Is Image Quality really important?

Discussion in 'Casual Photo Conversations' started by richardsperry, May 26, 2011.

  1. Over and over again, in the more technical forums discussions always turn to Image Quality, or how important it is.
    But more over, in the less technical forums, those which have more topics about photographers, or photography; photographers with little apparent concern for Image Quality are discussed, and admired.
    With the only exception of the Australian wide angle photographer, virtually every other photographer discussed expresses very little technical skill, or little regard for image quality itself. They command fame and fortune, admiration even.
    What separates these photographers is not their camera, their lenses, the quality of the images. But invariable it is the context, the subject, is the photographer living or dead(and how did he or she died), or the collection which gives the photographs and the photographer value.
    He took photos of farmers.
    She took a bunch of photos of places you can't get into.
    She took a bunch of photos and then killed herself.
    He took photos of Picasso.
    She took street photos, and was a hoarder and a maid.
    He took photos of the Rolling Stones, Beatles, and other famous people in the 60s.
    She took photos of herself satirizing movies, and made the most expensive photograph to date.
    He takes other peoples' photos and draws on them with a Sharpie(and then gets sued), but gets lots of money when he doesn't get sued.
    How on one had, photographers stress image quality. Then on the other hand, photographers with little to no inherent image quality derive fame and fortune from them despite being all around crappy; and more importantly discussion amongst other photographers? Why does everyone seem to like crappy photos, if Image Quality is really important?
  2. Why does everyone have to agree on what makes a good photograph? If some people think it's image quality and others think it's content or whatever, so what? Whatever turns you on, as long as it doesn't hurt anybody, is fine with me.
  3. I think you're answering your own question. Technical perfection per se is painfully boring. It's not about Image Quality, but Quality Images. The people you mention above aren't famous because of the subjects they photographed, or being dead. Cindy Sherman photographed herself on a tile floor with her clothes on and that picture sold for almost $4m. For a lot of people, that is impossible to grasp. The same subjects were photographed long before and after by others. It's because if the way they photographed.
    You have a basic and deep misunderstanding about photography.
  4. Image (technical) quality is an attribute available to photographers as part of their arsenal of tools, but unlike other attributes, it is (usually) solely dependant on the quality of gear which a photographer has little control over.
    So, is image quality important? I would say it is, if you need it as an attribute of your image which contributes to its overall perceived (artistic) quality. If you don't need it, then no, it's not important.
  5. Image Quality matters.
  6. It's not about Image Quality, but Quality Images​
    Good point. But I was pretty shocked when I saw the batch of early digital images from a world famous photographer come in. This guy (I won't name him) is a very accomplished photographer who travels the world for his photography. Nikon had sent him a couple new D70 bodies and sent him to some islands in the Pacific to shoot with them. The contents and composition of the images were superb. The quality of the images he sent us was horrible. He had tried to make them look "Velvia-like" as he told me on the phone. He seemed baffled about how to process a digital file, so the whites were completely blown, and the shadows completely blocked up. I tried to reject them from going into the archive and out to the web, but the editor overrode my decision and they went out anyway.
    So image quality matters!
  7. I'm not sure why some people keep insisting that quality content and quality technique/tools are somehow mutually exclusive, or perhaps should be. I think they do protest too much.
  8. The original post presents a logical fallacy. The suggesting, however subtle, is that by focusing out attention on technical image quality, we are sacrificing quality images. That's just not true.
    First of all, some people are better at making quality images than others. We can all agree on that point. But the people who make great images are NOT hampered by, for instance, sharp lenses and high-resolution cameras. These technical advances won't turn a highly regarded photographer into a no-talent snap-shooter.
    Second of all, the term "quality images" is completely subjective. A poorly composed images of a toddlers first steps would go into the recycle bin - UNLESS it's YOUR toddler. Then it's the most important photograph that you've ever taken. Why not have it be sharp and detailed and printable to eight feet wide if that's what you want to do with it. (That large print would make a heck of an embarrassing wedding gift for your toddler someday!)
    Yes - Image Quality is important.
    No - Image Quality does not negatively impact Quality Images unless you're a totally obsessed gearwanker, in which case there probably wasn't a whole lot of hope for your images in the first place. ;-)
  9. You need to use some thinking power to complete the *act of photography* -- getting a result you are happy, satisfied, or content with as the product of your work. The camera, the lens, the light, some luck, and your brain all have to work as a *team* in some manner to get those photos of empty buildings; farmers; street activity; the Rolling Stones; and so on.
  10. It matters to me, and that's the most important person I need to please.
  11. Dave Lee, I did not say image quality doesn"t matter, but that -- by itself -- is boring. People had this same exact discussion when Robert Frank's Les Americains came out. They saw his miniature (35mm) grainy pushed, blurry, handheld at impossibly low speeds negs as a mortal sin against the convention of the day in image quality. Instead, it redefined what we thought about those things.
  12. An hour ago, not many people had responded to this. At least not with the fervor that I would have expected this chestnut of a topic to elicit. That seems to have changed. Good, I was becoming concerned that this community had lost its fire.
    I'm usually somewhere near the front of the line when it comes to disdaining those who obsess over histograms & tack sharp lenses, but, like Matt I don't think quality content and quality technique/tools are mutually exclusive. To use one of Richard's examples, Vivian Maier's images (from the brief view I've had of them) appear technically clean and accomplished. Robert Mapplethorpe's images are hardly cherished by Main St America, but they are technically elegant, and they've certainly earned a pretty penny in the art world. Irving Penn and Edward Weston were hardly slouches when it came to technical accomplishment. What they all share (and perhaps this is more to the originally intended point) is that they are admired and appreciated for their content, not their technical ability. Using a Leica M3 will not make someone the next Bresson, but using gifted eyes might. How to acquire those gifted eyes? There's the rub. No camera manufacturer in the world can offer those for sale.
    And I think Robert Cossar seems more in agreement with Richard in his profile statement than in his post:
    "It is the ART that matters most. All the techie stuff is just part of the path. I strongly feel that Art education will make anyone a better photographer, and I tend to sigh at how little we spend on it compared with buying all the latest "stuff"​
    I would tend to agree with that statement, Robert.
  13. Thanks Steve.......The techie stuff IS part of the path.....but a VERY important part. Far to many people are sort'a'techies......they talk the talk, but often, even usually, don't walk the walk.
    To produce meaningful, intentional art, you simply must have mastery of the medium you want to use. Can you imagine a pianist giving a rendering of, say, Beethoven's 5th.....with out having any real piano skills?
    It may look like something to its maker.....but, if it looks like a dogs breakfast....then that's what i'll see.....Regards, Robert
  14. So, is image quality important? I would say it is, if you need it as an attribute of your image which contributes to its overall perceived (artistic) quality.​
    Michael Chang answers the question to perfection. Thanks!
  15. The IQ of the image is PART of what the viewer it good, bad, or indifferent. so the author's obligation is to decide what the IQ SHOULD look like and then achieve it.
    Anything less is just slinging hash in a pot and hoping people will like it.....
  16. Unless we are talking in absolute term, image quality probably does not matter much most of the time. I one is breaking out their 8x10 camera to snap pics, right? Or, say, makes 20x30 family portraits with a diana/lomo. Most size prints (say 8x12) done by most lenses/cameras in most lighting conditions these days are pretty damn good. most people anyway as evident by successful photo businesses (adequate photo skill, more marketing skills). There will always be those after more IQ (technical pixel peepers) and QI (undisciplined artist type). Left brain, right brain etc...
  17. Why does everyone seem to like crappy photos, if Image Quality is really important?
    Because "crappy" photos are more interesting than photos that are taken primarily as a technical exercise?
    Tomorrow, I'm shooting photos for a a regular fashion feature in a local magazine. I'll take the usual shots with my 5D2 that will have good technical quality even printed at ten times the size of the magazine's pages, but I think I'm also going to shot it with the Hipstamatic app on my iPod (yielding 720 x 720 pixel images). If they turn out well, I'll send those to the magazine instead of the big shots. Gotta have some fun . . . ;-)
  18. Well, it is easy to make crappy photos with a camera with excellent image quality. It is quite impossible to make photos from a crappy camera get decent qualities like sharpness, contrast and colour reproduction.
    A good tool allows more flexiblity. As other said, the want/need for tools that can deliver excellent image quality does not exclude the pursuit of quality images. A sharp lens does not replace genuine original vision, but a genuine original vision could be obstructed by a fuzzy lens.
  19. I agree with You Richard, most of "photographers" I know mostly talk about the gear, then about lens' quality, rarely discussing photographing, composing, new ideas... That's very strange. It's happening since everyone can afford amateur DSLR.
    At the same time people don't have a clue about basics, don't want to spend money for fast 50mm lens, because tweaking ISO is easier, even don't bother to stop while taking picture! And those girls who didn't bother to have small film P&S in the purse few years ago, now hauling DSLR with long and cheap zoom lens, because it's sooo cool, Holding DSLR in one hand and ice cream in the other. All they want to learn is Photoshop, without understanding the basics and using their fancy DSLR as a P&S camera. Here where I work is a lot of tourists, everyone with a camera, people from all around the world, most of them are using DSLR as described... And when they see my film camera sometimes they ask: "Wow, can You still get film for Your camera?"
    Please, don't ask dumb questions, open your eyes, You can get roll of film every 500m, every pharmacy store and every place with souvenirs. For the love of God: it wasn't that long ago!
    And for those who counting Megapickles: Resize You favorite pictures to 600x400 and see if it's still a keeper.
    M. S.
  20. Is image quality really important ?
    It depends, but 99% of the time a good quality photo will beat out a crappy photo given the same subject. The thing about crappy photos(not focused, incorrect AWB, too dark, to light, strange hues, bad composition etc) is that sloppy photographers can always write them off as artistic, or creative when actually it was bad technique. On the other hand, relying too much on technique stifles creativity.

