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Ken Rockwell’s site

Reader’s have asked me what I think about Ken Rockwell’s web site. Ken is a 30-year veteran photographer, with a compelling take on the world, both in terms of imagery and perspective. One of his most useful articles is How to Afford Anything. Highly recommended and it dovetails nicely with my recommendation for Secrets of Power Negotiating.

In the past I’ve glanced at Rockwell’s site without digging very far. Well, I have now taken the time to read 15-20 of his pages on various subjects. His enthusiasm and sincerity shows, and his High State of Service comes through (see Secrets of High States, by Jim Dines).

My caveat about Ken’s site is that for many articles additional context from other articles is needed to fill in a gaps/contradictions as to his intent/meaning (eg equipment doesn’t matter, but only large format film is good enough for some applications). Ken’s writing also requires mentally eliminating various unsubstantiated claims (and sometimes outlandish ones). Finally, Ken works in one specific style/mode, and he thinks that everyone else wants to work that way, too. Accept all those issues as a mental note, pan away the dirt, and there are often nuggets left over in his writing.

One trouble is that beginners won’t understand the truths vs drek. However, beginners are not advanced users, and Ken’s writing will send them down a solid path to making photographs without worrying about technical issues too much. Refinements can be added later—little harm done.

This site won’t ever take up Rockwell’s approach. Accuracy and objectivity are key aspects of what I present here, a much higher standard, even if it means more work and applies to a smaller audience.

Update: reader Marc Rochkind wrote to say “I couldn’t disagree more”. Among the things that Marc finds troublesome are the following claims by Ken Rockwell.

1) In Digital Killed my Tripod : “Tripods are no longer required, and actually often degrade sharpness”

diglloyd: This latter claim is especially ludicrous. I wouldn’t be caught dead making such a claim unless I had evidence to back it up. One must read Rockwell’s articles being prepared to mentally eliminate unsubstantiated nonsense like that. But reading the entire article yields the worthwhile viewpoint that much good work can be done without a tripod, and that creativity can suffer (the latter is something I notice in my own work). It’s also true that today’s higher ISOs can eliminate the need for a tripod—up to a point.

I’ll also strongly disagree with Ken on image stabilization: rigorous testing shows that not only is VR good for only one (1) stop for achieving critical sharpness consistently, but ruins some images—see The Sharpest Image. Perhaps that’s why Ken thinks tripods can degrade sharpness—he forgot to switch off VR.

2) In Rockwell’s sRGB vs Adobe RGB: “Adobe RGB is irrelevant for real photography. sRGB gives better (more consistent) results and the same, or brighter, colors”.

diglloyd: This is easily refuted with the right example image 1, 2 but then again most images don’t fall out of sRGB gamut, and the few that do often are not far off.

Many photographers, especially those that prefer highly saturated and garish colors (like Rockwell) don’t really care if the colors fall out of gamut. Again Rockwell exposes his lack of rigor but he is right that a huge number of photographers won’t care and/or won’t get it right anyway. His comment is revealing: “After some experimentation, even I discovered that default sRGB was plenty for everything I did.” Well, Ken’s images aren’t about subtlety, so sRGB will work just fine for him. It’s important to understand his context and read his articles understanding that context. Your context might be at odds with his.

3) In Rockwell’s JPG vs Raw: Get it Right the First Time: “Image quality is the same in JPG and raw”.

diglloyd: This is silly, and good fodder for a future diglloyd article. However, I have seen a steady improvement in JPEG quality over time. With older Nikon DSLRs, my testing showed that in-camera JPEG quality was noticeably inferior to a JPEG made from a RAW=>TIF in Photoshop. But with cameras like the Nikon D3, JPEG quality is superb (set to maximum quality of course). The problem is, one has to “nail” the exposure and white balance in the JPEG, something beginners aren’t likely to do.

Here again, Ken’s comments need context: his bottom line is shooting large numbers of photos, and so for his context, JPEG is the only way to go. One problem: beginners are beginners, and do not “get it right the first time”. Then again, beginners are confused by RAW, so what’s the right answer?

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