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Friday, 04 August 2023


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I think "Bourgeois camera operator" would look great on a t-shirt. I'm not sure if it would increase or decrease the number of folks who see me with a "professional" camera (Nikon D700, so more like a retired Minor League ball player) and feel free to hand me their cell phone to take pictures of them.

Your Ireland quote reminds me of my favorite line from the movie "Braveheart," as spoken by the English king, who says "The trouble with Scotland is that it's full of Scots." That one made me literally LOL at the theater as it brought to mind my relationship with my family members from the Ozarks. Sometimes they bother me...

"...to zoom in and crop things out....tends to simplify compositions..."

I read two things in the long ago past that led me to think this way. The first in some magazine which I could not credit due to the multiple decades since reading it: If something grabs your eye and makes you think, "I need to shoot this!", then eliminate everything that is not that something.

The second thing is from the Leica school as an exercise in seeing what's really important in the scene. They made students shoot everything with a 90mm lens for a period. This forces a concentration on the primary subject and the exclusion of the superfluous.

Without being too rigid, its probably a good idea for the subject to be the thing that the eye goes to first without completing attention thieves in the frame.

For me, it depends on the intent. Some pictures I feel I need to zoom or crop to get the results I am looking for. Others, I am happy to frame more broadly. In fact, one can have fun doing different versions of the same view, revealing different things and maybe even eliciting changing reactions, if, in my case, luck strikes.

As a fairly bourgeois camera operator, I take no offense. For me it beats being a poor but more artsy camera operator. Other's mileage may vary I am sure.

This reminds me of your "critiques" of famous photographs, where you had the commenter complaining about showing beyond the backdrop, with the roll of paper and all.

why are you using a box as punctuation, never seen it before.

Ever since moving to the far reaches of the rust belt (Duluth, MN) I've been more of an ugly shooter. In Alaska, with the water, low light, and mountains, you couldn't help but photograph something pretty, even when you were trying to capture something ugly. Like this photo...

In the context of landscape photography, I strive for beauty (and "false"), as that means I give it som effort and put something of myself into the process and image. Ugly and honest I can get at any time without to much effort on my part, as that would be what I consider a documentation shot only.

I'd be one of those trying to remove all the offending junk from the borders of the frame. I went on a photo workshop about 9 years ago, and the one thing that stuck with me more than any other is "border patrol". That's the term used by the leader as he encouraged us to ensure nothing led the viewer's eye away from the subject and out of the frame.

On an unrelated note, my Pentax Monochrome should arrive within the next hour. I debated too long and missed the first couple production batches. As soon as I saw them available again, I pulled the trigger, then confessed to my wife the next day. I've tried a couple Leica Monochrom cameras (loved them) and hope this one performs as well for less investment. Hopefully a fun weekend ahead!

Yup “Bourgeois camera operator” - that bothered me too!

How do you feel about Rhein II ?

I was so proud of the first picture I made with a plan – mushrooms growing at the base of an oak tree. Back in December 1999, I pushed some Tri-X two stops to exaggerate texture in the mushroom skins under very flat light struggling through tree canopy, rain, and clouds. Much to my amazement, my plan worked.

When I edited my scan, I burned the background to make the mushrooms pop even more, but I left a leaf to the right closer to a medium tone as sort of an accent mark. When I showed my father the ink-jet print, he smiled with admiration and went ooh and ah. I mentioned that the leaf was starting to bother me. He told me if I hadn't left the leaf as I did, the mushrooms would appear to be almost floating in the dark. I hadn't even thought about that. I left it that way when I printed it for him for Christmas years later.

Here’s a link to a poor camera phone photo of the framed print. To be honest, it’s kind of ugly.

