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Sunday, 09 May 2021


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My experience with "found" photographs is much as you describe. And that's not a bad thing. Most of the wall space in the apartment is devoted to my mother's paintings, leaving little room for my photographs and limiting their size as well. What does discourage me, however, is that my keeper rate is no better for my "deliberate" photographs, those of subjects I leave the house intending to photograph.

There are several ways to get a picture. one is the classical composition (you master the environment whether be in studio or in nature), another is of the reportage sort (You get what you can at an event with some luck).
Then you have what I call the "fishing" sort, wandering about with a camera, hoping for something of interest.

I find it the laziest of all, as you take more time looking than shooting. Those looking pauses are vital, as you start "seeing" something (a puddle ?), you raise the camera and then get in a photographic mode (light, DoF, framing, etc.) and manage, maybe, to capture something that might be of interest, for you, then for others.

As with the "fishing" part, the fish caught is rarely of interest (many put the poor thing back in the water), it's more about letting your mind wander freely, seeing the nature around you and (in France) getting a sip of white wine from time to time to "enhance" your spirit..
In the photographic "fishing" it's the same. If your purpose is to get some pictures, act like a painter and his weasel, find a spot and let the picture compose itself through the day ! If it's for a nice walk, then the camera is more of an alibi.
Sometimes it starts as a walk, then the light changes, and you are back in the painter mode... But being casual won't really work.

I'm lazy enough for the fishing part...

[I'm not sure there has to be a hierarchy of virtue-signalling attached to it. It depends on what kind of photographs you're after and how those are found. Some of the hardest-working photographers I've ever known about are exactly the type you're calling "lazy"...e.g. Henry Wessel, Lee Friedlander, Elliott Erwitt. Those guys were/are just mules for hard work. --Mike]

As I was reading this, I kept coming back to this quote:
"There is nothing worse than a brilliant image of a fuzzy concept." -Ansel Adams

It's frustrating when you go back, look, still not sure what's a winner, go away. There are never overlooked marvels. Only shots that really aren't as good as I wish they were.

In Lightroom - Right click - Remove Photo - Delete From Disk

Done :)

I'm not sure which is more dismaying: finding nothing good in fifty digital snaps or in eight 4x5 negatives. Either one gets you out of the house, though, and heck, Vladimir Horowitz still needed to practice every day.

Mike, why don't post the pics in Flickr so we can all see. Sometimes I post shots that I don't like in Flickr and get some likes? Not sure why but everyones tastes are different. You may have some gems in those images and you don't realize it. Just a thought? Eric

One thing I like about embracing multiple of the flavors of photography is that I can, for example, add some record shots of random houses in the neighborhood to the WWW, even if I didn't get any actual art on the walk. Tagged with the address of course, so people can find it on archive.org in 50 years :-) .

"It's not going to happen when you're sitting in front of your computer thinking about it." This is the central sentence in your post, Mike.

I am fighting all too often with 'almost' images and find it terrible hard to discern - to be honest, the hardest part in my workflow. But it's the going out, the trying anew, that's the only way to hit gold.

I carry a camera almost everywhere I go. Use it too. Recently realized that I'm not a photographer. I capture data, then make something with it. If I can.

Works better, for me.

Can't call it making illustrations because they don't illustrate anything, so I'm calling it image making. Assuming that the initial thingy is only raw material, and that the final one looks sort of like something. Works, for me, whatever it is.

Exhibit A: A cracked pillar on a building facade. The right "eye" was vaguely there. Not much else. Cracks, smudges. I like it now. https://live.staticflickr.com/65535/51158543585_02e48eec3b_c.jpg

Exhibit B: Ragged remnants of a poster. I felt that something was there, and after some poking it awakened. https://live.staticflickr.com/65535/51116019586_0edc6ef1f1_c.jpg

Both: Mostly diddling with contrast, embossing, edge sharpening, until a new reality surfaced. This is why cheap pocket cameras work for me. They don't demand that I become a photographer. (Both images mine, published with my permission.)

Tortured by their relentless work ethic, the editors of the Oxford English Dictionary define an amusement as an idle, time-wasting diversion or entertainment. When the term was applied to the practice of trick photography in the late nineteenth century, the trend's supporters were quick to point out that "photographic amusements" were not just entertaining but also educational...Photographers learned the medium by pushing it to its limits.
( https://www.laphamsquarterly.org/roundtable/snap-judgment )

So at least in this, I guess I'm not alone.

Questions:Is one shooting for themselves or for others, or does it make a difference? Is the final outcome the result of your work behind the camera or behind the computer on Photoshop?

Certainly most photos I take deserve deletion. Sometimes you get one that you like, like this one taken yesterday with the iPhone coming out of an art gallery in an industrial district of LA (where many of the galleries are now.)

It will join my file of photos used for the screen saver on my MAC.
LA, BTW, is THE city of murals. You could spend all day driving around looking at them, finding famous ones, enjoying discovering the unknowns.

