Time and knowledge in photography

How much time do we spend trying to emulate film aesthetic? Or trying to copy the style of a photo we saw on social media? How much time do we waste reading reviews for equipment we don’t need and we will surely never buy? How much time watching informative videos that give us no actual information? How much time is lost following tutorials for techniques we don’t need and we’ll never use?

Nikon D850 + Nikkor 28mm 1.4 ED

And yet, we do all that. I am also guilty of it — and over the years I wasted so much time that way, and I occasionally still do. Internet is just too tempting, isn’t it?

Nikon D850 + Nikkor 28mm 1.4 ED

While browsing through posts and YouTube videos, an impression emerges: it seems as if creating photos — fragments of frozen reality, abstraction — a reflection on the nature of time — became secondary to photography.

Camera gear, trendy pseudo vintage aesthetics, software innovation: that’s what is being spoken about and what now occupies so much of our time devoted to photography.

Nikon Z6 II + Nikkor 28mm 1.4 ED

Long ago I realised I was spending more time tweaking the Color Profile 2 of my Olympus Pen-F than using it for shooting photos — and while such activities can be meaningful if done with a definite goal, it’s not hard to separate useful ones from pure procrastination.

In reality, I know I don’t need to riffle with these color parameters — and I definitely don’t need to mimic Kodachrome or whatever I think I need.

Nikon Z6 II + Nikkor 28mm 1.4 ED

I am in no way judging who is researching and wanting to achieve a definite look: such achievements require lots of efforts and can be a legitimate choice — if there is a reasoning behind them. A real need.

What I am talking about and rejecting is aimlessly wasting time while browsing knowledge with no real goal: information consuming for consuming’s sake.

Nikon Z6 II + Nikkor 28mm 1.4 ED

We could argue that as photographers, planning and taking photos is what matters the most. Being there. Putting in front of the lens something worth capturing — at least, something worth for us. Finding or creating the right light. And so on.

Still, we are being targeted with easy to digest knowledge that is often inherently poor, oversimplified, pointless — and we use so much of our time watching that instead of creating and growing accord to what we really are.

Nikon Z6 II + Nikkor 28mm 1.4 ED

I think going around and taking photos — even just for the fun of it — especially or the fun of it! — is often a better activity for increasing our knowledge. Only by being out and experiencing the light and actual technical issues we can progress according to our reality.

Trying to learn all that YouTube throws at us because “maybe one day I coudl need that” is not a good time management strategy. At the same time, spending time browsing social media instead of creating is also a bad strategy — but I already wrote about it in another post.

Nikon Z6 II + Nikkor 28mm 1.4 ED

Knowledge requires time to be acquired, and it often hides behind years of failures, behind hard to read books, behind boring and definitely not glittery essays.

To act, to study, to fail: that’s where the heart of photography is — at least, that is my point of view on the matter.

Nikon Z6 II + Nikkor 28mm 1.4 ED

For these reasons I became more selective when deciding if and which YouTube videos to watch, which tutorials to follow, which books to read.

I wish someone told me that when I was much younger — that time is in constant motion and it is not infinite, and we must decide how to use it according to some goal.

Nikon Z6 II + Nikkor 28mm 1.4 ED

Watching videos that are supposed to be informative is tricking our brain into thinking that we are doing something worthwhile — but if we stop and think about what we are watching and why, we can easily understand we don’t really need most of that information, and these hours spent watching it are lost giving us no benefit.

Nikon Z6 II + Nikkor 28mm 1.4 ED

I am convinced being curious and wishing to learn is a gift. After all, wanting to learn about everything and putting no limits to the range of his curiosity is what defined the genius of Leonardo.

But during Renaissance they didn’t have Internet and they were not bombarded by a constant flow of competing content creators, fighting for our attention. So it’s up to us how to manage our curiosity and balance it with the abundance of knowledge.

Nikon Z6 II + Nikkor 28mm 1.4 ED — shot at ISO 51200 in pitch black, no noise reduction applied. Pretty impressive!

We entered an era in which selecting the knowledge to learn became an art on itself — an art we should master, as photographers in the contemporary digital era.

16 comments

  1. Your text leads to reflection. The excess of information and equipment available today can steal precious time that should be used for the act of photographing. Magnificent series of photographs, and the model is a work of art.

