Oct 3rd

2012

Snake Oil & Comb-overs: A Rant.

I initially posted this graphic in 2008. Seemed appropriate to bring it back…

A friend of mine is a world-class chef. He got there after a lot of hard work. He studied under other chefs, all of them masters at what they do. He’s really good at what he does; he’s both a craftsman and an artist. He did not get where he is by re-heating TV dinners in the microwave and calling himself a chef.

You’ve heard me rant about the big camera companies flogging cameras that they promise will allow you to “shoot like a pro” or “unlock your vision,” or similar desperate crap. So it should come as no surprise that my blood pressure begins to go up when I read about so-called teachers flogging plug-ins for Photoshop or Lightroom that “turn snapshots into great shots.” Bullshit. Shame on them.

Amazing photographs are not made with plug-ins or Photoshop actions. They are made with the imagination and the heart and the mind. They are made with hands that know the camera well and with a mind that understand how to use it in service of vision. They are made from amazing light, great lines, and astonishing moments. No plug-in in the world will turn a mediocre photograph into something amazing. Patience makes great photographs. Composition makes great photographs. Vision and a desire to express makes great photographs. A great many things make great photographs; plug-ins are not among them, because if a plug-in or an action is a part of polishing a great image, and they can be, that image was already great.

So why am I so bent out of shape about this? Because part of my life’s work is to teach and, I hope, encourage people as they grow towards being solid craftsmen and growing artists, and none of us will get there by pursuing short-cuts or relying on plug-ins, any more than an aspiring chef will get there by re-heating something someone else has cooked. The chef needs to put the time in and learn about his ingredients, and his tools. He needs to put the time in to learn knife skills and how to recognize a great cut of meat. And when a respected teacher is making more money flogging plug-ins, or encouraging his students to rely on them instead of making great photographs and encouraging his students to do the same, I think it’s time to pipe up. This blog is my pipe. So I’m begging you, for the love of your art, use all the damn plug-ins and actions you want, but the moment you rely on them to “make a great shot from a snapshot,” you’re not only stepping away from a thriving, vital, creative process, but you’re settling for polishing the mediocre instead of doing what should have been done in the first place: scrapping the image that didn’t work and starting over again. A weak image run through a plug-in or action fools only the same person fooled by a bald man with a comb-over: the person who’s doing it.

Plug-ins aren’t without use. Neither are Photoshop actions or Lightroom presets. Find the ones you like, dissect them, learn from them, and then use them as starting places and jumping-off points. But don’t rely on them. Unless you want your work to look like everyone else’s. Then by all means, spend the money, and use the plug-ins to salvage a shot that could have been beautiful had you just waited for the moment or spent more time on composition or studying the light. Photography isn’t easy. Making art and discovering beauty or telling compelling stories, isn’t easy. Time spent learning the craft will make it a little less painful, and equip us for the task of expression in new ways. We’d be better off spending our time learning to use the tools of expression than looking for that new trendy action, because those only make our photographs look new and trendy, not honest. There are a lot of voices out there, many of whom will help you in your pursuit of the art, and others who will happily offer the latest panacea if it makes them a few dollars. Be careful who you listen to.

(My way of photography is not the only way. It’s just my way. But it’s all I’ve got. We all do photography for different reasons, I get that, too. This is all just one man’s opinion. And God knows there are people out there that think I’m a hack, so here’s to there being enough room for us all out there to do what we do the way we want. That said, I still believe craft matters, and when it comes to this issue, and this nonsense is published by high-profile photographers, in much the same way as a “system” for “going pro” is, then I’d be doing you a disservice by keeping my mouth shut. When I see someone selling snake-oil to people I love and respect, I lose my usually calm and too-Canadian decorum. But still, if this comes off as less-than-graceful, I apologize….)

Comments (59)
  1. October 3, 2012 at 5:37 pm

    I always enjoy reading your posts/tweets (am slowly making my way through Visionmongers) and think your approach and vision is inspiring and refreshing! Hopefully one day I can attend one of your workshops! And if you’re in the market to mentor I’m looking!

