DigitalRev TV's Cheap Camera Challenge -Oded Balilty
Oded Bality Chellenge
Here's the latest DigitalRev TV's Cheap Camera Challenge featuring the wonderful Israeli photographer Oded Balilty who has some very interesting & worthwhile things to say about photography. His Pulitzer prize-winning image of a Jewish settler resisting Israeli riot police enforcing a Supreme Court order to demolish nine homes in an outpost of the Amona settlement is quite amazing. (See the image on my FB Page Jefferson Hammond FB
Thoughts About Photography & Truth
There was an interesting scene in a recent TV drama that got me thinking. In the scene, the main character, a young muslim male, was being interviewed as a potential new tenant in a flat share. He takes an interest in a number of photographs hung on the walls and is amazed to discover that he is actually in one of the photographs. He then notices the title of the photograph, “Young Radicals” and his attitudes changes as he challenges the photographer on her choice of title. He asks what is radical about a homeless muslim man, the main character in the image, and himself, a young muslim simply having a cigarette? The photographer, who describes her work as street photography that “highlights shifting urban environments” defends her choice of title by pointing to an older musilm gentleman in the image, dressed in traditional Kurta pyjamas, handing out “flyers” which are in fact menus for a local restaurant. Obviously, the photographer saw something in the scene, which in reality did not exist but which she created through her choice of title and also through composition and choice of subject.
As well as provoking thoughts about how naming images can have a significant effect on how the viewer perceives the image, the scene also provoked wider thoughts about the “moral ethics” covering photography and how these might be changing.
For many, street photography, as with all forms of documentary photography, should be a true and honest representation of the scene as presented to the photographer. Move away from this, introduce some element of interpretation of any form, then it becomes more art than true documentary. Many generations of photographers learnt this simple truth through formal training and years of experience which often included an “apprentice” period during which they learnt the moral ethics of their work.
Mass commercial marketing and overzealous advertising coupled with increased wealth and leisure time have greatly changed photography in many respects. Now it all to easy to buy an expensive camera and get out there without any proper formal training and call yourself a “real” photographer. Unfortunately, formal training does not just include learning the technical aspects of photography but also covers a whole gamut of issues about the ethics and role of photography in society. Without this formal training, the traditional values and ethics that have kept photography honest over the years may now be being lost. Can we really continue to trust the images we see in newspapers and on-line when an ever-increasing number are taken by “photographers” with little or no formal training and are taken in a world where truth and honesty are increasingly giving way to commercial considerations and narcissistic vanity?
The Rebirth of Photojournalism
There has been much written over the past several years about the demise of photojournalism and the significant decrease in the quality of images used in much of the world's print media. All too often now picture editors will use images already online, regardless of their quality and the days of sending a photographer off to take images have largely gone. If you do need a photographer, you can just use the internet to find one who is already at the required location. And of course, there are lots of wannabe photographers out there willing to work for very little.
Now, of course, we are probably seeing the demise of print media itself as more & more people are getting their news online. Yet could this be an opportunity for a rebirth in photojournalism? In the days of print not all stories carried images and in fact, some newsprint did not use images at all. It is all very different of course online with every story now using images of some form and those images are of course important in attracting the reader's eye. One would, therefore, expect an increase in demand for quality images.
At present, there is not much to suggest this is happening. The trend seems to be towards the use of stock images that simply illustrate the story rather than add to it. Generic stock photos that illustrate the words rather than the story. All too often stories are illustrated with low quality social media images captured on smartphones, probably obtained without payment because the person who took the image is either not aware of their value or probably more interested in the vanity value of their image.
I also believe that the dumbing down of photography, largely due to social media and the widespread use of smartphones, what I call I-phoneography, has a significant part to play. We are simply all too ready to accept low-quality images as being the norm, all too often being wowed by boring, mediocre and average images simply because they are different from the mass of imagery we see every day. Being different does not make it a good photograph.
