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Author Topic: Is the pace of software development killing virtuosity?  (Read 8345 times)
jhmaw
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« on: February 21, 2010, 02:36:33 PM »
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For the last few years I have been updating most of my software, including Photoshop about as often as updates were available. It occurred to me the other day that most of what I do on a routine basis (including my work with Photoshop) could be performed equally well on older versions of the software. I have been updating for several reasons. Firstly in order to find out exactly what the newer version could do. Secondly out of a feeling of not wanting to be left out (I think I am freeing myself of that one) and lastly for reasons of compatibility with other software and the hardware on which the programs sit (and other new hardware such as cameras).

I mentioned this to a friend over lunch the other day. She agreed and pointed to the fact that in the past, most people who achieving virtuosity in a particular field did so with tools that remained largely unchanged over long periods. In one sense rapid development of software helps more people to become virtuosi. On the other is may stop just as many from ever attaining that status.

It brought to mind Ansel Adams. As a virtuoso with both camera and piano it would have been interesting to have his opinion on the subject. Unfortunately that isn't going to happen (unless future technology makes it possible   )

I would be interested in the reactions of others to this.

John
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ARD
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« Reply #1 on: February 21, 2010, 02:53:45 PM »
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What I do with software is to use it until I cannot get anymore out of it, then upgrade, so I might go from version 3 to version 5, missing out all of the 3.1, 3.4 etc. BUT...........I then have a learning curve as it has changed so much. I like to spend my money on equipment first, then software as and when required.

For commercial and top end users I can see the need to upgrade regularly as the new tweaks do offer improvements.
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adam_j
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« Reply #2 on: February 21, 2010, 03:52:21 PM »
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With a few exceptions like Lightroom for improvements in IQ of my processed photos I generally don't upgrade Photoshop or the like unless I upgrade my computer.  This usually means I'm 2-3 versions back of the latest when I finally upgrade but it also means I'm getting the most out of the upgrade and the new hardware.

Adam
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richard laughlin
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« Reply #3 on: February 21, 2010, 03:53:26 PM »
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good question. one I will lift for another place+time. Here a first set of quotes:

“I hate cameras. They are so much more sure than I am about everything.”
— John Steinbeck

“People are under the illusion that it’s easy…Technically, it is complex. You have a million options with equipment to distract you. I tell my students to simplify their equipment.”
— Brett Weston


“The fact is that relatively few photographers ever master their medium. Instead they allow the medium to master them and go on an endless squirrel cage chase from new lens to new paper to new developer to new gadget, never staying with one piece of equipment long enough to learn its full capacities, becoming lost in a maze of technical information that is of little or no use since they don’t know what to do with it.”
— Edward Weston

“It matters little how much equipment we use; it matters much that we be masters of all we do use.”
— Sam Abell

===
richard
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jhmaw
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« Reply #4 on: February 21, 2010, 04:05:38 PM »
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Richard.

Your second, third and fourth quotes seem to me to support the idea that the original proposition "Is the pace of software development killing virtuosity?" might be the case. I look forward to reading more thoughts on this. My own mind is far from made up.

John
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feppe
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« Reply #5 on: February 21, 2010, 04:31:54 PM »
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The only killer features I've found in the latest CS versions are Smart Filters and the Healing Tool - is it worth the extra to upgrade? Doubt it.

But your premise in the case of PS is faulty. There is not much to relearn or unlearn when upgrading to a new version. Unlike MS, Adobe doesn't mess with the entire UI (think Office 2007), so you'll be using the same tools in pretty much the same way in all versions of CS, and even earlier. Therefore there shouldn't be any lost productivity or lack of command of the craft when upgrading.

But again, if there are no killer features which one wants - apart from the manufactured "needs" Adobe tries to sell with each version -, there's not much reason to upgrade.
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PeterAit
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« Reply #6 on: February 21, 2010, 04:46:06 PM »
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Quote from: jhmaw
For the last few years I have been updating most of my software, including Photoshop about as often as updates were available. It occurred to me the other day that most of what I do on a routine basis (including my work with Photoshop) could be performed equally well on older versions of the software. I have been updating for several reasons. Firstly in order to find out exactly what the newer version could do. Secondly out of a feeling of not wanting to be left out (I think I am freeing myself of that one) and lastly for reasons of compatibility with other software and the hardware on which the programs sit (and other new hardware such as cameras).