So glad for your latest post on images and being critical regarding “print worthy”. I often “don’t get“ a lot of images out there on so called street photography blogs, websites, you tubes, etc. Most of which I just don’t see any photographic value in them, not all but most. I am very critical of my own work more so than other photographers, so here is my advice, Immediately go to The Vivian Maier website. Talk about vision, a gifted eye for street photography, great images, one of the best body of works, ever. This woman was remarkable, yes I realize it was a span of many years but oh my gosh. Vivian should be ranked among the top 10 of all time greats. I hope your readers take the time to review and appreciate her great photographic skills. We can all see first hand what walking around with a camera by a master can achieve, her images are stunning. I just can’t stop looking at her portfolios.

I find that for as long as I walk the same path and eat at the same cafe and shoot pictures of food on the plate (I think lots of handphone camera storage space contains pictures of food), one is not likely to get keepers. Our minds have a funny way of not going beyond the "been there done that" mentality.
I suppose in your case, if you were given a chance to spend one hour at your neighbouring Mennonite community, you will get loads of keepers.
Dan K.

[Very insightful Dan, and you are no doubt right. --Mike]

Truer words have not been spoken… it’s hard to get something good. But the effort to go out with the need in mind is the first step. You just have to take the right path when you do.

Hi Mike,

I found this over at brainyquote.com:

Twelve significant photographs in any one year is a good crop.

Ansel Adams

That's not bad: it averages out to one a month. Or, in my case, maybe substitute "decade" for "year".

Why-oh-why didn't I wear my cheap sunglasses? 8-)
Huntington Beach, CA. May 4, 2019 1:30pm.

It hardly ever rains in southern California, but the sun can be harsh. This is a sunhat with a neck-flap. Paired with a 100 SPF long sleeved shirt, I can pick lemons all-day.
iPhone XS 4.25mm, f/1.8 @ 1/226.

Who was it who said that the difference between a professional photographer and an amateur is that a professional shoots far more images than an amateur but shows people far fewer?

This quote is probably a little dated in the digital age - the difference between professional and amateur is rather blurred, and the zero marginal cost of more shots changes the economics of shooting more. Even so, there's a lot to be said for the professional approach - shoot more, show less, and expect a low hit rate.

"I always feel faintly ridiculous when I wear it but it's actually not that bad looking."
At first glance at that picture, I thought you had found one of me. We do not resemble each other much, but the pose and hat fooled me.

It's an Outdoor Research Seattle Sombrero. Surprisingly effective at keeping rain off of you even when you're not wearing any other rain gear. I use it when I take the dogs out when it's raining or when I meet friends for walks on days that threaten rain. I always feel faintly ridiculous when I wear it but it's actually not that bad looking.

Don't feel ridiculous, Mike. It's a fine hat, especially in cool weather even when no rain is falling or threatening. Nice soft lining too, great for those of us who are follically challenged. Here you can see me wearing mine in 35-degree F conditions at Grand Canyon's south rim. Taken by my wife (that's her shadow at the lower right) using her iPhone 6 Plus in December 2014.

The photographic connection: that's a 600mm Fujinon C on my Ebony SV Whole Plate. In FX terms, it's around 92mm-e. :-)

Don't discount the mundane 'snaps. I was recently asked by a jeweller friend to provide a dozen small framed prints for exhibition on short notice to fill some otherwise blank wall space at a gallery at which she was showing. No time for a special shoot. So I trawled my Lightroom "dross" files from the last 15 years. Yes, there were many, many very boring snaps -so boring that I don't know why I bothered to press the shutter, except that it seemed like good idea at the time. But without much effort I found several dozen previous rejects which deserved a second look, and from those worked up a final dozen. I wasn't going to win any awards and made no sales but I wasn't embarrassed by my output either, and had a lot of fun. My friend was perfectly happy with my decoration for her walls, and sold quite a lot. Lesson for me: storage is cheap, don't delete!

Oh good, I'm not alone in having thousands of negatives not worth printing. Of course, with film that burns up a lot of money.

I'd show you what I mean but I've never been comfortable holding real peoples' work up as negative examples; it seems too unkind.
I don't think it's unkind at all, Mike. Apathy is unkind. Caring enough to think and offer a critique is a positive thing, and you're articulate enough to position it well. The criticism is offered, whether it's agreed with or accepted is another thing — and I should point out that I've learned as much from criticism I didn't agree with as criticism I did.

I really learned this from a Spanish guy on another forum. He would often say "I don't like it." about something. The Americans would child him for being unkind and he would say "I'm talking about me! If you like it I'm happy for you. I'm not telling you not to like it, I'm saying it's not for me and I'm saying why."

Over time, I've come to think that the world would be richer if it were safer to share a more diverse set of opinions and the rationales behind them. It helps us understand each other better.

My Lightroom catalogue has 1,495 finished photos made since 2015, when I switched to digital. Storage is cheap, so I keep all my RAW files. Those 1,495 finished pictures were chosen from 28,825 RAW files.

Out of the 1,495 finished pictures, the only ones worth printing or showing were made during times when I set out deliberately to make photos. There are a few finished pictures from times I brought a camera along "just in case", but none of those are rated at the top in my personal system. All the rest were culled ruthlessly.

