Tuesday, April 26, 2011

As Adam Barker sees it: balancing exposures in the camera is the best way to improve your outdoor images

A version of this commentary recently appeared on Adam Barker's blog. He adapted it to include specific references to using Singh-Ray ND Grads as one of his preferred methods of achieving balance, along with four more images that clearly illustrate his point.

Adam Barker: "There seems to be more and more photographers (myself included) preaching about the benefits of achieving accurately balanced exposures. For many of us, it may be a matter of personal and professional pride more than anything else, but our message certainly has its technical and creative merits as well. As you have most likely discovered by reading this blog, the best way to capture accurately balanced landscape exposures in a single image is by using one or more Singh-Ray Graduated Neutral Density filters to hold back the brightest areas in a scene enough to fit both the foreground and background within the dynamic range of your camera. It's almost as easy as it sounds.

"Before the advent of digital photography, the 'fix it later' mentality was not an option. Sure, there was a certain degree of dodging and burning that you could do when printing film images to obtain a moderately acceptable print from a less-than-desirable exposure. But for the most part, if you blew your shot, you blew it -- period. I still believe that exceptional photography requires both creative inspiration and technical control. This means we need to understand how to properly record the scene in front of us with the photographic tools at our disposal.

"In layman’s terms, this means understanding how to make an accurate image. And for the record, 'accurate' doesn’t necessarily mean a traditional representation of the scene -- it simply means understanding how to translate the photographic concepts from your brain onto film or digital sensor, without relying on the computer to fix everything you didn’t understand how to fix in the camera.

"For me, getting an accurate in-camera exposure means I can look at the image that comes out of the camera and instantly know where my creative vision was. I don’t have to wonder what I was visualizing because the image is right there on my computer screen. I don’t have to fuss with sliders to figure out what the scene 'actually' looked like, because it’s all right there. Getting an accurate exposure means my post processing is kept to the absolute minimum -- not because I abhor post processing, but more because my office chair isn’t that comfy, and my butt gets sore from sitting in the same place too long. There, I said it. Whether we are a serious amateur or a professional, there are very few photographers who prefer staring at a computer monitor to being out in the field witnessing the magic of Mother Nature.

"Technically, the benefits of an accurate in-camera exposure are plentiful. Without getting super techie, I’ll just say that the more you need to tweak your images, the more your images will get tweaked. This means that when you try and pull more detail out of your foreground shadows after having underexposed your image, or try and bring down all those highlights you just blew out, it shows. Sure, the web version may look like a potential New York Times cover, but as soon as you send it to an editor, or try and print it larger than wallet size, the wheels start to fall off.

"There are exceptions to this rule, especially with the advanced nature of some of today’s software programs, but by and large, accurate in-camera exposure is the only way to go. Your goal should be to understand enough about using your Singh-Ray ND Grads and other filters to achieve all your expectations. By learning to make accurately balanced exposures in-camera, you will be well on your way to the next level."

For more of Adam’s ideas and images, visit his frequently updated website and blog. Learn more about Adam's method for capturing the complete outdoor image with his new instructional DVD. His fans on Facebook also get to share plenty of great images and timely tips. Adam will be leading workshops to Tuscany in July and Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam in October.

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