There are no absolutes: erosion and hope in the photographic industry

Is an image good? Bad? Ugly? Beautiful? Art? Everybody has an opinion, and those are based on the expectations formed by the biases created as a result of one’s own existence and experiences. What is considered beautiful in one culture may be hideous in another, or unremarkable. Art is in the eye of the beholder (or more importantly, the person signing the cheques). For anything that is subjective, there can be no absolutes. Take taste, or ambient temperature, for instance. There are preferences, nothing more. It is therefore perplexing that the whole industry is so hung up on both comparisons and seeking the lowest common denominator.

Advance warning: this post may be considered a rant by some.

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Repost: Defining cinematic

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Given we’re in the first day of the Cinematic Masterclass with Zeiss in Hanoi, it seems only appropriate that I bring back this classic post for another round – with new images, of course! 

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The evolution of street photography

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Self reflection.

My initial idea for this post was to examine where street photography is going today; on further reflection, I think it’s perhaps more a question of addressing some overdone stereotypes perpetrated by camera collectors and social media warriors – not photographers – to see if we can get a bit more understanding into a) why those stereotypes exist, and b) if we want to produce visually different and better work, what needs to change. Read on, but only if you don’t believe everything should be shot from close range and monochrome contrast is solely binary.

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How to choose equipment

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How do you spontaneously prepare for situations like this? Or compose around your limitations?

This is a question that all of us have to address at some point or other – and one whose answer is not exactly straightforward. Having fielded this many times from students, random persons and more often than not, myself, I feel fairly qualified to answer it in a way that I feel yields the best compromise…

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The idea of a ‘5’

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Drawing down on ghosts. Vysehrad fort, Prague

Most of the regular readers here will be familiar with the concept of ‘the four things’ – this is to say that there are a few elements that are independent of content that every image must have in order for it to leave some sort of impression on its audience. The framework is both a useful checklist and teaching tool to get a photographer to a certain level of proficiency; however, it can be restrictive in the sense that it is still somewhat formulaic. And that’s half the challenge here: if you can fulfil a list of objectives to make an outstanding image, then what is the function of the photographer? Surely these things could be programmed into an algorithm and left to its own devices to make the next hundred great photographs of the century? Wrong. There’s still one last element which will never foreseeably be automated or predicted or planned.

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The five most difficult questions to answer in photography

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All questions lead to some sort of decision tree, chain of causality, whatever you want to call it: branching to many ends, some of them dead.

These questions may be technically difficult, contextually difficult, commercially difficult, diplomatically difficult or all four – but at some point, we’ve all had to face them. Some of us more than others. And the real challenge is that the answer always depends on who’s asking. Read on if you dare.

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The abstraction of an idea

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After all the people have gone home

In a previous post, I tackled the general concept of an abstract photograph. I think it can be refined down something of the following: an image which is balanced equally across the entire frame such at that no one area attracts your attention more than any other area; the eye wanders, takes in the details, and never really lingers. By this definition, there is no subject since no one area or element of the photograph stands out more than any other; however, you could probably also argue that the entire frame is really the subject. Semantics is a funny thing, though, and this isn’t quite the definition of the term: we must think in terms of essences and summaries instead. An ‘abstract’ of a paper or article is really the core idea distilled down to the simplest possible terms; the objective elevator pitch rather than the marketing tagline. Today’s article tackles the visual equivalent of that: how do we take an idea and translate that into something visual?

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Differences between eye and camera: practical implications

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Why is it so difficult to get sunsets to appear ‘right’? Read on for the answer.

Many photographs do not work. Subsequently, we find out they do not work because there is a difference between what you saw and what your audience sees in the image. Sometimes this comes down to lack of skill in translating an idea, but often it’s more subtle than that: the camera doesn’t see what we see, and we need to be both highly aware of that and how to compensate for it. Yesterday’s photoessay is a good example: it’s no big deal to make a monochrome image, but our eyes only perceive a lack of color under very exceptional circumstances. Yet it’s these differences that make some images stand out, and others not really ‘work’.

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Avoidable photographic errors

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Gratuitous header image.

Rule number one: there are no rules. A ‘mistake’ may not necessarily be a mistake if it helps convey the message or story or feeling intended by the photographer. I can easily think of multiple examples that go against every scenario described below. That said, for the most part, I’ve found these ‘mistakes’ to hold true. And if you want to achieve something very specific, then you either won’t be reading this article in the first place, or you’ll know when to bend the rules. The general viewing public probably has some preformed opinions of what is right/good, but these are born out of as much ignorance as conditioning by companies trying to sell more software or lenses or something else. There are rational reasons why these opinions may not necessarily be right in the context of fulfilling creative intention.

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Photographic detox, part two

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Part two: get creative (continued from part one)

The camera companies and retailers are going to hate me for writing this, because it’s not going to sell any more equipment. If you were hoping for a quick solution that involves a credit card, I’m sorry too – there is no substitute to better photographs other than hard work. But this doesn’t mean it can’t be fun or creatively liberating – after all, isn’t that one of the key reasons we shoot at all?

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