80% of Everything You Read About Photography Is Complete Nonsense

DSC_7994.jpgHad some interesting philosophical discussions this weekend via email and real in person live Sykpe person to person stuff to. Anyway I felt compelled to share this a few thoughts with loyal readers. Philosophically the motivation for this site for me is education of people that love making photographs. I really get a big charge when I see the "light bulb turn on" for someone that was not "getting it". I learned this a while back when I decided to hold a couple of workshops. I learned way before that that 80% of everything you read or hear about photography is nonsense. My main goal is to dispense with that as much as I can. This internet endeavor is NOT a showcase for my work. It is not about an end to end cradle to grave final image product. The images that I choose to display I choose to be illustrative of what I happen to be talking about at the moment.

One of the things that has driven me nuts about sources of information about photography in the past both prior to the internet and even more so after is that by and large photographers show final finished work and only discuss a tiny narrow bit of the technique, process, etc, whatever, and then attribute that tiny little slice as the ONE ingredient to the image. From my point of view this causes all sorts of confusion and frustration for people. There are all sorts of reasons that this happens, some are completely innocent, some are not so innocent and intentionally misleading. See my very first post for a small rant on this.

I learned this by being annoyingly tenacious in my early photographic endeavors. I also learned this when doing workshops. When I first started doing them I happened to use my medium format digital system tethered to a top of the line power mac and top of the line cinema display and Phase One software. That is what I happened to be shooting for commercial stuff at the time. This was a bad idea because it had nothing to do with what the workshop was about and was a huge source of distraction considering no matter how much I talked about what was important and what the workshop was about (working with people and models, lighting, dealing with locations) there was way too much focus on the camera and lens and software that I happened to be using. I started using equipment that was "inferior" to what attendees brought for themselves to use and guess what - the focus changed, the distraction went away and people focused on what was important with NO little nagging equipment inferiority complexes.

The attacthed images are an example and a metaphor for you to think about and use for your interpretation of information provided not only by me but anywhere that you happen to acquire it. These are shots of my 3 year old daughter watching television, my all time favorite film calibration target. I was shooting them while calibrating my development for Kodak Plus-X developed in PMK pyro film developer in 6x6 format. For my control and comparison I was using my old standby that I calibrated years ago Agfa APX 100 developed in Rodinal. Years ago even today you would hear endless debates between different film stocks, developers etc and all kinds of anicdotal "properties" attributed to each of them. Lot's of "illustrative" images to prove various points that were all completely different, taken under different conditions, of different subjects but attributing those differences to film and developer or a combination of both. No matter what the source of the information - pro, amateur, idiot, whatever - there was an amazing lack of anything remotely scientific or meaningful communicated. There are a million reasons this happens but the bottom line is that most of it is nonsense and you need to see it for yourself and then make sure all of the variables are under your control.

Agfa APX 100 developed in Rodinal shot at ISO 64.


Same thing at 100% 4000 DPI scan.


Kodak PXP 125 developed in PMK pyro shot at ISO 64.


Same thing at 100% 4000 DPI scan.


Both images set the black point to about 12 for the film base black. What do these tell you? The first thing that it should tell you if you know a lot about black and white film is that I am pretty freaking good at calibrating my development process. The most gigantic difference is that in the PXP shot my 3 year old was moving during a relatively long exposure. The second biggest difference is that PXP has higher sensitivity to greens but you wouldn't know that unless you knew what colors happened to be in the original shot. The one after that is the grain structure. The rest of the differences in film and devloper go down from there. By the way I abandoned PXP in PMK pyro for a bunch of reasons none of them super important and all very subtle.

I hope some of you find this helpful. I hope that my posting of RAW image files for you to play with, look at, and other "work product" type images is educational and informative. If I am talking about film I post a scan of the film NOT of what my interpretation of a print from the film would look like. If I am talking about the way Aperture deals with color and WB for a particular RAW file I post a RAW file NOT what the file looks like with skin fixed and dodged and burned and washed ironed and dried. If I am on the wrong track here please let me know how to do a better job.


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