  2. October 3, 2012 at 5:41 pm

    The honesty in this post is refreshing. I would consider myself an advanced amateur with the goal of making a life out of photography and I’ve met much frustration. Your posts and your book Vision Mongers, which im reading right now, are some of the best inspiration and education that I’ve had to this point. Thank you.

  3. Annie Wallace

    October 3, 2012 at 5:46 pm

    Here, here! Craft and personal vision! Down with homogenized photography.

    You won my vote.

    But keep in mind one of my favorite quotes is from Jack Kerouac:
    “The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding across the stars…”

    Got to know who is casting those votes in favor!

    For what it’s worth, I loved your rant. Keep them coming.

    Cheers,
    Annie

    • David

      October 3, 2012 at 5:49 pm

      Thanks, Annie. You made my night with that quote. Might just be the best, most comprehensible thing I’ve read from Kerouac, but it’s beautiful. Burn, burn, burn! :-)

  4. October 3, 2012 at 5:57 pm

    I saw a post today from a photographer that I follow, perhaps even the same post that motivated you to write this blog. I think that this post has a ton of merit and I am glad there is a photographer (such as yourself) out there that will speak to it.

    • October 11, 2012 at 9:55 am

      Reputation is an interesting thing. I read this rant first and though of one individual that promotes plugin after plugin. I went to this website and rolled back in the archives to Oct 3rd, and sure enough, there is a plugin post about turing a snapshot into a great shot followed by an after-the-fact update defending it. Probably the same post you’re referring to Billy.

    • David

      October 11, 2012 at 10:06 am

      It’s sad to me that there’s such a celebration of mediocrity out there. Not that my own work always transcends the mediocre, but that’s the struggle, isn’t it? When it becomes OK, and people capitalize on it, that’s when I think something needs to be said, not as a personal attack but as a reminder that there’s better work, stronger work, yet to be done. (And plug-ins alone won’t get us there :-)

  5. Len

    October 3, 2012 at 6:04 pm

    Great rant David!
    Great to have you speaking out for many Canadians, we are known to be so polite and quiet ;-)

    A favourite quote by Sam Haskins:
    “A photographer went to a socialite party in New York. As he entered the front door, the host said ‘I love your pictures – they’re wonderful; you must have a fantastic camera.’ He said nothing until dinner was finished, then: ‘That was a wonderful dinner; you must have a terrific stove.’ – Sam Haskins

    cheers, keep up the great work, you inspire many
    Len Silvester

  6. Osman

    October 3, 2012 at 6:22 pm

    I really like your ‘series’ on this topic and you have written again and again: particularly when you presented the premise that we should respect our work (not call our photographs, snaps!). And I do also appreciate that you do not call for abandoning post processing tools altogether. After all they are tools, or instruments, if you may, just like a camera is one. The end result is what matters; the process, well it is monumental for the artist, but to the person who is presented that piece of art, it is rather irrelevant. And believe me, I have a firm belief, that the beauty of art is that if it doesn’t come from the heart, it shows!

  7. October 3, 2012 at 8:02 pm

    With today’s cameras, anyone can get a great shot including your dog if his paw hits the button the right way. The difference is, can they do it again? And again? Can they shoot with specific intent and create their vision? Or someone elses? Can they assure consistent results to a client?

    BTW I can teach you Beauty Retouch in 3 minutes. And I also have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you if you’re interested ;-)

  8. Chrisse

    October 3, 2012 at 8:53 pm

    True! And then came along Instagram !

  9. October 3, 2012 at 10:44 pm

    […] David duChemin – World & Humanitarian Photographer, Nomad, Author. » Snake Oil & Comb-ove… […]

  10. October 3, 2012 at 11:10 pm

    Hi David, seems like a great filter.

    Two questions before purchasing:
    1) does the $129 include a free upgrade to the Photoshop CS6 version of the filter?
    2) is it compatible with actions, so I can batch-unsuck my images?

    Thanks!

  11. October 3, 2012 at 11:17 pm

    There is however one indispensable filter – Peat.
    Peat-filtered whiskey (or whisky for the non-Irish fans) vital for slowing down and savouring the perfect light. N’est pas David?

