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Archive 2013 · Discussion on the perfection of today's photography
  
 
friscoron
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p.1 #1 · p.1 #1 · Discussion on the perfection of today's photography


I was encouraged to cross-post this (originally in People forum) so here goes:

I was looking at mikethevilla's recent post featuring his new 50mm 1.2 lens: http://www.fredmiranda.com/forum/topic/1226936. Mike, obviously, really liked the pictures he posted, but there were some comments about the softness of the shots and that he missed perfect focus on a couple shots, which he acknowledged.

It just got me to thinking about with the incredible technology available in today's dSLR's, there seems to be a new expectation of perfect focus, perfect exposure, perfect shadows, perfect composition, perfect lens at the exact right focal length, perfect DOF, perfect color or b&w conversion, cloning out of all distracting elements... thus, perfect photography. The list of everything that makes up a perfect photo goes on and on, and obviously varies from one to another as it's all subjective.

My point is simple. Art is not perfect, and not meant to be perfect. And more so, we all have our own unique definitions of what is perfect

If you go back through time and explore all the various types of photography by Magnum shooters, work that was published in Life, and all the other publications and photographs created just for art or for sale -- pictures were not perfect. So why would we expect or want pictures to be so perfect now? If you go to mikethevilla's OP and really look at his pictures, there's an ethereal quality to them, a vibrance, there's energy, and there is missed focus points. I'm not saying that these shots by Mike need to be immediately place in the Louvre, but I thought it would be a good foundation for what we strive for in our photography of today, and how we as viewers see these shots.

The other aspect of this conversation is that we all have our own styles, and when we view another photographer's work, we do so with the biased color filter of our own style. It's very difficult to step out of our vision to try to critique another's photographer's work in the pursuit of their own unique style (apart from ours).

Let me be sure to say also that this is not directed to anyone's critiques, and certainly not to those how pointed out Mike's focal point issues in that post. This is something I've been thinking about for months, even years, as I've participated on this and other forums. I'm just using Mike's post as an example to help provide some color, if you will, to this post.

I'm eager to see what others think of the concept of perfect photography with today's dSLRs.

Ron



Jul 15, 2013 at 06:08 PM
sbeme
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p.1 #2 · p.1 #2 · Discussion on the perfection of today's photography


It is an interesting topic, and for my nit-picking tendencies, a good corrective to the goal of technical perfection (supplemented,when possible, with creativity and emotional connection!)
So, here's a thread idea:
What if we each posted an image or two with significant technical flaws, but which we still find effective at some personal, emotional, and/or creative level? It would be fun to share our own images but I think links to others work might also enrich.
I quickly go to LensBaby in terms of images that have inherent technical challenges, shortcomings. Or to other toy camera/lenses. But there are also powerful images where we missed a focus, blew out highlights, had a very noisy capture, etc.

Scott



Jul 15, 2013 at 07:15 PM
Bob Jarman
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p.1 #3 · p.1 #3 · Discussion on the perfection of today's photography


Interesting ideas guys.

There is an image on BWV that I think is great but others comment on overall sharpness (and lack thereof). Personal preference naturally, but to me that is as unnatural as the total sharpness of HDTV - not difficult to spot the real-time smoothing algorithms at work on the talking heads and newscasts. As a consideration for Ron's thoughts, I think many, and I include myself, have become overly reliant on technology.

That said, in my quest to identify and emulate the Leica-look, I stumbled across a group on Flickr devoted to that task. Many images in the photo-streams appear quite dark, muddy, and soft for my eye and preferences, yet purport to represent the Leica-look. My thought - had I paid all that money and that was the best result I could get, I would want a refund. But, that is just me.

Rather than strive for perfection, as Ron suggests I think each would be better served to strive to perfect an individual style, or better yet explore differing styles. Indeed technical perfection may diminish what would be a wonderful, albeit imperfect, capture. It would be such a dull place if we were all perfect

And, I'll suggest that in addition to technology, mass media bombards us with notions the only perfection is acceptable - ostensibly for social acceptance, good health etc. The underlying reason - sell, sell, sell (Are imaging and technology companies any different?) I'll step down from the soap-box.

