Self-critique

“Artists are their own worst critics.”

Canon T100 & 40mm f2.8 lens.

So I’m going to critique one of my own photos. Notice I said “critique” as opposed to “criticize”; the latter having negative connotations rather than just an evaluative attitude.

What’s wrong with it:

1). The shadows are uneven, both from side-to-side and top-to-bottom (note the dark crescent on top). This is due to incorrect lighting placement, and I honestly couldn’t see it through the viewfinder. The scene itself doesn’t show such flaws because one’s eye automatically adjusts to any spot you’re looking at.

2). The light flares at two points on the egg; it needed more diffused lighting. Again not something I can see in the viewfinder (I am barely able to make out shapes) or notice in real life. A couple of clothes in front of the lights would probably solve the problem, but no one is paying me for this so I’m not going to re-shoot it.

3). The background is either too textured or not textured enough. As it is there is just enough to be noticeable and annoying without enough to be purposeful. A terry cloth towel would have been better, or a completely smooth piece of satin. Again not a paid shot so … (This piece was among the jewelry I shot, and I just liked how it looked.)

4). It doesn’t look enough like a potato. It’s a little like a potato, but not completely potato.

I am considering doing some posts about that most elusive aspect of photography, the one that even pros screw up habitually, composition & framing. Maybe impart my views on the subject before I’m totally unable to shoot pictures at all.

What do you think? Want to read some “how to” drivel from the guy with 50+ years experience? Or shall I just save myself some effort and refrain from annoying readers? I promise not to use potatoes as the subject if I do this.

 

Professional Photographer Phools

Warning: this is a very nasty and insulting piece, especially if you are a professional photographer. Furthermore, it is just possible that the true explanation behind these revelations is that my own brain cells are giving up, not yours. Or perhaps reality has changed in some manner and left me out of the loop.

I debated writing this piece for some time. Probably shouldn’t be doing it. It’s not like I get paid for my images or in any other way can claim to be pro, so what right have I to criticize them? It’s just that … well it’s embarrassing to all photographers to see the real pros make amateur mistakes and not notice. Or maybe I am the one that’s wrong here. I’d accept that as an explanation too.

The trigger was reading a few blog entries from a pro who mentioned they’d been teaching photography for 25 years. Hurrah! That’s great! I’ve been shooting, but not teaching, for twice that time so we should have some common ground. Except I didn’t blunder all over the place misunderstanding about the use of IR filters. *ahem* Even wrote a little piece about it, The Infrared Zone, regarding my personal experimentation. It was done without having to personally consult an expert at some company, too. *cough* It would seem this “photography teacher” doesn’t have a firm grasp of the EM spectrum and how it relates to visible light, photography, and the use of filters. I wonder what they’ve been teaching all those years.

I can’t help but notice too many pros still fall for that expensive-equipment-is-automatically-better nonsense, despite the fact their own results do not back up this conclusion. This is pure amateur’s affliction. Then I read their assertions about “inexpensive” being a price tag that would cover both of my main cameras with change leftover for some nifty accessories, and look at pictures that are no better than my own. Honestly; has my eyesight deteriorated that much so the good, the bad, and the ugly all look alike to me? I admit it could be so.

Quite a few of them are obsessed with the idea that mirrorless is the future. This may be the case (whether we like it or not), but I’ll hold off spending 50% more on a design that is simpler and less expensive to build until there’s some better justification for it than “it’s the latest thing”. The Edsel was the latest thing in 1958, kids.

Shall we talk about what really matters? The end result? How good are your ‘professional’ shots? Good enough for who they’re for, or good enough to satisfy your obsessive-compulsive perfectionist nature? (All artists have that; it’s not unique to photography.) Did spending 3X more than you needed to really get you pictures worth the extra dough? You do know your average client can’t tell the difference between the 24 MP rendered image that you spent six hours on in Photoshop and something taken with an old cell phone that has a dirty lens, right?

