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Thursday, 12 May 2011

Comments

If we're working our way through threes, may I give the only three rules of photography you'll ever need....I'll take that as a yes.

1) Be in the right place.
2) Point the lens in the right direction.
3) Press the shutter at the right time.

Simple really.

Mike – I’m not sure whether it’s a 4th mistake or fits into one of your 3, but I suggest a mistake we amateurs make (let me re-phrase – “what I do too frequently”) is the emotional connection to an image. B/c we have a strong emotional connection with the subject especially at the time of making the photograph, we create a strong attachment that can overshadow the external “value” of the image . Not sure if I’m making myself clear, b/c obviously many (all?) effective images do result from the photographer’s strong emotional response to the subject – the trick for me is keeping the emotion and the image separate when trying to judge the photograph’s effectiveness.

I've tried to take the definitive dogwood photo for 40 years. 35mm, medium format, large format and now digital. Won lots of awards over the years so a decent photog.

I want the empty / full dichotomy of a mature dogwood in bloom. Trying for any,branch, tree, flower. 1,000s of pictures by now. Hours of work. They all suck. Someday though, if I live long enough ...maybe At least I recognize they suck.

Sometimes context matters to the judges. I posted a photo once for criticism. It was a shot I liked, but didn't seem to be very popular. One of the first comments I got was that I should have asked the "model" to step a different way.

I'd stood at a street corner and waited for someone to walk across a set of shadows in a the way I wanted (or close enough). There was no possibility of a do-over and within a minute or two people started avoiding me.

Given that context the photo was judged differently. It was a degree of effort that made the photo but it was only when I pointed out the method that the commenter revised his opinion somewhat. Take a look: modeled, not so good; spontaneous street shot, maybe a little better :)
http://photography.badlightgoodlight.com/365/e13612d28

Wow!!! I really don't see anyone ever possibly topping that quote!

I always remember a column published by you in The Sunday Morning Photographer in Luminous Landscape (2002, 9 years ago!) about editing and with some good tips in the line of this subject...

Don't miss it!

http://www.luminous-landscape.com/columns/sm-10-06.shtml

Great post - if I could add a layer to this for me personally - I don't care one bit about the particular f-stop and shutter speed used for a photo and I rarely care what lens was used. Yet, those are the things listed on nearly every image in every popular photo magazine on the shelves. Sigh.

I agree and disagree.

I would say you should always put in as much effort as you can (and enjoy) in your photography. Casually snapping, thinking you may get something out of it later is not the way to go. You should always know what you're looking for and do all that you can to get it.

Second, better cameras do take better photos. Not better art. Better photos.
The tonal range, the noise control, the focusing systems, all of these make it easier for everyone to achieve better image quality.
Naturally, I'm not saying that this is enough. But once you know enough in order to exploit your gear, better gear is better.

Third - well, sometimes you strike gold in the aftermath. Going back twice or a dozen over a set of photographs, I may find something I didn't see before. I could associate it to another work of mine, put it in a new context, give it a new meaning.

We all grow and learn.
When we do, we realize our old photos are crap, and that we can do wonders with our old camera, which we once couldn't.

I don't tend to fall into #1 too much because I don't tend to work too hard to get a shot. The closest would probably be wildlife when the "work" involves simply being out there trying to get the shot, and my wildlife results are way down the totem pole and I know it.

#2 is interesting because I think the forum world encourages it. People post uninteresting stuff taken with a xxx/y.z and get rave reviews for ... you know what's coming ... the "creamy" bokeh. Or the "3D pop". Nobody bothers to tell the poor guy he spent $4000 on camera & lens and is taking boring pictures.

#3 is my pitfall. It's even built into my workflow: my first pass through a series (a given event, trip, etc) is to eliminate the technically bad shots, 2nd pass is to eliminate all but the best few of related shots. That works for events where I just want to share pictures, and where the best is always good enough. It doesn't work for my hobby photography; the stuff where I shouldn't keep it if it's not good, because there's no other reason to keep it. I'm better about it if I go back and look again a long time later. And I've read that recommendation ... edit after the emotional response is gone, but it's not just emotional response, it's exactly what you said: thinking that the best shot from a days shooting must be worthwhile.

