Earthbound Light - Nature Photography from the Pacific Northwest and beyond by Bob Johnson
Online Ordering
Recent Updates

Photo Tip of the Week

It's All a Matter of Tradeoffs

Shooting outdoors can present any number of problems to be solved and choices to be made. And not all these choices have clear cut right and wrong options. When it comes right down to it, it's often all a matter of tradeoffs.

To make sure we're all on the same page with the topic at hand, let's start with a commonly sited situation. You point your camera at something that seems interesting. In order to dial in a workable exposure, you find that you need to set a slower shutter speed or open up the aperture. Either option will result in the needed increase in light reaching the sensor once the shutter opens, but both also have other consequences too. A slower shutter speed will provide more opportunity for something to move during the exposure, blurring the results. Even a slight breeze can create serious difficulties. Choosing a wider aperture would be another way to let in more light without the need to keep the shutter open longer, but will result in a shallower depth of field, potentially blurring things again, but in a different way. Which option you go with is up to you. It's all a matter of tradeoffs. You get the idea.

Now let's turn this problem on its heads and look at it from another point of view. Suppose you want to achieve a greater depth of field to make sure everything that should be comes out acceptably sharp. You stop down the lens and check the results with the depth of field preview button, or simply fire off a test shot and examine the results. Then to compensate for the smaller aperture, you lengthen the exposure time, and you're back contending with the increased possibility of motion blur from the slightest breeze. No matter how you approach the question of exposure, tradeoffs abound. Maybe the breezes will be kind to you, and it will remain calm long enough to get the shot. Maye not. You can tell I've run up against a breeze before, can't you? Not everything is predictable.

Think you can get around all this by shifting the ISO instead? Maybe yes, maybe no. Newer camera sensors allow for greater latitude in usable ISO, but there are limits. Raise the ISO too much, and you'll end up with noise instead of blur. See, tradeoffs are everywhere.

And this preponderance of tradeoffs isn't limited to exposure and related matters either. Ever try to buy a lightweight but durable, fast and sharp but inexpensive, zoom lens? Choose perhaps two of the above qualities, maybe. You're not going to get what you want in all these areas for certain. A lens such as that simply doesn't exist, because it simply can't exist. Too many tradeoffs. And no one resolution to this dilemma is likely to be the best for everyone. If you need to hike long distances, you'll be more likely to prefer lighter weight. Unless you decide that your whole point in hiking there at all was to get the shot and wager you can put up a bit of shoulder pain in order to arrive at your destination with a better, but heavier lens. See? How you solve a given tradeoff is up to you. And the best you can do is to choose so the odds are in your favor. Maybe all you really need is a single prime? But maybe not.

Would you like to have a strong, lightweight but inexpensive tripod? So would I. But the laws of physics preclude the existence of such a thing. If it's lightweight, it will no doubt be somewhat flexible. Carbon fiber tripod legs are wonderful on a cold morning to prevent your hands from stinging so much when you touch them. But the material first gained its notoriety by being structurally more rigid than aluminum, resulting in the possibility of lighter weight tripods that don't sacrifice stability. But carbon fiber is more expensive than aluminum. And while it is lighter weight, it's only modestly so. The only way to truly go lightweight means seriously risking stability. Flimsy tripods can work if you're lucky I suppose, but not reliably so. And if you opt to go too inexpensive, it will be nearly impossible to keep things sufficiently stable.

Do you prefer prime lenses or zooms? The difference in image quality between the two these days is negligible with some zooms even outperforming their closest fixed focal length competitors. But fixed focal length primes are generally less expensive and lighter weight, while zooms provide greater flexibility if your budget and your back can handle them. Pick whichever option best fits your needs and go with it.

This brings up a curious thing about tradeoffs. Rarely will you find yourself in a position to know with certainty that you chose the best option. I mean, if you buy a really good midrange zoom, you're unlikely to also buy the equivalent set of prime lenses to cover the same range of focal lengths. And even if you are obsessive enough to buy both, you're unlikely to carry the whole lot with you in the field. That would be beyond obsessive. No, the only clue that you will have that you made a good choice is that you like the results you thereby are able to shoot. The only indication that you didn't is the frustration that comes from feeling like your choice is holding you back more than you thought it might. All we can do is learn as we go.

Are you a Canon shooter who finds themselves periodically lusting over what Nikon releases? Are you a Nikon shooter who spends a bit more time than they want to admit rehashing whether they would have been better off going with Canon? Or with Sony. And even if you do sell the lot of your current gear and switch to a different system, all you can really compare is what you previously shot to what you shoot after the change. Hopefully though, all of us learn from what we previously shot, so any comparison after jumping ship to a new system wouldn't really be a level playing field anyway. And a few years from now, you may find yourself wondering if you should have stuck with your original choice. Stranger things have been known to happen.

Tradeoffs can be fickle things. You do your best to understand the ramifications of lengthening the exposure time and keep your fingers crossed that the wind stays calm. You do your homework in order to buy the best gear you can afford for the type of photography and circumstances you anticipate working in, and then you use it to the best of your ability. Hopefully, you're paying attention when you're out shooting and are learning from how things turn out. In the end, it's all a tradeoff, and the choice is up to you.

Date posted: June 23, 2019


Copyright © 2019 Bob Johnson, Earthbound Light - all rights reserved.
Permanent link for this article

Previous tip: The Middle is not Where it's At Return to archives menu Next tip: The Circle of Confusion Doesn't Deserve That Name

Related articles:
Sturdy, Lightweight Tripods and the Search for Bigfoot
Photography is Inherently Subjective
Judgment and its Consequences
The Photo Not Taken

Tweet this page       Bookmark and Share       Subscribe on Facebook via NetworkedBlogs       Printer Friendly Version

Machine translation:   Español   |   Deutsch   |   Français   |   Italiano   |   Português

A new photo tip is posted each Sunday, so please check back regularly.

Support Earthbound Light by buying from B&H Photo
  Buy a good book
Click here for book recommendations
Support Earthbound Light
  Or say thanks the easy way with PayPal if you prefer

Home  |  About  |  Portfolio  |  WebStore  |  PhotoTips  |  Contact  |  Comments  |  Updates  |  Support
Nature Photography from the Pacific Northwest and beyond by Bob Johnson

View Cart  |  Store Policies  |  Terms of Use  |  Your Privacy