Seven Levels of Photography

Discussion in 'Leica and Rangefinders' started by vic_., Dec 22, 2003.

  1. Many have read this already, but for those who haven't, this is great stuff from Ken Rockwell's fabulous website. For the holiday season, before equipment goes on sale and you rush out to buy it:
    The Seven Levels of Photographers
    Why Your Camera Does Not Matter
  2. Rockwell just doesn't get it. :) ...jf
  3. m_.


    Very interesting reading. Thanks, Vic.
  4. Very good.

    It all boils down to this: are you here and spending money on photography because you get to play with the toys or because you get to communicate with images.

    If it is the former, Ken is wrong. If it is the later, Ken is right.

    I think Ken is right.

  5. A barely interesting read...
  6. Who wants to be 'just as good as the pros'?

    A pathetic aspiration.
  7. It's the sort of joke that's been done better and a lot more briefly by others.
  8. Sorry Vic but why on earth would you impose Ken Rockwell's wisdoms upon Leica owners forum? To make them all feel bad, lol? I don't think this will work -- Mr.Rockwell's website makes for the 4th grade-level reading and photos posted there suck.
  9. Ahhhh, if it were only true.

    BTW, what was the name of the violin Pearlman plays?

    I tried a throw-away at a wedding once. Pix were well composed and looked
    like crap. Tried a Contax 645 at a reception. AF never did lock on the people dancing.
    Got the EOS 1v out of the truck and caught every one from then on.

    The right tool for the job to be done. That's what gear is about.
  10. Ken Rockwell has explained in the past that the "7 levels" article was an exagerrated satire, meant more for a big laugh than as a serious criticism. I'm sorry if it offended anyone. Don't take the world too seriously!
  11. Ken's a genious.
  12. Hey, I'll be the first to admit I'm a Measurebator. There, I'm out of the closet!
  13. Maria, I feel bad that I offended you. I found the article an eye-opener, and thought I'd share it with others, who might waste money buying this or that lens. There are so many posts asking:

    <P>"Is the pre-Asph bokeh creamier than the penultimate-Asph, or the ultimate-Asph? How about the creaminess of the 6-element non-Asph? Where does it stack up versus the pre-War 7-element chrome version (meters, not feet; with infinity lock). How about the one without the infinity lock? Does anyone have a "Creaminess Index" for lenses? Please help! I'm losing sleep over this important issue, and the rest of my life is falling apart. I'm paralyzed by my psychological conflict. Somebody! Please help!"

    <P>Accomplished professionals like Marc Williams don't need to read any of Rockwell's stuff, their body of work speaks for itself. It's the rest of us Measurebators who could take a moment to laugh at ourselves.

    <P>And Maria, this isn't a Leica owner's forum. A lot of people don't own Leica, and they have better pictures!
  14. rockwell: boring photos, spot-on insight.
  15. I am clearly a 7 trying to get to level 6 on as many occasions as possible... And I totally disagree with his second POV.


    Jack the wannabe ;)
  16. Of course Ken left off the top three levels - that is, levels 8, 9 and 10.

    Level 8 - Leica Photographer

    Level 9 - Leica who actually takes pictures

    and Level 10 - Leica photographer who takes pictures and posts and particpates on the Leica forum on
  17. Vic, sorry and no, you did not offend me. I shouldn't be so outspoken on Leica owners behalf since I don't own one (no money honey). It's just that both threads you pointed us to on Ken Rockwell site seem infantile and full of hypocrisy -- he's got a pic of himself with a huge telescopic lens and I wonder how one can shlep box camera to sporting events. It's just obvious that nothing follows his advice there and therefore it's pure entertainment. Which I found bizarre coming from a pro on a pro-photography site. His fees for a day of advice are $600 or so -- it makes me wonder.
  18. Oh my golly! Sorry someone posted my stuff to a Leica owner's site! Obviously there is no better made gear than Leica, and of course I use a Leica projector personally for my 35mm work, and even splurged for the Colorplan CF lens, which is spectacular.

    You know you guys are easy to poke fun of. Would you have it any other way owning the best? I mean where's the fun in toying with Sigma owners?

