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Wednesday, 20 July 2016


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Tonal merger, I'll have to remember that phrase. One of my favorite photos of my daughter has a tonal merger of a cloud with her head and it has always bugged me.

I'm sure I'm not alone in also being bugged by that blurry wine glass on the right of your photo. I don't know why but that kind of thing is a bit of a visual fingernails on a chalkboard to me. I'm not always bugged by blurry foreground elements, but that one does it. I appreciate your larger point about frames, though, and need to do the same.

Photoshop edits aside, I like the color photograph a lot more. The light is gorgeous, and you get that beautiful rendition of skin tones that Fuji is so great for. The color image conveys a sense of warmth arising from the interaction of two friends sharing a meal. That warmth is lost for me in the black and white image.

[The color one works too. Partly your reaction might be because the process of making the tiny JPEG and posting it through the blog software distorts the tones—B&W is sensitive to both density and contrast. When those are off it changes the perception of the light. It's why traditionally the print is important as the "original" of the picture—because it's where the photographers sign off--sometimes literally--on the interpretative depiction of tonality and contrast. This is one reason I object to musuems showing "prints for repro" and workprints--in B&W those can actively misrepresent the photographer's intentions. --Mike]

"the flog of the words"

I did stop ... to think, "Does he mean he's flogging us with his words?"

So in this image:

Would you photoshop the reflection into the photo? 8^)

There is maybe some nonchalance in shooting few frames. But unless I am mistaken, it seems to be William Eggleston's way of taking pictures.

Speaking of, I met by chance an colleague photographer of mine last night. As I mentioned I enjoy shooting film these day, his eyes rolled over in despair. As I think of it, there is as a matter of fact no big gain in doing so, but I think I get more keepers. Maybe they are prettier. Hard to tell.

I would be curious to know why your friend Earl shoots film.

Sorry about Sara, but glad you moved to New York, I hope you enjoy our great state.
What I don't understand is why you think Photoshopping is suspect when you reform a shadowed shape but not when you remove the color information from the file.

Then you have the wedding photographer who gives the Bride & Groom DVD's with 3500 photos - as if they can edit and choose favorites within the next 10 years.

Personally I'm not seduced by spray and pray generally. Isn't that what one of the things of being a photographer is all about. That heightened feeling, that flutter of the heart, the rushing of the senses when "it" happens and you squeeze the shutter?

It's not only the editing - it would be the feeling that, as the photographer, I was just along for the ride, a passenger. If I was shooting at, say, 8fps that would only give me 125ms between shots to make any sort of decision. I'm just not that fast!

Not saying that is true of everyone or every situation of course and my viewpoint is from the luxury of not having to turn in the goods everyday on a tight deadline to a grumpy picture editor.

Cartier- Bresson and David Douglas Duncan had a very famous fallout doing that. Be careful Mike!

Shooting more frames drains my creative energy, both in the taking and more so in the editing and sorting, so I much prefer to concentrate on fewer shots. The average quality of my photographs improved greatly when I realised I should stop taking the bad shots.

The electronic viewfinder increases my tendency to spray and pray because I don't have a real-time connection to the subject, and because some detail is lost. I feel that optical viewfinders are still superior for seeing the subject.

I have found that I have a limit before my eye tires. Anywhere between 108 and 144 shots and I am done. An old discipline from film days. Three rolls on most days and four on good ones. Four would fill my four reel tank. It is unconscious but that's when I stop.

I like to take multiple frames but refrain from doing it most of the time just because it takes so darn long to load the pictures from my card reader into Lightroom, especially if they are RAW images.

I like that black-and-white photograph of your friend--beautiful light, rich tonality (better in both respects than the light and tonality in a a darkroom print I just made :/). Hey, maybe Earl will send you his contact sheet for publication on your site, for us to see.

