#625 Monday Post (31 July 2017) It’s the process, stupid!

By philberphoto | Monday Post

Jul 31


Don’t call me stupid! shouts Otto/Kevin Kline in  “A fish called Wanda”. Well, more and more, it seems, cameras are designed for stupid people. More and more “intelligence” in the camera itself and/or the PP software aims at giving all of us – no, make that all of you – “perfect” shots.



Case in point, the Light L 16 camera https://light.co/camera.



What Light claim is performance: high resolution, low noise, 5x optical zoom, yadda, yadda, yadda….



But that is not really what they are selling. The “real” selling proposition behind the L 16 is “you can’t miss, even if you’re daft!”. It is the camera for everyman that takes pictures like a pro. As they nicely put it: “capture more, do less”.



How do they do it? 3 lenses, different focal lengths, multiple shots, and lots, lots of software aimed at bringing the whole lot together. Lots of software making something appear that was never “there” in the eye of the camera, like a panorama, or a focus stack, only more, much more involved, much, much more “never there”, in favor of “ideal”, “perfect” and, ultimately, “what wasn’t there but should have been there”. Lots of software that has nothing to do with you, who you are, what you “see” or want to express and share.



That reminds me of the Lytro project: https://www.theverge.com/2012/2/29/2821763/lytro-review



The Lytro basically lets you decide on your focus point once the picture is/was taken. Meaning: “you don’t have to know what you’re doing, only decide later what you like. Or what others tell you that they like. Or what others’ work, which you like, looks like”. And so on…



This of course, follows the same market approach as the Arsenal https://witharsenal.com/ meet-arsenal-intelligent-camera-assistant-helps-you-take-perfect-shot bought by our very own Pascal: AI lets you take “perfect shots”. And also the PP software that essentially uses presets to relieve you of making your own corrections to your RAW (McPhun Luminar or Landscape pro).



Is this what we want? To bask in the beauty of an admittedly glorious shot that was “optimized” outside our control and creative input? And that will look just the same in the living rooms of hundreds -nay, tens of thousands- of other device holders (can’t call them photographers any more, can we?)?



No way. Not in a million years. Where has all the fun gone?



Compare that to the very opposite: people shooting film, which extends to developing the shots of course. Make it even tougher: shooting MF film. Can’t help feeling that, by comparison, I am taking a digital shortcut…



As it happens, over the last year, I met 3 such people, perchance all of them women. I queried them as to why they shot film, and they all said, even though those were 3 separate instances; “because I like the process”. They referenced the slowness, the required deliberateness, the need to think ahead, the pleasure of the mechanical feel of it…



In my case, photography is my only activity that vaguely resembles artistic expression. It is also a deep personal statement. The moment it ceases to be those two things, I’m done. Done and dusted. Perfect pictures have been there for decades, and I could have lined my walls with them, had I wanted to. Many of them can be bought by the pound. They are called postcards.



And, deep down, I enjoy that the process is a bit hard. That my lenses are manual focus, fast and weigh a ton. That’s my price of admission. That is why I feel “cheap” when I see someone shooting MF film.



Just as I want un-destination destinations, I want un-perfect perfection. Pascal says that my signature shot is something that ought to fall down, but doesn’t. He calls it un-balanced balance.



And there ain’t no stinkin’ software that’s gonna take that away from me!



PS: you may ask: why pictures of flowers? Because, to me, they embody beauty in a way no software can replicate, and they don’t need “help” to be beautiful. Just good photography.


  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    At last – the second coming – the Messiah is HERE, amongst us, right now !!!!!!

    Couldn’t agree more, Philippe. There was only one point at which we diverge – I had analogue for over half a century, I wasn’t planning on spending another half a century in this environment, and I decided to make the switch to digital. For fun. To see what I can do with it. The biggest attraction of all being the fact that I can finally “develop” and print my own colour photos, myself – something that was always beyond my reach with analogue (I had to pay others to do it, I couldn’t possibly set up the kind of lab necessary to do it myself) and I resent the loss of control over process.

    And I HATE “presets” – YUUUCCHHHHHHHHH !!!!!!!!!!!!!!! An abomination in the eyes of God !!!!