    You folks have to realize that I kid around a lot, and that my decades of making photos has taught me that the really important aspects are deeper than just the gear used. The photographer does, in some very rare and isolated cases, play a small part in the final image. Of course you need to use the right gear, but with effort the right person can use the wrong gear to get great results, just like some people can actually get windows PCs working long enough to crank out some decent photos, too.

    Merry Christmas to all!
  19. Deja vu all over again.
    Click here.
  20. Ken didn't ask to be here but since he is, he has a lot of opinions and a lot of photos, some good and some not so good. What many people just don't get and apparently Ken is one of those folks, is what makes a good photo is really, in the final analysis, subject matter content interest to the viewer. Certainly, some photos are techically flwawed but for the most part, most photos simply cannot interest everyone. If you reach personal satisifaction in your shots and your shots are appreciated by those who have an interst in their content, you reach the highest level of the art. It is also true that appreciation of one camera over another does not a bad photographer make, no matter what Ken thinks.
  21. Hi to all and have a nice Cristmas.

    I think Ken has a message to some of us, and on his site he brings that with humor and some serious thoughts.
    Keep allways an eye on his site because he has something to say to us, most sites don't.
    Only good photographers can make good pictures with less good tools.
    So it makes it much more easy for Ken to make good pictures with less good tools than it does for me.
    For me there is a lot to learn on his site.
    Thanks for that Ken.
  22. Nice work Ken. You really have a daggy sense of humour which is great!! Love your site and read it regularly. Shame others can't see the funny side of things like you can!!

    Cheers, Steve.
  23. Hi everybody,

    I am neither a Leica-User nor -Collector and therefore apologize for my comments on this board. But I wanted to say "Thank you" to all of you Leica-, Mercedes- and Porsche-Buyers who provide my country and its economy with such great amounts of money for these absolutely overpriced products. You need all that stuff to take better pictures and drive to work faster, believe me! Thanks for subsidizing our jobs!

    All the best...

  24. He leaves out another class: those who having attained a certain degree of skill and have acquired a reputation therefor are impelled to ascribe attributes of others to one or another level he has designed. As one wag put it: “There two classes of people in the world: those who are always putting others in one class or another and those who just don’t give a damn whatever.”
  25. I am very happy that I finally found Ken's website, because it completely changed the way I am thinking. Now I will spend more time taking pictures than reading X or Y guru reasoning why I need af 3.5 or whatever lenses why 4 megapixel but not 3 camera is better and other mechanical stuff.

    But I believe that you guys didn't catched the point what Ken was trying to tell you. In fact it is entire philosophy, which is not realizable to everyone.
    A professional doesn't mean an artist. And knowing every technical aspect of your camera doesn't mean that you will create astonishing pictures. Optically right picture doesn't mean GOOD picture. And an artist not necessary means professional. The same with car driving- in order to be a good driver it is not necessary to know how to fix a car. Still probably you will notice that for example consumer films(which deliver only entertainment but not enrich someone's soul)are on shelfs marked best seller/hit/or whatever else. Sometimes even artist have to make a choice- do for money or do in sake of art(express himself). But of course there are different people interest- some of them involved in photography as an artists, other do taht for money, third just interested in technical aspect and so on and so on to infinity...

    A lot of you guys should read some art philosophy before you start praying for technical details and using technical, magical slang.
    There is just one link, others (including theory of cognitivism, expressionism, critical pluralism and critical monism and others) you can find by yourself, of course if it will be some desire.
  26. Over the other end of the spectrum, I would like to praise a very humble lens - the Nikon 28-80G F3.3-5.6. This is a very wonderful lens that cost less than 1/10 of the 28-70 F2.8 from the same company. This lens is sold as part of a kit with the amateur Nikon bodies. Just give it a chance and you'll find that you get practically the same results as the BIG lens, just remember to use smaller apertures like F11 or better still F16 and bring that tripod along and use it. City-scapes, landscapes, portraits, snapshots, night-scenes. Of course, do not expect to do low light stuff.
  27. I got here from Ken's site as well, and he was right! You guys are a hoot! I've immensely enjoyed reading everything that has been written here, flames and all. I'm even checking out the rest of what has to offer and I like it.

