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The Ultimate Wedding Shooter's JPG

Posted by mule_patterson, 21 June 2006 · 4587 views

Going Nikon Digital in 2006
The Ultimate Wedding Shooter's JPG
Falling in Love with Quantity & Quality

I started out shooting digital wedding with the most idealistic intentions. Raw images only. Handcrafted files for optimum quality. Numerous original and printing files. More numerous hours spent postprocessing.

Alright, enough is enough. I’m not getting paid to spend 8-10 hours getting 4X6 prints ready for a proof book. What am I doing? Do I really have to shoot RAW? Not anymore…

With the advent of the D70, and now the D200, any advanced or semipro photog can shoot a wedding and get great results with Fine JPG images. Rest assured, I have made 11X14 prints from 6.1 megapixels files and received great results. The D200 makes the process even better with a 40% larger file size. Shooting RAW is no longer necessary if you pay attention to detail and have your chops down.

I’m going to assume you are an experienced photographer – and a most willing student of your camera manual and the mountainous variety of information available online. Let’s review some basics and this article will have accomplished its purpose.

File Sizes
Fine JPGs produce a 17 MB file in the D70/D70s camera, and a 28 MB file in the D200. Creating the best original data is all that matters since you can’t edit ala RAW to correct WB and other variables without significantly affecting useable pixels. The upside is, we get adequate file sized for any print size up to 11X14 (D70/D70s) or 20X24 (D200).

The following areas will need to be well controlled to produce these optimal JPG files:

White Balance
Let’s get this much understood – incorrect WB is too big an area to fool with in the JPG realm to leave to chance. Between being unable to fully correct and with the data lost from color balancing and other edits, JPGs weren’t meant to be messed with – much. A little sharpening, retouching and the like is one thing but sloppy shooting is gonna cost you in print quality, so we can’t be lazy about it, OK?

As everyone know by now, I’m big fan of Preset WB – it is essential in shooting clean color in JPG format. Even the D2x doesn’t make this foolproof unless you’re in adequately bright light – and the measurement process is the same! A 4X5-inch Kodak Gray Card is dirt cheap and deadly accurate for color calibration in the field. Stick one in your back pocket and practice the 20-second preset routine for any changes in lighting.

With a normal scene made up of many typical objects – people, trees, grass, cake, etc. – all three color histograms should look very much alike. This lets you know you are not introducing a cast due to inaccurate WB – a great confidence builder as the day goes along that you will get accurate color prints.

You will be able to keep up with exposure and color balance as you view each shot with the Color Histograms along with a composite histogram for visualizing exposure. Push those values to the outer edges of the histogram for a complete range of values – this is the other most important part of optimizing your JPG for print quality. We aren’t going to mess much with these images afterwards, so get in the habit of composing and exposing for print – not computer. Don’t waste any time deleting poor images - simply adjust exposure and recapture the scene.

Use the Flash WB Preset and TTL Balanced Fill Flash metering on your SB800 Speedlight - pull out the diffuser and bounce card built into its head and get to work.

Flash Options
Try Gary Fong’s Lightsphere for excellent on-camera flash lighting at close distances. Or put your SB800 in Remote Mode and use the flash shoe stand accessory to place the unit where you will get some modeling effect. Two or more flashes is ideal if you can afford it, but for fast shooting, most photogs depend on walls and ceilings to get the light where they need it.

Aperture Priority
I set my aperture at f8 and let the camera do all the work. Keep an accurate WB setting and concentrate on the action. Auto ISO can be employed to ratchet up the sensors sensitivity as light drops off, but since we usually add flash to most shots, this will keep you within the 100-400 range for the day.

Auto Focus
This is where a solid, self-education comes in handy. How much you know about AF will be the determining factor for excellent vs. average images. Pros know their gear inside and out, changing up operation settings to ‘get the shot’. You can do the same if you study the functions of AF-S, AF-C and their associated features. Digital Darrell has written all you need to know what and when each AF setup will do what you need, so that’s one homework assignment for you.

Saturation, Color Space, Sharpening
Remember, I assumed you have a working knowledge of these settings, so arrive at what you prefer in these departments, keeping in mind we will try our darnedest not to add any further edits here. You will likely have to use sRGB I or II as most photofinishers use the sRGB color space to print in. So check that end of the process with test prints to prevent any surprises – this is the rest of your homework in establishing the ultimate wedding shoot workflow.

In many wedding assignments, low light requires a dependence on flash that is start to finish. Here, a well practiced understanding of this photographic skill is needed to bring home the bacon. I strongly recommend you read Neil van Niekirk's On-Camera Flash Techniques web tutorial for excellent background on combining flash and ambient light for great results. It is a tutorial I will be applying to my shoot routine regularly.

Proofing and Printing
Unless you’re going to print the whole shebang and cull out the rejects later, an efficient viewing/deleting/storing procedure awaits us after each wedding. If we nailed the camera setting, it will be as simple as cropping, sharpening, and deletingculls in Nikon Capture, Photoshop or your favorite image editor. Save off the ones you’ll do some creative manipulation with for later as TIFFs.

A D70/D70s/D200 frame is a perfect 4X6 crop. I always print on glossy paper for maximum saturation and sharpness. Getting a few extras for our own proof book along with some announcement or other specialty prints for selling samples is convenient at this point too. So once the keepers are foldered as copies for printing, burn a CD and head off to the photofinisher.

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