The real thing, or substitute?

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by Thomas Bertilsson, Sep 6, 2012.

  1. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

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    I will say something that might not sit well with everybody.

    Do you think that people obsess over lens signatures and bokeh mostly because their photography in general is lacking? Basically substituting technique or lens artifacts for content.

    For example, look at how a lot of over 100 year old portrait lenses are used with wet plate and large format. If you look at many old portraits, the sitter is always centered, and the background is out of focus so that the fall-off imperfections of the lens aren't apparent (or minimized) in the photograph. They tried to work around the shortcomings of the lens. But today all that funky stuff at the edge of the lens' image circle is embraced as 'cool' and 'interesting'... Why? Does it really make the photograph better?

    I think about this a lot. Please note that I don't consider my own work superior to others in any way, it's just a question that I'm interested in. And I do realize it's mostly a free world, and people are free to do whatever they feel like, and the best part of photography is to have fun! So if it's fun to use these old lenses, or being fascinated with their qualities then I'm absolutely not calling it wrong or anything like that. It's all good to me. But when I look at photographs I really don't care much about those things. I have a couple of lenses that I know well, use often, and don't really wonder much what's on the other side of the fence.
     
  2. PeteZ8

    PeteZ8 Member

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    I agree. Gear is nice but art can be made with anything. You just have to know the limitations of your gear and work within it.
     
  3. Ian Leake

    Ian Leake Subscriber

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    Some people are fascinated with the craft of photography, some are fascinated with artistic expression. Often these overlap.
     
  4. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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    I think a lot of photographers obsess over silly stuff when they should be more concerned with impactful photographs.

    That said, the bokeh on some of those old lenses was pretty cool.

    I haven't tried this in a while but did you know that if you paste little stars in your lens or any shapes for that matter, your bokeh will then be that shape.
     
  5. BrianShaw

    BrianShaw Member

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    Could be. I never really thought about it that much.
     
  6. georg16nik

    georg16nik Member

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    Back in the days, they used slow films, so it might not be only the fall-off imperfections ...
    The book Hollywood Portraits by Roger Hicks and Christopher Nisperos is quite interesting http://www.amazon.com/Hollywood-Portraits-Roger-Hicks/dp/0817440208
    I use slow films a lot and do it handheld, so there are times when You are shooting 1 stop from wide open or just wide open.
    Don't care much if there is out of focus or any focus, as long as there is an image, a moment or just a shot :D
     
  7. darkosaric

    darkosaric Subscriber

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    I think I know what you mean. I try to make my photos better by making more complex composition, looking the right moment, and so on - but often I go in this "trap" of effects: making nice shallow bokeh, or swirly bokeh, or using old strange lenses, some other effect - just to get pleasing result in more easy way.
    Often I walk and I search, and search and I don't find moments or composition that I have in my head - and I go for this cheaper results. Later I see that I was weak, and actually I don't need any other lens than 50mm f2 that I use on f8 in 90% of time anyhow.
     
  8. SuzanneR

    SuzanneR Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    Having used a Holga a lot lately, I'm not immune to the seduction of interesting lens effects, but the question I often ask myself is, how can I make this look (the Holga look) my own, and not like so many others out there? Not sure I've done it yet, but I keep making pictures with it!

    Of course, one could ask the same of more traditional gear and lenses... there can be a "sameness" to the look of certain types of cameras and lenses, but finding your own voice in it can be a real challenge.
     
  9. Erik Petersson

    Erik Petersson Subscriber

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    Hi Thomas,

    two thoughts. I think that there might be a group that is more interested in camera equipment than in artistic expression. Most of them compare megapixels today, but some are probably active in large format.

    Also, when those pictures were made, photography was a newer medium still struggling with many shortcomings. Today photography is older and more areas have been explored, for example such experimentation. See for example Jacob Felländer's photos www.jacobfellander.com. He makes abstract cityscapes with a modified Holga, using the flaws to great effect.

    (You have a very Swedish name, by the way. Is this common in Minnesota?)
     
  10. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

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    But isn't 'finding your own voice' what we're pursuing anyway, in spite of the challenge, or maybe even because of the challenge? We all see the world differently, and find different aspects of it fascinating. Finding our own voice must be to show it the way we wish for it to be seen... regardless of equipment.

    The equipment I use is based on how nice it is to use, how natural it feels in my hands. Everything else is a 'side effect' of that, and the lenses are what they are because I happen to own them and they fit the camera, and they work reliably. Except for the plastic piece of $hit that I liked to use so much way back when... :smile:
     
  11. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

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    I can understand this. Maybe as persons and photographers we feel like we have a 'complete setup' for different reasons.
     
  12. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

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    Undoubtedly the very large apertures were because of the slow mediums they used. But still, the goal was to eliminate imperfection, and today that has been turned upside down somewhat, for better or worse.
     
  13. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

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    I confess that sometimes I do run across a picture that looks pretty cool and the lens adds something, I agree.
     
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  15. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

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    I don't think that it makes you weak, necessarily. It's just interesting how folks choose their equipment, and for what reason.
     
  16. E. von Hoegh

    E. von Hoegh Member

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    In many but not all cases, I believe that is correct.
     
  17. thegman

    thegman Member

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    Agree 100%, probably why I change cameras so much. I find that when you look at the work produced by the real gear hounds, it's pretty bad. The great stuff tends to come from the ones who just get a camera and use it. Not always the case of course, but I find myself wanting to change cameras, and I know for sure it's because I'm not happy with my photography and the camera is not the real issue.
     
