What’s Luck Got To Do With It?

As someone who runs for fun (surely an Oxymoron?) I’ve never been bothered about running for a charity or raising funds by – as I used to see it – asking people to pay money while I was just doing what I normally do.

Part of the Marathon route

As the Kielder Marathon gets closer, October 17th, I’ve started to see it differently and realised that it’s a brilliant opportunity to make a difference and actually do something to help a worthy cause. Several friends have asked who I was raising money for; it’s almost a given that nobody would put themselves through the effort without a more significant aim than achieving a personal goal. The marathon takes place around the biggest man-made lake in northern Europe, in the the biggest man-made forest in Europe and will be tough but incredibly beautiful. See the video

The route through the trees

Over the last couple of days, prompted by the remarks of a good friend I’ve decided I wanted to raise money for a worthy cause and after that, the choice of Charity to support was easy. The Calvert Trust at Kielder does a fantastic job in helping children and adults with a range of disabilities to enjoy outdoor adventure with some superb facilities in an area of outstanding beauty. The Trust enables disabled people and their carers to stay for a holiday or short break and take part in a whole host of exciting and challenging activities.

Not only is the Trust local to the Marathon venue but my Dad was also one of the Trustees when it was originally set up over 25 years ago. A wheelchair user after contracting polio at 33, he was in inspiration to many, always looking at all the things he could do without worrying about those he couldn’t. Sadly he died in 1998 but he would have approved of the Kielder Marathon and be proud of the excellent work done at The Calvert Trust.

The Just Giving website makes the whole process of making donations so much easier than I ever remember. Gone are the days of asking people to sponsor you a few pence per mile and then having to chase up the money when the event’s over. It took me a few minutes to set up a page, describe what I was doing and why and I can now send details to everyone I know and that message can be passed on to anyone who may have an interest and who feels it’s a worthy cause to support.

Donations qualify for Gift Aid, the Charity gets publicity, payments are made up front and I’ll be running with a new sense of purpose, knowing that all those who’ve donated will be spurring me on. If you know someone who is disabled, or simply wish to support what The Calvert Trust do, then please either donate or forward this on to someone you know who could be interested. It’s so much easier than rattling the collecting box.

What’s Luck Got To Do With It?

Size does matter!

These days it’s rare for me to produce a print for a client; almost everything I do is sent electronically, either direct to the end user of the image or to a publisher. Downloading or uploading an image from or to  the internet, sending by email as an attachment or transferring via  ftp, raises the subject of size, and believe me, size matters.

In an earlier post, (click here) I explained about resolution but that’s only half the problem. Whatever the resolution, high or low, the size of the image is important for two reasons; how easy it is to transfer or send and how big an image you want to produce from the digital file. The problem was more acute before broadband but as ever higher speeds have become the accepted norm, so to have file sizes as cameras become more sophisticated and images sizes that were once the preserve of the professional camera are now commonplace on consumer models.

My first question to clients now is not “What do you want pictures of?” but “What do you want to do with the pictures?” There is no point in me sending a client digital images with a file size of over 7 megabytes if they want to use them on their website or send them to their clients as email attachments. It’s equally pointless sending them files compressed to a few hundred kilobytes (making them easy to send) if they want to use them for display prints, as the background for an exhibition stand or include them in a quality magazine.

Like most professional photographers and serious amateurs, I shoot all my pictures in RAW format.  While this gives me the greatest possible latitude when it comes to making any adjustments, it also means that the files are huge (typically around 24Mb) and can only be read using specialist software. This software makes it possible to convert images to a more universal format like JPEG once (and if) any adjustments have been made.  It also enables images to be saved in whatever size is required.

A RAW file (think of it as the digital negative) can be used to produce a JPEG measuring 24″ x 16″ at 300 dpi – a file size of 14.7 Mb or a 6″ x 4″ JPEG at 72 dpi – a file size of 128 Kb, no prizes for guessing which would be easiest to send as an email attachment and which would be best for a big print to hang in the reception area.

However, it doesn’t end there. The above examples are based on images being sent or used ‘uncompressed’ i.e. at the best possible quality. It is possible with some basic software (eg Photoshop Elements) to compress an image by saving it at a reduced quality level.  As an example, a high resolution image, measuring 12″ x 8″ and saved at 300 dpi would have a file size of 6.46Mb at maximum quality (12). By compressing the same picture by 25% and saving at 9, the file size is reduced to 1.35Mb with little discernible loss of quality. At 75% compression, or quality level 3, the same image is only 368Kb and while the quality may be lower it would only be noticeable if the image was enlarged.

