Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Internet Considered Harmful

I'm going to bust some guy's chops in this piece, but I want it understood that it's not about the guy, it's about the archetype. He's a kid who rolled in to an internet forum a couple years back, got taught a bunch of nonsense by the local illiterati, and has grown up into an arrogant little prat who's taking wretched photos. Dan's just an example.

There's lots of examples. This poor guy is just a Really Good one that I happen to have been paying attention to, because he started out with so much potential.

So, as usual, let me start out with this, some positives: Dan has grown up into a perfectly useful technician. He can grind out a certain kind of thing all day long, and while that thing is uninteresting to me it's probably somewhat commercial. So, good on him for that. He's mastered his equipment, and is doing just what he wants to do.

Here's a photo from two years ago:

He's got at least one terrible idea going on here (deliberately weak blacks) which some people seem to think is a fashion trope -- it's not, the only place I have ever seen this is in crummy bottom-feeder wedding photography, and online people who copy them.

But look at the rest of it. There's this dynamite diagonal thrust, these great textures, and this is the most important thing: The model is giving Dan something. The model is present, and rocking it. There's some chemistry here. Clip a little off the top, punch up the blacks:

Boom. That's fully legit.

So let me be clear, I think this is genuinely excellent work, with some very minor issues. Dan was churning this stuff out at a pretty good clip when he got started. Interesting people doing interesting things in front of the camera, with chemistry and dynamism. He got a raft of crap from forum idiots, because it looks nothing like low-rent retail photography. It doesn't look like School Pictures, or Senior Sessions, or Sears Portrait Studio. At All. And so it is wrong.

And here's some of his contemporary work:

This is an attempt at fashion. Dan can't style and hasn't got any sense of color, but he's clearly looked at some pictures in magazines and is aping some of the tropes. The model looks like she wants to die, or at least wants this terrible session to please end soon.

This was done to him by the forum members. They pushed and pushed, and then there was some socializing and Dan made some friends with other young idiots who can't see who churn out terrible Senior Sessions, and he learned that the only thing that matters is The Light and whether you can photoshop out all the crap in the background you didn't notice during the shoot.

So now he's got dead-eyed models glumly prancing through the frame, producing low-rent catalog shots.

Now Dan's an expert. So he's published a column of sorts, entitled Mastering Natural Light Photography:

This thing is just sad. First of all it could use some editing, ok actually a lot of editing, but that tells you more about the "magazine" than about Dan. Secondly, it seems a little light on content to be entitled "Mastering" anything. In fact, it seems a little light on content for anything.

His actual actionable advice seems to boil down to "watch videos on youtube that tell you how to light", followed up with "use soft light. or, harsh light, if you want a different look. also, shadows are fun!"

Really? Seriously? This isn't even One Weird Trick to Improve Your Photography, this is just blather. 

Stick around on the internet long enough and you too can be offering workshops and writing educational pieces. Are you blind? Do you want to lead blind people around? The internet has a job waiting for you!

I don't have a good answer for how to actually learn things, really, but the state of photography edumacation on the internets is terrible. Stay off the internets, kids.

You'll ketch the dumb.

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