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Thursday, 18 June 2020


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Working hard - or making it diffucult?
W. Eugene Smith spent a lot of his time making it difficult.

Thinking of Robert Frank, aren't there lots of alternative photos of the "lift operator", which show that it wasn't as spontaneous is it appears? So in his case, he was working hard to get just what he was looking for.

Re: No one cares how hard you work.
I certainly think that it IS true and should be true, It should also be coupled with your admonition that you still have to work as hard as necessary to get the result you want.
No one (but you the Photographer) will ever know if you got tired, went home early, failed to go back, or didn't keep looking for something better. But I have found over and over that those efforts, known only by ourselves, are often rewarded.
The insidious part of artistic laziness is that there are no clear or obvious 'consequences'. We never know what we missed.
There is no way of knowing what might have been.

I like your Jogging analogy, the benefit comes from time doing it, not from form or speed, or distance covered. Good photographs come from being out there, open and ready to find what is offered. The camera, lenses, or number of exposures made don't matter. Only the results matter. Once you know the basic technical parts, you can't read or think your way to better pictures. It is only the relentless 'doing' over time (and ruthless editing) that make us better.

Thanks for stimulating the thought.

I would think these days it would be even more important to spend lots of time practicing with your camera, to be able to recognize in advance which mode was right for a particular scene, and quickly go to it. I find I don't do that enough.

700 ~ 800 rolls of film on that trip? And then sorting through that many to select 82 shots? Yow! And I thought I was bad with my "usual suspects" barns and trestles that I was shooting again this week to try and get in some nice evening light. Didn't work but it was worth it and I've got an image I like but can't quite get right in post. It's flat and dull and I can't quite get my finger on the issue. Doesn't help that I'm using new software (Capture One Express Nikon) and am still learning it as well.

I'm enjoying this series a lot. Thanks for the topic and for the thorough exploration of it.

Advances in technology have made it much easier to reach my personal threshold for adequate image quality, defined as sufficient sharpness, tonal smoothness and color rendition to express what I'm trying to show in a print. But it hasn't made any difference in my success rate in terms of worthy photographs per day in the field.
30 years ago this meant a heavy tripod, good glass, a cable release, mirror lock-up, and slow slide film meticulously exposed in low contrast light to stay within its unforgiving narrow dynamic range. When all the stars were aligned, I could just barely get what I wanted with 35 mm film. And this required many pre-dawn visits to my subject to get just the lighting I wanted. It was always a lot of work, hopefully seasoned with a dose of serendipity. The harder you work, the luckier you get.

With digital capture using a reasonably modern sensor, it's all so much easier. Sharpness and tonal smoothness are a given at any reasonable ISO. It's not difficult to get a hand-holdable shutter speed and adequate depth of field in any reasonably good light. And dynamic range is far better. So far I have mostly employed the same low ISO, tripod-mounted meticulous technique and used the technical gains to print larger with the same quality. I have not found casual hand-held photography to permit any reduction in effort. Composition doesn't get any easier, and shooting lots more frames adds greatly to the editing chores without (at least for me) noticeably improving my success rate per day. I spend just as much time scouting, checking out maps, studying sunrise/moonrise apps, and in Photoshop after image capture.
I also find to my dismay that, at best, I only seem to have two or three good photos in me per day, no matter how beautiful the landscape or how stunning the light. I can spend 10 minutes of intense mental effort composing and carefully exposing (say) a series of frames for a planned large panoramic print. When it works out, when I'm sure I've got what I want on the memory card, it feels like somebody has cut my puppet strings. I'm out of energy and done for the day.

One of my projects is to shoot several favorite locations in a variety of conditions. This includes all four seasons, different times of day, different light and, especially, the full gamut of weather. It's far from being complete — if completeness is even possible or desirable.

I suppose this could be considered working hard except that it is so enjoyable that it does not seem like work.

I'm one of those photographers, when seen by someone else, might be labeled a "spray and pray" type. When I'm out with the camera, I try to let my eye make decisions, not my brain. That generally results in me arriving back at the computer (or darkroom long ago) with many, MANY photographs. Now comes the "hard" part... being a ruthless editor; being willing to toss the junk. And being willing to give the process time enough to let the good ones bubble to the top. I suspect photographers like Robert Frank and Gary Winogrand did that kind of hard work.

Oh dear!

". . . who she is then given ten minutes with."

". . . with whom she is then given ten minutes."

At least, "whom", pretty please?

Pedantic Moose

[...with whom she is then given ten minutes" is more strictly correct, but this sort of thing is right in the middle of what you might call the transition zone. The question is, which construction is more likely to interrupt the reader's flow and take his or her attention away from the sense of the sentence? That is, which is more likely to be a distraction? The question is answered in your own case, but my sense is that the construction I used is less likely to impede the greater number of readers.