  12. leonie

    October 3, 2012 at 11:23 pm

    Amen, brother

  13. October 4, 2012 at 12:57 am

    Hey David…couldn’t agree with you more. I am a HS photography teacher, and run into this all of the time…kids will show me their photos with all of this funky/garish Photoshop work that is way over the top, and ignore the fact that their photo lacks in composition or message….but they think because they made their photo look prettier (in their minds), that the photo is so much better…makes me beat my head on the counter. This is the age we now live in, my friend….technology is taking over, and making it easier for people, but as I tell my kids, “Technology will never replace the “heart” of a Photograph…a bad photograph will always be a bad photograph no matter how much make-up you put on it”

  14. October 4, 2012 at 1:57 am

    Well put David, and personally I think the polite filter was still in place. No matter what the skill, there will always be those looking (or selling) a short cut. In Martial Arts, Gung Fu (Kung fu) is translated as skill through hard work.. It is not a martial expression.. A woodworker can have Gung fu, a plumber can have Gung fu and yes, a photographer can have Gung fu. We all need to develop our skill through hard work.

  15. October 4, 2012 at 6:14 am

    […] David duChemin – World & Humanitarian Photographer, Nomad, Author. » Snake Oil &…: […]

  16. Jim Azevedo

    October 4, 2012 at 6:46 am

    Certainly no apologies necessary for this one, as it is something that needs to be said and said again. There are, I think, a lot of reasons people use plugins and filters, etc. For someone new to photography, they are so appealing. Wow! Look at what I did! There’s not much wrong with that, either, at that level. And that level is as far as millions of people will go, or want to go. No big deal there. If it moves people toward something they love, that’s good. If the whole process helps them deceive themselves into thinking they can produce good work without doing any work, without thought, effort, and the slow accretion of skill, then a disservice is being done. Anyone who feeds off this deception should be ashamed of themselves.

  17. Bruce

    October 4, 2012 at 6:48 am

    Well said…

  18. October 4, 2012 at 6:54 am

    Well put David, is why you are one a very few blog I follow.

    It is so sad to see how technology make us so dull and turn our brain to mash potato… My ran is with smartphones, they flock to a store to buy something that was not reviewed and tested by someone before but must have it to find out the major new features does not work.

    If we call the device a smartphone what should we call the owner of the device?

  19. Fausto Rowlan

    October 4, 2012 at 8:39 am

    I actually appreciate your honesty (no to mention bluntness) on this issue, amateurs and enthusiasts like myself occasionally need to be pulled back from the “you NEED this” precipice.

  20. October 4, 2012 at 9:59 am

    Hear him…

    I think I know who sparked this rant. My objection to what this photographer wrote is not only how cheaply he addressed the creative process (a la “use this plug-in to dress up your snapshot”), but also the intent behind the post, which is to drive affiliate sales.

    Everyone has a right to earn a living, but as you say David, beware of snake oil and comb-overs.

  21. October 4, 2012 at 11:11 am

    Another aspect: Once the new photographer gets over the fascination with mad treatments, learns to make good photos, and goes back to edit the file again, the good photos are the ones that will be worth showing again, while the bad ones will remain bad.

  22. October 4, 2012 at 11:16 am

    Can someone send me the link to this other article that keeps popping up…now I’m curious ;)

    • David

      October 4, 2012 at 11:20 am

      To be honest, Angela, that would be unfair. The reality is that while this rant was sparked by one person whom I feel ought to know better, it’s aimed at a more systemic issue. No doubt others will happily point the way, but I didn’t name names in the article for the very reason that I feel this nonsense is bigger than just one person. I’m trying to keep it from being a personal issue. :-) Hope you understand.

  23. Phillip

    October 4, 2012 at 12:02 pm

    David your photography is always enjoyable to look through and learn from, and you make some interesting points. But I can’t help feel you’re leaving something out here to avoid return fire / criticism from this one person you’re talking about.

    Your points are valid on the whole, but really vague. What are the plugins we’re talking about (are they all equally good / bad?), what was the actual recommendation for using the plugins? Who made it? If we’re all adults here, we should be able to generate a useful conversation without making it personal among you and whoever you so vehemently disagree.

