4.21.2014

Thinking about how much more complicated photography has become.


The actual act of taking images has become easier and more complex. On one hand we've got digital cameras that interpret the scenes in front of them instantly. But getting to that point means making choices about how your camera is set. If you have a camera with a complex menu, like the Olympus OMD EM-1 you may have hundreds of possible settings that you can make ranging from noise reduction to color characteristics, the method of focusing, the method of dealing with tonal slopes and so much more. Will you use art filters? Are you looking ahead to making HDRs? How will you set the camera to bracket? Then you have the standard issues of color profiles, color temperature, contrast, saturation and basic exposure. Will you save the images as Jpegs? If so, at what compression and how large? Will you save them as raw files? If so which program will give you the best conversions? Have you tried all the raw converters that are out there? Are you sure you selected the right one? Just because Capture One worked best for your Nikon D800 doesn't mean it's the right one for, say, your new Canon 5Dmk3....

Oh, but wait! What lens will you use? Or more precisely, what focal length will you use? And will it be with a prime lens or a zoom?  And which aperture clearly expresses what you had in mind vis-a-vis the foreground and background sharpness relations? And, if you select a certain aperture and you are working at your camera's optimum ISO will you need to introduce a tripod to assist you in creating the sharpness your original vision required? If so, how big a tripod will you need in order to carry it around with you for those moments when it seems crucial to the quality of the image? But what if subject motion pushes your exposure predilections outside your comfort zone? What if you have to go to a higher ISO to get a higher shutter speed. Will the smooth, grainless quality you lusted after leave you in the lurch in the pursuit of the crispy sharp subject? If you choose to use a more sensitive ISO will you need to use noise reduction in post processing? Which method works best for your overall system?

Presuming the sheer momentum of choice didn't paralyze you have you taken all the steps you need to in order to post process successfully? Is your monitor of sufficient gamut to even show you what you have wrought in the shooting and editing processes? Has it been methodically and recently calibrated? Have you neutralized any color cast in your post processing area? Are the walls really neutral white? Do they have a subtle coloration that may impinge on the accuracy of your viewing system? Are you wearing a lime green golf shirt while you process your work? Will you switch to a black or neutral gray shirt? Can you really find an actual, neutral gray shirt?

And when you've created your masterpiece of photography where will you go from the computer file? Will you share it on the web? Are all the people you are sharing with sitting in front of color corrected screens? Is the infrastructure of the web and the bandwidth limits of your sharing supplier compressing the image you worked so hard on? Did they shift your colors and tonalities to wedge your image into a tighter and tighter box? Or maybe you'll print the image....

Is your printer profiled to your post processing software? Can your printer's gamut match your original vision? Do the inks have different responses to different lighting spectra? Will the viewing area undo your careful color corrections by introducing color casts and glare? Will you frame the work? If so will the glass be neutral or will it have (as most glass does) a greenish UV filtration meant to keep furniture from fading when used in buildings? Will you place a mark on the floor in front of your print so people can see it from the point of view that you intended? Will they wear a black shirt or smock so their own clothes don't minimize the "enjoyment" of your art by introducing reflections?

And once your work through all the above do you have a plan for archival keeping of the digital image? Will it be placed on some magnetic media or will you use optical media? How often will you migrate the images to new media in order to offset the perils of degradation over time? Will you have multiple racks of hard drives that you rotate? Will you spend months each year re-burning new DVDs? Will you make prints of the frames you like in a series of sizes that you might want to use in the future as a hedge against the ravages of time?

And none of the above presupposes that you've come to grips with finding visually interesting stuff to immortalize...

Oh well. It's all become more complicated. I should have tried for an easier career, like brain surgeon or president. A few quick cuts, a few grand decisions and a ribbon cutting and then I'd be on easy street.

Must be monday again. Sorry. 

20 comments:

Michael Matthews said...

So THAT'S what's been paralyzing me.

Dave Jenkins said...

Gee, I think I'll just give up now and avoid the rush.

Anonymous said...


Kirk,

Hmmmm, after reading this entry I think I'll sell all my camera equipment and take up knitting. Oh, I forgot about moths!
Its always something...

Jim Pilcher said...

I continue to feel guilty about not using ALL of the functions my digital camera (currently Olympus E-P5) offers me. I find it very hard mentally to just use the shutter speed, aperture, and ISO (used to be film choice) to make an image like I used to with my 35mm film cameras. Despite world-class image stabilization in my camera, I'm still very much a tripod guy, too.

As for all of the post processing, printing/viewing, and archiving options, somtimes I feel like getting out my well-worn printed copy of Moby Dick and never looking back.

Kirk Tuck said...

But wait!!! it's not just the taking and the post processing and the printing and showing and archiving that makes photography so complicated now. We must also spend countless hours on forums and "how to" websites so we don't get left behind. We must research the lenses and the sensors and the noise reduction software in case someone has tried to slip something better past us. And woe to me if Bob or Chip or Peggy leapfrogs over me and gets the latest anti-vignetting software. I could never stand the pain of being behind the curve. Anachronism and Obsolesence. Two cruel fates.

