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Roger Hicks -- Author of The Rangefinder Book

Roger Hicks is a well known photographic writer, author of The Rangefinder Book, over three dozen other photographic books, and a frequent contributor to Shutterbug and Amateur Photographer. Unusually in today's photographic world, most of his camera reviews are film cameras, especially rangefinders. See www.rogerandfrances.com for further background (Frances is his wife Frances Schultz, acknowledged darkroom addict and fellow Shutterbug contributor) .


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Really bad photographers
Old 11-29-2009   #1
Roger Hicks
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Really bad photographers

Every now and then, I go through the work of a really bad photographer who thought he was quite good.

Me, in the 1960s and 1970s.

I'm still not anything like as good as I'd like to be, let alone as good as the best. But I think I've got better (I'd have had a job getting worse, though I've seen some who could give me tips).

Who else looks back on their earlier photography with 1% pride and 99% embarrasment?

And who else sees the best of themselves and the worst of themselves in others' pictures?

Cheers,

R

Last edited by Roger Hicks : 11-29-2009 at 13:19.
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Mia Culpa? NOT!
Old 11-29-2009   #2
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Mia Culpa? NOT!

Roger, you must be having a bad day, feeling old, counting wrinkles in the mirror, or having hard time not getting laid.

As a tunesmith I discovered long ago that I'm just not that interesting of human being for me to identify with my art.

My God, if I were to be judged by my subject alone (much less the execution of my craft) I'm sure I would be in the same box as reprobates and psychopaths.

One cannot make anything that holds a mirror to his world without first having a mile's worth of aesthetic distance.
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Old 11-29-2009   #3
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To be honest Roger, I think I took much better photographs 25 years ago. I had a Praktica MTL3 SLR. I also had decent eyesight!!
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Old 11-29-2009   #4
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I am the same way. I tend to photograph in batches and spurts. I am generally happy with each temporal chunk of photography I do at the time when I do it, and then I look back on previous efforts and where I thought there were twenty good images, there are more like three.
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Old 11-29-2009   #5
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I used to keep 1 in 5 images. Now it's closer to 1 in 150 images. The worst part is, they're better now.
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Old 11-29-2009   #6
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60's and 70's ... I'm embarrassed by last years' stuff, except for one or two every few years that I am actually quite proud of, the idea of death ... death as the final editor concentrates one's mind
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Old 11-29-2009   #7
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Well, as for me, I think I used to take better photos, because I took more and had a more practiced eye. I never considered myself a good printer though.

As to famous photographers, some of Ansel Adams are really good, others just don't do anything for me. In fact, I think some are just plain not good. I also never was all that impressed by HBC. But since so many disagree, I suppose it shows my tastes (or lack there of).
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Old 11-29-2009   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Merkin View Post
I am the same way. I tend to photograph in batches and spurts. I am generally happy with each temporal chunk of photography I do at the time when I do it, and then I look back on previous efforts and where I thought there were twenty good images, there are more like three.
'Fits and starts' Spoonerizes well: stitz and farts.

I've long felt like that.

On the bright side, there's always the occasional picture you come back to, out of the three-out-of-twenty, which makes you think, "Hey, maybe there's hope yet: I'm not too bad at this, just occasionally."

@ Mick: well, yes, there is the eyesight.

@ Stewart: all too often, yes. But I think there is a slight underlying trend of improvement. We have to believe that, though, I suppose.

Cheers,

R.
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Old 11-29-2009   #9
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I still like this one, taken over 30 years ago.



An 8-year old child of one of the Students at University, A Spring Festival. I taught her how to use the Nikon F2a and took this picture with the Nikon F Photomic and 43~86 zoom. Panatomic-X in Microdol. Somethings you do not forget. And her name is "Zoey". Figure she must be 40 now.
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Old 11-29-2009   #10
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Most of my basic knowledge of photography, I learned at the age of about 9 or 10 when my father bought me a simple box camera from Sears. It has been mostly refinements since then. When I look at some of the best pictures that I took when I was young (age 10-20) I do not believe that what I take now is significantly better from a composition point of view.

Here is one that I took when I was 10, scanned from a print.
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Old 11-29-2009   #11
Steve Bellayr
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Sometimes a photograph is neither good nor bad but an historical document.
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Old 11-29-2009   #12
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Lately I have been going back through nearly half a century of pictures, some personal, some shot for clients, and posting them on my blog with info about the photos, subjects, etc. They're mixed in with current work.

