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Author Topic: Photo Technology Luddites: Can they be Great Photographers?  (Read 22022 times)
Jim.Batzer
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« Reply #20 on: February 10, 2009, 12:16:55 PM »
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Seriously though, I think that both (technique and talent/vision) are important. I ran into this issue teaching college level courses. I would often have art students as well as engineering students in the intro classes. My observation was that the art students could easily learn the technique of photography, while most engineering students struggled to keep artistic concerns in mind when making images. I'm not saying this was always the case, but it often was.

The trick was to get the engineering students to start making images that incorporated the principles of engineering they found fascinating. This was always more difficult with the engineers than the artists. They simply weren't accustomed to thinking about things this way. I'd encourage them to make images about what they found beautiful in the concepts of their discipline and they would make images of rulers, protractors, wrenches, etc. - where these things are the results of being concerned with the principles of engineering and not the expression of the principles themselves.

Typically, the best photography was almost always about something non-photographic - something completely unrelated to concerns about technique, craft, or beauty. Deficiencies in technique and craft could distract from an otherwise great image, but the presence of excellent technique and craft by itself rarely produced a great image. So I would say that technique and craft may be necessary but are never sufficient, while vision and talent are always necessary and (may be) sufficient...

In the end though, I found that everyone could improve with effort, and that the most improvement occurred when the students would stop being concerned with having answers and started being concerned with asking questions.
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Lisa Nikodym
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« Reply #21 on: February 10, 2009, 04:14:46 PM »
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Lots of interesting responses here. It is helping me to clarify the technical areas that I think beginners should focus.

The technical fundamentals of photography remain important. Exposure (aperture, shutter, ISO), lighting, depth of field, focus, etc... are technical issues that need to be mastered in order to have any consistency at all. These are important for all to master. I would also add into this mastery of operating your camera efficiently is another aspect of this area.

On the other hand, today we get hung-up on some pretty arcane technical stuff dealing with SNR, pixel pitch, color depth, noise-reduction, etc... This stuff falls into a second tier of technical information that I think is less critical. If you buy a decent camera, much of this stuff can be considered superfluous for most photographers--even some professionals.

As much as I may be interested in understanding the second tier of photo technology, I think I should avoid pushing beginners into these areas. They should focus on the fundamentals of photography--those areas that haven't changed in decades.

Bingo - you've got it exactly (at least according to my own experience).  I couldn't agree more with everything you say here.

Lisa
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Colorado David
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« Reply #22 on: February 10, 2009, 04:39:11 PM »
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Quote from: fike
On the other hand, today we get hung-up on some pretty arcane technical stuff dealing with SNR, pixel pitch, color depth, noise-reduction, etc...

I think it is second nature for a lot of enthusiasts to get caught up in this kind of detail.  Arcane technical stuff is important, but is no longer of any immediate import after you've bought your camera, have it mounted on your tripod and are standing before the scene you're about to photograph.  At this point the technical mastery I referenced in my first post, which is the ability to use your camera to achieve your vision, to enforce your will upon your equipment, comes to the forefront.  Mastery of your craft doesn't mean that you've memorized the specs for your gear.  It means you have command of your equipment.  It is not a replacement for artistic vision, rather it is a means of achieving your artistic vision.

Come to think of it, this topic may be a slightly different twist on the theme; which is more important, the camera or the photographer?  I still maintain that technical knowledge or the top of the line gear is no replacement for artistic vision.  It is a means to an end and vision and mastery are co-dependent.
« Last Edit: February 10, 2009, 04:40:44 PM by Colorado David » Logged

KeithR
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« Reply #23 on: February 10, 2009, 05:04:08 PM »
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Quote from: fike
Lots of interesting responses here.  It is helping me to clarify the technical areas that I think beginners should focus.  

The technical fundamentals of photography remain important.  Exposure (aperture, shutter, ISO), lighting, depth of field, focus, etc... are technical issues that need to be mastered in order to have any consistency at all. These are important for all to master.  I would also add into this mastery of operating your camera efficiently is another aspect of this area.  

