Reality Check

Discussion in 'Casual Photo Conversations' started by Norma Desmond, Feb 2, 2007.

  1. As I read through critiques, a prevalent type of comment goes something like, "you can clean up the
    yellow spots in the leaf or the flower," try getting rid of the hand off to the side in the foreground," "you
    might remove the telephone pole/wires in that landscape." This tendency to disinfect is noteworthy in a lot
    of photos as well. Although in many cases it works to advantage, I'm not sure I understand the ubiquitous
    need for cleaning up reality. Can it be more interesting to work with it rather than sanitizing it? Flowers,
    for instance, other than plastic or silk ones, have a life and death cycle, yet I rarely see that expressed. I'm
    pretty new to this site, and am not trying to be alienating, just ponderous. I'm sure there's stuff out there
    that successfully accomplishes what I'm looking for, and if you can point me in those directions, I'd much
    appreciate it. I'm curious to hear others' views on this subject. I'm NOT suggesting there are or should be
    any rules and know there are times when the stamp tool comes in very handy. What I'm basically
    wondering is if creativity can flourish even more with a bit less dependence on the goal of perfection. It
    may just boil down to the difference between the pretty picture and the gritty picture but I suspect there's
    more to it than that.
  2. Fred: I suppose - to me - it comes down to what the photograph (or, let's call it an "image" so I don't bring down the wrath of the Semanticists From Hell) is intended to do. In an editorial use, where a part of the image might be intended to convey something that enhances the text that it's sitting next to, that telephone pole might be a real distraction from The Point. Sort of like an extra clause in a sentence, pointless punctuation, or one of my run-on sentences.

    There appear to be countless discussions, here, about the relative purity of the as-shot image, vs. the utility (or cheesy artistry) of manipulated images. I will not touch that. I just want everyone to remember that many images are shot and worked over to serve a specific purpose or to be used in a context that is not always clear when that image pops up in the critique forum. Good topic, though.
  3. You might find this conversation interesting.

    For what it's worth, I agree with you, and often times, these comments are left on photographs that are little more than snapshots. I think in some cases this may be the only type of feedback the poster is capable of. There are few enough people in the world, on or off line, that are capable of a really solid critique of art, so it's not overly surprising, but still...

    - Randy
  4. Matt, thanks for pointing that out. I hadn't thought of the editorial aspect and it's important
    to keep in mind that we don't always know the context for these photos. I would definitely
    limit my questions to those photos that aren't meant to serve a specific person, and are just
    meant to be free choices and expressions of the person taking the picture.
  5. I'm one who makes the kind of comment Fred asks about. When I make a "you should remove the poles and wires" comment it's because the thing I'm suggesting to remove either is a distraction in the frame or doesn't contribute to the overall image (mostly the same thing).

    I believe that "everything in the frame must contribute to the picture" and if you can't remove it by reframing, sometimes you have to resort to different tools (i.e., PS).

    As for "the goal of perfection," that to me is the goal of every picture I make. I don't get close most of the time, but I know what the goal is, and I know "how good is good enough."

    I'll be glad to provide examples from my own work where the removal of elements improved a picture but did not "materially affect" the content. And where it did have such an effect.

  6. "" might remove the telephone pole/wires in that landscape..."" Fred

    It depends whether the photographer intended to take a genre landscape photo or not. If such a thing was not the intention of the photographer, then the criticism is probably invalid -- at least in being critiqued by the standards the genre.


    Don E
  7. An example -- Don E
  8. Charles, thanks for the thoughtful response. What I'm wondering is if there could be some
    creative stimulation in, rather than removing the "distraction," making it so that the
    element in question does "contribute to the picture." True, it might make it a different
    picture, but sometimes the "different" picture is the better picture. Another thought
    stimulated by your response is that probably the type of photos one takes will tend to
    dictate how and whether one does a lot of cleanup. So that certain types of landscape
    photos will be better suited to the removal of extraneous stuff while many street shots will
    be better left with touches of a not-so-perfect reality. I think, however, molds are often
    meant to broken and would regret it if people assumed that this or that type of picture
    should always be dealt with in one particular manner as regards this discussion.
  9. Hi Fred, Good question! I was whining about all of the powerlines in a post I left somewhere - I can't recall if it was here or dpreview - anyway, in my neck of the woods they're everywhere and drive me nuts because they often ruin a perfectly beautiful landscape photograph. I almost never opt for the Photoshop clone-stamp option myself. (I'm not saying anyone should or shouldn't; after all, it's their photograph) What I *do* end up doing very often is using a telephoto lens a lot to isolate what I want and get the #%$@ powerline out of the shot. Sometimes though, I'll miss something... Say, a beer can somebody tossed out that I didn't see when I took the picture is now glaring at me in Photoshop, screwing up my otherwise decent shot. In that case, I'll stamp it out. Just my .02 cents. Good luck!
  10. As my wife and I drive around looking for things to shoot, it's a constant refrain: that would be nice, except for the ****ing power lines. And of course, every once in a while, we get a slide back with one of those nice woodsy scenes, and there, not seen in the viewfinder, will be the beer can or the McDonald's wrapper, or a ***ing power line that somehow hadn't been noticed.

