We’ve added an eclipse party and a night sky workshop for Monday, please take a look at the calendar of events for more info.
or… how does a tiny branch or twig, smaller in print than the size of a postage stamp, elevate the impact of a picture?
First things first, though. Last night’s print meeting was a lot of fun, and hopefully provided some useful information and new ideas to think about. Attendance was great. No shortage of discussion. Prints were lined up the entire length of the room.
What I learned begins with an idea I’ve heard many times before. I’ve been told a million times that a picture should stand on its own. The artist shouldn’t have to explain it. After all, if we had to talk about our pictures, we’d be writers instead of photographers. However, it’s not quite that simple. Ansel Adams, famous for a multitude of quotes, responded when asked why he never included people in his pictures by saying: “There are always two people in every picture, the photographer and the viewer.” I don’t know if he ever discussed that idea to any greater degree… I can’t imagine he didn’t, but I’m gonna take a leap and imagine what he might have been thinking. I think he meant that there’s a human element in every photograph, even if it’s a landscape picture. The human element is the connection between the two people he mentions. And the greater the understanding of the ways and thoughts of the photographer by the viewer, the greater the impact of the picture. But is it a big deal for the photographer to express his thoughts verbally, or just depend on the viewer to respond entirely to the image, however he wishes, without verbal or written influence? Ahh… the great debate. Ansel Adams was an outgoing person. His early involvement with the Sierra Club led to numerous contacts with people who loved his pictures. Undoubtedly he spoke with great passion about his pictures to whoever cared to look and listen. That sort of passion followed him all the way to New York and Washington DC where he became famous for his environmental protection work. That didn’t happen without his speaking out about his pictures. So are his pictures perceived to be much greater than those made by anyone else of his era simply because they’re better pictures, or did he make the most out of it from his passionate and expressive personality?
Which brings me back to the print meeting last night. One of the photos shown last night was made by Annette Collier – a simple image of a stream with a small patch of grass and flowers in it. Nothing particularly unusual, although I really liked the tranquility of the image, and the delicate colors of the grass and flowers. My first reaction though was to point at the isolated elements around the outside of the picture. Those sort of things that many competition judges would deem to be “distractions.” And we all know that’s not good. Right? I even joked a bit with Jeff about Annette’s rock cut off at the edge of the picture, reflecting on a picture I had submitted a few years ago which competition judges had hammered me on for exactly the same issue. And then I pointed at the tiny twig or branch protruding into the scene from the lower right… normally a no-no of traditional composition wisdom.
But a strange thing happened along the path of improving that picture. Annette started talking about the picture. And she talked about her choices to delete something another in the opposite corner, and leave the rock and the twig in. She talked about every element in that picture. And the whole time she’s talking, I’m thinking, wow, she really put her heart into that picture. Who am I to tell her she should clone out that twig? The object itself wasn’t overwhelming. The branch was just quietly speaking next to the rush of the water… “hey, slow down and notice me!” Don’t we all feel that way? And by midnight, soaking in the quiet of my hot tub at home, I’m thinking that twig was the best idea I’d seen in a picture in a long time. I know some competition judge citing some rule or another is gonna say that Annette should clone out the rock, get rid of the twig, or crop her picture some way or another. However, just as the rock in my own picture is still sitting there split right down the middle – because that’s the way I want it – I suggest to everyone at the meeting last night who was hearing all sorts of feedback on their pictures, to go with what’s in your heart. After all, it’s your picture and an expression of what you see. And as for the other person in the picture (the viewer), I suggest that you try and understand the image from the perspective of the artist, and if you do, there will be communication between the two people in every picture. In other words, try and listen to what the photographer is saying, rather than what you’re wanting to hear.
I’ll tell you another story that sort of relates to the subject at hand. Last week I was meeting with the General Manager of a hotel in Aspen about placing some of my photographs there. There was no question that he liked the images. But not long into the conversation he said: “So tell me about yourself.” Uh-oh… hadn’t really planned on that. So I stammered a bit… something to the effect that I like making pictures. Of course, duh… no kidding. He went on to explain that if Paula was gonna buy it, she’d want to know something about the artist. People don’t spend a lot of money for just a picture… they buy a piece of the artist. So they like to know what they’re getting. Or so I was told. At that point I’m curious about who this Paula is that he kept referring to. Well, he said, “Paula… Paula Crown.” Sorry, I don’t recognize the name. “Oh, the Crown family owns the Aspen Skiing Company, which owns this hotel.” Great, I’m thinking, I get this wonderful opportunity and can’t think of a damn thing to say about myself or my work that would possibly make a difference. So when somebody claims that the picture should do all the talking, remember that in the real world, people want to connect with other people in some way or another, and communication comes in many different forms. If you don’t think talking about yourself makes a difference in the way your pictures are perceived, think again. And, Annette, if you’re crazy enough to still be reading this, I hope you leave your picture exactly as it is.
So if you have a picture of a cute baby, a cute puppy, and a cute kitten, which one wins the photography competition? The answer: cute has nothing to do with it. However, I’ve had past judges comment on club competitions by asking rhetorically “Who could not reward a cute – whatever – with a prize?” What is this, a “Family Fun” magazine picture contest? Here’s my take on competitions: if the results depend on the choice of subject and whether a judge prefers cats or dogs, or thinks strawberries are mundane but decrepit old doors and windows are works of art, then it becomes an entirely subjective contest. At that point, it’s all about the choice of subject instead of the skill of the photographer. And that’s not the way a photography competition should be.