I mentioned this to a friend over lunch the other day. She agreed and pointed to the fact that in the past, most people who achieving virtuosity in a particular field did so with tools that remained largely unchanged over long periods. In one sense rapid development of software helps more people to become virtuosi. On the other is may stop just as many from ever attaining that status.

It brought to mind Ansel Adams. As a virtuoso with both camera and piano it would have been interesting to have his opinion on the subject. Unfortunately that isn't going to happen (unless future technology makes it possible   )

I would be interested in the reactions of others to this.

John

I think to some extent you are comparing apples with oranges. Your use of the term "virtuosity" implies a comparison with musical skill, but I think photographic skill is quite different.

With music, the virtuosity is not in knowing what to do, but in being able to do it. For example, Yoyo Ma and I can both look at the same Bach cello piece and we both know what to do, pretty much, because Bach wrote down the instructions in the score. The difference is that Ma has the skill, the virtuosity, to actually do it, and do it well, whereas I can barely scratch out a woeful rendition.

In photography, things are reversed. Being able to do it is not a problem - anyone with half a brain can learn how to use a camera and software (although it may take a little time). What differentiates those photographers who regularly produce stunning prints know what to do - where to set up the tripod for the best composition, which filter to use for the most appealing effect, what paper to use, how to adjust curves, sharpness, etc. for the best result.

To get back to your question, I don't think software development affects photographic virtuosity at all (unless you think that "virtuosity" means being able to work quickly and efficiently in a program). A skilled photographer who upgrades to a new program will be just as good a photographer even though he may not be able to process images as quickly.
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Peter
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jhmaw
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« Reply #7 on: February 21, 2010, 05:25:58 PM »
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Peter.

I think that I might in fact have been comparing a couple of citrus fruits of different type, but I'm sure I didn't include an apple. For a start I wasn't talking about cameras. I was, as the title suggests, talking about software, but I think you are quite right in some ways. In Photoshop there are some tasks that you can simply tell someone how to do, but there are others that require practice and indeed something approaching virtuosity. You can tell someone how to apply techniques using layers and if they do what you said they will achieve the desired result (I'm sure there are exceptions, but I can't bring any to mind just now). On the other hand you can give someone an image and ask them to make a selection using (for example) three specified selection tools and the result depends very much on how experienced and well practiced they are (something I have observed when teaching this subject).

Equally, you are likely to be more successful if you can look at an image and see the whole path towards making it look as you would wish. You will do things in the right order and apply changes to the right degree, knowing which steps are to follow. I would suggest that this should include taking the original image, knowing in advance of making the exposure, what you are going to do in the RAW converter and what you are going to do in Photoshop after that. That normally comes with practice.

As I said before, my own mind is far from made up either way.

John
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fredjeang
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« Reply #8 on: February 21, 2010, 05:45:13 PM »
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Hi,
I think it is an interesting topic really. Thank you to bring it in the forum.
I tend to agree with Richard post wisdom.

What is happening from about 20 years has no precedent. The frequency and speed tools have to be replaced is now superior to any human's necesary "learning curve" to acheive a proper mastering, but these tools, being more efficients balanced in part this problem. This, is just an aspect of a deep hill society, the machine is out of control (see the recent world crisis). The human being is not important at all, if he does not manage to "update" he is pull away from the system, he does not serve it any more. Constant updates are  necessary in order to maintain the production and capital profits. It is absolutely logical and normal in a world of constant competition. This society does not need all life experienced persons but short term disposable experts.
This is a hellish wheel: what you learn now is FOR SURE outdated in a question of years. All the hours you spent in front of your computer with color profile, this or that version of software, has a short life. Tomorrow, other systems would have replaced and solve some problems, but bring new others.
You have to understand the relation between the amount of time ones spend in learning and get experience, and the time you will have the privilege to use such an investement. This time now is extremely short.
This is creating a mental hill society, individuals more and more lost, useless etc...this is, and I choose my words carefully, an authentic genocide.
There is only 2 ways to escape to this: 1) the desert island 2) the team work. Delegate.
A leonardo da Vinci or a Picasso his virtually impossible today. Maybe tomorrow when all that had collapsed. Now, people is replacable, there is no figure any more, no genious, just a massive flock of clones that have been trained to buy and consume the very latest they do not need.

As Georges Clinton said: "free your mind and your ass will follow".
 