  2. Hi Andrea…You have said what I am sure many (including myself) have often thought of when going down this rabbit hole of photography. How much can I learn by watching versus just “doing”? I have found myself at times spending too much time obsessing over some process or technique that I may never use (but I better watch just in case). Bottom line is we need to be more discerning in information we choose to expose ourselves to (quality vs. quantity).
    Btw, being an owner of a Pen-F, what’s this secret sauce you use for Color Profile 2 or would you have to kill me if you told me?

    1. Hey Steve! Dealing with the abundance of knowledge and a certain propensity for curiosity is definitely something we need to keep under control. How many hours I wasted watching tutorials for different takes on techniques I already use daily without issues, and how many reviews of camera brands I never owned and I will likely never own (I am looking at you, Fuji and Sony!)… at least I learned to keep an eye on this matter and escape the rabbit hole when I notice I am going deep into it! 🙂

      Ahah I don’t think my Pen-F color setup is something special, but here it is: White Balance mostly kept on Sunny. Color Profile 2. Sharpness 0, Contrast 0. Vividness of single colors that is set to (starting from North Yellow): +1, +1, 0, 0, 0, 0, +1, +1, 0, 0, +1, +1. The curves: Shadow -4, Highlight +3, Midtone 0. After lots of trial and error I think this is what I am mostly comfortable shooting with! It gived a very contrasty image, if it is too contrasty you can make the S curve less intense, going from S-4/H+3 to maybe a S-1/H+1. SHarpness is kept to 0 (or sometimes even neghative) because I think that software sharpening is ruining the organic look of the images: a sharp lens is enough for this. Last note about the noise reduction: I keep it off, I prefer noise to noise removal artifacts! I hope it is useful info : )

      1. Thanks Andrea for sharing your settings. I will give it a try and see what I think. Have you ever seen the app “Ricoh Recipes”? They are done by a guy named Ritchie (don’t remember his last name).

        1. You’re welcome! I heard of these recipes but didn’t really look much into them. I am very happy with GR 2 out of camera look so I feel I need nothing else when shooting it 🙂

  3. I’m going to be provocative. Just a bit. In good nature 🙂

    I agree with everything you write. But … then … why do you caption your photographs with stuff about the gear you shot them with. Unless the article is specifically about the gear, why should anybody care? Do YOU care?

    (same with photobooks. There are two kinds: interesting photobooks, and photobooks with a ten page index on cameras and lenses used… no crossover)

    1. Hi David! Some provocation is always welcome if done in good nature, sure 🙂

      I write the gear caption because when I read blog posts and there are photos I often ask myself “what did she/he use?”, so I decided to provide this info to my viewers. Apart from that, many of my viewers are here on the blog cos I use the same gear they use (Ricoh GR, Olympus, Nikon) so I think it is nice to let them know what I used for each shot.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

  4. Andrea I thank you for gear info on photos, that way I can compare my Gr pics to yours, and realize what fantastic pics you do take. I follow less photogs than you can count on two hands, as for reviews I’d rather read the following comments or forums to see what every day problems photogs encounter. That z6 2 looks intriquing because of 24 mp, would be nice companion to my Q and that last pic in pitch black environment blows me away. Can’t wait for next blog!

    1. Hi John! Your words about my snapshots are always very kind. The Nikon Z6 II is a lovely camera, and that Nikkor 28mm 1.4 is one of the reasons I am still shooting Nikon for most of my job. Absolutely stellar lens.

      Your experience with both the GR and the Q is intriguing me. The image quality differences are quite obvious, as are the size and weight ones, but what about the feelings while using them? What do you prefer? Which one are you most likely taking with you? If you have a minute to answer that, you will make me happy 🙂

  5. Hi Andrea, wonderful photos as always! I had a similar feeling some years ago, after shooting some photos with my retro-styled Olympus OMD, and emulating the Portra look at Lightroom, I thought: why I do waste so much time and not try the real thing? Since then, I have shot almost exclusively film with a Leica M2 (no batteries, no meter, just aperture and time settings) and the process is so liberating! But truth to be told, digital is really convenient, and with the recent price increases from Kodak I am again considering buying a digital camera for those times I do not want to waste film. You cannnot imagine how much time I have lost reading tons of reviews, seen countless Youtube tutorials, and I am still agonizing over buying a Ricoh GRIIIx, or a small micro 4/3 body with a 40mm equivalent lens, or maybe a full frame camera so I can use my Leica lenses (my budget is maximum 1.000 Euros). But this process is really exhausting and never ends. The worst thing is that every time I look on the specs and specially at the menus of digital cameras I get really overwhelmed. Camera manufacturers have started an endless race to install features that people do not need and that interfere with the joy of taking photographs, and this leads to endless discussions about camera stuff when at the end, this should be about taking beautiful memories.