[One's first photograph made to a plan is always an important shot, regardless of what we think of them later! Good on ya. --Mike]

Maybe in your earlier style of writing, you were just cropping in on what’s important ;)

One thing that bothers me is the penchant photographers have for the decrepit. Old, rusting, decaying, devolving, deconstructing, demolished, destroyed… all of that just seems to draw photographers out of the woodwork. It’s like they can’t help themselves. An old barn on the side if the road, slowly collapsing on itself. A rusted out pickup truck with only flecks of the original color left, weeds and bushes growing out of where windows used to be. Dilapidated buildings, missing staircases, windows and doors, faded advertisements for locally made products on the brick facade. Like those addicted to (fill in the blank), they just can’t get enough. What’s up with that?

I must confess I suffer the very same affliction. I wonder if there’s a local chapter of PA near me. “Hi. My name is Ernest. I’m a photographer.”

Mike: So what’s better in your opinion—to show something in a way that is beautiful but false, or ugly but honest?

What matters is the viewer's response to the finished image. What happens at the time of capture or during post-processing is irrelevant.

I think we as photographers get too caught up in the technology and technique of photography. Just like young painters/ceramicists/graphic designers/etc., we get too bogged down in the technique and tools and forget that we're creating images for a purpose. In a sense, the image that is created becomes secondary. Rather than focusing on the image and its purpose, perfection becomes a goal and the image itself becomes a "product."

For me, photography is a way of telling stories. Just like a writer, a photographer really should have something to say. Having a point of view, a story to communicate with our images, is what distinguishes a photographer from some random person with a camera taking pictures of food on a table or--more often--themselves in some vacation or party locale. I want someone to see my photo and think about it; not just react to it as a well-crafted image (although that's always nice, too) but maybe be taken someplace else or see the world in some fashion as I see it. The image, for me, tells the viewer as much about me as it does the content of my photo. This is not about narcissism, but rather making a personal connection.

Honestly, all of our computers, hyperfast cameras, and beautiful lenses may just be getting in the way. We focus on the technology as a thing in itself and forget just what the heck it is that we are doing. Of course, I suppose this is the just the opinion of another obstreperous old fart screaming the photographic equivalent of "Get off my lawn!"

Isn’t “this bothers me” another way of saying “this is making me think”? And isn’t making the viewer think the purpose of a lot of art?

One of my first jobs out of college was doing party photography, think studio 54 and the like. I didn’t know any better, and I would let one of my clients go through the unsorted boxes of slides fresh from the lab.
He would sort the pictures out into two piles. The pictures that were OK and the pictures that had something wrong. Needless to say, the pictures that had something wrong were vastly more interesting than the OK pictures.

Regarding the last two posts, one thing that really bothers me is slanted verticals near edges, where they are especially noticable. This is a fairly recent prejudice, likely driven by my increased use of the geometry tools in Lightroom.

In your sample photo the tree branches on the right bother me but the power line doesn't. Don't ask me why, I have no idea.

In attending critique sessions at my local community gallery I've found photographers tend to notice these things more than artists working in other media.

Well, the way you phrased the question certainly shows your position! (Or at least the one you want to advertise as having in this post.)

I can't pick one. I can see the question with regard to many, many photos, and I answer it different ways for different photos.

I don't automatically reject anything that's pretty. I don't like people using "picture postcard" as the ultimate put-down for a landscape photo. Some things that show a wildly gorgeous landscape are untrue, but they're still admirable; I think photos can be art, and are not limited to only representing reality. (Paintings, conversely, can represent reality in some ways better than photos, if the artist uses them that way. And in particular can represent the reality in the artist's head.) One thing art can talk about is aspirations and desires.

Most of my own photography is documentary, but even so I remember trying to capture the remaining possibilities of an old favorite view that has been lost to progress. And there is also plenty of place, and I have sometimes taken photos, to show how things are now, how they have become, sometimes to say "I think this is bad". And taken photos to allude to things beyond the boundaries.

Most def team ugly & honest here. We are awash in false beauty, both photographically and otherwise. B&F soothes and makes us feel fuzzy and confirms our biases, but U&H makes us think, and thinking is something we should all be doing more of, actively pushing against the opium of social media.

to show something in a way that is beautiful but false, or ugly but honest?

