thoughts

28 September 2016

Why do I use Canon? Why not Nikon, Sony or Pentax?

Posted in: thoughts|

Why do I use Canon? Why not Nikon, Sony or Pentax?

This is a question I hear quite a lot asked by fellow photographers. After all Nikon, Sony and recently Pentax are known for better base ISO dynamic range which is crucial for landscape photographers. So why haven’t I switched yet?

The answer isn’t that simple but I will try to provide it in this post.

1. Dynamic range isn’t everything (but right now it’s pretty good on recent Canon cameras like 1DX II, 5D MK IV or 80D)

Dynamic range and sensor performance in general are only one aspect of a camera. Important but I would say not the most important (otherwise both Canon 1DX II and Nikon D5, two flagship DSLRs, wouldn’t be so popular among pros). There are many other things and features I love about Canon 5D MK IV – its auto focus, low light performance, excellent touch screen, responsiveness, optical view finder (I still prefer it to EVF), built-in GPS/WiFi, weather proof built, ergonomics, and so on. The ergonomics might seem like a completely unimportant stuff but I hate Sony’s menus for instance. Finding any option on my Sony camera (yes, I do own one… two in fact) is such a pain… while Canon menus have very nice and intuitive layout.

2. I have a lot of Canon lenses I really love

For some lenses I would have difficult times finding good replacement in other systems (it would be easiest in Nikon system probably). Although Sony and Pentax are great cameras I have a feeling they still do miss some amazing lenses. Things are improving but it will still take some time and I believe that lenses are in fact more important than a camera body itself.

One could argue that there are adapters which can be used to attach Canon lenses on Sony mirrorless but reality is that they don’t perform as well as on Canon camera (or Sony lenses on Sony camera).

3. Making a switch is costly

I invested quite a lot of money into my Canon gear (both bodies, lenses and some accessories). If I was to sold all this, I would definitely lose a lot of money. And, even if the money I earned was enough to buy new camera and lenses, losing money isn’t something I like – even for the sake of slightly better image quality.

4. In real-life scenarios differences aren’t that big

That’s true that Nikon is about 1 stop better than 5D MK IV (or 1DX II) and Sony is about half a stop better… but in real life situations such differences don’t matter – they are almost negligible. In fact even 15 stops of dynamic range is still not enough to capture most extreme dynamic range (some sunsets/sunrises, shooting indoors/churches with windows, etc.). So in such cases you will still need to bracket and use HDR or digital blending.

Another thing, which I find quite funny, is a test where one is pulling shadows by 5 or 6 stops. Ok, Sony and Nikon outperform Canon in such test… but the shadows in both Nikon and Sony are far from being clean after such pulling! So even on Sony/Nikon I would still choose to bracket and use HDR to make a photo with no noise in the darkest parts.

5. The reason I chose Canon in the past was… accident

Yes, that’s true. At the time I was buying my very first DSLR, which was Canon 400D, I seriously considered both Canon and Nikon (at that time Sony wasn’t serious player). Decision which system to pick was pretty random although what affected it to a small degree was the fact that my father already had Canon film camera with a few lenses that I could borrow from him if I needed them. So I chose Canon (and occasionally used my dad’s lenses). After some time I bought myself a few lenses, switched to Canon 50D, bought more lenses and then switched to full-frame Canon 5D MK II (and again bought some lenses). And with each month and dollar spent making a switch to another brand became more and more difficult. Now it’s nearly impossible.

6. Magic Lantern

Though, Magic Lantern is unofficial piece of software, it’s so powerful that no official camera firmware comes anywhere near it. With features like RAW video, focus assisting tools, virtually unlimited bracketing, complex intervalometer, automatic exposure to the right feature, and many more Magic Lantern is really impressive. I’m sure I would miss a lot of those features in any other camera system.

In fact I already do miss them because right now Canon 5D Mark IV isn’t supported (MK III is) but I have my hopes that it will eventually get support in the future. For now I have to use my 5D Mark III to use Magic Lantern.

