A FORTNIGHT AT F/8

The advance of new technology brings opportunities for photographers to change their pictures in post-production. So, does in-camera discipline still matter? Well yes and no, says Tim Clinch. . .

The newest version of Lightroom (Lightroom 5) has just been released.

As you know, I write a monthly column about using it for this magazine.

It is spectacularly good software, and I can state, hand on heart, that it has changed the way I work and has improved my photography immensely.

In case you’re wondering, by the way, sadly, I’m not paid anything by them to say this. I’m just a simple working pro who has found something that suits me down to the ground. Other software is available and what I am about to say is applicable to them as well.

With the advance of all this clever new software, I asked myself the other day: does our in-camera discipline really matter any more?

Well, to me, it does. Mainly,

I suspect, because that’s how I was brought up. I learnt my craft the long way, so to me in-camera discipline is intuitive, but let’s turn this question around to another thing that most of us do: driving. There’s not much doubt that if someone were to invent the motorcar today with all the technology available, no-one would consider making one with a manual gearbox. I mean, why would they?

Personally, I dislike driving automatic cars, but again, this is to do with my upbringing and how I learnt to drive. I work a lot with Americans, and must admit that I get a little irritated when yet again I have to spend hours trying to find an automatic hire car for someone who ‘can’t drive a stick shift’. But why? If you didn’t grow up with them, why on earth WOULD you be able to drive one?

Did my time as a slightly haphazard art student in the 70s crunching my way around south-east England in that clapped out Morris Minor that wouldn’t go into third gear make me a better driver than them? No. Did my time shooting on 10×8 using huge banks of electronic flash in a studio make me a better photographer today? Does the fact that most of the time I’m happier setting my f-stops and exposure manually rather than relying on my DSLR’s very impressive automatic settings to work it out for me make me a better photographer? Again, no. It’s made me a DIFFERENT photographer, one with my own passions, idiosyncrasies and disciplines. It made me what I am, but better?

lived for nearly 10 years in Spain and in France, and (says he, showing off slightly) speak both languages fluently. In English we ‘take’ a photograph, whereas in Spanish and in French they ‘make’ them. I’ve always liked the difference. ‘Making’ not only implies that element of craft that I approve of, but also emphasises the way I like to work: quietly, building my pictures up bit by bit, thinking about what I’m doing. In a way, I feel that modern software is turning us all into image makers. We can just spend our time doing it all afterwards instead.

Luckily, however, no matter how good the processing software, it can never take away the basics: the craft of lighting, knowing how to use light and composition. NOTHING can invalidate or over-ride these basic skills. No amount of post production, no matter how skilful the operator, can make a bad picture good, or a boring one interesting. But it CAN make a good picture better.

There is now a generation of young photographers who grew up only knowing digital photography. They also grew up with the remote control television channel-changer, cashpoint cards, mobile phones and the internet (whereas I grew up sitting around with a load of hippie art students having long stoned arguments as to whose turn it was to get up and turn the telly over!) and who would want to live in a world without any of these?

It’s all too easy to disparage these young people; to say that simply because they didn’t study the ‘basics’ like my generation studied them, they are not up to scratch.

So, in our photography we should embrace change, push ourselves to try something different, try to think differently about what we do. Constantly. There’s nothing wrong with correcting your verticals using post-production in the modern way, just as there’s nothing wrong with correcting them the old-fashioned way by shooting on a large format camera and tilting your lens up a bit! After all, they both achieve the same result…

So, does in-camera discipline still matter? And does it matter if it doesn’t?

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