Obsession can be very good, but only if it is useful by improving your work. But if you are self-indulgently obsessed and not getting any better because of it, or are obsessed with technique rather than with how it affects your content, I say give it up and relax a bit. Then again, it could be that the obsessive aspects of how you approach the craft are exactly why you like it so much; it is like your version of crack or heroin, only self induced with bodily chemicals, rather than with external ones. Better photographic obsession as a form of self regulation than being a crackhead or a junkie.
"Truth and love are my law and worship. Form and conscience are my manifestation and guide. Nature and peace are my shelter and companions. Order is my attitude. Beauty and perfection are my attack."
- Rob Tyner (1944 - 1991)
I have only skimmed some of the responses, so I don't really know what the going trend is or if this has been covered. My apologies if this has already been covered.
My approach is that if I find something that I can't eliminate or disguise in my photos, I try to make it a feature of the photo. A line of perfectly symmetrical streetlights may be less interesting than one with a missing light. The missing light or broken fence rail, or obscured detail can add drama to an otherwise "perfect" shot. Even when I think I've nailed a shot, I tend to turn around to see if there is something else that is worth shooting. Oddly enough, this can turn out to be the better of the shots at a given location... For example, having taken the obligatory touristy shot of Notre Dame in Montreal, I also got a couple of very effective shots of the crowds of tourists looking over my head and up at the cathedral, and of the streetscape lighting outside the church.
Tom, on Point Pelee, Canada
Ansel Adams had the Zone System... I'm working on the points
system. First I points it here, and then I points it there...
I don't want to make too much of the symmetry thing. I was using it as an example. Basically it's little things that (to me) might draw attention away from the space. I'm probably not explaining this very well.
Originally Posted by holmburgers
Here's a good example, and one I've had to deal with many times: I'll want to make a picture of a space I find interesting, a space people probably see every day but never stop to notice. Maybe it's an interesting alcove for example. But some jerk has tagged his idiot name in spraypaint on one of the walls in the scene. For some urban photographers, perhaps ones concerned more with communicating a social statement, this would actually strenghten the image for them. For me it is different because I am interested in the space itself, and the graffiti is a distracting element that draws attention. This is especially evident when you show someone else the picture. The graffiti in the picture inevitably becomes the point of focus (people always look for some sign of life to grab onto in a picture), and then they might take it further by reading some kind of commentary into the picture.
Anyhow it's something I'm working on, trying to be slightly more open minded.
I perfectly know how you feel. I take mostly photographs of Roman architectural features. I am constantly striving against:
pedestrians with red or yellow garments;
wires of all kind;
After you placed your tripod, having found a good composition without too much interference by wires and poles, there comes the bus. You wait for the bus, there comes a colourful sponsored taxi. The taxi goes, another comes and stands there while the client pays. The taxi goes, a group of tourists pass by. You wait for the tourists to pass, but other two tourists place themselves in the picture to take a picture. I think mon semblable, mon frère and wait again. When the tourists go, the delivery van arrives. When it goes, a bus on your back make the road vibrate, it has to pass. Sometimes one really have only a second to take a picture. After that, I find that I clean out all the writings on the wall, and even most of the litter on the ground. Sometimes I even clone out cigarette butts if they reflect light.
I find people too disturbing. My reasoning is that many persons can be OK, but one or two persons are a compositional nuisance. I now tend to relax more about that. One or two persons can add a touch of "life" to a scene that might appear too "museal" so to speak. Provided they don't have flashy jumpers, they can work in favour of the overall impression.
I take mental note of a certain light condition for a certain photo, but when I am there again, the sky is grey. When I am there again, the sky is blue, but the trees have foliage. It's the sad life of road photographers: no control over the scene.
Diapositivo, this sums it up perfectly! Exactly what I'm talking about. I have faced every single issue you wrote about here. Interestingly the one thing I find easiest to deal with are people. Since I am usually looking for low ambient light I am often working either overnight or extremely early in the morning, when there are much less people around. But yes all the other things you're talking about are annoyances I have to deal with, from wind, to vibrations, stray light potentially causing distracting flare. One time I was in a park and had a great composition all sorted out except for one damn trash can (bolted to the ground) that I could not avoid!
I'll be honest - I even kept a small broom in my car for a while, for cases where I return to a scene to set up and someone had left garbage on the sidewalk that would have become the focal point of the picture.
There's an interesting example by George Tice, one of my favourite photographers and printers. It's one of his more well known urban landscape pictures of the Strand Theater in Keyport NJ, taken in the 70s. (I'm lucky enough to own a print). The picture is exactly how I would have done it, except there is one small piece of what looks like paper in the gutter next to the sidewalk. I've often wondered if in retrospect that ever bothered him. I know if it had been me I would have removed that paper before taking the picture. And yet, this is one of my all time favourite photographs, meaning in the end that small nuissance doesn't bother me as a viewer! Perhaps I should learn something from this!!
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I suppose my subjects are different. I've come to the realization that as a nature photographer I'm 1% artist and 99% illustrator. I'm telling a story and educating my viewers. I also realize that I don't have to be the best, I just have to be the one telling the story. In my project no one else is telling the story of habitat loss in my locality. I've held myself to the standards of Ansel etc., before but the had spectacular subjects, and much more time to hone their skills. I realize by holding myself to these standards i could never be happy with my work, and felt like giving up. The great photographers are to admired, not emulated. I have a site where I have my favorite photographs to display, and maybe sell, and a flickr site where I display anything worthy of illustration and discussion. I don't know if my example helps, but it has worked for me, and may help some others.
To each his own of course but many of the objects that annoy you could actually be interesting elements of a photograph. the juxtaposition of people to one another or to other objects in the composition can open a whole new horizon to your photography. We were in Rome this past October and I went thinking I would be photographing the antiquities and ended up with most of my photographs being of people. You have the good fortune of being in a city with a great diversity of back-drops and variety activity. For example brides and grooms being photographed and videoed near the Coliseum while multitudes of people pass obliviously by, back-lit crowds of people on streets near the Spanish steps with just the tops of their heads shining and on and on. Go out with one camera and only one or two lenses and see things with different eyes. Have fun!
Wow. Like many here, this was me, too. The Holga suggestion is a TERRIFIC one.
May I also suggest reading a great little book called Art & Fear? It gets to the heart of the problems we all seemingly face one time or another:
If I may say one thing more; one of my favorite aspects of large-format photography (or just highly detailed & sharp architectural photography) is the ability to explore the picture. The fidelity is such that you can look at it and find new things... kind like a Where's Waldo book or something.
I personally would think that the theatre picture you speak of might be enhanced by this errant piece of paper in the gutter. It's a tiny piece of intrigue and reality.
At any rate, I've enjoyed this discussion and will listen henceforth
If you are the big tree, we are the small axe
I have been there too - and my chosen subject was portraits!
What "cured" me was a long study of Julia Margaret Cameron's photos. With smudges, scratches, cracks, uneven coating, and chicken feather embedded in the emulsion. Yet wonderful.
I didn't go so far as to keep chickens in my darkroom, but at least I learned that some imperfections simply don't matter.
-- Ole Tjugen, Luddite Elitist