Tag Archive for 'digital'

Why You NEED the Zone System for Digital…

And How it Can Change Your Life in 15 Minutes.

by Gavin Seim: Original article from Gavin’s f164 journal. (updated 11/15/11).

This may be the most valuable piece I’ve written on photography. In the last year, I’ve started working with 4×5 film and digital side by side. I’ve also explored extensive exercises in tonal control, truly learned to visualize, and implemented key parts of the Zone System that was developed by Ansel Adams and Fred Archer, both in my film and my digital work, in color and black and white.

The idea of visualizing and using Zones is not promoted heavily today. It seems much of the industry, including many of its educators, arrived at digital and decided that the past 150 years of photographic knowledge were somewhat irrelevant. What I’m about to show you is not taught much, but understanding it WILL change your photography forever. I’m not kidding; once you get this, you’ll never see light the same way again. And I hope you’ll share it with others.

Sunsets Hidden Falls. Yosemite, 2010 - A general look at where I placed the scene elements in relation to the Zones. Each arrow leads to what I see as the zone on the scale.

I’m going to stay simple because these concepts are essentially simple. I have not come up with a new digital based zone system, a stripped down version, or an article full of nerdy equations, white papers, or complex systems. This is not hard, and you can start putting it to use TODAY for film or digital. Since most of us are in the digital world, I’ll focus on that. I’m going to show you how to use the core of the Zone System to make you a vastly better photographer. I’ve also brought along some examples for analyzing the Zones.

To those of you who already know this, kudos. But I challenge you to review and analyze whether you’re really using it, or just buzzing along in digital bliss and fixing things later. Excuse my bluntness, but this is happening to the best of us. We need to get back to basics, visualize, control tone, dynamic range, and image quality.

Originally, the Zone System was a complete approach that included everything from the initial exposure to the final print. Now we don’t use darkrooms much these days, so I’ll focus on the pivot point of the Zone System: the Zones themselves. That said, I would encourage you to study the whole process even if you don’t use film. It will help you gain a better understanding of light and photography. Not only that, but old books like Fred Picker’s Zone VI workshop, deal with it quickly and effectively and can often be had for mere pennies.

1. The Zone Scale.

The Zone Scale lies at the core of the Zone System. It consists of eleven squares that span from clipped black (Zone 0) to clipped white (Zone X). Each square represents a change of one stop. The first part of using Zones starts before you release the shutter. Truly visualizing your image is like nothing else. Once you master it, you see the image you plan to make, including your edits and refinements, in your mind before you ever take the photo. It changes everything about how you photograph and how refined the resulting images become.

Brilliantly simple, the Zone scale allows us to visualize all our light from complete black to complete white in one stop increments.

To begin, look at your scene. What’s outside your window right now? Visualize what zones in which the things around you fall. Then imagine you’re taking a photo. Imagine where the zones would be if the image came out exactly as you wanted. It does not have to be what you “see” but what you “visualize” for the finished image. How do YOU want to make it?

Think about what Zone levels on various objects in this scene would most complement your main subject as well as your supporting cast of elements. Sometimes it helps to begin by trying to visualize a scene in black and white, even if your final image is going to be color. Thinking in terms of only tones can be helpful, especially early on in the process.

Continue reading ‘Why You NEED the Zone System for Digital…’

Six Keys to Getting Great Image Quality.

Gavin Seim: Some time back I discovered mind bending quality of large format film images. I then become fanatical about getting the best image quality from digital that I could. I want to know what it’s capable of and how to manage it. I’ve been working on a simple way to explain what I learn. I thought of inventing a cool acronym for it, but I decided to be straight to the point and just lay out six key elements that I’m finding directly effect image quality, along with some thoughts on how we can manage them.

Also note that I’m not talking about “at a glance image quality”. I’m talking about facts for people who really care about making their images as perfect as possible. A Facebook image can get away with a lot because it’s so small and the expectation is low. But understanding what you’re seeing when you zoom to 100% will help you understand what your quality means to you, to a wall print, to an art gallery, or to that submission to a stock agency. Also while I’m focusing on digital, all but one of these elements apply to film as well.

Also I should mention that I go even more in depth on this topic in Pro Photo Podcast episode #74. OK lets get started.

Bull of the Mists was made at ISO3200. Pretty high, but otherwise I would have missed the shot. The six keys worked though and the result has detail even in a large print. Read more here.

Six Keys to Image Quality.

  • 1. Optic.
    There’s no way out of this, so get past it. If your lens is bad, so is your image quality. No matter what else you do. A $200 70-200 is not giving you the same quality as a $2000 pro lens. The difference between cheap glass and great glass is huge. If you want great image quality you have to get great glass. Are there variables? Sure. For example a 50mm 1.4 lens is not that expensive (around $400 usd), but it’s known for great quality. Some primes however are even more expensive than zooms. And worth it too. Generally with glass the more you spend, the better you get. But do your homework and get the best bang for the buck. Just don’t think you can get off cheap.

