Wednesday, December 09, 2009

We Don't Need No Steenkeeng Photography Skills!

I spend a lot of time on forums, photo forums. Probably too much time. But still, doing so can be an education. Not so much an education in photography but more of an education regarding the attitudes many photographers appear to have these days. You know, their attitudes towards the craft of photography.

These days, especially amongst some new-ish photographers, it appears more than a few of them believe production skills--I'm talking about traditional camera and lighting skills--are way less important than post-production skills. In fact, I read posts by some who say that production skills don't matter much at all. I'm not saying this is true across the board. It's not. But, often enough, it's an attitude I see displayed on one particular (and popular) forum quite frequently.

But here's the deal, leastwise my opinion of the deal:

If you're gonna pursue photography as a career, it's probably in your best interests--aside from the business side of it--to learn all you can about production, i.e, about camera craft and the technical aspects of photographic production. You know, that part of photography when cameras are in your hands. I'll agree that, these days, it's also important to hone your Photoshop and other post-production skills but, for the most part, again IMO, production skills will carry you further as a photographer then post-production skills will.


While it's gotten easier and easier to frost a turd, what with Photoshop and all the nifty actions and cool third-party software available, a turd is still a turd regardless of the frosting applied.

Even if you're so clever with your post-production trickery that you can fool almost everyone into believing your turds are not, actually, turds, there are times when knowing how to produce something that isn't a turd might help you out immensely. In other words, knowing how to capture a non-turd-ish photo matters! Certainly, believe it or not, it matters to many potential clients, especially if you're looking at pursuing fashion, beauty, and/or glamour-and-tease as your photography career choices.

This might come as a big surprise to some but, often enough, when you're shooting in those above mentioned genres, you don't always get to perform the post-production on the images you've snapped. Nope. You're not even given the opportunity to frost those turds!

I know, I know... that sucks! What can I say? Life, and sometimes our pursuits in life, aren't fair. If you're a photographer, make that a fauxtographer, not being offered the opportunity to fix fuck-ups in post really sucks! I mean, how unjust is that? It's a freakin' travesty, right?

You see, instead of you getting to hide your incompetence shooting a camera, someone else processes your work and those "someone elses" also have to fix your fuck-ups. This is not something that makes those "someone elses" too happy. Often enough, and unfortunately for you, the fauxtographer, those people sometimes share their dissatisfaction regarding your work with (Shudder!) your clients!

It sometimes gets worse.

There are also times when you might find yourself shooting tethered. That means you're shooting for an audience, an audience that might include the person who is going to pay you, i.e., your client. Clients, you might remember, are also the people who, hopefully, will hire you again and, sometimes, even recommend you to others.

When shooting tethered, your audience isn't expecting to see a comedy; a comedy of errors, that is-- A photo-shoot version of a French farce played out with a photographer, a model, and a few other "cast" members. They want to see some seriously good work happening on that photographic stage.

Holy crap! Talk about pressure!

When shooting tethered, if your shit sucks, i.e., the stuff coming out of your camera sucks (as evidenced by what the audience is seeing on the screen) the client, along with everyone else, gets to immediately see that your capturing turds.

It still gets worse.

After seeing your turds on the screen, or later hearing from post-prod people that your production work sucks, the client will probably decide that you suck! As a photographer, that is. And then, suddenly, POOF! There might go that full or part-time career in the exciting world of photography you hoped to have had. Leastwise, in terms of shooting fashion, beauty, glamour and tease, and making some money at it.

It's interesting, on some photo forums, that more than a few people who call themselves photographers seem to have a negative, certainly ambivalent, attitude towards the traditional craft of photography.

We don't need no steenkeeng photography skills!

Go figure.

I'm just saying.

The pretty girl at the top is 2003 Penthouse "Pet of the Year," Sonny Leone. I snapped that semi-candid pic of Sonny at a production location last year. That's some whacky wallpaper, ain't it?


Ed Verosky said...

Ok. I'm going to start sending you topics to I'd like to read about on your blog.

Hopefully, they'll keep you busy so you don't get your life sucked away by stupid forum vampires.

But yeah, for real jobs, a photographer better know how to make a picture right out of the camera. I was hired for a Microsoft shoot a few weeks ago, and they wanted the images right out of the camera that same day. I get paid to know what I'm doing, not to have to fix things later.

Let's start with these topics for future posts:

1) Why you should avoid many photo forums.

Then on to the even more insightful:

2) How I got into the business of photography: The beginning of Jimmy's career, and how you can learn from it.

3) An interview (Q&A) with a photographer I really like. (do these like twice a month)

4) An interview (Q&A) with a "performer" about getting her photos done -- what goes on in her mind, what she'd tell the photographer if she could direct HIM.

5) A behind the scenes video of you doing a shoot, setting up lights, etc.

I've got more...

jimmyd said...

@Ed Verosky,

OMG! Did you get a leaked copy of the script for the Pretty Girl Shooter DVD I'm (still) working on?