I really don't see much difference in my style from then to now. Maybe others do

I got tracked down by a guy whose wife I photographed forty some years ago. They'll be in Miami in a few weeks and the plan is to visit the same locations (as much as possible of course). She still weighs the same, her hair is about the same length. It'll be an interesting shoot.
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Old 11-29-2009   #13
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Dear Al,

You must have started out more competent than I, because I can certainly see that I'm not as bad as I was.

Cheers,

R.
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Old 11-29-2009   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Steve Bellayr View Post
Sometimes a photograph is neither good nor bad but an historical document.
I have trouble with this and my 'old work,' people like my old stuff but I think maybe they like the nostalgia. I have never liked cars in my photos, but when I look at my old images with cars now I like them. I'm confused:

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Old 11-29-2009   #15
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Twenty years ago I wasnt quite sure what a good photograph is. Nowadays I know pretty much whether its right or wrong.
I do better work now, but I recognise work that I did earlier that was good - but I didnt realise it. And of courese there are the ones I thought were brilliant that are not.

I spose one must remember also that photos that you have looked at a million times, you are completely unable to judge anymore. Youll just have to take your own (younger) word for it.
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Old 11-29-2009   #16
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Ah. The esteemed Rev. Spooner late of Oxford rears his mixed up head. Once, when introducing the Queen of England to a gathering at Oxford, rather than saying "Three cheers for our dear old Queen," instead said, "Three cheers for our queer old Dean."

Anyway, some of us are too hard on ourselves, and thus probably better than we realize. Others are too easy on themselves and probably quite rotten.

Frankly, I've never been happy with anything I've ever shot to the point where I didn't see room for significant improvement in technique. On the other hand, I am often quite pleased to remember the subject of an image even if I didn't capture it quite the way I saw it.

Me, bad? Yup! Bad enough to quit? No way. I enjoy this, bad or not. If I thought I was good, then I'd be worried.

Quote:
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'Fits and starts' Spoonerizes well: stitz and farts.
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Old 11-29-2009   #17
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My biggest photography regret is not using a camera for about 30 years. I remember opportunities for great photos.

These days, I'm wondering if my old eyes are the problem. I'm thinking maybe I need to get an autofocus camera and move on. I've also noticed that framing a photo just right is something that's important to me, so maybe a rangefinder isn't the best tool for me.

I'm thinking about taking my little GX200 along on my next few opportunities and use it to shoot, on full automatic, equivalent shots of everything I shoot with one of my film cameras. Comparing the results ought to be useful.
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Old 11-29-2009   #18
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i know what i like more these days.
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Old 11-29-2009   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Roger Hicks View Post
<snip>Who else looks back on their earlier photography with 1% pride and 99% embarrasment? <snip>
Roger: I concluded I simply lacked talent in the mid 80's, after photographing quite seriously for about ten years. I sold my cameras and enlarger, threw away all my negs and prints (except for a few important family photos) and did nothing for about 15 years. I still think it was the correct thing to do.

I am not certain I have much more talent now but I am able to live with that limitation much better.
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I concede to the fact that I am not great
Old 11-29-2009   #20
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I concede to the fact that I am not great

I shoot a bunch of terrible photos but on the odd occaision I shoot things I feel are great. The ones I feel are great get the least attention and the ones I hate people love. I agree with Rob, if I thought I was great I'd quit because in everything there is room to improve and learn. If one becomes comfortable the photos become stale and repetitive. Maybe I'll improve over the years and look back to see if my photos really are that bad. I can only hope to be like Al Kaplan and others who are happy with works old and new, as life is too short for regrets.
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Old 11-29-2009   #21
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Quote:
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Who else looks back on their earlier photography with 1% pride and 99% embarrasment?
Roger, feeling embarrassed while looking at photos you took in the past is a sign that you have improved!
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Old 11-29-2009   #22
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Ive gotten better over the years but this is expected, no? In some ways as I acquired more gears, my abilities went in the opposite direction. When all I had was one lens, the 50, I had to be more creative. I wont say I was a bad photog. I was a beginner and now I'm an amatuer.
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Old 11-29-2009   #23
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I use to think that way. In fact, in the late 80's I decided to cut up a bunch of 4x5 negatives I thought I'd never print.

