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Chris Crawford I am pleased to announced a long time member has agreed to help and mentor others in photographic technique. As he has long done so, perhaps this forum is a bit overdue. Christopher Crawford has been a professional artist and photographer for 20 years, most of that time spent documenting life in northern Indiana with his photographs and the stories that he writes to accompany them. In addition, Chris also creates tutorials where he teaches photography techniques, film processing, digital editing, film scanning, and printing. Ask Chris your technical questions, or to critique your photos. You can see more of his tutorials at http://crawfordphotoschool.com

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Photos Under Discussion #1 Sterling Hall Sr.
Old 5 Days Ago   #1
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Photos Under Discussion #1 Sterling Hall Sr.



On the afternoon of May 18, 2015 I parked my car on High Street, just west of Runnion Avenue in Fort Wayne, Indiana. I was going to photograph an interesting house nearby.

As I was walking back to my car, I heard a dog growling and snarling. I looked to the house my car was parked in front of and saw a tiny little dog standing under a man sitting in a wheelchair in the door of the house. I yelled, "Hey dog, my cat could EAT YOU!" I had a 23lb longhaired orange cat named Simba who LOVED bullying dogs. There were several dogs I know who were terrified of him! He was quite a big larger than the little dog that was barking at me.

The dog's owner asked me what I was taking pictures of, so I went to talk to him. He asked me if I would take a picture of him; and while I was photographing him, he told me a little bit about himself.

His name was Sterling Hall Sr. He had had his right leg amputated recently, and he was depressed because his adult son had recently died. He and his little dog, whose name was Dot, lived with his mother.

I had a hard time getting the photo I wanted. I wanted to see the dog clearly, as well as Sterling. I wanted to show that he was sitting in the doorway; but the house's design made it impossible to show the left edge of the doorway well, so I decided to not show that side of the door frame. I had to be close to them, using a wide angle lens (my 24-105mm zoom set around 24mm), because I wanted the photo to feel intimate, like the viewer was standing there on the porch talking to Sterling.

I knelt down rather than standing up for two reasons. One was that Sterling was sitting in his wheelchair, so if I (a 5'10" tall man) were standing, I would be looking down at him. I didn't want that, I wanted it to look like I was sitting there talking to him. The second reason was Dot. She stayed under the wheelchair the while time, watching me. She wouldn't come out, but she did quit barking and growling after Sterling and I began talking. I wanted to see her face clearly, and she would have been partly hidden if I were standing.

I promised Sterling that I would give him a print, and about a week later, I brought him a signed, exhibition quality print. His mother answered the door and said that he wasn't feeling well and was sleeping. I told her that I had photographed him and promised him a print, and she said he had told her about me and that he was looking forward to seeing the print.

Several months later, I received an email from Sterling's daughter telling me that he had died on October 10, 2015. She told me that "This was one of his favorite pictures, he loved showing it off. Thanks for adding a small piece of joy to his life."

I love meeting and photographing people like Sterling; and hearing their stories, which I preserve and transmit to others through my work.
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Old 5 Days Ago   #2
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That's a very touching story Chris, and a lesson in itself of how being friendly and open to people can lead to better - in this case, excellent - people pictures.

I like the warmth in Sterling's smile and his relaxed posture. It's obvious he is at ease with you. It's great that you put the camera in a position to also capture Dot, looking at you from behind the protection of Sterling's leg and the wheelchair.

I also like that there's enough light and detail in the background to give Sterling's life some context in his humble surroundings.

There's a little wide angle distortion with his leg and moccasin-clad foot towards the camera (compare foot with head size) but if you'd stood further back with a longer focal length lens there wouldn't be as much of the room behind in view. Maybe I'd have gone more for 28mm or even 35mm to lessen that distortion.

Colours are very natural. Contrast and tone mapping are exactly as I would have liked to achieve in the same light.

I wasn't there so I can't judge what was outside the frame to support your framing/compositional choice, other than what you've stated. I think it works.

It's an excellent portrait.
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Old 5 Days Ago   #3
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You obviously took a lot of time to compose this simple looking image. But without that thought it wouldn't have been as effective.

When I first saw this photo, I thought this is a guy that is not healthy yet he is still (half) smiling. Nice one Chris with a good story.
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Old 5 Days Ago   #4
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You're a pretty cool dude Chris.