If you've ever noticed some rattling noises during press conferences and similar events, that's photojournalists using continuous shooting. There is a need for all that those exposures, and the PJ's can cope with it. That's what presets in photo editing software are for.
And then there's exaggeration. One day I chanced to visit an exhibition of some award-winning pictures. The main competition winner was at the venue. Some geek asked to take a picture of him, for which the prize winner made a static pose. To my surprise, the geek used continuous shooting - maybe not to miss that blink of an eye that would give the protrait a whole new level expression, who knows... for some people, the higher the continuous shooting rate, the better the camera is.
Not for me. I gave up taking lots of exposures of any given subject. Even when I shot digital. It was useless. It only served to overload the computer with uninteresting shots.
Your mileage may vary, though. Professionals need all those exposures. And it was like that even before digital. For instance, I believe everybody knows René Burri's famous contact sheet with all those different poses of Ernesto 'Che' Guevara.
(And then they invented those grotesque drum rolls.)
If you're not a pro, chances are you don't need all that. You'll be better off shooting sparsely. If anything, it will make photographers more selective and think about what they're doing.
And yes - despite all the bashing and ridicule, the screenless Leica M-D makes a lot of sense.

I'm a pretty heavy shooter, and I don't find that it slows me down much in editing.

When I'm at my computer, rather than thinking carefully about each frame I do a quick first pass and mark a bunch of photos as "maybe"s -- that quickly brings me down to an amount that a more deliberate shooter might bring home. From there, just looking at that subset together helps me figure out what the "best" one is (or if there even is a "best").

I find that this approach frees me up to take risks when I'm shooting, so that I don't suffer from analysis paralysis.

William Eggleston has repeatedly said that he "only ever takes one frame of a subject." He goes on to say he doesn't want to have to choose between frames at the edit stage, only select the picture/subject combinations that work. In a documentary film done on him a few years ago there are a couple of sequences of him wandering about a southern city neighborhood, making a few exposures. The subjects were stationary, but he seemed to stalk them, camera at the ready but not at his eye. He bobbed and weaved a bit, then either walked on, or raised the camera and snapped the shutter almost immediately.

When I work with a big camera (8x10—12x20) I tend to get the shot completely figured out while staring directly at the subject and when I'm finally sure of it I go get the tripod and camera and make the exposure in a large format, slow motion, version of Wild Bill's sudden raise the camera and shoot gesture. If I have to move the tripod after the initial setup, I consider that an error in initial seeing. When I'm working instead with a handheld digital camera, I revel in the free film. Even so, I seldom shoot more than half a dozen frames of a given potential picture.

Was your ultimate goal to show how much better the image is in B&W ? I would love to see more in B&W these days with the overload of color photographs and videos with everyone and I do emphasize everyone owning a phone that produces great color images. I would love to see the art of B&W photography return, I sure do miss it.

I always chuckle a little when I read or hear that digital photos are free so you can take as many as you want, it does not cost you anything. Maybe for those people their time is not worth a nickel but I'm already short of time in my life. I am not skilled at looking at 100's of photos and deciding in a split second which should be throw away and which may have some potential. Culling can be as big a time sink as surfing the internet.

Eggleston said in an interview that he only takes one picture per subject, otherwise editing gets too confusing. There's a point in that, though I'd hate to have the subject blink in that single frame. Mind you, I tend to just take one or two pictures of a subject when I'm using my iPhone, too much editing otherwise and shouldn't get too serious with an iPhone. With a "proper" camera I tend to play it safe and then ask myself what was I thinking when editing time comes.

PS. Some lunchplaces have nice light

You should endeavor to take as many frames as you need to get the picture you want. I often have this feeling like I'm taking a ton of frames and then when I look at them on the computer there are only 15 or 20, and I forgot to frame it both horizontally and vertically. I hate that.

I tend to decide pretty quickly which pictures I like and don't though.

If you really want to experience the nightmare of editing, shoot video.

I don't take many photos of a subject with a digital camera because I hate editing on computer. I don't take many photos on film for the same reason (except I have to squint more at the light box) and because it's expensive. I don't delete little mistakes in Lightroom because they remind me to do better next time. I do, however, remove dust spots that didn't get cleaned off the film before scanning.