Always a judgement call, though. Sometimes it might be better to simply work around it by finding a different way to say it, but I started this essay last night and finished it this morning, so I don't get a lot of time to rewrite and revise. --Mike]

IMHO working "hard" at photography only produces technically better photographs. As far as producing something inspiring, that takes talent. Either ya got it, or you don't.

Wonder how many Ansel took in a day?
In my youth I shot weddings with a speed graphic and #2 flash bulbs. Talk about working hard!

Your comments presented in paragraph nine about expending inordinate amounts of energy on lackluster negatives/files brought me back to a valuable lesson learned in one of Fred Picker's Zone VI Workshops during which we had the unique opportunity to attend a printing session in Fred's beautiful darkroom (custom cherry cabinetry, etc.). Fred racked up one of his signature 4x5 b&W negatives and proceeded to go through a rigorous dodging and burning process, documenting each modification and eliciting comments/suggestions from the ten of us gathered around the enlarger. After an extensive round of alterations to the original image, Fred kept trying to draw more suggestions out of we enraptured students. Finally, when everyone was fresh out of ideas, he said we had all missed the most important thing. We had created a wonderful print of a totally lackluster image - an image containing nothing to render it worthy of viewing. We had created a "mastercrap". I've been on the lookout for mastercrap's ever since.

"Working hard" on an individual photo is probably part of the job description for commercial photographers. It is probably less useful for "fine art" photography, where forcing an image is typically counterproductive.

Taking numerous images can work if the curation process is disciplined and focused as with Robert Frank's work.

My best pictures have always been ones that I worked hard *mentally* for ... by being prepared, or in the right place, or extra aware of interesting things going on.

This is harder work, usually, than the actual technical work of capturing/printing the picture once you are set up to do so.

The only (maybe) good landscape picture I ever took I shot from the parking lot of a Utah hotel a few hours after having driven into Capitol Reef Park at sunrise only to find clouds and gloom. I went back, took a nap and saw this walking to a late breakfast


so went back for the tripod and shot a couple of rolls of film.

In the darkroom I used work hard to not work hard. I had a rule where if I could not get a decent print of a negative in 4 or 5 tries I would declare the picture no good and go and print something else. This serves me well in Photoshop and Lightroom as well. Although these days you tend to not have to tweak things so much to make them look decent.

Years ago I worked on an assembly line. A certain essential electronic sub-assembly was manufactured elsewhere and had to be "tweaked" to meet stringent specs. Some were easy and quick, some required hard exhausting work (many interacting adjustments), and many met their fate in the dumpster. I was particularly proud of one that I wrestled into compliance and told my supervisor. His response: no one cares which were easy or hard: they're all the same as far as the next station is concerned.

"Anyway, that's not the way to work hard on a photograph. I suspect the same thing happens now with [anyone] diving into excessive post-processing in attempts to make something more out of pictures that just aren't quite good enough . . ."

How about an informed combination? In a way I like to think of as grown out of St. Ansel's practice, I often take shots that I know will be compromised, but with a vision in my head of both what it will look like out of Raw conversion and what the end result will look like.

Sure, there's sometimes work on either end, sometimes a lot, getting the shot and in the digital darkroom.

No one cares how hard I worked, but they do care what the photo looks like when they see it. \;~)>

"The question is, which construction is more likely to interrupt the reader's flow and take his or her attention away from the sense of the sentence?"

Blew this reader right out of the essay. I went back and read the rest later. I don't know about anyone else.

Still, "whom", pretty please?

I do know what it's like to write until the words swim on the page. Current project is at 67k words. Still, with no external deadline, I can come back later and clean it up; "What was I thinking?"

All right, if we're going to be style and grammar pedants, why not rewrite the sentence as, "Or a portraitist who works for weeks to get access to a famous subject, and then is allowed a mere ten minutes with her subject."

This is getting a little meta. We're working hard at writing, editing, and criticizing Mike for trivial points in a piece on working hard.

[ :-) --Mike]

This sort of reminds me of the old "left brain/right brain" thing.

One person can be analytical, methodical and scientific... picking the exact perfect lens, position, aperture (for DOF) and exposure to make a "perfect" rendering of the scene, while another can simply be an open channel, snap reacting when something makes them point the camera and hit the shutter... technical aspects be damned.

I am about 75% in the first category trying to extract perfection via my understanding of the process. Yet, some of my favorite images are from a quick reaction to a mental "wow, look at that!"

Old rule: A preposition is a bad thing to end a sentence with.

If you’ve ever seen a vintage Robert Frank image up close, you can see he was’t very interested in, “working hard” in the darkroom. Like many great photographers, it was all about capturing the moment.

As a photographer, I work my hardest when I'm not carrying a camera. It's in those moments, walking quietly, following my breath, & easing into my senses, that I remember the world is not a flat rectangle. Some people think photography is about stillness. When one understands the true nature of stillness, then one realizes a photograph is about as still as it is two-dimensional.

