As most of you know, I photograph almost exclusively in Raw format (viz. my "JPEG... Seriously?" column).
So saying, I very much enjoyed Ken's column of last Friday. Mind you, I disagreed with most of his points and feel like I could construct persuasive arguments the other way. That doesn't mean I think he's wrong, though!
(It seems to be part and parcel of today's utterly toxic political climate to be certain that someone one disagrees with has to be wrong. Me, I refuse to play in that kitty litter sandbox.)
Some readers, though, took major exception to his position, with talking points that I think are...well...wrong. Ahem. So, without naming any names, I hereby register my disagreements:
I'll start with the notion that you're not a serious photographer unless you're invested in what happens post exposure. That was stated pretty explicitly, with the argument given that serious film photographers didn't stop merely with making the exposure, but were involved in what happened to the film afterwards.
Most professional film photographers I knew and knew of were photographing with slide film. I was one of the rare exceptions concentrating on color negative. Easily 90+% of those professional photographers did not involve themselves in processing film in any way. They exposed their rolls, they handed them over to the lab of their choice, and didn't pay any attention until the results came back.
I guess none of them were really serious about their photographs, then. Not like me.
Then there was the argument that allowing the camera's software to dictate the look-and-feel, as it were, of the resulting photograph was an abdication of artistic responsibility, at best, and at worst would produce substantially inferior results.
Once again, we look to those slide-shooting dilettantes of yore, who had even less control over the look-and-feel of their results. They got to choose from one of a limited selection of film types. They lived with the results. Today's digital cameras give you a lot more control over what that look happens to be than any film type of old did.
Many readers took Ken's words as a universal prescription, rather than simply a description of what he did and why he did. Despite him pointing out that these choices were camera and software dependent, only a few readers, like Oleg, took this to heart. Need I describe the fallacy in logic that goes, "Well, your description of what you do and why you do it wouldn't work for me, so therefore you're wrong?" See paragraph two.
Last, there is this pernicious myth that photography is about collecting data. Many readers pointed out that JPEG processing in-camera throws away data.
They're right. So what?!
In nonscientific, colloquial usage, "data" and "information" are not the same things. (Note: we are not talking information theory here, we're talking common usage.) Data is just the mass of factoids that get collected. Information is the stuff you care about. Unless you're doing scientific record-keeping, the purpose of photography is to go after the visual information that makes your photograph meaningful and present it to maximum effect.
Here's the important thing: any time you select for, enhance, or adjust any visual information in a photograph, you throw away data. It's unavoidable. Something as simple as white-balancing your photograph, wherever it happens in the data chain, throws away data (the mathematical transform is not lossless). You really don't want to lose any data? Then you better just accept your photographs in whatever the native color balance of your camera happens to be. Not the auto-adjusted color balance, not the manually-selected color balance. The single color temperature for which your sensor's response is balanced. If the color quality of the light differs from that, in major or minor ways, too bad. You want maximum data? Leave that white point fixed.
Beyond that, maximum-data photographs are usually boring and uninteresting. It is very rare for a full-range, linear conversion of a Raw file to be particularly interesting. Those are the settings I use for making my proof sheets, because I want to see everything that's in the file before I start messing with it. Almost none of the photographs on those proof sheets look their best in that form. Flat, low-saturation, linear-contrast photographs very rarely have the best and most meaningful visual information. Sometimes the tweaks are minor adjustments of saturation and contrast, sometimes they're wholesale major changes.
The top photograph maximizes the data captured by the camera. The bottom version is much better. Many bytes gave their lives to make it possible. (Yes, this is one of the reasons why JPEG isn't for me, but
it's not about preserving data.)
As I said, you're not likely to find me focusing on JPEGs. For me the disadvantages outweigh the advantages, and I have workflows available to me that negate most of the advantages Ken's mentions. But that's just me.
He's not wrong.
Raw shooter Ctein's lossy expositions (never the complete data) appear on TOP on Wednesdays.
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Original contents copyright 2012 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by fotoralf: "'Once the picture is in the box, I'm not all that interested in what happens next. Hunters, after all, aren't cooks' (Henri Cartier-Bresson). Just another notoriously unprofessional snapshooter. ;-) "
Featured Comment by Richard: "Most of the photographers I know mean 'non-destructive editing' when they talk about 'not throwing data away,' and that's why they shoot Raw. Sure if you tweak a Raw file and export it as a JPEG, you will lose data. Point is it hasn't gone forever."
Featured Comment by Kevin Purcell: "Gregory Bateson (who was a bit of a wacko) gave my favorite definition of information: 'a difference which makes a difference.'
"The full quote from Steps to an Ecology of Mind (1972, pp. 457–9) is perhaps even more relevant to this topic:
A difference is a very peculiar and obscure concept. It is certainly not a thing or an event. This piece of paper is different from the wood of this lectern. There are many differences between them—of color, texture, shape, etc. But if we start to ask about the localization of those differences, we get into trouble. Obviously the difference between the paper and the wood is not in the paper; it is obviously not in the wood; it is obviously not in the space between them, and it is obviously not in the time between them. (Difference which occurs across time is what we call "change".) [...]
Kant, in the Critique of Judgment—if I understand him correctly—asserts that the most elementary aesthetic act is the selection of a fact. He argues that in a piece of chalk there are an infinite number of potential facts. [...] I suggest that Kant’s statement can be modified to say that there is an infinite number of differences around and within the piece of chalk. There are differences between the chalk and the rest of the universe, between the chalk and the sun or the moon. And within the piece of chalk, there is for every molecule an infinite number of differences between its location and the locations in which it might have been. Of this infinitude, we select a very limited number, which become information. In fact, what we mean by information—the elementary unit of information—is a difference which makes a difference.
"Photography is all about selection and differences: that's the photographer's task in a nutshell."
Featured Comment by David Dyer-Bennet: "Color photograpahy, of course, was not serious; collectors wouldn't buy it, museums wouldn't exhibit it, newspapers and magazines couldn't publish it. Real photography was black and white.
"Seriously, I think the years wandering in the wilderness when most people did shoot slides and didn't do their own darkroom work damaged photography severely. It's really very limiting to just present what you can capture directly in the camera (even more then than now, we have more controls in the camera than film choices provided then).
"You're all tired of hearing it over and over again, but it's true. The negative is the score the print is the performance.
"The Cartier-Bresson quote implicitly acknowledges the importance of the chef, and hence of the printing process (what today we call 'post-processing'). He had the good fortune to be a good enough photographer that people would provide him with first-rate post-processing and he didn't have to worry about it, which is good. (Yeah, if you want to argue the extreme position of 'abnegation of responsibility,' then he was doing so; but he was at least doing so in the confident believe that a master chef was cooking what he had hunted.)"
Mike replies: Speaking of which, see the announcement I'm going to post next....