Boy, was that a mistake. Thankfully, I never got around to cutting up the 35mm and 120 negatives I thought I would never print.

Now, I look at it all as a growing process.

Even though it was an entirely different reason, but wasn't it Brett Weston who tossed a bunch of his 8x10 negs into the fireplace?!?!


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Old 11-29-2009   #24
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Thirty years ago, I was experimenting left and right with anything related to photography. I was as silly as to use a red filter with colorfilm ... for an entire roll of film!
I tried out color infrared film and then I tried taking a photo in total darkness with a flash and used multiple exposures and a mask for the lens.
After all the technical nonsense, I feel better about using old cameras with old lenses and without any filters.

On the other hand, I used to develop B&W film and make some prints.
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Old 11-29-2009   #25
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Jeff Wall. For me, really, really bad.
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Old 11-29-2009   #26
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Don't throw away any of your negatives. They don't take up much space, but you can never recreate what you saw. The light that hit your eyes and then your film has vanished into the space-time continuum, perhaps never to be seen again (well, let's not get too Einsteinian here, as it's way above my head, if not yours). Look, now! What you just saw is gone.

This rant comes from the rediscovery of some long buried contact sheets (and hopefully, though by no means certainly, the negatives from which they wree made to possibly follow). Are the shots great? No, mostly not. Was I good at what I was doing? No, unless I got lucky from time to time. Can I repeat these moments? No. This is it. Just these lousy, deteriorated contact sheets. Some of the scenes pictured reflect places and certainly people that are no more. Styles, gone, too. All documented here. Is this important to the world? Not likely. Important to me? Yeah, darn straight it is. Vanished sights.

That's my take on this. I am at self-critical as the next highly-self-critical person on RFF. Do I let that stop from me posting my more interesting junk? Hell, no.

Here are a few tonight's scanned finds. From sometime around 1983-1985.

I can't remember the cat's name... but I have her picture. my wife will remember the name. I think this one was named Benni.


This truck was cleaning either sewers or wooden water towers


the abandoned service station where this caddy was parked in 1984 was already slated to be torn down. its location on seventh avenue south in NYC is now occuppied, I think, by a modern luxury co-op apartment building. the gas station was probably built around 1950 or earlier. does the car even still exist?



is anyone on RFF still wearing his hair (or his wig) this way?


when will I next see someone like this guy walking in the east 50's in manhattan balancing lawn furniture on his head?


does this guy still own a harley?


beat up on yourself if you like, but don't throw away negatives.
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Old 11-29-2009   #27
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Roger, I'm not saying that I've gotten better or worse. It's just that I seem to shoot pretty much the same way, see the world through the same eyes, that sort of thing. Close in to the subjects, very wide angle of view, type of light (soft but directional)...so my old stuff, to me at least, looks much the same as my current work.

I NEVER throw away negatives. Never, never, never! I've photographed lots of unknowns who went on to at least a bit of fame, landmark buildings that were torn down, etc.
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Old 11-29-2009   #28
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Quote:
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I have trouble with this and my 'old work,' people like my old stuff but I think maybe they like the nostalgia. I have never liked cars in my photos, but when I look at my old images with cars now I like them. I'm confused:
...
That's cause they are all classics now.
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Old 11-29-2009   #29
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Steve Bellayr View Post
Sometimes a photograph is neither good nor bad but an historical document.
This is an important statement IMHO. Even if the technical attributes of a photograph fail, if you got the subject right it will still hold up.

I say this as a mediocre photographer who is documenting his kids growing up. In some ways, the older the shot, the more pleasure I get, and that has nothing to do with talent.

I can't speak for "art".
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Old 11-29-2009   #30
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I've always had my bad moments. Still do, but I think they're fewer and farther between. My theory, perverse as it sounds, is that if you're not taking any pictures that suck, you're playing it a bit too safe. Shooting too much of that quality, however, might be a problem.

And, haven't we all had the experience of someone getting really excited about a photo you've taken, which you don't particularly care for yourself? You could think of a dozen photos you've done that you think are more interesting, but somebody zeroes in on that photo. Are you going to say "Good God, why do you like that one?"

Didn't think so.

Other than that, I agree with Keith about Jeff Wall: his work doesn't do a thing for me, either.
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Old 11-30-2009   #31
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I see a lot of angst from photographers in these pages. Roger, this isn't aimed at you, there are plenty of threads in other fora that decry one's own work. I see threads here about "woeful" photography, and malaise in evey aspect of the art. Now this, from you, who are generally accepted as being very successful. What are we to think?