I appreciate the positioning of the dog. It does not strike me as a pose of "dominion" of Sterling over the dog, but one of "protection" -- both the dog of Sterling, and Sterling of the dog. Would have been way, way less compelling if the dog were in his lap.
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Old 5 Days Ago   #5
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Did you tried doing that on b/w? Wondering if it would have the same impact than on color. Sometimes color really bright things up.

Agree with the dog's position. Sometimes dogs can be very tricky, specially small races. Seems that they cant stop moving.


Really like Sterling expression. Seems at peace.

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Marcelo
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Old 5 Days Ago   #6
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Great shot. Some people are of the mindset that photos do not need any explanation and yes, there is an obvious intimacy here. But your text fills out, and pays respect to Sterling.
Sterling and his daughter obviously felt the same way.
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This picture explains why I don't photograph people
Old 5 Days Ago   #7
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This picture explains why I don't photograph people

Dear Chris,

I won't comment on the artistic merits of the picture other than to say you managed to convey a sense of respect and dignity to a man who to me appeared to be to be going through a rough spell in his life.

I've viewed your Fort Wayne series from end to end several times. To me at least, much of the series seems to focus on despair at one level or another? Please understand that I am not being critical of you and your work when I say this, but that is a theme that I have no desire to pursue.

Give me a bird or deer and I'll be a happy, but probably boring, photographer.

That's all I've got.

Regards,

Tim Murphy

Harrisburg, PA
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Old 5 Days Ago   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Huss View Post
Great shot. Some people are of the mindset that photos do not need any explanation and yes, there is an obvious intimacy here. But your text fills out, and pays respect to Sterling.
Sterling and his daughter obviously felt the same way.

Thanks. My work has long been a collaboration between photography and writing to tell my stories. I'm often frustrated when I see interesting photos posted online because I want to know more. Even something as basic as what the subject is, and many people won't even write that!
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Old 5 Days Ago   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tim Murphy View Post
Dear Chris,

I won't comment on the artistic merits of the picture other than to say you managed to convey a sense of respect and dignity to a man who to me appeared to be to be going through a rough spell in his life.

I've viewed your Fort Wayne series from end to end several times. To me at least, much of the series seems to focus on despair at one level or another? Please understand that I am not being critical of you and your work when I say this, but that is a theme that I have no desire to pursue.

Give me a bird or deer and I'll be a happy, but probably boring, photographer.

That's all I've got.

Regards,

Tim Murphy

Harrisburg, PA
Indiana is hurting. This has long been a manufacturing state. Indiana is often thought of as a farm state; and while the rural areas are covered in farmland, very few Hoosiers actually work in agriculture. Indiana has several cities that were centers of manufacturing. Places like Fort Wayne, Gary, South Bend, Evansville, and Indianapolis. Plus small cities that were major manufacturing centers like Muncie, Kokomo, Elkhart, and Goshen. Most of the factories are gone, and the jobs that are left pay $8 an hour.

There are wealthy people here, but they're not interesting at all. There is little depth to most of them; I find the working class, from which I came, much more interesting. Many of you don't know this, but I was the 6th person in my family's history to graduate from high school. My father was the second! I have a bachelors degree in fine arts and a masters degree in literature, but I haven't forgotten what I am. When I was a high school teacher, I worked in the poorest school in Fort Wayne. After I suffered my stroke, I worked as a substitute teacher for a few more years, and I can tell you this: I would choose working with my "poor white trash and ghetto kids" (that's how some teachers described them!) from the school were I was a regular teacher over the upper middle class and rich kids from some of the schools I subbed at ANY day.
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Old 5 Days Ago   #10
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Wow! That's heavy. Good work, Chris.
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Old 5 Days Ago   #11
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I am able to see Chris's photo in the context of his other economically struggling Indiana work as I am very familiar with it. That adds so much more than just looking at this singular image.

Chris seized on one of those opportunities that seldom come along then made maximum use of it. The unshaven man wearing a robe sitting in a wheelchair with a nondescript dog provided an ideal palette. He arranged them ideally. I suspect there was verbal communication between Mr. Hall, the subject, and the photographer to create Mr. Hall's expression. I imagine it was a challenge to find that instant where Mr. Hall's expression and the dog's position both fell into place. But good photographers have all other elements at the ready when that brief moment occurs. The same as mastering all the photographically technical aspects which one assumes as normal.

