No Such Thing As Better

In Rants and Sermons, Vision Is Better by David196 Comments

It’s been a while since I’ve had a good, proper, rant. Part of that has been the adventure of this year; i think it’s softened me and given me more patience, made me a little more graceful. Another part of it, probably closer to the heart of the matter is that I’ve been busy doing other things and a good rant takes time to incubate.

Well if there is one thing I have had lately it’s time. And somewhere in all that time a rant’s been building. Actually a couple rants have been building, two of which may never see the light of day because when I finally release them to the wild it’ll be me that has to pick up the pieces. One of those rants is about HDR. I’ve finally snapped on that issue and if I hear one more supposed teacher post a ludicrously over-processed HDR image and tell the world it’s closer to what the eye sees things I might re-consider my reluctance to rant about it. Over-processed HDR robs us of shadows which we require to interpret the real world, which is why subtle use of HDR effects can be amazing and over-use sucks. If you teach photography and you tell me that HDR is closer to how the eye sees then it damn better be an image that looks even vaguely realistic, and it sure as hell better be a decent image to begin with. Layering 9 weak photographs together doesn’t make the original weak photograph better, it makes for a bucket filled with 9 layers of suck.

Dammit, I said I wasn’t going to go there.

The second rant has to do with finding a happy place in between the two toxic poles of mediocrity and snobbery. In the last couple years I attended a photography conference that I ended up referring to as a celebration of mediocrity. Presided over by so-called leaders and teachers and Explorers of Light, etc, I was astonished and disappointed that the bar was set so low. So, so, low. I would never advocate exclusivism nor snobbery. Never. I am the first to acknowledge that we all learn at different paces and in different ways and that art, such as it is, is meant to be about expression and that gives us enormous latitude. However, it’s time we all focused more on growing as artists and less on our egos. When we get serious about our art we’ll start looking for critics, not fans, and right now too many people are Without using the strong language I’d like to, it’s really, really, really, overdue for us to stop the lunacy about gear. Choose your tools, enjoy them, then make something amazing. We need to stop the feeding frenzy. We need to stop patting people on the back for derivative, repetitive, imitative work and lovingly encourage them to move forward. We need to lovingly tell people – and give the same people permission to tell us – when we’re stuck, lazy, or boring. We all do this for different reasons, so not for a moment am I suggesting we become a group of photographic vigilantes. I’m suggesting we ourselves settle less, over the long term, with work that is less than what it could be. But I don’t want to rant about that.

Shoot, I did it again.

The third rant, the one I very much want to give in to, is probably not much more than a re-rant. But Oh Lord am I tired of the discussions about going back to film because it’s better. Finally transitioning to digital or medium format because it’s better. Using wide angle lenses because, “they’re better.” And when one photographer knows his 35mm camera is better and one knows his DLSR is better and they get to squabbling, well, just shoot me now. There is no better. In fact, you know what’s better? Art. Expression. Forgive me  but the rest of it is merely a photographic wank; a substitute for actual photography. The best camera is the one you enjoy using. Right now I’m using my iPhone and loving it and straining at the bit to get the Fuji x100 that I’ve ordered to use while I recover. I’ve got 3 DSLRs, a 35mm Pentax, and a Hasselblad 500C/M. I love them all and use them for different things. Is one better than another? What does better even mean?

Might it not be time to stop worrying about the meaningless and overly-vague questions of which cameras, lenses, formats, computers, even photographers, are better, and return to the ongoing attempt simply to make photographs that are better and better at expressing ourselves and moving other people? That’s the only better that matters.

I know it’s all been said. But I don’t write my blog to disseminate new information but to hash it through for the sake of my own brain. Where this all – and by all I mean the last rant, not the first two, which, as I told you, I refuse to discuss – touches me is in the need to embrace more widely the photographic world, to try new techniques, new formats, to change my preferred lens or  aspect ratio once in a while in search not of better gear but a better process that leads me to stronger work.

** Ooops. I just got back from lunch with my father to find this had been published. Dang. I was going to sit on it a couple days, maybe do a re-write. Should probably learn to avoid hitting that publish button. Anyways, I’ll leave it sit as it is. But please know these are unedited thoughts. Might need to interact a little more in the comments to clarify things…



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  3. Spot on regarding HDR rant! at one point, all my fellow photo enthusiasts hopped on the bandwagon of HDR-ing everything! I think they deliberately scour under illuminated places just to show-off how well they can tweak a photo and turn it to HDR. thank you! thank you! thank you! what you said was beautiful.

  4. I don’t really consider myself a “pro” so a lot of this stuff just slips by me. I only recently learned that HDR even existed. 😀

    I am absolutely with you on the “better” thing, though. In my view, the job of our tools is to help us get the job done without those tools getting in our way. Whatever tools work best for you, those are the ones you should use. If I had a film camera, I wouldn’t even be taking pictures (I can’t afford to get the film processed)… so how is a film camera “better” than a digital for somebody like me? I just wish people would worry more about doing their own thing and less about telling others how they should be doing it.

  5. That’s one hell of a post and in my mind they are all valid arguments.

    I think most people struggle to make interesting and fresh images which all boils down to what we want to achieve in the end, if we even know.

    My worry is that, to some people, a 9 layered HDR ass-cake might actually be what they’re looking for which makes me wonder what mediocrity really is. I think I know what it means to me but it means something else to someone else but to me your argument is sound. as Bill Hicks screamed on stage with regards to modern rock musicians in Canada many years ago, “play from your f******g heart”.

  6. Nice intended and unintentional rants, even if unedited – I’m with you on the HDR issue, just never had the *ahem* to state it outright – “a bucket filled with 9 layers of suck” – lol!

  7. It would be my honor, David! I keep Vision Mongers near my workspace for inspiration from time to time.

  8. Author

    Carl – I’m the first to admit that we all do this for different reasons and so my ideals won’t apply to all situations and in fact be irrelevent in some, but I would argue that when the moment eludes us and we’re forced to make the best of the situation, the “best” thing we can do is learn from it, call those weaker images sketch images, and work towards getting the shot right the next time it happens. If you missed it, you missed it, and no amount of HDR or Photoshop Actions will salvage it. The solution is not to embrace more un-suck filters but less of them and to bring our craft up to speed and acknowledge that one of the things that makes great photographs great is the rarity of them. This is one of the things that distinguishes photography from painting.

    But again, my way is not everyone’s way, nor should it necessarily be.

    And I would be please to be on your podcast if you’re as nice to me there are you are here. 🙂

  9. David, I think we agree on “craft matters.” I would probably nuance the rest of your statement “any techniques that endeavors to mask a weakness…need to be shelved” with the fact that sometimes the moment we are trying to capture simply eludes us no matter how experienced we are and we end up having to do just that: mask a weakness and make the best of the situation. Otherwise, I agree that shortcuts are not really satisfying in producing our art.

    Cool topic. I appreciate the dialog. I must get you on my podcast sometime.

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  11. Author

    Carl – One of the great things about the arts is the fluid state in which they exist. There will always be innovators, people who go to extremes in one direction or another. Another great thing is that the field is open for comments and passionate ones at that.

    My beef is not primarily about the over-use of HDR (and by over-use I mean indiscriminate and without subtlety, and I’m happy to be one of the deciders, or at least to venture an opion) My beef is that so much of this stuff is being done by very young photographers who mistake an image with a forced impossibly broad dynamic range, for expression. It has become an Un-Suck filter. No moment. No composition. No regard for light. The same applies to any effect. Cranking your HDR sliders doesn’t substitute for learning the craft. In the end people are of course entitled to abuse HDR and it’s potential uses, to their hearts content. But those of us who teach are also responsible to teach craft, not the short-cut du jour.

    I’ve seen great photographs where manipulation of the dynamic range has been done beautifully and you’d never know. And I’ve seen buckets of crap. It’s not the fault of HDR, it’s the search for shortcuts.

    If there’s one thing I love about the art world it’s the passion and I’d happily talk to anyone who loves HDR as passionately as I generally (and with exceptions) loathe it. But then my friend Fernando reminded me there are times when over-cranked HDR technique can be used as intentional expression, and I’m all for that. He and I could have a beer, talk loudly and disagree and part great friends, because we love art and the photograph much more than we’re attached to one specific technique or fad.

    But at the heart of this for me is the argument that craft matters and any technique that endeavors to mask a weakness in composition or choice of moments, needs to be shelved while the basics are learned.

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  13. So I have a question…

    Who or what determines “HDR is over-processed” or “HDR is properly used”?

    It reminds me of similar conversations in the late 1800’s when those bad boys Van Gogh, Manet, Monet, Surat, Pissarro, Cezzanne, Gauguin, etc. were criticized for “over-processing” their oils, not “properly” rendering their paintings, not “being realistic” to the scenes they portrayed, using “gaudy colors”, etc.


    Got me scratching my head.

    Who is “they” anyway that’s prescribing what’s proper or not?

    Just want to know 🙂

  14. I used to do HDR for interiors, but I found bracketing exposures at different f stops was the way to go – and a huge time saver…my client loved the images just the same.

    I am hooked on great glass + Kodak Ektar @80 ISO for street stuff. If you still shoot film or have access to a a 35MM, get a roll of Ektar, meter then bracket +/- 1 stop. Just a thought.

  15. Rob, Thanks for the feedback. I do do that sometimes. Take a bunch of brackets and select just one image. Why go through all the hassles of processing an HDR if you don’t have to.

    Two reason for the HDR processing in Red Glow.
    1. There was so much dynamic range that very little of the shadow details would be there at all. It would be really dark and only the stairwell area would be visible. There was no electric lights and basically the only source of light was the stairwell.

    2. In addition to increasing apparent (simulated) dynamic range, HDR also can be used to increase texture. I didn’t want to over do it but there is a nice texture and patina on the walls that would not typically come out in a single photograph. There are plugins that add texture but they seem to me to be a bit more harsh.

    I did add back some of the shadow details on the left and right side of the frame. Now part of the “artistry” is to decide how much to bring back. As David talked about, the shadows are key in photographs… I’m happy with the level of shadows but I can certainly understand that others may want more.

  16. I have to respectfully disagree Rob. There is plenty of shadow detail in Red Glow. The image has great depth.

  17. Andy – not a rip…I do like your “Red Glow” image…but, why don’t you just bracket a few exposures on the tripod and pick the best of the crop?

