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02/08/2012 12:26:44 PM · #1
I've been mulling this over for a long time now. When one of those "processing vs capture" discussion threads pops up, I'm reminded of these thoughts. I just want to get this out of my head, and because this is a subjective discussion, I'm not proposing that my opinion is the defacto standard of photography.

In most general terms, for me there are basically two types of photography: documenting and interpretive. And each of these modes carry their own requirements for acceptability. In the first category are, for example, photos taken for inventory purposes, which simply need to show some object/location/situation (different types of nails/screws/bolts, actor's positions on set, damage to an item, crime scene, etc.), and need not be concerned with technical aspects (lighting, composition, etc.), as long as the object/subject is clear. Nor do they require any sort of artistic editing. This does not preclude these considerations, only that this type of imagery does not "require" further treatment to be considered acceptable. "Good" is not relevant - good enough is.

Interpretive imagery is the opposite, and is mostly what we submit to challenges. It is infinitely more subjective, and in the broadest terms, require the photographer's intervention in some way (processing, composition, lighting, angle, etc.) in order to be considered "acceptable" or "good".

The former requires no "intent"; the latter is all about intent. Intent can rarely be added through processing. A documentary image dragged through Topaz, Nik, Filter Forge, and anything else will still be mostly just a documentary image. Ironically, editing seems to emphasize the documentary nature of such images.

Our challenge entries lie somewhere along this continuum, with those closer to the documentary end tending to fare the poorest. For the average viewer (such as myself), when presented with an image that appears "documentary" in nature, the reaction tends to be "so what". I see this every day. It's the clutter/irrelevance I filter out when I go about life. Why is this picture of a tree/garbage can/kitchen table/people in the street/whatever supposed to mean anything to me? I would call these "snapshots", which again, can also be artistic, but require "intent" to achieve that status. SOMETHING about a "mundane" image has to be different from real life in order to capture my attention, or it's just documentary, and of little or no interest to me.

Discuss, please :-)
02/08/2012 12:43:41 PM · #2
I am not sure how this works for landscape photography which is very often documentary in nature. While I have ways to capture various possible variations of the image (time of day, exposure, weather conditions etc) I am very limited in controlling the environment hence the intent is somewhat limited. I would rather say that I have a vision that I am trying to achieve but very often the nature will not cooperate. My intent is always to capture a great image ;)
02/08/2012 01:03:04 PM · #3
deep thoughts
02/08/2012 01:08:41 PM · #4
I LIKE unembellished, detailed images of the ordinary, the mundane, the everyday. I LIKE looking at them in detail, I think it's amazing. They don't SCORE worth beans, so I almost never enter 'em anymore, but I do like to make 'em :-)

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R.
02/08/2012 01:09:39 PM · #5
I document the average, mundane, and everyday. My editing skills are lacking. I am, by the above, a "so what" snapshot shooter.

I am OK with that.
02/08/2012 01:11:39 PM · #6
Almost all of my effort in landscape and wildlife photography is dedicated to image acquisition. I estimate 85% of my photographer's time is with the camera. A subject must be interesting. The light needs to be excellent in quality and not extreme in range. The composition of the scene needs to be balanced and harmonious. The depth-of-field must be consciously determined. The shutter speed must be fast enough to freeze action or slow enough to acquire a properly exposed image, or just the right speed for desired blur. And, the ISO film speed must reach a compromise between shutter speed support and electronic noise tolerance. 99% of all my image captures are tripod mount. All of these factors form the base situation. From this preparation flows the potential for a compelling image. I've always realized at the time of image capture when I've made a compelling image. It takes a lot of time in the field.

The other 15% of my time is spent processing RAW images in Apple's Aperture with NikSoftware plugins. It's true that post processing (pp) can make a good photo even better. Rarely can pp make a poor photo into anything at all. In general, pp is way overrated. Compelling images do not come from Photoshop, unless the photograph was something special in the first place. My best images require the least amount of pp. When I find myself over processing, the results are rarely any good.

I do see newer photographers spending too much time in front of the computer screen. And, they spend too little time working in the field... usually shooting handheld, without a lens hood and aiming directly into the sun. That is their prerogative.

eta: Those who say landscape photography is simply "documentary" make a very pejorative statement. Two photographers with identical equipment can stand side-by-side in front of a landscape scene. One will capture a snapshot. The other will capture a compelling work of art which will sell in a gallery. It's not the equipment. It's the artist in you.

Message edited by author 2012-02-08 13:18:19.
02/08/2012 01:13:46 PM · #7
Originally posted by hahn23:



I do see newer photographers spending too much time in front of the computer screen. And, they spend too little time working in the field... usually shooting handheld, without a lens hood and aiming directly into the sun. That is their prerogative.


Are you suggesting you HAVE to use a monopod or tripod to be a good photographer?
02/08/2012 01:16:48 PM · #8
@ Margaret - you give great consideration to what you are including, the lighting, the time of day, the angle, the composition and balance of all the elements in the image. All this is "intent". It is not someone jumping out of their car, running to the edge of the Grand Canyon, and pressing the shutter (without really looking through the viewfinder) before jumping back in the car.

