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  • Welcome to the new site. Here's a thread about the update where you can post your feedback, ask questions or spot those nasty bugs!

What makes for better photographic work? How do we raise the bar for ourselves.

Dawid Loubser

New member
Asher, you pose a difficult question here. If we view photography as an artistic craft, the journey to self-improvement is - for every photographer - a deeply personal and unique one, depending on what the photographer aims to achieve. Assuming he/she even knows what to aim to achieve!

I think what you are asking for is the following: Considering the successful journeys of self-improvement of several photographers, how can we abstract that to a recipe that applies to us all?

That is not trivial - nor perhaps even possible - to answer. We could probably only list principles, such as:

  • Practice a lot
  • Be critical of your own work
  • Experiment with different points of view
  • Think hard about what it is that you are trying to achieve, and work relentlessly at it
  • Avoid photo gear discussion forums that try to instill you with doubt about your current gear
etc. I don't know how to contribute a worthy answer to this question, but I will follow the discussion here with interest.
 

Asher Kelman

OPF Owner/Editor-in-Chief
Could it be simple as this:

Dare something - allow errors - learn from these errors and start over again.

Best regards,
Michael
and don't be to humble or arrogant to share your progress on the way! Feedback from people watching out for you on your path, might just see the path on which your travel from a useful angle and that can be worthwhile!

Asher
 

Michael Nagel

Active member
and don't be to humble or arrogant to share your progress on the way! Feedback from people watching out for you on your path, might just see the path on which your travel from a useful angle and that can be worthwhile!
Isn't this part of the learning process?

Best regards,
Michael
 
more

Isn't this part of the learning process?


When one reaches an end to "the learning process," standards have peaked and creativity becomes like stale bread. I like to look carefully at what I have done and think about how it coinsides with what I have done in the past and how that informs what I might do in the future.

Best (and happy New year),
Bill
 

Asher Kelman

OPF Owner/Editor-in-Chief
When one reaches an end to "the learning process," standards have peaked and creativity becomes like stale bread. I like to look carefully at what I have done and think about how it coinsides with what I have done in the past and how that informs what I might do in the future.

Best (and happy New year),
Bill

Appreciate the Greetings for the New Year!

I do hope your mojo stays fresh and ready to fire you up for new ideas and great pictures.

Asher
 

Andrew Molitor

New member
The main thing you need to do, to improve, is to figure out where you want to go.

Most photographers seem to be focused on taking sharper pictures, or managing color more accurately, or some other tedious technical details. If your ambition if to take extremely sharp pictures of color test charts, you're definitely on the right track here. Get yourself a D800, and use a color managed process start to finish. It will be fun, and you'll get some lovely pictures of test charts that look just like the chart except for metamerism and the like. Assuming you've calibrated for the paper's white, which you did, right?

It's not my thing, as you've probably guessed by now. Sharpening your tools endlessly doesn't get any wood cut, in the long run. If you like cameras, great. More power to you, I hope you enjoy it a lot! Me, I hate cameras. I like pictures, though.

Figure out what you like:

- look at pictures, lots of them, from different sources. Think about them.
- take some pictures. Look at them. Really look at the picture not at how sharp it is, or what the color balance looks like. Look. At. The. Picture. Squint it blurry. Stand back. Put a print on your wall and gape at it every day.

Now go back to the first step. In fact, do both of these things every day. Obsess about it, alternating with spacing out and thinking about dessert and pretty people.

If you're lucky, it will occur to you that you'd really like to make that picture whatever that is.

Now you've got a direction. Go that way.

It won't work out, most likely. But if you keep being lucky, a new approach, something related, will open up.

Go that way.

Occasionally, check in with someone else and see what they think about what you've done. They might like it, they might not. That is irrelevant. Other people are fools. What they see in your pictures is still good information, and might help you out. So show some stuff to some people now and then.
 

Asher Kelman

OPF Owner/Editor-in-Chief
The main thing you need to do, to improve, is to figure out where you want to go.

