2012, Photography

I feel like I neglect my blog. I don’t publish a lot or frequently. I don’t respond to comments so quickly and I really regret that, because I appreciate the time people take to interact with me. But I find it hard to concentrate on this when I am busy at work and have/want to be ready for my family (especially my wife since they diagnozed osteoarthritis in her neck). And while I am full of photographic ideas I haven’t been photographing at all for nearly a month. I guess there is more in life than photography. I don’t regret it, but I do miss it. For sure.

But as mentioned in a recent blog post I have been using and trying a couple of Lightroom and Nik Silver Efex Pro presets developed by another photographer, Don Springer. Before I tell about my impressions with these presets I first like to get my thoughts straight on some things that usually seem to fuel a lot of debates, but are of no interest to me (anymore).

RAW versus jpeg and digital versus film
Yes, I know that raw is technically superior to jpeg. You can recover highlights and shadows, adjust the white balance and squeeze every bit of image quality out of a file. Additionally there are many great B&W conversion techniques available with color channels. I know, I have used them and I experienced it all.

Film versus digital
Another argument I read a lot is that if you want to get the best B&W photographs use film instead. Likely this argument is so true either. I know it, I have used film too. You see, time and money. Family and work takes up my time and I simply don’t have that time available for developing and scanning. Most importantly though I just don’t have the money for using film.

Digital has so many advantages and it makes a lot of sense exploring and using it all. The immediacy, the possibility to correct in post processing, but these arguments don’t matter to me either. They did and at some point could do again, but just not now.

Personal take
You see, maybe I am lazy. Maybe I am very nostalgic and romantic about some things in photography. I have said it often before, but I like it when decisions are irreversible. Just like film (I hear you thinking). Therefore I choose for B&W jpegs even though I know that the raw images have more benefits. There is nothing rational in my thinking and I do realize that these decisions have consequences.

The harder you tweak the adjustments in post processing the stronger the degradation of your photograph will be. I know that. With a raw image there is always some information preserved in the highlights that enable some degree of highlight recovery. With a B&W jpegs all this information is already pressed into a greytone and you loose that possibility. For me exposing is a conscious decision though. I don’t expose with the post processing features in mind. I photograph what I feel and take blocked highlights or pitch black shadows for what it is. For me these are not the trade offs, but aspects that add to the mood I try to convey.

I like using Lightroom for organizing my photographs and some finer adjustments. Lightroom is very capable of handling jpegs too for post processing. Some options though I try to avoid. These are especially highlight and shadow recovery. Options favored by many others. Lightroom is OK and some things just work really well, but if I had to make a final decision keeping Nik Silver Efex Pro running is currently what works best for me.

In my opinion Don’s Lightroom presets do work really well on raw photographs, but don’t work really well on my B&W jpegs unless I tone down some of recovery adjustments. When doing so I kind of like what I see happening. Not quite similar to what I do, but the gritty style emphasizes the sketchy look I like. Regarding Nik Silver Efex Pro (from now on named SEP) things look quite differently. In my perception SEP somehow handles my B&W jpegs really well. At first Don’s SEP presets seem to be quite aggressive, but look really need when SEP saves the processed photographs as tiffs. Personally I prefer a little bit less grain, but I do like the high contrast from these presets. Each presets for both Lightroom and SEP come in different variations with more or less contrast, more clarity (Lightroom) and structure (SEP) or less, and more or less grain. Depending on your initial exposure and amount of contrast you likely find a suitable preset. In case you’re interested make sure to have a look here. I liked the presets a lot and have been fighting hard with my own workflow the last couple of weeks. For me presets are like a starting point and I keep tweaking them until they fit me.

All photographs by Wouter Brandsma

18 thoughts on “Instantaneous

  1. Very thoughtful post. I wish more photographers who have shot both film and digital would express this type of useful information, rather than just the generalized “pro one/con the other” that I often see. I think a good photographer can produce an interesting image in either format, relying on post-processing for improvements that would also have been possible in a traditional darkroom.

    Having said that though, for me as a strictly film user, this line – “For me exposing is a conscious decision though. I don’t expose with the post processing features in mind.” — is the one that hit home. Personally, I like having my “failures” at hand; I see them as rough drafts that I can continue to work on perfecting over time. It just improves my eye and aids my understanding.