Regards,

Fred.
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feppe
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« Reply #9 on: February 21, 2010, 06:04:10 PM »
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Quote from: fredjeang
A leonardo da Vinci or a Picasso his virtually impossible today. Maybe tomorrow when all that had collapsed. Now, people is replacable, there is no figure any more, no genious, just a massive flock of clones that have been trained to buy and consume the very latest they do not need.

I don't see how you can make such a conclusion. Your view of Da Vinci's and Picasso's time is rose-tinted as the mediocre and poor art hasn't survived the generations, and is forgotten. I'm positive there was as much shit in those days as there is today - we just don't have the luxury of hindsight, yet.
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PeterAit
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« Reply #10 on: February 21, 2010, 07:00:10 PM »
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Quote from: jhmaw
Peter.

I think that I might in fact have been comparing a couple of citrus fruits of different type, but I'm sure I didn't include an apple. For a start I wasn't talking about cameras. I was, as the title suggests, talking about software, but I think you are quite right in some ways. In Photoshop there are some tasks that you can simply tell someone how to do, but there are others that require practice and indeed something approaching virtuosity. You can tell someone how to apply techniques using layers and if they do what you said they will achieve the desired result (I'm sure there are exceptions, but I can't bring any to mind just now). On the other hand you can give someone an image and ask them to make a selection using (for example) three specified selection tools and the result depends very much on how experienced and well practiced they are (something I have observed when teaching this subject).

Equally, you are likely to be more successful if you can look at an image and see the whole path towards making it look as you would wish. You will do things in the right order and apply changes to the right degree, knowing which steps are to follow. I would suggest that this should include taking the original image, knowing in advance of making the exposure, what you are going to do in the RAW converter and what you are going to do in Photoshop after that. That normally comes with practice.

As I said before, my own mind is far from made up either way.

John

John,

You make a good point about selections, there's definitely an art there, one I still struggle with! My distinction between photography and music may may be too black and white (haha!) but I believe it is generally valid. I am seriously involved in both, and I see this distinction almost every day. I struggle with playing technique every day, and will do so for the rest of my life, but it's very rare for me to be unable to get an image looking the way I want. Rather, my problems with photography, lately at least, is that I am having trouble envisioning and planning images that I find compelling once I have processed them.
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Peter
"Photographic technique is a means to an end, never the end itself."
View my photos at http://www.peteraitken.com
Jeremy Payne
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« Reply #11 on: February 21, 2010, 09:14:42 PM »
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Quote from: jhmaw
I would be interested in the reactions of others to this.

I like software and haven't found that upgrading or integrating new tools has slowed me down one bit.
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fredjeang
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« Reply #12 on: February 22, 2010, 04:34:11 AM »
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Quote from: feppe
I don't see how you can make such a conclusion. Your view of Da Vinci's and Picasso's time is rose-tinted as the mediocre and poor art hasn't survived the generations, and is forgotten. I'm positive there was as much shit in those days as there is today - we just don't have the luxury of hindsight, yet.
Hi,
I think I did not express my point properly, so I apologyse for my unprecise english and try to clarify.
First, I did not say that these times were better. Of course they were not. They had other kinds of problems, challenges etc...
Also, genious, serious artists are of course possible today and it happens.
But what is not possible now, what have changed, is the "format". Andy Wahrol predicted precisely this phenomenon for the next future.
In my examples, Picasso, Leonardo (I could have choosen Ansel Adams etc...) had all life trajectories, dedicated to master "stables" tools and techniques, and overcome them. These were real powerfull figures in their time, recognized and respected or hated so. Now it is the time of "averageness", massification and fast consuming, including in art. Masters are known for a short time, then disappear. Personality is much more diluted, skills uncertain etc...
Look, there has never been so much photography than now. Everybody has a website, everybody has the oportunity to show his talents to the world.
There are virtually millions of sites, everybody is a photographer or try to be so. The difusion and medias employed are so efficient and powerfull, the tools are much better, everything is much more easy, efficient, incredible sofwares, reliables cameras, instant access to information...BUT
It is very strange that we do not have proportionally more Ansel Adams, more Picassos...it is exactely on the contrary. Did you ask yourself why?

That was my point when I said that about the masters. I hope I could clear it well.