    There are dozens of talented shooters out there (who also teach, who all use plugins) and they recommend them in various ways at various times. Should we discount them all? Which plugin advice is good advice, which is bad and why?

    I have yet to see an accomplished photographer or instructor say “hey look at this crappy shot… run it through a plugin and now it looks good!” That’s analogous to your TV dinner comment. Chef vs. microwave is pretty extreme. Plugins are usually about adding an extra element of style that is not possible in Photoshop or would take many extra steps in Photoshop (i.e. efficiency).

    Ultimately software is just another tool, just like cameras are tools. It’s the person using it and their intent that matters, but that doesn’t mean plugins are mostly a means to avoid the hard work. Are you saying it’s not possibly to take a well-composed, interesting photo and make some element of it substantially better with a plugin like Silver Efex or HDR Efex?

    • David

      October 4, 2012 at 12:26 pm

      Philip, You’re not completely wrong when you say I’m intentionally leaving names out. As I said to Angela, I’m trying to keep this about the systemic issue of “recipes and plug-ins and new lenses” make mediocre photographs into “great shots.” and not be a personal attack. I stopped shy of making it personal, because if I did I might be using words like “hack” and “huckster,” which are honest but less carefully chosen, and probably unfair.

      I can’t help but think you’ve not read my rant thoroughly. Yes, there’s a place for plug-ins. But when a teaching photographer says a plug-in can take a mediocre photograph and make it great, it’s a disservice to anyone who cares about the craft. You need not have read the blog to which I am reacting to either agree or disagree with my premise: plug-ins, and actions, have their useful place, but should not be considered a substitute for craft and artistry.

      To your last question: no I am not saying that at all. In fact I’d advocate for any tool that can polish an otherwise great photograph, including Silver Efex.

      If you want this further distilled, for clarity, read my rant thusly: I read a blog from a photographer who ought to be more careful with his words (and more skilled with his craft, frankly) that a specific plug-in could take a snapshot and make it a great shot. I reacted to both the underlying idea, and the fact that it was a blatant plug for a product that in fact does not do that, and wrote what I did. I am not discounting all plug-ins, nor their use. I am saying, simply, that if your photograph doesn’t work without the plug-in, it doesn’t work with it.

      I think my microwave TV dinner analogy is in fact bang on. But like I said, I’m OK with it being an opinion that not everyone shares. There are blog aplenty on which they can disagree with me. :-)

      • Phillip

        October 4, 2012 at 1:33 pm

        I’m not sure how if you had to name names, you would be forced to use words like “huckster”, and that if you did that it would be both “honest” and “unfair” at the same time. Seems a little incongruous but OK.

        Sorry if I wasn’t 100% clear. I know you’re not suggesting a “ban on plugins” or people recommending them. But quite a few good photographers (in my estimation), demonstrate how plugins make “pretty good shots”, much more interesting. I think you’re sort of taking a subjective topic (i.e. what does “great” mean?), and then polarizing the debate. Either a shot is great in which case a plugin is useful to make it more great… or a shot is subpar and therefore a plugin is useless.

        There are many degrees of grey in there. :) You could make the same argument about cropping an image. It’s very possible though to take a shot that was composed hastily in camera and with a judicious “less is more” crop, turn it into a really nice shot. Similarly you can take a shot that is well composed but maybe the exposure is off a bit (or maybe you have to merge exposures), and run it through a plugin and get a very nice result.

        The trick with plugins IMO is the same as Photoshop: not to rely on presets or “formulas” in tutorials. It’s about understanding what each little control does, and what problems it can solve with your image. Obviously a poorly framed or uninteresting subject can have its colors made better or details sharper by a plugin, and it serves no one. But I don’t really see that.

        Did this person you are talking about literally say “this plugin will make your mediocre photographs great”? I mean seriously say that directly? Because if he didn’t then that’s where the unfairness is coming in, more so that would be true by you pointing things out. But I understand if you don’t want to cause hostilities (or risk them).

