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why is gear talk more popular than photo talk?
Old 02-11-2018   #1
aizan
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why is gear talk more popular than photo talk?

and how can we support photo talk better? by photo talk, i mean online discussions about several things.

1) photographers and their work
2) the history of photography
3) criticism that's been written about it
4) your own creative projects and how they're going

time and time again, we read value statements that the thing that matters is the photos and your creative output. things like "don't buy gear, buy a plane ticket," or "buy photobooks," or "pay for a workshop," or even "buy film." it's ironic that the most common advice is merely "better" shopping, but the point stands. doing creative work is more challenging and rewarding than scrimping and saving for an expensive bit of gear or hunting down the right camera and getting it CLA'd.

i'm going to throw out a couple ideas about why photo talk isn't anywhere near as common as gear talk and what we might do about it, but i want to start a conversation on your ideas.

first, since we're talking about discussions taking place via the internet, you have to take the medium into account. i don't think online forums, mailing lists, or blogs are conducive to photo talk, mainly because it's not really talking. it's writing, and writing takes more thought and energy than talking. you're more accountable for things you write, too. for something you do for fun, putting in that kind of work is a tall order. also, it's not like anyone wants to bother reading anything long and substantive (and writing something short and substantive is probably even more work!). TL/DR, right?

second, learning about photo history, criticism, and artmaking is just plain harder. people who know a lot about this stuff are just less common, the population too low to reach critical mass. that's partly due to educational backgrounds (what percentage of us has a relevant degree or has been able to do lots of independent research?), and it's partly due to the accessibility of that information outside of universities. bookstores and public libraries don't have the greatest photobook sections out there. for that, you'd really have to go to an academic library, which can be inconvenient or not an option. building up your own library costs a lot of money, and you don't benefit from the ability to browse a pre-existing collection where you can more easily find things you didn't know about. the number of widely known historical and critical books is very small, probably less than a few dozen. when's the last time you looked at a bibliography or scoured the citations in a journal article? that's the sort of thing you're not going to get at barnes & noble or the public library. learning about what's out there and being able to get it are big barriers to entry.

third, there's no online meeting ground for people who are doing or want to do serious artistic or research work. i'm not counting twitter or facebook (where the academics go) and instagram (where the photographers go) since people connect with each other but don't have many conversations per se. there might actually be a substantial number of "creatives" on a gear-centric forum, but there are probably a lot more who aren't into that stuff for various reasons such as the things i've mentioned above. the signal-to-noise ratio gets diluted and people learn or see that it's not worth it, and they go offline to do photo talk or do it via email. or unfortunately they hardly do it at all.

maybe we should just accept that gear talk is the natural outcome of societal and technological factors and stop griping about there not being as much photo talk as we'd like on the internet. on the other hand, maybe we can do something about it.

off the top of my head, here are some ideas to increase the amount of photo talk. there are ways to help each other do creative projects and independent research on forums like this one.

1) create the "space" for discussion by making two sets of categories. one for photo projects should have subcategories like "work in progress," "project management," "photo editing," and "print-on-demand." the one for research would partly be an extension for projects, and it should have things like "history & criticism," "research guides," "reading club," and "college programs & continuing ed." some categories like "photogs/photo exhibits" and "photo books/mags/articles/blogs" already exist, and they should be grouped under these headings.

2) complement the forum with a tutorial and article website that members can contribute to. photo talk depends on developing new skills like how to prepare for hiking trips to do landscape photography, or how to review an exhibition. it also depends on gaining new knowledge like the history of travel photography or influential photojournalists of the 60s. bringing these resources together in one place gives you the benefits of a collection since you can see "suggestions" of things you didn't know you needed.

3) (this one is probably not going to happen anytime soon.) put the "talk" into photo talk. add functionality that lets you replace writing with voice or video recordings that expire, a la snapchat.

4) (this is more likely.) start a podcast where members can hold discussions to talk about their work and issues they're dealing with. there are podcasts that do this like the awesome cameras podcast, the candid frame, and the shoot with matt day, but they are too traditional in how they all have one interviewer who brings in a new guest for each episode. the format of this new podcast would be based on running themes and groups of participants who come and go, more like a serialized tv show than an episodic one. there could be multiple podcasts for each theme running concurrently.

anyhow, i'd love to hear your thoughts on how to make photo talk more common.
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Old 02-11-2018   #2
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I'm with you on the spirit of this initiative and would like to add a suggestion to your list: Recruit one or two mentors for whom analysis and discussion of photographs is an interest and skill.