    Some photographic categories require very accurate and exceptional technique. I mean an Advertising Director is not going to buy the artistic/creativity thing, if his product is produced in a bad light.

    Creativity and technique both have their place. Creative photographers break rules and push us into other ways of seeing and doing things. However, on a professional level, quality does count. Nobody is going to complain about a picture of a flying saucer, or other rare event, that was not well focused, exposed or well composed, but for most other photographic venues especially if the image is going to be viewed often and by a large number of people, that's another story IMHO.
    Quality photos was one of my biggest challenges while I was going to school. I had to learn how to take technique seriously since I was being graded on that aspect as well as content.

    Two photographers that come to mind in this Quality vs Content thing are Ansel Adams and Henri Cartier-Bresson. Both photographers had their images published extensively. Cartier was considered to be the father of photo journalism. His gritty, unmanipulated, street-syle photography, "AS-is", often shocked his contemporaries. His images were unlike the images from Adams, that were meticulously thought out both inside and outside the darkroom and were very technique and quality driven.
  21. Wouter, why are people willing to pay more for Franscesca Woodman's photos than yours? For example.

    A 16 year old with a second hand Yashica Mat with no multicoating. More flare and defocus than you can intentionally
    put inside a camera(a very fuzzy lens). Horrible lighting. And little to no technical quality.

