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Sunday, October 1, 2006

The "Right Way"

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

Then I've opened nasty letters from the digital purists who are convinced we're ruining digital photography for not doing things the "correct" way. We're well aware of the "correct" way, but it might not be appropriate to the photographer. We're not in the "purist" business. I see no problem in having high-end explanations for the technically savvy, but we'll not abandon people who need something else, nor will we denigrate those who need either.

What does this mean to you? I know that our readers just want a good photograph. Most don't want or need to become computer experts or Photoshop masters. I'm here to tell you that this is okay. You have the right to question digital experts (including me) if things don't seem to work for you. Some experts imply that if you do everything right (their "right") you'll have no problems, or if you do, it's your fault for not following directions.

Well, as much as I'd like the computer world to be that precise, it isn't (oh, I can see the letters coming now from the computer purists). We deal with a great variety of images from many sources for our three photo magazines, OP, PCPhoto and Digital Photo Pro. I've also worked with photographers around the country in many different situations. And I've now done 14 books from a variety of publishers. I can guarantee that regardless of the computer engineer's efforts, the computer world just isn't that precise.

That's in large part because photography is an art as much as it's a technology. Bill Brandt's photos looked nothing like Ansel Adams', yet they both used the same darkroom technology (if you aren't familiar with Brandt, try googling him). And they got very different results. Technology only gets close to precise and unvarying when it's in a completely closed system, for example, one person, one computer, one monitor, one environment for the work area, one printer and so forth. As soon as more elements get involved, variables come into play, not the least of which is personal choice.

I know that some people would like everything to be one-button easy. Luckily, digital has evolved so that good results are possible from such technology. But to work, this has to have flexibility and "unprecision" built into it so it can adapt to variations—such is the basis of so-called fuzzy logic.

For optimum work that's most satisfying to us as photographers, I believe we must experiment and learn from our materials, use them as appropriate to our needs, then find a way that works for us. This is what craft is about, and craft has always been key to becoming a better photographer.

So read the experts and try out their suggestions, but if things don't work for you, don't buy into the arrogance of some that imply you must be stupid. Maybe they're stupid for trying to force you to use something you really don't need.

Just remember the joke about Photoshop experts and light bulbs. There's always another way to do it, and just maybe, that way is perfect for you.



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