On the other hand, today we get hung-up on some pretty arcane technical stuff dealing with SNR, pixel pitch, color depth, noise-reduction, etc...  This stuff falls into a second tier of technical information that I think is less critical.  If you buy a decent camera, much of this stuff can be considered superfluous for most photographers--even some professionals.  

As much as I may be interested in understanding the second tier of photo technology, I think I should avoid pushing beginners into these areas.  They should focus on the fundamentals of photography--those areas that haven't changed in decades.

I would agree to a point. I think the technical issues that need to be included would be at least a working knowledge of the "darkroom" side of photography. Today that would be post processing with an image editor and an understanding of what needs to be done outside the camera. I've run into a lot of people that have gone out and bought a digital SLR and come away disapointed that the color was off or wasn't sharp and didn't know that there were ways to correct it. Back in the days of darkrooms, I at least knew my way around film reels and print trays. I knew when I sent stuff to a lab that when it came back if it was good of if something happened and who was at fault. I've also run into people that don't understand bit depth/resolution or color management and yet they print their own work and since they have not seen a decently printed image, they don't know what is good or not. A recent example was a recent visit to a camera club and the person that was judging brought examples of his work. They were 11x14 prints and from the back of the room the quality looked fair at best, but he was extolling the virtures that his 3-4mp camera was all he needed and that Jpeg was fine and that it only took him 3 or 4 tries to get each print. He claimed that there was no such thing as wysiwyg, that it was just a myth. When these prints were passed around, they were pixelated, not sharp and the color was somewhat off. His "eye" was good(subject/composition, etc.), but he didn't have any working knowledge of why his results looked like crap. I didn't want to hurt the guy's feelings or embarrass him, so I said nothing, but my point is that there is some of the technology that is needed in todays photography.
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« Reply #24 on: February 10, 2009, 05:21:41 PM »
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Quote from: BernardLanguillier
I believe that a Nikon D700 with a 50 mm f1.4 at f2.0, with Auto ISO set to a min shutter speed set of 1/60 sec, max ISO at 3200, zone AF, -0.7 exposure compensation, D lighting set to high and A mode is by far the best point and shoot cameras ever produced.

Never in history has it been as easy for non tech savy people with a good eye to get great color results without thinking too much about technique.
Hey Bernard, you had me laughing in the first sentence, but then the second sentence makes me think you're not making a joke? Anyway, I do agree to a point with the second sentence, but I think the bare minimum at the capture stage is understanding shutter speeds and f-stops.

Then, as somebody else already pointed out, the digital darkroom is going to be necessary, unless a photographer is happy with a low hit rate.
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fike
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« Reply #25 on: February 10, 2009, 06:09:55 PM »
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Quote from: KeithR
I would agree to a point. I think the technical issues that need to be included would be at least a working knowledge of the "darkroom" side of photography. Today that would be post processing with an image editor and an understanding of what needs to be done outside the camera. I've run into a lot of people that have gone out and bought a digital SLR and come away disapointed that the color was off or wasn't sharp and didn't know that there were ways to correct it. Back in the days of darkrooms, I at least knew my way around film reels and print trays. I knew when I sent stuff to a lab that when it came back if it was good of if something happened and who was at fault. I've also run into people that don't understand bit depth/resolution or color management and yet they print their own work and since they have not seen a decently printed image, they don't know what is good or not. A recent example was a recent visit to a camera club and the person that was judging brought examples of his work. They were 11x14 prints and from the back of the room the quality looked fair at best, but he was extolling the virtures that his 3-4mp camera was all he needed and that Jpeg was fine and that it only took him 3 or 4 tries to get each print. He claimed that there was no such thing as wysiwyg, that it was just a myth. When these prints were passed around, they were pixelated, not sharp and the color was somewhat off. His "eye" was good(subject/composition, etc.), but he didn't have any working knowledge of why his results looked like crap. I didn't want to hurt the guy's feelings or embarrass him, so I said nothing, but my point is that there is some of the technology that is needed in todays photography.


