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Author Topic: Constructive criticism  (Read 9072 times)
IanS
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« on: December 10, 2004, 10:46:37 AM »
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Howard,

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One question though. Why did you place the subject where you did within the frame?

I guess I've been concentrating on getting used to the equipment mostly. The subjects are where they are in the frame mostly by default rather than design. I know this is not ideal, but would certainly appreciate say using one photo as an example and hearing how you feel composition could be improved. Or, perhaps you simply feel that whilst it's a nice photo a completely different approach is required.
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howard smith
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« Reply #1 on: December 10, 2004, 12:29:33 PM »
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The treads I had in mind are below in "Is It Art?"

My advice would be to learn as much as you can about art before you you attempt to go your own way and break all the rules.  Breaking the rules may work for soem, but generally they know and understand what and why they do what they do.  There aren't all taht amny ignorant artists, in my opinion.
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IanS
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« Reply #2 on: December 10, 2004, 05:01:20 PM »
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Thank-you all so far...

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Whilst critiquing is good in order to get basic techniques (either picture taking, or post processing), it won't help you develop your own individual style of photography. For that you will need to (a) study examples of photographers you like, or who are acknowledged to be good in their field, ( go out and try to copy their style until you develop your own individual form of expression.

That was one of the things I was hoping for some feedback on. I've only had a DSLR since mid septmber, so technique wise I reckon I've still much to learn.

As for style, I agree with you, looking at other peoples pictures and seeing what you like about them to help develop your own style is the way of the world. However, it would be nice if more of these exchanges had other people's pictures to help illustrate their ideas. After all, if the only way to get ideas is to buy books then (whilst that's not a bad thing) what do forums on the internet add to the process? Ideas are great, and there are a lot of good words spoken here, I'd like to see more pictures though. For those of us learning the ropes pictures can still be the best way to illustrate a point.

Again I have to agree that the hardest part is capturing the animals natural behaviour. It's also becoming the most rewarding. I've already spent plenty of time just watching and waiting and it's amazing what you pick up. Most of it doesn't yield a photo, but you still go home feeling like you've made progress as you piece together what animals do what and when. Certainly helps put a different perspective on what goes on around you!

Thanks again!
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howard smith
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« Reply #3 on: December 11, 2004, 11:46:49 AM »
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Ian, the rules of composition are merely a mathimatical statement of what has been found over a long period of time and cultures to be what is intuitively pleasing.  Many pleasing images are based on intuition and can be explained by rules.  Many dud images likewise are compositionally correct.  And of course, there are examples of images that do not comply but are excellant, most often because the selected composition evokes a desired response.  These compositions are often stricking because of the unexpected.
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howard smith
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« Reply #4 on: December 11, 2004, 01:54:58 PM »
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didger, your ignorance is showing again, and now your stupity is starting to hang out.  Someone said once that it is better to remain silent and thought a fool, than to open your mouth and prove it.

"As for the notion that certain 'rules' can be derived from analysis (mathematical or whatever) of works or forms that most people agree are 'beautiful', well, maybe, ... ."

Not maybe, didger, but definitely.  If you want to play a semantics game, maybe correlation would fit better than law.
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Jonathan Wienke
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« Reply #5 on: December 11, 2004, 10:21:48 PM »
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Howard, you're completely missing the valid point that compositional "rules" are at best a rough average of what people think about photographs. And for each successful image that follows "the rules" there are other successful images that do not. I'm familiar with the "rule of thirds" and the "golden mean" but don't find them particularly useful when I'm shooting. I have never made a photograph because the width of something was 1.618x the height of something else or evenly divisible by the cube root of apple pi. There's also the concept of originality; the first time somebody photographed Old Faithful it was cool and artistic, but now ther isn't any angle or compositional paradigm that can be applied to the subject that hasn't already been done millions of times. I have some reasonably well-executed shots of Old Faithful, but haven't done much with them because there are certainly millions of other extant photographs of Old Faithful and the odds of my having come up with anything fresh and interesting (not already done millions of times) is about nil.

