Saturday, May 7, 2016


Starting off with today's think piece from Ming, go give it a glance. It's worth reading. There's nothing particularly new in there, I've said most of it myself which you may take as a solid guarantee that these ideas are well worn, which isn't the same thing as wrong.

Ming exhibits a common and somewhat touching faith in technique, stating that his favored methods work (minimalism, leading lines) and others don't (selective saturation etc), which let's just ignore for now. The point he's making is that "photographic technique" is largely unnoticed by the viewer, and yet affects how the final picture is read, is understood. This is a commonly held belief, photographers tend to believe that they can, merely by working hard enough, can control much of what people see in the frame. They obsess over details.

We see over on PetaPixel some sort of scandal with Steve McCurry's photos, where apparently someone's photoshopping out people, and moving crap around in the frame. Presumably this is because someone (let us be honest here, it is almost certainly Steve despite his protests) thinks that the picture will be better if you move the lamppost over a little, or delete the boy in the background. What's startling to me is how little this is actually true. It just doesn't matter. Yes, the new picture is a little cleaner, a little more "McCurry", but it isn't any better and it's not really even different.

As I age I am becoming increasingly convinced that fine-grained technique is mostly pointless. Not only does nobody notice, it also doesn't matter. Big-strokes stuff matters. Is it Dark, Medium, or Light? Is it High Contrast, Low Contrast, or Natural Looking Contrast? Bright Colors or Not?

By all means, suit yourself. Fiddle with those tiny details if you like. Just don't kid yourself that it's going to matter much.

But here's a counterpoint, and I'm not sure what to make of it.

Ansel Adams was, as we all know, a fine detail kind of guy. He had these incredibly complex dodging/burning sequences, which he used to create and emphasize rhythms of light and dark across the frame. This is finicky BS that doesn't matter, according to what I have written above. Except that it's not true. Go find an Adams landscape and go flatten the contrast out, and the thing utterly disintegrates. It turns into a boring, incomprehensible, jumble. This is not true of most of the pictures I actually like, but it seems to be true of Adams.

I have no idea what this means.

Anyways, I am almost anti-technique these days. I stick to big controls like "level or tilted" and "how violently harsh should the contrast be" and "how dark can I make this without becoming a sort half-baked Rauschenberg?"


  1. From what I've read here so far, your emphasis seems to be on sets of pictures, on projects. Ansel Adams, however, is an exponent of the traditional approach - the single picture as a masterpiece. If you focus on sets of pictures, the individual picture is far less important; important is how the pictures work together and if a picture supports your intended narrative.

    Harald Mante's work comes to mind (a German photographer and retired professor of the Dortmund University for Design, he almost excusively works in terms of series of pictures). I once attended one of his workshops - he showed us lovely portfolios of his consisting of 10x15 cm drugstore prints, taken with an APS-C camera with kit lens. I wouldn't be surprised if he shot JPEG. He told us that pursuing that single master photograph is a recipe for frustration. You might want to check out his work.

    1. Thanks!

      I have been in the past quite explicit my belief in projects, sets, portfolios. I think the iconic single standalone image is basically dead, for a bunch of reasons.

  2. I find most of my favorite photos are ones I've done with my Holga camera. Shooting with it is about as Anti-technique as you can get.