Why 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.
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.
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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