    As for the notion of a camera that “does it all for me” – well, fine – I hope it enjoys making its own way to France, to have its own photo shoot too, while I stay behind and finish post processing and printing – yes, PRINTING !!! – all the photos I have already taken of France. And a whole heap of others as well. I bet this new smart ass cam can’t do THAT !!!!!!

    • Adrian says:

      I too shot film for quite a while, using digital alongside it, mostly for portraits. I only switched to digital capture when I got my first full frame camera, because it made my lens system the “correct” focal length again. I found that digital allowed me to easily layout and print my own photo books, something that couldn’t be done easily from film (unless you scanned all the negatives). The feedback loop and the ability to photo finish your own work was a major plus point.

  • Joakim Danielson says:

    First of all, beautiful photos! The photos of the red flower and the blue below where you write about the Lytro project are two new favourites.

    The balance or should I say struggle between keeping it simple and it all being about the process of making photographs on one side and on the other side taking advantage of new technology to help you improve the quality of your work or expanding what you can do is a tough one. I am a big Leica fan and I have two Leica M bodies, and while I love the simplicity and the design of the cameras that make it so much about taking photographs, you know The Essential that Leica marketing branded it, I still wish that Leica would improve on the technical side. IBIS would be one such thing and there are others as well I guess what I want to say is that it is easy to complain that everyone always wants more but at the same time there always technological advances that are useful for us.

    On the other hand it can be almost comical when one reads a discussion thread about a rumored new camera like the Nikon D850 for instance, people wants megapixels, fps, dynamic range, high ISO, AF, video etc to all be much more or faster than before and new added functionality like hybrid viewfinders etc. What would happen if they got all they wished for, would they be prepared to pay the enormous price tag then?

    Personally I have been doing handheld, daytime landscape photography this vacation. Both simple and lazy, that’s the essential 😉

  • Fabrizio Giudici says:

    Agreed. Sad times.

    With those cameras, you still have to compose. The further step will be a drone which flies around and decides what to shoot at. Fun, I recall that one of the very first photography books I read was by John Shaw and, while of course he discussed the role of different gear, he introduced the topic with a sentence more or less like “I’ve never seen a camera that goes around and takes photos for you”…

    I’ve had enough artificial stupidity in a number of things around me, please don’t stuck more into my camera.

    PS Of course I know I have quite a deal of AI in my cameras: for computing the proper exposure and for auto-focusing. But it’s there for achieving only a single, specific technical quality. As time goes on, BTW, I realise they aren’t so important. For what concerns exposure, I’m 99% doing ETTR (which doesn’t require AI, only a live measurement), and then I decide the exposure I like in post-processing. Auto-focusing, of course, is fundamental for moving subjects; but you can do without it for landscape.

  • Adam Bonn says:

    Very well said!

    I get why some people shy away from hard work, I can see why you wouldn’t buy the tools and learn how to use them to unblock your own toilet – if you can afford a plumber!!

    But as the cliché goes – learn the rules so you can break them, I think you need to learn a process before you can own it, and those that take the time to learn a craft can take pride in their accomplishment, even if an algorithm can side step or even beat your craft.

    Magic dancing shoes might make people who don’t know you’re wearing magic dancing shoes think that you can dance.

    But you know you still can’t dance.

    In fact, considering that so much in photography these days is hobby based and aimed at collecting likes on social media, surely it’s never been more important to own your own work, because without your own authorship it becomes a throw away endeavour that chases the meaningless.

  • Scott Edwards says:

    Brilliant! Look, I shoot digitally and definitely use processes via various software… AND I use both manual (old Leica and Nikons and even old Minoltas) and some of the latest and greatest Zeiss or Zony lens, but it’s totally personal and totally creative and totally me. And, yes, it is actually really hard and a love-hate thing for me that I work SO HARD processing versus just pressing a few buttons and whammo. But clients love the images. Now, just want to add one more thing… lately I’ve been bringing out my 1956 Leica Summarit once I know I have what clients “want” or what they claim they want. Well… even though the lens is just a mess and can often be hit-miss and hard to shoot with (at 1.5 or even 2.0), I’m finding that many who crave sharpness and rave on about it, say, “My… wow… look at this… I love it!” I guess this is along the same lines as what you’re writing… none of the above happens in camera… and there’s an incredible lift, of course, getting the shots, whether I’m shooting with HIGH-TECH or MANUAL lens. Ah, in closing, read a great post at Photography Life (Nasim Mansurov) the other day and he makes wonderful arguments for old glass. Peace, brothers and sisters.

