Category Tech Talk

Photo Editors Please, or At Least Visual Awareness (Updated)

It seems that I am on a multi-year rant about my local news organization. I pay my subscription, I read it every day online, spend time with the delivered Sunday edition and I truly appreciate that they are severely understaffed. That the depth of their coverage has suffered is sad and I do not find fault with the individual journalists – photojournalists, reporters and editors – for the stories they miss. That’s economics, that’s the result of poor judgement on the part of past managers.

What I do take issue with is the sloppiness of the editing, the lack of awareness of what they have published and their seeming inability to improve what they have through simple adjustments.

Like, perhaps, looking at the front page and seeing that an obituary story, that has now been on the front of their web site for more than a day, features a teaser photo of the woman’s chest. Not her face, as in the adjacent stories of men, but of her cleavage.

(And, for those who know me, yeah, it’s come to me talking about cleavage on this site. That’s how frustrating this is.)

I get that this is a wire service feed, that it is automated at some level. And, as with most other issues I have with the Athens Banner-Herald, I do not suspect any level of malice here.

In my classes, we talk about ethical transgressions of commission and omission. The former is an active attempt to deceive, think Jason Blair or Allan Dietrich. For whatever reason, they made a choice to lie because they did not care about their audience.

Transgressions of omission are, I suspect, much more common and more insidious. They come from failed processes, they come from a lack of awareness, they come from a lack of training. In the end, though, they again symbolize a lack of care.

Newsrooms are limited in their resources and need to make decisions about what to cover and what to publish. Part of that decision making process needs to ensure that what they do publish is both accurate and fair, that they have the resources to execute that coverage properly.

If you don’t have someone to monitor automated feeds, to at least check in once a few hours, then you need to decide if the risk of something going wrong is worth it. And here, my local news publication failed us.

Again.

UPDATE: After 34 hours, someone finally fixed the image. No note, no comment, just fixed it. Here’s what she looks like:

Expired, but Still Working

An interesting project by Chip Litherland – taking expired film to major events, just to see what happens.

Yeah, it’s art … but it’s sort of cool. And I’ve probably got 20 rolls of various film in the freezer or drawers around here …

Would HCB Use a Cellphone?

It’s an interesting question, whether Henri Cariter-Bresson would convert from his Leica to a smartphone were he alive and working today. William Dalrymple believe he would have and, as much as I adore the craft of photography … I guess I agree HCB would be wielding an iPhone 6s. But definitely not a 6s Plus, that would be too big.

I do make images with my phone, but it still doesn’t give me the level of control and separation I want. It’s all about the sensor size – and not for the pixel count, but the focal length equivalents.

Photography Without Vision

Om Malik has a wonderful piece up at the New Yorker, triggered by Google’s announcement it is making the Nik Collection of software tools free.

This idea that we are photographing everything, never seeing anything and, perhaps worse, not remembering anything is troubling to me. I have a very large collection of family photos, somewhere in excess of 20,000 images, made by myself, my father and my grandfather. And that may seem like a massive amount of images, but it dates back more than 60 years. Each one of those images is a trigger for actual memories – they bring back the emotions of the moment for those who were there. (Or, for me on the older ones, the emotions of having heard the stories behind them.)

My grandfather and I shared a concern for describing the images individually, he in notebooks and me with captions embedded in the files. My father, as methodical a man as ever wandered this earth, not so much … there are images that I don’t understand because the one who was there has been gone for nearly 30 years.

Now, you can accuse me of having this same insatiable desire to make images as I’m some 1,600 days into a photo-a-day project myself. But I’m not photographing everything, and I’m certainly not posting everything. To me, it’s a visual journal – but one that hits the highlights of a day, not every moment of it.

Defending McCurry

There’s been a bit of a storm brewing over a New York Times piece by Teju Cole about the work of Steve McCurry, one of the legendary National Geographic photojournalists.

I … don’t agree with his assessment but don’t feel qualified to take it on. Allen Murabayashi from PhotoShelter, though, has completely encapsulated my thoughts on the matter.