I'm now reading Robert Adams' book Art Can Help. He has facing page spreads, each with a single, small photograph coupled with a short essay about it. It's along the lines of Looking at Photographs. Many of Adams' choices are photographs I would not have given much thought, but his intelligent analysis deepens my appreciation of them.

I suggest that this approach be mentored because most of us are not very good at discussing pictures. Facilitation would focus the discussion and keep it constructive.

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Old 02-11-2018   #3
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When my father was alive he was an amateur radio operator. I asked him about the conversations he had with others like him all over the world. He said they talked about their equipment and occasionally, the weather. Sites like RFF are gear centric mostly because that is what we have in common. There are questions I have that have been answered many times by members with similar problems. We like to show off our stuff as a matter of pride and we like to learn new techniques for image processing or wet printing. The addition of Chris Crawfords tips for metering and how to produce better photographs has been a nice addition to the site, not only for its' content but also for the clear and understandable style in which it is written. There are post and threads about types of photo projects but mostly they center around what gear to take or use. There has also been valuable insight by both working and retired professionals to give us a look at what it takes to make a living from photography. I do like your idea of a section where members can ask for critiques, ideas and general motivation. Having stirred the stick in why do we photograph can, it should lead to some interesting comments. I do like the podcast idea.
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Old 02-11-2018   #4
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Because gear talk is related to buying and that's addictive. Spending i money is a quick way to feeling good.

Photo talk is related to investing in photography skills and that's a lot less enticing for short term satisfaction. Acquiring skills to produce good results takes a lot longer than browsing the internet and purchasing gear.
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Old 02-11-2018   #5
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Discussing photography invariably involves criticism, which is frowned upon. When you are only allowed to post praise, you get a half a dozen attaboy posts and the thread dies, with no one learning anything. The upside is no one is offended. On the other hand, you are allowed to freely praise or criticize camera gear, explain why you do and don't like it, and post comments on how you would like to see deficiencies addressed. Whether or not you agree with all the members' opinions, you generally learn something about the camera gear in question.
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Old 02-11-2018   #6
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You can see the photos, and that's pretty much what photos are intended for.

Seeing gears is not enough.
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Old 02-11-2018   #7
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It's always been the same but in my opinion it has got a lot worse lately. Post a link to some interesting images, photo project or exhibition etc and it can slide away into oblivion with a handful of posts. Mention you're thinking of replacing the covering on your M3 or flag some new budget priced Chinese M mount lens and away we go!

This place used to have some real depth in it's discussions and overall philosophy on photography but has pretty much turned into a paddling pool over the years.
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Old 02-11-2018   #8
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I recently started 2 threads...one is a 365 project with a new image posted daily...and one about the camera i am using for that 365 thread...which has been more suported?
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Old 02-11-2018   #9
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Because one must have gear in order to make photographs???
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Old 02-11-2018   #10
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I can only speak for those of us without much gear: I like to talk gear because it's wish fulfillment. I can read about Rolleiflexes on RFF, or look at them on eBay, and imagine that owning one would help me shoot like Vivian Maier.

It's much easier than doing the actual work to become a better photographer, or to pursue a difficult project that stretches me creatively.

But, as a friend often says, eBay will never make you a better photographer.
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Old 02-11-2018   #11
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I'd like to see more photo talk, too.
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Old 02-11-2018   #12
Larry Cloetta
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Why is gear talk more popular than "photo talk" (whatever that is)?

It's not that complicated. Gear talk is more or less objective, though sometimes much less.
Lenses have mtf charts. Shutters are either quiet or loud. Cameras are either heavy or light, large or small. It's easy to talk about objective facts, then talk about which choices we made and why, because they have some basis in reality, or should have.

