The reasons I photograph are very straightforward, whether I use a film or digital camera, an SLR or a compact.
I wrote about this in more depth recently, but the short version is – to roam the English countryside, to feel the immersion of the moment and the whole world being in the viewfinder, to capture things I find beautiful, and to enjoy using vintage camera gear.
I’ve realised how easy it is to complicate these simple aims, most usually by obsessing over which kit to use, how to set it up and use it, then how to process the images afterwards.
So over time I’ve found (and I’m continuing to find) how to keep this to a minimum, and so maximise the raw pleasures of hunting, camera in hand.
With digital, I’ve found this harder than with film.
Although the cameras themselves are generally less appealing (I’m far less easily seduced by clever technology in a plastic shell than genuine mechanical craftsmanship and elegant, timeless design), the options are more abundant.
With film, once you’ve chosen a camera, you then just have the choice of lens and film, essentially.
Shooting digital, once you have your camera, you still have the lens choice, but it’s usually a wider one, as adapters available for digital cameras open a whole world of vintage lenses, as well as the native, modern, AutoFocus lenses.
For example, my Pentax K10D DSLR can use any Pentax K mount lens (which began in 1975 and are still being made), plus with a simple adapter I have the pick of the vast vintage M42 world.
There’s no film to choose of course with digital, but instead a plethora of customisable settings, arranged in a myriad of menus.
Then, once you have your negative (with film this is the physical negative, with digital the RAW file) you then have further options to extract your final “product”, the photograph. Or, many photographs – of course any number of variations can be created from that negative.
Again, too many options!
I generally feel in my life I spend too much time at a computer and not enough out in the fresh air.
So the thought of having to spend further time at a computer editing (ie choosing my favourite shots) and processing once the photowalk is over can be daunting and demoralising.
So, with all these choice to combat, and options to overcome, here are the main ways I try to keep this whole process as simple as possible, so ultimately as much of my photography time as possible is spent exploring the countryside and immersed in the beauty of the world according to my viewfinder.
1. Simplify lens choices.
After a few years of experimenting with dozens of lenses, I came back to what I realised very early on. You can’t go wrong with an Asahi Takumar or two.
Once I’d narrowed down to M42 as my predominant mount, the Takumars were the obvious choice. I do have a few others, some Zeiss, a few Russians, but mostly now it’s Asahi’s finest I own and use.
If I’m in doubt as to which Takumar lens to use, I just default to the one that started it all for me, the humble yet wonderful 55mm f/1.8.
2. Simplify settings.
On the digital front I’ve honed down to two main cameras. The Pentax K10D, and its smaller (but older) sibling, the Samsung GX-1S, a clone of the Pentax *ist DS2.
The K10D is bigger, sturdier, has more functions, is 10MP rather than 6MP and feels near perfect in my hands. The GX-1S is smaller, lighter, simpler and still handles great. In reality they’re 95% the same in function, once initially set up, so it’s easy switching between them.
I could just shoot the JPEG mode on the camera, then simply upload them to my computer so no further processing is required.
But the problem is there is no “neutral” JPEG. Even with all settings at neutral, natural or zero, the cameras still process and compress the image.
I’ve had excellent results (for my tastes and needs) by shooting RAW with both cameras at their native ISO (100 for the Pentax, 200 for the Samsung), then simply importing into LightRoom, and exporting those I want to share or print as JPEGs that way. I’m very happy with the outcome, so I’m sticking with this approach.
3. Simplify adjustments.
Once each camera was first set up I can shoot with hardly any adjustment. When I got them, I chose Auto White Balance, centre weighted metering, single shot, the base ISO, RAW, and so on.
Then, the only adjustments I need to make when shooting are slight tweaks to the exposures. I do this with the exposure compensation button, and the exposure lock button.
Typically on these cameras, M42 Takumars seem to need slightly over exposure wide open (I start with +0.5) then 0 compensation a stop or two down, then -0.5 or -1.0 once you’re three or four stops down.
Arguably my Sony NEX is simpler on this front where virtually every exposure is spot on, but it lacks a number of other things the Pentax and Samsung DSLRs have, so overall seems more complex and more work.
