5 Things We need to Forget About as Photographers

5 Things to Forget Post Image by Jay GoodrichWhy 5 things we need to forget? Quite simply because I feel that all over the world too many photographers are jumping on bandwagons that truly don’t “make a photograph”, who then write about these five things and confuse the rest of us. We stress about, fight about, argue about, and write about these things tirelessly. Honestly, enough is enough. Go out and start honing your photography. Prove to me that it is not the equipment. Show me compelling imagery taken with your iPhone. Use a freaking film camera that has no motor drive, or dig out a TLR and take it in the field. Then I will truly be impressed. Even humbled.

1. Laboratory Sensor, Noise, Camera, Lens and Whatever other Tests are Out There Now

I am sure many of us have now heard of the company DxOMark. They have been a mainstay in the independent sensor, camera, and lens testing arena for a while now. Is this great information to have if you are new to photography? Probably not, as you may not understand half of the information in front of you. While it may be usable information for seasoned pros, but you can’t bet your bank account on it being usable info for you, nor can you bet the quality of your photos on it.

Do I know that my current camera scores an 82 DxOMark and that the latest Nikon D4s scores an 89? Yes, yes I do. But seriously, what does that mean? Does it mean that I have a person with a phone number and email address that I can shout to should I have a problem? Or need to borrow a very expensive brand new lens from? Does that mean I have overnight repair support when my 5 year old drops my camera and lens on the floor and breaks the lens in half? No. You can read all about my struggles between brand switching on the OP blog. So why would you make a decision on what brand to go with that has been tested in a lab within a completely controlled environment? Do you believe that you can make better photos with a camera that tests better than another? If you do, I think you need to take the red pill so “...you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.” - The Matrix

It is probably a safe bet in Vegas that the number of “pros” who began shooting in the “film days” is now smaller than the number of “pros” who have begun shooting during the digital era. Although the digital era is about a decade of time compared to the fact that photography was invented circa 1725. Do you realize how hard it was to make a stunning enlargement from a single 35mm film transparency? Even when taken with a superior fine-grained film like Kodachrome or Velvia? Let me tell you it wasn’t easy, nor was it cheap, and the results were only OK. Now all you have to do is push the thing directly out of Lightroom straight to your printer.

Sensor noise doesn’t Matter. Camera features don’t matter. I can tell you from experience that there isn’t a digital camera on the market today that does not beat the quality of film. However, there is a quality to film that we will probably never see again when that last piece of acetate is swallowed up. Meet me in the back of the building, I stole my dad’s old polaroid with some expired film. Let’s see where we can take this.

2. Software Plugins

I know you are thinking that I am off my rocker and should be put in a straight jacket about now, but plugins are about to meet the firing squad. I have sold Nik, backed Nik, pushed Nik and now don’t care one bit about Nik, Topaz, and The Latest Plugin that Rules the Roost. You do know that anything you can do in any plugin you can do in Lightroom or Photoshop right? The key is that you have to know how to do it. And that may be the hardest part to overcome. Why my change? Well, I had a little known company approach me about five years ago. They run by the name National Geographic. They pretty much set me straight. Shut the drug supply right off - cold turkey. You want to work for us? No multiple exposure merges, nothing removed from an image, nothing added to an image, no stacking, no HDR, no plugins, RAW only. Adjusted RAW, yes that is acceptable, but we need the untouched, original RAW too in order to verify your concept.

Yes, you can go to my YouTube account and learn how I used to do all of those things. And now it’s all gone. No plugins. No exposure merges. And, almost never Photoshop. I use Lightroom 95% of the time and have zero regrets. I can edit 5000 images in an hour. Process the bulk of the edits in another hour. Add metadata in one more hour and then go out and shoot more images. I am truly free now, and I have to say that since heading in this direction I have licensed more images than I have ever thought possible.

This does not mean that in any way I do not process my images. A RAW file is a beginning. A starting point. I do everything in my power to produce the best capture possible. I expose where I need to for that scene. I use a polarizer or graduated neutral density filter to compensate for latitudes in the field. And most of all I choose a lens that gives me composition in camera rather than cropping out pixels after the fact.

