Two from three

So much going on I didn’t know which way to turn. It has taken me days to decide just what the “weekend post” would be of/about. Thus it’s a sampling because I couldn’t make up my mind.

Canon T100 55-250mm lens
Canon T100 55-250mm lens

I’ve been ‘trying out’ the Canon lately to evaluate it as the next ‘main camera’ to use. I like using it but it simply can not do the things the Nikon P610 ‘bridge’ camera can, so I find myself repeatedly grabbing that instead when going out.

Nikon P610
Nikon P610

I have stopped using the Olympus for now. Not just because the battery is failing and I’m loathe to put money into it, but also because I need to force myself to evaluate the future of photography for me and it is unlikely the E410 is the answer no matter how much I like using it.

Olympus E410 40-150mm lens
Olympus E410 40-150mm lens

What with everything everywhere being as bad as it is (yes, my wife is still in England with no return date even guessed at) switching to “artistic” photography only is about all I can do. I loathe the idea of it as I do very much like taking wildlife photos. You know: pictures of birds I can’t actually see because they are small, far away, and hidden in tree branches. Do I need to mention the failing camera + failing eyesight thing again? No. Not going to say anything about the triple digit inflation rate around here either.

Just trying to keep my sanity together. Remind me again exactly why I should do that.

More analysis coming up. Er, camera analysis that is. I could probably do with the other kind as well, to be honest.

Colour and Black & White

A few images taken with the Canon G11, demonstrating how colour sometimes gets in the way of a good picture.

Last year’s leftovers.
Remove the colour and see only shape and texture.
Strange colour for a cement truck!
In monochrome the machine’s shape is emphasized.
Engines look good in full tones.
Still look good desaturated.
Boxcar graffiti.
Graffiti becomes less evident in gray shades.

You can decide for yourself which way looks better for each picture: I’m just demonstrating the possibilities to encourage people to try it. Only seconds are needed to desaturate a colour image – or switch it back.

The train was at a siding in Williams Lake on my most recent visit to that city.

One scene seen six ways

Manual images are fine, but sometimes need some post-processing to make them just right. Or maybe not.

The original. Underexposed, moody. Or is that ‘muddy’?
Automatic equalization applied in GIMP. Better exposure, odd colours.
Auto white balance correction applied in GIMP. Most people would say this is ‘right’.
Exposure corrected using brightness and contrast controls in GIMP. This is the most accurate to life.
Getting artistic: white balance correction with colours “toned down” by ‘fading’.
When all else fails try turning the colour off. Or even if the colour is good it doesn’t hurt to see what the monochrome version looks like.

Colour or not colour; that is the question

It won’t surprise anyone who has read even some of my blogs that I have my own views on whether to shoot colour or monochrome. You may have heard me express the sentiment that I generally shoot colour and then desaturate if I think the image would look better in B&W. It gives more choice, I feel. Other people prefer to shoot monochrome in the camera, and that is their choice. I do it myself occasionally, if I think it’s what the picture calls for. I’d love to be rich enough to have a camera “dedicated” to each, but that’s not very likely to happen.

Let’s face it: if the camera makers made it easier to flip between the two we wouldn’t be having the discussion, because a simple flick of a switch would give us either colour or B&W in a moment. Instead we have to paw through menus and push buttons, which rather spoils the fun. I’d like to see a combined ISO/Colour dial with speeds of 50 (please bring that back; the sun does shine sometimes) to 800 (above that doesn’t gain you much but noise) and half in colour half in B&W or maybe even thirds for high colour and low colour and B&W. I don’t know; if someone pays me to work out the details I will, okay?

Anyway the subject today is how and why I choose between the two. To start with, we have the Work Truck:

For me the colour is a distraction here, mainly because of the background blues competing with the subject which is practically monochrome (sepia) all on its own. In B&W the crazing on the panel is more prominent, and you might notice some of the smaller details of the form (such as how it sags on one side) because you’re not looking at the wide tonal range. I tried this in low saturation colour and didn’t like it. Shifting it to sepia (basically the colour of the dirt on the truck) however, works. Possibly the best version:

TruckS

The background colours are no longer a distraction, and the monochrome aspect of the road dirt (the main point of the image) is emphasized. Although you could argue that the colour version puts the road dirt into vivid contrast with the rest of the scene.

