« Endings and Beginnings | Main | A Modest Suggestion »

Sunday, 27 December 2009


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Yep, "blue replacement" really gets to me too, plus sloping horizons, non vertical verticals and nasty colour balance. Just as well there are lots of other things I forget to look for....

Cheers, Robin

After all they're only pictures! The subjects will be long forgotten in a few decades at most. What's there to worry about -- unless you're making a living at this. Then the client can do the obsessing for you.

But, but, what are those four vertical columns sticking out of Adrianna's head? :)

I don't do photography because I'm "creative" or "artistic." I do it as a productive outlet for my mild OCD, and I know a few photographers who are the same way. We just need to create something perfect.

So yeah, if a photo is grainy or I see motion blur where it shouldn't be, or it's infected with blue replacement, the photo gets thrown out.

I'm sure my pursuit for perfection has made me throw out plenty of perfectly nice photos, but I'm okay with that. My photography is for me, and "good enough" doesn't work for me.

. . . on the other hand: the sum of all these peeve pathologies in the marketplace has surely contributed to the development of all those seemingly miraculous advances in the technologies of cameras, lenses, image processing, and printing whose residual imperfections I still gripe about . . . (of course, one person's residual imperfections are another's glaring defects).


"Blue replacement" is actually the way light works. The limb or whatever causes light to bend around it as the rays go by. The color we 'know' the object to be is its color in isolation from the background.

Sloping horizons on the other hand get me every time, especially in water scenes. "It looks like the water should be running out the right bottom corner. Why didn't the photographer see that or at least the editor?" What really tics me off is that I do it too, until it hit s Photoshop at least. :-)

Clearly small technical faults should be (and usually are) overlooked when the photos we take are good, that is, when the form and content come together.

Most of our photos aren't what we wanted however (most pro's photos aren't either), and it is common and easy to nitpick tangential details than consider the more substantial faults: failures in composition or timing or failing to better see a situation.

My general regret in shooting digital is the lack of creamy tonality (printed in a darkroom or inkjet) that I can so easily achieve with medium format b&w film, but it's a fool's errand to focus on it because right now there's no real answer with (my) current gear.

as they say.... "The quest for perfection is the downfall of genius..."

I hate it when people have good ideas that I had a long time ago. Like the one about putting up your ten best pictures. I have a gallery called Topten, and have had for years. Won't tell you where it is though- it has sixty eight pictures.

It's OK Mike. As you age and your eyes dim and your hearing goes all sorts of things that bother people just fade away. At least I have found that true in my case. And what about people? As I begin to learn about a person I find that, (just about always) my first impression and subsequent assumptions about them were 98.2% inaccurate.

Got to go. Time for my medication.

Ni-sen bokeh - yuck. Hated it before I even knew what it was - before your famous articles on it long ago.

Not very keen on this colour photography gimmick either. It'll never catch on.

We all have our pet peeves, but thankfully our cumulative photographic legacy out-weights such personal idiosyncrasies. Otherwise, many of the seminal photo books mentioned on this site and elsewhere would only consist of the front and back covers, and maybe a shot or two in the middle. (And of those that remain, a significant number would probably be technically "nice" but boringly generic.)


moire gets me really angry :)) oh and some chromatic aberations like purple fringing

Long ago, I came to the conclusion that you could find something wrong with any picture. If we got rid of all the imperfect pictures in the world, we wouldn't have much to look at.

Relax, enjoy the view! Unless, of course, there is a crooked horizon...but I digress...

I hate looking at prints that aren't mounted and framed, but just my own prints. And it goes deeper than that: I can't even judge my own prints unless they're mounted and framed. Of course I own a dry-mount press and a mat cutter, but I've wasted a ton of mat board and mounting tissue on prints that weren't worth mounting and framing, but how would I have known unless I had mounted and framed them? HOW WAS I SUPPOSED TO KNOW DAMMIT!

This little problem of mine has caused me to throw in the towel for years at a stretch. I just didn't feel like cutting all those mats anymore. And frames, don't get me started on frames.

So far I've never managed to make a good photograph. Some are adequate but none are good. There are always too many defects and poor choices in every one. I'll just have to keep trying until I get this image thing right.

With some subjects a tilted horizon bothers me. If the subject is a building in one of my shots, one degree is enough for me to notice and correct on the computer.

I usually say that pictures with tilted horizons are taken by someone with Isaiah's Disease. One eye's 'igher that the other.

I think our standards and peeves are set by personal history with photography and our influences/inspirations. I began, seriously, in the early 80s, and Richard Avedon and Irving Penn were my heroes. As well, the largest part of my photographic 'language' at the time, was built from Vogue magazine.