    Give the shadows their “due”…too much detail may take away from the ambiance and emotion of the scene(s), imho. 🙂

  18. I agree Red Glow is beautiful and very much not over the top.

    A great example of what’s possible with a little restraint.

  19. Well, Andy, I like your images.

    A few, like “Waikiki Beach Walk“ are a bit over the top, but it all personal preferences.

  20. LOL, David. Your mini-rant on HDR is awesome. And I’m someone that does his share of HDR. Ask most HDR photogs and they claim that they don’t overprocess their stuff and it looks natural. I’m no different. Goes to show how different each of our distorted reality is.

    I guess you can be the judge of my level of “real” lightly processed HDRs. Here is a sample of my HDRs.

    Thanks for your wonderful blog and of course your inspiring photography. My best wishes for a quick and strong recovery.


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  22. Always love reading your rants David. The industry needs more people like you to rant about such things. Your last rant particularly resonates with me. A couple of weeks ago I was at a photography workshop. A couple of Canon users made comments about Nikon users. Sigh!!! Grow up, is all I can say.

    Look forward to your next rants.

  23. HDR is no tool…well maybe it is…;) It’s as much as a tool in the bag as a plastic hammer is on a carpenter’s job site…learn how to light and take what the Earth gives you…:)

  24. ‘When we get serious about our art we’ll start looking for critics, not fans’.
    A great quote David.
    Loved it and the complete post.
    A breath of fresh air.

  25. I haven’t used any HDR yet – still working my way rounds the basics. But the over-done HDR I’ve seen hasn’t inspired me too much, so I may never get to it while it is still fashionable. 🙂

    I do check out the gear other photographers use, as I consider myself a real neophyte in the field and am always looking for connection. Checking out 3 older men at a temple in Kyoto with DSLRs slung around their necks or up to their eyes led to them catching up with me later in the day, giving me some images they had just printed and some lovely origami. I can’t speak much Japanese, they didn’t speak English, but our gear said – “Hey, we all love this activity.” Not in the least bit competitive or snobbish – but a genuine if short connection.

    Mediocrity – isn’t that our biggest fear? It is mine. But, here again, I am a babe in the woods and struggling to find a voice that speaks a) want I want to say, and b) to others. Right now, I am never sure if my work moves beyond mediocrity to a ‘better’ level, or heads dowwards into not-so-good-happy-snapping. So – I run after ‘gurus’ hoping some better understanding will rub off on me, buy a zillion photography books, trying to glean a little more knowledge (I’m in China – the local photography club members are all Chinese and my language skills are MEDIOCRE!…. ), take as many images as I can, figuring out my gear, my techniques and my ideas.

    This blog keeps me level about the gear I do/not need, keeps the view of art separate from which brush and palate knife is the most useful and reduces the fear that can only be assauged by buying more stuff!!

    Sending healing vibes your way!

  26. Hello David. I don’t know how you read all the posts, or, if you do. There are a lot of good ones.

    To me, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. So, if you create it and like it, it is art to you and valuable to you. If others like it, well, you have communicated something to someone else that they can admire and enjoy.

    I agree with you and Russ Summers, if you know HDR was used, it is not very good.

    At first I was very upset about the over baked, overdone HDR. But, I think we can put those images in a new “genre” of photography. Some of them are very creative and good. So why not. Just call it what it is. If it is lliked and admired by others as a form or art, Great!

    I have learned the hard way… the camera or the lens will not make me a better photographer. So, I will keep on studying and practicing until I get the images that make me happy. This grandmother has spent way to much trying to have the best to get the best shots. I should have spent the last $4,000 on photography classes. 🙂

  27. The HDR debate has been going on for way too long. It’s another tool in the bag. That is it.

  28. PS – if you are in Chicago, I can bribe you with some great unknown local brews…screw photography!!! Hope you are healing well..

  29. David – please extend the “better” topic to include “reality”.

    I am one of those guys going back to film – bored to death with my DSLR, the 5D’s & D3’s don’t get my blood flowing. The new Portra 400, does…no right or wrong, just how I roll right now.

    With the resurgence of film for both amateurs and pros, there has also been a lot of talk about “keeping it real” with film. Truthfully, some of my favorite film images that get just a wif of curves adjustment, though I love them, are the result of the light mixing with the lens, mixing with the emulsion. Nothing “natural” or “real” here. But it is cool and “honest” for me – it’s the net I dragged with and the filter that brings it to the screen.

    The very cool 3200 ISO B&W emulsions are just beautiful for me to shoot. The look of real B&W with real grain, not filters/noise/add present a romance and feel that even the most prolific Photoshop/Lightroom jockey will have a hard time seamlessly re-create. Regardless, it will always be a simulation and not the “real deal”. Digital shooters should just shoot and forget trying to be “film like”. There is nothing “better” or “real” about film over digital…they are just 2 different pallets that appeal to different tastes.

    HDR vs. DuChemin Lightroom work flow. I am not a fan of *most* PS/LR post processing. However, I do love what you do. I know it’s not real; you graciously show us the before vs. after looks. It is image making I can digest and enjoy. i have no desire to go out and copy it. It is what it is and I like it.

    The only thing that bugs me from time to time are the digital guys and gals who say they can accurately duplicate any image to look like film. Only in their considerably inflated egos. To me, there is something about the depth and qualities of shadows both in color neg and B&W film…I have a few images, but some here may want to check out the work of Jose Villa or Elizabeth Messina. If someone can duplicate that end result with a DSLR, I am all ears.

    I like the spirit of this post and most of the replies…shoot and let live..except HDR. HDR? Really guys. If you want “real” depth, shoot some MF film (that can be taken several ways…”medium format”).

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  31. I have just read your blog David and it has been so refreshing to hear you put into words what lots of us have been thinking. As assistant to an equine photographer our particular niche of the market is being littered with photographers of the “spray and pray” variety “if it’s in the frame and in focus they will buy it” – it is so good to hear your rant as your books have been inspirational to us. Sarah

  32. Great rants. Love to play games, and that’s what HDR is to me. B/w, on the other hand is my lifeblood. Gear is a tool, just that and nothing more. And as for effete snobs nattering on intellectually about a process we do intuitively ….. let them natter away, as long as they continue to spend their money on my work so I can pay my bills, I’ll listen to any bull doody they want to spew.

  33. Greetings, David. It’s been quite a while since we corresponded following the release of WTF.

    Regarding HDR, I think it’s time that we acknowledge that a schism has developed separating what it’s proponents sometimes refer to as “baked HDR” from that version that is employed simply to correct for the finite and ISO-dependent dynamic range of imaging devices.

    In my work on Blanchard Springs Caverns, a developed cave system in the state of Arkansas, I used HDR pretty much exclusively to cover the range of luminosity from the inky blackness of a cave to those areas directly lit by artificial means. However, the HDR technique is completely transparent.

    In my opinion, HDR should be sort of like the magician’s sleight-of-hand : if you can figure out how the trick was done, they weren’t much of a magician, were they?

  34. David, you’ve now convinced me that to be a BETTER photographer, I should be the first Explorer of HDR. Thanks for the insight!

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  36. @David. I have to disagree with your comment to Nexus about great teachers needing also to be great practitioners. Just because you don’t have the “gift” yourself doesn’t necessarily mean that you aren’t gifted in opening that awareness up in others with the gift.

    To use an analogy, it is often the mediocre athletes that make the best coaches because it didn’t come easy to them; they had to consciously work at and think about their sport to understand the mechanics that goes into the skill of that athletic discipline. For someone with a natural ability, they didn’t necessarily have to think about it and they often don’t understand the how or why of what they are doing. In baseball some of the best pitching coaches are catchers. They understand intimately the art and science of pitching and have observed and studied it for so long that they are better able to teach that craft to the young gun with a cannon attached to their shoulder even though they never faced a single batter in their career.

    I can’t speak for your knowledge and study of the history of photography, but I often find that much of the ranting and raving about today’s processes are often made by people who aren’t very aware of where the discipline of photography has evolved from. It only takes a brief flip through the catalog of Man Ray or WeeGee to appreciate that even over-processed HDR isn’t out of the realm of the Art of Photography. You may not like it, and you may take exception with the claim that it is a truer representation of what the eye sees, but it is a valid form of expression. We may also not get the genius of someone like Robert Frank or Eugene Atget or William Eggleston, but they do have a vision for the seemingly mundane that is brilliant.

    Also mediocrity is relative. Ask the flood victim how valuable all of those vernacular snapshots of their departed loved ones where and their answer would be “priceless,” and their sense of loss would be immense. You may not like it if your potential clients are buying crap or if people are being swindled by the “You too can” infomercials that are trying to separate those seeking to improve from their cash without providing value, but so what if the AMWAC’s feel good about Little Joey’s badly lit, badly composed, tilting horizon portrait they shot in Scene Mode on their $2K DSLR with a kit lens that makes farina seem as sharp as a knife. Or even so what if people are happy with the subpar professional work that they are buying from portrait studios or wedding photographers, etc. so long as they are happy with it and they feel they got value for their money.

  37. David…First off, best wishes for your continuing recovery.

    Second, I burst out laughing when I read this. You have ranted for me and saved me the trouble of doing it on my own blog!

    I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen HDR articles in mags and books supposedly showing how great it can be, and the sample photos are the most over-the-top ludicrous looking photos ever. Completely overdone to the point of obvious poor judgement.

    I’m with you on this! Very funny (and true!) post. Feel better soon!


  38. You are obviously a big shot photog, so I doubt you need my comment… but I agreed with what you said. 😉 I’m currently in an iPhone picture stage and my DSLR has only had one or two days out of the bag this month. Who gives a flip? I’m making pictures for me… ones that I LOVE. That’s what matters. Each day I learn a little more — and my PICTURES get better, whether my gear changes or not.

  39. So with the HDR teachers saying things like HDR is closer to how the eye sees (which even as an HDR supporter I call B.S. on) and you mentioned the eye needing shadows to interpret a scene.

    Does anyone have any good recommendations for learning this type of stuff? Personally stuff like photoshop filters and effects are fun candy, but that’s it. The stuff like “make your blacks black” and visual perception are really what blows my mind.

    I’ve read all of the craft and vision books (awesome) but I want to diversify a bit as well. Any suggestions?