I have the “blinkies” switched on which show over and under exposed areas on the screen when you’ve taken the shot, and a histogram on the review mode so again I can see at a glance how the exposure is, if I can’t tell purely from looking at the photo on the screen.
4. Simplify editing.
By editing I mean choosing the pictures I want to keep and which I want to discard. I find it much easier with digital (than film) to be very brutal with editing.
The first step is to import all the RAW images into LightRoom. Then I cycle through, and simply export (as full size JPEG with no tweaks etc) the ones I like most. I then usually delete all the RAW files. Then I cycle again through the JPEGs I’ve kept and cull further, so I’m left with just the best of the best.
On a great day this might be 15 or 20 images from 100, sometimes it might only be a handful. Sometimes none! I usually make a 50% size version to share online, as well as keeping the original full size file.
5. Simplify processing.
Processing for me is so simple it’s virtually non-existent. A while back I used to shoot with my Sony NEX then go through the editing process above to keep the best images.
Then I’d import these back into LightRoom and use a favourite one or two film presets to try and get the photos looking more like I wanted. Plus I might also slightly tweak the contrast and exposure settings. Processing for a single image might take between two and ten minutes.
With a good batch where I might have 10-20 keepers, this equated to 20-200 minutes of processing time. Interesting results, but not fun.
Once I’d discovered the Pentax and Samsung and the beautiful rendering of their CCD sensors – particularly with Takumar lenses – I eliminated the whole world of presets, and just do that simple export to JPEG.
Hopefully it does. But maybe to you this might all still sound a bit complex, I don’t know.
But for me, after years of searching for a way to use beautiful vintage lenses to create photographs I’m really happy with, with the minimum of fuss and fiddling, I’m delighted with this current approach.
How do you simplify your own photography process?
Please let us know in the comments below.
Thanks for reading. Please share this post with others you feel will enjoy it too.
28 thoughts on “How I Keep Photography Simple (Digital Edition)”
Thanks for your insights!
Keep it simple is what the camera manufacturers…. and most photographers forget!
Thanks for your thoughts Frank.
I think what’s helped me (on the digital front) is sidestepping very up-to-date cameras and therefore avoiding getting sucked into the infinite upgrade cycle.
The two cameras I mentioned – Pentax K10D and Samsung GX-1S – are both from around 2006 and have very modest sensor specs by today’s standards. But crucially for me they both produce lovely images!
Also, what I think they both have in common is the ability to be as simple or as complex as you like. As I explained, once I set them up initially, I now just shoot at native ISO, Av mode, and the only controls I change are focus and aperture (both on the lens) and occasional tweaking of exposure via the exposure comp or exposure lock buttons.
Not coincidentally, it’s very similar a process to using a film camera with the same lenses – the film speed is fixed, I use AV, then adjust focus and aperture and occasionally tweak the exposure via exposure comp or exposure lock.
I could go even simpler, get an AF lens, and set everything to green/auto and JPEGs and use it as a point and shoot. But I like some control! This set up for me currently provides enough control, yet retains a very simple and straightforward approach so I can focus on enjoying the experience overall, and of course those lovely vintage lenses.
Yes, those ‘old’ digital cameras sometimes have great quality sensors, evne for today. When I look at my digital period with the Canon EOS 300D, the first affordable digital plastic fantastic DSLR I see great stuff out of it. Just as the next one I had, the EOS 400D.
The 300D’s 6Mp are really plenty! Even for big prints. Instead of visible grain you get the digital noise but it was quite pleasing.
The modern ‘no-noise-till-at-least-12000-ISO’ mantra is totally over the top.
Totally agree Frank. I’m planning to make some prints from the photos I’ve taken with the two cameras I mentioned, nothing huge, maybe 30x20cm or 60x40cm max. I’m fully expecting, like you’ve found, to get more than reasonable images.
I like the challenge of sticking to ISO100 or 200 too, and I’m used to the related range of aperture/shutter speed combinations from shooting film.
For my kind of daylight shooting of mostly static subjects, I don’t really get why you need ISO800 even, let alone 12000+.
Another factor I didn’t mention is that the resultant files from 6MP and 10MP cameras are of course significantly smaller, quicker to upload and export, and take less storage.
I like shooting film by night up to 3200 ISO. So I can understand the need for higher ISO, but 3200 is the max, even for digital. Normally 400 is my go-to ISO film.
