Is it impossible to make an extraordinarily bad photograph?

Discussion in 'Casual Photo Conversations' started by unrealnature, Jun 26, 2013.

  1. ?? I don't think it's possible to make a picture that will score all 1s in the critique forum. Because, boring, dull, crummy pictures score 3s, and pity will get you a 2. But to get 1s! To aspire to the limit of unacceptableness! You have to think about what you're doing; work against the grain of your natural inclinations, push against what comes naturally, squelch all those built-in compositional inclinations and aesthetic urges.
    To get 1s you have to really irritate the people rating the picture. Push them out of their comfort zone; piss them off, disturb, distress, upset, outrage, annoy, rattle their world ... move them.
    But if you move people like me, I'll give you a 7 and you've failed at getting all 1s .. and it's back to the drawing board. *sigh*
    Do you have, or have you seen, or can you suggest *any* photograph anywhere that you think would achieve pure 1-ness? Is there something about the automatic whole-picture-ness of photography that limits one's ability to shoot for the ultimate 1?
  2. Hmmm. Photographic trolling. I'm sure it's possible, but like you say - that much effort is sort of entertaining regardless. So it has to, despite the work involved, still retain a degree of deliberate and nearly universal jerkiness that's difficult to describe.

    I'm thinking of some "lifestyle" shots that accompany the ads for obviously scammy dietary supplements aimed at "mail enhancement." But even some of those are so self-referentially awful that they're funny, so you have give them a 2 or a 7. Which leaves us with people who try to do that sort of thing, but can't even get the irony right in their ham-fisted trolling belligerence. Maybe those are your 1%-ers!

    I agree that being truly moved, even to outrage, won't produce a 1. It has to be deliberate low-level irritation. Like photographic poison ivy.
  3. You call it pity, but perhaps people feel that giving a 1 will discourage the person from working to improve -- that is the
    rating of 1 serves no useful purpose. People who revel in cruelty will probably give 1s to good photographs. That leaves
    the "honest" ones who are probably still reluctant to rate something a 1. Maybe we can rate some of the photographs that
    come out in those newspapers who fire all their photographers with a 1?
  4. One can certainly make an extraordinarily bad photograph. I'm sure I've made quite a few. But I'm just hoping they aren't the ones I've posted! You be the judge, though, as with any subjective aesthetic enterprise. Seems to me that the issue of a photo receiving a rating of "1" is different from whether a photo can be extraordinarily bad, though. So-called "Likert Scales" such as the one used in's rating system are typically difficult to interpret unless the rating values are "anchored" with descriptors that provide raters with a concept of what exactly is meant by a particular number value used for rating. The labels "low," "average" and "high" at the ends and middle of the rating scale are probably just fine for our purpose here but don't necessarily translate to "extraordinarily bad." Maybe a "1" just means way below average but still not extraordinarily bad in some raters' views.
  5. I was unsuccessful in finding ratings by .[. Z who was a prolific rater and often criticized for it. He rated tens of thousands of photos with a predictable Gaussian distribution containing many "1" ratings. He was unfortunately banned from the site.