Art criticism, to anyone who has spent significant, thoughtful time reading art criticism, is a fool's errand.
Needing an "expert" or "authority" around to tell you if your photo is "good" or not is absurd. They're just telling you what they like, what photos match their preconceptions of photographic goodness, topped off with a light drizzling of arrogance if they don't
like it, or obsequiousness if they do (i.e. it's similar to the ones of mine that I like, so it's good! I crush the blacks too! so capturing elegantly the urban decay!)
Converging lines, symmetry, assymetry, rule of turds, whatever.
Talking about photographs is like talking about wine, and anyone familiar with magazines aimed at wine cognoscenti knows exactly what I mean.

It's great that we've got lots of threads here which are mostly everyone's photos of a given subject. That's enough. Everyone here can understand which ones they like. Pretending that we know which ones are "good" beyond such arbitrary parameters as "is it sharp", "color balance okay", "lens cap was off" is just that, pretending. Following rules you learned from a "mentor" will get you a style, they won't make you "good". Alfred Eisenstadt and Daido Maruyama are both esteemed; what kind of "mentoring" explains that?

It's just pictures. Whether they are art or not is unknowable, but doubtful.

Nothing will make me want to leave a room faster that hearing that there is some earnest fellow in it who needs to, is about to, "talk about his work". They're pictures, and they are already on the wall. Shut up, already. If they need to be explained, they really aren't any good.

I guess what I am positing here is that we can learn some things about gear, or its use, which is objective, and might or might not help us be better photographers, but talking about photos, beyond a certain minimal level (left lens cap on, that's not a good photo) is pretty useless at achieving the same goal. And this is coming from someone who is in the middle of re-reading "The Camera", "The Negative", and "The Print"., but that kind of photo talk is already present on this forum anyway.

But, no harm in more threads for those who are interested.
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Old 02-11-2018   #13
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I think the talk is about gear because it's easier to talk about gear than to talk about photographs. Most of us here, myself definitely included, don't have formal training in talking/writing about art, and without some practice in that area, it's hard.

I appreciate RFF quite a bit because there are many threads that are full of photos, the whole W/NW area, and many others. That's a start! Compare, say, to APUG which doesn't have a lot of photos (subscription required to post, I think. I'm a subscriber over there). But the discussion of the photos here tends to not get much more detailed than "I love that one." Again, because describing why one likes a photo is much harder to do. It is for me at least.
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Old 02-11-2018   #14
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Gear talk can be addictive, but we can balance such threads following with some threads that are based on learning from the experts. Everybody can be an expert on some application. I really like what I have seen at some other website where a thread included Q&A on many topics related to Leica cameras (all digital models) and where each post has a Q and then an A is given. It could be :
Q: why does the battery in my M9 discharge so quickly?
A: this happens when ...
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Old 02-11-2018   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Contarama View Post
Because one must have gear in order to make photographs???
Not really... pinhole camera box also make photographs .. sometime better than iconic Leica Ms..
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Old 02-11-2018   #16
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Perhaps we worry about spending our money on (say) another 50mm lens? And it's nice spending other people's money. ;-)

And, you can start WW3 commenting on a photo or an article: Ken Rockwell anyone?

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Old 02-11-2018   #17
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Sadly, I've mostly given up on the internet for meaningful photo discussion. I attend a monthly photo salon at a (semi-)local photography institute where it's prints only, rigidly time-controlled, and very focused critique depending on the criteria set by the photographer. The internet makes it virtually impossible to regulate things the same way, so no matter what sort of critique the photographer is interested in, things tend to go off the rails fairly quickly.
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Thank you Larry
Old 02-11-2018   #18
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Thank you Larry

Quote:
Originally Posted by Larry Cloetta View Post
Why is gear talk more popular than "photo talk" (whatever that is)?

It's not that complicated. Gear talk is more or less objective, though sometimes much less.
Lenses have mtf charts. Shutters are either quiet or loud. Cameras are either heavy or light, large or small. It's easy to talk about objective facts, then talk about which choices we made and why, because they have some basis in reality, or should have.

Art criticism, to anyone who has spent significant, thoughtful time reading art criticism, is a fool's errand.
Needing an "expert" or "authority" around to tell you if your photo is "good" or not is absurd. They're just telling you what they like, what photos match their preconceptions of photographic goodness, topped off with a light drizzling of arrogance if they don't
like it, or obsequiousness if they do (i.e. it's similar to the ones of mine that I like, so it's good! I crush the blacks too! so capturing elegantly the urban decay!)
Converging lines, symmetry, assymetry, rule of turds, whatever.
Talking about photographs is like talking about wine, and anyone familiar with magazines aimed at wine cognoscenti knows exactly what I mean.

