Thursday, February 13, 2014

It's a Golden Age of Photography

Inspired by smogranch, who is awesome.

It is, it truly is.

There was a time and a place when being literate, simply being able to read and write, was sufficient to earn a living. There was a whole lot of learning involved. You had to know how to make and maintain pens made out of feathers, and probably how to compound ink. Lettering was quite complex. You might have had to know some Latin.

These days most of that has been swept aside. We buy ballpoint pens and throw them away when the ink runs out. Lettering is simplified, and the standards for adequate lettering are mostly non-existent. We write mostly on computers, anyways. You can still get paid to read and write letters for people, but it's rare and making a living at it is nigh impossible. In the first world nations, and increasingly across the globe, "everyone" can read and write.

This is considered a good thing by all thinking human beings.

There's a science fiction novella called Gunner Cade in which the title character joins the military of the future. The details elude me, but, roughly, he undergoes years of training based around The Gun, a sort of energy pistol which is the weapon of the soldier of the future. Loads of technical detail, maintenance routines, a quasi-religious set of rituals around The Gun. Later, Cade joins a revolutionary group that has acquired a large supply of these Guns, and he is charged with training the rag-tag group in their use.

At first he is daunted, this takes years! Then he sorts through his training, and trims it down to the essentials for the job at hand which is winning this battle. His training regime is thus reduced to:

Grab a Gun.
Turn it on with this switch.
Point it and pull the trigger. When it stops firing, throw it away and grab another Gun.

Mastering The Gun does not take years, after all. It takes seconds. Does this sound at all familiar?

Spoiler: Cade's side wins.

We now live in a similar golden age of photography. Everyone can take pictures. A few people think this is terrible, woe, the standards have fallen so, etc etc.

In the first place the standards haven't fallen all that much. Sure there's daylight between what a "professional" would have done and what some bozo with a cell phone does, but it's daylight that doesn't matter to anyone.

We might, for instance, see fatuous idiots explaining that the standards for prints are, really, 300dpi, and your picture will only print 1 inch across! The correct response is a blank stare and "but I just want to stick it on facebook. print? what?"

We might, for instance, see another fatuous idiot explaining that without a DSLR and a fast lens, you'll never get good bokeh, and the subject will never be really well separated from the background. One can either go straight to the blank stare and "I don't care. In fact, nobody cares, except you" or you could, for extra fun, pull the picture into an editor and hastily blur the background.

At this point the fatuous idiot will point out that the blur doesn't look like convincing focus blur. Then you get to point out that the mission is to make the subject separate from the background, not to simulate a full frame whateverthefuck and an 85/1.8 GLZ whateverthefuck lens. Did you want to separate the subject or were you just trying to justify your $4000 camera kit?

"Nobody cares, except you."

Most of the difference between self-styled expert photographers and the bozos with the cell phone cameras is pointless ritual aimed at producing effects most people cannot even see without training, and optimizing parameters nobody cares about. You don't need to know how to mix collodion, or what sodium thiosulfate is, or what the aperture setting does.

It's a golden age of photography. Anyone can take pictures. Anyone can take excellent pictures. You just stand in a good place, point the camera in a good direction, and pull the trigger.

Isn't it great?

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