    Maybe someone can find his member page.
  6. To answer your OP on point, Julie, I think that an extraordinarily bad photograph can be made under basically two sets of circumstances: (1) a shot taken more or less randomly by someone totally unfamiliar with photography; (2) a skilled photographer (maybe even an expert) deliberately screwing up camera settings when shooting and then adding insult to injury through postprocessing. I suspect that the first happens quite frequently, but I would be hard pressed to think of anyone deliberately producing bad work, unless it were done for instructional purposes or just for the proverbial sh#*s and giggles.
    For whatever it's worth, I have no doubt that I have made some lousy photographs - just look at the number of 3s I've accumulated. So far, though, no 1s or 2s.
  7. The rating system used to be in 2 categories, aesthetics and creativity, each on a scale of 1 to 10. The system was simplified to one number after years of complaints in forum threads (search the archives).
    Ratings are problematic at best. Not only because it's subjective, but it's also highly dependent on the rater's photography experience and level of expertise. For example a film shooter will not typically rate digital images the way a digital shooter would, and vise versa. Similarly someone with little to no microscope or telescope time will never be able to rate an astrophoto or microscopy photo with any degree of legitimacy.
  8. For me, there's one category of photos that automatically trigger a "1" response: Bad paparazzi shots of "celebs" in unflattering situations. The photos are bad, and I don't care about the subjects. And yet, they make money from them. What's wrong with this picture (pun intended)?
    ON second thought, make that a "-1"...
  9. Good or bad are judgements, as are the ratings; de gustibus non disputandem est. Another person's 7 is my 2; and vice versa will obviously happen too. And yes, in my view, it's fully possible to make a "1" photo, but I'll be kind enough not to give any rating if that would be the case. Plus, rating my own photos is impossible anyway ;-)
  10. Julie, your title is interesting as such, but your reference to the Photo.Net ratings much less so, simply because we all know that there is little need of the rater to observe any established criteria and the usefullness of the ratings lack in that respect.
    I remember an otherwise talented judge at our photography salons who was not asked back when it was discovered that he skewed the overall results (a 3 judge system) by rating excessively high the few images he wanted and rating just about everything else very low with little in between.
  11. "For me, there's one category of photos that automatically trigger a "1" response: Bad paparazzi shots of "celebs" in unflattering situations."
    That's an interesting remark, William.

    Would you also rate a bad cassette-Walkman bootleg recording of the Beatles the same way?

    How about cellphone frontline war photos?

    Should we judge a photo by its content? technique? aesthetics? sophistication? or does it depend on the individual observing the photo?
  12. Good or bad are judgements, as are the ratings; de gustibus non disputandem est.​
    I wouldn't waste your energy typing that. Photo forums attract people who's mission is, apparently, to persuade everyone else that there are objective standards for images. It always follows that only the missionary and perhaps a few of his friends, are the arbiters of those standards.
    It's all a bit too "Vocatus atque non vocatus Deus aderit" for my taste.
  13. It's possible. I've done it many times. I prefer to keep those images to myself, but I do attempt to learn from them.
  14. Maybe it's just me. I always seem to find something expressive or interesting or otherwise "moving" about what probably should be a terrible picture. Digging through my own stuff, for example, this kind of picture:
    ... is expressive, or at least it makes me smile, which means it's at least a 2.
    For me, if a picture gets under my skin -- in whatever way -- it gets more points than any picture that doesn't (such as pictures that are plain vanilla "good"). So really bad = good, wherein lies the paradox, for me.
  15. I once saw a collection of photos shot at an event were several speeches were given (some sort of formal awards presentation, perhaps). The lighting, composition, exposure, and white balance of each photo looked fine, but almost every presenter was caught with their mouths open, their faces twisted into one of the many momentarily awkward positions that speaking requires.
    It was almost as though the photographer had gone out of his way to make the people at the event look bad. So yes, it's entirely possible to take a bad photograph, and in some people's cases, to believe that there's nothing wrong with it.
  16. Julie, your dog photo is adorable!
    P.S. Vanilla isn't plain, it's a flavor.
  17. Any photograph I make that is indifferent is a "bad" one. Some of them I call "record" photos. Really they are just nervous snapping -- just passing time to avoid boredom, and they look it.
    Smart ass answer:
    To make a bad photograph out of a good one you crop and crop and crop. To make a good photograph out of a bad one you crop and crop and crop.
    It is frustrating to have to crit a "good" picture you think is bad. Well made but boring is bad photography to me. For someone else they can't get over the perceived flaws in the ones I like. Critics who have a photo-as-illustration bent are the worst. They are all reductionists. Guys like me find things that aren't there to talk about.
  18. I just stumbled across some shots that may answer Julie's question:
    @Michael, it's hard to say. I'd probably reject the Beatles album as much for the source as for the quality; but, then, I never bought a Beatles album, anyway. About cell phone war shots, I just don't know. I guess the upshot is that the response is purely emotional. Or, maybe visceral is a better term.
    By the way, I don't rate photos (with a single exception). I don't think my photographic skills, such as they are, qualify me to rate someone else's work with a number. In fact, I'm beginning to think that the best way to judge how well a photo is received is by the number of views...
  19. "I'm beginning to think that the best way to judge how well a photo is received is by the number of views..."
    Yes, William. There's no such thing as a bad nude photo. :)
  20. You have to think about what you're doing; work against the grain of your natural inclinations, push against what comes naturally, squelch all those built-in compositional inclinations and aesthetic urges.​
    Sounds like a recipe for actually getting creative!
  21. "Yes, William. There's no such thing as a bad nude photo. :)
    Well, of course not! :)
  22. Julie said:
    So really bad = good, wherein lies the paradox, for me.​
    So, we are really talking about "art" aren't we? He he. It will always be a paradox I think because there are so many different ways of looking at the whole thing.
  23. Personally I find this site a constant source of inspiration ;-)
  24. While I cannot speak for anyone else, it seems worth pointing out that most of the many many extraordinarily bad photographs I've made, you have not seen. Some of us are smart enough to throw them away.
  25. I enjoyed Alan's insightful comment about cropping. Very clever, indeed!
  26. You'll have to take my word for it, but the attached picture had the perfect (or perfectly imperfect) average of "!," but it was based on only two ratings and now the rating no longer shows.
    How about a few more ratings of "1," so that my perfect rating might show again?
    Forgot to attach the URL to the picture. Here it is:
  27. Extraordinary bad and good photos are at the ends of the belt curve. Both possible, but rather very difficult...
  28. Is it impossible to make an extraordinarily bad photograph?​
    SMS fails, but the closest is ROTFL
  29. One might also argue that since a prerequisite of being a photographer is the ability to find beauty in everything, there can be no such thing as a "1".
    Leslie, you mean bell curve?
  30. Yeah, bell, Michael.
    And I think most here just mean bad, not *extraordinary* bad...
  31. "Extraordinary bad and good photos are at the ends of the bell curve."
    I highly recommend this article:

    The research suggests that the world is dominated by superstars, then there's the rest of us. In other words the bell curve is not at all an accurate representation of performance, rather it's the power distribution curve (Pareto). See fig. 1 in the article.
  32. I should have added my take on the article:
    The power distribution curve also makes sense in (and applies to) the arts, at least by my observation of performance arts. Photography and other forms of visual arts shouldn't be exceptions to the rule but are able to sneak under the bar by its difficulty in consensus so any discussion becomes argumentative in nature.
  33. Michael,
    My definition, or what I'd consider an *extraordinary* bad photo is a photo with mistakes. One mistake, for me, wouldn't be extraordinary. The photo has to have, say, three (or more), unless it's completely under/over exposed. And, of course, they (mistakes) are weighted
    Possible mistakes:
    1. exposure
    2. focus
    3. composition
    4. timing
    5. color
    6. dof
    7. content
    8. emotional impact
    I know most don't break it down like that, people rarely do. They just rate them 1-7 or something...
  34. "My definition, or what I'd consider an *extraordinary* bad photo is a photo with mistakes."
    Leslie, your definition violates the premise in the arts - there can be no mistakes. :)

    The power distribution curve suggests the vast majority of photos are 1's and 2's. I'm inclined to agree. The popular consensus of majority being average (3-4) was perpetrated by Philip Greenspun since the site's beginning. It becomes more apparent if you rate ones knowledge of photography on the same scale - the vast majority knows very little.

