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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Shoot More, Process Less


Try these simple rules, and you’ll be able to spend less time in front of your computer screen and more time in the field making photographs

This Article Features Photo Zoom

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In this age of digital cameras, super-computers and image-editing software that requires a PhD to master, it’s all too easy to spend hours under the soft glow of a computer screen endlessly fine-tuning your images. I call it the “postproduction suction.” You spend two hours behind the camera and four hours behind the keyboard editing, correcting and tweaking your shots. This phenomenon can creep into your photographic life, slowly embezzling your time away from the shutter release and into the return key until it dawns on you that you haven’t hit the trail for weeks, maybe even months. This sinking feeling is the realization that you’ve become the dreaded “desk chair photographer.”

There are many ways you can help limit your time at the computer and maximize it in the field without sacrificing image quality, and the best place to start is at the lens. Do as much to the image as you can in-camera and on location. Practice getting your exposure spot-on from the very start. Relying on postproduction software to save an over- or underexposed image not only will create more work later, but also will result in a lower-quality image. Making drastic alterations to Levels in postproduction increases digital noise and grain, which then will result in even more time spent counteracting it with noise-reduction tools. Utilize the histogram and “blinkies” on your camera’s review screen to periodically check your exposures before committing to your shots.

Applying sound shooting techniques in the field also will reduce the amount of time you spend sorting out rejects. Utilize a tripod, mirror lock-up and cable release when called for to create tack-sharp images. Pay special attention to focus when doing macro work and wide apertures. Bracket exposures as little as possible, and instead spend your time getting the exposure correct in the first frame. Be aware of lens flare, highlight burnouts and unwanted elements in your composition so you won’t have to spend time deleting or attempting to salvage these in postproduction. Frame your compositions carefully, keeping your camera level, to avoid unneeded cropping and straightening. Confidence in your shooting techniques will go a long way in minimizing editing time.

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