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Monday
Aug152011

Photographs Are Not Created with Mouse Clicks

Despite all of the amazing advancements we've recently seen in photography, I usually find myself more impressed and inspired by images created by photographers of the past. W. Eugene Smith, Ernst Haas, and Walker Evans to name a few.  They weren't paid by the mouse click, but rather for capturing a real moment in time.  They didn't use HDR or prepackaged "actions" to create a certain look. There was no anti-shake built into the camera body, and flash sync speeds were around 1/60. Yet, to these photographers and the countless others who went before, the limitations of their gear only worked to sharpen their senses. They weren't bogged down or distracted by all this technology and as a result, connected with their subject in a way that's visible in their work.

As we move into an increasingly digital world, I am seeing an increase in blogs and websites with comprehensive lists detailing every last piece of equipment in their bag.  While it's nice to see that Canon and Nikon's marketing efforts are working, the resulting portfolios are rarely as impressive.  The photos may be technically sound but the photographer's personal touch is overshadowed by the technology used to create it. Somewhere behind all the layers of post production, there are images which wouldn't really stand up on their own.

Today with every tool at our disposal, I believe there is a real danger in simply relying on technology instead of mastering our craft.  Take Neil Leifer's photo of Muhammed Ali for example.  It was captured in 1965 and I've yet to see a more powerful boxing image even with today's fastest motor drives.  His timing was impeccable and the exposure did not need to be rescued in Photoshop. Technology should not replace photographic knowledge.

Be honest, if you were to cover up your camera's LCD screen with tape, could you still use manual exposure properly?  If not, then your photographic muscles need flexing. I say this not to discourage, but rather to fire you up for the journey.  As Leonardo Da Vinci said "Those who are in love with practice without knowledge are like the sailor who gets into a ship without rudder or compass and who never can be certain whether he is going."  Now the question is, where do you go from here?

 

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Reader Comments (17)

Inspiring words. What sparked my interest in photography was what a camera and a lens could do, not what post processing was capable of. Under all those filters and effects, what do you have? A photo that is sub par. I have very little interest in processing photos to make them look "amazing" and give them a "wow" factor. Why must we rely on photoshop or other editing tools to make photos look great when it should all rely on a camera and the photographer?
August 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAdrian Buller
You're talking about the risk of something happening that's already happened. The camera is taking (making) the pictures now and the person is doing next to nothing. Hence the biblical flood of 'good' images driving down the prices of all images nearly to zero. This process began many years ago and now is virtually complete. Professional photographers today earn their money doing services, like you. Selling pictures, the value is now 100% in marketing, not the image. This isn't going to improve!
August 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMurray Bolesta
I learned a long time ago that limitations are my friends. I do not need the latest stuff to get great images. The matter of fact is that I often take just one lens with me and try to work with it. If you want to take this to the extreme, use just one f stop all day or turn of the auto-focus and shoot images from the same distance.

I also learned that all automatic interpretations of images create mediocre pictures at best. I shoot raw and develop my images. The computer is the modern darkroom. Photoshop knowledge is essential for creating great images. However they become indeed mediocre through automatic editing.

Bottom line: The artist is not a robot, neither in front of the camera nor in front of a computer!
Thank you for this challenging article!
August 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterFriedhelm Golz
A dropout from NYIP myself.
While I agree with the need to constantly strive to improve ones abilities in both the Technology and ART of taking a picture. I don't agree with the way the author has expressed "In my opinion" his disdain with the advancement of the technology. At what point in time do we turn back the clock on photography, Sheet film instead of Roll film, Large format view cameras instead of medium format cameras, the introduction of the SLR style cameras? Where do we stop? I would also be interested in learning just what type of camera the author uses when he is photographing. I imagine him wandering around with his 8 by 10 view camera strapped onto his mule as he heads for the wilderness.

Do I use the features on my camera? You bet your backside I do. Not all of them, not all of the time. I shoot in manual and have my camera set to shoot in Camera RAW. I will look at my camera back to check my settings are producing the type of image I am trying to capture. I have read about photographers using some type of attachment to their larger cameras to shot Polariod film to check out their layouts and setting before shooting their regular film. I have seen this equipment advertised for use with medium format cameras. How is this any different than lookingat the screen on the back of my DSLR?

Are you a better photographer if you use a darkroom and chemicals instead of a computer? It is my goal to be able to take Photographs that require little or no editing in post other than resizing to my desired size. I am continually striving to attain this goal. I think I will still be striving to attain this goal when I die.

