Monday, January 18, 2010

Maybe I'm Missing Something

I'm amazed at the number of people who walk into my studio and ask me if I'm the photographer who took the pictures(yes and an understandable question) and if I went to these places? DUH!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Content vs Process

There is probably no art media that is more geeky and nerdy than photography.

I just read a thread on a photography website comparing the technical quality of an image from a $2500 digital camera with that of an $8000 camera. To everyone's amazement, the $8000 camera had a "slightly better" image than the $2500 camera. This observation and conclusion is a major step forward for mankind. Just imagine that you can spend $5500 more and actually get a better technical image! DUH!

If most photographers spent even half as much time worrying about the quality of the content of their images as they do about the process of creating them, they'd be infinitely better photographers. It's not about the process, it's about the image.

If an image works, it doesn't matter how I got there. If it doesn't, it doesn't matter how I got there.

Monday, January 11, 2010


Picasso said, "good artists copy, great artists steal." There is a an equivalent saying for photographers. The difference between a good photographer and a great photographer is frequently editing.

I always tell my photography classes that there are two pieces of equipment that will actually make you a better photographer. One is a tripod and the other is a wastebasket.

If you can only afford one, pick the wastebasket.

Learning to edit is one of the most essential skills a photographer can learn. I think it's a skill unique to the medium. Painters may sketch but they don't paint 500 pictures and then choose one to show. Photographers on the other hand and particularly now in the digital age, may shoot thousands of images but, hopefully, only show a few.

Photographers are notoriously poor editors of their own work. This is understandable since every image we create is wonderful! (Sarcasm!)

Every photographer who wants to improve needs to have folks whose opinions they respect and are good enough friends that they will tell them when a photograph sucks. (Hopefully in a constructive manner.) They also need to develop sufficiently thick skin to take the criticism. Good criticism is one of the finest gifts a photographer can get.

One last comment about the wastebasket. Don't take throwing away your images literally. I only mean it figuratively in the sense of heavily and critically editing your work. The "Delete" button is the devil's playground and I guarantee that sometime in the future you will regret deleting some of your images. Storage is about $80/terabyte and will probably get less over time. Don't delete your images, store them.

And while we are at it, always shoot RAW if your camera permits. You can always convert to JPEG later but you can never recover what you have lost when you shoot in JPEG. Remember storage is cheap.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Digital v.s. Traditional

One of the great debates of the last decade has been the traditional vs digital darkroom.

In the early days of digital imaging, the prints were extremely fugitive and no one who cared about the long term survival of their work printed digitally. The materials were not created to serve that purpose.

We in the digital photography arena owe a great debt of gratitude to Graham Nash (yes, the Graham Nash of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young) and Mac Holbert (his tour manager). Nash and Holbert are as responsible as anyone for grasping the potential of the digital media for creating beautiful black and white images and investing the time, money, and effort to modify the equipment and develop the digital workflows that are the precursors of the technology that we have today.

Their greatest contributions may not have been technical but rather their pioneering of digital imaging as legitimate and acceptable fine art media. This did not come easily.

Mac Holbert tells of a photographer who, upon learning that the prints that he thought were the best he had ever seen were printed digitally, spit on him! Fortunately we've come a long way since then.

Another great innovator and pioneer is Jon Cone who developed the concept of using multiple shades of black ink to create a smoother and more nuanced black and white digital prints.

Today, many of the issues with "archival" characteristics have been addressed through the development of pigment inks, improved paper, and the way inks interact with the coating. However there is still a debate going on. Darkroom prints look different from digital prints. Film, with its grain structure, creates a different look and feel than a digitally captured image. Notice I say "different", not better.

For those of us coming out of a traditional darkroom background, this difference is significant. There are times that we would like to photograph with a digital camera but create a print that looks like it was captured on film. I think this is particularly important in landscape photography where a certain amount of tactile detail is necessary. Conversely, I think the smooth look of digitally captured images in the studio for portraits and nudes offers an improvement over film.

Over the years there have been a number of approaches to trying to make digitally captured images look like they were captured on film. Most of the software solutions to adding "grain" to a digital image were awful. The results may have looked OK to someone who never worked in a darkroom but to those of us who have it looked as phony as a $3 bill.

This is a long way of getting to a favorable comment about a Photoshop plugin from Nik, Silver Efex Pro. This is one piece of software that actually creates a realistic grain pattern that looks like film. Not only does it look like film, it allows you to actually select the brand of film you desire. There are many other controls in the software but the creation of realistic grain is sufficient reason to check it out.

No, I have had no contact with Nik and I bought the software with my own money.

For what it's worth, I'm really glad I have both workflows available to me. I'd hate to give up either. We are in the infancy of digital imaging. It's a one way street. It will only become better, faster, and cheaper. Issues that we have today could be solved at 3:00pm next week. On the other hand, it could be 3:00pm ten years from now.

Stay tuned!