Most photographers seem to be focused on taking sharper pictures, or managing color more accurately, or some other tedious technical details. If your ambition if to take extremely sharp pictures of color test charts, you're definitely on the right track here. Get yourself a D800, and use a color managed process start to finish. It will be fun, and you'll get some lovely pictures of test charts that look just like the chart except for metamerism and the like. Assuming you've calibrated for the paper's white, which you did, right?

It's not my thing, as you've probably guessed by now. Sharpening your tools endlessly doesn't get any wood cut, in the long run. If you like cameras, great. More power to you, I hope you enjoy it a lot! Me, I hate cameras. I like pictures, though.

Figure out what you like:

- look at pictures, lots of them, from different sources. Think about them.
- take some pictures. Look at them. Really look at the picture not at how sharp it is, or what the color balance looks like. Look. At. The. Picture. Squint it blurry. Stand back. Put a print on your wall and gape at it every day.

Now go back to the first step. In fact, do both of these things every day. Obsess about it, alternating with spacing out and thinking about dessert and pretty people.

If you're lucky, it will occur to you that you'd really like to make that picture whatever that is.

Now you've got a direction. Go that way.

It won't work out, most likely. But if you keep being lucky, a new approach, something related, will open up.

Go that way.

Occasionally, check in with someone else and see what they think about what you've done. They might like it, they might not. That is irrelevant. Other people are fools. What they see in your pictures is still good information, and might help you out. So show some stuff to some people now and then.

I like this sense of disorder you describe, and then, out of that, finding some goal to direct oneself towards.

Within each of us, there are native tendencies to like certain things, fine-tuned by our life experiences. We should photograph whatever we want and then save just a few. The difficulty most of us have is selecting what to throw out. Now i realize one should instead select what might be worth keeping. That way, one can develop an understanding of one's inner sensibilities, be lead by that and not by whatever everyone else thinks is important.

Asher
 

Michael Nagel

Active member
When one reaches an end to "the learning process," standards have peaked and creativity becomes like stale bread. I like to look carefully at what I have done and think about how it coinsides with what I have done in the past and how that informs what I might do in the future.

Best (and happy New year),
Bill
Bill,

There is no end to the learning process - there is gradual improvement and substantial improvement/change like taking a higher step upwards.

Throughout this process you might change you preferences in subject, composition, technique, equipment used, but it all sums up to improvement while not taking the straight road (which can be boring anyway).

When you look at music, the career of Miles Davis could serve as example. He went through different styles of Jazz, even creating them. The change of style is no end of the learning process, it is a widening of the field of work and I think you perceive it as stagnation which is true for that particular field of work but not for the learning process in total.

Best regards and a late-ish Happy New year to you too!

Michael
 

Antonio Correia

Well-known member
Let me drop some lines on this subject after reading the great majority of your long replies. :)

I have been doing photography with more commitment, stubbornness, dedication and so on in the last 10 years or so.
In the beginning I was very concerned about technical issues having participated in forums over and over and where I learned some things :) :)

At a certain point I realized that I would go nowhere following that way. I became ambitious and I decided to move to another direction, something more exquisite and artistic so to say.

I looked for Fine Art publications to see the trend of modern photography, what was going on in galleries, looking at the work of masters.
Some masters I just didn't (still don't) like but others attracted me and I kind of follow them.
I just follow my personal taste, my guts. I had (still don't) nothing to lose so I try to recreate the work of the masters.
One can say: Recreate ? You mean copy !
And I would say: Not exactly but almost. The fact is that trying to copy (let me assume the meaning of the word) makes you work and see things you were not used to see before and direct you to other ways/areas/trends of your own. You discover new tools, new visions.

Perhaps this is why I arrived where I am today. My practice is to see what I consider to be "great works", observe and try to follow their trends. No imitating "à la lettre" but seeing behind what the photographer means and expresses. Expressing beauty the way I feel it.

Perhaps it is why I arrived to the black and white photography instead of the colored one, perhaps it is why I prefer one photographer instead of another, perhaps because I am rather old, perhaps ...

I am not of those guys who is satisfied with what I do. I am never satisfied with what I do. What I do know is that I know nothing (Socrates) that there are probably many other ways to do the same thing and perhaps with different and better results. One has to try to innovate and create.