There was no 'bad bokeh' in those images. I'm not sure why. Were older lenses designed with that in mind? Did the selection/editing process weed out 'funny background stuff?' I think it was mostly that fashion pros used, essentially, the Rolleiflex > Hasselblad, then Pentax 67 and then Mamiya RZ. All of which produce good bokeh, in general. And, in 35mm, old Pentax glass was good. Old Nikon glass was good. It's only the more modern formulations that are problematic with nissen, no? Why? Are we designing more for sharpness now, and less with regard to the overall result?

There was no digital noise. There was grain, however, so for me, grain is good. Avedon pictures, aside from the 8x10 stuff, often had lots of grain. That, to me, was the norm. Photographs without grain just don't look like photographs sometimes. But, noise - that's a new thing, and since it's not in any of the books in my collection, it's sort of an invalid photographic characteristic. When i use digital, i don't try to discard the noise. I try to mask it with faux film grain. The problem is that I KNOW what i've done. And, unless i can put a photo (file) away for a while, and then forget what device i used to make it, i'm still obsessed with the fact that i 'faked it.'

My other Peeve has to do with small sensors and depth of field. I've always disliked that P&S digicams put the whole scene in focus. With film, or 5D/5D2, i almost never shoot at smaller than f8. I like it when images drift out of focus. Small sensors flatten everything and make every image look like the photographer didn't make any decisions. But, because so many images are shot that way, and we see so many P&S photos, THAT is becoming the standard language. And, as with trends and fashion, it's becoming more normal and acceptable to me.

So, i guess some peeves evolve, just like anything else. We may just get worn down by frequent 'exposure.' Maybe the true measure of the pathology is just how long we'll hold on to the obsession.

Not sure if this is entirely on topic but, here it goes:
Pathology is also (if not foremost) a "medical" thing!

Bulent, The Pathologist :)

Good topic, Mike. I think is is, indeed, important to recognize one's own "peeves" and to regularly either reaffirm or reject them. My eyes tend to be distracted more by content and framing than, say, lens blur.

If I had to cite a personal peeve, however, the citation would definitely be awarded to "high dynamic range" digital futzery. When such manipulation becomes at all conspicuous it immediately throws the whole image into the amateur junk pile in my mind, regardless of any potentially redeeming qualities it may have (which, frankly, it usually doesn't have). This is one peeve that I doubt I'll ever jettison.

But you made a keen remark that you should emblazon on new T.O.P. caps, shirts, and bags at Cafe Press: "Nobody notices this sh*t but you. Let it go."

Color casts. Perhaps more widely shared is a dislike of tungsten color casts. I would have thought this is universal, but just yesterday I saw a magazine image of a white-haired gentleman in formal business attire. However, he had orange hair, an orange shirt, and Martian skin tones. What? No one had 10 seconds to move that in the direction of believability?

More insanely, I can't stand the sky-colored cast of open shade. I see this everywhere and when I point it out to sane people they tell me to get a grip on reality.

The peeves I see most often expressed in numerous photography blogs are made about on-screen images, usually at high magnification like your "blue replacement" example. While correcting out-of-level horizons, white balance and other errors is a must, to me, only the print matters. And the blue replacement "problem" in a print, viewed at normal distance, is invisible.

Maybe "blue replacement" is a subset of this, but
longitudinal chromatic aberration has been driving me nuts recently.What I want is a narrow depth of field with a lot of diffraction effects of objects approximately the same size as the lens aperture. Of course after expending a great deal of effort on the problem, now I'm beginning to use it as an artistic tool. 

I find it interesting that many lens specs and tests include data on transverse chromatic aberration, but none of them have anything about longitudinal chromatic aberrationAnyone know of a f/1.2 - f/1.8 50mm APO lens. That's relatively cheap ?

Lots of painters deliberately put in a little vignetting to reinforce the focus on the main subject; Rembrandt did it almost all the time.

The thing that drives me crazy is the pole-out-of-the-head problem and similar defects (which you don't really have in the sample photo...the four verticals are clearly part of the background.) For me, to be a pole problem, the pole has to be sharp, and seem to be in roughly the same plane as the head, so it really has some of the Steve Martin arrow-through-the-head effect. I'm also annoyed when people near the edges of a frame are looking out of it -- it automatically gives you the feeling that there is better action somewhere else.

