Right & Wrong

August 2016

We watched with keen interest last night the film “The Imitation Game”. The story is about how a machine was built to assist the breaking of the Enigma code during World War Two. It had a massive impact on covert communications and information being transferred, which ultimately helped to change the outcome of the war. It’s a good film and well worth a watch. It did, however, also highlight very subtly the birth of the digital medium.

Digital photography is without doubt an amazing medium to use. In photography it has become accessible to all and a dream ticket for the camera manufacturers. Sales are at an all time high and there can’t be a country in the world that doesn’t distribute digital cameras. Over the last 15 or 20 years a change has taken place, not only in the increased technology, but also in the attitude and characteristics of photography, both as an art form and information medium. We all have cameras on our phones and I am sure anyone reading this would agree, as a result, the sharing of information has never been so easy!

High profile magazines
It makes my blood boil
So this post is going to highlight something that photographically makes my blood boil! It’s my belief that the photographic fraternity generally is losing sight of one of the fundamentals of good photography, and it is simply wrong by ignoring it. I was browsing through a very high profile photography magazine the other day and was shocked by what I saw. I can only describe it as something that was definitely wrong! The magazine is produced by people who I am sure have a strong photographic pedigree, and their CV’s would probably stand them up as being experts in their field. Landscapes and wildlife feature mainly and there are often great articles about how images are captured or made. This particular edition (as it does every month) was encouraging photographers, from beginners to experienced professionals, to submit their landscapes for publication – in truth, the magazine gets free imagery and the photographer is happy to be published; everybody is a winner! Right?

No, wrong!

The viewing public is being influenced by something that can only be described as a subtle erosion of good photographic principles and this highlights an aspect of the digital photography medium that is failing. It is my belief the magazine producers are unaware they are even doing it. It’s simple: bad exposure!

No less than 15 of the landscape images on display in this one edition of the magazine, including the front cover, were over exposed (blown-out highlights). How can this be? Surely there has to be something wrong with the process of choosing the image for publication? But then there is the other issue that the photographers submitting them must believe they are good images, when technically they are falling at the first hurdle.

Good exposure is a procedure and technique that needs to be learned and perfected. It dates back to the dawn of photography. It’s either right or wrong. The problem is with the ease and accessibility of the modern photographic medium; standards have dropped. If photographic magazine editors cannot recognise a poor image, what hope does the general public have? One could say this is mirrored in life in general: oversaturation seems to equate to a watered down approach to quality. I am not sure what is worse: the fact that the photographer thinks it’s okay to create an image with a poor exposure, or whether the very people promoting the imagery believe it right to do so. Either way, the viewing public is being saturated with poor photographs and the bar of acceptability is dropping.


Switch to auto?
Camera manufacturers go to great lengths to produce top-notch cameras with menu functions that aid good exposure; it’s no coincidence that they provide an ‘auto’ mode for beginners. The auto mode’s sole purpose?... to provide an image that is exposed correctly. Now, I am not advocating selecting the auto mode as a way of attaining correct exposure (although you could do worse). I thoroughly encourage using the semi-auto and fully manual modes on the camera as a way to hone your camera skills and craft - the ultimate aim, of course, to take full control of the image making process. But camera craft begins with correct exposure; without it we have lost before we begin.

From time to time I have been asked to judge photographic competitions. It’s a job I love doing and take very seriously, whether it be the local gardeners’ club photo contest or a higher profile multi-entry competition. If I see an image that is not exposed correctly it says so much to me about the photographer and his or her ability to understand how to use a camera. Ultimately, over exposure means a loss of control and a lack of technique that should be the photographer’s first thought when composing a photograph.

I am often found quoting driving analogies on workshops when explaining the rudiments of photography and good techniques. I would describe poor exposure as a fundamental failure when producing a photograph and just as bad as changing gear without depressing the clutch; you may get there eventually but it’s a hit and miss experience that can do a lot of damage.

The last word
So next time you pick up your camera, spare a thought for what is right, consider the foundation stone of good photographic technique, start with the basics of good exposure and your creative photography will benefit from then on. Remember, a well-exposed photograph has to be right at the time of making the image!

“Simples” … if in doubt, check your histogram!



Please note, no magazine editors were hurt during the making of this article!