This Picture Sucks

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and so do yours

#20. Sob Stories

Photographers, when you comment on something you don’t like in one of the images, will often reply with, “yeah, I know but…”. From their mouths comes a tale of exactly why they didn’t do what they know they should have done. Be it not messing up the exposure, composing better, not missing the moment, getting a better expression, whatever. Additionally, many photographs come with stories attached, tales of how our intrepid shutterbug braved the snow, freezing temperatures and harsh topographical conditions to get their image. There is really only one honest reply to these explanations and tales:

I don’t care.

Truth be told, nobody really cares, even if we pretend we do. The reason is as simple as it is difficult for online photographers to grasp: The image is the only thing that matters.

Look, there are only two kinds of images we see: those that we like and those that we don’t like. Those that we like, we already like. We’re not going to like them more just because they have a story attached, just like I wouldn’t like my TV any more if I knew the guy who put it together only had one hand. Who cares, I’m already sold. And images we don’t like… well, we just don’t like them. The greatest story in the world isn’t going to change what’s on the print. It’ll be a great story with a shitty picture to go along with it.

That’s the thing, it’s really all about the image. This is photography, it’s not mixed media, it’s not an art installation with piss-stained rags lit by a laser shining through a pig’s head. It’s the image, the print, the jpg, the whatever. Build a museum around a shitty picture, and it’ll still suck.

So stop it. Stop trying to defend your work, telling sob stories of how the model wasn’t cool, how you couldn’t get the lights to fire, of how it was so cold outside and whaaaaaaaaaa. Stop showing subpar work and making excuses for it when someone calls you out on it. Be better than that, be a photographer whose work you’d actually like to look at. It’s a lot harder than it seems.

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#19. Open Source

Spring is in the air and, as such, the idea of sitting at a computer for days on end seems about as much fun as getting hit by a car. It’s hard to be angry when the sun is shining and the breeze is blowing, so the blog has fallen into disrepair. Can’t promise it’ll be better before summer’s over.

Supposedly, 2009 is the year of the Lulnix desktop (like each of the 15 years before it) but like a hot 35 year old virgin, we all know it’s bullshit. Let’s face it, when your market penetration falls below a typical statistical margin of error, it’s hard to get developers excited by your system. That’s why the answer to most open source photography questions is: Get a Mac.
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#18. Weekly photo assignments

Back when I started shooting digital, I thought photo assignments were awesome. The concept is kind of exciting, isn’t it? You get a topic to shoot, usually just a word, maybe two. Just like a real grown-up photographer! Then at the end of the week, your peers vote on the best pic and people go, “everybody turned in amazing work!” or some other crap nobody really believes.

The fail is two-fold with this one. First of all, there’s pretty much only one kind of photographer who works this way: the stock photographer. If you want make a career of taking boring pictures with no budgets of TFP models, then this is perfect for you. It is a great way to figure out how to illustrate simple concepts, like “failure” and “despair”, in a banal and obvious manner.

It keeps getting better, since your weekly contest jury is made up of people who thought that this shit was a good idea in the first place. You know that’s who I want rating my work, the dude I’ve been voting down for 3 weeks because he keeps posting color-toned flower macros.

Instead of shooting a weekly assignment, consider shooting one that last a month, three months, a year. Consider getting more than one shot out of it. Consider making it a coherent series of images, like one you’d see in a book, a magazine, possibly on the walls of a gallery. Or just spend another week trying to illustrate “boredom”.

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#17. Travel photography

Every now and then your average shooter will be bored by their photography. We all know how it is, you’re tired of shooting your surroundings, you want something new, something exotic. So you take a photo trip, pack some gear and head out, be it by plane, train or automobile, to uncharted (by you) lands.

In India you shoot the colorful characters standing outside the colorful churches and shrines. In Moscow it’s the Kremlin, Red Square and the subway stations. The Golden Gate bridge in California, churches in Spain, Sydney’s Opera House and a Tokyo bullet train. Like a goddamn international pokemon of fail, you collect the whole set.

