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Author Topic: Saying something  (Read 3742 times)
kikashi
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« on: February 23, 2008, 02:07:56 PM »
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In a response to a request for comments on one of my attempts at photography, Slobodan wrote something which provoked some thought.

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There are probably dozens of ways how this shoot could be "improved", and the previous posters explained some of them. But, dare I say, none of that matters unless you (and we) know what it is that you wanted to convey with the picture, i.e., what kind of feeling or emotion. Once you know that, the rest is just matching the means (technique) to the desired end.
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I'd not really considered before that a "fine art" landscape picture would be a means of conveying feeling or emotion. I'd never tried to do it myself.

Portraits, of course; but I'd always looked at any landscape photograph as an image, in isolation. If it struck me as beautiful or interesting or luminous or striking for some reason, then I considered it worthwhile. If not, whether it was mine or anyone else's, I moved on to the next one. I could adjust my images for colour balance, sharpness, cropping; I could fiddle with areas to remove imperfections; I could hit the "make my image look like crap" button before printing and try to restore it to what I wanted to see before committing it to paper. But the image, in isolation, on the page, was all I was aiming to produce, to be assessed according to its appeal per se.

Is Slobodan's comment valid? Do you need (or want) to know what, if anything, I was trying to convey with the picture before you can suggest ways in which it can be improved?

Am I just irredeemably superficial? Am I therefore (or, indeed, for any other reason) doomed to remain a semi-competent snapper? Or are some people just asking more of a photographic image than it really can give?

Jeremy
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wolfnowl
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« Reply #1 on: February 23, 2008, 02:40:00 PM »
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I don't think we can separate thoughts and emotions, although some of us may try.  They're opposite sides of the same coin.  Therefore, every image generates some level of emotion, however slight.  While I may or may not be able to decide what you were trying to say with a particular image, the only thing I can really comment on is what is says to me.  As the saying goes, "I tried to teach you to be yourself, but I find that I cannot.  I can only teach you to be me, for I am the only model that I have."

Mike.
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If your mind is attuned to beauty, you find beauty in everything.
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Slobodan Blagojevic
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« Reply #2 on: February 23, 2008, 06:07:49 PM »
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...
I'd not really considered before that a "fine art" landscape picture would be a means of conveying feeling or emotion. I'd never tried to do it myself.

Portraits, of course; but I'd always looked at any landscape photograph as an image, in isolation. If it struck me as beautiful or interesting or luminous or striking for some reason, then I considered it worthwhile. If not, whether it was mine or anyone else's, I moved on to the next one. I could adjust my images for colour balance, sharpness, cropping; I could fiddle with areas to remove imperfections; I could hit the "make my image look like crap" button before printing and try to restore it to what I wanted to see before committing it to paper. But the image, in isolation, on the page, was all I was aiming to produce, to be assessed according to its appeal per se.
...

If one is allowed to use only one word to define art, my guess is it would be the word "feeling" (like the word "thought" would define science). Someone else might use "beauty" to define arts... however, it is rather hard to define beauty without resorting to feelings. In an attempt to define one's own and distinctive style, another word associated with feelings is often mentioned: passion.

I have yet to see a great work of art (any art, not just landscape photography) that is a result of careful reasoning. Sure there are attempts to "reason" into a successful photograph: we see millions of such attempts on the web... all those perfectly exposed, perfectly auto-focused, perfectly color balanced, perfectly composed, etc.... yet perfectly boring images. In this age of the Internet, auto-everything cameras, and omnipresent "how-to" books and articles, anyone can read about how to expose and compose, pre-process and post-process, etc. All this is going to teach us is "how" to take a picture... but not "why". And of course we need those skills, i.e., how... yet it is only a necessary, but not sufficient precondition... we also need the "why" part, and that is where feelings come into the picture (pun intended).

Another angle on the role of feelings: take any book on the principles of composition. They would talk about sense (or feeling) of balance, sense of stability and calm, tension, fear, comfort. For example:

"... The upper half of a picture is a place of freedom, happiness, and triumph; objects placed in the top half often feel more "spiritual"..."

"...We feel more scared looking at pointed shapes; we feel more secure or comforted looking at rounded shapes or curves..."

