The three pillars of photography

3 pillarsI have written several times that technical innovation can be either a way to foster your creativity or could be, most of the time, a useless distraction. I don’t say I am opposed to innovation, that’s more the other way around of course, but I like to believe one should always remember the basic:

1. Subjects’ choice

Whatever the technology and the gear, and even if you know how to post process well images, you need to be creative and to have the artistic skills if you want to create “great” images. That’s not the bottom line, in my humble opinion, but I like to believe it starts here: learn to be creative, be yourself and express yourself.

2. Shooting skills

Some photographers have “the eye”, most have not. You can’t hardly learn that. Some know how to compose and when to shoot.

3. Post process and technology

Yes, never be overwhelmed by them, they are nothing but tools useful for the artist, but it sounds more important than never to know everything about the photography’s technology and how to post process images.

At the end of the day, photographers who excels at the three pillars of photography are usually admired or, at least, can produce amazing pictures. Know where you are, and in which topics you need to improve yourself!

Digital photography in 2013: what can come out from the end of a revolution

The digital revolution may have began around 1999 or 2000 with the first real DSLR of Nikon and Canon. Almost 15 years later, evolution will continue, every quarter great cameras, software, or new web services are released, but I am more and more believing it is the end of the digital revolution. And that’s good news for photography because we may be able to focus again at what really matters: the picture, not the technology.

Ubiquity

Cheap point and shoot cameras and smartphones are making everyone a photographer. Modern sensors and skilled engineers allow everyone to take very decent shots, should they have no knowledge of photography. Digital filters and photosharing make the pictures looking even better and available right away for those who matters to everyone. Anonymous can become very famous thanks to Instagram, much more than many legendary photography. So what? That’s fine, just the consequences of the modern digital revolution. It is time to learn living with it.

Technology

We have learned HDR, digital filters, advanced post processing, and much more during the last years. We can now have a small camera with a x40 zoom for less than a fraction of the price of a whole set of lenses we used to need ten years ago. Or a mirrorless, or a tiny compact taking better pictures that DSLR a few years ago. We can store and share on line so easily nowadays. Much more will come, of course, and we will have to adapt. But I am wondering whether most of the breakthrough might not be behind us. And that’s also good news. Revolutions are exciting but they distract us, when they don’t exhaust us. A necessary evil, but still an evil.

Here above an example of how my pictures have evolved in 20 years while mountaineering! Is it better or worst? It does not matter, things have changed, and dramatically to say the least.

No revolution lasts forever

Mirrorless did not change anything to this revolution even if they are great cameras and improved the revenues of major vendors. I like to say they rang the bell: this is the end. We are entering a new era. Despite being a major innovation, it does not change so much the game. And I doubt that Lytro would bring anything significant too by the way.

Same for Google+ and Facebook recent photosharing improvements. Photosharing is becoming a commodity nowadays. It may be good for every one, but it won’t change the game.

The bottom line

We are getting bored with the revolution. We can now focus again at what really matters: taking pictures. We don’t have to spend weeks testing the new stuff, we have to spend weeks focusing at creativity, photography and what we want to show to the others. It’s no more about software and hardware, it’s about life and creativity.

Many photographers have never stopped working this way, fair enough, but I like to believe they were really lost in the turmoil of this revolution. The dust is settling done, so I want to see in 2013 the new raise of great photographers, not those showing HDR on Flickr, their meal on instagram, or selfie on Facebook but those who have something to say.

Every revolution evaporates and leaves behind only the slime of a new bureaucracy – Franz Kafka

About the broken feature of photosharing: discovery and explore

Whereas photosharing has become so popular for the last years, it is well known that most of the time, looking for “good photographers” – which means someone who takes pictures YOU like, has become more and more challenging. Arthur Chang has already written an excellent post about this. Curation is indeed a real challenge as the flow of new pictures is getting each month even bigger.

Some may argue they can always find good picture easily. I can’t and more important, I am struggling finding photographers I really like. That’s surprising because I am a very versatile photographer and I can like a lot of different “species” of photographers. But the reason is trivial. There are now too many pictures!

