S&D Pub: What turns a boring snap into a interesting photo?

Discussion in 'Street and Documentary' started by tonmestrom, Nov 6, 2009.

  1. I go out there, a lot. I wander around a lot and in doing that I observe a lot , far more than I shoot. Still, all in all I snap quit a lot, in a lot of places. It's what I do. I'm not interested in art, I never go out on the premise to produce art. I'm a photographer. That's what I do.
    But between all those photos there are some that seem to speak more than others. For why? Gut feeling, or just because it feels right? Frankly I don't know and that's what makes editing so damned hard. It's nice if people see the same things I saw or even if they see quit something else. It doesn't mind as long as it speaks to them at all, more importantly still, to me.
    So what is it that turns a boring snap into a interesting photo?
  2. Generally speaking there are as many opinions out there (on what is good) as there are pictures.
    Tastes differ. Period.
    What strikes you, what you can stand behind: enlarge, cherish, promote in shows, sell ...
    You are the decider. If your favorites are dark, gloomy pics, let us say, then perfect them and let the others slide a while. Maybe in a year you will prefer your nature ones, so repeat of what I spoke above about the gloomy ones, etc ... : work, repeat, reassess, redirect your love and effort.
    You are the artist. You suit your own taste, destiny, growth.
    Whatever the public says, are they right or wrong? van Gogh did not sell one pic, did he? His brother could not sell them either for a long while after Vincent's death .. Why should you see success? Vincent did so posthumously.
    We toil in darkness to see the light .... and photograph. The path is fun, isn't it, our life?
    Just keep up your effort to your own pleasure and growth etc! Good path!
  3. HDR {:~).
  4. Vision. Photoshop, uh excuse me, "post processing," never saves it.
  5. I think practice and experience make good photographs. As you said "I go out there, a lot. I wander around a lot and in doing that I observe a lot..." You have trained your photographic eye over the years to, first recognize the elements of your photograph; then, your mind to compose those elements; and finally, your understanding of the science of capturing light to put the image onto 'film'. I disagree with you when you claim to not be interested in art...bull! You are a fine artist. Because, you are taking empirical evidence and arranging and presenting it in a aesthetically pleasing form. Case in point: a mirror on a table at a swap meet on a drab looking day. There is nothing interesting or unique about such a thing. We've all walked through flea markets or past trash heaps and seen the same thing dozens of times in our lives...but wait! Ton, the artist notices a reflection of naked tree limbs that perfectly display the feeling of the scene. The dull, wintry drabness in the flea market. It suddenly becomes art because it can give us a feeling. That's it.
  6. I think it falls back on that word. WHY. It's what draws you in, contains you, even if only for a brief moment, and leaves other people guessing, but never so much as to allow you or anyone to truly judge. Only wonder. Maybe that's it. I wander a LOT myself, and I can't say I find my shots as interesting as other people do, but I think that just goes with the territory. I sometimes think it's supposed to be that way. You wander(Ying), so that others may wonder(yang). or something like that.
  7. Alchemy
  8. First word that comes to my mind is "transcendence." Of course, there would be a million exceptions and qualifications, but . . . it's a start.
    A snap (and, of course, not all snaps are boring, some are the most fascinating pics I've seen) will often not transcend it's particular reference. "This is my trip to Bermuda." "This is my granddaughter's first birthday party."
    I would say, usually, when an image has more universal meaning (emotion, feeling) it becomes an (interesting) photograph rather than a snapshot.
    Layers may be important. There's often a straightforward simplicity to snaps. For me, a good photograph will often be more textured or layered (not only physically but emotionally). Often, when I reject a photo I've taken, it's because it doesn't go that extra step to make a deeper connection within the photo itself. Simple example: If I take a street shot and there's an interesting character in the foreground and an interesting couple in the background, that may only be enough to make it a cool photo or snap. Often, some kind of visual connection between the person in the foreground and those in the background will give it that something extra that makes it work. Perhaps a gesture that's mirrored from one to the other, even a color relationship.
    For me, this means that a great composition is often not enough. I like it when there seems to be an interconnectedness (narrative or visual or otherwise) between even the compositional elements. Things may be aligned geometrically and effectively in a photo but still the photo may leave me cold if there doesn't seem to be almost a necessity for them being so aligned, a reason that's beyond just a cool geometric pattern. Escher, for example, was not solely about pattern and geometry (though on the surface he might be interpreted that way). He was also about layers of narrative and composition falling back on themselves (kind of like a Bach Fugue). This, to me, adds that transcendent, compelling layer that moves Escher's work beyond being just a drawing.