    Back to Ken. He has demonstrated himself as a clear thinker who doesn't need me providing defense; I'll simply tip my hat to him. I quite enjoy his site. This -is- "" so I feel compelled to list my equipment and spout photo-babble but I won't. What pushed me to write was thinking about why Ken's writings have upset people? Why has anyone gotten riled up by what he's written on his pages? And to then insult his photography? Ridiculous.

    Then you've got to think that for each guy who actually posted there must have been many like minded people who just clicked on to the next link in anger. I've observed this human reaction in many other avenues of life, and it's always made me scratch my head. I'll venture a guess:

    Aside from the basic flaw of taking ones self too seriously (a dangerous way to carry yourself through life) these guys seemed to ooze a sense of dissatisfaction with themselves when they spouted so vehemently. Life isn't simple enough to break down into numerical levels; his writings were for fun and reading wasn't compulsory. But perhaps the subconscious sides of these disgruntled folks knew which "level" they fit into when they read them - saw it as true - and didn't like it. Internal dishonesty prevents one from seeing things for what they are and bingo. Restless negative energy that needs to be spent.

    Then again, I'm probably full of hog wash.

    To everyones' credit in this forum, folks seem to have kissed and made up. Thanks again all.

    P.S. And for crying out loud. Ken's enthusiasm about teaching that "The equipment doesn't make the art, the Artist does" should NOT be viewed as an insult against equipment lovers! He is simply ENCOURAGING those who love photography yet don't have the financial power to pour cash into exotic equipment.

    And he's right to do this. There are far too many viewpoints out there that will tell you that your shots stink because you need to spend another $4,500 - we accept Credit Cards.

    Use what you've got, use it well, and enjoy!
  28. Maybe I'm just old, cranky, and cynical, but I think Ken's "7 levels" scores a direct hit.

    Consider the stuff Leica says about their own cameras. Insufferable glop like this is calculated to confuse the equipment vs. creativity issue to the greatest degree possible; exactly what Ken is talking about.
    "Leica products enjoy a cult status: on one hand they are highly refined designs that are fabricated with unequaled mechanical and optical precision. On the other hand, they have an extraordinary aura that can evoke feelings and emotions.
    And it is precisely this unique combination of that warm aura and bold, perfect technology that created the Leica mystique. A person who reaches for a Leica is not just opting for a particular camera, but also for an exquisite new internal attitude that will affect this person’s way of taking pictures, it will even determine it."

    Uh, yea..... OK.

    The last sentance says it all. I'm not saying that everyone around here has taken the bait, but as users of a 'prestige' marque, you do run an incresed risk of wandering down that particular slippery slope. ;)