I've experienced the Jane Bown effect. Often it's one or the other that's best, though--first OR last, rather than both. But I guess by her logic two frames would still cover the bases. Ha!

On the other hand, William Eggleston claimed that he only takes one shot of anything because he can't stand trying to choose between nearly identical frames.

So what if you try compensating the other way? Instead of taking more frames, only take one--the right one.

I've also noticed in many contact sheets of the greats that when they do take multiple shots of a subject, they're seldom identical; whether it's Koudelka observing a black dog, Cartier-Bresson stalking a train (or children at play or an artist friend), Avedon searching for an expression, or Erwitt following a beach umbrella around town... each frame tends to be a variation or a fresh idea, as if they're thinking (or feeling, or searching) through something.

Those examples were all pre digital, of course, so no fair comparing. But I doubt we'll get see as many "contact sheets" for successful digital photographs.

Mike, I'm puzzled by you concluding that recently you've not been taking enough frames. Don't you really mean that you simply didn't nail the shot?

I mean, you only want one final shot, right? You only really believe that you need to take multiple frames if you believe that the necessary elements fall into the shot largely by chance or accident, and the more shots you take, the more chances you have of having those elements all fall in together.

Instead, wouldn't it be more useful, more productive, and, of course, much more satisfying, to chase the elements you want within the frame and put them in it?

Does your edit make this picture photoart?

I used to take a lot more shots of a scene, trying different angles, compositions, waiting for someone/ something, but I reduced that for the same reason. Too much time to edit, and sometimes I'd have 2 or 3 that I couldn't decide among. And I also noticed, like Ms Bown, that most of the time I got the best frame in the the first few or last few. Another problem can be that if I spend too much time in one spot, the omnipresent security guard (or McDonalds manager) can get nervous. So I cut back on making just slight variations, except for something I feel might be especially good.

I do not believe this has cost me any masterpieces yet.

Your correction to the background behind Earl's head could have been done with the clone tool in Lightroom. I do this too, in situations like this.

You use photoshop as a verb, as almost everybody does. Is there any way to "verbalize" Lightroom?

One thing I always do with Photoshop (or more often with Lightroom) is to level the camera. Even if the camera was on a tripod and carefully levelled there are times when a degree or less of image rotation makes those verticals stand properly plumb and removes a subliminal distraction.

Like that delightful 'on the way home' shot of yours from the other day. It would benefit from a smidgen of clockwise rotation.

Forgive me. I am an architect first, and a photographer second.

Photography for me happens in my head, not in the camera, so I get to choose the frames I want before I press the shutter. I have never taken very many photos of a subject that are similar enough to have to decide between them and it's usually the first that is the best for me. I'm pretty sure however, that this attitude at least in part resulted from a cost saving attitude with film and transferred over to digital - for the better in my opinion.

"The late Jane Bown (who I guess is one of my heroes) said she noticed that the first shots she took and the last shots she took were usually the best, so she stopped taking all the ones in the middle."

That's portrait photography.

At first they aren't ready for you to take the photo. They look alive relaxed and spontaneous. This period can be extended by feigning incompetence*, testing and fiddling with equipment and so on. I know of more than a few magazine portraits where the subject is holding a flash meter in the published shot.

Then they are ready and unless they know how to have their photo taken, and it's a skill most people don't have, they are going to look awful or at best boring.

Eventually they get tired or otherwise think that the shoot is over, you pause for a few seconds, at which point they look good again. The most expressive photos happen here whether they are pensively deep in thought, happy, grouchy, sexy, whatever.

The middle part can go on forever if you let it. If you can contrive a situation where there is a time constraint, the middle part can be nearly eliminated. I have found that if for instance you are doing a hundred or so portraits, and people are standing in line waiting for 30 seconds or so of having their picture taken, then the middle stage is eliminated.

