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Alex_Mustard

Time For A Major Philosophy Change?

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Are we really ready to cut the apron strings to the slide film era?

 

The Lytro camera goes on sale today - and for me it represents a line in the sand on our thinking about what is a photograph. It is a change in philosophy that I struggle to come to terms with, but feel that it is one I probably should take on board. The issue is: with changes in camera technology, should we still strive for the finished image in camera, or not?

 

This is all a hang up from the slide film era. A time when many current underwater photographers started out - and it dominates how we think of images. Even for those who have only shot digital pictures underwater. But as Peter Scoones has pointed out to me (on more than one occasion) the purity of a slide is just a hang up from when you started underwater photography. It was never the originator underwater - seeing it as such is just a relict view from a certain period in the history of underwater imaging (read more here). It is predated by black and white print film photography, which involved as much post processing as we now routinely do with digital. It some ways the slide era is the exception, not the rule underwater.

 

Yet, I find myself, still stuck with most of the hangups of the 35mm slide. I still strive to create images bang on in camera and always value less images that have required lots of cropping or adjustment. The point of this thread is to ask, should I?

 

The Lytro technology is perhaps the most obvious example of this, with its ability to refocus the image after shooting. But the reality is that we have been living with multiple examples for many years. HDR is an obvious one - that most people will have tried - where the post processing makes an image not possible in camera. Nikon's new cameras now offer in-camera HDR for JPG shooting - where this is all done in camera as you shoot (I have tried this on the D800 and it works). This is an underwater HDR, assembled from 5 shots to open up the shadows in a wreck (shot with D700):

 

post-713-1330596057.jpg

 

Perhaps a more pertinent area is that of super-macro. Creating a tack-sharp super macro photo can be a real challenge. With razor thin depth of field and the challenges of aiming and losses in optical quality with some solutions. This picture was taken with my reversed lens combo and is the highest magnification shot I have done underwater. These blennies are very small - one of the smallest blenny species - hard to tell from this photo (for those not familiar with Caribbean critters):

 

post-713-1330596729.jpg

 

It is not the best example, because I know people don't appreciate how small this guy is. I should go and shoot pygmies with this setup - everyone is more familiar with them. So, it is probably easier to show the magnification of this setup with these test shots I made when working on the system - with a comparison between a straight 105mm (top), a 105mm and Subsee +10 (middle, a very high magnification setup - that many are familiar with) and my reversed lens setup (bottom, which is another level on again):

 

post-713-1330597198.jpg

 

All very impressive. But should I be bothering. Why don't I just crop back to the eyeball - the shot would be 100 times easier to take and I would have more depth of field too. Don't laugh, with Nikon's D800 now having 36 megapixels and I am sure that Canon's 5D Mk3 (which I heard was to be announced very soon) likely to have something similar - we can crop away and have plenty of resolution for reproduction - especially in an increasingly online media. I had a discussion on Facebook recently - and opinions were very varied - plenty of supporters in both camps.

 

These are just a couple of examples. There are plenty more.

 

In conclusion, I guess my question is what do others feel? Slide thinking (getting everything perfect in camera) certainly dominates my shooting philosophy. But I am not sure it is the best thing for my photography in this day and age? Should I be freeing my mind and accepting that technology should be changing how I feel about what is a photo? And should contests etc - be changing too. Should more extensive cropping be allowed - many now allow HDR and focus stacking? Are fotosub style - JPGs in camera a relict?

 

I am not mentally ready for all these changes - so I am hoping for some convincing!

 

Alex

 

p.s. Please don't hijack this into a Lytro discussion. We all can see in its current form it is limited - but it is fun, fascinating and thought provoking technology. I remember the first digital I tried underwater (almost 15 years ago now - wow, time flies) and we all thought it was fun, but not serious technology and went back to our slides. And now Kodak has filed for bankruptcy.

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Fox Talbot's work elicited the response "From now on, painting is dead!"

 

...or as my 12-year-old daughter said on viewing the Leonardo exhibition at the National Gallery, "He's rubbish! He never finished anything!"