Bob




Jul 15, 2013 at 08:03 PM
eeneryma
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p.1 #4 · p.1 #4 · Discussion on the perfection of today's photography


The most important aspect of photos is the story or message, not that every pixel is perfect. Perfection in art can be boring


Jul 15, 2013 at 08:22 PM
Bob Jarman
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p.1 #5 · p.1 #5 · Discussion on the perfection of today's photography


I checked the thread referenced - soft for my taste but not unacceptably so. Certainly a style suited to the subject matter. And, a Leica M9 I see


Jul 15, 2013 at 08:31 PM
RustyBug
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p.1 #6 · p.1 #6 · Discussion on the perfection of today's photography


My perspective regarding perfect photography is that which perfectly conveys the message to your viewer that you intended to communicate.

Photography is a (typically one-way) visual communication medium. Communication is you sending a message to me. If I get the exact message that you aspired for me to receive, then we have had a perfect (one way) communication.

Of course, in the real world of all forms of communication, verbal/non-verbal there are detractors and enhancers in play of all kinds. To the degree that the enhancers and detractors influence the ability of the viewer to receive the message intended to be conveyed by the creator of the image or other message, is the degree to which we need to be concerned with perfection/imperfection.

In short, a technically perfect image that does not convey it's message is far from a perfect image. Likewise an image that is so full of technical imperfections that the message is overshadowed is also an imperfect image.

The nature of the message can be anything that ranges from historical documentation to scientific data, to a snapshot in time for remembrance, to mood evocation, to marketing appeal, to creative liberty ... ad infinitum.

Despite the technological advances of both camera & lens, there is no such thing as perfect camera, nor perfect lens. They all have a series of compromises inherent to them. For lenses, this is often referred to as their "drawing style" which can range from clinically scientific to uber-ethereal and all points in between. Spend a little time in the Alt Forum and you can find out the plethora of issues involved with such "drawing styles" ... which, imo seem to come & go as to what is "en vogue" at varying times.

Which tools we choose to use in creating/crafting our message is largely a matter of subjectivity. In today's realm, the finishing of images is even more a part of that total/holistic creation than ever before (at least more people are utilizing PP than ever before). But the creation of photographic imagery has always been a product of vision, capture, developing and finishing, so this isn't anything new ... just more openly available to the masses than historically.

For me, it's always about "What's the point?" or "What is the message that you want to convey to your viewer?" To the degree that you first, know what that is, and second are able to deliver/achieve it such that your viewer receives the message you are intending to send ... that is the degree of "perfection" that is achieved in an image (or any communication).

As far as enhancers & detractors ... they are typically responsible for the intensity and/or magnitude/power of how the message might resonate within the viewer. So, it stands to reason that more enhancers and fewer detractors would be a more perfect image. But, it is still possible to have a message so strong that the presence of detractors still doesn't impede the ability of the viewer to get the point/message.

Slice it & dice it a thousand different ways, but if your viewer doesn't get the message you intended for them ... how could it ever be considered "perfect"?





Edited on Jul 16, 2013 at 09:15 AM · View previous versions



Jul 15, 2013 at 09:24 PM
RustyBug
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p.1 #7 · p.1 #7 · Discussion on the perfection of today's photography


Okay, now that I gave my philosophical soapbox of visual communication, I took a look at the pics in the link.

Since we typically are drawn to areas of contrast, of which sharpness is one such type of contrast, these are pretty soft, imo. Having areas like shoulder, jacket or flowers that are in focus/sharper than face/eyes means that the softness becomes a detractor from her (assuming she is the intended message).

I don't mind the overall softness in general, but having eyes so soft (in some of them) that you can't distinguish iris/pupil or eyelash/eyelid is kind of a tough sell for me. It's almost like wearing a mask so you can't see the person. But, the engaging smile sends a message about the person that comes through even with the softness in play.

What's the point of a portrait, what's the message ... did that message come through loud & clear, or was it clouded somewhat by the technicals? That gets left to the opinion of the viewer as to whether the "imperfect" aspects were too much of a detractor or the smile overpowered them and conveyed the message anyway. Other things like nervous bokeh, bright tonal values in the background, and tones cutting through her head don't do her any favors either, imo. But, in spite of all that, we still see a seemingly upbeat, attractive person ... and if that may be the message intended to be sent and received ... does that make it a "perfect" image, or an "imperfect" one, or a "significantly weakened" message?