Both are valid, depending on what you want to say.

For one thing, Ireland never again looked like Ireland in "Ryan's Daughter"...

That said, your example of the barn in Colorado marks an everlasting conflict for most photographers. Even I, socialised by Ansel Adams as well as much more by the "New Topographics" and many modern photographers, would not let pass the snowstorm scenery pass by - fully knowing that it's cliché. Skillfully photographing the "truth" is another and in my eyes much more complicated task.

To gain a viewers attention (and I do not speak of fellow photographers - most of them look differently at images), there has to be something "attractive", convincing in the photograph. A straightforward depiction of a landscape mutilated by human interference, to stick with this example, rarely has out of itself this element that keeps the viewer's attention. It needed all the artistic skills of Robert Adams et.al. to make such images attractive and digestable to "normal" viewers.

I recently came back from a short working stint in Zambia. From the images I brought back, the most cliché-laden https://markus-spring.info/2023/07/bridge-over-sambesi/ get's the aahs and oohs, while the others https://markus-spring.info/category/zambia/ don't survive 3 seconds in a non-photographers-audience.

To take Robert Frost's "road less traveled", of course depicting the truth now is the way to go. Just don't expect much applause...

Growth. You've had some, Mike.

Boy howdy, does this article articulate that fact.

In the UK amateur world there are clubs and also open exhibitions. Cropping a picture to the point where it pleads for its life seems to be a thing that many club level judges seem to think is necessary. The concepts of giving an image space to breathe and negative space seem to be lost to them. Crop with care I think. Fortunately, at exhibition level, things are a little better.

"Zooming in and cropping out (which are different ways of saying, and doing, the same thing)..."

Are they? Doesn't zooming change the perspective of the image while cropping doesn't?

As for intruding leaves, wires etc, you could always just clone them out in Photoshop...

Same as I said back then (I recall this very clearly, as, unfortunately, is my habit): those two approaches are two sides of the same thing. As a photographer, when you compose, you take a subset of what you see. Ugly and beautiful, false or real, are judgment values. Both are ‘real’, and this is where the intervening 21 years (can it be so long? yes) shows: it is at least until you serioysly Photoshop or AI modify the scene (yes, I was using Photoshop for nearly 10 years in 2002, but it has become a lot more capable and it is easier to fabricate or seriously modify).


Personally, I crop whenever I feel the need. This has been reinforced by the development of software like Topaz AI, which has liberated me to work an image until it shows what I found compelling in the instant of tripping the shutter, regardless of the camera or focal length of the lens I happened to be using at the time.

["I absolutely never, ever crop--except when I want to." --Frank DiPerna]

"Bourgeois camera operator" made me giggle. You can just call me "BCO" as an honorary title.

It's those tilted water horizons that bother me.

I hate it when people try to second guess what the photographer is doing. I can understand critiquing in workshops, schools and when requested by the photographer in online forums. But I consider a photo submitted for viewing to be a finished thing. It's how the photographer saw it and wanted to present it. Telling someone how to make their photo better...that bothers me.

One of my favorite photographers is Lee Freidlander. Enough said?

There is a YouTuber based in Arizona who drives around the SW in his RV showing the road as he goes and the various attractions he stops at. My initial reaction was that his Arizona doesn't look much like the "Arizona Highways" Arizona. Hardly at all in fact.

Most of the world is mundane. The interesting bits are all there of course but it is the job of photographers and artists to look beyond the ordinariness of what is around us to see what is beautiful, interesting, and exciting but hidden in the midst of everything, recognize it, and point it out to their audience.