 

The one rule in art is that there is no rule.

 

I went round to David Bailey's studio once and found him shooting a fashion picture on a 10x8 camera. I asked him what he was trying to achieve. He told me it was because Nikon 35mm was getting too easy!

 

The camera (not digital compacts evidently) has the ability to capture that important moment in time. (Google Cartier Bresson) As an advertising photographer, I used to work on projects for days to contrive a moment in time that never actually happened.

 

Looking at your HDR wreck picture, I'd offer that it has all the quality of an oil painting, which is where we came in!

Edited by John Bantin

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It all depends on who you are taking photos for. And what enjoyment you get from taking photographs.

 

If it is about taking shots for magazine covers you will want all the help you can get from software. Some people enjoy the post processing as a part of photography.

 

For me, I like to take pride in getting it done in the camera. I might remove backscatter to clean up, or crop or change colouring slightly, but the pictures I am most proud of were done in the moment of clicking the shutter.

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There are probably two ways looking at it....what do other photographers think of your pictures and what do non photographers think of your pictures.

 

Then for someone like me it is probably good to decide who I want to impress...

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Well, this is a tough but pertinent question. Emerging technologies will always make you question what you have been doing up to the point when it becomes available, and will always tempt you with astonishing new possibilities. The Lytro offers some pretty unique features, as do HDR, high ISO and almost unlimited megapixels - to me, some of it almost seem like magic.

 

But is it magic I want? Yes, it certainly is. But I want my magic to come true when I shoot the image, not when I'm sitting in front of my computer.

 

As underwater photographers, I still think we should emphasize on "photography" rather than "creating images", if you see the difference. No matter how many hours I spend in front of my computer working on an image it can never re-create the magic of an image shot to perfection, as and when it happened. To me, photography is largely about capturing moments, not just capturing images. The image as such can be created later on, and in this PhotoShop-day-and-age almost anyone can do it. They don't even have to be very good at it - it will just take more time if they're not. Time can help you create great images, but when the available time is only 1/100 a second photograpic skill is what you need - because it is within this timeframe photography happens.

 

Photoshopping is not a craft, it's a science. It has little to do with understanding how light works under water, knowing where and how to find your subjects, or creating a pleasing composition. Photography is defintely not a science, and maybe not even a craft - many consider it to be a form of art. Underwater photography adds to normal photography in that you have to be a good diver, you have to have some knownledge about what you're shooting (or at least it is a big advantage) and you have to bag the shots within a limited space of time.

 

If you can't do this and have to rely on computer mumbo-jumbo you're not a photographer - you're a "photoshopper".

 

It's a little like giving the painter credit for your house looking so good, while it is the carpenter that actually should have credit for building a nice house. He created the foundation upon which the painter could build. It is the same thing with photography: Any "magical", computer-based technique will always rely on the image at hand, and can never be better than this foundation allows. Yes, you can create some astonishing images from something that looks like crap. But when photographing, you can change how the very foundation is built - how reality is captured in your camera. Thus you are actually creating something, while the photoshopper only enhances that foundation. Photoshopping is a bit like cosmetic surgery (which it often replaces in commercial photography!) but the "Flip Fish" PhotoShop filter has yet to be invented. This means it does matter how the image is shot to begin with, and therefore this is where the emphasis should be put, in my opinion.

 

I think both philosophies will be valid in the future. We will have people adhering to the traditional way of thinking about photography, while other embrace all the new possibilities without the boundaries of yesteryear. I will always envy the HDR photographer his or her astonishing wreck images like the one you posted above Alex - and I will certainly envy the Lytro photographer the ability to refocus and get super-sharp macro images. But I think they will also (at least secretly) admire my skill and handicraft when I can do the same in-camera, without artificial post-shooting trickery.

 

/Chris

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I think we live in very exciting times as visual artists. Rules are either self imposed or imposed by those who view or purchase images. The physical rules continue to be broken thanks to the visions of a few, and technology. Lytro is not really a line in the sand, just a continuing evolution of making images over which we will have greater control of the physical variables. Obviously this will expand the ways in which we see the world and show it to others. So let each photographer go out as a visual artist and play by the rules he chooses. Carpe Diem!

