Illusion vs delusion vs reality: commercial photography today

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Perhaps one of the most difficult objects I’ve ever had to light – directionality is needed to show finishing textures, but at the same time, diffusion for the polished surfaces. Reflections are controlled by carefully constructing the ambient environment and positioning of the lights and watch. This is a single image, not a composite.

This article is almost certainly going to not just going to make me unpopular with other photographers, but my clients, too. But it has to be said: I’m crying myself hoarse but nobody seems to be listening. There is a growing disconnect between physical reality and commercial ‘reality’. And if those people bridging the gap don’t say or do something about it – where does it end? As they say, the truth hurts. Read on if you’re masochist.

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Beyond the numbers: what’s next?

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An illogical, whimsical image shot with an enjoyable camera to use. There is a reason why I chose this image as the header for the article – read on and all shall be revealed…

Since the beginning of the medium – supposedly the view from Niepce’s window in 1826 or thereabouts – we have been chasing more. More is supposedly better. More of what? More of everything: resolution, clarity, size, maximum aperture, focal length, width…anything that can be quantised. It is arguable that the sufficiency was achieved for the capable photographer quite some time ago; what’s more interesting is that sufficiency has also been met and far exceeded within the reach of the typical consumer, too. And I think finally, several years afterwards, people are beginning to realise it, too. So: where does photography go from here?

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Quality control, sample variation and what it means for photographers

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Perhaps the most problematic series of lenses I’ve ever owned. Like the fable, when they’re good – they’re really good; when they’re bad, they’re horrible.

An increasingly heard phrase amongst photographers and gear collectors is “it’s a good copy” or “it’s a bad copy”: today’s article explores what this actually means, as well as how it is relevant in real terms.

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Thoughts on stock photography

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This is obviously not the kind of thing I usually shoot. But it does have stock value, so I go out of my way: why?

I’ve long been in two minds about the whole stock photography business, for many reasons. Today I’d like to explore some thoughts around the whole ecosystem. One thing’s for sure, though: the market for photographers is getting worse.

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Experimenting with stacked polarisers

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A rather interesting effect, for daylight. Note texture of water.

Some time ago, I went out hunting for a variable ND filter in anticipation of a beach trip. (I know, most people buy a swimsuit or sunglasses, but I’m a photographer; sue me.) What I found was a little troubling. Not only were the locally available options hideously expensive, but they also weren’t multicoated – this brings about an obvious set of flare related problems given the environments (sunny) under which they’d be used. I thought I’d get creative instead.

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A digital B&W epiphany

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With the previous article on HDR, the zone system and dynamic range as background, I can now explain exactly what my B&W discovery was: it’s mostly to do with the highlights, but only in certain areas. And to make things more confusing, creating a natural-looking – perhaps even filmic image – required me to take processing steps that were both highly counterintuitive, but also go against everything else I’ve done and used successfully in the past. Read on if you dare; I can’t promise enlightenment, but I can certainly try for insight.

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Demystifying HDR, the zone system, and dynamic range

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My eyes, my eyes! I had to work quite hard to make this as a) I don’t own any of those filter programs and b) I don’t do this kind of hyper toned, overlapping HDR. The actual, final version of this image is at the end of the article.

HDR/ High Dynamic Range photography is perhaps one of the greatest blessings and curses of the digital age of imaging. On one hand, we have retina-searing rubbish that’s put out by people who for some odd reason celebrate the unnaturalness of the images, encouraged by the companies who make the filters that make doing this kind of thing too easy – and on the other hand, there are a lot of HDR images out there that you probably wouldn’t have pegged as being anything other than natural. There is, of course, a way to do it right, and a way to do it wrong. I use HDR techniques in almost all of my images – I live in the tropics, remember, and noon contrast can exceed 16 stops from deep shadows to extreme highlights – we simply have no choice if you want to produce a natural-looking scene.

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Medium format digital in the field

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There are quite a number of medium format digital cameras available today; the vast majority are designed to handle like oversize DSLRs, and in some cases, there’s very little difference size- and control-wise between these cameras – take the Leica S, for instance. This makes them both familiar and easy to use, but also somewhat liable to catch out the unweary. My digital field work with medium format is done with a Hasselblad CFV-39, mounted on a 501CM body. The method of operation constantly reminds you that this is most certainly not another DSLR; not least because you have to wind the camera after every shot to recock the shutter and lower the mirror! The intention of this article is to look at the practicalities – or impracticalities – of using medium format digital in the field or while travelling as a DSLR replacement, and more importantly, in a way that lets you actually see enough of a difference to justify it in the first place.

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Objectivity, subjectivity, time and deleting images

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How many of you have given serious thought to how you evaluate and delete images? From repeat experience, I find that it matters more than you might think. Today’s article examines this in a bit more detail: surprisingly, this is one of the very few times when producing better final images has nothing at all to do with the actual image capture…

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Repost: Defining style, and finding your own

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I think of this image as being very characteristic of the way I shoot these days – and you can probably guess that it was one of mine, even without the frame. But what does that mean? Why and what is it that makes it so – and more importantly, how do you consciously add your own visual signature to an image?

Introduction: This was an earlier essay written on a tough topic: something that is fundamentally important for all serious photographers, yet is extremely difficult to define in a strict technical sense due to its very nature.

In hindsight, I realized that it might not be something that a lot of photographers consciously consider at the time of capture; it might come up come post processing time, but you really need to have it in mind before you even hit the shutter. There is of course far more detail than I can possibly cover in a single post – we tried to put everything into a single 2h video, but we landed up needing 6 hours in total to be comprehensive. I probably should have reposted this as an introduction to the latest two videos, but better late than never! Think of it as context, preface and explanation for Making Outstanding Images series: Exploring and Processing for Style.

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