At dinner on the American Thanksgiving holiday each year, the members of my family go around the table sharing our lists of what we’re thankful for. This is a common tradition, and I find it energizing, comforting, and occasionally challenging to learn from my wife and daughters and any other family and friends gathered for the feast what they consider to be their greatest blessings. So for this Thanksgiving Day post, I’m going to share a photographic what-I’m-thankful-for list. Of our many modern photographic blessings, here is one photographer’s very opinionated list of the top five.
- Instant image review: Those of us who cut our photographic teeth in the film era became accustomed to waiting for days to see the results of our work. After shooting a roll of film, we would package it up, mail it to the lab, and receive our transparencies or prints back in a few days. If we botched the exposure, focus, composition, or any other element of the image, we wouldn’t know until it was too late to recreate the shot. For travel photographers, event photographers, and photojournalists, this was an especially harsh situation, as those once-in-a-lifetime moments would be lost forever if even a small setting was incorrect. In today’s digital world, we get to preview each image instantly on our camera’s LCD display as it is captured. If any aspect of the image is less than ideal, we can immediately retake it. The built-in real-time histogram featured in many advanced cameras makes the instantaneous image review even more powerful, as we can see at a glance whether the exposure is in the expected range. It’s so easy to take this capability to instantly review our images for granted, and many modern photographers do abuse it (pros call it “chimping” when a photographer constantly looks up and down at the LCD screen while shooting), but I am grateful every day to have this feature available.
- Modern full-frame image sensors: If you’d have told me when I was a kid that 40 years later we’d be able to instantly choose any sensitivity for our shooting needs from ISO 50 through ISO 25,000 and even higher, I’d have asked what you were smoking. Same with the concept of a camera that can capture many times the resolution of what was possible on the most fine-grained 35mm films. Ditto for the idea that our camera could focus for us, even under low-light situations with fast-moving action, faster and more accurately than we could achieve focus ourselves. Or that we could just hold down our finger on the shutter release and the camera would shoot 10 or more frames per second with almost no limit to the number of images that could be stored. All of this would have sounded like science fiction, yet modern full-frame image sensors provide all of these capabilities and much more. My Nikon D810 bodies are so good at capturing images in nearly any genre of photography that I can’t imagine anything working better. But of course every two to three years a whole new generation of sensors is released that does everything better still.
- The Nikon 85mm f/1.8 lens: We have so many incredible optics for which to be thankful that it’s hard to single out just one. But there is one piece of glass that makes my heart sing with joy every day. It’s inexpensive, small, light, fast as lightning, sharp as a razor blade, and renders accurate colors and glorious bokeh. I do about 80% of my shooting with prime lenses, and probably two-thirds of that is with this one lens. And that lens is the Nikon 85mm f/1.8 lens. It’s a classic for making portraits but also works great for sports, wildlife, and even many landscapes. If only everything else in life were so satisfying!
- Lightroom: Even with today’s amazing camera and lens capabilities, few images emerge perfectly from the camera. Most images need some tender loving care during post-processing, and for my workflow needs, Adobe’s Lightroom software is perfect. It’s great at importing, culling, and organizing huge batches of photos, and it’s editing features are all I need for more than 90% of my images. Lightroom “thinks” the way a professional or enthusiast photographer thinks, and it’s quite intuitive to apply presets and/or automated batch tools to develop large numbers of images at once. Thinking back on the old days of post-processing photos in a darkroom, I find that the digital counterpart (called “Lightroom” for good reason!) is so much faster, more powerful, and more gratifying.
- Instantaneous global sharing: Once our images are looking just the way we want them to, it’s time to share them with others. Not long ago, this was a burdensome task. It cost a lot of time, money, and aggravation to distribute just a few images with just a few people. Now, with digital image capture, the Internet to distribute the images, and mobile devices with social media to view them, the world is at our fingertips. There is a downside to this ubiquitous image sharing: we working professional photographers see the value of our work eroded by the flood of photos cascading around the world 24 hours a day; but in net this is a profoundly powerful and valuable asset to the art and business of photography.
There’s never been a better time to be a photographer (at least from an image capture and sharing standpoint; don’t get me started on the financial aspects), and in this exponentially evolving digital, interconnected world, it’s only going to keep getting better.
What are you thankful for in this brave new world of photographic goodies? Please share your thoughts here.
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