Edited by loftus

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For me, it's about conveying feelings or emotions, ideally those you feel while you are creating the image underwater and at the monitor, to a viewer. Most underwater pictures are just pictures to me, they don't touch me at all. Few photographers have many photos that feel like art - I love Alex's b&W stingray shots and a lot of pictures by the Swedish photographer Jan Tove. I feel something physiological happen when I look at them, I don't care really whether it's endorphin, dopamine or seratonin. I'd like to strive towards imagining and creating pictures that have this quality, and how much is in camera or in Photoshop doesn't matter to me (except I'm crap at Photoshop). Visual art is a very poor relation to music; I'd love to see the picture that does what the second part of the first movement of Tchaikovski's 6th does to me. But at least it's a target. Jan Tove shoots topside, but does anyone else get a buzz off some of his pictures?

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However advanced the technology will get, the better the picture is when you take it, the more flexibility you will have in post-processing. With high resolution lenses and even higher resolution sensors even serious cropping will still yield an very good image. But the laws of physics are pretty strong, and there is a definite maximum to the resolution possible due to many things, an important one the wavelength of light. I feel you should always try to take the best possible image when you shoot it. Cropping the eye of a plastic duck from a 1:1 macro image to a higher magnification is possible because it was shot with a high-res macro lens to begin with. If this eye was a tiny spot on the soft corner of a WA lens, you will never be able to obtain the same resolution, however skilled you are in photo-shopping. Modern technologies give you more, but certainly no unlimited flexibility.

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However advanced the technology will get, the better the picture is when you take it, the more flexibility you will have in post-processing.

Actually this is where the concept is beginning to change. All that is beginning to count in terms of what can be achieved post-capture (in the camera's onboard computer or a separate computer) is capturing all the data. It's like RAW vs JPEG. The more data that's captured, the more flexibility there is. Lytro is a perfect example of this, but it exists to a large degree in modern day DSLR's in terms of resolution, color and exposure data. What's important then is really the ability you have to pre visualize the image you want - the more one can do that, the shorter the path from capture to presentation. On the other hand, many great images have arisen out of post-capture experimentation as well.

We will also start to see presentations where the presentation of the data morphs in front of you just like Lytro focus changes; imagine the variables if contrast, color, and other effects were visually morphing in front of you. Becomes more and more like an acid trip. :swimmingfish:

Question for Eric - when will there be a Lytro section in the Underwater Photo Comp

Edited by loftus

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When I first took up underwater photography, a well-established British photographer (also a diver) told me not to bother because all underwater photographs look the same. I have just reviewed a book of pictures of Thailand for a mag. It is beautifully reproduced and I am sure it will sell well but I wondered why so many of the pictures looked like ones I 'd already taken myself.

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When I first took up underwater photography, a well-established British photographer (also a diver) told me not to bother because all underwater photographs look the same. I have just reviewed a book of pictures of Thailand for a mag. It is beautifully reproduced and I am sure it will sell well but I wondered why so many of the pictures looked like ones I 'd already taken myself.

I call BS on that one, you are looking at the wrong books. :swimmingfish:

Edited by loftus

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I am just an amateur underwater photographer, but nonetheless here is my opinion.

I think that the purity of getting the perfect shot, is really something, that is in your own mind. It is something I personally will strive for, but especially in underwater photography most of the images can certainly be improved by some post processing. Especially wide angle.

For the viewer of a photography, I guess that he/she really doesn't care about how the photo was taken or how much post processing that was done. What matters is, that the end result moves you in some way. That it has a wow factor.

The conclusion from my side is, that I think that the technological opportunities should be used for those who want to, without me or other people thinking it is fake, because we are purists.

Only thing I don't like is when you manipulate with a photo, like adding a diver to a photo for some effect. Again I don't mind as long as the photographer mentions it. Like the wellknown pigmy shot in Alexander Mustards great book.

