Getting Photography Out of the Way

I recently ran into this Apple video which talks about design and form and realized how well it pertains to photography. While I am not an Apple fanboy, no one can argue they put the most effort to make design functional and transparent. While I have the iPhone and Cinema display and think they are very well designed, I have to say there has never been a practical mouse solution from Apple. How many novices know to actually CTRL + click to substitute the lack of a right mouse button? I won’t even get started on OS X. But enough of my disclaimers before promoting Apple in this entry.

The video talks about “getting design out of the way” and catering design based on the function and form of the device. Let’s talk about function first and how it relates to photography. Whenever you have an assignment, you need to decide what style are you going for, who the client is, and what is the final output of the product. Unfortunately most of the guys I talk to are tech geeks who think the highest specs are always better. While not a bad thing in concept, in reality it may be inefficient nor cost effective. The primary example is what file format to shoot, RAW, JPG Large, or JPG Medium. I’ve always said most beginners who shoot RAW are just using the massive handicap of RAW files as an excuse to shoot poorly. While there is nothing wrong with having higher quality than the necessary output requirements, think about the extra time needed to convert the files, the massive storage it takes up, and how many times you need to change a card while shooting. All these could be avoided by shooting in JPG mode and getting the shot correct in-camera.

When I shoot weddings, I shoot JPG at medium resolution. Most of you kids are probably gasping in shock, “I thought weddings require full RAW files cause they’re so important!” When was the last time your wedding client required a print larger than 20×30″ at 300 dpi? I only need two 4GB cards during a wedding day, and I also get the shot correctly exposed in-camera so minimum correction is needed in post. Color accuracy for weddings is also a minor issue. Brides don’t judge your photos based on sharpness of your lens, high ISO noise levels, or your white balancing. I shoot on Auto White Balance folks! Eat that. However, when I shoot something detail sensitive and color critical, such as an art portfolio, product shoot, or 15 topless girls, then I consider using RAW. Be aware of your final product and function.

The second and most important part is the conceptual photographer’s perspective. In the Apple video, Ive talks about getting design out of the way. A successful designer or photo journalist is one that is transparent to the audience and allows the product to do its job without extra effort or information strain. The iPhone or the Mac Air power indicator light has a transparent design form, where it works without the user having to think how it works, whereas an Alienware gaming laptop might be overwhelmed by design bells and whistles which forces the user to think about how it’s pretty and not get down to using the laptop. Geeks will probably appreciate the techy look of an Alienware over the minimalistic design of Apple. The same people will also analyze how a photographer took certain photos at which f-stop, shutter, ISO, lighting method instead of reading the story or mood of a photo.

In photo journalism, the photographer has to be transparent to the viewer. The photograph needs to successfully tell the narrative without adding effects, distractions, or suggestion of a photographer’s direction. Distractions and effects added to a photograph includes tilting the lens, or adding effects to post processing such as sepia, soft focus, or selective coloring. Photo journalism is the new trend in wedding photography, and while everyone claims to do that, I rarely see it in full practice. Clients tell me they hire me because I don’t fill my wedding website with high-fashion, special effects lighting to my wedding shots. While they look great in a portfolio, they lack narrative – they are dead poses that make the photographer look good. I think most photographers are pressured into creating the next style, the next cover shot, the next way to show off their photography skills, and forget to keep it simple and document the smiles and intimacy of a newly married couple.

Ive talks about reaching a point where design feels “undesigned” where a user would think, “Of course it’s that way. Why wouldn’t it be any other way?” I think that is the ultimate goal of any creator, whether in design, architecture, engineer, or journalist. To create something fundamental and unquestioned. Instead of trying to add bells and whistles to photographs, keep it simple and keep it the way it’s supposed to be. Why should it be any other way?


5 Comments Getting Photography Out of the Way

  1. JulieLim November 10, 2009 at 1:00 pm

    Hey Tony, what an interesting post. I read the post then watched the vid… then read your post again. I’m an amateur photographer and I think I always will be. A lot of digital photographers are in this field because they think it’s a quick way to make money (shooting weddings) and also probably because it’s so forgiving with tools like cs/lr. Its best to know who your audience is and be aware of what you’re shooting and make the decision accordingly. It was only recently that I realized shooting jpg is fine as long as you know what you’re doing. When it’s done incorrectly… I cringe looking at my photos, bleh! Like I said before… I hate all my photos and will think it’s never good enough. I’ll always be looking for ways to improve, I guess in a way it’s like Apple always making that effort to look for the best process/design.

  2. Rudy Arpia November 10, 2009 at 2:27 pm

    Right on!
    Loved this post!

  3. Steve Jobs November 13, 2009 at 8:51 pm

    You know you love it!

  4. hope March 13, 2010 at 12:46 am

    this is a really great post, tony. you know i admire how you look at photography and your work.

  5. Liza Mae April 16, 2010 at 9:37 am

    I like this post. Interesting that you use JPG Medium, I’ll keep that in mind next time I do an event. It is rather annoying converting photos from RAW to JPG. Thanks for the tips! I really like your style of shooting. Do you have an assistant when you do weddings?

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