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Thursday, September 14, 2006

A Disturbing Trend

by Dennis A. Mook

Dennis Mook, Mott Street, Chinatown, NYC, 2006. Technical Details: Taken with a camera, with a lens attached. Photographer was looking through the camera at the time of exposure.

I have noticed in most publications, that when a description of a digital photograph is given, the accompanying technical information now contains much more information that in the past. For example, I am sitting here reading Popular Photography & Imaging (a mere shadow of its former self, by the way) and I see things such as "straightening in Photoshop," "dodging and burning in Photoshop," "curves adjustment," "sharpening," etc. Sometimes I even see the tripod named, as though it really matters which brand it is. It's almost as though this is something new. Didn't we dodge and burn in silver based photography? Didn't we crop and/or move the easel to straighten the horizon? Didn't we increase or decrease the paper contrast to match the negative contrast? Didn't we use tripods? Didn't we focus the enlarger lens to make sure the resulting photograph was sharp?

I don't understand why this all started and I think it's a terrible trend. I can understand another interested party wanting to somewhat know how the photograph was made, but this trend of including all of this technical mumbo jumbo is irrelavent to most viewers. It shifts the focus (pun intended) from the merits and esthetic qualities of the photograph to the technical aspects of it. That shouldn't happen.

If I have all of this new data, I also will need to know what the photographer had for breakfast, what clothes he or she was wearing and in what kind of car he or she arrived. Silly.

Posted by: DENNIS MOOK


Blogger Jason said...

In fairness to PP, with the prevalence and ease of digital manipulation that goes far past 'traditional' retouching, it's created an air of mistrust.

After all, it was common in the pre-digital days to list the film and filters as they had different color qualities. While on the surface it seems overly detailed, I think it's a necessary evil these days - though the brand of tripod seems more like a plug than needed info.

4:47 PM  
Blogger Dan Mitchell said...

Excellent point! On a related note I find the signatures used at many of the photo discussion sites to be equally silly - often consisting of a list of a the writer's entire camera, lens, tripod, and filter collection.

That's why I sign my message there...


A camera... and a lens!

4:47 PM  
Blogger Ken Tanaka said...

I agree that such accompanying detail is really more than most of us want to know. Personally, I've not observed this trend. I guess I would not be at all surprised to find such minutiae in a photo hobbyist magazine where many of the readers will be more (or at least as) interested in how a photograph was made than in how it looks.

I am, however, very grateful for digital photography's EXIF data facilities. Aside from offering some excellent record keeping that film photographers could only dream of it offers a terrific self-instructional feature.

Now the silly digital "frames" that so many people seem to feel they need to slap around their online images...that really gets my groan. But a topic for another time.

4:56 PM  
Anonymous Michael said...

I think the extra information about the context can be useful and fun. I may want to consider a photograph from my own perspective, but sometimes also to construct it from the point of view of the photographer. This is where I think information about what they're wearing, what the ate and what car they drive might provide a good bit of insight.

The extra bits of information are outside the frame, can be easily ignored - so to me, it's not harmful to have them there.

5:39 PM  
Anonymous Rob said...

I agree with Ken: I like the instructional nature of EXIF info.

Maybe it has something to do with the the stage a person's at as a photographer. As a rank amateur, if an image strikes me as powerful, I want to learn more about the technique used to create it, and maybe find away to use it in my own photos.

7:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

errr.. I disagree. I'm one of those "enthusiast" who does want to know the details of how the photograph was manipulated to its final state. Maybe not the generically mudane, curves and levels.. but some details on specialized techniques with a before and after image.. I'd find these details very interesting and informative.

10:01 PM  
Blogger tienvijftien said...