For example here http://hughcrawford.com/wizards/ I tied a backdrop to my car and parked in front of a bookstore with a norman pack and two heads and did portraits of a couple hundred people standing in line.

On the the other hand with still life it takes a few shots to get things right, then a few more to screw things up. The problem is you aren't quite sure where in the process you are.

*unless you are photographing a CEO type or someone who is paying for the shoot. Then you have to do the "I'm being extra careful to get everything right, I'm sure you understand the importance".

I'm fairly deeply into exceeding the capabilities of my nervous system and the camera -- covering that by shooting multiple shots, sometimes hundreds, and sorting out the one that actually gets what I want. "Spray and pray" doesn't work for me (not religious enough, I guess), but trying to hit the motion pause in a musician's head bobbing at a very low shutter speed, knowing I'll get one in 10 or one in 20, and being able to check that I actually got it after shooting a lot (not bursts, each one timed as well as I can).

I worked like that in film...only at higher shutter speeds, because I couldn't shoot as much and couldn't check results on the spot.

The ability to take these risks lets me shoot where I couldn't otherwise. (You can get some of the same effects by spending even more on cameras and lenses than I have, of course, too.)

People who "never take more than one", or exult in shooting very very few frames, must be doing simple stuff; stuff that sits still at least, often stuff totally under their control. Or are much better photographers than I am; but I really really really want to see their one beautiful photo each of say a dozen kittens.

Next time I'll bring a spare, ironed t-shirt.

It starts with correcting a typo. Hmm... there's a word that's not quite right; let's replace it. Soon you'll be reworking entire sentences and editing entire paragraphs. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

I'm a bit curious about his pinky finger that somehow seems to be under the ramekin on the right due to the reflection and occlusion of his hand by said ramekin. That's the part I can't take my eye off of now that I've seen it.

I must be old-fashioned, or thrifty. Still imagine I have exactly 36 available or 24 or before that 20) available frames in a roll of film.

Each exposed image must count. With digital, yes one "may" well imagine there are unlimited opportunities to open and close the shutter far more than 36/24/20 times.

However that is not my point. Make every exposure worthwhile; at the conclusion, you may still have to do some manipulation, however knowing you obtained 36/24/20
images makes the exercise all the more valuable.

Photoshop becomes a problem when people use it to lie about what they saw. To lie about what was in front of them. Your adjustment to the photo of Earl seems to me to simply be compensating for the fact that cameras don't see things the way the human brain does. I'm pretty sure you weren't sitting there, enjoying lunch, but a tad disconcerted by the thought, "Gee, Earl's head sure looks weird. I wonder what happened to him?". The lie would have been, in fact, to leave the photo unmodified. People might have been misled into thinking, "Wow! That guy's head is wonky!". Orrrrr.......maybe not.

As for shooting lots of frames...can't do it. I've tried, but old film habits seem to be pretty much unkillable.

Theoretically, incresing sample size should increase the probability of 'success'. But in practice, sometimes there is no image there in the first place or I am not quite in the right mood to engage with the subject or simply can't be bothered to sort out the rubbish. So I just imagine it's my last roll and stop after a frame or two.

Photoshopping? I don't do that anymore. Nobody notices except OCD types (who will always find flaws anyway). A complete waste of time for me, although I pretend there's ideology behind my choice.

I think multiple shots are ok if they are slightly different. HCB(?) said that you could make an entirely different photo just by moving your head 6 inches. Continuous shooting from the same position can lead to the editing nightmare

Dear Mike, oh yes, the much, much undervalued physical and emotional cost of editing...
In my case, the first shot is usually the best when it comes to composition.
It's the least thought about, more inspired and intuitive.
The following ones, shot dor "safety" or "variety" are often better technically, but practically always poorer estetically... as if rationalizing took away something I only perceived and replaced it with rules, academia and technology, losing its essence. Go figure!

