When do we get past the technology noise?

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by grega, Apr 9, 2004.

  1. Technology noise. What the heck am I talking about? A few
    fundamentals a photographer needs to consider when capturing an
    image are composition, focus area (or depth), lighting,
    magnification and time. Anything technology related is technology
    noise. Ok, maybe I have left something out but I hope you get my
    idea. Like me you have spent the time to learn the technology and
    the limitations. These have been drilled into us as the fundamentals
    of photography. In 1960 we might have said you can't be a
    photographer if you don't know how to use a lightmeter and know the
    relationship of light, shutter speed and aperature. I claim this is
    technology noise. Instead the photographer should be worried about
    how the light is going to affect the image, not the details of how
    to manipulate a crude light sensor, camera and film to capture the
    image. The tradeoffs caused by the fundamental limitations due to
    the physics of the optics, light and image capture can be handled by
    the computer that runs the camera.

    On Pixels and Film - Film grain, vivid color, pixel light
    senstivity, CCD size, what do these have to do with photography
    other than being technical limitations that creep into the creative
    process? Within a decade (or two at maximum) the sensor should
    become a non-issue even for the most particular photographer. It
    still may be fun for some of us technically obsessed types, but not
    for a photograher. Today I am going to worry about the size of the
    CCD and the number of pixels because it matters to a fair extent,
    but others might not and they could very well compose more
    interesting images than me with all of my concern for the right

    About Optics and exposure -
    A photographer fundamentally needs to understand how light affects
    the image. Given the physics of the optics and the sensor there
    always will be the tradeoffs of depth of field, light and the speed
    the image can be captured. Does this mean someone has to think in
    terms of f stops, depth of field and shutter speed? Today camera
    automation is still pretty dumb. The camera tries to provide dummy
    preset modes such as portrait, landscape etc that don't allow the
    serious photographer to capture the image as well as making the
    aperature choice on their own. I think that there could be better
    ways for a non-technical photograher to tell the camera how they
    want to capture the image. Giving automatically coupled controls for
    focus range and speed might be more intuitive that aperature and
    shutter speed. Knowing the affect of an f2.8 versus f22 aperature
    really is an artifact of the technology we use to describe the
    optics. What we are really saying at f2.8 is that it there either is
    too little light or that we want to limit the focus range.

    When the technology noise gets out of the picture there are going to
    be many more creative people that can express themselves with
    images. There are also folks, me included, who like the technical
    details of how to capture an image. I will always be working on the
    creative side of photography that is most challenging. When the
    technical barriers are removed the non-technical upstarts will have
    the ability to express themselves effectively with the camera, many
    creating some more interesting images than those of us that are
    technically adept. I don't think that this day is too far away.
    What do you think?
  2. Any photograph is virtually an infinite number of possibilities. The “art” part of photography is the winnowing down of those possibilities to a single image. Every decision the artist makes increases his or her impact on the final work.

    The older the camera the fewer decisions (or even suggestions) that are made for the artist. In other words, the older the camera the greater the control that the artist has.

    Beyond that modern cameras are designed for the mass market. They have to be “jacks of all trades, masters of none”. Older cameras often had much more targeted markets. The first production run of Deardorff cameras consisted of 8 cameras which were made for a group of Chicago architects. They are great for taking pictures of high rise buildings but wouldn’t be much use for capturing candid street scenes.

    Not only do individual old camera give the artist more control but the very choice of camera is an element of control.

    I have one old camera that has a 140 degree field of view. You can approximate the effect with a stitching program, but you better not have anything in the scene that moves between exposures.

    Beyond the control that old cameras give you they also encourage and promote the mental state needed to create art. Setting up a view camera can be a 15 minute exercise. During that time, a good photographer will usually achieve a more meditative state of mind and advance their conception of the final image.

    Modern automatic cameras make decisions for the photographer and they make those decisions by making assumptions. The first and most dangerous assumption is that the scene is average and reflects 18% of the light falling on it. The camera then decides what the most important element of the scene is and focuses on it. It usually assumes that you want the focal plane perpendicular to the line of view of the camera. It usually decides that you want as much depth of field as possible without risking a loss of detail due to camera shake. They assume that the camera is hand held and not on a tripod.

