Friday, August 1, 2008

Are photographers snobs?

I got to reading a post on a photography bulletin board. The person asked how to shoot black and white in the camera and what options were available. I wrote to use the custom picture styles to set the "color" to monochrome (b&w), adjust the custom settings (sharpness, contrast, filter and tone), and let the camera convert the raw format file to a jpeg black and white. And before I could respond, several people responded criticizing him for even thinking shooting jpeg and especially b&w in the camera.

It seems shooting raw format is the only way to be a "real" photographer anymore and let Photoshop do all the work, even overcoming your own stupidity in the field by either not understanding the scene to set the camera right or just setting it in program or full automatic mode, and then fix it later. So, where's the photographer's talent and ability with photography? They can be photography blind and Photoshop smart and still be called a photographer?

I'm not against shooting raw. It has powerful capabilities to produce some fantastic images in the hands of talented photographers. I'm just a little confused with all the technology photography and photographers have gained in recent years with cameras and photo editors, especially ones like Photoshop, that we've lost our history and the knowledge and talent of past photographers to produce some stunning and amazing images.

What's ironic with this mentality is that camera reviewers use jpeg to evaluate and judge cameras. Why? Because jpegs are consistent in their output format, so you can judge the brand/model in-camera raw-to-jpeg conversion images. Using raw format would introduce the differences due to the raw converter and changes made in the settings in the raw to output. Every Raw format converter uses different algorithims to produce different results, so it wouldn't be a good judge of the camera.

And in many fields of photography, such as photojournalist for newspapers and magazines, jpeg is the standard format, from the camera to the publication. It's because it's time and cost efficient and productive for both the photographer, editor and publisher. And any good photojournalist can produce publication ready jpegs. That's their talent and experience.

And even the latest generation of photo editors have overcome the quality lost in the many saves you do in the photo editors. All of them now are lossless, meaning nothing is lost anymore when saving images between adjustments. So you can make individual adjustments until you like what's there and not have to go back to the beginning if you make a mistake.

So, why all the snobbish arguments against jpegs? Maybe they should shoot film and have to know all the types of film and filters for every situation, and they face the photo editor when they screw up? Do they have the balls to go shoot film and show how good they really are as photographers?

Or maybe sit down with a National Geographic photo editor? And have them say, "So, let's see your original images. No, not the raw but the jpegs you shot so I can see how good you are in the field." Do you think they would change their mind, or walk out feeling either angry, saying "Boy, they don't get it." or humble, saying, "Boy, I need to learn photography."

Or will they go back to their thinking, which is the camera is the tool to get the image into the computer where they can do anything and everything. Shooting raw in the camera means you don't have to think beyond pointing and clicking. Set the camera to auto and fire away. The only mistakes you can make is if the raw format's dynamic range didn't have the latitude with the light and shadow in the scene. Everything else, including your own stupidity and ignorance, is fixable in Photoshop.

And yes, I shoot jpeg 90+% of the time and only shoot raw when I want to work on the image more than just capturing what I saw. I found my film experience was a good background to add a digital camera system with my equipment, I still take a digital and film body which shares the same lenses (both full-frame to minimize focal length thinking), so I can have both, the immediacy of digital images and the film.

And so, yes, I'm a curmudgeon, an old-school film-based photographer. But I wouldn't and won't change it, and I still find what I do best. I do photography to be in the field behind the camera and not one in front of the computer. I'm learning the latter, but never at the expense of the former. I will always focus on what I do holding the camera, everything else is extra.

And I will always criticize the photography snobs.


  1. I have been a freelance for 10 years, and in my experience I have only encountered maybe a handful of really friendly photographers who actully take the time to chat about equipments and complements your work and encourage you.

    Most of them were snobs who for some reason maybe thinks they are too good to talk to me...or just plainly don't like me, who knows.

    One day I ran into one of my classmate from black and white class and I said "hello, you are Mark from my class" and he looked at me and just walked away. There are flood of Photographers on extremely stuck up and full of themselves, and just couple who are helpful.I am not into digital photo manipulation, if you need to change tones, contrast, the same way you are able to accomplish in a dark room, then thats ok, but further than that would not be a true skill or an originality.