    We're not pros, and shoot slides, and we prefer to leave slides as much unedited as we can. Besides, my PS expertise falls pretty far short of the kind of 'mad skillz' you'd need to make a coke can look like an autumn leaf, so we just usually utter some expletive and toss the slide.

    Of course it depends a little on subject, doesn't it? I mean, if you're shooting people in the street, it's different from some bucolic composition about hay bales and tree trunks. I think its reasonable to criticize scenic and nature photography, or photographs whose 'point' is their composition, for distracting or discordant elements that should not have been included in the first place.
  11. Matthew, I think you make excellent points about the various types of shots. Thanks.
    Meanwhile, I just came across an example of a photo that utilized potentiality distracting
    images to its advantage. I think a lot of people, myself included, would have tried to get a
    different angle and a "cleaner" shot at the girl and the other kids. But the way this is done
    seems to provide something extra, both in focus and attention. Anyway, it's the kind of thing
    that appeals to me because it's not perfect and it's not straightforward and it has an
    individual stamp. I know many will not agree and that's why we're here!
    Check it out:
  12. My take on is, that if you are documenting reality, then it's warts and all. If you are preparing some kind of idealised image, then it's reasonable to edit elements of the image to produce the overall effect you are after.

    This pre-supposes that the people looking at your image realise it's documentary or "art" and will make suggestions in keeping with your initial idea. Unfortunately, it's not always the case. Not so long ago, I submitted a documentary shot of a photographer sitting in a large bank of empty seats; someone suggested I clone out the photographer and replaced him with Father Christmas.

    So perhaps it's wise to look at the the writer of comments you get.

    My 2p
  13. For me a photograph is all about reality. Anyone looking for a perfect image should take up painting. Using a camera in an attempt to make a perfect image is like using an axe instead of a scalpel. IMHO
  14. I was going to complain about the crowd who always say get rid of this and that or the
    other, until I remembered that I made a comment about a perfectly good wedding shot
    which was ruined by power lines and poles in the bac ground.

    The photographer either said he didn't notice it or forgot to clone it out.

    I don't think power lines, beer cans or Mcdonalds wrappers work well in wedding photos,
    it sort of kills the mood. Also people who suggests removing them only do so because the
    photoghapher who left them have gotten used to seeing them so often they don't even
    seem like a distraction anymore.

    I went to see a friends house in an upscale neighborhood once, when I turned the corner
    onto his road...egads....power lines all over the place. Most upscale neighborhoods have
    gone to underground lines a long time ago....well his place sort of lost it's sense of
  15. I usually clean up the unwanted things in a photograph. But not always. I will give you an example...
  16. Fred asks how/where to draw the line between manipulation and "clean up" Here's a picture where I advised the OP privately to remove the power lines.

    In this case, it's obvious that the power wires and pole do not contribute to the picture, and are candidates for removal.

    In this picture there was a 3-strand barbed wire fence running across the frame at the 1/3 point up from the bottom. I felt it was a detriment to the scene and to my interpretation of that scene. So I removed it.

    To the comment "if you want to make a perfect picture, take up painting" I must reply "Says who?" Even the "classic" "great" photographers manipulated their pictures in the darkroom. Why should I not be allowed to use my more sophisticated tools? This argument goes round and round and leads nowhere. I regret being drawn into it.

  17. Charles, thanks. I want to make clear that I have no problem with manipulation, either in the
    darkroom or in photoshop. To me, it's all part of the process. The question I posed was more
    about WHAT we clean up and why, then whether we ever should. I have just noticed that a lot
    of critiques recommend taking out all kinds of things and I do feel like, in many cases, it
    creates a sterilized feel. I understand your point, though, and agree that sometimes it makes
    perfect sense to get rid of something.
  18. I had the same suggestions on some of my photographs dear Fred, and I didnot listen to them, cause I will not and I cannot modify the reality of an urban scenery, but I will change the contrast or lighten the photograph if necessar :)

    You can see that a lot of the so called best photographs on Photo Net are mostly landscapes or portraits made in studio or hardly photoshoped photographs!

    It appears that the Real World and the cruel Reality is not interesting to anyone on PN :( so sad!

    But everybody on PN told me that the PN Reality, and what can we do?
    Stick around or abort :)

    I will stick around and try to show the Reality as it is!

  19. Biliana, I appreciate what you had to say and think you make a strong argument, especially
    with many of the photos in your portfolio which are honest, moving, and very real.

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