    While: “where to stand and where to put the edges” is very important, it isn’t the be all end all. I suppose you don’t really need 88 keys on a piano. Certainly, it makes it more difficult to play, but don’t you think music is enriched because of it?
  3. No matter how smart the automation becomes, it will remain necessary for the photographer to communicate to the equipment a host of aesthetic choices. Do I want that shadow rendered as solid black, or open and full of detail? Is there an object in the frame that should be considered the "subject"? Where do I want the range of focus to be relative to that subject? Do I want the image to seem warm or cool?

    The problem is that the automation cannot read your mind.

    <What we are really saying at f2.8 is that it there either is too little light or that we want to limit the focus range.>

    It could also mean that I want to freeze a moving object, or that I want a certain kind of bokeh, or that I want some vignetting, and other possibilities. Currently, I can control all of these (albeit not independently) with two controls. I don't think it would necessarily be an advance to have separate controls for each of these.. it would add the "technology noise" of needing to remember which control does what, as in the complexity of current SLRs, both digital and film.

    OTOH, novices with digicams seem to love the preset modes, and some cameras now allow them to create their own modes. I think this does aid their creativity, because it avoids problems common to beginners, such as underexposing snow scenes. Depending on how into photography they are, they either stay at that level, or come to find the presets limiting. In the latter case, they then learn more, and perhaps get a more flexible camera.

    If you look at the world of photoblogs, you'll see tons of dreck, which is created by beginners making the same mistakes that beginners have always made. You will also see some highly creative and original work that would not have existed without digital technology, especially the web as a place to publish.

    The barriers to participation have definitely been lowered. This means an increase in the banal, as well as an increase in the imaginative and interesting.
  4. When do we get past the technology noise?... Anything technology related is technology noise.
    Having spent the past week and a half working with several 22MP "medium format" Digital capture devices and the proprietary software for each of them, here is my take on this question:
    We will get past "technology noise" when we stop using technology to create photographic images. In far fewer words: never.
    As Elliot Erwitt once said: "“It's just seeing - at least the photography I care about. You either see or you don't see. The rest is academic. Anyone can learn how to develop”. But unfortunately photography is a very technology based medium. The technology will always be necessary and as such there will always be people who are caught up in the technocratic aspects of the craft because those will always be easier to deal with. it is the seeing that is difficult. Right now the medium of photography is in the middle of a technological revolution. High digital systems (starting with Photoshop CS and going upward in quality) give the photographer a degree of control over the technological aspects of photography that makes even the most aggressive application of the Zone system , a blunt pitchfork by comparison. What you can do is like the Zone System to the third power. Yet does the most skillful use the Zone System with 8x10 film & cameras and the most wonderfully silver rich paper or use of these digital tools make you a better photographer?
    Of course not.
    But you still need to learn and master your craft.
    Ansel Adams once wrote something along these lines: "If a man has something to say, he can say it with a pinhole camera, but he can probably do a better job of saying it, and reach more people if he says it using a 4x5, a Hasselblad, or a Leica." (this is a very rough paraphrase from "The Camera").
    For each of us, the Craft and Art in photography will always be locked together in a dance inside our heads. We write and perform the music that the two dance to, and as we choreograph the steps, each of us will find the tension between the two that best fits that tune.
  5. I read somewhere that technology goes through three phases: simple and crude; complicated but effective; simple and effective. Cameras are now reaching the last phase and those of us who lived through the second phase will feel to varying degrees agrieved that people don't have to learn the things we had to.

    The great thing is that more people than ever will be able to explore the pleasures of 'painting with light' which I believe to be a good thing.
  6. Great responses about the way you feel about the art and craft of photography. While I enjoy both the technical and artistic aspects of photography there may be other people with less technical interest and more artistic focus. When the technology part becomes second nature it then becomes just a tool that can be applied to capture an image. I was thinking that there would be a broader audience out there than those who already have some mastery of both the technology and art of photography. This was not for the automated point and shoot beginner but to open up doors for talented artistic people that were turned off by the technology. Is the technology already to the point that anyone who wants to be serious about photography can get over the technolgy hurdle?
  7. there may be other people with less technical interest and more artistic focus.​