I control all my work from capture to printing. Without modesty I am making some fantastic B&W images and to see them gives me so much pleasure.... :)

Excuse me if I am making an hymn to myself and if I have not written about the way I improve my photography.

Thank you for reading these lines and your attention. :)

And, since this is a forum about Photography let me post this image which I do like very much.
 

Jerome Marot

Well-known member
Most photographers seem to be focused on taking sharper pictures, or managing color more accurately, or some other tedious technical details. If your ambition if to take extremely sharp pictures of color test charts, you're definitely on the right track here. Get yourself a D800, and use a color managed process start to finish. It will be fun, and you'll get some lovely pictures of test charts that look just like the chart except for metamerism and the like. Assuming you've calibrated for the paper's white, which you did, right?
More photographs by number are posted on Facebook than anywhere else and they are not posted because they are sharper or better colour managed, so I don't think that your idea that "most photographers seem to be focused on taking sharper pictures" is quite correct. But what is happening with the photographers that obsess about sharpness is interesting to study nevertheless.

Why do we have so many "photographers" who obsess about sharpness? What is the point? I was reading dpreview a few days ago and it was a depressing experience. Everything is judged by the same metrics.

And then it dawned on me what is the reason behind all this agitation. People on dpreview are just competing with one another. And competition implies that all competitors must deliver comparable goods. Just as one cannot compare apples and oranges, just as much as the marathon runner will not compete with the weight lifter, the photographer who wants to compete on dpreview has to abide by a set of untold rules: sharpness, color, dynamic range.

Fair enough, we had that in the 70s in the photoclubs. Except that in your local photoclub, you were only competing with 10 or 20 others and the local president always won the competitions anyway. Now, in the time of the Internet, the competition has increased to the size of the planet. And we still have the same categories: "rare birds" (extra points per mm of focal length), "attractive women" (extra points per mm of clothing removed), etc…

Come to think of it, everyone is competing with pictures. The Facebook users are competing as well, but their criteria is more like: "look how many foreign places I visited", "look what food I got", "look what good deal I got". It is the same competition, just a different category.

At the begining of this thread I noted that "Raising the standards" implies that there is a standard by which works can be judged and compared to one another. This is the same story again. Competition stifles innovation. Why? Because competition implies that you can be compared to what has already been done! If one comes with something radically different, it is not possible to compare and knows who wins and there will be outrage and mockery (a story which happened with each new school or arts).

Therefore, we should do just the same kind of pictures as the others, but with more expensive gear. A futile exercise.
 

Asher Kelman

OPF Owner/Editor-in-Chief
The start of any great art is having something to say :)
Well said, Jesse, but what allows for that? Assume a person open to new experience. That's a condition.

Now, I'll offer my own belief in how art might be formed.

It's conceived a "gymnasium in the mind" for all one hears, sees, feels and conjures up. A notion comes alive and impresses us as demanding "physical form". To get that started, one has to be in a mood to muse. Then one has to boldy bargain form and composition with this phantom work.

So, being "in muse", allows for art. Then, one might have "something" to say.

Asher
 

Andrew Molitor

New member
I should qualify my remark, to be sure. Most, or at any rate far too many, people who think of themselves as photographers are focused on tedious technical details.

The vast majority of pictures are taken by people who do not think of themselves as photographers. They're just snappin' away. "Photographers" are, to a large degree, a tiny insular community unto themselves, with their own set of standards, their own ideas, their own goals, which have basically nothing to do with what the populace is up to with their camera phones.

But the people with camera phones are not interested in making Photographic Art, or in Improving Their Art or any of that sort of thing, either. So, my remarks are aimed at those who DO want to improve their work, but suffer from the idea that the way to do it is with better color management, or a better camera, or whatever.

If you want to improve your work, get better ideas.
 

Asher Kelman

OPF Owner/Editor-in-Chief
I should qualify my remark, to be sure. Most, or at any rate far too many, people who think of themselves as photographers are focused on tedious technical details.
But let's not dismiss the need for technical competence, or at least the simplest system that one masters.

The vast majority of pictures are taken by people who do not think of themselves as photographers. They're just snappin' away. "Photographers" are, to a large degree, a tiny insular community unto themselves, with their own set of standards, their own ideas, their own goals, which have basically nothing to do with what the populace is up to with their camera phones.