3. Diffraction

Here is a great definition taken from the website Cambridge in Colour. “Diffraction is an optical effect which limits the total resolution of your photography — no matter how many megapixels your camera may have. It happens because light begins to disperse or "diffract" when passing through a small opening (such as your camera's aperture). This effect is normally negligible, since smaller apertures often improve sharpness by minimizing lens aberrations. However, for sufficiently small apertures, this strategy becomes counterproductive — at which point your camera is said to have become diffraction limited. Knowing this limit can help maximize detail, and avoid an unnecessarily long exposure or high ISO speed.”

Everyone worries about this evil omen now. I hear it all the time in my workshops. “I can’t go past f/11 Jay, my image will get soft.” Yes, this is true, but shooting a landscape at f/11 with a foreground subject that is almost touching the front lens element isn’t going to produce a sharp image throughout the entire photograph either. So how do I draw the line? Well, 90% of my clients don’t allow me to use Photoshop at all. Knowing that, I make a decision on what is best for the photo in front of me. And nine times out of ten I give diffraction the middle finger.

4. HDR

Go back and re-read point 2. Now do you think I can ever use HDR again with my current clients? Absolutely not, but here is the cool part of this for me, I don’t have to sit in front of a computer to try and make things look weird. I was a HUGE proponent for HDR when it came out. I followed all of the guys who knew what they were doing with it, but it just falls short for me now. It takes away all of the contrast of my favorite films from yesteryear. It forces you to shoot some ungodly amount of exposures in the field, when now-a-days a perfect single exposure is as painless as it’s ever been. Then you have to process and process some more, then dial it back, then add contrast, the throw in some other techniques like luminosity masks, and an hour later you have perfection. And then no one will publish it. Get a great capture in camera and you can single handedly process it better in Lightroom and move on with your business.

5. Your Camera

Morpheus: How did I beat you?

Neo: You... you're too fast.

Morpheus: Do you believe that my being stronger or faster has anything to do with my muscles in this place? Do you think that's air you're breathing now? - The Matrix.

Do you think the device in which you capture any image truly matters? Do you think a digital camera makes better photographs than one that utilizes film? Do you think you are better because you have the resources to spend $100,000 on camera gear? Do not even think of answering yes to any of the above. What is most important is YOUR vision. How you see the world and then how you choose to interpret it with the equipment that you have. If all you own is the phone in your pocket and you have a zest for creating, you WILL succeed. If you know how to utilize that singular lens in your camera bag to its fullest extent, you WILL succeed. And finally, if you truly look at the world with the eyes of a child YOU will succeed.

Now all you have to do is stop playing with trinkets and do-dads and focus on producing quality, interpretive, thoughtful, provocative photographs. So stop reading and go out and give it a try.

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55 Comments

    Mr. Goodrich…thanks for such an insightful article. Photographers today need to realize this more than ever. One starts taking good photographs only when he/she forgets the existence of it as a fancy tool, rather treats it as an extension to the body and mind. Rest all are pure distractions. I am still learning myself, while your article really helped me reinvigorate the idea once again.

    Amen! I’ve never been tempted to play with most of those widgets you mention because I always felt it was better to get my shot on the spot or “in camera” as you say.

    My father always said, “use the right tool for the job.” He was referring to carpentry, but the same principle applies to photography. Study composition. This is the most important tool you have as a photographer. Learn to use the other tools you have to their best effect. Equipment stats are important only if they help you understand your tools and how to use them. Great photos can be gotten even by modest equipment. Galen Rowell and Dewitt Jones have shot some great stuff with inexpensive gear. Even pinhole camera results can be interesting and inspiring if the content is right.

    Finally an article I truly respect! To me, in camera capture of a near final image is the goal. A little cropping and some fine tuning is all I ever want to do. I am tired of seeing published images with unnatural colours, especially greens. Image manipulation is not, IMO, photography.

    Thank you very much, Mr. Goodrich for so clearly explaining what matters and what doesn’t. I intend to read this article again in future as the craving to wield fancy gear often overpowers me. Thank you and regards, Gireesh

    I HAVE A NEW PHOTOGRAPHY HERO!!!!! Granted, I do not know half the stuff the real pro’s know but I have always thought, it’s not what your camera can do, but what you can do with your camera. Many “photographers” don’t even know what their cameras are capable off. And don’t get me started on HDR. Thank you Jay. Brilliant article.