Summary

So as you can see there are many reasons I’m not making a switch anytime soon. I’m pretty happy with my Canon cameras, they really suit my needs and I invested too much in this system. That is not to tell that it’s an ideal system. No, I’m well-aware of its weaknesses but for me it works very well.

Also most of the modern cameras are really great (honestly even good old 5D MK II is an excellent camera). And if one cannot take good photo with it, it means the problem probably isn’t in the gear 🙂

Funchal in Madeira at night

22 October 2015

500px vs Flickr vs Google+ vs Facebook – Where should you share your images?

Posted in: thoughts|

Introduction

Almost 2 years ago I shared a post in which I compared 500px, Flickr, Facebook and Google+ from photographers perspective mentioning their strengths and weaknesses. But 2 years in the Internet era is a long time and a lot of things can change during such period of time so today I would like to post refreshed version of this comparison – it’s time for another 500px vs Flickr vs Google+ vs Facebook battle.

500px

comparison_500pxIt was once my absolute favorite with fantastic quality of uploaded images (compared to badly compressed images on Facebook they look gorgeous), very high quality of images in general and ability to get exposure even if you weren’t popular. After all those years it’s still one of my favorite websites – I share images there every few days or weeks.

The thing I really like about 500px is that they don’t sit on their laurels and always look for things to improve – over last 2 years UI has seen so many changes that it would be difficult to name all of them. Generally the user interface is clean and very modern but at the same time I feel that over the years it made the page rather slow.

One of the issues about 500px is that UI is inconsistent, e.g. when you open image to view it from Flow page (which basically shows activity from your friends) it opens on dark background without ability to comment or view photo’s score. But when you open the same image from Popular page it opens on light background and it gives you option to both comment and view rating of the image. Weird.

Another issue is that as 500px became popular a lot more people started to share their images there what also affected overall image quality – in a bad way. And if a particular photog has a lot of friends it might happen that his poorly executed image will reach 1st page of Popular (equivalent of Flickr’s Explore). However, the images on 500px are still one of the best you can find on the Internet in my opinion with many great individuals still using it.

Another problem is very little engagement. Most of the people don’t comment on your photos and when they do, a lot of them do that just to get your attention so you look at their images. To change that 500px introduced Groups feature – a place where users can discuss with each other about photography. But from what I saw they aren’t very popular. And I myself don’t use them at all.

Website: 500px.com

Pros:

  • Fantastic and inspiring photos (especially on 1st page of Popular)
  • Great quality of uploaded images (very little compression etc.)
  • Very nice modern look & feel of the service

Cons:

  • Various incosistencies in the UI – e.g. it’s not possible to comment on photos from the Flow page but it is from Popular page
  • UI can sometimes become very slow
  • Very little engagement

Flickr

comparison_flickrFlickr was first photography oriented website where I started to share my work in 2010. I left it for 500px and even though I tried to return to it several times I always leave it again (sorry Flickr).

Over recent years Flickr made a lot of changes to gain some attention from photographers – it made its UI much more modern and I must say I quite like it (although I still prefer 500px one). However, with very little views I get there I don’t think it’s worth uploading my images there.

Compared to 500px average image quality is much lower on Flickr (with a lot of snapshots) because its users base is probably still much bigger than 500px’s and the service feels a bit more old school but there are some improvements being made in this field.

So while Flickr made some progress, for me it’s still behind 500px.

Website: flickr.com

Pros:

  • Still one of the most popular web services for photographers
  • Flickr is recently evolving and there is a great chance it will be great & cool once again
  • Very nice UI
Cons:
  • Average image quality is lower than on 500px
  • Quality of comments isn’t often very high – my advice – don’t use groups

Google+

comparison_googlepGoogle+ isn’t a photography website in a sense Flickr or 500px are but it has some really cool features that photographers like. First of all image quality of uploaded photos is really good. What’s more it offers some basic photo adjustments (which I don’t use at all but some people might like them) and it also shows EXIF metadata what’s great for beginners to learn from pro photographers – provided they don’t remove EXIF of course 😉

But what’s most important for me is that it’s possible to get a lot of exposure there. And I mean a lot. All my photos there were viewed 1.5 billion times. Yes, that isn’t a mistake – 1.5 BILLION. It’s crazy, isn’t it? And in this regard Google+ is a clean winner.

