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Thread: The Worst Advice (in ANY format)

  1. #1

    The Worst Advice (in ANY format)

    Hi Everyone ?

    I enjoyed reading previous posts about ?The Worst Large Format Advice? and ?The Funniest Thing You Ever Heard?. The ?Worst Advice? post really got me thinking, though, and I came up with a far more insidious example. I still hear it from time to time. It?s not format-specific, so indulge me a little.

    When I was first learning how to use a darkroom, I knew a guy who worked in a ca mera shop. He would say really wise sounding things like ?expose for the shadow s and develop for the highlights?. He never really explained what that meant, b ut who was I to ask a bunch of questions? One day I was complaining about how b ad my prints looked, and he said,

    ?You just need to buy a box of paper and lock yourself in the darkroom until you learn how to print?.

    There?s the awful advice. It not only sounds innocent enough, it actually sound s good! I already had a great deal of enthusiasm for the work, and here was thi s god-like individual (he worked in camera store!) telling me that I just needed to apply some time and effort, and I would be a good printer. Wow, this was go ing to be easy AND fun!

    So I got busy. I printed, tried some different paper, tried some different film , printed some more, tried some different chemicals, tried a different light sou rce, made more prints, tried some different lenses, etc. I printed whenever I h ad the chance and made the same mistakes over and over and over again. Huge, na sty piles of bad pictures. I eventually became a Magic Bullet addict, but that? s another post.

    The problem? His advice constituted an infinite loop. It included no test, no condition that tells you if you?re done, or even if you?re getting closer to you r goal. Being literal-minded (and sometimes no too smart), I followed his dictu m to the letter, and spent an embarrassing amount of time spinning in very small circles.

    Not having an active photographic mentor, I did not understand the tragic incomp leteness of what he offered me. The intention was sincere, but some of the step s were missing. I eventually got out of the loop, but think of all the wasted t ime!

    So what should he have told me? It?s kind of obvious in retrospect, but it was n?t at the time. Here?s how I think about it now.

    1) Look at your print and decide what you would change to make it better. This step is really the most difficult. Until you develop a critical eye, it?s hard to tell if a print will benefit from changing the contrast, brightness, composit ion, or something else. There may even be a mechanical problem (improperly deve loped film, for example). If you can?t decide, show it to someone whose picture s are better than yours and ask them. Make sure they make good pictures and not just opinions.

    2) Find out what techniques will get you closer to your goal. In other words, h ow do I fix the problem? Again, you may need to ask someone.

    3) Try it. Compare your new print to the old one. Is it what you expected? Is it better? Maybe you need more or less of what you tried in step 2. Maybe you need to try something else, or some combination of things. Go back to Step 1, and repeat as necessary. When you get a print you like, or run out of things to try, you?re done.

    Most of you already know some version of these instructions and use them in your work. They sound completely obvious (but so does the Bad Advice). If you?re s till in the ?repeat mistakes until time and money are exhausted? loop, consider giving the expanded set a try.

    And if you see that guy in the camera shop, poke him in the nose for me.

    Thanks for reading ?

    - Kevin

  2. #2
    Kevin Kolosky
    Join Date
    Jun 1999

    The Worst Advice (in ANY format)


    I could not agree with you more. Far too many begining photographers try to correct their mistakes by automatically fooling around with different combinations like developers, films, temperatures, times, camera equipment, etc. They never get a handle on one thing, let along 100 different things. And I really think too much emphasis is placed upon working up from the negative, when, as you seem to suggest, one should work down from the print. After all, that is the final product. the good thing is that when makes so many mistakes, as you admit to have made, pretty soon you run out of mistakes.


  3. #3

    The Worst Advice (in ANY format)

    If you still don't understand "expose for shadows, develop for highlights, I suggest you carefully read some good books on exposure and printing such as "The Negative" and "The Print" by Adams, or "Zone VI Workshop" and " The Fine Print" by Picker. If you don't start with the baisc principles the best critical eye won't lead you in the right direction.


  4. #4

    The Worst Advice (in ANY format)

    Hi David -

    "Expose for the shoadows and develop for the highlights" is one thing I can usually deal with (provided I don't set the meter to the wrong ISO). I can now reliably meter a scene, decide where to place the low values, see where that places the high values, and decide if I want to do anything with development to alter the range of values.

    It was a major confidence builder to get that far, believe me! I've since moved on to more interesting mistakes.

  5. #5

    Join Date
    Oct 2001

    The Worst Advice (in ANY format)

    i can still remember, about 25 years ago, the young fellow from the local shutterbug store, after looking at some of my first attempts in B/W, telling me "mr norman, you should just stick to color.."

  6. #6

    The Worst Advice (in ANY format)

    David, Wasn't it Fred Picker who advocated " expose for the highlights and the other values including the shadows will fall into place. "

  7. #7

    Join Date
    Jan 2001

    The Worst Advice (in ANY format)

    One thing I noticed about Kevin's post is the emphasis on asking for advice and criticism from others. Truely I believe one cannot do anything really well just by themselves. All great athletes use coaches and thus it should be true that photographers need mentors/coaches. I think the critical idea here is that the coach can show you what is missing in your work. If one could see it on one's own, one would be Ansel by now.

    The idea of a ?distinction? is learning ?what you don't know that you don't know?. Only another person can show you this. I just got back from the John Sexton workshop and the ?coaching? there was superb. I have learned many new ?distinctions? and profited immensely by it. I?m really beginning to get it that receiving help from others is really what will help me be able to express myself better in photography . .


  8. #8

    The Worst Advice (in ANY format)

    Here goes:

    1) A pro should be able to get the exposure by just looking at the light.

    2) Never mind what Kodak (Ilford, Fuji, Agfa) says, don't even try their time/temperature development numbers.

    3) The Zone System will give you perfect negatives just like Ansel Adams'.

    4) Although this isn't a one line quote of bad information, it's more the kind of advice your get at an art college:

    - Use only a normal lens. - Print full frame. - Use lots of infrared film. - Paint yourself into creative corners that restrict you rather than liberate your art. - Defeat any technical criticism with "Well that's the way I felt." - - Don't use your photographic skills to earn a living by shooting a commercial job; it's better to earn a minimum wage flipping burgers or by working in a camera store.

  9. #9

    The Worst Advice (in ANY format)

    "Get close and fill the frame with the subject."

    That may help some people, but for what I'm doing right now, it may as well read, "make sure that the image is out of focus and is underexposed by six stops."

  10. #10
    Whatever David A. Goldfarb's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2000
    Honolulu, Hawai'i

    The Worst Advice (in ANY format)

    --Rule of thirds.

    --Don't center the subject.

    --Don't put the horizon in the middle of the frame.

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