Now let’s look at a picture which works either way:

In the colour version we see the nice brass of the candlestick as well as the red and green remains of previous candle wax in the base. The blue background complements all of it, including the shapely shadows. In the monochrome version the image becomes one of shape and texture, of which it has a lot. In fact you could say it’s more poetic as the snuffed candle contrasts with the long shadow of the daylight (side note: this is not early or late light, it’s just the very low sun angle we have at this time of year. It stopped me taking it direct-on because it glared back horribly. “Angle of reflection is equal to angle of incidence.”)  Now here’s two more versions, low colour and “sepia” (actually trying to match the brass tone of the holder), both of which “work” in my opinion:

If someone asked me to pick between the four I’d have a hard time of it. Perhaps I should do a large image with the four versions together, like Warhol? *LOL*

Now a picture which could only be in colour. If this were monochrome it would be gray on gray, as there wouldn’t be enough contrast to show the fine details. This basically is a picture of colour contrast:

brushsky
Brush Strokes In The Sky

Finally here’s an image that only works in B&W. I thought this when I planned the shot, and so took it in monochrome to begin with which is unusual for me:

lonelybear
Lonely Bear

If this were in colour you would see the bright blue of the background cloth, the bright red of the bear’s scarf, and the contrasting browns of the bear itself. All of which would remove the sense of melancholy generated by the image of a teddy bear that’s been left behind for some reason.

We have a mixture of images from the two Kodaks in this series: the P850 is responsible for the candlestick and the bear, the V1003 took the truck and the sky (with some post-shoot help for its failing sensor).

Primary Colours

Some examples of selective desaturation for artistic effect. All photos taken with the good ol’ Kodak V1003 and processed in GIMP by turning down saturation on all but the intended colour.

redonly
Red

It is interesting to note that in “Red” some brown and orange tones were retained, because they are a form of red.

yelonly
Yellow

This is my favourite. The old (’69 or so) GMC bus abandoned to use as a storage facility and looking forlorn indeed. There is some residue of colour in the weeds in front of it of course.

bluonly
Blue

Here a couple of abandoned water pressure tanks lay in the weeds awaiting eventual recycling. This one brings up the issue of just what colours can be eliminated this way: the green of the small pine sapling is completely gone. Trying to retain green is another matter, as green is often not green but yellow and blue (or rather cyan in the weird world of photo colours) put together. Thus removing the yellow and/or cyan/blue results in a loss of green tones that you may prefer to keep.

This shows up in processing other colours too, if they are comprised of blending two tones. Sometimes removing the colours doesn’t make any noticeable difference:

woodwood2

In the second version magenta, cyan, and yes green have been removed. It’s hard to tell the difference, isn’t it? On a more complex pallet the secondary colours have more effect.

If you set out to do this yourself, you have to keep in mind what primary colours are in the image and try to envision what it will look like with some removed. Some cameras, by the way, have the ability to do this single-colour rendering within them. It is usually buried deep in the menu system, and of course shooting that way initially means eliminating any ‘normal’ version of the picture which might look better (although sometimes this is an in-camera post-shoot processing which retains the original; check your manual carefully).

The Chimney Series

Recently I had the opportunity of looking at an old farmstead (the story behind this is complicated). I didn’t have much time because of all the other things I needed to do that day, but I had an hour to look about. The one thing that struck me was the site where the newest house (built in the 1960s) had burned down leaving only the chimney. Well it was more than just a column of bricks, and I shot a few photos of it. If I’d had more time I would have shot more – and come ready with other gear. Different times of day or of year et cetera would have yielded more results just from this one mass of miscellaneous masonry. As it was I took a dozen photos with the camera I had, the T100, and about half of them turned out nice with little effort. I haven’t even tried desaturating any yet. But here are the ones I think came out good.

IMG_1911

IMG_1916

IMG_1920

IMG_1922

IMG_1917

IMG_1912

That last one I believe I’ll get a print made of it and hang it on the wall; it’s a great image of colour and texture and shape.

Perhaps in the future I’ll have the chance to return there and shoot some of the other old log buildings. Or perhaps not.

