8 tips for better photography – Don’t be a photography snob

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Words/photographs: Tony Eveling

Part 3 of 8…..Embrace everything photography, and keep an open mind. Have fun. That’s it, simple!….

Elderly man crossing the road in BRNO, Czech Republic
Elderly man crossing the road in BRNO, Czech Republic

Don’t turn your nose up at software to assist your black and white conversions, sometimes you’ll stumble across something that unexpectedly helps your photography

How do you know that HDR is not for you? Ever tried it?

Do people really think that instagram turns you into a genius level pro? Or is that just snobbery from the photography community. Maybe those instagrammers are just…perhaps….enjoying themselves, maybe?

What about those ‘gear freaks’..? Are they money wasting fools who love themselves, or are they just enjoying their hobby?

You are an individual, and don’t let snobbery get in the way of that.

Part 3 of a series of 8 articles that are non technical, that describe my own attitude to photography. My aim is to reinforce the fact that photography in all its forms and formats is fun, highly creative, enjoyable and rewarding. From HDR to smartphones to instagram to large format black and white….Find a little corner that fits your personality and lifestyle…and allow your unique creativity to flourish

Embrace everything, and keep an open mind. That’s it, simple!

I think it’s perfectly natural to become a little snobbish when you take up an activity or hobby.

Music snobbery is something that I can relate to as a youngster. Then I started backpacking around the world, stopped buying records, and when I looked back on my teenage record buying years, I could suddenly see how much of a music snob I was.

Nowadays I love a bit of cheese in my lugholes alongside supposedly more serious stuff. And I feel all the better for it!

I got into photography just before the crossover period that saw digital take over from film. And at that time I always had my head stuck in photography magazines. It was only ten years or so ago, but it seems so much longer.

Some photographers at the time said that digital would never reach the quality of film. They would never convert. But even then digital was already as good as film, and a form of snobbery seemed to sweep over swathes of photographers who refused point blank to accept the new technology.

People like myself had no emotional attachment to film so it was easy to make a more objective assessment of what was good and what was better for my photography needs.

Then Photoshop for some became a byword for cheating. But for me it is software that encourages and allows me to be creative in ways that was and is impossible with film.

Then the internet gave the amateur community a platform to show off their skills. And my God did they have some skills!? This had an effect on some in the professional community of dismissing the amateur community.

All sorts of vitriol was aimed at people who just enjoyed going out at the weekends and publishing the fruits of their labour on the web.

Then HDR came along, people went mad for HDR, which then created a backlash of people who hated and completely dismissed HDR.

And so it went on. And so it goes on…..Of course, the really loud, angry stuff was and is the tinyist minority of the more extreme opinions, from individuals who didn’t and don’t speak for the majority.

But snobbery with a small ‘s’ can restrict exploring all the avenues of your art before you eventually find your own style that allows you to show off your creativity.

On the other hand though, we are all allowed to not like a particular style, and you are allowed to prefer film to digital. You are allowed to dislike HDR. You are allowed to dislike anything you want to. But it should be an informed and balanced opinion formed from knowledge and personal experience.

Snobbery is that superior attitude when people become dismissive of, and look down on HDR, or look down on digital photography or the amateur community and view them as inferior in some way.

I think it can potentially hold people back in their photography development, and people may end up missing out on an aspect of photography that they would otherwise enjoy.

When I got into photography more seriously about ten years ago I believed a lot of stuff that was being talked about in magazines and online.

I started to view what people were saying as fact, because I didn’t know any better. I eventually realised that much of what was said was opinion expressed as fact and they were opinions born out of snobbery or elitism…and dare I say, even jealousy.

One thing that really sticks in my mind was that if you didn’t understand Photoshop curves then you shouldn’t be using Photoshop! I kind of believed it, and tried to process everything using curves. And that was a massive mistake.

I wasted hours of my life doing stuff that I could just do with a slider in a few seconds. It had me scratching my head because I found that colour correcting images was always easier and more accurate using temperature and tint sliders, not curves.

But I was told that real photographers use curves!