Having an obvious subject with tack sharp focus and proper exposure doesn’t mean a photo is devoid of layers of interest and interpretation.

Murabayashi’s sentiment aligns with my own here – the current fad of making low quality images to impart a gritty “realness” to them is ridiculous. We have spent nearly 200 years improving the quality of cameras through better lenses, better film stocks and now better sensors – why on earth do we apply “lo-fi” filters and strip out detail, accuracy and comprehension?

My student have heard this rant before – let the content of the image move your audience, don’t screw with their emotions with technique.

Times Changes

So you’ve spent you morning reprogramming the microwave and oven clocks, maybe you even reset your alarm clock last night. You’ll get to your watch later …

But, right now, pull out all your cameras and reset those clocks, as well. It’s usually pretty easy to find in the menus, but while you’re in there take a look at all the other settings and make sure they fit the way you shoot and are giving you the files you need.

Have you gone in and played with sharpness or saturation levels? Now is a good time to back those down again. Did you move your autofocus trigger off the shutter release and onto a separate button? Is that working for you (it does for me)? If it doesn’t, where does it belong? How about your AF point selection?

The Last Peels

Elsa Dorfman is retiring after shooting with the same oversized Polaroid camera for 30 years.

Why Some Lenses Cost $1,799

We are at that point in the year where a bunch of kids are turning in their gear and need to go buy their own. It’s a wonderful support system we have here, but it also shelters them from understanding the costs of this stuff.

Which means when they finally wander over to one of the online retailers and start pricing lenses and bodies, they … uhhh … freak out. As do their parents. And then I get the questions about how they bought a camera and TWO lenses at Costco for $449 last year, why does this one lens cost $2,000?

Well, there are a lot of reasons. The first being because those consumer level lenses are optically slow and terrible for low light situations. Second, they’re pretty poorly made. If you’re photographing birthdays and vacations, they’re great. But if you’re going to make your living off of them and use them for hours and hours every day, they’re not going to hold up.

So how are the good lenses built? Take a look at this post by Roger Cicala on what’s inside the $1,799 Canon EF 35 mm f/1.4 II lens. The care taken to engineer this piece of glass is just staggering …

(Thanks to Michael Johnston of The Online Photographer for the link.)

Eye Tracking Your Obsession

Interesting video made by Canon to promote one of their printers …

Not without some criticism, as well.

I have a touch of experience with eye tracking (mostly from hanging around very smart people who do it like Sara Quinn and my college Bart Wojdynski), so I think this stuff is really cool. My dream is to take entries from a major photojournalism competition and see how they’re read.

Hey, Canon … I have an idea for a partnership …

Reuters Goes to All JPGs

Michael Zhang at PetaPixel is reporting that Reuters has issued a directive to all its photojournalists to only submit images that were shot as JPGs in the camera – no more raw files allowed. (Side note: Why do we always capitalize RAW? It’s not an acronym so far as I can tell.)

Why would the wire service want to give up on the quality advantages of starting from a raw file? Well, speed is the obvious answer – JPGs write faster, download faster, open faster and don’t require any specialized conversion software. But their secondary reason is ethics.

They’ve reached a point where they no longer trust raw images. Which is horrifyingly sad, isn’t it? And insisting on SOOC JPGs (that’s straight out of camera, if you’re curious) or maybe minimally toned and cropped images to fight ethical issues isn’t going to help – you can lie just as easily before the image is made as after.

The core issue here is now trust – Reuters doesn’t appear to trust their contributors (freelancers are mentioned specifically*). And, once you’ve reached that point, no technology policy in the world will help you.

The loss of picture editors at agencies and publications has a crippling, cascading effect on the journalism we aspire to commit. Without them, there isn’t a visual voice at the table when stories are developed. Without them, there isn’t an advocate for the usage of good images (and the non-usage of idiotic images). Without them, the relationship between the organization and those who provide coverage is lost. It is way easier to lie to someone you don’t know then to lie to someone you do know.

This isn’t about speed or efficiency, this is the consequence of speed and efficiency.

*UPDATE: Hearing that staffers received the same directive.