It’s not magic, it’s hard work

I was walking down the street yesterday pushing a cart filled
with my strobe case, light stands and tripod, loads of power cables, oh and
camera case too, when two ladies meet me at the crosswalk in the middle of a
conversation.

 

The lady with the dark hair says to her friend, ”The problem
with technology is the people who don’t understand it.” Well this gets me
thinking so I butt in and say, “That’s because they confuse technology with
magic”.

 

Well that gets a laugh from them and they agree. As we get
across the street I mention that people who don’t understand what a technology,
or technology in general, does is that they always seem to expect more from it
than it actually does. With a nod of understanding we part ways. As I’m walking
along my head is ticking away that I’m walking along with a lot of technology
that those ladies most likely don’t understand: digital cameras, wireless
digital triggering systems for my strobe lights, which use a variety of light
modifiers – of which the grid spot always seems to get a “wow!”, so that I can
do something that everyone takes for granted: make photos of something that
looks better and more interesting than the subject itself.

 

Ok, by that statement I don’t quite mean the common thought that “Well, with Photoshop you can make the picture look like anything so what's all the fuss?” but the simple and quite old
photographic aspects of lighting, composition and moment. The fact that basically
everyone walks around with a cell phone and they pretty much all have cameras
built in does not mean that everyone is a photographer. Rather it means that
just about everyone has a camera. Big difference. You have a word processor on your computer so does that make you a writer? No? Ah.

Yet it has become so simple and common for people to make a photographic image that more than ever I have to explain to potential clients that professional photography still costs real money to do. The belief is that with our camera and processing technology that anyone can make great photos so why should I pay you all this money to do what anyone can do with their cell phone?

 

If we were still in the film era and everyone had a disc or
110 camera, you need to be an old dude like me to remember how horrible they
were but they still took better quality pictures than most cell phone cameras
do, people wouldn’t be feeling jaunty about how they are “a photographer”. Back
then they knew better. Their pictures were awful but did capture a usable image
regardless of its lack of artistic qualities. Now a days people produce loads and loads of poor
photography but maybe it’s the immediacy of “point, click, look” that makes
them feel differently about it. The technology hasn’t made their photography
any better, only faster and the gear a bit smaller. Yet the way that they feel about
what they produce with the new photo tool is very different.

 

I said tool because a cell phone camera is a usable tool. I’ve
posted plenty of photos made with my cell phone that have artistic merit. I’ve
made a little book with photos taken from my cell phone.  However putting a cell phone camera in my
hands is different than putting it in the hands of, say my 9 year old nephew. In
my hands it’s a photographic tool and with him it’s a toy and the results will
dramatically different. Just like putting an average driver behind the wheel of
a Ferrari F60 isn’t going to turn them into the next Formula 1 champion. If
anything the poor fellow behind the wheel will find himself quickly in the
ditch. It’s not the tool but the craftsman who is using the tool that makes the
tool useful. But if that tool is small, sleek, digital and has a neat-o
interface then why does it change it’s nature in the minds of so many people?
It’s still a tool. A few years ago people would say "Huh, if I had a camera like that I could make great pictures but all I have is this little point-n-shoot" but now it's "Who needs to spend money on a fancy camera? I got one here in my phone!"

 

I was talking to my buddy a bit after that street side
conversation about it all and he added an interesting aside. He was relating
about how another photographer made a blog post with a very boring image from
his phone and then proceeded to show how much more interesting it would be if
he put some lens flair and a warm tone overlay on the shot. Now it was a jazzed
up boring shot. Saved by technology. Yeah that’s the ticket!

 

We thought it was silly but the
dude in question was absolutely serious about this bit of P-Shop fiddle. It’s a
kind of “Oh, I don’t need to spend the effort to worry about lighting, background
and all that, I’ll just “Shop it” into shape. Well it usually looks “shopped” after
the fact so what’s the point of going through the effort to elevate the mundane?
Oh right, because we can. (Shudder!)

 

Anyhoo, it just compels and repels me this whole Church
Of Technology
thing. I’m a nerd and
love high tech stuff don’t get me wrong but I don’t see it as anything other
than what it is – a newer way of doing things. Any maybe that’s why we are
seeing so much nostalgia these days. Especially the static composition, muted color, warm tone, late
afternoon with glow-y lens flare images that has become popular in advertising.
Maybe that is in response to all the shiny immediate go fast stuff that most
people are agog with. I dunno. That feels false to me as well. A conceit. Trying
to make us teary eyed for a time when we remember things being slower but being
fed to us at our current high speed rate of consumption and often made with the
latest gadgets. Now that’s a lovely dichotomy huh?

 

So I will leave you with two images both taken with my
phone.

 

I saw this weathered bill board while I was walking down the
street to an assignment. I had two cases of camera gear with me so I whipped
out my phone and did this.

Paper on the wall

In the essence of the classic snapshot this is my good buddy
Rylund and me at the Avery Brewing anniversary party over the weekend. Oh and ladies, he’s
single!

Ry and I

One thought on “It’s not magic, it’s hard work”

  1. You hit the nail right on the head, Jonathan. It’s funny, I have a blog post that says basically the same thing in draft: People with cameras taking pictures (even nice cameras) aren’t “photographers”. It’s a tough thing to try to get across. I’m constantly trying to figure out when someone gets to say that they’re a “photographer”? I often wonder if I am (?).
    You’re also spot-on with cameras just being tools — I have written about that one, too. And photo processing to correct for bad photographic form being a really cheap photographic fake out. Looks like we have a lot of similar philosophies about this stuff.
    I hope you’re doing well, staying visible in the field of decoy photog’s out there! Someone undersold me recently, by giving their images away (FREE) to a company for use in a brochure, so they canceled their order with me (ouch).

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