The biggest gripe for me is that despite so many views, engagement I see there is very low – people rarely comment. But when they do, quality of comments is often very high – so it’s a great place to discuss photography related subjects if you have some friends there.

Website: plus.google.com

Pros:

  • Great image quality
  • EXIF data
  • It’s possible to get a lot of views on a single photo

Cons:

  • It’s very hard to get any attention from non-photographers as most of your non-photography friends probably still don’t have account on it

Facebook

Just like Google+, Facebook isn’t a photography website but rather biggest and most popular social network. However, as all great photographers are there you should consider joining it too. And not only photographers are there what make it possible to reach very wide audiences (hint: possible clients 😉 ). And it is what happens.

But the greatest thing about Facebook is that activity on your photos is often much more personalized than anywhere else and it feels more like a regular talk or discussion. Mainly because many of your friends are there.

Facebook also changed over last 2 years but unlike 500px or Flickr – not very much. The changes are evolutionary – they mostly tweak and tune existing features, sometimes adding one or two new options. There might be quite big change soon with “Dislike” button being recently confirmed and quite frankly I’m not sure if it will be change for good.

Also my biggest original gripe – image quality – is still there. When you upload your photos there Facebook compresses them but it does it in such a way that some images might look really horrible: noise gets amplified, colour banding issues start to appear etc. In fact I would tell that out of 4 websites compared in this post Facebook offers worst image quality!

Unlike other websites mentioned in this comparison Facebook is also the only one that doesn’t show EXIF data on photos.

Website: facebook.com

Pros:

  • Possibility to reach wide audience
  • Great to build community
  • A lot of engagement from users

Cons:

  • Very poor image quality of uploaded images (noise, banding…)
  • No EXIF metadata

Summary

2 years ago I wasn’t able to really name a winner. This time the choice is easier for me and it’s Facebook. With much bigger engagement than anywhere else it had to win. Also it generates quite a lot of traffic to my blog which is another important thing for me. Of course it isn’t perfect and its biggest problem is very poor image quality so that’s why 500px comes second. It could win (and maybe will in 2 years from now) but it has to do something to encourage its users to engage more. Introduction of groups was a move in the right direction but for me it doesn’t work. 3rd place on podium goes to Google+ – although I like exposure I got there, I really dislike the fact that there is so little engagement. Flickr comes last this time for me – I don’t know why but despite all changes done to it over last few years I still cannot start to love it again. It just doesn’t work for me…

What about Instagram?

If you read carefully you probably noticed that one big player is missing from above comparison and it’s Instagram. I use it from time to time but really only occassionally and I think that it would be unfair to describe a website that I don’t know well and which I don’t really understand. If I get better understanding of it in the future, I’ll definitely include it in this comparison.

3 April 2015

My take on smartphone photography

Posted in: hdr, landscape, panorama, thailand, thoughts|

My take on smartphone photography

Up to now I wasn’t great fan of smartphone photography (in fact I avoided it as much as I could) as I was pretty sure the results would be of poor quality, blurry, with low dynamic range, noisy. And with my previous phone they definitely were. But this might change as I recently discovered that my Samsung S5 has quite a capable camera. Apart from using my mighty DSLR, in Thailand I took a looot of smartphone photos. A few of them left me really impressed by what those modern smartphones can do. Dynamic range is quite good, sharpness is very good and colours rendition is very natural. Even in low-light it worked quite well most of the time. There is quite a lot of noise but I still found the photos perfectly acceptable. The only thing I miss on Samsung S5 are manual exposure controls as the only setting I can change is ISO and exposure bias. I cannot set exposure time nor aperture to what I want. RAWs would be nice too but I can live without them (and they would eat phone’s memory pretty quickly I guess).

All that is really impressive. I recently read an article on PetaPixel which seems to explain why smartphone cameras are that good nowadays – it seems that 92% of phone users take photos with their smartphones and 36% find quality of camera to be key to decision of buying a phone! So many phone users actually think of their smartphones as cameras. For many it is probably the only camera they have.