    Why does she have more fame, or more people praising her work, than you?
  22. Image quality used to be almost taken for granted as being good to excellent. Even a basic Kodak Colorsnap 35 from 1959 offered excellent sharpness and colour from its fixed 45mm triplet lens. As we progressed into the 80's, 90's and even nowdays, slow and soft zoom lenses along with poorly processed digital images show me that perhaps things have not got that much better after all.
  23. Perhaps the question to ask is why are so many photographers so obsessed with "image quality" when non-photographers aren't that concerned about it?
  24. Ian, You hit the nail with Your statement. Thanks :)
    Some people should see scans from an old $50 Yashica GS and $10 Fuji Reala to understand what real quality is.
    Now, with this camera I can only blame myself for bad results...
  25. Image quality used to be almost taken for granted as being good to excellent.
    Only if you ignore the many box cameras, cheap folders, Kodak Instamatics, and other inexpensive cameras and cheap drug store processing used by the majority of amateurs. It's a very rare family that has family albums filled with images displaying high technical quality.
  26. For my recent book, I tried to pick the very best quality images of the James River. But I had this one crappy (in my opinion -- it actually looks pretty good in the book) photo I just had to include. I photoshopped the crap out of the photo, which was taken from a moving boat on a dark day when the sun was going down. The only thing that saved it was I had an f1.8 lens on the camera. Still, a crappy photo among all the high quality ones. Why? It was the estate of the late country music hall-of-famer and sausage king Jimmy Dean. A few months after I got the shot I was able to get an interview with the frail and dying owner of the estate, but could not get on the estate for more photos. That crappy photo was crucial to support my interview, which turned out to be his last. So, in the world of photojournalism you shoot for the best and publish what you must.
  27. That is true Mike, however I do feel that the 50's and 60's were a kind of photographic 'peak' as it were as in the photo magazines and publications of the day there were really insightful articles from skilled photographers that dealt with both technical and artistic sides of the subject. Their take on lighting, creative thinking and technical matters still read well today - and compared to what I hear today seems a long way off. It was like people were more interested in being a more rounded photographer rather than just steered towards buying something new. Quality - both technical and artistic - were catered for in equal measure.
  28. Someone above said "it is quite impossible to make photos from a crappy camera get decent qualities like sharpness, contrast and colour reproduction".
    Of course, having used crappy cameras my whole life (and that's starting to be a much too long time), I can't say I agree with this idea, which seems to be a fairly common one in every photography forum on the internet. Whether film or digital, cheaper and lesser "quality" cameras can do sharpness (where it counts), contrast and colour reproduction just fine in the right hands. What we haven't and cannot define is what "image quality" is. We know what the words mean, but what exactly is "quality" in anything, not just photography. Nobody on the planet can really answer that.
    If it's about the absolute sharpness of the lens itself, at every aperture and focus distance, and about how large the negative or image file can be printed, well, there's no contest. The only determinant becomes having enough money to buy the camera and lens that is best at doing that. The only talent one needs for that is one's ability to reach for a well-padded wallet. On the other hand, if it's about the subject, the composition, the use of light, the timing and the creative use of the hole the light goes through, then any camera can do that with a good operator behind it.
    Review sites and other such aberrations can easily measure sharpness, resolution, noise levels and other pedestrian concerns. These things have always been the stock-in-trade of the photography magazine industry, and this was carried over to the internet. They also become the primary concern of almost everyone who gets into the camera hobby, because again, you can measure or even see those things, and since they are relatively easy to achieve, that's what gets achieved. Because it's just a technical matter, anybody can buy the right camera and then practice the technical skill needed to achieve it. It's just photography, not rocket science.
    But nobody can measure those other things. Sharpness and life-like resolution and colour are fine, but I mean, we see that every time we open our eyes, right? There's nothing special about it. Those kinds of photographs or images are sort of like a very realistic, photographic-like painting vs an impressionistic one. They are nice technically, but ultimately unsatisfying to anyone except the person who painted it or took the picture, or to those who have learned to like what they are looking at because of those technical qualities.
    You can also buy a good lawnmower, good chemicals, bags of seed, and end up with the best manicured, sanitized lawn on the inside of your suburban gated community. But some people might prefer their gardens a little wilder, a little more alive, the lawnmower unpowered, and their lives a little less sanitized.
  29. When mentioning Francesca Woodman, I think her 120 or so recovered images have more class than my lifetime collection of snaps. Perhaps it is the cult of personality or that what she portrays is simply conveying more to the viewer than my pictures of cats and friends.
  30. Tehcnique shouldn't be confused with "techie." Being into pixels and sharpness of lens is not the same as having the kind of technique that best brings out your subject and/or vision. Gear talk is not the same as knowing how to expose and process a photo to get it to be and look like something significant.
    Good darkroom work, for example will add a lot of texture, nuance, and subtlety to a photo and that IS aesthetics.
    Note last week's POW. Some felt that the "art" was so divine that the processing shortcomings didn't matter. They felt those of us who commented on the lack of technique were being unnecessarily distracted. Nonsense! The lack of technique (especially in this kind of photo -- and the kind of photo DOES matter completely comprises any art there may have been.
    Art is not only supported by craft, it is often dependent on it. Were Michelangelo not the craftsman he was, we would never have heard of him.
  31. Context. If you're a micro-stock photographer for example then technical image quality is extremely important and necessary, regardless of having the artistic vision or not.
  32. Richard, not quite sure why you ask me:
    Wouter, why are people willing to pay more for Franscesca Woodman's photos than yours? For example.​
    I was not defending the need for this immaculate optical qualities. I was merely saying that having tools with these qualities does not get in the way of realising an original vision. While having bad tools may possibly get in the way. But an good creative vision still defines great photos, not the technical qualities of the tools used.
    Et ecco, the answer why nodody is paying me.
    Pierre, I think you misread me the same way. I am not at all against photos not looking crisp and contrasty and punchy etc. etc. My whole point is: good tools give the choice. Bad tools rob a choice. If you know for sure the bad tool will do the job perfectly fine, no problem. But if your vision calls for something your tool cannot do, the choice of tools suddenly does start to matter.
    So, not defending the must-have of top lenses and bodies to make photos look good. Just do not underestimate how good tools can help your creative potential.
  33. Long ago a presenter at a one-day Nikon School spoke of "stopping power" in a photo. That's what makes it great. It holds your attention and you know you've experienced something profound. For me, recognizing the presence or lack of technical merit comes a moment later, when the left brain has begun to take over the process of analysis.
  34. Sometimes sharp, crisp photos really do work against aesthetics. Some edges and curves are soft and that's how the eye sees them. The penchant among photographers to be concerned with "sharpness" often undermines an organic vision.
  35. Fred, I agree completely, and my point remains: I can make a sharp photo fuzzy, I cannot make a fuzzy photo sharp. And again, I was not pithcing sharpness against vision. One does not exclude the other. And yes, there are legions maybe only looking for sharpness without having a vision, but that does not make sharpness a bad thing, nor all those who think it's a nice-to-have. It's too much presented in this thread as an either/or, instead of and/and.
  36. I wish the OP or one of the IQ fanatics had defined image quality so we would know the ideal we are talking about here. Most of the heavy proponents of IQ sound just like guys from 1950's photo clubs.
    Again, this represents a basic misunderstanding of art.
    Talking about Robert Frank (at the time RF was getting hammered about image quality in Les Americains), Elliott Erwitt:
    "Quality doesn't mean deep blacks and whatever tonal range. That's not quality, that's a kind of quality. The pictures of Robert Frank might strike someone as being sloppy - the tone range isn't right and things like that - but they're far superior to the pictures of Ansel Adams with regard to quality, because the quality of Ansel Adams, if I may say so, is essentially the quality of a postcard. But the quality of Robert Frank is a quality that has something to do with what he's doing, what his mind is. It's not balancing out the sky to the sand and so forth. It's got to do with intention."
    (Elliot Erwitt)
    A lot of PNetters do produce postcard views (I saw some of Muir Woods yesterday that were sharp, well-composed, extraordinarily cliche'd soporifics), or strive to. Nothing wring with that, but the reason it ends up flat for a lot of viewers is that it is photography reduced to a game. By a game, I mean like golf, with a scoring system, and the goal is to make the highest number (like on PN's rating system). Rest assured there's a lot more to photography than that level. Just because you don't understand/accept something doesn't mean it can't exist.
  37. I agree Wouter. Crisp photos work against aesthetics only when crispness contradicts the intended and/or perceived quality of the photo. Just like blur and fuzziness.
  38. Wouter, yes. I agree with your points. I wasn't directing my comments at you. Just a generic observance.
  39. Picture making is a craft. There are expectations and standards that, when missing, cause consternation especially among those that appreciate or have mastered them. That there are some well regarded artists with less competency or diligence in the craft is not much of
    a bases for criticism of their importance. A bit of art ed wouldn't hurt to soften un-informed cynicism. If you see a lot of real prints by a lot of well-vetted artists you will be aware of just exactly who was a master at the craft and who took it only as far as they needed to make their place in the pantheon.
  40. jtk


