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Perception vs reality
Old 02-11-2017   #1
Tim Murphy
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Perception vs reality

Dear Board,

I like to take photographs to document people and places, in short things that I have seen. To me they are a visual memory link.

Having said that I have seen photographs taken by others that have both impressed and inspired me. A couple examples are Cassius Clay standing over Sonny Liston, the Vietnamese children running naked from a napalm attack, and the poor soul confronting tanks in Tiananmen Square.

Maybe some of what I wonder about is due to the digital photography world?

My question revolves around why today so much emphasis seems to be placed on technical perfection? Perfect focus, perfect highlights and shadows, etc.

Can a technically flawed photograph still be a good one? Is a technically perfect photograph automatically a good one?

There are no right or wrong answer here. I'm just curious to hear what people have to say.

Regards,

Tim Murphy
Harrisburg, PA
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That famous D-Day photo by Robert Capa
Old 02-11-2017   #2
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That famous D-Day photo by Robert Capa



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Old 02-11-2017   #3
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"Can a technically flawed photograph still be a good one? Is a technically perfect photograph automatically a good one?"

Yes to the first part of this question but it depends partly on social expectations. Technically imperfect photos were accepted more I think back in film days because of limitations of film and camera technology (especially pre war). But I think we are being conditioned to believe that photos must be perfect. This in part has to do with the nature of the business model for camera and lens technology where the makers have to keep innovating to keep us buying or they die. So they have over time developed lenses that are ultra sharp using wonderful optical technology designed by super computers and they have developed sensors that shoot in the dark almost and have focusing and anti shake technology so everything is pin sharp. And so it goes. We now expect that and regard it as not only normal but to some extent necessary.

I am not into reportage and documentary photography being more moved by the artistic aspects of photography but I think my comments apply in both realms. I have written articles over at Steve Huff's site extolling the virtues of "imperfect" photos for artistic purposes. I believe that good image making is more than just having a technically perfect image - a meme that too many fall for these days. If you doubt this go to some of the sites that really focus on "gear" more or less exclusively. There you will find hundreds of perfectly exposed, pin sharp really, really, ugly and boring photos. :^) A good artistic image is one that moves you in some way hopefully positively. I am minded that the same goes in painting and other areas of art. Adolph Hitler was actually a technically OK painter but his images are all dead somehow, lacking in emotion and empty of humanity. The earlier English painter, Turner on the other hand, made images that often were nothing much more than smears of paint on canvas but are wonderfully evocative in capturing a moment. More examples I think of this phenomenon.

My last article (part 3 of 3) which touches on this and highlights how someone committed to the art of photography can leave this attitude behind by studying the masters like Saul Leiter (my favorite).

http://www.stevehuffphoto.com/2017/0...peter-maynard/
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Old 02-11-2017   #4
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Hi,

Try taking a technically brilliant, sharp focussed portrait of a close young lady and see what she says. And remember, the customer is always right.

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I think we agree
Old 02-11-2017   #5
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I think we agree

Quote:
Originally Posted by peterm1 View Post
"Can a technically flawed photograph still be a good one? Is a technically perfect photograph automatically a good one?"

Yes to the first part of this question but it depends partly on social expectations. Technically imperfect photos were accepted more I think back in film days because of limitations of film and camera technology (especially pre-war). But I think we are being conditioned to believe that photos must be perfect. This in part has to do with the nature of the business model for camera and lens technology where the makers have to keep innovating to keep us buying or they die. So they have over time developed lenses that are ultra sharp using wonderful optical technology designed by super computers and they have developed sensors that shoot in the dark almost and have focusing and anti shake technology so everything is pin sharp. And so it goes. We now expect that and regard it as not only normal but to some extent necessary.

