A Few Things I Learned About Photography in 2021

I never want to stop picking up brand new techniques in photography. If you’re continuously learning, you’re constantly enhancing. Now that 2021 is coming to a close, I’d like to reveal some things I discovered this year and how they’ve assisted my photography grow.

Many of the techniques I am writing about today are stuff I’ve already talked about at least a bit on Photography Lifestyle. When I learn a new and useful tip, I usually blog post it here as soon as possible! But even if some of them are things I’ve written about before, I hope they still inspire you to think about your own photography this year. Did you learn any techniques in 2021 that will help your photography in the future?

Table associated with Contents

1 . More Details About the NPF Rule

As a longtime fan of astrophotography, I’ve been listening to about the NPF Rule for some time now. It’s a formula that tells you what shutter speed to use in order to avoid movement blur in the stars during the night.

Before this year, I never used the NPF rule because I found it gave some unusually brief recommendations – for example , to use a shutter speed of almost 8 seconds with a 14mm zoom lens (full frame) even though I know from experience that 15 or 20 seconds will still give good images. The reason for the disparity would be that the NPF rule is designed to calculate zero motion blur within the stars, while in reality, you can find away with some small movement.

It turns out that I didn’t know the full story. Near the start of the year, I went to the original NPF website   (in French) plus learned more details. The official NPF formula actually includes a multiplier value, K , and suggests doubling or tripling the value through the formula! In other words, if you need totally pinpoint stars – like for superstar stacking – go with the original NPF principle. Otherwise, you can use somewhere from 2x to 3x the suggested shutter speed (based on how much motion obnubilate you personally prefer; my preference is 3x). The resulting values are  much more reasonable for single pictures. The creator of the NPF rule himself, Frédéric Michaud, suggests doing this. So , instead of 8 seconds with a 14mm lens, you’ll get shutter speeds like 16-24 secs instead. Turns out the NPF rule is a lot more reasonable than I thought.

Milky Way taken with modified NPF rule for sharp stars
NIKON D800E + 20mm f/1. 8 @ 20mm, ISO 3200, 15 seconds, f/2. 0

2 . An Unexpected Benefit of Image Averaging

Daily readers of Pictures Life are probably tired of just how much I beat the drum of image averaging , but permit me to do so one more time before the calendar year is over!

I have known for a while that image averaging reduces noise, however it was only at the start of 2021 that I realized a few of the potential implications of that. To become specific, I realized that making use of image averaging at foundation ISO would improve shadow noise so much that it can dramatically increase a camera’s dynamic range.

Fundamentally, this is the same as what another popular technique – HDR photography – will: improving dynamic range. HDR photography is very popular but has plenty of issues of its own, especially when anything in your photo is moving. HDR software tends to blend motion in strange ways and may lead to bizarre artifacts in your image… whereas image hitting simply makes moving topics look a bit blurrier, as if you used a longer exposure.

Some basic computations (and field testing to confirm their accuracy) showed me personally that four images used with image averaging provide the same dynamic range like a typical three-shot HDR. Considering the fact that image averaging is better whenever anything in the photo is moving – and generally, something is moving – not to mention easier processing with natural colors, I’ve today switched away from traditional HDRs completely. The “averaged high dynamic range” process is just better in the vast majority associated with cases. (The article I wrote at the time covers a lot of technical background and limitations of the method if you’re distrustful, as I was before tests it. )

In any case, this was one of the most fascinating things to me that I discovered in 2021, and I think it provides one of the biggest impacts on the photography in the coming years.

Five Image Average from Drone
Five-image ordinary. DJI Mavic 2 Professional @ ISO 100, 1/1600, f/4. 0

3. Another Use of Smart Objects in Photoshop

I don’t use Photoshop nearly as much as Lightroom for my photography. Actually, 90% of the time that I’m in Photoshop is when I’m helping to make graphics for Photography Lifetime and not actually editing our images! So , I was fairly late on the uptake to an useful feature, but I am glad I learned it this year: the ability to re-edit or tone down Photoshop’s filter systems by using smart objects.

Normally, applying any kind of filter in Photoshop (i. e., from the filter pub in the top menu) is a destructive process to the layer you’re editing. For example , in case you reduce a layer’s noise using the Filter > Sound > Reduce Noise tool, that layer is permanently stuck with the noise decrease. You can delete the level or hit Undo sufficient times, but you can’t otherwise go back and change it.