    I shared this story with as many people I know, in any blogs or group about photography. I think it is the only thing to read to understand if anyone can make good photographs and become a real photographer. thank you very much

    I have an old (5+ yrs) Fujifilm pocket point-&-shoot with full manual controls I use with a 90’s era aluminum video tripod ($5 at a church basement sale) & my ‘workflow’ is Picasa. I’ve had other ‘photographers’ with their DSLR’s & long lenses on a carbon fiber tripod literally laugh at me while setting up my tiny camera on a flimsy aluminum tripod. The most frequent comment I get from those who see my pics is “You’re camera takes great pictures!”.

    I cannot tell ALL of you how amazing it is to read all of the wonderful comments! Please know that I have read them all and truly wish I had time to reply to each of you individually. There will be many more posts coming. I am only hoping that a fraction of them hit home like this one. Thank you so very much for reading!

    Jay,

    Totally agree with everything except your comment about NIK plug in. I use it because it is so much faster than trying to figure it out in LR. Maybe Adobe should wake up and make that part of the Develop Module easier. I’m pretty savy using LR but I found that I can do certain things quicker with NIK. And isn’t that the whole idea about processing your digital photos so you aren’t spending a LOT of time in front of the computer. And I’m not shooting for Natgeo so who cares if I used NIK. The end product is what I’m after and no one knows cares how I processed the image. They just see the final product.

    OK I read the article and there was some good points in there – especially around plugins and HDR, but I disagree with you saying not to use Photoshop at all. Your clients don’t let you!? Well, that sucks for you, because most landscape photographers worth a damn use it in almost every image. I think the title of your article should have been “5 things that I don’t worry about anymore, but your mileage may vary.” I think you have some wonderful points, but you can’t assume that what works for you will work for everyone. Journalism and fine art are two totally different types of photography, and both need different tools to do the job right.

    In regards to #1, now that cameras have come into the digital age, they face the same problem as computers did when I was younger–too much data. I had to stop subscribing to computer magazines in my teens because, though I loved the technology, I was tired of feeling that everything I had was inferior. I am beginning to feel the same way with digital cameras. I don’t have enough megapixels, I don’t know how many frames per second my cameras shoot, and I’m still using a mirror?!? It’s all very distracting.

    You are right in so many ways. The best way to get back to basics is to have no way to do fancy editing. Seriously, just go on eBay and buy an 11-year old D70. It’s easy to avoid fancy effects when you can’t use them.

    How great to read somebody tell it like it is. Now make a list of places not to photograph, I would start with Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend. I have never been to either but feel that I know them intimately from pictures on various sites. I shot medium format when film was king because I found 35mm too difficult to get a good print from now I love digital.

    I bought a DSLR about five years ago and after an initial burst of enthusiasm I put it away and used it only rarely since about six months ago. It was then that I decided to apply myself to learn more about digital photography and my camera. I never shot anything but the “Auto” setting and only used the 18X105MM that came with the camera. I wanted to do more so I dove in head first. After reading a slew of books and watching a several DVD photography courses I was slowly realizing that most of the photos I was seeing on websites and in some magazines were digitally altered. I watched a DVDs about Photoshop and Lightroom and was flabbergasted at the amount of technical information and decided it was all too much for me to absorb. I also disliked the fact that what I was seeing was not actual photography but digital manipulation. Your article has given me a renewed sense of purpose. I am going to dive back in but this time it won’t be in the deep end. Thank you

    Along these lines, have you ever watched Kai over at digitalrev.com when he gets a well known photographer to use some old crappy digital camera? Despite the limitations of the equipment the users are still able to come up with some incredible images. Sometimes I get the impression that OP and other photography publications are just vehicles for pushing product.

    Canon T3i with two kits lenses, a Sigma 10 – 22mm and a Canon 60mm. Why? Because it’s what I could afford and I see no need to spend more. I’m selling prints. The rest is simply up to me. Outgrown Nik and HDR for the most part and working primarily with LR. Working with long exposure….and I am happy, happy, happy. Excellent article, Jay.