    I've seen hundreds of Ansel Adams original prints and can testify that many of the earliest weren't particularly wonderful in terms of "quality" (unsharp, poorly printed even for the era etc). Weston's early work seemed technically better, but he abandoned his highly developed pictorial portrait studio "quality" to pursue another set of qualities, in Mexico, that weren't as easily appreciated outside a small bohemian world of artists, poets, dancers, and astute patrons. "Quality" has mostly to do with what the viewer brings to the image.
    I've also seen a lot of wonderful Holga photography, mostly by Generation X and younger, that has a kind of photographic purity to it: Holga's "limitations" allow some photographers to render images that work, without the distraction of "higher" technology. Holga work is typically printed by the photographer, not some robotic lab somewhere and not merely displayed online...those Holga photographer's prints are extensions of her/his goals and ways of seeing...a kind of "quality" that is typically lacking (a void) in the work of non-printing camera operators.
    "Aesthetics" and "quality" are mere words, they mean nothing without explanation or context. How high is "up?"
  41. Steve Gubin - "Robert Mapplethorpe's images are hardly cherished by Main St America, but they are technically elegant, and they've certainly earned a pretty penny in the art world."
    What is interesting in the context of this thread with the above is that Sam Wagstaff, who was at the time one of the most respected photo gallerists/collectors in the word, shepherded his protege and lover Mapplethorpe very carefully. Part of that was the choice of Tom Bari...
    ...(easily in the top 20 best B&W printers alive) to print his work. Pertinent to this thread is the fact that Baril is also a photographer and prints his own work, but in spite of the identical print tech, and sometimes similar subject matter, Baril has never come close to Mapplethorpe in price or recognition.
  42. "Quality" has mostly to do with what the viewer brings to the image.​
    John, if that was to be true then it is only because of pure meanness and laziness that I end up convincing myself of the low quality of some photos around. It does not seem to be a meaningful answer to the question of quality. How high is "up" according to you?
  43. jtk


    Anders, I'm not particularly interested in a photograph's "quality," which is inherently a technical or authoritarian/BS kind of evaluaton. I don't use the word when describing prints unless I'm describing them in specifc terms to someone else who understands prints. To someone who doesn't understand prints print quality is a non-concept.
    It appears that nobody here knows what they mean when they use the word. Even Luis, who is a good thinker/writer, had to appeal to authority and hilariously bogus rank ("top 20") to address print quality.
    You diagnosed "meaniness and laziness" in yourself, I didn't. I think instead that you've never thought to consider what you mean when you use the term "quality."
  44. John, I take exception to what you just wrote. I know what quality means and I'd bet 100 percent of the other people posting here also know. Step back and take a deep breath, and don't tell us we don't know what quality means. Maybe you meant to say something else.
  45. jtk


    To get back to Luis's contrasting of of Baril and Mapplethorpe: one was kept and marketed by Wagstaff, the other wasn't, one was famous for sexual imagery, one wasn't. How is it odd, or even interesting that one became more collectable in Wagstaff's circle of influence than the other? The answer is self-explanitory.
    How does that relate to "quality?"
  46. Wouter, why are people willing to pay more for Franscesca Woodman's photos than yours? For example.​
    Oh, come on! What people are willing to pay is the worst justification of quality ever imaginable. I'm sure that a lot of people paid a lot of money for the productions of Hannah Montana and Britney Spears. And I'm sure that there's some lady who sings at your local coffee shop who actually has some TALENT but earns little or nothing for her performances. How much someone is willing to pay for something is based on MANY factors. Quality is only one of them, and sometimes it's overlooked entirely.
  47. I think instead that you've never thought to consider what you mean when you use the term "quality."​
    John, I could not imagine any photographer that does not use the term "quality" whether in writing, speaking or reflection mode. We all use it and we all evolve continuously in our capacity of detecting flaws and lack of quality in our own work and in the work of others. We all learn by it and some of us even improve. To believe that others do not consider what they mean when using the terms implies a disdain for others that I would not recommend.
    That most of us see it as a great challenge detailing what this "quality", or lack of the same, implies in specific or general cases, is however a fact. For you too John, if I may say so.
  48. "How much someone is willing to pay for something is based on MANY factors. Quality is only one of them, and
    sometimes it's overlooked entirely."

