Stephen F. Dennstedt
Photography groups & forums are interesting places. For the most part I shun them like I do other forms of social media. I am not a big fan of group-think—Conservative radio personality Rush Limbaugh (who I detest) coined the term Sheeple.
Sheeple has been replaced with Snowflake to describe my brand of politics though I am not a Liberal (Progressive). I tend to be a fiscal conservative and social progressive which basically labels me a Libertarian.
But I’ve always hated labels (political or otherwise). I am what I am. Of course I am what I am and that’s all that I am was coined by another guy I never really liked—Popeye the Sailor Man. Wow—what a rambling introduction to a potentially controversial blog post. The bone I have to pick with most groups and forums (photography included) is that they’re too political, governed by opinion and appeal primarily to the ignorant masses. They tend to pander to our basest human instincts as does most social media. I usually find them banal and a waste of time.
The River Tay with Saint Mathew’s Church of Scotland – Perth, Scotland
I’m an odd duck—a loner, introvert and social misfit. So I caution you to take my words with more than a grain of salt and not get your panties all in a wad (it would be a complete waste of time). I’m sure I’m going to lose some subscribers over this rant but I’ve always written this blog for me (as a creative outlet) and not for my readers. If my readers find my posts interesting or helpful so much the better but I’ve never been one to worry too much about the opinions of others, positive or negative. The modern trend on social media is to promote personality over content and I’m just not that guy.
Perito Moreno Glacier – Southern Patagonia, Argentina
I am not God’s gift to photography. There are thousands upon thousands of photographers who capture better images than me. But I am competent and honest when it comes to my work and I work really hard to hone my craft. Digital technology is changing the way we approach art and creative effort—everyone copies everyone else and calls it original. Everything is melting into homogenous crap, pabulum for the masses. Literature, music, movies are all increasingly formulaic and boring. We’ve really strayed from our roots and I find it sad. Original concepts are copied by millions the next day.
Brown-faced Capuchin Monkey – Northern Amazon River Basin, Cuyabeno, Ecuador
I find that most groups and forums tend to foster this group-think mentality. That members often mimic what others are doing instead of pushing new boundaries themselves. Anyone who doesn’t conform to group-think is unjustly criticised and culled from the group while those who pander to the (largely uneducated) masses prosper and are hailed for their creative efforts. My experience leads me to believe that groups and forums function more as social interaction than places of real education—and as clearly stated earlier I am not a social creature.
Giant’s Causeway – Atlantic Coast of Northern Ireland
I’m old enough to remember the first efforts to keep both the foreground and background in sharp focus using wide-angle and ultra wide-angle lenses and tilt & shift large format cameras. Now we just focus stack. I can remember spending hours, days and even weeks seeking the perfect shot—now we just composite our images. Just slap that big old moon into any creation we want and better yet silhouette an owl or wolf in it. Peter Lik just got caught doing that very thing after claiming all his photos are real and un-manipulated. Bullshit. Be honest with your work.
Orange-winged Amazon Parrot – Northern Amazon River Basin, Cuyabeno, Ecuador
There was a time when HDR (high dynamic range) processing pushed the envelope and then it became the thing. Now we’re trying to dial it back with subtle exposure stacking or better yet with improved camera technology. I have nothing against post-processing—virtually every digital image is post-processed either in-camera (as JPEGs) or processing RAW file images in Lightroom, Photoshop or Adobe Camera RAW. In the old days we processed film negatives and prints in a wet (chemical) darkroom now we process digital files electronically. One method is wet the other dry but they attempt the same thing.
Great Egret in Flight – Monterrico, Guatemala
I love digital technology. But I miss the discipline and originality of the old film days. I like classic anything: classic movies (especially black & white), classic rock & roll, classic blues, classic country music and jazz, classic literature and dance and most especially classic photography. Before the bean counters took over and demanded that everything be commercially successful. Now everything is run by accountants (and not creatives) with their advanced algorithms and we get CRAP. Same-old, same-old. People love the new and innovative, bean counters want tried & true.