  9. Nothing. A boring picture is boring by definition, personal taste not withstanding. It's unreated to snapshots, which can be quite interesting as Fred pointed out. I think what you mean, please correct me if I'm wrong, is what elevates a mundane image into an interesting one. In older times, we called it "the hook". That element, subtle or obvious, that stopped the eye for a moment.
    It could be a well placed figure, a ray of light, or in your case, an unusual, high contrast reflection. It could be very subtle. The crinkle of an eyebrow, a spot of color, the position of a hand or crumble from a loaf of bread. These days its commonly called the "center of interest". No matter the subject or scene, a strong center of interest is what raises a mundane shot to one that is interesting. The stronger, more compelling the center of interest, the more clever the way the eye is led and kept to the center of interest, the more it is elevated.
  10. Louis,
    To follow your argument through, a "mundane image" is, by definition, a mundane image.
  11. Ton,
    By the framing, you seem to have put a certain amount of thought and time into your image above. It is anything but a snap(shot). Garry Winogrand did snaps, as did HCB (heresy!!).
    (Wiki definition: "snapshot a photograph that is taken in a short moment of opportunity")
  12. Yes Clive, a fine shade of meaning to be sure but not the same, at least not by my understanding or my dictionary/thesaurus.
    Boring- def-adj, so lacking interest as to cause mental weariness
    thes, deadening, dull, irksome,tedious, tiresome, tiring, unamusing, werisome...but not mundane
    Mundane- def-adj, Found in the ordinary course of events, not challanging, lacking excitment.
    thes, commonplace, everyday, prosaic, routine, unglamorous, unremarkable...but not boring
  13. I think there are two kinds of photographs: taken and made. A snap is obviously of the taken variety and it's impact (degree of interest) on viewers depends on your ability to convey what you felt when you took it - cause you must have felt some emotion that compelled you to take that picture.
    Now, what you felt might have been determined by a lot of factors (including e.g. sounds, smells, temperature etc. - and even some personal factors) but you can only convey that feeling by means of a 2D image. If you captured absolutely everything you saw, that may be too much and not enough at the same time, and fail to convey what you felt.
    In my opinion, the key is selecting the minimum of elements that can render in 2D the most of what you felt. This means eliminating elements that are more "noise" than "usefull information" (distracting from your core message), and possibly including elements that don't seem usefull per se but might provide a substitute/suggestion for non-visual elements that contributed to your original emotion (e.g. suggesting wind or heat etc.).
    The picture is "not boring" if you managed to capture all the ingredients (and nothing more) required to recreate your original emotion for another person. But another person may have different sensibility/taste/perception than you. Use of generally recognized symbols can help here.
    Just my 2 cents.
  14. Heh, Barthes' Studium & Punctum immediately comes to mind, for a non-short answer to that question. Although : it's the punctum that does it and might turn the mundane snap into an interesting photo, but the punctum often being very personal and different for everyone. Just keep an eye on the punctum Ton, but without neglecting the studium of course. Pretty straightforward, no ? : )
  15. "No matter the subject or scene, a strong center of interest is what raises a mundane shot to one that is interesting. The
    stronger, more compelling the center of interest, the more clever the way the eye is led and kept to the center of interest,
    the more it is elevated."

    Louis, I'm not sure if you're saying you want the eye stuck on a center of interest, but if you are, that's not quite right.
    Photography is about what goes on in the full area of a 2- dimensional frame, and to keep it interesting, you usually want
    the eye of the viewer to be led round and round and back again. That's usually what's happening when someone's interest is held.
  16. From the introductory post to this discussion:
    I'm not interested in art, I never go out on the premise to produce art. I'm a photographer. That's what I do.​
    That leaves me speechless. Could you elaborate a little on how that statement relates to the subject of this discussion?
  17. Why is this even a concern? Who are you making photographs for - yourself or others? Once one gets it into their minds that a photograph of theirs is successful only when it meets the criteria of others, they are doomed. Their work is no longer their own. A photograph is the result of a series of choices made by the photographer. If these choices are made in the hopes that the results will meet with approval and acceptance of other photographers, why even bother? Likewise heading out to shoot in the hopes the results will look like the work of someone from the past who is now famous. SP is hard enough as it is without having these concerns to weigh down on the mind.