Mixed feelings on this:
1. as a (albeit crappy amateur) photographer, I do feel that the picture should speak for itself, and that part of the appeal of looking/browsing through someone else's pictures is to figure out why and how they did what they did. It is the artistic aspect of it - which got (fairly said) lost for 90% of the amateurs out there now churning away burst-shot pictures and batch-spicing them up in PS CS2. So I do like the artictic angle ... the technical specs are at that point of no interest.
2. as a (albeit crappy amateur) photographer, I am interested in EXIF - since it provides insight in the choices of the camera in combo with your own - and allows you to learn from your own pictures and other people's pictures. But I dont miss them when they are not posted. Usually I can dedict what happened from the picture.
Adding all that PS filter & manipulation mumbo jumbo is just plain weird, leave it at photographic specs and I could live with it.
As far as listing your gear in the signature, I only do that on the designated KonMin forum, since it makes sense there, people are interested ...
PS: love that subscript under the Chinatown picture.

3:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good points. My 2 cents: I use a software called 'Small Image', which allows the removal of information, on a selective manner. I remove EXIF and other information that I think are not relevant to the appreciation - or lack of - for my work before I send anything out. Or my images fit the clients/publications requirements as photographs, or they don't. But why should I tell them the stop, speed, brand of my camera, if the file has been upsized and so on? I deliver the best quality I can, and try to keep the focus (he he) on my images, not on the tools and techniques.

12:47 PM  
Anonymous Daniel Sroka said...

I've always thought that publishing f-stops and shutter speeds under a photograph fosters the illusion that any photograph can be recreated by fiddling a couple knobs.

These attributes do little to describe the technique and artistry that is required to create a photograph.

3:04 PM  
Blogger creezy said...

Whenever I will relaunch my homepage (hopefully soon), I will write down what lipstick color I used for every image …

5:41 PM  
Blogger RU with me said...

this is my first reponse.
online photographer is very good.
OLP is full of technical info as well, much of the old domain of photography is still totally central to the craft of taking images.
taking images is and always has been a combination of tehnical and magazines come and go and PP was fantastic.
picking up a camera is not a time to forget your iso,lens max aperture the need for filtration.
there is a nerd inside every photograph.
Cartier-Bresson [RIP] included.

3:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some basic information is probably helpful (lens, aperture, and shutter speed). With digital, from what I read (since I shoot something called film), it appears that so many post exposure adjustments are both possible and necessary, this information might also be helpful or necessary. This glut of data says more about what photography has become which is, it appears, something other than photography.

11:28 AM  
Blogger Carsten Bockermann said...

It seems that National Geographic Magazine is listening to you. On their recent web edition (10/06) they are not displaying the technical details of the photographs any more.


4:03 AM  
Blogger Albano Garcia said...

I just graduated from University (graphic design) and my girlfriend gave me two books as a gift. One of them is WOW!. It's "Walker Evans at Work", edited by Thames & Hudson. It includes 747 photos, chronologically put, including several variants Walker did on the subjects, with very detailed data, reproductions of letters, note books, and a text by a former assistant and friend who tells us how Evans worked, method and gear. My favorite photo book so far. I didn't knew about the existence of triple-convertible lenses...

12:43 PM  
Blogger Mike Johnston said...

"I didn't knew about the existence of triple-convertible lenses..."


And congratulations on your graduation!


5:54 AM  
Blogger Albano Garcia said...

Thanks, Mike! Walker's book is really tempting to try large format, but it's absolutely impossible for my tiny budget. Some day, some day...

8:18 AM  
Blogger SteveR said...

Hi Mike - first of all, thank you so very much for this excellent blog!

I also noticed that you have a recent post about something you saw on Dave Beckerman's blog - a longtime favorite of mine.

As to the issue in this post, I think all that techno-info is great if you're posting photos on a photographer-oriented site, e.g., - you never know what might be useful to a fellow photographer.

But as for photos displayed for the general puhblic, I think *none* of the technical information is relevent.

It's funny - you can go too far that way as well. I recently saw large exibit, quite good actually, by a Baltimore dentist who is a very good photographer. The spiel on the program proudly ended with "... Dr. Flugelmeister does not manipulate his photographs in any way and rarely crops his images."

Like you should be proud of THAT?

Best regards,

11:54 PM  

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