Importance of Image Capture
In this segment, we're gonna look at the beginning of things. We're gonna look at the camera, and we're gonna look at optimizing our image capture, and getting things right from the get-go so that we set ourselves up basically for success. When we talk about printing, and we're talking about bringing that vision to life in the final print, it's not an afterthought. Shooting, getting it right, getting your lighting, getting your exposure, getting your color right is all part of, you know, that initial stepping stone that will set you up for success in that final print. So we're gonna look at image capture. And then there's a couple of questions that we need to ask ourselves if we wanna have optimum results. Now, one question that I've decided to include is this one here. Are you shooting raw? And everybody shoots raw, right? Right? Right. Okay, a lot of people maybe are still shooting jpeg, but in this segment, we'll explain to you why you should be shooting raw. So are you shooting raw...
? The other thing I wanna address in this section here is which color balance am I going to set my camera to? Which color balance am I going to set my camera to? Now, most people say well, that's a pretty silly question because I can change my color balance later in my post-production. True, very true, but how do you know it's the color that you want? And how confident are you in the ability to be able to correct really good skin tone if you are shooting people? And how do you know that if you are maybe shooting a landscape, you are getting that right color? Or you're translating those perfect hues of the sunset or a beautiful painterly dawn image maybe into that final print. How do we know that we can do that and have the confidence to be able to manipulate color that way in post? The other thing we need to ask ourself is, if we are shooting raw, at what bit depth are we shooting in? Now we talked about bit depth in a previous segment, and how important it is to shoot in the highest possible bit depth. And we'll cover that a little bit later on. So, we'll talk about what's important about exposure, first and foremost. Exposure and of course, we're gonna talk about something called expose to the right or ETTR. And you've all heard of that a little bit. We'll talk a little bit more about that later. And then of course color balance as well. So let's look at camera settings. How do we set up our camera for a shoot? Personally, this is the way I shoot, whether I'm shooting a landscape, whether I'm shooting a wedding, whether I'm shooting a portrait, or whether it's a commercial assignment, manual exposure. What that means, basically it's consistency. So once I set my exposure, and I get a histogram that I'm happy with at the back of my camera, I can then stop worrying about the exposure or the technical aspects of an image, and worry about the creative side. So the minute you switch that side of the brain off, beautiful things happen because the camera's set in manual, your lighting's all manual, everything's beautiful, you know the results you're gonna get. Then the rest of your energy's averted to communicating with your subject or perhaps, if you are shooting a landscape, just sucking in the atmosphere and appreciating where you are, and then thinking about how you're gonna convey that in the final print, and the decisions you would make maybe in post-production. So, I'm gonna talk a little bit later on about doing a custom white balance, but it's crucial being able to get the color right in camera from the very start. Now, our cameras are very advanced. They can do lots of wonderful things, and they come with lots of different beautiful picture styles that are programmed by the camera manufacturers in the camera itself. What we need to do so that we don't get a misguided view, basically, of what our raw file really is like is turn basically everything off. Because really, at the end of the day, those picture styles only apply to the jpeg if you're shooting jpeg, or the jpeg preview that you see in the back of the camera. At the end of the day, what we want is a scenario where that histogram at the back and what we see on our little screens is a very, very close match to what we're gonna get later on in post-production because this allows us, then, to make really important decisions about not only our exposure, but where to place light and et cetera, et cetera. So, if you're a Nikon shooter, of course, you're shooting camera standard. And if you're a Canon shooter, you shoot in the faithful mode. So everything's turned off. No fancy HDR things that are happening inside the camera. We just want to keep things very, very simple and we want that histogram, as I said earlier, to reflect the information as close as possible, of course, to what you'll be getting later on in post-production. So here we go with that million dollar question. What color space should I set my camera to? Now, remember, we're shooting raw. Now, as I said earlier, raw files don't have profiles until they are converted into a standard editing space, either with the manufacturer's software or another raw file converter, like Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw or maybe even Capture One. Okay, so the camera's capturing these data in raw. We then make the decision of how we map these colors and tone into what particular color space we want those to be in. Remember, the camera's capturing far more than what we think it's capturing. So, is it important maybe to leave the camera in sRGB or Adobe RGB or it doesn't really matter? Well, in a way, it doesn't, but in a way, it does. Because what that affects, as I said earlier, is your jpeg preview at the back of the camera. Now, that jpeg preview generates a histogram that we see at the back of the camera. Now, that histogram that we see, there's a lot of misconception, isn't a histogram of the actual