I was out taking pictures in my old sugar woods when I looked up and saw a man walking toward me. He was about my age but worn and walking absentmindedly as if he didn’t have a clue where he was going. It was pretty clear he was a fellow photographer.
There was something else though that told me he was a photographer. Perhaps it was his bewildered gaze. Or maybe it was his stumbling gait. Or maybe it was the fact that he was carrying a camera bag and holding a copy of my Photographer’s Guide to Vermont in his hand. I couldn’t quite place it but there was something about him that seemed very familiar.
“Say, there’s something about you that seems very familiar” I said cunningly.
“Could be the camera bag I’m carrying,” he muttered.
“Could be but there just seems to be something else” I continued probingly.
“Could be that I am carrying a copy of your Photographer’s Guide to Vermont,” he muttered again, keeping a safe distance.
“Ah…..” I said cleverly
“Or it could be the fact that I was in your workshop last week”
“Um, gee, really?” I sputtered.
“So, you must be a photographer” I said, recovering nicely.
“Used to be a photographer. It gave me up.”
“You mean you gave it up.” I said regaining my annoying correcting habits.
“No, I meant what I said. It gave me up. Photography and photographers changed and I was left behind.”
“Left behind?” I said, “What do you mean, left behind? If you’re not a photographer why are you still carrying around a camera bag?”
“Listen, photography used to be about craftsmanship and technique, about getting the best picture you could in the field. It used to be about looking for the very best subject, picking the right angle for the very best background and waiting for the very best light to take the picture.
Heck, photography used to be about capturing light.
Now a days photography is more about taking anything in the field and then trying to fix it later in a computer. Seems like being a better photographer these days’ means buying ever-higher resolution, ever more mega pixels and ever faster processing. Gotta have more dots, more pixels, more auto focus points, more frames per second. Gotta have more. Gotta be faster. The catch is it never makes the photographer any better.
It’s crazy and I don’t understand it but photography gear has better resolution then most photographers do. I am seeing lots of 12 meg gear in the hands of two meg shooters.”
“12 meg gear for a two meg shooter, that’s very good. Were you born a curmudgeon or did you grow into it?” I said feeling a bit frisky.
“My friends don’t call me Crank for nothing.”
“Your name is Crank? What, your parents didn’t like you?”
“Nope, born Crank Flaw, one of the six Flaw kids. Hank is a barber, Shank is a golfer, Tank repairs swimming pools, Stank is a movie critic and Frank is a retired meat inspector/photographer. ”
“That’s some family,” I said. “But if you’re not taking pictures anymore, why are you carrying around that camera bag and a copy of my photographer’s guide?”
“The camera bag is filled with photography techniques that should be forgotten and never used again. I carry it around to remind photographers of how not to do things, not that it does any good. Seems like what was once bad technique is all of a sudden just fine. How many times have you heard in a critique ‘Well, I can always fix that in Photoshop’?”
“Well, ” I said, “I do hear that a lot, but what am I supposed to do?”
“You can take this bag. It’s all yours now. It’s a one of a kind bag, made by Pandora Photographics, so be careful when you open it.”
“You have curmudgeon potential and you can still, barely, tell the difference between what is sound technique and what is sloppy technique. What did you say in the workshop? Don’t be dumb and lazy. This is your very own dumb and lazy bag. It is yours now to carry around and share with people. Good luck, you’ll need it.”
Crank came over and dropped the bag at my feet. Kneeling, I opened it up and started to root through it. Techniques started flying out. Some were pretty old and obsolete such as pulling film and smearing glop on filters but I also found lots of bad techniques and crazy things that photographers still do.
He told me to share the bad things photographers do so here goes- my favorite bad techniques and crazy things photographers do as given to me by Mr. Crank Flaw:
- Crank thinks photographers believe too much in the power of the computer.I can’t disagree with this one, I have heard “I can always fix that later” too many times during a critique. There are certainly lots of things you can fix with any image processing program. You can crop, you can selectively lighten or darken, you can eliminate distractions, you can blend two shots together, etc., etc., etc.But there are things that you can’t do in a computer. You can’t create the effect of getting lower, what we used to call ‘bending your knees,’ to get a better shooting perspective. You can’t create the effect of a polarizing filter. You can’t mimic shooting in the rain and you especially can’t mimic sweet light. You can lessen bad light if you are clever but there is no substitute for great light.It is always better to take your time and do the best you can in the field rather than to be sloppy and lazy in the field and try to fix it later with the computer. Besides, my experience is that if you are sloppy and lazy in the field you will be just a sloppy and lazy when it comes to fixing it in the computer. Either way it doesn’t work.
- Crank thinks photographers believe too much in the power of their camera.This must be why I see photographers staring at their tiny LCD screens rather than actually taking pictures. You don’t really think you can critically evaluate the focus and composition of your picture by looking at that little screen do you? Well, you can’t. You just want to see what the picture might look like. Well, don’t be so impatient. And while you are looking so intently at your camera there is probably good stuff happening that you should be photographing. Pay attention to your picture taking instead.If you really want to see what your focus and composition is going to look like try actually looking carefully at your viewfinder and using the depth of field preview button. Besides, it is much easier and better to examine the image in your viewfinder. And only your depth of field preview will truly let you see what is or is not in focus.