This is a post from Gavin’s fine art project. Read the rest of it in his journal.

Pro Photo Podcast #74 – Crazy Awesome Image Quality

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Today’s Host... Gavin Seim.

Today we’re going in depth on digital quality and the Six Keys to Image Quality. Gavin discusses what he’s learned about getting down and getting the best image quality possible from digital files.

Gav with the new printer. The image links to the post about it.

Podcast #74 forum discussion:

Notable Time Indexes:

  • 00:00 Introduction. The Challenge
  • 07:05 The Six Keys to Quality.
  • 26:07 Editing Process in depth.
  • 29:18 Film resolution thoughts. More process.
  • 49:05 Thoughts on cameras, sensors & lenses.
  • 51:23 The new printer. Canon IPF8300.
  • 56:52 Picks of the week (links below)
  • 59:20 Coming workshops and closing thoughts.
  • 1:04:32 The after show.

NOTE: The Pro Photo Show Christmas contest winners will be announced soon. Stay tuned.

The Six Keys to Getting Great Image Quality.

The Fuji X100 looks really good.

A look at RAW vs JPEG.

File degradation article.

Continue reading ‘Pro Photo Podcast #74 – Crazy Awesome Image Quality’

What’s With the Film Thing?

Learning is NOT about your equipment. It’s about you.

Film versus Digitalby Gavin Seim: There must be a romantic draw to film because some still love it. That’s OK with me, even though I can’t totally relate. When I started in photography I was using film and the day I went digital I never went back. That was the days when film may have actually been better. As a teenager I remember eagerly reading things like “digital will be as good as film once we hit eight megapixels.” Then it happened and they still didn’t acknowledge it. Now with digital we can shoot at huge resolutions and get ISO over 100,000 for less money than using film.  Sure it’s grainy, but show me a film that will shoot ISO 100,000.

Some photographers STILL tell newbies to learn film first. All the while I’m thinking. “Stop wasting their time and money. Do we learn to ride a hoarse so we can drive a car? Their both transportation.” Fans of learning on film say it makes you think more about the shot since you have less of them. I say if you want less shots get a 1 gig card, or better yet a 256 meg. With today’s cameras that will make you think twice before you shoot because you’ll fill it up in no time.

Some of you may remember in the film days we heard things like “digital is great for learning because you can see immediate results and respond accordingly.” I concur. But now that digital is the norm people say “it’s better to learn on film because you cannot see the results. It’s teaches you discipline.” Huh? Something not making sense here. All the essentials like shutter, fstop, composition, focus and the rest can be learned just as well on digital and for less money.

If you still like film that’s OK. I know people get hooked on things and retro can be cool. But can you actually give us a real factual argument that film is better? I’m not talking about a romantic feelings towards film, I’m talking about some proof. With digital. I can shoot faster, longer, with less light and less resulting grain, then manage and edit the resulting images faster and spend less money doing it. What does film give me.

Bottom line. If you find film interesting and useful then go for it as long as you can still find it. Personally I would suggest learning digital first and then trying film if you like. Otherwise you’ll spend a lot of money on so so images that you could be putting into better lenses, education and more. In the end I think we all need to remember that it’s not about the gear we use. It’s not Mac or PC, Canon or Nikon, film or digital. Being a great photographer is about taking the time to learn and master your passion. If you want to make it as a professional it’s that too, but even more it’s about learning to sell and market your image to the paying customer.

Then again, I am just a young punk and I’m not afraid to change my mind. For curiosity sake I’ll add a poll below to how many of you are actually using film.

You might also check out this article on Seim Effects talking about getting a feel of film tones in digital and where things are going in the future.

Do you actively use film?

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White Balance Grey Card: Cool Product Of The Week

CPPOTW = The Digital Grey Kard

It seems someone is always selling a gadget to get your white balance right. It can indeed be useful to have a grey reading to get your white balance spot on out of the gate. This CPPOTW is the Digital Grey Card.

WB targets work quite simply. Their an 18% gray. You shoot a frame with the gray card in the scene, then later in post production you click it with the WB eye dropper using, Lightroom, Aperture, Camera Raw or whatever you use. The system reads, what you say is 18% gray and balances the rest of the scene accordingly.

I‘ve tried a few targets, and aside from being overpriced many of them are cumbersome, which means I tend not to use them. This set however is like having three business cards on a lanyard. Throw it in your bag, or better yet around your neck and wherever you are you can toss the card in for a WB target shot. It also includes white and black level target.

Nothing big, strange, or expensive. At around seventeen bucks, it may seem like a lot for three plastic cards, but these targets are cheaper than most and do just what they need to. Something every photographer should have in their kit. I’ve linked to Amazon. I’m sure you can find it all over, but the price is right.

Gavin Seim