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Author Topic: What's the idea?  (Read 7279 times)
RSL
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« on: August 19, 2009, 02:14:09 PM »
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Occasionally I see a very good photograph on User Critiques, but when I look at most of the images here I think about an essay Brooks Jensen wrote back in, I think, 2004, titled “More Than a Mere Record.” You can read the essay in Brooks’s book, Single Exposures.

In that article, Brooks addresses the idea that a photograph is an intersection between a place and a time, and agrees that it’s technically true, but points out that a fine art photograph, as opposed to a photograph that’s merely a record of what the photographer saw at that place and time, is an intersection between an image and an idea. He illustrates the point with a discussion of the difference between a picture of rocks and trees in Yosemite shot by the average photographer and a picture of rocks and trees shot in Yosemite by Ansel Adams.

The burden of Brooks’s argument is that when you shoot a photograph that’s supposed to be more than a record of what was in front of you at the time you tripped the shutter you need to be able to answer the question: “What idea makes this image meaningful and more than a mere record?”

Seems to me it’s reasonable, as part of the critiques on User Critiques which seem to have descended once more into the “that’s nice” rut to ask posters to answer that question, unless the answer’s clear at first glance. Over the past few days I’ve seen a few where the answer’s obvious, but I wonder what the idea was behind some of the others. In other words, why did the poster post the picture?

Are we looking for art on User Critiques or are record shots enough? Don’t misunderstand me. There are beginners on here who aren’t yet going to be able to post finished art, but even a beginner should be able to explain why he feels what he posted is more than a record.
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feppe
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« Reply #1 on: August 19, 2009, 02:49:21 PM »
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A photograph, sculpture, painting, etc. should stand on its own. If the artist needs to explain it for the viewer to "get it," he has failed.

The worst example of this are magazine articles with long tiresome interviews with mediocre artists trying to highbrow their art into some mold it doesn't fit in. Of course it's necessary to end the article with long credentials which have no relevance whatsoever to enjoying the works. I'd much rather have all that space dedicated to the art itself if it's any good.

It's like tuning to a music radio station only to find out there's some funnyguy talking - another one of my pet peeves and reason I don't listen to radio.

Allowances and exceptions apply, and context sometimes requires verbosity, but the thumb rule is a piece should not require explanation.
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RSL
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« Reply #2 on: August 19, 2009, 02:56:20 PM »
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Quote from: feppe
A photograph, sculpture, painting, etc. should stand on its own. If the artist needs to explain it for the viewer to "get it," he has failed.

Harri, I couldn't agree more. But that's exactly the point. How many of the photos currently posted on User Critiques do you "get" -- as works of art? I could name a few, but I don't want to embarrass anyone whom I'd leave out of the list. When it comes to critiques it's not a question of the viewer getting it. It's a question of the "artist" "getting it."
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feppe
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« Reply #3 on: August 19, 2009, 03:09:00 PM »
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Quote from: RSL
When it comes to critiques it's not a question of the viewer getting it. It's a question of the "artist" "getting it."

Heh, indeed a valid and strong point  If the artist wants to convey dread over natural resource depletion, but all the viewer sees is a garish daffodil meadow reminiscent of Dr Snuggles, there's definitely a disconnect somewhere. (I hope nobody has posted a meadow picture lately.)

Your post reminds me I really should start doing some concept - or even fine art  - work to get me out of my travel photography comfort zone...
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dalethorn
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« Reply #4 on: August 19, 2009, 03:12:18 PM »
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This can be answered in part by stepping back and looking from a different perspective, for example an analogy.

Some people are classical music buffs, and sound is OK as long as they can make out the various instruments and/or voices to a reasonable degree. Other music buffs, audiophiles, might be horrified at what comes out of the speaker systems of some of those classic music fans.

But one listener is an audiophile, and may not really be expert on the music. The other may be expert on the music, but fills in the "picture" mentally, having an atrocious playback system for listening, with poor fidelity.

Are both of these "wrong"?  Or do you have to be an actual musician to participate?  And what do you say about Frank Zappa being in the Schwann catalog?

