Even with Digital Capture, Testing is Important

by | Jun 10, 2021

Today’s Post by Joe Farace

Back when I was only shooting with film, I would never have gone into an assignment or make an important image before testing the concept and the gear that would be used for the shot. For medium and large format shoots, I used expensive Polaroid film to make tests before clicking the shutter with real film or shoot test rolls of 35mm film before trying any new technique or new gear.

Along comes digital capture with its instant feedback though LCD screens and everybody thinks that testing isn’t required anymore; the idea being that you could just test as you went along. This has created a secondary phenomenon where some shooters thought they no longer needed any back ups. After all any problems would be immediately visible but some of us never thought about what would they do if there was a problem. And believe me gear failures occur, even with new equipment.

And not just functionality—the camera and lens may work perfectly. But not all LCD screens are accurate as far as color, contrast and brightness, especially not as accurate as the color correct monitor on your desk that you use to process images in Photoshop or Lightroom. Surprises constantly lurk, so you need to test if you want to get correct color SOOC.

How I made this shot: I photographed this classic Ford while vising the (now sadly closed) J&R Auto Museum in Rio Ranch, NM. The camera used was a Canon EOS 50D with Tamron 18-270mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC PZD lens at 18mm. Exposure was 1/20 sec at f/3.5 and ISO 800.

Let me tell you a story: Prior to making an out-of-state trip, I tested a new wide-angle zoom lens at a car show but discovered in actual shooting that the widest setting was so wide—how wide was it?—that it was impossible to shoot any of the cars without getting too much extraneous detail, including people walking into the shot. The camera’s LCD also showed there was some slight vignetting even with the lens hood off but when I looked at images on my monitor the vignetting was much worse than I thought. This lens was not going to make the trip with but I found out now, not when I was on the road.

Testing also helps you plan ahead for the inevitable moments of stupidity or what I call “stupid photographer’s tricks.” When photographing a car show in Golden, CO I brought along a pinhole camera that shot a wide aspect ratio for fun. I was happily shooting away up until Mary and I took a lunch break and where I accidentally knocked the camera onto the floor. The camera’s back popped off! And yes it was loaded with film. It landed on the back side, so I slapped the back on and went into the Men’s room and turned off the lights to securely fasten the back. What this unplanned test showed me was more than exposure or the angle of coverage but that I also needed to bring some gaffers tape to keep the back securely closed. I did lose one and a half of the wide panoramic frames but at least I had some images.

There’s an old expression: Experienced carpenters recommend that you should measure twice and cut once. I think that we photographers should test twice and shoot once.  And remember, while there are no perfect photographs, that shouldn’t stop us from trying.

PS. It’s more than a good idea to bring a few extra memory cards too. Here’s one of my sad stories about that…

If you enjoyed today’s blog post and would like to treat me to a cup of Earl Grey tea ($2.75, Starbucks has raised the price of Earl Grey), please click here. And if you do, thanks so much.

Along with photographer Barry Staver, Joe is co-author of Better Available Light Digital Photography that’s out-of-print but new copies are available for $21.49 or used copies for giveaway prices—less than six bucks—from Amazon, as I write this. The Kindle version, for some reason, is expensive.