  24. Robert

    October 4, 2012 at 6:29 pm

    Just to be contrary, part of a chef’s skillset is knowing how to rescue mistakes after they’ve happened. The sauce separated, the dessert didn’t gel properly, someone dropped the wedding cake… it shouldn’t have happened, but it did. Now you have to fix it.

    I’m certain photographers face the same situation. Camera settings accidentally changed, didn’t notice something in the background, etc. One could rant about being more careful, but there are ways to rescue an image. Accidentally over-exposed? Maybe high-key would work? It may not be the shot you intended to take, but it’s the shot you’ve got, and you have to make the best of it.

    Like turning a traditional wedding cake into a strawberry-cream one, after a guest’s dog started eating the icing. Wasn’t the planned cake, but at least the couple had a cake. (Story from a friend’s brother who’s a chef.)

    • David

      October 4, 2012 at 6:48 pm

      Sure. But if the chef burns his food every night, if he’s always fixing because he’s just a really lousy craftsmen, then by all means, fix it. And learn how to cook without burning. But that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the same chef going on to become a teacher and teach his students that mediocrity is OK and that fixing your burnt dish is preferable, or on par with, learning to do it right in the first place. Might just be time to learn to free himself from the need to be a chronic fixer (as opposed to the occassional one we all become at some point or other) and study his craft a little more.

      • Robert

        October 6, 2012 at 11:11 am

        I guess I missed the point of your rant, then. I’d got the impression that you were opposed to any tools that helped fix problems.

        When I was studying cooking, one of the most useful classes was on how to salvage mistakes. As our instructor said, next time you’ll stir the sauce more, next time half the staff won’t have called in sick, tomorrow your supplier will have a full shipment, but tonight you need to serve an unexpected party of 12. Fixing mistakes and thinking outside the recipe to work around missing ingredients is key.

        Of course, you can’t do that without understanding how food works. Fixing a problem calls for at least as much skill as doing it right the first time.

  25. October 4, 2012 at 7:52 pm

    “You can’t polish a turd”……heard this at some photo workshop and usually think of my processing of RAW files as ” Polishing”

    I think it is hard for some photographers to realize that most of what they shoot is crap. Most of what I shoot is…but the odd gem keeps me coming back. Playing with pluggins is fun but not very useful.

  26. October 5, 2012 at 1:11 am

    Wise words as always mate, I’ve yet to use any additional presets or plugins for Lightroom although that mostly out of lazyiness. I have been surprised by the amount of flogging of presets going on lately though.

  27. Walter

    October 5, 2012 at 4:45 am

    I always enjoy your spirited rants about the futility of photography gear. The following may interest you, because it was written half a century before Photoshop even existed.

    http://www.apug.org/forums/forum220/110454-what-wrong-photography-1948-a.html

  28. October 5, 2012 at 5:56 am

    Great read! Really like your view here, and it like the saying: what you put in is what you get out. If you polish dog-turd, it’s still a dog-turd only polished, it’s not gonna be a jewl.

  29. Stephen McCullough

    October 5, 2012 at 6:43 am

    Seems like a reasonable rant to me.

    I certainly enjoy what software can help me accomplish. I’d have to say though that if there were such a thing as a very effective ‘unsuck’ filter, then photography would lose most or maybe all of its joy for me.

    I love the entire process, right through to holding a well-made print in hand. But it is the seeing of the moment, catching that light, using ever evolving skills to capture it, and then polishing in post; it is all of those things I enjoy.

    Sadly we live in times of instant gratification. My suspicion is that many of the instant fix filters and plugins are popular because the image then looks different, not necessarily better. I wonder how many of the resulting images will be remembered or viewed with pleasure a few years down the line?

  30. October 5, 2012 at 2:11 pm

    Right on David!
    could not agree more…
    I’m also a chef and agree with your friend. Once your restaurant starts bringing in more and more pre-made items, your path to mediocrity become more and more clear. I believe plugins can breed your own style right out of you before you even know it, just as selling pre-fab SaraLee cakes in a deli can do the same thing. You might think “WOW look how much labor this SaraLee cake has saved me!”, next thing you know you have lost customers and your soul.