Dave Jenkins said...

I just use my cameras to make reasonably decent photographs and I hope, make some reasonably decent money. Is that allowed?

Kirk Tuck said...

Dave, that's the best course of all.

Anonymous said...

Well, I do realise that this blog post was not written in all seriousness but still, if someone actually has such a pedantic view of the world, life must indeed feel complicated.

Photography hasn't really become any more complicated than it was during the film era, though, has it.

On the other hand, there is one quite visible difference that has happened with the transition from analog to digital, and that is the arrival of a new camera buying species, the homo pedanticus digitalis, aka the gadget nerd. To whom "coming to grips with finding visually interesting stuff to immortalize" is secondary to begin with.
A quick look around the online forums is enough evidence to confirm it, isn't it.

P.S.
Funny how a semi-cynical blog post like this one comes right after a huge GH4-induced GAS leak post, isn't it.
Massive Monday Morning Mood Swing? Or an Online Research Data Overload Kickback Syndrome, perhaps? Well, it happens. ;-)

P.P.S.
Worry not, suppose there's a tiny dormant gadget geek inside all of us. Otherwise we wouldn't even be here.

Disclaimer:
Don't take this comment too seriously, either. It's just my version of the Monday mope. Although it's actually Tuesday already.

mgr said...

But in the end, only one question remains: does the acorn stay or go?

Robert Barone said...

Just bought a new camera. My present software does not support the raw files. Ok, so I'll just upgrade. Only to find out that my operating system does not support the upgrade. My computer probably won't support a new operating system. My budget won't support a new computer . . . and so on. I think things have become more complicated.

L C Solla, Portugal said...

Brilliant post. I am now 99% digital, but I often miss the simplicity and no-nonsense controls of my trusted Nikon FM2; hate Nikon for having suppressed the aperture rings in the lenses; and, after using a D7000 for two years, still do not use it to its full potential (just in case someone asks: yes, I do read manuals).

John Krumm said...

Of course, if I browse through one of those dusty film photography books at the library not so much has changed, especially if you add in darkroom work. I was looking through one the other day that had a chapter on properly archiving prints, slides and negatives. Not a book you want to read before starting the hobby. I ran into a sort of info-paralysis when my wife bought be a beginner beer kit. Instead of just following the instructions, I bought a book on beer making and learned how inadequate the kit was and how complicated things could get if I wanted to really dive into the hobby. I didn't.

Yoram Nevo said...

Apropo Mondays and Moby Dick:
"Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off--then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship."

Anonymous said...

SLR vs rangefinder? Maybe TLR? Ah, view camera! 35mm? 120? Prime or zoom? Black and white or color? Tri-X? T-Max? E-6 or C-41? Should I dodge this or burn that? Tone maybe? Maybe cross-process?

Technology changes and the plethora of choices are still there by different names. Photography isn't inherently complicated. We make it complicated by focusing on the tools rather than the art.

ColinB said...

If Moby Dick had been written in 2014, presumably the opening line would have been 'Call me Email'...

Paul Glover said...

I was going to make some smart arse remark about this being why I shoot film, but I'm currently in the grip of advanced analysis paralysis regarding which medium format system to get into and which paper I want to use for my "fine" prints. I think I have the film and developer choices pinned down but that also could change if I don't keep a close grip on it.

Instead I will settle for the excuse that I have plenty of computer related complexity in my life already and that I've consciously chosen a different set of complications for when I practice my hobby vs when I'm earning my keep.

Godfrey DiGiorgi said...

Whenever my brain starts to jitter in cycles like you describe, I pull out Edwin Land's masterpiece—a Polaroid SX-70—and load it up with Impossible Project B&W film. Go snap 8 or 16 photographs, enjoy the heck out of it, have the finished prints in hand in a few moments.

The craziness subsides and I get back to my digital cameras relaxed again.

Jay Banks said...

Well, If we look at it from this side it really seems to be more complicated now... I'm trying to keep it simple: Even if I know that I'm not using all the features of my Nikon D300s I don't feel bad about that - ISO, shutter speed and aperture are completely enough for my purposes. The same about the equipment: I don't like to carry a lot of it, so I usually take only the camera with one or two lenses. It's (almost) always enough. However, I spend quite a lot of time with post-processing my pictures but it's only because I pay attention to the details (I'm not creating photo montages, only adjusting the colors and doing other basic things).

Sometimes I find myself thinking about if the printers are having the right profile or how to store my work safely, but these are the real matters of being a photographer now, I guess.

I'm also not really interested in the new camera or software releases, I prefer to use the kind of "natural filtration" - if something is really remarkable, then you will notice it even without checking the news every day. So I feel like it's only about your attitude, don't over-complicate it...

Jeff said...

I remember reading Ansel Adams three books "The Camera", "The Negative" and 'The Print" and being completely overwhelmed with the steps and decisions to be made with one photograph. Today we call it OCD.

Andrea said...

Well, I've started film photography in 1989, now I have an E-M1 and not, now it is not more complicated. I've read the manual twice, set up the camera in two modes to my liking, and assigned the functions to two of the modes on the PASM wheel. That's it...