By MICHAEL PERKINS
CHILDREN THINK THAT HAPPINESS RESIDES IN ALWAYS BEING TOLD “YES”. Of course anyone who has ever (a) been a child or (b) had to deal with one knows that this is actually the worst of strategies. Even without being Tiger Moms, we can all pretty much agree that there are many times when telling a kid “NO” will improve, perhaps even save, his life. Negative responses carry important information. They can be guidelines. Most importantly, they convey that there are limits, consequences.
“NO” also helps you be a better photographer.
In the ’60’s, one of the most basic cameras ever sold, the teen-marketed Polaroid Swinger, had a shutter that you pinched to check if you had enough light to make a picture. If the word “YES” appeared in the viewfinder, you were solid. “NO”, given the simplicity of the gadget, meant, sorry, point this thing somewhere toward, you know, actual light. Easy. Unmistakable. Take the picture with a “NO”, and it’s on you.
DSLR’s still flash a similar warning. With Nikon it’s “subject is too dark”. But the camera isn’t a mean parent that won’t let you choose ice cream over asparagus. It’s being a good parent that’s trying to give you a happy outcome. By contrast, smartphone cameras are bad parents. They never tell you “no”. If anything, their attitude is, point anywhere you like, anytime you like, darling. Mommy will still make a picture for you. That’s because the emphasis of design and use for smartphones is: make it simple, give the customer some kind of result, no matter what. You push the button, sweetheart, and we’ll worry about all that icky science stuff and give you a picture (image at left).
The default function of smartphone cameras is wondrous. You get a picture, every damn time. Never a blank screen, never a “no”. But in low-light situations, to accomplish this, the camera has to jack up the ISO to such a ridiculous degree that noise goes nuclear and detail goes buh-bye. The device has been engineered to make you happy over everything else, and its marketers have determined that you’d rather have a technically flawed picture than no picture, so that’s the mission. And that guarantees that your photography will linger in Average-land pretty much forever.
With iPhones, you have no override. You have no thumbs-up-thumbs-down decision. You have, actually, no input at all except your choice of subject and composing style. Now, you may think that this “frees” you, with the camera “getting out of your way”, and all, but it really means that, even if you have a better idea for making an image than your camera does, you cannot act upon it. Cameras that say “NO” are also saying, “but if you try something else, you will get to “YES” (image at top). Cameras that only say “YES” are really saying, “I know best. Leave it to me.”
Which of course, is something you heard all the time, years ago.
When you were a child.
By MICHAEL PERKINS
LOOKING OVER MY LIFETIME “FAIL” PHOTOGRAPHS, FROM EARLIEST TO LATEST, it’s pretty easy to make a short list of the three main problems with nearly all of them, to wit:
Too Much Stuff Going On.
I Don’t Know Where I’m Supposed To Be Looking.
Okay, you got me. It’s the same problem re-worded three ways. And that’s the point, not only with my snafus but with nearly other picture that fails to connect with anybody, anywhere. As salesmen do, photographers are always “asking for the order”, or, in this case, the attention of the viewer. Often we can’t be there when our most earnest work is seen by others. If the images don’t effectively say, this is the point of the picture, then we haven’t closed the deal.
It’s not simple, but, yeah, it is that simple.
If we don’t properly direct people to the main focus of our story, then we leave our audiences wandering in the woods, looking for a way out. Is it this path? Or this one?
In our present era, where it’s possible to properly expose nearly everything in the frame, we sometimes lose a connection to the darkness, as a way to cloak the unimportant, to minimize distraction, to force the view into a succinct part of the image. Nothing says don’t look here like a big patch of black, and if we spend too much time trying to show everything in full illumination, we could be throwing away our simplest and best prop.
In the above picture of my beautiful Marian, I had one simple mission, really. Show that soft sleeping face. A little texture from the nearby pillows works all right, but I’m just going to waste time and spontaneity rigging up a tripod to expose long enough to show extra detail in the chair she’s on, her sweatshirt, or any other surrounding stuff, and for what? Main point to consider: she’s sleeping, and (trust me) sleeping lightly, so one extra click might be just enough to end her catnap (hint: reject this option). Other point: taking extra trial-and-error shots just to show other elements in the room will give nothing to the picture. Make it a snapshot, jack up the ISO enough to get her face, and live with the extra digital noise. Click and done.
For better or worse.
Composition-wise, that’s often the choice. If you can’t make it better, for #%$&!’s sake don’t make it worse.
Follow Michael Perkins on Twitter @MPnormaleye.