NOTE: We might want to take a grain of salt along with the fact that I think these were "test shots" to get a feel for working with a new lens.

Edited on Jul 16, 2013 at 12:32 AM · View previous versions



Jul 15, 2013 at 09:37 PM
RustyBug
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p.1 #8 · p.1 #8 · Discussion on the perfection of today's photography


sbeme wrote:
What if we each posted an image or two with significant technical flaws, but which we still find effective at some personal, emotional, and/or creative level?


I'll play ...








Jul 15, 2013 at 10:42 PM
Camperjim
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p.1 #9 · p.1 #9 · Discussion on the perfection of today's photography


I agree with the initial premise that we spend a great deal of time and energy concerned about photography technique and often very little about the reason for the image and what it should convey. Great people shots are all about the story and the gestures and the context and the mood. Sharp focus and perfect exposure should be of lesser importance.

At least those were my thoughts. Then I looked at the images. Yup, soft and out of focus. But way worse, these images have no soul. At best they fall in the category of say cheese for the camera. Maybe just a bit better than deer in the headlight poses....just a bit. So if there is no soul and no gesture and no story, then all that is left to discuss is the poor technique.



Jul 15, 2013 at 11:43 PM
Bob Jarman
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p.1 #10 · p.1 #10 · Discussion on the perfection of today's photography


So is this art?




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Jul 16, 2013 at 12:29 AM
 

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RustyBug
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p.1 #11 · p.1 #11 · Discussion on the perfection of today's photography


friscoron wrote:
I'm eager to see what others think of the concept of perfect photography with today's dSLRs.


I've got a question regarding this ...

In what way does "today's dSLR's" have anything to do with respect to "perfect photography"?


On the technical side, to me, the digital medium certainly is far from infallible (noise/AA-blur/DR/moire to start with). And if anything .. the advent of AWB or "click to set WB" has given rise to even greater opportunity for error for the average user regarding color correction.

Add in the color shifts associated with angles of incidence @ sensors with UWA lenses. Also, the proliferation of color renderings that differ from each manufacturer, with none of them able to produce a camera that perfectly replicates color throughout the spectrum (neither did film) ... imo, it is a far cry from anything that the word "perfect" should be remotely associated with.

I'd suggest that the digital medium affords us a much greater access to the range and efficiency in latitude to process our images to our own goals for an image via the raw/linear approach, but so does a paint brush and canvas. Just from the tremendous variability that we see in rework potential ad infinitum, the concept of "perfect photography" is something that escapes me as only a myth.

When you stop and think about how much pain, angst & effort has been put into being able to emulate the look of film in its variant profiles in the digital medium ... or render a less digital look ... again, how does one even begin to construe today's dSLR's with "perfect photography".

Let's then consider that images must be sharpened as part of their processing. As noted recently in the Serengeti Dawn thread and numerous other threads, books and videos, global sharpening alone is insufficient to optimize all areas of an image. The need for a sharpening process that includes, input sharpening, selective sharpening and output sharpening is a far cry from what I would call "perfect photography". Meanwhile, camera and software sharpening algorithms continue to be refined in an attempt to achieve the elusive (i.e. still not perfected).

If WB/color correction wasn't a problem enough for people, achieving optimal sharpening without halo's and crunchies is the 1-2 punch of problems that are inherent to dslr image making. Again, not something that I would construe as "perfect photography" in the advent of "today's dSLR's still striving to overcome its inherent challenges, such as sharpening, color, moire, bloom and smearing.

Imo, the concept of "perfect photography" is only a myth and digital doesn't yield it any more/less than did film (albeit easier access to latitude in processing the capture and the use of the "undo" button, etc.). Rather, I would suggest that masterful image making is rooted more in the photographer's vision for an image and the message it will convey based on an understanding of light, form, shape, texture, tone, hue, perspective, mood, message, subject, lines, transitions, scale, mass and other elements in conjunction with his command & control of his tools of choice via exposure, aperture, focal length, lighting and perspective, vastly more than "today's dSLR's" have anything to do with approaching the holy grail of "perfect photography".