    Kudos for speaking up about this issue. I have a digital camera, but I still shoot film on occasion. To get back to basics I take either camera and one fixed focus lens, and shoot. It is a blast to not be carrying a bag full of lenses, and let your feet do the zooming. I am a physics professor and I tell my students when they are stuck on a problem to fall back on the basics. The same holds true in photography.

    Just because I have it with me most of the time, I shoot a lot with my iPhone. (Remember “f8 and be there”? I still have two 35mm film SLRs.) My 7MP P&S camera also often takes better images than my 16MP P&S. Despite the smaller pixel count, the images have a certain visual snap. Although the 16MP does shoot HD video….

    I must mildly disagree about HDR. The HDR built in to iOS works well much of the time and has a comparatively gentle effect. I don?۪t always prefer the HDR versions of the images, though. Sometimes I juggle a circular polarizer in front of the iPhone lens.

    Started developing my own film in late 1950s. Your article is right on. Have been all digital since 2009. Your article is a great piece of work. We need more like it.

    If you haven’t learned some “real” photography, all the after-shot goodies in the world are just going to make your pictures look “fixed”.

    I say God bless the histogram, but for the most part I don’t know what all the things are on my camera’s menu list, and don’t need to. Ditto Photoshop. I use a few apps on Elements 9 and get all the results I need

    Thank you, Thank you!!! I am an intermediate photographer and have had a digital camera about 10 years max. I still have my film camera and love it. This article TOTALLY frees me from the prison of fear I’ve experienced and makes me want to go out and make photographs all day! I’ve always thought “Let the camera do the work, not photoshop”. I have a renewed passion for photography now!

    Hi Jay, imho the world is big, there are several ways of creating great captures and no one can say his method is the only and the best. What you are writing about partly I agree, on the other hand I think photography is art and self expression also. Looking it this way there are cases when you want to show your emotions, thoughts and inner world through the captures and maybe a machine is not enough for that. So you have to add what technology can offer in a digital world – but yes, with taste, with ethics and with style. The capture still should be honest and true, but will have an individual plus. Also we should not forget that without a good basic capture even with the best plugins, filters – you cannot make wonder. I think what you are speaking about is more of documentary photography (yes, nature photography basically is that) and if that’s your aim, you are right.

    Your article is a real breath of fresh air and offers a lot of encouragement to those of us who are relatively new to taking photography seriously, in this digital age.

    I learned a very basic principle on a fall trip through Northwest Arkansas; if you don’t stop and take the shot, when you get home you will not have a picture of it! Driving on a south section of dirt road from Hwy 71 to White Rock Mountain, I Missed an evening sunshine through the trees; the picture exists only in my mind, and I can’t get it to print. At return some year to get it.

    I have had folks walk up next to me with my DSLR, and they have apologized for their small point and shoot camera. I usually respond with “it’s not the camera, but the person behind the camera.” I’ve also had one person call me unprofessional when I pulled out my Fuji Finepix camera, when my Nikon had technical issues. People get hung up on the gear. I often take shots with my Samsung GS4, and then have been asked for my “camera settings”! Thanks for a great article!

    I love this article and will recommend it to my photography club. It used to upset me when people assumed my good pictures were because of the camera I had. If the equipment made the pictures, everyone would take great photos. Now I just nod at them and wander away to find the shots no one else is looking for.

    Jay Goodrich. I’ll have to check him out. He seems to be talking about composition a lot. That is about all I believe I am any good at, after years of ignorantly taking pictures.

    And HDR? Before I get to learn about it, he is suggesting don’t even bother.

    I do like the sound of his more natural, intuitve approach. But then what do I know.

    Thanks for this well-written and enlightening article – a very liberating piece about modern photography; we can really get caught up with the proliferation of gears and doodads which most of the time have nothing to do with creating great photos. on the contrary, they tend to distract us from the essence of the craft, not to mention the drain on one’s pocketbook. Kudos to National Geographic for stubbornly resisting the lure of gadgetry and trickeries of post-production. They take away the soul and mystery from a great image which only the photographers vision can capture. Many of today’s camera buffs aspire for the weird instead of truth and image quality. Sad.