I think you are probably right, but what is the bare minimum of post processing knowledge that is essential to basically competent output.  If your intention is only to publish online, the threshold is VERY low.  If you intend to print the requirements get higher, and if you intend to print large, the requirements get quite high.

Brainstorming some essential post-processing topics:
Basic color management (Adobe Gamma level)
Basic exposure in post processing, using curves, levels, contrast, RAW, whatever
cropping and sizing
basic output sharpening
printing using profiles

I run into a lot of people these days who don't ever intend to print their images.  They will post online or in a digital frame.  These are the folks who are concerned with jpg output of the excellent modern DSLRs we have these days.  I often find it odd that people buy expensive DSLRs and use them for jpg, but I guess in this context, it makes some sense.

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« Reply #26 on: February 11, 2009, 01:16:30 PM »
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Of course there is a balance.  I've come from a background of definitely spending too much time on the technical side, going out and trying to shoot things just because they were technically hard to shoot.  Having more recently spent more time understanding composition and the creative process I've gotten far better results so I'd say over emphasis on the technical side is a waste.  That said, if every photo is blurry or overexposed then you've got a problem.

That said, I'd really put it this way:

These days a camera has a very good chance of nailing focus and exposure on its own and getting great results with a default tone curve so one can certainly ignore the technical aspects and still get a haul of mostly technically well executed shots.  A camera will never be able to decide where to stand/sit/squat, where to point, what focal length to use and when to click the shutter so if one ignores developing the eye and compositional skills one should never expect to come back with any well composed shots.

Ken
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kwalsh
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« Reply #27 on: February 11, 2009, 01:18:23 PM »
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Quote from: fike
I often find it odd that people buy expensive DSLRs and use them for jpg, but I guess in this context, it makes some sense.

Well for years people bought expensive SLRs and put transparency film in them...  pretty much a film JPEG...

Ken
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Rob C
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« Reply #28 on: February 11, 2009, 01:30:52 PM »
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Quote from: kwalsh
Well for years people bought expensive SLRs and put transparency film in them...  pretty much a film JPEG...

Ken



What?

Rob C
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BernardLanguillier
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« Reply #29 on: February 11, 2009, 06:29:16 PM »
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Quote from: JDClements
Hey Bernard, you had me laughing in the first sentence, but then the second sentence makes me think you're not making a joke? Anyway, I do agree to a point with the second sentence, but I think the bare minimum at the capture stage is understanding shutter speeds and f-stops.

Not this time actually, I really think that the D700 is wonderful point and shoot camera that gets most things very right all by itself in a range of conditions that is un-precendeted.

Obviously having a good understanding of the basics of apeture and speed helps, but setting up an aperture of 2.0 on a 50 mm lens is a great point to start with. You'll have limited DoF and a very photographic feel to images.

Quote from: JDClements
Then, as somebody else already pointed out, the digital darkroom is going to be necessary, unless a photographer is happy with a low hit rate.

Not really in fact. You can get excellent results shooting jpg to start with. Still much better than what you would have gotten with 35 film most of the time.

Cheers,
Bernard
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« Reply #30 on: February 11, 2009, 06:40:31 PM »
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Hey, Bernard,

When I get a D700, I think I'll bring it over to have you do all the appropriate settings for me. OK? Then I'll put tape all over every control so they won't accidentally change.  

When i got my Canon10D, I assumed that it would be easy to use. It's a P&S isn't it? A fancy one, but still a P&S. But the 200-page manual is truly daunting, so there are many features I haven't bothered with and won't. I'm sure my success rate with it would have been higher if I had somebody walk me through some of the basic settings when I first got it.

Cheers,

Eric

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BernardLanguillier
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« Reply #31 on: February 11, 2009, 08:34:06 PM »
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Quote from: EricM
Hey, Bernard,

When I get a D700, I think I'll bring it over to have you do all the appropriate settings for me. OK? Then I'll put tape all over every control so they won't accidentally change.

Anytime Eric!

Cheers,
Bernard
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kwalsh
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« Reply #32 on: February 11, 2009, 09:08:51 PM »
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Quote from: Rob C
What?

