Monday, November 3, 2008

Deciphering forum-speak

While I'd much rather be out shooting pictures all day, I have a desk job and find myself reading about photography a lot when I can't actually be doing it. Fortunately, educating myself about photography has at least a small tie-in to my day job.

Inevitably, I end up reading some forums. In my opinion, you have to read between the lines to get the good stuff out of forum banter — there's a lot of mud in there you have to ignore. For example, when you see the following titles, here's what they really mean:
  • pro: has been paid at least twice in the last calendar year
  • semi-pro: has been paid once
  • advanced amateur: knows how to change lenses
  • beginner: beginner (the only honest ones)
In reality, pros are those who earn their entire living through photography. Semi-pros shoot a few weddings or other paid events a year. Advanced amateurs are skilled photographers who don't get paid. And so on. People on forums inflate their titles to appear more knowledgeable. Don't believe them, because they are full of shit.

A lot of terminology is thrown out there in forums. Actually, forums are all about terminology, specs, reviews, and any other number of discussions that have more to do with technology than photography. The reason for this is simple: technology is quantifiable, and therefore debatable. Hardly anyone debates how to make fine art. And it's important to remember that photography is an art, not a science.

Here's an example: newbie photographer A asks the forum to help him decide between a couple of lenses he's considering buying. Both are either entry- or mid-level in quality. It's obvious he wants to spend a few hundred dollars at most. And do you know what most of the responses will be? Recommending professional-quality glass that costs between $1,000-5,000. Are they trying to help? Of course not. They're trying to prove to everyone else that they're important, well-heeled photographers.

Forum posters love to blame everything on "a bad copy." Pictures out of focus? "I got a bad copy. I had to send three of them back to Sigma." Too much noise? Bad copy. With a good copy, they get more "keepers."

And everything good has to be "tack sharp." I loathe that term. It's like seeing the phrase "torture porn" in a movie review.

Forums will debate, ad nauseum, the merits of cameras that nobody arguing actually owns. Generally, this involves looking at test shots on a review site and spewing dogma about them.

People who post regularly in forums are insecure about the gear they use. Because of this, they try to point out that all the other brands are crap. Generally this is a Canon vs. Nikon thing, but not always.

If a less-than-stellar review comes out, sometimes forum posters will threaten to switch systems. It's a lie. Once you're invested in a system, it's costly to switch. I still don't know what it proves to make hollow threats like this.

And, of course, many forum posters have the "gear list signature" in which they list every piece of camera gear they own. Whoop-de-do.

Forums do have useful information — you just have to read between the lines.

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