Treating digital like film is really the ticket. set a fixed ISO and stick ti it. Don’t bother with Auto ISO and all that stuff.
But the camera needs REAL dials for shutter speed and aperture.
Yes I understand the need at night or in very low light. Plus of course I get that some people like the more grainy look of higher ISO film.
Yes for me it’s so much easier to just leave the ISO at the native setting (with digital) and forget about it even being a setting.
In terms of real dials, I avoid this by almost always shooting Av, so the only thing I adjust is the (REAL!) aperture ring of the vintage lens I’m using, and then have no need for a shutter dial of any kind. : )
Dan I enjoy your articles very much. But simple? I can’t tell you the last time I gave a thought as to what f stop my camera landed on (analog or digital) or what the ISO and shutter speed was. I completely understand photography enough to know what’s going on and how to control the final image in the camera and not to worry about how I’ll manipulate it on the computer. Please don’t take this as a nasty critique just to be mean, but maybe simple may be just be not stressing about the whats and enjoy what you can see in your viewfinder. If the shot doesn’t work hit the delete button. Your images are always excellent but the ones you show here are almost all the same – close ups with blurred backgrounds with either a hex shaped highlight or a round highlight. I know that I get in a rut shooting my vintage cameras under my studio lights with little thought to anything but lighting the camera properly and when I shoot outside, I choose to do so under sunny blue skies – but it’s Florida and bright colors are important to me. You once told me that when you shoot with a zoom lens that you only shoot at one focal length – changing your position vice zooming to get the best shot. I get that but that’s not simple. Using a zoom as a zoom is simple. Maybe another approach to what is truly simple is needed. Regards, Chris
Hi Chris, many thanks for your thoughts!
I completely agree about wanting to control the image in camera and not have to manipulate the results on a computer afterwards, This is what I’ve tried to do with film, and now I’m getting to the point with digital where I can do the same. That was partly the point of this post, to show how you can set up a camera then spend virtually no time tweaking settings when you’re out in the field or when you’re back home viewing the images on computer. So you can just enjoy what’s in the VF and not worry about a dozen settings, shooting with “the minimum of fuss and fiddling” as I said in the post. It doesn’t seem I got that point across very well!
I’m curious about your approach – how do you control depth of field, or motion blur, if you don’t know which aperture or shutter speed you’re using? Or do you just let the camera make the decision (program mode(s)?) and see how the image looks?
Regarding the types of photographs, yes the ones above are all very recent, probably all within the last month, so they’re very reflective of what I’m enjoying seeing around me right now.
I am dictated by the weather and seasons, so currently as it’s summer and the places I’ve been visiting have plenty of flowers in bloom and green foliage, that’s what’s being captured in the photographs. And I love seeing them and capturing them up close rather than a wider more landscape like viewpoint.
When the autumn returns, no doubt the flowers and green leaves will be replaced by reds and oranges and decaying bark and so on. And I’ll likely return to the churchyards more often!
I’m a very nature influenced photographer, and arguably the main point of photography for me is to get out in nature. I’d need to do this anyway, regardless of whether I have a camera with me or not. I can’t remember the last time I went on a more urban photowalk! So this of course influences the subject matter of the photographs.
As I said to Frank above, maybe ultimate simplicity would be a DSLR with one AF zoom lens and setting everything to green/auto mode(s). Then concentrating purely on subject and composition. But I do like some control over how the images come out (again like you said about wanting to get the photographs right “in camera”, not via computer manipulation afterwards). And despite getting some decent results with zooms, I still don’t really get on with them, and I think I only have one now amongst a total of maybe 20 lenses. I just like the fixed focal length of a prime and getting to now how the world looks with that perspective – a zoom just introduces another variable to think about.
I guess the simple answer to how I control my images is knowing what a certain focal length lens is capable of given the ISO of the film I’m using and the lighting conditions I’m faced with. If the camera (in some type of program mode) selects a shutter speed that I’m not capable of holding steady, then I give the film more light. If I need a larger depth of field then I adjust again. I guess what I’m trying to say is that my goal is to get the shot and adjust as necessary with a follow-up shot (if needed). I’ve shot manual SLRs since 1971 so I understand the relationships between lighting, film speed, shutter speed and aperture.
