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Thread: Forget boring, ...

  1. #11

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    Re: Forget boring, ...

    On a philosophical level, I agree that "good" is so subjective as to be undefinable. And I know from experience at my monthly critique group meetings, that (as DrTang mentioned earlier) for almost any objective critique given, another person in the group will disagree, and say that the feature of the image which one person objected to is exactly why the second person likes the image. But given that, I have been thinking about my own response, and (unfortunately) it becomes a long list of elements. I translate "a good photograph" as one that makes me want to come back to it time and again, and here are potential reasons:

    - Subject matter: There are few images of Anasazi sites in the Southwest, or Ponting's photographs from the early polar expeditions, which don't absorb my interest. IOW, most of us have subjects that fascinate us, and as long as the image is in focus and reasonably well printed, we will return to those images many times.
    - Humor or optical illusion: I return to images which make me smile; examples would be many by Elliot Erwitt, Lee Friedlander, and others who have an eye for the odd juxtaposition, or many photographs by our own Austin Granger which play with either irony or optics. I would also include in this category surrealism, of which our own Alex Timmermans has posted wonderful examples.
    - The "Unusual:" Here I think of the portraits by Diane Arbus, or in a darker vein, Avedon's "The West."
    - Technique: Here I don't mean focus planes or printing, but older techniques such as Wet Plate, Aero Ektar lenses, or Petzvals, sort of technical elements which make an image "different." For me at least, an image which is "OK" often rises a few notches because it has a unique look which cannot be achieved without particular processes or equipment. Platinum prints also fall into this group.
    - Composition: This is rarely sufficient in itself, but if we exclude portraits, I am drawn to clean geometries, such as in the work of the (once) "New Topographers" such as Robert Adams, Ray Conniff.

    Now that I have listed a number of elements which by themselves, or in combination, make up what I consider "a good photo," it is also so extensive as to serve as a proof that there is no definition that really works.

  2. #12

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    Re: Forget boring, ...

    Quote Originally Posted by Peter Lewin View Post
    Now that I have listed a number of elements which by themselves, or in combination, make up what I consider "a good photo," it is also so extensive as to serve as a proof that there is no definition that really works.
    And yet, we can usually reach a general consensus about which photographs are good and which are lacking, knowing that opinions exist on either side of the bell curve.

  3. #13

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    Re: Forget boring, ...

    Composition, subject, exposure, and the way they all work together. The subject should communicate something. The more levels it communicates on, the better.

  4. #14

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    Re: Forget boring, ...

    Quote Originally Posted by JeffBradford View Post
    Composition, subject, exposure, and the way they all work together. The subject should communicate something. The more levels it communicates on, the better.
    Unfortunately this is a little like peeling an onion, since it leads to the question "what does 'communicates' mean?" I look at two purchased photographs on my wall, both of which most would consider "good photographs" by well-known photographers. The first is by John Sexton, I think it is "Tenaya Creek." It is a "nice" landscape photograph which I keep looking at as a technical example: very well exposed, very well printed. I use it as a gauge to compare with my own photographs. But I don't think it "communicates" with me, in the 20 or more years I have owned it, it has never "said" more than that it is a fine example of what we often call the "West Coast School" of landscape photography. The second is a stone building, presumably in the Himalaya, by Linda Connor. Again, a very nice print of architecture in a picturesque place. I enjoy it because I have always been an armchair mountaineer, reading many books about Himalayan climbing, although personally I've never been higher or climbed more distantly than Mt. Ranier, and some hill-walking in the U.K., France and Switzerland. The picture doesn't speak to me, but it is again what I consider an excellent photograph with a kind of "nostalgic" value (or said differently, it coincides with one of my interests, but one which at age 70 I am unlikely to pursue). So I don't know how to connect the idea of "communicating" with "good photograph."

  5. #15

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    Re: Forget boring, ...

    What makes a photograph 'good' for me is: does it make me feel something about the contents & references in the image; and does it hold my interest strongly enough that I take the time to read & try to understand it.