    Rating by the power distribution curve will necessitate an inverse log scale since raters need the finer gradation between ones and twos.
  35. I'm inclined to think most people don't bother with why/how they don't like something, therefore it's much easier to give a low rating. Bad is bad, but not *extraordinary* bad imo. People just don't bother differentiating...
  36. And "mistake" might not be the best wording, sure. I just mean the elements of a photograph and how they affect the photograph totality. It highly difficult to articulate and weight, which also depends on the type of photography in question...
  37. Giving a descriptive of what you like and don't like in a photo and why is more helpful to the shooter than a number. Other than for ego of course.
  38. Julie, maybe the explanation is that it still is possible to have an emotional reaction to a bad photograph. You obviously had a bond with the dog, and even though the photograph is poorly composed and out of focus, it reminds you of the relationship you had (have).
  39. It is impossible to spell daguerreotype, but that's about it.
  40. Ross Marks, things *really* get ugly when you have to say/pronounce dag-oooo-er-O? dagger-O? dag-werry-O? (breakfast of champions).
    Leslie, your list of boo-boos are only boo-boos if we can be sure they *are* boo-boos (have you ever seen Sally Mann's gorgeous wet-plate collodion work?). Not to mention that boo-boos are inherently interesting and, even if inadvertently, interestingly expressive of the goings-on of the living photographer.
    Matt Laur's suggestion, from the very first comment, above, has given me a clue to my own personal idea of 1-photography. He mentioned "some "lifestyle" shots that accompany the ads for obviously scammy dietary supplements." If you take that to its essence, to its ultimate perfection, you get the blackish-whitish-Asianish manish-woman (or womanish-man) with brownish-blondish-reddish hair and brownish-greenish-blue-ish eyes, lounging in off-white (pristine) clothing with no noticeable styling (but yet not not stylish), on a tannish floor or rug against a whitish background. This he-ish she or she-ish he is sort of smiling (but not smirking) and has, no identifying marks or bumps or characteristics of any kind whatsoever.
    If you look at these (technically perfect, Leslie) pictures, you might as well have taken a used wad of bubble-gum and stuck it directly on your brain cells. All information, stimulation, provocation ... everything has been extracted from this "image." The medium of photography has been totally and thoroughly castrated and, in looking at this picture, you're voluntarily lobotomizing yourself.
    (The pictures often, as Matt noted, accompany ads for medications. The next three pages are warnings of side effects, which you, having been already lobotomized, won't even notice.)
    Side note about the use of 1 and the bell curve: I think we like to keep some ammo in reserve for those unspeakable horrors that we suspect may arrive at any moment and where will we be if we've already fired off our biggest cannons? One must never believe that the worst is already before us. One must keep our powder dry and our 1s in reserve for ... (shudder)
    Finally, it is a tradition that I must frequently include quotes in my posts, so I end with this from Chuck Close:
    "[Photography] is the easiest medium in which to be competent. Anybody can be a marginally capable photographer, but it takes a lot of work to learn to become even a competent painter. Now, having said this, I think while photography is the easiest medium in which to be competent, it is probably the hardest one in which to develop an idiosyncratic personal vision. It's the hardest medium in which to separate yourself from all these other people who are doing reasonably good stuff and to find a personal voice, your own and not someone else's. A recognized signature style of photography is an incredibly difficult thing to achieve.
    "It always amazes me that just when I think that there's nothing left to do in photography and that all permutations and possibilities have been exhausted, someone comes along and yanks it out of this kind of amateur status, and makes it as profound and moving and as formally interesting as any other medium. It's like pushing something heavy uphill. Photography's not an easy medium. It is finally, perhaps the hardest of them all."​
    [John A ("Sounds like a recipe for actually getting creative!") and Steve J. Murray, you are both onto my ulterior motive in this thread ... ]
  41. I once got a 1:1 for a photo taken in Lucca in Northen Italy. The shot happened to include a 'Rainbow Flag' which in the US tends to be a symbol of Gay Pride. In Italy it is often used as a symbol of Peace and Internationalism.