    That was what I was asking.

    Why does much of art photography, or rather that photography valued by buyers, collectors and curators, contain little image quality. Or discussed at the least here, appreciated here, by photographers.
    Taken with little regard for technique? Printed with little regard for technique?

    There is an obvious observable pattern. What are the sources or causes of that pattern?
  49. Why does much of art photography, or rather that photography valued by buyers, collectors and curators, contain little image quality. Or discussed at the least here, by photographers. Taken with little regard for technique? Printed with little regard for technique?​
    How do you know it's printed with little regard for technique, unless you've seen all of the prints personally ? Or are you talking of the applied technique within and of the image expressed in the photograph ? If it's the latter, then there's really no objective measure for what is the proper or "right technique".
    Todd Hido's landscape's can be printed - and were taken - with just as much technique and craft as Ansel Adams' landscapes, but both just use a very different technique within their aesthetic.
  50. Phylo,

    Are you saying that you believe Hido's photos, apparently shot through a wet windshield, contain image quality?

    Of course this whole discussion is subjective. Quality itself is a subjective attribute.
    But that does not mean that we can not look at photos or prints and say this one is technically produced with quality,
    and this one here was produced with little technique and is of poor image quality.

    Just as we can easy and inarguably state that a Hasselblad 503 is a higher quality camera than a Holga.
    If one is going to argue, philosophically I suppose, that no one can, is able, or Is permitted to make those distinctions;
    then there really is no discussion. Or point in having the discussion. Ultimately this whole discussion is a question of
    opinion or opinions. Why do many people have high opinion of poorly crafted photos, if we also hold the opinion that
    image quality is important?
  51. Are you saying that you believe Hido's photos, apparently shot through a wet windshield, contain image quality?​
    I'm saying that it doesn't contain lack of image quality. What would image quality be then, a clean spotless windshield ? The wet windshield is what the scene looked like viewed through that windshield and what its photographic quality is, whether it's being shot with a Hasselblad or a Holga. In fact, the Hasselblad's better "objective image quality" will render it even more as shot through a wet windshield.
  52. Let's be clear......all photographs have Image Quality.....It can be good, bad, poor, excellent, evocative....etc., BUT....If you can SEE the darn thing, then it HAS image quality!
  53. This is almost funny....a lot like the tower of Babel. Isn't it obvious that image quality does not constitute what people value in photographs? Yes, I agree one needs enough to be a viable vehicle for the image, but by itself, it is painfully boring. More is required. Obviously, a lot of people here haven't a clue as to what that is. I would suggest what Alan Z. said about obtaining a little art education, or keep on ranting and raving.
  54. lol, Luis.......I do agree with you....:)
  55. Robert,

    I don't think it is clear.
    If I shoot a focused photo with a good lens.
    Then I sandpaper the front element and take the same shot.
    You may say that they both have image quality, but they don't.

    One quality is less than the other.
    If to you they both, philosophically, have the same value... There really is no discussion, is there.

    Luis G,

    Wouldn't a major portion of "art ed" be listening to what a lot of other people(instructors) think of art. Most probably
    instilling other people's opinions of what has value and what does not? Maybe this is exactly the source of where
    these common or shared opinions originate in the first place. I think you're on to something there. Thank you for that
  56. Richard.....try to follow this......They DO both have image quality.....but different image quality.
    Like it or not, the photograph one creates HAS image quality. Either by design.......or by utter indifference, or incompetence they both do have IQ......and there's no way I ever suggested that they "philosophically, have the same value".......whatever that even means.....
  57. They both have differnent image qualities.
  58. Of course image quality is important, but image quality includes all aspects of the image. This includes not only the grain, sharpness, and color reproduction, but also the lighting, subject matter and the composition. The lighting, composition, and subject matter probably count more. I know of a group that established an image quality rating scale. Subjects are given a stack of prints and asked to place them on a board in order of quality. On the average, this scale is repeatable. A given print will be placed in about the same place by different groups. One thing that was clear in these ratings--the prints that were rated highest all benefited from professional management of the subject matter, lighting, and composition. Some other things that might influence the desirability of the image are the mounting, framing, the presentation, the name of the photographer, and whether it is signed.
    In determining the price of a print at an art auction, the name of the photographer may be more important than the comprehensive image quality. As for me, I have an Ansel Adams print hanging on the wall at home not because it is initialed by the photographer, but because I like the image.
  59. Of course image quality is important, but image quality includes all aspects of the image.​
    More cow bell!
    If this "test" is all you have to bring to the critique of pictures one has to wonder how to evaluate other art. I'm guessing that paintings or sculpture that looks more "real." How about game stamp art? I sense the usual resentment of intellectualism as well as conflation of auction price economics with merit in some responders: It's all the gate-keepers and scammers!"
  60. When I talk about image quality, I'm usually thinking more of technique and less of narrative, content, emotion, or story. I do, however, think that image quality can greatly affect narrative, content, emotion, and story. Loosely speaking, image quality may have to do with the parts: color control, exposure, texture, sharpness, bokeh, etc. For me, the whole can be greater than the sum of those parts. So there is something beyond image quality that matters to me when looking at a photo.
    A critique or "ranking" of photos that limits itself to lighting, composition, sharpness, etc. might be a start but could also easily miss the point.
  61. Sorry, double post.
  62. stp


    After reading through the comments, I think Michael Chang said it best right at the beginning: IQ is an element, and it will be an important element in some photos but not in others; it depends on the nature/subject of the photograph.
  63. jtk


    Richard Sperry: Do you make prints? Do you actually talk with the people who make your prints or do you simply accept what they send you? Do you care about prints?
    Please share some of your put your notions of "quality" into perspective.
    I don't know how anyone can claim a Hasselblad is higher quality than Holga unless they consider cameras to be nothing more than commercial objects, rather than as tools that suit certain kinds of images.
    If we were to think of them as photographic tools, Hasselblads would be inferior to Holgas for a certain kind of imagery. Or do we think Holga photography (and large format shot with Petzval lenses) is inherently low quality photography?
  64. jtk


    I think Richard and many others are confusing "quality" with some vague, theological sort of abstract merit.
    And no, I don't think "quality" is subjective, I think instead it means nothing whatsoever unless it is used in some kind of detailed, defining context. In other words, careless use of the term "quality" is definitively poor "quality" writing.
    People who work with film/video/TV/graphic design/photography as vehicles for communication (as in advertising or entertainment) typically talk about "production values" rather than "quality," which is probably more commonly part of a used car salesman's lexicon because, after all, it specifically suggests over-priced in that context.
  65. John Kelly,

    I print my own bw prints. From negatives I develop. To answer your question.