I feel my problem is much more serious!! I can´t stand a single digital raw image they are so flat contrast and colour wise it just doesn´t inspire me at all not even from my 1dsII. I´ve tried customizing Camera Raw and Bridge for more saturation and contrast but it doesn´t work. I miss different film looks, Velvia had a certain look and Kodachrome another and so on and so on . I personally can´t reproduce them in photoshop and the plugins you can buy just don´t convince me. I probably could finally find a way of copying it but I much prefer to be out shooting. The big problem is I live on an island where there are no film labs anymore so everything has to go to the mainland and takes 10 days and is just way too expensive with two little kids at home.
So I´m stuck with B/W or digital oh well I´m working on my own private cure

Hey Ken,
I'm not quite sure that fits the category. I was talking in this post more about minor technical glitches that we're overly sensitive to--but the kinds of things that more or less all of us would correct if it were easy to do. For instance, if all instances of blue replacement disappeared tomorrow, nobody would miss it, right? Presumably no one would try to replicate it on purpose because they liked the way it looked. Ditto with gloss differential, or the moire that another commenter mentioned.

Overdone HDR is more in the realm of TASTE, wouldn't you say? It's something that people do *on purpose*, presumably because they like the way it looks. Right? So what you're saying when you say you don't like it is that you don't agree with their taste.

I guess these two things shade very close to each other sometimes, and sometimes one crosses over into the other category. For instance, several commenters said they don't like tilted horizons. But of course Garry Winogrand, for one, deliberately held the camera at a severe tilt. That was an artistic decision. A horizon that's off a little bit because the photographer couldn't quite hold the camera straight is in the first category, the minor technical failing--a horizon that's radically tilted falls into the second category, of a deliberate artistic choice.

I noticed a while back that all of the terms I was using to describe "obvious" HDR were perjorative--I'd call it "overdone HDR" or "overcooked HDR" or "excessive HDR." It got me to thinking--it's not overdone or excessive to the person who did it, right? They presumably think it's done just right, or they wouldn't have done it that way. So now I try to call it "extreme HDR," which is...well, a little better.

Personally I agree with you when you say "When such manipulation becomes at all conspicuous it immediately throws the whole image into the amateur junk pile in my mind...This is one peeve that I doubt I'll ever jettison." I agree on both counts, although I would like to think that I remain open to being convinced by it. I'm not hopeful, but it could happen.


"This little problem of mine has caused me to throw in the towel for years at a stretch. I just didn't feel like cutting all those mats anymore. And frames, don't get me started on frames."

Actually, that problem is easily solved. I've actually done it myself. Just pick a standard printing size. Then make a few mats and frame for that size print.

The "re-usable" frames I made were made of oak (a harder wood stands up to extra handling a bit better) and had a wooden insert that fit into the back of the frame. It was held in place by one brass screw in the middle of each side of the frame. What I would do is to drymount the prints to a heavy sheet of paper. It was a matter of only a few minutes to open up the frame and insert a new picture in the mat, then close up the frame again.

TIG welded metal frames work the same way--they have a wooden insert for the back held in with screws.

It's an easy and cheap way to see all your prints framed and matted without having to buy (and store) dedicated frames for every picture.


The perfect is the enemy of the good.

Great discussion! I've been a professional fine art printer (and photographer) for many years now so I've observed first hand how every client focuses on something different in their images. Many of the things they obsess about would never, never be noticed by anyone else. Often these obsessions cause them to lose sight of what the image is all about. Have you ever thought about how many great shots have never seen the light of day because the photographer had some idiosyncratic hangup that caused them to abandon them?

Over the years, I've somehow learned to let go of most of these "tics" in my own work. About the only thing that drives me crazy when I look at a photograph is if it doesn't tell me anything about the photographer.

Like most more conventional diagnosable obsessions, these are over-doing something that starts out basically good. It's good to wash your hands now and then (probably more than most Americans do it these days), not so good to do it compulsively every 15 minutes.

I might qualify on unsharp photos, and probably on noise. But not the SAME way on noise; I'm willing to use the extremes of the ISO range, and don't reject those pictures, but I see it as a flaw.

I have the impression that top printers are all rather obsessive about a bunch of things.

"I can't stand the sky-colored cast of open shade."

Yeah, that bugs the crap out of me. People say I don't like color, but actually I just don't like BAD color, and most color is bad.


"I'm also annoyed when people near the edges of a frame are looking out of it -- it automatically gives you the feeling that there is better action somewhere else."

Easily fixed in Photoshop by copying, pasting and flipping the people so they're looking in. Voila!

my pathology is that i just can't buy a camera whose looks i don't like. talk about inconsequential!

Ah!and the beat goes on,and on,and on.......