I am not into reportage and documentary photography being more moved by the artistic aspects of photography but I think my comments apply in both realms. I have written articles over at Steve Huff's site extolling the virtues of "imperfect" photos for artistic purposes. I believe that good image making is more than just having a technically perfect image - a meme that too many fall for these days. If you doubt this go to some of the sites that really focus on "gear" more or less exclusively. There you will find hundreds of perfectly exposed, pin sharp really, really, ugly and boring photos. :^) A good artistic image is one that moves you in some way hopefully positively. I am minded that the same goes in painting and other areas of art. Adolph Hitler was actually a technically OK painter but his images are all dead somehow, lacking in emotion and empty of humanity. The earlier English painter, Turner on the other hand, made images that often were nothing much more than smears of paint on canvas but are wonderfully evocative in capturing a moment. More examples I think of this phenomenon.

My last article (part 3 of 3) which touches on this and highlights how someone committed to the art of photography can leave this attitude behind by studying the masters like Saul Leiter (my favorite).

http://www.stevehuffphoto.com/2017/0...peter-maynard/
Dear Peter,

I'm more of the person that lets the mind's eye make the decision on perfection.

I agree that we were more accepting in the film era but then again I'm older and came of age in that era, hence my question.

I still think of photography in its literal sense, i.e. light writing. I know my opinion is not commonly held or accepted but so be it.

Regards,

Tim Murphy
Harrisburg, PA
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Old 02-11-2017   #6
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IMO, more important then technical perfection are content, subject, emotion, a way of seeing that stirs others: you cannot program these into a camera or lens, or even a technically skilled camera user. These require perspective, feeling, and being consciously aware and present. Throw in some time and good luck. Stir well.

Last year, a young photographer offered on RFF some B&W photos for comment and opinion on which to submit for a competition. One photo in particular stood out: A young boy watching a group of other youngsters walking down railroad tracks. He was behind at a track that crossed another with two directions to choose from: one along which was the group and the other with no one. The photo was technically fine. But the content was special. For me, that was a moving photo. That was a winner.
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Old 02-11-2017   #7
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Quote:
My question revolves around why today so much emphasis seems to be placed on technical perfection? Perfect focus, perfect highlights and shadows, etc.
This is camera industry marketing, and amateurs who confuse industry marketing and media talk, and modern digital camera capabilities, with meaningful image making.

Technical advances like autofocus, higher dynamic range of modern digital sensors and much improved low light capability have made it possible to make a technically good photo in almost any conditions. Cell phones included.

Making meaningful/beautiful/emotional pictures has very little to do with technical perfection unless talking about scientific photography. David's comment was spot on. Take that same young lady's portrait with good lighting and FP3000B or a vintage triplet. I'm fairly confident the customer would prefer either to a 50Mp clinically sharp rendition, skin pore by skin pore.

All depictions of three dimensional space on a two dimensional medium are interpretive, whether paint on canvas or a digital image on an iPad. In either case technical perfection can be more a hindrance to the creator's interpretation than an advantage. I don't think you're alone in thinking this.

In the limited-view world of camera clubs and some internet forums, talk like this is considered heresy .
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Old 02-11-2017   #8
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Dear Board,

To those who have responded, thank you.

I take pictures of birds and wildlife and nature because they make me forget that I sit in a cubicle for 10 hours a day.

Mr Ellisson hit on what a good photograph means to me. It has to grab me and make me think or respond in a visceral manner. I've seen pictures posted on this forum of kids playing in a courtyard, or someone waiting for a subway train that elicited that gut response.

Having seen them I didn't care one whit if they were perfect. They had already done their job.

And Lynn, you'll get no argument from me that a lot of this is marketing and hype. All my digital cameras are rather old in digital years. I view a lot of nature and wildlife photos on message boards and I have seen absolutely breathtaking photos taken by better skilled photographers than myself that I hope one day to equal.

And all of those pictures were taken by people that are still active and now they use even newer and therefore better gear. And they still record awesome pictures but I can't help but think that they didn't need a new $ 5000.00 camera to make them for they had an eye and the way already?

Please keep the comments coming. I'm enjoying having started a discussion on the internet instead of my usual argument!

Regards,

Tim Murphy
Harrisburg, PA
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Old 02-11-2017   #9
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:P Some mistakes are beautiful mistakes.

