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December 12, 2010

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An excellent point, well made: it's already one of my shooting "philosophies".
Many years ago, I had a phase of thinking that in order to get a good shot, one had to be "very" - very windswept, very wet, very cold, very hot, very uncomfortable. Of course it didn't really work, as you say.
There are, however, a few exceptions, mostly occasions where it really shows: e.g., satellite photos of the Earth where the only way to get there *is* with an extreme investment of money & time. So these days I'd refine it and say the bar is very high before photographer's circumstances influence the result.

Relatedly, this philosophy also contradicts the Kodak-esque advice about "crouch down for an interesting view" (both in the context of landscape or kiddie photos).

So true... great blog, I just discovered and already following it

Spot on ... I've come to realise it's best to keep the equipment and technique to the minimum that is required [for the job] but put the effort into maximising my ability to "see". The internet has been a great resource to opening my eyes (and mind) to creating better images -- by blogs (such as yours) and [online] recommendations to good books.

The title to one of David duChemin's books is "Within the Frame" ... the most important way to judge a picture is by what is in the frame.

Great posting, and very true!

I think closely related is the question of "luck" in photography. There are people who dismiss someone else's absolutely perfect shots as mere luck, just because they were not 100% controlling all elements (like, say, a gesture or facial expression in street photography). I think this is misguided: In my opinion, whatever "luck" gives you, you are allowed to keep and claim as yours in photography

We have equipment snobs, and we have reverse snobs as well. 20+ years ago while taking some classes at Philadelphia College of the Arts, I would feel self-conscious about owning and using an m6 and two lenses (all bought used). Most students wouldn't have known what it was, but I remember being stared at by one of the instructors as I was removing film one day. Was I not worthy? After that I would keep it pretty well hidden from view while at the school. How weird that I felt that way. I got more bang for the buck out of that setup than any camera I have ever owned and I still own it.

Good point. I try (it's hard) to resist the urge to explain such things to people, at least unless asked. Most people don't want to know about the wizard behind the curtain, and it just detracts from the image.

Great photo! I agree also but think the term "No One" is a bit broad. It's true that the majority won't know or care but I think some (particularly fellow photographers) do care and a few do wonder how a unique photo was made. I wondered how Gregory Crewdson made his photos and how Peter Dombrovskis made his. So I found out.

It's likely that the most extreme constellation of equipment, determination, location and timing are associated with dedicated and talented photographers. These people know that the most exciting and inspirational photos are often taken in extreme and or difficult circumstances. These are also the photographers that know that the average viewer does not know or care what went on outside the frame to record a unique moment.

>>I would feel self-conscious about owning and using an m6 and two lenses<<

Self-consciousness can give you the impression that people such as your instructor are staring at you because of your camera when in fact they are staring at some silly expression written on your tee shirt or have taken their glasses off and can barely see you at all. You might be surprised how much difference there can be between the facts of the matter and your interpretation of them.

Said by the owner of a packaging co. in York PA "I don't want to hear about your labor pains, just show me that beautiful baby".

Well, you apparently don't care, I try not to care, but the "art world" certainly does care. Art photography is as much (some times more) about the concept than the results, and often the concept is all about the process. Take the winner of this year's BMW-Paris Photo prize, Gábor Ösz: he won because he shot some greenhouses out of his caravan that he turned into a camara obscura, with a 4-nights exposure. I can tell you that the results were rather underwhelming next to the very talented competition.

Great shot, by the way.

You're absolutely right. Also, great example shot. I enjoy the a-typical perspective as well as your geometric sensitivity in the arrangement you allowed to happen. Another great shot by Gordon Lewis.

>>the "art world" certainly does care.<<

Rod, you raise an interesting and valid point. By definition, conceptual art is focused primarily on concept rather than execution. That's how the game is played so that's how you have to approach it--yet even here I suspect one would lose points from critics for sloppy execution. And as you suggest, the results of this sort of "art" are often more artificial than artful. I'll take my chances with the average viewer, thank you.

Respectfully disagree.

I've heard "how'd you do that?" too many times to think nobody cares how'd. Especially when you're talking about the average viewer, show then a great photo of fireworks or a bird in flight and want to know -- because they want to do it too.

Sure, the end result is what's important, but everyone I know who's serious about photography has made thoughtful decisions on what they use and why. Yes, even those who are past the gear lust. I think to not do this is lazy, and deprives the viewer of value.

As you say, the photographer has to get the viewer to care. Caring about how they made the photo goes a long way toward informing the work itself, and thus giving the viewer a reason to care.

