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  1. #1
    Thomas Bertilsson's Avatar
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    The real thing, or substitute?

    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.
    "Often moments come looking for us". - Robert Frank

    "Make good art!" - Neil Gaiman

    "...the heart and mind are the true lens of the camera". - Yousuf Karsh

  2. #2

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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. #3
    Ian Leake's Avatar
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    Some people are fascinated with the craft of photography, some are fascinated with artistic expression. Often these overlap.

  4. #4
    blansky's Avatar
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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.
    I couldn't think of anything witty to say so I left this blank.

  5. #5

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

  6. #6

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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-Port.../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

  7. #7
    darkosaric's Avatar
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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. #8
    SuzanneR's Avatar
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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. #9
    Erik Petersson's Avatar
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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. #10
    Thomas Bertilsson's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by SuzanneR View Post
    ...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.
    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...
    "Often moments come looking for us". - Robert Frank

    "Make good art!" - Neil Gaiman

    "...the heart and mind are the true lens of the camera". - Yousuf Karsh

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