Hoorray for the Red, Green, and Blue

While sifting through the seemingly endlessly nested menus on my Nikon, I came across a setting that allows the camera to take multiple exposures (combining two or three shots into one composite image). We used to do this in the old days of film, often by accident (not all cameras integrated film wind and shutter lock, you know). There really isn’t much point to doing it on purpose, except for certain artistic expression or trying to fool people with “ghost” images. Nevertheless, once found the setting must be tried.

In my usual semi-instructive manner I decided to try it out by assembling the red, green, and blue aspects of a picture – much as our display screens do. So with the camera on tripod on a day that was still a bit too windy (causing some blur in the composite image) I took the same scene through the red, green, and blue filters:

And then the camera puts them together, and we can compare this to a straightforward “single shot”:

Note the composite picture has a somewhat magenta cast to it, owing to the filters not being “ideal” shades for RGB separation. But you get the idea of how it works. The camera even assembled a picture from the first two filters used, red and green:

RGBrg

You can see the lack of “blueness” in it, which is a strong indicator that the blue filter is the one which isn’t quite on spec because the RGB composite shows a similar lack, just not as severe.

In art class we learn that the primary colours are red, yellow, and blue. The secondary (or complimentary or ‘opposite’) colours are orange (made of red and yellow, opposite of blue), green (made of yellow and blue, opposite of red), and purple (made of blue and red, opposite of yellow). Then in photography they throw cyan (pale blue heading towards green) and magenta (pale red heading towards purple) at us, and explain it’s because light is yellow to begin with so everything has to shift a few degrees on the colour circle. Different shades of yellow too, depending on the light (the all-important white balance). Gee, did someone mention ROYGBIV – the seven visible colours of white light? Yeah we get in trouble picking which shade of Indigo or Violet we want to call purple. Oh and along comes the age of colour TV & digital imaging and suddenly we’re supposed to understand that because light is yellow (especially artificial light) we have to make colours from red, green, and blue instead. And this doesn’t touch on infrared, near infrared, and ultraviolet – which aren’t visible to us but are to our cameras.

Confused yet? If you are, you’re learning.

Pseudo-Panatomic-X

Kodak’s venerable black & white films were Panatomic-X with an ASA of 50, Plus-X with an ASA of 100, and Tri-X with an ASA of 400. Yes, they all started with lower exposure indexes, but those were the speeds they ended up at and thus the ones most people would be familiar with. You can probably see the relationships in the names: add one stop to Panatomic and you get Plus, add three stops and you get Tri.

There are many people experimenting with Tri-X simulations in the digital world today. There are even ‘filters’ built-in to some software to give your images that Tri-X look with a click of a button. There seems to be an obsession these days with ‘high speed’ exposure indexes, as digital cameras go up to ISO 6400 or more. That’s +6 stops from ‘normal’ daylight speed. Where are you planning on shooting? In the bottom of a mine shaft? Of course use of such high numbers then gives you the opportunity to complain about (and try and remove) the ‘noise’, which is the digital equivalent of film’s grain. In my day we tried to avoid that.

Here’s me, the old contrarian, complaining about the opposite; cameras’ minimum ISO setting seems to be 100. This is fine, but just as higher speeds have advantages so do lower speeds. You may find that hard to fathom because the problems of lower speeds are what drive us to use higher ones. Yet neutral density filters sell. Everything is a compromise. Just be thankful you aren’t using glass wet plates, okay?

So why would we want lower speeds? Not just for blurring motion or limiting depth of field (I will die before I use that stupid ‘b’ word). Just as high speed gives you more contrast, low speed gives you more range. In black & white we’re talking about defined gray tones. Think of it like this: let’s say Plus-X gives you ‘X’ (I wonder where I got that algebraic variable from, eh?) tones. Tri-X gives you less than ‘X’ tones, and Panatomic-X gives you more than ‘X’ tones. It’s like having more colours on your palette – only they’re all gray.

Mostly as an exercise in further exploring digital photography for myself, I set out to try and simulate Tri-X and Panatomic-X. The first was easy to achieve, and every bit as disappointing as the original film. Frankly I never liked using Tri-X because it was grainy and contrasty. It’s not my style. I’m really a boring, Kodacolor kind of guy. Nevertheless, this was an experiment for science!

