Why most images are compromised (or, so much for the decisive moment)

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Following the previous article and questions ensuing, I felt this earlier (read: probably forgotten) post would be a good explanation of just how much of a grey area the whole idea of a ‘decisive moment’ is…

A photograph is an observation of a scene at a given moment in time. It’s an effectively instantaneous snapshot of the state of a scene or person or other subject, given the relative rate of change of those subjects. If we extend the duration of observation – i.e. with a long shutter speed – we might see some hints at that change in the form of motion blur, or eventually, averaging. If we get lucky, or observe for a long period of time, we might eventually be able to capture an interesting change or temporary state of the system; however, this assumes two further things. Firstly, that we can differentiate what is ‘interesting’ and have a good benchmark of what to look for; secondly, that we are aware and responsive enough to capture it. I think we can already see why there are some serious challenges here.

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OT: A tale of two Porsches

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Earlier in the year, I opened discussion to the floor for suggestions around the quest for a different, tactile driving experience – a sort of cathartic break from the increasingly numb efficiency of modern cars. Most of the responses suggested that as usual, the answer was Miata; Miata is unfortunately not an easily accessible proposition in my country, and especially not a manual. For that matter, there are few manuals available outside the truly woeful econoboxes so bad that the dealers don’t even keep demo cars in stock (think the cheapest cars from the local manufacturers; so cheap that airbags and ABS are marketed as headline features). Needless to say, these did not prove to be pleasant motoring. What I did manage to find, at around the price of a new Honda Civic for the former, and a base 3-series for the latter – were two rather interesting Porsches.

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Two theories

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I promise today’s post is only slightly off topic and still legitimately relates to photography. It takes the form of two theories (or perhaps more accurately, hypotheses). They are somewhat related, and over the last few years have personally changed the way I perceive many aspects of both idea creation and business. First question, before we get into the philosophy: how do you interpret the title image? Is it hoarding, a meticulous collection, somebody making the most of their situation, a choice to live in a certain era, or something else?

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Automation in photography: two sides of the fence

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Over the last few years, I can’t help but feel a lot of the thinking has been shuffled higher up the chain – be it when driving or making images. Cameraphones probably epitomise this, especially the iPhone: photography has been simplified so thoroughly that actual parameters are completely removed from the equation, leaving ‘focus here’ and ‘brighter’ or ‘darker’. Everything else is decided by a series of logical algorithms that are aimed at one thing and one thing only: a ‘nice’ picture, acceptable in the opinions of the largest number of people. There are tradeoffs made that accommodate the needs of the widest possible market – which for the most part, isn’t the creative experimenter. Results are acceptable, punchy, and well, homogeneously bland in a sea of literally hundreds of millions of the same devices with the same limited control. Yes, some of that control is now coming back and some of the UIs are starting to show the strain of accommodating feature creep, negating the literal point-and-click simplicity that drew so many people to cameraphones in the first place (along with convenience and social media).

Choice, has been removed. Is it bad? Well, I’m honestly not sure and arguments in both directions follow – but would love to hear your opinions in the comments.

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The pricing game, redux

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In this kind of world, what am I actually worth?

Following on from an the previous post on understanding licensing, I thought it’d be instructive to also revisit the remaining elephant in the room for any photographer – especially newly-minted ones – is the question of how much to charge. Attached to that comes the mechanics of it all: invoicing, accounting, collecting payment, and the big one: licensing. Oddly, I find that this part of the business is something that seasoned pros are the most reticent to discuss; perhaps it’s part self-protectionism, perhaps it’s the cultural omerta towards money (at least in Southeast Asia, everybody seems to judge you by how much you earn, but to ask outright would be a major social faux pas*) or perhaps it’s because some of us are afraid to admit how little we’re actually charging.

*Nobody is likely to tell you the truth anyway; culturally, it’s like asking a lady her age in the West. It’s the age-old dilemma of one’s ego wanting to show their success, but simultaneously being afraid of being a target of jealousy. Whilst boastfulness is never a desirable trait, I think we need to be proud of our work and position as professionals and craftsmen – like every other form of social posturing, others tend to judge your implied relative value on external appearances.

