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Tuesday, 21 March 2023


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First of all, it took me a while to find your Flickr page. Perhaps it could be added to one of the sidebars so it's always accessible?

Second, I prefer your version. Making a leafy green tree nearly black in a photo doesn't match my perception of it in the real colour world I see with my own eyes.

It's funny that Moose mentions tonal detail being compressed, because about a year ago I bought a Leica T on a whim and I immediately fell in love with its "B&W Natural" profile. It reminded me of old silver prints I used to make from negatives, and was very unlike the default high-contrast look to the built-in monochrome profiles of other cameras.

I didn't love the experience of using the camera, however, so I set about trying to recreate its look in my Olympus cameras, and found that it took a combination of increased contrast but lowered highlights and raised shadows, basically compressing the upper and lower tonal ranges towards the middle. It brought a smile to my face to realize I had taken a long time to achieve a look that someone else considered a flaw!

I winced when I read Moose's reply because I know Moose is a frequent contributor who shares interesting things, and not just a random passerby. But I had also just read this classic by Ctein, which I think is related, and worth rereading. As Ctein would say, "take care of your chicken and the feathers will take care of themselves."

I'm very surprised you bothered to comment on Moose' weird comments. First of all he's wrong by his own lights, and second for all the good reasons you gave, especially that you have to take a mature artist/artisan at their word.

Sadly, both art criticism and art history is full of writing that wants the work to be another way, i.e. the way that person wants it. It's like a really glaring poker "tell". The second you see it you know the critique/evaluation is at the best suspect, and at the worst lacking all legitimacy.

your comments well said, but almost seems the obvious decorum for most of your readers…

I'm OK with however a photographer wants to present his or her work - as long as for some reason I can say to myself that the work is as they intended. Sometimes on other sites, someone will put up some work and everyone knows that the person who put it up will be the last to understand why it is over saturated, unnatural, contrasty to the point of being impervious to being seen, etc.

Privately I might say of such and such a photographer that their work is too flat or contrasty or whatever, for my taste. But I keep my opinion to myself unless they ask me to comment.

However - you have about nine-and-a-half thousand words of text before I hit the first photo (Diane Arbus) - and that is making me less inclined to read the text. But I would never tell you because you didn't ask my advice.

Intelligent, unemotional rebuttal to Moose's comments, Mike.

But more importantly, at least to me, you're discussing photography!

Let's talk photographs! Even b&w photographs. I'll start by pointing to a few little tidbits.

- I just came across a 2019 WNYC podcast of a 2009 interview with Roy DeCarava about how his wonderful book, "The Sound I Saw" got published after decades! I'd never heard his voice before.

- Do you love looking at contact sheets like I do? It's such a wonderful window into visual decision-making! I just bought a 2020 book that was new to me: "Proof: Photography in the Era of the Contact Sheet" by Peter Galassi, the former chair of MoMA's photo department. It's wall-to-wall contact sheets. But you're wasting time reading about it. Just buy it if you answered "yes" to my opening question.

- Speaking of books, here's a heads-up for one you might not be able to buy just yet but might like to see. The Art Institute of Chicago has just finished a 5 year project of cataloging its photo collection. But it's not a traditional format of a catalog. I'll have more on this in the future. But until then here's a link to the current exhibition celebrating the publication of the catalog. And here's a link to the amazon pre-order for the book.

Mike might be running low on photo stuff but I'm not. 🤣

How does a viewer know it's the style of the photographer and not a shortcoming of a beginner?

Or could it be that an experienced photographer tries to dismisses the shortcomings of his work as "my style"?

Each and every one of us ‘togs have our vision and different ways of seeing things….. and therein lies the beauty 🙂
Although this is my first comment on here, I’ve followed this site for some time. Thoroughly enjoy it. Thanks for all you do, Mr J.

I think I just came across that. As part of my company's Windows 11 roll-out a request was put out for images to be supplied for the desktop.

I dutifully went and took some images of the "Trestle" an all-wood structure built during the cold war:

As is my wont, I used the jpegs as-is from the camera, since that is what I saw. Looking at the other entries, it was clear that they were over-processed in PhotoShop. Needless to say, I was not chosen, even though I had the images most relevant to our work.

I agree with you, Mike and frankly the 'adjustments made to your work' ain't that good.

When I visit Mike's photos on Flickr, I wonder why they are almost all so flat, lifeless.

That sentence is structured as a statement of fact.

It fails to see that the world is not his perception.

How many disasters could have been avoided if people learned to recognise that the world is not the sum of their perception?

It's somewhat similar to:

"Close the window; it's cold."

