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Thursday, 10 January 2008

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The best eye in the world doesn't compensate for lack of equipment, inadequate equipment or poor technique.

Successful results come out of balance.

Great photographs are a marriage of eye and technique, neither of which are objective things.

Moose

"The best eye in the world doesn't compensate for lack of equipment, inadequate equipment or poor technique."

Moose,
I would argue it does. There are a great many examples in photo history of great bodies of work being done with very simple, very common, very basic, and/or very inexpensive equipment. Some great work depends on good equipment and excellent technique, but not all.

Mike J.

I just came back from a short trip to Brazil, and being over there with some friends one of them told me he had just bought a camera and you could tell he was all about learning the tricks and nothing about the images. But well, he was happy with it, and he might even evolve out of that state into something more sensible. So I just don't feel like criticizing anyone on the technical overzeal. It just applies to myself, because I know where I am, and where I come from. But every person on earth is just about the toys on one moment or another. Maybe I'm saying I believe this kind of comment is a little snobbish if pointed to others (which is not like saying I haven't or will not make one of them)... Yep, maybe that's it.

It's probably safe to say that a good eye and poor equipment will always win over good equipment and a poor eye.

Nothing quite compensates for lack of a camera to bring the picture back alive. Hence the interest in small sensor and DNC's.

scott

I just did a google search on "what is a photographic eye?" thinking I might gain some insight into how this might be different from the ability to notice. The first thing that comes up is a blog that boils it down to three things: a clear theme, a single subject, and simplicity.

Well I disagree with all three. For me, that's not what "noticing" is all about, so his idea of a good eye, and Elliott Erwitt's would seem to be quite different. The list is a way to present a predetermined subject in a way that makes it accessible to the greatest number of people, but it doesn't address being observant and finding things worth shooting to start with. A commercial photographer (who created the list) is asked to shoot assignments, using the term broadly, while those of us who don't have to create images that meet with the client's or editors' expectations can appeal to an entirely different group, including an admittedly small one who actually enjoy an interpretation of subjects and concepts that are less obvious.

Scott,
What does "DNC" mean?

Mike J.

Someone, somewhere, has said something along the lines of "most of the worlds greatest photographs have been taken with equipment and on film that would be unacceptable by today's standards." Probably Elliot Erwitt.

I know that Mr Erwitt is talking about technique here, but as an aside, and because people often mix up gear with technique, one of the best photographers I know uses an old Graphic 5x4, held together with tape of various antiquities and old lenses (one with a chip out of the front)to produce works that are truly, truly wonderful.

And notice things? Boy does he what.

I think the best eye in the world would easy overcome any lack of equipment.

I'm hope we figure this DNC thing out. My black-belt google-fu came up with nothing.

DNC: digital non camera :-)

It's all about the person behind the camera. I've seen plenty of good images taken by people who own low-end digicams, and plenty of bad images taken by people who used high-end cameras.

The bottom line is the experience you have when you have a camera in your hand. It changes the way you look at the way that you look at the world. I have just as much fun no matter what equipment I am using. Any photographs that result from having a camera with me are a gift and a reward for the way that the simple fact of having a camera in my hand lets me view the world around me. In most cases film is optional, it is what the camera helps me to see that is most important.

Sorry, should have been SMC, which I thought was your acronym for decisive moment camera. Fat fingers.

scott

I could not agree more strongly with Elliott Erwitt's remark. I could not DISagree more vehemently with "moose"s remarks.

Cameras, lenses, software... maybe "What the Duck" summarized it well in one recent strip:

http://tinyurl.com/2y8brz

Alternate 'Preview' version for those hesitant to follow unknown links:
http://preview.tinyurl.com/2y8brz

For sure..the quote is true.

I looked it up on the internet and it is true.

Also, Mike, I'm feeling bad about my comment in your diptych entry. I didn't mean to make light of something you were proud of and I do see that what you're after is further down the road..it's just that I'm being whipped by the dusk palette in general. THAT, is an official apology.

Sharpness is a bourgeois concept. - Henri Cartier-Bresson

and

Using a sharp lens does not necessarily make you a good photographer, it just makes you a sharp lens owner. (unattributed)

"Someone, somewhere, has said something along the lines of 'most of the worlds greatest photographs have been taken with equipment and on film that would be unacceptable by today's standards.' Probably Elliot Erwitt."

Hmm, that could have been....

http://theonlinephotographer.blogspot.com/2005/12/random-observation.html

Mike J.

"THAT, is an official apology."

Hi David,
No need. I wasn't offended. Just as long as you realize they aren't sunSETS. I had to get up early....

Mike J.

There's that old saying "f/8 and be there". I'm finding it harder and harder to be there - work duties, and life in general, seems to conspire together to stop me even picking up the camera!

"...work duties, and life in general, seems to conspire together to stop me even picking up the camera!"

Kevin,
Almost every time I pick up the camera, I get something. Yet weeks go by when I don't even pick it up and go out. Winter. Winter's my current excuse....

Mike J.

"All the technique in the world doesn't compensate for an inability to notice."

Absolutely! And the thing that supercharges my ability to notice; that really makes me notice all the things I never noticed before -- is looking through the viewfinder of a brand new, top-of-the-line camera with an obscenely expensive lens.

How do Mr. Erwitt and the other people who have posted here know when, whether or what they have not noticed -- whatever it is that they should/would notice because they don't have this "inability to notice"?