The problem with your global Magic The Gathering game is that you’re not photographing, you’re documenting. See, every single major tourist attracting has been photographed better by dozens of other people. You’re there, outside Notre Dame at 11am on a June day. The sun is high, there’s crazy crowds all over the place and you’re pulling out your goddamn ultra wide and getting the same shot everybody else is getting. Guess what: a nice day to go out and a nice day to take pictures, not the same thing.

Please also remember that, no matter where you go, you’re still going to be the one there there taking those pictures. All the stuff you do wrong at home, you’re going to do it wherever you’re paying $250/night for a hotel room. The lack of vision, discipline and creativity is coming right along with you.

So fuck collecting monuments. Travel for the fun of traveling, meeting new people and embracing other cultures. Stop shooting pictures like you have to prove that you saw the Colosseum. Everybody knows what it looks like, enough already. Shoot pictures of people you meet, people you’re with. Use them to tell stories and make your photography something people actually want to see.

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#16. Upload lots of pictures

Let me float a concept, an idea if you will, by you guys: as photographers, you suck. In photography, sucking, as with any other visual art, is the default condition. Really, you’re shit. Learn to live with it, getting defensive isn’t going to help.

Your biggest problem right now, beginning photographer, is that you love your photographs. That’s like falling in love with a stripper or a streetwalker. Stop treating them like they’re little diamonds you’re shitting out from your cut-rate DSLR and kit lens. Use them as what they are, tools to help you learn. Take a pic, look at it later, realize how bad you fucked it up, do it better next time. It’s that easy.

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#15. Multiplicity

Multiplicity is the blending of multiple shots of the same scene with potatochop to – for example – make it seem like there are multiple losers in the same shot. Unless that problem was “what’s a cheap gimmick I can introduce into my photography”, it’s an answer to a problem nobody’s ever had. I know that getting multiple people to pose for your shot might actually require you to take a shower, but it’s worth it.

Have you guys noticed that when people use one gimmick, they tend to use others? Oh look, it’s a HDR as well!

Back around 1990, my friends and I used the basis for this effect to do “special effects” – and I use that term liberally – with an Amiga and a Video Toaster. Yes, your gimmick is so old that nerds with blogs were using it 20 years ago. It has its uses, but unless you’re into special effects just leave it alone.

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#14. Fake polaroids and film borders

Marco Polo would be lost looking for something that screams wannabe more than using a $2000 computer and $500 piece of software to try and emulate the look of a $15 camera and a $1 piece of film. It makes you wonder where evolution stopped and the internet kicked in, I’m gonna say it was around where someone set up a mySpace page for their WoW guild.

I’m going to ignore the obvious failure that often surround film borders: faking roll film on a number of pics without changing the frame number, color pics on b&w stock, inverted slide film, etc. There’s a lot of it pitfalls, but like VD, they can be avoided if you think for a moment.

Just look at this black and white Fujifilm Velvia shot I found. Goddamn amazing:

It’s also a self portrait for a 365 project. Fail triptych.

What’s harder to fake is the fact that the images coming out of your cheap-ass DSLR or P&S are nothing like the images that come out of a medium/large format or polaroid cam. Did you know that most polaroid cams have, at most, two apertures? And that the image size is as big as the end print. Those cams just cannot pull off that “sharp from 20 inches to infinity” look your cell phone gives you. Large format images just flat out look different. Ask yourself, are you really doing your photography to impress people that are impressed by cheap gimmicks?

Yeah, you probably are.

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#13. Universal zooms

I don’t hate zooms, I know there’s a lot of people that do, but seriously dudes, get out of the house. Zooms are fine for lots of types of photography. I don’t actually do any of them, but I know they have their uses, especially to people making a living doing photography. Cause then you have to get the shot, that’s what your client is paying you for. They want to see their kid shoot a soccer goal, they want to see their favorite car coming around the corner, they want you to document something.