Yes, a demand for images to illustrate online news may have the potential to drive up image quality, but I for one will not be holding my breath.
Getting It At The Time
Whilst this image has a certain potential, it does have some issues, mainly relating to the image crop. I have been struggling to find a crop that does not include too much foreground, distractive bright white clouds on the frame edge and does not crop through any of the sun rays. The reason for constraining the crop relate mainly to trying to preserve an aspect ratio for printing and mounting for entry into salons and for the above reasons this places some constraints on what I can do. Also, the size of the crop means a significant reduction in the image resolution which will impact upon print quality. Truth be told the mistake was made at the time of shooting. The shot was taken at the end of a walk when I was starting to feel a little tired, the evening was turning chilly & I was 45 min late from the time I said I would be home. So rather than taking the time to get the shot right, which would have involved taking filters off, changing lens, replacing filters and walking to the edge of the hill to get rid of the foreground, I thought chances are in this light I ain't going to get any decent shots so why bother I'll just shoot from here with the wide angle. As a result rather than getting a winning shot I got a pretty good shot. Moral of this tale is you should always take the time to get it right!
The Myth of The Digital Exposure Triangle
I am a traditional photographer and by that, I simply mean that I learned my craft through working with film and developing prints in the darkroom. Working this way instills a strong belief in the importance of engaging with your subject and getting as much right in camera as possible.
I fully understand that digital photography has introduced significant new ways of thinking, particularity with regards to the equipment and tools we use and the way we process our images. Yet the majority of the craft & skill needed to produce good images is still very much grounded in the methods of image capture that can be traced right back to photography's very beginning. Despite this, many of today's amateur photographers seem more willing to follow the marketing and commercial hype that surrounds digital photography with a significant number of today's newbie photographers unfortunately willing to believe anything they are told, particularly when it is regurgitated at infinitum on social media platforms.
Nowhere is this more apparent than with the so-called exposure triangle. I am not too sure where this concept as a means of explaining exposure came from and whilst the principles behind it are sound, it has one major flaw. The exposure triangle gives equal parity to using ISO to control exposure alongside shutter speed and aperture. ISO is not used to control exposure, that is achieved by altering the shutter speed and/or aperture settings. Whilst changing ISO can be used to effect exposure, there are very few situations in which you really need to use ISO in this way. More importantly, the exposure triangle goes a long way to causing confusion amongst those who are struggling to get to grips with exposure for the first time. Why struggle to work with three variables and when you only need to work with two?
ISO comes from film photography and is simply a measure of how sensitive the film is to light. The name was carried over into digital simply because its effects are similar in that it appears to make the sensor more “sensitive” to light. In fact, increasing ISO simply amplifies the signal from the sensor, which has the downside of introducing of “noise” which can degrade the quality of the image. So basically the best image quality will be achieved by keeping your ISO at it lowest, or base setting. When first learning photography it is probably best to simply set and forget ISO and come back to it when you are a little more comfortable in understanding basic exposure control using shutter speed and aperture.
These two setting, shutter speed and aperture, work in combination in allowing the required amount of light into the camera for the image you are trying to capture. The only time that you really need to change your ISO is if you are shooting handheld in low light and cannot get a fast enough shutter speed to hold the camera steady. There are possibly some situations where you want to have a specific shutter speed and aperture combination which can only be achieved by changing the ISO setting or switching to Auto ISO and letting the camera decide the setting, although in over thirty years of photography I have never come across a situation where I have needed to do this.
When digital cameras first started to become popular, ISO was there but increasing ISO led to serious image quality issues. Over the years image quality at high ISO settings has significantly improved to the point where quality issues are almost a thing of the past. This increased performance though has been used to sell cameras, often being hailed as some sort of major technological advancement. I believe that it is this hyped-up commercial marketing that has led to the advancement of ISO being used to control exposure which is simply nothing more than an over complication of what is, in fact, a quite simple concept.