There are two steps to it: determining what the difference is between how the camera shoots and how the film looks, then finding a way to make the camera output look like the film. It’s not as easy as it sounds: merely changing the camera setting to monochrome doesn’t work as it relies on what the manufacturer thinks is the right tonal quality and gradations. Slipping on a neutral density 2 filter to knock the ISO down to 50 doesn’t solve the problem either; it just lowers the EV. In fact, even in combination it comes up lacking. Why? Because your camera is biased about colours.

Black & white film (aside from specialty films) is made to be fairly even in its sensitivity to all of the visible spectrum. It doesn’t necessarily achieve this, and under certain lighting circumstances some adjustment is needed to render an image that is satisfactorily normal. If you’re familiar with shooting B&W you’re probably familiar with adding a K2 (yellow) filter to heighten contrast of the sky. In this case the bias in the camera’s sensor has to be overcome in a like manner.

I found my cameras all lean towards green. In converting the colour images to B&W (my preferred method – you’ll see why later) the various colours become gray tones based on luminosity or lightness or a combination of the two. If a colour does not reflect ‘equally’ it will slide into an incorrect tonal range depending on what conversion method is employed. Thus a colour may become lighter or darker gray than it should be. Admittedly this will not be noticed by most people, and probably doesn’t really matter. So long as you like the end result, it’s fine.

In my preliminary testing of that which I knew would happen, I shot the back end of my Xterra next to grass so I had red tail lights and green foliage to look at. Sure enough, changing to monochrome produced different results with different methods. All would have been acceptable by the end user, except where the ‘end user’ is me trying to simulate wide-tone Panatomic-X film. So it was time to apply some thinking, and some filtration.

Knowing which process turns which colour which way is a good place to start. My finding was: Lightness makes red tail lights lighter, green grass darker, yellow flowers darker; Luminosity makes red tail lights darker, green grass lighter, yellow flowers lighter. The second key to the puzzle was knowing the camera favours green. So we have to make the red tones lighter and use the luminosity function in order to get the most accurate conversion.

Enter the orange filter. Fortunately this is not a true ‘Wratten 21’ orange as that would be too extreme I think. Just enough to shift the colour, and incidentally require 1 more stop of EV – effectively lowering the ISO to 50. (The Wratten 21 would be 2 stops.)

I have to say I spent some time adjusting the camera’s “picture type” settings as well, to see if that would help. Subtle 1 step changes didn’t really show at all – or at least I couldn’t see them. I went with as ‘neutral’ as the settings could be, with an increase in sharpness to help the definition. I also reduced the MP to 4.5 for shooting, with a further reduction for Internet display. Yes, I realize this alters what you see. So does your screen and your eyes. You’ll just have to take my word for it that it’s right.

First, the picture as-shot. It’s a kind of snap-shot thing because I wanted to get a lot of variety in the composition; it helps with determining the quality of the final result as well as aiding the computer in doing the conversion (the more monochromatic the original, the more inaccurate the change to B&W).

1032

Next, the black-and-white version. True blacks, true whites, and many gray tones in between:

1032BW

Last, the colour-corrected version. This is why I like shooting in colour all the time; if this had been monochrome but would have looked better as colour, it would be lost. As it is the filter correction for B&W is subtle enough to be eliminated and deliver an acceptable quality colour rendition as well:

1032WB

Perhaps a tad magenta. That could be fixed if I wanted to spend the time working on it.

Here’s a more dramatic series, same processing order. You can see what I mean about what happens when starting with a fairly monochromatic image.

10281028BW1028WB

Anyway, I plan to shoot some more like this and some starting with monochrome but ‘slowed down’ with a neutral density filter to see how that compares. It may be just as good, or better, or worse.

I also plan to try simulations of Kodachrome and Ektachrome once I’ve worked out the initial settings. But probably not Agfachrome with its muddy “European” colours. 😀

I’m a photography snob, I guess

Random commentary and advice for beginning photographers.

IMG_0483

“The Lexx”

Partly because I have the hubris to think that 50+ years of shooting pictures with literally hundreds of different cameras means I must have learned something about the subject. Possibly about the predicate as well.

