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Sunday, October 1, 2006

The "Right Way"

Are you doing things correctly when working digitally? What does "correctly" mean, anyway?

However, there are those digital experts who want to imply that you're stupid if you don't do it their way. Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that you can't rely on digital photography experts to learn better ways of working. But the good ones always try to relate things to what photographers really do, and they're open to other ways of doing things.

What I'm saying is you'll run across the self-appointed digital elite who care little that their attitude causes frustration and disappointment, like that of my friend, who was trying his best to do things the "right" way, but that way wasn't appropriate to his needs.

Another friend has his work with one of the big stock agencies. He tried to work with their "digital experts" in getting his digital images ready for submission, but discovered that many images adjusted the "right way" were also inappropriate to the photograph's intent and that the agency's size standards had little to do with real-world publishing.

In part, I believe, this happens because digital photography started with the computer people. There are a lot of excellent computer experts, who might even cheerfully call themselves geeks, who also know and care about the true goal of photography: creating a great photograph. However, there's also a significant number of practitioners who want to do photography by the numbers. The photo is irrelevant to them if the numbers aren't right, whether that's size, bit depth, color space or other computer-based technology.

For a long time, these people dominated our industry as it made the transition to digital. Photographers didn't know all this stuff and were a little intimidated anyway by all the computer work, so they had no place else to go.

These people still hold sway in many photographic courts. And they can make you do things you don't need to do, are inappropriate for your work or cause you unneeded problems. They don't have to deal with you as a photographer because they know what's "right," and they feel it's their moral imperative to stifle anyone who says differently.

Think I'm exaggerating? Talk to any pro who has recently converted to digital and ask him or her what his or her experience has been when working with others to get up to speed. You'll hear many stories of digital geeks trying to make these pros "do the right thing," meaning their thing, without listening to the real needs of photographers.

I recently read an article by a digital photographer who was in love with the technology of RAW. Now I think RAW is an important tool for photographers (though not needed by everyone), but I really don't care if any photographer understands the linear nature of tonal capture by a camera sensor. I can tell you from helping a whole range of photographers over the years that this doesn't help the typical pro or amateur photographer get a better photograph.

Still, this author said, believe it or not, that anyone who didn't care about such things was just a casual shooter and that "a truly casual digital shooter shouldn't be shooting captures in the RAW format." Truly, that's a scary attitude. One person I know in the industry calls these people digital fascists, and with such people as this author around, maybe there's something to that.

What is it about people who feel they have to "correct" the fallen and bring people into the "right" (meaning their) way of doing things? Perhaps that's just human nature. Maybe because I grew up in the '60s, I seem to have a need to fight those who say there's only one way of doing anything.

Let's face it, most photographers are more interested in what works photographically than in knowing the deep technological secrets of digital photography. You're the people we produce our magazines for and the audience I want to help in my books and workshops.

Still, there's this group that wants to imply that digital is some high-level thing that photographers had better understand at the highest technical levels or they're just stupid. I can tell you we've received letters from photographers who tell us they feel we've given them the information they need and the permission to work as photographers, not computer experts, and thank us for that.


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