The usual excuse is that self criticism is good for one's development. To me, this veils a puritan ethic where one must necessarily suck in one's own perception in order to be taken seriously by others.

I don't buy it. While I am certainly critical of my own work, when I nail it, I see it way before anyone else does. I love my (good) work - I print it, and hang it on my own wall. Then I spend the evening looking at it, and telling myself how great I am.

Then I pursue it - push it - get it out there. Because I believe in my own work, I try to get it published, hung, and juried in contests. And more often than not, I succeed in getting the response I am after. Over the last 4 years (since I have been actively advancing my exposure and photographic education) I have participated in dozens of portfolio reviews, contests and public shows. This are fun to do, and quite revealing. The pictures I KNOW are winners often are, but some of the pictures that I like are not well received. Vice versa, occasionally somethig I am ambivalent about gets raves. This is good feedback about where the future may lead.

None-the-less, I keep on making the images that I like, and not trying to repeat the winners. I have something to say, and the outside world will not be the arbiter of how I say it. But I love it when they try.
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Old 11-30-2009   #32
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Quote:
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I see a lot of angst from photographers in these pages. Roger, this isn't aimed at you, there are plenty of threads in other fora that decry one's own work. I see threads here about "woeful" photography, and malaise in evey aspect of the art. Now this, from you, who are generally accepted as being very successful. What are we to think?


The usual excuse is that self criticism is good for one's development. To me, this veils a puritan ethic where one must necessarily suck in one's own perception in order to be taken seriously by others.

I don't buy it. While I am certainly critical of my own work, when I nail it, I see it way before anyone else does. I love my (good) work - I print it, and hang it on my own wall. Then I spend the evening looking at it, and telling myself how great I am.

Then I pursue it - push it - get it out there. Because I believe in my own work, I try to get it published, hung, and juried in contests. And more often than not, I succeed in getting the response I am after. Over the last 4 years (since I have been actively advancing my exposure and photographic education) I have participated in dozens of portfolio reviews, contests and public shows. This are fun to do, and quite revealing. The pictures I KNOW are winners often are, but some of the pictures that I like are not well received. Vice versa, occasionally somethig I am ambivalent about gets raves. This is good feedback about where the future may lead.

None-the-less, I keep on making the images that I like, and not trying to repeat the winners. I have something to say, and the outside world will not be the arbiter of how I say it. But I love it when they try.
Dear Chris,

While I fully take all your points, especially about not trying to repeat the winners, this is not malaise; just an observation that I thought I was a lot better than I was. Yes, I took some pictures of which I was (and remain) very proud, but equally, I can look back and think of others, "Why on earth did I think that was any good?" And there are yet others where I think, "Why didn't I see how good that was?"

From this it follows that if I thought I was better than I was in the 60s and 70s, it may yet be that today I am still not be quite as good as I think. Nor may my aesthetic sense be as developed as I like to think. In colour in particular, I think I'm beginning to get better, with more pictures I consistently like, and quite honestly, I attribute some of that to being so happy with the digital Leica Ms.

Puritan? Possibly, a bit. More, though, an inquiry into how and why my tastes have changed. Age, of course. Practice, of course. Money, of course (I was a lot poorer as a student). Looking at lots of other people's pictures, of course, as well as re-examining my own.

And the last point brings me to a central question. Of course all judgements are subjective, but I do sometimes wonder, when looking at some pictures, whether it's some deep aesthetic that I'm failing to understand, or whether it really is a rotten picture after all: a dull snapshot with wobbly colours.

Edit, on competitions. I've judged quite a few, and yes, they're fun, but what wins on the day is to a large extent chance. On the other hand, Frances decided to enter a competition run by our local camera club (where all work was judged anonymously) and came first, second and fourth, with an honourable mention for the other picture. In another competition, run by an association of Kent camera clubs, the lead judge said that he'd have rated the picture even higher if he had been able to work out how it was done. Eh? (It was on hand coated paper -- not exactly unknown!).

Cheers,

R.