Partly because I look at shots from today’s pros and wonder if they’re really trying with the pictures they present or are just posting up random shots, holding their best work in reserve for paying gigs. Maybe it’s only my opinion that they are trying to demonstrate their ability with what amount to little more than snapshots. Or maybe those shots are what are deemed great work these days. O tempora, o mores?

Heaven knows I post a lot of junk shots, but always with a purpose. How many dozen photos of the old sheds have there been? That’s because you need a consistent subject to demonstrate other variables, and that particular scene has a lot going for it in terms of resolution and colour potential – as well as being close at hand.

One of the things that makes me question my own ability is the lack of feedback on images I’ve done which I think are really top-notch. Perhaps I’m wrong in my evaluation of composition, framing, and exposure. Maybe my pictures are the amateur ones and I’m doing it all backward. It could be that I’ve learned nothing over half a century, or learned it all wrong.

Or possibly not.

Anyway, I still like them and when it comes down to evaluating your pictures you are the best (if inevitably overly self-critical as we all are) judge. Did they come out the way you wanted? Are you satisfied with the result? Yes? Then they’re fine.

Fortunately I generally keep my big mouth shut in respect to others’ works specifically. If someone asks I might try and gently guide them toward what I think is good and what could be improved. Sometimes I’ll see something and make a hopefully innocuous suggestion about a potential alternative rendering. Usually I’ll just go with commenting on what is good in it and remain silent about any perceived flaws, no matter how glaring. But I’ll give you all this bit of generalized advice gratis: the most persistent mistakes are in framing and composition.

Okay, enough of that. Here’s some random comments on photography equipment, for whatever they’re worth. Maybe you can glean something worthwhile from the chaff.

Full-frame sensors. I just read an excellent commentary on these about how people are wrapped up in the psychology of the terminology: “full” must equate to “better”, right? Nope. This is a holdover from film days when larger format was how you got better resolution because the grains of silver on the celluloid were all the same size regardless of film type and you can only pack so many in the space available. When it comes down to molecules, film is digital too. Consider how the image is to be displayed and you will see that even the 18 MP sensors are usually ‘overboard’ for resolution. One of the nice aspects of them (as I have demonstrated previously) is the ability to do some “digital zooming” in the post-processing stage and still have a shot that can make a decent full-size print. There are even people who turn their camera’s resolution down because they don’t need/want >10 MP (yes you can do this on many cameras).

RAW format. I can’t see why people get so hung up on this. You don’t really need it, even if you are a “pro”. It takes up a lot of memory space (not much of a problem considering how cheap that is these days) and what’s more takes up a lot of time to process. For the most part, spending huge amounts of time processing RAW data to get a shot that could have been had straight out of the camera in JPEG is just ridiculous. There are times when a lot of hard work with the RAW file will render the results you want, but how often? I have seen such shots looking “too real”: they may be spectacular art, but they necessarily are in the same category as other “processed” photo art; more art than photo. Also, have you not read the complaints from photographers who realize they get caught up in processing and never know when to quit? It’s easy enough to do that when just tweaking contrast. Maybe I’m an old school film-type snob, but you ought to be able to get the basic shot you want right out of the camera (and without in-camera tricks). Admittedly I have been known to alter reality, or at least the camera’s perception of it, to achieve this. But it still counts.

Brands. Oh pul-eeze! Are we still doing this stupid, childish bickering about product names? My quick test of Canon vs. Nikon with two different camera types showed the Nikon superior. If you want I can do another test with the same two cameras and get the opposite results: I just have to change the evaluation criteria. One of the things I have learned over five decades is that every company, regardless of what they make, has its mixture of successes and failures. Much of the evaluation criteria is purely subjective; does it work the way you want/expect it to? Yes you will see a difference in lens quality, sensor rendition, and perhaps even exposure accuracy (read the manual and you can probably make up for that), but it’s pretty rare to come across a camera these days that’s absolute junk. At least among the reputable brands; there are some low-dollar point-and-shoots out there that I wouldn’t trust to function at all, much less return a decent shot.