    Thanks in advance

  40. Author

    @ Jared Chapin – Of course you’re welcome to do so but it might be a long wait. Don’t mistake my rant for me being in a bad mood. In fact far from it. I’m finally in good humour enough to tackle issues about which I am passionate and to do it with some lucidity. If you’re looking for smiles and chuckles all the time you won’t find it here on my blog. I like to think I’m playful enough about these things to be open-minded, but I also care enough about photography and the photography community that deserves so much more, that I’m willing to voice my opinions.

    But by all means, come back when the dust settles. We’ll be talking about kittens and rainbows again in no time! 🙂

  41. Thank you! You pretty much covered all of us with those three “rants” – – and now we should all spend some time thinking about how we can improve our art by applying those thoughts!
    Continue to heal and hope you are back on your feet soon!

  42. I agree with all 3 rants and I love the fact you have a 35mm Pentax – I have two 35 mm Pentax’s and a Pentax K5. You won’t believe how some people with the other 2 brands act like I’m carrying a Tinker Toy – Snobbery +.

  43. I made a vow to never discuss the merits of HDR about a year ago when I totaled up the amount of time I was spending writing about HDR. In one week back then I literally spent over ten hours discussing HDR in blogs and other places. TEN F’ING HOURS!!! …out of life talking about HDR.

    That being said I am breaking my vow briefly here. There is an artistic place for all forms of HDR. Let the oversaturated, no deep shadow HDR have its day. It will pass for the most part and there will be a few photogs who like it and sell it well. So be it. Five years from now it will be replaced by the next thing. Maybe 3D… then we can argue all over again.

    I will add to your rant though about Photographers (notice the capitalization). The pros that make a living off other photographers (notice the lack of capitalization) versus making a living off creating great photographs. There is such a deluge of podcasts, gear talk, the “10 steps how to” ebooks, etc., etc all very thinly disguised as a means of separating us from our money; and our time actually shooting. I am tuning most of them out and shooting more. I know its not new, but Photographers making money off photographers is getting crazy and the overall quality seems to be going down. The only thing I do listen for (and will pay money to) is a really good pro that creates what I consider great images and shares effectively his vision/passion and how he creates them.

    One last little bit. I was out shooting Sunday morning morning in my “cathedral”; a state park outside Austin, TX and had scrambled up a granite cliff to get a picture of Yuccas in the sun. After about ten minutes of setting up and shooting I forgot I was on a ledge on the cliff. I fell only about four feet down to the granite below. After shaking it off I thought about you.

    Hope your recovery goes well!

  44. Great rant and it was perfect timing as I just had my own mini-rant about HDR this morning! I saw some HDR photographs that didn’t seem to have any true blacks – they just looked bizarre and over-exposed to me.

  45. Hi David,

    Hope you are recovering well. I agree with you whole-heartedly about the greater need for good critics in the photo community. Chris John’s Editor’s Note in the May 2011 issue of National Geographic is dedicated to David Arnold a Photo Editor who passed away recently; it discussed the value a great photo editor (at times critic, at times coach) can have on the career and development of a photographer.

    Also in the May NatGeo issue is an article about Abelardo Morell’s work with photographing images he produces using Camera Obscura, which I think gets to the heart of your third rant about expanding your creative palate to create compelling images.

  46. Couldn’t agree more with HDR. It’s actually a reason why I haven’t dipped my toe in those waters..It’s good to have you back David! Astounded to read about your accident/fall, and am just grateful that you’re safe. I may like other photographers, but you’re the only one I read because I adhere to your vision/philosophy.
    Bonne recuperation!

  47. David,

    As an intermediate who is still learning a lot and struggles with the array opinions, see pointless arguments, see many bewildering post-processing products and methods, I value the sanity of your rant. We all need to strike a balance, develop the basic skills and focus on what make is quality.

    Mediocrity is a bane in our world just as extremism is also a problem. I am constantly amazed how often mediocre images and extreme processing are accepted as wonderful art and images.
    Again, it is all about balance, being true to basics, and true oneself. Keep getting well.

  48. I think all three rants are legitimate – and it is better to get them out there than let them sit inside and simmer. I definitely appreciate the first rant the most. I, too, am tired of the over-processed HDR. While it might have a place (if it is your intent to make the photo look like that), not all HDR needs to look that way. I am much more interested in the subtle use of HDR, if appropriate. It is another tool to use to help make your photos look like they do inside your head.

  49. Nice Rants. Good to see that you are healthy enough to keep us on track.
    HDR is only a technique, and currently a fad. It will probably be overused, fall out of favour, and then come back in use where most appropriate.
    Gear is easy. Easy to get, easy to argue about, and easy to blame. ‘If I had a better camera, lens, etc, my images would be better.’ It’s also good for manufacturers. Spending time and energy learning and perfecting technique, developing ones vision, and crafting quality images is more difficult and there is no one to blame for failure but oneself. Focusing on gear is better.

  50. Author

    @Nexus – Now that would be a challenge wouldn’t it. The thing is, as is often the case, I am part of the problem. I just don’t have the balls (nor should I, I think) to single people or individual images out and call people out for mediocrity. Furthermore, I think any working standard of mediocrity is going to depend on context. What is mediocre among a group of seasoned artists, or even among my own portfolio, is going to be different than what is mediocre among Grade 12 photography students.

    My big complaint is that we seem, by focus on gear and egos, to be making a culture that encourages mediocrity. It happens in so many ways, not least of all the push to create quantity over quality. We’ve got to be among the most neurotic of arts communities when it comes to output. A counter-cultural shift that swung us in the other direction and encouraged people to slow down and aim for, not 12 good photographs a week or one a day, even, but instead to work towards 12 great photographs a year, would change the way we approached gear, the way we used our time, and how mindful we approached our photographs. We’d begin looking at it completely differently and i think it’s the change in perspective that would encourage us away from mediocrity.

    Our elder statesmen, like Jay Maisel, on the other hand, have both the credentials and the platform to speak to this issue. We just need more of them. And we need to listen.

    One of the problems is that so many people are claiming to teach these days and they simply don’t have the chops, the experience, or the cred, to be teaching. They are good teachers, some of them even better marketers, but they are not creating mature work. That’s putting it nicely. If a teacher has more photography books on the market than they have compelling photographs, then that’s part of the problem.

    Wow, long reply, and I’m just getting warmed up. Perhaps I should write something that’s a little more intelligent once I’ve had a chance to incubate the thoughts for a while. Thanks for the question. Sorry I didn’t reply in quite the way you were hoping.

  51. Hi David, get well soon and have a quick recovery!
    I think there no such thing as bad or good, better or worse, etc; it´s just “your” point of view/conviction how you see things, like William Blake once wrote: “…the tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way…!”
    (I´ve been to Pisa myself with my family on the 25th April and also been along the Lingurian coast without knowing you guys were on tour too;)
    Cheers from Bavaria, Werner

  52. Did someone forget to drink their coffee? Just kidding, of course! 🙂
    Seriously, though, I think you have some great points. There’s one thing I’d like to add, though, in regards to shooting film. And, that is that shooting film can help one to slow down and really think before hitting the shutter. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not slamming digital…in fact, I shoot mostly digital, and have for a number of years. When you shoot film, though, machine gunning is not as likely to be a problem like it can sometimes be (if you’re not extra careful) when you shoot digital.

  53. I’m curious about what you call mediocrity. I really would love to see examples of pics you feel are mediocre or cliche that are celebrated. I really want to know (not being sarcastic or trying to start anything, i have just graduated and i have found my head is bombarded with so much crap right now, that i’ve enjoyed reading your rants but would love to see some examples)

  54. Randy my friend, you should know better than expect anything else from Henry’s sales fest. If you’re looking for a good bargain on something, line up early Friday morning, go directly to their stand, get the stuff you want quickly and then head out without looking back!
    The funniest thing I’ve seen there was a seminar by Gary Fong at which I’ve learned the most important piece of kit missing from one’s bag is the Lightsphere.
    Sorry you had to go thru all that my friend…

  55. Randy Romano – Brilliant. A couple of years ago I would have given anything to attend a big photography trade show. Now even the thought of it makes me sick.

  56. Pingback: Article by Bruce Percy – Does ‘Bad’ HDR remove mystery? « «Ziganny Photography Light Diary Ziganny Photography Light Diary

  57. I am loving this discussion thread. Just to toss another idea into the mix. I can’t afford the latest and greatest equipment, but I believe art is in the eye and heart, not the tools.

    I am a teacher as well as photographer. In the fall I will teach a new high school American Literature course that I am creating: Through the Lens, Interpreting Literature Through Photography. (I am thrilled to combine my passions in this way.) I don’t care WHAT equipment my students use. Some of them have better cameras than I do. I don’t care what photo editing they use. Film or digital. I-Phone or Poloroid. Whatever tool they use, I want their VISION to prevail. I want them to capture the mood, theme, concepts, characters, and message of the literature—and then defend it.

    Too many teenagers are expected to recite the “right” answers in order to pass a test. This mentality tends to become habit, which means the next generation is going to be desperate for out-of-the-box leadership.

    I plan to be the teacher who trains those leaders. There is hope as long as there are a few of us who persist in being unorthodox.

  58. Author

    Randy Romano – Thanks for the beautifully-written comment. I’m with you, man. Glad to have you here. 🙂

  59. Author

    stephen, thanks for the reply. You’re right, not much new here. But honestly, there’s not much new out there anyways. I’m a bit of a one-trick pony anyways. But if being an unplugged one-trick pony works for you, then I’m happy, with or without the narcotics. 🙂

  60. David glad to have read your latest rants. Wish you a quick recovery and all the best moving forward.

    I am not a real believer in God or some kind of superior being in the world, but I do believe in some kind of spiritual force that binds humanity together. The reason I say this, is because your rants always seem to touch me at a time when something similar has just happened to me. Don’t really know how to explain it, but I will elaborate on the similar incident. I was in Toronto yesterday with my son, touring the college that he will be attending in the fall. After the tour we decided to take in a Photography Trade Show that was happening this weekend. Ben likes cameras and technology and of course I love making images, so why not. Needless to say I was really disappointed at what I saw. Rows and rows of equipment and manufacturers. People were in a frenzy picking through skids of bargain camera bags, printers as well as fighting at the booths to purchase stuff. Beautiful female models stood in front of the latest LED lights and reflectors while men with $5000 cameras and lens fought for position to take their photos.