Too much information

I don’t know Arthur, but he seems to have tons of good ideas about curation of your friends’ photos. And obviously, there is some real room for improvements. I have had several times some discussions with Pictarine‘s founder similarly. There service is a great curating tool, but it still does not help with information overload, at least so far. That’s more the other way around, you are not going to miss any picture! And again, I don’t know whether my existing contacts are really so close to connecting me with the photographers I like. In theory, yes, and the only good tool I know, flexplore, is doing a really decent job. Most of the pictures are beautiful. It helps a lot to discover great pictures, but not to connect with photographers I like because a good picture does not mean you will like the work of the photographer! At the end of the day, photosharing is about people, not photography.

Most of the photosharing services are egocentric, which can be fine, fair enough. But it is not enough. When you like photography per se, not only because you need to have some people who are faving your photography just because you faved theirs, you would love browsing for more. You want to be surprised, you need emotions, you want to discover. And like said Thomas Hawk, most of the photographers’ work will stay unknown by those who would like to see it. More over, it is now so easy to engage and communicate, you would love to contact them but you can’t because there are lost in the noise of “too much pictures” and “very limited explore features”.

What a good picture means

OK there is maybe Flexplore again, but it is still very limited. So I don’t know any tool good at showing me some interesting pictures for ME, and I have no doubt someone else will not find interesting the same pictures than I do. And that’s the point. Some services have tried to quantify the aesthetic of a picture. I tried it, and I am not convinced! Other clever tools exist to auto-tag pictures and autocrop them (Which means they could quantify a lot and help you a lot). But no real “discovery & explore” tool aside from Arthur’s criteria:

  • Quantity of views
  • Quantity of actions taken
  • Quality of person who viewed or acted (based on their own accumulated algorithm results)
  • Time (recency)

I am sure this tool would need some personalization because, again, there is no way to find and absolute way to classify photographies. I can’t care less about puppies’ pictures, some would love seeing thousands of them, I respect that. Conversely, I like HDR, B&W and many other kind of pictures, some love or dislike HDR or B&W and so on.

We are still far – well at least as far as I can know – given how poor the existing libraries are able to quantify the aesthetic of a picture and also because auto-tagging is still at its infancy. But for sure there is here a fantastic subject for brave and talented entrepreneurs… In the meantime, I would love seeing Pictarine and Arthur’s project helping me on my urgent need for good pictures!

Digital photography needs a clear back up strategy

Some people can lose all their digital work in a few minutes, that’s still very rare. More frequent, your hard drive can crash, any time, without notice. At the end of the day, our digital assets are just becoming so important we cannot live without a clear back-up strategy. For a photographer, it cannot be more important.

The risks

You can’t have everything just in the clouds, that’s too dangerous. Without being paranoiac, services can shut down, someone can steal your password and delete your files, and maybe more important, it is good to keep control on your assets.

That said, the main risk today is still a hard drive crash. So it is very dangerous not to back-up your work on at least another source.

A robbery could make you loosing all your hard drive, but if you have one in another locations.

The constraints

Back-up is boring, sometimes even painful, but always time consuming, and can cost significantly. It is like going to the dentist. No one likes that, but we have to.

Defining the minimum back-up strategy

My “minimum” back-up strategy is to store my digital assets on:

  1. a desktop (or a laptop) hard drive,
  2. the cloud thanks to Google drive (or dropbox, or skydrive),
  3. another hard drive.

Actually, I am also using a second hard drive, not located in my apartment. I am using it only once per year. It is not so redundant as I don’t have any pass word on my desktop (I don’t need one). So I can see a scenario, unlikely of course, where I could lose everything during a robbery. Thanks to this second hard drive not in the same place, that’s look impossible.

Pricing

For less than 100 € you can buy a 1 To Hard drive disk. That’s a very cheap way to be sure your photography won’t disappear.

Clouds services are not that cheap. Google drive will cost you 100 € per year to store 200 Mo, so that’s way more expensive than buying a hard drive! But very flexible, and you can have access to your images from any device, anywhere on Earth. That said, it is not a very cheap way to back-up your images, but it is not only a back-up service, though. Dropbox is even twice as expensive than Google, and for photography back-up, does not bring something else imho. Box can be expensive if you have just a couple of hundreds of megabytes, but is becoming very competitive for storage above 500 Mo.

The bottom line

Keep it simple. But do it.

It has become very affordable to secure all your digital assets, don’t miss this chance… and be sure your data are resilient to most of the threats.