It's great that we've got lots of threads here which are mostly everyone's photos of a given subject. That's enough. Everyone here can understand which ones they like. Pretending that we know which ones are "good" beyond such arbitrary parameters as "is it sharp", "color balance okay", "lens cap was off" is just that, pretending. Following rules you learned from a "mentor" will get you a style, they won't make you "good". Alfred Eisenstadt and Daido Maruyama are both esteemed; what kind of "mentoring" explains that?

It's just pictures. Whether they are art or not is unknowable, but doubtful.

Nothing will make me want to leave a room faster that hearing that there is some earnest fellow in it who needs to, is about to, "talk about his work". They're pictures, and they are already on the wall. Shut up, already. If they need to be explained, they really aren't any good.

I guess what I am positing here is that we can learn some things about gear, or its use, which is objective, and might or might not help us be better photographers, but talking about photos, beyond a certain minimal level (left lens cap on, that's not a good photo) is pretty useless at achieving the same goal. And this is coming from someone who is in the middle of re-reading "The Camera", "The Negative", and "The Print"., but that kind of photo talk is already present on this forum anyway.

But, no harm in more threads for those who are interested.
Dear Larry,

You nailed it here.

Regards,

Tim Murphy :-)
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Old 02-11-2018   #19
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Because a no talent bum like myself might as well unsubscribe iffen we don't talk about (old/classic/film) cameras.
Also, this place is a source of interesting information (yes, I know, misinformation too) and I like to look at what work others accomplish with some of the same cameras I have.
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Old 02-11-2018   #20
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Obviously buying new gear and talking about it, the specs, the looks, the pixel count and highest ISO is easier than using the gear, coming up with a decent image and posting it here.
The gallery used to have 20 to 25 pages of weekly submissions. It's down to 4 or 5 pages recently. Comments are typically positive for images people like. No one typically takes the time to come up with a reasonable negative critique and posts this although the author of the image could learn something. Most likely though the author of the image will stop posting any images, depending on the thickness of the skin. The internet has become awash with "likes", the more the better. Only the quantity of positive comments counts. Substantiated, honest critique is not only not welcome it can have a serious negative backlash if the author belongs to any minority. This is just the way it seems to me. I have no idea how to change it even "only" here on RFF.
Maybe an all grey, foggy and rainy day with no light to speak of makes the outlook even darker
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Old 02-11-2018   #21
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I'm SO excited this thread is here. Sure it's fun to talk about cameras and lenses, but it's so much more fun to talk about PHOTOGRAPHY. Granted I realize that I don't participate in enough discussion online, but I absolutely love the in-person discussions I get to have with friends or even strangers about photography. I love getting to talk about the latest book I've come across or what I've been finding interesting about different people's work. Even those I find on Instagram. There's so much potential for educational and enlightening dialog beyond "What camera are you using?".

Let's open the floodgates and get this ball rolling!
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Old 02-11-2018   #22
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Gear is a lot easier to talk about and doesn't lead to hurt egos or unarguable philosophies. It's the same as discussing politics, which is never a pleasant discourse. Especially today.
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Old 02-11-2018   #23
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I've attempted to draw folks into various photographic topics with limited success. Usually it comes down to a handful of members that participate. Sadly the internet propagates the notion that more and more expensive equipment makes you a better photographer. It's not about the images you produce, it's about the equipment you own and how cool you look with it. Anyone can talk but not everyone can make excellent photographs.
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Old 02-11-2018   #24
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I for one would like to see more activity in the Critique/Salon section. No one says a thing about the photos anymore, unless they are complimenting a friend of theirs. I'd much appreciate someone asking me what I was trying to achieve in the taking of a particular photo, because I feel that something like that will make me better at planning a shot if I know it will be questioned. It would also give me valuable feedback to let me know if I met my goal.

If I want platitudes, I'll check my Flickr account.