Jul 16, 2013 at 08:03 AM
Bob Jarman
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p.1 #12 · p.1 #12 · Discussion on the perfection of today's photography


RustyBug wrote:
I'll play ...



Tells a story - yes. Perfect Technique - no. Art - no, not in my opinion. Would perfect technique make it art - no.

I see the image as a documentary. I will agree it is art in the broadest sense - it has form and content - but not what I see as real "art", if that makes any sense.

Bob



Jul 16, 2013 at 12:08 PM
RustyBug
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p.1 #13 · p.1 #13 · Discussion on the perfection of today's photography


+1 @ documentary ... that is really about the most it was ever intended to convey.

Even though it was a moment in time that was full of anxiety in the realm of my "first bear sighting" (effective at some personal level), the message for others is largely confined to the documentation of the little guy (it IS a documentary image) sitting behind a log ... who has his own set of teeth. How much greater are momma bear's teeth?

I guess the point isn't whether or not it is "art", but whether or not the image (documentary as it is) conveys its documentary message in spite of the blown highlights, general overexposure, nervous bokeh and CA. Does the message still come through that this is a bear cub in the woods despite its overt technical flaws?



Here's one that has a little different kind of message, but it's own imperfection issues (see crop for more imperfection). Obviously imperfect, but does the message come through anyway? Which prompts the question @ "What is the message?"











Edited on Jul 16, 2013 at 03:03 PM · View previous versions



Jul 16, 2013 at 02:19 PM
friscoron
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p.1 #14 · p.1 #14 · Discussion on the perfection of today's photography


RustyBug wrote:
I've got a question regarding this ...

In what way does "today's dSLR's" have anything to do with respect to "perfect photography"?



Today's affordable dSLR's makes it so much easier for people to take pictures that can be more technically perfect than yesterday's SLR cameras with film. I remember as a kid in the 1970s taking pictures with negatives about the size of my fingernail. Kids are running around these days with cameras that can take a picture of my fingernail and blow it up on a billboard. Hobbyists are taking pictures worthy of print in National Geographic.

The massively increased technical abilities of today's cameras opens the door to that Pandora's Box called perfection. And the focus has shifted from the artistic merit of a shot, the story it tells, the message that comes from it, to the technical aspects.

In the years to come, I believe there's going to be a greater shift to creating composites, sort of in the line of the technology of that smart phone commercial where the woman takes video of a photobomber at a graduation, selects him, deletes him, and someone behind her calls her cool. But that's a whole 'nother discussion.

Bottom line, the whole point of my offering this discussion, is that the artistic merit of a photograph has been pushed aside to some degree by the technical aspects. After all, hand a newbie one of today's dSLRs, have him put the camera in Auto mode, and it's very possible he can shoot some pretty good shots. With today's dSLR, a very good hobbyist can make some fabulous pictures, whether wildlife, landscapes, or people portraits. Achieving a high rating in the technical aspects of a photograph has become easier. But creating a story... delivering a message... making art... is what's missing when the focus is purely on the technical aspects of a shot.



Jul 16, 2013 at 03:02 PM
Bob Jarman
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p.1 #15 · p.1 #15 · Discussion on the perfection of today's photography


friscoron wrote:
Today's affordable dSLR's makes it so much easier for people to take pictures that can be more technically perfect than yesterday's SLR cameras with film. I remember as a kid in the 1970s taking pictures with negatives about the size of my fingernail. Kids are running around these days with cameras that can take a picture of my fingernail and blow it up on a billboard. Hobbyists are taking pictures worthy of print in National Geographic.

The massively increased technical abilities of today's cameras opens the door to that Pandora's Box called perfection. And the focus has shifted from the artistic
...Show more

Well said, and I suggest "pushed aside" might be too mild - fill in your own verb here: subjugated, sacrificed, etc.

Bob



Jul 16, 2013 at 03:10 PM
RustyBug
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p.1 #16 · p.1 #16 · Discussion on the perfection of today's photography


friscoron wrote:
Today's affordable dSLR's makes it so much easier for people to take pictures that can be more technically perfect than yesterday's SLR cameras with film.


