Saturday, July 26, 2014

Why Facebook Images Look Awful

Also in this issue:

  • Free Ebook Upgrades
  • What's Meaningful Photography?
  • Los Angeles Seminar
  • A Sony A-mount lens on a Fujifilm X-T1

Why Facebook Images Look Awful

I've often joked that no matter how much television may improve in the future, people will still be watching reruns of "I Love Lucy" on them.  Despite the march of technology, some things just don't change.

The same is true of common snapshots.  No matter how fancy or sophisticated our cameras / phones become, no matter how miraculous an engineering achievement they represent, people will always be taking pictures that look like the ones gracing this blog post.  (Always!)  The photos shown here are real snapshots taken across the decades using popular instamatics of the day.  In all cases, the scene looked perfectly good to the eye, and after all, doesn't a camera just capture how it looks to the person shooting it?

Of course the answer is "no", and there's nothing at all intuitive about the reason.  Our eyes and brain perceive light differently than the camera does.  VERY differently.  Every Hollywood cinematographer knows this.  Have you ever wondered why movie makers use so many large and bright lights, only to have it look perfectly normal when you're watching the final product in the theater?  It's because the lighting guys know what the camera needs to make things look "normal".  It's not a what-you-see-is-what-you-get affair.
The reality is best summarized by the following diagram, but even this doesn't tell the whole story:

The above says that the dynamic range (the range of light intensities that can be captured in a print, in a slide, in in your camera) is significantly less than what your eye can see, which in turn is significantly less than what's in the real world.  (This diagram is just to get the point across.  It's certainly not to scale!)

But there's more to it than that.  If we were to somehow make a sensor that could capture what our eyes see (which we can do, by the way!), and take a picture of a wide-dynamic range scene, it would look something like this:

Look!  You can see the details in the shadows under the piano bench, as well as make out the highlights out the window!  People covet wide-dynamic-range sensor specs without realizing the range is limited for a reason.
There's some sort of processing going on in your brain that makes a wide dynamic range scene look like it has the same dynamic range of a typical digital camera.  To date, nobody has been able to figure out an algorithm that mimics what the brain does.  Until that happens, we have to endure poor substitutes like HDR functions (that only make the picture look flat and with less contrast) and have to slave over a hot computer all day to apply a process called Tone Mapping to make the image look somewhat "normal".   Someday that problem will be solved and photography really will be a "capture the scene so it looks the way I see it!" affair.

Anyway, I'm getting sidetracked.  The reason most online snapshots look like crap is because NONE OF THE SNAPSHOOTERS UNDERSTAND THAT THE CAMERA AND THE EYE/BRAIN SEE LIGHT DIFFERENTLY. And until that changes, pictures on Facebook and other social networking sites will always look the way snapshots have always looked since the invention of photography.

Next month: Why none of this matters. :-)

[Scholarly note #1: The one unexpected benefit of this is that as I scroll through my Facebook feed late at night, I can immediately identify the ads without having to actually look at them - they're the only ones that have good light and employ some compositional rules.  With the exception of an occasional scenic, if the picture's bad it's not an ad.  I can keep up with my friends without becoming an advertiser-coveted pair of eyeballs!]

[Scholarly note #2: I resisted picking on Instagram when writing this blog post, since the problem seems to be universal.  But the great irony is that while there are many programs out there designed to make images look better, Instagram is the only program I know of designed to make pictures look worse.  Isn't the state of affairs bad enough already? :-) )

New Ebooks and Free Upgrades

Things have been very busy here at the Archives.  Not one, but THREE new ebooks have been released since June!

Sony A6000 ebook co-written by Ross Warner
Fujifilm X100s written by Tony Phillips
Olympus OM-D E-M1 by Yours Truly

Not enough for you?  New Books on RX-100 MKIII and A77 II are up next but will take awhile since we're switching to a different layout program in an effort to get better-looking .epub and .mobi files.  (See my previous blog post on why the process is so difficult - and scroll down to "E-reader Hell".)

Since these two cameras are so similar to their predecessors, and since I know how frustrating it can be to have to wait, I'm making the following offer to the world: You can buy the ebook for the RX-100 MK2 and the original A77 today, and when the new ebooks come out you'll get the new version for FREE!!  Here's how it works:

1) Register your interest by sending me a brief (!) email saying "Yes, please notify me when the XXX book is ready."  (Email address is Gary at Friedman Archives dot com.)

