Monday, January 07, 2013

Photography is Not Dead-- It's Not Even Sick.

I read an article the other day which asks (or wonders) if photography (as we know it) is done. Well, maybe not done but approaching done-ness. You know, as in toast.

The reason the article -- posted by a well-known photography site -- wonders if photography is done is because there now exists motion capturing devices which have become so good at capturing high resolution imagery that a single frame, i.e., a still image, can be lifted from the motion captures (the video) to produce an image that equals, rivals, even trumps still images captured by still cameras. Leastwise, from a technical standpoint.

In my mind, the writer must have either been reaching for something to write about or his/her wonderment was born of a singular lack of understanding of photography as a unique medium. The writer's article subtly (perhaps not-so-subtly) puts stuff like image resolution and other technical aspects of a photographic image ahead of just about every other aspect of photography, e.g., the artistic and emotional aspects of the image, not to mention the creative input of the photographer.  In fact, I'll go a step further and call it yet another article which puts gear and technology in front of craft and art.

Gear and the technical stuff will never, I repeat WILL NEVER, replace the art and craft of photography. If it ever does, which I don't believe it will, that gear and technology will also replace photographers. Gee! That sounds like something to look forward to... not!

Gear and technology might be able to create technically perfect images with little or no creative input from the photographer but, lest anyone forget, technically perfect images can be the world's most incredibly boring photographs! There's an old Egyptian proverb which says, "A beautiful thing is never perfect." Man oh man! Does that ever hold true for photography.

This whole business of searching through frame after frame of video to discover and lift a single frame for use as a still photograph is the same as photographers using the spray-n-pray approach to their photography. In other words, shoot enough stills or capture enough video and there's bound to be a decent photo in their somewhere. Man, if that's what photography is headed towards count me the eff out. That's got to be the most boring, creatively unfulfilled art/craft on the planet. It's nothing more than photography for uncreative techno-geeks. Even if you pull a killer image or two from a clip of video with thousands of images, would anyone truly feel any creative fulfillment from doing so? I know I wouldn't. But maybe that's just me? (Hopefully, it's not.)

Okay. That's my mini-rant for the day. Move along now. Nothing to see here....

...except maybe the model with the great natural chest puppies at the top who I shot last week and whose name I already can't remember. (Click the pic to enlarge.) I can remember, however, how I shot her: I used a 4' Photek Softlighter for my main (with me and my ass perched on an apple box directly in front of it and her) plus a couple of much smaller, Photek knock-offs on either side of her from slightly behind. I also used a cheap house fan to push her hair back a bit.  The background is the wall of a small living room. That's the color the wall is painted, BTW. The model is about four or five feet in front of the wall. The room has 8' ceilings. Yes, it's cramped. But no problemo.  I'm a guerrilla photographer.  I make do. Also, not much post processing applied to the pic. I'm not much of a "much post processing" kind of guy.


Bill Giles said...

I agree with you about photography not being dead, but I think that the distinction between a still camera and a video camera is getting smaller. I believe that Canon makes a video camera that takes EOS lenses.

jimmyd said...

@BillG: The distinction between still cameras and video cameras has been getting smaller ever since the first digital camera was introduced. After all, digital still cameras and video motion cameras both use video technologies to capture images. The approaches to capturing video versus still images, regardless of the type of camera you're using, are generally different, whether talking about lighting, composition, and more.

The right tool (camera) for the job remains the best tool for the job (Best in terms of function, efficiency, methods, and more) and, frankly, using a video camera to shoot models, for instance, with the end result being still images for various uses, is not using the best tool for the job. In fact, I just recently scored a regular gig because they were using still frames from video and they decided those images sucked in many ways. So, they went back to hiring a photographer.

Dwaine Dibbly said...

Thanks, JimmyD, for summarizing my exact thoughts when I saw that article the other day.

I hope you're feeling better. Get the flu shot every year!

Pretty girl, with a flaw or two that makes her even more attractive.

Rick said...

So I'm thinking the next generation of glamour "photographers" will just set up their latest and greatest camera on a tripod, set it to video and let the model go through her poses then sit at the computer and select the best images for "stil" photography and call themselves the greatest photogerapher since Jimmyd?

