Keeping The “Phun” In Photography

Use a digital workflow that works for you

Keeping The One of the reasons I’ve been photographing since I was a kid is because it’s fun. I’m guessing that’s why you enjoy the medium, too, and why you read a photo magazine. Digital photography, especially, has reinvigorated the craft, restoring the fun I had when I first started taking pictures. Anyone who has known me for a while knows that when I’m excited about something, I like to share it with everyone. With that in mind, I’d like to help you use the new technology for digital photography without the fear of doing it right or wrong, but just to have fun with the process. You really can’t screw it up. If you take a poor picture, you can see it immediately in the LCD. No harm done; just delete the shot and try again. Not sure how to use a histogram? Try some different exposures of the same scene and compare the histograms and see what happens. Photography is a visual medium; the LCD makes digital technology visual, too.

I use a different workflow from many of the digital gurus because it makes the process more enjoyable for me and I’m more confident of my results. Some would tell you using this approach is all wrong, yet I know from experience that some of these gurus backpedal when talking to me about it. I’m not trying to make them change their workflow, but I’d like them to acknowledge that sometimes simpler workflows are more fun and work perfectly fine for photographers.

I’m not after cheap shortcuts that will cause a decrease in quality—I want the best-quality images I can get, but not at the expense of having fun and enjoying the journey. Years ago, I loved printing my own black-and-white photos, but I hated developing film. Yet I knew folks who mixed their own chemicals for developing—a waste of time and energy for me, but it was fun for them.

I have no problem with anyone advising a digital workflow that’s more complicated than mine, as long as they don’t tell me and everyone else that we all have to do it the same way. Because digital is still relatively new, there are folks who will sincerely tell you that the only way to work is their way, and it’s easy to get caught up in that. If their way does indeed make your photos visibly better and you enjoy the process, then that way is perfect for you. If it doesn’t, however, it’s time to look at alternatives. Photographers shouldn’t give up or get frustrated because they can’t do it the “right” way.

There are a number of successful ways to work with digital, just as there’s more than one way to deal with film (especially black-and-white). I admit that I’m just not interested in shooting RAW all the time and that Adobe RGB won’t necessarily make me a better photographer. My workflow includes neither as a regular process. You’ve seen my photos in OP. Can you tell the difference?

This doesn’t mean photographers who regularly use RAW and Adobe RGB don’t find great value in them, however. They’re important digital technologies and can be useful for those who need them. But in spite of a lot of rhetoric from some experts, these processes aren’t essential or even crucial for producing high-quality digital images.

I’ve done some testing and talked with individuals at printer manufacturers. Let’s start with Adobe RGB. While it can be an indispensable color space for photographers who need it, I’m not convinced that it’s the best way for everyone to go. Adobe RGB images typically come into the computer looking duller and less like the color film photographers are used to working with.

If you like Fujichrome Velvia, there’s a good possibility you’ll like sRGB better than Adobe RGB. I’ve seen several pros automatically shoot Adobe RGB, then do little to no adjustments, and their photos don’t nearly have the snap and sparkle of film. If you want to work quickly from a file without doing much adjustment, sRGB is a great way to go and it may even make your process more fun. Yes, you can match and beat sRGB if you work in Adobe RGB, but if you don’t need it, why bother with the added work? It seems silly to arbitrarily use math (color space diagrams) to prove that something is better for a photographer. A process’ worth should depend on how well it meets a photographer’s needs.

Since we’re on the topic of color management, I’m also not convinced that most photographers need to use anything other than automatic with inkjet printers (as long as the printer driver is set properly for the right paper). In Photoshop, that means setting the print space to Same As Source. By doing this, the average photographer can achieve a quality print faster and make better use of the built-in (and very good) algorithms of modern printer drivers.

Let’s return to RAW. I only shoot RAW when I think I need it for special purposes because it slows down my workflow. For me, it becomes a hassle to deal with in the computer, and it’s not as much fun. That may change in the future, but when I challenge digital gurus on the need for RAW, they hedge a bit and try to show me things that most other photographers wouldn’t see or look for. Don’t misinterpret me; I believe RAW is an important format that has some great features, but it isn’t the “professional” format and JPEG the “amateur” format.

JPEG may be an easier and more fun way to get to a high-quality print for the average photographer because modern in-camera processing is like having a RAW conversion expert built into the camera. I’ve done tests with Canon (which uses its DIGIC processor) and I can show you JPEG images that are better than a straight RAW image.

Admittedly, you can match that JPEG with RAW processing, but that adds extra steps and time to your workflow. If that time in front of the computer is relaxing and enjoyable, then go for RAW. You can’t go wrong with it. It’s a matter of workflow. Photography should be fun, and the RAW workflow is definitely one way of getting there.

I take issue with those experts who try to impose their workflow on photographers who don’t need it, thereby making photography less enjoyable for those who feel burdened by this technology. RAW and JPEG, for example, are workflow issues that are related to quality, but too often that’s a smoke screen that takes many photographers away from the joy of digital photography. RAW can be an essential format in certain situations, but it simply isn’t for everyone and its value has been overhyped.

There are many elements of the technology that are worth learning, just as it was important to learn the relationship of ƒ-stops to shutter speed or what depth of field is all about, for instance. Learn and use what works for you, and if you’re enjoying the process, don’t feel like you have to do anything else.

Photography should be fun for everyone. I love what digital offers the photographer, and I want to share that joy with others. Digital can be as simple or complicated as you want it to be.