I apologize for commenting negatively about the type of images you shoot. That wasn’t fair. It makes sense to photograph flowers in the summer and colorful leaves in the fall and your blog post will reflect that. You are not an urban photographer but a darn fine nature photographer and your blog reflects your talent. You are also a tech guy so the numbers will interest you.
I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t have zoom lenses at my disposal. They take the majority of my travel shots with my 24mm wide angle filling in for the rest. I would say that my 55 or 50mm lenses stayed home or only came along for macro work. It’s simple, you don’t enjoy zooms and I do – just like some photographers shoot only B&W and others love only color.
Chris, I’m far more familiar with some focal lengths (50/55 and 135mm) than others, and so like you I have a good idea what the image will look like. I also usually start with a default aperture of f/4 or f/5.6, then, if I need, to increase or decrease. Because a lot of the time I’m shooting pretty close (I would estimate at least half the time the lens I’m using is at min focus!) then depth of field has more variation than if I was shooting landscapes or even subjects 10m away say, where the difference between f/4 and f/8 might not even been noticeable. That’s why I asked about how do you control DOF if you don’t even look at what aperture the camera/lens is at. For my style of shooting the aperture, and therefore the DOF, has a big impact on the final image.
I do look forward to getting to know some focal lengths a lot better, as they are very new to me, and it feels very experimental at the moment. For example I have Takumars in 105, 120, 135 and 150mm. The 105/2.8 is particularly amazing and a definite keeper. I also very much like the 135/3.5 (preset, like the 105/2.8) too. I don’t feel I need all four, but in time it might be that the 105 and 135 best suit my likes, or maybe the 105 and 120. I need to experiment far more with the 120, 135 and 150mm to see the differences in the final image (and how close I need to stand) then see which I’m most comfortable with and like most.
Now of course I could use just my Pentax-M Zoom which covers all of those focal lengths, and just zoom to whatever focal length fits the scene at the time. It would save lens swapping, and a lot of money! But as you know I don’t really like this, I want to know what a 120mm lens will do in that scenario, what advantage or difference a 150mm lens would make, and so on. Like you said, I’m something of a “tech guy” in that a part of my background is a love of numbers and stats (I have a degree in maths!) and this is something I enjoy, rather than just blindly (as in blind to what focal length I’m at) zooming in and out until the scene fits the VF rectangle.
I know that I could buy an AF 35-135 zoom, stick the K10D on green auto mode and learn to get some great images. But whilst I like simplicity, I also like to think and choose a bit more than that, it’s all part of the adventure and the learning, for me. And I guess the simplicity of approach I outlined in the post above then gives me a base point for experimenting with different lenses of different focal lengths. If all else is constant (ISO, camera settings, processing workflow etc) then I know that the only variable is the lens, and I can get to know the lenses better like this. Again I suppose I’m reverting to the scientific side of myself that likes to experiment, but in a controlled where I can gain meaningful results that help me improve and evolve.
I’m still pretty new in all of this, the first time I used an SLR was only five years ago. Whilst I’ve taken a lot of photographs since, I’m obviously still very much a newbie in my photography experience. Maybe five or 10 or 15 years down the line I will just use one camera and one zoom lens and it will be the ideal for me.
Thanks for your comments about my nature photography, yes it is what I love most.
Chris, I appreciate your input and conversation, it’s helping me understand and learn more about what I like and what I don’t!
Great stuff Dan. You’ve got a good handle on what you like and what you don’t. A slow and steady approach to photography worked for Ansel Adams… I don’t think he used zoom lenses either. Wait till you discover medium format photography (if you haven’t already). 6×6 is fun and challenging to compose in squares but if you give 6×9 a try you’ll be hooked!
Medium format is a whole other pandora’s box I don’t want to open!
Funnily enough my first film camera was medium format – a Holga 120N! And I did shoot a fair few rolls with it before 35mm took over.
I have looked at some of the Pentax medium format bodies and lenses in the past. Those 6×7 Takumars for example look gorgeous.
But I don’t really have the funds for it, another reason why this digital approach is so appealing.
