Last week I got carried away and bought my youngest brother a Pentax for his birthday. A profligate gift*, but he assures me it'll count for birthdays and Christmas for several years. I bought him a Pentax K-01. It hasn't been popular, so the price has plunged to as little as $316.95 at some places. [UPDATE Tuesday: B&H Photo now has the best current bargain on the K-01. —Ed.] At the same time, several people I've talked to who use them really like them. I just thought he might like the offbeat style, and the high image quality. He's very happy with it so far. I got him the black one with the 40mm pancake lens. (That one should be called a crêpe lens.)
Also last week, I found myself sinking slowly into a muck of agony about black-and-white conversions. Comparing Raw converters. Reading about this and that conversion technique. Does this look better, or this? Playing with tones, trying to get things just right.
But of course there is no longer a helpfully limited number of controls. There's an effective infinitude. Crazy-making.
It took me a few days to find the key: just do it. My new strategy is to take a few dozen pictures every day and convert two or three of them. Get them looking okay, then move on.
The hope is that I'll get better with practice. Maybe "hope" is too wishy-washy a word: I know I'm going to get better with practice. Because that's just what happens naturally.
My brother called me after he took his first JPEG. He's new to digital photography and I think he was feeling a little overwhelmed by all the options and the newness and unfamiliarity of all the procedures. I gave him the same advice—just take pictures, correct them as best you can, move on. The more often you take a few pictures, the better. I told him to pick up the camera every day, or as often as he can.
Of course, you do have to try to get better as you go. Mindful, not mindless. But I think a lot of things in photography are susceptible to this strategy—keep doing it, keep up the do-think-do-think-do servo mechanism, and you gradually get better at it. You might only make barely perceptible progress from one go to the next, but barely perceptible progress over a long period of time = major progress.
That's my kernel of wisdom for today.
Mike*Thought process: first I was going to give him one of the old cameras I have hanging around here. Then I thought, wait a minute, he's going to have to invest a lot of time and effort into learning how to operate the camera and work on the pictures—why make him do that with an old, out of date camera that he might not be happy with for very long? A new camera makes much more sense because really, his time is worth a lot more than the cost of the camera. That's my story and I'm stickin' to it.
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Doug: "My favorite B&W tool is still LightZone. Unfortunately, it's not available to new users at the moment. But for those who already have a license, continuing support—including updates to handle Raw files from recent camera models—is available from the volunteer LightZombie Project. I'm one of the founders of the LightZombie Project, so this is sort-of a plug. But we're not selling anything, and we don't have ads on the site. It's purely a volunteer project, done out of love for the LightZone software and a desire to help fellow LZ users."