Lessons in photography: quality versus quantity

I am quite active on Photocrowd and I submit images into contests almost on a daily basis if I find the time. I am usually ranked somewhere in the Top 1000, sometimes I make it into the Top 500. Last year I also created some contests myself and acted as a community judge, but the new platform rules do not allow this option for non-paying members anymore. Nevertheless I still participate in the crowd rating, at least, again, if I find the time.

Something I have seen over and over again is, that people put very similar images into one and the same contest (or their galleries). They almost look identical, but the angle is a wee bit different or the image is cut in a slightly different way. Or they mix, some black & white, some color, but both of the exact same thing. The person entering these probably wants to increase the chance of winning or getting high-ranked, but from me you will get a quite different reaction. I will not even look at those shots for more than a second. For me the message is clear, the photographer himself can’t decide which of his works is the best and wants me to do his job. No thanks. If you do miss the patience and the eye to evaluate your work yourself, it is truly not worth my attention. That might sound harsh, but hey, I am not here to serve you strawberries, I want the reader to become a better photographer. Evaluating your own work is an important part of shooting better images.

Some people shoot two images, when others shoot a hundred. I usually take one or two, the shot I want and sometimes the “security shot”. Sometimes the second shot is a correctional shot, when I see I have made a mistake in shot number one. With just two choices, picking just one is easy for me in the end. But I can imagine it is a hell of a task when you shoot dozens of images of the same subject. If you think you really need all those shots, okay then, fine with me. But you need to take your time to decide which one is the best.

The contest situation is just an example. You can see the same phenomena in many photographer’s galleries on the internet. They do not display their best work, but their insecurity of chosing their best. They drop 100+ images on you within just one gallery, many shots showing almost the same. Image after image I have to look at the same thing. Well, I don’t have to, guess you can tell by now that I will be gone after the second shot. Unless, it is a completely different approach to the subject, that might actually intrigue me. Here are two examples. The second one was published in Infernus magazine (Portugal) a few years back. Both examples show two images of the same subject, but from a truly different perspective.

Palace Oberstein, Idar-Oberstein, Palatinate, Germany.

If those images wouldn’t be shown right next to each other, you would probably not realize at first sight that they do show the same subject. If you enter something like this into a contest, you don’t hear me complaing. Just don’t repeat yourself and don’t ask me to pick for you.

Castle ruin Bosselstein, Idar-Oberstein, Palatinate, Germany.

Another reason why you should always evaluate your work and just chose the best images to display is, people have a short attention span. If you flood their view with images, many of them not so interesting, they lose interest quickly and leave your gallery. And I’m not only talking about photographing the same subject over and over again, this sometimes also counts for galleries that contain images of the same area, but totally different subjects. If you think you shot many many  great images in one shooting, congratulations! Nevertheless I recommend to not serve them all at once, rather present them in small bundles. Make it special! You might argue that you’re only doing this for fun, but why publishing then? The moment you publish, you ask for critique, positive or negative. Most people will be too polite or too lazy to give you the later.

This is a lesson I had to learn myself. I did like to display complete shootings myself, until I realized that I would prefer to look at 3 very good images instead of finding those three amongst 30 other images. And lets face it, no one shoots 30+ great images in a row. Of course, there is always that one person who will like one of those less interesting shots the most, for various reasons, and praise it. But do you really want to be praised for a work when you’re not 100% content with it yourself? As a photographer/visual artist your name stands for the things you let people see. It is YOUR work. Choose the best, don’t be random, don’t let the audience pick. Showcase your best and be judged for that. I say, quality over quantity, always!

Lessons in photography: RAW versus JPG

When you experiment with in-camera settings in black & white for instance, the raw-file will record ALL information for you, including the colors. Should you decide that black & white was a mistake for the motive, you can always go back to the original data. And vice versa, you can always convert a color file to black & white without losing image quality. (1) jpg black & white in-camera (2) corresponding raw file in color after post-processing and conversion to jpg (3) corresponding raw-file after post processing conversion to black & white and jpg.

I have stressed the idea of shooting raw-files rather than jpgs in my first article in the section “Lessons of photography” already. And you might have heard this over and over again from others as well, if you are still shooting jpg. I only see one advantage of the later, you simply don’t need so much hard drive space if you continue doing what you do. But this little advantage leads us to the main problem, to save storage by shooting jpg, your files are being compressed. Compression deletes useful information that you can collect using raw, it might even create artifacts on your images. And hard drive space has really become quite affordable (and fast, too!) these days, so why not use it?

Even when you’re not ready to dive into the world of post-processing, use the low prices of hard drive space and start storing raw-files. If you are really into photography tomorrow as well, I promise you, the day will come when you will be thankful for that decision. As mentioned before, most modern digital cameras support shooting both at the same time, raw & jpg, so for a while, you can easily go on with what you’re doing until you feel fit for another level. But seriously, start storing those damn files!

I will use an example from classical analog photography to illustrate the difference between raw-file and jpg better. The jpg-file is equivalent to the automatically (!) developed image of your analog shot. Imagine, after a machine developed your analog image, your negative gets lost. You will be stuck with the version of the image the machine created for you, forever. Here is your jpg!

The raw-file in comparison, is like the digital version of the negative, only without the inverted color scheme. With an analog negative, the outcome of the final image depends on your way of doing the development in the darkroom. Leaving it in the chemicals a few seconds longer to achieve a certain effect? That is, what your digital post-processing program is, a virtual version of your old darkroom. If you only photograph in jpg, you are giving the key to that darkroom to a machine. Does that sound smart to you? I hope not!