2) Go ahead and purchase the downloadable ebook from my site (this offer only applies to e-books - not the printed variety for obvious reasons.)

3) Because you registered your interest in Step 1, when the new books come out you'll be automatically notified.

4) When that happens just email me your original purchase receipt and I'll send you a free download link for the new version.

How can you lose?

What's Meaningful Photography?

It was almost a year and a half ago when David Kilpatrick (legendary photo magazine publisher and runner of and several other photo-related titles) visited me in California to ask me to join his new "old-school" project called Cameracraft magazine.  Since then I've voluntarily doubled my contributions to the magazine, as it is my strong feeling that THIS (not gear manuals) is the essence of what's important to photography.  Inspirational portfolios, printed with the best quality in the business, plus tech insights you just won’t find anywhere else.  Nothing has greater impact than the printed picture held in your hand.

I truly enjoy writing for Cameracraft and helping to celebrate meaningful work that would otherwise get drowned out on the internet.

The issue that's at the printer now contains the most interesting and thought-provoking subject I've covered so far.  It's an interview with Canadian photographer Phil Burgerson, whose latest opus “American Artifacts” looks like snapshots of a post-apocalyptic walkthrough of the United States.  Spend just a little more time with these images, though, and you’ll discover something more – a look at a vibrant, troubled society; the aftermath of what he calls America’s Lost Decade.

But if you read the article you'll realize that something much deeper is going on - something that [okay, I have to stop here.  Can't give too much away.  Subscribe to Cameracraft today and learn something about the lost art of visual thinking and the importance of a presentation technique called "sequencing".]

Los Angeles Seminar in September

I'm doing only ONE of my world-famous Friedman Archives High-Impact Photography Seminars this year and it will take place in Los Angeles the 2nd or 3rd weekend in September.  (I'm still nailing down the logistics.)  And to pre-empt the inevitable complaints that I'm not bringing it to within 30 minutes of the part of Southern California in which you might live (!), I will make the trek worth your while by offering a special pre-registration price!  Sign up before August 8th and THE PRICE OF THE SEMINAR WILL DROP FROM $125 TO USD $85 per day!

(And since you can't sign up yet until I've secured the venue, send me an email to reserve your spot at this special price, and I'll send the details when they're firmed up.)

Never heard of the Friedman Archives Seminars?  It teaches the forgotten secrets of the Kodachrome shooters who knew how to get "Wow!"-type images without autofocus, auto exposure, or fancy exposure modes.  It provides a solid foundation to imaging for owners of ANY camera.  Learn more at and sign up for this very rare Southern California event!

A Sony A-mount lens on a Fujifilm X-T1

Tony Phillips (who wrote the ebook on the Fujifilm X100s, and is now working on one for the very impressive X-T1) writes from Australia about the best $35 he ever spent. :-)


"I'm in the midst of writing the book on the neat little Fujifilm X-T1, and the FX-A lens mount adapter I ordered arrived in the post.  The truth is, I don't really need it, as I have a good range of great Fujifilm X-Mount lenses. I especially love the 56mm F/1.2 lens that gives me a sharp portrait lens with the DOF control I like in full frame cameras.

But the Fuji lineup is missing long lenses. And I wanted something longer than the 55-200.  And as it turns out, I have Minolta and Sony lenses in my cupboard, and I wanted to give them a try. And the $35 FX-A adapter lets me do just that.

One of the Sony lenses I have is the superb 70-300mm G lens, which turns into 450mm on APS-C cameras. It's (fairly) light and is ultra sharp across its range.  Unfortunately, mounting it on the Fuji means I lose autofocus, and there is no aperture control either. But I knew that going in, right. And if there was any camera you were going to shoot manually, the X-T1 would be at the forefront of your choices.

Why? The X-T1 has ALL the controls you need for manual operation right there on the body (reminiscent of the Minolta 7D). In fact, it's aperture ring is right there on all (bar one) of Fuji's lenses - giving you back something of the shooting style I remember from about a hundred years ago. :)  Not only that, the X-T1 has focus peaking, focus zoom, live histogram, and so on, so manual focusing and exposure is a breeze. 