  31. October 5, 2012 at 2:39 pm

    I heard the other day that it takes the average person about 10,000 hours of actually working at something new in order to “master” it (whether that thing is cooking or singing or photography). I’m not sure how far along I am on that 10,000 hour scale but I do know this: there is nothing else I can imagine doing in those 10,000 hours. Nothing else fills my soul. Nothing else pushes me out of my comfort zone. Nothing else makes me want to get up tomorrow and do it again. And again. And again.

    I learned from my father (a retired photojournalist) that photography is more about imagination than software, more about emotion than lens caps, and more about how the process of photography transforms you than how you transform the image.

    Hopefully, at the end of my journey, I’ll be every bit as beautiful as the images I create. Last time I looked, they didn’t make a plug-in for that. ;-)

  32. craig

    October 5, 2012 at 3:54 pm

    Hey David,

    The timeless beauty of film. The care taken to compose, expose, process, and print. Time to think about an image. Time to calculate exposure. Time to process or wait for processing. Anticipation of the images in your mind matching those on the celluloid. The profound joy of a good image, the discouragement of images that don’t match your preconceived notion of greatness. And the learning that comes over time spent developing and fine tuning this wonderful art form.

    Instant gratification is a dangerous temptress which can hamper one’s development toward the artist they could have been. Patience grasshopper, patience!

    Very good post David! Your words say it all…..

    Beat,
    Craig

  33. October 5, 2012 at 4:40 pm

    I didn’t want to spend time analyzing this rant, but I kept coming back to it with an uneasiness–which must mean I only want to make a brief response.

    Grab some words and make a proclamation. Blog it and see if it works. Take a photograph and zap it with a “plug-in.” Blog it and see if it works….

    Interpretation is subjective. Creativity is subjective.

    “There is no there there.”

    • October 9, 2012 at 10:01 am

      GDUB, My rant was an opinion and I’m fine if others disagree. Questions are more important than answers. But as a teacher, to so embrace the notion of subjectivity that we’re left without an opinion, what’s left? I wasn’t blogging to “see if works.” I posted that article because I’ve got a strong opinion and this is the place to do that for me.

      Creativity is subjective, I’ll go along with that. But that does not imply that we have to embrace mediocrity. If there is no there there, then why learn a craft at all? Why create art at all? Surely we want people to see it, experience it, react to it? Is the only acceptable response, “That’s nice.”? God help us.

      • October 9, 2012 at 2:47 pm

        David, I have no reference to the article that brought on this rant so I have to take for granted, if I’m going to agree with your opinion, that your explanation is word. I looked for a there there, and realized I needed to bring my own opinion and experience to the table to interpret your reasoning…

        It’s hard for me to imagine that a photography “expert” would assert to budding photographers that mediocre photographic technique is no longer an issue thanks to the plethora of magic plug-ins and filters available on the market today. That’s just ridiculous. I can, however, imagine an “expert” asserting that, because of advancements in post processing technology, there may be gems in the rough that deserve a second look after running them through X, Y or Z preset. My experience with my own work is that the “money shots” are instantly recognizable on the first pass through the library after import (I use Lightroom). While flipping through a second or third time, I have a half dozen or so presets that are my go to “turd shiners.” By applying one or more of these, I sometimes resurrect a shot I initially thought was headed for the trash bin. Occasionally, I uncover a “gem” that was completely missed on first pass…

        Anyway, excuse the elipsi (is that the right word??) at the ends of the paragraphs, but like I said, I didn’t want to spend the time analyzing this rant. Hopefully, you get my point. If not, well, let’s agree to disagree and move on to bigger and better things.