    It's not theological, or abstract.
    And I am certainly not a relativist.

    I have two holgas. One has a plastic lens. One with a glass lens. The 120N has the single aperture. And no vignetting. But focus is poorer than the 120GN. The 120GN has relatively better focusing, it is
    clearer, but vignettes, and it has the two operational apertures. Neither have any light leaks(out of box). I am able to
    make distinctions between the two cameras, and am able to observe and state that the image quality of the 120GN is
    better, superior to the 120N.

    A relativist might say that they both have equal image quality(produce images of equal quality). They are just different, one is not allowed to say one is superior to the other; because everything is relative.
  66. John,

    Just an aside to answer your challenge.
    I have a crappy scanner, and scans of my prints are decidedly low in quality. I've tried. I'm not inclined to buy a new
    scanner to post photos here. Besides, how could you even tell if the print is glossy or matte, RC or fiber. Those are
    qualities I choose for the prints I make.

    A good majority of my digital images are naked women, or scantily clad women. And really they have no place on a
    forum like this one. And the remainder of digital are merely snap shots of parties, graduations, and stuff, also not
    really appropriate for posting here.

    Additionally, one needs to have Java installed on the comp to upload photos. I don't like Java on my machines, and can't upload from iPhone.

    PayPal me a few bucks to cover shipping, and I'll send a couple prints out to you for you to look at if you like.
  67. Quit picking on my Holga, sob, sob, sob! Here's how it works: A Holga in skilled hands, with a light character leak, and a poor, I mean, a unique lens, makes a particular kind of picture that suggests rudimentary properties of the photographic idea. Some people - quite a lot it seems - like that quality. An 11 x 14 Deardorff, in the right hands, makes a particular quality of picture… well you know the rest. But wait! Joy of joys, one can attain the Holga magic from a 11 x 14 negative using a PS Holga plugin!
  68. jtk


    Richard, sorry about your scanner situation...fwiw very cheap flatbed scanners (eg long discontinued Epson 3200) easily do amazingly good scans from fine prints (not necessarily from film).
    I agree 100% that an online rendition can't tell us much about a print, but it certainly can tell us (you, me, whoever) something about image aspirations and accomplishment: is somebody's work stimulating, is it derivative etc. Perhaps an online rendition is a low "quality" sort of equivalent.
    Mapplethorpe was mentioned earlier: I think his photography was far over-rated (but Wagstaff sure did know how to market it!). The print quality (which he didn't produce) was indeed very fine (why not..there was plenty of money to buy it). I prefer to read about our individual responses to prints, rather than rank ordering it by "quality"...especially if that means taking seriously the price at some auction or praise by some famous critic.
  69. Form vs contents. It depends.
    Once there was a limit about how much the image quality could be bad. It was called an acceptable picture, and it was independent of the contents. The issue was if it can be publishable in a magazine/newspaper, or not.
    I think there is a mutual relationship between how much the quality may suffer, and its dramatic contents. There cannot be a better example for this than Robert Cappa's famous image of the US soldiers landing in France during WW2.
    Anyway, these days of Photoshop, there is a very wide space to make a so so image quality picture, into something else, a styled byassed image.
  70. Rubin,

    When looking at that photo, it appears that it is the best possible photo given the circumstances.
    He has many photos, on google images at least, which are apparently high in quality, I'm not going to immediately
    judge that image, or the qualities of the image, as contrived. We know that the Iwo Jima flag photo was staged, but
    this one sure appears to me that there are real NAZIs in bunkers with real machine guns really shooting at him,
    behind him.

    With these other photographers, there is a repetition in the artifact of low quality, that they have chosen to rely upon.
    It's as if some art or photography student thinks to him or herself(probably formed at the end of art or design school)
    "What piece of the technical process can I mess up intentionally, over and over again, to be original?" "Maybe I should
    use a crappy TLR with a crappy lens." "No, I can't do that, it's already been done." "I know what I'll do, I'll shoot all
    my photos through a plate of glass smeared with dog poo, that's original."

    The problem with that is that so many photographers appear to have done that, that it's not really original, is it. Except
    maybe to curators or collectors. Who have a vested interest in valuing these photos, or photographers, the way that they do.
  71. There's a history behind the photograph of the flag raising over Iwo Jima that is a bit more substantive than "being staged." And its "being staged" won't change the fact that it has enormous significance. Plenty of staged photos and works of art have had great impact on the world and will continue to do so.
    The history of photography and of art is rife with examples where technique is specifically undermined as a mode of expression. Do you think the realists would have thought much of the Impressionists' play with technique? Do you think the expressionists weren't accused of undermining traditional technical and expressive values? The lack of a sharp focus and the undermining of certain technical expectations is not always a matter of "messing something up" in order to be original. In the right hands, it is creativity at its finest and a willingness to throw tradition under the bus in order to cry out against the tried-and-true. Traditionalists will never take kindly to that. It's a reason artists often struggle and a reason art is often not recognized in its own era.
  72. And its "being staged" won't change the fact that it has enormous significance. Plenty of staged photos and works of art have had great impact on the world and will continue to do so.​
    Yes. And what that Shakespeare dude said.
  73. Fred,

    I mentioned it because I do not think that the Capa photo is staged. I have no suspicions that Capa artificially retuned
    or intentionally lo-fi'ed the photo. That increases it's value to me.

    Even before I knew that the Iwo Jima photo was staged, I thought that it was.

    I have no problems with Impressionism. I love it myself. But if the majority of paintings which sold, and sold well were
    Impressionist paintings, I would suspect something amiss. And quickly come to the conclusion that even if I could paint
    in other genres, that to turn a buck I should adopt Impressionism.