That is, you can’t go back and change it unless the particular layer was a smart object ! In case you had converted the layer to a smart object in advance, you can go back and change the amount of noise reduction at any time. That is also true of every other filter, including my favorite, the particular Camera Raw filter (which mimics all the edits that will Lightroom can do).

I’ve known for years that smart objects might be resized over and over without dangerous effects, but I in some way never knew about this various other, more useful feature until this year. It’s nice to know and has helped my Photoshop editing process be less destructive.

Smart Filters in Photoshop
Double click any of the filter titles (highlighted in red) in order to re-open their editing options

4. How to Get Better Colors in the Stars

Another astrophotography tip I learned, this time through simple trial and error, is the way to improve the small color information in stars without incorporating too much color noise towards the image.

Although color noise reduction will be applied in a lot of editing and enhancing software by default, it’s not a free ride. I’ve written about that before . Color noise reduction can harm low-level color details plus make an image look “muddier” on the whole. It can be particularly harming to the subtle rings associated with color around stars within Milky Way photography, that is a perfect storm because you’ll usually be shooting the particular Milky Way at high ISOs and needing a lot of noise reduction!

The basic solution I found being a Lightroom user is to boost the Color Detail and Colour Smoothness sliders beyond the default. A combo associated with +70 on detail and +100 on smoothness has substantially improved the amount of colors I retain in the superstars nowadays. (Before 2021, the only real value I usually worried about has been “Amount, ” but the other people make a big difference for retaining star colors. )

It’s much easier to discover this effect on your own photos than over the internet, but here’s a basic before/after between Lightroom’s default color noise reduction settings and my personal choices. If you view the image total size on a desktop, you’ll notice that the purple details in the Eagle Nebula is particularly better in the image over the right:

Lightroom Color Noise Reduction Default vs My Preferences

I would’t say this particular tip has completely changed my photography, but simple improvements are still improvements nevertheless. Everything adds up.

5. Lots and Lots of Large Format Film Things

2021 may be the year that I shifted most of my landscape photography through digital to large format movie. The learning curve has been wide and steep. I know a lot more about the process – many methods from keeping my equipment dust-free to optimizing my eBay searches for unusual gear – that could come in handy for electronic work, too.

Merely assembling a good film kit has found me personally setting up an Amazon Asia account, signing up for EU-based mail forwarding services, and driving to Idaho to avoid shipping heavy, fragile equipment. Each one is things I had never necessary to do before 2021. (Although I really should have visited Idaho before, as it’s remarkably beautiful and not so far from Colorado. )

And of course, that doesn’t even compare to the challenges associated with shooting, developing, scanning, or analog printing the images. A few photos I was quite excited about are completely ruined because I developed the film incorrectly or just knocked the tripod while taking the photo and didn’t notice at the time.

As you go along, I realized that many of my practical photography skills had lapsed. Film can be very forgiving in some ways, but it’s quite demanding in others. Our tripod discipline needed work, as did my pre-visualization skills and general focus on detail. In other areas, our knowledge was fine for digital photography but wasn’t broad enough to encompass the various requirements of film (like my metering technique). Repairing those lapses was a big part of 2021 for me.

It takes a lot of attention to detail to get everything correct in a big photo, and failures could be frustratingly expensive. But when every thing turns out well, the quality of the images is simply wonderful. I am nowhere near being an expert in it yet, and I expect to learn a lot more in 2022. But I feel like I’m starting to grasp the first detailed aspects of a new language and have realized  that it helps me connect better in my (digital) indigenous tongue, too.

Good Light An Hour Before Sunset
Chamonix 4×5, Nikkor 90mm f/8 @ f/22, 1/60 second. Kodak Portra one hundred sixty. No filters, some back tilt.


These are just a few of the greatest things I learned in 2021, alongside other post-processing realizations and minor ideas related to the particular gear I personally use. (Not to mention the many information on film photography like scanning or using lens movements, which I’ll wait till future articles to lose interest you with! )

All in all, I’m just glad that I kept endeavoring to improve this year and pushed my photography skills a bit further. There’s always room for improvement, and that is certainly the case for me. Therefore , keep learning! Here’s to a 2022 filled with techniques that we should have figured out ages ago, but we’re glad to finally know today.

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