Hello friend. How are things? I am… well this week broke me. I spent Sunday being crushed by the idea that my little cat could need eye surgery. She has done nothing to deserve the suffering she’s currently enduring. It was crushing me because the day before someone who did deserve some suffering got off totally free. Ah the universe isn’t fair and rightfully so otherwise all the bad things that happen to us would be because we deserve it. Still, I couldn’t handle it and didn’t handle it well resulting in isolating myself from my wife and bursting into tears. I was isolating myself in an attempt to avoid breaking down but that meant I was bottling things up instead. A bad day. Good news is she doesn’t require surgery, yet, and has new medication to try. I know better than to hide away. Sometimes it feels like the best option because you think you can outrun a breakdown. You can’t. It’s a process you need to go through.
I hope you’re doing better than I am this week <3
I’m doing more and more on Twitch. I’m trying to figure it all out and slowly building something. Friday night is the ‘Think Different’ stream. This week I’m going to look at events I’ve photographed in the before times and discuss what they were like to photograph. It’ll be interesting to re-evaluate them from an autistic perspective.
The weekly schedule is;
Monday 2pm GMT – Photo geek chat Tuesday 7:30pm GMT – Photo modes in video games Wednesday 7:30pm GMT – Film camera club Friday 7:30pm GMT – Think Different neurodiverse something something (WIP)
You know what? I need to forgive myself for the shame I felt for doing HDR photography back in the day. Yes it was over processed but every modern iPhone has Smart HDR and computational photography features. I should feel validation.
record scratch “HDR?” I hear you say. “The TV thing?” No but sort of. HDR in photography is different in videography but they are related. They are both applications of High Dynamic Range (HDR) imaging. It’s a camera technique whereby you take multiple photographs for the various light levels of a scene and merge them together. Your phone will do it instantly. Your big bulky camera will need a computer to do the heavy lifting. I was playing around with the technology 15 years ago when digital photography was starting to become affordable with 6 whole megapixels and ISO up to 800 or 1600 at a push. 15 years later and every recent iPhone has had a HDR feature that you can turn on or off. More modern iPhones have Smart HDR which is supposedly so good you wouldn’t want to turn it off.
Imagine you are standing in a cave watching the sunset. Does the camera try its best to photograph the sunset making the inside of the cave dark or does it try to capture the detail of the cave making the sunset so bright there is no colour? Back in my day we had to make such decisions but now with Smart HDR features on your phone you simply press the button and it’s done, with the best of both worlds. You kids have it easy. When I was young we had to take somewhere between 3 and 9 photographs and merge them together using specialised software on the computer. The result was a HDR image but not a usable photograph. It contained too much data for the display to show. We did not have fancy HDR displays in 2006. The HDR image needed to be converted, tone mapped, into a normal photograph. This was the point of contention in the HDR photo community. Do you keep the tone mapping restraint so the image looks natural or are you an artist and above such things? I chose to be an artist. I chose poorly.
I say poorly but at the height of my HDR adventures I had a book deal, over 3 million hits a month on my site, and I was making consistently more money a month than I ever have since. In less than a year my photography career had taken off. I went viral before that was a thing. I was on my way. Yay! Unfortunately success validated my “need” to be right and I became egotistical. Looking back on those times I can see my autistic side/manner/identity/way of being taking over. Being autistic I draw confidence from being right. Possibly because the grey area in-between is complex and hard to understand. If I can prove something using data then I feel confident. The HDR technique I employed was indeed a “right” way of getting around the limitations of the technology I had. However, the technology caused my inexperienced creative side to slip into that grey area between right and wrong. I guess that’s where ego took over.
Over the years I have learnt that there is a danger to my need to be “right”. It can lead me to become toxic to myself or to my friends. “Why can’t they see it? I can see it. I’m right. This is good. Why can’t they see it?” It can lead to arguments and fallings out. I have lost most of my friends because I believed I was right. Logically speaking if this then that. It was clear to me. I found it difficult to see things from another perspective. Something I may have taken more time with if I had known I was autistic from an early age.
Logic is the beginning of wisdom not the end – Spock
This is the complicated area that I found myself in. My journey had been from computers to computational photography with little life experience to develop my creative side. In fact the only real creative side I had before photography was a bit of web design and before that writing. But I didn’t need it did I as I was successful, so ner.
One year I was commissioned to work on a photography book where I wasn’t allowed to use editing techniques. The idea was to get the photo right in camera. At most I was allowed to put a filter on the lens to darken the sky. I spent a week in London working on test photos for the book. While the project never moved forward I was left with a new appreciation of getting it right in camera. The results with a filter were good enough that I decided I didn’t need to use HDR any more.
