Good photography is difficult - by definition

Discussion in 'Talk About Anything Photography Related' started by Stephen Batey, Sep 4, 2016.

  1. Stephen Batey

    Stephen Batey Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Aug 6, 2016
    Messages:
    274
    Likes Received:
    54
    Trophy Points:
    60
    Gender:
    Male
    Occupation:
    None (retired)
    Location:
    Sussex - but originally from Wakefield.
    Or so it seems. There seems to be a presumption that if a photograph was (even apparently) easy to take (and I use the word "take" deliberately, as implying something that was there for anybody's taking) then it's not very good, or not as good as another which was more difficult.

    Take wildlife. OK, this is going to offend a lot of people, but it seems to me that much wildlife photography is about the level of difficulty in getting the shot, and nothing at all to do with the artistry of the photograph. I've seen natural history photos heavily criticised for cloning out a leaf or twig, and yet no-one bats an eyelid at far heavier manipulations from painters. Why is this? The twig cloning can't fall back on the "you can't use tame animals because it's not going to reflect what happens in the wild" argument, because the presence or absence of twigs etc. is immaterial to the animal (inless it prefers to spend all its time totally undercover, in which case only a photograph of a tree or bush is realistic). The only argument that seems to make sense is that it's more difficult to get the perfect shot, so cloning is cheating because it's so easy to do.

    Landscape? Ah, there "nature did it" as I once heard a club judge reported to have said (I was speaking to someone who was there at the time the comment was made - the photograph was heavily marked down, apparently). If the scene is magnificent enough, then merely recording it isn't enough to make a good photograph. It again comes down to "if it's easy, it can't be good".

    Ever heard the saying "it's all about the light"? How true is it? I've seen many examples of photographs from one photographer who epitomises this saying, looking always for the "right light". Yes, the photographs are pretty, but usually along with the "right light" is the "wrong viewpoint" or "wrong composition". The light takes precedence over everything else. Why? Perhaps because being there in the right light takes effort - getting up early, travelling miles and so on. Turning up at midday is far too easy to produce a good photograph.

    How much are we influenced by perceived difficulty rather than artistic merit? Is this another facet of "journey" versus "destination", where how we travel is ultimately more important than where we're going? Is photography about photographs or process, and if the latter, why bother actually wasting time producing a print (or an image on screen)?

    So - care to discuss the idea that what we produce is often regarded as almost irrelevant, and it's how hard it was to produce that determines the merit of a photograph?
     
    Last edited: Feb 20, 2017
  2. martin henson

    martin henson Administrator Staff Member

    Joined:
    Aug 6, 2016
    Messages:
    275
    Likes Received:
    135
    Trophy Points:
    43
    Gender:
    Male
    Location:
    Otley West Yorkshire
    If you enjoy what you do be it early or late then it does not matter what one does or takes for the end result be it on screen or print, nor does it matter what others like or dislike.

    I do believe that more effort brings rewards however as the years pass away it does not get easier and you have to go with the flow of life, after 45 years I still enjoy the process maybe not as enthusiastic as a few years ago but it's still there.

    Today I had a great time as me and Ian took are time to take in total 5 sheets, not only was the chit chat good the coffee and cream bun at the end was the icing on the cake, if it were not for photography this would not have happened, its not all about the image and finished result.
     
    Last edited: Sep 4, 2016
  3. Alan9940

    Alan9940 Active Member

    Joined:
    Aug 6, 2016
    Messages:
    184
    Likes Received:
    31
    Trophy Points:
    28
    Gender:
    Male
    Location:
    Arizona, USA
    I think Martin's comment pretty much nails it! Personally, I don't give a rat's arse how hard or not it was to make an image. I have made portfolio grade images on the side of the road--loved that because I didn't have to lug the 8x10 very far. I've, also, hiked many miles to capture images that resulted in nothing. But, I don't care! I have pursued photography for 50 years simply for the love of it!
     
  4. Stephen Batey

    Stephen Batey Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Aug 6, 2016
    Messages:
    274
    Likes Received:
    54
    Trophy Points:
    60
    Gender:
    Male
    Occupation:
    None (retired)
    Location:
    Sussex - but originally from Wakefield.
    For your own photographs and your own viewpoint, yes; but do others see it like that? Put up a photo for comment on most forums and you'll find that people will say "what were the settings? I can't help you unless I know that". The image simply doesn't stand alone; it's how it was taken that determines what people think of it. "Nature did it" if you don't supply a long backstory about all the effort you had to go to.

    Possibly it's just photographers who view images in this way. I've never had a painter ask for my settings (and, yes, painters have viewed my photographs). Or possibly it's just some forums (Pixalo is a prime example, but there are others) that are like that. It didn't happen on a workshop where people looked at images as images. Many photographers claim that they "don't have an eye" for a picture and that such an eye is innate (it isn't - any more than speaking English is innate, much as the English would like to believe that (it being well known that if you speak slowly and LOUDLY in English everyone will understand you)). It means that they have to major on the technical and the difficulties to feel that they have succeeded against the odds.