And after all, if nobody cared how photos are taken, there'd be no interest in interviews with photographers, etc...

Extreme difficulties *can* be necessary to great photos, but great photos don't necessarily result from extreme difficulties in their making.

My challenge is to not be influenced by the conditions that lead to the photograph when editing my own work.

Gordon,
I couldn't agree more.
I also admire your colossal understatement: you obviously had to hang from your heels, suspended from a crane, while gale-force winds blew you back and forth, to take this beautiful photograph, but you are too self-ironical to admit it.

Here's an counter-view:
http://giannigalassi.typepad.com/blog/2010/11/wybiwya-what-you-buy-is-what-you-are.html


Which to me seems unfortunate. I didn't read any of the comments before posting, sorry if this is a repetition.

Btw, your blog has been mentioned on Gianni Galassi's blog.

Dennis,

Please refer to Gianni's comment above, which, if you look at the time, arrived a few minutes before yours. That said, the difference of opinion is not as stark as it might appear. I admit to hyperbole in the title. Its purpose was not to express an absolute truth but rather to attract readers. (It seems to have done that quite well, by the way.) The true point of my post was that if we become too focused on how we produce photographs rather than on what we're trying to express, we risk assuming that our methods have validity in and of themselves. If you are consistently creating exceptionally fine images, viewers will naturally be interested in your methods. The reverse, however, is not true: If your pictures suck or are boring, no one will care how much effort you put into creating them.

Gordon, I do have to say that my second reaction to your leading photograph was, indeed, "How'd he get that one?" (My first reaction was to smile at the wonderful little triangle of the two bollards and the man in red.)

The story of your equipment and position are one thing, but what about the story of how the elements became arranged in the photo? My first guess (based on Occam's Razor and what you've written about your shooting methods), is that you saw the excellent light on the scene, waited for the person to be well-positioned, then timed your shot perfectly. I wonder, how would my reaction to the photo change if I discovered that the guy in red is actually a friend of yours and that you had him stand in just that spot? Or if I found out you shot the bollards, the man, the sidewalk, and the glass roof separately and assembled them, using black-belt level Photoshoppery, into the composition presented? Would I think less or more of a picture that I found both visually arresting and amusing on first look if I knew that it was "staged" rather than "accidental?"

>>Would I think less or more of a picture that I found both visually arresting and amusing on first look if I knew that it was "staged" rather than "accidental?"

I don't know. Would you? Would the question even have come up if I hadn't drawn your attention to the issue of methods vs. results? Not that you should really care, of course. ;-)

Thanks for this. Sometimes ya just have to step back and just let the work do the talking. I dig it.

I couldn't agree more. If the picture doesn't say it, like a poorly told joke, explaining it isn't going to help. It's why I've always hated artist's statements.

>>I don't know. Would you? Would the question even have come up if I hadn't drawn your attention to the issue of methods vs. results?<<

I was just looking at a photo the other day (I wish I could remember the name of the photographer or the photo; it was in "Looking at Photographs") of workers mixing fertilizer by hand. I was immediately struck by the perfection of the composition and admired the eye that would see such a tableau coming and the timing that would allow its capture. When I read the accompanying text, I discovered that the picture was meticulously posed. I found myself admiring the photographer's skill at arranging the figures, but I was also somewhat disappointed that the photo wasn't "real."

I guess it's fair to say that context matters to me, and knowing how a photo was made changes, for better or worse, my appreciation of it. I've never thought much of New Criticism in literature and I don't think its tenets hold up any better in photography.

"Would the question even have come up if I hadn't drawn your attention to the issue of methods vs. results?"

Of course yes. Hang around in street photography discussions long enough (and "long enough" here is actually a really short amount of time) and you'll find that most street shooters are vehemently against staged photos, or even photos of subjects the photographer knows. And people are very very good at figuring out what is staged and what is not. In that case, even if the results are an interesting photo in terms of subject, composition, whatever other formal attributes, it will fail if using the "wrong" methods.

Yes, people do care. Some of them, a lot.

You say: "If you are consistently creating exceptionally fine images, viewers will naturally be interested in your methods. The reverse, however, is not true: If your pictures suck or are boring, no one will care how much effort you put into creating them."

What this misses is that in many -- or most, if not nearly all -- cases, those exceptionally fine images are the result of the effort and care put into making them. This is not a binary, either-or issue.

That is a very good point & interestingly makes sense.
Thanks for sharing now I know better .
Now I don't feel bad .

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