Three more comments:

1. Talented people who work really hard tend to get more good photos than talented people who don't. Perhaps nobody cares how hard you worked on a particular shot, but if they care about photography, they probably *do* care that you do work hard.

2. I believe that we give more credit to early photographers than we do contemporaries -- that is, to people who do something first, even if what they do isn't particularly well done. Two words: Man Ray.

3. One thing amateurs (or professionals, for that matter) hardly ever consider is that really good photographs are rare. Ansel Adams, who I think was a fine artist, who was talented, who worked very hard, who worked on technique and everything else, probably took a dozen photographs in his lifetime that people would agree are "great." This is a talented, full-time landscape photographer working in a spectacular countryside. Ctein shows us a photo he took more than thirty years ago -- a great shot, but how many of his shots are that good? Very few. Not because he's lazy or untalented, but because masterpieces are rare. So if you get out the old Canon and a battery and a memory card, and go downtown and shoot a card full of pictures, and are disappointed...well, you know, it's probably not because you're a bad photographer or untalented, it's simply because you didn't hit the lottery.

A master of their craft makes everything appear effortless because they have worked hard on the things that matter and not on the things that don't and have the wisdom to know the difference.

While I am a fan of EW, I wonder if there is a Pepper #31, #32 and so on. I know his numbered nudes go into the hundreds, but the question "Is Pepper #30 the last Pepper?" is a really good one.

Mike,
I have a hunch that some of the "magic solution" thinking is from the real experience of responding to the materials you are working with combined with a sense of mystery about the technology. I feel it more directly in painting or sculpture - the texture of the materials, how easily they fall to hand, the feedback from working with or against the grain. If you don't know how emulsions work, Velvia is pretty magical, and if you like silent, thoughtful work, a leaf shutter is a revelation compared to a flapping mirror.

I think the other half of "magic solution" thinking is from people who've hit a wall in their technique, but can't identify what is causing the problem. I have done this - I had increasing problems with image softness in my old DSLR, no doubt due to rough handling messing up the AF mirror alignment. It took me an embarrassingly long amount of time to figure out where the problem was. In the mean time, I longed for a 'better' camera with more megapixels and less noise, and pursued assorted dead ends with film formats, lenses, flashes, and exercises to improve my technique.

That experimentation was artistically productive in the end - I respond really well to using a TLR, I learned a lot about other technical problems, and my technique is much better. Ironically, the best solution was my next camera: an E-PL1 which, given enough time, gives me incredibly accurate focus. My conclusion is that any number of people who clamor in the forums for the magic solution of "more megapixels" might just need to send their current camera in for servicing.

Will

Regarding David's reply: I think he's actually ageeing with you Mike. I think he means that it is a mistake to allow your emotional response to the subject of your work to fool you into thinking that the work itself is better than it actually is.

"My child/mother/cat/dog/car/home-town is beautiful, therefore my pictures of him/her/it are beautiful too."

I think it's similar to the reason Garry Winogrand gave for only developing rolls of film a long time after exposing them: so his memory of the events and his emotions as he pressed the shutter wouldn't cloud his aesthetic judgement.

I think what David was referring to is our emotional attachment to an image frequently clouds our perception as to its quality. Some photographers wait several months before judging their negatives. I rely on my wife.

Mike - No we don't disagree - I think I didn't express myself effectively. I agree we need the emotions to drive our photography, it's just that at times the emotions surrounding the image cloud my "objective" evaluation of it as a "public" image. Anyway keep up the good work. The 3 mistakes are on the nail.
Cheers

Of course, when it comes to emotional connection, it can make a photograph marvellous to you while pointless to anybody else.
One of my favourites (it hangs on my study wall) is a snapshot of my daughter with her grandfather; by happy chance I caught a shared look that encapsulates their relationship. But...to anybody who doesn't know them it is just another snapshot.