At 22 degrees C (72 degrees F), the office room temperature was NOT cold. But my colleague was. She FELT cold.

When making statements involving my perceptions, I try to open my statement with the projecting clause: "It seems to me that ..."

I think that adopting that form of opening might help many people realise that what they think is factual is not factual, but only their opinion.

First, you scold him for modifying your posted jpegs (implying that these are finished works), then you dismiss the value of the images (the online JPEGs are not the work), and then you say you have to take mature artists at their word (implying that the images are EXACTLY what you want them to be.)

I think if you step back from this you'll see that the inherent contradictions of your post suggest that there is more emotion than analysis at work here.

In my opinion, it is perfectly appropriate (one might even say fair use) for one artist to revise another artist's work as a critique and show how they believe it can be improved.

Re: Moose's "improvements"

I believe it was Ansel Adams who used the phrase "ashes and soot", to describe crushed blacks and white highlights in prints, plenty of both in the "after" versions.

Totally agree with you, immediately made me wonder what Moose would have made of Henry Wessel...

"100% happy" is perfectionism—and I strongly suspect that good artists rarely or never succeed in saying what they had in mind perfectly. Or if they do, they change their minds in 6 months.

It's a good point that established artists mostly aren't going to care what I think of their tonality (you didn't say it quite that bluntly), and that I'm better off deciding whether I like the work of the artists as they present it, rather than thinking of telling them how to improve.

Incidentally, my favorite browser plugin ever is this one for Firefox, which lets me display the histogram of a photo I'm looking at online very easily (adds "show histogram of image" to the right-click menu) is this one: https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/histogram-viewer/

Mike, tonal range, highlights, shadows in B&W images are truly personal preference. While I don’t particularly care for totally black shadows with absolutely zero detail in them, some do. The same goes for overly contrasty prints, not the way I like to print but who cares, just me. Ansel Adams went through phases of printing, just look at his body of work throughout his life in the darkroom. Many great photographers have evolved in their printing technique as well. I agree with your rebuttal relating to a reader and comments on your FLICKR page. There is such much bad B&W out there that I think many people see it as trendy or creative. Harsh tones, no shadow detail just is not for me, give me a full tonal range B&W print and I am a happy camper. I do like your B&W images from your new camera setup, never thought they needed anything. Let’s see many more.

I agree with your comments on the photographer having the right to choose how they present their photographs but I’d add that it’s a mistake to think that every black and white photograph has to include a pure black and a pure white. There’s a lot of very good photos of scenes in fog, for example, that not only do not include a pure black or pure white in the image, they even go so far as to limit the range of zones in the print to the range between zones 3 and 7.

I read Moose’s comment to your earlier post and saw his comparisons of your versions of those 2 photos and his idea of how they should look. I’ll comment mainly on the Cauliflower photo.

Moose asked “With those shadows, were the signs really so grey?”. I didn’t see the scene, just your photo, but I’d ask a different question. I’d ask “if the clouds were as grey as they appear, could the signs be any whiter?: It’s a daylight scene so all of the light is coming from the sky which has quite a few clouds in it. The other elements of the scene, the buildings, cars, street, signs, cars and grass are all reflecting light and they’re reflecting less than 100% of the light falling on them. The white of the signs is no brighter than the white of the clouds in your image and in keeping with the brightness of the sky, in Moose’s version the white of the signs is brighter than the brightness of the clouds and sky and not in keeping with them in my view, Looking at your image in small size as it appears in the post I’d like to open up the mid ones a little more but I suspect that looking at an actual print at your chosen print size I’d be very happy with the values you’ve chosen for those areas.

Looking at Moose’s edit I’d ask “With those clouds, were the signs really so white?”

Moose also suggests that your photos look “flat” but looking at this photo my feeling is that your image has a greater sense of 3 dimensional depth. The buildings and background elements look further back behind the scenes in your version. Moose’s version which looks slightly compressed to me, I think because the increased detail makes things look closer. I also prefer the more relaxed feel of your version. Contrast is one thing but accentuating detail makes things look busy and in your face in this photo. That feels out of place for a photo of a relaxed, almost rural, scene with no people and only 1 car in the street.. The increased detail here doesn’t add to your image, I think it subtracts from it.

With regard to the Sun After Rain photo, once again I think you’ve got the tonal range right for your presentation of the image. In Moose’s edit I find the whiteness of the main cloud and its reflection in the lake are a bit too bright for the rest of the image including the rest of the sky.