The photo would have been only a bit above ordinary without the commentary. But the description of Mr. Hall's plight added an entirely new dimension in communicating the situation. I did find the words about Chris's cat and talk of excluding the left door frame unnecessarily diluting.

It was so good that Chris's short commentary actually had an introduction, an informative body, and a great close. Good writing skills for a visual oriented person. That is a lesson that I will take away from this, do better with my own captions.
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Old 5 Days Ago   #12
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In addition to the poignancy of story and subject, I like how this photo invites you in. His foot and leg, the door leading you from left frame to the interior, the dog in the space under.
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Old 5 Days Ago   #13
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Dear Chris,

Trust me when I say that I understand the the focus of your pictures. I absolutely meant no offense by my comment of your focus on despair.

I'm from the NE PA coal region born a year and half after the Knox mining disaster that ended life in the region where I was born. When I was a kid it was still a place that people wanted to be, and they tried mightily to hang on, but eventually it just sort of died.

My parent's moved us outside of Philadelphia to place of cookie cutter suburbs. It was a fine place to grow up and my brother's and I enjoyed our childhood. But we kids longed for more.

I moved to upstate NY in the early 1990's, a place in more decline than the coal region my family fled. My brothers moved to Colorado. I moved to Harrisburg in 2001 and have watched it decline over 17 years. At least my parent's followed me and live nearby.

I know the spirit and the heart of the people that you picture more than you could ever imagine. It's simply not my cup of tea to photograph people who long for better times.

So I stick to critters, and birds and for the most part cannot comment on many of the photographic conversations around here. I belong here mostly because I still have an affinity to shoot film and I enjoy the gear talk more than the hand wringing over photographic styles or aims.

Again, I'm glad you chose to photograph what you do. You always do it with respect and you always manage to convey the pride and honor of your subjects. That is something to be proud of.

Regards,

Tim Murphy

Harrisburg, PA
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Old 5 Days Ago   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tim Murphy View Post
Dear Chris,

Trust me when I say that I understand the the focus of your pictures. I absolutely meant no offense by my comment of your focus on despair.

I'm from the NE PA coal region born a year and half after the Knox mining disaster that ended life in the region where I was born. When I was a kid it was still a place that people wanted to be, and they tried mightily to hang on, but eventually it just sort of died.

My parent's moved us outside of Philadelphia to place of cookie cutter suburbs. It was a fine place to grow up and my brother's and I enjoyed our childhood. But we kids longed for more.

I moved to upstate NY in the early 1990's, a place in more decline than the coal region my family fled. My brothers moved to Colorado. I moved to Harrisburg in 2001 and have watched it decline over 17 years. At least my parent's followed me and live nearby.

I know the spirit and the heart of the people that you picture more than you could ever imagine. It's simply not my cup of tea to photograph people who long for better times.

So I stick to critters, and birds and for the most part cannot comment on many of the photographic conversations around here. I belong here mostly because I still have an affinity to shoot film and I enjoy the gear talk more than the hand wringing over photographic styles or aims.

Again, I'm glad you chose to photograph what you do. You always do it with respect and you always manage to convey the pride and honor of your subjects. That is something to be proud of.

Regards,

Tim Murphy

Harrisburg, PA

No offense taken, it was a legitimate question.
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Old 5 Days Ago   #15
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A great picture and a great story, which complement each other.

Last edited by citizen99 : 5 Days Ago at 03:23. Reason: Editorial
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Old 5 Days Ago   #16
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The photo bring a sense of being there, and the story helps us to share the feeling.

Composition, arrangement of subject and lighting are perfect (as always in Chris photos) and this is a lesson for me. Another example of how much important is to connect with the subject when photographing. Photography is at the end communication .

And I agree normal people are more interesting than wealthy ones...

Words of Sterling's daughter remind us how important and beneficial can be to donate a photo to our subjects.

Thank Chris for this thread.

robert
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Old 5 Days Ago   #17
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That is an interesting photograph. Your photograph shows what good lighting does to make a photograph look real.

I will write the following, as it shows my philosophy of life. Aristotle, a long time ago, wrote something I believe is true. That an important ingredient of each and every human is our search for happiness. It can be elusive for some.

Maybe, maybe not this gent shows this. It does show part of his condition of his life.

