Recently, I was made painfully aware of the the mentality of sloppiness that exists among the current work habits of many of today’s Digital Photographers. I find this trend both distressing and comforting. It is distressing because of the general lowering of the standards of quality and comforting because I know I can compete against it by exemplifying excellence in my own work.
Digital photographers are both born and made but not in the traditional sense. There are those who were incubated in the womb of film and transparency and then traversed the birth canal of digital capture to emerge in modern day imaging. Then there are those who arrived in the realm of image capture without paying the price of study and technique in the previous incarnation of photography. They entered imaging directly through the advent of the digital camera.
“That’s ok. I’ll fix it later.”
Two camps have staked out territory in this vast land called Imaging and placed their emphasis upon different areas of the imaging process. The two camps are divided into those who are about the capture and those who are about the enhancement with both espousing the position of the final product as being the standard by which they should be judged. Both raise good points as to their admonitions that their way is the right. Both miss the boat on some other points.
Capture aficionados tend to view the camera as an extension of their creative self. It is the brush in their hands that they put to canvas. Enhancement proponents view the computer, and by extension, the image editing software as an extension of their creative self. It is the chisel to which they put to stone. My conversations with folks from both camps lead me to realize that they each regard portions of the process as necessary evils. The Capture crowd tends to view the computer and software as a necessary evil to release their imprisoned image to paper. The Enhancement crowd tends to regard the camera as the necessary evil, providing them with a raw image on which they can work their creative vision. It is the difference between toiling to grow the grain for harvest and grinding the harvest for bread. Both the farmer and the miller are necessary to the loaf but neither regards the other as equal.
My fear in this is that many more people tend toward competency in the editing side of the process rather than the capture side. It is natural for an industry movement to gravitate towards the growing critical mass. One only has to compare the photography publications of today with those of twenty years ago to see evidence of the trend. Any issue of a photography magazine today will have detailed articles on software and technique. Software gurus are writing books on digital photography. In the past, chemicals, paper and enlargers never enjoyed the page count which software enjoys today.
The danger in all this is that the intoxicating lure of quick fix image editing is going to lull those firing the shutter into a haphazard complacency with regard to technique. As I pointed out in my article on Level Shooting, the simple technique of holding a camera level produces a superior image. Certainly, I can repair the unlevel image in software but I will have a much better image that will produce a higher quality enlargement if I capture right in the first place.
“When randomness through
repetition yields the acceptable image,
why bother with technique?”
What of exposure, color balance, composition, or sharpness? All of these things can be repaired in software if you are presented with a deficient image. One of the antecedents of deficient images is sloppy technique. Essentially, in most cases, using software to fix images means we are correcting sloppy technique.
The other side of the slippery slope of sloppiness is the ease and lack of expense of shooting lots of pictures. I shoot lots of pictures-because I can-because I must sometimes to ensure I get the shot. The danger is in thinking that taking lots of images will make up for poor technique. Dilution of skill spread across multiple chance cheapens the capture process. We value the technique less if we can use randomness to mitigate capture difficulties. We are accustomed to throwing away large numbers of captures in the name of that pristine capture never realizing that with better technique we might have two exceptional images from which to choose instead of one.
Despite my tone, I am in favor of robust image software and taking many photos. However, I am even more in favor of using impeccable technique in acquiring these captures so that the time and effort spent in software is much less and that attention can be given to enhancing rather than repairing.
If you choose to be a proponent of Software Repair and Blast and Pray capture, I think I can compete favorably against this.
Rikk Flohr © 2008