I don’t always spray and pray, when I do, there is a reason

I don't always spray and prayI don’t always spray and pray, when I do, there is a reason.  As I have previously stated, if this is the only approach you employ in all of your photography…good luck.  When used sparingly, I think it has its purpose.  When I say used sparingly, I am referring to a 3-4 frame burst limit.  You certainly can just hold down the shutter release, but you are going to get a fair bit of undesirable frames.

The life expectancy is not 100k actuation, but the MTBF (mean time between failures) is 100.000k actuations. That means the average number of clicks on which Nikon expects the D200 shutter to fail is 100k. Which means some fail after 10k, some after 300k.  So there is no reason except statistics to believe your shutter will fail. And there are lies, there are damned lies and then there are statistics.

~Wouter Willemse

Since I have already refuted the time and detail aspect of the spray and pray argument, let’s look at the shutter actuations.  My Nikon D200 and D7000 both are at 47,000 and my trusty D60 is at 15,000.  I just did some checking and it looks like my D7000 is rated (not guaranteed) for 150,000, the D200 100k and I don’t think the D60 has a rating.  To replace the shutter on my D7000 is approx $160-$200.  That really isn’t that bad when you consider the price of the body itself.

I do employ the spray and pray approach with some portraiture, cadids, wildlife, and action photography.  I would rather error on the side of reviewing extra frames than missing something completely.  I am not sure how you can disagree with that.  I don’t think there is any amount of breathing, connecting, observing and breathing some more that is going to allow you to know what is going to happen the very next second.  Time and experience will no doubt give you an idea of what is coming, but to capture some of those most often subtle micro-expressions (I’ll borrow that term from Dr. Cal Lightman – Lie to Me…love that show)  you are going to need some extra frames.  I typically use a 3-4 shot burst when shooting.   If your subject is moving at all it may be necessary to true up your focus in between bursts.  You may also need to make minor exposure adjustments or reconsider composition.  This all depends greatly on the subject, scenery and the situation of course.

FOCUS – FRAME, FRAME, FRAME – FOCUS – FRAME, FRAME, FRAME, ETC.

I will risk the actuations when trying to capture a good candid shot.  If you haven’t noticed, sometimes it is just a frame or two difference between a poop face and a great expression.  If you have the ability to see into the future and anticipate when a particular moment in time is going to happen, you will be the best photography in the world.  For us normal folk, we may have to use a 3-4 shot burst to catch those expressions and/or special moments.

I will even give you an example.  These two shots are from a recent excision onboard the Cedar Rapids en route to Chicago via Amtrak capturing a 50 year wedding anniversary family celebration.  I was shooting candids of the passengers; it was story time.  You can very clearly see the difference between frames here.  In the first one, you can tell what is going on.

D7K Kremer 50th 159
Story

But with the second one (2 frames after the first image), it is even more clear.  There is a distinct difference in expressions.  Notice the forehead and eye/hand intensity of the gentleman on the right and the hand in front of the face of the gentleman in the middle – this is a very funny story.

D7K Kremer 50th 162
Really Funny Story

I am very confident that these were three frames well spent, as were the six on either side of them.  There was more than a dozen people in that train car and probably half as many conversation going on.  There were adults and small children.  Spraying and praying was very much apart of this venture.  I did observe; I guess I was breathing too, but more out of necessity and not intentionally.  With so much going on around me, I didn’t have time to completely immerse myself in every moment.  Between Cyndie and I, I think we captured a great deal.  We had just over 2500 frames between us; over two very full days, I don’t think that is excessive at all.

Final thought.  Spray and pray has its place.  It bugs me a bit when people discount it as an approach in photography or only say it works for one type of photography or another.  At the end of the day, you do what works for you as long as you get the shot.  If you are not getting the shots, well then, perhaps you need to examine your approach.

Advertisements

To spray or not to spray; that is the question (praying is not optional)

I recently read, “Bursting the Burst Mode Myth: [What I Learned from Shooting with Film],” and had some mixed feelings.  The widely known spay and pray method may not be for everySpray&PrayTShirt photography application or for every shooter, but lets not completely discount the approach (I would say technique, but some photography purist would likely argue that designation for several hours; maybe even days).

While capturing as many frames as possible during a portrait session may not be the best approach, I wouldn’t feel bad about doing it as long as you are aware of what you are getting yourself into.  I wouldn’t suggest holding down the shutter release until the camera melts or you run out of memory either.  If there is any motion in what you are capturing you’ll likely need to true up your focus point again and possibly make other adjustments to your exposure occasionally.

