How do you know when you've made a bad photograph?

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by batwister, Nov 19, 2012.

  1. batwister

    batwister Member

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    Blanksy made an interesting comment about overlooking old negatives. I've always been interested in the idea of swapping a set of negatives with somebody, to see what other people think are my strong images.

    Is your judgement of a bad photograph aesthetic, emotional, subjective? Personally I find my best photographs are the ones that surprise me, which suggests I work best intuitively or in spite of myself. My pictures which are too introspective or considered often feel immature, contrived or short of the mark.
     
  2. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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    Something that can definitely happen is as we progress as printers we can get a lot more out of ours and other people pictures usually, than what was originally printed.

    Also cropping can add a lot of impact to some people's work who haven't advanced very far on the composition aspect of things.
     
  3. Mainecoonmaniac

    Mainecoonmaniac Subscriber

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    Most of my photographs are bad. It's what I have to do to make good ones. I'm just blathering on film until I have something meaningful to say.
     
  4. ArtO

    ArtO Member

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    Usually as soon as I push the shutter button, I "know" if I've gotten what I wanted or not.
     
  5. Hatchetman

    Hatchetman Subscriber

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    Pretty much they are all bad. Out of a roll of 36 I might get 2 "interesting" ones. I keep going over them trying to "find" more that are worthwhile, which is grasping at straws for the most part.

    I know right away, just like when you judge someone's face as attractive or not. It only takes a split second.

    I often find the ones I had high hopes for are the worst of the lot.
     
  6. br549

    br549 Subscriber

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    My first clue of a bad photograph is when I look at my still wet negatives and say to myself "What was I thinking!?" I have revisited old negatives and found images which seem better after a period of time. I've heard of photographers who will wait awhile before developing their film so the excitement they felt when shooting the image has worn away by the time they see the result. Supposedly it makes for better editing (and possibly avoids huge letdowns as would be my case).
     
  7. Mr Bill

    Mr Bill Member

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    How about a quick story in place of an answer?

    A few years abo I visited a local art gallery; one of the exhibits was historic photography of jazz, from about 50 years ago.

    I went with a coworker who, on the side, is both a musician and photographer. At about the fifth print, he made the observation, "If it were me, this negative would never have even made it into the enlarger." I agreed with him; most of the images were horribly blurred and almost unrecognizeable.

    On the other hand, they did give a sense of what it was probably like being there, in those dim, smoky clubs. We both thought the photos had this redeeming virtue, although none would have been usable for reportage of the day.

    Perhaps the two of us are stilted in our thinking, due to being something of "purist" photographers. If I had blurry negs like that today, and someone printed them for me, I still would not have any interest in them. But perhaps someone else, with a different viewpoint would? I dunno. As the old saying goes, one man's trash is another man's treasure.
     
  8. Shawn Dougherty

    Shawn Dougherty Member

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    Aside from technical issues it can be difficult, at least for me. Unless unexplained and I can learn something from them I trash my negatives that are no good for technical reasons. Otherwise, I save them all. As I stated in the other thread, my ideas about an image can change when stripped of my initial expectations and become imbued with the filter of time.
    And sometimes I think I just need to see them in the positive before passing judgement... A good reason to proof all your work, something I don't do but probably should.
     
  9. Sirius Glass

    Sirius Glass Subscriber

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    I know when a bad photograph has been taken when I release the shutter. For those photographs I moved or the instance was not the right one.

    I unanticipated exposure errors, composition messed up by something I missed I find out when the film is developed. Undeveloped photographs are by definition perfect, it is the processing that brings out the problems!
     
  10. Gerald C Koch

    Gerald C Koch Member

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    Well there are rules of composition that actually pre-date photography. I'm not saying that they should be rigorously followed for every negative but they can change a bad image to a good one. An example would be the Rule of Thirds.
     
  11. ntenny

    ntenny Member

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    I don't. Usually my hopes are too high---the image that I was just SURE was perfect turns out to be a technical trainwreck, or worse, compositionally dull---but once in a while I get a pleasant surprise when a shot that I expected to be a stinker turns out to have worked.

    The idea of swapping negatives with someone for mutual reactions, with no "hints" from the photographer, is interesting. I don't think I have the courage to do it (yet, anyway).

    -NT
     
  12. Bill Burk

    Bill Burk Subscriber

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    I am not capable of taking good photographs when I am uptight or can't relax. When I can't relate to people around me (How do you know a conversation is bad? Like when a friend talks to you and you don't have much more than a yes/no answer and then a silence falls. It's different than the silence that falls between friends who know each other well and at the time there's no reason to speak.)

    Sure I can take photographs, and with my "professional" attitude, I can even take technically acceptable ones. But, unless I am able to get past the haze of "unconsciousness" - for at that time I am not "myself" and I am not acting "consciously" (Different than the beautiful "unconsciousness" when things really click without thinking - this is an "off" state), the photograph will be missing something essential, that I demand. It will have no spark or soul.

    At times like these, I am an automaton. The world around me is a blur. I can navigate the intersections and obey traffic signals but I am unable to really "see" - At times like these I cannot take good pictures.
     
  13. dehk

    dehk Member

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    I found out that more people likes the shots I dislike and vice versa.
     
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  15. Bill Burk

    Bill Burk Subscriber

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    I haven't had that happen, but have had friends fawn over a shot that I think is just OK.
     
