Purist photography

Simon St. Laurent has a new essay online about digital photography compared to film photography, and the discipline to not use Photoshop to enhance our photos. He wrote this in response to Tim Bray’s Photointegrity essay.

Tim writes about the cult of photographic puritanism and minimalism, and taking the …bits the camera gives you and push ’em out on the Web, even though the end result could be less work published online:

If I took that vow there’d be a lot fewer pictures here, but each would, I think, somehow mean more, because you’d know that nobody, however well-intentioned, had pissed in the pipeline from the camera to your screen.

Or is such an ethic inherently foolish given the vast amount of software that runs in the camera when you push the little silver button? Probably; so what I’m going to do is strive to balance Truth and Beauty.

Simon talks about his new digital camera’s effects on his own photographic discipline:

The pictures I’m taking now, even when I’m shooting similar subjects in similar conditions, just aren’t as good. I can feel ten years’ worth of rust that needs removal, but I also feel myself resisting the kind of discipline I used to have. When I can go from original to good enough with a few minutes in Photoshop, it’s tough to convince myself to put in the extra effort when I’m taking the shots.

He also makes the point, though, that professional photographers have rarely been purists, most making use of darkroom tools to enhance their work. Cropping, dodging, and burning have always been key tools on the path from film to print, Simon writes.

I have no hesitation about using Photoshop to ensure that my photos are the best they can be before I publish them online. This is true regardless of whether I take film or digital photos, though my film shots usually require less effort. That’s primarily due to the higher resolution and color saturation I can achieve with my film camera, as compared to my non-SLR digital camera.

To me, creating a photo doesn’t end when I release the shutter; the process continues until the photo is published. This included darkroom techniques, and even the use of photo retouching before digital enhancement; it continues now with tools like Photoshop.

However, you have to have relatively good material to start. For instance. my orchid photos were almost directly published from camera to web, with some minor cropping or sharpening, and some enhanced contrast (my digital camera tends to wash out colors much more than my film). In the case of my window shots posted recently, there’s little I can do with Photoshop to remove the window glare – a polarizing filter attached to the camera would have eliminated this effect, but I didn’t have it with me the day the photos were taken.

And many of my photos are taken to form a story rather than to be accepted as is for themselves. In these cases, I rarely touch the photos, and I don’t expect them to be appreciated separate from the story they’re published in.

In fact, the process to create a photo can occur before the shutter is released. When I’m interested in specific images, I’ll plan a photo or series of photos out long before I grab my camera; sometimes months ahead of time, as with photos I’ll be taking this next week of dogwood trees in bloom along a trail I hiked almost a year ago.

Regardless of camera or medium used, or purpose for photo, until it is published, the act of creating the photo continues: fueled by need and inspiration, with camera in hand, and in front of my computer.


Entering our manyth year of syndication discontent

Ben Hammersley has a new article at the Guardian on the syndication format wars, as they enter their too manyth year anniversary.

As he sees it, don’t hold your breath for a united RSS/Atom syndication effort. However, unless you’re specifically coding an application that generates syndication feeds, or consumes them, most people could care less which syndication format is used:

And so, as it stands, the content syndication world has two competing specification “brands”: RSS in its many flavours, and Atom. The Atom project has been very successful, with the two biggest weblogging firms, Blogger (run by Google) and Six Apart (the people behind Movable Type and Typepad) adopting the standard. This produced more than half a million users alone.

This switching effect, where one or two developers can move thousands of users between different specifications, highlights a valid point: for the end users, the argument is close to meaningless. As long as their RSS reader software can read Atom as well, they will never notice the difference – and most of the contemporary RSS readers have been, or are being, upgraded by their authors to support both specifications.

The only quibble I have is that Ben has lumped RSS 1.0 into the ‘RSS’ specifications, and the two really are separate specs, with a shared name. Other than that, I agree with Ben – the end user could care less. The only requests I’ve had in regards to my feeds is the type of material included, such as full content compared to excerpts; and providing more information about the source, such as my name in addition to the weblog’s name.

There! I’ve had my RSS and Atom syndication post for the year. Now that I have that out of the way, I can move on to other things.