The Blue Door – San Juan Chamula, Chiapas, Mexico
Star Wars was new and innovative—now we have Star Wars 184. Die Hard was new and innovative and now we have Die Hard 168 starring an 80-year old Bruce Willis (I don’t really know how old Bruce is but he’s too damn old to play that guy). Look at any creative genre from food to music (to photography) and all you get is same-old, same-old. Boring and uninspired. As photographers we are Indie-creators, no one hires full-time photographers anymore: newspapers, magazines, advertisers and corporate America all contract their assignments to freelancers like me.
Photo Shoot for The Yucatan Times Newspaper (Local Zoo) – Merida, Yucatan, Mexico
The word cliché rings loudly in my ears. Things (or words & phrases) that become so common as to become routine. Think no further that ND filters applied to moving water (oceans, rivers and waterfalls). When that technique first appeared years ago the water (and clouds) looked magical—so silky smooth and ethereal. Now its become totally cliché—every single photographer does it. The same thing can be said about Astro-photography—really cool in the beginning and now totally cliché. I think photography groups and forums foster this kind of copy-cat photography.
Clifden Castle Ruins – Clifden (County Galway) Ireland
I only belong to two photography groups these days. They are both closed groups and you have to be invited to join. There are some really great photographers involved, some pretty good photographers and a few beginners. These are social photographers who meet up for shoots and learn from one another—I just can’t do that. The loner, the introvert, the anti-social part of me rebels at the thought. I’ve made some good (social media) friends in these two groups but I could never join up for group photography outings. I shoot alone—I always have.
Northern-crested Caracara – Yucatan, Mexico
I appreciate their recognition and praise of my work but I don’t live for it. I find that my favourite photos rarely receive much attention whereas the over-processed, gaudy and clichéd photos of others garner most of the group’s praise. Many highly touted photos actually cross the line into graphic arts. I can appreciate graphic arts as a creative medium but again it’s not my cup-of-tea. Maybe it’s the photojournalist in me. If I had to define my style (and I abhor the idea of boxing myself in) I might call it artistic documentarian. I like my photos to appear natural but with a certain artistic flair.
Male Cinereous Harrier – Southern Patagonia, Argentina
When I’m shooting for money I shoot for my client—their wishes are my command. When I shoot for myself I shoot my way, to please myself, and I don’t really give a rat’s ass who likes it or not (that’s not entirely true). I try really hard to avoid the cliché images if possible (I will leave those to others). I think that’s why I gravitate to wildlife photography, scenic photography and street photography (and of course photojournalism). Real animals, real people, doing real things. If I’m not on commercial assignment I will artistically post-process my images (a taboo in photojournalism).
Juan Pablo – Antigua, Guatemala
I want my viewers to see real subjects presented naturally but artistically—that requires sophisticated but subtle post-processing skills. Over-the-top processing (aggressive sharpening, contrast and colour saturation) creates unnatural crunchy looking images. A cooking metaphor would be they are over baked. I hate the look. Again, photography groups and forums tend to foster this over-processed look. Maybe I should start my own group—NOT! Constructive criticism is a powerful tool but most creatives are not open to it. Your worst enemies are family, friends and group members.
Uros Indian Girl – Lake Titicaca, Peru
They tell you what they think you will want to hear and not the truth. And frankly most non-photographers wouldn’t know good photograph if it bit them in the ass—they lean towards the sensational and overworked. Checkout what people like on Facebook and you will see my point. Photography, in my opinion, should be like a Zen painting—subtle, refined, simple and perfect. Compelling subjects tastefully rendered: tack-sharp, properly exposed and well composed. They should look simple and not overworked (look at a Zen garden). Simple is not easy—simple is very, very hard work. Keep it simple.
Galapagos Sea Lion Pup – Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
Field Notes: I suspect I’ve probably pissed off a few of my photographer friends with this post. It sounds pompous and arrogant and it probably is. But I’m older than the T-Rex and even dirt so it really doesn’t matter. We live in an overly clichéd world and I hate it—I crave spontaneity, realism and innovation in all things (especially the creative arts). Photography groups, forums and YouTube channels can be great resources but they are also guilty of perpetuating stereotypes and clichés. The next time you photograph water take a pass on the silky look—just once. SFD