Okay for those doing the ultra-high-resolution-beyond-reality art images, the expense is worth it. For those doing the professional wedding shots, possibly not. For those shooting art using photography as a medium … there are more enjoyable ways to go broke, friends. I was chuckling at the “introductory offer” on a new Sony camera at a ‘mere’ $1,600 for something that is on par with a $150 Canon point-and-shoot. But I burst out laughing at the poor sod who felt that same money was justified in buying a single Olympus which can be had for $1,000 less if you’re willing to make an effort. (They were buying from a “reputable camera store”. I’d say it has a reputation for selling over-priced merchandise.) For your sake, shop around: it’s your money, after all.

Since I’m trashing everyone and everything, let’s mercilessly assault those end-result pictures. I keep seeing pros make the same mistakes amateurs make (beyond the expensive equipment and lack of basic knowledge blunders), and wonder if they’re doing it on purpose or if they really don’t notice. Maybe I’m the one with the problem, and what I see as “wrong” is accepted norm or even desired content. I could be crazy, after all.

The standard error is in framing and composition; the most difficult thing to learn and the biggest blunders people new to photography make. Often they see it afterwards and agonize over it. Training yourself to see it before you shoot it is not easy, but really … Professionals should have managed it before hanging out their shingle.

First off “framing and composition” are two different yet intimately intertwined aspects of the picture. Framing is what’s in the image, composition is how it’s in the picture. There’s obviously some reciprocal action there. A lot of people take a photo and don’t notice there’s some distraction in the background or off to the side because they’re so excited about the main subject matter. This is understandable. Sometimes the unwanted elements are unavoidable, but they are always controllable to some extent. When they’re not, you haven’t got a great picture; accept the fact and shoot again. To see allegedly professional photographers turn out shots with distracting clutter mistakes is sort of embarrassing to us all. Unfortunately too many pros hang on to the amateur’s fixation that the image must be “HxV” because that’s how it started out; it doesn’t occur to them that it can be any size, and cropping out extraneous content is easy to do.

The other matter, composition, is even trickier to handle because “how it’s in the picture” is part science and part aesthetics. One person’s great arrangement of form and texture is another’s abysmal mess. You could even argue that the clutter sometimes makes the picture, especially if it’s a picture of clutter. This is where I go off the deep end and really wonder if the shot I’m looking at is lousy because of my subjective aesthetic sense, the photographer’s intent, or the latter’s lack of skill. I’d like to ask them about this on occasion, but it’s a touchy subject. They might be offended by the question, the way it’s asked, or even their own answer if they suddenly realize they made a mistake in the image. That last one can be devastatingly depressing for any artist.

I mean I take “grab shots” all the time, but I don’t present them as fine examples of photography. They’re mere documentation of what I saw and wanted to share. When you level up to “this is photographic art” more effort is required. On the other hand I also make some pictures which I consider to be not just pretty good but stunningly remarkable, and then I listen to the silence of non-response and again question my own competence. Maybe people out there are seeing flaws in my photos that I don’t think are flaws, or don’t even notice are there.

One thing that can be said for the pros is that they are nearly always, in every instance, technically proficient. I don’t see them posting dreadful mash-ups of badly exposed, distorted images that are incomprehensible to the human brain. Unless they mean to, of course. Even then there tends to be a sort of indefinable perfectly-done-disaster aspect that shows it was purposeful. Over-all I’d say the professionals whose images I’ve seen are solid on the science and only lacking on the art. Even then it is usually only in certain aspects of the art.

If they don’t ask for input, I generally don’t give it. This is a hard-and-fast rule of mine which I don’t expect others to follow. Sometimes I will make a suggestion, not in the form of a criticism but as a means of expanding possibilities such as “you should try this in B&W too”. At my age I’m fairly immune to others’ appraisal of my work (most of the time), but I remember enough about being young to retain some degree of sensitivity.

Whatever. Here I’ve done this blanket condemnation of us all, which I’ve gone back over and watered-down heavily from its original form. You can make of it what you will.

future

“I’ve seen the future, baby; it is murder.” – Leonard Cohen