Back to photography.  I have no problem with someone asking "what's the point of this photo?"  Or saying "this is too blurry to be useful" when blurriness is not intended as a part of the art.  But many critiques are blatant put-downs (hint) and grabs for superiority.

If I were posting on a forum like this, and the owner/managers of the forum felt that what I posted was not appropriate for whatever reason, quality or otherwise, I would expect they'd have a way of dealing with that, to save everyone unnecessary embarrassment.  But to have some cranky member make critiques that are as bad (or pointless) as the photos they allege to be bad or pointless, would be a really underhanded and low-class way to deal with it.
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cmi
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« Reply #5 on: August 19, 2009, 03:32:29 PM »
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What I do...

I only critique images I like. I do not critique images I dont like. Some images I like but I'm too lazy to comment.
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RSL
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« Reply #6 on: August 19, 2009, 04:05:18 PM »
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Quote from: Christian Miersch
What I do...

I only critique images I like. I do not critique images I dont like. Some images I like but I'm too lazy to comment.

Christian, I have to confess that's pretty much what I've been doing lately too, and I need absolution and remission because of it. That's why I made this post. When someone posts a picture on "User Critiques" one has to assume he's actually asking for critiques. I'm not suggesting we all jump in and say, "This is crap," when it's crap, but I am suggesting it's reasonable, when you can't see the point of the picture, to ask what the point is. Harri was right on the money when he said: "A photograph, sculpture, painting, etc. should stand on its own. If the artist needs to explain it for the viewer to "get it," he has failed." I've been saying exactly that to people for most of my life -- often with reference to poetry, but also with reference to painting and photography. If we see something that obviously doesn't stand on its own isn't it reasonable to ask what the "artist" intended, or even if he had an intention? I assume that when someone posts a picture for critique he's trying to learn something. Shouldn't we all try to help? You always learn more from your failures than from your successes.
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popnfresh
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« Reply #7 on: August 19, 2009, 04:11:12 PM »
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A great photograph doesn't need to have a literal meaning or a story to tell. Meaning within art is often vague and oblique and engenders more questions than answers. Photography as an art form has always straddled a line between journalism and graphic design. By itself, either one is a legitimate mode of expression and I think you could say that most of the "great" photographs contain elements of both. I think the best photojournalists are also brilliant visual artists.

When I shoot, it's not usually because I'm trying to make a social statement or convey a specific idea, but because I find a scene visually compelling on some level and I want to capture it. Occasionally, I will shoot something that could be construed as making a "statement", but I'm not usually conscious of it at the time I'm shooting it.

When I offer critiques here it's sometimes because I think I can make constructive criticism, but sometimes I just want to give props for a job well done. We all need our ego gratification.
« Last Edit: August 19, 2009, 04:46:35 PM by popnfresh » Logged
Rob C
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« Reply #8 on: August 19, 2009, 04:33:41 PM »
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I think that the concept of submitting images for critique is somewhat dated, apart from being an invitation to a boxing match - which some, of course, might really enjoy.

That a picture should, essentially, say something is also a little odd; why can't it simply be a pleasing set of shapes, colours or textures? (That does not include photojournalistic themes nor stock pics intended for advertising a product, service or idea which depend on an easily transmitted "message", but those are unlikely to be seen within the context of critiques.)  But the concept of getting it seems to invite the participation of the viewer as co-creator too; that´s a nonsense. To be truthful, it seems difficult enough for the written word to make the same sense to more than a handful of people at the same time - what chance an image which has no verbal structure to direct the receiving eye? That's the reason why so many pictures have titles, even the glaringly obvious ones such as Leda and her friggin' Swan! And once you put a title to something you risk killing the casual or even more satisfying experience of the personal interpretation. (We witnessed this recently via some pics of ladies in a window which, originally interesting, turned banal on further explanation.)

Almost by definition if not only because of expected and generally applied politeness, pictures posted for criticism (for good or bad) will tend to receive mostly the kisses and only a few of the kicks. I submit that as a real measure of value - an impossibility in itself - picture critques are hardly worth the bother for either party to the play. I would never post a cruel, personal opinion on another's work because I have no desire to harm someone who has done me nothing to deserve it. Therefore, if I refrain from delivering the kick when I think it is deserved, where the value of posting the image?

