Your overediting my images sounds like …And Justice For All — and other rantings on music photography
Having done a quick post about photo editing and crediting on Facebook recently, at least two persons that I know and consider as friends have been coming back to me.
In both instances, the feedback was roughly: “I have edited one of your images, without asking, and it didn’t even cross my mind that it could annoy you.
Now that you put it like that, though, I start to realise it might have been very wrong…”
Without brandishing the flag of self-righteousness, entitlement, intellectual property and legal rights, because that’s really not the point, I thought I’d elaborate a bit on why it can be annoying to see your images overedited, so that people don’t consider me as completely bonkers next time I lose my legendary poise and start explaining in no uncertain terms what I think of high-pass filters and people who use them.
I find it a bit hard to give my point of view without discussing first the way music photographers are perceived nowadays, and other aspects.
But if you couldn’t care less about my rantings, you can skip them and go directly to the important bits here.
How are music photographers perceived today
It seems you’ll always find someone who’ll smugly declare “Ah, but nowadays, everybody’s a photographer”.
Inevitably, that makes me want to hit them with the RB67, which can advantagedly be turned into a weapon when not used as a camera, and that although I’m a rather pacifist being.
What you can say if you wanna be smug, though, is “Ah, but nowadays everybody owns a camera”.
Which is kinda more accurate.
I don’t want to start the age-old discussion of what makes a photographer.
In all fairness, I have committed my share of breaches to good taste, crazy filters, trigger happy photoshoping and the lot when I was starting as a photographer back in 2005.
And to be completely honest, I was even rather proud of myself (this all has to do with the Dunning–Kruger effect, of which you can find a rough summary here).
Don’t misconstrue my meaning here. There are a lot of VERY talented photographers in the music industry nowadays.
But they tend to be somewhat eclipsed by the people who, being at the peak of the Dunning-Kruger curve, are very loud while being very wrong and unprofessional.
And when I read derogatory terms like “photographers = cancer” or “fucktographers”, I feel that we as a profession probably haven’t done the right amount of explaining (hence the long post). I also feel that if these so-called photographers could shut the fuck up, the world would be a slightly nicer place, and we might even maybe start to explain our point of view without being taxed of sucking in band fame for our own twisted goals.
(That is, when you’re a male photographer. When you’re of the female persuasion, you’re generally taxed of sucking something else. But don’t let me digress).
The evolution of photography in the music industry: timeless vs “content”
Anyway, what is very certain, though, is that while more and more people own cameras, bands need more and more images, or “content”, as it is loosely called since the coming of social networks.
In the end, nobody really cares about the quality of the images, because the amount of time spent by the viewer over said images is less than a second. So everybody’s very happy to see the average quality of music photography plummeting down, because it means you can get more bright colours for cheaper, and ironically enough, content devoid of actual content.
(In all fairness, this is not only happening in the music industry. At a gathering of pro photographers, one of my peers told me in a rather horrified way: “Can you imagine, he talked to me about TECHNIQUE?!! As if anyone cared…”)
In an ocean of daily images, it might seem that overediting, whether you’re a band or a photographer, is the right way to go. And indeed, intense contrasts or crazily bright colours will probably be more attention-grabbing today.
But bear with me and stop two seconds to reflect on a band photo you love. It’s probably not overedited. If it’s in colours, it probably respects skin tones, and if it’s in B&W, it probably has a reasonable contrast.
Because that’s how you do timeless. And in the end, that’s the thing that lasts.
Now obviously, you might not care much about that, because you’ve got an album or a gig to sell today. And that’s fine, I guess.
It’s a bit sad, but I’ve decided I don’t mind too much the overediting of my images as long as I’m not credited on the Internet.
(That’s very important, and I explain why here. If there’s one thing to read in that article, that’s this part.)
What’s the aim of The Road Crew within that frame?
I started The Road Crew while I was working mainly as a wedding photographer.
I felt completely constrained by the rules of the industry and the need to showcase a very coherent work. I didn’t want to do fashion, or fine-art, or whatever it is photographers do when they’re bored.
So I just thought I’d ask bands to line in front of my camera, and give a go at things I wanted to try. Though I’d been off the charts for a few years, I still knew enough people to allow me to do it in a very informal way at first, skipping the whole hassle of going through official channels and mainly reaching out to old friends.
Interment and Hexcutor where the first ones to indulge me, and I’m really grateful for that as I didn’t have anything to show when I started again.
Things have evolved a bit since then, but the aim is still the same: TO HAVE FUN.
Though I’ve been starting to sell a few pics lately, I very much intend to skip the hassle inherent to the exercise of professional photography.
I don’t intend to market, insist on copyright or enter into any kind of conflicts. It has to stay fresh and fun or it will go.
Er… what’s a look?
A look, or signature style is what makes you recognise instantly that an image has been done by this or this artist.
The easiest example within the music industry is probably Anton Corbijn, with his very recognizable clipped shadows (meaning there aren’t much details in is shadows, which often look like uniform black).
I guess that the aim of every photographer is to have a signature style while not being restrained by it. To keep on with the Corbijn example, the clipped shadows are present in his whole work, while his approach to depth of field has evolved a lot throughout the years.