Why learn the craft when the camera's computer and the laptop computer can take all the mystery out of it?

Lazy bastids.

Nadja said...

Last year one of my (young) teachers in evening school photography said the same thing as the article.
I said he was delusional if he really thought that... in so many words.
And I wished him much fun and good luck with searching for good frames.
Ridiculous idea, if you ask me.
I'm really glad to read a great professional like you agrees.
Beautiful photo, and wonderful natural puppies.
See you!

********* said...

It may not happen soon but it will happen. It takes the guess work out of deciding when to hit the shutter. Just another example of letting technology do the hard work by taking out the guess work of deciding when to hit the shutter (i.e. auto focus lenses).

Aren't photographers really just directors in a sense, at least the good ones?

The advent of LED panels for lighting is going to make the process that much easier.

When the technology arrives and is affordable, there will be that oh shit moment just like when the affordable dslr's hit the market. When RED camera quality becomes affordable the game will change, trust me.

We will all become phideographers very soon. It's inevitable.

Anonymous said...

I find this mentality curious, Had a video been shot with good lenses in a good camera using 35mm film, I would expect that each frame would be comparable to a still shot using a good lens, and a good camera. Or perhaps I am wrong, but there are those like Jimmy who have the experience to know. And it is there judgement which should prevail.

It is worth noting that during the heyday of film being used for motion picturers the stills were shot by still photographers, not a single frame clip taken from the cutting room floor.

jimmyd said...

@Anon: It's not that you can't lift shots from moving images that are good regarding the technical aspects of a still image, you can. It's all the other aspects, the "art" aspects, which may or may not be present in those images. It's a matter of intent. Take portraits: Did the motion picture shooter intend to capture a still portrait when shooting motion? If so, you might get the images, portrait-wise, you're looking for. But for the most part, when people are shooting motion pictures, they're not thinking "portrait." (IF that makes sense.)

Paul from Canada said...

Hi Jimmy:

I teach photography in high school. I try to impress upon my students that it is important to get it right in the camera first ( I guess I am old school).

The techno-geeks always ask why?

I explain it is easier to work with a good image and make it better than work than trying to rescue a poor image and turn it into digital art. Now I can add your words to my tool kit of arguments. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

but now that the technology is here, motion picture creators can think portrait if they want and can catch the ten frames that lead up to that perfect shot and the ten that follow.

I guess the best way to test it is to try it. Even though dslr's dont have 4k capabitility, the frames are decent. Try it and see what type of stills you end up with and compare with traditional method. I bet you'll be surprised. I was.

Mindsets change as technology changes. I remember when digital first arrived. hard core film guys never thought they'd crossover. where are they now, staring at the back of the cameras like the rest of us.

fashion photographers with big budgets already shooting this way. It will trickle down eventually.

jimmyd said...


I currently have an ongoing gig because the client was using high res video frames to pull stills, even shooting exactly as you mentioned, and it wasn't good enough. Their distributor told them they can't make good enough printed artwork (DVD covers/ads/etc) out of it and they were shooting uncompressed HD for the footage that was headed for the art department. So that turned into an ongoing job for me with a still camera. BTW, I went digital very very early on.

Anonymous said...

if you're flicking away with stills, do you catch this shot? if so, how hard was it to catch this moment?

jimmyd said...

@Anon: Just because you can lift shots from the video, even shots that would be difficult (not impossible) to capture, doesn't mean that's how the shot should be gotten. I think it's interesting to note that Hollywood still employs still photographers. They even did so/ do so when the images are on film and pulling a frame of film and making a photo from it would mean in image that would be way better, quality wise, than the image you linked to. I currently have a twice-weekly gig because the client, wo was using frame captures, decided those frame captures weren't good enough for print use... and for reasons beyond the technical quality of the images, altho that's probly the biggest reason they stopped using frame grabs. ALso btw, using video frames isn't anything new. Doing so has been around for quite a while now, altho with mixed results.

Anonymous said...

Don't know if you seen this yet, he does a side by side comparison red vs hassie.