Why photography absolutists are absolutely wrong

2014-08-22_untitled-XT1B7192

Gratuitous cute puppy pic (shot using auto-ISO!)

“Why photography absolutists are absolutely wrong” – yeah, some may think it’s a contradiction in terms. An oxymoron, if you will.

But it’s true.

We’ve all come across the photo snob, usually online: “Oh, I always shoot RAW.” “All manual, all the time.” “Primes not zooms.”  “I shoot film, it’s so pure.” “I’m a natural-light shooter.”

Whatever.

BUT … there are exceptions to every rule.

“Primes not zooms.” Are primes better than zooms? No, of course not. Some primes are infinitesimally sharper than a good zoom. Some have a bigger aperture available (and if you need that (like I do at times) then yes, they’re the only option. But if you’re stuck in one spot in a church or a conference room and you can’t move, then a zoom is VERY useful. Or if you can’t foot zoom because you’ve got a wall at your back… you know what I’m saying. (If you just prefer primes, then fine, just don’t pretend they’re “better”.)

“All manual, all the time.” Knowing how to use your camera in manual is great, it really is. Everyone should learn how to do this as part of the basics of driving your cameras. And you don’t have much choice under most studio-style lighting rigs. But you can’t change your aperture/SS/ISO as fast as the computer inside the camera, it’s impossible. So don’t be an idiot just so you can boast about what a photographic hero you are – use those other modes to your advantage when it’s required.

Would it be good to shoot in RAW all the time? Sure, why not? It’s more flexible than shooting straight to JPG, no doubt.

But it’s not always necessary. Or possible. (And the “space is cheap” proponents don’t take into account proper backup procedures or upload speeds in a lot of places either, one suspects. For example, I’m running 40TB of space here, plus an online backup, and once you get out to that many drives, they fail quite often, making it less cheap. Nice throw-away line, though.)

For example, I just shot the AIDS2014 conference, which is the biggest health conference in the world this year, apparently. It was BUSY. Like, insanely busy. Working 97 hours in eight days busy. We shot all sorts of things in that time, but mostly it was speakers in conference rooms. Many of them. In rapid succession.

Our boss on the ground was good and had a clue, but the schedules sent through from Geneva were impossible – basically they wanted us to shoot back to back to back to back to back to… (you get the idea) while wanting “photo asap”. Clearly this isn’t possible, so our boss on the ground made it a bit more doable. None the less, even with a more sensible schedule, turnaround time was at a premium.

What does this mean? That there was no time to even download RAW files, let alone process and file them. So, JPG was the only option. And, guess what? They were more than happy with the output.

Why? Because the end product is what counts. And if you shoot well, you’re golden. Of course, the “shoot well” bit is at  something if a premium here. If you continually need to make big changes to things like exposure, etc, then by all mean, shoot RAW. Just don’t insist that everyone else does the same.

I did shoot both to the card, but I had Photo Mechanic setup to only download the JPG files. If I’d had a real disaster and I NEEDED that particular frame, I could have grabbed the RAW and gone to work on it, but I never needed to, so they just disappeared when I formatted the cards at the end of the day.

And I shoot weddings and portrait sessions to both as well, for the same reasons. The last wedding I shot I delivered 400 or so images, all of them from the JPGs, because I shoot Fuji and the JPGs are awesome. I mostly shot B&W (red filter) and (now) ClassicChrome direct to the card, and go with that. Yes, works fine for BIG prints as well.

And no, RAW doesn’t have “better clarity” when you make enlargements. The stories you hear.

“Oh yeah, I shoot film for the purity, you know?” Never mind that there’s (still) quite a few different film stocks to choose from. And then it has to be processed via some method. And then printed on any of hundreds of different paper types. And, often, digitised and posted to FB. #ohtheirony

“I’m a natural-light shooter.” Yeah, well, learn how to use flash so you can get the job done no matter what, or, at least, don’t pretend it’s “the best way to go”.

So there you have it – photography absolutists are absolutely wrong indeed. Which is the case with most people who are dogmatic about stuff – “you must do it this way!” usually means they’re close-minded and aren’t willing to look at things with an open mind.

Which isn’t really what you want in a photographer, is it?

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  • August 25, 2014 - 02:59

    Adam Currey - Totally agree Mic. The end result is really all that matters in the end, and I’m sure your customer doesn’t care even what sort of camera you used, let alone whether it was a zoom or prime lens, or any other technical detail.

    You might say “I prefer primes because I find they give me sharper results” or “I enjoy shooting manual because I’m a camera geek” or even “I shoot in raw wherever possible to give me better dynamic range” and those would be valid comments, but absolutist statements are wank at worst, or ignorant of mitigating circumstances at best.
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