    Basing your initial judgement on camera-club level understanding of technique is not a good way to engage with work I think. Instead we should perhaps ask whether the chosen techniques enhance or silence the work in its communication with the viewer.

  6. #16

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    Re: Forget boring, ...

    For me it depends on the subject.
    With landscapes, it is a place I want to be.
    With architecture, it is a building I want to go inside
    With nature, it has to appeal to all my senses in so far as is possible to smell or touch or hear with one's eyes.
    What? You say you can't hear with your eyes?
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  7. #17

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    Re: Forget boring, ...

    I have a problem sometimes and I guess we all probably do, that I just want to take a picture. Photographers want to shoot, you know. If I give in to this without really finding a great subject then I end up with a boring photograph. I always kick myself when I do this, even with digital that didn't cost me any money. It did cost me time. I should have looked harder for that great subject or maybe shot at a better time of day or whatever I needed to do.

  8. #18

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    Re: Forget boring, ...

    You are not alone, Alan!

    So for the sake of the discussion, let me redirect it a bit. As the OP, I figure I can do that!

    What I really meant by a good photograph is not that it moves us, which is an important but deeper and more elusive topic, but rather this: What particular things do you try to attend to when making a photograph, from selecting a subject and time/light/weather in which to photograph that subject, to framing, exposure, development and printing (wet or digital), in order that your photographs meet some minimal standard for presentation that you have for your work? To reiterate an example I gave initially, maybe when looking at the ground glass (or eyepiece) you check the edges and corners to make contain or don't contain certain elements.

    So what do you make some of your top priorities in this regard? Some of you may find this a bit banal, but it is always surprising to me in many areas of my personal and professional life how people will often fret about some esoteric aspect of what they are doing while at the same time failing to attend to some basic, fundamental requirements for success.

  9. #19
    Joe O'Hara's Avatar
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    Re: Forget boring, ...

    I surely agree with you there, h2oman, that all of the visual elements in a photograph must be in harmony for it to be successful. This is a necessary but not a sufficient condition (a distinction that you are well familiar with) for success, however. Anything that is in the frame that does not make the picture stronger, makes it weaker. We pay attention to the corners and the edges, check that things that must be in focus are, that we've adjusted the exposure for a filter we may have used, etc., because cameras do not see in the same way that humans do-- we have to unlearn our natural ability to focus attention on the object of interest and ignore the surround. I have often been frustrated by the appearance on the negative of an invisible-at-the-time branch intruding into a corner. At the time, the camera saw it just fine, of course.

    If we can do all that (and more) right, there is the chance that the picture can effect that mysterious thought transference that allows the viewer to have a sense of what the photographer felt about the subject when the shutter was opened.

    This is analogous to what professional musicians do. Amateurs practice until they can play it right; professionals practice until they can't play it wrong. With that degree of technical mastery, they have the ability to recreate the composer's emotional sound world in performance because their own presence has become transparent. It is nothing more in the end than getting the materials to do what your visualization (intention) requires. It's hard to be more prescriptive than that, because every artist's intention, if it is a true one, is unique.
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  10. #20

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    Re: Forget boring, ...

    Quote Originally Posted by h2oman View Post
    ...what makes a photograph good?

    A good photograph demonstrates that the photographer understands that the camera is a powerful, unique device for reconstructing nature and re-presenting it according to certain aesthetic, psychological, and intellectual sensitivities and above all a highly developed sense of truth. And the beauty of black and white photography lies in its capacity to make these kinds of reconstructions vivid, real, and undeniable to the viewer –sometimes even triggering a certain discomfort. Rodin apparently believed that a sculpture should fluctuate between life and art; I think that this injunction is even truer for a photograph. At all costs, the photograph should not reduce to a slavish attempt to simply record or imitate nature, which requires a sort of self-denial –the antithesis of the artistic personality. Rather, a good photograph demonstrates a photographer’s capacity for intense vision and his ability to express himself forcefully.

    I have creative photography in mind, here, of course. And all art worthy of the name, at least in my view, ultimately has beauty and sublimity (however broadly conceived) as its primary subjects.

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