    Now maybe I am crazy or even a bit naive, but is this what photography is? A fight for gear or just to take mediocre photographs? Don’t get me wrong I love cameras and lens, as well as beautiful women. but I completely agree with you that it is ultimately the final images that truly matters. To me it is being in the field and experiencing the world around me and trying to capture a sense of what I am seeing or feeling. that is the essence of photography Even more important, and I realize this especially as I am getting older, is making images that will somehow help to create positive change in the world. To maybe even move the viewer to act towards helping the planet or adding something different to move people’s souls. Photography is so much more than gear, it is about creativity and creating positive change in the world. Seeing this gear frenzy made me realize that consumerism, not only badly effects our society, but also effects our creativity as humans. Many of us have become addicted to buying and not utilizing the tools we have to their fullest. I think David you are right when you tell us we need to rise above gear and make images that reveal our true creativity. Making images just for the sake of using high end gear is really just being a monkey pushing buttons.

    Again all the best for a quick recovery, as we need more voices on a freedom from gear and a move towards more creativity.

  61. 3rd Rant: I recently have had a personal resurgence of film, not because it’s better, but because it’s different. It’s been 20 years since I shot much film and shooting film makes you think differently. I won’t ever give up my digital but exploring or re-exploring new or old things is a great way to expand my vision. And as a great photographer once said “Vision Is Better”!

  62. David,

    First, best wishes for your continued recovery. In the darker moments, know there are a lot of people rooting and praying for you.

    Now, please don’t take this the wrong way. I don’t find anything entirely new in this post: you have expressed much of this before. The difference is the tone. It’s the same duChemin, but, um, unplugged as it were.

    I hope we can have more of this, without the need for you to leap off walls just to get some interesting drugs.

    What you said here resonates. Cool.

  63. By the way, does this also mean that Instagram doesn’t make bad pictures better?

  64. Wow, I love the depth, passion and thought that has gone into the comments on this blog. I rarely comment on blogs, and I hardly ever subscribe to comment feeds, but I am so glad I did subscribe to this one.
    Count me in as a regular from now on.

  65. David, the last sentence of Rant #1 is going into my personal log of photography quotes :-).

    I wrestle with the film/digital discussion too. One thought: people just aren’t able to find the right words, or are not honest enough to use them, to say, “I never had the money or room for all the film equipment and didn’t want to leave 2/3rds of my process in other hands. Digital gives me back that control.”. All the other BS is just that.

  66. Agreed.

    HDR is a technique and nothing but. Used properly it can add to the vision of the photographer. Nuff said…

    On rant #3.
    Digital vs film. Who cares. Whatever works for you is what works for you. I recently heard Larry Towell present his work and he’s still using film. Does that mean he’s to be written off. No. He’s is of the best photographers around and a full member of Magnum. And still producing incredibly moving work.

    Yes digital has changed the game, but it hasn’t changed our ability to take photographs. You still need an eye for composition. I feel ever since digital entered the picture, we have become so gear focused. If a piece of gear works for you, then it works for YOU. Not the guy next to you, but for YOU. We somehow feel that if Photographer A uses gear B and gets result C. And that if we plug in the same values we’ll get the same results. Does one ask Picasso what brand of paint brushed he used to create his masterpieces? Silly, of course.

    Many years ago I took a photo workshop with Freeman Patterson, who’s philosophy is all about vision. (look him up if you don’t know who he is) And then you look at his camera gear. An older style SLR, and not an L lens to be seen. Why, because he’s more concerns with his vision and his art than his gear. It’s too easy to get carried away by the latest and greatest, and camera manufacturers know this.

    One of the reasons I keep coming back to David’s blog is because he talks about photography as an art. Every once and again he brings up gear, but always reminds up that gear is good, vision is better.

  67. Rant 1. There’s photographers whose work I LOATHE because their HDR images of places I have seen with my own two eyes look NOTHING like the place itself. It makes me quite cross (<– understatement) because it feels like false representation. And most often, shows the place in a less beautiful light than what it looks like in real life.

    Rant 2. Fuck yeah (oops, can I swear like that here?)
    I'm bored of 'nice' photos that all look the same, or are technically correct that fail to evoke any kind of emotional response.

    Rant 3. I'm no pro but I love my cameras. I also understand that having an amazing camera and gear does not make a good photographer. The gear is only ever as good as the person behind it. I have polaroids, a kodak brownie, a cheap film camera, a dslr, a compact camera and an iphone and love/use them all for different reasons.

    Another excellent piece of writing David. Hope you are on the mend.

  68. Quote David:
    “…and return to the ongoing attempt simply to make photographs that are better and better at expressing ourselves and moving other people? That’s the only better that matters.”

    Now above all this is the most important sentence/message at least for me. For me the only thing that matters is a photo touching s.o., transporting a message, catching the eye of a viewer and inviting a viewer to stay. This is worth all efforts possible. And all time available.

    But do we really give it all our available time? Aren’t we maybe discussing to much ourselves, sitting in front of the pc e.g. trying to convince others of this goal (= the photo matters, nothing else), trying to convince them that e.g. gear doesn’t matter etc. ? That photography is more than gear or specific ways like analog or digital, HDR etc. ? Aren’t we maybe taking too much time, spending it in such efforts ? Isn’t that time, that is somehow sort of “ lost” for ourselves, sort of maybe wasted for ourselves? Because we can’t change the world as such and people just have different preferences in photography ?
    And maybe are obviously pleased with them as well as absolutely convinced about ?

    There is a prayer, which is said to be written by Reinhold Niebuhr:
    “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, And wisdom to know the difference.”

    Shouldn’t we maybe better just go out and spend all our time on our own photography instead of timeless efforts in trying to convince others having different preferences in photography ?
    To advance our photography instead, to work on it, to achieve our goal ?
    It’s such hard work with many many “downs” before one ever sees or feels an “up”. Work that needs time, again and again, new trials, new ways to go maybe, desperation, frustration, failures and happiness being your permanent followers, although the first ones more often than happiness. This work takes us to our own limits, maybe beyond. And it takes all our time available and all our energy, doesn’t it ?

    Shouldn’t we better concentrate on this?
    And work with people we know or meet having the same goal ?
    Discussing with them the photos and ways of working on them ?

    Instead of discussing and trying to change what maybe can’t be changed ? Like the endless discussions on the value/importance of gear e.g. ?

    Should we maybe prefer to work on our own photography ?
    Or should we work on photography as such, generally ? And if we should do this, how can we combine this with our personal photography and our personal goal in photography ?

    All the best wishes for your further recovery
    Ann-Lisa from

  69. Author

    John F – I don’t feel an apology was needed, but clearly you do, so please know that I’m grateful for the thought. I sincerely took no offense and am always pleased when people here feel comfortable enough to push back, and to voice their own thoughts. What I most want is a place where Ideas can be spoken about, even passionately, in an atmosphere of respect and kindness. So while the point may have got itself lost in there somewhere, your respect and openness to discussion did not. At no point did you come off like a tool. 🙂 So, thank you. And thank you too for the kind words. I’m glad you are part of this community.

  70. Rants are typically good. They often get folks thinking and engaging. Focusing more on art and less on egos is a good thing. It seems to be more polarized in photography somehow. I’ve never had anyone poopoo me for using Novacolor paints instead of Golden. As for HDR, most of it is clumsy and heavy handed and not at all representative of how we actually see. Sort of like 3D in film. It just comes off as gimmicky and little more than a distraction, trying to mask the fact that you’re not really looking at anything interesting, other than “all those purdy colors”.


  71. Rants, like art, need to be published.
    Not to be agreed with, or disagreed with.
    But to get it out there.
    To make people think.

  72. David

    I re-read my post and want to apologize for how I came across last night. I feel like I even missed my point entirely.

    While I’ll still stick up for grunge HDR, I wasn’t calling you a snob. I don’t feel that you are. Quite the opposite in fact. I did feel like it opened the door for commenters to kick it while it was down, which is why my instinct was to jump in on its behalf.

    Honestly I’ve been following your work since within the frame. That book, vision and voice, as well as your creativelive workshops changed my view on photography and set me down the right path. “make your blacks black and your whites white” opened a lot of doors with that simple sentence and I honestly wish more people taught that level of the real basics. I also bought the war of art on your recommendation during the creativelive workshop and I’m just digging into it.

    So anyway, my sincere apologies if I came across as a tool. I had a point in there somewhere and lost it in the Internet trollishness. I get and respect the hell out of what you do. You’re one of the few out there who shows the messy side of making art just as openly as every other piece.

    John F

  73. David–if you are well enough to go to lunch with your father–you must be much improved. Wonderful news.

    Your rants are right on target, and needed to be expressed as a purveyor of techniques to help an individual find his/her own vision; you are simplifying what is important in that self discovery. I disagree with the gentleman above who says not to study someone else because, when I began to photograph, my technique improved enough through the study of others that I can now focus on developing my vision. I needed to understand the medium.

    The overdone HDR thing going on these days is nuts–and I hope is a passing fancy. I like your quote above and wish to reshare it with others if you don’t mind: “The moment people are more impressed by your technique than the thing you are expressing, you’ve created something less than art.” Well said. I don’t see an oil painting and concentrate on the oils. Although, I am sure we will have those that disagree…..

    Take care…

  74. Great stuff. I’m sick of photographers and the photography industry being a big sales pitch — I’m finally off the gear chase now, and still won’t pay thousands to attend some conference’ where they just try to upsell us even more (!?)

    Money can’t buy vision, talent, or truly creative work; hard lesson to learn, and expensive too. Hopefully posts like yours will save some from the chase 🙂

  75. 🙂 I love rants – you did it well 🙂

    Interesting timing on this post – I’ve been assisting Anna on another Architectural Photography workshop up at SFU this weekend – and we discussed the same points yesterday with the group.

    Thanks for posting it unedited – refreshing.

  76. Sometimes it can be very refreshing to hear a rant that mirrors one’s own thoughts…Other times it can be refreshing to have said rant also slap you upside the head. Either way, much appreciated.

  77. 1) I agree with you David a bad image is a bad image regardless of what processing procedure one uses, and over cooked HDR is the worst.

    2) Awesome…. if i hear this word one ore time I’ll throw up!!! I’m a European, British to be exact, I find that a lot of people (north Americans in particular) feel they have to say that what ever image they look at is Awesome, wonderful etc., etc. weather they like it or not because they don’t want to offend the originator.

    Hell, if you don’t like it then say you don’t like it but be honest no one is going to kill you and your are not helping the originator either because they aren’t able to grow. So be honest and speak you mind.