But the people with camera phones are not interested in making Photographic Art, or in Improving Their Art or any of that sort of thing, either. So, my remarks are aimed at those who DO want to improve their work, but suffer from the idea that the way to do it is with better color management, or a better camera, or whatever.
again, mostly true.

If you want to improve your work, get better ideas.
Andrew,

But from there, what's the process?

Asher
 

Jerome Marot

Well-known member
Asher, Andrew already gave a pretty good description of the process in message #68 above. And he is probably right.
 

Andrew Molitor

New member
For me, better ideas come from inspiration, refined by work!

Inspiration comes from looking at pictures, looking at art, reading about pictures and art, obsessing over it and thinking very hard, and then -- this is important -- spacing out. Take a shower, take a nap, let it go for a period of time. Repeat the cycle, pretty much endlessly. See post #68.

When an idea pops up, as it probably will eventually, go work at it, refine that idea and tinker with it. Try variations on the theme. Expand the idea from a single picture into a portfolio, if indeed it was a single picture to start with. Expand the portfolio into a larger portfolio, or into two. Ideas will tend to fission and evolve, once you've got them pinned down a bit. The idea can be a simple visual trick, or concept for capturing an emotion, or a still life that you just imagined that appeals to you, or a way to light a model, or a way to tell the model to stand, or, or, or.

Don't get too obsessed with originality in the ideas, you can just steal something you like. The main obstacle here is that most people don't know what they like. But just don't stop there, work the idea and let it evolve and split itself into other ideas and themes. Now it's your idea!

If you keep at it, you'll end up with a folder with dozens of truly excellent pictures which really embody the idea(s) at various stages. Now edit with great violence, throw away almost all of your "keepers" as well, distill it to a very small collection of the very very best embodiments of whatever you've been thinking and working on the last year.

I think great work is a mixture of that eureka moment of inspiration, and emergent stuff that appears by the process of laboring over the inspiration. How much is which is going to vary, but both are there, I think.
 

Asher Kelman

OPF Owner/Editor-in-Chief
Asher, Andrew already gave a pretty good description of the process in message #68 above. And he is probably right.
Yes, Jerome, you're right in referring back to his good advice on finding "the ideas" that should drive us, not the focus, lenses color balance and the drive for some perfection. Yes, the process of getting the idea for each of us, is valid.

Still we're now left with an idea just right for us. But then, what's the process forward? It's at this stage, I'd offer, that the qualities of two capabilities become essential. Unless one has natural perfect genius, with capability of forming and executing ideas flawlessly, "perseverance" and "ability to reconsider" are needed to deliver excellent work.

Perseverance allows one to make enough mistakes on the road to being successful. Reconsideration, for me at least, lets me discover the hidden strengths, weaknesses and needs of the work in progress. I mark up my work mentally, (or on a photocopy), and plan changes. I then reform my original ideas based on what appears before me in the image. It's in practice, a kind of "dialog" with the work being formed.

Asher
 

Jesse Brown

New member
Do aspects of the "visual world" call to you psychologically? I'd highly recommend photographing those. If they call to you psychologically, (as opposed to only intellectually), there is a good chance they call to others in this way as well. Psychological/emotional appeal is far more powerful than only intellectual appeal. I'd rather have someone stare endlessly at an image and not know why they can't walk away from it, than someone say "aha! that is a clever concept" and walk on.
 

Jerome Marot

Well-known member
Reconsideration, for me at least, lets me discover the hidden strengths, weaknesses and needs of the work in progress. I mark up my work mentally, (or on a photocopy), and plan changes. I then reform my original ideas based on what appears before me in the image. It's in practice, a kind of "dialog" with the work being formed.
Yes, that is a good process. But it is only possible in a controlled environment, like for studio work. If one is doing, for example, street photography, one can still learn from one's mistakes but the same setting will not happen again for one to redo the shoot.
 

Jesse Brown

New member
Well said, Jesse, but what allows for that? Assume a person open to new experience. That's a condition.

Now, I'll offer my own belief in how art might be formed.

