Rant: Annoying Things People Say Regarding Photography – Pt. 1

Okay, I am officially in a mood. I am in the middle of two big development pushes, sitting on a book that I am not comfortable in completing and insanely busy at home and work. I have not picked up my camera for fun in over a month. Things are insane right now.

When I get like this, I get really agitated over pettiness, bravado, ignorance and plain stupidity. Which is unfortunate, since part of my daily wind down is checking a few photo blogs, message board and checking out Twitter, Facebook and Google Plus.

What has been gnawing at me for days is the frequent asinine comments I come across in those venues. I avoid the discussion myself, but I feel its time for me to address some of the common statements I encounter. Here they are in no significant order.

“Presets should be free / No one should ever pay for presets”

Okay, I develop presets that are sold to the public. I also have made quite a number of free presets for Lightroom and ACR over the years. Countless others do the same, but this hits somewhat home to me.

If someone is inquiring to the usefulness of a retail preset package, they are clearly considering using them to assist in the creative workflow. It is complete not germane to the conversation to give your idealistic view of presets should be free. Almost every thread I read in a message board relating to presets has at least one asshat who feels the need to drive home this point.

Feel free to tell them the package isn’t that great, or tell them how you have leveraged it in your workflow. But don’t take the time to reiterate for the thousandth time that they can do it themselves and that presets are simply scripts that should be free. Because the odds are you have never once put 15 hours into developing one set of presets that work reasonably well over a range of differing images.

Guess what hotshot, almost every Lightroom/ACR/Aperture/Photoshop user already knows how presets or scripts are made in the platform, even if they don’t know the actual process by which to do so. Also, consider this, maybe they like the look of a particular preset someone else has developed and do not want to waste their time reinventing the friggin’ wheel. They know presets simply adjust sliders, they know presets are scripts that do just that. Get over it.

This is not to say every preset collection is golden, this is not to say that the creator put hours of loving diligence into designing their product. There is crap out there. I like to think mine are quality products, but you may differ, that is fine. If you don’t like it, don’t support me. If you do and buy, thank you. Bottom line, people put time into these presets, if they give them away great, if they want to be compensated for their efforts they will sell them. You don’t have to buy, but don’t be the repetitive guy who has to lambaste every person asking about presets.

And remember, you can do everything any commercial plug in does with just Photoshop. It just takes a hell of a lot longer.

“Some photographers make art, others just make pictures”

Actually, all photographers make pictures… and they all make art as well… just not what you may define as art. Get off your bloody high horse. Don’t denigrate a photographer by calling their images simple snapshots. One person’s snapshot on a street is another person’s idea of the second coming of Cartier-Bresson. Just because you don’t see art in it doesn’t make the image any less valid.

So, you consider a shot of a toilet taken in low light with Tri-X pushed to EI 12800 art. Others may consider it a grainy picture of a toilet hung on a wall in bad taste. You may find a close up of rumpled bed sheets converted to black and white and heavy contrast to be fine, abstract art. Others see a mish mash of black and white.

All photographers make pictures, some viewers see art. You may see your own image as art… and it is! But to Bob Smith down the road, it may just be a picture of a damn frog.

Statements such as this are broad generalizations based off personal opinion. The statement means nothing in and of its self, and when I read these comments when an image is being discussed it sickens me. Say you don’t like it and move on.

I never liked Andy Warhol’s art personally, but I won’t deny that its art. It’s just not what I want on my wall.

“Photoshop is cheating”

So… then I guess Ansel Adams was a cheater as well, because he manipulated the hell out of his images back in the day. He exposed negative for the express purpose of post production, in the form of dodging and burning, sandwiching negatives and a multitude of old school, analog image manipulation techniques. There is nothing new under the sun… Photoshop did not change this in the least.

Photographers have been using masks, layers, compositing, dodging, burning, contrast manipulations and even cloning for years. Photoshop just made it a whole lot simpler. Ansel would be using Photoshop today, actually any photographer who ever pushed the boundaries of possibilities would be. And they wouldn’t be cheating by doing so.

Stating photographer who use Photoshop is cheating is like saying Graphic Designers who use Illustrator are cheaters as well. In the old days they had do create their works through a multitude of mechanical means, including >gasp< drawing by hand. Because digital technology has made their tasks easier in no way makes it cheating, and they are never accused as such. Heavy Photoshop users are frequently accosted on in this manner.