The article speaks to cost with some of it being hidden.  Let’s explore that for a moment and see what you may potentially get yourself into:

  • TIME:  It’s digital so film isn’t the issue, but rather your time spent looking through all of the images.  I get it.  We are not tackling world peace here, you are reviewing images.  I don’t see time as a big issue unless you get all crazy and capture thousands and thousands of images.  Like most everything else, you get out what you put in.  A strong and organized workflow process can weed out extra or unwanted shots in short amount of time.  Overload that process and you’ll burn yourself out eventually on the approach.
  • DETAILS:  There is no guarantee that your photo will be free of foreign object seemingly growing from your subject’s head based on your approach.  Is it less likely if you spend one minute on one shot versus 15 shot in one minute?  Certainly, but you should pay attention to composition and not miss specific key details regardless of how many frames per second you are firing off.  I can also appreciate the thought behind connecting with your subject, but let’s be real – while you where taking a breath between seeing, composing, observing some more and then breathing again – 10 potentially great expressions/moments just happened and you captured none of them.  Get your breathing done ahead of time.  You should always make a connection with your subject, don’t get me wrong, but paying attention, connecting and capturing frames should be a fluid motion; if not, chalk it up to gaining further experience until it is second nature.
  • SHUTTER ACTUATIONS:  The other hidden cost besides your time is shutter actuations.  Unfortunately your camera’s shutter will not continue to click forever.  How long your specific model will last depends greatly on the model, its rating (not guarantee), your luck and we might as well add karma to the mix.
Nikon D7000 Shutter
Nikon D7000 Shutter – kenrockwell.com

I do agree with the articles take on group portraits.  The more heads in the photo, the higher probability that someone will blink at exactly the wrong moment.  Several frames will ensure you have the shot even it you have to switch out a head or two.  Sports is a no-brainer as is the point and shoot cameras with shutter lag issues (which are better these days thankfully).

There is a comment at end of the article that just rubs me the wrong way.  It states “the spray and pray method of shooting sends up a red flare” and it goes on to state that the photographer doesn’t know what they are doing.  If that is your only approach to photography, I would agree.

If you are going to spray and pray, have a good reason.  More on that tomorrow.

Photography Workflow – Part 2

A continuation from Photography Workflow – Part 1, My Workflow…the back story

Part 2 – The Revised Workflow

I think I have arrived at a good fit for our needs regarding our photography workflow.  We both publish our own blogs, share photos on facebook and we also do some for-hire work.  Right now all of Cyndie’s photos are backed up to a 1 TB external drive.  Mine are backed up to 3 TB External and in the cloud.  Part of our challenge is Cyndie works primarily on her MAC laptop and I on my desktop PC.  Getting files together and organized is a bit of a quandary as you can imaging.  The following revised workflow plays out swimmingly on a laptop or desktop alike.  I will describe for you what all those shapes and lines are all about below. PhotographyWorkFlow (A) CONNECT CAMERA – Self-explanatory.  I have a SD card reader in my laptop and a USB cable permanently affixed to my PC to transfer files from camera to computer.

(B) DOWNLOAD TO COMPUTER – Image files are copied to a project folder using the following naming convention:   yyyy-mm-dd event, subject, etc.  Windows PC’s have an import dialog box that will pop up when you plug a camera in; I am not sure about MACs.  During this process you can tag the images; I use this opportunity to inject my naming convention here.  RAW files are then copied to the local drive on either a desktop or laptop.

(C) PRE-FLIGHT/RATE – I typically do what I call a pre-flight of the shoot.  By pre-flight I mean I review all images and delete any blurry or out of focus shots.  I also ditch any with extreme exposure issues (blown highlight/lowlights, etc.)  I use Faststone Viewer for this step because it is very fast and the application is FREE.  This application has a pretty good feature set and does many things other more costly Adobe projects do.  Basic adjustment are a few clicks away and you can easily evaluate your photos.  Once I have culled out the obviously bad images I will create a Lightroom catalog in the folder that contains the RAW files.  Once the images are in the catalog, I will do another round of review and rate each shot on a scale of 0-4 stars.  The more stars assigned, the higher the priority.

With (D), I begin with the 4 stars first and work may way down until I have enough image for whatever I am working on; typically a blog post. (D) POST PROCESS – I have created a number of presets that address lens correction and basic image adjustments.  We have also purchased a number of presets that make achieving a certainly look/feel rather easy.  For the most part though, I stick to the basics unless the project otherwise calls for it .  I will, on occasion, play with HDR, Color Efex Pro and/or Silver Efex Pro depending on the look and feel I am looking for with a particular photo or group of photos.  I am very happy that Nik plug-in suite is available for $150 or less.  I think I paid over $300 just for Color Efex Pro at one point.  This is also the point I would assemble multiple files into a panoramic image. Adobe Lightroom is where I live 95% of the time  (It is worth $150; arguable more).  Even more now since version 5.  The clone and heal tools are much better now.  I still use full-blown Photoshop for more involved editing/fixes, for creating panoramic images and for creating images with multiple layers.  As previously mentioned – Nik plug-ins are our photo alchemy of choice.  I have used some Topaz tools, but prefer the interface of Nik better.  Even though Nik has a great HDR plug-in, we also use Photomatix.  I think that about covers the post processing toolbox.