  29. What Ken said might be mostly true for still imagines where you can stand there for a long period of time to adjust your equipment to get it right. However, without a relatively modern/robust camera/flash light/lens, I don't see how Ken (and anybody else) who claims "camera does not matter" can take "the moments" of running kids, sport events, etc.? Camera (and lens, flash light, etc.) does matter when time comes to catch the moments of your lovely ones who are simply too young to wait for your old equipment to catch up.
  30. you can use pinhole photography with any camera body and get the right stuff you want, Ken your cool.
  31. Leica will soon be Sony. Contax is sliding away. My pictures are still fun to look at and it is fun to look at other's phtographs. Equipment does matter, but it is not critical. What is important is good mentoring and lots of field experience. There is nothing like someone not liking a shot and being able to explain to you what they did not care for. There is nothing worse then a photograh that elecits no response...positive or, just put the computers away and pick up those little boxes and go have fun.
  32. I have a photo my realatives and friends constantly talk about. I've had to print several in 8x10 and a few in 11x14. It is a photo of a swamp I did with a Coolpix 5700 before I bought a real camera or almost real camera, a D70. I also bought a very lightly used F100 since film is going down the tubes (for less than 1/2 the price of a new one). I did some photos of an old stone church. I used my least lens, Tamron 24-135 I bought just for snap shots. I took the photos to plan my next trip to take the "real" photos. Some members of this church saw some photos I did with the D70 anf F100. They want to buy the photos made from that old film (slides).
  33. The camera manufacturers and the merchants who peddle the stuff are gonna arrange to have several thugs show up at Rockwell's door and............
  34. I've read quite a bit from Ken's page and agree with most of it. It reminds me of a story I read years ago in a mountain bike magazine. Some riders were out on the mountain one day. They were the type that had to have the latest and lightest carbon or titanium parts on their bikes and looked down on those that didn't. During their ride, clad in full spandex, they were exhausted when almost in sight of the top. Out of nowhere this guy in a pair of jeans and old work boots goes flying by them on a steel girls bike that was about 3 sizes too small. He got to the top, did not take a break, and flew right back down again. The end if I remember correctly said ride what you have whenever you can, as long as you're out there nothing else matters. Now I like my nikon as much as the next guy and would love a leica but the truth is that if you gave ansel adams a point and shoot he'd still take better pictures than most of us. Focus on the "Art" not the tools.
  35. Point well made Stephen. The essential truth is that whatever equipment you use, it has to be fit for purpose, whatever that purpose might be. If the camera gets in the way, and slows down the picture taking process it may, or may not impact on the final image depending on what you are trying to do. It's a bit like cars. All will get you from A to B, but you really need a 4x4 if you plan to off-road; and if you don't off-road, then pretty much anything else will do - it's just that some cars are easier to drive, faster, more reliable, seat more people, quieter, more economical etc. than others - and some people have brand loyalty (for whatever reason) and others don't.
  36. To take the "It's not the tool, it's the artist" philosophy to extreme, would Ansel Adams have done as well with a pad of paper and charcoal? Photographers are not artists. Photographers use a tool that records a visible, or invisible, light image. The "art" comes when they take that image and manipulate it, print it, Photoshop it and get their vision to come out, but without a suitable template, all is lost. What if Ansel had a camera that overexposed? Or one with a poor lens? Ansel did what Ansel did because he had both the right tools and the right expertise. He got what he wanted. Every photographer that gets what he, or she wants, is exactly the same. Where Ken is wrong, I think, is believing that technique alone will get everyone what they want. Some people want super sharp images and that makes them happy. That to them is "art" and believe it or not, a lot of cameras won't take super sharp pictures no matter how good your technique is. True, though, that poor technique makes even the best quality equipment worthless.
  37. Wolfeye Photo, I think you hit the nail in the head...While I agree with Ken that expensive equipment is not essential, I agree that getting the right equipment, whatever it may be is an absolute must. And technique plays as important a part as good equipment.
  38. For me it's all about balance.
    You need reasonable ability and you need reasonable equipment.

    Having the best ability in the world but a poor quality camera is a bad place to start.
    Having no ability and the best camera is also a bad place to start.
    Buying the best camera and expecting superb results without ability is unrealistic, but superior equipment will help.
    Having fantastic ability and expecting great results with a poor quality camera is also unrealistic, but the ability will help.

    Defining a bad quality camera and poor results, that's the tough one. It's personal.

    A graph could be worked out that plots ability against equipment to identify the optimum levels of investment in each depending on your ability and the depth of your wallet.
    You could spend a significant ammount of time working this out & identifying good or bad or you could spend that time taking photographs and not worrying too much about it.
    It's personal and that choice is yours. Who am I to tell you what is right? As long as you are happy and I am happy who cares?

    I have a camera. I take photos. Some of them are good & some of them are bad, in my opinion.

    My poor equipment and ineptitude at taking photos does not define me as a person or as a photographer. I'm in it for the fun.
  39. I found this page from Ken's site. Here are my 2 cents. I think ken is dead on with camera does not matter article. Back in Nov of 2007 I shot some pictures of an anti-war protest.

    These were shot with a Nikon D50 with a tamron 28-200 zoom I had from my N6006. The AF sucks on moving subjects so I had to hand focus everything. Sure a fancy pants nikkor with good AF and VR would have made it easier to get my shots and more of them would have come out in focus. But, I didn't worry about that and just went out to shoot. If I had stayed home because my equipment "isn't that great" then I wouldn't have gotten shots like this one or this one And I wouldn't have gotten 3 of my pictures published in a local news paper. The point that ken is making isn't that fancier equipment is a waste of money. The point is that you shouldn't let your lack of equipment stop you from doing your art. And furthermore that simply having the fanciest equipment doesn't mean you will make great art.