But it all changes when one gets into the professional arena. There, if you post for posterity, acclaim or out of good old-fashioned hubris, you had better be pretty damn good or regret it forever! Or not: you could always assume the critic is an ass and really believe it too. Perhaps that´s why only the opinions of those whom you admire for their work has any real meaning to you (within the pro context). Obviously, I exclude clients!

That critique is a form of teaching or even of learning is a bit far-fetched, I believe. Certainly you can help someone who needs/seeks advice on matters technical, but aesthetic considerations, which are what the system invite, are too personal to both creator and critic. If the creator is happy, that´s good enough.

Rob C

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jasonrandolph
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« Reply #9 on: August 19, 2009, 04:51:00 PM »
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Thanks, Russ, for bringing up this topic.  I think it's something we all can learn from if we take the time to think about it.  I obviously can only speak for myself here when I say that I value all feedback, both positive and negative.  I think most of us here realize that "User Critiques" means good and bad.  Otherwise, it could be called something like "Shout out for the pictures you like."  And I think your question of what the photographer is trying to convey is valid and important.  I read elsewhere on LL that Michael asks the same question when he is reviewing others' work.  That doesn't mean that every image has to be a metaphor for the meaning of life, but the question should have at least crossed the photographer's mind when he/she clicked the shutter.  That's what elevates an image above a simple snapshot.

My personal approach is rather instinctive, and I try to convey my message or meaning through my approach to composition.  Hopefully, that's enough to convey what I'm trying to get across.  If not, then I think the question should be asked.  Not only will it help in creating a thoughtful critique, but it might also help the photographer to clarify the message next time around.  I think it's safe to say that we all post images in the hopes that the critiques will help us improve in some way.

With that said, no one is going to produce an image that everyone agrees on.  Photography, like all other art forms, is very subjective.  Some images speak to me, and some don't.  When my own images show up here, it's because they have meaning to me, but I like to get objective opinions of others so that I can know whether or not my efforts were adequate in conveying that meaning.  That is the value of this forum, and the reason I keep coming back is that there are some very thoughtful people here who produce work I admire, and who I think aren't afraid to tell you when you blew it.  And sometimes "silence" is the best critique of all, dreaded though it is.
« Last Edit: August 19, 2009, 05:00:04 PM by jasonrandolph » Logged

cmi
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« Reply #10 on: August 19, 2009, 05:17:46 PM »
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Quote from: jasonrandolph
...And sometimes "silence" is the best critique of all, dreaded though it is.

Thanks Jason, I was just not able to sum it up so perfect!

And Russ, I will respond later.

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RSL
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« Reply #11 on: August 19, 2009, 08:55:24 PM »
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Quote from: jasonrandolph
Thanks, Russ, for bringing up this topic.  I think it's something we all can learn from if we take the time to think about it.  I obviously can only speak for myself here when I say that I value all feedback, both positive and negative.  I think most of us here realize that "User Critiques" means good and bad.  Otherwise, it could be called something like "Shout out for the pictures you like."  And I think your question of what the photographer is trying to convey is valid and important.  I read elsewhere on LL that Michael asks the same question when he is reviewing others' work.  That doesn't mean that every image has to be a metaphor for the meaning of life, but the question should have at least crossed the photographer's mind when he/she clicked the shutter.  That's what elevates an image above a simple snapshot.

My personal approach is rather instinctive, and I try to convey my message or meaning through my approach to composition.  Hopefully, that's enough to convey what I'm trying to get across.  If not, then I think the question should be asked.  Not only will it help in creating a thoughtful critique, but it might also help the photographer to clarify the message next time around.  I think it's safe to say that we all post images in the hopes that the critiques will help us improve in some way.

With that said, no one is going to produce an image that everyone agrees on.  Photography, like all other art forms, is very subjective.  Some images speak to me, and some don't.  When my own images show up here, it's because they have meaning to me, but I like to get objective opinions of others so that I can know whether or not my efforts were adequate in conveying that meaning.  That is the value of this forum, and the reason I keep coming back is that there are some very thoughtful people here who produce work I admire, and who I think aren't afraid to tell you when you blew it.  And sometimes "silence" is the best critique of all, dreaded though it is.