But what's funny, such as the picture shown above, some people will claim that mistake was on purpose.
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Old 02-11-2017   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tim Murphy View Post
Dear Board,

I like to take photographs to document people and places, in short things that I have seen. To me they are a visual memory link.

Having said that I have seen photographs taken by others that have both impressed and inspired me. A couple examples are Cassius Clay standing over Sonny Liston, the Vietnamese children running naked from a napalm attack, and the poor soul confronting tanks in Tiananmen Square.

Maybe some of what I wonder about is due to the digital photography world?

My question revolves around why today so much emphasis seems to be placed on technical perfection? Perfect focus, perfect highlights and shadows, etc.

Can a technically flawed photograph still be a good one? Is a technically perfect photograph automatically a good one?

There are no right or wrong answer here. I'm just curious to hear what people have to say.

Regards,

Tim Murphy
Harrisburg, PA
The only thing all good photographs have in common is that they're interesting. Technical perfection can be boring. But a sloppy photo of something interesting (think of the photos of the sinking Vestris or the Pulitzer winning photo of the semi truck dangling off a bridge while its driver is rescued with a rope) can be quite good. Ideally though, those same photos would have been technically perfect - but they weren't. That doesn't stop them from being good though.
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Old 02-11-2017   #11
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I can understand someone into birding having the very latest and greatest tool with predictive AF and lightning-fast focus acquisition and no lag...
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Old 02-11-2017   #12
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Search if you get a chance, and maybe you have already, the story of Robert Capa's time on Normandy's beach. He shot 3 rolls before he figured he was on the 8th of his 9 lives, and then darkroom error left him just 10 or 11 images from the beach. We are fortunate to have any photo record at all.

I make a lot of mistakes on film, but so far none of my images are of a world changing event.

Quote:
Originally Posted by kb244 View Post
:P Some mistakes are beautiful mistakes.

But what's funny, such as the picture shown above, some people will claim that mistake was on purpose.
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Old 02-11-2017   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tim Murphy View Post
My question revolves around why today so much emphasis seems to be placed on technical perfection? Perfect focus, perfect highlights and shadows, etc.
Can't prove it of course, but my personal experience leads me to believe that mindset is rather limited to amature photographers, and companies selling mega pixels.
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Old 02-11-2017   #14
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I agree that there is a place for technical perfection in certain types of photography. It all depends I suppose on the type of photography and its purpose, the subjects, the intended audience etc. For example not many newly weds would be happy with wedding photos that are blurry or otherwise imperfect. Same for advertisers and other commercial projects.

But I do find that art photos that leave room for interpretation more interesting for the reason that they engage me, the viewer, in the process of interpreting the image in terms of my own frame of reference and experience. That draws me in.
I often think of (some) good art photography as being something like a poem (rather than descriptive prose). A poem, by its nature, requires the audience to think and interpret. Much the same goes for many forms of photography in my view. And I think that imperfect photos are often better at this - more spontaneous perhaps, than technically perfect ones.
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Old 02-11-2017   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by davidnewtonguitars View Post
Search if you get a chance, and maybe you have already, the story of Robert Capa's time on Normandy's beach. He shot 3 rolls before he figured he was on the 8th of his 9 lives, and then darkroom error left him just 10 or 11 images from the beach. We are fortunate to have any photo record at all.

I make a lot of mistakes on film, but so far none of my images are of a world changing event.
Though in the world of photojournalism, while photographers may strive to technical perfection, having the shot is better than no shot at all.
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Old 02-11-2017   #16
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i think that today there are more images made then ever before...and not to be nasty cause this includes me, but most amateur images these days are not really very good...few have the soul and spirit of an artist and i believe that if your not born with it then your not going to learn/practice/gain it along the way.
but...we can work on/learn/practise how to be technically proficient.
so we begin to obsess about gear, lenses, chemicals, sensors sd cards etc.
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Old 02-11-2017   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by back alley View Post
i think that today there are more images made then ever before...and not to be nasty cause this includes me, but most amateur images these days are not really very good...few have the soul and spirit of an artist and i believe that if your not born with it then your not going to learn/practice/gain it along the way.
but...we can work on/learn/practise how to be technically proficient.
so we begin to obsess about gear, lenses, chemicals, sensors sd cards etc.
I think gear obsession isn't anything new btw. Been around in photography for the last 100 years.
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Old 02-11-2017   #18
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I think gear obsession isn't anything new btw. Been around in photography for the last 100 years.
don't think i said that...
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Old 02-11-2017   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by davidnewtonguitars View Post
Search if you get a chance, and maybe you have already, the story of Robert Capa's time on Normandy's beach. He shot 3 rolls before he figured he was on the 8th of his 9 lives, and then darkroom error left him just 10 or 11 images from the beach. We are fortunate to have any photo record at all.

