Why are photographs more interesting than reality?

Why are photographs (sometimes) more interesting than reality?
-a backdoor explanation of Live View photography

Ever wondered?

There are four main reasons that artistic photographs can (sometimes) exceed reality…

1. They allow us to focus on the details of a scene at length, while with reality, our brains force us to start with the most interesting, and only get to the details EVENTUALLY, often after the opportunity has passed. Normally, changing what we’re focused on to the peripheral area would also change the composition of the scene, but not with a photograph where the composition is “locked” but your attention can wander around it.

2. They can take us to places we can’t go ourselves…

3. A talented photographer can make those of us who are somewhat artistically challenged, see ordinary things in an artistically superior composition.

4. And they distort reality…..the colors, the geometry and time, and they limit your field of view.

You can list other things photographs do that are important to us, like help us remember a person or event, but from a technical/mechanical/physical view, the above four things are what can make photographs MORE fascinating than reality.

Now, ask yourself: “WHY does a camera have a viewfinder?” If your goal is to capture REALITY, a viewfinder is a waste of time….but your goal is NOT to capture reality, is it? Believe it or not, it’s not EVER the goal. At the very least, EVERY time you take a picture, you reduce your field of view from EVERYTHING in front of you, to a small “slice” of everything in front of you.

A viewfinder shows you how the camera is going to ALTER reality. Instead of reality, the viewfinder shows you the LIMITED FIELD OF VIEW that is going to be your photograph. That is the ONLY purpose to a viewfinder, to show you how the camera will allow you to CHANGE reality.

Given that, the best viewfinder is the one that MOST ACCURATELY shows you what the camera is going to do TO reality…..given THAT, the PERFECT viewfinder is the one that shows you EXACTLY what the photograph is going to look like before you take it…..anything short of that, is a viewfinder doing LESS of it’s job.

Follow the reasoning then…..why do we have SLR cameras?

We have SLR cameras for two reasons. Second, they enable light to reach the autofocus module until the time you TAKE the picture, at which point the mirror in the camera flips to send light to the sensor/film. I say that’s the SECOND reason, because the first reason is much more basic, much more IMPORTANT, and also came FIRST.

We initially created SLR cameras to solve a problem. Before SLR, cameras had two “light paths,” meaning, light came through the main lens to expose the film, but that meant it could NOT go to the eye of the photographer, so there had to be a SECOND lens sending light to the viewfinder. It mostly worked, but in one way clearly failed. The two light paths could not LINE UP. Meaning, the photographer and the camera were seeing things from two different points of view…meaning, the photographer could NOT see EXACTLY the way in which the camera was going to alter reality into a photograph. It failed miserably when you changed the lens to a focal length NOT duplicated by the viewfinder.

SLR solved that problem by putting a mirror behind the lens that sent light to the viewfinder, and whenever you took a picture, the mirror would “flip” out of the way allowing the SAME LIGHT PATH to go to the film. VOILA! Both the camera AND the photographer were now seeing the same thing….seeing the same LIMIT OF THE FIELD OF VIEW that the camera was going to capture.
And there you have it, the most important reason that we have SLR cameras, is to allow the photographer to SEE THE PHOTOGRAPH BEFORE THEY TAKE IT!

Now the much harder question. Why do we STILL have SLR cameras?

This is an important question, because as it turns out, while the SLR was showing the photographer the altered field of view, the camera was in fact making OTHER alterations to reality! Other alterations that the SLR was NOT showing the photographer!

Yes, while the SLR solved ONE problem, it fell down when it came to a couple others. The big one, was exposure. Depending on what aperture your lens is set at, and what shutter speed you’re using, and what speed film (or ISO setting) you’re using, the EXPOSURE, or brightness of the image changes. And SLR had absolutely ZERO ways of showing you this change. Sort of.

Actually we invented something called a “light meter.” It measures light, and tells you if your shot is going to be too bright or too dark. Definitely helps. With one HUGE problem. A light meter, even today’s BEST most expensive light meter, has absolutely NO IDEA WHAT YOU’RE SHOOTING. When it says the shot is too bright, it means it’s too bright for a scene that is MEDIUM GRAY. When it says the shot is too dark, it mean’s the shot is too dark for a scene that is MEDIUM GRAY.

In fact, until the photographer makes some adjustments (exposure compensation) the most advanced camera in the world ASSUMES you’re shooting something MEDIUM GRAY. How often is THAT going to be right…..umm, almost never. And no matter what, the camera does NOT know what your artistic vision for the shot is. You have to “program” that into the camera (exposure compensation) but you have to accomplish this WITHOUT seeing the image the way it will be captured. No way around it, you have to GUESS.

So obviously, in the case of exposure, what would be REALLY handy, is seeing the ACTUAL photograph before you ever take it. Then you don’t need a light meter at all. You look at the image, it’s too dark, so you make an adjustment and BAM, it’s exactly right. In fact, you CAN do that with an SLR, we call it “shoot/review.” You take ONE shot, review it, make a decision that it’s too dark or too light, make an adjustment (guess) and then shoot again. And usually AGAIN. It’s really too bad a camera can’t just SHOW you what the photograph is going to look like BEFORE you take the shot….if only it could SHOW you the effect your settings changes are having on the exposure, now THAT would be perfect. In fact, using our new defintion of the purpose of a viewfinder…to “show us how the camera is going to alter reality” to make the photograph…a camera that shows you how the photograph is GOING to look beforehand, is a PERFECT VIEWFINDER. And an SLR, by that definition, now becomes a very VERY imperfect viewfinder.

Which is where LIVE VIEW comes in.

