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GSNfan
05-10-2011, 19:44
I ask this question from you Roger, because you have been at it for sometime and you know your photography history, but I'd appreciate input from everyone.


When someone posts an image for critique there is almost an immediate number of responses to 'how the photo should look' and in its current form its not. Then many reply back that the way the photo look is how it should look and disagree with the initial posters... But to cut the story short how did we came upon these rules and regulations as to how a photo should look?

I'm not a fan of Winogrand but he made some really good points, for instance he said, "we know too much about how photos look and should look..." Indeed, we all have endless ideas as to how photos should look and yet we have no clue why they should look that way...

maddoc
05-10-2011, 19:51
My opinion, Winogrand summed it up perfectly when saying "we have no clue why they should look this way" I think that there are some key elements that can make a photo more interesting if the photograph contains them but there is no general rule as how a photograph should look in principle.

excellent
05-10-2011, 20:36
However you want it to look. If it makes you say 'yeah thats it'... it's good.
Everyone's taste is different and to me its the greatest thing about photography.

Phantomas
05-10-2011, 23:44
I never thought it was a mystery, I think explanation can be simple, understanding of it not.
Explanation is - it's all in our minds. I strongly believe we are preconditioned to respond to visual stimuli in a somewhat standard way. Our eyes and mind obviously perceives colors, spaces and relationship between objects in a certain way and all of them and their combination trigger emotions. There are numerous studies that pretty much established how we perceive, for example, each color and what emotion that color is likely to trigger. For example the combination of colors on traffic lights are not a coincidence - they have actually been put there in accordance to our perception of them.
Same with photography - I believe that certain things like rules of two thirds, diagonals, etc, it's just the way our mind is likely to respond. All that stuff how your eye travels through a photo, what leads your eye to what is not mumbo-jumbo, it actually does work that way. Some composition "tricks" and the response of the audience are very easy to predict and have been standardized. Some are coincidence. Sometimes breaking the rules works just as well, but at the end it is still down to perception which I believe can be formulaic, endlessly complex, but still formulaic. I believe it is possible (and to some extent has even been done and experimented with) to write an algorithm that will produce pleasing for us photo after photo.
I was once talking to an established BBC documentary maker (camera man) and he told me that in cinematography the trick of framing and observing your frame one has to always remember that in a frame where no "main character" is present the audience's eyes will always go to the following part of the frame in this order: 1) the brightest object, 2) moving object; 3) most contrasty object. Knowing this one should compose the frame in a way to direct viewers eyes to the correct part and keep attention on what matters.

Gabriel M.A.
05-10-2011, 23:51
How should a painting look? How should a building look? What words should a poem have? How many grains of salt should a Margarita have? How many dissonances should a Jazz performance include, and how many decibels should it emit?

Some things you can't quantify. We can only agree on their general aspects.

Sparrow
05-10-2011, 23:56
Ah, I know the answer to the jazz bit, it's zero isn't it? :D

Roger Hicks
05-11-2011, 00:57
Phantomas sums it up pretty well, though I'm not sure that the degree of standardization is as high as he suggests: I believe there are both cultural and personal variations, and (there is no doubt) there are fashions too.

Even so, I'd completely agree that there are rules of thumb about composition, many of which go back for centuries, well before photography. Like all rules of thumb, they are empirical, and like most, there are plenty of occasions when they are of limited or no use. Following such rules ('thirds', for example) will generally result in pleasing compositions, provided the picture has any other merit as well, but equally, there can be good pictures that don't follow the 'rules'. From http://www.rogerandfrances.com/subscription/ps%20quality%20composition%20i.html

Perhaps the most important thing to realize about the so-called 'rules of composition' is that they are in many cases a way of restating a negative -- 'this doesn't usually work' -- in terms of a positive, or 'this usually does work'. Unfortunately it is easier to say what doesn't work than to say what does.

The second thing to understand is that none of these 'rules' is unbreakable. Often, you can see exactly how the various elements in a picture should go together, without any further thought. If the composition breaks the 'rules', but is still successful, fine.

Third -- and this is important too -- the 'rules' often work best when they are used as a starting point. If you can't see any other way to compose a pic-ture, then compose it using one or more of the 'rules' to begin with. The chances are that your composition will then evolve to a greater or lesser extent. You may make a slight change, bending the rules as it were; you may drop any or all rules entirely because you no longer need it or them; or you may even deliberately break them.

Cheers,

R.