The artistic side of photography is not about formulae and hoary compositional paradigms, it's about capturing a "decisive moment" or the essence of something that can be expressed in a static image of finite size. Formulae are for people who have no imagination.
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DiaAzul
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« Reply #6 on: December 11, 2004, 11:52:51 PM »
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I have some reasonably well-executed shots of Old Faithful, but haven't done much with them because there are certainly millions of other extant photographs of Old Faithful and the odds of my having come up with anything fresh and interesting (not already done millions of times) is about nil.
I will challenge you on this one as it gets to the real core root of creativity in photography and in some way sorts the men from the boys.

IF you stick to the same tried and tested formulae and approach the subject in the same manner that it has been approached in the past, then there is little room to come up with a new and radical interpretation of the image. However, at some point in time someone will have a revelation - either by accident or confluence of past experience - and do something, which may seem ordinary to them, but to everyone else results in a new interpretation of the same subject.

I actually live within 5-10mins walk of the Eiffel Tower, an object which has been photographed and posted on the internet perhaps more than any other object in the world. If I see another picture looking up from the bottom of the west end pier (coming from the RER station), I think I am going to be sick  Cheesy . However, the point of this is that I believed that I had seen every possible interpretation of the Eiffel tower in a photograph (day, night, fireworks, from below, from the top, details of the structure, models jumping in front or adopting any other of a million different poses...) - not more than two weeks ago someone posted what I consider to be an original perspective of this subject, and from a viewpoint I had not even seen or considered.

So, irrespective of the millions of people taking pictures of something there is always the possibility to find a new interpretation. Its just a case of seeing beyond the existing paradigms, and as serious (and in some cases professional) photographers this is what we are expected to do.
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howard smith
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« Reply #7 on: December 12, 2004, 01:11:12 AM »
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Let me see if I understand.  didger, are you saying you are in the same league as Edward Weston?

For what it's worth, Galileo and Keppler were much more radical thinkers than Einstein and certainly Newton.  I am not claiming kinship with those folks because I am creative.  Far from it.  I merely use formulae, and believe they can be most useful in describing what I see.

Make no mistake about it, didger.  I make no boasts of being on the cutting edge of creativity or being the next coming of Edward Weston.
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Jonathan Wienke
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« Reply #8 on: December 12, 2004, 06:33:24 AM »
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"Formulae are for people who have no imagination." I guess that includes folks like Newton, Einstein, Galaleo, Keppler, a number of others and me. Somehow, I feel in pretty elite company.
You're taking that quote totally out of context. I was specifically referring to the artistic side of photography. The technical side of photography has many applicable formulae. Calculating the depth of field you'll get with a given circle of confusion, focal length, aperture, and distance is a straightforward mathematical exercise. Calculating the depth of field that will result in the most visually pleasing image is another matter entirely. Einstein never attempted to calculate how much sky belongs in a visually acceptable landscape.
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darkcastor
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« Reply #9 on: January 09, 2005, 01:40:30 AM »
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To learn to be a Photographer, first you have to learn ABOUT photography. This includes composition, design, other photographers' work, analysing and critiquing, technical issues, etc etc.

And then- PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE.

As opposed to : "I've got a camera for Christmas - now how can I start making money as a Photographer?"

This site is full of some misinformed 'advisers' - as well as well-meaning Pros. The trick is to find which is which - analyse the information. But don't expect it to be given on a plate, over one weekend.

Oh, and disregard the egos of those fighting to be the "Alpha male".

:cool:
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IanS
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« Reply #10 on: December 10, 2004, 09:16:47 AM »
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OK,

I feel somewhat nervous about this but I'd appreciate some feedback on my attempts so far since getting my first DSLR. I know there are some very good photographers here so I suppose I'm looking for encouragement and pointers as to how to make progress through technique rather than wallet.