I will start to think that way too probably because I don’t carry my DSLR camera with me all the time, but I do carry my phone so it’s good to know I have powerful camera in my pocket whenever I need it.

Here’s a little example. Below panorama was shot and stacked on my smartphone. It isn’t perfect but still looks quite nice. And it was created pretty much automatically. In Lightroom I just increased vibrance and contrast a little bit as I found the results a little bit too flat for my liking.

Railay Beach at Sunset

Daily photo – Railay beach at Sunset

When I had been initially planning my Thailand trip a few months ago I intended to spent whole 2 weeks in one place – on Railay peninsula in Krabi province – which is photographer’s paradise. But then I read that this place is becoming really boring after more than 2 – 3 days, that there is nothing you can do while being there. And I trusted those opinions and altered my plan (not that I regret as I visited another fantastic place). Lesson learnt: don’t believe in opinions of non-photographers.

Generally speaking this place is amazing and even after 8 days there I could find something new to do. I did a lot of swimming, some kayaking, I went on a few trips to nearby islands and spent some time trying local cuisine. If I would had stayed longer I would probably give rock climbing a try (BTW if you’re climbing there are a few nice vantage points on Railay peninsula from which you could take some amazing photos). And yeah, this place is just amazing for landscape photography as you could already see from some of my other posts like this or this. Sunsets look really beautiful when you have such amazing cliffs in a foreground (or background depending how you compose your shots).

Here’s another photo from Railay, taken during sunset. The place was rather busy at that day so there are a few people in the frame but anyway 🙂

Railay Beach at Sunset

And finally EXIF info for this image:
Technical details:
Camera: Canon 5D MK III (read my review)
Lens: Canon 16-35 f/4 L IS USM
Focal length: 20 mm
Aperture: f/9.0
Exposure time: 1/8 s (“middle” exposure)
ISO: 100
Number of exposures: 5
E.V. Step: 1.0 EV
Flash used: no
Tripod: yes
Filters: no
Technique: HDR, tone-mapping, luminosity masking
Software: Magic Lantern, Photomatix Pro 5 (Contrast Optimizer), Lightroom 5.7, Photoshop CC 2014, Topaz Clarity, Topaz Detail
13 August 2014

Best camera is the one you have

Posted in: hdr, landscape, mountains, Tatra, thoughts|

Best camera? The one you have

I often get this kind of questions: “What’s the best camera?”, “I have Camera X and would like to upgrade. What would you recommend?”. It’s always tough. Really. What’s the best camera? I’d say the one you currently have (if you don’t have any it’s a different case of course). In this post I will describe pretty common behaviour (also known as a really expensive trap) when photographers focus to much on getting new gear, when they don’t really need it, instead of on the photos themselves. This post is in fact sharing my own experiences as I also fell into this pitfall.

When I was beginning with photography a few years ago I often thought that if my photo had been of poor quality it had been almost always because of poor gear (at that time I used simple Canon 400D with some 18-55 mm kit lens). So throughout the years I kept upgrading my equipment every now and then pursuing some ideal, looking for Holy Grail of photography equipment. Needless to say I didn’t find it. I first switched to Canon 50D because 400D had very low dynamic range and poor high ISO capabilities. Then I switched to 5D MK II because I believed that full-frame is the way to go. But soon after that I switched once again to another beast – 5D MK III because… well, it’s a great camera but I’m not really sure why I upgraded as its predecessor had almost everything I needed at that time. I also kept buying new lenses. And new tripods, new filters, not to mention numerous bags and additional small accesories. And a lot of photo editing software. It all costs money.

Now, I don’t mean I didn’t need any of that equipment, some of it was really helpful and useful for my photography (for instance Canon 24-105 L lens is some amazing piece of equipment I cannot imagine living without). I bought some equipment that allowed me to take better photos. I bought equipment that let me forget about technical limitations or which opened new opportunities in front of me. But with so many changes to my gear I quickly became obsessed with “collecting” it and I started to focus more on the gear itself than my photos. There were some pieces of equipment that weren’t really inevitable for me. I didn’t need them. They couldn’t make my photography better. Yet I got them.