Regards,

Fred.
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Chris_T
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« Reply #13 on: February 22, 2010, 06:53:06 AM »
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Quote from: jhmaw
For the last few years I have been updating most of my software, including Photoshop about as often as updates were available. It occurred to me the other day that most of what I do on a routine basis (including my work with Photoshop) could be performed equally well on older versions of the software. I have been updating for several reasons. Firstly in order to find out exactly what the newer version could do. Secondly out of a feeling of not wanting to be left out (I think I am freeing myself of that one) and lastly for reasons of compatibility with other software and the hardware on which the programs sit (and other new hardware such as cameras).

You are not alone, and may find this article helpful:

http://www.huntingtonwitherill.com/pdf/Hamster_Wheel.pdf

But those with this line of thinking will drive all the sw vendors out of business, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Then we can return to being photographers.
« Last Edit: February 22, 2010, 06:55:28 AM by Chris_T » Logged
fredjeang
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« Reply #14 on: February 22, 2010, 08:37:51 AM »
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Quote from: Chris_T
You are not alone, and may find this article helpful:

http://www.huntingtonwitherill.com/pdf/Hamster_Wheel.pdf

But those with this line of thinking will drive all the sw vendors out of business, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Then we can return to being photographers.
Chris,
I agree 100% with Huntington. This is exactely what I was trying to say. Ahhh...I need to improve my english!  

Regards,

Fred.
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« Reply #15 on: February 22, 2010, 10:20:54 AM »
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Fred, Your English is fine. Wish I could do as well in Spanish or French.

I too agree with Huntington. But Huntington's rant doesn't deal with the title of this thread. The key phrase in that title is "killing virtuosity," and it seems to me that "virtuosity" in photography has little if anything to do with software. The virtuosity that matters comes at the moment you trip a shutter. At that point you either have a good negative or digital file, or you haven't. If you have, you may print it again and again over many years with different processes. If you can't keep up with the changes in the post-processing world you can always take the original object to a professional who's a "virtuous" printer. Most of the discussion in this thread has been about post-processing. That changes pretty rapidly, but the "virtuosity" that creates a great photograph isn't in the printing. I think HCB hit the nail on the head when he said: "Photography has not changed since its origin except in its technical aspects, which for me are not a major concern." I think most of us become overly concerned with those technical aspects, and I include myself in that judgment.
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jhmaw
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« Reply #16 on: February 22, 2010, 11:40:27 AM »
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Hi Russ.

Allow me to agreeably disagree if I may. If I read your comments correctly you are saying that virtuosity exists only in the taking of the picture and not in the processing and editing. For some people in some situations and where little work needs to be done to an image that may be true, but in many cases opening the shutter is only the start of the process. To return to my previous practice of referring to Ansel Adams, I think that he likened the negative to the musical score and the print to the performance. Virtuosity is normally associated with the performance and not with the writing of the score. We refer to the virtuosity of Heifetz or Casals as performers but not to the virtuosity of composers.

Another interesting point that you raise is that you can come back to the file and do it again (properly) later, but to some extent I am not too keen on depending on this too much. Firstly, as I said previously, I think it is beneficial to have the software steps in mind even when setting up the camera. This locks together the process of taking the picture and adjusting it later. They are just different parts of the same process of implementing the vision that inspires the taking of the picture in the first place. For best results I don't think they can be separated completely.

You also suggest the option of leaving it to a ""virtuous" printer". While I agree that the morals of the person printing your work should be the very highest   , I don't like the idea of abdicating responsibility for such an important part of the image creation to someone who doesn't (and can't) totally share my vision.

John
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fredjeang
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« Reply #17 on: February 22, 2010, 11:40:33 AM »
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Quote from: RSL
Fred, Your English is fine. Wish I could do as well in Spanish or French.

I too agree with Huntington. But Huntington's rant doesn't deal with the title of this thread. The key phrase in that title is "killing virtuosity," and it seems to me that "virtuosity" in photography has little if anything to do with software. The virtuosity that matters comes at the moment you trip a shutter. At that point you either have a good negative or digital file, or you haven't. If you have, you may print it again and again over many years with different processes. If you can't keep up with the changes in the post-processing world you can always take the original object to a professional who's a "virtuous" printer. Most of the discussion in this thread has been about post-processing. That changes pretty rapidly, but the "virtuosity" that creates a great photograph isn't in the printing. I think HCB hit the nail on the head when he said: "Photography has not changed since its origin except in its technical aspects, which for me are not a major concern." I think most of us become overly concerned with those technical aspects, and I include myself in that judgment.
Thanks for these precisions Russ.
Yes, you are right, "The virtuosity that matters comes at the moment you trip a shutter ".
Maybe we all have fallen at one point or another in post-processing-never-ending-technical-updates, and this uses a lot of precious time and energy that distract from mastering deeply a tool. Many of my friends who have been spending incredible amonut of hours with that are starting to give up and came back into shooting. That was my point when I said "delegate" as you also mentionned in your post.

