Leica and digital: "To stand out as a 'great' takes a lot more today"

Discussion in 'Leica and Rangefinders' started by aplumpton, Jul 28, 2007.

  1. One thing of interest in the recent Photo.Net comments on Erwin Put's recent article on
    "photography is dead" was the comment by Trevor Hare: "To stand out as a 'great' takes
    a lot more today than it ever did in such a crowded field" (.. of so many photographers
    and more easy to use digital photography).

    I think Trevor has a really good point. It is not so much that digital is displacing film Leica
    photography, because this section of photography will probably exist for a long time
    albeit at increasing cost to the user, but the great expansion of photography has made it
    difficult to rise above the present quality of results and the greater number of shooters
    who possess a certain ability and experience.

    Will the standards of Leica photography (or photography with any high quality instrument
    other than Leica) be raised? This should be hoped for. A scientist or research engineer
    working in a specific field must go beyond the thinking that preceded him and resulted in
    past advances. He has to push the envelope. Why not the same in photography?

    Perhaps the greater abundance now of successful (if not memorable) images will push
    the bar higher for creative photography. Look-alike photos in so many photo magazines
    are representative only of a static state in photography and not of advancement. My own
    experience with digital (and I continue also to shoot film in my older Leicas and even
    work with the smell of the B&W darkroom) is that it provides valuable immediate
    feedback on the image-in-the-making, thus allowing improvements to such things as
    composition (equilibrium of masses, of colour, of clair-obscure, etc.), lighting, exposure,
    and angle, that benefit further downstream attempts.

    If it takes a lot more to make a great photograph or great photographer, so much the
    better for the photographic creator (and not just "duplicator"). Leica photography, and all
    photography, are hardly dead, simply because the recording media has changed.
  2. A rising tide raises all ships.
  3. But not all docks.
  4. I don't think the camera/technology etc. makes as much of a difference as the person using it. The mind creates the picture. That will never change.

    Is digital easier? I don't think so. It is more convenient for many things. The immediate results are nice but it still takes knowledge and skill to get a pleasing image.

    I think Put's mind is in a rut, photography is changing but it is far from dead. :)

    That said, I would like to see a full frame body with an M mount.

    Will digital imaging improve? Yes, just like computers have.
  5. A sagely post.

    In reality, what has happened (specific to the Leica forum) is to get all the creative souls who were pushing the envelope to get banned from this forum and the site.

    Let us get the likes of EDMO, etc back and posting images.
  6. Arthur,
    ...will the standards of Leica photography...
    There are some very loaded assumptions here. Fact might be that Leica produces some very good glass in the 135 format; in the past some very capable photographers have used Leica systems and produced some iconic imagery against limited oompetition in both the domains of photographers and equipment.
    Today, Leica glass still tends to hold its own but with most cult photographic systems, more emphasis is put onto the system than the photographer. People might think this is harsh, but honestly, photo sites that have been dedicated to camera systems such as Leica M's and Contax G's (as an exmaple) have hosted a plethora of mundane and technically poor imagery that has been held up and supported as good and great merely because of the system used to take the shots.
    I still believe that there is a noticable difference in glass between companies like Leica and more pedestrian manufacturers such as Canon and Nikon. The difference is that there are an order of magnitude more photographers with the certainly acceptable Canon and Nikon glass yet more capable systems and thus a higher proportion of hungry and talented up and coming photographers that dont think its all about the logo on their camera.
    Peter A used to taunt this forum with "show us your rangefinder style photography" as a tongue in cheek comment against what the Leica could excel at above all others. Basically, it cant do much at all better than today's systems. Its still a great system; has its roots in documentary/candid style photo journalism but isnt a necessity.
    I dont have deadlines, I love the process, I love the system and it does work for me so I dont see myself changing. But that has nothing to do with the rest of the world and where Leica fits today. Leica is primarily a hobbists tool with some very niche commercial applications. But at the end of the day, being a great photographer or producing a great photograph has very little to do with what was in your hands when you pressed the shutter.
  7. I think Yogi Berra said it best, "The future isn't what it used to be."
  8. I don't know that the photography today is any better or worse than it was before. It's easier
    to make a technically good image, but that's about it. Time has a tendency to make us forget
    the bad, boring and mundane images. When people look back and say, "Photography 50
    years ago was so much better, more about the image, of a higher technical standard..." etc,
    etc, it is largely because all the 50 year old crap is forgotten. There was proportionally as
    much then as now, it's just been relegated to the dustbin. There were just as many crappy
    photographers, its just that they were not as visible because instead of being on the internet,
    they were just in local camera clubs or punishing their families and friends with endless
  9. Sorry, but I don't buy the general premise of this discussion. I do agree with Stuart.

