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Tuesday, 08 May 2012


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So how would you characterize today's look?

It also is a bit of a commentary on public taste: the seven or eight highest-rated photos all look to be composites, or what are often called "fakes." (The option to sort by ranking is just to the lower left of the image area.)

"So how would you characterize today's look?"

Like the 224 pictures in this set. Sometimes we have to use our eyes, not our words.


Do these photos really define the "images of the age"? - is it not just that they are ubiquitous? The photos that defined the '50's (pick your era) were just the ones that got put in front of the public. It's only the publication that's been liberalised - not the technique / style / whatever

"Every age has its generic "look," its base technique, its demotic technical signature"

So, we can safely say our contemporary base is poorly composed, improperly exposed and utterly reliant on technology to overcome a limited understanding of photographic fundamentals?

Yup, that sums it up.

Hello Mike,

This is an interesting comment:" Every age has its generic "look," its base technique, its demotic technical signature. This set, more or less, is a pretty good demonstration of ours, now." Could you say more, expand on this? Perhaps in a later post? What exactly is this generic "look"?
Thanks and regards,
John Baker

Denver gets 300 days of sunshine per year, and we seem to be hitting above our average thus far this year. Because of that, it was completely predictable that we'd have cloudy skies for the "Super Moon," LOL!

Glad to see that there was a lot of photographic interest in it throughout the parts of the world that had clear skies, though.

If the cover shot is any indication, the photographic zeitgeist of our time involves pushing the fill light slider hard to the right. No need to be shy with the saturation slider either.

Funny, the first thing that struck me looking at the first few frames (there's an old word - I meant 'captures') was there seemed to be a lot of composites. Not really sure that's a good way to illustrate a natural phenomena, but certainly their presentation as photographs does indicate something about our current expectation of 'what photographs look like'



I could do the cover shot , if you mean the red haired woman at the top of this post with my 1978 camera. f8 , focus at 50 feet 30th of a second 400asa color neg film 47mm super angulon on 6x9. About a 75 watt household bulb about 15 feet behind me , add an extra 15cc magenta and yellow to the enlarger.

But that's just a guess after 34 years, I could be of by a factor of two on any of that, but it sure looks like my late '70s early '80s work. Well the stuff in the very short time after I started shooting color but before I sold my Graflex XLSW.

darn spill checker - should be

But that's just a guess after 34 years, I could be off by a factor of two on any of that, but it sure looks like my late 70s early 80s work. Well the stuff in the very short time after I started shooting color but before I sold my graflex XLSW.

Slightly tangentially: if you watch the coverage on all the news, you would think the "look" of today is an image taken by a 1000mm telephoto.

I wish someone could tell the news readers that the moon does not really look that big to the unaided eye. Anybody have any contacts with CBS, NBC, ABC, etc.? Please tell them. They are all equally clueless, or stupid, or shameless on this and many astronmical stories. No wonder people don't believe "the media" any more. Grrr.

My eye went to the two portraits before I read the paragraph that precedes them. My first thought upon seeing them: I prefer the portrait on the left, from 1890. It looks more natural, with less harsh contrast. But the thing that bothers me most is that the subject on the right is wearing the silly, overly-dramatic, unnatural grin that one sees altogether too often these days; it might be a more attractive picture if she could just tone that grin down a few levels.

My preference isn't at all swayed by the fact that I'm 144 years old and when I was a lad everyone looked like the lady on the left.

"For instance, we now fully expect people to give a big on-demand smile when having their pictures taken. It looks utterly natural to us. But if an average person from, say, 1890 could look at a bunch of typical pictures from now, he or she might find all the grinning utterly bizarre."

True. But also to be considered is that adults' dental health tended to be poor throughout much of the 19th century. You really would not have wanted to see a big, silly-faced gaping smile from a babe in Victorian dress. Yoosh!

The look of today has a lot to do with what the "auto-correct" (auto-fix, one step photo fix, etc.) button does on most photo editing software. Namely, and most importantly, always, always, always center the histogram.

And sometimes we got the look of the age because we couldn't do anything else. People didn't start shooting a lot of panchromatic film until well into the 20th century, and with slow films, most amateur shots were taken outside in daylight (maybe; I just pulled that supposition out of where you usually put suppositories. And, sorry about the pun, I couldn't help myself.) Anyway, with ortho film outside, skies are white, not a midtone; pale skinned people are really pale skinned. And the film was pretty slow -- I'm not yet ancient, but I can remember being told "don't move now." So, a lot of portraits look frozen because people were told not to move, and it's hard to hold a motionless big smile. And so on.

pxpaulx makes an interesting observation about the 5%...