Plus, sorting out edits later is *painful*. Raws need time to load, and when many files have only (apparrntly) very slight differences you never know which exactly to throw away. And when you think you have decided, the chosen one to keep happens to be the one with mild motion blur or a hint, just a hint of misfocus! So you are faced with the dilemma "good but somehow lacking but well executed" - or - "tells me really something, but I hate the slight technical fault".

I have not found a solution: maybe I am not courageous enough to shoot once and move on? :-)

[You should try it for a while as an exercise. I love experimenting with learning exercises like that. --Mike]

> And yes - despite all the bashing and ridicule, the screenless Leica M-D makes a lot of sense.

Surely lacking any screen means that you are more likely to be tempted to take multiple shots to bracket for focus and/or exposure?

Personally, I think that the future is for Leica to give away their next digital M camera. Instead it will be fitted with a cellular radio that will automatically charge you $25 every 36 exposures and require you to wait 7 days before downloading the DNGs from a web site...

Mike - after reading your one-camera-one-lens recommendations, it is surprising to see you do this. For me, having so many near identical shots would drive me insane when trying to choose which one was the "best"!

I'm pretty sure I've read comments online that can be best described as 'flogging the words' so that sentence made perfect sense to me.

Hi Mike
Never mind photoshopping, but what interests me is, why did you cut off the top of his head.
Further, to me the unsharpness is interesting: The glass on the left seems a bit sharper at the top, which appears logical, because you had your camera on the table pointing upward. What looks strange is the unsharpness of the bottle on the right. Though it stands vertically, and should be "unsharper" at the bottom, it is not, at least to me. What camera/lenses do you use ;-)

I shot more with film. That was due to bracketing exposure. With digital, bracketing is seldom necessary except on a few occasions of tricky lighting or a moving or changing subject. So now I shoot fewer shots of each subject.

For me, shooting more than 5 or 6 frames of a subject is just doodling.

53 shots? This is exactly why I moved from digital back to film about 15 months ago. I found I was shotgunning everything -- and taking three bracketing exposures of each so that I could run them through a light HDR manipulation.

These days I go out with a Leica M7 and a single fixed focal length lens (I have several ranging from 50mm down to 21mm) and two rolls of 36 exposure black and white film. A couple of filters (yellow, orange, red, dark red). A bit more thinking about the shot before pressing the shutter. Perhaps multiple shots of the same subject from different angles, but not 53!

I develop my own negatives, but then scan them with an ancient Minolta film scanner. Yes, there is some post processing in Lightroom -- crop and exposure/contrast/histogram. My ratio of "hits" to "misses" has gone up a lot.

I like what Jane Bown said and Tony's HCB quote. But aside from all this esoteric comment. there is a practical side to conservative shooting. Oer the last couple of years I have sold 4 significant cameras. Canon EOS, Nikon D200, D700, Sony A7r. The shutter activations via Opanda was part of the closing process, like mileage on a car. If the buyer (a friend in all cases) didn't ask about it, I volunteered it and it was the "closing tool" on the sale.

I think it is just "digital camera itis". Unfortunately, most all of us suffer this malady.
P.S.Probably don't do this when we shoot film do we?

There is a book waiting to be written about snapping away with a digital camera - "The Indecisive Moment."

I hate to say this, Mike, but the original shot was fine. I made sure of my assessment by creating a mono version of the color (unretouched) frame, and then looking at the two side by side.
That thing in background doesn't matter, and the natural, completely believable tonality has been replaced with a 'worked' look consisting of filled-in shadows and jacked-up midtone contrast.

That's a very Mike portrait - the black and white one. It feels like one of yours. And you nicely illustrated why you photoshop the things that you do. Just today, I found myself trying to knock down the contrast and acutance in some shirt wrinkles that were making a friend look more pudgy than reality.

I agree with Jane Bown, when it comes to posed portraits. I've had the experience many times now of taking a dozen, two dozen, two hundred frames, and discovering that more than half the time, frame 1 and the last frame are my first pick. Now I do about six to twelve, and then search for a way to mentally reset the subject and the photographer. However - and this is important - I can get lots more good pictures by doing more sets of poses.

