Information, technology and art in the year ahead
Being both a technology and an art form, photography has always had a bit of a schizophrenic image issue and has often historically struggled for acceptance in traditional art-world circles. Photographers still have to field the inevitable prejudicial opinion of: "oh, you just push a button, don't you..." A criticism, regarded as a truism, generally levelled by someone who doesn't even know what an f-stop is...
Above image: Stonehenge at the end of 2015
Nikon D810, 50mm f1.4, ISO 64, 4 seconds at f13, polariser, tripod
28th December 2015
And this prejudice was established long before the wider population really did become empowered to produce decent results at the touch of a button...
Technological developments (as scales of production grow and drive costs down) become more usable, more affordable and increasingly ubiquitous. So, with all of the digital-imaging jiggery-pokery now at every person's shutter-button fingertips, it can only mean one thing (again?!) if you want to stand out as a tog, you must take stock of the advancing situation and raise your game above the ever-increasing standard of the prevailing, push-a-button norm that even the most indifferent of snappers now takes for granted.
Putting aside for a moment your understanding of light, your familiarity with your gear and your abilities to compose and expose a shot correctly, raw file conversion, multi-layered processing and localised adjustments in post-processing are massively significant elements of what will set your work apart from all the stuff that's being universally modified in-camera (and in-phone of course) by the millions of casual togs out there who really are all producing extraordinarily sophisticated stuff at the touch of a button - instagram; monochrome; sepia-toned; in-camera HDR; 70s retro-look colouration; auto-panoramas; shadow, highlight and HSL adjustments; blurry backgrounds; tilt-shift... A gob-smacking array of effective pre-sets is now available on masses of very inexpensive devices and producing some knock-out results to boot. To deny otherwise is to deny the evidence - and denial of evidence, with its attendant resistance to change, generally leads to suppression of enquiry. So, rather than view the further democratisation of photography as a hostile encroachment into the true art-form's territory, we should see it as a spur to creativity, forcing us out of our comfort zones and into fresh, uncharted artistic waters. There is no point whinging at progress. Resist the temptation to become one of the whingers - every generation of photographers has had its fair share of whingers, whinging about the death of real photography because of the arrival of every technical and democratisation innovation there's ever been:- colour film; the 35mm SLR; the instamatic; the compact 35mm; not to mention that most recent of initially universally derided developments - digital imaging - with its blasphemous sensors, HDR heresy and sinners' paradise of Photoshop.
I am not suggesting film is deceased at the murderous hands of digital (that weary old Film v Digital debate is done to death already now) - no, far from it, film still has a significant position in the photosphere, producing stunning results. The two media formats can quite happily co-exist and I hope, at the start of 2016, it is only the totally die-hard denial-dinosaur who rejects the relevance and quality of digital imaging and its contribution to photographic art in the real world.
For those of you who have embraced the new era and entered the digital dominion, detailed raw file information is there for you to express both your vision and your visual style. Raw data's depth and versatility provide you with the foundations of great images, whether you favour an interpretive or representational approach when producing your singular vision of mood, moment and memory - so take advantage of the opportunities that that information offers you. After all, if you produced a sharp, perfectly exposed, highly detailed negative on your film camera, would you go into the darkroom and create a print on cheap and nasty paper? Of course you wouldn't.
Like everyone at this time of year, I am looking forward to new challenges ahead. I am relishing the creative possibilities that lie as yet undisclosed on the trail before me. This is the most rewarding thing about photography - your work is never done. I suppose it's no different from any craft that consumes you - you don't stop learning. There is always something new to be mastered just around the corner... and the next... and the next... It's the voyage along the road itself - the photo-route 66 that traverses the sprawling and beautiful landscape of creative endeavour - that ultimately brings fulfilment, because you never actually arrive, unpack, relax and take stock with any sort of finality, you just keep on trucking.
It’s the journey, not the destination.
I wish you good luck on your journey and a happy and fulfilling new year ahead.
Above image: New Year's Day dawns, Felpham Beach, West Sussex
Nikon D810, 50mm f1.4 Nikkor, ISO 64, 1.6 seconds at f13, polariser, tripod
1st January 2016