I try to make photographs that show the world as a happy place to be living in. Some folks I’ve photographed live like this gent but I still strive to get them to show a glint of happiness, even if it’s only for a moment or two. I believe what Aristotle wrote is true.
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Old 4 Days Ago   #18
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My attention is first drawn by his face, not the missing leg. Even though I suspect he is not very old, he looks beat. Then I see the missing leg and the mutt underneath the wheelchair. A strong image. I am not so much drawn-in by the lighting which I find a bit too over-photo shopped with the interior of the house too prominently displayed. Perhaps a darker interior would make Sterling even more prominent in the picture. Thanks for posting! Peter
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Old 4 Days Ago   #19
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Very strong photo.
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Old 4 Days Ago   #20
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Dear Chris,

With All due Respect
it's just an average photo
HOWEVER
it is the Story that draws One in... embues Life & Spirit into the photo
makes it Poignant and Heartfelt for the Viewer

Beautiful, Hats off !
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Old 4 Days Ago   #21
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Lovely shot Chris and a heart rending story .
He looks so optimistic too ..... all kinds of lessons you take away from this.
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Old 4 Days Ago   #22
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Quote:
Originally Posted by helenhill View Post
Dear Chris,

With All due Respect
it's just an average photo
HOWEVER
it is the Story that draws One in... embues Life & Spirit into the photo
makes it Poignant and Heartfelt for the Viewer

Beautiful, Hats off !

I think that's true of many great photos done in the documentary tradition. The photo is inseparable from the subject's identity and story, and the photo and the story/history build on each other. That's why I find it odd that so many photographers adamantly refuse to provide any info on the photos they post. The argument is that photos should stand on their own, which is an argument contradicted by the history of photography.
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Old 4 Days Ago   #23
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Quote:
Originally Posted by robert blu View Post
The photo bring a sense of being there, and the story helps us to share the feeling.

Composition, arrangement of subject and lighting are perfect (as always in Chris photos) and this is a lesson for me. Another example of how much important is to connect with the subject when photographing. Photography is at the end communication .

And I agree normal people are more interesting than wealthy ones...

Words of Sterling's daughter remind us how important and beneficial can be to donate a photo to our subjects.

Thank Chris for this thread.

robert

I've met a lot of interesting people while photographing. There have been a few people I photographed who later died, and their families found my photos on my website years later (when I was younger I didn't give people prints because I was barely able to feed myself back then) and found the photos I had made of their uncle or mom or grandparent.

Some of them had no good photos of the person, and were glad to find mine. It was neat to have preserved the memory of someone's life like that.
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Old 3 Days Ago   #24
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Chris - thank you for posting this photograph. And thank you for telling Sterling's story. I fall on your side of the fence - a picture might "tell a thousand words", but for this style of photography, I like at least some of those words to be by the the image maker.

The story made me stop and consider Sterling and his family's life and the picture in that context. I'm sure your picture will be a treasured possession for his family.

I find documentary and people photography quite a challenge, and reading of your process in making this photograph was instructive. For me, Sterling's expression is a focal point, and that of his dog, and the colour really works too. The exaggerated foreground perspective serves to highlight his leg, but then underline his missing one in my mind.

Looking forward to more.
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Old 3 Days Ago   #25
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Chris - thank you for posting this photograph. And thank you for telling Sterling's story. I fall on your side of the fence - a picture might "tell a thousand words", but for this style of photography, I like at least some of those words to be by the the image maker.

The story made me stop and consider Sterling and his family's life and the picture in that context. I'm sure your picture will be a treasured possession for his family.

I find documentary and people photography quite a challenge, and reading of your process in making this photograph was instructive. For me, Sterling's expression is a focal point, and that of his dog, and the colour really works too. The exaggerated foreground perspective serves to highlight his leg, but then underline his missing one in my mind.

Looking forward to more.
I'll just quote this because I'm lazy. Agree with everything except the highlighted part. I think the way you approached him and tell this story is great.
I only disagree about the angle of view. The distortion doesn't work for me, and emphasizing his one leg this much may even come across as insensitive. I don't see anything of interest inside the house that needs to be included to warrant the wide angle. With a longer focal length you could have kept the camera at his head level too, stepped a bit further away and still kept the dog visible.