raw file. You all would've seen the scenario where you've shot something and you look at a histogram, and then of course, download those images later in post only to find out, number one, you have a lot more information than what the camera said, but the histogram's a lot more comprehensive than what you originally had at the back of the camera. That is because the histogram in post, in Lightroom, and what you're seeing is the histogram of the raw file mapped in a particular color space. The histogram at the back of your camera is the histogram generated by your little jpeg preview. So if you set your camera in sRGB, which is a very small color space, that histogram's gonna reflect that, and it's a long way off to where we're gonna be editing in, and the color spaces that we're gonna be working in. Setting your camera to Adobe RGB will give you a closer histogram to your post. Still not quite right because in Lightroom, remember, we're looking at the images in what? In ProPhoto RGB, which is a very, very big color space. And of course, that histogram still isn't gonna match something that is an Adobe RGB histogram, but it's gonna be a lot closer than a histogram that is an sRGB histogram. So what color space should I set my camera to? Well the answer to that is Adobe RGB, okay? So here we are, setting Adobe RGB. sRGB has no effect on the raw file captured. Color space affects the jpeg preview, and Adobe gives you more a comprehensive histogram. 'Cause that's what we want. We wanna be able to make really, really important decisions about our exposure. Now, the bit rate of your camera capture, we're gonna set it into the highest bit that your camera can capture. In our standard 35mm SLRs, we'll shoot at 14-bit raw capture. That is the maximum unless you're lucky enough to shoot with a Phase One, maybe, in which case you're capturing in 16-bit. Once again, a lot more information. So it's really two the power of 14, so it's 16,384 levels of information. So that information, then, when we take it in post, we map that in 16-bit, so we're maintaining that 14-bit information, if you like, in Photoshop so that everything that the camera has captured is there and we can work with every single tone. I try to shoot with my camera uncompressed and all that so I'm getting the raw data, unadulterated as possible, so it's basically lossless. And you know, it's gonna set me up for success for that final print, of course. Okay, so if we're shooting in 8-bit jpeg file, as I said earlier, some people are still shooting in jpeg, that's fine depending on where your final destination's gonna be. If you are printing, not a good way to start things off. 8-bit jpeg, two to the power of eight, 256 gray levels, okay, or levels of information. Not a lot of wiggle room, as I said earlier, once we start to, if we do wanna print, and we do wanna do some extensive editing or post-production to our images, just working in 8-bit and working in a jpeg, so where we've thrown a lotta beautiful color information away, and tonal information away because we've decided just to shoot in jpeg format. Then of course, some cameras will shoot in a 12-bit raw file which is two to the power of 12, 4,096 gray levels. And then of course, 14-bit, if you're standard DSLR. And if you're lucky enough to own one of these, 16-bit raw file, two to the power of 16, 65,536 levels of information when you are shooting with something like a medium format digital SLR. So you can see the information, how important it is and how much more information we can capture. Certainly, 14-bit raw file. I know we talk about 16-bit raw file as being amazing if we can capture that, but 14-bit raw file, lemme tell you, lady and gentleman, it is absolutely amazing just the same if you know what to do with the tones in post. And we'll look at that a little bit later on. So, let's have a look at something called the digital linear effect, which is something that digital sensors suffer from. So, basically, what happens is the way information is recorded by your sensor is in a linear fashion, basically. So exposure comes in, okay, light comes in, and exposure is recorded, and the exposure increases in a linear fashion. So, if we were to take, just say we're shooting 12-bit capture now, for the argument's sake, we have 4,096 levels of information. Now, imagine this little vessel here is a cross section of one of your pixels on your sensor. So it's like a vessel that we're gonna fill with light. So, that vessel there, because we're shooting in 12-bit, is only 4,096 levels of information that can fill that vessel. And this is the way this works, okay? And it's pretty scary. So light comes into the sensor, and what happens? Which light's gonna hit the sensor first? The light that's gonna hit the sensor first is the brightest light. Obviously, the light coming from there and the brightest points is that more intensity of that light is gonna be recorded by the sensor first. So, what happens is as light starts to come in and it starts to fill that sensor, something pretty extraordinary happens. You know, we think that, you know, it's gonna happen incrementally, but it doesn't because check this out, okay? That first stop of light will take up 2,048 or half of the amount of the total depth that we have to work with. That's that first stop of light, or the brightest parts of an image. Not a lot left to work with, right? Not a lot left to work with. So, what happens is that first stop of light is here. All of your bright tones come in. And then the second stop of light, it's half of what's left. And then the third stop, it's half of what's left, and so on, and so on, and so on. What's happening? What's happening is that the shadows are running out of room. And when they run out of room, we have issues in our post-production. And it doesn't matter whether you're shooting low ISO or high ISO. An underexposed file would lead to noisy shadows. And that's just a fact. That's just because of the way that the digital sensors work. So what do we need to do? We need to increase our exposure or push that histogram to the right, so that we leave room for the shadows later on. Now, dynamic range of your sensor is extremely important here. 