  18. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

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    I see nothing wrong with experimentation, having fun, and picking tools according to a certain aesthetic. My question, though, asks whether some folks are more interested in lens signatures, bokeh, fall-off in sharpness and coverage to make their pictures look more impressive as a substitute for substance.

    I am 100% Swedish, moved to Minnesota 11 years ago from Helsingborg, Sweden, and find that nobody else spells the Bertilsson name the same way I do in this part of the world... :smile: Hej hoppsan, Erik. Trevligt att se mer svenskar i forumet.
     
  19. SuzanneR

    SuzanneR Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    Yes, indeed, Thomas, but there have been times when I've relied a little too much on the gear to make the picture interesting without success, and in the end, it's when the gear feels second nature to me that the particularities of a lens or camera start to feel more like my own, and not something I've seen others make with the same set of gear, if that makes any sense. Like you, I embrace various cameras and lenses for similar reasons, they feel natural to how I see and think, but sometimes I'll turn to something a little different or new to me (I bought and 810 recently) and I find it takes some sustained practice with it (my first attempts with the 810 are mediocre at best)to allow my own particular vision to finally come through. Even with the Holga, I finally feel that I've been making pictures that look more like me, but it took awhile... I don't want to just rely on the particular vignetting or something, and hope the pictures I make will be interesting.

    So to answer the initial question, yes I certainly have used gear as a substitute for substance, but with a longer view to maybe seeing if it will work for me.

    Interesting thread, Thomas, thanks.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 6, 2012
  20. E. von Hoegh

    E. von Hoegh Member

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    The voice you speak of is provided by the content of the photograph, the "sameness" of the gear can be regarded as a neutral background against which the voice can be more clearly heard. An audio engineer would call the 'sameness' a "very low noise floor".
     
  21. R.Gould

    R.Gould Member

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    I tend to use old cameras, anything from the 1930's to early sixties, and I also shoot a lot of low light subjects, and as far as possible I avoid flash, so my exposures can very often be as low as 1/5 at 4 or 5.6, I focus as carefully as I can, but I get out of focus areas in my photos,but I work around the problems, as long as the main subject is reasonably sharp I don't worry, the main thing for me is the finished print, and I work around the shortcomings of these old lenses, I love the equipment I use, I get results I love, and other people seem to like them, and that is all that matters to me,
     
  22. BradS

    BradS Subscriber

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    I confess, I don't appreciate the "out-of-focus, swirly bokeh" look either. Nor do I have any appreciation for the "ruined negative with cigaretts and sandpaper" aesthetic. These two just baffle me. I almost always think that these type of photographs look horrible. The ruined negative photos in particular just make me think "this is complete utter garbage, why even bother to do this?" Swirly bokeh...just makes me wonder.."why?".

    Ironically, some of the people who routinely fall back on these gimicks are well known to be very skilled photographers. This just further adds to my confusion and sometimes even leads to a bit of self doubt....maybe, my own taste is simply not sophisticated enough to "get it".

    Then there's the "I used excessive camera movements to make everything but this trapezoidal area out of focus" thing....it just looks dumb.
     
  23. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

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    Personally I think most of the obsession comes at the "f/64" end of the scale.

    One of the great joys for me in using a Holga on occasion is that it adds some personality to the generic snaps I take of life around me. Sure my F5 with a 50mm f/1.8 can get me a sharper, better focused, better exposed, shot; so what, the Holga shots have great character. Center the subject, get close on focus, use a forgiving film and I get a negative that naturally focuses the attention in a print on the subject.

    Old Petzvals do the same thing on LF cameras.

    To me the quest for edge to edge perfection is distracting. I think this is one of the things that bothers me most about most of Ansel Adams work and digital.
     
  24. cliveh

    cliveh Subscriber

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    I would suggest you can’t, as with any camera, lens, equipment or process technique. Because someone else can always use the same combination of above to produce a similar look, although I can understand the combinations of these are almost limitless and many people wish to experiment, which is fine. Some quite famous photographers also use specific techniques/camera/lens/lighting/etc. to help identify and signature their imagery. However, without wishing to preach, I believe that personal vision is developed over a long time to make that look your own. To use an analogy if you spend most of your life carving wood and making furniture you may become another Thomas Chippendale, but with your own look (nothing to do with the chisel you used).
     
  25. Ian Grant

    Ian Grant Subscriber

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    I think you raise some interesting points Thomas. I aslo think perhaps it's hard to comment without really trying to make images with these older lenses & techniques.

    Last year I sold a large TP shutter to a photographer for her Darlot lens, I was stunned by the quality of her wet plate work. Back in the early summer I saw some more work by a different photographer at Dimbola House on the Isle of Wight. If the images had beeen shot with modern lenses the character of the work would have been very different.

    I hadn't intended to buy a Darlot/Petzval lens myself however a chance encounter with one at a flea market last month and it's very low cost (£20/$32) means I will in fact give one a try. The lens turned out to be optically perfect despite the grime and spiders living inside :smile:

    It's important to find the appropriate use for these lenses to make work that stands up on its own without looking gimicky, that's going to be the challenge.

    Ian
     

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  26. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

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    I don't wish to imply that corner to corner sharpness is good either, as I often find those photographs very cluttered with things and difficult to figure out what the photograph is actually about, because there's too much stuff that's sharp. Aperture, to me, is a tool, where I can choose what I leave in focus and what I leave out, in order to emphasize the meaning or importance of things in the frame.