Nowadays I try to limit buying new equipment to only one I really really need. When a thought of getting something new crosses my mind (most commonly it’s a tilt-shift lens 😉 ) I ask myself a question whether I really do need this? Will my photos become better? Will I have more photo opportunities thanks to that? And the answer is most usually – no (when it is yes, I decide to buy). I’m shooting landscapes mainly, and although tilt-shift lens can sometimes be helpful in this kind of photography, wide-angle lens and ultra wide-angle lens is what I really need 99% of time. And I already have them. I also stopped upgrading my cameras. Yeah I’d love to have camera with sensor similar to Nikon D800 or D810… I’m not making huge prints at the moment so I wouldn’t benefit much from 36 megapixels. I usually don’t need to crop my photos extensively neither. Sensor in 5D MK III is really sufficient for me – image quality is better than good (in fact even sensor of 50D is sufficient for me in the majority of case) so I can’t really complain.

As always I’m interested in hearing your opinion about the subject. Did you behave similarly in the past? Or maybe you still do 🙂 ?

Daily photo – View in Tatra Mountains

Below high dynamic range photo was taken in Tatra mountains last year. It was very windy so I didn’t risk setting up my tripod (especially as there wasn’t enough room for that) and went with shooting hand-held.

View in Tatra Mountains


Camera Info

Finally some EXIF info:

Technical details:
Camera: Canon 5D MK III (read my review here)
Lens: Canon 24-105 f/4 L IS USM
Focal length: 24 mm
Aperture: f/7.1
Exposure time: 1/160 s (“middle” exposure)
ISO: 500
Number of exposures: 5
E.V. Step: 1.0
Flash used: no
Tripod: no
Filters: no
Technique: HDR, tone-mapping, luminosity masking
Software: Magic Lantern, Photomatix Pro 5 (Contrast Optimizer), Lightroom 5.4, Photoshop CC, Topaz Clarity
16 May 2014

Thoughts: Art is not about “likes”

Posted in: hdr, landscape, mexico, thoughts|

Art is not about “likes”

This post is continuation of Why is Pixoto dangerous? in which I described potential dangers related to social networking on example of Pixoto website. The most important statement I made in that post was that the fact you’re awarded, get likes or votes doesn’t mean you’re already great photographer (although you might be – I only suggest not to rely on the ‘likes’ too much) and this could result in you stopping to make any progress as photographer.

Today I would like to focus on related subject but I will make completely different statement – the fact that your photos don’t get many ‘likes’ doesn’t mean that your work isn’t art. It doesn’t mean your work isn’t great.

Of course I’m interested in reading your opinion.

It’s very easy to fall into this trap and start thinking that if you get very few likes on Facebook or 500px, you’re just not good enough. Such thought is rather depressive (especially if you’re ambitious) and may affect your photography for worse because you might try taking photos that other people would like, not the ones you would like to capture. You would alter your style just to make sure everyone (or at least most people) will like it. But it won’t be your true style, there won’t be real you in your photos.

In fact it was the mistake that I’d been making at some stage but nowadays I don’t really care about it that much. If I like my photo – that’s great even if it goes fairly unnoticed on social networking websites (of course I’m happy when it does 🙂 ). I have some style of both composing and processing photos and am really happy with it. I know what I could change to make my photos more attractive but I also know that I won’t like them that much anymore. Instead I try to evolve my style the way that I will like my photos even more.

Another issue with social networking is that it’s more about pat on the back than real useful feedback. The more friends you have, the more likes you’ll get. As simple as that. You will hardly ever notice anyone giving negative feedback on Facebook or 500px. Even if photo is of very poor quality or contains serious technical flaws. A lot of people simply expect that if they liked or commented on your photo, you will do the same and vote on their images. And if it isn’t clear to you, some people will make it by putting a comment under your photo like “Please like my recent work”. What’s more I’ve seen a lot of talented and skillful photographers (much better than me!), whose work didn’t get enough exposure just because they didn’t have many friends on 500px, Flickr or Facebook. But they were true artists for sure.