I make a lot of mistakes on film, but so far none of my images are of a world changing event.
A bit off topic, but for a most interesting discussion of the story of Capa's D-Day photos and the ruined negs, read this.
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Old 02-11-2017   #20
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don't think i said that...
And we probably didn't see all the crappy pics back then cuz they weren't so easily shared, or didn't' survive.
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Old 02-11-2017   #21
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Quote:
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Chris
** Sorry, Lynn,. I didn't see you posted the same link! **

Fascinating look at Capa on D-Day and the myth behind those images.

The Robert Capa D-Day Project received the 2014 Society of Professional Journalists Sigma Delta Chi (SDX) Award for Research About Journalism.

http://www.nearbycafe.com/artandphot...capa-on-d-day/
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Old 02-12-2017   #22
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Quote:
Originally Posted by lynnb View Post
I can understand someone into birding having the very latest and greatest tool with predictive AF and lightning-fast focus acquisition and no lag...
Hi,

I couldn't agree more and that's one of the reasons I have more than one camera and more than one lens. It's just a question of the right tool for the job and we can all make our own decisions based on our own priorities.

Regards, David
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Old 02-12-2017   #23
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Quote:
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I take pictures of birds and wildlife and nature because they make me forget that I sit in a cubicle for 10 hours a day.
Especially in wildlife and nature/landscape a good photo requires good content PLUS very good technical image quality.

Other genres are more forgiving regarding technical image quality.
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Old 02-12-2017   #24
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I spent years learning how to make the technically "perfect" photo. But than I realized many of them were lacking the most important (IMO) ingredient: emotion.

Technical perfection with no soul.

Than it was for me time to learn, trying too learn (again learning!) how to use the technological knowledge to convey emotion.

Less attention or better said different use of the technical aspect, the use of "alternative technology" like the Impossible instant films or expired films are the road I'm following now .

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Old 02-12-2017   #25
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tom.w.bn View Post
Especially in wildlife and nature/landscape a good photo requires good content PLUS very good technical image quality.

Other genres are more forgiving regarding technical image quality.
Here is a great photo dealing with the movement and feel more than so called technical perfection.
Paul Caponigro
http://www.photographywest.com/pages/images/RWD.jpg
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Old 02-12-2017   #26
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If you're concentrating on bird and wildlife photography, you are really involved in a pursuit that is dependent on technology as well as skill. A higher emphasis is placed on technical quality in this type of photography than journalistic and documentary photography or "art" photography, for want of a better description. While you might see a few photos of birds or wildlife with panning motion, the norm is a tack sharp photo. In other types of photography, technical quality is secondary to telling a story, presenting a viewpoint, connecting to an emotional response in the viewer.

I've been a Walker Evans follower for years. In one of the many books I have about the man, a former lab assistant recalled Evans cajoling him to stop trying to make a perfect print. To Evans, technical perfection was secondary to content.

Today, we have better photography equipment than at any time in history. Because of this, the uninitiated, uneducated and the uninspired photographer mistakenly believes that only the technically perfect is a good photograph. There are so many other elements involved, technical quality is only a small part of the equation.
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Old 02-12-2017   #27
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I figured I was getting better as a photographer when I started to make photographs of my wife that she likes!

To be blunt, it doesn't concern me what other folks think of my photographs except for two.