However, there's a catch (but not a bad one).  Since the Sony A-mount lenses do not have aperture rings, you must rely on the adapter to adjust F-stop - and (and here's the catch), there are no F-stop markings on the adapter.  Oddly, it's not a deal-breaker.  The 70-300 runs from f4.5-5.6 across its focal length, with upper limits at f22-29. So while you won't be precise in your aperture adjustment, once you know these ranges, turning the aperture ring on the adapter becomes less about guesswork, and more about understanding the lens to get an approximate F-stop.

So what are the downsides to grabbing an adapter and using off-brand lenses?
  • You need to know a tiny bit more of your craft - but I'm supposing it's one of the things you enjoy about photography.
  • You won't be absolutely accurate with your F-stop.
  • It takes a little more time to get a shot - though no more than normal manual shooting.
  • Umm... $35? I suppose. (I'm running out of downsides.)

And the upsides?
  • My $35 means I can use ANY A-mount lens I have on my Fujifilm X-Mount bodies. As it turns out, I have wider and longer lenses that are worth trying.
And I had some fun." 


Until next time,
Yours Truly, Gary Friedman

TIP: Can't afford the Zeiss 135mm f/1.8?  The Minolta 100mm f/2.8 Macro is just as sharp and costs about 1/4th as much.  Download the high-res version here to see for yourself!


  1. Nice offer on the a77 MKII.

    What if I previously (6 mos ago?) purchased the A77 e-book and now have the MKII?

    Any price break?

    1. Any date is good for the free upgrade. GF

    2. Nice work on the free upgrade GF, that's why I religiously buy your excellent eBooks! When are you rebooking that trip to Sydney?

    3. As soon as I have time to breathe! GF

  2. Is there a change that you are going to do a seminar in europe again?

    1. I want to, but time is a luxury I do not have. Can you gather 40 like minded photographers together where you are? :-)

  3. "Minolta 100mm f/2.8" - eh? lists a 135 f/2.8 and a 100 f/2.0. The latter is compared to the Zeiss 135 f/1.8, the Zeiss described as "more expensive but performs better"

    1. I'm talking about the 100mm f/2.8 MACRO. Different lens.

    2. Gary, you always make happy with you postings. I happen to own the Minolta/Sony 100mm f/2.8 macro and have used it as a portrait lens. Still I was shocked how sharp that photo of the little boy was when I blew it up full sized! What camera were you using, the Fujifilm X-T1? I could almost smell that kids hair, it was that sharp!

      Drop me a line when your your A77ii book is ready. I'll pay full price. BTW I just sold a Hummingbird photo I took with the A77ii :-)

    3. Hi Gary, I was so impressed with that picture of the small boy I bought one on ebay from Japan, cost me 300 bucks, about £200 sterling - fine but then customs added on duty and VAT, another hundred bucks, but boy what a lens, well worth it, thank you. John Mayhead. I'm the old guy next to you in the group photo in London, with the Minolta 7D which has got tired! - I've just upgraded to a A77 - very impressive, good wishes and thanks for what you taught me. J.

    4. Hi, John! Great to hear from you again, and glad you found the advice to be truthful and worthwhile. Even with the import duties and taxes, you're still at about a third of what the Zeiss costs. That's a mortgage payment right there. :-)

  4. Why facebook pictures suck?

    Simple: they're (mostly) snapshots. Overexposed, red eyes, washed-out, out of focus, shot in RBL without any post-processing, ...

    Now, take an excellent shot and send to your facebook account as is: it will still suck because facebook does an awful job compressing it.

    But there's a way to avoid it: resize the picture yourself to about 1024x768, sharpen for screen and upload it with the high quality setting: you picture will end up being very close to what it looked like after post-process in .

    This is a bit off topic, I know, but is one way to make your shots look a bit better in your FB album.

    1. Hey, Patrick. Thanks for the tip!

    2. Moreover, a file size must be 100 KB or less. Otherwise FB will compress it further.

  5. You're right Gary (as always, ha!).
    No matters which camera/lens we use, the sensor never captures what we see or perceive in its whole dimension.
    That's why, my good and not so good shots always ask for the punch only post-processing can give, so (with the pardon of orthodox photographers) I delegate a good part of my missing photo skills to my PP skills.
    ✎ ✔✔✔✔✔ Txs4Sharing

  6. Will you write an update to the E-M1 PDF to include changes that came about with release of firmware 2.0 and the availability of tethering? If so, will update be available for free to those of us who purchased the PDF? I love, love, love your EM-1 camera guide book I have ever read!

    1. It's already written! Email me with your purchase receipt to get a free copy. GF


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