(E) OUTPUT/SHARE/PRINT – Once post processing is complete, I output files for use – low resolution jpg’s for facebook and my blog an/or high-resolution for print.  We both use several output presets depending on the end use.

(F) CATALOG/KEYWORDS – I create an output folder that is named exactly what I named the project folder (RAW & catalog files) in (B).  I then copy the contents of the folder into the master jpg catalog on my desktop PC and assign keywords.  This master catalog and jpg images are incrementally backed up to the external drive and to the cloud on every other day.  This is a big deal; especially since I have begone to tackle not only the current, but also my photos since 2011.  This is going to be a bugger, of that I am sure, but if I can get a chunk done here and there – perhaps during a rainy day or this Winter (see how I have already procrastinated this out to Winter!).  I am excited to get all my shots together from over the years and examine the keywords.

(G) ARCHIVE – Both the project and output folders are copied from my PC (desktop or laptop) to an external hard drive.  This may not happen immediate and may take place more on a quarterly basis.  I have my backup software pointed at this data so I am covered even if I haven’t completely archived the files.

(H) BACKUP – The external hard drive is  incrementally backed up to the cloud every other day. I think that about covers it.  It has been a bit of a journey to get here, but i think I feel pretty good about where we are at.  The RAW file storage does not conform to the 3-2-1 method; I may have to rework/rethink that at some point.  Remember – you keep 3 copies of anything that is important to you (1 primary and two secondary), you keep the files on two different media types (Internal HD, external HD, Cloud, DVD’s, etc.) and you keep 1 copy offsite (Home/Business, or the cloud).  Having our RAW files in only two places (external & cloud) is better than only one.  The jpg and all Lightroom catalogs conform to the 3-2-1 rule though.  I think I would give myself a solid B+ on the situation.  Things could be better, but the situation isn’t so critical and we aren’t making our living on photography.

Keep your situation in focus and always in perspective.  Mind the big picture. Can you sink gobs and gobs of money in perfecting and streamlining your workflow?  Yes.  My advise is to start small, but think of the future.  Developing a solution that you can scale up (or even down if need be) would be a very smart thing to do.  Another good tip is to not over-complicate things.  KISS – keep it simple stupid is some very solid advise.  The last thing you want to do is create a monster to manage that takes away from your time shooting. It makes a big difference if this is just a hobby or a business or both.  The bottom line here is that requirements can inflate rapidly depending on what your needs are.  Figure out your needs first and develop processes that are as simple as possible and work for you.  As time and money allows – get fancy from there and not a minute sooner.

Photography Workflow – Part I

Part I – My Workflow…the backstory

Arrows and blocksI didn’t start out thinking about a photography workflow, but I sure wish I had.  Even if I had – change is inevitable; that is one constant you can be sure of.  Technology changes so rapidly and keeping up is almost impossible.  The more you immerse yourself, the more you learn and that initiates change as well.  Ultimately you need to find what works for you.

TAKE PHOTO –> DOWNLOAD TO COMPUTER –>SHARE/PRINT

In the beginning, my needs were pretty basic.  I downloaded the files from my camera to my PC and then shared them on facebook and/or made prints.  Things have changed considerably over that last few years.  It didn’t take long before I began to explore that vast and very expansive world of post processing magic.  Yes – magic – it is amazing what can be done with the digital negative with today’s technology and software.

TAKE PHOTO –> DOWNLOAD TO COMPUTER –>PRE-FLIGHT/RATE –>SHARE/PRINT

Early on I dabbled with High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography, played around with Nikon’s View NX2 features, and made basic adjustment in Photoshop .  I used View NX2 as a means of viewing raw files and eliminated the trash (blurry, out of focus, etc) images before I proceeded further.  I didn’t really have a method of keeping track of my photos other than the file folders I created to download my images to.  It was a very crude filing system.  It is a good thing that I have an amazing memory and it has served me well in recalling where a photo is located…for a short time.  It didn’t take long though to advance beyond my memory.  After you have amassed thousands of pictures over multiple year, things just start to run together.  At this point I had heard about workflow, but didn’t have a clue really what it all meant.

It was also during this period I decided to create a blog.  I wanted to do more than just share a photo on facebook.  Blogging allows for more story telling and reaches a more vast and diverse audience.  Navigating social media is a whole other big and potentially crazy mess to venture out into.  Perhaps a post on that is in order…we shall see.

