Notes for Thursday, October 21, 2021

Exposure control in the mirrorless camera era: Perfect the image in camera

I took a walk in the woods yesterday and carried the Leica Q2. It actually was Craig Mod who sold me on the value of a light, autofocus full frame camera with a fixed lens that has the same field of view as my iPhone. That’s right, the iPhone and the Q2 have 28mm (equivalent) lenses. While I’ve always been and probably always will be a 50mm normal lens photographer, the 28mm provides what we now think of as normal view of a scene now that we see so much of the world through the iPhone lens.

One of my adjustments has been to go into image making with the idea that I may crop the image. With my usual 50mm view, I can usually own the frame and almost never crop. But the 28mm view and high resolution of the Q2 makes cropping a different way of seeing and perfecting the image.

Pumpkins were small this year. iPhone capture unedited

Making the images reminded me of how I resolved my struggles with digital capture exposure control. If you search the net you’ll see a confusing range of views including expose to the right, expose to the left, ISO invariant exposure, and dynamic range- blowing out highlights vs noise in the shadows.

Ignore it all. Greg Williams who also uses a Q2 would tell to adjust exposure in camera to properly expose your subject. I was happy to pay for his course which goes into detail on his shooting methodology. It’s worth it to learn about how to take photos of friends and family that capture emotion and personality.

But Greg is happy to share his approach across instagram and multiple interviews across the internet. Here’s a nice one: Martini Collaborates With Greg Williams To Help You Take Better Photos – Cocktails Distilled

Your best camera will always be the one that’s with you! While I of course use professional camera equipment, I also shoot on my smartphone everyday. Get to know the functions you are working with – for example, when taking photos on a sunny day, the auto exposure might overexpose your subject. You can manually control this by using the exposure function and you will immediately see how your friends truly become the subject of the photo . The important thing is that you expose for the subject, which very often means overriding the auto exposure in either direction.

You’ll fine videos and articles showing Greg using an iPhone for celebrity shoots. Or the Q2. Or the Leica SL2 with a 75mm or 90mm. All autofocus and all mirrorless. You see, when you shoot with a rangefinder like my Leica M10 or a DSLR like my old Nikon D850, you’re looking through an optical viewfinder and see the camera’s point of view, but not what the camera sensor is seeing. When you use a mirrorless camera, you view the scene through a screen that’s either on the back of the camera or a little screen where the viewfinder used to be. And because you’re seeing what the sensor input will look like after processing by the camera’s electronics you’re not previsualizing the image (as Ansel Adams put it) you are actually seeing the image. Now most of us will save the image in RAW format which is the sensor data suitable for post processing, the data is optimal for recreating what you saw on the camera screen.

So now it becomes more or less useless to outguess the camera’s electronics and exposure system. I’ll usually shoot in aperture priority mode and let the camera choose shutter speed and ISO. Then as Greg suggests, I use the exposure compensation dial to get the subject right. If its a bright patch of light in the forest, I dial the exposure down until I get the balance I want. If I have the Q2 and I’m in a monochrom mood, I can set the image filter to monochrome and visualize the composition and exposure in black and white. The iPhone camera has a simple on screen control to change exposure.

If you look at Greg’s images, not only are they full of light, but they are shot under the most difficult lighting conditions. I think he gets away with it because he doesn’t care. He points the camera, adjusts exposure for the subject by using the in camera processed image and captures unique impressions of people.

We often like to over complicate our process, but in the world of mirrorless cameras its as simple as seeing, adjusting and capturing.

Steps toward Deciding Better

Now that I have a working method of collecting notes during the day and publishing, I’m thinking about how to store and possibly curate these notes. They get transferred to DEVONthink as markdown. Then what?

It turns out of course that my old friend Tinderbox can split notes by delimiter. So I can move my Journal entries into Tinderbox, divide by headings or horizontal rules then process and summarize! Summaries can be sent back out Drafts as Markdown to publish.

Back in 2003 or so, there were a few us besides Dave Rogers who were exploring how to blog or supplement blogging with Tinderbox. I had forgotten about Jazz and Tinderbox


It’s hard to edit a manuscript when you’ve just scratched the surface of so many subjects. I get distracted by bringing in more examples, more explanatory concepts.

In the chapter I’m editing about uncertainty, I introduce systems theory, chaos and emergence. Along the way, its interesting to think about our current machine learning algorithms are providing insights into complex systems that can’t be solved analytically. Protein folding is an example of a problem domain where our brains run out of power to analyze and analytic methods fail. But modeling works well. For example DeepMind says it will release the structure of every protein known to science

Via Sean Carrol’s podcast, I learn about a rigorous approach to defining emergence using time and prediction, called Granger Causality.
168 | Anil Seth on Emergence, Information, and Consciousness – Sean Carroll

The behavior of the flock seems to be more than the sum of the behavior of the individual birds. In some interesting way that leads us to say, “Oh, it’s a flock and it’s not just birds flying randomly all over the place.” Or, birds flying in some sort of super fighter jet formation where they’re very rigid and there’s no interesting dynamics going on.” So my challenge then was, how do we measure that? Let’s say we have a simulated bird flock. What’s a way of applying a measure so that we get a high number when it looks like a flock and a low number when it looks like the birds are just randomly doing their thing, or flying in a rigid formation? And the approach then that I took was to use a method that I’ve been using in neuroscience for a bit, called Granger Causality. And this is… Speaking of terrible names, this is another terrible [laughter] name ’cause Granger Causality has nothing to do with causality, it’s to do with prediction.

So now I have a whole new idea to play with in trying to explain why our ignorance in the face of complexity makes deciding hard even when systems have strict rules. And how shifting to an ecological mode of thinking allows deciding better as part of the system rather than maintaining some illusion of control.

How Twitter Stole Blogging

I continue to think about this rebirth of blogging idea. We want open systems where we can talk to each other while owning our content without needing to monetize ourselves or feed tech giants. In that period of 2003 or so, we had an established ecology of RSS and ping-backs to create conversations. Discovery was from referrers or via search engines. Then Twitter created its integrated microblogging platform and used retweets, mentions and hashtags to create a unified service that did what we had, only much more conveniently. As Twitter scaled due to the network effects, it swallowed the distributed architecture we had running across websites. Even now, the most prolific, dedicated bloggers have to leverage Twitter to maintain the relevancy of their sites. Most just give up on the external site and blog directly on the Twitter platform.

We need to replicate the Twitter affordances with an open model, restoring RSS discoverability ping-backs and blog specific posts in unified tools for discovery, reading, writing and conversation.

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