So for the time being I will stick with my DSLR cameras with all of them new fangled gadgets. You know, Image stabilizer, Auto Focus, etc. and continue to enjoy learning the art and Skill of photography while having whatever edge I can get. The Technology is there, why not learn to use it. You can turn most of the features off to learn what limits it may impose on you and how it may or may not make you a better photographer. But at least you have the option.
August 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterWilliam C. Mazzanti
I fully agree. I started in photography in 1960 when It was camera, photographer and knowledge. In my opinion today's photography is really not photography any more. It's a computer and photoshop. What you see in the viewfinder is nothing like what you see in the final print. Photoshop (and others) have become so prevalent that at times people will take a good picture and by the time they get through altering it it has become almost abstract.
August 22, 2011 | Unregistered Commentermezeus
This is one of those arguments that will continue 'ad infinitum' There are pros and cons on either side of this one!

I respect the skill of the film shooters of yore who were compelled to do it right the first time. These men practiced their craft and honed their skills; something we all should do. How many of us pick up our cameras between shoots just to get familiar with skills, settings, and other aspects of our trade?
I am all for getting a photo right at the time it's shot. the less tweaking I have to do with my computer the better. I continuously challenge myself to utilize settings that will bring about the best photo possible. I'm sure that many former film shooters welcome digital cards as opposed to film for obvious reasons.
I prefer to see a meshing of the two technologies rather than a complete shedding of the old. There is a lot to be learned by us photography neophytes especially when it comes to the discipline aspect of our craft.
August 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDarcy Darville
Taking pictures with a camera on fully automatic is tantamount to riding a bicycle with training wheels.
August 22, 2011 | Unregistered Commentermezeus
I do not work as a professional photographer but I do love the craft. I started an NYIP professional course just as DSLR photography began to explode on the retail market and against the advice of the very first lesson, I was so caught up in the technology that I couldn't stay focused on the work because I was so busy learning to use a new camera every few months. When I finally settled down to a camera I thought I knew well enough and was content with my course had expired. I learned a lot from those lessons though and I too want to take a better photo, not create one in photoshop. Having said all that, my point is that I love the technology of digital photography- I never use film- I love that I can do little tweaks to make my shots better- but I still strive for taking a better photo.
August 22, 2011 | Unregistered Commentermlhaffley
I tend to agree with your article, although I believe a little correction is sometimes necessary and ihaving the tools available to do that is a remarkable help, however overdoing it takes away from the lovely photograph it started out to be, I can't stand all the "processed" photos out there! Some are interesting to a degree but I'd imagine they were just fine to begin with, overdoing anything hurts....."less is more" or so they say!
August 22, 2011 | Unregistered Commentercarolyn eddy
I'm not a professional, rather an amateur photographer compared to most people posting here. Before my DSLR came along I didn't use a film camera for very long either, however, I do believe that post processing goes way too far in many cases. I was always taught and still believe that you should get it as near to perfect as possible in camera. I have software capable of turning a mediocre "snap" into a wow photograph but do I use it, no. Basic tweeking maybe but why, if you are a good photographer, would you want to go to town and throw all the bells and whistles at your creation? I still attend workshops, read and surf the internet, all to learn how to improve my methods and final results. No matter how much I learn there always seems to be something else I need to add to my understanding. Thanks for the article, if it makes some of us take another look at what we do in processing our images then it has done its job.
August 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNoelene Sapiro
I always smile when I read an article about the good old days and the true art of photography. How the old photo's were what the eye saw and not this fake post processing. I learned something from this article because I did not know who the photographers were that were mentioned by the author and for that I thank him. I looked at Ernst Haas photo's, very nice. He used a long exposure on his 1981 waterfall photo creating a waterfall that looks nothing like any waterfall I have ever seen. I have seen old photo's where the photographer used red filters to bring out a dramatic sky in B&W or where in developing the photographer used vignetting or burn and dodging to alter the exposure in some parts of the photo. How Ansel Adams had a special way of developing that was not that easy to replicate and how others use of different chemicals during processing to produce different results. How can anyone say these photos are like what the camera saw or reality? Reality is not black and white. Reality is color. These are alterations of reality or what the camera captured on film and if you think otherwise you are in a dream world.
There is a more important question to be asked and that is, is photography a snapshot in time or is it art. A snapshot in time records an event while art is truly in the eye of the beholder and is limited only by imagination. With technology we are all capable of taking better snapshots in time of friends or events but art, now that takes talent beyond pointing a camera and pushing a button or a few mouse moves. I admire how some can take a number of photos and make wonderful images using photoshop. I don't have the technical skill to do that but more importantly, I do not have the artistic imagination to create those images. I can certainly learn to copy them but the art of photography goes beyond copying and involves creating something that others haven't.
If photography is art, then look at the various types of art from modern, impressionist to the surreal. I don't like Picasso but I acknowledge his talent as an artist just as I may not like some of the over worked photographs, I admire the work that goes into the end product.
I still admire the old masters, but we must make way for the new masters who use a different medium to create their masterpieces.
As for the Mohammad Ali photo, you have to be good to be lucky and lucky to be good. The photographer was in the right place at the right time with a camera up to his eye. Still talent, but very lucky.
August 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGreg Johnston
The reality is you do not know whether or not Neil Leifer's photo of Ali had to be rescued. B&W film could be bumped and frequently was Ansel Adams was a master in the dark room and dodged and burned his prints to meet his vision of perfection. In my opinion it is capturing the moment that is the primary goal. How the vision of the moment is brought to express the photographers vision whether is be in the dark room, Photoshop or Aperture is not relevant to the quality of the finished image. If you are phoographing a woman is using makeup and a hairstylist some sort of a artistic abomination? Don't think so.
August 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMichael Vincent
So, then, is the only type of painting that should be allowed realism? Should we throw out all the paintings, even the ones by the great masters, that are not exact copies of reality?

