Saturday, August 11, 2007

Three Bad Trends in Photography

I talk to a lot of photographers, especially those who are students (at least in some sense) and I tend to get a sense of which way the wind is blowing. Here are three trends I think are problematic:

The Search for the 2 - 2000mm Zoom Lens
There have been great improvements in zoom lenses in the last two decades, and there are now good lenses that slide from 20mm to 200mm focal lengths. They are very convenient. They are almost a match for the quality of prime lenses (lenses with a single focal length), and very usable. But the photography discussion forums are now filled with 18-200mm evangelists, and they feel that's the answer to every lens question. How can I shoot a landscape? 18-200mm. A portrait? 18-200mm. Mainly it shows a lack of understanding about the possibilities of camera and lens, but more to the point it shows that people are gaining "knowledge" about photography by comparing specifications and reading reviews rather than shooting.

Why do I think that? Imagine you walk out onto the street, hang about a bit, and then after some patience something interesting happens somewhere near you. What are the odds you are positioned in the perfect place for the shot? Very low. But a superzoom shooter is likely to think they are in the right place -- they just have to zoom in or out for the shot. So a superzoom lens is just fine in the hands of someone who is really thinking about the situation, and almost a deficit in the hands of someone expecting the lens to do the work.

Posting the Kitchen Sink
I think it's fabulous that online photo services have allowed photographers to post work online. I also think it's great that one can use these services as a form of "cloud storage" -- a backup of images on a server somewhere out in the world. A bit of confusion has come from this, however -- and more and more photographers send me links to portfolios containing hundreds or even thousands of images. Use those services, put up gigabytes of images, show all the photos from a wedding to the bride and groom, fine -- but make some distinction in what is just available and what serves as portfolio. I think you can convince me about your work in nine images. I think if you expect anyone to look at more than twenty it's a mistake. Post every image if you want, or post one everyday. But don't lose sight of what photographers have known through the entire history of the medium: a collection of twelve great photographs is a portfolio, a post of one hundred almost identical shots is a painful family album.

Online Anger
At one time being a photographer was a fairly rare gig. Later -- from the Kodak Brownie on -- it developed into a social practice and the sharing and discussion of photographs became a valuable element of the process. Now, everyone has a camera and an opinion. That's great: but since the online forums allow anonymous nicknames and little moderation, the potentially fabulous amount of knowledge we could all gain by productive critique and the sharing of ideas is held back by uninformed and angry idiots. The classy, valuable and helpful posts are always pulled down by those who feel there's only one way to do things and that their poorly-reasoned, poorly-spelled and poorly-considered comments should be presented in all-capital letters....

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