    So maybe a 1:1 may be reserved for those photos which we actively dislike for one reason or another. I am guessing in this case the rater took exception to what he understood to be a gay pride symbol. I can't imagine he had a downer on World Peace but I suppose it is possible.
  42. Leslie, your list of boo-boos are only boo-boos if we can be sure they *are* boo-boos (have you ever seen Sally Mann's gorgeous wet-plate collodion work?). Not to mention that boo-boos are inherently interesting and, even if inadvertently, interestingly expressive of the goings-on of the living photographer.​
    Yes, some are more technical, some are less, and some not. And they are all weighted, meaning depending on the photo type etc...And, say, underexpose 1/2 to 2 stops is different than 3 stops off. I could go on, but it's complicated enough not to. Mis focusing could be obvious (or not)...composition and emotional impact, less so, and are subjective etc...And they could are related, or not...Again, they are elements of a photograph which could be judged on...And they are too complicated to discuss on an online forum w/o concrete examples ,at least for me...
  43. Can anyone point to an example of an extraordinarily bad photograph?
    A violin learner will need to practice for hundreds of hours before being able to play a single sustained note without sounding like a sow being butchered. In this way one can say that all beginner violinists are extraordinarily bad performers.
    By contrast, anyone can take a camera out of the box and take a decent photo with no more effort than learning to program your DVR and taking a bad photo really takes effort, even for a beginner.
    If photography was judged by the same standard as a violin performance, then one can say the power distribution curve applies and the vast majority of photographs are no more than a sow's ear. If one judges photography by pop music standards where a couple of guitar chords to catchy lyrics can make a hit, then the bell curve applies and everyone's a photographer and there can be no extraordinarily bad photographs.
  44. A 1 and a 7 are I think more dismissable by the photographer than numbers in between. The latter are questionable but acceptable as subjective critiques made without any suggested criteria or knowledge of the rater, whereas the 1 and the 7 are dismissable without any further thought. However, a rater's well considered comments can make all of them more palatable and even formative.
  45. I think the 1s images are those that are so uninteresting that you have not bothered to dwell on them long enough that you have given them any points.
  46. Julie,
    I feel that I receive my own "1" when I show a photograph to someone and his/hers only reaction is a question: "What is it?". This simple question brings me down immediately, it's a "1"shaped dagger right thru my artistic heart. Next few minutes when I'm trying to explain in words my photograph, feel like hell. In moments like that, I believe that I am capable of creating extraordinarily bad photographs.
  47. Thomas, it will of course depend on how the question is posed, but a "What is it?" might as well be a positive sign of interest and curiosity. If so, I would not interpret it as a "1".
  48. If I were to judge photographs between 1-7, I 'd think 99% would not be 1 and 7. They'd be 3, 4 or 5 most likely...although I tend to skew more positively.
  49. Bad pictures are not the ones people ask about. Not saying anything is how I show scorn. I'm grinding my teeth. If you can't say anything good… .
    Ranking is idiotic for the judge(s) and the picture.
    Trying for novelty or thinking too hard about what to do with a subject causes badness.
    I shoot in urban alleys that stink so much the JPEG's smell. I get looks. Just thought I'd let you know. This picture really stinks.
  50. That's a competent photograph, Alan. Not *extraordinary* bad in any sense in my book...
  51. Alan wrote: "Ranking is idiotic for the judge(s) and the picture."
    It doesn't matter whether or not they're "idiotic." They are *useful* in the same way that the necessary first handful of snow is what is *useful* in the generation of the snowman. That initial handful is soon concealed in the middle of Mr. Snowman's nether parts, but it is nevertheless (very) useful as the originating materialization -- out of the field of snow -- of the coalescence/formation of thoughts/realizations.
    The thing is, not to stop. A picture is an invitation; a rating is a response, a push. To defend, develop, etc. etc. out of which emerges more than what you had without that initiating irritant (the sand in the oyster, to use another popular metaphor). Whether or not any actual dialog with the rater comes out of an anonymous number, it's still a minimal kernel (good, bad or maddeningly indifferent) around which thoughts can coalesce and develop (in both giver and recipient).
