My next victim - Peter Adams
Based on the reactions to the last blog ( Abell concise and me ranting), it would seem that people actually enjoy it when I rant. That, however, does not seem to include my wife who has made it absolutely clear, that all my ranting must be done outside her presence or I shall in no time at all, be ranting about sleeping on the sofa with an empty stomach (ha, I’m one up on her there, I love to cook and my sofa is pretty darn comfortable).
Anyhow, I am back here again with another feeble attempt to pick some photographer’s brain. This time around it is the unfortunate Peter Adams. Let me be clear, when I say unfortunate I do not mean that Peter Adams has a troubled life or that success has eluded him. I am not at all familiar with Mr. Adams and so am in no position to make any sort of judgment on his state of affairs. I simply meant that it is unfortunate that his words should come to my attention and be used in such a crude attempt to further my personal comprehension of the art of photography and thus become the basis of my delirious ravings.
I discovered that while many photographers think alike when it comes to equipment and chemistry, there are seldom two who agree on anything when it comes to what constitutes a good image.
Not so long ago, I was particularly irked when a majority of a batch of pictures was rejected and thus I decided to revoke my exclusive status and submit to other agencies.
It has been more or less a month since I have been submitting to different agencies, and the very first lesson this new experience has taught me is that Peter Adams is spot on with his quote above.
I know a photographer who does a lot of product photography for luxury good companies as well as fashion shoots for magazines signed up to a microstock agency and after about thirty submissions never bothered to upload again. “I just got fed up with those idiots rejecting my photos because they thought the majority of the image was out of focus. Have they even heard of depth of field? Did they even consider that it may be on purpose?” he growled at me (obviously he thought I was either an idiot or a reviewer). That is a rather easy one to address, stock is different from what he is used to doing and therefore demands different things from an image. I can absolutely understand that the aesthetic merits of an image such as composition, depth of field, subject matter are entirely subjective and are hostage to a viewer’s sensibilities.
But I was shocked to discover, that highly trained (or so one is led to believe) professionals with extensive experience in detecting such unforgivable deficiencies as noise, sensor spots, colour fringing, incorrect focus, are, in a lot of cases, unable to form a unanimous opinion.
It is simply astounding how one photograph can be accepted at five agencies and be rejected at another because they found colour fringing plaguing the image. The only explanation I can come up with is that the five agencies employ blind moles and the other one employs eagle-eyed, microscopic, electro-magnetic superheroes with the ability to meld into digital images. I have examples of similar cases for all of the issues mentioned in the paragraph above. Surely, we are talking about objective criteria that are definable, detectable and measurable. Surely, everyone should be able to see the same amount of noise in the same area on a photograph regardless of race, colour or creed? Or perhaps not, maybe people in St-Petersburg are particularly sensitive to shades of green and red, while people in Denver are particularly offended by dark spots on a blue background. Maybe it is the water or the air?
It doesn’t really bother me anymore. Well obviously it bothers me a little otherwise this mini rant wouldn’t be here. But it doesn’t bother me to the extent which made me give up my exclusivity, because I now understand what Peter Adams knows. Show enough people a photograph and you will end up collecting fairly diverse opinions on whether it is a good photograph and even more divergent explanations as to why it is good and why it is not.
It’s quite heartening in a way, because it means that I never ever take horribly disfigured images and that no matter what if I look long enough and far enough I’ll always find someone who will be complimentary about a photograph. On the other hand, it is hardly reassuring, because there will always be the possibility that someone will find something wrong with a photograph that others have given a thumbs up to. As they say, it is hard to please all of the people all of the time.
Photography is not about cameras, gadgets and gismos. Photography is about photographers. A camera didn't make a great picture any more than a typewriter wrote a great novel.
I am beginning to wonder if photographers don’t harbour a paranoid inferiority complex. Nearly every single photographer I have found says something about how a good picture has nothing to do with the camera but rather is a reflection of the photographer’s skill in wielding the tool. In my last blog I had (at nauseating length) gone into this. Painters or carpenters don’t ever seem to need to defend their skills. Even film makers don’t seem to harp on about how it isn’t the camera that makes a great movie. So why photographers?
My current method of addressing this is now quite simple. Anytime someone comments on how wonderful my camera looks and how it must take great photographers, I just hand it over and tell them to take as many pictures as they can in 10 minutes and we’ll see how great the camera really is. Often, people end up being disappointed in the equipment without ever really considering that perhaps the ham fisted ape holding it is to blame.
Great photography is about depth of feeling, not depth of field.
As a “serious” photographer (Stop that snickering. OK, who guffawed back there?), I sometimes forget why I embarked on this journey. I end up concentrating so much on details like setting the right aperture value, getting the correct exposure, avoiding camera shake, achieving a composition without the orange rubbish bin that I forget why something compelled me to put the camera to my eye in the first place.
In the beginning, before I learned about manual or aperture priority mode, it was all so much simpler. I saw something that elicited an emotional response in me and I snapped a picture. Certainly, most of the time the picture was far from technically perfect, but it was a personal record of something that held an emotional value.
And then I started getting serious and my outlook changed. I was forever judging whatever was before me in terms of stock. Is the lighting good? Will the image come out OK? Is the subject matter commercial enough? It got quite bad at times when I would refuse to take a picture if I thought it wouldn’t be of interest to a stock agency.
One occurrence brought me the realization that perhaps I was going too far was when I got married. Of course, I was bitterly disappointed that as one of the principal stars of the event, I was not allowed to hide behind a camera. But many of our friends were more than happy to bring their cameras along and snap away as the ceremony unfolded.
Afterwards, all our friends provided us with the pictures they had taken. And while my young bride, oooh’ed and aaah’ed in genuine appreciation and gratitude at their efforts, I silently sat criticizing the exposure, framing and saturation. I was asked to put the pictures on-line to share with those who had not been able to attend the event. I only managed to do so 4 weeks afterwards because like a stubborn idiot I refused to publish any picture that I had not processed myself to recover the exposure or to boost the saturation.
I am notorious for defending my idiotic behaviour vehemently whenever I am criticized, but I hang my head in shame when I think back to those weeks. Our friends not only blessed us with their presence but also made the effort to capture the significance of the event out of generosity and the goodness of their hearts, and the Shylock that I had become could only think of casting a critical eye upon their gifts. And though my wife never said a cross word to me, I could see that she was disappointed.
A perfect picture is not one that is pin point sharp, correctly exposed, and accurately framed. It is one that brings a smile or a tear to the face of its beholder, dredges up an emotional memory, elicits a yearning or desire, helps relate to someone, or simply stirs the soul in recognition of wondrous beauty.
A technically perfect picture that does not create an emotional response is a failure.
I have since learnt to stop judging everything in terms of its potential for stock, and now happily raise the camera at high noon to shoot someone playing a guitar on the street or to boost the ISO to 6400 to snap my wife dancing happily late at night. Stock is stock, photography is bliss.
As always, I end with a personal request. Please, if you have enjoyed this blog or like my portfolio, please visit my Facebook page Shadow69 Photography and click on “Like” to show your appreciation and support.
Photo credits: Abdul Sami Haqqani.