@ Bear - and yet, every one of those "unembellished, detailed" images is not a "documentary" snapshot image. They're clearly thought out. There is no background clutter, the particular element you photographed is well lit, taken from a considered angle, lit intentionally, with balanced composition. Something about that object appealed to you and the images seek to share whatever that is. They're not simply "this is a __" image.

Again, the subjects are not what I am discussing, but why/how they are captured/presented.
02/08/2012 01:22:33 PM · #9
Originally posted by MattO:

Originally posted by hahn23:



I do see newer photographers spending too much time in front of the computer screen. And, they spend too little time working in the field... usually shooting handheld, without a lens hood and aiming directly into the sun. That is their prerogative.


Are you suggesting you HAVE to use a monopod or tripod to be a good photographer?

In my fields of photography... yes! Frequently, I see photographers in the early morning low light with 500mm telephoto lenses photographing birds .... without the aid of a tripod. Are they going to capture sharp images?

I feel the same way about landscape photography.

There are many fields of photography which can be accomplished handheld. I do shoot 1% of my images handheld.
02/08/2012 01:23:54 PM · #10
@ Richard and Matt - I think the equipment requirements vary enormously from one area of photography to another. For some types of photography, it is inconceivable not to use a tripod. For others, inconceivable to do so.

@ Deb - none of your street images can be ruled out as unconsidered. Even to the casual observer, there a defined moment that has been captured. I suck at that type of photography. In all of your images, great care has been taken with lighting, rhythm, balance. The viewer experiences the patience it takes to wait for the magic to happen before your lens. All of these considerations exclude you from being a snapshot photographer.
02/08/2012 01:28:04 PM · #11
Originally posted by tanguera:

Why is this picture of a tree/garbage can/kitchen table/people in the street/whatever supposed to mean anything to me?

Perhaps because it is exactly/specifically what the challenge title/description asks for?
02/08/2012 01:31:21 PM · #12
I'm a snapshot shooter, but not for lack of trying to be better. The setup shot just seems to be beyond what I'm capable of. So document I do. ;D
02/08/2012 01:33:15 PM · #13
I think an excellent example of splendid mundane can be found in 21.gif bvy's portfolio, and I'm not talking about his blue ribbon image. There are plenty more to post, but here are a few of his recent entries.

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@ J and Margaret, here is an example of pure luck. While drinking coffee with a couple of the other dad's on this camping trip, the sun crept over a ridge. I had to jump in to my car to get the camera. ;) Since it is my image, I am completely biased, but I find it documentary. The kids meandering in the scene gave it additional life, it is a snapshot, but it is interpretive in relation to the interaction of light and subjects. <Correct me if I missed your point.>

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eta: wrong thumb for Brian

Message edited by author 2012-02-08 13:33:58.
02/08/2012 01:44:02 PM · #14
It is a sad truth that most things now in all domains use the fuel of specialness to gain successes, in reality though its being able to see the special in the mundane that brings real lasting happiness.
02/08/2012 01:47:59 PM · #15
Originally posted by bspurgeon:

@ J and Margaret, here is an example of pure luck. While drinking coffee with a couple of the other dad's on this camping trip, the sun crept over a ridge. I had to jump in to my car to get the camera. ;) Since it is my image, I am completely biased, but I find it documentary. The kids meandering in the scene gave it additional life, it is a snapshot, but it is interpretive in relation to the interaction of light and subjects. <Correct me if I missed your point.>

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Not pure luck. You saw something special about the light and were able to capture it in a way that is interesting. Luck presented you with an opportunity. The appearance of that pretty starburst effect usually means the photographer went to some trouble to position the camera and the sun with obstacles in just the right places, even if the photographer did it by pure instinct. It's evidence of intentional composition ;-)
02/08/2012 01:56:50 PM · #16
Originally posted by MaryO:

Not pure luck. You saw something special about the light and were able to capture it in a way that is interesting. Luck presented you with an opportunity.

There is also a lot of skill and experience needed to recognize the good shot when it is front of you and to know how to capture it. Sometimes you only have a few moments.
02/08/2012 02:05:39 PM · #17
I think you are going at it the wrong way. The context in which we view the photo determines by what standards we judge it. Take a documentary-type photo and use it as evidence in court. It's in-focus and shows the details that are needed. Great photo. In dpc, the same photo earns a narrow bell curve centered at 4.

From this perspective, there is only one type of photography and many ways to interpret photographs.

In your description, the photograph has an inherent quality (a snapshot, for example). But photographs don't carry this meaning around with them -- we evaluate them and add the label, and since we are all similarly-informed, we understand what you mean (by "snapshot").

It may seem like I am splitting hairs or just being picky with the text, but I'm not. This is an important distinction (in some circles).
02/08/2012 02:46:06 PM · #18
I like snapshots and I like art. Many snapshots are very worthy art. Some of them are great art.

I dislike 'photography' (studio, set-up, lighting, tripods, all that crap) because it makes for very dull photographs, and almost never makes art.