        • October 9, 2012 at 3:06 pm

          Plenty of room for disagreement, GDub. In the end this is (was) simply a reaction to something I found, and continue to find, profoundly disappointing in the culture of popular photographic education. Technology is an amazing thing but when it gets used by so-called teachers to polish mediocrity, I feel the need to at least raise the issue with my own community and students. What they do with that is up to them. As for the “experts,” you’d be surprised who gets that label attached to them (yes, myself included), with more regard for the amount of stuff they churn out than for their art itself. If all anyone takes from my rant is my plea that people be choosy about the voices and so-called teachers whom they listen, and they give some thought to how heavily they rely on “turd-polishers” then I think the rant’s worthwhile. If no one gets a thing from it, then I’m grateful knowing it’ll soon be buried by other posts and I’ve got it out of my system for a little while. :-)

  34. Edward Gill

    October 7, 2012 at 9:39 pm

    David,

    You’re absolutely right but you have to look at the upside. Think of what all the tools would cost if only the true craftsmen bought them? If every hobbiest, tinkerer, wannabe, and wonk passed on buying that D4, 5DmkIII, Lightroom46, Photoshop BS15, or the next great “this will take you to the next level” piece of gear or software – what would it all cost the folks that really need these tools in their day to day craft? Just grit your teeth and remember, if Canon only sold 500 MarkIIIs instead of 50000, they’d cost $25,000 each, minimum! Life is short, and the glass is always full to the rim, whether it’s air or water, it’s still full :).
    Hope you have recovered well from your accident – good to see you’re in the thick of it again. To borrow from another great Chef – Happy cooking!

  35. October 8, 2012 at 6:34 am

    Dear folks,

    wonderful to read the discussion here.

    One question: Can someone explain to me what is a good dish and what a bad one?

    I agree that fast food has nothing in common with freshly made things, but isn’t my mom a chef too since the whole family loves her food?

    In my opinion we have to discuss how to judge good/bad images and why do we like a picture and another not. Very quick we will be in a academic course about graphic design :)

    But still for me the photographer creates the image with all the basics needed to make it unique. Software maybe can underline it.

    Would Henri Cartier Besson take better images today with a 6000$ camera ???

    Happy Monday!

  36. Radford Davis

    October 8, 2012 at 11:17 am

    David,
    Well put. I’ve often walked past the window fronts of local photographers to see them display very ordinary portraits that they’ve processed with a dozen or so effects to jazz them up. Coming up with the best image you can straight out of the camera is always the best place to start, as you point out. But with so many composited images in advertisement, on magazine front covers, etc. we can understand why some people think it’s all in the processing. Make it edgy. Make it cool. Make it pop. Make it stand out. I guess it’s all in what you’re after and what you’re trying to say with your images. I want my processing to fly under the radar, not to call attention to itself most of the time. I’ve got enough repesets, thanks very much.

    Keep up the great blogs, and books!

  37. Greg

    October 8, 2012 at 9:26 pm

    Hey David,

    Longtime fan who enjoys your posts (and ebooks and podcasts) very much.

    If its OK to question a bit – this reads to me with lots of energy, and I’m just scratchin’ my head wondering – why the strong reaction? I have on many occaisions ‘fixed’ a shot that did not turn out as I had intended, and occaisionally the attempt to fix leads to learning something new and with a sweet outcome. I understand and agree that quality starts with the photographer, but there are folks whose talents perhaps falls more towards the [digital] darkroom aspect.

    Just sayin’ it felt like a lot of judgement in the rant and an energy I don’t typcially sense when reading you. Did I mis-read perhaps? I’m reluctant to post this, since I seem to hold the minority opinion this time, and I am, by nature, conflict averse.

    • October 9, 2012 at 9:55 am

      Perfectly fine to question, Greg. In fact, that’s really the point of the whole rant for me.

      I think perhaps it’s the context that most matters here. My rant was against the teaching – by teachers whom I feel should know better – that the use of plug-ins will take a mediocre photograph – one lacking the things that make a photograph truly resonate – and make it great. Yes, there was judgement, and still is. Without judgement (tempered, I hope by humility knowing my own teaching and work is being judged) what’s the point? Without being able to say, “this teaching is harmful” or “this work is mediocre,” why have an opinion at all? My way is not the only way, but for those that are interested in my opinion, I have a blog to make that opinion known. Most important is not that people agree with me but that they give the questions a fair shake and find their own answers.