    Standing out as "great" has very little to do with mechanics such as glass or sensor/film. That point is muddied here. The fact that there are more serious photographers active today means nothing in terms of your chance to be "great". There are many more authors today, many more directors today, still only a few books and movies are great. In fact, there is a far better opportunity to be great as a photographer today because the public (and I know "the public" is a huge generality) is not only more visually savvy but the desire to know what it means to be human, be a society, be happy, have a worthwhile purpose in life is more prevalent today than it ever was, due in part to globalization and faster and more accessible information lines. A photograph can help focus the viewer toward addressing these issues for him/her self.

    Every age has a crowd that says, "it's all been done" but it is just willful mediocrity talking.
  10. Took my Leicas out to an event today and discovered that, for me, they are no longer the action cameras they were five years ago. I missed so many pictures while focussing or rechecking the settings that I gave up. I'm sure other people have much different experiences but I find that digital is faster and easier now. I see what I want and the camera does the rest. I can concentrate on the shot while the camera handles the mechanics and if I don't like the focus point or the exposure I can over-ride them. The Leica, like the light sabre, is a weapon for a more cultured time. :)))
  11. In the end it *still* comes down to vision and being able to render an image with emotional
    pull. Cameras and lenses are secondary.
  12. Judging from the images posted on Photo.net in general and here on the Leica Forum in particular, I don't believe that Henri and Ansel have any thing to worry about.
  13. Judging from the comments posted on Photo.net in general and here on the Leica Forum in particular, I don't believe that Mr Hemmingway has any thing to worry about, either.
  14. "Mr Hemmingway" has nothing whatsoever to worry about. Mr Hemingway might, however.
  15. "I don't believe that Henri and Ansel have any thing to worry about."

    Except graverobbers.
  16. I think my mind is really unchanged in regard to the need to push the creative
    photographic envelope. So much photography (witness photo magazine
    photos, club competitions, Photo.Net, the press, and so on, and on) appears
    unimaginative in the context of its message. Little "soul" ("heart" or passion, if
    you like). Little mind, Little communication.

    Trevor's example of there being very little popular photography in the early
    days of Life or Paris Match to compare with professional photography
    probably allowed for the lower bar to hurdle. But the results were in many
    cases great. Now everyone is shooting and there are many more competent
    photographers, but the level of photographic art is not in linear relation to that.

    Yes, I include most of my own work in the "little communication" class, but
    simply engaging it in "show and tell" is not what I consider a good use of
    creative time. But show some imaginative work (Yes, it is damned hard to be
    different and innovative) and I will gladly concede that photography is not
    STATIC, but progressing.

    Significant work equal to that of Munkazi, Brandt, Kertesz or Irving Penn or,
    more recently, Michael Kenna. Who are their present day equivalents (if
    any)? The challenge curve is steep, but that in itself is exciting for any of us
    who wants to do at least some significant work.

    And if you can do it solely with your in-camera vision (and/or printing
    creativity) and without the aid of Photoshop, good on you mate!
  17. I think Yogi Berra said it best, "The future isn't what it used to be."
    My favourite is from Yogi Bear... "I'm smarter than the aver-age bear!"
  18. I agree that the ratio of good to bad probably hasn't changed but the standards by which images are judged has changed. I'm old school and see images in museumas and books being published of photographs that once were considered poor photographs and poot technique. Now these images are held in high regard ans art. It's now about gimicks and not photography. I don't believe digital has anything to do with this but do believe the people setting the standards have seriously lowered the bar.

    I do believe that there are more really fine photographers today in both film and digital. The medium makes no difference as to where the image is bad or good anymore than what kind of film or camera you use does. I also believe due to the number of really fine photographers today that greats of the past like Adams, Weston and HCB would fall in the cracks and never be noticed. There are better photographers today than any of the three. They just happened to be the first to get attention in their art is why they gained and retained status. It comes down to being in the right time at the right place with the right images.
  19. Please respect! Where have you seen these better Photographers? Should I google or what?
  20. Significant work equal to that of Munkazi, Brandt, Kertesz or Irving Penn or, more recently, Michael Kenna. You forgot,Henri,Arthur. Those were the days Arthur....giants of photography. Men were men,and walked all day in their vests in the snow,just for a loaf of Hovis(bread). And Arthur they used proper cameras like a Leica and Film....and could write proper,and spell proper,and used a pen with a feather on top. Like my mate Bill. These days Arthur, they have all silly names, not proper names like Bill and Arthur. And they put on perfume, Arthur.They take photos with phone pixels which are terrible...and they mess with them on a Computer. Not proper photos like a little boy dropping his hat, or a bloke jumping a puddle..no Sir!!! And they sit and drink all day.....
  21. Great art is rarely recognized in its day. Talk to me in 20-40 years and I will tell you who the
    great photographers are that are working today.
  22. Personally there are two quotes I like best when discussing modern photography:

    When you come to a fork in the road take the fork by Yogi Berra,


    Conversation about remember when is the lowest form of conversation by Tony Soprano.
    The philosophy that drives the manufacturers is to make photography easy enough so that
    everyone can take great pictures and will buy more cameras. The philosophy of retail is to
    sell the equipment that was used to take the great picture that you saw in the magazine
    because you think you can do it as well. Both have relevance and are customer driven i.e .
    digital photography makes it easier for the masses to take pictures with instant results.
    Are they great pictures? It depends on the eye of the beholder. Photography is changing
    and no amount of grumbling or wishing for the past will change that. What it becomes
    with the digital age is still in the growing pains but will eventually reach its own level. Will
    it be art? Again in the eyes of the beholder. Those who prophesize the future of
    photgraphy are indicating that in ten years or less there will be no more still image
    cameras. All cameras will be video with still image capture from the video. Many
    newspapers are already equiping their PJ's with video cameras and given what I just saw
    the other day with Canon's new HD line of cameras I can see why. What impact will this
    have on photography? When you come to a fork in the road take the fork.
  23. Actually, I think the difference today is money. When I decided to make a living at
    photography, in the early 1970's, after years of learning the craft as an obsessed amateur,
    it was much easier to distinguish myself as a professional. I went into serious debt to buy
    professional equipment to go along with the skills I had spent years learning. And there
    were relatively few people actually making a living at photography. The equipment
    available required skill to operate, with little of the auto everything that came later.
    <p>About two years ago, a friend called me and asked me to advise his high school junior
    son, who had an interest in but no real experience with, photography, on what he needed
    to become a professional photojournalist. I spent a lot of time talking to them both about
    the need to learn the craft from the ground up, etc., as I had.
    <p>The young man graduated from high school in May of this year. Dad bought him two
    1DS Mk. II and a dozen L lenses, along with everything you can imagine in tripods,
    lighting, etc. His proud dad called to thank me for the advice (which he had ignored)
    because his son had just, months out of high school, landed a full time PJ job with a daily
    in an adjacent city.
    <p>Owning professional equipment isn't everything, but apparently it's something,
    especially if you can take lovely, perfectly exposed and focused pictures with that
    equipment, with no knowledge of the technical details of the craft.
    <p>My point is, lots of folks have lots of money these days, and where computer
    controlled cameras can make a difference, that money is the short cut. It really doesn't
    matter if the photos are mediocre. Mediocrity is the new greatness.
    <p>I'm a professional, a PJ. And I love photography as much now as when I got serious
    about it as a 10 year old in 1960. But, I have to agree that photography is dead. At least,
    the kind of photography most of us are talking about when we talk about photography. As
    Ron pointed out, there are digital camcorders in use by newspapers now that produce
    such high quality video that frame grabs from them are indistinguisable from a quality
    digital SLR. You see these photos everyday on the front page of major daily newspapers as
    their PJ's have stopped shooting still cameras completely. Talk about the "decisive
    moment?" You can have any moment you want from the event, or as many moments as
    you want, in beautiful, high resolution color.
    <p>We are an anacronism, a dinosaur destined for extinction.
  24. To stand out in any progressive field should take higher and higher standards. That's what progression is about.

    That said, just because equipment makes it easier for people to capture billions of images doesn't make standing out necessarily harder. In fact, if you're good, you wil stand out clearly from the sea of mediocrity. Assuming of course that the law of large numbers doesn't catch up with you.
  25. Jim: You just said it all that "Mediocrity is the new greatness". I see it every day on the internet, in magazines, books and in museums. I go back a little earlier than you in photography and apprenticed in a commercial studio for a year with no pay. I worked and studied with a master photographer and worked 48 hours a week. After a year and becoming an asset to the company I started gettin a small paycheck. I took the time to learn the trade from the ground up and learned it well. I received the title of master photographer in 1985 form the Professional Photographers of America and it was earned not given to me. It truly makes me sad to see the decline in the art. It's not due to digital but due to the lowering of standards. I still have a very strong commercial business and have clients that still use my services for the more major jobs but other times send a secretary out with a digital P&S. The images they come back with are well below what they would accept from me but because they're "free" they accept them. They're not all that way fortunately.