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How not to photograph an eclipse

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It’s actually quite rare we get a) an eclipse visible from tropical latitudes and b) a solar one that happens during daytime. I personally have actually never seen an eclipse despite both trying and having some background training as an astrophysicist many moons ago; the last time was stymied by heavy cloud around sunset, and basically landed up indistinguishable from a normal sunset (albeit a few minutes earlier). So the event of the 26th of December was something I was rather looking forward to when I found out both a) and b) would be satisfied, and weather patterns of late have tended towards relatively clear days up to early afternoon. So how did it go?

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Image licensing 101, redux

A recent correspondence with a debutant pro photographer prompted me to revisit the whole topic of intellectual property and licensing vs pricing: it was clear that he had no idea what he was getting himself into, assuming a job is a job with a fixed price and then handover of images. Whilst this is for the most part true and can be true even for extended commissions, it would be silly to leave revenue on the table and undermine the value of one’s own work. In short, if a client commissions work for a certain purpose but wishes to use it beyond at a later stage – you are within your rights to seek additional licensing fees but only providing you set that out clearly to begin with, and there is documented evidence of parties’ agreement. But before we discuss licensing, we should spend some time on the basics of intellectual property.

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Brave new world: the surprising iPhone 11 Pro

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Field dispatch, Berlin, December 2019: I normally don’t write things on the road, both because I prefer to see where I’m going and because I find observations on anything need some sitting time; think of it as a curation of thoughts. But I’ve been slapped upside the head a little bit on this trip. Firstly, it isn’t a photographic one – it’s a spend-time-with-the-family one; even so, I’ve been paring down gear more and more of late to the point that a Nikon Z7 and two lenses is about the most I’ll do. In this case, the 24-70/4 S and the 85/1.8 S. Both are excellent but I find myself hardly using both the camera, and when I do, the 24-70 is left feeling lonely. Why? Well, I picked up the iPhone 11 Pro shortly before I left.

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A massive (but silent) change

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I’ve long been one of the strongest proponents of tripod use for the simple reason that doing so forces you to slow down. This slowing down has the combined benefits of making you spend more time observing your subject and its surroundings to increase awareness and in turn create a stronger or more interesting implied story; it forces you to spend more than a breath looking at the composition in the viewfinder and being aware of elements that might be imbalanced or distracting or intrusive, or that should be included. In fact, I almost always land up working off the rear LCD rather than the finder as it has the convenience of touch functions, the precision of live view focus, and tends to be larger*. So why is it that I actually haven’t used a tripod outside of macro and product work in the studio for over a year now?

*My preference still remains for an eye level finder when working quickly, though – both for immediacy and stability of having the camera braced against your face; arms’ length with an LCD is not stable and such situations usually don’t yield time for another try if you happened to shake. We have recently seen the jump from ‘good enough’ EVFs to very good EVFs that have improved resolution, color accuracy, black point and dynamic range enough to be quite transparent; once again with the benefit of focusing on the sensor as well as magnification for manual focus. I’d say we’re about on par at this point, at least in FF-land. But I digress.

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A compact death

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In the last few years, our ‘serious’ compact (larger than tiny sensor) options have dwindled to just a small handful: the Ricoh GR, Canon GX, Panasonic TZ and LX, and the Sony RX100. I don’t know if the RX0 qualifies, but I suppose since it has a 1″ sensor – and anything else is thin on the ground. But that’s really about it – what used to be an abundance has now turned into a paucity. Even at the low end, other than all-weather mild-submersible things – it’s been quiet. I don’t think it’s entirely the fault of smartphones, either – because there are some capabilities unique to larger sensor compacts that mean there’s probably an opportunity here to a camera brand willing to take a small risk*. Here’s my thinking…

*That unfortunately probably means nobody, in the current market.

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