    That's a non sequitor. Unless a photographer has a level of technical knowledge to know how to get various effects, he'll just be farting around until he randomly stumbles across something he likes.
  8. When you master those elements of the craft, then those technical details will dissipate from you conscious mind unless you need to focus on those issues. Does a painter not have to learn to use various brushes? Does a painter not have to learn the effects of various canvas types? Does a sculpter not have to learn the characteristics of their chisels? Does a sculper not have to learn the characteristics of various types of stone? I am sorry, but if you have no interest in learning to understand your tools, then I do not think you will ever be able to master them. So in short, it never goes away, you need to keep on learning and refining you skills. As for technology replacing the human brain in photography, you should look at the snapshots that your non-photographers friends and family take as that is what it will get you. Or better yet take a serious look at artificial intelligence research and you will see how far off it truly is (especially in a low power device that cannot handle massive thermal dissipation).

    my $0.02,

  9. Greg wrote
    What do you think?
    Tech-no noise will always be a part of the process. Always has and always will be. :) See technology like anything, until you become resonably proficient in the technology, it will always get in your way. This is not a bad thing. Those that think it is, are spoiled.
    I'm not sure of the reality of your question. Are you just wondering aloud about technology and will it get to the point where technology will do everything for you and you won't have to think? Or are you wondering about how life will be when everything is done for everybody and the learning curve no longer is a hill to be climbed:)
    The question seems to have more personal to it then the original question is lending itself too. Could you expand on your question a bit? Thanks!
  10. Having a technical background and being a photographer I have enjoyed many aspects of photography, from enlargers to Photoshop. I enjoy mixing the technical and the artistic part. While the technical details are like riding a bike my focus is on the creative aspects. It is clear that many accomplished photograhers also enjoy employing the technical aspects in different ways to achieve their results. One thing that an engineer thinks about is how to eliminate the technical details for others so that they can apply technology to do something easier or better. So I was just looking for other opinions on the subject and to strike up some interesting conversation. Its just interesting to see how others view different aspects of photography.
  11. If there's any 'noise', I don't think it comes from the technology itself but rather from the mind of the one controlling the technology.
  12. "When the technical barriers are removed ..." - I'm only 27 but I don't think I'm young enough to live that moment.
    First, think about anything in life, like, car driving. A language teacher without any interest in car mechanics can and is allowed to drive his car. But if he wants to drive a truck and become a proffessional truck driver, or he wants to participate in the Paris-Dakar rally, he needs to prove some skills in car mechanics.
    The presets on the modern cameras are like the auto gear, ABS, GPS and so on in the cars. Being a poliglot(?) is not fashionable anymore. You have to be good in a few things, and just buy the rest of the stuff you "need" in your life. And, don't forget the power of marketing and commercials. Most people nowadays have no idea what's f stop or depth of field, while they talk about "megapixels", "white balance" and "real-time histogram on the LCD". They don't want to become professional photographer, nor want they to produce art - they just want to record the birth of their kid or their holiday at the Cote d'Azur.
    On the other hand, I believe it is not impossible to create great photographs without knowing and using all the features and tricks a (modern or old) camera can offer, - the two lenses you were born with are more important in the process than any glass or lighttight box you aquire later on.
    If you enjoy the technical part too (like i do as well), that's an extra pleasure i think, not necessary a drawback.
  13. Only after you have mastered the fundamental techniques of photography, can you then effectively use your instincts to make great photographs.
  14. I consider what you're calling technology noise to be the craft as separated from the art. Some artists do good work without being good craftsmen ... but I doubt any artist can consistently realize his intent without knowing the craft. Rather than delve into the photographic aspects of craftsmanship, just think of the painter, sculptor, woodworker, potter ... they all need in-depth knowledge of tools & processes. Photography may be one of the easiest of all media for the artist who wants to create art w/little knowledge of tools & processes. But not consistently.

    - Dennis
  15. Technology helps, sort of like a sharper pencil. However, it often detracts. Humanity, is naturally lazy as are all life forms, they seek the easy path. Witness the dog or cat. Evolution taking the easy path to survival; less energy spent.

    However, creative thought, is really about survival. Creative thought is what advances intelligent life-forms.

    Unfortunately, humanity tries to destroy create thought. To conform, and be part of the herd, is also a survival instinct.

    The two clash...both are relevant. Unfortunately, the creative are mostly the losers. Just a few thoughts.
  16. Anyway, enought of all this philosophy. Anyone take photos?
  17. Still comes down to where to stand and when to open the shutter.
  18. Harvey; to paraphrase the stages you mentioned is a quote by Einstein: "Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius -- and a lot of courage -- to move in the opposite direction"

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