If you take a picture of something that moves you very much emotionally, and the picture just helps YOU to remember the situation, but does not help others to feel the same because the picture does not show it and they don´t have the key, it is not a good picture.
Emotional attachment is of course very important. But it must be visible. Not just trig the photographer himself.
Form is the content, brought to the surface.

There are many ways to look at this question. One of the most basic mistakes is the misuse of flash, for example. More photos are sub-par because flash either was used ... or wasn't used ... than from any other cause. In my opinion.

I'm also tired of the myth that better equipment is irrelevant. I need a certain level of equipment capability in order to produce consistent results. I have a Canon S90 and it takes good photos, but I'd be lost without my Nikon D300 and fast prime lenses. There's a reason that pros shoot with pro equipment.

on the pitfalls of emotional attachments to our own images, i think i agree with david (featured comment)--that is, provided the emotion is connected not to the resulting picture (in which case, i think mike is on the right track) but rather to our memory of the event, or what we felt when making the picture, or anything else that doesn't show up in the final image. i think this is something winogrand is often credited with talking about--his method was evidently to wait long enough between taking the photo and developing/reviewing it that he could evaluate the picture (including his emotional reaction to it) without getting sidetracked by emotions that don't reside in the photo.

ultimately, i still choose the photos i have the deepest emotional attachment to for my portfolio over the crowd-pleasers, but only after i am reasonably sure that the emotion really relates to the picture, and isn't just in my head.

The phrase "emotional attachment" applies to me. I have been cataloging all my old photos that date back to when I was a baby in 1934. There are over 11,000 pictures. (don't ask) Looking at many that I took back in the 70's and 80's I see them now for what they are....crap. At the time I thought each and every one was a classic gem. One needs to put things aside, and wait "a few years" before deciding if a given photo is great or not.

On the same theme, I learned in film class, "You have to learn to kill your own children". (Thanks, Grant Kimmel!)

Meaning, no matter how much you like the shot, no matter how hard you worked to create the shot, if it doesn't advance the story, it has to go.

-Tom-

Mike, I think you and David are talking about slightly different things. You talk about making an emotional connection to an image, which is fine. What David's referring to - if I read him correctly - is making a connection, not to the image, but to the subject in front of you as you make the image. Or to the circumstances in which you're making the image. Or to the idea - formed as you trip the shutter - that you've just captured something really good. None of that has anything to do with what's on the card/film/paper. I'm all too familiar with this phenomenon because I've been guilty of it myself - what happens is that you sit down to edit and you come across that image that you remember taking, and because of the emotional baggage, you can't see what's wrong with it or that, in spite of the connection you made, it really doesn't work. I read somewhere that that's one of the reasons Garry Winogrand liked to wait a year or so to look at his photographs for the first time after he'd taken them - so that he'd have a chance to forget about how/where/when he'd taken the picture and be able to look at it with a fresh eye. That may just be his (or the commentator's) rationalization for Winogrand's (in)famous backlog - but the approach can make for better editing, nevertheless.

Makes one realize WInogrand's point in not looking at his shots until enough time had passed for him to have forgotten the circumstances. Made it easier to evaluate the pictures as pictures, rather than evaluating the remembered circumstances the pictures brought to mind.

Not a practical method for most of us, but there was a strong point to it.

My favourite photo I've ever taken was shot through the window of a moving bus, at dusk, with a tiny Canon SD110 3.2MP point-and-shoot. It was of a moving train, and the resulting blur is so evocative of a lonely train, speeding through the night while everyone is asleep. I think of it as a Pictorialist image.

I think this is only tangentially related, but one thing I've noticed is that the more I try to expand my own ventures as a photographer, the more I come to appreciate different genres in photography.

For example, I've never cared much for portrait or landscape shots - but lately, after acquiring a TLR and taking portraits of my friends, I've come to appreciate more the portraits I do see. Same with landscape shots - we've just had an unusually clear stretch of weather here in Hong Kong and I tried to take full advantage of it. This leads to a deeper appreciation of landscape shots I see now - thinking of how the photographer carefully balanced the weather, lighting, possibly waiting hours or even days to get the shot s/he wanted.