My favourites so far are in http://www.pbase.com/ian_stickland/my_favourites

I think it's fair to say that I think the type of photography I enjoy most is nature and wildlife so some other shots can be found in here...

http://www.pbase.com/ian_stickland/leeonsolent

Ian.
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howard smith
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« Reply #11 on: December 10, 2004, 11:19:29 AM »
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Ian, I find the photos well composed.  However, they don't seem to be anything unique for the subject.  That is really hard to do by the way.  Some folks never get there at all, but rely on "immature" subjects to get them by.  Immature subjects are hard to find - that's why they are immature.

Your efforts are quite good for now, but keep at it.  Study hard, your work and that work you like.  The reason I asked about the composition relates to other topics here.  Your compositions seem to follow certain pleasing guides (rules?).  Some say that's crap, some don't.  Keep with the tried and true until you really understand why you want to do something else.
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IanS
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« Reply #12 on: December 10, 2004, 03:57:44 PM »
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Phew!! Nothing like a little light reading...  

Hmmm... I can see the arguments for many sides of the discussion. What I'm curious about, and I imagine many other inexperienced people are is how the more experienced people got to where they are now.

For example, everyone whether they take pictures or not usually recognises a great picture instantly, so there's obviously something instinctive at play. We all recognise the wow factor when it's there. People such as Micheal (for example) who've been shooting for some time find they see a picture instinctively to shoot it without really thinking.

The question is, did that ability to shoot instinctively develop subconciously over time as they took more pictures, come from an understanding of what makes a good picture compositionally, or come from the first one, followed by an understanding of the latter once the instinctiveness had developed?

I don't know if it matters all that much, but certainly in the design world the people who really seem to know what they are doing also seem to understand a lot about the history of design and what works and what doesn't. It makes me wonder if similar things apply to photography and how to learn to improve your photos through good constructive criticism...

Must be nice to live somewhere that doesn't get dark quick in the winter so you can just finish work and go take some pictures outside without having time to contemplate your naval through the bottom of a wine glass!!!
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howard smith
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« Reply #13 on: December 10, 2004, 04:30:56 PM »
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didger, your ignorance is showing.

"The Golden Mean is a ratio which has fascinated generation after generation, and culture after culture. It can be expressed succinctly in the ratio of the number "1" to the irrational "l.618034... ", [about thirds] but it has meant so many things to so many people, that a basic investigation of what might is the "Golden Mean Phenomenon" seems in order. So much has been written over the centuries on the Mean, both fanciful imaginings and recondite mathematicizations, that a review of the literature on the subject would be oversize, and probably lose the focus of the problem."
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Eric Myrvaagnes
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« Reply #14 on: December 10, 2004, 07:49:38 PM »
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Didger, here is a quote from Edward Weston that may be relevant to the current debate (snowball fight?):

"I never try to limit myself by theories. I do not question right or wrong approach when I am interested or amazed,---impelled to work. I do not fear logic, I dare to be irrational, or really never consider whether I am or not. This keeps me fluid, open to fresh impulse, free from formulae: and precisely because I have no formulae---the public who know my work is often surprised, the critics, who all, or most of them, have their pet formulae are disturbed, and my friends distressed." This is from the January 28, 1932, entry of his Daybooks, quoted in the 1965 Aperture monograph on him.

I believe he also said something to the effect that composition is simply "the strongest way of seeing", but I can't put my hand on the exact quote.

Eric
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-Eric Myrvaagnes

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DiaAzul
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« Reply #15 on: December 11, 2004, 12:40:18 PM »
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Ian, the rules of composition are merely a mathimatical statement of what has been found over a long period of time and cultures to be what is intuitively pleasing. Many pleasing images are based on intuition and can be explained by rules. Many dud images likewise are compositionally correct. And of course, there are examples of images that do not comply but are excellant, most often because the selected composition evokes a desired response. These compositions are often stricking because of the unexpected.
Howard,

Have you ever tried to justify why a woman is beautiful by the fact that her features comply with given mathematical formulae of composition? Perhaps you have given us a new method for judging beatuy and we should all post a beatuy score as to how good we look. NB Didger get minus 100 to start with for the fluffy white beard (though could be construed as a bonus this time of year  Cheesy )

I would agree that the golden rule provides a much tried and tested compositional framework, however, there are many non mathematical concepts (lead in lines, false symmetry, perspective, etc..). These provide a language for describing photographic technique which is helpful in describing concepts, but I would disagree that they are hard and fast rules. At the end of the day a woman is beautiful because she is radiant, glowing and intelligent, not because her nose is pi/4 from her upper lip and her eyes are equidistant between her ears. The same holds true for pictures.