As to the question “Are we being treated like John Szarkowski, to unfinished work?” I can only ask is any photographer’s work on a photo ever finished, at least if it’s not a news photograph of some kind? Not only do our tastes change over time, what we see in our own photos changes over time as well. I think most photographers have some photos which are never finished,

I frequently 'save as' other photographers' images that I play with in PS to see if I can make them more appealing to me. Then, with one exception, I delete them. In that single exception, I privately messaged the photographer with my suggestion(s) as a response to his own comment of dissatisfaction with the image.

FWIW I am sometimes dissatisfied with how my own images as they appear on the web and note that they look different after being shrunken to web size to put on FB or other sites than they did in PS, even on the same monitor. I am told that is because the site's gamut profile may differ from mine. And then there is the fact that the creator's monitor may well be calibrated differently than the viewer's monitor or that of the site being viewed. Thus I never assume that the image looked exactly the same to them as it does to me.

First off, I'm a Project guy. Who knew.
Now that's out of the way, a similar story.
Whenever I get large prints done, via a bricks and mortar printer, I have a recurring problem. The issue is that feel compelled to alter the curve on the prints. Seriously. As if they're helping me by making my images 'POP!'. God, I wish that word still only meant grandfathers or American soft drinks. Like Iconic, Game Changer, Unpack and all matter of words that have been neutered by management textbooks and marketing drones.

My point? If you have a refined/non-mainstream aesthetic - and not a popular aesthetic, getting people to understand you is beyond the diminished return of the effort involved. I now have to physically confirm who'll be printing my work. Call them over. Get them to read the card attached to the USB drive. Confirm that it says NO ADJUSTMENTS. PRINT THE FILES 'AS IS'. NO ADJUSTMENTS OF ANY KIND. If I don't do that, no matter how many times I ask and beg, they change the file. So, yeah, I read your post and thought, "Oh, so it's not just a me thing".

I have, in the past, tried to emulate the styles of other photographers I've liked. Hours would be spent poring over Lightroom settings, trying to match their aesthetic. Sometimes I would be successful in emulating their work. Never was I satisfied with the result. My photos simply didn't look like 'my' photos any more, no matter how much I enjoyed the other photographers' styles.

With web presentation what I see on my screen and what you may see on your screen is at best an approximation. The composition is what will carry the viewers interest. Now with a well crafted print the skills and intent of the photographer/printer is now evident.

I don't practise Zen Buddhism, but for two years I went to a Zen temple, and I find their philosophy and stories very appealing. When people critique a black and white photo saying something should be white or black or a certain shade of grey, I'm reminded of an old Zen story.

An ink-brush artist and Zen master had an admirer who pestered him long and hard for a painting. Finally the artist relented and painted him a bamboo forest, but in red ink. The admirer demurred. “Well,” said the artist, “and in what colour did you desire it?”
“In black, of course.”
“And who,” asked the artist, “ever saw a black-leaved bamboo?”

You have highlighted one of my pet peeves of the online community of critics. I used to post a lot of photos at DPReview (RIP) but stopped because the arm chair critics would complain of this or that, without knowing anything about what I was doing other than they didnt like the result, and giving me Lightroom advice or whatever. What none of them seemed to realize is that I had and still have the ability to do anything I wanted to the photo in post or the original taking of the photo and the result I chose to share was yes…as you say, exactly what I was trying to achieve. So the critique was not helpful to someone like myself who was thinking, this is the way I wanted it to look.

I am surprised Mike seems annoyed about the comments. A photographer just has to suck up these comments. If it was truly your intention for them to look like that then just ignore the comments. Artists and creators have to do this every time they show something. Imagine being an author, film director, or a playright. Everyone's a critic. If however the comment resonates with you then you may learn from it. Perhaps, as it seems to have touched a nerve, you feel there is something in what Moose said? My own opinion is that I am not sure these particular photos are worth the heat they seem to be generating one way or the other.

This post reminded me of your 2-part post years ago, Great Photographers on the Internet. Funny stuff, this interweb.

I like detail in photos. Probably because I'm impetuous and frequently shoot fast and look later. Having details in the photo means I can finally see what I took a picture of. Therefore I like shadow detail and highlight detail and I seldom make photos that are significantly high in contrast. My photos aren't snappy most of the time.

Just pointing out that Mike must like details as well. Moose likes snap.

Henry Wessel was definitely a detail guy. One of a kind.

Can someone please tell me where the Moose comments were posted?

[Try this:



I am a relatively avid visitor of photographic exhibitions. I remember an Ansel Adams retrospective AND a Yousuf Karsh retrospective, both in Berlin.

The Adams prints were from a relatively early period. I was disapppointed, to say the least. They seemed quite dull and lifeless to me compared to what I knew from books and magazines. The master seemed overestimated to me.

