The Photographical Error

I think of the photographical error as an optical version of the typographical error. A momentary slip of the eye much like a clumsy finger poke onto the keyboard of the computer. Unlike the latter, the former error has no automatic mechanism in place to correct it. You are stuck with what you have made.

I find this all the time when I have become careless in the studio and have cheerfully assumed my way into trouble. I’ve imagined that the lens I am using has enough depth of field at the particular aperture and focusing distance to get everything sharp…and it hasn’t. Or I have assumed that a lens will stay focused all through the zoom range instead of needing re-focusing. Some will and some will not, and if you don’t check as you go you get burned.

For a tabletop shooter there can be unseen flaws in the set or subject that are hidden…right out there in the open…and can be corrected…once you find them by zooming to 100% on the replay image. Out in the field there is a culture of casual contempt for people who compulsively check their screen after every shot…”chimping” it’s called, in an attempt to sound cooler and more in control that you really are. Well, inside my studio far away from the scoff of others I don’t mind being Bonzo for each shot – if it means the end shot is as perfect as I can make it.

I am happy to say that actual optical errors seem to be few and far between with modern optics. There is a characteristic distortion with some lenses and we have to accept it – but sometimes a computer program will correct most of the trouble. Unless it is scientific work or photo-production of printed circuits the distortions are likely to be of no consequence.

Errors in the colour of the light are common, but unless you have mixed sources of light on your photo, you have a pathway back from disaster in the RAW file. I am honest enough to admit getting it wrong sometimes and the ability to recover back to a decent white balance is the reason I shoot RAW. If my JPEGs are good, I use them.

The error that puzzles me most of all is one I share with my assistant, Igor – we both have a tendency to tilt the cameras we use to a very slight extent in field shooting. Not a problem for most belly dance shots but a nuisance if we have been taking interiors at a wedding. Of course the results are corrected in the final image, but at the cost of a little air around the subject. Indeed, I have to remind myself to frame loosely when in these situations to allow for the crop. In the studio I can activate the little green artificial horizon and it takes care of most of the problem. In the field I find it a distraction.

Of course the most serious error is taking the picture at the wrong time. In the case of the belly dancing it can be a fraction of a heartbeat before or after the peak of the movement and the shot is nothing. The use of an electronic viewfinder leads to a lag in response that means nearly all the shots are too late. You can train yourself to fire early, or you can use a camera with and optical finder like a Leica or Fujifilm X-Pro1 or 2. Or you can point in the general direction, leave a good deal of air in the framing , and peer over the top of the camera at the dance – this works the best of all in some cases. I am on the lookout for a good old-fashioned wire frame finder for dance shows.

The other time the picture-taking is wrong is when the subject has decided to have a sad, a mad, or a bad and is not doing a darn thing to help out. The technical cure for this is to turn the camera off and the tea kettle on.

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