I've also noted in photography writing that whenever a writer points out photographer X uses a large format camera, invariably a digression will follow where the writer points out how a LF/view camera leads to a different process, a different consideration of the scene, etc. I think this comes from a shared empathy the writer has with photographers, since most great photography writers also tend to be photographers themselves.

But these finer points tend to be lost on the general viewing public who usually have no idea of the process behind the photo, and can only see the photo. Which leads back to Ctein's point - it doesn't matter how much work you put into a picture if the picture itself isn't very good.

Mike,
You mention my photo included in Tuesday's Street Photos comments and I thought I’d confirm your hunch -- it was taken with a Holga. I love shooting and developing film, but digital has so many conveniences it can be hard to resist. I just took delivery of a new Fuji X100. I ordered it because I bought into all the hooplah touting it as a simple, old-school camera. I use two film cameras, a Holga and a Leica M6. And I love them both for their simplicity. Contrary to reputation, the X100 does not let me stay simple at all. The manual focus is absurd, there is no depth-of-field chart on the lens (why, oh why did that get abandoned by everyone?), and worse, the manual barrel ring to set aperture isn't a ring--it is two nubs, and they can easily be in a position where neither of them is under your fingers. So the classic grip fails. It also fails with the manual focus because you have to turn to barrel too much for a significant focus change. ISO and shutter speed handle well once you’ve had the secret ISO Fn button pointed out to you--you’ll never notice it on your own, and the new hybrid viewfinder really is brilliant. But why can't they provide a lock switch to shut off the other dozen controls scattered all over the back? How about a snap-on cover that just hides them all? Configuring the camera is one thing, shooting another. Practically every digital camera I've tried seems to confuse the two with the result that just holding the thing while shooting requires painstaking, nitpicking, precision, or I inadvertantly press some button or other and wind up shooting in some mode I never wanted and not knowing I've been doing it for the last half an hour. I don't want to even think about the camera when shooting. How about this: there are three different buttons on the back of the X100 that control what is displayed on the lcd. One says Display Mode, one says View Mode, and one just has an arrow. Display vs. View, hmmmm, let me ponder that fine distinction and perhaps I'll come up with a way to remember the difference. Both the Holga and the Leica M share a minimalist approach that make shooting about seeing the shot instead of thinking and fussing with the camera.

So what kind of pictures does the X100 deliver? I couldn’t say. I’m having too much fun figuring out the controls, and modes, and configurations, reading the manual and trying to remember what it says about how to do things I never imagined I’d want to do. It’s been a week and I’m not anywhere close to actually taking pictures. First things first, after all.

Mike, I think what David is saying is that we amateurs tend to look at our pictures and connect to the scene we saw at the time, not to the picture itself.

We see a beach image we took and we recall the sound of the surf, the smell of the sea, the sense of eternal placidity we felt at the time. Other people look at the beach image and see a flat, boring shot.

In a small way I suspect that may be why some people find film advantageous - the long lead time from shot to image gives us a bit of time to disconnect from the situation and see our images as images.

For reason # 2 I breathed a sigh of relief when Kodak discontinued Tech Pan.

It happened to me in reverse with the TOP platinum print offer. I have a print of Carl Weese's "Rock Creek at Flood, Near Red Lodge, Montana, 1999" and it's exquisite. There are several qualities that could only be obtained by platinum printing - mainly extreme differentiation of close tonal values and huge overall tonal range. When the TOP print arrived, I liked it, but it looked like a very good silver or (gasp!) carbon inkjet print on matte paper. But over time it's grown on me, a lot. When working with special materials, you don't need to always use all of their special qualities.

Voltz

I'd suggest David is pointing to something real, but I'd think the emotional attachment is really to the situation or person pictured - and that this feeling gets transferred to the photo that's taken. The photo doesn't say much (if anything)to other people, because the meaning is still only in the photographer's head - it hasn't been translated into a picture that can give the emotional meanings the photographer feels and sees the picture as demonstrating - instead, the picture is lacking the qualities needed to communicate what the photographer felt then and feels about it now.

