What exactly is “hacking” photography, anyway?

Andrew Cholakian says you can’t hack photography in response to Peter Norvig’s article dedicating significant amounts of text to the technical aspects of creating photographic art. You’ll noticed that I used the word “create” in my previous statement, which will stir up its own sub-controversy. There are a group of people who feel that photography it not art, and is definitely not creation, because you’re only capturing something, not creating it. This is where both that group of people, and Andrew, are wrong.

Photography is art. A great photographer sees a scene and very quickly develops a strategy to capture the essence of that scene. Think of the many times you’ve seen beauty with your eyes. How did you feel? Capturing that moment means capturing the feeling. The photographic image is a vehicle for all the emotions you felt while being there.

When technical individuals, like Peter Norvig, enumerate the mechanics of photography, they’re teaching the tools used to create. Leonardo Di Vinci created some of his greatest works by understanding not only the appearance of his subjects, but the way their bodies worked. This allowed him to create. He could see a man or woman in any natural pose because he understood how the body worked. He also understood the mechanics of his tools. Di Vinci knew when to use a pencil and when to use a brush. He knew exactly how to stroke the canvas in order to create his visions.

Many non-technical photographers cannot relate to mechanics because they learned through a different method. Some individuals are intuitive learners. They learn by trial and error: “When I do this, I get that.” “That” is never a technical concept, it’s a result. The next time they find themselves in need of “that”, they replicate the steps. They may not even think of it in such explicit detail. They just do it. It’s an intuitive process, not a list of steps or parameters.

Andrew claims you can’t hack photography, but I can’t find where that claim was supported. I’m not even sure what it means? Does this mean we can’t use the technical aspects of photography to create moving photographs? I’d certainly disagree with that. Composition, exposure, and depth-of-field are the photographer’s palette. If you don’t know how to conjure these elements on demand, then you’ll miss lots of opportunities to create a great photograph. How you learn them is up to the individual.

So what’s the appropriate rant? Many technical learners never get past the mechanics. Every photo remains an algorithm to be perfected. Their photographic output is largely without emotion because they’re not trying to create; they’re simply trying to replicate the scene.

A more appropriate rant, I believe, would be to encourage technical learners to apply their new-found skills in broader ways. Intuitive individuals “feel” the scene more naturally, but often struggle with the mechanics of their device resulting in lost opportunities. Technical individuals learn their device, but find it more difficult to identify the “feel” of the scene, resulting in lost opportunities. As it turns out, the two have a lot to learn from each other.

Note: I don’t mean this as an attack on Andrew or any other author. I think he’s got some things wrong, but I prefer to use direct language when I write, rather than litter the material with qualifications to avoid offense. I have a tremendous amount of respect for anyone who takes their time to write about their views. Otherwise, there would be no discussion.

Apple: Commies!

Wired is running a piece on a bit of drama surrounding the release of iCloud that probably hasn’t appeared on the consumer radar. I don’t expect that it ever will, and for good reason. This is like a janitor feud at the YMCA (sorry janitors). No one cares. The accusation is that the new WiFi sync feature available as part of iCloud is a feature that was “ripped off” from a jailbreak app developer who sells a WiFi sync product in Cydia, the jailbreak web store. Holy cow, I don’t even understand what I just wrote.

Right now, you’re scratching your head wondering if “jailbreak” is some sort of game. Jailbreaking is something you do to your iPhone so you can, among other things, load software that isn’t available (or allowed) in the Apple App Store. You also may not know, and probably don’t care, that Apple takes 30% of every app sale that is sold through the App Store, kind of like Best Buy makes a margin on every product they sell. Some developers are opposed to this kind of thing, so they set out to build their own methods of distributing and installing software. Ironically, this is all coordinated through an “app store” called Cydia, which also takes a cut from developers and has rules for inclusion.

Still awake?

I know this is enough to put any normal person to sleep, but this is all new stuff for app developers. Under the old PC/Mac model developers were responsible for marketing your own software, and providing a means to download, install, and update it. Apple’s vision for iOS (iPhones, iPads, iPod Touches, etc) is that the software available on their platform should conform to a certain standard and should deliver a uniform user experience. Along those lines, there should be a single, simple mechanism for loading software. This mechanism is the App Store. You use it every time you download a hot new game for $0.99.

Alright, alright, alright, so where’s the drama I promised? Well, there’s an app developer that, long ago, set out to build a piece of software that would allow you to sync your music to your iOS device over WiFi instead of a cable. Yeah, pretty cool idea. I’m sure Apple didn’t really want that as a feature, right? Hrm.

I haven’t used the app in question, so I can’t speak to it’s speed or quality, but when Apple doesn’t deliver a feature, there’s usually a reason for it. Amongst software developers, Apple is known for a development philosophy that spends as much time thinking about what shouldn’t go in to a piece of software, as what should. Apple rejected this WiFi sync app when it was originally submitted to the Apple App Store. This was Apple’s way of saying, “You shouldn’t develop that app.” Probably because they were developing one of their own, but had very specific ideas about how it should work.

For what it’s worth, Apple’s version of “WiFi sync” works a lot differently than the one available for jailbroken devices. Apple’s sync works in conjunction with their free iCloud service, which requires several data centers. Oh, and they cost around $500 million a piece to build. I’m no construction expert, but I’m guessing you don’t drop $500 million data centers over a weekend.

The developer didn’t listen when Apple told him no. He continued to develop the app and started selling it on the unsanctioned Cydia app store, which requires the jailbreaking procedure I mentioned earlier. Bully for him. I hope he made a few bucks. There were certainly enough people who wanted that feature, and wanted it right away, but this whole mess of being surprised when Apple implements WiFi sync is just ridiculous. Apple hasn’t taken any action to shut down the Cydia app store. The jailbreak community is thriving, and outside of locking the device down as best they can, Apple hasn’t taken any direct action to stop it.

The only open question for me was the logo, which Apple also allegedly ripped off from his app. I was a little put out at first, but then I opened my eyes and saw something that should be blindingly obvious to any sighted individual. A good comparison is pictured in the Wired article. Go have a look at it, then check this out.

This is my menu bar. It appears in the upper-right of every computer running OS X, just like the clock and task bar in the lower-right corner of every Windows PC. The two icons that I labeled are relevant here.

Now here’s my menu bar with some hot Photoshop action.

OMG those lazy asses at Apple just mashed up two existing icons rather than creating something new. How dare they!? Oh, wait, they obviously ripped it off from that Cydia-WiFi-Sync-App-guy. Forgot about that.

This whole post was inspired by my reaction to a post over at Hacker News:

But why did they ban them then? Just so they don’t have competition when they do launch it? think Apple’s thought process is a bit like a communist’s. Why allow 3rd parties to build something when we can build it ourselves?

Yes, Apple are communists. Despite the fact that they are A) not a government, and B) no one has ever bought an iPod as a result of coercion. Unless of course you count whining children…

Wait, maybe kids are commies!