Be smart, call it the end of the day

2012, Photography

I think my creative process is generally split up in two steps. The first step is making things. It involves fun and the desire to play, to try and experiment, to be free and unrestricted. The other step is evaluating what I have been making, editing my work, being critical of myself.

That first step of generating photographs is what I love to do. I have said it so often before, but with limitations I feel completely unrestricted. That moment when you are full of ideas or when you see interesting subjects everywhere is absolutely inspiring.

The second step is absolutely necessary. No doubt about that. It helps to be critical of your endeavours. It helps to challenge yourself and to push the creativity forwards. Realistically though I also know that due to my fear and uncertainty this evaluating step can become my master. And when it does it actually restrains me. Then I hate my work, I get annoyed by the things I do and the tools I use, doubt sets in, often followed by those doldrums. Moments when I feel uninspired and take no photographs. Doubt, always this doubt.

At such moments I take away the spontaneity, the joy, the passion. I hate these moments, although I always seem to fall for it. Is there really a need for perfecting what I do?

I haven’t been photographing so extensively the last few months and this gave me the opportunity to do a retrospective of my work from the last couple of years. And I realized that many of my finest moments, I say finest, were when I felt the most restricted by my tools and the least restricted by my ideas. Vague? Likely so, but when I threw overboard my high expectations and the desire of perfecting myself I felt most liberated by what I could do. For me, it is that tantalizing feeling that you play, that you feel open and free like a child.

Like this week when I felt uncomplicated photographing and editing with my cellphone (the photographs in this post are from this week and I posted these earlier on Instagram). Or in 2009 when I first tried the Ricoh GRD3. And most importantly in 2011 when I did my photo a day project. Especially in the months January, August, and November it felt like everything came naturally. And I shouldn’t forget March 2008. I made some of my best landscape photographs. Like the moment I ditched my SLR and lenses for the GR1. When I started to do B&W landscape photographs with my compact camera to get that sketch look.

It sets in that when I start to look differently at subjects I see almost always on a daily basis. Moments when I got out of my comfort zone experimenting with compositions and purposed intentions. And also when I least worried about the cameras I used and the image quality these provided, and when I tried new post processing methods. I played at such moments. Nothing formal, no complications.

I love it when I can liberate myself from the habits that set in after many years. When I just point my camera or cell phone and press the shutter. When I go further or do different stuff in my post processing. It makes me realize that I really don’t need that much to make photographs, to be creative. The best though is when I feel the desire to shoot.

All photographs by Wouter Brandsma

Follow up ………

2008, Photography

My post ‘A raw rant‘ generated quite some traffic the last few days and let me make clear that I didn’t post it to start a new debate on RAW versus jpeg. And look, I don’t mind editing my photographs either. In fact, I think it is great fun to edit my photographs. So I will try to explain my feelings towards preferring jpegs for my general photography.

I use only one camera for my photography, the Ricoh GX200. I regard the camera as an huge improvement. handling wise. coming from the GX100, but I much preferred the image quality of the GX100. Since I use one camera for all types of photography I try to make it work for all disciplines. In RAW mode, good lightning, and working at base ISO the camera produces great looking files. In combination with the huge depth of field of these cameras that works really well for landscape photography in my opinion.

Low light
Ricoh GX200, f2.7, 1/60 sec, ISO 100, manual mode

But see, I don’t only like landscapes. I also like street photography for instance and I often work in not so perfect light conditions. Cameras with small sensors suffer from more noise, less dynamic range, and decreasing colors at higher ISO’s. Some think these are flaws, I see this as habits of the medium, the facts of life.

Recent serious compact cameras have gained much speed. Faster RAW writing times, continuous shooting modes and improved in-camera handling. But these RAW files can be large (17 MB for the GX200 for instance). These large files not only slow the camera down, but also the editing. Not much fun when you want to review and edit a lot of photographs. With applications like Adobe Lightroom and Apple Aperture things have improved and it has become more intuitive to process RAW files. While I liked the way Lightroom processed the RAW files from my GX100, I dislike it how it handles the DNG files from the GX200. Sometimes Capture One works better, the other times Raw Therapee. Too many choices, too many different results. And despite shooting RAW more often I was more than happy with the jpegs.

Ricoh GX200, f2.7, 1/16 sec, ISO 200, manual mode

So here below I will explain how I make my compact camera work for me. I have tried several things in the past and I will likely be doing so in the near future. Recently I stumbled upon a great article about the Leica Digilux 2 on the website of Danish professional photographer Thorsten Overgaard. In that lengthly article he describes how he uses the Digilux 2 for his work and gain maximum performance from the camera. And best of all, he told me he still uses this 5 megapixel camera from 2004 for professional assignments. Even Peter van Agtmael uses the Digilux 2, instead of a Leica M8 which he disgusted (thank you for mentioning David Paul Carr). And remember wedding photographer Laurence Kim from the US who reviewed the Panasonic LX3 on his blog. He says: ‘As a professional photographer, I’ve never even considered using these “dummy modes” before. My thought was to just always shoot raw and then tweak the image in post to get it the way I want it. But you know what? These jpegs look so good straight out of the camera that I think I’ll stick with jpeg on this puppy, even after Adobe supports the LX3 raw files. Technology has evolved so why fight it?‘ So remember, it is not a rant. I just want to give some information on how you could use small sensor cameras in less than ideal situations. And Thorsten’s tips & tricks for the Digilux 2 certainly also applies for many serious compact cameras in my opinion.

Low light
Ricoh GX200, f3.0, 1/2 sec, ISO 100, manual mode

My tips & tricks
Whenever we read reviews or personal impressions of small sensor cameras, we always read that these camera are hardly usable at high ISO’s. Extensive noise, loss of details, and desaturating colors are often heard reasons. And because they all are pretty much true, why then use high ISO on these cameras? So keep it at base ISO, preferably at ISO 100 or at a maximum of ISO 200. Now this will result in longer exposures. So try to speed things up. First, select jpeg. The saving times are much shorter. Work with the camera in manual mode for more accurate exposing. Make the lens and sensor work for you and since small sensors give huge depth of field select the maximum lens opening. You still get plenty sharpness while getting the fastest shutter speed as possible.

Low light
Ricoh GX200, f2.7, 1/4 sec, ISO 100, manual mode

Fast shutter speeds at low ISO in dim light are pretty relative, but Thorsten Overgaard mentions another tip to get sharp photographs in low light. Shoot series instead of single photographs. Use the continuous or burst mode on your camera. When you do so the first shot of the series will likely have motion blur, but there is a good chance that the next shots are completely sharp and still. You will notice that you will be able to go to shutter speeds of 1/8 or even 1/4 seconds. These series of shots will be captured in only a second. Even a Sigma DP1 will be able to take 3 shots in a second and many mention that camera as being very slow. And Alex Majoli was able to use Olympus compact cameras on assignments in burst mode too. Though many will probably have read that story here and here.

Of course there are situations where it makes sense to shoot RAW in my opinion. For additional details, best dynamic range, getting the most out of a file and intended to be printed at large. But I think there are enough situations too where you won’t need the extra data. These photographs will still print fine at A4 or even A3 in my opinion.

All photographs by Wouter Brandsma