So it's rather like the "I worked really hard" - simply that the picture doesn't give the viewer what the photographer felt at the time and hoped would be evident to others who see the picture the picture. We all have that experience, where some pictures we've taken and care about don't speak even to sensitive and intelligent others.

Mike -- could it be that equipment fetishism is what distinguishes "real" artists from those who have no real vision?

For me it's not an emotional connection to an image or the subject depicted that causes problems, it's loyalty to my own classification of the image as a good image. Once I have included a picture in my mental file of "good pictures I have taken" it becomes hard for me to let go of that classification, even when I no longer think it's a good image and even when I no longer feel an emotional connection to it.

But if everyone listened to rule 2, think of all the internet forums that would wither away!:) There is one caveat to the magic solution/equipment myth, tho - sometimes finding the right tool does let the equipment drop out of the way and let you focus on the subject - equipment bokeh, if you will.

I think this is where an editor plays a very important role and it's worthwhile to have someone else (whose artistic taste is in alignment with yours and whose abilities you trust)to edit your work. S/He is not involved in the creation process and so can judge the work more objectively based solely on the quality of the final product.

I think what David was trying to say above is that we lose objectivity while self editing. I don't think he was referring to the emotional connection an artist feels with the muse during the creation process.

The more you swing the bat the more likely you are to get a hit. Nough said. :0

I'm rather in agreement with David's point regarding "emotional attachment", but not towards the image. Instead, I think too many photographers get blinded by an "emotional attachment" to the circumstances surrounding the actual shoot, which can lead to irrational biases towards particular images.

Well said. One of my criteria for Lightroom processing is that if I'm trying too hard to make it something, it isn't worth it. Reject and move on.

This is a bit off topic. Can anyone point me to any contemporary photographers achieving Lartigue's slanty wheels? I'm guessing a speed graphic's big focal plane shutter would move slow enough to exagerate the effect. I'd like to try some. (its been playing on my mind for a few years ... I know its a gimmic but I think I have to have a go!)

I don't think Mike and David are far apart at all. David says, Mike says,and I agree, that a good picture needs an emotional attachment or response to get made. I think David is saying, and if so I agree, that while an emotional response may be necessary for a good picture, it is far from sufficient, by no means the only element needed. The mistake David has alerted us to is that of letting the emotions distort a rational assessment of those other elements. All this is probably just another way of re-stating Mike's Third Mistake.

Mike, may I respectfully point out mistake number four.... using Flikr as an arbiter of great photography....

I remember this thread from November 2009

http://theonlinephotographer.typepad.com/the_online_photographer/2009/11/great-photographers-on-the-internet-part-ii.html

Stefan Zoellner posted a link to the following that was so funny I nearly did have a bladder accident...

http://www.flickr.com/photos/andrerabelo/70458366/

It's supposed to be fun so why is it so hard?

Steve

One thing I've noticed with novice photographers is that they usually try to please an audience (on flickr for example) instead of pleasing themselves. Trying to be popular is the surest road to taking boring photos.

People have to learn to find their subject matter and to not shoot things that don't mean much to them. I agree, there needs to be an emotional attachment. The photographer has to care for and love his pictures, otherwise he will never find his own voice and just come off as banal. (Paradoxically, he also has to learn to edit ruthlessly and let a lot of work go.)

Feedback is good but people have to learn how to use it and from whom to take it.

Which dog photo was hardest to get? I'll say the one with the teenager. Dogs are hard to predict, hard to direct, teenagers even harder. To get both looking at the camera at once is a stroke of genius and/or luck.

No, David is right. And it's not just amerteurs that get attached to images. I have lots of examples of turning in pics to the desk with one favourite that they 'must' see is a fantastic shot. It's a belter it stands out a mile. I think it is great. The light, the composition, the pose, whatever it is, I love it.
They are all meeeh, nahhhh, sortaaaa. And pic a different frame. If it's a sub or a reporter picking the 'wrong' picture that is just because they can't 'see' but when it is a picture editor of many years you just have to put it down to them being a bit mental not to spot your superb capture.
Off to the next job. Maybe they will do better next time. ;-)

When I was a new film editor I read a book which have similar advice to that of Ctein, but as the book was directed at film editors, who by definition may often be the arbiters selecting shots for inclusion it put them to some degree in the "bully pulpit" (nice American expression).

