Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Magic Pill

There's no magic pill... not even a H4D-60 or P65+ will make your photography better.

I remember when I used to hang out a lot in the forums at dpreview.com (nope not gonna link you). It was full of lens-lusters, pixel-peepers, armchair quarterbacks... you get the idea. A bunch of people arguing about nothing and least of all actually shooting.

We as Americans for the most part live by the Burger King slogan, "Your way right away" (circa 1990). It's all about instant gratification.

As far as photography is concerned, technology has raised the average quality of images. Digital photography has made it easier to acquire better images faster. We've seen megapixels jump and sensors get bigger. Autofocus and autoexposure have made quantum leaps in recent years. Hell, even glass has improved... and that's a difficult feat.

And though we live in the technological golden age of photography, we still thirst for more. Faster, better, easier...

When I first started retouching, people drooled over the "Dave Hill" effect. Shortly thereafter there were Photoshop plug-ins that made this effect easy, amongst them Topaz and Lucisart. Neither replicated the Dave Hill look but both got close. Both of these programs/plug-ins are still around today as a result of people who want this look. What many people fail to realize in their search for the quick-and-easy is that much the effect is actually created by lighting (particularly specular highlights). There's nothing wrong with Topaz or Lucisart, they are after all means to an end and created for demand for such services. I merely bring this up as an illustration of how photographers/retouchers succumb to instant gratification.

What hasn't changed is the upper-echelon of photography. There still only exist a handful of elite that pursue the craft with the three elixirs necessary for success; sweat, blood, and tears. Fortunately these elixirs aren't for sale and though they're highly sought after, they are produced internally and can not be transferred from one individual to the next. These elite are the "Dave Hills", for lack of a better expression that drive the demand for the "look" they create.

If you work hard and you want something enough, nothing can stop you from getting what you want. But you should forget about becoming an overnight sensation. There's no such thing. You need to put in a minimum of 10,000 hours before you're even viable at what you do. Forget instant gratification and "Your way right away". There's no shortcut. The faster you produce the three elixirs, the faster you'll become successful. And yes, I'm aware that you're supposed to drink elixirs. I suppose you should drink them because after 10,000 hours of producing vast amounts of sweat, blood, and tears I imagine you're going to be rather dehydrated.

I will bring this all full-circle and say that I'm considering purchasing a digital Hasselblad. Will it make me a better photographer? No. But it will allow me to do some things differently (e.g. higher flash sync). It might also open some doors that were previously closed to me. What it won't do is make my images "better". Images are images. They still need to be retouched and worked through in the proper manner. In fact, comparing the D3 images to the demo H3DII-31 from Monday, I had to look closely to see the greater dynamic range produced by the Hassey. The Hasselblad pictures won't be magazine-quality out-of-the-box. No camera can do that for you. Will it offer me more detail and dynamic range? Yes. Is it a magic pill? No, but rather just another tool in the arsenal.

I sometimes forget that things don't happen overnight. I've bought into the Burger King culture for a while and it's hard to accept reality. Hopefully I'll get there one day :)

By the way, as of today there are no more H3DII-31 available from B&H:


  1. Howdy Charles! I was having a conversation with a co-worker yesterday about the vagaries and fickleness of the fashion industry. I told her I was thinking about expanding into fashion photography, but after a few minutes of conversation, I'm not sure I want to branch out in that direction.

    Blood, sweat and tears, I don't mind. I don't mind knowing that things don't happen overnight either. But what my co-worker told me was beyond the pale. She said people do most of their work for free and sometimes people even PAID fashion veterans to be their assistant. Doing free work on occasion is understandable, but paying someone to work is mind-boggling to me, and in my estimation, it defeats the purpose of work as a means to gaining income.

    Well, I figure I'm going to do my thing and if people want to do the fashion shots with me, that's great. But if the demand is just weddings and portraits, that's great too. Working just for free or paying to work seems alien to me.

    In your experience, Charles, is this commonly the case?

  2. Hey Thomas! I would say the fashion industry is probably the worst offender of the bunch. Print, catalogue, even glamour all provide well-paying gigs. When it comes to fashion it seems that the people at the top feel like they can abuse their power and assertion over others based upon their perceived power. I think it's a result of the hierarchical nature of the industry. There are so few editors-in-chief, so few top designers, and therefore so few outlets to "make it" in the fashion world.

    As a result photographers sell their souls, for free to be featured and published and exposed in that world.

    Doing free work is one thing but paying someone for to do work is ridiculous! I totally agree.