23/09/2010

Technology and photography

During the past six months or so I have been spending a lot of time understanding photography. I now understand exposure (shutter speed), apertures and ISO speeds and the relationship between them. I have also spent time understanding depth of field and what is know as the hyper-focal distance. I have learned about filters and how they are used to create those amazing pictures of waterfalls and seascapes that look all blurred.

I have spent time understanding the technicalities of DSLR design and lens design and why lenses can get so expensive - over £10k for some. I now understand how the camera's sensors work and their dynamic range and  why photographers should aim to "expose to the right". I can now interpret those histograms you see on DSLR screens and how they can be used to help get exposure right. I even know when to use manual focusing and how to use those little do things in auto focus to ensure that I focus on the right part of the subject.

I know the difference in file formats between JPEG and what is termed Camera Raw - raw files contain much more information. I even understand white balance and how to use it properly to get some good effects.


This is is all good technical stuff which interests me as an engineer and without the understanding you can't take a decent photograph.

Why am I telling you this? Because all this technology has made photography more accessible to the
amateure to the extent that more and more are having a go at becoming professionals. But there is one bit of technology that really has opened up the world of photography by reducing the cost of the biggest barrier to entry - the cost of lenses. As I said above you can easily pay over £10k for specialist lenses but even good everyday lenses will over £300.

Look at this photo:



When we had finished sorting the house we invited our next door neighbours for a drink and my wife had left the dining room light on and I noticed this scene over my neighbour's shoulder. I liked it so much I recreated the next evening.

Notice how the doors are bowed out? This is termed "barreling" and now you know its there its really annoying and can spoil a good photograph. Although thiswas taken with a standard lens it wasn't cheap with a new one costing around £400. To get a good lens that doesn't distort that much is going to cost well over £1,000. Imagine that cost increase for every lens you would need to buy to become a professional - 4 or five lenses at least, and you have a significant barrier to entry.

Now look at this photograph:

A nicely corrected photograph and all for the price  of a £200 software package, and this is only one benefit. It does all the post processing any photographer could ask for and has all the corrections for all the popular lenses.

Now a career photography really is accessible to all, although not me.

Of course the downside is that reducing the barrier to entry means that the many professional can't make a living and I was reminded of that in a blog comment when someone claimed two of their friends had had to give up the career.

I am well aware that all we have discussed is the technicalities here and just because a carpenter has the best tools available, it doesn't mean he can make a book case. There is a lot more to taking a good photograph than the technicalities and a bit of software, which is why I am going on a landscape photography course next week.

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