    1. Thank you very much Oriol! The funny thing is that these techniques and filters rarely even approach the rendition of the stocks they intend to simulate. In the end I think it is just a huge self delusion, motivated by the wish of using something vintage, with some heritage maybe.

      The decision between a GR IIIx and a m43 with 20mm is interesting. I would probably go for the m43, because this way you get no heating, you get a brighter lens, much better stabilization (depending on the camera), and so on. But it is not a mystery that I don’t enjoy the GR III line 🙂

      I wish some camera maker would go in the Leica direction, streamlining the user interface and having the courage of not including every possible trendy feature. Fuji seems to hint at that direction with the X-E4, but the backlash they got for it will probably bring the line back into lots of buttons territory. It would be simple to organize menus in two layers: one with the essentials, and one with the deeper settings. This could be associated with a camera presenting only the essential controls for exposure and focus plus the absolute minimum controls for accessing features. Who knows, maybe someone will sooner or later take the risk!

  6. Thank you for your interest, when I started following you it was before Agent Orange from my time in Viet Nam caught up to me and I could be on foot. I carried an ONA prince and two of my Leica’s x1 and X2 in side the bag, with GR 2 in outer pocket and GRD 4 in shirt pocket.X’s were color Gr2 B/W the 4 high contrast b/w. Since my stents I now drive my Jeep to areas I want to photo and cando a lot from the Jeep or close proximity. GRD4 still shirt pocket, Q has material everyready like case, GR2 now has 21 mm conversion in place, positive film, and X1 or 2 as roommate. The only time I carry one camera, is when I go park my car, and pull A ROBERT FRANK, and ride a bus and just Snapchat might or might not, usually not, be a good pic! When I am mobile I have a cane, and those magical Ricohs make me feel not quite handicapped. The Q and X’s tell me I can do anything which leads me to over extend myself and I tire easy, but it is a happy tired! Your Z and a Q2m are my current quandary. Love 24 mp in my Leica and think a Z6 w 24/50 would be great, but admit that Q2m should be illegal. I will be 75 so maybe 5-8 years left to putz around. Stay well my friend and how do you not fall In love w your models?

    1. Thank you for sharing your story John, it surely is a love letter to photography, showing how it can become an integral part of our path as humans.

      The Z6 is light and small, but the lenses are usually not. This mainly depends on the very large mount and optical choices Nikon decided to make. There are some small and light lenses, like the 28/2.8 and the 40/2 but they are not on the same level of the S line lenses, which are simply amazing. But I didn’t test the 28/2.8 and the 40/2 yet, so I am just saying what I read.

      I think it would be great if you could find a single light and small camera you can bring with you and that gave you enough focal length reach, by swapping small prime lenses or using a good zoom. Micro Four Thirds seems the most reasonable choice, but the image quality is not on par with what you get out of a Leica Q or a Nikon Z6, and as much as I love the MFT system, I admit I can notice the difference in quality. It comes down to what you do with the photos, your style of shooting, if and how much you edit the files, etc.

      Thank you for reading and commenting the blog since so long, I really appreciate it.

  7. Hello Andrea, the gear question is always an interesting one… a few days ago I was in a camera shop looking at a Leica Q2 *or* a GRIII. The shop assistant simply could not understand that at all—the *only* metric he understood was image quality. Important, yes— but not the only one. How the camera made you feel was alien to him.

    1. Hi Gavin! Indeed, it seems many are having a limited approach to what makes a camera different from another one, and they mostly focus on the tech data. That “how the camera make you feel” is indeed important, and so is ergonomy, and how a camera fits the style and needs of a photographer. Luckily there seems to be a growing awareness about this, fueled in my opinion from the economic crisis and the availability of affordable older cameras, which are making people explore more and focus less on the latest and greatest. At least this is my observation and hope. Have a great day!

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