The example given in this book was the cinematographer rising at dawn, climbing a mountain, getting the shot...and the editor not using it.

The writer went on to examine the concentrated work, the varied versions of the cut seeking approval by the director, the producer, the investors, the marketing department, censors, preview audiences and sundry others. "Then" he said "you will have climbed your mountain"

I agree with Dave to a large extent. Many years ago, I held an exhibition of portraits and concert photographs. Several visitors responded in a way that made it clear that their reaction to each picture would vary significantly, depending on whether they knew the person/musician in the picture.

Or imagine yourself looking at a portrait of a child, thinking either "That's a nice picture of a kid" og "That's a really nice picture of little Emma - that's so typical for her to smile like that, when she is doing this..."

Some photographs transcend this by being true icons, of course, but there is a level "below" that, I agree.

Do you mean Photo Techniques,the photo magazine published in the 70's?
If so, I believe this is the best photo magazine ever published, in any language!

George Klidas

In Art individuality is celebrated, the problem with the "Art World" is that it is about money in the main. If your work has a unique look then you will be expected to remain "true" to that look to keep the tills ringing.
In the upper echelons everything you make is valued by those whose measure is money.
When editing work for an exhibition we can be too attached to certain images because of their personal meaning to us as individuals. It's not so bad to be human despite what the critics say.
Great photos allow us to imagine. Like a great book which allows us to imagine the world of the characters in the book.
Can a sunset unleash our imagination? Can all the many hackneyed genres of photography still be Art.
Of course they can. You can fool some of the people all of the time.

Re. point 2 and a small bee in my bonnet:: I wonder if I dare mention 'hair shirt' in the condescension I have occasionally experienced from a very few photographer-chemists who practise the art of the noble process. The hours spent grappling with large cameras, dangerous chemicals, and strange image-receiving surfaces may confer a degree of high-minded smugness upon the practitioner, who scoffs at the ease of capturing a digital image and the use of PS effects that instantly mimic those he or she has fought so long to master. I have noticed an inclination to judge nobly-processed photographs by different standards, with respect being shown for technique first and foremost - the image as image plays a lesser role in the aesthetic judgement. An example where work put in does matter in the final result.

Here is a nice summary from a professional shooter of what it took to get (or not get) the shot he was after:
http://www.learnmyshot.com/The-Fear-of-Missing-the-Shot-and-How-to-Overcome-It

"I'm also tired of the myth that better equipment is irrelevant."

Just so, except you need to read a little more carefully--I never said any such thing. What I said was that better equipment doesn't automatically result in better pictures. And that's true.

Mike

"could it be that equipment fetishism is what distinguishes "real" artists from those who have no real vision?"

I don't think so. I've known some very famous photographers who are equipment nuts. They just don't advertise it much.

Mike

"Do you mean Photo Techniques,the photo magazine published in the 70's?"

George,
The American "Darkroom Techniques" was founded by Seaton Preston in 1979. The name was subsequently changed to "Darkroom & Creative Camera Techniques" when "Creative Camera" was folded into it, and then to "Photo Techniques" in the second year that I was Editor. That confused it with an English magazine called "Photo Technique," singular. In the past year or two, the name of the American magazine (it's still being published) was changed to "Photo Technique," singular again. Not sure if the English magazine of (now) the same name is still publishing.

Mike

Ctein had it right when he decided his picture of the Apollo rocket deserved the amount of work it required to make a great print.

I think that equipment fetishism and making good photos are independent activities. That is, each can exist without the other. But they can also mix, and can both exist in the same person. Being independent doesn't make them mutually exclusive.

Swinging the bat at random does not much increase the chances of getting a hit! And if you're playing baseball, is likely to result in your striking out.