But all of that is for posed portraits. For casual stuff, like your example, I cheerfully work in continuous mode, and let off two shutter clicks, tap-tap, pause, tap-tap, each time I think I see something. I try to "feel open" and just gently release the shutter whenever my inner voice prompts me. Pause, tap-tap, pause, tap-tap, long pause...tap-tap. It's neat to watch a scene unfold, and find that the first group of pictures that looked interesting are sometimes far surpassed by a later group.

I've settled on pairs of shutter releases to catch those transient hand gestures and eye blinks, or so I tell myself. It may be that I think in terms of groups of pictures instead of individual ones.

Does all this create a lot of pictures to choose from? Sure. But I use the same skills to recognize a good picture on a contact sheet that I use to recognize a good picture in the viewfinder, so it's no bother.

I actually think shooting too much isn't just a problem for the edit - though it can make editing extremely difficult; I think it's possible to actually shoot around the shot by shooting too much. In the old days (before digital became ubiquitous), some of us used to maintain that you should avoid motordrives for serious photography, because no matter how fast it was you were probably going to miss the shot - you know, the shot.

It didn't take long after getting my first DSLR for me to turn myself into a human motordrive. I think I wore out a couple of shutters (and gave up on trying to edit) before I realized I was missing the shot. It requires a lot of discipline, however, to make yourself wait when you know you don't have to, as I still find to this day. For me, anyway, it's always a balancing act between, on the one hand, getting in my own way by not taking the shot (because something unanticipated entered the frame), and, on the other, getting in my own way by shooting too much (because, as the little voice in my head often tells me, "Hey, they're free").

I think your use of Photoshop in your image falls squarely in the category of corrective, along with dodging and burning.

I'm about a week behind in my TOP reading. I missed the news about Ctein until now, and thus the opportunity to comment on it. Please feel free to edit out this part of my comment of you feel it's out of place.

I know he was an asset to your blog for many years, and I too will miss his technical expertise here. Sorry he left, but it seems to me the point of contention - the ethics and nature of photography - is one that bears contending in view of changing technology. Such questions can in my view be developed, and possibly resolved, only by discussion, not by leaving the room.

Digital exposures aren't free in another way if you archive everything you shoot. One advantage of archiving everything you shoot is that you don't have to spend time deciding whether or not to delete a frame. If you don't instantly like it, move on until you find one you like. If a few days later you regret skipping over one that is no longer on your computer, it's still sitting in the archives. The cost there is, of course, the hard drives and/or the DVDs.

I think for me it is more about timing with people shots. I do not take a lot of frames unless I ain't feeling it (maybe what Sara refers to). I can be a quick draw shooter. I go in, make the hit and get out. In my career it paid me well to be quick and clean. But what I do a lot of, is watch. I am a wallflower until it is showtime.

Regarding your PS-ing: You 'optimized' for presentation. That's all it is. Most people would never notice until you point it out. This is the way it is. Most people like having their photos optimized and no need to explain the how and why.

First thought = best thought.

So I was reviewing the commments, especially my poignant and relevent one.....when DARLENE's name jumped out at me. what percent of your commenters are women ? Just an interesting statistic I think I noticed, nothing else is implied or intended.

[Statistically there must be somewhere between 200 and 1000 female readers every day. Most readers of photo websites are male. Our female readers are in the single digits as a percentage. One of the goals of this site from the start was for it to be female-safe and -friendly, and I hope our female readers feel welcome and simply feel like members of the group without any special treatment one way or the other. Rich, poor, old, young, black, white, male, female, pro, amateur, famous, unknown, etc., etc., we all just appreciate and enjoy photography and that's why we're here. --Mike]

Sometimes you don't know what *can* change in a frame until you shoot 50-odd of them...

Let's stay away from 'theoretical' stuff, shall we. There is no theory to start with and there is no statistical argument either. Shoot 100 million shots of a blank wall and you won't get a 'hit'. Increase to 200 million, same result.

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