  16. hdeyong

    hdeyong Member

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    I don''t believe you have to consciously analyze a photo, or at least, not for long. It's generally an instant gut reaction sort of thing. Some negatives can be dolled up a bit with manipulations while printing, but you'll never make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.
     
  17. Bill Burk

    Bill Burk Subscriber

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    So, although there are times when nothing works, nothing is going to happen and you get back and know nothing did...

    These are balanced with times when the conversation flows. The jokes are funny, and the friends... old and know-you-so-well... they totally get that you are hanging out under the treehouse, and let you be. Or the light comes through, or the river beckons. These times when photos can't help but be taken... Make it worthwhile.
     
  18. darkosaric

    darkosaric Subscriber

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    One of many criteria for me is: all "maybes" goes to trash.
     
  19. ChristopherCoy

    ChristopherCoy Member

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    Of the thousands of photographs that I've taken (digitally and analog), I can probably count on two hands the number that I've printed.

    And of the ones that I've printed, only three are currently on display in my home, and even then they are in areas that I cannot easily see.

    I'm usually excited to shoot them, excited while processing them, and then after the initial review I rip them to shreds and notice every nit picking thing that I don't like. After the laundry list of things that are wrong, I end up getting disgusted with it and shove them in a file folder, never to be seen again. I've only displayed some things on a website to attract business in the past, but even that is in the process of being taken down at this time.

    It's not whether or not I know its a bad photograph, its whether or not I feel worthy and validated as a 'photographer'. Even when people say "that photo is awesome", I still think in my head "they're just being nice." And perhaps it is a good photograph, but I still feel like it completely sucks because I noticed that soft focus, or that 1/2 a stop underexposure, or that camera shake, or that color shift, or that... or that...
     
  20. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

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    My definition of "good" & "bad" is changing over time.

    Just gave my son a print taken of him in the lab he worked in (washing test tubes, etcetera..) at "his" sink, striking a grandiose pose.

    Focus is a bit soft, he wiggled so a bit of blur too. But last night he and my daughter in law declared it "the best shot ever". The first few times I tried to print it I really wasn't getting to like it but it was all I had and kept coming back.

    Last winter I made some real headway in my printing skills, and one thing that I've noticed looking back that work, over the last few weeks is that my B&W stuff looks better after a year, my color work looks better when printing. That's not an absolute but a trend and interesting.
     
  21. ntenny

    ntenny Member

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    I have the same problem, but I've decided to just live with it. I'm an imperfect photographer, I always will be, practically everyone else is too, and it's a fool's errand to determine whether I feel "worthy and validated" based on the quest for perfection---it's about as useful as determining whether I feel worthy and validated based on whether I can fly!

    Seeing different people's reactions to my photos has been eye-opening in this respect. The attached shot is one of my favorite photos of my son; I look it and I see that un-self-consciousness of childhood, the laser focus on any current object of interest that's one of his most basic character traits, a pleasing spot of color that breaks up what would otherwise be overly bullet-y composition, and so on. (OK, I wish the out-of-focus rocks weren't in the foreground, and that the barn column weren't growing out of his neck, but those aspects don't confront me unless I look for them.) All three of his living grandparents feel the same way and have prints of that photo in places of prominence. But my wife finds it to be merely-OK, just another cute picture of the Boy. Everyone involved is a reasonable person in most respects, everyone has taste and discernment, everyone is looking at the same photo, it just hits them differently. So if I were searching for validation, should I be perfectly satisfied because it works for me, 75% satisfied because it works for three of the four other people closest to the subject, dissatisfied because it fails to reach someone who matters, should I be waiting around until the subject can tell me dispassionately what he thinks...? I've concluded that it's a silly question and I should just get out and shoot.

    (Alternatively, I could go do some actual work. Anyone want to integrate Java code as a separate thread in a Python script for me?)

    -NT

    4258175575_f1991ae97e.jpg
     
  22. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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    Litttle boy.jpg

    I'm sure this will be controversial but sometimes 10 minutes and you can remake an image to what you want. Personally I like the rocks. They add dimension by creating a foreground, a middle ground and a background.. A great picture, but I dislike the stripes and I think it looks better in black and white.

    I've already deleted this from my files. Please feel free to do with it as you wish.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 20, 2012
  23. tony lockerbie

    tony lockerbie Subscriber

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    I have found that I need to "live" with my shots for a while. I dev and proof straight away and then just pile them up for a while. A good time to keep re visiting old proof sheets is when I'm processing film, gives me something to do.
    I find I can be more ruthless/dispassionate about the image if there is a long period of time between the taking and the printing. Or maybe this is just the confession of a slack printer :smile:
     
  24. cliveh

    cliveh Subscriber

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    If youwant to see if an image works or not, just look at it upside down, if it still looks interesting in terms of forms and tones you may have something.
     
  25. E. von Hoegh

    E. von Hoegh Member

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    That's one of the reasons why I use view cameras.:smile:
     
  26. Diapositivo

    Diapositivo Subscriber

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    I agree with blansky. This is one typical case of a subject working better in black & white then in colour. Colours in this picture are very vivid and contrasty, they get attention, but in fact they are "not" the subject, the story being told, so they end up being a distraction. The black & white image takes the distraction away and lets the subject shine.