While I understand your point @ message/art/vision vs. technical, I don't see today's dSLR being any easier than film regarding the final product. Much quicker image delivery, chimping galore and more readily available processing options (i.e. digital darkroom). However, the "A" and "P" buttons have been around for decades.

If you're suggesting that the increased expediency of image making via today's dSLR's has created a more mindless / less mindful approach to the myriad of aspects that encompass great photography ... I doubt you'll find little debate here.

I just don't see today's dSLR's having any greater capacity to create perfect photography than my old FE and a roll of Fujichrome or VPS 160 or Tri-X. Although, I do get to change things "mid-roll" a whole lot easier now. That, and I get to be my own lab.


Edited on Jul 16, 2013 at 03:21 PM · View previous versions



Jul 16, 2013 at 03:13 PM
Bob Jarman
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p.1 #17 · p.1 #17 · Discussion on the perfection of today's photography


RustyBug wrote:
While I understand your point @ message/art/vision vs. technical, I don't see today's dSLR being any easier than film regarding the final product. Much quicker image delivery, chimping galore and more readily available processing options (i.e. digital darkroom). However, the "A" and "P" buttons have been around for decades.



Oh I must disagree - I've ruined many an image just through the development process alone...add in printing and there are plenty of opportunities for things to come unglued. DSLRs are far more forgiving.




Jul 16, 2013 at 03:16 PM
RustyBug
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p.1 #18 · p.1 #18 · Discussion on the perfection of today's photography


+1 @ the "undo" button is very forgiving, and the digital darkroom has an advantage in practical expedient terms.

But, imo that doesn't make digital any more perfect than film. It might mean that I get a better chance at being my own lab for processing the capture because I can more readily apply trial & error or experimentation or infinite processing options. But, consider the untold number of hours we invest into evolving our processing efforts in digital. I just don't see that as cause for assessing digital as perfect photography.

Imo, the issue of "presence" alone might suggest that today's dSLR is no more capable of producing a perfect image than film ... i.e. it still is dependent upon the photographer/lab (capture & processing) no matter what medium we choose to use.

Edited on Jul 16, 2013 at 03:36 PM · View previous versions



Jul 16, 2013 at 03:22 PM
Bob Jarman
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p.1 #19 · p.1 #19 · Discussion on the perfection of today's photography


RustyBug wrote:
+1 @ the "undo" button is very forgiving.

But, imo that doesn't make digital any more perfect than film. It might mean that I get a better chance at being my own lab for processing the capture because I can more readily apply trial & error or experimentation or infinite processing options. But, consider the untold number of hours we invest into evolving our processing efforts in digital ... I don't see that as cause for assessing digital as perfect.


I think the broader consideration is the digital workflow and ability to make both essentially cost free in-the-field and post-processing adjustments. Much more efficient and economical throughput than film and a wet darkroom. Thus one can argue the emphasis on craft in the film paradigm compared to the much increased capability for error recovery in the digital world. Granted, this is not absolute but at the lowest denominator, "spray-and-pray" does have its rewards.




Jul 16, 2013 at 03:36 PM
RustyBug
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p.1 #20 · p.1 #20 · Discussion on the perfection of today's photography


Bob Jarman wrote Much more efficient and economical throughput than film and a wet darkroom.


Undoubtedly ...

That might make it a highly preferred platform ... but I don't see it as being cause for suggesting that today's dSLR can somehow be associated with "perfect photography".

+1 @ craft vs. spray & pray
But, spray & pray vs. craft was present in film as well ... just cost a bit more to "spray & pray" with film and now "spray & pray" is more readily available to the masses. This is kind of a double edged sword, imo. By that, I mean that some people will use it to expedite/advance their learning the craft ... while others will use it as a strategy in lieu of learning the craft. If today's dSLR's were somehow responsible for "perfect photography", there would be nothing to learn and we would all be making perfect images all the time.

Depending on one's highly subjective opinion on the issue ... look at the plethora of today's digital wedding photos being generated via spray & pray. Digital photographers are now offering literally several hundred to one or two thousand images as part of their package ... certainly those must all be "perfect photographs" since they were shot on a dSLR.



Jul 16, 2013 at 03:39 PM
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