LTP 117: Tradeoff all the way Down

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In this solo show Bart ponders the many many tradeoffs we’re always making when shooting. You might thing money could buy your way out of having to make tradeoffs, but it can’t.

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I recently had a deep and wonderful conversation about photography with an old college friend, and thinking back on it afterwards two things struck me — firstly, every question that started with ‘which is better …’ or ‘is it better to …’, or even just ‘should I do x or y’, my answer always started with ‘it depends …’ followed by a bunch of questions right back. And secondly, none of the tradeoff we were discussing were about cost, we were purely discussing the art and the craft of photography and videography.

I know that there are very few people on this earth who don’t have to worry about cost, but I think we should look at cost-related trade-offs as tier-two trade-offs, and that we’ll make better cost tradeoffs if we take the time to understand our other tradeoffs first.

There are two reasons I chose to focus this show on ‘the art and craft of photography’, and to eschew gear-talk — firstly, there’s enough gear talk on the internet already, and secondly, there is no universal best anything, without context, ‘best’ is a meaningless concept!

First — Figure out The Problem to be Solved

One of the many things friend of the show Allison Sheridan really gets right on her podcast is the question she insists all reviewer answer in every review they submit for inclusion in the show — “what’s the problem to be solved?”. Reviews that start there have so much more impact that generic reviews that just boil down to ‘this techno-shiny’. It’s immediately obvious how these kinds of reviews are helpful when you share the reviewer’s problem, but I find them just as useful for ruling things out when I have the inverse problem!

There are tradeoffs every step of the way:

  1. What do you shoot with?
    1. Portability -v- capability
    2. Resolution — pixel size -v- pixel quantity
    3. Expandability — flexibility -v- portability
    4. Sensor size — DOF -v- pixel size -v- portability
  2. Where do you shoot? (Accessibility, permission, rules, …)
  3. When do you shoot? (Light, weather, access constraints, time constraints, …)
  4. What gear do you bring? (Weight, bulk, operating complexity, capabilities, …)
  5. What settings do you use?
    1. Aperture — more or less light -v- more or less DOF
    2. Exposure — more of less motion blur -v- more or less light
    3. ISO — more or less noise -v- more or less light sensitivity
    4. Image capture format (RAW, JPEG, or RAW+JPEG) — post-processing options -v- interval between shots -v- storage space
  6. Do you add artificial light? If so, how? (Entire book’s have been written on just this tradeoff!)
  7. How tightly do you frame your shots? Throw away pixels and hence resolution, or find yourself with too little room for a nice composition in post?
  8. How do you process your images?
    1. How much time & effort is this image worth?
    2. Pretty much every adjustment has side-effects, so you’re always balancing things

A lot of those tradeoffs don’t get talked about nearly as much as I’d like, but it seems everyone wants my advice when they have money to spend! So, what kind of questions do I ask before I’ll every consider offering an opinion, let alone daning to give advice?

  • Are you trying to solve a specific pain-point with our current gear?
  • Are you trying to branch out into something new?
  • What’s your intended output? A giant print that takes up half a wall? A social media post? A video to share online? A 4K movie to be enjoyed on a massive screen?
  • Is there something about your originals that make it difficult or impossible to get the final result I want?
  • Is there something about your software that’s not letting you realise your vision?
  • Or is your software making the process of realising your vision needlessly cumbersome?

Those questions are just where I tend to start, as anyone who’s asked me for buying advice has found out the hard way, I’ll definitely have follow up questions before I offer a short-list of suggestions, and I’ll never make a final decision for anyone but myself

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