  2. Thanks for the comment. I could post about equipment snobs, from the time I used 20-40 year old Minolta equipment (even in the last few years). And since using a Canon 5D and 1N, I'm surprised at the acknowledement and freedom I get at public events, except the obvious policy and security folks.

    Yes, I'm always surprised that the photography community hasn't recognized the similarity between a (former) darkroom phtographer and a (now) computer one from a field photographer. But then there were snobs then too, and much of the same arguments persists, only the technology has changed.

  3. Yes, you are right, snobs are found in both film and digital society. Now a days anyone can pick up a economic Digital SLR and start shooting and create and twist their pictures in photoshop and say "Wow this is so easy, even I can do it"

    But, film is another challenge, and those who have not experienced enough using film have no idea that it does take great deal of technique, it takes time to master the art, there is no luxury to preview your pictures and so on, they should pick up a classic Ricoh or Leica once in awhile and see the difference for themself.
    When I use my D200, somtimes I don't feel the full accomplishment of my work, it's more rewarding when I use my F4 or Ricoh.
    This is why I have lot more respect and admiration for old school photographers more than digital photoshop gurus.

    Thank you for taking the time to reply to my comment. Just thought I share my website...

  4. Thanks, nice images (yeah, sorry, that terrible phrase many photographers hate to hear). I agree about film, and I always "suggest" to digital photographers if they really think they're that good to shoot 4x5 to get the real experience, and then show me how good you really are. It's all up to you and nothing else, except maybe a handheld light meter. The truth and reality is in the 4x5 slide. And why I love that work, format and result.

  5. Wow, using 4x5 takes serious skills. I have always wanted to try large formats, wouldn't know where to begin lol. It always intimidated me. Ever since I saw Paul Strand's work awhile back, I have always wanted to look into it. Someday. But for Right now I am working on a Hasselblad.

    Your work of Mt Rainier is beautiful.

  6. Actually large format takes more non-photography skills than anything, namely patience, common sense, discipline, and then an eye for composition and seeing from scene to image/print, and an understanding of exposure. The cameras are easy to learn if you start simple and apply good techniques. The key is that 15-60 minutes of preparation all boils down to about 1 minute of reality - insert film holder, cock shutter, remove film cover, release shutter, cover film. And the rest is in the results.

    That said, there's a whole world once you step inside large format, but it's not hard to get started, but you need a good basic background (knowledge, understanding and experience) to do well from the start. Otherwise, you're wasting a lot of money learning, and could easily waste a lot of money in equipment to find it's harder than you want to do (not learn, just do), and why a digital P&S or DSLR is easier and quicker, and can be mindless.

    Thanks about the images. Most are film, some going back 10-20 years. I've found 35mm film cameras are lighter and better for hiking. 4X5's a different issue.

  7. Have you seen the work of John Brady?, it's very interesting... he takes the pictures with his large format, develops them himself then scans it onto his computer and finalize his work in the dark room. His work is breathtaking.

    Your advise and feedback will definately come in handy in the future. I look forward to taking the step ahead to move further in my studies of the camera.

  8. Actually he says, "I try with the use of the computer to use the same methods I had long used in the darkroom to enhance my images, and love the flexibility and control I have gained.", meaning he replicates the darkroom in the digital image, which I presume is burning and dodging, and similar techniques.

    I've scanned some of my 4x5 sheets and it's hard not to just sit there in awe, and I'm using lower resolution to keep the file smaller, 250-400 MBytes. The difficulty is that there is no way to fully show a large format image on the Web, only in print.

    Thanks for the link. I don't get enough time to spend with my setup and always love it when I do. It totally changes the way you think and work. And there is nothing like seeing a 4x5 slide on the light table.

  9. I see what your saying. I did have a lot of question marks in my head after I read it. It sounds like a long process, but all worth it when you see the resaults. I feel inspired!

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