I switched to using less technology and concentrating on what was in front of the camera instead. In hindsight this was probably a good thing. I needed to explore photography as a story telling medium more than a technology. I needed to explore the human side as I was far too wrapped up in the gear aspect. Easy to do as an autistic person. Photography became a special interest of mine and I was obsessed with the technical aspects. For someone like me it is easy to get lost in the upward scale of numbers suggesting that things are better when perhaps they aren’t. This camera goes to this number so it is better than the previous model which only went to that. Candy to my “I am right!” mentality. The data proves I’m right. This is better. Lots of things can technically be better but still rubbish in the wrong hands. What good is it to be smug about being right if the results are wrong? (Oh its great at the time) It was a good thing I was moving away from this person to explore the world more than the camera.
I met my future wife at the perfect time and she helped me explore art and photography. I went to every exhibition I could and soaked it all in. It helped with the “human” side I was slightly removed from and led to me being a finalist in the 2018 Portrait of Britain prize. For that I used the most minimal piece of professional camera gear I had, a Leica Q. It was small and while technically brilliant it wasn’t about the gear. It let me take intimate portraits without making people feel like they were under scrutiny from a giant camera.
We travelled every year. I downsized my camera gear from everything to one simple camera with a fixed lens. I enjoyed the simplicity of it. I could get enough photos that I was happy about from 1 little camera than I could taking everything and getting confused about which is “right”. It felt good.
It’s been 15 years or so since my HDR days. I am to blame for my actions but I am also able to better understand them now. Is that the “wisdom” thing Spock was referring to? Am I wise now? Should I let that go to my head? I think not. I choose wisely. I was able to get this understanding by being diagnosed as autistic. Once it had been explained to me that everything I knew and that everything I had done was because of autism it was like a weight had been lifted. Logic right? If this then that except this was actually not this but that. My actions were not that of a neuro-typical person but instead of a neuro-diverse person. Unable to see things from another perspective meant I was focused on the belief that my way was the right way. Unable to accept change easily and enjoying routine meant I took comfort from finding a way to be a photographer and did not want to give that up.
While the weight was lifted and my reasons for enjoying the life I had became clear I have continued to feel shame for my HDR work. “A youthful mistake.” Was it? You could argue that being autistic and hyper-focused meant I was able to absorb a lot of information around a subject and use it to my advantage. You could argue that now it is in everyone’s phone and everyone is doing HDR that I was a pioneer? (Aesthetics aside) Other people who were doing what I was have gone on to have successful careers whereas because of my lack of understanding of autism and shame I felt for the work I produced I withdrew. I surprised the technical geek aspect of me in an attempt to become someone else, something else. It may have worked as my 2017 project on Port Sunlight was very well received to the point of being published in the ‘Portrait of Britain’ book. Success for something not about technique. Hurrah! Just don’t google me. The horror. The shame.
Thats the thing about the modern world. You can never move away from those mistakes. What you believe to be a good thing at the time is a horrific thing 10 years later. I’ve spent over 10 years carrying this shame for my early work because its all there via Google. Cached for the future. It is hard to live that way. I need to let it all go. I need to accept that what I was doing 15 years ago with HDR was valid, interesting and early days. Having it built in to every phone means I was justified in my exploration of it. The term today is looked down upon because of those years. It is important to remember that there is a technique and there is a “HDR” style. What your iPhone does as HDR is not what the Flickr community does as HDR. But everyone is using it. So I was right. Ner.
What I need to take away from all of this is that I do have a technical skill coupled with the autistic hyper-focus ability to dive deep into something and soak up the knowledge. Hopefully the past 10 years I’ve been learning the creative side will balance that out a bit better. I cannot afford to continue to carry the shame around with me. I absolutely cannot because it is entirely possible that I’ve been trying to make a living with one hand voluntarily tied behind my back. That would be an illogical way to work. Let’s try and fix that. Let’s try and let go of feeling like I made the world worse by being the most popular HDR guide in the world and influencing who knows how many photographers for a decade. Let’s just be ok with who I am and do better.
goes back to looking at camera gear “Huh. This drone does HDR. Interesting.”
You can get prints of the photos in this weeks newsletter on my print store.
I have a limited selection prints for sale on my archive print shop. Featuring Liverpool, New York, Venice, The Wirral, and beyond (starscapes!)
This week’s photos are all HDR photographs that used to be horrifically over-processed. I reprocessed them so they are no longer aggressively HDR. More relaxed calming HDR. The point of HDR is to increase the dynamic range without noise in the shadows. It isn’t to cover a photo in clown makeup. Hopefully these re-workings are working now. Enjoy.
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