TAKE PHOTO –> DOWNLOAD TO COMPUTER –>PRE-FLIGHT/RATE –>POST PROCESS –>SHARE/PRINT

I was eventually introduce to Adobe Lightroom around version 3.x.  I was instantly amazed with its feature set, controls and capabilities.  At the same time I discovered Nik Software plug-ins. This opened up a whole other reality in regards to photography.  I was overloaded, over-stimulated and never before did I have so many cool and interesting tools at my disposal.  I was so enthralled with all of the new things I could do that I lost sight of managing this quickly forming mess of files.

TAKE PHOTO –> DOWNLOAD TO COMPUTER –>PRE-FLIGHT/RATE –>POST PROCESS –>CATALOG –>SHARE/PRINT

As I continued to use Lightroom more I began to understand more of what it was capable of.  When I began using Lightroom, I just jumped right in.  No training, no classes, nothing – just started clicking buttons.  This only gets you so far.  YouTube is a wonderful resource for how too’s.  I wish I would have watched more, more often and earlier on.  I watched and learned just enough to get started – get started at a mess that is.  I am not saying that any particular way it right or wrong – this is just how things unfolded for me.  I began by creating a catalog for each instance of shooting.  There are pluses and minus to this.  I wasn’t even at the point of utilizing keywords and other meta data so the +’s and -‘s easily escaped me.  I stuck largely to my folder structure I had used all along.  I think during this period I acquired a pretty good working knowledge of the develop module.  There is so much more to Lightroom.

TAKE PHOTO –> DOWNLOAD TO COMPUTER –>PRE-FLIGHT/RATE –>POST PROCESS –>CATALOG/KEYWORDS –>SHARE/PRINT

Holy Crap…keywords, now that is cool.  Managing your images and having the ability to search through them all by keywords is an incredible thing – provided you thought of all that ahead of time.  I did not.  I made the decision to change my catalog utilization; it was one catalog for all my images broken down by albums named by the date and occasion/subject from here on out.  I also began to utilize keywords so I could more easily locate images of the same topic.  I began the painstaking task of going  back through all of my albums and assigning keywords to the whole album and then also to each image.  Let’s just say that project never came to fruition.  I also started a new catalog for calendar year 2013 which left behind 2011 and 2012.   The thing with catalogs in Lightroom is, the bigger they get, the slower they get – or so I am told.  Having a new catalog for each calendar year wasn’t the ultimate solution in my mind either, but that is what I did.

TAKE PHOTO –> DOWNLOAD TO COMPUTER –>PRE-FLIGHT/RATE –>POST PROCESS –>CATALOG/KEYWORDS –>SHARE/PRINT–>BACKUP

It didn’t take long after my cataloging/keyword epiphany to realized I needed to get my digital act together.  I secured online cloud storage and implemented an additional external hard drive. This whole configuration is being modified currently.  The computer that was acting as my server had 1 of the 3 drive die.  It’s o.k. though as everything was backed up on my external drive and also in the cloud.  One could say I implemented a backup solution none to soon and they would be 100% correct.

TAKE PHOTO –> DOWNLOAD TO COMPUTER –>PRE-FLIGHT/RATE –>POST PROCESS –>CATALOG/KEYWORDS –>SHARE/PRINT–>BACKUP

And here we are present day; much wiser and more adept at this photography thingy.  With Cyndie and I both using laptops (1 PC & 1 MAC) and desktops (2 PC’s) we have been considering the best option in processing, storing, cataloging and sharing the images we create.  This workflow thing can be a real bugger to wrap your head around.  Things can get complicated if you let them. I an interested in something very easy to use.  I’d rather spend more time out shooting.  Cyn and I recently spent some time with some photography friends that shoot professionally.  I was able to glean some knowledge from them and put it use.  Thanks John and Emily @ Flom Designs and Photography.

The most important thing is understanding [realistically] what your needs are first and then tackle wants as you are able.  As we all know, needs and wants are very different animals.  I’ll go into this more tomorrow with Photography Workflow – Part 2, The Revised Workflow.

Composition – Framing

Just the other day I was reminded again that framing can make a big difference in the impact of your image.  While I don’t think there is any wrong way to approach a scene, there are definitely some more appealing ways to do so.  Cyn and I were traveling along a country back road the other day.  I zeroed in on a barn off in the distance, pulled over and fired off a couple of shots.  Moments later, she asked me to back up to the big oak tree we passed on the road.  That very special super duper wonderful lady of mine sees framing remarkable well.  She so often sees things that I might otherwise pass by and vice versa.  We are a good team her and I.

These are all appealing shots from my perspective.  It all depends on what you are looking for and/or trying to convey in your image.

Near
Near

Far
Far

Just Right
Framed with Oak Tree