The things that 'bother' their viewers are distractions, things that do not relate to or support what the photographer is trying to show you. Failing to exclude or at least minimize them suggests that the photographer did have a clear notion of what he/she was trying to communicate or that they failed to notice the distraction when composing the photo. It is very easy when we are entranced with a subject to not notice things that fall outside our 3° area of focus. Artists have an advantage in this department because in the process of drawing/painting, they can simply leave out anything that distracts. As photographers we must find different angles, play with DOF or use other techniques to remove or downplay such distractions and make our images 'stronger' which simply means that our message is clearer. That is not false. It is focused, not just in the technical sense but as communication of what we are trying to convey.

I'm not one who's "bothered" by those things. Rather, in my view, there's very little in the world worthy of being memorialized by a photograph, especially the detritus of human "progress." So I very much isolate to eliminate the works of man.

For 27 years, we owned land in Estes Park, Colorado, a stone's throw from the Stanley Hotel. Eventually we sold it, having concluded that 7,700 foot elevation was too high for sea level critters like us to retire to. When a TV mini-series of The Shining was made there, I found it amusing to know that, had the camera panned away from the hotel, its frame would have included a Safeway supermarket. Excluding extraneous things is probably what Stephen King preferred.

Gray area, best left to the creator and/or photographer.

How about when the photographer removes stuff from the view before shooting?

Been all the above places, done all that . . .

Well, you answered your own question in the last sentence, so I'll just respond to the broader topic- cropping in general. Many photographers don't pay enough attention to the corners and edges of their compositions. They treat them as an afterthought, something to be determined at a latter point of the process. It's a flawed operating procedure, one that can actually sabotage your composition from jump. Get it right in the viewfinder, spread the love across the frame; those outer edges count- they should support and buttress (not detract from) whatever's in the center that you're paying all your attention to! Maximize their potential while you're initially composing your shot and you'll have fewer regrets thereafter.

Love the "Bourgeois camera operator" line myself. I fall into that trap quite often.

That said, I prefer to crop in the finder and find the way I like the image there but it doesn't always work. Had a nice image the other day of a barn off in the distance on one side of a valley and a fog bank on the other with the morning sun just climbing over the hills.

And a nice clump of bush in the lower left corner that I missed while taking the image. Not going to crop it without messing up the image completely.


I'd crop it if I could. But it's better to leave it alone as the least bad alternative. Drives me buggy like a good little "Bourgeois camera operator" ;)

After seeing Robert's photo of the mushroom photo on Flickr I had to give it a "fave".

" Telling someone how to make their photo better...that bothers me." ~ Dogman

Amen brother, I so agree!

The question you posed left me baffled (which unfortunately is a very common occurrence). I began thinking about it on a personal level, meaning which type of photograph do I think is more correct, but it seems there's nothing personal about it all. The type of photograph, whether beautiful and false, or ugly and honest, seems to be genre specific.

If you're shooting landscapes to display in your home, for example, beautiful and false would work beautifully. If you're shooting national parks with the goal of documenting pollution, for example, to not include the case of empty beer cans wouldn't make sense.

It seems to me, if I haven't gone completely astray here, is that genre dictates content, not the photographer per se.

"So what’s better in your opinion—to show something in a way that is beautiful but false, or ugly but honest?"

Yeesh! John Keats must have rolled over in his grave, not to mention Henri Cartier-Bresson, William Eggleston, Diane Arbus, Joseph Koudelka and Helen Levitt, though maybe not Leni Riefenstahl.

A friend makes beautiful photographs by fitting things into a rigorously harmonious design and eliminating anything dissonant, sometimes going to great pains to obtain the right vantage point and framing. I've pursued this approach, too, but never found it very satisfying. Not because it's "false" but because it doesn't suit my temperament or purpose. I'd rather show more context and attempt (if rarely successfully) to guide the eye to the beautiful "moment" or design within the mundane. But that's a different activity.

I feel like these false dichotomies come up when we're under the illusion that photography has a capital "P", i.e., is some kind of coherent medium or activity, when the truth is that photography is a marvelous tool, like paint, that can serve a wide gamut of human activities, needs or goals.

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