Monday, December 29, 2008

Photography-A Science Of Trade-Offs


Whether youre a rookie, an amateur or a seasoned pro, you will come across something that sooner or later manifests in photography, actually, its sooner and frequently rather than later and rarely.

And that is the fact that photography is full of TRADE OFFS.

To pick or not to pick.

By trade off is meant when you pick a choice that requires you to compromise or sacrifice another one.

An example of this would be when you are given a choice between having water or juice. If you pick water, you will get a healthy drink that will benefit your health, but that wont have a taste at all, whereas if you pick a juice, you will get a drink that will taste good and may be healthy as well, but may add carbohydrates to your body that water doesnt.

Getting the point now?

Well, photography is full of this kind of decisions, and either you learn to live with it and do the best you can with the trade offs or you will have a hard time taking pictures.

Let's look at an example of a trade off in photography:

Youre out in the street after sunset, and you want to take a picture of the people walking around in the park that youre at as well, you take a shot with a fast shutter speed and small aperture, this in order to freeze motion and achieve a good depth of field.

But when you review your shot, its really dark, almost black, and the only visible speckles of light you can see are the lamps around the park.

You go to the other extreme, you open your lens as much as possible and reduce the shutter speed as well, you take your shot, but you come up with a shot with little in focus, blurry and possible overexposed.

Has it ever happened to you? It happens to all of us as we learn to use our camera and photography.

The choice is yours.

In the above example in order to achieve a shot with frozen movement, you would have needed to pick a fast shutter speed and: a) big aperture or b) high ISO (and in some cases: c) both).

Unfortunately in photography you cant have it all.

From the very start in photography youre confronted with trades offs. When you first start looking for a camera, you will find millions of options, styles, brands, etc.

Even if you are loyal to one brand in particular, you will still have a lot of choices.

And the trade offs appear: Should I buy the one that I can carry in my pocket or the DSLR? Should I go for the one with 10 megapixels or the one with 24 megapixels?

If you pick, lets say, a DSLR, you need lenses for it, a 18-70mm? a 18-250mm? a 70-300mm? a 10-20mm? a Carl Zeiss 24-70mm? a Sony G Series 70-400?

All of them have their pros and cons, and by purchasing one in particular, you gain options and you let go others that other lens has.

If you buy a Sony 11-18mm lens against a 18-250mm, you will have gained wide angle view but have let go of zoom and telephoto capabilites.

If you buy a Carl Zeiss 24-70mm instead of a Sony G Series 70-300mm, you will have gained the best glass available for the Alpha DSLR line, but wont have the reach the other one has (The G series is also a great quality lens in the Alpha DSLR line) .

One reason why lenses like the 18-200mm, 18-250mm, 55-200mm and such are popular amongst photographers is because they provide a wide range of distance they can cover without changing lenses. They provide a good wide angle vision and good telephoto range, but if you need a wider angle or to reach farther in the distance, you will need to change lenses.

Once you get over that, you're just about to begin dealing with trade offs.

Field decisions

Once you picked what camera and lens to use, you will have to work around trade offs as you go along or use them to your advantage.

If you want shallow depth of field, you got to sacrifice focus in most of the picture. If you want a fast shutter speed and there is not enough light, you will have to open up the aperture or increase the ISO, which will in turn, ask you to sacrifice focus or add noise to your picture.

Another issue you can come across, is whether or nor shoot RAW or JPEG. Shooting JPEG gives you more time to do more shooting as the camera gives you the processed file already and it doesnt take up as much space as RAW does, but you have to accept the compression the file requires and if you edit it, accept the fact that the file will lose quality each time you alter it (thats why its better to make a copy from the original file and work with the copy), whereas shooting RAW gives you access to the complete resolution your camera can offer with no compression (unless you shoot cRAW in the A700/900) but will take up more space in your memory card and will require you to sit down in the computer and do adjustments the camera can make on its own like setting White Balance, color tone and such. Depending on how experienced you are, this may be a big time consuming process.

You will be out in the field (and by field I mean forest, street, studio or wherever you do your photography) and face lots of questions you need to solve FAST in order to use your time as best as possible; should you use flash instead of natural light with the model? Should you wait for tomorrow to get the light you want or will you work and make something creative with the current light? Would it be better to use a fast lens in order to get a faster shutter speed so you wont need too much time to take a picture? Do you need to change lens in order to reach that bird standing on the tree far away? Should you tell the kid to stay still or let him run around to get the picture? Should you shoot in black and white or color or sepia? Would the picture look better if you use a color filter?

The whole point and closure

The whole point of this is to show you that in photography there are thousands of options to pick from or work with but you got to keep in mind that for every choice you take, you need to let something go, but that doesnt necessarily mean that you let go of a good picture.

The faster you learn to make up your mind about trade offs, the more pictures you will get. Your working method may be quick or slow, but if you manage to decide quickly about whether you should shoot at f/2.8 or f/8.0 in order to get good depth of field, the less likely you will miss a shot since you will be ready and your time will be maximized to get as much shots as possible. If you take too long deciding what would be better, the less shots you take, you may miss an oportunity youll never get again and the less you will get done.

The real photographer is the one that works around trade offs fast and gets the shot he/she wants or as close as possible OR uses the trade offs to his/her advantage in order to make a unique looking shot, even if it wasn't the one that was originally intended, the bad photographer is the one who blames its camera the fact the shot didnt come out the way they wanted to but they didnt pay attention to the camera settings, their subject or the light available and dont know photography well enough to know about the fact that if you select a shutter speed of 1/4000 at a dusk, you will need a large aperture or a real high ISO to get a properly exposed shot.

You can't have it all every time, but that doesnt mean you cant have as much as possible.

Finally, there is one fact to observe here. There are a lot of people who think that the only way to get good photos is by having good equipment, however, they dont bother to learn about light management or how to use their camera and think that by having X brand will solve all their problems. They get a X brand camera and their pictures still blow, so they think they need F brand, they get an F brand camera and their pictures still blow, so they think they need K brand, notice a pattern here?

These are the people who think that the camera knows what they are thinking so they expect it to get the shot they are thinking. These are the people who think that the sensor can see as our eyes do and when the shot doesnt come out as they wanted, they think brand Q sucks and they need another one.

These people never before have heard about trade offs because to them a camera must be able to do what they want it to do. So if the picture isnt sharp enough to them, they think they need to upgrade to a 10,000 dollar lens in order to get sharp pictures or get a $8,000 camera. They never bother to check if the lens its open at f/1.4.

A trade off is a trade off, no matter if youre on a $400 body or a $100,000 one. You can do great things with a cheap camera or have the best camera available but do mediocre shots.

The trick is to learn to manage them quickly and know that you will have to deal with them at some point.

Trade offs begin when you turn on the camera, you could avoid the hassle and not turn it on, but whats the fun in having everything simple all the time?

Trade offs, deal with them and use them to your advantage or pick another hobby/career.

And that itself, it's a trade off.

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