Not that I personally care much, I am from the school of get it as right as possible in the camera. But that’s more a function of not wanting to work in Photoshop much, as opposed to having some self righteous opposition to people using the tools available.

“Film is dead”

And so is vinyl, but there are always new LP’s on sale at the few music stores left. I shoot film; most of my photographer friends shoot film to one degree or another as well. It is a different experience from digital photography, and has its own strengths and weaknesses, but is just as valid today as it was years ago.

Others point to external factors for film’s demise, aside from <sarcasm> the vast superiority of digital </sarcasm>. Case in point, Kodak filing for bankruptcy andFujicutting their film lines, both big issues for film photographers. While it is true these are not exactly great for film photography, it is far from killing it.

Kodak has stated that its film division is still profitable, doing much better than other business segments. What killed Kodak was their inability to be agile in the early days of digital technology, not developing good products and selling shovel ware crap re-branded cameras, amongst other really bad ideas. Kodak has cut film stock from their offerings, but they have also added new stock to their offerings in the past years as well. Kodak film is going nowhere for the time being.

And if Kodak goes under, there is a thriving craft market of film manufacturers inEurope. Hell, the Impossible Project brought us semi-functional Polaroid type instant film again. Rollei/Maco is producing beautiful black and white films, and Ilford is still doing what that brand name has been doing for years.

There is a multitude of other small market manufacturers breathing more life into film, and a few businesses are doing their part as well… Freestyle Photography and Lomography both keep the love alive. Even if I hate the lomography movement, I still love the movement keeping film rolling through the processors.

Film is not dead. You may just be too lazy or cheap to be bothered with it, and that is okay. But don’t sound the death knell for something you no longer have any interest in.

“Film is superior to digital”

And Vinyl is superior to iTunes AAC, but the odds are if you heard both in a dark room, you couldn’t tell the difference, aside from the pop and hiss of the turntable.

I shoot primarily film, I love film. I love its organic nature and stark simplicity. But it is not superior to digital or vice versa. They are simply different mediums for the same style of art.

Sensor vs film frame. If I were to take my son’s Minolta Vectis APS SLR and photography the same subject with my bother’s Sony A200 what would I see? Both images are made on the same basic dimensions (Actually, the Vectis is shooting in APS-H format which is slightly larger than the A-200’s APS-C sensor).

First, the odds are that the digital image will have better resolution, in terms of resolving power. At the frame size, I am getting 10 megapixels of quality image from the A200. Scanning the APS negative on a Nikon Coolscan at the maximum 4000 DPI setting renders me 12.5 megapixels. But it is over resolving the film, pulling out dye cloud structure, not more image. Subjectively, I will peg APS film on a Nikon at 10 megapixels, and that is being favorable to the film.

So, from two semi-equivalent image sizes, we should have two identical images, right? Not really. The demosaiced raw file from the A200 will generally have better sharpness than the film scan. This is due to the size of the grain converted to dye clouds in the film, versus the size of the pixels in the Bayer array of the A200. But what about dynamic range, you ask? Negative film has about a 12 stop range normally, slide film as between 6 and 8 depending on emulsion. The Sony A200 at ISO 100 and full RAW goes about 10 stops. Better range than Slide but slightly worse than Negative film. It’s a wash.

So, the digital image has one up on the film image, general sharpness and detail.DynamicRangeis a washout. So how about color fidelity? The A200, shot in RAW with properly set white balance will show a slight divergence from the real world colors. This can be corrected in Lightroom or ACR with a camera profile, but it will never match real life exactly. The Vectis will produce the colors that the film stock creates. If it were slide film, it simply would not match the real world at all; you get what the film gives you. Negative film is a slightly different matter.

But when is the last time you saw the “real” colors produced from negative film stock? The orange mask of the film makes that equation a bit crazy. If you scan your own film, you can take care to correct completely for the orange mask, and upon inversion, get the colors produced by the film stock… which again strays from reality quite a bit. And if you send your film off to a lab, the odds are it gets scanned in a Fuji Frontier machine and color corrections are done by the machine automatically, deviating even more from what the film captured.