    Why am I spending all this money on fancy 000 camel haired brushes, the best paints I can afford, and 1500 thread
    count canvases, when every notable painter(noted by critics, academics, curators and collectors) of my time uses
    crappy nylon brushes, 99 cent store paints, and drop cloth canvas to paint on.

    I can paint with crappy stuff making crappy paintings just as easily as anyone.
  74. And I think instead of Impressionist, if we used Abstract art it would be an apt analogy.

    Any idiot can splatter paint on a canvas on the ground. The problem is that someone already has, in order to gain
    traction the next idiot who comes along wanting to sell paintings has to come up with a different gimmick.

    Maybe splatter paint on a big sheet of glass on the ground. Has that been done before? No?, do it make a buck.

    Edit, previous post: retuned should be detuned.
  75. Maybe splatter paint on a big sheet of glass on the ground. Has that been done before? No?, do it make a buck.​
    Richard, try it. See if it's that easy. Get back to us. :)
    Photographs and art integrate technique with content and form. It is in that integration that expression and some sort of communication happens. Image quality is used differently and thought of differently by different photographers. Much of technique and "image quality" has to be viewed both individually and with a historical perspective.
    Using refined technique can enhance one photo as much as undermining refined technique can enhance another one.
  76. For me the question of whether image quality is important if fairly easy, do I have photos where I would like them more if the image quality was higher? For me the answer is sure, I have lots of photos where better image quality would greatly improve the photo, less motion blur, less noise/grain, sharper image etc.

    Now I am an getting the best out of my camera, I have lots of light and a stable camera, then I would say that very few of these image would improve much with better image quality.

    But for me the question of image quality is most important when the conditions for shooting are not idea.
  77. yes and no:
    yes: if the content of the image is not particularly newsworthy - thus still life, portraits of regular folks and non-regular folks too, a dramatic close-up, an image of an oft-photographed monument etc. here, the image quality is absolutely crucial
    no: if the event/person being photographed is newsworthy - for example, princess diana leaving her hotel just before the fatal crash - it's best to have even a very bad IQ rather than fiddling with aperture/shutter speed etc. and getting no image at all.
    if the content of the image itself is crucial, IQ takes second place: if the content is available to anybody, IQ assumes more importance.
    or, as i see it!
  78. jtk


    Richard, while we all know "artists" are sometimes driven to make a name for themselves, I don't think that necessarily takes away from their work.
    I'm thinking of Salvador Dali. The painterly "quality" of his work was extraordinary, and his motives involved a tremendous amount of self glorification. I wonder if he would have accomplished a lot more if he didn't chase fame? The fact that few know about his conceptual, non-painted work may have to do with self glorification.
    When I'm negative about some bigwig's work (eg Cindy Sherman, Mapplethorpe), or encounter someone else's negative response, it's draining....even though the negative responses may be justified in some way.
  79. Any idiot can splatter paint on a canvas on the ground​

    Cynical ignorance about artists being nothing more than seekers of money, fame and new "gimmicks" is irksome to me. The many responders who use the "I don't understand it so it can't be any good" reasoning, not only for this topic but consistently, should save their remarks for the guys down at the tap room and quit insulting more thoughtful people here.
  80. Cynical ignorance about artists being nothing more than seekers of money, fame and new "gimmicks" is irksome to me. The many responders who use the "I don't understand it so it can't be any good" reasoning, not only for this topic but consistently, should save their remarks for the guys down at the tap room and quit insulting more thoughtful people here.​
    Well said, Alan. Francesca Woodman, Adam Fuss, Igor Posner, Michael Ackerman, Man Ray and many others...something offered in their work that goes beyond the "Golden Mean, Tack Sharp Photo Club" aesthetic.
  81. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator

    I like splatter. Usually better if it's blood. I like Cindy Sherman. I like Mapplethorpe. I like Diamanda Galas too, sonic splatter.
  82. Alan,

    Pollack's stuff is abstract. It has no meaning.
    What is there to be thoughtful about?

