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Better photography (part 2)

Original Post
Matthew Kidd · · San Diego, CA · Joined Nov 2016 · Points: 4,342

(This is a continuation of part 1. I had to split this into two parts because I hit the 10,000 character post limit. Best to limit responses to the first part rather than this post to avoid a jumble.)

♦ Crappy camera / post-processing

Who knows what happened to Photo 7002732. The original scene looks appealing but the photograph seems to have been run over by a steamroller, or hand developed, or post-processed to hell.

♦ Smudge / water on lens

Be careful to avoid getting a smudge or water on your lens as happened in photo 7002450 where it affects the area near the subject's left shoe. Extra care is required with smart phones where the prevention of such issues isn't a high priority for the manufacturer of the device.

♦ Inadvertent border

I prefer that images not include borders. For JPEG images they can't be removed without some loss of quality unless their width is a multiple of 8. Better to add frames though HTML as appropriate. Occasionally, an image ends up with an inadvertent border. For example, photo 7000554 has a white border but only on the left and bottom sides. This is WAY too nice of photo to suffer such a careless flaw.

Inadvertent borders on the bottom or right side can be removed in a lossless or minimally lossless way using Better JPEG. Inadvertent borders on the top or left must be removed in units of eight pixels in order keep the process lossless.

♦ Overlays

There are two kinds of overlays. Date overlays (example) are stupid. Turn this feature off. The camera writes the time the photo was taken and much more to the EXIF tag in the photo. Unless you specifically remove this data, it will always be available.

Copyright overlays are more understandable but usually unaesthetic. Photo 7010841 is fantastic, particularly at full resolution. But it is marred by the ugly copyright overlay. I still consider it a 4 star photo but would rate it as a 5 without the overlay. FWIW, copyright information can be stored in the EXIF tag of a photo. The Adventure Project websites, including the Hiking Project, preserve the EXIF field so anyone downloading your photo will still know it is copyrighted if they take the time to look. Of course that information can be stripped away, hence the desirability of the copyright overlay. Each photographer must make their own decision on this issue.

♦ Panoramas

The photo 7002071 panorama had a lot potential but the stitching is failure. This example was created in Photoshop CS2. I'm not sure what happened. But as a general guide, merging photos to create a panorama works much better in Photoshop than it does with smart phone or embedded camera software. Your best bet is to take a series of vertical photos with a loose crop to allow freedom in the final cropping after the photo merging process. Don't forget to level the horizon.

♦ Blue snow

Snow is white. Right? Not necessarily. Snow often has a blue cast reflected from the sky (example). When you are skiing, snowshoeing, or hiking in snow, your mind "knows" that snow is white and adjusts your perceived color balance accordingly. But your camera doesn't. And when you view the photos later, your mind doesn't make the same adjustment because there is usually something white in your field of view—a wall, a monitor frame, a window sill, paper—that your mind perceives to be the reference white.

Knocking the blue color cast off of snow is tricky. To first order you can simply adjust the overall color balance, increasing the red and decreasing the blue while leaving the green alone. But to do a really good job, you need a program like Photoshop where the color balance can be adjusted separately for shadows, mid-tones, and highlights, adjusting most in the shadows, and least in the highlights. Usually it works best to select the sky and then invert the selection so that the sky's color balance doesn't get adjusted at all. Don't over-adjust. Yellowish snow feels wrong. Better to leave a slight blue cast.

State of Photography
Photography has reached a strange point. On the one hand it has never been a better time to be a serious amateur. The inflation adjusted price of good cameras has been flat for at least three decades. Over the same time there have dramatic improvements: digital, digital sensors that exceed the best film technology, auto-focus performance, image stabilization, weight reduction, higher storage capacity, etc. And with the arrival of eBay, you can usually buy used equipment in great condition that is only a couple of years old at about half price, no matter where you live. These days it may never be necessary to print photos and if you really want prints you can wait until Snapfish has one of their periodic sales and print hundreds cheaply, with much better color accuracy than you ever got from the local drug store.

On the other hand, never have so many crappy photos been taken by so many crappy cameras. Apple, which isn't a camera manufacturer per se, is now the leading manufacturer of cameras and their smart phones are probably the source of most photos today. Sadly many people have never used, perhaps even seen, a decent camera. That's unfortunate because there is still a big difference in quality between even a decent point-and-shoot and a smartphone camera. Perhaps also lost is the understanding that there is some skill in taking a good photo.

So what should you do? I started with Olympus OM-4T film SLR and entered the digital world with a secondhand Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1, a micro four-thirds camera that with the 20mm pancake lens can be treated as a (big) pocket camera, for a man. I still use this camera but a couple of years ago I purchased a Sony RX100 a high-end point-and-shoot which I use for a lot of hiking, skiing and other outdoor activities. It's truly a pocket camera. I just throw a plastic sandwich bag around it to protect it from dirt and scratches and I'm off. I paid $300 on eBay for one that was almost in new condition. That's not bad for a Leica lens and a great sensor. I encourage anyone serious about taking photos for the Hiking Project to consider something similar. If you are buying the latest smartphone every couple of years why not spend $300 once and have a very good camera for perhaps 10 years?

A final note: most good cameras don't have GPS built-in. Because it takes a while for GPS to lock on to the satellites, it has to on constantly in case a photo is taken. This drains the batteries. Most photographers would rather skip the GPS than risk a dead battery at in an inopportune moment. But you can geotag your photos after the fact if you have GPS track as long as your camera time is accurate. I use the open source GeoSetter program for this. You can also use the program to add copyright information which will be preserved in images files that other users download from the Adventure Projects websites.

Austin Lynch · · Madison, WI · Joined May 2013 · Points: 1,419

This is great information, and clearly the result of much time and energy reviewing the photographs on this site as well as being personally skilled in both composition and post-production of photos. Thank you for your contributions and ongoing knowledge! As a beginner to photography, I learned much from these posts. Having direct examples, while perhaps not the most genteel approach, was actually quite helpful.

One problem that I think plagues both guidebooks and websites like this one is the tension between scenic and informative photos. Certainly, it would be great if all photos were well-composed, color-adjusted, cropped and perfect, but if someone is posting a quick pic of the trailhead, it probably won't be high art. Does it belong on the site? I would argue that if it offers useful and unique information, then it certainly has value apart from aesthetic consideration. So perhaps the star-rating that a photo has reflects value to the community, not just photo quality.

Just my two cents. Thanks again for the tips!

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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