    3) It seem to me that the majority on photographers are far too interested in what camera, lens, f-stop,shutter speed etc. etc.was used to create an image be it film or digital, does it really matter, NO!!

    David like Scot B. said early, it’s refreshing to read something that come direct from the heart/brain/fingers. Let’s have more


  78. Thanks for the rant! Found your blog from a repost on a friend’s FB page and it was very refreshing to read.
    I post my work to a photography forum and crave the rare true critique rather than the same old ‘nice job’ posts.
    I have to confess to use of HDR in my work but hope that my composition and light makes for a strong image and the HDR is only seen as a tool. I would welcome a kick in the butt if you think I’m overdoing the HDR stuff on my blog.

  79. Wish I were eloquent enough to write a post like yours.

    Only like a few of the HDR photographs I’ve seen. Never cared too much for photo celebrities that can’t back up what they say with good work. And would prefer someone telling me what they don’t like about one of my photographs instead of a glazed-over “that’s nice”.

    Get well soon.

  80. I don’t know if the Italian incident is making you more or less rant prone. I only knew you teacher-like guy who writes good stuff on vision.
    I do feel the world needs less bullshiting photographers. You were not one to begin with, and now you’ve gone to “speak up mode”, which I count a positive …

  81. It’s probably unavoidable but it would help if photographers, beginners and seasoned pros alike, stopped listening to other photographers. The whole photography industry needs to stop relying on each other for ideas – artistic, gear-related, HDR techniques – whatever. It just creates a big merry-go-round and scares some people, especially beginners from jumping off and finding their own vision. Unfortunately there are plenty of people in the industry that just feed off each other for survival and it’s become boring. Photographers interviewing other photographers on podcasts is one example. Beginners listen to them (me included a few years ago) and just hear the same old shit over and over again. It just feeds the industry and makes everyone think we need the latest gear, or need to use the latest technique. Of course there are exceptions, your blog being one of them, Smogranch another. But for the most part I’ve given up following the so-called big names out there because they just regurgitate the same old rubbish.

    I’ve been playing around with film recently but I still shoot digital. It’s good fun. Pure and simple. Gear does matter, but as you’ve said a thousand times, it should be chosen and used for the specific situation. But yesterday I posted a short rant on Twitter about telephoto lenses and photojournalism/street photography. I did so after spending countless hours looking at examples of both genres and realised that, personally, I thought that the wider shots always worked better. I suppose, after reading your rant, I was wrong to post it even though it was an observation I strongly believe in. Use whatever gear you like, but human interaction should trump hiding in a corner like a ninja and stealing shots.

    Oops.. I’ve gone slightly off topic, but this is a rant post isn’t it 🙂

  82. 1st rant – bad HDR does not anger me the way it does other people, but ONLY because I’ve seen people with terrible standard portrait and wedding work complaining about HDR landscapes and architecture. I don’t think bad HDR is any worse than a bad photograph using any other technique. Good and bad exist within every technique and genre of photography so I just see it that way. I get your point though.

    2nd rant – I am very not a “fellowship” kind of person. I like 1 on 1 connections with people and even in social media, I talk to the same people over and over daily. I am not in any major organizations or anything for photography. I was never in a sorority in college. I no longer involve myself in most adult social groups. I am not shy at all, but I don’t like subcultures that feel annoying and forced. I prefer a few meaningful relationships. Group stuff for the most part just is not for my life. Thus, I don’t know what is going on mediocrity or snobbery wise in photography so your perspective on it is really interesting.

    3rd rant – I have to continually take deep breaths dealing with this. There are some people who are NEVER going to accept this. NEVER. On top of that, they are going to badger other people (like me) about it who are not interested in these stupid arguments. I call people like this “gearsluts.” Frustrating. I tweeted this yesterday “some people believe it is gear not talent/vision that makes images, as gear = FINITE and talent = INFINITE. INFINITE frightens people.” I believe the core issue is a psychological one, not a photographic one.

    I really enjoyed this post. I hope you continue to heal. 🙂

  83. Well said, even in draft form. It’s often the things we mean to say that need to be said, not the second proofed & slept on versions, it’s more like a real conversation.

    Wishing you a speedy recovery, though if this is what lots of thinking time does for you, then maybe the enforced rest to stop, think, throw some views and ideas around is therapy for the mind while the body is undergoing repairs.


  84. Just tonight we had some friends over for dinner and some cards – on showing them some of the photos from a recent trip, one chimed in “Look at these photos – that’s what a $1000 camera gets you instead of a P&S”

    My response, “Thanks, glad you liked it, but to let you in on a secret – about half these photos were with a rinky dinky P&S…it’s not really the camera, it’s the scenery and how someone catches it…like saying nice pots cook better food”

    My wife kicked me under the table and I muttered “Thanks” and shut up… *sigh*

  85. So nice to see unedited thoughts without all the pretence to pleasing the masses. David, your post may have been published sooner than you planned but this kind of honesty is very much appreciated.

    I like that the first two rants, get carried away and almost develop a life of their own.. that shows a passion in your beliefs.

    re: HDR it is a topic I am quickly tiring of.. I often get people liking my HDR work, which is quite illuminating as they are single processed standard 14bit images edited in LR and using nice lighting.

    I shy away from grad filters as well after a conversation with Colin Prior about tell tail signs. This makes getting the image harder I admit, and it is a personal choice but one I am happy with.

    as for your second rant, it is a fine balancing act when dealing with other photographers.. but on a personal level I am probably my harshest critic and constantly strive to improve. I appreciate well thought out critic about my images. I listen, I evaluate and I take on board or throw it away. critic is an opinion, ‘nice photo’ or ‘wow’ are nice to hear but not very sustaining to self-development. A well thought out response to an image reveals a great deal about how that images is received.

    as for better.. that is like saying something is good or bad. There is a lovely chinese tale about what is good or bad luck, with the response each time of how do you know? I have images I admire and images I don’t get. The gear used to get the image is not a consideration, so why all the focus on equipment? I have gear I love, it fits my hand and allows me to focus on what I am trying to capture. That is enough for me.

    Thanks once again David and wishing you a speedy recovery


  86. I agree 100% with all your rants … which are’t rants in my eyes, but photographers wisdom. If only more people had the courage to publicly support these views.

  87. Nicely expressed David! btw: we don’t get to edit views like this in real life so kudos for the early post and keeping it real.

  88. Could not have said it better myself!
    Now go off and show us some at least half decent work will ‘ya? 🙂

  89. I like the rants, they are a nice dose of anti-venom for a whole bunch of snake oil that’s out there.

    Had interesting experience with my high school age daughter who’s just starting to think seriously about photography. Gave her a Cannon AE1 Program with a 50mm fixed lens and her photographs got better (sorry David, there is better in this case) than what she was doing with a nice DSLR. I think the reason for the improvement is she quit fiddling with the camera and zoom lens and started paying attention to what was in the image. I’m pretty sure most of us, myself included, could benefit from more time mastering and simplifying the equipment already at hand.

    Hope you keep on the mend and thanks for sharing so much.

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  91. Thanks, David! Sometimes, a kick in the ass is just … well, a good thump to the ass! As Anne has also said, I’m just happy that you’re up and about with a full head of steam.

  92. David,

    Thanks for the rants. I tend to be a “ranter” too when I’ve had too much so I greatly appreciate the art form!

    I have been an amateur photographer and cinematographer all my life. I love both art forms. My girlfriend is a professional photographer and I have attended a few conventions with her over the past two years and was completely struck by the ego factor you mention and how big that is in this field. It has come close to nauseating me. That coupled with the gear envy and marketing that you can be a brilliant photographer if you just have X piece of gear. It’s really unbelievable and I see it hurting my girlfriend as it tends to give her a complex about her work, which is quite good. Some of the judgings I have seen are a complete bunch of crap.

    Not that I don’t like gear. I’m a self-declared gadget and gear freak. I love the stuff, especially the really good stuff that just sings of brilliant engineering. I am lucky enough to have a job that allows me to indulge in good stuff, but I have absolutely NO illusion that it will make me a better photographer/cinematographer. It’s true benefit is that it makes my experience with my camera fun and that inspires me to go out and try new things and try to make better images and tell better stories.

    Photography at the end of the day is about the heart. It’s about capturing and sharing the emotions of the moment. When it’s good, the photography goes away and leaves the viewer with the emotion and the breadth of the story. A gasp, a smile, or a tear is what it’s about. Damn the gear, damn the pretentiousness and damn the egos that need to brand something as better.

    Great post. Thanks. And I hope you continue to quickly heal.

  93. The most important thing in all of this is that David is feeling well enough to rant! For that I, for one, am very thankful.

    This blog is an ideal place for amateurs learning about photography and therefore silence would not help anyone. I can appreciate why some people are sick of hearing about certain issues or certain opinions, but your willingness to state your opinion and explain your position helps others who are still navigating through the currents and making up their own minds.

  94. Fernando – the difference here I suppose is that you use HDR for a specific purpose and I’d argue hyper-realism is well expressed with HDR, even extreme HDR. There are exceptions to every rant. Thanks for the perspective. Perhaps my big argument I against the UnSuck Filter du Jour, whatever that ends up being.

  95. I saw the title and rubbed my hands gleefully… and you didn’t disappoint David. Thanks for expressing so skillfully thoughts I would normally second guess for myself… as usual, you bring to light things I’ve neglected to strive for at times. Happy ranting guy!

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  97. Here, Here! You hit the nail right on the head. I am with you 100% I am glad you hit that publish button. I think that’s what your readers really want – the raw unedited David duChemin!

  98. David – years ago you could always spot the wannabe guitarist, because they would say things like “Fender is better than Gibson.”. That’s an adolescent way of seeing the world.

    Unfortunately, the Internet (& especially forums) have perpetuated this kind of reasoning. There’s just as much of this kind of junk on music forums as photo forums. But, maybe in music folks are sometimes more honest about being guitar collectors, rather than guitarists.

    As for HDR, well you know I disagree. But, I get your anomie. Sometimes I use subtle HDR because one of my specialisations is beach photography. OK, maybe I should get a 7 stop grad filter made up, but those are occasionally extreme light conditions.

    But, the extreme HDR thing is, for me, never about realism. It’s about hyper-realism. Maybe I read too much Baudrillard at university (maybe?!?). To me the HDR city is not the city as it presents itself, but the city of the imagination, the city out of proportion, the city transformed by technological possibility.