'Cause we wanna push that histogram far enough to the right so that we're not blowing out highlights, but we're giving enough room to the shadows to breathe so that we're not gonna have issues later on with image noise. Now, a lot of people are scared of shooting high ISO. You know, high ISO is not a problem, provided that you give the sensor enough exposure. Because shooting high ISO is, with the right exposure, you actually decrease the amount of noise that's being recorded on your sensor. So giving the correct exposure, letting those shadows breathe, is awesome. It's very easy for us to be seduced by the back of our cameras. And we sort of tend to shoot with the histogram off until something looks good. But just remember, those little screens at the back of your camera, they're not calibrated, they're not a high-tech device where you can make really amazing judgmental decisions about color. The only judgmental decision you can make about what you see at the back of a screen is compositional, and that's about it. Your histogram reveals a little bit more about what's happening to your file, and how that information is being recorded by your sensor. So it's not about, I mean, unless you're shooting jpeg, and you're shooting for a newspaper, and those images have to go out untouched, unadulterated, straight out of the camera, onto your computer, onto the printing press for tonight's edition, well then, it's gotta look pretty at the back, and we try to, sports and press photographers try to get it as close as they possibly can. But for us, it's not a contest about how pretty you can get things looking at the back of your camera. For us, it is how much of that beautiful information I wanna retain so that I can print it, and I can work with it in post, and I can produce a far superior product than my competitor can. You know, and we hear a lot of things today about competitions straight out of camera, and all that sort of stuff, which to me, I think it's a load of rubbish. Because straight out of camera, if you just go with the jpeg preview, your jpeg preview, if you've done your homework in exposing correctly, should be a little bit bright. You're not gonna win any straight out of camera comps. But what you are gonna win is incredible printing medals, if you like, because your prints are just gonna shine like never before because you're able to record incredible shadow detail, through to mid-tones, and through to highlights, which is what we're trying to preserve. So if we were to look at how histograms look, I mean, we will be happy with the histogram on the left because, you know, we haven't clipped the shadows, we haven't clipped the highlights, you know, we've got a peak here because we have a lot of information in the dark tones. This is what happens, by the way. These peaks represent how much information is present. Like these are your shadows, your mid-tones, and your highlights. So how much information is present here in your shadows, and then of course in your mid-tones, and then of course in your highlights. So here, it's telling us well, we haven't really clipped any of the shadows, but we do have a lot of dark tones in the image. Now, preferably what I would do when I would see a histogram like that, I would open up maybe a stop, a stop and a half, and push it to the right. Now, note what's happened here to the histogram. The peak has come down. Because the amount of dark dark tones is now not really, really dark tones. They're kind of like mid-ish kind of tones. Do you understand what I'm saying? Now, don't forget that creating the mood later on in post-production for printing, we do that in post. But the thing is, I can't make an image dark and moody if I've recorded it really, really dark and moody. Because the minute I want to open up those shadows so that they have information, so that I can print, I'm gonna get noise, and I'm gonna get all sorts of artifacting that happens in the shadows, and murky stuff, and it's not good. As a print comp charge, I see a lot of that. I see some beautifully printed images that suffer from the fact that the author or the photographer didn't pay enough attention to the exposure when they should've. In other words, getting those shadows opened up a little bit more so that when we print, we're printing dark shadows, but rich, full of details, with amazing tonal qualities. And that's what makes a really beautiful print sing. You want shadows, you want those shadows to be deep, you want those shadows to have information, you want those shadows to have tonality. You don't want those shadows to be noisy, you don't want those shadows to be clumpy. It's very easy to say I'm gonna hide those, I'm gonna make them really dark, but you know what? In print, you can only hide to a certain point, and then you get a thing called muddiness. You hear a lot of print judges in print comps talk about muddiness, and the image is very, very, the print is very, very muddy. It's very muddy because we tried to darken areas a little bit too much. And that's fine if I've got information there to darken. But when I don't have that information to darken, I'm gonna have all sorts of problems. So let's look at exposure, and let's look at how meters inside our cameras work. When we look at things, our meter, doesn't matter where I point my meter, my meter doesn't see color, my meter doesn't see people, my meter doesn't see anything. It just sees everything as a mid-tone, a mid-grade. It brings everything to a mid-grade. I take my camera, and I point it to that bright light, and I stick it in program mode, aperture priority, and