    Rant over.
     
  5. martin henson

    martin henson Administrator Staff Member

    Joined:
    Aug 6, 2016
    Messages:
    275
    Likes Received:
    135
    Trophy Points:
    43
    Gender:
    Male
    Location:
    Otley West Yorkshire
    I really dont know what your point is Stephen, just enjoy what you do

    Martin
     
  6. Alan9940

    Alan9940 Active Member

    Joined:
    Aug 6, 2016
    Messages:
    184
    Likes Received:
    31
    Trophy Points:
    28
    Gender:
    Male
    Location:
    Arizona, USA
    Again, what Martin said! I don't put photos up on forums and rarely show my photographs to other photographers. Why? Because I really don't care what they think. I pursue photography and create images for ME and me alone. I do show my images to non-photographers and not once have I been asked what camera I used, or what settings, etc. Honestly, I've gotten more "oohs and aahs" from pictures I've shot with my iPhone! Darn good thing they didn't ask!! :)

    This all reminds me of a funny story... You may have heard it. A famous photographer was dining in a top-tier restaurant and the cook wished to meet him. The cook acclaimed what a great photographer this guy was and that he must have a good camera. The photographer simply smiled and the cook returned to the kitchen. When the meal was over, the photographer visited the kitchen to tell the cook what a fantastic meal he had just eaten and that he must have a good set of pans! :)

    I can't tell if you really care about what others think of your work or if you're simply posting something for discussion. If the former, stop caring and just pursue the work you're passionate about; if the latter, it's really all just academic.
     
  7. David M

    David M Member

    Joined:
    Jan 29, 2017
    Messages:
    115
    Likes Received:
    22
    Trophy Points:
    18
    Gender:
    Male
    Location:
    South London
    Perhaps photographers are more complicated and the topic is more complicated too.
    This seems to be a discussion about several things hiding under the same dark-cloth.
    In fact, we do admire the overcoming of difficulties in any field – things like climbing Everest, for example.
    I see no reason why we shouldn't admire a photographer who has overcome great difficulties to take a shot. There were photographs taken at the summit and the difficulties and the occasion make them interesting to us. Much the same sort of image could have been made with a well-insulated chap standing on a big sand castle but I doubt if we would give much attention to that. Our interest is compounded out of several things and the extreme difficulty is an important factor. Is it fanciful to suggest that our admiration for the person is spilling over onto the photograph?
    This is an example of what Roland Barthes called the Studium: what we know about the picture but is not evident in the image. Much the same thing applies to pictures of celebrities and I suggest that this can be linked to religious relics. I remember hearing some musicians being allowed to handle an original score by Mozart and their reverence and delight was astonishing. In this case, it is obvious that the studium (Mozart touched this!) and the actual work of art were distinct and separate Obviously, the music itself was silent.
    Most photographers have not have shinned up the highest mountain, but we have all taken the "easy" shots ourselves. Who hasn't taken sunsets? Who hasn't subsequently seen a magnificent sunset and not taken it, because everybody has already taken plenty sunsets?
    Another aspect of difficulty is the amount of skill needed in the making of the image. Some things are difficult to accomplish. Macro-photography has inherent problems and perhaps these are evident to the laity. Architectural photography may demand considerable knowledge of camera movements. Very high contrast scenes pose problems that must be overcome. Sports photography has its own problems. The digital revolution has solved many of these difficulties for us but, as we ourselves know, some photographers prefer to solve their own problems by their own means.
    To return to our Mozart score, we know that a very high level of skill is needed to make the negative of the score into the print of performance. Surely we can all admire this skill?
    Here is the core of what we are considering. In photography, it seems to me that there are two (at least) aspects to the creative act. Part one is spotting the opportunity for making an image, which we often call "seeing" or having an eye.
    Have you seen an early un-manipulated print of Saint Ansel's Moonrise? It is deeply unimpressive – a few dilapidated structures in the foreground, wispy clouds spreading right across a medium-grey sky with a tiny dot of a moon bang in the middle. And yet the great man, tired ofter a day out on a proper job, with his small son to get home to bed and presumably with his eyes on the road, spotted the opportunity, stopped, clambered onto the top of his vehicle with his 10x8 camera and its tripod, then performed those astonishing foot-candle calculations in his head. Clearly he was convinced that he's seen a winner. And so he had. But I, for one, might well have driven past with nothing but a sideways glance – "Oh, look, a moon in daylight."
    Having kidnapped the photons, he was faced with the second part of photographic creation: making a satisfactory image out of the raw material of the negative. The negative is the paint tube and the print is the canvas. In the best-known versions, (the ones used as an index of auction prices) the tonality is completely reversed. The original dark foreground is now the lightest part, the dreary mid-grey sky is black, black, black; all the wispy clouds are gone and some modest clouds on the horizon are translated into a laminated meringue. The moon, thanks to those mental foot-candle acrobatics is fully detailed. If we are to believe him, this is how he visualised it from the beginning.
    I'm quoting this image because the twin processes of capture and production have been so well documented. We might note that there were no adventurous difficulties here; the image was made from the roadside on a ordinary working day. In this respect it is entirely different from the Everest summit pictures that we considered above and I'm suggesting (with a bow to the divine Wolfgang on the way) that these images represent the ends of a spectrum of admiration. If we can think of what is admirable in an image in this way, placing it somewhere along the spectrum, we might perhaps get to some form of agreement.
    Birds on twigs are for the Oddys.
     