    Perhaps where I really agree with you about HDR is that it typically is not about creating images that are closer to what the eye sees. Doing that with HDR is about subtle 2-3 image blends. Bolder HDR will approach art only when it suspends the pretense to realism.

    Sorry for the rant. This is an issue I’m struggling with as well.

  99. Salute for putting photography to a higher standard or level!
    Looks like you’re healing well. Bones heal longer(maybe 2-3 months). Meanwhile,please prevent complications due to too much rest(secondary to pain meds and immobility).

  100. HDR usually involves highly saturated colours. I had read about the problem of using too much saturation of colour in an image. The retina does not like it. The viewer will end up turning their eyes away from the image to rest their eyes instead of exploring the image.

  101. Hi, David —

    ‘We cool.’

    I appreciate the back and forth, and really enjoy your style of writing and discourse. I particularly like how you’ve said, “…the questions, are more important than the hard answers.” True.

    Just to let you know, I’ve been here quite a bit and know what you stand for. That’s what keeps me coming back. I just haven’t written many comments… yet.

    Have a good night,

  102. Rob – More important to me than agreement on issues like these is that they are discussed with respect and kindness – thanks for being part of that.

    I think any time we express ourselves in a place like a blog we also have to allow everything else we’ve written to be context. Someone coming here for the first time might not know how much I love and champion the amateur and freedom of expression. But then to re-iterate it every time is equally impossible.

    My thoughts on these things are, like anyone’s thoughts on things, changeable, and subject my mood (and pain meds). But they’re only the thoughts of one person. I trust I am not the only voice out there that my readers listen to – I mean broccoli is good for you, but you need variety and a diet of only broccoli wouldn’t be healthy at all. We need all kinds of voices – its in that mix that wisdom is found.

    Anyways, thanks. The conversation, and the questions, are more important to me than hard answers one way or the other.

  103. David —

    You’ve put things well in your response, so please accept my gratitude for your taking the time to respond as you did. I do agree that it’s good to help others (always!), to cut through the BS, and if ‘ranting’ is what serves that end, then rant away.

    You used the word “lovingly” a couple of times. I think the ‘lovingly’ part comes with the compassionate realization that everyone comes to a given pursuit at different levels and perspectives, and it’s important for each person to work through their path as they see fit. Some people like funky HDR; Others do not. Some people are gear-heads; Others are not. Some people are arrogant snobs; Others are not. I think the ‘lovingly’ part comes in acceptance of the fact that everyone has different likes and dislikes, and simply allowing that to be. I sure have my own preferences… absolutely… and would hope that people give me the latitude to make my own mistakes and forays into different techniques and gear. I actually find that when one engages experimentation, interesting and new ideas just might be the result. If someone else doesn’t like the experiment, that’s just their preference… no need to argue about it.

    I still think that to denigrate overdone HDR, lament those we see as snobs, or despise gear frenzy, even though couched as informative prose, really only serves to delineate one’s own particular preferences, separating it from other perspectives. It’s an act of division.

    If it serves to help beginners to find their way through the thicket of shucksters, then that’s great, and I hope you’ve spared them some pain and expense. And if it cause someone else to fully engage in the discussion and use words like “bifurcation”, so much the better, I say. ;^)

    Cheers, friend!


  104. Okay, I’m giggling a little bit. Meds, pain, time, and opinions…mix them together and you definitely get interesting. I hope you’re having a little giggle too. And by the way, I really embrace your rants. I can’t wait to see the photo project that comes out of this. I bet you will thoroughly explore your few inches of the world from now until the near future. I bet you’re going to get to know every scratch on that hospital bed of yours with your camera. I’m curious how it will affect your style.

  105. David

    Honestly how the entire post read to me was “don’t be a snob, except about this type of HDR”. That may have not been your intention, and i apologize if i put words in your mouth, but that’s how I read it..

    So what I was calling you out on was that you seemed to invalidate overdone (which i read as the grunge version of) HDR as a technique. It can be obnoxious, it can be fantastic, it can be mediocre. Just like any kind of part.

    yes, there’s people who think that just because they run a picture through photomatix at 100 Strength it’s compelling. There’s also people who convert a picture to black and white and it’s compelling.

    It stuns me to read so many posts that are basically “every technique is valid, except ‘overdone’ HDR. That sucks.”

    Grunge HDR is definitely the flavor of the month. It’s also the snobs’ punching bag of the month too. Tons of photographers seem to make themselves feel better by beating on grunge HDR like bullies on a playground.

    And as a relatively new photographer I completely agree that there’s some bad teaching going on out there. Especially about processing. So much of what I read when trying to get the basics was just setting me back and I had no idea, which was the worst part. Heck, it’s probably still happening for all I know.

  106. i think rants are good for the soul – even if they spark a heated ‘discussion’ or other unintended repercussions – sometimes we just need to let it out.

    i’ve been hearing a lot lately about gear not being as important as the photographer, etc etc. irritated me at first, because it takes my crutch away, but really its good. its pushing me more to be uncomfortable (or be okay with uncomfortable).

    thanks for imparting your thoughts with us all. and glad you are on the mend!

  107. No need to second guess that ‘rant’ at all! Not everyone will agree but if you are able to at least make people think and consider their position then I’d say job well done! As you mentioned, for most of us, most of the time, the best camera is the one in hand. All the best on a speedy recovery and thanks for taking the time and effort to keep posting through your recovery.


  108. David
    I thoroughly enjoyed your rant. Well said.
    As an earlier comment expressed, I too smile when I see that a new post is up. Keep them coming.

  109. Author

    Rob – Nothing but respect read into this. We won’t always agree on this stuff, but I do not agree that the best thing to do is shut up and hope it goes away. It won’t. Beginners get pulled into a world that is dominated by the voices of manufacturers and hucksters and while it may be well to simply leave them to figure it out on their own, my experience tells me there is a great deal of freedom given when these same people hear dissenting voices, voices that tell them they do not need the newest and biggest each time a new one comes out.

    I do not participate in the equipment wars, but do you really think there is no room for moderate voices that people respect, who give people the permission to simply pursue their craft regardless of their gear? Do you not think there is a role for passionate voices to call the industry back to it’s heart? Silence doesn’t work well and rarely has, in terms of what I teach. You’ll note I don’t rant often, and when I do it’s backed up by a great many more positive posts. But there is a role for dissenting voices. I am not argumentative, nor am I bitter and angry or calling others to abandon one extreme to embrace another. I’m simply asking others to consider a return to sanity.

    You are clearly already there, and we’re all better off for the photographers that are. But my audience consists of a great many beginners who are having a tough time navigating through some of the bullshit.

    To take it from a different angle, pointing out the lunacy of this stuff is not the same thing as engaging in the same lunacy. What I am offering is my own reasoned response, not unlike what you’ve done here by posting your comment. The best thing we could have is not a silencing of voices but an actual discussion. Simply calling it what it is doesn’t perpetuate it.

    On the other hand, you used the word bifurcation, and that alone merits a response to your comment 🙂 Thanks for chiming in Rob.

  110. David —

    With all due respect — and a great deal of respect is due — I do not disagree with you completely, which is not to say that I completely agree with you.

    There seems to be a performative contradiction in your rant. While it’s perfectly fine to express your opinions in whatever manner you choose — it is your blog, after all — the above paragraphs really only serve to perpetuate the very arguments that you rail against!

    Tired of equipment wars? Don’t participate in them! Tired of self-serving mediocrity and snobbery? Don’t support it by writing about it. Etc.

    I’m loathe to say it like this, but the best thing we can do to quell such arguments and disparities is to not perpetuate them. The only way is to ignore them completely. Otherwise, all you’re really doing is chucking another log on the fire.

    Love your work, love your writing, and I wish you all good things in your recovery. But in the end, this is really just another rant that contributes to the very bifurcation of each topic you’ve presented.


  111. We are too PC way too often. Glad to see some stuff come off the cuff. Couldn’t agree more. Actually amazed at my own maturation in the past years when I look back at the time that all that crap seemed to matter to me at the time.
    Thanks for another dose of reality.

  112. i critiscised a guru on flickr, got my head ripped off in acknowledgement.

    out of focus, colourcast bad composition supposed to be an expert, all the non pros said it was fabulous, cretins

    just been undercut by a amateur so grumpy at the moment

  113. i don’t even know what to say except… yes. i agree. on all counts.

    hope recovery is going well.

  114. Author

    John F, I’m unclear about what you think you’re calling me out on. What I referred to specifically is over-processed HDR. I don’t see myself as shitting on anyone else’s vision. I see it as questioning the value of the over-used voice that expresses that vision. HDR is a technique, and right now it’s the flavour of the month. When it’s used as a substitute for the hard work of learning your own sense of composition and moment, it needs to be called out. People are entitled to their vision, but we’re also all entitled to our opinions about the way they express it. You’ll notice I am not referring to any one person specifically, but to a group of people in abstract. I reject the notion of snobbery but I equally object to the idea that craft no longer matters. To say otherwise is to validate Dogs Playing Poker and other kitsch. By all means, create it, even call it art – but when you teach (and you’ll note I singled out teachers) you have an obligation to teach well and not cater to the lowest common denominator.

    Stephen – HDR is not a category, it’s a technique I have no specific beef with – it’s the overuse and the substitution of HDR for actual craft. I’ve seen HDR used to amazing effect and you’d never know it because it is in fact believable. The moment people are more impressed by your technique than the thing you are expressing, you’ve created something less than art.

  115. Love your rants 🙂 I’m glad the post happened as is!

    Thank you for voicing things I’ve been thinking and wondering if I’m only one who sees things this way. I was started to think I was maybe the only person who doesn’t appreciate over-processed HDR.

    Keep on ranting!

    ~ Amy

  116. Ranting or not, your posts are always interesting and worth the read. 🙂

  117. Now this is the David I love…

    HDR is not a category! and I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Flickr and Facebook are support groups. You’re in a world of hurt if someone actually gives a negative non-amazing comment there.

  118. Hey David

    Hate to do it man but I gotta call you out here.

    The first part of your post is essentially “overdone HDR sucks”. That’s like saying “overdone black and white sucks” or “overdone clarity slider use sucks”.

    I think the reality is a crappy photograph is a crappy photograph no matter how it’s processed. But it seems inappropriate to shit on someone else’s vision.