I take a shot of that light, it'll think, I'm gonna bring that down to a mid-tone. It'll record it as a mid-tone. The same thing if I was to shoot this really, really dark floor and leave the camera as is with no exposure compensation whatsoever. It wouldn't come out as a dark floor. It'll come out as a mid-tone, it'll come out as a mid-grade. Okay, so, cameras aren't that smart. It's up to us to make the decision of where we want to place, you know, those tones. So when we look at it very simply, and we always like to bring it back to a thing called the zone system. And I'm sure a lot of people have heard about the zone system. Ansel Adams, if you know, there's heaps of resources on the net, but it's basically dividing a tonal range of an image into 10 zones, beginning with zone zero, which is black with no detail, right through to zone five, which is your mid-tones, and then of course, zone 10, which is your specular highlights with no detail. Later on in this course, in post-production, I'm gonna show you how we segment an image into 10 different zone through luminosity masking, and how we can then control each individual zone's tonality based upon a brightness range. And that's very, very important. We can do that, but the only way we can do that is if we have enough information to begin with at the start. So, if we're, I'm shooting a lot with spot metering, and I've got my camera on manual. Spot metering, if I read off a face, most faces, Caucasian skin, is pretty much around a zone five, so not a lot of adjustment needs to be made. I will take that reading, and then I will take the first shot and I will look at my histogram, and then I'll open up or close my exposure, depending on the brightness of the skin itself. So if you're shooting in bright conditions, if you're shooting snow pictures, for argument's sake, and you're shooting aperture priority, or even if you're pointing your camera to a snow scene, you would have to open up two stops to get correct exposure. In other words, because the camera's gonna say, well that snow is really gray. I'm gonna render it as a mid-tone. I don't wanna render snow as a mid-tone. It looks pretty bad. I wanna render it white with detail. So, opening up two stops and allowing that exposure to sit where it needs to sit. So we meter with a spot meter. We make the decidual decision of where that midpoint is going to be for our exposure, or a highlight, or a dark tone, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Okay, so exposure is king. Everything that we do is all about exposure. Now, let's look about obtaining optimum color using the X-Rite ColorChecker, and what is it? Well, the X-Rite ColorChecker is just basically a test target that I carry with me in my pocket when I'm shooting. And it's a very, very simple tool to use. Because once I photograph this, and I've got a different section here of mid-tones, and I've got cool tones, cool mid-tones, and I've got warm mid-tones, I can take a shot of this in the light I'm gonna be photographing in with my camera, come back in post, and then keep on shooting, and don't worry about what I'm seeing as far as color is concerned. Come back into my post-production software like Lightroom. Click onto the mid-tone to give me that perfect color that I want. Now, sometimes, just clicking on a mid-tone can be quite clinical and the skin tone just doesn't look quite right. But this is where X-Rite has come up with warmer tones of gray and cooler tones of gray. So if we click on a cooler tone of gray, we warm up the skin tone. And if we click on a cooler tone of gray, warmer tone of gray, we cool down the skin tone depending on the color of the skin that we're trying to achieve. So there's no guesswork. You know, very quickly, at the beginning of the session, you take a shot. You then do your session. You're shooting manual exposure, so all your images, assuming that the lighting hasn't changed, will be the same. You then come into Lightroom, you correct this test target with your subject next to it so you can see what's happening to the skin tone, and then copy and paste that color adjustment right through so that you're not making decisions about, you know, are my skin tones too warm? Are my skin tones too cool? Is the bride's fake suntan being registered correctly? Am I recording that correctly? Does the bride then look even more orange than what she did on the wedding day? Or is that sunset the right shade of what I want the sunset to be? All those beautiful pastel colors in the sky, have they been recorded correctly because of the light that is falling onto the subject itself? So, as I said, when you look at this, you'll see that the warm section is down here. You got the cool section up there, and it's about really putting your eyedropper. We're gonna do this in a second 'cause we're gonna shoot some stuff. It's about putting that eyedropper exactly where you want it. Whether we wanna cool down the skin tone, or whether we wanna warm the skin tone. And there is no guesswork. Whether you're shooting flash only in a studio. Whether you're shooting daylight coming through a window, but sometimes light coming through the window, what happens? It takes on the properties of the glass, and some glass is tinted. Like I can see here, I look here and I'm seeing daylight. The minute I turn my eyes here, it'll take me a nanosecond, but I see a shade of green. Because this glass has a slight green tinge to it. And it's amazing how you can quickly see it. And the minute I look at this for like a couple of seconds, I don't see the green anymore. Why? Because our eyes, as I said earlier, are discounting the illuminant. So color constancy, so we go back to color constancy. So we can't trust what's going on in our heads. We can't control that. So we need to be able to use something like the ColorChecker to bring us back to reality. It's like a reality check for color.