P.S. You were clearly not being insensitive and he as he liked the photo, it's a non-issue in this case. I just would assume that generally someone with a physical disability wouldn't like it to be emphasized visually, nor hidden of course.
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Old 3 Days Ago   #26
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including technical details opens up a photo to the photographer's creative decisions. that's one of my favorite things about ansel adams's approach; they make work by accomplished photographers more accessible. could the photo have been stronger if it was taken with a longer focal length? i'd encourage anyone who starts a "show and tell" thread to include relevant technical details.
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Old 3 Days Ago   #27
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The story is nice Chris and adds to the photograph, much as the story of Yousuf Karsh grabbing Churchill's cigar adds to that portrait.

But I do think the photo stands entirely on its own. If you spend some time studying it the portrait really begins to come to life, regardless of the story.

This is where I do not always agree with including the story. Often the story interferes with the photograph itself and prevents others from really spending time with the photo.

I do have to agree with others regarding the choice of the wide angle. It may have allowed you to get more of the background but it also distorted part of the man's anatomy. The real story was this man and his dog.

However, I feel it is a very well done portrait of a man and his companion and can understand why the subject and his family liked it as well. It just works.

Thank you
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Old 3 Days Ago   #28
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Quote:
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including technical details opens up a photo to the photographer's creative decisions. that's one of my favorite things about ansel adams's approach; they make work by accomplished photographers more accessible. could the photo have been stronger if it was taken with a longer focal length? i'd encourage anyone who starts a "show and tell" thread to include relevant technical details.
Is the photographer's desired audience the general public or just other photographers?

Personally I adamantly refuse to include anything technical, even if the original capture was digital or film or if the final output was created wet or dry. I believe inclusion of any of this data dilutes the message I want my work to deliver. Last year I had to give a curator a decision to either include my work with no technical information or remove my work from the exhibit. I explained that if a viewer was concerned about anything technical instead of the content that my photos has already failed in my mind. I equated her request to being like asking a painter to list what type brush and brand of oil they used.
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Old 3 Days Ago   #29
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Is the photographer's desired audience the general public or just other photographers?

Personally I adamantly refuse to include anything technical, even if the original capture was digital or film or if the final output was created wet or dry. I believe inclusion of any of this data dilutes the message I want my work to deliver. Last year I had to give a curator a decision to either include my work with no technical information or remove my work from the exhibit. I explained that if a viewer was concerned about anything technical instead of the content that my photos has already failed in my mind. I equated her request to being like asking a painter to list what type brush and brand of oil they used.

Bob,

On my website, I do not have any technical information, nor is any given when I exhibit my prints in galleries and museums. Art collectors don't care about such things.

I do think that in a discussion of a photograph, by photographers, as we're doing here, There needs to be some discussion of the equipment and materials used. That is because I am trying to help others learn by showing them my thought process as I create an image. Part of that is choosing the right equipment to get the image I want, so I include some info on that.
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Old 3 Days Ago   #30
Bob Michaels
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Originally Posted by Chriscrawfordphoto View Post
On my website, I do not have any technical information, nor is any given when I exhibit my prints in galleries and museums. Art collectors don't care about such things.

I do think that in a discussion of a photograph, by photographers, as we're doing here, There needs to be some discussion of the equipment and materials used. That is because I am trying to help others learn by showing them my thought process as I create an image. Part of that is choosing the right equipment to get the image I want, so I include some info on that.
Chris: your thinking and mine are totally in parallel on your first statement.

I see merit in your second statement. Maybe I am overly sensitive from looking at so many photos here that I would love to know the location or some subject information but the photographer thinks the only thing worth mentioning is that it was made with a ziptydodah camera. I certainly agree the thought process in creating the image is important. But the equipment? So often that ends up being a function of what you have in your hand at that time.
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Old 3 Days Ago   #31
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Chris: your thinking and mine are totally in parallel on your first statement.

I see merit in your second statement. Maybe I am overly sensitive from looking at so many photos here that I would love to know the location or some subject information but the photographer thinks the only thing worth mentioning is that it was made with a ziptydodah camera. I certainly agree the thought process in creating the image is important. But the equipment? So often that ends up being a function of what you have in your hand at that time.
I agree that the tech info is not usually important, and I am constantly frustrated by images with no info about what I am seeing. When I post photos in my own image thread, the New Photos From Fort Wayne thread, I never mention equipment unless someone asks about it.