A style is very personal, because obviously what makes an image good or bad is extremely subjective.
For instance, I cannot abide totally clipped shadows or totally clipped highlights.
(But I still love Corbijn’s works. Yeah, I know. Subjective, I said.)
So I don’t clip highlights. I’m sure there is details in ALL my highlights, at least on the subject. (If you’re not already bored to death, I talk about it in details here).
But when I go and visit the old photographer who taught me, he tells me that I should stop clipping those bloody highlights.
(Subjective. So subjective…)
Your over-editing sounds like …And Justice For All
In my opinion, a good band image in natural light should first and foremost look effortless. If the viewer starts wondering how it was done, if you used additional lighting, or which Photoshop action you used, you’ve probably missed the point.
Creating a seemingly looking effortless image is complex, though.
During the shoot, you have to position every member of the band you’re shooting with, check their limbs and general posture, create a kind of interaction and keep them busy so they don’t get too bored while you take a minute to think on the best camera to use given the time of the day, the amount of time those people have, the overall effect you want to create, and keep track of light measurement, film exposure, depth of field, and a few other parameters.
When I shoot, I have at least 4 trains of thoughts going at full speed. Inevitably, one of them derail and two others crash into each other, which means I’m not always very coherent on a quick-paced shoot.
But the end results look effortless.
I’ve tried a lot of film stocks, with different treatments, had tons of discussions with my lab about the feedback they gave me and the feedback I gave them, and the look I was after.
I’ve also tried various film and camera formats, to get the perfect midtones I was lusting after. It has altogether been a long and complex process, but the idea behind all this is to get as close to the final look as possible in camera, to avoid extensive retouching. Not because retouching is a long and boring process (it is, though).
But so that the end results look effortless.
So here I am, carefully balancing shadows, highlights and midtones to try and craft something which looks seamless and natural, and there comes someone, pushing the shadows so that it looks dark and mysterious (or whatever the hell), or muting the midtones so that it looks more “analog” (can it look like more analog than real analog, seriously?)
Of course I’m pissed. It took me the best of two years to get that look, and here you are, cranking everything up to 11.
Your overediting sounds like …And Justice For All.
That being said, a lot of people bought …And Justice For All, and some of them even think it’s a very good album.
But no one will tell you that it sounds effortless. Ever.
Yeah, but it’s my band, I can do whatever I want with its image
Sure. But if you want good images, it’s probably better to define the look you’re after beforehand.
Say you want something dark. It’s probably best not to shoot under an open sky. If you don’t go full studio, window light might be a better option to create a bit of mystery.
It might also be smart to work with someone who’s on the same agenda.
For instance, I tend to shoot B&W film with a rather laid-back, rock’n’roll vibe (or at least that’s how I like to think of my work. You may beg to differ). I can also err on the more “poetic” side from time to time.
Obviously, if you’re a symphonic black metal band, there’s no chance in hell that we produce something even remotely interesting together. Because I don’t understand your world
and I very much intend that it stays that way.
But whatever you do with the images we’ve created together, there’s one thing to keep in mind: if you alter them and post them on the Internet, do not credit me.
Crediting: Internet vs print
I was supposed to write a book about science in cosmetics, and my then-editor called me with this question: “I’ve been googling your name, and I found a photographer, a Doctor in Chemistry and a translator. Which one are you?”
I had to answer most truthfully that I was all three aforementioned persons.
The thing is, my last name isn’t very common, and Rachel isn’t a wide-spread first name in France either.
We used to be three persons going by my name, and now one is dead and the other isn’t exactly active on the Internet. That means that if you credit me with my own name on anything online, there are very good chances that anyone googling my name will find it. And given that it happened just a few weeks ago, I’m not being a paranoid self-centered asshole here.
While I’m mostly working as a translator these days, I still work with some brands on their images from time to time. And I might revive that book project which is on hold at the moment.
I’d rather not have to explain to any editor that “Yup, I’m well past my Dunning-Kruger peak, but someone felt that …And Justice For All was not such a bad album after all”.
If you’ve modified one of my images so that it fits in your album layout, though, I don’t mind much. The chances that my customers buy it in a physical format, peruse over the booklet and go through the pain of finding the credit for the images are so thin that frankly, go ahead.
I you decide to overedit, just be aware of the potential backlash though
While I’ve emphasised the fact that I strive to make my images look effortless, there’s still some editing involved for each and every one of them.
Thing is, though, there’s an amount of retouching an image can “tolerate”, but after that, its quality starts to alter.
Moreover, high pass filters and curves are somewhat used to reveal adulterating of images.
Remember that guy who won the Nikon competition with a pic of a plane, and how people laughed?
Well, if you don’t, you might want to check it before cranking up the filters.
That’s really friendly advice.
(I have a calibrated screen and I can see the image has been doctored without having to use the curves. If you don’t notice it on your own display, I very much advise you to refrain from overediting anything.)
I’m not a huge fan of seeing my images edited, but I decided that there were two approaches to the fact: I could be offended (which is very fashionable), or I could stop giving a shit.
The latter being a lot more relaxing, that’s my take on overediting from now on, provided I’m not credited on edited images posted on the Internet.