Jason. I agree with everything you said. I should add that I meant to say something about the fact you pointed out: that no one is going to produce an image everyone agrees on. I got interrupted by actual work and forgot to do it. It seems to me that that's one of the great things about a User Critiques forum like this one. If you hang a picture in a gallery some gallery goers will love the picture, others will hate the picture, and the rest will pass on by without a second glance. That's exactly what happens here on User Critiques, but since we can't see the expressions on the faces of the people who look at what's posted it's important for those who react to say something about their reaction -- whether it's positive or negative. As you point out, silence is -- or at least should be -- the most dreaded response of all.
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dalethorn
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« Reply #12 on: August 19, 2009, 09:05:46 PM »
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Quote from: RSL
As you point out, silence is -- or at least should be -- the most dreaded response of all.

Not even close. Silence is golden. Now what would or should be dreaded is when the second number (number of visits or downloads) is really low. That would mean nobody cares enough to even have a quick look.
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BlackSmith
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« Reply #13 on: August 19, 2009, 11:07:01 PM »
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This is a good thread, and goes to the heart of why as a beginner I want to reach out and post my photographs in 'User Critiques'. A photograph's meaning is individual to the viewer, right? While I have no problem developing my own opinions of my work, it is the making of connections with others and communicating meaning that is a mystery and a challenge.

This has been my mentality (I've actually posted only one photograph for critique) - submit an image that has meaning to me and one that I consider to have some degree of artistic merit, but one that would lead to unpredictable connection with others. I expect the majority of responses to not actually give a constructive critique, but give the viewer's first impression in a short sentence or two. This then is still instructive to learning what holds meaning for others. Even more so, because I hold the opinions of this group in high regard. Actual constructive critiques and helpful suggestions are then a bonus. And it is for these reasons that I also read most of the responses to other people's submissions.

And I agree with Russ. I think that silence can be the hardest to take. Mike (Wolfnowl) finds the beauty in most any photograph and almost always comments even if it's brief. But he rarely gives cutting remarks. When he didn't comment on my previous submission, I took that as a clear statement. I know, way over sensitive.

Sorry, thought it was apropos. Just ignore.
« Last Edit: August 20, 2009, 08:55:38 AM by BlackSmith » Logged
JeffKohn
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« Reply #14 on: August 20, 2009, 12:07:04 AM »
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I don't think a photo has to make a statement or have some deep meaning to be art. To me that approach can get you into the realm of hoity-toity art; taking a picture of a trash heap and declaring it a commentary on modern society's mass consumerism might score points with the NYC art critics, but to me it's just pretentious BS. I don't see a problem with photographing beauty for beauty's sake, or capturing a fleeting moment of nice light, etc.

Russ mentions the difference between a fine art photograph of "trees and rocks" by Ansel versus a "trees and rock" photo by the average photographer; but I think the real difference there is largely one of skill, craft, and artistic vision rather than any differences in meaning. From what I've read, I don't get the impression that Ansel ascribed any deep meanings to his images beyond an appreciation for (and desire to preserve) the beauty of the natural world. I do tend to think that a good photograph will at least have a subject, but that's not necessarily the same thing as meaning.

As far as participation in the user critiques forum, I think the quality of comments here is better than any other forum I know of. People tend to be polite, but it's not all just "nice shot" comments; there are a lot of insights shared by various posters that I find valuable and interesting.

My approach to commenting is that I"ll tend to comment on the images I like, but more than just saying "nice" shot I try to describe why I like it. I will also offer criticism if there is something that I think could have improved the image, either technically or aesthetically. But there are some subjects that just don't interest me, and I don't think posting a comment to say that I find the image boring or pointless is very useful when it may be a perfectly fine photograph that appeals to people who _do_ find the subject interesting. So in those cases I'm likely to just say nothing.
« Last Edit: August 20, 2009, 12:07:38 AM by JeffKohn » Logged

kikashi
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« Reply #15 on: August 20, 2009, 02:46:41 AM »
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Quote from: popnfresh
When I shoot, it's not usually because I'm trying to make a social statement or convey a specific idea, but because I find a scene visually compelling on some level and I want to capture it. Occasionally, I will shoot something that could be construed as making a "statement", but I'm not usually conscious of it at the time I'm shooting it.