  40. Good goin Jennifer!
    I find it insightful that the discussion just came full stop once she posted her photos and explained the correct point of view....namely that great gear has NOTHING to do w/ getting great shots. I used to not like Ken, but now I love him. Thank goodness he has a great sense of humor, something lacking in nearly all of these anal retentive, dueling ego forums. I also could post some really nice photos that I took from my own crappy Tamron 28-200, surely the most disparaged zoom in all of zoomdom. But nah, I would rather fib and tell people that I took them w/ Leica or Zeiss glass and watch them nod approvingly. This whole thing reminds me of another photography forum where people were submitting their pics from their first SLR's. One of the photographers noted that since their first SLR it had been all downhill from there. I would agree. W/ photography, someone who is not hindered by a lot of technical jargon and preconceived ideas will just go out and shoot what is interesting, and the photos will reflect that. Many photographers, despite having wonderful gear, have nothing to say. So they say it beautifully w/ well exposed and sharp shots. Still, nothing is nothing.
  41. For a given photographer in a particular situation there's always a weak link that limits the potential of his/her work. Sometimes the weak link hardly makes any difference, sometimes it's more significant and quite often the weak link is the photographer. Then again, there are times when improved equipment will give better results. The old hackneyed phrase that "it's the photographer, not the camera" has its limits. For most of us it's probably true, the photographer is the weak link.
    I agree that whatever equipment is at hand, it's far better to use it than to sit on your butt and not take pictures for lack of the ideal camera.
  42. Hmmm Douglas... didn't you already say that? Somewhere up there amongst the other replies?
  43. jen, is that art?

  44. Mohir,

    If you would like to offer contructive criticism, then do so, but refrain from abusive/ non-constructive comments.
  45. In general, I agree with Ken Rockwell, but does he have to bang on about it so much? 20 paragraphs to say what anyone with any experience knows and can express in one sentence.

    Acutually, I'm all in favour of the NewGearHeads spending their money on fancy equipment. Somebody has to pay the grossly inflated new prices in order for me to pick up barely-used gear a couple of years down the line.
  46. I'v been reading/listening to the "L/R vs N/C" or "E vs J" (that's Leica/Rolleiflex vs Nikon/Canon or Europe vs Japan) discussions (or any 'this vs that' for that matter) for well over 50 years. This thread drifts into that area on occasion. When overseas in the 1950's on a business trip, I started shopping for a decent/good camera. Three different professional photographers all told me the same thing:

    1. European cameras/lenses excell with black and white film because that's what they were developed/designed for.

    2. Japanese cameras/lenses excell with color film because that's what they were developed/designed for.

    3. The differences are too small to argue about except to those who do not have the photography skills and knowledge to make excellent pictures with a Kodak Brownie.

    And there are many today who firmly stand by the above.
  47. I have to say I wish more people thought like Ken Rockwell, and I agree with his philosophies completely. To draw a musical analogy (which Rockwell himself does), I'm a professional live sound engineer and bassist. Why is it I can mix a concert on a ?2000 Allen And Heath mixing desk and get results many can't get from a ?60,000 Midas Heritage 3000? Simple... Technique, knowledge, experience and a very in depth understanding of what I'm actually there to do, which is put across the emotion and meaning of what the band are playing to the audience, and any mixing desk I will ever use has the ability to allow me to do just that.

    When I use those ?60,000 Midas desks, things just get a little easier. I have VCA's instead of subgroups, I can get tighter into something on the channel EQ and tell it exactly what I want it to do instead of getting a rough approximation (which still works) on a fixed width band of EQ. I can get a little more clean headroom when I'm driving hard, but essentially I can do exactly the same things. The reason I can do that is simply that I've put enough time into what I do to be able to actually do it and I don?t see equipment as being something that should limit me. If I?m using something that?s a little harder to get good results out of, I?ll simply work a little harder but I?ll still get the results I?m after.