What about darkroom prints then? Well, color printing requires the use of filter packs to correct for the orange mask and color balance. Then you are at the mercy of the printer, of if doing it yourself, your own eyes. Color fidelity is a joke of a metric anyways. Choosing a film is like choosing your paints, it defines the appearance of the image. Much the same as your camera picture settings or camera profile in Lightroom, or hell, what presets you apply.

The advantage goes to digital right, well not so fast. There are more variables to consider. While the digital image may be shaper in general, the grid array of the sensor leads to jagged edges in the image, due to the pixel structure. This is corrected with anti-aliasing. This decreases the overall sharpness, yet it still tends to be sharper than most film images and it does not eliminate the appearance of jaggies at large print sizes. Film handles this much more organically with the film grains, which are random, and the dye clouds, which tend to blur together.

In general we are looking at two different media for the same art style.

“Digital is Superior to Film”

First see above. It’s a wash at the same sensor size in general. So, let’s look at 35mm 135 format film vs a Full Frame sensor. At 4000 DPI, a film scan yields approximately 24.1 megapixels. Some modern Full Frame cameras exceed that in 2012, others fall short. This also discounts film quality, some stock will be better than others; Fuji Velvia scanned is pretty damn close to being equivalent to 22 megapixels, other films fall short of that.

So, Digital is now in the driver’s seat with resolution and resolving power. So it’s a win right? Not really. Remember the megapixel wars? How many pixels do you really need? Velvia in 135 format can make wall sized prints that look good if so desired, just as good as a 30+ megapixel full frame camera to be honest. Digital still has pixelization and jagged edges at large sizes.

But we can always step up in film format. Medium format anyone? The modern Digital medium format cameras utilize the 645 format (4.5 cm x 6 cm). Phase One has a back that does 80 Megapixels! Scanning a 645 negative on the no longer available Nikon 9000 can render a 645 frame at just less than 67 Megapixels so win for digital right? Yes and no. Film can always be shot in an 8×10 camera, which at 2400 DPI (under the possibility of over-resolving most films) can yield 460 megapixels. Just saying.

And if you print film opically, the discussion of megapixels is moot anyways.

Another film advantage over digital is in the area of highlights and shadows. Film’s response to light is logarithmic, as it’s a chemical function, digital on the other hand has a linear light response, because it’s well… digital. This means on two, otherwise equal shots, as demonstrated in the APS battle earlier, film will have less blown highlights and more recoverable shadow detail than digital. Day in and day out. Sure, if you are scanning, you will have to use multiple scanner exposures, and merge the image to retain all the shadow and highlight detail, but you can. You have to bracket images and merge an HDR to do the same in digital. The point is, film handles light much more gracefully.

Either way, it is still a draw betwixt digital and film.

Anyways, that’s enough for today. I have a second part to this coming up as well, with more comments that royally piss me off.

Michael

  1. Like you, I keep reading people’s extreme opinions in various blogs and never even bother to comment. But this time I will comment to say that I enjoyed reading this very much. I’m particularly amazed by people’s need to love or hate things whether they are digital photography or film photography. So many of them feel the need to be in one end of a “war”. I’ve always used both mediums, enjoying the different things they have to offer.

    As for people wanting all presets to be free, don’t bother with them. I’m sure they’re the same people who think that if they use the exact presets a “famous” internet photographer uses, their photos will look like his. Not taking into account composition, light, etc., as well as other photoshop techniques. I’ve never developed presets myself, but I can understand how this attitude can be stressful for someone putting so much time in them.

    Me, I’ve never paid for presets (I have been using your free LR presets for years now so thank you for that) because I am a hobbyist photographer and never generate income from photography. IF however I was a professional, I wouldn’t give it a second thought :)

    Keep up the good work, looking forward to your next rant,

    Agelis

  2. Excellent rant! I’ve actually just purchased the B&W Lightroom presets, as I was very impressed with the level of detail. The point you make is excellent – yep, I could make presets, but what I do not have is your experience in film and skill in emulating them in Lightroom. That’s what I paid for! (and at a fair price!). I posted a link to the real world example on the XeL site on my website blog.

    Look forward to the next rant! ;-)

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