From my perspective as a photography teacher, I see how aspirational professionals view photography, and I’m a part of how it’s taught. It’s a massively changing industry at the moment which makes it a moving target as far as teaching is concerned, but it keeps us on our toes.
At the end of the educational year, I thought I’d share a few perspectives on some trends I’ve noticed.
Quality: The tricky thing about quality is that it needs a frame of reference. If you’re 18 and you’ve never experienced film or the quality of a medium format image, and you’ve grown up with dodgy Photoshop techniques and jpgs, then how do you evaluate your work in regards quality? I push quality from day one, but I’m beginning to realise quality means very different things to people because of different frames of reference. I need to find a way to standardise everyone’s frame of reference at the start of the year so we can all appreciate quality for what it can be.
Methodology: The problem with where we are at with digital is that it’s been so haphazard. There are so many techniques, so many experts, so many ways of doing things, so many sliders…. What is missing however is a solid methodology. This comes back to quality. It’s always going to be a bit hit and miss without a consistent methodology to guide the capture and processing of an image. How to develop that methodology is the hard bit. So many experts with competing claims…
Facebook legends: This is the scariest one. I’m starting to perceive a trend that students think one year education and a Facebook page is enough to make them a professional. They couldn’t be more wrong. Everyone has a camera these days, which makes everyone a pseudo photographer. So the only way to become a professional is to actually be able to clearly differentiate your work; to stand out from the crowd (and that crowd is massive now). A two year Diploma is just the start on the road to becoming a true professional, which probably requires another half decade of experience on top of the formal study and a whole lot of effort and talent to be even in the mix.. There is such an overwhelming amount of mediocre photography out there. Let’s commit to not contributing to that as best we can. Let’s commit to a professional approach and a long term view; to build a broad skill set that will bring us above the masses.
Processing / Editing: These are two different things. Processing is about taking the data the sensor has collected and turning that data into pixels of the highest quality. It’s about good contrast, colour correction, levels, correcting for any lens flaws etc. It’s not artistic, it’s technical. Editing on the other hand is where we interpret the image. but there’s absolutely no point being creative on top of a technically weak image. It’s just makeup on a pig. Photoshop is not an emergency ward for grievously wounded images!
Digital manipulation: Everyone has an opinion. I’m admittedly a bit of a purist. I like what Photoshop makes possible, but I want to keep my work in the realm of photography. I think it’s dangerous to merge photography with illustration. I think the way we are going cgi will do us all out of a job in a decade. There is a clear trend towards convergence with technology, and the arts have always embraced mixed media. But looking at the 2011 Australian Professional Photography Awards, I think it’s a bit scary what they’re rewarding. I would have called the Photographer of the Year, the Digital Photoshop Artist of the Year. I think the distinction is important. Photoshop should be subjugated to the needs of photography, not the main game. I think it’s a slippery slope when you realise that a lot of the work we are seeing commercially are composite images with very little basis in reality. How we use Photoshop requires a lot of thought and is a philosophical and political position.
The blown out look: There is a ‘trend’ for overexposed shots, particularly in the wedding and portrait industry. How on earth did that happen? How can you have a trend for blown out highlights? It’s madness. Let’s just throw away all detail in our highlights and call it a trend… Please don’t go there.
Lighting: One final one. The strobist movement has done wonders for students. So many photographers starting out have a lot better understanding of lighting and off camera flash than they did 5 years ago. A lot of students now have flashes and triggers and even studio lighting, something that was basically unheard of 5 years ago. This is a positive development the way I see it.
OK, back to the trenches…