusting these images often just creates more problems and usually only introduces more noise.

Some users are told by professionals and others including the Media to us RAW images. But without that proper understanding of the basics and the knowledge of what a RAW image is, they will often not be much better off. Have they set the right Colorspace on their Camera? Have they set a proper Colorspace on their computer and set their RAW software to create 16 bit images?

Then, getting back to the basics was the Exposure perfect to start with? Without proper exposure it can be very difficult to achieve great prints. These concepts of Colorspace, White Balance, 8 Bit versus 16 Bit may be foreign to you (or may not be), but they are all just as important as proper exposure. You will learn these skills and concepts in your Journey Through the Art of Photography.

© 2008 Francois Cleroux

(Version 1.00 - October 2008)

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I value thoughtful comments and suggestions. If you like or dislike this post, please let me know. If you have any ideas or suggestion, comments or corrections (I do make mistakes) please also let me know. Thanks.

- Francois Cleroux