    The unexpected effect of digital has been the return of some clients that tried to do it themselves. I had one major client that purchased a camera for their AD to shoot catalog shots. After a year they deceided they weren't getting the same quality work even after hours of photoshop work on the images. They're now back as a better than ever client with an appreciation for the quality work I do. They never complain about cost now.
  26. SCL


    This is one great thread. I typed a well-thought out answer and as I was getting ready to post it my cat jumped onto my keyboard erasing the output of my grey matter. So I guess my thoughts have already been reflected by others in sufficient depth.
  27. My professional work (prepress house) enables me to see a significant amount of
    advertising photography before it is published. And it allows me to see the various
    retouching steps involved. Nothing you see in an advertisement is real. In fact, they should
    be called digital illustrations rather than photographs. In addition, most of the photos I've
    seen are under exposed and sometimes out of focus. It looks like they were taken at great
    speed to get as many exposures as possible in a short period of time. The clients would
    rather spend the money on retouching than proper photography.

    It make me glad that I took the fork that I did, and kept photography as a hobby.
    Something that I can enjoy and not worry about making a living with. Just my 2 cents
  28. Hi,

    I actually believe the exact opposite to the OP's supposition to be true..I believe that today it is actually easier for any one 'great' photographer to stand out...I just think there are not many of them.

    The reason why?

    ...I believe that although there may be more images around, I also believe that much of it is dross. I am of the opinion that the digital & photoshop age has encouraged many of todays photographers to adopt the 'machine gun' or 'fix it later' approach to taking photos, which actually results in poor technique and ultimately poor shots.

    Many people today spend far too little time thinking about their work BEFORE they take it, then spend far too much time thinking about it AFTER they have taken it.

    There are also far too many art colleges, lecturers and 'mentors' who seem to spend far too little time emphasising the importance of technique. So you have photograhers with plenty of creative ideas, but no clue about, or mastery over their 'tools of trade'.

    ...and I am constantly amazed at the number of very mediocre Leica 'snaps' that are crooned over on PN..there does seem to be some bizarre correlation made by some, that if it has been taken by a Leica then it must be good.

    Personaly I think it would be a very good thing if we never knew what camera had been used to take any given photo...

    cheers Steve.
  29. Steve:
    I agree on 99% of your post but still believe the bar has been lowered and mediocrity is the new high standard. Look at some of the art photographers artist statements if you want to have a real laugh. It looks like schools are teaching BS writing and not technique.
  30. Thanks, dear PNers, some really interesting comments on the future of great
    photography! Allen, I wouldn't get too downhearted about the state of
    photography. If we are able to continue beyond postmodern photographers'
    artist atatements, most of which as Don says are insulting to normal
    intelligence, we might see a new leap in photography, beyond the simplisticy
    of the f/64 movement, or druggery of Pictorialism, or Postmodern's "explain it
    with an incomprehensible title", we might see a real flourishing, as made
    possible by two things:

    1. The artistic tool known as digital (or as the European's say a bit more
    precisely, "numerical" photography) which opens up experimental
    possibilities during the taking of an image,

    and 2. The raising of the challenge bar, by the need to create things which
    have not been done before and which can be done by photography (as
    opposed to Photoshopery) . Perhaps some genius will pave the way to novel
    and imaginative creative photography, in the same way as a Picasso or
    Braque with Cubism to mention but a single example from the art painting

    "Many people today spend far too little time thinking about their work BEFORE
    they take it, then spend far too much time thinking about it AFTER they have
    taken it."

    Right on, Steven! The use of the mind is essential in the making of an image,
    whether it be instantaneous and based on a combination of instinct and
    experience (artistic preparedness) or slow and methodical. Many scoff at the
    latter, but I know of several top artists that take a year to produce two
    paintings. Why not a half hour or so in composing a static fine art
    photrographic work?
  31. Great Thread and well put Arthur.
  32. Greetings from the Seattle area, where in the winter, "It gets late early out here", as Yogi once said. Think of the products that photographers produce as transmissions, and consider who are the receptors of these products. I can't hold an American populace in too high a regard, when we have seen in the very recent past, a total 24/7 obsession with the likes of Anna Nicole Smith, Don Imus, and Paris Hilton. The dumbing down of the US, inspired in no small part by national leaders that can't form a proper sentence unless it is spelled out for them on a teleprompter in small words.
  33. Hi Kerry,

    Not all of us Americans are possesed with Anna Nicole Smith, Don Imus and Paris Hilton, it
    just so happens to be the fecal material that is forced on us by a press that is afraid to take
    to task the national leaders who can't form a proper sentence. I hope I live long enough to
    see the day when a generation has had enough and tries to take the Republic back like we
    did in the 60's. But I digress as this has been a very good thread on photography. I still do
    not believe photography is dead as all it takes is a generation to change things.

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