Zoom vs. Prime. Why is there even any discussion about “which one is better?” That is a question asked by those just starting out, and that’s the only time it is valid. For me the zoom is more suited to my shooting because I keep having to change focal lengths along the way, usually with more speed than twisting a lens on and off will allow. But I realize I’m giving up potential sharpness in doing so. Also being able to change position for framing/compostion isn’t always possible in the places where I shoot. But that’s me. It can be argued that the zoom lens is better to start with because it gives a person a chance to try out many different focal lengths in one unit. As they get better at photography in general they may see the benefit of using a fixed-length lens (and which fixed length, come to that). Just don’t decry one or the other. You may state a particular lens within a type is better than another of the same type or the average of the category because this can be true. Otherwise you’re saying pick-up trucks are better than economy cars because they are meant to do a completely different job.

In short it’s all about the way you shoot and the type of photography you do. Not what I do or what Jack does. When you’re just starting you probably don’t know how you will shoot or what type of photography you’ll do, so you’re allowed to be ignorant. But you’re not allowed to be stupid: you can read immense amounts on-line about photography. How do you sort out what to read? Poke around with the search engines for what interests you, what answers your questions about photography, and what you think you’ll do with it. You’ll find some references to cameras which you can then look up for further information. Now here’s the big advice: download and read the instruction manual before you buy it! You’ll be amazed at how helpful that can be not only in finalizing a choice of equipment but in advancing your general knowledge of photography as well; the manuals contain not only info on which control does what, but also about under what circumstances they should be used.

Lens accessories: filters, diopters, extenders, and other items. Well there is a vast array of this equipment and I can only speak to general terms. Cameras and computer software now have built-in ‘filters’ for post-processing, but it’s just not the same. You can do quite a few after-the-shot tricks, but if the data isn’t (or is) there to begin with that’s another problem. In film photography we were up against negatives that were too ‘thick’ (dark) or too ‘thin’ (light) and all of the solutions (sometimes literally; Farmer’s Reducer) to these problems were less than perfect.

UV filters, always ‘suspect’ even in the days of film, do little more than protect the front of your lens. Without expensive equipment and testing you will never know if you’ve got something blocking invisible ultraviolet or just a chunk of glass; the sensors don’t really pick it up.

CPL filters manage to cut down some glare and slightly increase contrast. Of the two I’d pick the CPL as the better investment because getting rid of that glare is one of the things you can’t do later.

There is also a plethora of coloured, half-toned, neutral density, and ‘warming’ filters. Best to leave these off your initial shopping list: a good camera has a wide range of exposure and white balance settings which will handle most situations, and you can alter over-all colour in post-processing.

Diopters get sold under all sorts of descriptions like “close-up filters”. You’ll know them by their ratings: +1, +2, +4, et cetera. They screw on the front and make it possible to get really close to your subject. Although there’s some advantage to them, there are some disadvantages too. Before you go dumping money into diopters try and see how close your camera can focus on its own. Many of them have macro settings which will do a very good job of it. Oh and there’s a decided advantage in using a long focal length lens in macro mode as it keeps you from getting physically close to the subject and thus getting in the way of the light falling on it. Maybe you won’t even want to do close-up photography, or not do it often enough to invest heavily in it.

Extension tubes and lens reversing rings are two more ways to get up close for cameras with interchangeable lenses. The reversing rings are again not being called by their correct name these days, but the description is the same: screws on the front of the lens and allows you to turn it around and fasten it to the camera backwards. Extension tubes merely move the lens forward, altering the focusing distance. Neither uses any optics so will not introduce any kind of distortion from glass (which diopters may) but the tubes will decrease light noticeably and thus effect exposure. Reversing rings will eliminate the lens-camera information connection necessitating manual exposure and focus, as will the tubes. These can only be used with cameras that have interchangeable lenses, so probably are not going to be on your list of “must haves”.