Going and seeking out subjects that interest you, and working on showing them, perhaps in multiple ways, probably DOES increase your chances of getting a hit the more you do it.

Not ALL work is PRODUCTIVE work.

Mike - Do you remember Rubik's Cube ?
By the time one had completed one or two faces, one usually had grown so attached to the achievement that one dared not re-scramble the cube so that all the faces would achieve colour uniformity. The work invested seemed too precious, and one had to divest emotionally in order to advance.

The lesson served me well. Intermediate results are but steps on the way. The final result counts — no one cares how hard you worked to achieve it. No one has to. And no one has to care about the circumstances of your creation.

It seems to me vital to keep in mind this last point. The motivation, the emotions attached to the moment of taking a picture are your own business. If they are relevant to the picture as it stands, and not just to your mental representation of it, then such emotions are bound to be shared, to be re-created by other viewers, whether they are informed of the circumstances or not. But whether a picture is powerful and moving - that's up to the picture itself.

My favourite example: The portrait of Harry Sumida at Manzanar Relocation Center, by Ansel Adams. For me it is the embodiment of quiet dignity.
If one then happens to learn that the man depicted was a U.S. Navy veteran who enlisted in 1891, was wounded during the Cuban war, and imprisoned during WWII merely for being of Japanese descent, this quiet dignity becomes all the more admirable. Let a tsunami of indignation rise at the injustice of the treatment he suffered. But the portrait as such is powerful enough, it stands on its own. History "just" adds an extra dimension.

for cursory reference:
http://ccp.uair.arizona.edu/item/10310

What is good?
What is great?
These are subjective terms which are dependent on individual human values. Or is popular consensus important in determining the quality of subjective content?

How many conflicting reviews do we see of anything in our world?
How many art objects are considered not even good or great at the time of display, and later raised up to the standard of exceptional? (Van Gogh, the impressionists, DADA, etc.) How many art works are later demoted with the passing of time?

A Cindy Sherman photograph was just sold for $3.9 million at auction. Is that photograph good, or great? Was it great in 1981 when she created the image?


"Good", "great", "better" ?
What is the goal in creating an image?
Does the image fulfill the goal of the creator?

Chris - "...that is, provided the emotion is connected not to the resulting picture (in which case, I think Mike is on the right track) but rather to our memory of the event, or what we felt when making the picture, or anything else that doesn't show up in the final image. ..." this is exactly what I meant.
Thank you for clarifying what I was trying to say.

Well I guess the beauty of being an amateur is you can afford to make mistakes when your good name doesn't rest on the outcome. Where serendipity rather than necessity is your guide & your deadline's making sure your home for dinner

Amateur/Artist/Pro... great photographs don't come easy, yet they look effortless. They're the pictures that prick you because they show you what was hiding in plain site

I took one just like that once. I can't bloody find it

On gear and good photography

I think Ansell Adams said it all: "There is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept."

I worked for a major IT company for 12 years writing and testing software. In that time, automation and reusable objects had increased productivity by orders of magnitude but we still produced some terrible software.

Thing is software is like any other manufacturing process, which goes something like "concept, design, execution, testing and production". (Note, in software, production is the easy bit, not so for hardware).

Design is indeed critical (good coding wont make something fast, efficient, secure or easy to use). Execution is important too (no amount of testing will improve poor code) and so was testing (you really don't know if the concept has been realised and the system is robust until you stress the whole system in a typical customer environment).

But the point is, each step is only as successful as the step before and the first step, the basic concept, is the most important of all. It's easy to build quality software that nobody wants or needs.

There is an obvious parallel for photography which is also a process. In this case, "testing" is not very relevant but you could define the process as something like:

1. Concept
2. Planning and setup
3. Execution
4. Post production

The biggest mistake amateurs make in my experience is starting (and sometimes finishing) at step 3 and assuming that the boring and uninspiring result can be fixed by buying and employing more technology (or messing around in photoshop).

The parallel is to start creating a new software product by writing the code.