    Way back in the late 1980s, while a freshman in high school, I took a film B&W photography course. I shot B&W for 6 years after that. Then I put down the camera for a very long time and only in the past few years have I started shooting again. So I’m very late to the digital game. Everything in this article is right on. Get the shot as right as you can in the camera first. Post production is to clean up that last little bit to get the image right. The camera is a tool, and every camera can take a great shot, if the photographer knows the camera’s limits and exploits them. Photographers should be out shooting, not stuck in front of a screen for hours mucking about with plugins.

    Thank You!. Ive been telling young “photographers” this forever and IT IS FACT. I have seen teenagers using point and shoots coming up with great photos with no “post production” even needed.We all “want” for the latest and greatest…but I think most of us know you don’t reall “need it”.. if you are indeed talented..wisdom to live by…

    YMMV, but for me, “field cropping” and simply framing a scene by magnification is much different than consciously making a photograph. I now use only two fast zoom lenses for wildlife and action. Otherwise, it’s all primes–14, 20, 24, 35, 50, 85 and 300 and both DX and FX bodies, A lighter kit, better handling and much sharper images. Pausing to reflect and select a specific lens for a specific reason has rekindled by creative spirit. I started at a newspaper with a 35mm Pentax and a 50mm lens in 1970, but I drifted toward the “convenience” of zooms. Now I see that much of that work amounted to “target practice.” With primes and a little thought I believe I’m now making photographs instead.

    Thanks to Mr. Goodrich for one of the most interesting series of comments on photography in some time. Years ago when digital was new, Galen Rowell asked his OP readers if photographers should say if their photos had been digitally altered. My reply was that in the future we would assume that any published image had been manipulated digitally, and that if it were important to the photographer that viewers know the image was untouched, that was all that was all that would be necessary to say about it. Now that future is here, and I doubt if many photographers these days can make that statement.

    Let me add that I mess at least a little with most of the images I capture, and I do it mostly with Corel’s Paint Shop Pro.

    Early in the digital age Galen Rowell asked his OP readers if photographers should reveal if their photos had been digitally altered. My reply was that in the future we would all assume that published images had been digitally manipulated, and that if it were important to a photographer that viewers know his image is untouched, that’s all that would need to be said. That future is now here, and I doubt if many photographers can make that statement.

    I digitally mess with most of my images to some extent, and I do it with Paint Shop Pro.

    Thanks, Jay Goodrich, for a provocative article.

    It?۪s really up to the person or the organization who sent the letter to act on their demand. They might have a limited time in which to act, but that?۪s dependent on the law they?۪re trying to enforce.

    Dear Jay,Many thanks for this very interesting article. I had the – mavellous – opportunity to participate to a workshop organised recently in Bangkok by Gavin Gough, with William Albert Allard as main guest and teacher. As you know, Bill Allard has been working for more than 50 years for National Geographic Magazine and his teaching meets exactly your recommendations, i.e.: get it straight in the camera, NO CROPPING, possibly a bit of tweaking in Lightroom and that’s it!

    And as Bill rightly says: “Photography comes from inside: you have to get concerned, you have to spend the time to immerse yourself in your subject, ! Best regards

    Dear Jay,Many thanks for this very interesting article. I had the – mavellous – opportunity to participate to a workshop organised recently in Bangkok by Gavin Gough, with William Albert Allard as main guest and teacher. As you know, Bill Allard has been working for more than 50 years for National Geographic Magazine and his teaching meets exactly your recommendations, i.e.: get it straight in the camera, NO CROPPING, possibly a bit of tweaking in Lightroom and that’s it!

    And as Bill rightly says: “Photography comes from inside: you have to get concerned, you have to spend the time to immerse yourself in your subject, ! Best regards

    Maybe it’s because I’m not very tech oriented, and this reinforces my laziness in not learning all the stuff I don’t know not to mention my cheapness in not buying all the latest gear, but I loved this article….actually laughed my way through it. Thanks so much.

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