This article is very helpful to me. I keep thinking about buying a used DSLR and an adapter or two for my favorite old lenses. I dearly love shooting my film cameras but there are times I just want faster results. At present I get out my Canon S95, a lovely little camera. But obviously I can’t shoot any of my lenses on it. I’d love to shoot my Pentax 55/1.8, or the 35/3.5 I just got, and stick an SD card in my computer and be uploading to Flickr in minutes.
So Pentax K10D. got it. Any other body recommendations?
Thanks Jim, so pleased to hear it’s been helpful. I realised a while back that if I could get a similar look and experience with digital as I did with film, I’d be all in. The K10D and GX-1S with Takumars especially are the final piece I’d been waiting for.
Are you looking to use K mount lenses? M42? Both?
If just M42, the options are vast, virtually any interchangeable lens digital camera out there has an M42 adapter available. Canon EOS for example, huge range.
But if you’re sticking with Pentax (which I would recommend based on how well it’s worked for me) and like the look of the images I’ve got, then the K10D is probably the standout. You can get them for under £100/$100 usually. In its day it was Pentax’s flagship camera, and the build and feel is excellent. It has plenty of options, but, as I said above, the beauty is it can also be a very straightforward aperture priority body with M42 lenses that’ll churn out great pictures all day long.
The K10D was one of the last bodies with a CCD sensor, 10MP in this case. My Samsung GX-1S has the predecessor sensor, the 6MP CCD. Later sensors are CMOS, which by all accounts have a different kind of character. From reading around PentaxForums, those early CCD sensors were designed to emulate film far more, as in the fairly early days of DSLRs (the K10D was released in 2006) Pentax and others were obviously trying to win their previous film SLR users over to digital, so it made sense to make the pictures look similar, as well as offering the compatibility with PK and M42 lenses people already had.
The K10D also has a very respectable VF for a digital body, in my view, and it’s 95% 0.95x. I also got an aftermarket diagonal microprism split screen for mine, which cost about £15, and the official Pentax magnifying eyecup, about £20. Both really enhance the already very decent VF when using manual focus lenses, and further make the camera feel like an old MF film body.
The only downside I’ve found really with the K10D is, as great as it feels in the hands, it is quite chunky and heavy after an hour or more using it. The Samsung (which is a PEntax *ist DS2 clone I believe) is significantly smaller and lighter and loses very little in the way of features. Plus it has the same VF – I literally switched the split screen and eyecup from my K10D straight into the Samsung when I got it.
There’s a difference between the sensors – 10MP vs 6MP – but they’re both Sony made, and both in my view deliver lovely natural colours. With M42 lenses, especially Takumars you get a very pleasing look, colours that are vivid, natural and subtle all at the same time. With an A series K mount lens (I have a 50/1.4 and 35-50/4 zoom) the colours are still good but tend to be more vivid and poppy. Good to have that choice.
So the only real difference in the sensors is the “actual size” of the image you get. If you’re not doing big prints, like Frank was saying above with his 6MP Canon EOS, they’re perfectly adequate.
I paid a shade over £50 for my Samsung (which I started seeking out only because the *ist DS and DS2 seem so rare over here) which I think is tremendous value. It only had 1600 shutter actuations when I got it to, so should have years of life left!
Anyway, let me know if you need any more specific tips.
It’s well worth checking out the K10D Club on Pentax Forums – https://www.pentaxforums.com/forums/6-pentax-dslr-discussion/242738-k10d-club.html – which is still pretty active (I know because I frequent quite often myself!) and the Six MegaPixel Club which shows what the 6MP CCD can do – https://www.pentaxforums.com/forums/6-pentax-dslr-discussion/347661-six-megapixel-club.html
The only thing I’d be careful of with other Pentax models with the same CCD sensors is the VF – I know quite a few have a smaller, pentamirror (as opposed to pentaprism) VF which is obviously not as bright or large or as easy to focus with as the 95% 0.95x VF in the K10D, GX-1S and some (but not all!) of the *ist D range.
Happy hunting Jim!
PS/ Samsung also did a rebadged version of the K10D called the GX-10. They are near identical, just different firmware I think. These might be more readily available and/or cheaper and aside from the badge feel like a Pentax.
Can I just say I love your experimental spirit.