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Old 02-11-2018   #25
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Quote:
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I for one would like to see more activity in the Critique/Salon section. No one says a thing about the photos anymore, unless they are complimenting a friend of theirs. I'd much appreciate someone asking me what I was trying to achieve in the taking of a particular photo, because I feel that something like that will make me better at planning a shot if I know it will be questioned. It would also give me valuable feedback to let me know if I met my goal.

If I want platitudes, I'll check my Flickr account.

PF
Maybe start a new photo heavy thread with title "Only for Thick Skinned RFF Members" so that no over sensitive members get their feelings hurt from the discussions about the images?
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Old 02-11-2018   #26
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I've attempted to draw folks into various photographic topics with limited success. Usually it comes down to a handful of members that participate. Sadly the internet propagates the notion that more and more expensive equipment makes you a better photographer. It's not about the images you produce, it's about the equipment you own and how cool you look with it. Anyone can talk but not everyone can make excellent photographs.
I know you mean well.
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Old 02-11-2018   #27
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Quote:
Originally Posted by x-ray View Post
I've attempted to draw folks into various photographic topics with limited success. Usually it comes down to a handful of members that participate. Sadly the internet propagates the notion that more and more expensive equipment makes you a better photographer. It's not about the images you produce, it's about the equipment you own and how cool you look with it. Anyone can talk but not everyone can make excellent photographs.
I have often read LF forum. For my opinion, they have more successful discussion about photography. For example, when I start using x-ray film for large format.. or wet plate, ..really great and helpful discussion there. My be because folks with LF camera always looks cool and no one can really recognize your camera or lens ?
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Old 02-11-2018   #28
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Wanna talk? Speak by your images to the others.
Here is the shortcut to cut it short.
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Old 02-11-2018   #29
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I might help to discourage gear discussions by not mentioning camera or lens. A limited discussion on film and developer perhaps but keep the focus (no pun intended) on the image. It took me some time to get past being obcessed by technical quality in an image and finally realizing it's all about content at least in my images. Technical expertise comes with time and practice but content is a different animal alltogether.
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Old 02-11-2018   #30
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Quote:
Originally Posted by johnwolf View Post
I'm with you on the spirit of this initiative and would like to add a suggestion to your list: Recruit one or two mentors for whom analysis and discussion of photographs is an interest and skill.

I'm now reading Robert Adams' book Art Can Help. He has facing page spreads, each with a single, small photograph coupled with a short essay about it. It's along the lines of Looking at Photographs. Many of Adams' choices are photographs I would not have given much thought, but his intelligent analysis deepens my appreciation of them.

I suggest that this approach be mentored because most of us are not very good at discussing pictures. Facilitation would focus the discussion and keep it constructive.

John
I'd bet that some of the more seasoned photographers here are able to talk about photos in depth. They could write a tutorial on how they approach looking at photographs, and then anyone who wants to practice can start a thread where they analyze a photograph. Others can chime in with what they see. In addition, we could discuss books like the one by Adams or Szarkowski and pick apart how they looked at photos.

It'd take initiative, and you'd have to know what you want out of it, but if people are invested in improving their interpretive skills so that they can edit their own photos better, this idea is totally doable!
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Old 02-11-2018   #31
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Quote:
Originally Posted by johannielscom View Post
Because gear talk is related to buying and that's addictive. Spending i money is a quick way to feeling good.

Photo talk is related to investing in photography skills and that's a lot less enticing for short term satisfaction. Acquiring skills to produce good results takes a lot longer than browsing the internet and purchasing gear.
That's a good point and sort of funny because street photography is addictive in the same way. All you have to do is go for a walk. Sometimes you strike out, sometimes you hit the jackpot. Then the hard part becomes editing and developing a personal style.

Looking for the ways that working on your photography is addictive can be a good motivator.
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Old 02-11-2018   #32
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Discussing photography invariably involves criticism, which is frowned upon. When you are only allowed to post praise, you get a half a dozen attaboy posts and the thread dies, with no one learning anything. The upside is no one is offended. On the other hand, you are allowed to freely praise or criticize camera gear, explain why you do and don't like it, and post comments on how you would like to see deficiencies addressed. Whether or not you agree with members' opinions, you generally learn something about the camera gear in question.
How to offer constructive criticism and how to take criticism are key skills to develop. It's so easy for crit sessions to devolve into flame wars on the internet! This is easily one of the major obstacles to promoting photo talk. How are we going to deal with this problem?
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Old 02-11-2018   #33
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Gear is concrete and easier to quantify. And I think that the same kind of 'item specific mentality' can be found in watch forums, car forums and tech forums. It's easier to talk about specifications and test charts than the more intangible qualities of good photography.

