Never mind the quality…

I’ve been busy planning my trip to Cornwall in a few weeks and it suddenly occurred to me that I no longer have a mobile phone for emergencies. My ancient Nokia served me well for many years, but it failed dramatically during my trip to the Peak District back in 2012. I was still able to ring my husband for twice daily reports on the zoo, but the phone had to be charging at the time. As for summoning help should anything happen while climbing Mam Tor before sunrise or mingling with the cattle on Curbar Edge – I was pretty much on my own.

Having no other family to call, I hadn’t been too bothered about a replacement. However, the prospect of being alone on a cliff top in the dark while trying to photograph star trails over an old tin mine made me think twice. A couple of weeks ago we popped into town to see what was available and I opted for my very first smart phone. Naturally it comes with a built-in camera, which I immediately dismissed, along with the assortment of apps for social media. Within a few days I had downloaded mobile versions of tools I already use at home, like The Photographer’s Ephemeris and Stellarium. All the locations for my trip have been plumbed in, along with various notes and links to depth of field charts and light painting tutorials. Naturally I will still take an old-fashioned map just in case, but otherwise my rucksack should be a fair bit lighter this year.

Having played with my new toy for a bit, my fingers eventually wandered to the little camera icon. I simply had to give it a go. I went in search of our kitten who was in a playful mood, but the shutter lag meant my subject had often left the room before the picture had been taken. This isn’t something I experience with my proper cameras and I soon got bored. Then I discovered the switch between camera and video and from my first 29 second clip I was hooked. Since then I have used it most evenings and over the weekend we plan to film ourselves vacuuming the ferrets. This is actually a game that they love and they will run up to the nozzle to feel the suction, before hurtling off at breakneck speed. Ferrets have the ability to see fun in almost everything.

So there I was the other night, with my video clips recently downloaded to the PC, trying to find some decent software to rotate those taken in portrait mode. I did locate one eventually, but it wasn’t cheap and it has a nasty habit of freezing and crashing at the drop of a hat. I have also had to create yet more back up profiles in Second Copy and organise everything in Bridge. And for what? A handful of very poor quality videos of our pets, when most of them have already been photographed with some of the best cameras ever made. I’ve been trying to figure it out ever since.

Comparing myself with others on my favourite forum, I don’t have a lot of equipment. There is my beloved film SLR – a 1980 Olympus OM2n with a small assortment of lenses. Then there is my 1940 Leica IIIb and 1938 5cm Summar lens, both of which are a joy to own and use. Finally the DSLR – a five year old Sony A700 with just one kit zoom lens. I was very fortunate to win this in a national photography competition, but I did so with a scan from a black and white negative. Until then, this had been my only foray into the world of digital photography and it has been a steep learning curve. I contacted a friend about the best way to learn and his first question was “what software was I using for RAW processing”. I had to admit that I hadn’t even heard of RAW files and I haven’t heard from him again.

I’ve struggled along, mostly learning by my mistakes, but I think I have reached a point where I feel happy with my processing. I took the plunge about eighteen months ago and invested in Photoshop CS5 as I spotted some banding in the skies from my trip to the Yorkshire Dales. (The featured image here was one such example. I thought banding was mainly a problem with clear, blue skies, but apparently not). Full Photoshop is a wonderful tool, but the vast increase in file size has left me wondering how much longer our old computer can cope. Images of well over 300Mb mean that I often have to save part way through, close down Photoshop, before opening up again. Recently the driver has been crashing, which means shutting down and re-booting. It’s just as well I only work on a few images a week! I can’t help thinking that with enormous files, or teeny-tiny ones, I am never going to be rid of my battle with the software.

Of course, file size bears no relation to quality, but I do take a great deal of care to avoid blocked or blown pixels, colour noise, luminance noise, colour casts, fringing, halos, broken histograms and camera shake. I will repeatedly go back to an image to see if I am happy with everything. It seems to be a common trend among photographers and one that some find almost impossible to resist. So while I may not suffer from GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome), I freely admit to having the affliction of SOUP (Stop Opening Up Photoshop).

Which brings me back to the smart phone and my addiction to making videos of cats playing in the kitchen, cats playing in the front room and cats playing in the bathroom. Having worked so hard to improve my photography and the quality of my images, I am now happy to live with what is essentially rubbish. I have no idea why, but if anyone out there has the answer, please let me know…

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