Rob C

A first and typically *only* generation image.  The major advantage for RAW is the greater flexibility in post processing rather than the "baked" image from the camera's JPG engine.  Similarly transparency film bakes a final saturation and tone curve that is difficult to do much with once it comes out of the camera (as opposed to negative film).

Ken
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Pete Ferling
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« Reply #33 on: February 11, 2009, 09:31:35 PM »
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I can only go by my own experience.  I shot some in high school and took an interest.  Joined the Navy in '83 and went to Navy Photo School.  We had several instructors, and one (whose name I no longer remember) was not the techie type.  He gave us a simple shot list, a fully manual camera, and 125 iso B/W film.  Then we set out about the base and shot things like a trash can, a cinder block, etc. etc.  Items of non-interest.  He then graded us on composition.  When asked where our marks were for technical aptitude and dark room skills, he said something along the lines that if he could see the picture, then we made that part of the grade already.

However, it was a short stint for me.  I ticked off one of the instructors and was transferred to the USS Saratogo.  I continued my hobby with a T50, but nothing serious until about ten years ago when I switched from being a product development engineer to a multi-media developer.   When I picked up the camera again for serious work, I learned from those early teachings that I would be taking pictures of boring things and that it was my job to make them look interesting.  That I should only bother myself with the technology so long it helped me get the shot I was aiming for.
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« Reply #34 on: May 11, 2009, 08:19:30 AM »
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Quote from: fike
I got thinking about this because of a young (teenage) photographer I know who freely admits her lack of technical knowledge of photography, yet she has a great deal of talent.  I am trying to decide whether to push her to mastering the more technical aspects of her craft, but she seems to have NO INTEREST.  So I got to thinking...
Generation gap. Send her to Lomographic Society She doesn't want to talk with a propeller head taking pics of fur and feathers for the blue hairs at the local camera club. Nothing personal.

My local camera club keeps wondering why there are no kids; just blue hairs. I keep saying do a seminar on Lomo, have more film discussions, more ToyCamera discussions. They keep ignoring and pushing PS this and that. Still no kids.

Some people may be techno luddites. Others are social, cultural, generational and artistic luddites. Touche.

Regards, Art.
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John Camp
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« Reply #35 on: May 11, 2009, 09:08:26 PM »
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What really good contemporary photographers have a degree in photography? Which ones are self-taught? If you work through that, it would suggest that you let her do what she wants with a camera, and let technical knowledge come when it will. The fact is a chimp could learn the necessary technical side of photography in about six weeks. (Not a joke; look at the Santa Fe Workshop catalog sometime. About six courses should pretty well take care of you technically.) When she needs the information, if she ever does, it's there and easy to get. It's getting to be a photo nerd that takes a lot of time, but that doesn't have anything at all to do with actual photography.

JC
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Jonathan Wienke
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« Reply #36 on: May 11, 2009, 09:34:22 PM »
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Ignoring the technical side of photography like a red-headed bastard stepchild and focusing solely on the artistic/creative aspects of photography sounds romantic, and appeals to a certain ethos that denigrates the pursuit of technical skill as merely being a distracting deviation from the One True Path To Photographic Nirvana. But the reality is that this ethos is bullshit. The truth is that you can't rely on auto-everything cameras to flawlessly handle the technical stuff for you in every situation. Nowadays, in addition to automatic focus, ISO, shutter speed, and aperture, cameras have face detection and even smile detection that can with varying degrees of competence detect faces in the viewfinder, lock focus on the faces, and delay the shutter release until the faces are all smiling. A creatively endowed technical neophyte relying on such a camera may well produce competent work in many situations, until he is called upon to photograph a funeral, political protest or large-scale disaster, where smiles are unlikely to be the order of the day. Such a photographer would not have captured this image:



As the camera waits for the firefighter to smile, this moment would have passed the photographer by, unrecorded.