Explaining Live View, as is turns out, is much harder than it should be. After all, it magically shows you the photograph AS IT WILL BE, and allows you to make decisions about exposure and white balance and even depth of field AHEAD OF TIME, in REAL TIME, and actually SEE those changes as you make them. That explanation alone should make every artistic photographer desperately want this feature. But that is NOT the case.

Live View cameras with quality lenses and sensors have been around for more than a decade.

Granted, not INTERCHANGEABLE LENS SYSTEM cameras with Live View, but those ARE here now, and have been here for quite a while.  And the technology has existed for such a long time, which makes one wonder, “WHY HAS IT TAKEN SO LONG FOR US TO GET HIGH END CAMERA OPTIONS WITH LIVE VIEW?”

(true live view, IN the viewfinder)

The unfortunate answer is, the people with the MOST knowledge of photography, just didn’t understand the value of Live View, and THAT was most puzzling. Long-time, serious photographers and professionals almost universally resisted Live View. In fact, still today, it’s like pulling teeth to get someone raised on SLR to understand the value in the switch.

And the reason, I think, is finally clear.

They don’t understand what their viewfinder is for.

Now that sounds like I’m being insulting, but really, have you ever read in a book, or a magazine, or heard in a class or a seminar….ANYWHERE, the definition of what your viewfinder is for? No, it pretty much doesn’t exist. Great photographers are using this device hundreds of times a day, 365 days a year, and in the case of SLRs using them correctly, but NOT knowing exactly what their purpose is!

If you don’t know what it is the viewfinder is supposed to be doing, you can’t evaluate if it’s doing it WELL! And THAT is why, when electronic viewfinders hit the scene, something that is necessary for a Live View camera, you had many, many, MANY pro photographers saying:

“They are not as good as optical viewfinders.”

Which was true. Well, it was true if their PURPOSE was to accurately represent REALITY. Which it never, EVER was!!! No, electronic viewfinders did NOT represent reality as well as an old optical viewfinder, but if you consider the REAL purpose of the viewfinder (see above)

“…show us how the camera is going to ALTER reality.”

They are CONSIDERABLY BETTER than an optical viewfinder! Even 12 years ago they were! It was always just a matter of understanding the real purpose of the viewfinder. After that, it’s no longer a contest, the optical viewfinder makes the SLR camera a distant at best, second-best choice!

And all of that makes recent camera reviews that include comments like:

“And now the quality of the electronic viewfinder image is starting to catch up with optical viewfinders”

…comments like that are just plain absurd. SLR/optical viewfinders have been the second best solution for more than a DECADE!

…but it’s still pretty hard to convince professional photographers that SLR needs to be replaced. You can roughly throw all experienced shooters into 3 categories:

1. Those that have reasoned it out.
2. Those that are stubborn and have to have it SHOWN to them.
3. Those that are so stubborn they can’t even conceive of something being better than the camera they’re an expert with.

If we quit wasting our time on the “3’s” lol, and hopefully the above explanation goes a long way toward convincing the “1’s” then what we have left is the very large group stuck as “2’s.”

Because you see, “showing them” doesn’t mean giving them the camera and letting them try it. It has surprised me that a lot of people can shoot a Live View camera for WEEKS, but always be shooting it like an SLR, and to get the most out of a Live View camera you have to do two things:

Use the viewfinder, NOT the LCD
Put it in MANUAL MODE, ignore the light meter, do not let the camera make decisions. Take charge, and be amazed.

If you SHOW this to a shooter….in all but the rarest of cases, the light bulb will come on. They were misled before now, by books and teachers and CAMERA COMPANIES and other pros, so this is a big mountain of misinformation to hurdle….contrary to all that they were taught, the REAL purpose of any viewfinder is to “show you how your camera is going to alter reality.”

And here we’ve reached the bottom line. A Live View viewfinder shows you far more information than an optical viewfinder, therefore, is simply a much BETTER viewfinder. And you cannot….by DEFINITION….have a Live View viewfinder on an SLR camera.  And SLR camera can STOP being an SLR temporarily and PRETEND to be live view, and it does that by ceasing to be an SLR.

Fortunately, today, we have fully-professional, Live View camera systems to choose from. We’re only left to wonder why anyone still MAKES an SLR.

You could say “wait, what about the SECOND reason we had SLR’s in the first place?”

Oh yeah…..reason 2. SLR’s allow light to reach the autofocus module until you take the picture. That’s important. In fact, the only flaw in that system is that when you DO shoot, the mirror redirects the light AWAY from the autofocus module and TO the sensor, and for that fraction of a second, the SLR STOPS FOCUSING. Fortunately, today, not only do we have on sensor focusing that’s just as fast as the old style separate focus system….it works FULL TIME.  Effectively eliminating the only other reason we STILL have cameras built on SLR design.  And because the data is coming to an electronic viewfinder, our focus options include things like eye tracking, focus peaking and focus zooming…..even smile and face recognition using the main processor.  Modern focusing withOUT the moving mirror is far more advanced.

As of 2017, some of the fastest and most accurate focusing cameras in the world are NOT SLRs, and the fastest cameras of the near future will absolutely, positively, NOT have moving mirrors in them.

If you understand the real reason for a viewfinder, you start to realize that the mirror in an SLR camera, is in your way….it’s blocking your view.  That mirror is:

1. eliminating features and options
2. preventing you from seeing the way the camera alters reality
3. making your camera larger, heavier, more complicated, more expensive and more fragile
4. limiting your choices in lenses

…and returning….NOTHING.

Lose the mirror……. It’s the most important feature to NOT have on ANY camera.