Lens extenders traditionally go behind the lens and change the focal length by factors of 1.5, 2.0, or 3.0X, hence effectively turning a 50mm lens into a 75mm for example. They do have optics, can introduce distortion, and will cut down on light. There are others which screw on the front and can be used with any camera that takes a screw-on filter. These are not as useful, in my opinion. Some are meant to give you a wider view, others more telephoto. They will vignette the image in some cases (such as on wider lenses) and can introduce distortion. They have the advantage of being inexpensive (and sometimes cheap) and fitting any camera that has screw threads on the front as well as maintaining the lens-camera data connection (although it may not work correctly). Worth it? In my opinion, no. Shoot first with what you’ve got and then see if you really want wider or longer lens capacity – then buy the appropriate lens. If you’ve bought a ‘bridge’ camera you already have a wide-tele zoom and one of these isn’t going to offer much advantage and may not even work right. The behind-the-lens type for DSLRs is a better option, but I notice not a popular one. This is a bit odd I think because I can’t help but notice the range of lenses being offered too often looks like the people designing the cameras have never shot with one, if you know what I mean. If you don’t … well the explanation takes too long.

Infrared. Here we arrive at photographica esoterica maxima. Camera manufacturers purposefully block out near-infrared from the sensors because our eyes don’t see it and thus if they didn’t – we would. In other words we’d be looking at messed up photos where the near-IR light has intruded and been presented as visible. But it’s interesting to look outside the spectrum we normally see in, so sometimes we may want to do this. It is not easy. The best way is to get a camera modified so the sensor isn’t blocked from IR. Even after that there is a lot involved, including very long exposures and post-processing adjustments. There are “IR filters” sold all over which allege they can give you the experience without the hassle. No, they just exchange one hassle for a different one: they still require long exposure and a lot of post-processing to get an image and that image is not going to look like those wonderful IR shots done by people with the right equipment and experience. I bought one of these filters to play with and am getting some acceptable, albeit quite unexpected, results after just a few dozen attempts. On the whole I wouldn’t recommend them.

Colour vs. B&W. My recommendation is to always shoot in colour. Oh I know B&W is a art form in itself and have used it myself to great effect on many occasions. So why always shoot in colour? Because you can’t go home again. If you have the colour data in the image you can take it out. If it’s not there putting it in is, well not impossible but nearly so. You can turn colour down a bit too, for that faded look. Or take it right out. And crank up the contrast to lithography levels if you want. Whereas if the picture would look great in colour, but you shot it in B&W, you’re stuck.

Flash. I used to do a lot of flash photography because film had limited speed. 400 was pushing it (Tri-X actually worked better at its original 320). Cameras couldn’t see in the dark (Canon’s f0.95 lens is still the ‘fastest’ ever made). Tripods were needed below 1/50 second even if you were really steady – no built-in compensation. So I shot flash bulbs and electronic flash whenever lighting was too low for ‘natural’ shots. It tends to be harsh and contrasty. Today’s cameras can ‘hold themselves steady’ and quite slow speeds (I’ve never tested the limit) and have ISO 6400 built-in at the push of a few buttons. Do you need flash? Maybe. There are a lot of times when the scene has its own harsh shadows and fill-in flash will save the day. There may even be times when you want the special effects that can only be created with flash (or multiple ones). For the most part the built-in flash of the modern camera will handle the job, especially once you learn how to set it for fill-in, red-eye reduction, et cetera. Buying an accessory flash can come later, if at all.

Tripod. Well I have one and I use it. It’s cheap and old and I just glued the rubber feet back on. It’s a Hakuba. No, I never heard of it either. Not sure how many decades ago I bought it. Originally one of many, I kept this one because it wasn’t the worst of ’em. Some recommendation, eh? Do you need a tripod? If you do low-light or long exposure shots, yes. If you don’t know yet, no. If you’re just trying things out – get a used one for cheap and see if it fits your needs. In fact that’s good advice for any piece of equipment; when you see what the shortcomings of it are vis-a-vis your photography you’ll know just what to look for next time. And if there are no shortcomings you’ve come out ahead.

In summation, I have a Nikon P610 ‘bridge’ type camera with an absurd zoom range and a Canon T100 DSLR which gives me huge lens options (including using old film SLR glass). The Nikon rarely lets me down at getting the photo I want, and that in itself is saying something. The Canon on the other hand is a lot of fun to play around with, and frankly its controls are more sensibly laid out. For someone who has exceeded the abilities of a point-and-shoot digital I’d recommend a ‘bridge’ type camera as a next step, because you may not need to take another. I definitely would not recommend jumping in with both feet by buying a really expensive mirrorless DSLR because frankly I think you’ll be both frustrated and disappointed, as well as a good deal poorer.