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Timely advice for the age of Smart Cameras, Smart Phones, and Smart Users
This blog post was inspired by the above cartoon, Chuck & Beans, which originally ran on Shoebox.com and is reproduced here with the artist's kind permission.
In recent months we've witnessed a wonderful new milestone in the evolution of digital photography: The addition of built-in Wi-Fi in stand-alone digital cameras. This allows users to easily upload their photos and videos to sharing sites such as Flickr, Photobucket, YouTube, and Vimeo. You can now share your vacation pictures with your friends on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Tumblr while you are still on vacation.
Cool, right? Well, maybe.
New Technology: A Double-Edged Blade
Recently introduced digital cameras like the Panasonic ZS30 , which has both Wi-Fi and Near Field Communication, the Android-powered Nikon Coolpix S800c (right), and the new Samsung NX300, an interchangeable-lens compact that promotes cloud-based storage and easy wireless image sharing via iOS or Android devices, have made sharing images directly from your digital camera easier than ever. (Note: All of these cameras are available now or will be soon from Adorama. Those that are not yet available can be pre-ordered now and will be shipped on a first-come, first-served basis.)
While this technology is very cool, it's not that new. Smart Phone users have been sharing their photos this way for a few years now, and photojournalists have used more sophisticated Wi-Fi grips and other techniques to send their images to their photo editors to meet tight print deadlines and to instantly upload their images onto those same publications' web sites and blogs when covering breaking news.
As with other new technologies when they first arrive, the temptation is to use them to excess. (Think HDR, which was overused at first, turning many off to the technology until guys like AdoramaTV's Gavin Hoey came along to show us how to do it right.) With a new generation of wireless-friendly cameras now starting to hit the market, it seems inevitable that the situation summed up in the above cartoon is bound to become widespread. First-time users, enamored of their new toy, will use it until others start selecting the "hide posts from this user" option on Facebook.
Just because it's there doesn't mean you always have to use it.
And so, I have a message. My dear fellow photographers, resist the temptation to share every moment of your life with your social media friends! Unless your work is more compelling than you probably think it is, they will simply click past your frequent posts. While it may make sense to upload an image immediately occasionally, usually, it can wait.
Keep shooting, but start editing
Don't stop taking pictures! That's not what I'm trying to say. Pixels are cheap, and getting cheaper—much less than film—so take as many pictures as you want. Don't edit yourself while you're in the photographic moment but don't upload your unedited work. Before you share your photos in your excitement, make a conscious effort to hold onto your images. Make a mental note to go through them later...later in the day, a week from now, or even a month. Nobody (unless you are a photojournalist) is pressuring you to post your shots right now.
Control Your Urge To Post
Here's an extreme lesson in controlling your urge to post pictures immediately: Many years ago, back in the film era, my mentor and teacher, Garry Winogrand, would wait months, and sometimes even a year or more, between the time he took a picture and when he'd print it, because he felt that when it came to editing his work, he wanted to look at it "cold." He wanted the experience and feelings he had when taking the picture to fade to the point that he could make a dispassionate editing decision.
Why did Winogrand wait so long? He knew that nobody looking at his pictures would share the same feelings or experience he had when taking them. By using time to separate the experience of taking the picture from viewing at the result, he felt he would select better photos.
Don't Make This Mistake:
One of the big mistakes photographers make is to equate the elation they might feel in the moment, the weather, or other stuff going on in one's life with the quality of the photos they've taken. These are your feelings, not those of the viewer. "I felt great taking this picture" is not going to convince someone else that it's a great picture.
While Winogrand's approach might be over the top for someone who simply wants to share their life experiences with their friends on Facebook, a lesson can be learned from his approach, and that is to mindfully edit your photos before sharing them. Remember that more is less, and that one or two great photos will mean more than twenty average ones that are mostly variations of each other.
Here's the opposite of the Winogrand approach. Four years ago, a friend of mine went to the first inauguration of President Obama. A big fan of the new President who was basking in the immediate afterglow of that historic day, my friend shared a portfolio of nearly 200 photos he shot from his position on the Capital Mall, somewhere in the middle of the crowd. Unfortunately, the pictures mostly showed the backs of peoples' heads, and weren't interesting at all. I found three interesting shots but was frustrated that I spent so much time finding them. And his insistent messages to me of "what do you think of my pictures?" didn't help. If he'd taken the time to edit his work and just posted those three good shots, I would have had no problem saying "terrific!"
Netiquette, Wi-Fi Style: Your Social Network Will Love You For This
So, as you gain the ability to share your images directly from your camera, be sure to reserve that sharing ability for special images. Respect other peoples' time, and if you share only your best shots, they will have greater impact than those 83 pictures of your lunch.