Thursday, June 30, 2011
Over the past 8 months my post-process has taken on a very defined style that matches the subject matter I was mostly shooting perfectly. My images were always of decay and detritus, so the colors were muted, textures kept tack sharp, areas burned and dodged appropriately, etc. It's a style that has become a process so ingrained in my brain that I do it on autopilot, not unlike a daily work commute done so many times there's no memory of the time between when you left home and arrived and work. So long as the content of the image matches the style everything works out great, but when the image is of different subject matter I become lost and can't produce an attractive image to save my life. This was the dilemma I faced editing photos I took in Pittsburgh this past weekend, and it spawned yet another question, "What is good enough".
Fast forward to 3 months ago, an accident claims my greatest tool and I am forced to replace it with an even more sub-par sensor, a 1/1.6" XZ-1, a compact. And as time has gone on, especially after the photos shot in Pittsburgh last week, the divide between the convenience of JPG and quality of RAW has widened into painful obviousness.
The XZ-1 produces great looking RAW files. Even with the small sensor, the lens is so sharp that RAW produces images that can be sharpened into the clarity my GF1 provided. The great shortcoming, however, is its lack of latitude with color. If I were still shooting abandoned buildings all the time that would be fine, but as I'm recovering my subjects are less and less served by the desaturation and more by responsibly pumped color. Unfortunately, color management is a skill I've yet to learn in RAW developing. So then the idea entered my head, "I'll just go back to shooting JPG, Olympus is known for their great JPG images". Then comes the brick wall.
Desperate to retain texture while achieving the gorgeous look of the JPG images, I attempted to combine them in Photoshop with different layers and blending techniques. Not only was it a painfully long experimental process (as each image had to be handled very differently), the fatigue experienced creating those blends caused me to falter in very simple post work such as lens correction and color channel balancing. Whereas I had a method down with the GF1 and could crank through images one after the other, the shots from the XZ-1 enslaved me to my computer, requiring far more post work than the resultant images warranted. Although the process of shooting them was exhilarating, the post has brought me to a point of rethinking my approach to imaging in general.
Shooting in RAW and RAW alone is one thing. It sees its potential realized when the images are well thought out and meticulously captured with a specific look already in mind. JPG is clearly more functional as a spontaneous shooting format, which I would do well to remember as it saves the photographer from hours laboring in post. The gray area is the mentality behind shooting in which the art filters come into play - spontaneous artistic shooting. In Pittsburgh I shot in RAW+JPG because I not only wanted the effects of the art filters but I wanted the clarity of a RAW for optimum sharpness. Who knew if one of those randomly snapped images wound up being so good as to warrant dedicated time in post to bring forth its full potential. After this miserable experience, however, I've learned that keeping all the options open is paralyzing-by-choice. Get the tones of the JPG or get the clarity of RAW, but never both. Have the latitude to develop the image differently over time or settle with excellent processing out-of-the-box you can never duplicate. Insisting on having a RAW file comes down to one final question, "Is it worth the post work".
Friday, June 17, 2011
Without getting into too many deliciously juicy details from a gore-junkie's wildest imagination (and for the protection of all involved), I was recently involved in a rather bad (and I am told that is an understatement) car accident. Bad enough that I have been out of commission for some time, but after 6 weeks am slowly transitioning into my life as it was prior to the accident. The event has had several impacts, many long-term ones that will likely manifest in mental scarring (which isn't necessarily a negative). But in relation to what this blog is supposed to be about, how my main hobby-hoping-to-go-business is affected, the impact was surprisingly high. But, again, that is not necessarily a negative either.
The most obvious impact would be my lack of a camera system. My camera died a tragic death in the accident, as well as the lens attached to it. Warranties do not cover such damage as missing mode dials, cracked casings, dirtied silicone and sticky-from-the-red-stuff focus rings. And as much as the system I had assembled was something with which I could work wonders, it is unlikely to ever be reassembled as the camera body is no longer made and the lens has become increasingly rare (prices compared to when originally purchased are simply prohibitive). My system is now incomplete, with 2 lenses left and the various accessories.
In this situation I have 3 choices that reflect reason: A) Purchase a camera body that works with my remaining equipment but is not a body that fits within my concept of a pro-grade tool, B) Sell the remaining gear for what it's worth and change systems entirely, effectively starting from scratch and at a loss, and C) Purchase a pro-grade compact as a stand-in for the time being and wait to see what comes out new this Fall that fits within the system I had. As much of a trial of patience as it is, I went the C route. For now, my only camera is an Olympus XZ-1, the best (in my opinion, anyway) pro-grade compact available. It will serve all the purposes I require of a camera for the time being, and when the next oh-la-la camera comes along that tempts my wallet, I will then have both a complete system for professional work and a compact for those nights out with friends when the bulk isn't reasonable. AND the extra time necessary for the next oh-la-la camera to come out gives me ample time to save up the funds necessary to buy both it and a replacement for the lens lost in the accident. Provided my patience holds fast, I should come out the other end of this with an improved tool set that, barring further intervention of random fate, should last me for a long time.
Amusingly, I was scheduled to sign the lease on my new studio at the Bromo Seltzer Tower the day after the accident occurred. I was lucky to have family both involved and interested in preserving that space for me once I got back on my feet - the studio was held pending my return to the living. As it stands I'm scheduled to sign a revised lease and acquire the space early at the start of next month, but my original intent on the use of the space has gone through some necessary modification. Without a competent system camera, I'm not likely to be investing in new studio lights and backdrops and other such things intended for model shooting. Truth be told, I lack the drive I had prior simply because it takes more energy now to pursue things that used to come on their own when I was at prime. Model, product and event photography have taken a backseat to photographic exploits that require far less involvement and stress, exploits that equate to sketching to more traditional artists. I'm not mentally or physically in a position to pursue the professional ideal, and as such the studio will more than likely end up more an exhibit of work I've already done for the time being. Printing, matting, framing, and maybe even some editing of those sketches I snap to keep my skills keen. Until I am once again functioning at least near to my fullest potential the studio will be my miniature gallery.
It is disappointing that I won't be able to chase down the business elements of photography like I originally intended. Money will not be made, gigs will not be booked, clients will not be met, rapport will not be built. However, all of these things will be realized eventually, given sufficient time. And in the time I have, a very important element of this business ideal can still be pursued. Advertising. Image. I will have the time to shape a face for my business uninterrupted by the business itself. A sort of head start. When Kneejerk was first brewing in my brain there were hundreds of ideas floating about that never saw any attention because the act of taking pictures was too distracting. Now I have at least a few months to let those ideas come forward, polish them off and put them into practice.
Typically I feel like traumatic events like this accident shouldn't affect the victim over the long term. Surely a few months down the road, once reintroduced to normal life, the old habits set back in and the personality resumes from the point it had left off. Technically I'm still in the wake of the episode so my opinion right now is horribly biased. There are a few sentiments that I used to hold and bury deep down that died in this accident, though. Not items that I will openly talk about, but certainly baggage that I'm glad to be done with and bid adieu. As terrible a thing the accident was, I will come away from it with some very happy realizations. Amazing how clear things become when the contrast between one's lowest low and those wonderful things worth hanging onto is cranked to 11. It is good to know for sure what matters.