Category Tech Talk

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.

Seeing Beyond Your Vision

Peripheral vision plays a big role in photojournalism. The ability to look at one thing and see what’s happening all around it allows us to build better stories, to see what others might not.

The New York Times’ Angel Franco took a Widely camera to Cuba 20 years ago and the way he used it is fairly unique.

For another use of this type of camera, take a look at CJ Gunter’s multimedia piece on the 2004 Kerry campaign (you’ll need to click a bit, no direct link – to go multimedia, then down to Kerry campaign 2004).

There is a Time …

… and it was yesterday that you needed to check the time settings on your cameras. Dig into those menus and set your clock back an hour. This is also a good time to check the minutes setting, too, as many modern cameras have a tendency to drift.

At least until the Swiss start making cameras, checking the time stamp should be part of your routine. 

Pro Tip: If you connect your camera to your computer and launch the manufacturer’s software, most of them will let you sync the time from your computer to your camera. This is hugely beneficial if you have multiple cameras that you shoot at the same time as you will have precisely the same time on all of them. (At least until they start to drift again …)

Forcing Visual Variety

If this ever goes into production, I may require it of my kids so I never have to see another photo of Tate Plaza or the Arch.

Camera Restricta from Philipp Schmitt on Vimeo.

On my additional feature request list would be facial recognition so we can limit the number of selfies you take.

Are We Ready for DRM on Photos?

That’s a good question to start pondering, because according to Rob Price at Business Insider, the Joint Photographics Expert Group (look at their acronym to determine if they’re important) is looking at incorporating digital rights management technology into web-accessible images.

Will this change everything for the better, allowing us to protect our work and receive the compensation we need to produce more of it? Or will it destroy the sharing economy on the web?

My opinion: Maybe.

(Thanks to John Harrington for the link.)