The way the software compresses an image is the subject of a more technical discussion (not here) but for practical purposes the important thing to consider is what images are going to be used for and how they are going to be delivered. For convenience, I usually give clients four options ranging from thumbnail to the full uncompressed size and they can select what they want when they download their images from the website.

If you plan on taking your own pictures or are considering engaging someone else to take them for you, take a while to think about what you’re going to do with them and remember that size does matter.

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Size does matter!

Pixels make pictures

Many of the basics of photography; good composition correct exposure and understanding light, are the same whether you’re using a digital camera or if your images are recorded onto film. For all the many advantages that digital offers, the process throws up a few complications that confuse and frustrate the uninitiated.

Because images are recorded onto an electronic sensor and each image is made up of millions of pixels, the importance of understanding what’s meant by resolution starts to take on a new level of importance if you plan to use the image in any business or professional context.

Manufacturers will market their cameras with headline grabbing claims of the number of pixels their latest model boasts.  Not many years ago, an 8 mega pixel camera was the preserve of the professional, now some mobile phones come fitted with an 8mg camera. Top end professional cameras feature 20Mg sensors (or more), that’s 20 million pixels, in an area the size of an old style 35mm transparency.  The level of detail these cameras can capture is astonishing and coupled with the best lenses on the market they can produce images of incredible technical quality.  However, the quality of the finished photograph still requires the person with their finger on the shutter release to know what they’re doing.

However; taking the picture is just the beginning, the difficult bit comes when you decide what you’re going to do with it.  The question of image resolution rears its head when considering the use of the picture.  Resolution isn’t simply how sharp an image is, or how bright the colours are.  In digital terms, the resolution of an image determines what it can and can’t be used for.

High res image

Low res image
Image B
Image A

Take these two pictures as an example, they may look identical and in many ways they are.  They both measure 12 in x 8 in and have been produced from the same initial digital image.  The one on the left can be described as high-resolution and the one on the right as low-resolution.  The difference is seen when you enlarge the pictures.

Detail A
Detail A

The high resolution picture is reproduced at 300 dpi (dots per inch) meaning that a single one inch square is made up of 90,000 (300 x 300) dots (or pixels).  Each pixel is a single colour and when seen alongside its’ neighbouring pixels creates subtle changes of shade and smoothes lines into gradual curves.  With so much detail in the image, it’s possible to enlarge the image to poster size or bigger without compromising on quality.  It’s also possible to enlarge a small section of the picture and produce an acceptable image. The downside to this quality is that the digital file is very large – 8.64 million pixels – too large to send as an email attachment or include in a webpage without slowing download speed to a snail’s pace.

Detail B
Detail B

The low resolution picture is reproduced at 72 dpi, thus considerably reducing the overall file size, 5,184 pixels per square inch, or less than 500,000 pixels in total, making it much more suitable for online use. When reproduced at 100% of its size i.e. 12” x 8”, it remains a high quality image.  The downside comes when that image is required as the backdrop to an exhibition stand or is wanted to illustrate a magazine article.  As can be seen from the same detail shot as above, the quality of the image falls apart and the image ‘pixelates’ with jagged lines and the individual pixels becoming clearly apparent.

The print industry, especially glossy magazines, demand high resolution files, a minimum of 300 dpi and sometimes even higher depending on the type of publication the image is being used in. There is an added complication when producing images for print; as the printing industry work with a four colour (CMYK) ink process and  images on the computer are produced using three colour (RGB) light projection, but that’s the subject of another post.

The way a digital image is captured in the first place determines what can be done with it and what resolution it is saved as.  While it is possible to reduce a high resolution image to low resolution, the operation cannot be done in reverse.  If images are only required to illustrate a website or send as an email attachment, then the pictures taken by a compact camera or even a decent mobile phone will be suitable.  Provided there are no plans to reproduce the images any bigger than postcard size, the resolution will not be a problem.

To produce high resolution images whose intended use is in a business or professional context then they need to be captured by a camera capable of shooting RAW files.  Depending on the manufacturer, the designation of the files may vary but the principal remains the same. The digital file uses the full power of the sensor and no compression takes place to reduce the file size to save storage space. RAW files are sometimes referred to as digital negatives.

Any camera capable of shooting RAW files will usually be supplied with the manufacturers own software application to process and convert them into a more common format (such as jpeg) to enable them to be viewed by the different media viewing software packages supplied with almost every computer sold.

The beauty of RAW files is that they give the photographer huge scope for adjustment and manipulation and they can be saved at whatever resolution is required for the finished picture.