It’s been suggested to me by a few club members that they’d like to know something about the judges in advance of submitting for a competition. Most big-time national contests do that. In fact, I used to provide the names and websites of judges in advance so club members could discern what sort of values in photography were important to individual judges… and then decide upon a particular picture, or whether the competition was even worth entering at all. Hypothetically speaking, a judge states on his photography website that his pictures are the real thing, as the scene really looks – nothing artificially contrived. So when you’re choosing a picture for a contest he’s judging, are you gonna pick out your most overcooked, saturated, surreal HDR picture? Of course not, as that would be considered a waste of time. Providing the identity of judges is a reasonable part of a competition.
So with regard to the upcoming TMCC print competition, I am going to be the sole judge. I’ve been complaining for so long about judges that I decided to judge a competition myself… and then be the target of everyone else’s complaints. Hopefully it won’t be that bad. First of all, I’m qualified because making prints is my livelihood. I know a thing or two about print-making because I’ve made a print or two. And, secondly, I can analyze a print from one side to the other and offer a pretty in-depth observation of what’s in the picture. That may sound obvious, but in reality many photographers have yet to really learn how to “see” what’s in a picture. My intent is to remove as much subjective opinion from the process as possible. Obviously with just one judge there will be no conflicting opinions among three judges, for what that’s worth. And if you don’t agree with my assessment of your photograph, you’ll know where to complain. In a small contest such as this in a local camera club, folks who bother to invest in a print should have the right to a reasonable dialogue regarding the results.
Keep this in mind: The print competition is not just simply another form of a contest – the same as digital only on paper. Prints add extra emphasis on detail, which is generally of minor concern in a digital image contest, and print quality which is a separate component altogether is a big deal. You can hide a lot of technical defects in a 1024 x 768 digital picture that can’t be hidden nearly so easily in a print. So the expectations are a bit higher. A “pretty picture” is not enough to win. Show me something that demonstrates the skill of the photographer. Something that reveals the essence of the subject, and shows mastery of camera, post-processing and printing skills. Paper comes in many types. The ability of the camera lens to capture detail is what separates photography from all other art forms. So use it to your advantage.
There you have it. Submit your best cute baby picture, or the ugliest, creepy insect you can find… it doesn’t matter. What matters is the lighting, exposure, sharpness, and detail. Personally, I shoot a pretty good variety of subject matter. I’m not much of a portrait photographer or bug photographer because those things are neither my personal interest nor reflective of my type of client’s preferences, but I can appreciate the work and skill that goes into those sort of pictures. And photographic skill is pretty much the same no matter what you’re shooting. If you’d like to see my vision of photography, I have a website: www.edwardkunzelman.com. There are no pictures of exotic treks on a camel across Saudi Arabia, or breathtaking waterfalls in South America. Just simple stuff. But I think my images are well crafted… and that’s what I’m looking for in this print competition. There will be no humiliating comments made about any photograph. I won’t be entering a picture, so there’s no reason to suspect that the only way I figured out how to win a competition was to be the judge. I intend for it to be a great showcase of each other’s best work and learning experience for us all. I sincerely hope everyone participates. Bring your print to the next club meeting in July or by arrangement with me before July 31st. Additional rules are posted to the competitions menu on the website.
I have to admit that I’m still stewing over a comment made by one of the PSA judges about my strawberry picture… that it was a mundane subject. Okay, I suppose there are mundane pictures, and I suspect that I’m guilty of producing my fair share of them, but there is no such thing as a mundane subject. Don’t let anyone ever convince you that the subject in front of your eyes is not worth making a picture of because it’s too mundane or ordinary.
You don’t need to travel to Yosemite to elevate a photograph above the level of mundane. It doesn’t have to always be golden hour light. Visually interesting images can be made in your own back yard, or kitchen, or in any number of different lighting conditions. Photography reveals the essence of the world we live in… the colors, shapes, textures and details of nature and everyday life around us. Nothing should ever be called mundane.
“Artists filter the natural world through the lens of their unique perceptions. Landscapes are never just landscapes but a human experience of what is there – as individual as a fingerprint.” – Nicky Leach, Arches National Park Where Rock Meets Sky.
I’d like to receive a few more opinions about my photo. The one comment I recall was the photo did not tell a story. That was very interesting to me because I chose this photo because of the story it told (to me). I tend to have alot of landscape and misc. rock / flower photos, so this one was outside my comfort zone anyway. Although the story is clear to me, possibly the story within the photo is difficult to see. What do you think ?
I don’t think the judges had the title so I won’t give it here either.
thanks for your thoughts
The competition judges suggested converting this image from color to black and white. Good idea? After all, texture is often emphasized more effectively in a black and white image. By removing color as a distraction, the viewer has little left to look at besides patterns and texture. And as I’ve heard a million times before… if it’s a good picture, it should still be good after you remove the color.
The only problem with that idea, in this case, is that the other thing that caught my eye in addition to the texture was how interesting it was that someone decided to match the paint color of the window trim with that of the bricks. And I simply like the hue of the color. Who knows how long it was before someone decided to cover the bricks up with white paint. But after this image is converted to black and white, the color of the window trim could be about anything. It could be green or blue. You’d have no idea that it matched the brick. Is it a big deal? Maybe not… but it was one of the big reasons this scene caught my eye. A reasonable question often asked is: “Why did you take that picture?” Converting this picture to black and white undermines the answer, in my opinion. Which version do you prefer? Just login and post your comments here.