I guess I'm one of the 5%'ers who made an effort to get out and photograph the moon with an interesting foreground. And I think I did pretty well.

Um...sort of. The day before the full moon I tried to get a moonrise shot that I had planned for a week. And missed it. So a few days later I was back out for the moonset and sunrise -- and this time succeeded.


You remind me of the Russian duo Komar and Molamid who surveyed the United States and other countries to find the average most wanted and least wanted paintings, circa 1994... Here's the most wanted painting in the states, approximately dishwasher size: http://awp.diaart.org/km/usa/most.html

In answer to Q this post from a photographer called Martin Parr......


I guess he blames our modern culture of mass media for the phoney smiles and bad poses you see today. So don't blame it on the chap with his finger on the shutter button blame it on Mark Zuckerman and friends for turning the world into a stage/red carpet where every girl is/has to be Angelina and every boy is called Brad.

But I have to agree I like the self confident look of the girl on the 1890 picture a lot more although women at that time had a lot less to be self confident about then today and the fact that she had probably a lot less experience in posing than her 2010 counterpart.

Greetings, Ed

If I recall correctly, the iconic shot of the full moon rising behind a skyscraper to Philip Glass's incomparable music in Koyaanisqatsi was a composite with a fairly obviously blurred matte.

It certainly doesn't detract from the power of the image.

Chris: "Denver gets 300 days of sunshine per year, and we seem to be hitting above our average thus far this year. Because of that, it was completely predictable that we'd have cloudy skies for the "Super Moon," LOL!"

There was one heck of a lightning storm the night of May 5th, 2012 over Denver ... but the "SuperMoon" did pop its head out for about 10-15 minutes. Conditions were crap for shooting - hazy skies and very windy - here's my writeup with composite image.

For those with access to australian TV, watch out for a chap called Bert Newton - he seems to be able to hold that sort of ridiculous grin even whilst talking.

P.S. Americans (particularly those in Florida) may have come across his son, who has just had a couple of run-ins with the local police.

'a photographer caller Martin Parr'

love it:)

The "look" of the era isn't the first thing which I thought of reading this. Instead I thought of how willing people today are to give their photos away for nothing but "exposure", even those few percent who put in some reasonable effort to make it look good.

My $.02, non-refundable, is that the look of our hyper-ADD age is a photo intended to make a single point quickly and loudly, with little depth, complexity, ambiguity, or lingering impact. Like a can of soda.


...you forgot the 5% of all photographers that view people who are constantly snapping pictures of everything as some form of manifested adult ADHD, and just went out to sit in their backyard, light up a nice cigar, and watch the big moon, without ever wanting to ruin the experience by feeling they needed to take any photo of it at all!

I didn't submit my image to the HuffPo list; But then, I don't exactly match the breakdown by percentage that pxpaulx offered. I researched, got my gear together, climbed Sentinel Dome in Yosemite, and got the shot, did the post production work, and here's the result: http://littleredtent.net/LRTblog/2012/05/06/supermoon-over-clark-range/

I saw a Holga for sale recently and God help me, I almost bought one.

Hi All, I just wanted to chime in with a little background info on the "Smiling Lady" portrait.

First off, it is fascinating to read opinions from other photographers on one of my images. I have looked at the image many times and never really considered her smile to be unnatural. Could this be the very phenomenon that Mike was referring to?

In looking at some other photos from the same shoot, her smile stays pretty consistent, even when it was not prompted. You can see what I am talking about over here - http://www.jasonnoffsingerphotography.net/portrait/arvada-co-arvada-center-documentary-family-portraits/

For editorial or commercial work, I generally prefer to have a more toned down expression when the subject is looking directly into the camera, with full smiles reserved for off camera looks. However, I've found that regular people (non-models) have a hard time pulling either look off. As mentioned in the posts and comments above, people usually just give a big smile whenever a camera is pointed at them, and these are the pictures that they want to hang on their wall (not making a judgement here, just stating a cultural norm).

I do find it interesting that Mike chose this image to represent "current" trends in portraiture, as it was made in fairly "old school" fashion. Shot on film using a prime lens, processed and scanned by the exceptional Richard Photo Lab, re-sized in Photoshop and uploaded. RPL scans to my specs, so that is why the image is fairly contrasty. Being that it was shot in open shade, on film, it could also be rendered with much flatter tonal values, this look is just a personal preference.

Hope my comments were informative and didn't ramble on for too long.

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