Happy New Year: The Earthbound Light Top Ten for 2014
As we wind down to the end of another year here at Earthbound Light, it's time once again to review the top ten PhotoTips articles as gauged by reader popularity.
#10: Fill Flash Basics for Outdoor Photography
Starting out the list this year was an article from July covering the basics of outdoor fill flash. The common understanding of flash is as a big bright light that that overpowers every other light source. But that's not what fill flash is at all, especially outdoor fill flash. To create natural looking images outdoors, it makes sense to utilize natural light as much as possible. But lighting conditions outdoors spans such an extreme range of brightness that goes far beyond what photographic capture can record. Fill flash allows you to help fill in shadows and to show detail more clearly. You want to add just enough to whatever light exists, not overpower it.
#9: Having to Explain Your Photos?
Number nine on the 2014 hit parade was also published in July. There are images that succeed because of what they are, and there are images that succeed simply because of what they look like. Only the first type requires explanation if the context isn't apparent. The second type of image goes beyond explanation and enters the realm of pure artistic expression. As a photographer, it's unavoidable that you will have a different relationship with the images you take than will those who look at the results. You were there and they weren't. If your images rely on knowing what only you know about them, you limit their appeal to your audience. Good art is in the eye of the beholder. Evaluating your work in the field without all the backstory that only you know allows you to experiment with creating images that stand on their own as art, without explanation.
#8: Capture NX-D and the Future of Raw Conversion: Nikon and Nik Part Ways
Nikon has always made great camera gear, but they've struggled when it comes to software. But in 2006 Nikon joined forces with Nik Software to revamp Nikon's Capture raw converter. Nik benefitted from the influx of capital Nikon I'm sure provided, and Nikon benefitted from Nik's novel "control point" technology and ability to actually execute on a software development project. The resulting Capture NX was a huge hit with Nikon users, but alas, all good things sooner or later come to an end. In February of this year Nikon announced that they were parting ways with Nik and that the new Capture NX-D would be built without their help and without Nik's control point interface. Coming in at number eight for the year, this article covers the history of Nikon and Nik, two companies with similar names but different objectives. Digital photography is a rapidly evolving field, and this parting-of-the-ways gives many dedicated Nikon Capture NX users reason to move to jump onboard the Adobe Lightroom juggernaut.
#7: Should You Upgrade Your Camera?
A camera and lens are just tools, but there may be good reasons why an upgraded camera can be a better, upgraded tool. But if you already can't make use of everything your current camera is capable of, there may also be reasons not to upgrade. Ultimately, a photograph is made by the photographer, not the camera. Published in June, this article on whether it makes sense to upgrade came in at number seven for the year after tallying everything up. A new camera may seem tempting, but it's not always possible to simply buy your way to making better images.
#6: Lightroom Creative Cloud?
In the early days of Photoshop, you paid to buy your copy, installed it on your computer, and used it. Then came the advent of the Adobe Creative Suite era when the team "activation" entered the vocabulary of Photoshop users. Not only did you need to enter your serial number as you always had, but now your copy of Photoshop had to reach out to Adobe's activation servers to validate your license. Users feared that someday they might get locked out if that connection to Adobe failed when they had a critical deadline. Over the last couple of years, we've entered the age of Adobe Creative Cloud that takes things even further, requiring users to maintain a subscription to continue using Photoshop. Until recently, Lightroom has stood outside this change, but indications are that now Lightroom too may be entering the Cloud. And not everyone is happy about that prospect. This article from September came in at number six for the year. There was so much to cover, I followed the article up the next week with additional thoughts on this controversial change.
#5: Lens Myths
As common as lenses are among the tools used by photographers, it's surprising how misunderstood they are. This article from just last week covering some of the more common myths about lenses ranked as number five on this year's Top Ten list. No, wide angle lenses don't distort perspective, and lower aperture numbers don't necessarily mean bigger lens diameters. And not every of the same focal length will be the same size, nor are prime lenses necessarily better than zoon lenses. The truth is a bit more complicated.
#4: Nikon is Better Than Canon, or is it the Other Way Around?
Right up there among the great debates of Coke versus Pepsi and Microsoft Windows versus Apple Macintosh, there's the question of Nikon versus Canon. Yes, there are other camera makers, but Nikon and Canon are big two, and most serious shooters eventually end up shooting one or the other. Sometimes you hear about high profile Nikon shooters moving to Canon, or perhaps the other way around, but most of us have too much of an investment in one system to easily change directions and go with the other. Canon seems to be the better marketing company, but lately Nikon seems to be winning the ratings wars for the best lenses and sensors. Canon has been struggling with a perception of chromatic aberration problems, but with the two companies leapfrogging each other every few years, does this really matter in the grand scheme of things? From earlier in December, the number four PhotoTip article for the year discusses this weighty topic. There are no easy answers.
#3: What Settings Did You Use?
Change the settings on your camera and you'll change the look of the resulting image. So it's natural for aspiring photographers to believe that mastering these settings will allow them to master their photography. When trying to emulate a successful image, it's common to ask what settings were used. But this obsession with getting the settings right obscures what really matters. In order to reliably create a compelling image, it is necessary to see the potential in the first place. When I started out in photography, it was hard to keep track of shutter speed, aperture and other details for each shot. These days, digital photography makes this simple and indeed automatic. Don't let all these numbers sidetrack you from actually looking at what's in front of your lens. Number three for the year 2014 is this article from June on looking through your camera, not just at all the settings on it.
#2: How Not to Use a Tripod
Published in November, number two for the year was this somewhat tongue in cheek article on how not to use a tripod. Many photographers lug their tripods around only begrudgingly, because they feel their supposed to, not out of any real understanding of what a tripod can do for them. As such, they buy cheap tripods that do little for them, creating a self-fulfilling expectation of what tripods in general are capable of. Bad tripods lead to bad images. But a good tripod can be a joy to use, and can provide the foundation you need for creating your best images. A tripod you leave in your car can't help you. And carrying an inadequate one with you isn't much better. Good tripods may not be cheap, but well cared for they can last a long time.
#1: How Many Lenses Do You Need?
Lenses, lenses, lenses. Having been a photographer for many years now, I own quite a few lenses. SLR cameras use interchangeable lenses, but you can only use one of them at a time. From back in May of this year comes the number one article on the top ten list. In the end, it matters ore what you do with any given lens than how many others you may have. But of course that doesn't stop any of us from wanting more lenses. Ah, to be a photographer.
Well, that about wraps it up for another year here at Earthbound Light. My thanks to everyone who helped make this possible by visiting the site and letting me know what you want to read about. Here's to hoping you'll join me for another great year in 2015.