It's conceived a "gymnasium in the mind" for all one hears, sees, feels and conjures up. A notion comes alive and impresses us as demanding "physical form". To get that started, one has to be in a mood to muse. Then one has to boldy bargain form and composition with this phantom work.

So, being "in muse", allows for art. Then, one might have "something" to say.

Asher
Asher,
Do you mean that one must be in a certain state of mind?
I believe so. To get yourself into that state of mind may require changing your environment and your behavior.
 

Paul Abbott

New member
Asher, you pose a difficult question here. If we view photography as an artistic craft, the journey to self-improvement is - for every photographer - a deeply personal and unique one, depending on what the photographer aims to achieve. Assuming he/she even knows what to aim to achieve!

I think what you are asking for is the following: Considering the successful journeys of self-improvement of several photographers, how can we abstract that to a recipe that applies to us all?

That is not trivial - nor perhaps even possible - to answer. We could probably only list principles, such as:

  • Practice a lot
  • Be critical of your own work
  • Experiment with different points of view
  • Think hard about what it is that you are trying to achieve, and work relentlessly at it
  • Avoid photo gear discussion forums that try to instill you with doubt about your current gear
etc. I don't know how to contribute a worthy answer to this question, but I will follow the discussion here with interest.



I agree with you wholeheartedly, Dawid. This is the solution in a nutshell...

I would add one other point, go to photographic galleries, look at books of photographs, look at images made by master photographers and never give up looking. Later (it takes years of looking), you will garner a subconscious knowledge of what works and what doesn't by sheer osmosis. In regarding all what has gone before, it is one of the most valid things you can do. This combined with an 'eye' for things will prove invaluable.
Far better than the reliance on forums where there are far too many chefs and not enough head cooks...
 

Antonio Correia

Well-known member
Can I add perseverance ? Or is in already subjacent in the principles ?

I agree with Paul regarding the years of looking to teach and refine your "eye".

:)
 

Asher Kelman

OPF Owner/Editor-in-Chief
Of all the ideas mentioned, Dawid's, "practicing one's point of view", might deserve first place.

When I took my 3 sons, as boys, on photography trips, we used "cameras" made of ours opposed fingers and thumbs in a square and practiced moving around "subjects" to compose that personal point of view. That, I told them was "Photography", that hunt.

The rest was a way to record it all and get it on paper.

Asher
 
Wish I'd been here when these threads weren't so old ...

Raising standards. What is to set a standard? To me it immediately makes me think "subjective". On what grounds are a standard set and on what grounds does a piece of work either fall short or surpass? All subjective.

I raise the standard on my own work by analysing what went well during a shoot, whether my results matched the vision I set out to achieve. How would I do it differently to avoid the same mistakes happening again?

Also, by examining the work of other photographers I admire and comparing my work to theirs. But I think this is dangerous ground and I never want to be a clone.
 

Asher Kelman

OPF Owner/Editor-in-Chief
Wish I'd been here when these threads weren't so old ...

Raising standards. What is to set a standard? To me it immediately makes me think "subjective". On what grounds are a standard set and on what grounds does a piece of work either fall short or surpass? All subjective.

I raise the standard on my own work by analysing what went well during a shoot, whether my results matched the vision I set out to achieve. How would I do it differently to avoid the same mistakes happening again?

Also, by examining the work of other photographers I admire and comparing my work to theirs. But I think this is dangerous ground and I never want to be a clone.

Jenny,

Our overriding process here is to share experience and so help each other travel on our disparate journeys in photography. Each has a different set of goals to reach and so our paths might intersect, but likely as not are unique to each of us. So the measures of what is relevant to our progress is subject to the ever-changing visions of the traveler here. Still, we pick things up and are offered gifts along the way or beset by robbers. In this experience we get to learn more of what we really are trying to reach and deliver and so get to be more selective as to what we pick up, ignore or discard on the way.

So "standards" are in many ways individual, but in so far as our photography might have a practical purpose, (in commerce or the "art-world"), then these external influences will also set standards that we'd have to meet or exceed.

So knowing "where one wants to go", in fact, is the first step to setting standards by which we judge our work.

Asher
 
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