Thing is, you’re not a pro, yet you’re the owner of a universal zoom. The only reason you have for using a zoom is that you’re a lazy ass. Yes, that magic lens of yours that goes from 18mm to 200mm, delivering mediocrity at all focal lengths and fucking up your learning experience as you go along.

You say: “It allows me to avoid changing lenses.” I say: “You’re retarded.” See, using a normal prime lens will also allow you to avoid changing lenses. It’ll also be faster, cheaper and give you better image quality. What’s more, it will help you stop sucking faster. What happens when you use a single focal length is you start to see what your camera is going to see at that FL before you even lift it to your eye. You start composing images without your camera, like goddamn magic. It’s a skill dudes over on FM can’t buy, so it’s rarely talked about, but it’s so worth it.

Other than laziness, the only reason to own a zoom like that is for the dick-extension effect. That only works until another dad shows up at the soccer field with a 1D cam and a white L lens and makes everybody else look like porn star rejects.

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#12. The tilt-shift effect

If there’s one trite, cliched effect that was 2008’s version of Elvis painted on velvet, it was faux-tilt photography. Often called tilt-shift, because people tend to have no idea what the fuck they’re talking about – ain’t no shift in any of these pics, the faux-tilt effect involves photoshopping an image to make it look like the plane of focus was tilted. Now, usually grown up photographers will tilt a the plane of focus to increase apparent DoF, that is, to make more things in focus.

The flavor of the month club did it the other way, creating an illusion of shallow DOF. When you apply that to a picture of a landscape or urban scene, it looks a bit like a model. Now, the first time I saw this on some Japanese photographer’s website, I thought: hey, that’s kinda cool. Dude took a tilt-shift lens, tilted it and did a whole series. Like Nonce said, it was dope at the time.

Not much time passed before kool and the flickr explore gang realized that, hey, “I can rip off this effect in photoshop too!” Suddenly everybody was doing it, which is another way of saying it was a fucking train wreck. Fake tilt-shift is hilariously easy to spot, since it actually requires more work than hitting a button in an action. It requires you to think in 3D, to consider where a plane of focus would intersect, how would this element be rendered at this distance from that plane, etc.

Something this dude would do well to figure out, ya know?

Here’s a pre-weekend pro-tip: stop doing gimmick photo editing to save your boring pics and just go take some new ones. I know it’s hard, you have to get off your ass, you actually have to concentrate and you take a lot of shitty pictures before getting something decent. Honestly though, it’s worth it, and it’s a lot better than staying home with photoshop and waiting for the King to die on the shitter again.

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#11. Save your overexposed/underexposed/completely messed up shot

There’s a shitload of things you can do technically wrong while taking a picture. The smaller your camera, the fewer of them there are. It takes something like 18 steps to use a view camera to take a picture, it takes two to do it with a digital P&S – compose and shoot. And yet, all of us manage to fuck all of them up at least once, and at least one of them a lot of the time.

A lot of bytes on the tubes are relegated to discussing how to fix your pics. Push or pull exposure in RAW, saturate, crop, sharpen to fix missed focus, desaturate, etc. Now look, I’m not some kind of Get It Right In Camera nazi, especially knowing what I know about processing RAW files, but I am going to share a technique to proven to make you a better photographer:

Stop polishing turds.

Delete that shit and go take a better picture. Yeah, you have a bit of latitude, but that’s just it – a bit. Stop wasting time pushing an all black image into some retard’s idea of 1980s pop art. Your kid did something cute? They’re gonna do it again. Your cat is going to play with a dustball again. Especially since that when you’re starting out, you’re going to improve dramatically. Whatever you’re shooting right now is stuff you’re going to be embarrassed by a year from now.

Stuff like this isn’t the answer, you’re just embarrassing yourselves.

PLUG

I don’t support anybody with this website, it’s just for the hell of it. I have a real job so I don’t need to beg for donations and referral click-throughs.

If you haven’t helped yet, don’t. Go out and get loaded instead.

Thanks for reading!

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