    Good lord do I agree on the second two parts though.

    I really wish all of the advocates and detractors of anything would shut up and put their work up. I’m with you, I took a picture of my daughters on my iPhone that is the best photo I’ve ever taken.

    Keep it up man, always good food for thought.

    Anyway glad you’re feeling better and

  119. “Choose your tools, enjoy them, then make something amazing”. Exactly!!

    I like it when you rant David, glad this one snuck out as is 🙂


  120. This made me laugh so hard! reminded me of some conversations at the terrace in Leh, about HDR and explorers of light, when we started joking about “Conquistador of light” …god times, wish we can do that again…

  121. Thank you for continuing to remind us to get back to developing our own vision. You are putting your “quiet time” to good use.

  122. thinking this the other day, I have all the gear and now I am using one body one lens, and I am working faster,

    I also hate, sorry despise the DIY fans who look to certain photographers as demi gods. God help you if you criticise these demigods work.

    Its more fandom than actual photography.

    I think I was the last apprentice in photography, cos people see it as an easy way to make money,

    There is me getting shouted and screamed at during my development with prints flying at me, I learnt the hard way and earned my place in the industry.

    there are too many guru photographers out there, and too many talentless wannabees, relying on photoshop, yes I have been experimenting with HDR these past two months however I still do normal photography.

    There are too many supposed photographers that correct there images, my litmus test is auto levels if it changes my exposure was wrong. My favourite game with my students is to tape up the LC D screen to go back to film photography where you have to trust your exposure and focussing. After a few days they start getting in camera.

    I also dont care about the format and type of camera I want a decent picture.

    There are some good points in your rant,

  123. Firstly, lets just say I am glad you’re health is improving (oops – nearly said better!)
    Now, commenting on the first two rants would be a waste of time as I don’t want to discuss them either, but boy, you are spot on with those two! 🙂

    As for the third, I have long held the belief that only one opinion counts about what is “better” in photography – the photographers. Sure, we make images for other people and some of the time they even have a clue as to what they want, and yes, their opinion counts – but only so we can pay the bills. If it’s my project, for me, then my opinion is the only one that counts. If some-one wants to critique my work, I’m all ears – I’ll even listen to the subjective comments, but they are less valuable to me than the technical comments.

    Lastly, let me say that this place and Craft and Vision are two of my favourite “web” hang-outs.

    Keep up the recovery.


  124. Thanks for going off on the overuse of HDR. You said what I’ve been thinking for a long time. About a month ago I went to an exhibition at a well-respected museum by a third generation landscape photographer who has, locally, almost cult status. It was all I could do to keep from running, screaming from the building. His beautiful scenes of Big Sur, Mono Lake, Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, etc. were so over-HDR-ed (did I just make up a verb?) that there was no pleasure in looking at them.

    HDR is like salt or sugar in cooking — used in judicious quantities it enhances the end result, but over used, it makes us sick.

    As for any gear or technique being better than another, gear or technique is only as good as the person who is using it. And, since we all have different tastes, what I adore, may (will probably) leave others cold. So what?

  125. I agree with all three rants.

    The main reason photography is not considered in most circles as “Art” is because of photographers.

    Do what you do, do it with passion, and make sure the work MOVES people. That’s it. Who gives a rats what it’s made with or how it was done.

    viva la revolution!

  126. First of all, all the best to you David and hope everything’s coming along as you wish it for the recovery 🙂

    I couldn’t agree more with you on each of the 3 ‘rants’ & one day i’d love to open up a cold one and have a good long discussion with you about so many things we seem to agree on. Briefly…

    I tend to think of hdr in the same way as punk. Back in the day there were people like John Lydon who just ‘got it’. They spoke to a generation and created something truly amazing. Lots of people jumped on the bandwagon and eventually destroyed it for want of a better word, but always there remained a core minority that still ‘got it’ and continue to this day. Hdr is the same, the core who ‘get it’ and use it or adapt it and work with it, have and will continue to give it a value, time will get rid of the rest so that one day only the beauty and the real value will be remembered.

    Part 2, coincidentally I was talking with one of my best friends today about the exact same thing and as a slight aside, it’s also why I don’t understand the fascination with competitions. There is no competition except with yourself! There is no better or worse, only different, and everything has a value or worth that can only be truly measured by the self, for the self. Our opinion of things is as individual as we ourselves are and the only real battle is to be true to ourselves and our own beliefs.

    Part 3, and again, I couldn’t agree more. I recently started using my old Hasselblad and Pentax 35mm, purely because I wanted to understand about film. I took up photography when digital was firmly established and so has never used film before. To me, it was about discovering more about myself and how I see things. How I interact with the camera itself, etc. The mystical aura of ‘the Blad’ has or had little to do with anything outside of the price of fish. It’s a means to an end and the end is discovery of what’s inside you.

    Thanks for another great rant, keep ’em coming, and get well soon!

  127. Bang on mate, a good rant is the best medicine ever and damned good read for us too.
    Keep it up and you’ll be back on your feet in no time…

  128. It really doesn’t matter what I think about the substance of your rant. Rants, in my corner of the universe, are rhetorical, in that they need no response! And kind sir, that is exactly why I love a good rant! Thanks for putting a smile on my face!

  129. Gear is great. It’s a shortcut, a crutch, a fetish and an excuse. If you want to get better at something you have to work at it, but why would you go through all that if you can just get out the credit card and make yourself feel better…?

    I think you need to have another rant about honesty in photography, because there ain’t enough of it…

  130. very eloquent rants! and i agree completely! continued good wishes in your recovery!

  131. “Layering 9 weak photographs together doesn’t make the original weak photograph better, it makes for a bucket filled with 9 layers of suck.”

    bahahahaha…you had me laughing so much with this line, I was thinking of quoting you on facebook but then realized most of my friends would have no idea what it meant….but thanks for the laugh….and glad you are feeling better, getting out to lunch, and having some downtime to think.

  132. “Over-processed HDR robs us of shadows which we require to interpret the real world”

    I agree.

  133. I know a guy who went to NYC once and visited all the camera stores, but not the Metropolitan Museum of Art (oh, it was on his list, but somehow he didn’t get around to it). I can’t stand going into camera stores, and perhaps he can’t stand looking at art. I sometimes fear, never the twain shall meet.

    But it’s so much more important and rewarding for photographers to talk about how the light looks, how the colors sign together, how the face betrays inner thought, the elements of design…and all the other things and more that representational artists talk about (except their own bickering about tools and paint brands). We as a community are nowhere near there yet, but I have a feeling we’re at least on the way.

  134. (Also agree completely about fixation on camera specs, “the next DSLR” from your favorite company, etc. I once sat next to a photo editor on a Flight to Denver about 10 years ago and she said it all in one thought: the best photographers I know could make an unforgettable shot with a Walgreens disposable, and others I know couldn’t make an unforgettable shot if you gave them $10,000 in gear to work with. It’s all about seeing the world in an interesting way and figuring out how the camera to capture what you see, how you see it.)

  135. Whatever you do, don’t “unpublish” this! Lots to chew on in there & definitely a call for self-reflection over here.

    Continued wishes for a speedy recovery!

  136. Agree completely on HDR, and as a software educator I try hard to make sure my tutorials do not use the over-the-top haloing and contrast we see in so many shots, or over-the-top saturation, although that is not specific to HDR (you see it in every walk of digital photography). Thanks for posting your honest thoughts on the matter.

    I think people get too fascinated with the tools and ignore what drove them to get into photography in the first place. And I have no problem with people creating illustrative looks in HDR but then say that this is what you’re doing at the start and have a purpose for it.

  137. Oh, David, I love your rants because they make me feel like I’m in good company! Everyone needs to let loose with a good rant now and then. And just to divert some of the barbs that may come your way I will admit two sins:
    A) I don’t really know what HDR is or how to use it, and
    B) I spent far too much money on a camera because I completely bought the lie that the gear makes the photographer and I so badly want to take photos that move others.

    So I guess that rightly makes me eligible for those who may want to return rant for rant to say “What the heck kind of photographer are you? You don’t deserve to post on this blog!” But if that keeps some of the barbs from going your way, it’s worth it. I’d be glad to take the shots for you 🙂

  138. David, I applaude you! Completely agree with you on all three rants. As photographer’s we seem to dwell in moments technical prowess. Me, I create, compose, the camera….any camera is a tool to realize my vision. people create images not the camera DUH! That said those whom vacillate between film and Digital, that argument is so over, get over it, move on, make a bloody decision, and then shut the hell up. And who cares if you have the latest and greatest, do you really think its going to create stunning images on its own??? HDR, never liked it, never believed it, lacks in everyway.
    Hope you’re doing better, I think I just ranted with you.

  139. David,

    Glad that you are recovering.
    I agree with everything in your “rant.”
    I “get” HDR (and occasionally use it without that heavy HDR look) but I cannot understand the passion surrounding the over-manipulated heavy HDR images produced by HDR junkies. They position themselves as if this style of image manipulation is the epitome of photographic imaging. It is not! It is a very useful technique when the dynamic range of a scene is greater than you can capture on one image file. For example, when used in moderation is is a useful tool in architectural photography to hold the bright exterior window areas. I come from the old school where image manipulation when done properly will embellish the image without being obvious. Consequently I use HDR in my work but unless I am trying to show the extreme in my workshops one would never be aware of it’s use.

    As for the egos in photography. I was fortunate to be on the faculty of a number of fine art photography workshops, including Ansel’s, and through that experience I have met many of the true photographic artists of our time. None of them had the kind of egos I see in the mostly irrelevant (except to their clients) world of weddings and portraits. It’s a bunch of small fish in a small pond fighting for recognition and adoration so they can sell their “secrets” to the uneducated wanna-bes who fill continue to flood the market with mediocre generic images.

    Keep up the great work and your visibility in photography! We all need that. Heal fast!


  140. What a zinger of a post!

    While I understand your rant on HDR, I do believe there is a place for the hyper-real. It’s another expression of art. The “what-the-eye” sees argument is certainly a stretch. Otherwise our brains would be totally burned out by the intense eye candy 🙂 Still, stylized HDR has a place in creating art and I’ll continue to use it with joy.

    Gear obsession is one of the reasons I’ve tapered off from my old podcasts. I’m still finding my voice on that. What I want to do is talk more about the art, the process, and the people than the gear. One good thing about the gear, though, is that there is so much good affordable equipment out there, that there is no excuse for not creating art.