You might sigh again by the thought of learning post-processing. But here is the good news, you can’t destroy a raw-file with doing something wrong. The raw file will always contain ALL the information that you shot, no matter in how many ways you fuck it up while learning. You can always go back to the originally recorded camera settings and see the original “digital negative”. Your jpg on the contrary, loses quality EVERY TIME you open it, readjust it, save it. And lets be honest, you might see it as a disadvantage to need to process your raw-files, but do you really really never touch one of your jpgs for some minor adjustments after the shooting? Really? REALLY?

Last but not least a recommendation for your “virtual darkroom”. There are a lot of programs out there, to do post-processing. Maybe some came with your camera already, try it for a start! Many professionals count on Adobe Lightroom, which is absolutely a great program. Personally I prefer using the raw converter of Adobe Photoshop CC though, because simply I like everything in the same place and Photoshop is always my “weapon of choice” when it comes to digital visuals.

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The image I used for the illustration of this article is available in the Ateliershop. Like most of my images it is limited to 23 copies and you can choose between two different photo papers, a silk matte paper and a metallic photo paper and two different sizes, 20×30 or 30x45cm. Just click on the image to go directly to the offer.

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How to catch a shooting star

To catch a shooting star with your camera, you need one thing more than anything else -apart from a camera of course- you need patience.

This image was shot on August 13th 2015 at 0:22am. The peak of Perseids was forecasted for August 13th, but during a daytime with too much light to see them. So the night into August 13th was the best chance to observe the phenomena as well. At that time I lived on the countryside of Saxony-Anhalt, close to the border to Thuringia, so I naturally had a good position without too many distracting lights.

I have no special equipment to do something like this, I used a (fairly old) Canon 50D and my favourite wide angle lens (Canon EF 10-22mm) for it. A wide angle lens completely makes sense for this endeavour, because you can cover the whole sky and not just a small part, while maybe in another part something is happening. The lens was set to 10mm. I used a very high ISO setting here (3500), which required some post processing work on the image, to reduce the resulting noise. I always shoot .raw-files, because I feel that any post-processing on a jpg is like beating a dead horse. A good image should not require much post-processing at all, but having the option sometimes adds a little extra to make the image even more special.

(Speaking about .raw-files, I want to add a little sidenote. If you are learning to become a photographer, or a better photographer, use this option! You might sigh about the thought of post-processing if you have never done this before, but if you seriously want to take good pictures, you will turn to .raw-files sooner or later anyway. And you will find yourself angry, when you realise that years of photography have passed by and you’re stuck with a ton of .jpg-files from those days. Most digital cameras have the option to do both, so if you’re not ready for .raw, consider to archive the files anyway. I will write more about this in another post some time.)

But back to the camera settings. As the ISO setting was still not enough to get a decent picture in a fairly dark environment, I had to open my shutter much more than I intended to. Usually I would recommend to use the highest value possible in this case, but I had to use the smallest (3,5 on this lens) to make this work with the equipment I had. I switched off the autofocus of the lens and focussed manually, attached a remote-control release to the camera and mounted it on a tripod. I used the remote to avoid shaking the camera during the process of bulb exposure. Bulb exposure, because the secret to catch a falling star with your camera is, to push the trigger before it happens. Also, it gives you the option to end the exposure at any given time you see fit. Because if you catch one shooting star really well, it is wise to end the exposure shortly after, or you end up “overwriting” the phenomena with an image of the normal sky.

One more problem are airplanes. It is hard to find a place where non passes, in most locations they will ruin a larger percentage of your images. Alltogether it took me about two and a half hour to get the shot I wanted. I used an exposure time of 33 seconds. The shooting star I caught was much more intense than a lot of others, actually there is more than one pictured in this image, but the other one is not visible at first sight. As you can see, the night was not completely clear, but had a few small clouds coming up. I went home feeling quite lucky nevertheless. If you are going to try this yourself, I wish you good luck… and a lot of patience.

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This image is available in the Ateliershop. Like most of my images it is limited to 23 copies and you can choose between two different photo papers, a silk matte paper and a metallic photo paper. Personally, I prefer the later one for this shot. Just click on the image to go directly to the offer.

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New art and photo prints available & a recommendation

Besides working on the reissue of this virtual diary and preparing and packing for the WGT madness, I spent a lot of time selecting new images for the Ateliershop and getting them ready for sale. I must say, it was a very good decision to close my private Ateliershop and migrate it to Etsy by the end of last year. If you have art or other handmade goods to sell, as well as antiques and curiosities, I can really recommend this platform to you. The system is easy to use and you don’t have to worry about payment options and the likes, Etsy takes care of that. And the fees for putting items into the shop are very reasonable for the service, as well as the percentage that is taken from every sale. All in all I am very content with it. Also, its nice to see how many people offer handmade goods and special things, that you would never find in a mass market. The creativity I see in some shops makes me want to believe that the world is not totally wrapped in plastic by now.

   

Of course, I still wish people would spend more money on art. I often hear complaints about prices, and one moment later people buy soulless things instead, for more money. You can own a limited edition print of my works by less of a price than a served dinner at a restaurant for two. Or five packs of cigarettes. I think that is a very reasonable price. Of course, there are also more expensive things. But alas, you can shop at Ikea instead and buy a framed print that you share with millions of people. Or get one of those ugly wall tattoos instead, the word “coffee” on anyones kitchen wall will totally underline individual morning grumpiness. I should get one of those, too, because I am grumpy as fuck if you talk to me before the first coffee. Last week I almost killed a neighbour, because he was waving at me the moment I opened the shades, I was still in my underpants. Just kidding, but only about the wall tattoo.

Anyway, what I want to say is, if you buy art from an artist, you do not only make yourself happy with the item, or a person you give it to as a present, you also make the artist happy and ensure that there will be more art in the future.