There's nothing wrong with keeping everything you shoot. But that's not for me. I'd be delighted if I could make a few outstanding photos every year that were worth printing and looking at over and over again. I don't need the rest.

I’m glad that you took my comment in the intended spirit, Mike. Words can be tricky, and expressing opinions can lead down some slippery slopes.

Once I saw Puddle in context with the other photographs, I felt moved to respond. I toyed around with different adjectives for the series of walk about photos, almost using “pedestrian” rather than “pleasant,” because I liked the double entendre of the former. But it came off far harsher than I wanted.

My own digital files, negative sleeves, and boxes of work prints are gloriously full of such work. I find the misses and near-misses of my saunters to be valuable in their instructional possibilities.

FWIW, I found the small series of photos honest; they felt like they captured the essence of your stroll. I don’t know if in fact Puddle was final photo of your walk, but it felt that way. It was perfectly placed.

[Thanks Ernest. And for choosing your words carefully :-) . And yes, "Puddle" was the last shot of the images in that sequence. --Mike]

I too like your puddle shot. Have you considered playing around with the format/color/tonality some more? For instance, something like this (with the usual YMMV caveats): https://www.smugmug.com/gallery/n-CCZft6/i-nGXzXqv/A

[That wouldn't be my interpretation at all, but I affirm the value of doing that. I frequently take JPEGs I like that I found online and "rework" them according to my intentions and preferences. I don't think it's just messing around--I think it's a valuable exercise in developing our own tastes. And I've learned a few Photoshop skills doing it, too. --Mike]

Your post hits me in the photo plexus. Like you, I kind of feel as if I'm taking the same shot over and over again and still getting nothing. How many days of "nothing" must I endure before I sigh, "No mas"? Well, an infinite number because I'm a photographer, damn it!

I had a similar outing recently. I went for an early morning walk in a favorite park but on this particular day there just wasn’t much to see. I didn’t want to go home with an empty card so I decided to try my hand at capturing birds in flight which is not my usual cup-o-tea. When I sat down at the computer I found that after two hours of effort in the field I had managed to capture a single frame with a decent composition but at 1/1600 of a second it contained too much motion blur. While that day was a bust, I now feel challenged to capture at least one sharp shot of a twitchy Silky-flycatcher…or whatever else I can find.

“I’ll be back” – Arnold Schwarzenegger

Hats: Out here in the desert, rain is a rare event and we recoil from the haboob’s fury like a vampire greeting the dawn. As a result, rain gear isn’t a big seller. I wear a Tilley Airflow for its wide brim and vented crown and really like it. Tilley’s are expensive but they get rave reviews that I can confirm. The venting hasn’t turned out to be an issue on those occasions when I get caught in the rain while hiking in the mountains and it comes in size 8+, which is a plus.

“The nice thing about the Urban Sombrero is that it combines the spirit of old Mexico with a little big city panache.” – Elaine Benes

Ah yes, editing. Back in the day I would go for a two week vacation taking 10 rolls of 36 exposure slide film. It was all I could afford at the time! When I came back I’d go through the shots on the light table and keep maybe 2 out of each roll.

Now that I use digital cameras I shoot far more but sadly I don’t think that the number of keepers has increased much.

Perhaps the photography lesson that took longest to sink in for me was to stop trying to re-take the photo after the fact, in post. You got it or you didn't, as you say. A hard lesson, but so liberating when it does sink in!

This is somewhat related to the category of photos I call "student shots", though the less derogatory term is "studies". A study succeeds or fails as an exercise on its own terms, usually technical, without regard to significance. We all need to take these shots, but we should be honest about why and about their specific and limited value, lucky hits notwithstanding. They are what they are and mean what they mean, no more and no less.

There are also the somewhat related categories of "stock" and "kitsch".

I think whether a photo "works" or not can be quite nuanced sometimes. I guess normally it's a judgement of whether the image does the job - has the effect - you intended and wanted it to. Or even in a way you hadn't intended. But that job can be one or more of many things - does it tell the story it was meant to, is it a work of art visually, does it capture and illustrate what you meant it to, is it suitable technically - resolution, focus, format etc - for its intended end use - especially critical in commercial photography of course. Bear's comments about his friend's exhibition is an interesting example - those pictures weren't his best work but were just fine for that new purpose!
And on top of that, even if you don't think it's good enough other people may like it, and vv. It's suprising how often on photo sharing platforms the photos that get most hits are not the ones you prefer!

Well, Carl beat me to the punch. I also thought "Puddle" would work very well as a high contrast "British" monochrome. I'd have left the entire foreground and cropped out the telephone pole on up.

My personal definition of a printable negative is on a mosquito or tick scale. If I endured 10 mosquito bites or 2 ticks that I had to remove to get the picture, then the friggin' thing is going to get printed.

Look through Lee Friedlander’s work and then ponder what his perspective on a “keeper” might be.

For example, at Fraenkel Gallery in SF right now.

Objectives, expectations, and retrospective discoveries. That’s the 3-legged stool of casual photography.

I’ve had a whole lot of nothing for about 2 years. Discipline lacking.

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