Hmmm, working hard. Is that what the machine gun set does when they take a few hundred images of the Grand Canyon or the Eiffel tower? A gent above mentioned "mastercrap." I see a lot of elevator music mastercrap nowadays.

"Chance favors the prepared mind."
- Louis Pasteur (1822 – 1895)

Without having done some hard work to be prepared, you will not be able to take advantage of the "easy" to get pictures.

Robert Frank may have made 83 images or 28,000 to complete his masterwork but the hard work was not the photography. He and his editor wove a story about his chosen subject using a minimum number of the ‘right’ images. No doubt his story was refined over time and the images changed to match his idea. For me the decisive moment represented by the book is not about pressing the shutter button at the right time.

Supposedly, Churchill annotated a speech he was going to give which had been “corrected” by an official. He wrote this comment on the correction: “This is the sort of bloody nonsense up with which I will not put!”.

Moose gave me the courage to be pedantic too 😁👊: speaking of Robert Frank's travels creating The Americans, you referred to the United States as a "continent." Forgive me because my sentence above probably has a million mistakes 🖐️😷.

[You can cross the North American continent and also have crossed the United States, since the US itself spans the continent (cf. "from sea to shining sea"). That's not the same as conflating the two, I don't think.

Now see what you started, Moose? --Mike]

As you and others here suggest, there are different practical meanings to the concept of "working hard on a photograph". None is more correct than others. Each depends heavily on what type of photography you're doing. Watch some of the features and interviews in this terrific collection of free films to really land that assertion. In general, most of the "work" in professional and vocational fine art photography happens long before a camera is involved.

In my own photographic projects, especially
"To Build", a great proportion of the "work" consists of anticipating the processes and waiting for them to present the opportunities...and waiting...and waiting.

But if Frank had travelled from Chicago to Laredo, he wouldn't have cross cut the continent (just the United States), but you're correct about your usage, and I'm irrelevant again 😂👍.

Dang you Moose! 😂

I have been accused by a friend as being "80% guy." He says it from the point of view of a person trapped in the 110% guy mentality. As a former body builder, now in his mid-forties with four kids, he opts to not work out at all if he can't work out hard every day.

For better or worse, I have always worked pretty hard at many things - maybe 80%. Graduated high school and college with a 3.04 gpa - did what I needed to get above that 3.0.

Photography, as my profession and hobby, is without a doubt the activity that I have spent the most time with, but I'm not sure I would say I "work hard" at it. I love it. I work very hard as a commercial photographer. But I'm not sure I work hard at photography.

In a way, I have assumed and adapted the theory of diminishing returns to this subject. As an example, I typically hover around a 4 or 5 handicap in golf. While I am playing much more this year because of Covid, I typically don't play very much - maybe 10-15 full rounds per year. Many golf addicts that I know will say, "why don't you play more? You could be really good."

But to what end? I can be a 4-5 handicap with no work - just enjoying the game when I want to play. To get to a 2 or a 1 would require a great deal of time and effort. I would have to schedule my life around practicing golf. I have too many other things to do! Too many photographs waiting to be made!

There’s something interesting about the 12 degrees of twist in Robert Frank’s picture. I don’t normally like images skewed in that way but the twist combined with all the other elements make the scene seem otherworldly. Frank’s worked hard to develop that eye.

When you hold a camera in your hand all the time what you’re really doing is building a unique eye over a lifetime of looking. If you’ve spent a lifetime developing your own approach to photography, or painting, or whatever…you have worked hard.

On a side note, I just sent Ronny A Nilson’s Pasteur quote to my sister and brother-in-law. A wildfire roared through their forest neighborhood this week and because of my brother-in-laws earlier efforts to clear acres of scrub oak and undergrowth from around their home, the airtankers were able to drop fire retardant farther from the house. My sister called me yesterday as she returned to the house for the first time in days and I was able to listen in as she passed through a checkpoint where a firefighter complimented their preparedness. To my sisters relief she found that their home was intact and sits on lovely patch of green in an otherwise charred landscape. It seems that even a wildfire sweeping through a drought stricken Colorado pine forest can be swayed by a little preparation…and at least one kick-ass hotshot crew. Those guys are amazing. My sister said that in a town meeting the hotshots were asked if they would work an area that was unusually steep and they said sure, as long as we are guaranteed air support and an ambulance sitting in a specific spot on a no name road (my sister’s road). It’s always good to be prepared.

When I was in school there was a well-known avant-guard filmmaker who had a visiting teaching gig. After a few weeks of what turned out to be a pretty run of the mill film production course one of the students said "we know all this stuff, what we want to know is, how you make the kind of films you make?" Her answer was "I just sort of go into a trance for three weeks and then I have a finished film and I have no idea how I did it"

Years later, when I was getting my MFA, some student asked the artist how they made their work look the way it did and the answer was "I don't know how not to"

One way of "working hard" is to make the sacrifice and commitment to structure your life so that the work "just happens" and your job is to recognize it.

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