There are fashions that come into fashion that then become outdated and others that become overused clichés. Some of the things we do are just plain unethical. Here’s what’s slated to drop this year, and drone owners won’t be thrilled.
Instagram style filters and predefined Lightroom equivalents are out
Over the past decade, applying filters on Instagram and elsewhere has become a quick and easy way for photographers to change the look of their images. They were never high quality edits. Nonetheless, the look produced by these filters then became trending and, therefore, the bread and butter of Lightroom preset makers.
These filters and presets now look dated. This washed out, low-contrast look with blue tones was never going to be anything but a fad that would soon become as outdated as tank tops. Now, thank God, their end is in sight.
The sins of skin smoothing, body resizing, and skin whitening
There are also, of course, some filters that hurt self-esteem. These are still popular and, unfortunately, likely will remain so. It is time to abandon them for the common good.
Skin smoothing was a technique used by portrait photographers long before Instagram made the eyes of Systrom and Krieger shine. Even before the days of commercial digital photography, fashion photographers airbrushed the skin in the darkroom to give it a crisp plastic appearance. For decades, we’ve been aware of the negative mental health effects of these techniques – especially among young women – but they are still prevalent. The idea of beauty is perverted by this parody of reality.
Of course, there are times when minor corrections of skin blemishes are appropriate. I removed an acne spot on a bridesmaid’s face while processing a wedding photoshoot. It went unnoticed by everyone except the bride, who thanked me for doing it. If I had left it, everyone would have remembered it forever.
Resizing and thinning the face and body is also a nefarious trend which, again, places unrealistic expectations on young people.
Even more damaging is skin lightening. It is well documented that in the 1950s, the great singer and jazz pianist Nat King Cole was forced to bleach his face with powder when he appeared on television. Even now cosmetic skin lightening and whitening is happening with huge adverse health effects. Despite growing condemnation, some photographers still use digital techniques to whiten the skin of people of color. It is time for this racism to be eradicated.
We need to get used to the natural appearance of the skin and celebrate bodies of all sizes, shapes and colors.
Ditch the exaggerated HDR
Is this still a thing? Unfortunately yes. While those gruesome, over-processed images from ten years ago seem to have mostly faded, they still appear in agony.
In some circumstances, HDR has its place. For real estate photography, interior details can be enhanced using the technique. Also, when you are shooting against the light and want to get the detail in shadow and not blow out the sunrise or sunset, it can also help. But, with advancements in sensor technology, the dynamic range of contemporary cameras is such that it is unnecessary to combine images from different exposures under most circumstances. In addition, standard dynamic range images look better than artificial and hyper-real HDR photos.
Stop vandalizing your images with watermarks
You spend hours planning and implementing the perfect shot, removing any unwanted distractions with careful framing. Then you pour over the raw file, adjusting it gently for the best results. Then you spoil that perfect photo watermarked with a distracting, wavy signature.
What is the purpose of this watermark? If it’s to announce who took the photo, then you’ve already done so by posting it to an account you own. Or are you doing it to prevent others from using the image? If so, it won’t work; just one stroke of the spot removal brush in the editing software will erase this as easily as a bridesmaid button. So is it a matter of proving ownership if someone plagiarizes the photo? As long as you have the raw file, your camera and lens serial numbers and other identifying information are embedded in the metadata. If someone is determined to use your photos illegally, then they will. You can find your stolen images with Google Image Search and Tin eye, then send them either a takedown notice or a big bill for using the image.
If you still want to do it, browse the collections of any great photographer. They don’t disfigure their images with signatures.
Faux Film Grain
The grain produced by high sensitivity film can look great. Crisp digital images are also fantastic. Adding grain that tries to mimic the look of the film creates a lie. It’s about transforming the digital artwork from something authentic and worthy of celebration into a poor imitation of film. In doing so, the photographer declares that the digital image is less dignified and the film is better. If so, then surely the photographer should shoot with a film camera.
Okay, so adding grain can hide a multitude of sins, including making blurry images sharper, especially after removing digital noise. But contemporary sensor technology and the outstanding noise reduction software that is now available, like On1 NoNoise, make this technique redundant.
Time to put the drones away
Drones come for a lot of bad press. When used correctly, they are a useful tool, an inexpensive way to obtain aerial photographs. For farmers inspecting their crops and building managers inspecting inaccessible roofs, they are ideal. However, the news reports highlight an endless number of incidents of privacy breaches, at endanger air travel, and cause damage to wildlife. Despite this, most drone users fly them responsibly.
From an artistic and creative point of view, they have become a gimmick and are being used unnecessarily. It seems like every TV show has annoying interference with unnecessary drone footage. They rarely add anything to the content of the program and hardly say more than, “Look at me, I have a drone”. In film production, cameras need to be used to make the shot immersive and the tools that create the images need not be obvious.
Event photography is also plagued by drones. Shunning Robert Capa’s advice on getting close to the subject and every wildlife photographer and portrait painter’s insistence on shooting at eye level, we now look at our subjects from a distance, making them insignificant.
At a wedding, drone footage rarely represents what the couple remembers of the event; they were literally – if not metaphorically – at ground level. They did not fly tens of meters in the air of the place. Plus, their favorite photographs will be of them, their family and friends due to the emotional human attachment the photos bring. The drone footage further shows the photographer indulging in unique shots, the graphic video equivalent of the boring drum solo at a progressive rock concert.
Unless there is a specific need for a drone image or footage, leave it in the box and focus on high quality photography and videography instead.
Avoid unethical photographic equipment
It’s something I’ve talked about before, but cheap and mass-produced DSLRs and compact cameras are short lived. In addition, photographers quickly overtake them and they are therefore replaced. As a result, they then end up with more plastic and electronic waste in landfills, polluting the environment. It’s time for manufacturers to focus on producing quality products and ditch cheap, plastic, and low-quality waste. Then we photographers should boycott those who don’t make this change.
Likewise, we should look at where the equipment is manufactured. Considering whether the manufacturing base is in a country with an open democracy or an oppressive regime with a poor human rights record.
What do you think?
Of course, some of these opinions are subjective, and if you’re happy with using Instagram filters, it doesn’t matter. But do you agree or disagree with me with any of these thoughts? Are drone images overexploited? Should we assign signature filters to the recycle bin? Can you see digital effects becoming obsolete?
Maybe you have some techniques you’ve used before that you’d rather be overlooked because they’re now cheesy clichés. Or, maybe you are making buying decisions based on ethical considerations. Let me know in the comments.