I have always been pretty conservative about new technologies, but have to admit that I have not always been correct (got my first mobile phone 44 year old). So in my view, feel free to play around and get some excellent end results, that hopefully can get the viewer to appreciate the wonderful world below the surface.

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Alex:

 

For me, the question is a moot one - the art has changed with digital technology and continues to evolve whether we like it or not. The real question is whether or not it is recognized as having changed dramatically and, of course, what do we call it?

 

I've been telling friends that "photography" might no longer be adequate and, perhaps, confusing with film exposures. So, something along the lines of "digital imagery" might be more appropriate. Don't you think?

 

Richard

 

EDIT by Mod (removing quote of whole post)

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I call BS on that one, you are looking at the wrong books. :swimmingfish:

 

 

OK. Let's look at Alex's wreck interior. Would it be remarkable if it was NOT underwater?

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I believe that Underwater Photographers aren't just photo takers in underwater enviroment. Instead, we are explorers, trying to show others in the best way possible what we discover in our dives.

 

Keeping that in mind, all the technology helping this goal is welcome, more if it makes easiest the process to catch a better and more realistic image.

 

We can't just forget to try to get the best possible image at the moment of the shot, it is part of the adventure and exploring. But, any technology helping to do that, have to be embraced.

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OK. Let's look at Alex's wreck interior. Would it be remarkable if it was NOT underwater?

Maybe not, but it is.....

But I get your point; in many ways there is nothing new under the sun, just different ways of seeing and showing.

Edited by loftus

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interesting.. last year i actually decided to start cropping a few select images here and there, after all, everyone else does it and so why not.. but, it makes me feel dirty each and every time i do it.

 

This is a 105 with 2x TC, non cropped, full frame. Sure, i could have done the same with a simple 60mm and cropped it but... Don't people feel that sense of satisfaction from working on a photo for 30 mins before pulling the trigger and nailing the shot?! I guess not..

 

283014_10150336642390211_690615210_10081976_3999658_n.jpg

 

 

 

I dunno.. i assume 90% of people will say "use the technology, crop it in post" but I hate that, its just seems wrong

 

That's just me

 

haha.. i am becoming old and crotchety!

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I think there are two sides to it. How you feel about your photography and how someone who just sees the images feels. I think secretly you'll always feel pleased (I know I do) when you get everything right in camera and nothing needs tweaking to make the image better. And there will always be images that can't be created in camera (it used to be like this with HDR but now even my phone does them, now its major composites and completely made up photos). However as technology makes things easier, the photos that only the very talented could get before everyone will have a chance to get. If you cannot tell which is which from just looking at a photo does it really matter? Other aspects of photography will come to the fore to replace those technical skills in distinguishing the very talented from the crowd.

 

A photographers personal style and creative innovation will win out over any technologic leg up that the rest of us might get :swimmingfish:

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Maybe not, but it is.....

But I get your point; in many ways there is nothing new under the sun, just different ways of seeing and showing.

 

It is ALL about the seeing, whether it's under or above water. Technology is helping us all create more technically correct and perfect photos, but it can't (yet) "see" for us. What makes anything art is that the artist has seen something and shows it to us in a way we may not have thought of before, and by doing so creates an emotional state or mental process that would not have been there without it.

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Alex... absolutely love the HDR image..not because it is a great subject, but because it is an image one would never see without that technology.

 

It is interesting how each generation gets fixated on their moment in time and believes with all their heart and sole that their point of view is all there is.

 

From the early days of photography, where all one could do was take an image and there were no adjustments, to the advent of the darkroom, to color and now digital

 

I hope everyone understands some of the following:

 

1. Film and particularly the darkroom adjustments that could be made, where not well received by "real artists" of the day. Was the vinyl versus digital sound recording argument of the day.

 

2. 35mm camera's were considered "toys" that no real photographer would use. I was once told that "any idiot" could take images with a 35mm camera and that was before the invention of automatic exposure or auto focus. My how times have changed.

 

3. Many great photographers of the past did far more photo manipulation than anyone today would think was allowed. People seem amazed to find out that most of Ansel's scenic images are actually highly adjusted and usually composite images. Darkroom "adjustments were considered by then, part of the artistic process.