There is a minimum degree of technical competence that any aspiring photographer must master to avoid this sort of problem, starting with RTFM, RTFM, RTFM. Yeah, it sucks to have to wade through hundreds of pages of manuals, often written in poorly mistranslated Engrish, to figure out what the difference between IS Mode 1 and 2 is and the difference between spot, center-weighted average, and matrix metering. But such "technical trivia" can mean the difference between getting the shot and not getting the shot in some circumstances. Knowing how to use fill flash to deal with backlighting or how to assign autofocus to buttons other than the shutter release opens up a lot of creative possibilities, but the instructions for configuring the necessary settings are often buried deep in the manual. And then there's Photoshop and the many books that supplement its voluminous manual and help files, RAW conversion, and color management. Not having a basic mastery of these things can cause severe frustration, especially color management. Being ignorant of the arcana of monitor calibration and profiling, the signs and symptoms of double-profiling, and the proper use of the various RGB color spaces can cause the technical neophyte endless frustration, no matter how creative his vision.

The creative and the technical sides of photography are symbiotic partners in the process of creating great work, not sworn enemies competing for time and attention. Pursuing either to the exclusion of the other will negatively affect one's work. The technerd who seriously thinks that upgrading from a 5D-II to a 1Ds-III will resolve the creative shortcomings of his work is just as much a fool as the artiste who refuses to soil the artistic integrity of his work by bothering to learn the difference between P mode and M mode.
« Last Edit: May 11, 2009, 09:38:42 PM by Jonathan Wienke » Logged

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« Reply #37 on: May 11, 2009, 11:16:04 PM »
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Quote from: gr82bart
My local camera club keeps wondering why there are no kids; just blue hairs. I keep saying do a seminar on Lomo, have more film discussions, more ToyCamera discussions. They keep ignoring and pushing PS this and that. Still no kids.

My local photo clubs want more beginners to attend, but can't get a program together to serve them and the other members too. My suggestion was to have short pre-meetings before the regular meetings to cover beginner topics. But not the typical presentations of "here's what megapixels are, and here's how to set the image size" etc. etc.  My suggestion was to discuss the meanings of the equipment and processes with actual examples, and provide for some hands on.  It's interesting when you think about how bureaucratic governments et al can be given their size, but downright amazing how bureaucratic something as small as a 30-50 member photo club can be when it comes to designing a program for beginners.  And then I wanted to create a lending facility for equipment and multimedia, but nobody wants to manage that.....
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daws
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« Reply #38 on: May 13, 2009, 01:48:47 AM »
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Quote from: Jonathan Wienke
The creative and the technical sides of photography are symbiotic partners in the process of creating great work, not sworn enemies competing for time and attention. Pursuing either to the exclusion of the other will negatively affect one's work.

Bingo.
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Robert Roaldi
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« Reply #39 on: May 13, 2009, 07:17:11 AM »
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Quote from: Jonathan Wienke
Ignoring the technical side of photography like a red-headed bastard stepchild and focusing solely on the artistic/creative aspects of photography sounds romantic, and appeals to a certain ethos that denigrates the pursuit of technical skill as merely being a distracting deviation from the One True Path To Photographic Nirvana. But the reality is that this ethos is bullshit. The truth is that you can't rely on auto-everything cameras to flawlessly handle the technical stuff for you in every situation. Nowadays, in addition to automatic focus, ISO, shutter speed, and aperture, cameras have face detection and even smile detection that can with varying degrees of competence detect faces in the viewfinder, lock focus on the faces, and delay the shutter release until the faces are all smiling. A creatively endowed technical neophyte relying on such a camera may well produce competent work in many situations, until he is called upon to photograph a funeral, political protest or large-scale disaster, where smiles are unlikely to be the order of the day. Such a photographer would not have captured this image:

I can't argue with this in principle, but it is almost a matter of pedagogical style. If you present "propeller head" content to someone who doesn't want to learn it, they walk away bored. Different people learn differently. It may sometimes be better to let that beginner take all the "auto" everything shots they want. Sooner or later, as you point out, they will have a bunch of failed shots. At that point, they will want to figure out why, i.e., it's propeller head time, only now they're motivated to understand and master the tech stuff and so will probably do better at it. The cost to them is some time and failed photos. We used to call this experience.

Of course, others will reach that same point but still buck against the techie stuff. Not much you can do about that.
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