I like documentary photographs, and sometimes they can be art of the highest order. Consider Paolo Pellegrin. He's a documentarist, but his work is unquestionably art first and documentary second. Does he intend it that way? I don't know. I've been to an exhibition of his, and when you see his work in person it's literally spine-tingling. It's just like Pollock or Picasso.

Have a look at Pellegrin's As I Was Dying, in particular image #08. It's not just art, it's great art. And that's just one of many for Paulo. So he is doing Johanna's 'documentary' and 'interpretive' at the same time, and all of the time. I think lots of people do that. Actually, I aspire to it myself.

However, I admit Pellegrin is in another dimension entirely. He's a Magnum photographer, for a start (I can think of only one person from DPC, past or present, who could reasonably hope to mix it at that level). And even in that exalted company, Pellegrin's special.
02/08/2012 03:08:45 PM · #19
Originally posted by jagar:

It is a sad truth that most things now in all domains use the fuel of specialness to gain successes, in reality though its being able to see the special in the mundane that brings real lasting happiness.
02/08/2012 03:16:01 PM · #20
Thought I'd jump in on the discussion.

I really enjoy taking photographs of all types. But I suppose that the "final outcome" of what I am looking for will decide on whether or not it is "shopped". Many times, I have taken a photo, expecting a particular look, and the unedited shot is what works. But other times, I am looking for a more "edgy" look, so I edit. I have to admit, however, I am a photoshop junkie! I LOVE experiementing with the different looks. Sometimes I make minor adjustments, while other times I will spend hours on a photo trying different things.

I almost NEVER use actions that others have created, nor do I create actions to use over and over. Each and every time, it is a unique outcome, as I never do the same thing twice.

(R.I.P. Photoshop CS5 Extended, we will meet again!!!)
02/08/2012 03:17:46 PM · #21
@ deeby - yes, context is very important.

@ Paul - I would not qualify ANY of Pellegrin's outstanding images as "snapshots". And as much as you might like to think so, none of YOUR images is what I would describe as vaguely snapshotish. Your use of shadow, blur, oblique angles (and other marvels) is deliberate, and these inflections influence how and what the viewer sees.

@ Ben - perhaps Brian's images come the closest to MY definition of "snapshot" quality, but even THEY present a specific moment, a particular detail, a defined concept. These all convey intent - a specificity which the photographer's eye singled out and captured with a degree of skill so that we may witness it. Your image is

I do believe the word "snapshot" is an imperfect adjective, as it conveys all sorts of different meanings to many people. But let's not confuse spontaneity and casualness with mindlessness.
02/08/2012 03:20:54 PM · #22
I think the methodology that brings us the photo--excepting when it comes to editing rules for submitting to contests like the kind DPC runs--is a non issue.

If I am wowed by your photo I am not going to care (and likely not going to know) whether or not you took with a Camera Phone and edited it with MS Paint, or whether you took with a 7D in a full studio and edited it with the highest end software. In any visual art, it is the end result that is judged. That is the first lesson DPC taught me, because I wanted to explain why my photos had certain problems or were lacking certain things. What DPC told me was that in the end, no one cared if I had to hang upside down and shoot at a very low shutter speed. It makes a great story, but not a great photo.

I have had shots on this site wow me that were obviously candid's shot in poor light, and ones that have wowed me that obviously were long labored over studio shots. Regardless of how you wow me, it is the wow not the how that defines a photo.

Or I could just be a nut-bag.
02/08/2012 03:39:12 PM · #23
I think that "snapshot" is a meaningless, and even dangerous, concept to bandy about; it carries with it an implication, or a suggestion, that the amount of time invested in the creation of the image is a measure of its worth. "Spontaneous" vs "calculated" might be a better polarity to debate. Note that the concept of spontaneity, in the context of image acquisition, does not preclude the concept of premeditation and/or previsualization. And no, "premeditated spontaneity" is not a contradiction :-)

R.
02/08/2012 03:54:07 PM · #24
There are still snapshots and snapshot shooters. From the age of about 15 and into my 30's, I took snapshots. I had a compact camera (for many years, it was a Canon "Snappy" 35mm) and I snapped photos during everyday or special events so I would have a snapshot of it to look at in the future. I have 4x6 print albums from each year since 1979 full of snapshots.

snapshot snapshot snapshot. It's not a bad word.
02/08/2012 04:10:30 PM · #25
Originally posted by Art Roflmao:

There are still snapshots and snapshot shooters. From the age of about 15 and into my 30's, I took snapshots. I had a compact camera (for many years, it was a Canon "Snappy" 35mm) and I snapped photos during everyday or special events so I would have a snapshot of it to look at in the future. I have 4x6 print albums from each year since 1979 full of snapshots.

snapshot snapshot snapshot. It's not a bad word.


I have gone from snapshots to thinking/planning/composing about taking a photo back to snapshots.

I agree Ken , snapshots is not a bad word, well in my world it's not

Robt - you think too deeply too much !

;-)

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