 

4. The digital revolution destroyed more than just the 35mm film world, it took with it the large format world...and forever changed how people take pictures.

 

For what it is worth, the definition of what is a good UW image has become so narrow, the methods so constrained that for the most part, most UW images do look all the same. There are some very notable exceptions, but underwater photography is not really an art today...if it were art, then only the final image would matter, not the equipment, not the processing and not the photo shopping.

 

Note: I happen to be one very unartistic person. Not bad at photo journalism and very good at learning technical skills. For those lucky few that do have artistic skills, the more tools they have to work, the more varied their work can be...and I hope they use everything that comes around.

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interesting.. last year i actually decided to start cropping a few select images here and there, after all, everyone else does it and so why not.. but, it makes me feel dirty each and every time i do it.

 

This is a 105 with 2x TC, non cropped, full frame. Sure, i could have done the same with a simple 60mm and cropped it but... Don't people feel that sense of satisfaction from working on a photo for 30 mins before pulling the trigger and nailing the shot?! I guess not..

 

283014_10150336642390211_690615210_10081976_3999658_n.jpg

 

 

 

I dunno.. i assume 90% of people will say "use the technology, crop it in post" but I hate that, its just seems wrong

 

That's just me

 

haha.. i am becoming old and crotchety!

 

 

Hi Mike, nice to see you are still alive.

 

Nice image. Easy to understand why you feel that way.... after all, it is a lot easier to post process, and your image takes far more skill to do.

 

But what if you wanted the whole animal in focus (artistic choice)? Physical reality is that your setup could not do that. It could be done by using a different setup and cropping. It would not be the case of being lazy, but rather looking for a specific appearance. Would that be wrong? And if it is not, then making a judgement based on someone's intent would seem to be a bit difficult to do, and if it is, then one is passing judgement on what a good image is.

 

I've seen lots of your work, and you are one talented person. Whether you crop or not would not change that judgement, and it might just give you some more freedom to produce more of your work.

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interesting.. last year i actually decided to start cropping a few select images here and there, after all, everyone else does it and so why not.. but, it makes me feel dirty each and every time i do it.

 

This is a 105 with 2x TC, non cropped, full frame. Sure, i could have done the same with a simple 60mm and cropped it but... Don't people feel that sense of satisfaction from working on a photo for 30 mins before pulling the trigger and nailing the shot?! I guess not..

 

283014_10150336642390211_690615210_10081976_3999658_n.jpg

 

 

 

I dunno.. i assume 90% of people will say "use the technology, crop it in post" but I hate that, its just seems wrong

 

That's just me

 

haha.. i am becoming old and crotchety!

Cropping is only one element. If you were to present this image as a RAW image, it would be markedly inferior to the one you show. It's only post-processing in or out of camera that makes it what it is. There's definitely a sense of satisfaction to spending sometimes hours in Photoshop and creating the desired image. No different to doing it in camera, or watching a print develop in the darkroom.

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Thanks everyone for the comments so far. In many ways opinions are the most important thing here.

 

I have a traditional outlook - I guess that was my reason for posting. But I am beginning to conclude that this point of view might be a drawback and does it really have any justification?

 

Alex

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Find stick and poke vigorously into an ants nest then Alex !

 

No large scale edits may not be justified Alex, however commercially you need to do whatever it takes or you are taking up too much space out there on the edge.....

 

I never had the slide 'hang up', I gave up picture taking on land in the film days when I felt that sending the film in for processing put the end result out of my control, having 'lost' control I lost interest and gave up - enter digital.

 

With the D800 (which is going to be big - maybe as big as the D70 was for Nikon, which saved them financially) then large amounts of cropping may well become the viable norm - as long as your technique and dome etc achieves razor sharp focus on the original frame.

 

Regardless of how the end result is achieved the value is in the final image perception by the viewer. There will always be a place in the market for good imaginative images - which is what you produce and sell and I do not.

 

Paul C

Edited by PRC

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