Raw is good. More work to get to the final photo, but since JPEG throws away over 90% of what raw contains, you get the opportunity to make bigger changes by shooting raw.
Manual mode has its place. Shooting in a studio with studio strobes, for instance. Most of the time, it is just a lot of extra work. The camera’s computer can adjust exposure and focus much faster than you can. Let it. If you find you are disagreeing with the exposure the camera is giving, you can use manual, or you can use Exposure Compensation.
If you have CS5, you have Bridge. Open the raw files from bridge, which will start Adobe Camera Raw, where you can make both simple and complicated adjustments. Once you are happy with what you have, you can transfer the file at 16 bits into Photoshop. Some photos need a little, some need more. Knowing where to stop is the “art”. We all second guess ourselves.
Colour management — Colormunki or Spyder. They sit on your monitor, run software, and figure out what profile file you need. Colormunki has a self calibration piece so it makes sure it is healthy before you start. It does monitors, printers, projectors and colour swatches. Spyder is similar but there are more pieces. The frustration is that those looking at your photos will mostly be using uncalibrated monitors.
The pop-up isn’t very powerful. If you have a real Canon flash, 430 EX II, 580 EX II, 600 EX RT, I think a T3i can use the pop-up to talk to it, so you can do off camera flash without a radio. You can still have full ETTL mode. Cheap flashes are OK if you have lots of time and really know what you are doing. Having one or more of the Canon models I mentioned will be more enjoyable and faster to use while delivering better results in many situations. Before spending money on a flash trigger, get a better flash. Perhaps spend a few dollars on a light trigger, it causes your cheap flash to fire when it sees another flash. Then you have to use manual flash mode because the pre-flash used to set flash power and the flashes used to communicate with the other flashes will cause it to misfire.
If you pull my edit off Flickr and look at the histogram, you will see it does not get anywhere near the right edge. I didn’t let that worry me because I was not aware of anything in the photo that should be pure white. The whites of her eyes should be a very light grey and her skin should be slightly pink.
If you are shooting with flash, or even enough ambient light, you don’t need a tripod. You don’t get help from one if your subject can move, anyway. But for a lens sharpness test, it is great, presumably your walls will not move, and the tripod holds and aims the camera while you adjust.
Many of my lenses are L series lenses. I also have some Sigma lenses. A while ago, I borrowed my son’s film body, and did some tests with a couple of L lenses, both film and digital. Even L lenses suffer some fringing under the right conditions. Digital is much sharper than film. Looking at your monitor while displaying at 100% is the equivalent of putting a slide in a projector, displaying the image 6 or 7 feet wide across a room, then walking up to a foot from the screen to examine the photo. Next time you are at a mall, walk right up to one of their large advertising photos, you will be amazed at what you can see! If you are using Adobe Camera Raw, under the Lens tab, you can correct for aberrations. Sometimes it works better than others, but the tool is there.
Canon’s 50 mm f/1.8 is a pretty decent lens, considering. For a few hundred dollars you can move up to Canon’s 50 mm f/1.4, or Sigma’s 50 mm f/1.4. Canon’s 50 mm f/1.2 is expensive and only has a slightly faster aperture while focusing more slowly. I think DigitalREV did a comparison of all 3. Yep! They have done a few:
Don’t expect upgrading your lens to fix fringing though.
Whenever I upload files, JPEG compression is the best quality available. File size will usually be limited to somewhere between 1920 and 600 px width by whatever the height works out to for the shape 4:3, 3:2, or 1:1 usually, but sometimes I do a panorama crop, then it is anyone’s guess. Once I have decided on a size, and set it, I sharpen. Same for prints. Sharpening for prints usually needs more than for a monitor. Experiment to see what works for you. I only upload a full size image if I expect someone will be editing it. For my own web page, photos are sized to the various sizes and sharpened then uploaded so if you look at large, it is a different file than if you look at medium, etc.
I think it was B&H that had a talk given by one of Adam’s assistants. She showed a couple of examples of a straight drop it in the enlarger and make a print, vs. one that had Adam’s wizardry applied to get the final print. Huge difference! He knew a lot about taking a photo, and even more about printing.
Robert Davis is a photographer, teacher and author in Oregon. He believes you should only take one photo, and get it right. He has expressed that to me when criticizing my view that you should take a lot of photos of your subject, especially now that digital is so inexpensive. We don’t see eye to eye on much. Sometimes, a single photo is all you need, like Nick Ut’s napalm girl which won a Pulitzer prize. He got that shot while the rest of the photographers in the area were all changing film. But, if you are taking a photo of more than one person, someone will probably blink, so take an extra photo or two. Or more. When Joe McNally photographed James Brown, he only got a dozen photos before Brown called a halt to shooting. A week later Brown was dead! When Bert Stern shot Marilyn Monroe, just six weeks before her death, he took three days and over 2,500 photos. Duggal in NY organized them for a show on the 50th anniversary of her death. Try to make every shot count, but also try to get as many shots of your subject as you can. Sometimes one will be much better than the others and which one may not be obvious when you are taking them.
It’s not so much a case of “fixing” in post as “enhancing”.
Hope some of this helps …