  • Michael Demeyer says:

    Couldn’t agree more that, for me as a serious hobbiest photographer, the process is as important to the enjoyment as the result. Even beyond the degree of control which I would never want to give up (hence a Cambo Actus now replacing the 4×5 gear I used to shoot), this is a hobby. It consumes time in a pleasurable way and also results in something I enjoy viewing and sharing.

    I do confess, however, that while I loved the hours spent in the darkroom, I have never developed a remote liking of the digital processing process – even though it fills the same role in the workflow…


  • Per Kylberg says:

    Shooting MF and film there were/are two choices: Negative or color slide. If color slide: no PP. If negative PP was developing and making “enlargements”. Being today firmly in the digital lightroom trenches I must admit that nothing beats PP in the good old wet darkroom! I often went out with my camera just to have something to work with in the darkroom. Work was so physical, so much up to yourself to create a beautiful enlargement. Time-consuming – yes. Rework – yes. Rewarding – YES!
    On my Epson 3880 I can print very beautiful “prints”. Color is superior to what I got from the darkroom. But with B&W it is different. Still that darkroom produced beauty that just isn’t there with prints. Some will know technical evidence that the modern process is superior. Measured evidence, yes. But beauty, the way the white and the black looks and the distribution of tonality, here the darkroom process is still the winner.

  • Adrian says:

    I don’t really understand the Arsenal thing, because most of the things it describes on its website (control from your phone, multi shot HDR, time lapse etc) are already features or downloadable Apps for Sony cameras – so I’m not sure what Pascal is so excited about? Also, AI learning, in a phone App? I mean, most cameras auto everything modes have years of research in the development of camera systems to work out what kind of scene it is and meter is properly. So I’m left wondering what it really will do extra that some cameras (such as Sony) can’t do already in camera, with Apps, or from your phone?

    As for the camera you describe, it’s for the kind of people who want something similar to their phone with filters etc but with better image quality and no need to understand or learn anything. A friend recently commented that the reason people got frustrated with the time.it takes me to select, develop, retouch and edit a physique portrait was because they can get “professional results with an app on their phone”. I didn’t bother to debate this as clearly it would have been a waste of time – so this camera is probably who want “professional results” like they get from a smart phone filter effect without any creative input on their part, except for taking their selfie 100 times to get thr perfect expression.

    As for the filter based development / editing software, I tried a couple recently and hated them – far too dramatic and over cooked (looked ok small, but horrible up close), or made the process seem more difficult than the old way because the results seemed so unpredictable – if you spent enough time going through every single filter and fiddling with it, you might find one that suits your photo. Lastly they had the type of UIs made for phones and were hideous to use on a proper computer (even with a touch screen).

    Overall, no thanks, but it will probably makes others who dont want to learn anything or make any creative effort feel very creative and happy.

  • Cliff Whittaker says:

    If you want to control your process you should shoot 4×5. I used a Linhof 4×5 and shot b&w in the field for many years. In addition to the camera and tripod I carried 10 double sided film holders; a light proof changing bag; extra boxes of film; a LunaPro F light meter for incident light readings; a Pentax spot meter; a tape measure for measuring bellows extension; a calculator for calculating bellows extension factors; a small level to aid the built-in level on the camera body; a dark cloth to cover me and the ground glass in order to prevent reflections on the ground glass while I focused; a loupe to help me check for focusing errors on the ground glass; a cable extension shutter release; and a stop watch to time some of my exposures; a notebook full of forms I made up to help me keep track of exposure data on each shot so I would be sure to give each of them the proper development time to get the contrast I wanted in the negative; and three lenses mounted on lens boards and carried in a cushioned wrap cloth. Oh yeah, and yellow, red, blue and polarizing filters.
    Now, tell me again about the purist attitude of shooting film in MF or 35mm camera bodies. I mostly moved away from both of these formats when I started shooting 4×5.

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