The fact is many amateurs have more than enough gear and many have reasonable execution and photoshop skills, but many simply don't have a good idea or the experience to know how to realise it (choosing the right location, time, situation or equipment for the job).

Yes, professionals also obsess about gear, but usually because they know what they are going to need to execute the concept successfully (and earn their fee) and they need to be able to rely on it 100%. Knowing what to use and what works is the key issue, whether it's a view camera or a compact.

However amateurs do have one major advantage over professionals. The "concept" does not have to take account of what a client may want or pay for. They can let their imagination off the leash and do whatever they like.

Steve

In fact, being mutually exclusive would make them clearly not independent :-) .

And, I have twice now encountered actual painters talking about brushes :-) .

Getting here very late, and only able to browse the comments... Looks like some good thoughts here. Beware, though, that the foundations of this thread seem to lie in a fairly limited segment of photography; that of the candid snapper. Yes, that probably represents the majority of what amateurs actually do. But I would suggest that one way many folks can raise their visual skills is to occasionally step out of that mode.

I also believe that one of the most prevalent and detrimental mistakes that amateurs make today to to spend far, far too much time reading and typing on the damn Internet. You improve your skills through the see/shoot/evaluate cycle, not by reading and typing! Eh?

Dear Jordan and Mike,

I'm not sure that real equipment fetishism (vis "The Photo-Fetishist Leaque" http://tinyurl.com/ynr62a ) even fall into the amateur concerns, as very, very few amateurs can afford to indulge that perversion (merely lusting in your heart does not count). I certainly don't think it's very high on the list of possible amateur mistakes.

Reminds me of the magazine reader demographic groups we referred to as retired-doctors-living-in-Miami-and-collecting-Leicas.

OTOH, someone (I can't find the comment)did point out a big fourth mistake, which is talking about what's wrong with your work. A terribly- common amateur no-no. Don't ever, ever show someone a photograph and tell them what you don't like about it. Just keep yer trap shut and bite your tongue until it bleeds.

pax / Ctein

Mike, thanx for the quote (include nervous smile here)....., to much honour. But about mistake number 2, there are also two sides to that medal. A nice story ran on the blog of Gianni Galassi.

http://giannigalassi.typepad.com/blog/2010/11/wybiwya-what-you-buy-is-what-you-are.html

This shows (with a lot of humour) what happend to photographer Jeffrey Goggin when he presented his GF1 night shots at a portfolio review......in short.....great shots, mature, eh......what camera......not so great shots.....not professional.....invest in better camera.

a) Sometimes (as above example shows) the right camera can get you the right job because of peer pressure/street cred reason.....all the wrong reasons IMHO but non the less, FAP seems do define itself around the view camera these days.....something to consider when buying a Nikon D3X for FAP. Maybe a Plaubel Peco would be better suited....for the same amount of money.

b) Sometimes you need the right tool for the right job. A 2 x 3 (meter not feet) Gursky is hard (very hard) to create using a GF1.....and Erich Salomon's inconspicuous shots of politicians and royalty are hard to get with a large format camera. Unless of course you happen to be David Burnett.

c) Sometimes you have to adapt to the circumstances......I for one don't own a car so my camera is as light as possible (a GF1) with an Oly 18-36 on it, in order to shoot from a bike (as Gianni does as well, though be it totally diffent shots.).

But mind you every decision has its impact......and to sell a shot first you have to make a shot so ergonomics count big time!

Greetings, Ed

I wish I understood earlier in my amateur career that studying art to understand what makes an interesting image is more important than having the best gear.

That picture by Lartigue was by no means a thoughtless snapshot. He knew exactly what he was doing. He used a handmade guillotine shutter and panned the camera precisely for the purpose of getting that particular effect. Sometimes, after taking a picture, he used to drew a sketch of what he believed he captured. The sketch he made after taking this picture shows the oval wheel and the leaning people in the background. He knew exactly what he was going to get, and he got it on purpose.
Many of his famous pictures (for instance, that of the "flying" woman on the stairs) were thoroughly thought out in advance.

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