Saturday, March 8, 2014

Noise vs. Grain

In the same forum (Fine Art Photographers) someone said they liked Noise as it gave them that grainy look of film. My reply. 
On the grainy look….
OK lets get this clear, digital noise is NOT grain. It doesn’t even approximate grain.
In traditional B&W film grain is caused by the size of the silver crystals in the film itself. It is what creates the image in the form of black on the negative. These almost invisibly small crystals take on the look of grain when enlarged. This ‘grain’ is prized by many photographers even to this day and it still plays a large role in the Fine Art photography world of collectors.
B&W grain is uniform based on the film type. Different films had different grains, some finer, some larger but generally always uniform throughout the entire picture in the whites, mid tones and blacks (but not in the blown out areas).
Photographers usually likes a specific film for the grain (or lack thereof) and often shot all their work (or sometime specific projects) with a specific film. The reason for this is because of consistency. They could get very consistent repetitive results if they used the same film and the same processes. This is important when creating a project or body of work.
Digital noise on the other hand varies greatly from picture to picture based on not just the ISO setting used but on the scene itself, the amount of light and dark areas, whether the scene is back lit or not and even on if the exposure is perfect or not. Add to the fact the longer exposures change the whole equation as does temperature. The hotter it is you usually end up with more noise.
Another issue with noise is that it varies not just from picture to picture but within a picture itself. Each area light/dark will have differing amounts of noise. And this noise is not shaped and randomized like ‘silver crystals’ but takes on blotchy areas and worse (or better if that’s what you want) takes on colours.
It is this lack of consistency that can make your image not work well together as a unified body of work. Typically fine art photographers work hard at capturing the perfect images they require with the least amount of noise possible. Then, they will remove any noise present and finally they will add grain either in programs like Photoshop or they will use a program or plugin like NIK Silver Efex Pro. Using this process, you can have complete control (and repeatable control) over the look, feel and size of the grain and you can make it consistent within all your images.
On the other hand if you like the look of ‘noise’ then by all means go for it! It has its own unique qualities that may work with your images. Just remember that’s it not grain.

© 2014 Francois Cleroux
Version 1.00 - February 2014

Friday, March 7, 2014

Whats the Best Gear

From several on-going web forum discussions. People were arguing what the best camera is but never layed out any guidelines. Here is what my reply was “On the best gear….”. Note that the forum is "Fine Art Photographers" and the question was “Are you a photographer or an Artist?” and in it someone asked about the best gear to use.

People are missing the point on “the best gear” and again goes to the question “Are you a photographer or an artist?” I’m often thinking many people are neither. When someone blankly asks what the best gear is, it's obvious they have no understanding of what photography is, what a camera is and what its for or how to use it! My question is "What's the best gear for what?"

As photographers (people who make realistic copies of the world around them) we need the best meaning gear that will give the best results based on what we are doing. A Hasselblad sucks at Bird Photography and so a Canon 70D or a Nikon D800 with a 500mm or 600mm lens is required. If we are doing corporate head shots and we never print very large, a full frame camera like a 5D is perfect combined with a good piece of glass. If on the other hand you are shooting head shoots that need to be printed very large, the 5D sucks and a Hasselblad or Leaf would be better. But, even these cameras may not do what you need if shooting high end large scaled landscapes or architectural images and so you may need to go to 8x10 or an ALP or something like that as you may require more perspective correction than what a TS Lens will offer. Photographers generally (note the word generally here as the trolls on this site will skip this word) require way more quality than a Diana camera and often more than a good cell phone camera. But even these may be good enough for Web based work and such.

As artists on the other hand we require other elements. And the camera or the gear should not be deciding your art or hindering your art. You camera should be your ‘tool’ and the old adage of make sure you “use the right tool for the right job”. A painter will know his tools and will not use a palate knife when a fine delicate brush is required. As artists why is your camera (the palate knife) forcing you to create art in a specific way? As artists ‘WE’, the artists decide on a project. We decide on the ‘language’ our photographs will use and we will decide on the project as a whole and will define what technical specs are required. Often these technical specs are not “quality” (the Hasselblad)  but rather a “look” or a “feeling”. So then the question is what is the “Best” camera turns into “What is the Best Camera for My Artistic Project”. It may be a Pinhole Camera, a Diana for doing Lomography type images, a Cell Phone for quick and easy, it may be a Leica type compact for high quality Street Photography, a DSLR for on location artistic Portraiture, a Medium Format Digital or perhaps Film (remember the project and the look) for on location Fine Art Nudes or perhaps 8x10 or 20x24 film camera for incredible grand landscapes.

Note that these can all me mixed up also as a Fine Art photographer could use a Diana if he chooses to for creating Fine Art Nudes. That’s the beauty of ART! But the point here is “What is the look you want?” and “What tools will get you those results?”

If you want to become a better artist you should learn to visualize and conceptualize a project. You should define its photographic language (what Camera, what Lens and what Focal Length if using a Zoom), what Viewpoint, what Aperture, what Film, what Look, what grain or other outputs (perhaps Cyanotypes as an example (Yes this much detail and others) and then based on what you need to create “the Vision” you should then choose the best tool! And it may be a Pinhole Camera! NOT a Hasselblad.

It’s all about control of the project and what photographic language and vision you want in your final images. As an artist you should know your equipment inside and out and be personal with it. You should know its strengths and weaknesses.

So is a camera better than another? Yes most definitely. What’s the best camera. The one that does what you want or need perfectly!

© 2014 Francois Cleroux
Version 1.00 - March 2014