So I have decided to pick up a new hobby, photography. I have always liked cameras and from time to time I would get a picture that just seemed to be really nice. I started out with an old Canon AE-1, what a great camera. But I was not able to appreciate it at the time. I got it second hand from my mother. I used it in a photography class at South Dakota State University. I really did not understand all the concepts but I ended up with a couple really great shots. I had no clue how I managed to produce them.
Here is a link to the best shots with the AE-1
Later I got an inexpensive Canon Rebel G. This was a cheap 35MM camera but unlike the AE-1 it was automatic. My pictures all came out in focus but once again sometimes I would pluck out a great shot but not many. I am not a professional and film + processing are expensive. Every time I clicked that shutter it was 22 cents, plus film rolls were restricted. When all you have is 36 frames you try and make the best of them and end up not taking any risk.
I will always remember the most important advice I received in my photography class at SDSU. Take lots of pictures, it is a numbers game, the more pictures you take the more likely you will get a good one. Recently I have been learning just how true that is.
Last Christmas a friend of mine offered to sell me his old Canon 300D a first generation 6.0 MP Digital DSLR. Remembering the advice from my instructor nearly 20 years ago the very first accessory I purchased was a 4GB card.
Man I went nuts. I decided I wanted to take pictures of Indian dancers and the first powwow on the list was Denver March Powwow. I just set it on sports mode and went crazy. I came home with nearly 400 shots. The camera has a very small screen on the back and no live view, and everything looks nice and sharp… perfect shots… all of them. I get home and download the photos and open them up in GIMP. Oh no, and the next, Oh no, and the next… I started to lose heart, I suck at this. I am horrible… wait a minute. That one is pretty good. The light where the powwow is held is horrible so a bit of brightening and contrast. Out of 400 frames I got about 50 or so that I liked, and 10 that I thought were fantastic with a little bit of adjustment. My instructor was right for me it is a numbers game.
I started to read up on digital photography. With my new found freedom from film I could experiment. Different shutter speeds, different apertures, white balance and what they do and how changing them affects the final image. White balance was the bane of my existence; I could never get it right. I came across another piece of advice. Shoot in raw format not in jpeg.
RAW DOES MEAN UNDERCOOKED
Unlike food, in photography raw is not a bad thing, it means that the photographer, not the camera gets to finish the image. The image becomes a steak. You cannot fix some things in raw, bad shutter, or aperture, or focus, but you can tweak exposure and white balance. Add some seasoning here, a bit of sear there and you can come out with a fantastic photo. I can compensate for bad light and some bad decisions. Sometimes, like in the case of white balance I no longer even have to think about it in the field. Not an issue I will fix it later if it is bad.
HOW I “COOK” MY PHOTOS.
Here is a picture of a northern traditional dancer taken at the Red Rocks Community College Powwow on Set 28th. The conditions were some of the worst imaginable for photography, bright piercing sunlight. Here is the image straight out of the camera.
There are serious problems with this image. Many areas are seriously overexposed. Notice the bald eagle tail feathers on top of the head, the contest number, the white beadwork, and white fringe on the dancer is blown out.
Background items are also over exposed. The peach shirt worn by the woman sitting behind the dancer, the white hair on the woman standing, and the canopies are also blown out.
They are too bright and washed out.
I use a program called UFRaw to process my raw files, correct white balance and exposure. I usually leave my white balance on daylight so the issue here is exposure. Most of the picture is properly exposed but there are trouble areas.
Here is how I go about fixing the above image. First you turn on the overexposure indicator in UFRaw. The control is lower right on the program. When you do that the areas that are over exposed will blink from black to white.
It is now very easy to spot the overexposed area. All those areas that are black need to be fixed
The exposure slider at the top of the program can be used to eliminate the over exposed areas. Sometimes it is impossible to remove all overexposure but get as close as you can. This picture ended up at -1.44 before I was able to get the over exposed to 0.0% but now the picture is too dark and needs to be fixed. That fix is done in GIMP. Open up GIMP using the fox head looking button on the lower right.
In GIMP, click on colors and then levels to brighten the image.
As you can see the picture is no longer as dark, and the super bright areas are no longer as bright, but the image has a washed out look. That can be easily fixed as well by adjusting the contrast. Click on colors and then brightness contrast and increase the contrast just a bit to your liking.
For a better look at the differences I will put the images side by side.
The raw image is on the left, the adjusted image is on the right. The differences may be subtle but they are there. I think I need to work on this process a bit more but I am getting along with it nicely. With more experimentation I may update this post in the future. I hope that other photographers can assist in streamlining and perfecting my efforts in the future, or other amateurs just starting out use this as a starting point.
IMPORTANT MISC DATA
Camera Canon 300D
Lens EF 75 – 300mm 1:4-5.6 IS
Focal length 210.0 MM
UFRaw – Freeware
GIMP 2.6.11 – Freeware