Last edited by Roger Hicks : 11-30-2009 at 01:00.
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Old 11-30-2009   #33
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I just got sucked in! One thing I try to avoid is reminiscing and so here I am, sounding old, which I don't find too much fun.
I went to England in 1958 as a student with a Perkeo I 6x6 and whilst there bought a Vito B 35mm camera. I've kept every roll of B&W negatives I've shot over the last 55 years but not all the colour negs which were shop processed and cut to fit those little folders they give you back with your prints.
Only 5-6 years ago I decided to get out my B&W negs and go through them, finding enough that I liked to make up my first printed book. I wanted the good ones collected in one place so they didn't get lost - there were plenty that would have been no loss if they had gotten lost!
Since then I've had about eleven books printed either through iPhoto or Blurb with various themes and I have to say that on average I'm getting better. One thing has emerged however, and that is many shots are not "knock your eyes out" fantastic one off masterpieces, but as part of a collection representing a body of work they form a satisfying way of presenting (and assessing) where my photography is and where it has come from.
One of the primary liberators has been the retirement of my Nikon F system in favour of a brace of Bessa RF's which I am much more inclined to take and use. My eyes (cataracts) were the initial reason to change but since they've been removed and I'm back to 20/20 vision I still like the freedom the RF's allow.
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Old 11-30-2009   #34
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I like cars in photos, it’s like a date stamp

competitive photography is a silly concept
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Old 11-30-2009   #35
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Quote:
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I like cars in photos, it’s like a date stamp

competitive photography is a silly concept

Which means it may have potential as a realty TV show!
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Old 11-30-2009   #36
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Which means it may have potential as a realty TV show!
it would need a snappy title
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Old 11-30-2009   #37
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I think I must have reached a level of competence ( weather good bad - crap! ) at an early age, as I don't see any significant changes. One thing is apparent - in my early days the level of equipment afforded and used was very basic and low cost at times, yet there is no noticeable leap in picture quality as I moved on to more expensive/exotic stuff!
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Old 11-30-2009   #38
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Because I only picked a camera up about three and a bit years ago I suffer a strange syndrome and I wonder if it effects others in a similar position ... I'm well into my fifties!

I try to do too much a lot of the time to make up for lost experience or lack of experience and really hit a low when it all goes wrong ... as occasionally it must obviously if you're going to learn. My photographic highs are very rewarding but the lows are gut wrenching and I often feel like burying all my photographic gear in a hole in the yard when this happens!
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Old 11-30-2009   #39
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competitive photography is a silly concept
I've been a member of my local photographic club for 7 or 8 years. Before that family snaps were my speciality, poorly done maybe.

My membership of the club, or more accurately, having my work commented upon by an external judge has had a dramatic influence on my photography.

I can (now) recognise three distinct phases of my "output" for club level competitive showing,
1, High output of so-so images, gently encouraged by most judges to "work on that idea" or whatever.

2, Lower output. Entry of images into competition which I was aware was not my best work, but put in anyway in case the judge liked it. They invariably did not like them.

3, Hardly any output. I find it very difficult to arrive at an image that I am happy with, even though I now no longer care whether the judge likes it or not. Also coinciding with my personal search for a style that interests me.

Perhaps the fact that a productive "style" eludes me is an indication that I will never find my niche, but I hope that my journey so far has made me a better photographer.
To my shame, I can now sit through a club comp or circulated folio and cringe at many of the entries and marvel at how the judge can avoid telling like it is.

Dave,
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Old 11-30-2009   #40
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I've been a member of my local photographic club for 7 or 8 years. Before that family snaps were my speciality, poorly done maybe.

My membership of the club, or more accurately, having my work commented upon by an external judge has had a dramatic influence on my photography.

I can (now) recognise three distinct phases of my "output" for club level competitive showing,
1, High output of so-so images, gently encouraged by most judges to "work on that idea" or whatever.

2, Lower output. Entry of images into competition which I was aware was not my best work, but put in anyway in case the judge liked it. They invariably did not like them.

3, Hardly any output. I find it very difficult to arrive at an image that I am happy with, even though I now no longer care whether the judge likes it or not. Also coinciding with my personal search for a style that interests me.

Perhaps the fact that a productive "style" eludes me is an indication that I will never find my niche, but I hope that my journey so far has made me a better photographer.
To my shame, I can now sit through a club comp or circulated folio and cringe at many of the entries and marvel at how the judge can avoid telling like it is.

Dave,
critique is different, that isn’t silly, that’s the only way to learn the art
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