It was while working on stories for the Learn & Explore section of the NikonUSA website that I was reminded how far digital photography has enabled us to push our ideas, techniques and results. I thought of the trial-and-error, experimentation and cost that went into working out the guidelines when we worked with film. These days all the creative risk-taking we could want is ours for the taking.
The L&E stories concerned image overlay—impossible with film—and multiple exposure—possible, but tricky. Today, in select Nikon D-SLRs and COOLPIX cameras, both are easy invitations to creativity.
So are picture controls, which I've been using to subtly shape photos to my taste and style. When I began taking pictures I learned that each film had its own characteristics. I used Kodachrome for its vivid reds and yellows; Fujichrome for bright and brilliant greens; Ektachrome for its blue-green sensitivity; and black-and-white for its look of photojournalism. I developed relationships with processing labs, so I could tell them I shot a certain film a certain way and rely on them to get the color and the effect I wanted. Today I have onboard picture controls and, in effect, the camera is the lab. By accessing a menu I can literally change the look of my photos, shot to shot, to react to light and color and bring to the photos the mood I want. I can get a neutral response, with tones and colors in mid-range, and I use that setting for some portraits; I can shoot the scene in Vivid mode to punch up the colors, and I like that setting when I'm shooting on an overcast day or when autumn is my subject.
An added bonus is that even though I can select the preprogrammed responses of these settings, I have the option of customizing them to my taste. If a vivid response looks too vivid, I can take down the saturation until it's exactly where I want it to be—and then that custom setting can become my definition of vivid for as long as I want it to be. I can do the same with contrast and hue. In all my cameras, my vivid setting is one or two steps down from the program.
Try this: with your camera on a tripod, take the same scene with the settings at standard, neutral and vivid. Then go into those settings and customize them. Feel free to make several variations; you can store up to nine custom settings.
Another creative, custom choice that digital puts at our fingertips is white balance. Simply set a white balance control and you can photograph in daylight or by incandescent or fluorescent light. Or set auto white balance and let the camera decide. What I really like to do is adjust individual color temperature settings. I set my camera for Live View, look at the scene I'm photographing, then, using the color temperature section of my white balance control, I alter the color temperatures. I don't pay attention to the number—it might be 3200 degrees Kelvin or 5700, it doesn't matter. What I'm looking at is the change that takes place in the image as I make the adjustments. When the scene is esthetically pleasing to me, that's my setting. (If your camera doesn't offer Live View, make the setting, take the shot, view the results and adjust if necessary.)
Amazing possibilities are becoming commonplace as digital photography takes us way beyond just getting the right exposure and into a world of personal creative choices where images can be custom made.