What technical points are important to you?

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by Roger Hicks, Sep 3, 2006.

  1. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Member

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    Elsewhere on this forum, a great to-do is being made of the relative sharpness of different lenses. Some people get very excited about the quality of the out-of-focus image (bokeh). Many loved Kodak Technical Pan because it was extremely fine grained. Each of these factors seems to be much more important to some than to others.

    My theory is that each of us is sensitive to different things, as a result of historical accident including our 'brain wiring' as babies.

    So what's important to you? Or perhaps to be more precise, AFTER content and composition -- which I think we have to take for granted -- what do you notice first? Or alternatively, what is most conspicuous when it is absent?. For me, it's tonality above all, followed by microcontrast which is a large component of sharpness.

    Grain is something I'll happily live with as long as the tonality is good, which is why I loathed Tech Pan: I never saw a Tech Pan print with tonality to compete with, well, anything really.

    And I'm almost totally insensitive to bokeh. If it's really, really nasty (a Thambar with the centre spot in) then I'll notice, but otherwise I don't see it. Ctein, for what it is worth, feels the same way, or did, the last time we corresponded (a good while back).

    Cheers,

    Roger (www.rogerandfrances.com)
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 3, 2006
  2. Solarize

    Solarize Member

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    Tonality all the way.

    Grain, bokeh, sharpness..... well it all depends on the subject matter. Some things just work for me and others dont. Good thread idea.
     
  3. David H. Bebbington

    David H. Bebbington Inactive

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    It's hard to rate the elements of picture quality in isolation, but for me probably the most important factors are medium contrast (otherwise I have to downrate b+w too far to get the negs I want), flatness of field (can't stand lenses that are razor sharp in the center at full aperture but need f16 to get the corners in) and above all best possible freedom from flare (I like to take shots into the light). My favorite on the basis of these criteria is possibly my Pentax 43 mm f1.9, closely followed by an SMC-A 24 mm f2.8 and an SMC-M 200 mm f4. Among Nikon lenses I like my 50 mm f1.4 AIS and 24 mm f2.8 AIS (got rid of a new 50 mm f1.8 AIS because of flare). Similarly, I sold on a new-model 50 mm f2 Summicron M because of excess contrast and flare but have great hopes of the 1972 Summcron I have just bought.

    Best regards,

    David
     
  4. catem

    catem Member

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    What's important to me is the power of the image and I have to say this supercedes everything and makes a bit of a nonsense of these sorts of discussions (IMO).

    Sharpness is sometimes crucial to the image, or part of it, sometimes it isn't. I do get very tired on an obsession with sharpness above everything, and also find narrow dof (which I know a lot of people don't like in work I do, not that I've posted that sort of stuff here yet) can be gentle, expressive, and approachable. Because I like narrow dof I am quite interested in good bokeh, that isn't intrusive and therefore have benefited in the past from such discussions before buying lenses.

    But really - it depends what you want to achieve which can be very different at different times, and as for looking at other work, as I say, the message and impact comes first. Technical considerations very secondary if at all. Except that I do get bored eventually with everything pin sharp and perfect tonality :smile:
    Cate
     
  5. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Member

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    Dear Cate,

    I fully take your point, but I think this has to be taken for granted. Unless the image is utterly stunning, though, we do tend to notice technical points -- and the less stunning the image, the more important the technique.

    We are often most critical of our own images, and can be surprised both at what some people love and what some people hate. I was amazed, for example, at Dave Bebbington's 'all-over-resolution' point, as I can't think of many pictures where this would even enter my mind as a consideration. It's usually even less important than bokeh to me, but it's clearly important to Dave.

    And, as you say, a lot must depend on what you want to photograph.

    Cheers,

    Roger
     
  6. Christopher Colley

    Christopher Colley Member

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    What is important to me?

    The subject being photographed and how it is composed.

    What is important to me?

    A photograph that can interest me. A photograph that 'speaks' to me causing me to pause and look longer. This is generally something that brings up connections of multiple memories and past experiences. Also, something that is close to my personal outlook or vision of the world..