-Julie


When you work the same site over and over again at different times of the day and year you discover what you have not noticed. Each time you come to a site you bring a different perspective or mood which allows you to see things differently. My wife picked up a different way of looking at things just from association with me when I was taking art courses and often points things out to me that I have not noticed. Studying the works of others with different disciplines give one a tool box of references by which they can sharpen their ability to see the relationships which come together in the making of a good and satisfying image. For some it is a natural thing and for others it is the product of much work and study. When you study the works of others you build a catalog of references by which you recognize possibilities.


"Someone, somewhere, has said something along the lines of 'most of the worlds greatest photographs have been taken with equipment and on film that would be unacceptable by today's standards.' Probably Elliot Erwitt."

Hmm, that could have been....

http://theonlinephotographer.blogspot.com/2005/12/random-observation.html

Mike J.

Hmmm, I knew it was someone who knew what they were talking about.

Well... if someone well-known said it, then it must be true!

I think I have a pretty good eye, and god knows I have been told that countless times by numerous people. But when my ex-girlfriend's grandparents point out something in one of my photographs that I never even saw... even though I took my time composing it with the camera mounted on a tripod, then I really do have to ask myself... how much DO I REALLY see? Obviously not as much as I would like to think that I see.

This is where I think Julie's remarks show wisdom: if the newest and best equipment is what gets me "to see," then so be it! But if using a Graflex with a lens that is missing a chunk of glass is what it takes, then so be it also! And if using a Holga is what works... etc. etc. etc.
And no matter how much your ego convinces you that you are quite the seer, there is always something (even in your best and most admired photograph)yet to be seen.

So if you "want/need" panoramic... great!
If you "want/need" the newest and most expensive equipment... great!
If you "want/need" a digital monochrome camera... great!
If you "want/need" a Holga... well, Holgas are kind of stupid, so forget that one, but I think/hope you get my point. ;)

I gues I'm saying that having the -right equipment for you- can be just as important to getting a shot as seeing the shot in the first place, and in certain circumstances the "wrong" equipment can actually keep you from getting the shot. And then add on top of that the inspiration that -can- come from using the "right" equipment.

-Mike
"very simple, very common, very basic, and/or very inexpensive equipment" works very well for some people, but can also hinder some people. You know, human beings have hunted some enourmous animals using little more than sharpened sticks. I bet most of those people would have traded those sticks for high-powered rifles quicker than you can say "long live the Luddites," then again, some wouldn't have... and that would be fine too.
(No... I don't really think you are a Luddite.)

Yes, a good photographer will take -some- good pictures with lousy equipment that he/she is not familiar with or just doesn't like. Just as a lousy photographer will take -some- good pictures with top notch equipment, whether he/she is familiar with or likes the equipment. But if I know that the equipment I'm using is seriously inferior to what I would like to be (or could be) using, that is also going to affect my photo-taking and vision.

My image stabilizer lens and digital camera have seriously changed the way that I shoot. I used to use a tripod for almost every frame, now I hardly ever use a tripod. And that means (for me) that I see more and shoot more (including things that I wouldn't have shot before), and I also enjoy the whole experience more; and I think those things have also helped to make me a better photographer. I still have my old Mamiya 645, maybe some day I will take it out and use it, and remind myself of -why- I stopped using it. Or maybe it would be intersting to just mix things up a bit.

As Moose mentioned, it is all about the balance, and that balance is subjective.
I think it makes sense to find the balance that works for us, and respect the balance that works for others. And if others are looking for their own balance, make sure that they understand that it is all about -their- balance and not yours or mine, and then give them the best advice that you can.

"The best eye in the world doesn't compensate for lack of equipment, inadequate equipment or poor technique.

Successful results come out of balance.

Great photographs are a marriage of eye and technique, neither of which are objective things."

"Moose,
I would argue it does. There are a great many examples in photo history of great bodies of work being done with very simple, very common, very basic, and/or very inexpensive equipment. Some great work depends on good equipment and excellent technique, but not all.

Mike J."

Interesting responses. A great deal was read into my post that I didn't say. One might rephrase Elliot Erwin

"All the ability to write in the world doesn't compensate for an inability to notice what one has read."

I said that without a camera, one gets no picture. How is that not true?

Where did I say anything about fancy or expensive? I said "adequate equipment" I absolutely agree that great images may be taken with modest equipment.

And I said "adequate technique". A friend came back from weeks in Europe a long time ago and had her film developed into a large stack of prints. On a few of them, it was possible to guess what the subject may have been. Poor technique, stabbing the shutter release on a point and shoot with a fixed, relatively slow shutter speed made her images terribly blurred failures. Whatever she may or may not have noticed, it could not be seen. Some could have been repurposed as abstracts, but that gets off the point, as that's not what she 'noticed'

I had a girlfriend with a great ability to notice, the minimum necessary ability to set exposure and focus and an old Pentax match needle SLR with permanently attached 50mm standard lens. She took many stunning images on her travels. They would not have been as good taken with an Instamatic, nor if taken be me (unfortunately) nor taken by someone who couldn't set exposure properly or couldn't focus.

The images were the result of balance of all factors.

Ken, in particular, try reading what I actually said again. Although you give no details, I imagine you were reacting to something you read into my words that is not objectively there.

Moose


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