Like with Star Trek movies, I had everyone, cast and crew, sign non-disclosure agreements. I'm calling my lawyer. Right now! Heads will roll!


Vince said...

I'm pretty sure I know which forum you're talking about. I have such a love-hate relationship with that place. I certainly love the threads you've started there recently (I'm mostly a forum lurker).

I'm not the most experienced guy in the world, but I DO shoot for a living (full time), and there's no way in hell I could spend time fixing every shot if it didn't come out of the camera looking the way I want it to.

I love being able to do things in camera. A recent series that I posted got a number of "great postprocessing" comments because the background was blue and the subject was lit warm. The thing? No post in it. It was just a white balance, strobe, and gel trick.

(BTW, I go back to the wet darkroom, so I can play those tricks too). That said, I love playing in photoshop, when I have time.

BTW if I'm right about the place, I'm #318193

Lou said...

lmao @ Ed and Jimmy. Funny stuff. :D

That being said... I'd guess that I'm one of those photographers that relies on Photoshop (and now Lightroom) a lot on pretty much everything I do, unfortunately. Although I'm definitely getting away from it where possible. Then again, I don't always get the opportunity to shoot in controllable situations, or have the luxury of quality light, so I understand that I'll have to adjust levels, fix highlights, tweak color, etc.

Although I did get a chance to play with my el cheapo strobes, triggered wireless for the first time, and got everything dialed in with my light meter nearly perfect before the camera even came out.

I'm not sure how people can believe the things that they believe... It's like saying "Man, I don't need to know how to play guitar that well, that's what this here Marshall amp turned up real loud, this BOSS Super Distortion pedal, and only playing power chords are for.

Oh, wait... :-/

jimmyd said...


That's such an awesome story about the comments in the unnamed forum... tho not particularly surprising. Moreso given so many fauxtographers there are so freakin' clueless. LOL!!

jimmyd said...


We all adjust levels, fix highlights, tweak color, etc. Just like in a wet darkroom, adjustments are made.

Frankly, I think Photoshop is awesome-- An incredible tool. But my point is, it's just another tool, it's not the end all/be all of photography.

The camera is a tool as well. Yet, these days, more and more people seem to think the camera is not necessary tool for anything but capturing a basic image without respect to the quality and skill and creativity that image reveals when it comes out of the camera.

Congratz on dialing it in with your strobes and meter and wireless triggers! You've taken another step in the journey to photo Nirvana! :-)

Ed Verosky said...

I think your last comment should be directed @lou. And I agree.

Don't get me wrong, I think it's part of the process to have to adjust the basics like contrast, color balance, etc. Why, because with digital it's either you doing it, or something the RAW machine decided by default. So, wet darkroom, is normal stuff.

Everything is ok with these tools, but relying on them to fix most of your photos because you don't know what you're doing with a camera and lighting is lame.

These people are really "computer-aided photo painters" more than photographers. Which is fine for them, I guess.

RandJ-Photo said...

Maybe if these guys learned to shoot with an 8 X 10 or the very least a 4 X 5 they'd appreciate camera skills. Or they're go broke before they ever bought their digital camera.

Personally I like to shoot tethered and delivering the images at the shoot usually means they hand me the check then too. And I can stop at the bar on the way home with no worries of a night of post-processing looming ahead.

MarcWPhoto said...

I had a friend who worked for A Major Medical Equipment Company. (Been admitted to a hospital in the past ten years? You've been hooked up to their equipment.)

His supervisor commented on how being ISO certified and having all the process documents made staffing much easier. Her theory was that if you had good process, you didn't need good or even competent people: you just needed them to be able to follow the process and you'd get good results.

This mentality is becoming more and more pervasive as individual accomplishment is less and less valued in our society.

"Them as has it in 'em to shine will shine through six layers of muck, while them who don't won't shine no matter how you buff 'em." However if nobody wants to shine, then nobody will.

HMetal said...

Oh my god, Jimmy nails it spot on again! I am constantly buying books on lighting and continuously ingest as much information as possible about what people are doing with respect to lighting.

While my stuff may not yet be as good as Helmut Newton's or even Jimmy D's, I also like to "get it right" in camera and strive to do as little post-processing as possible, unless a specific effect is desired; usually to compliment the good photography, not compensate for bad photography.

Unfortunately, what we see in the forums is one result of manufacturer's continuous effort to get digital SLRs into amateur hands. That's not to say I wasn't a beginner at one point but I certainly don't and didn't have a chip on my shoulder like many of these newcomers.

I shot a fashion project with a designer who invited another photographer along late in the photoshoot, just to check out his skills for days when I am not available and WOW! I could not believe the massive primadonna attitude this guy had. I asked him about who he's worked with and immediately after he opened his mouth, I was sorry I asked as his retort was, "OH, I don't work with photographer X and I don't work with photographers who shoot genre Y." Later that week, I saw some of this guy's work and EVERYTHING had this mass level of photoshop-rendered gaussian blur and diffusion all over it. It wasn't even selective processing! Every piece of photographic real estate was diffuse and blurred. It was awful. The ironic thing is that this guy shoots wedding photography and brides love the diffusion. They must because he still gets clients. Crazy!