  8. Stephen Batey

    Stephen Batey Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Aug 6, 2016
    Messages:
    274
    Likes Received:
    54
    Trophy Points:
    60
    Gender:
    Male
    Occupation:
    None (retired)
    Location:
    Sussex - but originally from Wakefield.
    Which I take to mean that your answer is yes - the worth and value of an image depend on how difficult it was to achieve.

    That some photographers put in a lot of work may make us admire them as photographers, but admiring the work that the effort has produced surely shouldn't be automatic? Adolf Hitler put in a lot of work on his oratory, but that doesn't necessarily mean that we should automatically applaud his speeches...

    I'll accept that there are things that, if we knew them, would enable us to appreicate an image more - understanding symbolism can help us to appreciate what an image was intended to say, rather as knowing English might give us a better appreciation of Shakespeare in English. Without some level of understanding, comprehension is rather limited. But the step that many seem to take - that knowing how much effort it took to produce something, or indeed even who produced it - is a step too far for me.
     
  9. David M

    David M Member

    Joined:
    Jan 29, 2017
    Messages:
    115
    Likes Received:
    22
    Trophy Points:
    18
    Gender:
    Male
    Location:
    South London
    Aha! I see that I've overreached myself. I meant No... But...
    I think you're right: simple effort is not enough. An incompetent photographer, no matter how much work they put in, may still produce mediocre work.
    I was trying to suggest that there are many reasons for admiring a piece of work. I'm using the word admire deliberately, in an attempt to be neutral.
    If we are confining ourselves to the aesthetic analysis of works, photographs in this case, then clearly, what we see is what we must judge. But photographs carry more in them that aesthetics. As you've mentioned Hitler, let me mention George Rodger, who was photographing in a newly-liberated concentration camp and like a good Magnum member, concentrating on getting the composition and exposure just right. I have no doubt that he was succeeding and they may have been very beautiful pictures. But suddenly, he saw what he was photographing through his own eyes and stopped what he was doing, overcome by disgust and he didn't go back. I think we'd all sympathise with him.
    I'm relating this rather extreme example to indicate how no image can be entirely free from external associations – connotation is the technical term to distinguish these associations from denotation – the actual representation of objects in the scene before the lens.
    So, although in my heart I would like to think that work can be assessed ("judged" has connotations the camera club) entirely for what's inside the frame, I think that in practice, it's an impossibility. My own purist ambitions don't survive exposure to what we call the real world.
    In the case of birds on twigs, I can't bring myself to care if a surplus twig is cloned out. I admit that good bird photography might have its difficulties but I can't see why it should be taken along to gatherings of photographers. Surely, they belong in a bird-bothering club? I'd view photographs of stamps in the same way. Cloning out is rightly considered a sin in news photography.
    Even then, there are other things that we haven't mentioned to be considered in the appreciation of images – the physicality of the image-carrier. It's a commonplace that images on screen look different from images on paper. Not only that, the same image seems different on different papers, and a heavyweight paper with a pleasant touch makes us like the image more than a flimsy paper. There is a good deal of work done on this in relation to marketing drinks and food.
    And finally (for the moment) consider the effect of framing a print and putting it on a chaste white wall, accompanied by an erudite catalogue.
    I have strayed rather widely to illustrate my point. I think I'm trying to say that there's no single answer.
    And so far, we haven't mentioned personal taste and what part is should or should not play. Could it be excluded even if we thought it a desirable thing to do?
    We might debate the One Man's Meat problem another time perhaps?
     
  10. Isabel

    Isabel Active Member

    Joined:
    Aug 22, 2016
    Messages:
    115
    Likes Received:
    53
    Trophy Points:
    28
    Gender:
    Female
    Location:
    Denmark
    I will keep my answer very short. I don't care if the picture was difficult to get as what is difficult for someone might be the easiest thing to achieve for someone else (see Mozart). I am vey selfish and only care if I like the picture or not. :cool::p
     
    Stephen Batey likes this.

Share This Page