    In any case, the images you’ve posted here are captivating — I especially like the textures in the photo of the alley.

    1. I need the failures too, for sure. Yet, there is also a fine differences between exposing right and exposing for what is in your mind. I think, that is what really matters.

  2. Great, thoughtful commentary. I hate all of this right/wrong superior/inferior passion. You do what feels right to you. If you discover advantages to something else–and that works for you–fine. Appropriate it. Lovely photographs, as always. I particularly enjoyed the Amsterdam street scene approaching the cathedral. Thanks for taking the time to write and post. Ken

    1. I shouldn’t be worrying about all these stupid discussions, but in my opinion these kind of discussions discourage photographers and photography in general from excelling. And well recognized Ken, the street scene is from the Kalverstraat facing north to the Dam and the New Church.

  3. Wouter, I think you are being a little too hard on yourself. In the “blogosphere” (wow, I do hate that word) you are one of the last of the Mohicans, still updating your blog regularly. I come across so many dead links and “ghost” (photo)blogs these days.
    Yes, you just might have to get used to the idea that other things in life are more important than online presence. I think a lot of us are struggling with this, given the overload of web platforms and social media nowadays. Well, I do, anyway.

    As said in a previous comment, I really like these more subtle black-and-whites. I think they come as close to a “film-look” as you can get with digital images. As you know, I did make the switch back to analogue, and it had a lot to do with the irreversibility you are referring to. But it also makes me appreciate a more basic approach to digital photography, I guess.

    1. Maybe I am too hard Robert, but I take pride at keeping my sharing platform alive.

      There is so much I try to refigure again. I really feel 2012 hasn’t been my most productive year and I have struggled quite a bit with a direction, motivation, and intentions. I recently tried to do color again, but it doesn’t (yet) work for me. Mostly though I try get a new sense for the basis of my photography.

      Hope you do well.

  4. I’m sorry, but film is better. Hahahaha! Just kidding. I think everyone has their own artistic vision, and that’s okay. If my friend wants to shoot film, that’s cool. If I way to shoot RAW or Jpeg and in B&W or color, it’s fine. I think we have become too critical on what other people are doing. Life is too short. Do what you enjoy in photography. Be in the moment.

    1. Whatever is better 😉 I believe many do have an artistic vision, but certainly not all. And even so, I am fine with that. I just hope that when visions differ, we all agree on that instead of preaching what we think is best. Like technique and cameras, it is probably easier to critic others. Trying to critic yourself is most definitively the hardest I believe.

  5. Dear Wouter,

    I have read each of your posts from the very beginning but never had the courage to write to you before. Not only are your photographs thought provoking but the way you put your thoughts into words is simply wonderful.

    My leap of faith in purchasing the Ricoh GRD 3 was purely on reading your review and the photographs you took with it and I have never once regretted my decision (I am from India and there is no Ricoh Camera presence in the country).

    Hope you keep the blog running for all of us to benefit and learn from.


    1. Hi Nitin, I absolutely appreciate your writing. And I am glad that my impressions of the GRD3 helped you in your final purchase. For me to, it still remains an absolute joyful camera. Maybe the presence of Ricoh cameras will improve with the acquisition of Pentax (although I don’t know how well their presence is in India).

      And I try to keep this blog up and running, since I think the desire to share photographs is the essence of photography.

  6. Good post, Wouter! Like you, I am constrained by time – although I may be retiring soon and so will have more time. And I am 101% with you liking for SEP – I wouldn’t be without it for the world – I’ll have to try getting Don’s presets, though I don’t have Lightroom – I run SEP from Elements 7.

    Yes, there are all these debates but I don’t have the energy to participate mostly. As I’ve just said on my blog in a re-airing of an earlier post, the only photographic “rule” or certainty that I use is >>> If an image works it works – and how it was produced – film or digital, straight from the camera or highly processed etc etc etc – doesn’t matter at all >>> if it works, the end result always justifies the means of production.

    Excellent pictures here, Wouter – especially the 3rd down with its wonderfully radiating patterns. Adrian

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