- Crank also thinks photographers believe too much in fancy technology.This is when he launches into a long rant about the evils of image-stabilization or vibration-reduction technology. I happen to like a lens with IS/VR but only for some circumstances. Crank is referring to photographers who use IS/VR all the time and think it is a substitute for a tripod. He is right; a tripod is always better than using IS/VR.If you use IS/VR all the time you will get a lot of reasonably sharp poorly composed pictures. This is because since you are handholding the camera you will naturally put your subject closer to the center of the picture rather out toward the edges where you would actually prefer it to be compositionally.
If you absolutely can’t use a tripod than IS/VR is a magnificent thing that makes situations that previously weren’t photographable now plausibly photographable. But IS/VR is only a tool to be used judiciously, it is not a cure-all.
- Crank also thinks photographers sometimes go stark, raving mad.This is the only explanation he can come up with to account for some of the things he sees. When I compared observations with him we got a pretty good list of astonishingly bad techniques that photographers employ on a regular basis:a. Stacking filters. Bad idea. You buy high res. cameras and expensive lenses and then you put layers of cheap glass in front of it. Take off that silly, useless UV/skylight filter you have on your lenses all the time and put it on only when you actually need it. Don’t screw a polarizer or a warming filter into a UV or into each other, you will just diminish the resolution of your final image. If you are going to be stubborn and keep a UV filter on all the time be sure to take it off when you put on another filter. If you are thinking right now, “yeah, that is going to happen” then just keep those cheap filters off for good.b. Stacking teleconverters. This is worse than a bad idea. This is borderline criminal. The usual victim of this senseless act of cruelty is your innocent 70mm-200mm zoom that you love. You can put one teleconverter on it but don’t stack two on it. You might as well just take the lens outside and put a bullet through it. If you want or need a longer lens, go buy one! Or if you are going on a once in a lifetime trip, go rent one. But don’t abuse that innocent little zoom any more.
c. Cheap tripods. This is what I don’t understand (among many things)- why do people spend thousands of dollars on cameras and lenses and then spend $35 on a tripod? And then when they are shamed into spending more money they go for a $60 tripod and a $40 tripod head.
Okay, I will try to spell this out as clearly as I can. If you spend thousands for a camera you must spend hundreds for a tripod. There are no compromises. I will confiscate your camera if I see it on a ridiculously inadequate tripod. And get one without a center post and that goes up to your eye level if not higher. I’m begging you.
d. Small tripod heads. This, of course, goes hand in hand with the cheap tripod syndrome. If your ball head (why would you get any other kind?) is the size of a golf ball or smaller it is too small. Again, there are no exceptions to this rule. If you have a new and therefore big camera you should have a ball head the size of a cue ball. If you are using a big telephoto lens then you must either use a King Cobra type or a gimbal-type head or a ball head the size of a tennis ball.
e. Mismounted lenses. Okay, look at your long lens with that odd looking collar around the end of it. On the bottom of that collar is a little foot. That little foot is what gets mounted onto your tripod. You can use a quick release plate (you should use a quick release plate!) or you can screw it directly on to your tripod (why would you want to do this?). If you have a tripod collar on your lens use that as the attachment point, not your camera. If I catch you with a mismounted lens I will again confiscate your equipment. This is getting to be a good deal for me!
f. Raised center posts. There are ten thousand ways to destroy an image. This one is one of the most popular. When you raise the center post on your tripod you are turning your sturdy (I hope so!) tripod into a not as sturdy monopod. I know what you are saying… “it can’t be that big a difference.”
If you are using any type of telephoto lens the magnification of the lens is equal to the magnification of your errors. So a 6-power lens increases the effect of your technique mistakes 6 times. Any small sloppiness is therefore quickly turned into a big sloppiness. Big sloppinesses are not good. So either don’t be so lazy and extend the tripod legs or get an adult-sized tripod.
g. No quick release. I have referred to this already but not completely. The best reason to use a quick release system is because it makes it easier and more convenient to change lenses and camera. While it may not seem like a big deal eliminating inconveniences it is when you are on the verge of a bout of laziness. Then the hassle of changing your camera or lens is enough to stop you from doing it. Then is the time when it is important to have a quick release system.
h. Carrying too much. This is for men only, real men only. The kind that takes more pride in how much they carry and what it is then how it is used. Women don’t have this problem. Probably because they are too smart to carry unnecessary stuff (except in their purses).
When you carry too much you are reluctant to move if the bag is on the ground or stop if the bag is on your back. If you stop you have to eventually put it back on and since the bag is so heavy the last thing you want to do is lift it up anymore than is needed. Think about what you are actually likely to use and carry just that. You can always keep the rest of your stuff in your car if you really need it.
i. Carrying too little. You are probably thinking, “Will you please make up your mind?” Well, if you only carry one lens you are very likely to be without the lens you really need. This is especially true if you carry the one lens does everything type of lens. These lenses are great to look at but they are generally not as good as carrying a couple of lenses to cover the same length. A couple of zooms, some diopters in your pocket, a few filters on your hip and you are good to go. Now wasn’t that easy?
j. Being dumb and lazy. And finally my all time favorite. This was my first teaching admonishment back when I started teaching. It basically covers everything I have already mentioned and everything I else I have forgotten. I start getting dumb and lazy when I get tired or hungry or when I am in a bit of a hurry or when my mind wonders. This means I am always on the verge of being dumb and lazy. Dumb and lazy is my default condition. I remind myself all the time to take my time and to be thorough so if I can you certainly can too.
Crank was still hanging around by the time I got through going through the bag. He looked pretty happy though not to be carrying it around anymore. He asked me if I would finally sign my book for him. Apparently he had tried during the workshop but I was being dumb and lazy. I hate when that happens.