Science and the Art of Photography

In the days of film the science of photography was quite different from the science being used today. Back then in addition to physics, chemistry had a vital role in development of your images. I remember mixing the chemicals that I used to process my black & white film and mixing a different batch to process my prints. The science of processing had to be very accurate or you could ruin your negatives or photographic prints.

One had to follow a series of steps using chemicals and certain elements like time of development and temperature were very critical in processing. Even if you used an outside lab there were many factors to consider in getting your processing done successfully. In addition, there was the possibility of loss or damage through human error or machine malfunction.

Today, with the use of digital cameras the science is done electronically. Instead of film, sensors and memory cards are used to capture and store images and we rely on measurements like pixels and dots per inch.

The camera also has the ability to capture in different file formats such as raw, tiff and jpeg. Basically a raw file contains untouched, “raw” pixel information straight from the digital camera’s sensor.

One advantage is that this file can be adjusted or processed with greater control using computers and software such as Photoshop, Lightroom and other software programs that are designed for this type of processing or adjustment. In addition with a RAW file, you have the ability to set the white balance of a photo after the picture has been taken.

The RAW file format usually provides considerably more of a dynamic range than a JPEG file. However, there are some trade offs to consider. Since raw files are larger than jpegs, less images can fit onto a memory card. They also take longer for the camera to write to the memory card and the camera won’t have the same frame rate as compared to shooting in the jpeg format. Raw files are larger and require a more powerful computer with more (RAM) memory.

So what is the best format to shoot? Basically, it depends on your personal preference and how the image will be used. Some Fine Art photographers and other professional photographers shoot in the raw format. I know of many professional photographers who will shoot in the jpeg format.

As long as your exposure is very accurate, you can get outstanding results shooting jpeg. I have made 24×30 portraits taken in Jpeg and they are beautiful. On the other hand, if you want greater control over the processing of your image, then shooting raw may be the way for you.

The Art of Photography

Unless you are passionate about the science of photography, Most of us tend to enjoy “The Art” of photography or some are just interested in learning how to take better photographs.

There are so many things to consider in being able to make a great looking photograph. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” also has some merits but there are certain things you can do and perhaps even not do to end up with a great photograph.

Learning some of the rules of composition and framing your photograph at the time of exposure is a step in the right direction. I believe in learning the rules first, then as you get more efficient you will be able to produce great photographs more often.

Once you are comfortable in using the knowledge you have learned you are able to see in a different perspective and you may be able to bend, break or perhaps even change the rules.

Photography is basically light and shadows and a photographic print is two dimensional. Learn to see the interaction of light and shadow and see how a two dimensional photograph can be made to look almost three dimensional.

Image Processing

Manipulating and enhancement is another form in adding your interpretation to the final image. Just like Ansel Adams used the zone system in the darkroom, the Zone System can also be used in digital photography just as in film photography.

To manipulate the light values make two exposures, one for the shadows, and one for the highlights; the images are then overlapped and blended, so that the resulting images represents a wider range of colors and tones.

Combining images is often easier if the image-editing software includes features, such as the automatic layer alignment in the newer versions of Adobe Photoshop, that assist precise registration of multiple images. Even greater scene contrast can be handled by using more than two exposures.

Many of today’s cameras also offer a built-in HDR (High Dynamic Range) mode that simplifies creating these unique images. When you shoot in HDR mode, your camera will process photos slightly differently than normal in order to capture greater detail from bright and dark areas in your photo. The processing is done in-camera so there’s no need for post production computer work.

For a more in-depth view, Nikon has a great article about High Dynamic Range Photography Here


See how Ansel Adams talks about his technique in creating his remarkable photographs


Ansels Adams part 2