    What is not important to me?

    sharpness, bokeh, blur, full tonal range, grain size, scratches on film, dust in film emulsion, rips, tears, stains, holes, broken plates, other-technical-mumbo-jumbo.



    Sometimes, I want to see a mistake or technical error.. Sometimes for my eye something that is technically perfect can be really dull and lack any sort of interest.

    edit: in other words, subject above all, technical considerations only are there to make the subject stronger. For me, I am more intested in the less than perfect character posessed by a photograph that is not super sharp/super-duper-bokeh-etc.. I know I am seeing or creating something that is somewhat unique, rather than seeing something with the same exact sharpness-bokeh-technical-whatever that everyone else is getting/wanting..
     
  7. catem

    catem Member

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    Hi Roger,

    Good morning.

    In fact, from your post, to be fair nothing was 'taken for granted'. You must know as an experienced writer that ideas cannot be 'taken as read', and need to be spelt out in your intro. Otherwise all sorts of assumptions are made and wrong tracks followed.

    Part of the danger, anyway, in following these discussions is you miss the point and throw the baby out with the bathwater. Technique by itself does not supercede anything, and therefore discussion always has to be qualified, and is therefore severely limited. Where will it lead, apart from 'I like this, I like that'?

    It's just that I don't believe in your theory of 'historical accident' or brain-wiring. Influences that are brought to bear are much more complex, individual, and indefinable than that I think.

    Also, I hope it doesn't turn into just another excuse for a 'gear' /techo discussion in disguise.
    best wishes, I'm not really grumpy,
    Cate
     
  8. Muihlinn

    Muihlinn Member

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    For me, photography is an activity emotionally driven, all is fine if the result triggers a emotion, and then comes the other qualities.

    I can live without all the state-of-art technical stuff [to a certain extent, looking my gear], but I like my images as sharp as I see them, and no disturbing OOF zones if they have to be there. Tonality is important, but it's so variable depending the image; if the picture itself doesn't tell you nothing, it's just another technically perfect image.
     
  9. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Member

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    Dear Cate,

    For your first point, how very true.

    For the second, I think we are saying the same thing. What you call 'influences', I call 'historical accident'. The brain-wiring thing I find intriguing because a baby does lose some of its potential, especially with language, as witness the difficulty of a Japanese distinguishing 'l' and 'r' in some spoken English, or an English-speaker 'da' and 'dha' in Sanskrit -- or even 'ka' and 'kha' in Tibetan.

    For the third, it is indeed to some extent techno, and undisguised. What has often surprised me is that someone will show me a picture of which they are clearly very proud, but which for me is spoiled to a greater or lesser extent by what looks (again, to me) like a glaring technical fault. The leading example for me is the appalling tonality of Tech Pan, which is why I mentioned it in the first post. Yet some people apparently don't think it's bad. Someone else may wince at the rotten bokeh in a picture, and I don't even notice it.

    To dismiss discussion of this sort of thing is, I think, unwise in the extreme. Photography is both an art and a craft. I have no time for he who, wrist to brow, exclaims "None of this ever matters! I am an Artist!" And I have equally little time for he who endlessly 'tests' films, cameras, lenses, whatever, in a search for a technical perfection that is worthless without artistic vision.

    Balancing the two is essential unless you are such a genius that equipment and technique really don't matter, ever, at all. Few if any photographers throughout history have reached that peak. Even Julia Margaret's pictures are not, for me, enhanced by her cavalier attitude to focus. As for dirt, tears, stains, holes, etc., all are for me evidence of either carelessness or bad luck. Yes, a great image (even a good image) may rise above them or conceivably be enhanced by them - but anyone who produces more than a few such images in a lifetime is either a sloppy genius; or very lucky; or working with an Arts Council grant.

    Incidentally, I had no intention of getting into a 'gear' discussion about specific lenses, or even, really, about materials; but there are times when it is easier to illustrate a point with an example, again hence Tech Pan.