Just like with other art forms, there are many different types of photography. There is nothing wrong with a beautiful photo that has been processed to look very different from reality just like there is nothing wrong with a beautiful photo that has been minimally processed to look just like reality. (All digital photos need some processing out of the camera.) Good photographs usually enhance reality by just being good photographs (position of photographer/camera, white balance, lighting/flash, lenses, lens filters, etc.).

Like someone else said, Ansel Adams and other past film photographers edited and processed their photos and films in all sorts of ways to enhance the images. We do the same thing now, just with a different tool (the computer/Photoshop/Lightroom). In fact, most of the Photoshop/Lightroom/plug-in features are based on dark-room enhancements, even keeping the same names!

Of course you still have to be a good photographer and you have to know the right way and time/place to edit an image (you're not going to add a glamour glow effect to the image for the front page of the newspaper, but you may want to add it to a portrait of a beautiful woman that she wants to hang a print of on her wall). You don't just snap photos without caring because you can crop them all later or not use the proper white balance and settings because you can/may be able to fix those later. You take a technically good photograph. Then you process it on the computer. Then you may or may not edit it more, depending on the photo, what it is of, what it is for, your artistic self, etc.

If all photos were completely realistic, all photographers would be no different from each other and life would be very boring. Thank goodness for the vast differences in art, including photography!!

And there is nothing wrong with checking the screen at the beginning of a shoot/change in location or light to be certain you remembered to get all the settings right. Even those who have a golden memory can get distracted, especially when photographing a living subject, and forget to set something correctly - much more those of us with poor memories or memory/learning disabilities. I would much rather a photographer make sure the photos are coming out correct than do a whole shoot wrong! When we shot film, we didn't have this technology, but technology makes things better, so why shun a great tool?!

I started off shooting film before digital cameras were out, but I much prefer digital now for all the technology it brings us. As an artist/designer and photographer, I do realistic shots, highly-processed shots, and everything in between. Nothing is wrong with doing any of it and there is an audience for all types.

This article is leaning towards the, "I hate all these amateur photographers taking business away from me," type of complaint that is often heard from insecure pro photographers and that is a dangerous place to go! Get away from that thought and focus on your own work and creating your image/niche in the photography world.

And, hey, if you're actually wanting realistic, HDR can be your best friend! While many people think of overly-processed images when they think of HDR (nothing wrong with those types of images), HDR has many levels, including realistic that just gives a broader range to the photo, more than the camera can capture in one shot due to the limitations of cameras.
August 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJay Emm
Photography is about manipulating and capturing the light, as far as I am concerned. There always has been be post production, and there always will be. I am a minimalist... less is better for me. For others its the abstraction of reality that is the art, the camera and computer is the tool.
August 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAngus
I became a student at NYIP to learn about my camera and to see what i could with it. I'm am NOT into using a computer to "create" a photograph. My main interest is vacations / traveling. I have been to Europe, Asia, Alaska, and around the USA. I have seen alot but still like camera photos NOT computer photos.
August 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBill Higgins
@ William C. Mazzanti - The author is normally in favour of new technology. If you were a current student of NYIP you'd know that he's the first one to make all student aware of new advances, new technology, new software, and new apps. If you read most of his articles, you'd know that. So I don't agree with you when you say 'his disdain with the advancement of the technology.' He's just bringing up something that most advisors and teachers at NYIP keep on saying: "You have to get it right on the camera," or "It's not the violin, but the violinist."

With that said, coming from someone who does work with computers, software, and technology 40+ hrs/week, I have to agree wtih Chris: Sometimes people abuse of the technology and they try to compensate with it instead of getting right on the camera itself. I shoot practically all my pictures in manual. I only use the computer to do minor touches, cropping and converting between formats when needed. But that's it. I'd rather be outside or in the studio taking pictures than sitting at a desk trying to "improve" my pictures for hours. It doesn't make much sense.

Thanks for posting this, Chris.
August 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMary
i am a recent graduate of NYIP and yes i agree with the author that the public taking images are overusing the tech and not creating
the images that exist.by being able to create an image that first drew you to it is what it should be.NYIP's rule of composure is to simplify.a post process should be the last agenda before you capture the image.
Enjoy your hobby/profession and keep shooting.
September 7, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterabbas j.ali
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