Photography Tips – Some Advice about Internet Advice
This post isn’t on photography technique per se. Rather it’s some advice, on the Internet, about how to approach advice you find on the Internet.
When I returned to photography after a long break, the Internet had happened while I was away. Naturally I turned to the online articles and podcasts to help me catch up with what had changed while I’d been using a Yashica T4 Super instead of a Single Lens Reflex camera. I found no shortage of folks who were happy to tell me what I should do with my new Canon 30D and how I should do it.
This was really good at first. I was grateful that people with more experience than I were taking the time to offer advice on how to make my own photography better, since I was making an interesting transition from film to digital photography. Much of what I encountered was earnest advice intended for my benefit. But as the years passed and my own experience increased though much trial and error, I came to realize that some of the things I’d heard or read not too long before no longer seemed that it had been meant for me at all.
Rather, it seemed to have been intended to make the speaker feel better about himself and his own photography.
Why am I thinking about this and taking the time to comment now? Because I find myself writing columns about photography, and more surprisingly, I find that people read them. I receive emails from strangers and comments from acquaintances or from people who know me only from my modest presence on the Internet.
It’s one thing to write something on your blog and have a couple of people read it. It’s another thing to write something and have a thousand people read it. I’m not to the point where tens of thousands of people read what I write about photography, given that I write about such a narrow specialization as motor sports photography. This is a bit of a relief, frankly. My good intentions can only do so much harm that way.
But my writing here is well intentioned, and perhaps that’s why I still find myself simmering about some of the advice I heard years ago, advice that I took at face value. Now that I have tried many, many times to create compelling images of motor sports, now that my attempts have been published in international magazines and websites, now that some of my photographs have been signed by world champions, a certain responsibility comes with whatever I say in an article like this. Not only do I want to give good advice, but today I want to caution you about others who have different motives.
As more people discover what my colleagues and I are doing here at PhotoGP, we sometimes get emails about this or that, requiring either a quick answer or a more complicated one. For example, recently a young PhotoGP fan wrote in to ask a question, and my answer related to how he might use digital editing techniques to recover images that had not been exposed as nicely as they might have been. Regular PhotoGP readers may recall that I’m a proponent of shooting in raw format for this very reason.
The situation reminded me of something I heard years ago when I was first getting back into photography as a serious endeavor, after many years away from SLR shooting. One of the things I remember hearing was that to be a ‘real’ photographer, you have to get it right ‘in camera,’ rather than rely on post-processing to save your image. The giver of this maxim bragged that he spent no more than a minute per image when processing his shots. If an image required more than that, he considered it a failure, in the sense that he’d not made a basic exposure good enough to require so little processing. The implication was clear – such an accomplished photographer as he rarely, if ever, failed to get it right.
This attitude about one’s efforts stuck with me, and for quite a while I felt bad that so many of my own photos required considerable post processing to turn them into the kinds of images I wanted to create.
Then a good friend reminded me that Ansel Adams had written a series of books about photography, the volumes titled The Camera, The Negative, and The Print. In these three books Adams discusses the various stages of creating a satisfying photograph. The exposure, done in the camera, is only part of that process. How you treat the negative, and then how you create the print from that negative, are not only additional areas of necessary expertise, but also additional opportunities for creativity.
In the darkroom we adjusted the overall exposure as well as shadows and highlights, we simply did it by dodging and burning to control how much light from the enlarger’s bulb touched the paper. Now we have digital tools to accomplish the same results, but with greater accuracy and repeatability. Remember making a print that required a lot of work at the enlarger and getting it just right, only to have to attempt repeating each physical step to create another just like it? (That’s one thing that separated an expert print maker from everyone else, including me.)
I decided that Adams probably deserved listening to more than an Internet voice whose photos were, while better than mine at the time, not as good as those of Ansel Adams. Certainly you should try to make as good an exposure as possible under the circumstances. But if what you see later on the computer requires more than one minute of work, you shouldn’t feel bad about it.
Now I see that this comment, disguised as advice to help the novice photographers in the audience, was really intended to make the speaker appear more accomplished than he was, and perhaps to allow him to feel superior to those listening to his advice.
I wish I could say that this was the only instance of this type of ‘advice’ I encounter on the Internet. You really have to be careful to whom you listen, and then be careful how much weight you assign to the comments you hear.
For even if advice is meant to help you and is offered with selfless intentions, it may not be the best for you personally either because of where you are with your own photography, or how clearly the advice was expressed. Advice about a creative activity like photography should only ever be a suggestion of something to try for yourself, to evaluate and judge whether it suits you and your situation. For there are few instances of endeavor where there is only one way to do a thing, and photography certainly is not one of those instances. There are many ways to create photographs and one person’s approach may not suit you for one or more of many possible reasons.
To what degree does this advice apply to the ideas you read here at PhotoGP?
As editor of all content here, and author of most of it so far, I try diligently to ensure you won’t read any self-serving nonsense about photography on this site. But every post offered under the Technique category is another suggestion for you to try for yourself, not a rule for you to follow. You should be as skeptical of what I say as you are of any Internet voice, at least until you come to trust my comments because they have served you well. If those comments have not helped you, then with my apologies, you should look elsewhere for assistance.
But I hope that my colleagues and I will help you enjoy the beauty of motor sports, and to improve your own photography by sharing our experience. As we endeavor to do both things, please do not follow blindly, but test our advice to make sure your own experience aligns with ours. This is, after all, a web site on the Internet. Don’t trust what we say until we earn it.
Note: the featured image above is the result of more than one minute of post processing. Click on the image to view the original raw file.
Photograph: ©2015 by Scott Jones / PHOTO.GP – All Rights Reserved