  52. I think part of the problem with ranking is that it encourages people to be "pleasers" not photographers. It is frustrating to be caught, as a judge, to be so limited and enabling. Part of growing as an artist -- and we're all artists, darn it! -- is to learn the language of the medium. It isn't "Rank one to seven, with seven being the highest."
  53. It's been my experience that "pleasers" are born not made. Even artists can be "pleasers" ... (all those thousands of 'Madonna and Child' in the history of art). There's room for all kinds.
  54. Not to brag but . .. ... most of my truly terrible shots are lost to history and my delete button
  55. They just are and cannot be made.
    Just like dust bunnies. No one knows where they come from, and no one let them in on purpose. No one will ever seriously try communicate with them, hunt them for food, or keep them as pets. They just are. If you try to make one, it will be art, and not a real dust bunny.
  56. ... most of my truly terrible shots are lost to history and my delete button​
    Could it indicate that film users have better chance of preserving their extraordinarily bad photographs?
  57. Thanks for the links to two interesting pictures Julie! The Eggleston image for some reason reminds me of Tom Waits. An also of my childhood in the 60s when views like that was quite normal on dull, rainy indoor-days (from a childs perspective). And Duchamp actually breded those bunnies, and later stuffed them and had them photographed by Man Ray. Didn't know that, but the result is actually quite interesting. Dadaism definitely do not result in 1-ers.
  58. Personally, I think that particular Eggleston photo proves that even a great photographer can produce a "1." It is a 1, isn't it? I mean, what's it got going for it?
  59. I'd give it a 6. First, it made me stop (a tire-screeching stop, at that). Next, it made me work. Finally, I laughed.
    It's a really, really bad idea to try to "explain" Eggleston to people who don't want to like him, but if you're teetering on the edge of maybe wanting to at least try ... If a picture of his seems really mind-bogglingly crummy to you, try putting all ideas of form -- of what it "is" -- out of your head. Try seeing it as composed out of color (color playing with color; color interacting with color, etc.). Go airborne ... Then bring it back to earth, into the "where" (under the bed ...) ...
    A Jasper Johns quote in the spirit of 1-ness: "I heard a story about Willem de Kooning. He was annoyed with my dealer, Leo Castelli, for some reason, and said something like, "That son-of-a-b****; you could give him two beer cans and he could sell them." I heard this and thought, "What a sculpture -- two beer cans." It seemed to me to fit in perfectly with what I was doing, so I did them -- and Leo sold them."
    ... which reminds me of the Eggleston picture of a really filthy public toilet full of really yellow urine ... published many times and widely collected ... (to myself: "think color; think color" [holding my nose] ... )
  60. The thing I know about looking at pictures is to sum up everything I CAN see and everything I think about. I think about lying in bed in a room like that with stuff ,in the course of daily life, accreting… and so on. It is MY narrative evoked partly by the atmospheric mood of the picture and material objects. To me that is a successful picture of its type. The deal with many photographs is that they are about thinking about things. They are not of something material.
    With Eggelston the ultra banality is soooo unaesthetic at times. He makes a record -- you supply the narrative. You have to know how the game works.
  61. Well put Alan. I very much agree. One might also add the well-known Eggleston blurb about his "being at war with the obvious" ... which includes (especially) the aesthetically obvious.
  62. I lived in Memphis for a year in '85. It was my first exposure to deep South region. Started looking at Egg stuff then. I was seeing everything he was shooting real time and it looked to me like anybody could have shot it. I guess that was the point. Some of Eggeleston's work can be indifferent to formal issues.
  63. A lot of the very best work in many forms of art looks effortless; that's often what makes it among the best.
    Anybody could have shot it; only one person did shoot it.
    Speaking of "indifferent to formal issues" here's another Eggleston test image (think 'color,' think 'color' ...).
    [I'm picking out his ... erm ... "hardest to love" pictures. If you're not familiar with his work, please don't take these as exemplary.]
  64. I l ike a lot of the Eggleston pictures I've seen quite a bit. I liked almost all of them that I saw when I did a Google search of him after looking at the stuff-below-the-bed picture. But I don't feel compelled to figure out how to make myself like all of them, and that one, I can't work up much enthusiasm for.

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