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Back when everybody was shooting film, testing was an important part of improving your photography and most people wouldn’t shoot an assignment or important images before testing the concept or gear beforehand. Medium and large format studio shooters used (expensive) Polaroid film to test shots before clicking the shutter with real film, but the rest of us would shoot test rolls before trying new technique or new pieces of equipment.
Along comes digital capture with instant feedback though LCD screens on camera backs. Now everybody thought that testing was no longer required. You could just test as you went along. This created a secondary phenomenon in which some shooters thought they no longer needed a back up. Any problems would be immediately visible but some people didn’t have a fall back if there was a problem. Believe me problems happen, even with new gear.
The big issue is that not all LCD preview screens are accurate as far as color and contrast. This is especially true when compared to the same quality as the color correct monitor sitting on your desk. Surprises lurk, so you need to test. This past weekend, I did some testing at a car show in advance of going to New Mexico the following week. One of the things I was testing was a new extreme wide-angle lens that I though I would just love but in actual shooting was so wide (how wide was it!) that it was impossible to shoot any of the cars without getting lots of extraneous detail, including people walking into the shot. The camera LCD screen showed there was slight vignetting even with the built-in lens hood but when I looked at in on my monitor it was much worse than I thought. This lens was not going to New Mexico but I found out now, not when I was in the land of Enchantment.
Testing also helps you plan ahead for the inevitable moments of stupidity. In addition to the SLR and wide-angle lens, I brought along a pinhole camera that shot a wide aspect ratio. I was happily shooting away right up until lunchtime, when we took a break and I knocked the camera onto the floor. (Ill admit it, Im a klutz.) The cameras back popped off! And yes it was loaded with film. As luck would have it landed with the back side down, so I slipped the back on and went into the Mens room and turned off the lights to more securely fasten the back. What this unplanned test showed me was more than the exposure and the angle of coverage I could expect but that I needed to bring some gaffers tape to keep the back securely closed.
Good carpenters say that you should measure twice and cut once. I think that we should test twice and shoot once. And remember, there are no perfect photographs – but that shouldn’t stop us from trying.
Joe Farace is the author of Studio Lighting Anywhere the second book in a trilogy from Amherst Media. Its available on Amazon.com.