So summing up, remember this: Art isn’t about likes. Art isn’t about votes. It isn’t about popularity. Art is about expression of creative skills and imagination. Art is about beauty and emotions. Show the world how you see it, not how the others expect you to see it.

Daily photo – Simple Sunset

Today I would like to share new HDR photo from Mexico taken at sunset. The light was gorgeous… and as you can see sometimes you don’t need anything else apart from good light.

If you would like to learn how to capture such images yourself, make sure to read my free HDR tutorial.

Simple sunset

Finally some EXIF info:

Technical details:
Camera: Sony NEX-6 (read my review here)
Lens: Sony E 10-18 f/4
Focal length: 12 mm
Aperture: f/10.0
Exposure time: 1/8 s (“middle” exposure)
ISO: 100
Number of exposures: 8
E.V. Step: 1.0
Flash used: no
Tripod: yes
Filters: Cokin ND X variable density filter
Technique: HDR, tone-mapping, luminosity masks
Software: Photomatix Pro 5 (Contrast Optimizer), Lightroom 5.3, Photoshop CC, Topaz Clarity
30 April 2014

Please show unprocessed photo

Posted in: landscape, long-exposure, mexico, thoughts|

Please show unprocessed photo

I guess you heard it at least once or twice about your photos: “I like your photo but please show unprocessed version” or “your photos don’t show how this place really looks”. Quite frankly I hate it. For me unprocessed version is like almost empty canvas or quick sketch for a painter. Something that is very initial version of the final image and isn’t intended to closely resemble it so showing it to the viewers could give them wrong idea about finished picture. And when looking at the finished painting no one asks painter to show this sketch or asks him about brushes or colours he used. Because it isn’t important. What matters is finished image. Same is true for photos.

That’s why I never share unprocessed photos apart from my post-processing workflow series but its purpose is strictly educational and is targeted towards beginner photographers to give them some ideas and inspiration about post-processing. Unprocessed photo for me is like negative from film era – it more or less shows how the image will look but it shouldn’t be showed to the wider audience as it needs developing. It’s RAW material I’m using to form final image.

The problem with photography is that many people don’t treat it like art, they demand it closely reflects reality. They think of photographers as craftsmen not artists. The problem is photography is art and always was. Even the word photography itself literally means drawing with light (from Greek: phōtós – light; graphein – to draw). And drawing (or painting) is widely accepted as an art form. Why should we photographers need to limit ourselves? I see no point in it. I don’t want to be limited by anything other than my own creativity and my vision.

Finally what does it mean that something closely reflects reality? For me it would mean using only 50 mm lens, shutter speed of 1/30 s and aperture between f/2.8 and f/14.0 – these are equivalents of human eye. Using anything else, including sharpening, changing white balance, zooming in/out or even using faster shutter speed is not realistic. Not to mention black & white photography, long-exposure photography or even macro photography. Any change from this basic parameters mean that photographer doesn’t capture reality but shows his vision of a scene.

Daily photo – Blue water

Ok, now it’s time for a daily photo 🙂 And to match topic of this post – it’s highly unrealistic by definition as it is a long exposure photo taken in Mexico during sunset.

If you have read my recent tutorial about composing images (make sure to read it if you haven’t) then you might be interested to learn how I composed this photo. I used golden ratio rule to put big rock in foreground in one of the intersections (bottom left) of the grid and a few other rocks in one of the other intersections (top right).

Also the rocks create virtual leading lines that draw viewers attention towards background.

Blue water

Finally some EXIF info:

Technical details:
Camera: Sony NEX-6 (read my review here)
Lens: Sony E 10-18 f/4
Focal length: 13 mm
Aperture: f/20.0
Exposure time: 20 s
ISO: 100
Number of exposures: 1
E.V. Step: n/a
Flash used: no
Tripod: yes
Filters: Cokin ND X variable density filter
Technique: luminosity masks
Software: Lightroom 5.3, Photoshop CC, Topaz Clarity
15 April 2014

Why is Pixoto potentially dangerous for your photography?