When I had my business I was lucky and fortunate to run across a great fellow professional photographer who helped me along with my photography journey. He evaluated my work and always suggested ideas to improve. He also would always point out a feature or two he liked.

The second were folks who hired me to tell the story of a beautiful day with photography or make other people photographs such as business headshots and other situations.

The best advice I could give, find someone who could be your coach and mentor. After all, even each great athlete has someone who is their coach.
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Old 02-12-2017   #28
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Dogman I think that sometimes many get caught up in capturing the noun or as Weston called it the obvious. Sometimes that makes for very crisp clear renditions of say a bird. But does that image go beyond the noun or as Weston said, the obvious? Does it capture what the creator feels about what he is photographing n a deep sense?

I to am a huge fan of Evans as well as many of the other FSA photographers of that time. I think it should always be about if the image and the technique matching the vision. I think it was Haas that said and I am paraphrasing; I would rather make bad photographs that look like mine than beautiful photographs that look like everyone else's.

I also do not believe that single photographs tell stories. Bodies of work and documentary projects and series of images very well can. Winogrand said it far better than I could ever say it in this clip about 1:27 in.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tl4f-QFCUek

Thats my 2 cents....
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Old 02-12-2017   #29
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Quote:
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Here is a great photo dealing with the movement and feel more than so called technical perfection.
Paul Caponigro
http://www.photographywest.com/pages/images/RWD.jpg
I looked up this guy and the thing with the moving animals seems to be his favorite topic.

If the image you posted was a one time lucky shot of someone, then there was probably not much to criticize. As a concept-photo it doesn't work for me. The trees are mushy and unsharp and the foreground is so dark. You just can't differentiate the layers. Just the movement of the animals is not enough for me.

The guy has another photo that has a similar idea with moving dogs in the foreground, a bride and a stormy cloudy sky. That is really good and technically brilliant because everything is super sharp, it has a nice landscape layering, only the running (unsharp) dogs add this special extra with their movement. I like this one very much.
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Old 02-12-2017   #30
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Photography is broad. it's quite alright that you don't like it but the image is more about the movement and gracefulness of the deer and I think it goes beyond the obvious, which in my opinion, is a very good thing.
Some more of his work.
http://www.photographywest.com/pages...ro_photos.html

BTW the if you read the article the bride photo was not Caponigro but inspired by his deer photo.

I believe the bride photo is a composite unlike the Caponigro image and made by a photographer by the name of William Bay or something like that.

Also a little background on Paul Caponigro.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Caponigro
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Old 02-12-2017   #31
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I don't really see the point of the question. We've all seen great photographs that are blurred, out of focus, "Under exposed", etc. And we've all seen technically impressive photos that are completely dull.

Couldn't we just throw out the term, technical perfection? What's the point of it? There is no such thing as far as I can see. How a picture looks (its qualities, not quality) should be appropriate to that picture, but there is no accepted set of qualities that can be applied to all photographs to determine success.
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Old 02-12-2017   #32
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GNS I totally agree...
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Old 02-12-2017   #33
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Robert Capa on the beach at D-Day: I've read three interpretations of his blurry shot: 1. he was shaking; 2. film emulsion sliding or melting, and 3. the sprocket problem with his Contax and Kodak film. In the end, it doesn't matter at all.
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Old 02-12-2017   #34
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Quote:
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A bit off topic, but for a most interesting discussion of the story of Capa's D-Day photos and the ruined negs, read this.
This is such a fascinating read because it explodes the wild myths surrounding Capa, especially in a PBS documentary: http://www.pbs.org/ktca/americanphotography/
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I agree with you too
Old 02-12-2017   #35
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I agree with you too

Quote:
Originally Posted by gns View Post
I don't really see the point of the question. We've all seen great photographs that are blurred, out of focus, "Under exposed", etc. And we've all seen technically impressive photos that are completely dull.