Both citations are from the book "Picture This - How Pictures Work" by Molly Bang (highly recommended, btw).
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Slobodan

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Slobodan Blagojevic
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« Reply #3 on: February 23, 2008, 06:42:49 PM »
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... Do you need (or want) to know what, if anything, I was trying to convey with the picture before you can suggest ways in which it can be improved?...
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Once upon a time, a man was passing by a Greek philosopher and asked him how much longer to the next city. The philosopher told him to keep going, to move on. The man was annoyed, as it did not seem polite not to help him. The philosopher explained that without seeing him walking further, he would not know how fast he goes, and would not be able to tell him how long it would take to reach the next city.

Sorry for the anecdote and the long and winding answer. No, I do not need to know what one was trying to convey with the picture... as long as one does not ask for help in improving it. If the picture is already good (in my humble opinion, of course), it would resonate with me, i.e., provoke a feeling. Hopefully the same or similar feelings as the artist had when he created it (it is not good if the intention was, say, tragedy, but my feeling is best expressed through laughter). That is a good sign that the artist succeeded in conveying his feelings to me, i.e., getting his message across. If the picture leaves me cold, I obviously did not get what the artist was trying to convey. And if I am asked how to improve such a picture, it certainly helps to know what his intentions were.

However, lets not get too literal about artist's intentions. Many would say they had no intention to say anything, just an urge to create something they felt wanted to get out of them. Fair enough, for most of those feelings often happen on a subconscious level anyway. But in such a case, they would not ask anyone how to improve it.

And Jeremy, please do not take any of my comments personally... I do appreciate your initiative to open such a discussion.

Btw, such a discussion might be more appropriate (generate more responses) for the forum section on The Art of Photography, rather then here (Equipment & Techniques).
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Slobodan

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larkvi
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« Reply #4 on: February 23, 2008, 09:34:00 PM »
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When presenting a documentary or technical photo, it may be enough to present a reasonable and accurate view of a place. A fine art photo, on the other hand, has to elicit interest that makes the viewer want to engage with it. The idea we are putting into it may be described as emotion or feeling, but I think it is perhaps better to use the word meaning. A photograph may express the magnificence of a fiery dawn or the grandeur of a place or the personality of a person, and that it what engages us. Sometimes a snapshot may express these ideas, without there being thought behind it, which is part of the appeal of dramatic locations, as they to a certain extent, speak for themselves, but it is still the photographer's job to make the technical and artistic decisions that cut through the static of reality, to represent what we originally liked in an interactive, three-dimensional environment in a static, two-dimensional space. From a compositional standpoint, we react diffferently to a static, two-dimensional image than to the real world; from an artistic standpoint, the difference between average snapshots and fine art is that the first only has significance to those who bring significance to the image, whereas the latter should bring significance with it. Going into making the photo with the idea that you are trying to create something meaningful makes you think about what you are presenting in terms of how it is goign to convey interest to the final viewer, and informs your compositional decisions going into the image. In the case of the image you mentioned, think about what you thought was special and worth recording about the location, then think about how the image conveys or fails to convey such ideas.

For me, a foggy forest conveys a sense of calm, interrupted in the photo by the abrupt perpendicular of the fence, which also distracts the eye to the lower half of the frame--perhaps having it run out into the distance and be lost in the fog would enhance that idea. I am not saying that this is possible in this location, but I give it as an example thought I might have when composing. Not to say that I am great, but I think I am at least getting better, and thinking like this is a real help to me for the kind of problem you are having.
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NikoJorj
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« Reply #5 on: February 25, 2008, 08:25:22 AM »
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If it struck me as beautiful or interesting or luminous or striking for some reason, then I considered it worthwhile.
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There you are : you want to convey beauty, or interest, or light, or something striking!

Once you admit that, you'll only have to refine your thought to know a bit more exactly what : what are the elements in th picture involved in what you want to show (need a bit of emphasis), what elements don't belong to this goal (to crop or clone out if possible ;o), etc...

Of course, if your image is successful, we spectators don't need to be explained what it's about (at least in a fine art and 100% uninformative context).
But in a C&C process, and as there may be a zillion potential meanings to any image, you do need to explain your goals if you want some advice relative to your means. My 2c's (in euros, so 3c's actually).
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Nicolas from Grenoble
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