Friday, February 22, 2008

Instability Happens

Image stabilization (IS) technology seems to be the photographic tool du jour. Most new lenses released nowadays come with built in stabilization technology, and many digital cameras have it built into the body. I'm a big fan of this technology. My only regret is that it wasn't developed earlier. For example, although I have always loved this photo of Capa's


the amount of camera shake bothers me. Granted, Capa was being shot at by Germans while attempting to establish beach cover at the time he took this. You can't really fault him for having jittery hands. If ever there was a perfect opportunity to use image stabilization technology that would've been it. Instead of the fuzzy dim image above he might've come up with something like this:


Now tell me honestly, which photo is more pleasing? Is a nice clear image of Tom Hanks easy on the eyes or not?

The great thing about image stabilization is that it simplifies photo taking. With IS, now anyone can take photos just like the ones in magazines. But image stabilization didn't just drop out of the sky. It is merely the latest in a long line of photographic tools designed to help everyone take the same high standard of photos. First there was automated metering, then automated flash and fill flash, then zoom lenses, autofocus, face recognition technology, and on and and on to our current ability to transfer any image onto a computer screen and manipulate it pixel by pixel. These were all nice developments, but without image stabilization they fell short. There was still a chance of someone like Nancy Rexroth shooting this photo


or, say, Sylvia Plachy forgetting her darned tripod again:


Not to mention Robert Frank:


Alas, poor Robert. What a shame you built your ouvre without proper technology. Aside from the obvious need for image stabilization, the photo above would benefit from fill flash and face recognition technology. Maybe a zoom lens would help. I'm thinking it should look more like this


You don't have to hang out at Sotheby's to know which is the more financially successful photograph.

We can now look back on these shaky old photos and see them for what they are, little glitches in the system. Imperfections. Fortunately with IS, everything at this point has been more or less corrected. Now making photographs is a uniform process, and all photographers can enjoy working together toward the same goal of shooting perfect magazine photos.

10 comments:

China Plate said...

Blake...
Capa's picture is way better than the Hanks photo. The motion blur makes the shot. Have you seen the World Press Photo of the year this year by Tim Hetherington? That has motion blur too. It is a great shot and the motion makes it.

jb said...

i quite like the capa photo. blurry as it is, it makes me feel what it must have been like to be there, in the middle of the landing. i wonder how much less the blur would have been if the emultion on the film wasnt melted in the dryer by an overly anxious darkroom boy.

J. Karanka said...

Yeah, nowadays you can even choose the depth of field of the image afterwards. No silly waste of time trying to figure that out before taking the image.

Anonymous said...

I completely agree. The technology can only make us infinitely better. Photojournalists are now shooting with ultra-sophisticated, super-fine resolution video cameras instead of archaic photographic devices which capture 'stills.' If Capa had had one of these bad-boys, we'd still be pulling 'Marlboroesque' type mugs from from the zillions of perfectly exposed frames of American soldiers. Not to mention, Frank's body of work would have been in brilliant technicolor, instead of the impossibly grainy grayscale it will now unfortunately forever reside in.

- Idrean Fickser

Nick said...

According to Capa (and others), the 'shake' was more the result of faulty processing in the LIFE London laboratory by an over-enthusiastic member of their staff than it was the result of shaky hands (though I have to say that, had I been in that situation, my hands - and everything else - would have been shaking). But anyway, technology's only technology; it takes a real live human being to 'see'.

Nick said...

Oh, I get it now, it was 'irony'. Sorry, missed that for a minute. (Well, it is Sunday.)

Jani Sourander said...

Nick, if there wouldn't be any irony in this entry, I would quit reading this blog right now.

Nikke said...

For a brief moment, I was seriously worried.

Thankfully, this story too had a happy ending.

Richard Flint said...

Capa's picture was also probably affected by the high drying temperature that ruined all but 11images taken that day. was image quality degraded on the remaining 11 salvaged images? possibly. For me the Capa D-Day images brilliantly put across the fear of being underfire and the urgency to get behind cover.

Tomé Duarte said...

it's funny you used a Saving Private Ryan still because I remember an interview with Spielberg where he was saying how he used the hand held camera a lot (shake) to give the exact same impression from the Capa pictures.

but well yea, the recent evolution of photography is very inspiring, in the future eventually virtual reality will make photographers obsolete and with time, extinct. ^