    I’m a Canon 5D Mark II user and it has its place in my work, but it’s my iPhone 4 with all those marvelous serendipitous apps that bring me extraordinary joy in experimenting and creating art.

    Thanks for vocalizing these rants. It certainly made me stop and evaluate where I am in my visual arts journey.

  141. “… a bucket filled with 9 layers of suck”, that is just literary gold! Well said David. I’m glad you’re starting to feel better.

  142. I couldn’t agree more… “focused more on growing as artists.” That’s my motivation… to grow as an artist capturing images of God’s beauty all around me”. Thank you for your honesty. I say “Rant on and keep getting better!” Cheers.

  143. Good points that I agree with. With HDR, I personally think it removes the qualities that make a photo what it is and becomes more like an illustration. While I don’t like overdone HDR, I can appreciate it as something completely different than what photography is to me. A little restrained use of HDR is great for bringing out details when it stays within the limits of looking natural.

    As for gear, I use a higher end cropped-sensor camera and have been ignored by employers/clients who wouldn’t even give you a chance if you do not own a full-framed camera.

  144. This is a great article, can you tell with what computer did you wrote that with and what are the screen settings, resolution and speed and so on oh and did you use a mouse?
    I want to create rants like this 😉

    Hope you feel better now!

  145. Love the rants! We all need to get it out there sometimes.
    I have to say I totally agree! I can’t stand over processed HDR. I dislike it even more when the “artist” claims it’s wonderful Because it is HDR.
    The equipment rant is one I fight with all of the time. I did an art show two weeks ago and some woman actually told me I “must have a nice lens” I had to hold back from strangling her! People just don’t get that it is not about the equipment! It’s about the art. Who would dare tell a painter “you must have a great paintbrush to be able to paint so well”

  146. I love all three rants—and number two is my own personal peeve. Why are we satisfied with mediocrity when excellence is ripe for the picking? My high school students know that I expect outstanding work from them. Funny, no matter what others have told them about their abilities, they ALWAYS and WITHOUT EXCEPTION rise to the challenge and produce work no other adult believes possible. It IS possible!! Excellence is achievable. Mediocrity is poison to the soul. (Stopping now before I write my own rant….)

  147. Well, I’m glad this post was a rant, because my heart sank when I read the title. Whew.

    Have to agree – gear is not that important (says the woman who owns a d-SLR, four point-and-shoots – two of those are 35 mm film cameras – a Holga, a Diana, a Holgaroid, four Polaroids, several digital and film toy cameras, …). Well, you get the picture, haha. Typically, I use my d-SLR, but sometimes I really enjoy using a toy camera, or a low-tech film camera. After all, I make images because I enjoy it, and I want to portray what I see or feel. Sometimes, I feel more inspired with a point-and-shoot or Polaroid. If I had an iPhone, I’m sure I’d use that camera regularly, too! I’m really enjoying your iPhone images.

    Keep getting better! Cheers.

  148. Agree!

    In my opinion HDR looks best when shooting cars or architecture because we are used to those things being “dolled up” for the camera and we have a lot of control over how they look. Who knows what that shiny car in the magazine looks like in real life, and who knows what kind of lighting there was. But even then, there’s a limit. When it comes to nature, we have no control and any HDR looks unnatural in my opinion. In other words, if the sun is involved, and not artificial lighting, HDR should be out of the question.

  149. Well said David! I would say – and I’m pretty sure you’ll agree – that you left a bunch of ‘betters’ out though: photographer X is better than photographer Y, this photograph is better than that photograph, this technique is better than that technique, etc, etc.

    The word ‘better’ reminds me of the word ‘nice’ that we were banned from using at school, as it means nothing. ‘Better’ without defined measurable parameters means nothing, and with those there are probably better adjectives anyway!

    The only thing that matters is that I can ‘better’ say what I meant to say.

  150. So definitely off your morphine then 😉

    Not that I disagree with you. Especially on the points about equipment snobbery and gear vs vision.

  151. When it all comes down, it’s the image that counts, not what gear it was taken with or how it was processed. It the image is good, it’s good and if it’s bad, it’s bad. I totally agree, we have to get beyond all of the bickering about HDR, gear. or anything else. If the picture works, that’s enough.

    Ans if it doesn’t work, feel free to say it doesn’t and why.

    Excellent post David!

  152. My name is Jim and I’m a camera addict. I love them as objects in themselves, beautiful products of engineering. Polished metal, leather or rubber coverings, all the nifty dials and controls, coated lenses that shimmer with different colors as you look at them under light. Things of beauty.

    However, as soon as I begin to photograph I forget all that. The camera becomes a tool that either serves or frustrates what I’m trying to achieve. I pondered buying a used Hasselblad once but when I held it in my hand, it didn’t feel ‘right’. I have a Canon Rebel XTi but found myself inadvertently changing settings because buttons that were too easily hit. I bought a 7D and (mostly) like it, not because it is more expensive camera but because the controls are more convenient for me.

    A better camera is one that helps the photographer get the image. The name on the camera, the price tag, the format, whether it is film or digital none of those make a camera better. What makes it better is when it ‘fits’ the photographer.

  153. Well. I had a good laugh 🙂 Thanks David! Do you feel better now getting it all off your chest? 😉

  154. Well said that man! My GF1 has taught me that it’s the camera that I don’t notice I’m using that gives the best results and most enjoyment. In that respect it’s better than my 5D Mk2, the Mamiya 7, Ebony 5×4 and all that other expensive gear I’ve owned at one time or other. It’s completely realigned my view about what constitutes the “best equipment” and funnily enough, I don’t hanker after Leica’s any longer, no not at all!

  155. What I really like about photography is the variety, the different perspectives and techniques, the ways different photographers approach similar subjects. I’m with you on your rant on snobbery and would add that we should respect and take inspiration from other people’s work even when they use techniques or tools that we ourselves do not favour.

  156. Glad to see you tackling issues again. Hopefully, this means you are starting to feel better.

    I completely agree on HDR. Most of the images that I see are too overdone. As far as those overdone HDR images looking closer to what the eye sees, those photographers must have some really interesting vision 🙂

    The ego thing seems to be part of the way things are today. Someone becomes known for their art, photography, music or whatever and people rave about it to the point that it becomes an ego trip for the creator. Heaven forbid their work becomes a new “trend” and all bets are off as to how much their ego will be stroked. I remember when people worked years to get recognized for their efforts and now people can become famous in much shorter periods of time; sometimes almost overnight. Our society helps create these egos with the constant reviews, awards, money and perks given to those we consider “celebrities”. Hollywood is a perfect example.

    Better is getting blown out of proportion today since we are bombarded with comparisons. What one person considers better is not necessarily better to another person. One must also remember that “better” is usually a compromise. One might say that a medium format back is “better” than a DSLR because of higher dynamic range and increased resolution but for many photographers it’s more convenient to have less camera size, weight, affordability and a wider selection of lenses with a DSLR. Whatever tools are easier to work with, fit your purposes and make you happy and productive are “better” for you and that’s the long and short of it.

  157. Always, but now more than ever, receiving a notice in my inbox that David has posted another blog, makes my day.

    Honesty without worrying. Yeah, that’s my ideal and you are my mentor!.

    Just know your value is ever present.


  158. There you go! Well put into perspective. In the end it all comes down to a strong, moving photograph. Wishing you a quick recover!

  159. David: You must be feeling better. Bravo. If there is anything I/we can do to help just say the word.
    I have given lots of thought to this HDR thing. I wrote a long post about HDR being “inevitable” and how it might eventually change how we think about photography. I think that part of it is that we are so bound up with “what’s better” (technically speaking) that we haven’t considered very well how technological advances will affect us (as photographers).
    Here’s the post link:
    Keep getting well.

  160. Very well said! I bought my iPhone about a month ago, and I’m having a blast using it as my camera. So much so that I’ve barely touched any of my 3 dSLRs (that will likely change when I head to Algonquin next week to photograph the moose).

    It doesn’t just apply to camera gear. I use a PC with Windows 7 and Lightroom to process my photos, and guess what, I like it! It serves my use very well. And yet I have several people who keep trying to push me to an iMac. Nothing wrong with the iMac, but why spend all of that time/money/energy making the switch? Will it make my photos better? No. Will it make me happier processing my photos? No (I would prefer to be out shooting than processing).

    Mac vs PC is about as sensical as Canon vs Nikon. Both arguments are a waste of time.

  161. Freeman Patterson is somewhat notorious for not divulging his choice of camera equipment. It is his (and my) belief that it is not the equipment but the photographer who makes the images. The rest is noise.



  162. Rant on brother, rant on! How refreshing! It may be the combination of the drugs and having time on your hands, but whatever it is, there are some interesting thing percolating to the top!

  163. Halleluejah and Praise the Lord!
    Well said! Sometimes ranting is good for the soul and the body.
    btw.. better to me, is what I’m shooting now compared to last year, or even last month…
    God Bless you in your continuing healing.
    ~Ciao, Deborah

  164. Well you make me jump up and down on my LazYboy recliner and wave my point and shoot in the air. Great ranting, dude, great ranting. Good! Yes! Bang on!

  165. Oh… and the ‘better’ thing is something that rankles me constantly. I love how you seem to have a way of putting so well into words what I sometime didn’t even realise I was thinking…. (if you see what I mean…)

  166. Quality rants there David 🙂

    I agree heartily on the over-use of HDR. I’ve been guilty myself of this a few times, and, whilst it can look interesting sometimes, it’s not closer to what the eye sees at all. It is true that the eye has a larger dynamic range than most currently available cameras, but this is partly due to the way the eye darts imperceptibly around a scene, with the iris opening and closing as it does so, and effectively assembles it’s own HDR image from the fragments. The use of HDR is always best when done subtly to mimic this effect, and bring out a few details in widely differing areas of brightness. However, when done to excess, it just ends up looking odd, and no longer can you call the image a representation of reality. It may still look nice (often not!), but it’s not reality. Not to say it isn’t art, but reality? no.

  167. Excellent advice. I don’t read them as rants. If you weren’t in recovery mode, would you have been inspired to tackle these thoughts? Thanks for sharing.

  168. Your third rant brings to mind the countless times I have had to tell people what camera or lens I am using so they can in turn tell me all about what equipment they have. I would really love to just politely say “I don’t care what you have, just shoot”. Canon vs. Nikon? Who cares!

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