Posted in: hdr, landscape, mountains, Tatra, thoughts|

Why is Pixoto potentially dangerous for your photography?

Typical Pixoto notification after receiving an award.

Some time ago fellow photographer pointed me to an interesting discussion about Pixoto website. If you don’t know Pixoto, it’s yet another images sharing site but it works differently than Flickr or 500px for instance. After you upload your photo it starts to appear in ‘duels’ – it’s displayed side-by-side with one more randomly chosen photo from the same category and other users have to choose which one they prefer. As your photo wins duels it gets points but when it looses a duel – your score decreases. At the end of each day the best photos (#1, #2, 5%, 10% best, 20% best etc.) are given an ‘award’ and your Facebook/Twitter friends are notified about that. Same thing happens at the end of each week (best photos of the week are awarded), month and year. And probably decade.

Now, back to discussion I mentioned at the beginning. One, quite well-known photographer, pointed out the bad things about Pixoto and it provoked me to share my point of view about it. Especially as some other people didn’t agree with him, while I do.

The worst thing about Pixoto in my opinion is that it can give beginners or enthusiast photographers like me false impression that they are already great. And although for some this can be certainly true because some photographers are simply very talented, for the majority it’s not. Photography, as any skill, is about making mistakes, learning on them, improving next time, making more mistakes and so on. It takes time to master it. Years. Life perhaps. BTW did you know that we need approximately 10 years on average to reach proficiency level in a given skill? What’s worse you need talent and not all of us have it.

But when you receive an award on Pixoto you might start to think that your photos are great, almost perfect (they were awarded after all so they MUST be great). They make you believe you’re great photographer and don’t need to learn or improve anymore. You might stop making progress. And one day you might realize your photos aren’t that great really. It might be painful. And the problem is virtually anyone can win some kind of award on Pixoto. Maybe it’s not that easy to win #1 of the day or month award (my best result so far is #2 of the day) but you can quite easily get “10% best of the day” in a certain category (eg. landscapes or some more specific like… cat portraits 🙂 ). Almost every shot I upload gets some kind of award and believe me some are simply not worth it – as any photographer I have better and worse photos. In fact I uploaded a few images I didn’t like just to check if I’m right… and they also won awards.

So if Pixoto is that bad why do I use it occasionally? Because it’s quite fun 🙂 and if you treat it this way you can really enjoy using it (I love voting the image! 🙂 ). It’s not a serious photography competition and you can’t think about it as such. It’s just fun. And despite the fact it’s not a real contest, it’s somehow motivating and make you feel better. I use it especially in the periods when I’m not sure about my photography skills 🙂

In this article I don’t try to say that uploading images to Pixoto (or any other site) is a bad idea or that if you win awards your photos are bad. No. I just mean that you shouldn’t treat Pixoto as some kind of oracle which is always right and tells you the truth about your images.

Finally, it isn’t the problem only with Pixoto. It’s the same with Flickr and 500px. How many times have you seen mediocre (or even very poor photos) images in Explore on Flickr or on top places on 500px? Way too often. I saw people whose photos had score of 99.3 and more on 500px and which were poor from technical point of view (oversaturated or bad composition). Majority of comments were something like ‘great photo’, ‘incredible image’, ‘wow’ but there were a few photographers which mentioned technical flaws in that very image (it was some grungy landscape shot if I recall correctly). Unfortunately photographer didn’t find them helpful, he found those comments offensive (but they were not)!

And remember: the fact that your image doesn’t get a lot of votes, doesn’t mean it’s not beautiful. Art is not about votes or likes.

