Fine Art Photography, Black and White Prints

Reference: Error Accumulation


Often times you will see or hear people talking about how this-or-that material or process is overkill. And to a certain extent they may be right: at some point the advantages gained by over-doing something are so miniscule compared to the other problems or costs involved as to be ridiculous.

However, the creation of the final print sits at the end of a long chain of ever deteriorating processes. Every step , every material or piece of equipment has the potential to be at some point the limiting factor. This is the important place to concentrate, the Limiting Factor. As a photographer, you should spend some time seriously considering what your personal limiting factor is.

There is no way to precisely determine what the limiting factor of your photography is, for it will be different for everyone. Many people spend thousands of dollars on equipment hoping to improve their work (better lenses, the best film, or heaven forbid CCD, etc), and yet they never study, they never take the time to learn and contemplate. More often than not, with modern materials, the photographer is the limiting factor. The equipment and supplies available today far surpass the abilities of most photographers. Yet at some point the photographer may begin to see that a certain component of his or her system is failing them.

Each step in the photographic process is entirely dependent on the one before it. The next step can never give a better output than the input it was given to work with. You can never really fix a problem from an eariler step, the most you can hope to do is mask the error in some way.

Each step in the process results in a loss of quality, and each minute level of loss cannot be regained later. They accumulate, stacking minute errors upon those from further up the chain.

For example, a tripod that is slightly unsteady may not cause a problem that is very obvious if it were the only error, nor may an enlarger that shakes after every adjustment, but when the vibrations of both are combined the error may have multiplied to such an extent that the result is deemed unacceptable. Or excessive flare in the camera, and excessive flare at the enlarger baseboard. Or film that is not flat, and an enlarger that is not aligned. Or inaccurate shutters, and an inaccurate meter. To some extent (as small as possible we hope), all of these things are true. They can only be minimized, with the hope that by the time the final print is reached these ever so slight errors don’t result in significant aberrations.

Exacting standards in selecting materials can go a long way in reducing the amount of errors and aberrations, but only if they are applied along the entire length of the chain. The old axiom that “a chain is only as strong as its weakest link” has never been more true. Don’t forget that your own knowledge and skill is the first and therefore most important link in this chain, the best camera can’t make up for you being a bad photographer. If you want to buy something that will make you a better photographer, buy a book and some film.

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