I’m with you: if I can get a film-like experience with my vintage lenses on a digicam, I’m in. While I enjoy my Nikon lenses, I think at my core I’m a Pentaxian, both M42 and K mount. I just got my “forever” M42 body, a Spotmatic F, and I am deeply enjoying it. Anyway, I’m willing to invest in Pentax glass, both mounts.
So the K10D feels like a solid choice for me. 10 MP is more than enough for my purposes. I see on eBay that they go for $100-200. If I’m patient, I can scoop one up at the low end of that range. And I don’t mind its low-ISO bias at all. 90% of what I shoot is in good daylight anyway. If I need something more than that, my trusty Canon S95 serves.
Yeh you can say that Jim, and thanks! I do continue to experiment, but like I said to Chris, something like an amateur scientist I like to keep some variables fixed and only adjust one thing at a time. With the Pentax DSLR(s) the only thing I’m really adjusting now is the lenses, and even then there’s some consistency in that they’re nearly all M42 and most of them are Takumars.
Exactly like you say, I’ve slowly and steadily found a very similar experience and final image with digital as I originally found and loved with film a few years back.
The Spotmatic F is for me the definitive M42 camera, and arguably the definitive film camera. Though obviously the K10D is digital and came 35 years later, it absolutely has Pentax DNA and feels, in its own way, just as fantastic to use with a Takumar on the front…
You might want to check out the “family portrait” I just uploaded to my Flickr – Pentax Generations
[…] How I Keep Photography Simple (Digital Edition) […]
An interesting piece, I am interested at you no picture editing approach; do you not feel that you are missing an opportunity to get the most out of your images? Often I find, the default settings are too generic and don’t often suit the subject matter. The post production in my opinion is half the art; capturing the frame (the negative) is the first part and turning that negative into a compelling image is secondary stage, no? I’m not talking about heavy manipulation of the image but the ‘standard’ adjustments equivalent to what you might do in a darkroom with an enlarger. After all, Ansel Adams said the negative is just the score and the printing is the performance.
SilverFox, thanks for your comments.
I’m a big fan of Ansel Adams, and am familiar with his famous quote about the score and the performance. But in truth any photography experience (and indeed interest) I have stops almost after I’ve clicked the shutter.
For me it’s about the whole experience of explore and finding beautiful things to photograph, and using vintage lenses (and sometimes cameras). I’ve shot rolls of film before and realised after getting to frame 38, 39, that the film wasn’t loaded properly and hasn’t moved. But it’s not detracted from that experience of exploring, composing, focusing and clicking the shutter – that remains the same whether you have a physical image to show for it at the end, or just the one in your mind.
I have zero darkroom experience, and no interest in spending any more time than I do in processing (which as you read above, is next to nothing anyway). I spend too much time on computers as it is, I don’t want to extend that.
Also I don’t enjoy editing/processing images because there is no end point. An expert can keep tweaking until any photo looks stunning, however far it might be from the original capture. I just prefer to find the camera and lens(es) set up that works well enough for me to get images I’m happy with on a pretty consistent basis. If I don’t like them, I don’t keep them or share them.
It is a whole other art, I appreciate that, it’s just not one I just can muster any interest in at this point in my life.
Thanks for prompting me to reaffirm this!
I can appreciate your point of view and I can see that it points to a simple and enjoyable pastime of capturing what you see. I guess technically you are mimicking an instant film or even slide film process where once the shutter is closed everything in done. Thanks for following up.
Yeh I guess it’s like with car enthusiasts – some love driving them, others love tinkering and tuning, others just enjoy going to shows looking at them. Some do all three! Photography is a hobby that many people can get many different things from, we just need to find the balance of what works best for each of us. Which is kind of the entire ongoing quest of my blog – hunting for beautiful things to photograph, plus hunting for the best balance of time and kit and process that gives me most pleasure.
I like your approach. For me I have a slightly different goal though there is some overlap 🙂
[…] How I Keep Photography Simple (Digital Edition) […]
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[…] and would rather get it right with one shot in camera than be sifting through dozens afterwards. (My post processing with digital is very simple and virtually […]
[…] It’s sharp is enough for my needs, and the colours are similar to my other A series – natural yet quite vibrant (more so than my Takumars), and the combination with the CCD sensors of my Pentax DLSRs gives results I really like with minimal post processing. […]
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