Couldn't we just throw out the term, technical perfection? What's the point of it? There is no such thing as far as I can see. How a picture looks (its qualities, not quality) should be appropriate to that picture, but there is no accepted set of qualities that can be applied to all photographs to determine success.
Dear gns,

Actually your answer closely parallels my thoughts. Maybe I have a simplistic and uneducated viewpoint, but unless a photograph makes me feel something, or at least pause and think about it, then no matter how perfectly executed it is I can just move on and look at the next one.

I did notice a few answers that referred to the possible need for better gear given my interests in nature and wildlife photography. While I can certainly agree that in most instances everyone has an option or two to improve their gear in some way I personally don't have the financial resources to own a 1DXmk11 and Canon 600mmf4 lens, so I strive to do my best with the gear that I own.

However, I'd be interested in hearing if their is any merit in doing the best job you possibly can with the gear you have? And, how should those efforts be judged?

For example. can a photograph that is well executed and interesting but taken with gear that is not the latest and greatest still be a good photograph, or will it always be judged by the what if factor and whether it would have been a better photograph if a better lens or camera body was used?

Again, my only interest here is getting some conversation going and hearing the viewpoints of others.

Regards,

Tim Murphy
Harrisburg, PA
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Old 02-12-2017   #36
airfrogusmc
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Best job, in my opinion, would be figuring out how you see, what your subject means to you and what is the best way to capture that. Taking photographs that get beyond the obvious. Beyond what the thing is but what you see it as. Nouns are easy. Obvious is easy. Look around and you see a ton of those. It's the ones that get beyond that that are rare. And I think yu are arriving when someone looks at one of your images and before they look at the signature or who took it they know it is one of yours.

I think gear is important but in terms of finding what works of for the way you see and work. Whatever that may be. New, latest/greatest, old, whatever. I think having gear that has become second nature so you are not thinking for one split moment about technique and you are just responding to what you are seeing is the key.
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Old 02-12-2017   #37
Dogman
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Quote:
Originally Posted by airfrogusmc View Post
Dogman I think that sometimes many get caught up in capturing the noun or as Weston called it the obvious. Sometimes that makes for very crisp clear renditions of say a bird. But does that image go beyond the noun or as Weston said, the obvious? Does it capture what the creator feels about what he is photographing n a deep sense?

I to am a huge fan of Evans as well as many of the other FSA photographers of that time. I think it should always be about if the image and the technique matching the vision. I think it was Haas that said and I am paraphrasing; I would rather make bad photographs that look like mine than beautiful photographs that look like everyone else's.

I also do not believe that single photographs tell stories. Bodies of work and documentary projects and series of images very well can. Winogrand said it far better than I could ever say it in this clip about 1:27 in.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tl4f-QFCUek

Thats my 2 cents....
I certainly cannot disagree with this.

I tried my hand at bird photography over a decade ago and I found it frustrating, mainly because it felt so confining. Looking at wildlife and nature photography websites, almost everything was just so technically perfect the photos began to look the same with a few exceptions.

Weston had some great quotes. I especially like "If it's more than a hundred feet from the car, it's not photogenic."

One of my favorite photo quotes is from William Eggleston (especially appropriate here)--"I am at war with the obvious."
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Old 02-12-2017   #38
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Thanks for the links. Some interesting photos.

Quote:
Originally Posted by airfrogusmc View Post
Photography is broad. it's quite alright that you don't like it but the image is more about the movement and gracefulness of the deer and I think it goes beyond the obvious, which in my opinion, is a very good thing.
Some more of his work.
http://www.photographywest.com/pages...ro_photos.html

BTW the if you read the article the bride photo was not Caponigro but inspired by his deer photo.

I believe the bride photo is a composite unlike the Caponigro image and made by a photographer by the name of William Bay or something like that.

Also a little background on Paul Caponigro.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Caponigro
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Old 02-12-2017   #39
David Hughes
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FWIW, most of the time I use my camera like a notebook...

Regards, David
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Old 02-12-2017   #40
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technical perfection is a concern of commercial photography, the artists whose work descends from the "fine printing" tradition, and amateurs who like geeking out over it.

...and people who haven't figured out where their priorities lie.
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