Regards,

Fred.
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« Reply #18 on: February 22, 2010, 12:40:06 PM »
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Quote from: jhmaw
Hi Russ.

Allow me to agreeably disagree if I may. If I read your comments correctly you are saying that virtuosity exists only in the taking of the picture and not in the processing and editing. For some people in some situations and where little work needs to be done to an image that may be true, but in many cases opening the shutter is only the start of the process. To return to my previous practice of referring to Ansel Adams, I think that he likened the negative to the musical score and the print to the performance. Virtuosity is normally associated with the performance and not with the writing of the score. We refer to the virtuosity of Heifetz or Casals as performers but not to the virtuosity of composers.

Another interesting point that you raise is that you can come back to the file and do it again (properly) later, but to some extent I am not too keen on depending on this too much. Firstly, as I said previously, I think it is beneficial to have the software steps in mind even when setting up the camera. This locks together the process of taking the picture and adjusting it later. They are just different parts of the same process of implementing the vision that inspires the taking of the picture in the first place. For best results I don't think they can be separated completely.

You also suggest the option of leaving it to a ""virtuous" printer". While I agree that the morals of the person printing your work should be the very highest   , I don't like the idea of abdicating responsibility for such an important part of the image creation to someone who doesn't (and can't) totally share my vision.

John

John,

I agree that agreeable disagreements are the best kind.

I'm familiar with Ansel's dictum that the negative is the score and the print is the performance, but I've never entirely agreed with him. A photograph, like a musical composition, can produce an infinite number of performances, but when we hear a performance of a Chopin nocturne, though we may appreciate the quality of the performance, we attribute the genius of the music to Chopin.

I agree, to a certain agreeable extent with your second paragraph. When I trip a shutter I know what I'm seeing and I know how the print should look. A certain amount of post-processing always is going to be required to get the file (either scanned or captured with a camera) to the state where it represents what you saw. But too often nowadays "adjusting" the file involves things like pushing the color saturation to the point where the picture emulates a Marlboro ad. Happily, if the original file still exists, and if it's a masterpiece, someone later on can salvage it.

Regarding the third point, it seems to me that a lot depends on what kind of photograph you're making. HCB didn't print his own work, and in his case it didn't matter because the virtuosity displayed in the photograph was in the subject matter and the composition. He relied on a single, trusted printer. One can only hope that the printer was as virtuous as he was competent. I suspect that a lot of my agreeable disagreement with the title of the thread flows from the fact that street photography, rather than landscape, is my favorite thing.
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« Reply #19 on: February 22, 2010, 01:10:43 PM »
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Quote from: jhmaw
Hi Russ.

Allow me to agreeably disagree if I may. If I read your comments correctly you are saying that virtuosity exists only in the taking of the picture and not in the processing and editing. For some people in some situations and where little work needs to be done to an image that may be true, but in many cases opening the shutter is only the start of the process. To return to my previous practice of referring to Ansel Adams, I think that he likened the negative to the musical score and the print to the performance. Virtuosity is normally associated with the performance and not with the writing of the score. We refer to the virtuosity of Heifetz or Casals as performers but not to the virtuosity of composers.

Another interesting point that you raise is that you can come back to the file and do it again (properly) later, but to some extent I am not too keen on depending on this too much. Firstly, as I said previously, I think it is beneficial to have the software steps in mind even when setting up the camera. This locks together the process of taking the picture and adjusting it later. They are just different parts of the same process of implementing the vision that inspires the taking of the picture in the first place. For best results I don't think they can be separated completely.

You also suggest the option of leaving it to a ""virtuous" printer". While I agree that the morals of the person printing your work should be the very highest   , I don't like the idea of abdicating responsibility for such an important part of the image creation to someone who doesn't (and can't) totally share my vision.

John

I agree with John that making the print is an essential part of being a "virtuostic" photographer. There are exceptions, of course, with Cartier-Bresson perhaps the best know. But for most photographers, and particularly those doing nature/landscape work, the print is an integral part of the process.
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Peter
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View my photos at http://www.peteraitken.com
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