A whole book on sharpening?

I was reading The Nocturnes blog today, and Tim Baskerville posted a commentary on my review of Bruce Fraser’s sharpening book. Tim also posted a link to an audio commentary by Brooks Jensen of Lenswork magazine. Mr. Jensen’s take on the book is rather dismissive — a whole book on sharpening?

I’m a Lenswork subscriber, and have also read the great books from Lenswork Publishing. I appreciate humorous anecdotes from old school curmudgeons as much as the next guy. Maybe even more. I’d actually like to be an old school curmudgeon myself one day.

But I’d also like to point out that there is no fundamental difference between reading Ansel Adams The Negative and reading Bruce Fraser’s sharpening book. These books are just simply ways to pass knowledge down from someone who is an expert on a particular subject, to people who want to learn about that subject. If you are happy with how sharp your digital images look with your current techniques, that’s OK. But if you shoot digital and make prints, you could probably learn a lot from Bruce’s book.

So why the big reaction? It’s just a book. Heck, when you’re done with the sharpening book, you should probably read Katrin Eismann’s Photoshop Masking & Compositing. Does the subtext of a film versus digital debate never end? Will Lenswork ever pay attention to this new fangled invention called color photography?

There’s nothing wrong with learning more about the craft of printing digital images. There’s also nothing wrong with paying someone else to worry about the printing, and just focusing on making images. Heck, it worked for Cartier-Bresson, who apparently didn’t make any of his own prints. But nobody needs to go into shock just because some people choose to focus on a particularly crucial aspect of digital post processing. And an intensive focus on post-processing doesn’t mean you can’t be out there focusing on making great images, too.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’ve stared into the hypnotizing glow of the computer monitor long enough to completely understand and respect those who choose to stick to traditional film based methods. But for a large percentage of photographers, working with digital tools is a fact of life — so we might as well make the best of it. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some images to sharpen.

Happy Thanksgiving!

4 thoughts on “A whole book on sharpening?”

  1. I find it interesting when Tim says:

    “…Does anyone else wonder how it is “progress” when we increasingly make everything more complicated?”

    No one is “making” anything more complicated. It is what it is. If one is happy with their workflow and their results, then they are “there”. If one feels they want more from their results and feel that understanding and applying better or more knowledgeable technique will get them there then they apply it, get involved in it, or work more deeply with it as they see fit.

    Many eschew the zone system and think it’s a waste of time, many feel it’s indispensible to achieve the look and results they want; heck, many do not even bother to understand basic exposure technique. If they can get the results they want without that, then great.

    It is interesting though to see some of the animosity towards this book as if some people wish it would go away.

  2. Hey Rich – sounds like you feel the same way I do. I was thinking about Tim’s comment this morning as I was packing my bag to go shoot. There certainly is something to be said for keeping things simple – which one of these 7 lenses do I need today? Argh. Digital post-processing is an easy place to go down the rabbit hole, or bottomless pit, or insert your favorite allegory here. I get what Tim’s driving at.

    My primary love is making images. The secondary work that comes out of making images with a digital camera is that you become the lab. This lesson is overwhelming for a lot of people, including me. I’ve been using Photoshop since version 3, and shooting with digital SLRs since 2001, and I’m just getting to the point where my toolset and workflow are at a comfortable place.

    In many ways, dropping off slide film at the lab and telling them to make the print match the chrome would be a huge relief. But I’m swimming in the digital deep end now, and the water isn’t so bad.



  3. What? Someone wrote a *whole* book the negative???

    I have to agree that the usefullness of Bruce Frasier’s book may fit into the same slot on some bookshelves as Ansel Adams’ THE NEGATIVE. Some photographers will embrace this level of control, other will skim and pick through this sort of book, and others will continue on, never giving it a second look.

    That’s the great thing about the time we live in, everyone can follow their own path. At this point in my path, I’m only marginally interested one step up from the PhotoShop’s USM filter. But it’s great to know that if I ever change paths and decide to become a sharpening freak, this sort of accessible book is available (and, someone I know, has already done the legwork of checking it out for me).

  4. I’m afraid Mr. Adam’s book on the negative (I think I once had two of them – never was able to plow thru it!), gets lumped into the “far too technical” category for me, as well (no sacred/scared cows here). Part of this is due to the fact that from an early age, I gravitated toward COLOR Night Photography (NPy) and shooting chromes (were you either have it, or you don’t, for the most part – you can do some push/pull, but THAT never seemed like a solution, either), and his work just didn’t seem to apply.

    Now, here’s a book, a new edition, by Ansel Adams that I think I might like – Sierra Nevada: The John Muir Trail (orig. published in 1938).
    “I find it interesting when Tim says:
    “…Does anyone else wonder how it is “progress” when we increasingly make everything more complicated?”
    - Blogger “Photo-essayist” said that – I didn’t, but sympathize with the sentiment.

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