I've just accepted my peeves. They do no harm and they say just that much more about me in my pictures. I figure, if everyone else has them, why should I deny myself the luxury of having just one or two?

Three decades ago in the ol' photo club in Denmark, I publicly defended a photo I liked, of a girl on a bicycle, against people who pointed out that it was not sharp and thus beneath notice (it seemed).

The funny thing is that this does not stop me from obsessing about and buying ridiculously expensive lenses because they are a little sharper than the kit lenses.

"on the other hand: the sum of all these peeve pathologies in the marketplace has surely contributed to the development of all those seemingly miraculous advances in the technologies of camera"

Yes indeed.
I say the same thing about camera collectors: Some may see it as a shame that a new Leica is bought and then kept on the shelf, but would Leica really have survived until now if it had not had its collectors?

This pathology is actually pretty common in all sorts of pursuits. Those who hold themselves out to be audiophiles obsess about the last shimmer of a high hat or "sweetness" of violins and debate the differences heard by what others would consider minutia (e.g. what kind of electric cords feed the power to a pre-amp, whether audio components should be isolated by damping materials or sympathetically resonating materials, etc., etc.) Antique automobile collectors are similarly affected. The real problem occurs when one can no longer appreciate the underlying art because we become so obsessed with the details. If we can't discern the emotional content of the art we view (particularly our own) because of our obsession with what almost no other viewers will ever notice we do real damage to our ability to produce better images.


"my pathology is that i just can't buy a camera whose looks i don't like. talk about inconsequential!"

Interesting! I think that qualifies, though.

I'm not very status conscious, and the only time I've ever minded carrying any sort of camera was when I was using a really old, really cheap camera during a period of time when I really *was* very poor and probably could not have afforded anything better. Even then, I only felt twinges of status-consciousness, nothing full-blown.

Of course that's not exactly the same thing you're talking about.


Digital photography encourages the
growth of pixel-peepers.

May the world save us from such unbridled

I was trying to figure out what "sloping horizons" were, until Winogrand was mentioned. Tilting the horizon is often "necessary" particularly in street shooting where you're often denied an horizon to begin with, and are therefore forced to deal with a much shorter and "flatter" perspective. Skillfully done, (as in Winogrand's case) the tilt can add a certain amount of perceived "depth," as well as a degree of tension between various elements in the photograph that creates a more dynamic composition. That said, it fails completely when done to the point of gimmickry.

I too have happily dismissed minor print faults when the image itself is so compelling, minor faults that would have caused me not to show such a print. But the one pet peeve I've had for years (and was just going to repost myself- must be that time of season) is when a finished unmatted photograph is displayed in a "recessed" frame and the gallery lights hit the top of the frame and cast a very harsh and distinct horizontal band of shadow over the very top width of the print! It distracts from the overall compositon and conceals any detail that may be there (annoying enough if only "empty" sky). Awful enough with B&W, a complete horror show with color prints.

Go to any top gallery that exhibits top photographers, and you will see this over and over again. Multi-thousand dollar prints "defaced" by the very frames that display them. And all one has to do is simply overmat the photo, or choose a different style of frame...

relax, drink a beer or two and take it easy

My pathology right now is if I should get my Canon FTbn recalibrated to a silver oxide battery or buy a newer manual camera that was not designed around mercury batteries. My wife is about to kill me over this one. I just feel like the meter would not be totally accurate on the silver oxide battery for some reason.

Mike, don't call it vignetting. Just as a John Camp pointed out that Rembrandt used vignetting, you can use it and call it chiaroscuro and tell people you got the idea from Caravaggio. It's not the same thing but you'll sound cool.

Bryce said:

"Digital photography encourages the
growth of pixel-peepers.

May the world save us from such unbridled

Amen brother!


Photography IS the expression of imperfetion.

We did an article about this in Photo Techniques years ago. Maybe if you call them they can find the back issue for you--the article was written by Joe Diamond. As for when it came out, I have no idea, but it would have been sometime between 1994 and 2000, which is when I was editor.

My memory is that "substitute batteries" are the ones that aren't quite linear with meters that used mercuries. If you get the circuit recalibrated for alkaline batteries of different voltage at a competent shop, though, your FTbn meter should work exactly like it does now, with no nonlinearities.

Another solution, if you don't mind the physical form-factor, is to get one of the Voigtlander VC meters that attaches to the hot shoe. They're very nice, accurate, easy-to-use meters that have the added advantage of being switchable to different cameras, so you never have to calibrate separate cameras to each other. I have one for my Spotmatic and it works fine, although it does look a little odd.