It is good that we have this discussion between the need for formal and informal compositional rules. Cartier-Bresson was very much in the former camp (with Howard) and made the following statement with regard to a photographers education:

"There should be a visual education emphasized from the very beginning in all schools. It should be introduced just like the study of literature, history or mathematics. With a language, everyone learns the grammer first. In photography, one must learn the visual grammar."

HCB's comment needs to be seen in the context that the French system is very formal in its educational techniques and creativity doesn't come high up the list of features - everything can be taught in France! On the other hand there are a group of photgrapher who believe that artistic creativity comes from within and cannot, as such be taught, these favour informal learning. An example of such a person would be Eliot Porter who said:

"You learn to see things by practice. It's just like playing tennis, you get better the more you play. The more you look around at things, the more you see. The more you photograph, the more you realise what can be photographed and what can't be photographed. You just have to keep doing it."

There is also a third group which believe that photography should be a life enhancing holistic experience and that the photograper should become more concious of life through photography. Henry Holmes Smith said on this subject:

"Somebody said recently that the best thing a student could do was to get in some shows and publish a book; but nothing about becoming a human being, nothing about having important feelings or concepts of humanity. That's the sort of thing that is bad education. I'd say be a human first and if you happen to wind up using photography, that's good photography."

In reality all positions are correct as it is necessary to have technical knowledge to master the tools, however, at some point it is necessary to transcend the technical knowledge in order to establish creative art. Once technical knowledge has been transcended then it is only left to master ourselves in order to become master of our art.
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DiaAzul
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« Reply #16 on: December 11, 2004, 02:08:00 PM »
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I'm pulling out of this thread now...

I think that we can reach agreement on this issue if Howard could loosen up a little and get in touch with the spiritual side; and Didger was happy to accept compositional criticism based on tried formula?

...any chance to tone down some of the more aggressive elements in the comments?
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David Plummer    http://photo.tanzo.org/
howard smith
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« Reply #17 on: December 11, 2004, 09:58:48 PM »
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"Recognition of such beauty is strictly a hormonal thing, so the whole point is invalidated.  Ya got that?  You ever find that a face or figure of your own gender has classical beauty?  Too bad for your mixed up hormones and lucky for you that society is more tolerant of such nowadays.  Ever find a horse beautiful?  Uh, oh, maybe not that tolerant.  Ever find a young child of any gender beautiful? Uh oh, watch for vice cops."

If I am the only one that thinks this is statement is just plain stupidity, the I owe didger an apology.
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howard smith
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« Reply #18 on: January 09, 2005, 12:40:17 PM »
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"Oh, and disregard the egos of those fighting to be the 'Alpha male'."

More important than that is to ignore your own ego.  Do you take your images to critique to show everybody how good you and your images are, or to learn something to improve next week?  The former attitude isn't conducive to learning.  Critiques are not beauty or popularity contests.  Comments may appear to be quite harsh.

The motive of the reviewer isn't all that important.  That is his issue, not yours.  The Alpha Male wantnabe just might have soemthing worth saying tp you about your images.  If the motive is to just mark his territory, that will become quite evident in the content of the criticism.

I found it very useful and important to the critique process that the owner of the image did not speak.  Speaking generally resulted in the photographer defending the image.  Egos flair, and the photographer refuses to listen to those "idiots."  Nothing learned.
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Jonathan Wienke
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« Reply #19 on: December 12, 2004, 06:38:18 AM »
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Hey, Tweedledummer, uh oops, I mean Tweedledum, no, I mean Twee... ah nuts, I mean Jonathan...It's way premature, but can I use parts of this text of yours if I credit the source, when the time comes?
I would be OK with that. Just drop me a line when the time comes.
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