  38. Anke

    October 9, 2012 at 5:14 am

    Hi David – I’ve been working in postproduction for almost twenty years, smoothing out fotographers “mistakes” (that really depends on the taste of the customer, but still quite a lot might have been avoidable by proper preparation before the shooting), that when I finally decided to really start photographing on my own, I promised myself to do it right (as much as I can at my current level of learning) – and try to leave photoshop etc. out as much as possible.
    My problem at this moment: I “see” my pictures in my mind as I want them to be – but still struggle to convince my camera to cooperate… :-)

    I really enjoy being “out there” taking pictures much more than sitting at my computer, fiddling around with the data and try to tweak a picture into something. I think I definitely must have done something wrong if I spend 30 seconds on taking a picture and 4 hours of post-production! :-)

    And yes – I’m pretty old-school considering my post-production: I leave plug-ins out as much as possible as I often don’t really understand, what they do to my pictures…. Hey, I’ve been around when photoshop didn’t even have layers! :-)

  39. October 9, 2012 at 11:22 am

    First I have to chuckle at the idea that anyone thinks your a hack…..

    Second, I use plug-ins but not in any standardized way in my workflow, just sometimes a photo just lends itself to a particular effect.

    Third, I can spend hours on an image I thought was gonna’ be great, yet the more I try and “save” it the worse it gets, so I just chuck it and move on. Fewer “good” images are much better than tons of mediocre images, to my mind. Though it hard to define “good” and “no so good” images, when I nail a great one, everybody I show it too seem to be able to recognize it, even when it’s very subtle.

  40. Ben Royal

    October 9, 2012 at 2:10 pm

    Past couple of months or so I’ve been displeased with my work. I kept shooting anyway. Yesterday your book Photographically Speaking showed up in the library. One word did the trick – “Intent”. Thanks. I may even buy the book now. :).

  41. Dave Ashworth

    October 9, 2012 at 3:06 pm

    I love how honest you are in your posts without regard to offending the people on the other side of your rant. I dig it. Thanks and please keep it up, we (your fans? students? aspiring photographers?) appreciate and need stuff like this.

    • David

      October 9, 2012 at 3:11 pm

      Thanks Dave. Truth be know, I do worry about offending. It’s not my purpose to insult or offend. But at the same time I didn’t write this for the sake of the people that should know better, I wrote it for my friends, students, readers. That said, we seem to live in a culture where, as Ralph Waldo Emerson said, we play too much by the rule book of nice and telling the truth gets set aside. Sure, we can abide by the “you can be right or you can be kind” mantra, but it’s no kindness to teach students short-cuts and mediocrity. Anyways, there I go again. All that to say, Thank you. :-)

  42. October 9, 2012 at 8:25 pm

    Thanks David for for speaking your views. I take from this post you are saying photographers need to do the the work to get the photograph right in the first place – lighting, composition, exposure, feeling, intent, etc.
    Then if needed/desired the plugins and other enhancing tools are available to further the intent. Or to go in a completely different direction artistically if so desired. But do the work to get the image photographically correct first. In other words, garbage in, garbage out still applies.
    Thanks for all your views – they always leave me with something to ponder. Please keep them going.

  43. October 11, 2012 at 5:54 am

    I think David’s point, which is very well written and expressed in my opinion, is that polishing is best left to diamonds, not turds. I, like most other photographers, use some level of post-processing on every image, as I shoot RAW and like negatives in the era before this, the final image must be “developed.” Processing is not evil–nor are plugins and other tools in an of themselves–but the original image must have a diamond inside or you’re just wasting your time and producing mediocrity. Thanks, David for this reminder at at time when technology allures many of us to take our “photographer’s eye” off the prize. Good composition trumps all.

  44. October 18, 2012 at 5:03 am

    […] David duChemin – World & Humanitarian Photographer, Nomad, Author. » Snake Oil & Comb-overs: A Rant. Amazing photographs are not made with plug-ins or Photoshop actions. They are made with the imagination and the heart and the mind. They are made with hands that know the camera well and with a mind that understand how to use it in service of vision. They are made from amazing light, great lines, and astonishing moments. No plug-in in the world will turn a mediocre photograph into something amazing. Patience makes great photographs. Composition makes great photographs. Vision and a desire to express makes great photographs. A great many things make great photographs; plug-ins are not among them, because if a plug-in or an action is a part of polishing a great image, and they can be, that image was already great. via davidduchemin.com […]