Art and the Technician

I am not an artist. I can’t draw stick-men with a ruler. The art of photography has not come easy to me, but it’s probably the art I’m best suited for because I’m not the one who has to “draw” the scene. I just have to look for scenes that Mother Nature has already created and carefully put a frame around it.

I am a techie. My day job involves programming computers and administrating their networks. It’s a job I thuroughly enjoy and I’m quite good at it, if I do say so myself. Being a techie, I can do a lot with a photo once it has been captured by the camera. I can adjust the brightness curves, fix the white balance, and correct for lens imperfections. Done carefully, I can bring the image closer to the original without damaging it. It’s a good skill to have… but it’s not art.

The hard truth of the matter is that no amount of technical play can substitute for a good eye. If the subject isn’t interesting, no amount of fiddling can make it so. If you spend an hour “fixing” an image, that’s an hour wasted that could have been used making new photos.

Okay, that said… I still love to tinker! You can’t rescue a bad photo but sometimes you can’t take a good one either. For example, one evening I took my brand new Nikon D80 up to a local “lookout” site to take some pictures of the sunset. About 30 minutes after the sun had gone down, I gave up waiting for a balanced land/sky exposure and took four identical picutres at four different exposures. I then loaded them all in to gimp and blended them together so that everything looks balanced. The human eye can distingush a contrast range of about 1,000,000 to 1 in any given scene (ref) while the D80 cannot do more than about 250 to 1 (or “8 EV” here) in JPEG mode. With 4 stops of exposure difference between the dimmest to the brightest original, this is effectively a 4000 to 1 contrast ratio… Which is well beyond print and computer monitors (ref) except for a few high-contrast displays.

Interestingly, the “shoulder” of film gives it a dynamic range of about 4000:1 and so could theoretically have captured this scene without any adjustment. Digital imaging has many advantages, but film still has some, too. See Ken Rockwell’s article, too.

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3 comments to Art and the Technician

  • Brian,

    You have a very nice site here… very nice pictures too.

    Thanks for the links, they are now bookmarked for later reference.

    I will definitely be back to read any updates you have. I wish I could quit my day job just to take pictures too, that would be the best.

    -Mike

  • Hi brian.

    Nice site you have here. Hopefully I can learn something from you. Thanks for visiting my newly created blog the other day.

  • thanks for the comments on my blog. I enjoyed reading through your posts. I have been using a tool called photomatix to combine images into a HDR image and then use their photomatix tone mapping plug-in in photoshop to fine tune even further.

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