In this thread, which I see as educational, then I do think its important to say what I used and WHY. Not simply saying "I used a Canon 5DmkII with the 24-105mm f4L lens." That doesn't really help anyone. The camera I used isn't really important in this photo, but the choice of lens and what focal length I set the zoom at were important. I chose that lens and zoom setting for a reason, which I explained.
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Old 3 Days Ago   #32
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Thanks for posting this Chris. I like the format you're following and I'm looking forward to the next one.
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Old 3 Days Ago   #33
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Thanks for posting this Chris. I like the format you're following and I'm looking forward to the next one.

You're welcome. This has been a great discussion; thanks to everyone who contributed! I'll post a new one tomorrow.
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Old 3 Days Ago   #34
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Chris, thanks for posting this photo and the story of its making.

I was not immediately gripped by this image, but as I looked a little harder, the thing that really grabbed me was the 'rhyming' effect of the angles at which your subject and his dog hold their heads. It communicates to me that these are two beings in harmony, mutually protective of each other. I now think of this as a very strong image.
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Old 3 Days Ago   #35
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Dear Chris

I also think your photo can stand on its own, without commentary which I don't mind. Notwithstanding your concern with the technical aspects of its taking, there is a wonderful warmth and intimacy that comes across, from the subject and by implication,the photographer.

Best wishes

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Old 3 Days Ago   #36
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Dear Chris

I also think your photo can stand on its own, without commentary which I don't mind. Notwithstanding your concern with the technical aspects of its taking, there is a wonderful warmth and intimacy that comes across, from the subject and by implication,the photographer.

Best wishes

Steve

How can we discuss a photo if you don't know what you're seeing? This isn't abstract painting, it is documentary photography. The meaning is derived from the subject, and is inseparable from it. If I posted the photo with nothing but the image, I'd only be telling half the story. That would be a failure, because my purpose is not to take pretty pictures. It is to tell the stories of the people I encounter in my journey through life.
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Old 3 Days Ago   #37
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Is the photographer's desired audience the general public or just other photographers?

Personally I adamantly refuse to include anything technical, even if the original capture was digital or film or if the final output was created wet or dry. I believe inclusion of any of this data dilutes the message I want my work to deliver. Last year I had to give a curator a decision to either include my work with no technical information or remove my work from the exhibit. I explained that if a viewer was concerned about anything technical instead of the content that my photos has already failed in my mind. I equated her request to being like asking a painter to list what type brush and brand of oil they used.
+1, well said
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Old 3 Days Ago   #38
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...
But I do think the photo stands entirely on its own. If you spend some time studying it the portrait really begins to come to life, regardless of the story.
...
I think in these internet times very oft people look at pictures only in a quick superficial way. A few seconds, the time to think " ohh, this is a man with his dog", done, let's see the next one.

What Pioneer says is very true, we need time to study a photo, to make it something alive. The man, his face, the position of his hands, the few details of the interior of the house, the shirt....so many important details to look at...

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Old 2 Days Ago   #39
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Originally Posted by Chriscrawfordphoto View Post
How can we discuss a photo if you don't know what you're seeing? This isn't abstract painting, it is documentary photography. The meaning is derived from the subject, and is inseparable from it. If I posted the photo with nothing but the image, I'd only be telling half the story. That would be a failure, because my purpose is not to take pretty pictures. It is to tell the stories of the people I encounter in my journey through life.
You want to include the story with this portrait and that is fine. I am just saying it isn't necessary. Your portrait is well done and a lot more of the story comes to light if you take time to really look at the portrait.

I also can tell some things about the photographer. He/she has been able to put the subject at ease which is clear from the relaxed, slightly bemused, expression on the face. But the dog is not convinced so the photographer must not be a regular visitor. The dog has a slightly puzzled look but is still in a guarded position. I think he knew you were a cat lover.

You do a lot of documentary photography of your city and its' people, much of it very interesting. You are interested in the history of your city and your area and can relate a lot of information. But I doubt very seriously that you have heart warming stories for each photograph you take. Often a simple caption describing the place, location, person(s) if appropriate and time is sufficient.

What do you think of the portrait? I know you have spent much more time looking at it than we have. What do you like, what would you change? Would you want to go back if you could and redo it or are you happy with it as it is?
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