    Care to share your 'understanding' of it.
  83. Richard, a viewer doesn't have to impose meaning on something (an abstract, for example) to respond to it thoughtfully. Responding thoughtfully would be considering its place in art history, talking about what and how it makes you feel, discussing it as an intentional process even in its randomness, allowing for the possibility that Pollock considered what he was doing and did it as an exploration, or even as a a matter of freeing himself from something and not as a matter of gimmickry. One doesn't have to find meaning IN the picture in order to thoughtfully approach it or talk about it.
  84. Google "Action Jackson" !
  85. Richard Sperry: "Pollack's stuff is abstract. It has no meaning. What is there to be thoughtful about? Care to share your 'understanding' of it."​
    A fair and valid question. I am not an art historian or expert, but rather than sneer (and, lord yes, I have done my fair share of sneering -- and continue to do so below, albeit in a different direction) one can investigate on one's own via books and the internet. But I'd prefer to keep the discussion related to photography, not painting. There's no dearth of problematic or challenging photographs to be considered: images/fuss1.jpg
    (To paraphrase a tongue-in-cheek "critique" I once contributed to one of PNet member Jack McRitchie's photographs:)
    These are all careless, pointless snapshots or meaningless captures of random photons. I should walk past these photographs without looking at them, without wasting any effort on trying to understand them, or to understand why some people find value and significance in them. I'm on my way to more important, urgent, engaging things. Why, then do these photographers and their admirers bother me -- us -- with their images? There are glorious desert vistas with outsized moons to be looked at. Elegant, carefully crafted and beautifully colored high dynamic range vistas of Venetian canals at sunset to be admired. Painstaking emulations of Ansel Adams style landscapes requiring luminance range value analysis and admiration. Draganized portraits of craggy and elderly Turkish/Asian/Eastern European men with 3 day stubble and cigarettes dangling from their mouths to be oohed and aaahed and 7/7'ed over. To say nothing of the countless legions of painfully beautiful nude women with satin flesh, posing in a swirling variety of contorted and provocative poses. With all of this eye candy to occupy my time, why should I bother trying to understand these photographic con artists?
  86. Michael Ging took the words right out of my mouth!
  87. Steve G - yours is my nominee for witty post of the month. Well done!
  88. Dan,
    Thanks for posting. Gave me a chance to check out your site, I love your portfolio(I have only looked at the California stuff so far). Inspired me to get off my lazy can, drive out to SF, and take some pics of the bridge. Which I have been meaning to for several months.
    I tell you what, it is dark up there on those bluffs at the battery. It was wet tonight, exactly what I wanted, drizzly with not a lot of wind. Even though it was late, dark and wet there were several couples walking around the concrete bunkers up there. A white small suv pulled in after I did; by the time I got finished shooting a roll, when I got back the windows of the suv were all steamed up. I figured out quickly that was the place young locals go to swap body fluids.
    I would like to get some shots of that huge Martinez refinery. But I could not scout any good vantage places tonight. I will get some night shots of San Quentin next trip. I will also go back and get some night shots of the battery itself, but I want someone with me to watch my back.
    Who wants to compare this POS...
    To anything you have posted on your site? This for example...
    There is no comparison. Your stuff is immensely superior. In content and in quality.
  89. Richard, boy oh boy, you sure kept that one safe. Unwilling or unable to put up one of your photos, you ask us instead to compare Dan's work to Eggleston's. That's mighty brave of you!
    I don't critique the work of PN associates who haven't asked for it.
    Your not liking Eggleston's work is a matter of your taste . . . to which you are, of course, entitled. Your calling it a piece of sh*t is a matter of ignorance and hubris combined.
  90. Fred,
    Your stuff is better too.
    I really like that one.
    What do you like about the Eggleston pic? Enlighten me. Help me shed my ignorance and hubris. I have sincerely removed my sarcastic jabs at this point. I would like to know the importance and value of this pic.
    Ps, another member emailed me requesting images. I sent him a few. If you do the same, I will send you some photos to crit. Email me a mailing address and I will send you some prints, if you like.
  91. Richard, we discussed the Eggleston photo at length in a Philosophy thread a while back. I wish I could remember which thread.
    For me, the perspective, looking up at the ceiling, almost makes my neck feel a strain. The incompleteness, seeing just the tops of the pictures, has a suggestiveness to it. The color is not hyped. It's as found, yet it's strong, especially the way the white wires play against the burnt red ceiling. There's a feeling of abstraction, that geometry and juxtaposition is as important as subject matter and yet, the mundaneness of the subject matter has a pull . . . and a push away. I experience tension (something I'm drawn to in photos) between feeling ambivalent to the scene and yet compelled by it, compelled by the "why." The photo has a lack of pretense, a lack of polish that is considered. It has a kind of rawness of vision . . . "this is what I see and how I see it" as opposed to an idealized homage to "beauty."
    It is also helpful to look at the Eggleston (as with most photographers) in the context of his body of work, especially if understanding what he's doing is a goal. You can start to see his unique yet unglitzy color palette emerging, as well as the sparks (both literal and figurative) he often finds in the everyday confines of his experienced world. The "beauty" of the photographs will start to emerge, undistracted by the so-called beauty of others' subject matter. We like to quote platitudes like "beauty is only skin deep" but do we quote them hollowly? Can we find something of value in Plain Jane? Maybe Eggleston has. But it might require the viewer to shift his expectations.
    In an Elliott Erwitt show I just saw at the International Center of Photography in NY, one of the exhibition plaques talked about Erwitt's uncanny ability to organize a world (or part of one) inside the frame. I think Eggleston does that extremely well and very personally also. That often means not presenting the whole picture and not slapping you in the face with significance. He rather leaves a lot up to the viewer. Eggleston seems to have glimpses rather than grand visions.
  92. Fred,

    Fair enough. I will retract my previous comment regarding Eggleston. I will research him further. Thank you.
  93. On the matter of Eggleston, fwiw, this is one of my favorites:
    I think Richard's questioning of Eggleston, or any other "famous" photographer, is important. While it is unhealthy to dismiss work as "crap" merely because we don't understand it, it's equally unhealthy to accept unquestioningly the judgements of others.
    In reading Fred's comments on Eggleston (the ceiling photo), I found myself playing devil's advocate.
    "The color is not hyped. It's as found, yet it's strong, especially the way the white wires play against the burnt red ceiling. There's a feeling of abstraction, that geometry and juxtaposition is as important as subject matter and yet, the mundaneness of the subject matter has a pull..."​
    I might agree with Fred, but why? Or more to the point, why Eggleston and not a similar photo by Fred, or Richard, or me? "Body of work" is a good point, Fred. But I think there's another aspect one can look at when considering why some images (that many might pass by in they were posted by an unknown on PNet) are highly regarded. Historical significance and lasting, or universal, significance. An extreme example of this would be Niepce's " View from the Window at Le Gras":
    It is well known, but more so because it is afforded "first known photograph" status than because it exhibits great aesthetic qualities. You can then, if you want, pose the question, in relation to other highly regarded photographs from the past: "Is this still a great and revolutionary photo, or is it only because it was among the first of its kind that we still hold it in high esteem?"
    Just a thought....
  94. Great points, Steve.
    Historical context is so important when discussing a lot of these things.
    Just to add -- and to see your devil's advocate and raise you one -- I've seen a lot of Eggleston wannabees that don't quite cut it. He does have a certain something that I, for instance, when I've tried my hand at it, don't (at least not yet). One of his strong suits is that he makes it look easy, but it isn't all that easy. It's not just that he was the first, it is that he is the real thing. Imitators often don't quite put themselves into it. They imitate style, but often don't accomplish the depth of vision that the originator had because the originator was driven to do it from inside. The discovery can make a big difference in the results. The imitator may often be driven to do it because it's been done and approved (more from the outside). The imitator may come to discover things for himself in the process and that usually shows as well, and it makes for better photos . . . usually. None of this, of course, is universally true.
  95. Fred --
    Quick clarification: I did not mean to put Eggleston in the "only historically significant" category. Not sure that was clear.
    I really like your notion of discovery and coming from the inside versus an imposed imitation coming from the outside. I had not previously thought of looking at someone's work that way...whether considering their style ("look'), or their possible status as a groundbreaker.

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