    The fact is that for any creative endeavor most people photographers included, are just going to have to be content with creating the work that feels most true to them. Aside from close friends and family, most of our work will never be seen by the world at large. The internet has changed this of course, but it still is a very small number. I'm OK with this. Is anybody here not OK with this? If you are finding that a larger number of your photographs are boring, then it is really only you who can answerer why. It may take some time and introspection but eventually you will come to a conclusion. The seeds of your next series of photographs are in the series you just shot. This will be the first place you look.
  18. I don't think there is one amswer. But here are a couple : Composition, light, tone, colour (sometimes) - or in other words what artists are interested in as technical means of communicating. And in the case of street photos - narrative, atmosphere, life.
  19. I think you know the answer. You posted a good picture. Or was it luck?
  20. Nothing. It must be interesting from the start, otherwise it's not a photograph, it's something you cooked up in photoshop.
  21. I'm not sure if you're saying you want the eye stuck on a center of interest​
    Quite right, Ray. The center of interest does not have to be a "spot" or a "thing". I can be an interesting pattern or mood or other graphic feature. There may be many stopping off points as the eye scans the frame. One could write an essay in response to this seemingly simple question. I was hoping just to get the kernel of my idea down.
  22. [SD Woods]: "... otherwise it's not a photograph, it's something you cooked up in photoshop..."
    So, is there anything wrong if someone wants to walk the line between "pure" photography and graphic arts? I suspect we will (and already are) seeing lots of this.
    Tom M
  23. First of all this isn't about me as such. Regardless of background and/or training the hit/miss ratio particularly is a major one. It's something we all understand and have come to terms with.
    Berenice Abbot once said:
    I haven't seen too many images that have impressed me​
    now there's a statement. But is it true? Looking at street work in general do we see a lot of impressive work? Do we see a lot of photos of people that are merely passing by to give just an example or do these constitute meaningfull street work? I'm not qualifying here, merely asking because what is it that lifts a photo above a mere snap? And yet, most of you seem to know but why is it so hard to pin it down.
    Frank , yes the path is fun and perhaps the path is the most important part of all.
    Philip to some that seems indeed to be the case.
    Andy , couldn't agree more. But what is vision? Being able to perceive what if brought together works or achieving a recognisable style? Frankly I've always found that to be a rather fluid word.
    Elmo , yes you're right. I'm very much interested in art but it's not something I think about when photographing. For me photography is first and foremost a craft to be mastered.(and thanks for the compliment, it's appreciated although, as I already implied, I wasn't fishing)
    Ricardo , You wander(Ying), so that others may wonder(yang) . How nicely put.
    Fred , yes transcendence is indeed a good word or the difference between a mere registration and something that has more universal meaning. Or indeed raises questions or as Ricardo said makes you wonder. Emotion, narrative or multilayered, regardless of the word(s) used it needs more, certainly more than just a good composition, important as it is nevertheless. But what? Kitsch for instance can be used in a larger than life context and turn into art that way. Look at the work of Pierre and Gilles for example. Can the same happen with boring work? Maybe in a conceptual context?
    Luis , what elevates a mundane image into an interesting one . Yes, that's what I meant. Yours is a rather rational explanation (and I like rational). But what about those photos that have all the elements you mention and look striking at first (and maybe even second) view but have no lasting impact. Doesn't your "definition" fall short in such cases? To give an example some of Mario Testino's critics say that his portraits won't stand the test of time. One could say that that is a polite metaphor to describe uninteresting work. Nevertheless Testino is a highly regarded and succesfull photographer.
    Clive , thanks but yes, we all make snaps although I implied another connotation than used in the definition you refer to.
    Val , taken and made yes. I would like to add given because I think some photos are given to us by the people we portray. As for the rest. less is more? Our ability to convey is very much connected with what other people perceive. That's not always in sync. Frankly I like that myself.
    Ahh Phylo , the sum of all parts and then some isn't that what Barthes in essence implied? Thanks for that as well as for posting your photo.
    Ray , yes we have to direct and lead. Tough sometimes.