In my own mind I eventually formed the view that if a photograph looked right, then it is right. How you get to that end point is irrelevant.

If a photo takes an hour to post-process in order to create the look that you want, then that’s a good thing. If a photo takes 5 minutes to post-process in order to create the look you want, then that’s a good thing. One is not better than the other. What matters is that the photograph looks right to you. What doesn’t matter is someone judging you because you spent an hour post processing a photo.

And then there is HDR. Possibly photography’s biggest victim of judgement and snobbery!

For me, I don’t really like the very heavy processing on some HDR imagery, but sometimes a particular composition does actually suit such a treatment. But I will only know that once I see the photograph, and then I will learn something. Once I’ve learnt something, I can then tailor it to meet my needs and improve my own photography, or maybe I will just admire from afar.

If I am universally dismissive of such a processing technique, I will never even bother looking, and then I will not learn.

I actually use HDR software all the time in my processing, even though many of my photographs don’t have the HDR look. But it intrigued me. I was open minded, and I was willing to explore all avenues, even though I may have had initial reservations. I suppressed any reservations and ultimately discovered something new.

Busy street in Belgrade, Serbia
Busy street in Belgrade, Serbia
Houses near Ivanjica, Serbia
Houses near Ivanjica, Serbia

This Belgrade scene suited a subtle form of HDR that allowed me to even up the dark and light areas, as well as adding a little local contrast. Together they helped bring separation between elements so that all the street furniture, people and cars are clearly defined.

Again HDR came to the rescue here, as it allowed for better definition of the houses set against the mountains. This allowed the scale of houses against mountain under grey skies to be emphasised in a way that was difficult using conventional Photoshop adjustments.

I’ve also mucked around with film and film developing, and ultimately decided it wasn’t for me.

But I admire the work of photographers like Micheal Kenna, who as far as I am aware still uses his decades old film Hasselblad to create his photography.

So it is not disliking something or not changing per se that makes someone a snob, it is being dismissive of something, or acting superior to something, as if that something is beneath you and you are better than it, or better than the photographers that produce a particular style of photography.

If you think that there is some aspect of photography that is beneath you, maybe as a result of reading something or speaking to someone that you trust and believe….then maybe you should go against the grain and go out and try it anyway, you may surprise yourself or learn something new.

I recently re-discovered Black and white photography, largely through experimenting with fake pinhole special effects in Silver Efex Pro from Nik Software, which even comes with fake grain effect, not something I like very much. You might say I was a little snobbish about such things!

But, in an idle moment I applied the effect to some of my ‘write-offs’ and after a bit of tweaking, came up with what you see in these four photographs. I created a post-processing method that brings out in the photographs what I saw in my minds eye when I took the photo. And because of my attitude to certain ‘special effects’ I very nearly didn’t bother, but because I did, I now like these images once more

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  • Peter Harper says:

    Thank you for this article

    I’ve recently experienced this first hand having heard it was a thing but never paid much attention, over heard two photographers slating a photo I’d sent to one of them, it was a throw away picture I’d asked one to improve in post, but instead they just slated it pointing out “photographers wouldn’t take that angle”

    My goal is now to never end up being similar to this even if it’s something I don’t like myself

  • I believe the advent of digital technology has really democratised the photographic process. It has allowed so many more people to access the pleasure of photography which is wonderful. Open minds mean open hearts and hopefully delight that photography is not confined to the few that could afford it or be able to dedicate their lives to this process.

  • Hi Tony,
    Great article.
    I shy away from things I think I can’t grasp or master. So I stick to plain photography – little to no post production.
    But as I look at the effects other photographers are producing with post enhancements, I am intrigued. I sometimes think it’s now time for me to push on and experiment more. For me, it’s not so much moving past snobbery as moving through fear of the unknown. I’m thinking of devoting this summer to b/w street photography as a start, and street portraits (if there’s such a thing…I think you know what I mean).
    Thanks for this post which has given me a nudge!
    PS I’m just finishing reading Annie Leibovitz At Work – her biography of her progression in photography. It’s so interesting to read about how she eased, rather rapidly, into digital photography. Her work blows my mind. I love the book.

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