    Why is it when a beginner bassist (or someone who simply has no natural musical ability) picks up my nice ?1349 G&L L2500 5 string bass it generally sounds terrible and all the beautiful tonal aspects of having a great instrument are lost, yet an experienced, expressive and soulful musician who's spent thousands of hours working on technique and saying what he's feeling through playing can pick up a crappy, second hand Squire P.Bass with a warped neck and play something that has the ability to move people to tears?

    Ken Rockwell... I'm with you 100%. It's the photographer/musician/human being who makes the difference.

  48. I read Ken's blog constantly. I honestly have his blog as my home page on Mozilla. Why? It makes me laugh, and I would rather read what he has to say than MSNBC. Would I do something just because he recommended it without first testing it myself? Of course not, and you shouldn't either. The suggestive power of the Net is scary. It's as if some of you feel forced to do what he says, and it bothers you, hence the temptation to lash out at him. It reminds me of people who ask "serious" questions on Yahoo Answers. It's kind of hilarious from time to time to do so (just to make fun of the responses), but it's not a good way to get advice, as any sane person would realize. It's the internet. Most of what you read online can't be trusted anymore than TV. So, if you find him funny and informative in his weird way, then read on, if not, go do something more constructive, like shooting test charts.
  49. Well, All I can say is... I have a minolta dynax 4 camera which is film SLR and i am not taking pictures with it as I thought i need a DSLR ( for which may be i will have to wait for 2 more years). After reading Ken's article... I'm feeling really inspired to take photographs with the current one!!! It is not that I won't buy the DSLR I want when I have the is just that now I understand may be I can try with my minolta now which will eventually help me understand at least something about photography (BTW i'm a newbie in photography so actually clueless about it)
  50. Leica...what the hell's a Leica ?
  51. If I have enough money, I would go and buy a Leica just for its status. For now, I don't know for sure which is better, Leica or my Nikon D70s. What I know after reading Ken's thoughts, is that I put my D70s in my bag, and picked up my dad's Canon AE-1, then go out for a shoot. It is the best way to put my skill to test, and to remind myself not to let any machine empowers over ability to see. It also helps me focus on what I see... and I said "me", not the camera. No matter how sharp the lens is, there will be no good photo if I were out of focus.
    P.S. I signed up to just for this purpose. Hopefully, it is worthwhile.
  52. you guys are right. I'm going to return my old TLR and books on exposure and composition and I'm going to put it towards a 5d MkII. Who needs composition when you got 5fps?
  53. Whenever I look at a photo, everytime I look at a photo, I never, ever, think to myself "What kind of camera took that." Never. Camera doesn't matter. Some tools suit some people better than others, but the job can always be done by someone else, with some other tool, in some other way. Dont kid yourself otherwise.
  54. I worked in Photo Retail for 13 years and went through several camera systems with the exception of Nikon and Leica.
    Equipment should be a means of you obtaining the picture, if a Leica M9 or MP etc helps you do that then the price is secondary.
    Usually, the problem with results is poor technique and not equipment.
    A Leica M9 is of no use if you cannot hold it steady.
    However, I've owned a Leica Minilux in the past. When loaded up with Kodak CN400 B&W film-I took some of my best pictures ever with that camera.
  55. I too was very happy to discover KR's site some months ago and he made a big difference to how I thought about doing things. That in no way means I stopped looking at gear, but it did make me think more about why I wanted the gear and made me concentrate more on IQ and real-world benefits with adjusted technique rather than the coolness factor. So I got the sharpest prime I could afford, went from Manual to Aperture Priority and did some test shots to find out exactly how to get the best IQ from my body. When previously I'd have been thinking about what "a professional' does (e.g. thinking I had to be in full manual mode to be taken seriously) I started to think about the best way to get what I wanted from the camera. Spending an entire day with the same focal length, aperture, ISO and even focus-point allowed me to forget about my camera and think about what I was seeing. I'm only out of daipers, photography-wise, but I think it's useful to be reminded what's important in a contructive, impersonal and light-hearted way, rather than have some smart-alecs post "It's not about the gear". It was funny when I was in the Beijing Summer Palace, seeing all the newly monied walking around with huge zooms on 7Ds looking at my small D5100 and miniscule manual focus 50mm f/1.8D with un-disguised contempt. Little did they know my images were much much sharper, much further into dusk.

Share This Page