Sparrow
05-11-2011, 01:13
Yes Roger, but ... with those that "work" one can normally see why the composition works as it does, even if that's after the event, it's only a very, very small number that work and don't comply to the so-called rules.

I barely have a handful like that.

Roger Hicks
05-11-2011, 01:24
Yes Roger, but ... with those that "work" one can normally see why the composition works as it does, even if that's after the event, it's only a very, very small number that work and don't comply to the so-called rules.


Dear Stewart,

Probably so, especially if the 'rules' are interpreted loosely in order to make them fit, as they often are in camera clubs and the like: 'almost' on the thirds...

My own suspicion is that the reason the 'rules' have such a bad name is twofold: first, rotten pictures where the photographer has clearly followed the 'rules' slavishly, and thinks this should automatically make a good picture out of a dull, boring cliché, and second, critics who are equally slavish and can't believe that any good picture can ever break the 'rules'.

Cheers,

R.

Sparrow
05-11-2011, 01:43
Dear Stewart,

Probably so, especially if the 'rules' are interpreted loosely in order to make them fit, as they often are in camera clubs and the like: 'almost' on the thirds...

My own suspicion is that the reason the 'rules' have such a bad name is twofold: first, rotten pictures where the photographer has clearly followed the 'rules' slavishly, and thinks this should automatically make a good picture out of a dull, boring cliché, and second, critics who are equally slavish and can't believe that any good picture can ever break the 'rules'.

Cheers,

R.

... I was just making the point; that a little learning isn't necessarily a bad thing.

I've never done the camera-club thing, but I've had reports, so your other comments probably have some bases in truth.

filmfan
05-11-2011, 01:44
It should look good.

_larky
05-11-2011, 04:08
"For example the combination of colors on traffic lights are not a coincidence - they have actually been put there in accordance to our perception of them."

Which is very interesting, as we are designed to ignore green berries and to eat the red ones.

jsrockit
05-11-2011, 04:09
I'm not even going to try to pretend I can answer the question since I believe it is unanswerable once you open your mind a bit. However, Winogrand deconstructs preconceived notions of what photography is better than anyone else I have read. I actually think his work is smart for the most part.

FrankS
05-11-2011, 04:10
In the situation that the OP points to, someone who posts an image for critique, is he/she not asking for others to make suggestions for improvement (which in its current form is lacking, in their opinion)?

Gabriel M.A.
05-11-2011, 04:42
Asking for a photo critique is indeed asking others about how good it is, how it looks, etc. Then one should ask: how should critiques be evaluated? How should one critique a photograph? How should one accept critiques? Should we ask for a critique? Should we give a critique? What should a critique contain?

etc etc

Roger Hicks
05-11-2011, 04:48
On critiques, from http://www.rogerandfrances.com/subscription/ps%20critique.html

Are you asking if you have the right material for an exhibition? Or a book? Or for seeking a bursary? Or do you want advice on how to tackle a theme? Or how to present your pictures? Or how to approach a publisher?

Obviously, some critics can give you better advice in some areas than others (see ii below) but unless they have some idea of what you want, they will have considerable difficulty in helping you. Putting your portfolio down and saying "What do you think?" is no help to the critic -- and if he is going to help you, you have to help him.


Cheers,

R.

Keith
05-11-2011, 05:00
A recent image in the critiquing forum was commented on by the initial posters with suggestions for improvement as they saw it ... then someone came in and said they thought the image was fine as it was but not content to leave it at that, openly disagreed with what the previous posters had opined. I found this need to undermine the opinions of others quite bizarre because it wasn't dealing with the image itself, more denegrating the opinions expressed by others.

It made me realise what a waste of space that critiqing forum is generally and why it gets so little traffic.

GSNfan
05-11-2011, 05:26
Thanks Roger and everyone else for your replies.

This question is not easy to answer but in my humble opinion (after thinking about it since I posted this question) I feel the question itself has the answer in it. There are no rules as to how a photo should look. Yes, there are certain rules for paintings that was borrowed for photography but even painting has discarded those rules long ago with abstract art.

Everything is permitted as to how a photo should look, there are no rules and its up to the photographer to use this absolute freedom and express their feeling\thoughts.

In fact Robert Frank broke every rule of photography almost 60 years ago with The Americans and still managed to make compelling photographs, and here we're still buying the old nonsense about composition rules, tonality, sharpness and other purely technical matters.

People should just forget everything they know about how photos should look and then go out and look for themselves, at least that's what I plan in doing.

