“Make it more complex”, said nobody ever

January 10, 2022  •  Leave a Comment

As I write this, we have moved into 2022 (Happy New Year, by the way) which for me is a bit of a mixed bag.  I love the celebrations at the end of a year and even engage with some of the popular New Year’s resolutions – I probably have the same level of success of most other people.  The tricky part of New Year for me is almost always my attempts at prioritising what I want to do for the next 12 months.  This was something I didn’t have much of a problem with when it came to other people during my engineering career but when it comes to me, it’s always been a challenge that leads to a strange paralysis.  2021 had been a great year for change and I had developed new relationships, learned many lessons about how I wanted to operate in my business and delivered some great tuition sessions.  As my old boss used to say “that was last year, Rich…it’s done mate”.  Now I found myself planning this year and as usual, my state of confusion permeated through the first week of 2022.  Then, something shifted.  

Last year, we took delivery of a beautiful, new, factory-built campervan. It was something we’d promised ourselves at some point in the future, but when the pandemic struck in early, we changed our plans to bring it forward.  It has been magnificent so far, with us making the most of the summer and autumn with many trips away in it.  The shift in my procrastinating about this year came from a small problem we had with the van earlier this week.  Like all modern cars, the van has hugely sophisticated systems that control and monitor the health of its functions.  One of these, we were told, had an intermittent fault that needs investigating.  Just one of those things that can happen with any vehicle, new or second hand but it’s frustrating all the same.  It got me thinking, though – How has everything become so complex?  

Of course, the answer is simple.  The complexity of something like the system on my van is designed with the intention to improve our lives in some way; the function concerned reduces emissions that harm the environment, so that benefit is a clearer conscience.  The complexity of the system only reveals itself when it goes wrong however, which is when someone with specialist knowledge is required to sort it out.   In the case of photography, cameras are also becoming much more technically advanced and we see this most clearly in those that are built into mobile phones.  I recently saw an advert for a major phone manufacturer (no names…etc) that was announcing a new function that digitally removes clutter from the image.  It turns out that if you are taking that special holiday selfie next to one of the seven wonders of the world and somebody ‘photo-bombs’ it, you can now draw a circle around the idiot and have them surgically removed from your photo.  Far from being a gimmick, this function allows the photographer to recover what might be a once-in-a-lifetime image and spare them from the disappointment of getting it wrong in the first place.  The technology isn’t perfect, though.  Removing something from a digital image requires sophisticated artificial intelligence that can use the area surrounding the object to extrapolate what it should look like.  It always leaves some distortion at the pixel level that can only really be improved rather than eliminated.  For most applications, the benefits outweigh the drawbacks though.  


The irony of all this is that technological advances can have the effect of ‘dumbing down’ our knowledge.  In the case of the van, I have no idea how this stuff works because the last time I serviced a car myself, I only needed a famous brand of workshop manual and some spanners.  The investigation they are doing as I write this involves a laptop computer and diagnostics instrumentation – I’m not sure the spanners are needed until much later.   In the case of the photograph, the ability to correct it afterwards could mean that we aren’t paying attention to the composition before we press the shutter button.  It’s much simpler to recognise and consciously avoid ‘visual debris’ (whether it’s a tree ‘growing’ out of a person’s head or someone acting up in the background) than rely on technology to save the day.  I was asked recently how much post-production I do in my work and my answer was, well, simple.  I only adjust what used to be done in the traditional darkroom environment, which limits me to selective brightness (dodging and burning), contrast and, if the image is a film scan, dust removal.  I don’t add or subtract anything and am not greatly fond of special effects etc.  I’m not saying that it’s wrong to do that, of course – creativity shouldn’t be limited by ‘rules’.  It’s just that I prefer to keep it simple.

How does this all relate to 2022?  Well, the key lesson for me here is to plan to achieve a small number of things to the best of my abilities rather than to spread myself too thin.  If I take my time, concentrate on what makes something a success, I’ll not only be healthier mentally, but will continue to build on my achievements of last year. Keep It Simple.  Let’s just hope I can get it together to settle in what those things are.


Interested in learning photography?  My tailored tuition covers, amongst other aspects, the basics of composition and how to avoid the common mistakes.  Drop me a line at [email protected] for more details. 



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