Daily photo – Tatra mountains

Today’s article is a bit longer than I initially planned, so without further ado here is daily image – painterly high dynamic range photo from Dolina Kościeliska in Polish Tatra Mountains. Hopefully I will revisit this place in a few weeks from now 🙂
Tatra Mountains seen from Dolina Kościeliska

Finally some EXIF info:

Technical details:
Camera: Canon 5D MK III (read my review here)
Lens: Canon 24-105 f/4 L IS USM
Focal length: 24 mm
Aperture: f/8.0
Exposure time: 1/100 s (“middle” exposure)
ISO: 200
Number of exposures: 5
E.V. Step: 1.0
Flash used: no
Tripod: no
Filters: circular polarizing filter
Technique: HDR, tone-mapping, luminosity masking, painterly
Software: Magic Lantern, Photomatix Pro 5 (Details Enhancer), Lightroom 5.3, Photoshop CC, Topaz Simplify
19 March 2014

Thoughts: When HDR is not necessary

Posted in: landscape, long-exposure, mexico, thoughts|

Thoughts: When HDR is not necessary or HDR-addiction

When you start taking HDR photos, you can quickly become obsessed with it (HDR photography is really addictive, isn’t it?). Every time you take a photo – you bracket. You bracket on a sunny day, foggy day on cloudy day and when it’s raining. During sunrise & sunset, inside the buildings, when you shoot cars, portraits and even your pets… every time. Sounds familiar? Well, at least it looked this way for me a few years ago. I remember returning from one of my trips (I think this was Barcelona) and realizing that virtually every photo was taken with HDR in mind.
There were some gems, photos I still love after few years that passed since then but the problem was that not every photo required HDR – some had so low dynamic range that they couldn’t benefit from taking HDR. It took me many months of practice until I figured out when to take HDR photos and when it’s not necessary. It also required a bit of self-discipline and thinking about the effect I want to achieve – they are the most important after all.
What you have to understand here, and what I tend to repeat over and over, is that HDR is just yet another tool in your toolbox (excellent one but still a tool). It doesn’t differ much from other tools you use like tripod, lenses, denoising software and so forth. You probably don’t use tripods when shooting street scenes. You also probably don’t use ultra wide angle lens for shooting macro photography. You probably also don’t denoise images that don’t have any noise in them. I sometimes even don’t edit my photos in Photoshop and choose Lightroom in which I can do it faster and easier despite the fact Photoshop in general gives me more control and possibilities…

It’s the same with HDR – you should use it only when dynamic range of the scene is so wide that it won’t “fit” in a single photo. You should use it when the scene requires it. Of course it means that you can or should use it quite often (and some of the scenes likes mentioned sunsets are great candidates for it) but there are cases like mentioned foggy day when your photos won’t benefit much if at all from taking HDR photos.

If you read my recent tutorial about understanding histograms, then you can think that you should use HDR when either highlights or shadows are clipped. Well, it isn’t that simple I’m afraid but it would be this way in an ideal world. Unfortunately if you did this way, you would often end up with rather noisy images if you tried to brighten up the shadows. It’s because due to design of cameras, darker parts of the image don’t contain as much information as brighter areas.

So unless you use camera with very wide dynamic range (like Nikon D800 or Canon with installed Magic Lantern – in both cases it’s amazing 14 EV) it’s good to take HDR when:

  1. You have so broad histogram that either highlights or shadows get clipped.
  2. Or when your histogram is very broad, expanding through whole range from shadows to highlights (but neither highlights nor shadows are clipped) – in this case capturing HDR makes sense if you intend to brighten up the shadows.

It means that you don’t need HDR when your histogram is rather narrow and doesn’t get clipped on either side. HDR stands for high dynamic range. It won’t do magic and change low dynamic range scene into high dynamic range one.

Daily photo – Blue Waters

Today photo is an example where HDR wasn’t necessary (and I didn’t take it). Original image had low contrast and dynamic range as it was taken quite some time after sunset when there wasn’t much light available.

Contrast that you see was added by me in post-processing phase.

Sunset in Quintana Roo in Mexico

Finally some EXIF info:

Technical details:
Camera: Sony NEX-6 (read my review here)
Lens: Sony E 10-18 f/4
Focal length: 11 mm
Aperture: f/10.0
Exposure time: 0.6 s
ISO: 100
Number of exposures: 1
E.V. Step: n/a
Flash used: no
Tripod: yes
Filters: Cokin ND X variable density filter
Technique: luminosity masks
Software: Lightroom 5.3, Photoshop CC, Topaz Clarity