    Rory , of course. For me photography is not the same as art. I studied at an Acadamy of Fine Arts but I would say that some photography can lead to art but it certainly isn't by definition. I've seen too many people going out there on the pretense to create art while they would be better of considering what it is they want to photograph and seeing.
    Marc , I go out there because it's what I like to do and yes that pleases me. But it's not true that we only photograph for ourselves because if we did we would keep it all in a shoebox under the bed. Anyway, it's not exactly the same as doing it in the hope that others may like it but still, we seek recognition, we all do.
    Colin , of course there is no one answer as there is no one definition. All of that and then some.
    Bruce , the above answers your question I think. It's a bit more fluid than that.
    SD , essentially you're right. You can't turn a boring photo into a interesting one by using PS or advanced darkroom skills. If that's what you mean I agree.
    Tom , as I suspect you know there is and never has been something akin to "pure" photography.
    Thanks all. Interesting answers.
  24. “What turns a boring snap into a interesting photo?”
    It’s all subject depending on the individual tastes of the photographer and viewer. If you think it’s a boring photograph then it is. I suppose if you play around with it enough you might be able to breathe some life into it and often folk are more impressed with the technique used than the actual content. If the photograph is nicely composed, sharp, with pleasing tonality then many traditional photographers would consider it interesting. Others would look at the content regardless of technical quality and ask the question what does the photograph communicate…..
    The quick rule of thumb is it worth a second look.
    “For me photography is first and foremost a craft to be mastered”
    For me it’s about the seeing the ultimate challenge. Yes, to master the craft is important it enables you to present the photograph in the best possible way.
    “I'm not interested in art, I never go out on the premise to produce art. I'm a photographer. That's what I do.”
    In the UK photography has been canonised as Art.
    If you photograph you are putting your own perceptions/imagination on what you are seeing…..you are creating what is called Art.
  25. Louis,
    I'm not questioning your choice of vocabulary. My point, similar to a number of other people here, is that you can't make an uninteresting image interesting. Unless, that is, you apply some sort of post-processing. I think Barry has the answer.
  26. Ton, in my simple thinking, sometimes it's composition/picture design, sometimes it's the subject/event, and sometimes it's both. If in your sample you crop at the bottom leaving about a third of an inch between the circular edge and the frame bottom, IMHO the objects have more tension and picture becomes more interesting
  27. Boring snap... interesting image?
    Time, alchemy, alcohol, elective dehydration, and more time...
    Sometimes you don't know what you have when you have it.
  28. But what about those photos that have all the elements you mention and look striking at first (and maybe even second) view but have no lasting impact.​
    That's a good point, Ton but a bit of enlargment from your original question. So now the question is not only what elevates an image from the mundane to the interesting but what elevates it to a memorable image, perhaps iconic, that may even receive critical acclaim. If an essay would be needed to address the former question this would need a volume. The reasons are as varied and complex as art itself.
    What separates a Rembrant masterwork from the workshop of, from the circle of, from the school of, from the manner of? Often the difference between greatness and also ran are very small. As far a critics opininons, history shows repeatedly just how wrong they can be, El Greco's paintings lived in museum basements for over 100 years before being recognized for their quality. Impressionist were openly mocked. In photography, Edward Curtis' original plates of Native American Indians could be had for a few dollars in the bargin bins at some bookstores, now prints sell for thousands.
    Many times the importance of an image, and it's fixation in our memory, is raised far beyond the photographers original intent such as Rosenthals' The Raising of the Flag at Iwo Jima or White's Migrant Mother. I would think the socio-policical-economic atmosphere of the times played no small part.
    Sometimes you don't know what you have when you have it.​
    Fi's brief comment summarizes it quite well I think. We simply don't know what images we create will end up as lasting, important or be considered great or end up in the land fill. We can only work with skill, persistance and joy and let the chips fall where they may.
  29. uh, b&W conversion?
  30. Wicked, Eric.
  31. Be intuitive..respond to what you observe. Photography is not a mechanical dispassionate or regimented process. It is a complex language that is useful in communication... a highly individual response to the visual world. Get the big information correct ..don't focus on the details too quickly. Let go of what you think you are looking at and trust what you see at a glance. This helps elevate a photo from a clinical record of observations into a perceptive expression. The process is about sharing an intriguing color... expression... gesture or form that exists for a moment. mary

Share This Page