There's a fair bit of photography discussion here, and it's possible that the gear talk supports it. Deliberately obtaining a particular photographic look means having a certain level of technical knowledge or skill, and someone else wanting to reproduce often wants to know the tools used in its creation. Hence the 'what did you shoot that with' questions.
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Old 02-11-2018   #34
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Originally Posted by Larry Cloetta View Post
Gear talk is more or less objective, though sometimes much less.
But what about the #1 most popular gear topic of all time: What camera/lens should I buy? Highly subjective!

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Originally Posted by Larry Cloetta View Post
Art criticism, to anyone who has spent significant, thoughtful time reading art criticism, is a fool's errand.
Absolutely, it's a complete fool's errand! The role of art criticism is to pick a needle out of a haystack, something you think is especially interesting, and suggest some ways that your readers might come to grips with it. It's always one step behind the artists and the art.

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I guess what I am positing here is that we can learn some things about gear, or its use, which is objective, and might or might not help us be better photographers, but talking about photos, beyond a certain minimal level (left lens cap on, that's not a good photo) is pretty useless at achieving the same goal. And this is coming from someone who is in the middle of re-reading "The Camera", "The Negative", and "The Print"., but that kind of photo talk is already present on this forum anyway.
You've lost me at this point, because the way we'd be talking about photos (in a general sense, not specifically art criticism) is essentially practical. It's as practical as talking shop, only directed at the subject matter and aesthetics of a photo rather than its technicalities.
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Old 02-11-2018   #35
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Old 02-11-2018   #36
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No one typically takes the time to come up with a reasonable negative critique and posts this although the author of the image could learn something. Most likely though the author of the image will stop posting any images, depending on the thickness of the skin. The internet has become awash with "likes", the more the better. Only the quantity of positive comments counts. Substantiated, honest critique is not only not welcome it can have a serious negative backlash if the author belongs to any minority. This is just the way it seems to me. I have no idea how to change it even "only" here on RFF.
Wanting "negative" comments is a good starting point for anyone looking to improve their photography. Everybody needs to agree to keep comments directed at the photos rather than the person, of course. That's one of the rules of doing crit sessions, and it would involve some heavy moderation to make sure people are respectful.
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Old 02-11-2018   #37
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People come from a vastly different perspectives on what is a (good) photograph or what photography even is. Based on past threads about "art" photography discussions about photos might be better left in the grave without a map to the cemetery.

Rangefinders, on the other hand, are very pleasant to discuss. Whether you like a rickety Vivitar ES or the M10, this is the place. Fun!
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Old 02-11-2018   #38
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This is a rangefinder forum, is it not?

It's gear centric.

If you want to look at photographs, there are many other places for that.
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Old 02-11-2018   #39
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I might help to discourage gear discussions by not mentioning camera or lens. A limited discussion on film and developer perhaps but keep the focus (no pun intended) on the image. It took me some time to get past being obcessed by technical quality in an image and finally realizing it's all about content at least in my images. Technical expertise comes with time and practice but content is a different animal alltogether.
Giving technical details is one of those art world no-no's that actually irks me. Would it embarrass the artists to reveal that they are mere mortals like the rest of us? And if they're using modest equipment, wouldn't it be nice to remind people that you don't need the latest and greatest?

Not getting distracted by gear talk would be hard, though, so we'd have to do something to stay on topic. Maybe don't mention anything technical until the end of the conversation.
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Old 02-11-2018   #40
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It's like everything else in life.....you can spend your time talking about things, or you can spend your time doing them. The people who talk about it don't do it, and the people that do it don't talk about it. There's only X amount of time and energy. It's finite and limited, so using it up on one end takes away from the other end.

Imagine going into work tomorrow and telling your boss that instead of working you were gonna just talk about it. That should work well :]
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