    Cheers,

    Roger
     
  10. David H. Bebbington

    David H. Bebbington Inactive

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    The way I interpreted the question (and the way I believe Roger meant it) is "What is important to you when selecting a lens?" This is what I described in my reply. The factors I mentioned are very important to me at this time, since they govern the flexibility of a lens and the range of image types it will be able to deliver (in particular, the degree of enlargement which negatives will stand, which in the case of 35 mm ranges from a mediocre 5x7" with a poor lens to a more than respectable 16x20" or larger with a good lens and spot-on technique).

    AFTER I have selected a lens, I don't give its technical specification another thought, but the "Ignorance is bliss" approach simply unnecessarily restricts the means of creative expression at your disposal.
     
  11. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Member

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    Dear Christopher,

    That was the point, really. I assume that you don't deliberately make technically bad prints, for example by stamping on the negative before you print it. Or maybe you do, and that IS what's important to you: maybe your definition of a 'good' print is one that is dirty, with holes in it.

    It's not 'what everyone else is getting/wanting', because my argument is precisely that different things matter to different people: tonality to one, bokeh to another, fine grain to a third, sharpness to a fourth.

    As I said to Cate, it must be taken for granted that the picture has something to say, for if it does not, the quality -- good, bad or indifferent -- is irrelevant. But equally, I do not think one can pretend that technical quality is always irrelevant to a good picture. Who would admire Ansel Adams's pictures if they were poorly printed?

    Cheers,

    Roger
     
  12. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Member

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    Dear Dave,

    That was only part of it. I meant 'what is important to you in a final picture?', hence my comments anout Tech Pan. But yes, the lens is obviously relevant, even though I'd rather use an 'inferior' lens (such as my old convertible Symmar) and good film such as Ilford, rather than a top-flight modern lens (such as my Rodenstock Apo-Sironar-N) and a third-rate or outdated film, bought merely because it is cheap.

    Cheers,

    Roger
     
  13. Philippe-Georges

    Philippe-Georges Member

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    Dear Roger,

    Photo techniques are as important as solfège is to music and grammar to language (*).
    When the story is 'unreadable' then what is the point of telling?
    Of course, this, in the supposition that a picture has to tell a story. But aesthetically (sic), the image has to ‘come over’ so, besides a certain métrise of the techniques, more has to do with inspiration and insight.
    It is the subject that matters as is the way to approach it, photography is the support on which the the message is carried.
    Even not having a message is a message as such.

    The camera is merely the tool, and the right tool is important, by this, the camera (and all the rest) is rather ‘the way to’ then ‘the goal’, to me at least.

    Also, sometimes, the subject (= story?) is commanding the tool.

    But, again, what is good for me is not necessarily good for you...

    Sincerely,

    Philippe

    (*) This is why I apologise for my pigeon English...
     
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  15. Soeren

    Soeren Member

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    I like Soft creamy OOF areas. I hate pentashaped and the like OOF highlights
    Subject need not allways to be sharp and in focus. I realy fall for images with shallow depht of field and a lot of the alternative processed images that are soft, dark and mysterious. So when choosing lenses I rate OOF areas, tonality and contrast. Unfortunately all this is compromised by poor funding :wink:
    Cheers,
    Søren
     
  16. catem

    catem Member

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    Well, I don't have that approach either, and that wasn't what I was saying. Neither was I 'getting at you' or anyone else with my comments, sorry if it came across that way.
    Cate
     
  17. catem

    catem Member

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    My point is, often what a photograph 'has to say' is inseparable from the technique used.

    That's one reason why what is important to me technically can vary from photograph to photograph.

    Cate
     
  18. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser Advertiser

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    sense of place ( and having a good time )
     
  19. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Member

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    I think the analogy is all but exact.

    if i read something what is like this and is run together and ungramatiocal and mispeled withoyut any puntuation thenm i soon stop reading and it has no impact and i assume the preson doing it dosnm't know or probably care any better

    (substantial exemptions for second languages, of course!)

