Digital Outback Photo
- Photography using Digital SLRs

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Digital Outback Fine Art Photography Handbook

© by Bettina & Uwe Steinmueller

 
 
6 The Challenge to capture nature
 
 

6.1 The light

6.2 Managing the dynamic range

6.3 Capture the essence

6.4 Sharp is not always better

6.5 The need for Detail

6.6 The need for speed

6.7 Flash

 
 
6.1 The light
 

Davenport in Morning Light
 

Cameras actually don't capture objects they capture light. This light is reflected from the objects we photograph. In nature (as opposed to a studio) light is always different and the quality of this light makes a big difference for all photos.

The light in the morning and late evening seems to have the best quality for most photographers (and it is probably right). But if you travel this means that you get up early (long before sunrise) sleep the day and get out again late in the evening. This lets you long for winter time if you (like we) do not love to get out that early.

There is a lot of literature out there which describes the different qualities of light during the day. We have to admit that we have still to learn a lot on this subject.

 
 
6.2 Managing the dynamic range
 

An other reason for photographing in the morning and later in the evening is the high contrast at sunny days. OK, you might not have that many sunny days like we in California. But believe us for photography overcast days are often so much better than the brutal California sun. It feels wonderful for the body but not for the camera.

Most digital SLRs behave like chrome film and have to be exposed accordingly. We avoid blown out highlights nearly at any cost which can drive us at high contrast scenes easily into strong underexposure for the rest of the image. Best is to avoid the contrasty scenes as much as possible.

Using gradient neutral filters can be a great solution for dealing with high contrast. There are Photoshop filters available which do the same thing in the digital darkroom. But again what you did not capture at the time of the exposure cannot be recreated later in your lab. It can be faked but this is still not the real thing.

 
 
6.3 Capture the essence
 

It does no make sense to photograph a scene as it just presents to you. How could you ever portrait a huge mountain on a small or even large print. You either capture it in a special light, weather or concentrate on details which are easily overseen by others.

Many photographers love wide angle photos (the wider the better). But think how difficult it is to fill this wide scene with pleasant and meaningful content. Please do not misunderstand us, there are great photographs using extreme wide angle lenses. Not because the photographer used such a lens but because he managed to show great content in this scene.

 
Close-ups Show the not so obvious Abstract Capture behavior Tell a story
 
 
 
6.4 Sharp is not always better
 

Some people only judge an image by detail and sharpness. Both criteria can be important for some images but are rarely the main criteria for us.

We think composition, color and the story of an image are more important. This is not an excuse for poor technique and focussing but instead for looking at the content first. If lack of sharpness and missing detail are in your way to appreciate the photo then there is something wrong.

You probably also know these photographers who want to look at an 20x30" image with a loupe. While this is clearly needed for producing the photograph and ensure optimum print quality it does not say anything about the visual quality of the photo itself. There are too many boring sharp and detailed photos out there.

Let us repeat: This is no excuse for poor photographers technique or defining an unacceptable blurred image as part of the artistic expression.

 
 
6.5 The need for Detail
 

Orchard at Gilroy
 

4x5" cameras (in the digital world using the BetterLight scanning backs) can capture a lot more detail than 35mm SLRs. This means these cameras are the choice for fine art photography whenever the details and finest textures matter.

You might ask is this not always the case? We do not think so. In the world of paintings the Impressionists abstracted from many details to concentrate on the essence (from the perspective of the artist).

 
 

The two photos presented here should make the case. The orchard feels more like those expressionist paintings while for the trees detail is a quality of its own.

Also a lack of detail often limits the print size for the photo.

 
 
 
6.6 The need for speed (ISO)
 

Unfortunately the better light in the morning and evening also limits the amount of light available. If you then cannot photograph from a tripod because the object is moving then you need to use higher ISO. Most SLRs offer ISO 800-3200 by just changing an option. But be aware that the image quality is below the one available a lower ISO settings.

We try to stay at lower ISO values most of the time (100-200) and rarely go beyond ISO 400. We also use a rigid tripod whenever possible. Not only to get sharper images but also for taking our time to compose and select properly. The tripod also allows to avoid camera shake by the mirror (most cameras have a mirror lockup feature).

 
 
 
6.7 Flash
 

There is nothing better than natural light. But there scenes where you might need some fill flash to capture a high contrast scene. We all know these obvious unnatural flash photos. The real challenge is to use flash in a way that there is no obvious flash visible in the final photo.

We rarely use flash but again only the final result counts. If you have boring flat image or deep muddy shadows you image might miss some flash.

 
 
References
 
Digital Outback Photo: "Flash Techniques" by Neil Turner
David Griffith: "More Fun with Your Better Beamer" (using a popular flash extender)
 
 
 
© by Bettina & Uwe Steinmueller
 
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