Wow, Mike, you must have the _new_ Spotmatic, the one with the hot shoe. (Mine is a vintage model, with a hacked, but accurate, meter circuit.)

Illuminant metameric failure.

It drives me nuts when my digital B&W prints take on a different color cast under different light sources. This was never a consideration when I was printing in the darkroom.

Nothing else pokes me in the eye like that.

Tilted horizons bother me. I saw a photo exhibit of some Magnum classics in Tokyo a few years ago and was surprised to see so many off-kilter horizons. Those folks obviously did not have the advantage of photo forums or photo critique/design-by-committee sites back then.

I worry about it so much that I have been known to "level" horizons which were naturally unlevel (including one on the side of a mountain) so that I could put them on the Internut somewhere without folks telling me that the horizon is crooked. Nature itself would do well to remember to avoid crooked horizons.

Recently, I have begun to feel a bit annoyed by too sharp photos. Not over-sharpened, but much sharper than what I would see otherwise. Perhaps I just need new glasses.

Oh goodie, all valid of course, but then on the other hand another excuse for the technically enfeebled to add to the can-not-be-bothered-to-fix toolkit!

Thanks for the info, Mike. I wouldn't mind looking around for old issues of Photo Techniques anyway since I love reading about photography, especially black and white.

This reminds me of when I was in school. There were a group of folk who were so interested in the quality of the image, i.e. grain, a deep black, perfect white, the right tonal separation, etc. that they lost sight of any expressive connection. The work was technically great but incredibly boring. Others offered work that, by the quality folks' standards was awful, but ingratiated the class in a visceral way. Me, I much prefer to feel something from the image as a whole, than to look for technical deficiencies, in fact if I'm looking for technical problems then I should move on, as I am not engaged.

What I understand to be a very good mercury battery fix can be found here.


They actually incorporate a voltage regulator chip into the adapter.

Eolake - if a camera company only survives because some people buy and then not use its product (which is a quality product that is designed to be used, and used hard), then surely said company should give up making cameras and start with, oh I dunno, cuckoo clocks or snow globes. (All those gears and glass have to be useful for something, surely?)

To quote the boss.. I'm just sayin'

Another post, Mike, that hits the nail so hard on the head it's completely lost in the plank. Shortly before Christmas, I commented that I had bought one of Jeffrey Ladd's B&W images. But it was not the first to catch my attention. The first was this http://tinyurl.com/y9zjeqj

In all ways but one, it is a perfect photograph that I would dearly love to hang on my wall. However, that one thing is the coma around the moon. It's an effect created by the lens, not a meteorological halo (my preferred profession would have been to be a meteorologist and not a Brussels-based bureaucrat). Now when I look at the image, I miss all of its merits and see only the wretched coma. It's a peeve I would like to lose. . .

El Ingles,
Except I think the moon is a street lamp. Does that help? Because after all, sometimes the light globe of street lamps is oblong, not round.


The tilted horizon thing drives me crazy in my own photos, but doesn't really register for me in other people's work. I took a trip to the Bahamas recently and took a whole mess of pictures with my shiny, new camera. Not used to its balance, nearly every shot I took with an identifiable horizon had a one to three degree CCW tilt. I'm embarrassed to show them even as vacation snaps without straightening them, yet if someone else showed me the same set of photos, I'm not sure I'd notice. (Well, I might notice, since the ocean presents such an unforgivingly level horizon, but I wouldn't be nearly so bothered.)

OMG, Mike, you could be right and I could have done Jeff's kit a huge dis-service. I must have looked at that image for over an hour in all over a dozen occasions but every time I saw the moon/lamp beyond the post. Just proves the camera can lie ;-) Even if it is a lamp and not the moon, my eye is still drawn to it and its shape immediately. So the disease remains. . .

Things that are out of focus... slightly.


No way to fix that, either. :P

Oh, and yes, the tilted horizon. I was about ready to kill myself after I finished processing a hundred or so shoreline images - why can't I hold the camera straight? WHY?

Tilted horizons are one of my major failings. When I got a Pen E-P1 and started using it with the level readings on, I was astonished by the difference between what I thought was level and what the camera thought was level. The camera was right, by the way.
Now if only the camera would display the level AND the other settings at the same time!

While i'm not keen on digital noise, I do like grain. Big crunchy grain you can get your teeth into. It's part of the process.

A few months ago, in order to exorcise my own growing preoccupation with bokeh, I have written a post on this subject on my blog. I have titled it "Bokeh disease". Please allow me to shamelessly provide a link to it:

The comments to this entry are closed.



Blog powered by Typepad
Member since 06/2007