Friday, January 13, 2012

The Obsession With EXIF Data and Why It Doesn't Matter As Much As You Think.


I traverse quite a few online forums and have seen my share of questions.  One universal thing I see constantly are questions like, "what settings should I use for this specific situation", or "could you please tell me the aperture and shutter speed you used for this shot".

I do understand the importance of knowing the EXIF data...but I also know that it appears that we can put way too much importance on it.
When asked these questions, the first thing that I want to respond with is, "it depends".  On what?  A lot of things.


I think starting out, doing basic homework and some book learning is important.  Understand the relationship of your three components of exposure - ISO, shutter speed and aperture.  Once you have that under your belt, then we need to look at real world applications.   When I first started out, I went out and took test shots using different apertures at different focal lengths.  This helped me understand that relationship. 



I did the same for shutter speeds. I once spent a few hours sitting by a busy road on a bench and just took pictures of passing cars at differently shutters speeds.  This helped my understand just at what speeds I could expect blur and which I could expect to start seeing some motion stopping goodness.  Same with ISO.....and so on.

EXIF data is great for analyzing results after the image is made. 

I like to treat each shot as a problem to be solved and I use the tools and understanding of how to use them as a creative outlet. 

I get the image I want in my head, then I look at my tools and decide how I can best utilize them to get what I want.
Creating an image is a subjective thing.

Like music, some people love the free form and emotion filled sets that live jazz music offers, while others prefer the tightly organized and orchestrated form of classical music.  Then you have everything in between.
I'm not saying that you have to like everything.  We just need to come to the realization that everyone has a different taste, aesthetic.  We may not agree, but we need to respect their right to differ from the our perceived norms.  I'm not a huge fan of some of Robert Maplethorpe's work.  However, I do respect the fact that he has the right to express his vision as he sees it.

Sometimes, we crash headlong into a conflict between what a client wants and what our vision for the shot might be.   If you have an understanding client and time/money allows - you can sometimes satisfy your vision and their vision at the same time.  Other times, you must acquiesce to what the client is asking for.

Important things to remember:
1)  Get an idea or vision of what you want to do in your head, write it out, sketch it, whatever it takes to have a bit of game plan laid out.  Even if the ideas are coming from the client or art director - sketching it out will help you ensure that you are all on the same page.
2)  Look at the assets you have at your disposal to make the vision a reality.  I hope Don has the "list your assets" assignment in this next Project 52 - 2012 session.  This was a real eye opener for me.   I was able to come up with things I did not realize were tangible assets.
3)  What settings will get you the look you need?  Are you shooting ambient only exposure or are you introducing speed lights or studio units into the mix?  Think about the type of depth of field you are looking for or if you need to freeze the action.  Can you get where you need to be with the current lighting situation or do you need to tweak your setup?
What you've done in the past is a great starting point, but don't rely on the settings from a previous shot to yield the same results again.  Most likely you'll have to tweak it at a minimum.

You'll see over time that EXIF data doesn't really come into the conversation.  It doesn't matter as much as you think.  Understand the numbers and their relationships, bend them to your will/vision and make it happen.  Use them as a nice place for an educated starting point.

I'm a shooter that learned by "feel".  Never was taught to use a stand alone light meter.  I've always just used the spot metering on my Nikon's.  Not that this type of approach is for everyone - it all depends on how you best work.

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