The Karsh prints, on the other hand, were mindblowing, every single bit as brillant as they were in the best books about his work. I know, Karsh did usually not create his own prints, but he knew about printing. Just like Cartier-Bresson or Helmut Newton ...

My opinion would be: don't understate too much. When in doubt, move the clarity slider a little bit more to the right - but always with moderation, just like with alcohol, LOL.

Now, when it comes to the comparison between online photos and inkjet prints: In my experience, if you have a good printer and use it halfway properly, you will NOT be disappointed by the prints as compared to the pictures on screen. On the contrary!

I usually read your posts on my phone, so I didn't realize that you had to hover a cursor over the photo to see your original. I thought what I was looking at were the original versions. They seemed fine.

Then I reread the post and realized that if I tapped the photo on Moose's site, I could see his edits and your originals.

I much prefer your version. There's something about the midtones that feel happier or something when compared to Moose's higher contrast edits.

I had “planned” to attend the implosion of Building 9 since it was on a Saturday morning and I was not working that day. However, the explosions woke me up and it took a few seconds for me to realize what was happening. Building 9 was about a mile directly across the Genesee river from the house where I lived at the time, perhaps a bit less now in the “new” house. Despite the excitement of a controlled explosives demolition, it was a sad and poignant moment.

I certainly would not want this post taken down.

So many words and links to images . . . I expect to provide a response, be it mea culpa or disagreement with the brickbats, most likely a combination.

Nor have I had time and attention to absorb all the comments. I do relate to the first featured post, from Lothar Adler.

The large number of lively comments do seem to indicate that the issue of photo presentation on the web is very much on many people's minds.

Might be interesting to take the discussion a little further, and do a Baker’s Dozen or two based on this (1 B&W, 1 color). Make an image file - RAW or JPG - available, and ask readers for their interpretations. No restrictions on the post-processing performed. You select the baker’s dozen. No need for these to be your images (you put yourself out there plenty) - I’m sure your readers would be happy to contribute images.

Seeing the range of interpretations could be very instructive, and anyone participating would likely learn a good deal, whether or not they were part of a final “dozen”. Just a thought.

I'm a bit behind this discussion. I found Moose's comparison (he really needs to enable Wordpress's security to hide directory listings, it's a hacking risk). While I accept that these things are all judgement and personal taste, I do find Moose's "corrections" ham-fisted. He's an expert, so presumably the butchering was done to make the point more clearly online. On the other hand, I find Mike's original flat and lifeless. My own taste would be for something in between. I accept Mike's plea that the mature artist has the complete right to present things as s/he sees fit. On the other hand, wasn't it Ansel who said something to the effect of "why did I print the exhibition so dark?" on the occasion of failing to secure any print sales? The point being that the brain becomes accustomed to what it has been seeing rather easily and is prone to adjusting perceptions to what it imagines something should look like rather than what it is. Sometimes we need an external viewpoint to help us re-calibrate. If we have been through the calibration process and decide to stick with the original, that is our right. But we should also accept others who have calibrated differently not to be so keen. I shoot photographs aiming for what I like, not what some other person prefers, but it is always worth listening to a trusted outside view, just in case you are locked into the wrong groove. Deciding when to listen and when not, is the art.

I took a screenshot of mikes image. In photoshop it already has 100% black and white. Therefore Moose has adjusted the contrast nothing else. His comments are untrue unless the screenshot is deceiving.

Sorry, very late to this discussion. Personally I choose a look that suits the feeling that I want to put across in the image. If it's a street shot it might need high contrast but if it's a portrait it may need to be more gentle. I don't see that one approach is better than the other, although some great photographers did have a style that embraced a certain contrast. Bill Brandt, for example, often printed with blocked shadows and very high contrast.

It is not my intent to defend here the artistic merit or method of Moose’s comments. But I would suggest, that as a professional who puts himself forward as an expert on the subject, you are fair game for gratuitous criticism in a way the the average Flickr poster is not.

I agree with you, Mike, that Moose should have asked permission before posting a public reworking of your work. I also don't like the way he seems to assume that his own aesthetic preferences are objective facts, and that therefore your choices about your work are wrong. I also don't like his reworkings, which strike me as crude and garish. And I grant your point that for you, prints are the real thing, not online JPEGs. It's also worth noting, I think, that online images will look different depending on the display hardware used and how it's configured (what color temperature is the display set to? What gamma, brightness, and contrast settings?).

Now, had those two photos been my work, I would have processed them differently from either your version or his, but that's to be expected, isn't it?

Being told that the details of your photos are not right is sort of like being told that you are mispronouncing your own name. My name is properly pronounced just the way I say it.

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