    The analogy falls down slightly because a picture is grasped in a moment, but then, so are its faults, unless it is a work of genius.

    The picture/poem/novel/history/critical analysis must have something to say, of course, but within that, it can be well or ill written, and its strengths and weaknesses can be analyzed, both compositionally (we use the same word for both words and pictures) and as a production: if letters are reversed in the type, or lines omitted, or the letters are smudgy, this is usually a fault. As ever, this need not invariably be the case: consider concrete poetry, for example.

    Then there are questions such as standardized spelling (an 18th century invention), some in punctuation (?14th century) and indeed calligraphy or fine [book] printing -- and I'd argue that Ansel Adams was a calligrapher among photographers.

    Cheers,

    Roger
     
  20. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Member

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    Dear Cate,

    Fair enough. What I was trying to get at is that there are some things I automatically and almost invariably notice (such as tonality) and others that I almost never notice (such as bokeh).

    It seems a fair assumption that in some way, because I notice one thing and not another, one thing must be (in some sense) more important to me than another. I don't know why this should be, and I was interested to find out what others thought or noticed --which is why I found Dave's (completely unexpected) answers so interesting.

    Cheers,

    Roger
     
  21. eddym

    eddym Member

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    On the contrary, Roger, I believe the less stunning the image, the less chance that technique is going to help it. I would reverse the concept: technique has to be taken for granted, in order for the photographer to be able to create on film and paper the image that he/she sees.
     
  22. catem

    catem Member

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    To be honest, Roger, it would surprise me greatly if people didn't have different preferences.

    And??

    Sorry to be blunt.

    Cate
     
  23. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Member

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    Dear Cate,

    I'm interested in how people think. This seems to me an interesting window.

    Cheers,

    R.
     
  24. Ole

    Ole Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    Lenses should be as sharp and contrasty as they need to be for whatever purpose I'm using them. Sometimes "creamy bokeh" is a plus, at other times it doesn't matter at all. If it does, I'm likely to shoot 4x5" with an APO-Lanthar...

    I consider there to be three important (technical) things in a good negative:
    Microcontrast, which is mostly influenced by agitation in developing. Far more important in 35mm film than in ULF, naturally...
    Macrocontrast, which is how the film holds highlight and shadow detail. I don't usually worry about this except in extreme cases, preferring to burn&dodge when enlarging to bring everything into a printable range. I'm trying to learn negative retouching to get better results from some (LF) negatives with far too many high-contrast "fiddly little bits".
    Mesocontrast, a word I've chosen to describe the intermediate bit that's too small for burn&dodge, yet too large to fit in the micro- range. IMO that's the most important bit, since it not only influences the tonality, but is also responsible for the "vividity" of a print. Adjusting development for extreme contrast ranges tends to have detrimental effects on the mesocontrast, so I usually try to develop films consistently for the optimum mesocontrast and rather fight the other effects. Most of my negatives print very well on "normal" graded paper, although many of them can be really difficult due to high macrocontrast... But I like the final prints better when I work this way than when I try expansion and contraction through developing.

    Of course I hope that all this technical thinking can result in a good picture too, but I leave all those considerations to my subconcious (to be checked by my wife on the final print).
     
  25. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Member

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    Dear Eddy,

    I fully accept the argument that technique must be taken for granted, but not the argument that technique is less important in less excellent pictures.
    I've already used the example of Ansel Adams, and I'll do so again. How popular would he be without his technical skill?

    In other words, a picture that is not of the first rank can still be pleasant if it is technically good, but a weak picture is made weaker when it is not well executed.

    Cheers,

    Roger
     
  26. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Member

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    Dear All,

    It has just occurred to me that I chose the wrong title for this thread. A much better title than 'What is important to you?' would have been 'What technical points do you notice first?' I have amended the original post accordingly; especial thanks to Cate for clarification.

    OF COURSE technique is secondary to a good picture, but I don't see much need to discuss this. Surely we all agree on it.

    Maybe Ole could change the title?

    Cheers,

    Roger