Thursday, 30 January 2014

Filter Or Bracket?

One thing that has just been brought to my attention, before I go on, is that I don't mean bracketing as in letting your camera do all the work... -2,0+2... I mean controlled, manual bracketing... 

An interesting question just came up on Twitter. It's a question that most photographers will 'know' the answer to - but I'd like to disagree. So these are my thoughts on exposure bracketing versus the 'proper way'... using filters (this isn't trying to get at anyone, by the way, you're all lovely - I've just always had the feeling that bracketing is a 'lesser' thing).

In general, I think it's fair to say that exposure bracketing is looked down upon in comparison to spending time on location setting up a clever filter combination to make the most of the available light - but I think this is largely historical - from the good old days of film.

So... here are the benefits to not using filters:
1) They cost money, why pay for something that could be done for free?
2) Is there any difference between filters and bracketing? Really? With filters you let a certain percentage of the total number of photons hit the sensor and 'light up' whichever pixels. With bracketing you do the same thing, the final image has no difference whatsoever.
3) Time. On location you have (usually) a set amount of time. The sun will rise, you have - for the purposes of argument - one 'golden' hour to take your photos in. Using filters slows this down. Whilst you're busy setting up filters for the difficult light the sun is throwing at you, you could be exploring new compositions. No matter how well you know a place, there is always a new view to be explored... so why not explore it? This is always the case for me - at most places in the Peak there is always one other photographer around who is spending an age on one shot... well done him, he got the one shot... but I got that one shot and 10 others to go with it. Who knows, maybe one of those will win LPOTY this year (wishful thinking...).

And the benefits of filters? (I may add to this list as people inform me of new ones)...
1) It's nice to get things right in camera... and saves time in processing the images when you get home.
2) It makes you slow down and think about each shot more.

Bonus thoughts:
Whilst some people will obviously abuse this, taking a hundred exposures of the same scene and finding the right one when they get home - it isn't fair to tarnish all bracketing with that brush. Personally, I'm fully aware of what I'm doing whilst on location and know exactly how I'll merge them when I get home. My mind sees only the final image and the ratio of photons hitting each part of the 'effective sensor'... exactly the same as anyone composing a shot 'in camera'.

I may not conform to the norm in photographer circles here... but I was brought up with 3 siblings. On any walk we had - which was where landscape photography took hold - I was in a rush due to having 5 other people hurrying me along. As such, I see compositions and I shoot them... there's no time to mess around with filters. Is that a bad thing? I don't think so - it means you have to be more creative with your initial view of a place. Of course it's nice to explore a place and get a feel for it, but that isn't always necessary. So... I've been brought up on a habit of shoot... move on... shoot... move on... shoot. If that means I get more good shots out of a single day, then that's a good thing. Using a tripod (which I do almost always now) is quite enough to slow me down... if you don't have enough time to think whilst playing with the knobs on your tripod... then there's something wrong.

This point doesn't apply to everyone, but Facebook. I have a Facebook page - so it's important to get plenty of photos to feed my adoring fans (they really are adoring, by the way).

Why must people always place quantity against quality? Why can we not have both? My general aim when I go out is to take a few quality photos and plenty of decent photos. I know the quality ones before I've even taken them - so it's not a scatter gun approach - but I do take a lot of photos. No piece of nature is really worth overlooking... who knows, in 10 years time when my tastes have changed I may appreciate a composition I previously hated and be glad that I recorded it and can find it on my hard drive.

And another thing... going back to the time arguments on both sides... filters take more time in the field, bracketing takes more time at home on the computer. I may not speak for you all, but as I mentioned right at the start - we have a set amount of time, dependent on light, in the field - but at home (ignoring work obligations) we have endless amounts of spare time.

Finally, none of this is to say that HDR in the usual sense is good. I try to avoid that (although, in certain circumstances it can be pleasing)... more that there is no real difference between the final image if bracketed images are merged thoughtfully. And, time is on your side if you're bracketing.

This is by no means a comprehensive answer to all of these questions/thoughts (as you might have guessed) - but I think it's a good starting point, whilst obviously going against the filters view.

I'd love any argument that can make me change these thoughts...

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