How To Get Outstanding Images

My sister-in-law asked for my opinion on which camera she should buy for an upcoming trip.

I had a long list and eventually she ended up with a very nice point-and-shoot camera with a huge zoom and the ability to shoot faster. (I think she bought a Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS20.)

She loves it and it’s going to create amazing images for her on the trip.

Okay so if you’re new to photography or what you want are great snapshots then a point-and-shoot may well do the job. Plus it fits in a jacket pocket or a purse.

If I want to get the very best images, I load up my Think Tank ShapeShifter camera bag (and I can load so much into it that it’s so heavy it won’t pass the weight restrictions for carry-on luggage on international flights) with my Nikon cameras, lenses and flash. And if I was going on a photo-adventure that’s exactly what I would do plus I’d add my MacBook Pro and maybe my IPad as well.

BUT if I am not on a photo shoot I take my Olympus pens which are great vacation cameras. I can carry two bodies (my wife likes to shoot but she doesn’t carry anything when on vacation that’s heavier than a Margarita) and six lenses and even a flash in one medium size over-the-shoulder bag. Plus on the micro four-thirds cameras you’re working with a larger sensor so the cameras capture more pixels and can shoot easier in low light. Plus the lenses are just as fast as my Nikon lenses.

And, I also carry a relatively cheap FujiFilm XP150 camera which is waterproof, crush proof and dust proof. This is the camera that does fishing, swimming, white water kayaking  and sailing. The images aren’t as good as my other cameras but they’re good enough and the camera is expendible. It’s also the only camera I’ll hand to someone else to use.

BUT what if I want the very best outstanding images?

Then regardless of camera, so long as it will shoot RAW image format, (I can work with JPGs and often do but they don’t have the amount of pixel information that a RAW file has.) here in point form is how to get outstanding images:

Pre-Shooting:

  • I use an external light meter  (especially for wedding and landscape photography). I recommend the Sekonic L-358.
  • I’ve introduced an ExpoDisk to help find the correct white balance for shooting. (Yes you can change the WB in software but it’s better to get it right in the camera.)
  • I’ve also introduced a Color-Checker Passport so I can create custom camera profiles for using in Lightroom or Photoshop.

Shooting:

  • I recommend using a full-frame 35mm DSLR (either Canon or Nikon). A DX-format DSLR is fine. A less size format will still yield stunning images but we’re compromising the image now.
  • I use lenses manufactured by the camera manufacture. Yes they’re more expensive but they are also, in general, better. I also shoot with prime lenses instead of zooms.
  • I know how to use my flash off camera (In Nikon I use CLS and it works fine for me).

After Shooting:

  • I download my images in their file folder to my external hard drive # 1 and I make a copy in external hard drive # 2.
  • I open up Lightroom 4 and use the Library and Develop modules to work on my images.
  • If the image has problems I can either move the image from Lightroom 4 and open it in Photoshop CS 6 (think using PS’s curves as an example),
  • Or I can open the original RAW image in Photoshop Bridge and work on the image in Adobe Camera Raw*.

After The Processing:

  • Regardless of which software I use, I export all my finished images as full-size JPGs. (In other words these are images which have all the adjustments baked in and are essentially unchangeable.)
  • All of my finished projects get uploaded to my SmugMug and/or Flickr account for either storage or display.
  • If the job is important to me I burn a DVD of the folder of JPGs.
  • I have an Epson 3800 printer which can print an archival museum quality 16″ X 20″ print (but it costs $500 to replace the inks) which I can display and sell.

* Thanks to Creative Live’s online Photoshop workshop by Ben Willmore (who is an amazing photographer and an even better instructor) and Creative Live’s Lightroom workshop with Jared Platt I’ve learned that I can use Lightroom 4 to ingest my images and do global adjustments very quickly and essentially interchangeably with Photoshop Bridge and Adobe Camera Raw. BUT and it’s a big but, but working in Adobe Camera Raw in conjunction with Photoshop itself, we have much greater control over the pixels in our images.

Essentially Lightroom is great for all images shot on vacations, weddings, landscapes, etc., right up to the moment you find you’ve got an image with serious problems. Problems we all run into are grossly underexposed images where PS can save these images better than LR. (And my biggest problem is often with images of people with ruddy complexions who end up looking too red in the image. PS is much better at making selected adjustments on your important images.)

LR 4 is waaaay faster than working in PS CS 6 but PS CS 6 can do things that LR can’t do at all.

Now to complicate all this, I love NIK’s special software for Nikon cameras called Capture NX2 ($179)  and Aperture for Mac (at $79 this is a steal) is terrific and if I didn’t have so much invested in LR and PS I’d buy this right now. If I only had $99 or so I’d buy Photoshop Elements for the PC which will do most of the above and is not only mucho cheaper but really easy to use.

JPG image software such as IPhoto or Picasa really can’t do any of the above but are super easy to show your images and create slideshows.

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