When I offer critiques here it's sometimes because I think I can make constructive criticism, but sometimes I just want to give props for a job well done. We all need our ego gratification.
I agree wholeheartedly on both points. Perhaps landscape is different in that respect from street photography: the latter really does need to "say" something, since generally the image itself isn't immediately visually pleasing. A landscape doesn't, it seems to me, need to be anything more than a beautiful scene to succeed.

Is it "art"? That's a meaningless question.

Jeremy
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Rob C
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« Reply #16 on: August 20, 2009, 05:12:54 AM »
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Quote from: Jeremy Payne
Don't some people say that lots of folks watch NASCAR just for the wrecks?



Absolutely on the money, and why I don´t have a high opinion of the entire concept of the 'critique'. Weegee would have enjoyed it, though.

Rob C
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byork
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« Reply #17 on: August 20, 2009, 05:59:28 AM »
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Quote from: BlackSmith
Russ, if you feel in any way that this submission hijacks your thread, I come back and edit it out right away.

Yes your right, you should have submitted this as it has it's artistic merits (in my opinion anyway), but I'm not about to elaborate as that would be hijacking Russ's thread. And FWIW, I think Russ would be the first to pass comment.
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cmi
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« Reply #18 on: August 20, 2009, 06:10:03 AM »
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Quote from: RSL
Christian,

... I have to confess that's pretty much what I've been doing lately too, and I need absolution and remission because of it.

... When someone posts a picture on "User Critiques" one has to assume he's actually asking for critiques.

... I am suggesting it's reasonable, when you can't see the point of the picture, to ask what the point is.

... If we see something that obviously doesn't stand on its own isn't it reasonable to ask what the "artist" intended, or even if he had an intention?

... I assume that when someone posts a picture for critique he's trying to learn something.

... Shouldn't we all try to help?

...You always learn more from your failures than from your successes.

Russ,

A personal choice, nothing I will give you a yes or a no. Some thoughts come to my mind. It's for me nothing to discuss, only something to explain further, If someone wants and if I want.

I liked the way the subforum took in the last time. Less wars, less speech bubbles, more spot-on comments.

If I would enforce critique on someone who clearly doesn't want to hear me, I'd be arrogant, or forcing, or the like. Some time ago I have thought, isn't it odd, that I do so less with my own images, but critique so much the images of others? One reason more to stay shut for me, concentrate more on the own work.

And that someone doesn't want to hear me can have several reasons. Either he just cant take critique (very seldom here but common elsewhere), then I stop commenting on their images. Who am I, to impose me on them?

However there where other cases where I seemingly pissed people off with my attitude without realizing it, and my points get therefore dismissed. So I am the cause of the bad reaction, so it was my problem. When Im in good mood, people react mostly nicely.

Also, avoiding discussions saves stress. I just dont like the feeling when there is some war with someone, and you are anxious what insult the other have might written. Thoughts revolving about a damn forum when Im out in my real life. Disgusting. So I better dont touch people who could make trouble for me.

Also generally its not uncommon that someone realizes something that was said only much, much later. So people will just not react, and they wont thank you, but they will later get it. And if you made a really good point, they WILL be thankful.

Also there will always be people who just are not able to do decent images for a multitude of reasons and who will barely improve. Thats just the way it is. And "decent image" goes on many different levels. Also a learned photographer can be average. Where am I, who stand I?  Everybody is on this ladder.

All the best,


Christian
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byork
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« Reply #19 on: August 20, 2009, 06:11:45 AM »
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Quote from: kikashi
A landscape doesn't, it seems to me, need to be anything more than a beautiful scene to succeed.

Jeremy

I thought exactly the same way Jeremy except for one caveat that Alain Briot reminded us of in another thread recently;

"In Fine Art Landscape Photography we photograph the light first and the subject second.

If you only photograph the subject you will forever be disappointed in your images.

Your first thought when looking at a scene must be about light". Alain Briot
 
And I promise I wont be so damn trigger happy in future.
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