Nearly there

2010, Photography

I started this new post, but didn’t really got a clue what to write until I thought about a training I followed last autumn.

In theory the training and provided knowledge is interesting and with a diverse audience it can help to provide enough food for thought. And even when you never want to discuss someone’s photographs it can still provide guidance for your own photography. Essentially it comes down to the following elements:

1. What do you see?
This should be the most objective part of discussing a photograph. You basically try to describe as thorough as possible what you see in a photograph like the main subject, other objects.

2. What compositional elements are used?
This becomes a more theoretical and technical part of the discussion. At this stage you try to describe how the photograph was photographed and what compositional techniques the photographer used. Close or open composition, high contrast or not.

3. How do you interpret the photograph?
Truth be told, this will always be a subjective element. It might be influenced by your own photography or whether you think the photograph is good or not. And with interpretation you try to give a meaning to the photograph, but this is however very restricted to the photographer’s purpose. When someone just took a photograph of, lets say, a sunset it is likely that the photographer just did it, because it was a beautiful scene. And that is where the interpretation ends. This is very often the case with amateur photography.

But when a photographer added a deeper meaning to his or her work you have at least try to interpret it. In other words trying to understand the purpose of the photograph.
4. How to judge it?
This training is directed towards amateur photography. A very important part of photography should be fun and pleasure and since the differences in competences are so big it should always be in essence a positive review, even when the photograph isn’t really good. Also a judgment is in my opinion subjective. I think it is important to know what a photographer wants. If the photographer wants to learn and become better there is nothing wrong to be more critical.

While I thought the training was interesting and meaningful I do however differ at some point. I personally have the feeling that these feedback elements say more about those describing the photograph then the photographer. Like I believe the so-called photography rules where invented not to take better pictures, but to better understand taken pictures. There is the potential risk that the better educated and knowledgeable speakers will become elitists. And it leaves little room for the explanation from the photographer. It actually completely ignores the why question since it only consists of the more analytical what, where, when, and how questions. Secondly, I believe that many photographers are very aware of critiques and start photographing what is respected, demanded, and loved. It can kill creativity.

All photographs by Wouter Brandsma

10 thoughts on “Nearly there

  1. Wouter, i really love the last picture, the snow, the Dutch bike. The person walking away adds to the direction of the viewing. Great!

    1. Basically subject (and for a small part the context) is mentioned in the “what you see” and “how you interpret it”. When you describe what you see you mention subjects, form, moment of time. With compositional elements you come closer to the position of the photographer, how the image is framed, if the distance is close or further away from the subject. And a possible meaning of the image, the context, is explained in part three.

  2. Another very strong set and thought provoking article, Wouter. Your sequence of steps reminds me of my architectural training. I hope that hasn’t killed my creativity 🙂

  3. Thanks a heap for the link to TED Talk. I found the speech immensely stimulating.

    I should also add that in Australia camera clubs are often built around regular competitions in which the judge critiques each photo submitted. In general images chosen for awards are technically very good but it is only the odd one that is marked highly for creativity. Of course the judge’s problem is to avoid the appearance of personal bias so it is all too easy to fall back on objective technical standards. It is hard to see how this could be avoided.

  4. One photograph critique sticks in my mind.

    The Guardian newspaper in the UK has a camera club on its web site. Each month participants can post six photographs on a given monthly assignment subject. The submissions are posted on the clubs Flickr site. A Guardian staff photographer selects sets to review on the club web site. The memorable review stated, with reference to one photograph, the title is far too pretentious . If all a professional photographer can comment on is the title, then as you say, comments say more about a reviewer than the image.

  5. Yes. Killing creativity. That is a very astute and accurate observation. We all wind up taking the same pictures that way and where’s the fun in that?

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