MIkhail
05-11-2011, 05:33
Asking for a photo critique is indeed asking others about how good it is, how it looks, etc. Then one should ask: how should critiques be evaluated? How should one critique a photograph? How should one accept critiques? Should we ask for a critique? Should we give a critique? What should a critique contain?

etc etc

I think, the way this peer-to-peer critique works is: each of us, "photography enthusiast people", quickly evaluates in his mind how he/she would shoot the same subject or scene. As long as the presented does not deviate from that mental image too far - it's a good picture. If it's shot differently, we start thinking- what can be changed to bring it to our understanding how it should have been done.

People who does not aspire to be photogs just evaluate the picture based on practical criteria: is the face clearly visible, do I look good on this picture, does this dress fit me or make me look fat and so forth. Color is preferred in 95% times over b/w. As far as keeping the background interesting, showing the depth in picture by positioning subjects, and all that - people don’t understand or care and usually take it for granted. That has been my observations for about 10 years now.

P.S.
Critique of existing picture is really a useless thing: most of a time there are no second chances to retake the picture, and even given that unlikely chance photographer will not remember any of the suggestions and will shoot again based on what he believes is good and right, multiplied on the certain skills he possesses (catching the moments, his habits of approaching the subject, his equipment limitations…)
But we like to spend so much time doing that anyway. I guess it's still better than drinking vodka and shooting drugs so it's OK :-)

ferider
05-11-2011, 08:39
A recent image in the critiquing forum was commented on by the initial posters with suggestions for improvement as they saw it ... then someone came in and said they thought the image was fine as it was but not content to leave it at that, openly disagreed with what the previous posters had opined. I found this need to undermine the opinions of others quite bizarre because it wasn't dealing with the image itself, more denegrating the opinions expressed by others.

It made me realise what a waste of space that critiqing forum is generally and why it gets so little traffic.

Keith,

I've done that too.

A photographer might have different goals: popularity, as many flickr hits as possible, money, etc. "How a photograph should look" surely depends on those goals.

I myself look at photos as a way to talk to and share with others, casually, similar to, say, chatting with somebody at a party. In that context, I consider a photo of mine successful if a single person other than me likes it. When I behaved like you describe, I did it for the shooter to know that there was such a person, and that comments made by previous members mostly on form of the photo, where just that. I sometimes oppose but never mean to denigrate other people's opinion. If I came across like this, I'm sorry.

I myself think the critique threads are very important.

Roland.

antiquark
05-11-2011, 08:46
Often you can imagine what the picture would look like if some aspect of its composition were changed. I guess you're comparing the actual picture to the one in your "mind's eye," and saying that the imagined one looks better.

Pherdinand
05-12-2011, 08:33
you know... really talented photog dudes (and dudettes) recognize how it should look without being told the rules.
The rules need to be made and explained/taught to us, mediocre but pretentious, hoi polloi of photogrart making.
If we learn the "rules" reeeally well, there might be once in our life, or twice, an intersection between our path to the great art, and the trajectory of the talented.

shadowfox
05-12-2011, 09:51
Thanks Roger and everyone else for your replies.

This question is not easy to answer but in my humble opinion (after thinking about it since I posted this question) I feel the question itself has the answer in it. There are no rules as to how a photo should look. Yes, there are certain rules for paintings that was borrowed for photography but even painting has discarded those rules long ago with abstract art.

Everything is permitted as to how a photo should look, there are no rules and its up to the photographer to use this absolute freedom and express their feeling\thoughts.

In fact Robert Frank broke every rule of photography almost 60 years ago with The Americans and still managed to make compelling photographs, and here we're still buying the old nonsense about composition rules, tonality, sharpness and other purely technical matters.

People should just forget everything they know about how photos should look and then go out and look for themselves, at least that's what I plan in doing.

Good thinking, but I disagree with the conclusion.

Instead of forgetting them, you synthesize the things that you learned from photos that *you* have seen and liked into a vision (or visions), and use that vision the next time you have the opportunity to shoot.

This way we don't start from scratch every time, rather, we pro-actively build a repository of 'visions' that we can use when the scene in front of us reveal itself. This is not necessarily the same as "pre-visualization" more like pre-meditated adaptation.

We all do this to some degree, and there is a balance between ignoring it and being obsessed by it. And as with many other aspects of photography, some people get "there" quicker than others.

When the balance is struck, you will be more aware of your situations and be able to react accordingly to create what you call 'compelling' photographs.