Anyways, Jimmy, if you are putting out a DVD, I want on the mailing list so I know when it is available. It will be a welcome addition to my collection of photography DVDs and books, right alongside Ed Ames, Lee Varis, Duncan Evans, Pascal Baetens, Roland Gomez and all of the masters who came before them.

I am not formally trained in a classroom but I try to ingest as much information as possible and study the work of others. This, in my opinion, is how one becomes a master, by studying those who came before.

Good article, Jimmy!

PS. I read your other recent article. It was interesting to me that you use the 5D and 20D as a backup. That was my equipment list before I dove in and grabbed the 40D as an upgrade. I still have all the bodies I've used too. I just can't convince myself that letting them go is a good idea. :)

jimmyd said...


You make a good point about the camera manufacturers.

When you boil it down, it's they who have dumbed down the craft, making it so easy for so many to produce marginally competent work. What sometimes chafes my ass is the way--instead of trying to learn and improve--more than a few newbies think their pics are awesome. They stubbornly try to pass of their pedestrian, over-processed, work as good photography and then have an attitude, a negative attitude, if anyone criticizes... regardless of the tone of the criticism or the polite suggestions for improvement. Certainly that doesn't hold true for many but it does hold for too many.

Your story about the primadonna, btw, isn't all that unusual. I've encountered similar. Once, with some d-bag who, somehow, managed to get to shoot for Penthouse... one time. You'd think he thought he was Annie Freakin Leibovitz! Annie's Asswipe was more like it.

Anonymous said...

One advise I will give you is that you shouldn´t spend so many time in photo forums (specially MM´s forums) :P because they are full of wannabe´s talking about stuff they barely know (sounds kinda harsh but you have to see the galleries of the people replying in a wrong but ferocious way to know who and what they really are).

Also because there´s always lots of negativity and those go against the good vibes needed to think in great photo projects.

But you have a point there you will find people (not real photographers) who have no idea about the industry say about things like the technical part isn´t that important... i´m sorry but photography is a concept that needs the technical part to be executed in an artistic way also there´s a standard of quality expected (as you pointed out) by the clients who hire you and there´s no room for mistakes.

Drew Gardner in his December 7 09 blog post says something that´s true to the core:

"You have to get it right in camera!

Yes folks, if you don’t get it in-camera and have not made provision, it is not there.

I feel this is set to bring back ‘camera’ craftsmanship and will deal a blow to those who use retouching as a crutch for bad photography.

And we all know that there are many of those out there, right?

All of a sudden direction was back in on the shoot, and there was nobody paintively whispering in my ear, “Don’t worry we will fix it in post.”

We either got it or we didn’t.

All of a sudden I felt I had ‘come home.’

Less of the computer stuff and more of the photography.

Which in my mind is what it should be about."

People need to learn to weight the opinions they read,I mean choosing between people like you or drew gardner who are people with ton of real experience in the field and the industry vs a character with a poor portfolio and with no experience in the field? hmmm... kinda easy to choose ;).

Talking about other stuff, how´s the PGS DVD going???? that´s my number one priority in "invest in learning" list :D

My best wishes Jimmy!!!


Ashley Karyl said...

I think much of the difference in approach can often be traced to when a photographer started. Like yourself I suspect Jimmy, I started out in film days when retouching was only used in cases of high budget shoots and even then it was a rarity.

The good part though in all of this is that it pushed you to make the image as good as possible at the time of shooting, because there was no real post production phase like today. i.e. if you messed up everybody knew about it, so the fear of making a mistake quickly instilled a sense of discipline to do it right.

The even better part is that by sticking to the same principals we continue to produce the best possible quality files to work from and save a load of time/money in post production. With a few rare exceptions too many photographers starting today fail to learn their basic craft properly.

I'll extend this point a little further though, because I've noticed a strong correlation between the very same people who think the photography part is largely unimportant and those who operate a very flawed business model. These guys may be crowding out the market and doing damage to the profession, but none of them are likely to last very long.

jimmyd said...


Thanks for the link to Gardner's blog. Great stuff!

You're right about the time I sometimes spend on forums. It's usually unproductive. It do so more for my amusement than anything else. Plus, I enjoy discussing all things photography.

The PGS DVD is going slower than expected but that's mostly my fault. Simply too many other things in my life competing for time. But we're working on it. I'm editing plus I have a bit more to shoot. Hopefully, sometime soon after the New Year.

Jackie said...

"a turd is still a turd.." I love it! I definitely agree to learning all there is to learn and beginning with the old school stuff. I'm a new-ish photog and I think that the production skills I've learned along the way have helped me with exposure and all other things included. Better to get it right the first time rather than spend hours in front of a computer.