Category Archives: Photography Essays

Photography: The importance of constructive criticism

Or as I like to call it, comments on how much you suck (or more enthusiastically put, where you can improve).

Imagine, if you will, you are showing photographs of yours to someone. These photographs are your favourite, or at the very least you consider them to be pretty good (and many others have told you so). This person you show your photographs to has very little to say with regards to how good they are. In fact, they mention how they don’t like the contrast, the positioning, the lack of meaning, and the averageness. Average. You considered to be pretty good photographs, but now you hear that they’re just average. It wounds your pride a little, a lot. Two options from here: feel offended or give your mind time to pause and listen to what your critic has to say.

This happened to me a few days ago and to say it wasn’t disheartening at first would be a lie. Who was the critic? My dad. In the end I realized what I had been missing out on since I got into UBC. Back when photography was a budding interest when I was in high school, I posted photos onto Facebook as any person interested in photography tends to do these days. Looking back, the best thing about doing just that was not the comments telling me about how nice the photos were, but having a small number of people telling me what they didn’t like about my photos. They answered questions like: What doesn’t work in this photo? What makes it lack a uniqueness? What makes it a photo that anybody could take? What could possibly make it so that it has a unique style? I would find out about their opinions through Facebook, MSN, Skype, and texts.

At UBC, I don’t recall many (if any) comments on how my photos lacked quality. It was always the same old “ohhh these are nice”. No wonder my photography has stagnated. That being said, I appreciate comments on how nice my photos are/can be, but one needs a mix of praise and criticism. This recent experience really exaggerated that necessity. Without criticism, one can still improve but it is a very slow process and isn’t a guarantee. With criticism, that process can be sped up and improvements will be had (assuming constructive criticism is listened to and considered). Critics don’t even have to be photographers themselves, though the hardest part is listening to people critique you when they know little of the processes and not try to defend yourself. Initially it’s hard, but once you start listening you can get some great ideas!

Your best friends are your critics, not the ones that praise you. This applies to almost anything one does in life! If you’re curious about the photos in question along with the reasons:

This one was the better one of the following three. When printed, some details in the dark areas are actually clearly visible. The lighting in the photo is very appealing and there exists a sense of movement with the water and the boat. The eyes follow it very well. There could be areas of improvement in terms of lighting.

One of the bad ones according to my father. According to him there is too much contrast and details in the dark areas are lost. There is nothing unique about this photo and it lacks a sort of meaning.

Again according to my dad this one is also nothing special. While it may look nice, there lacks a sense of movement and it is a photo that can be taken almost anywhere in urban areas around the world (supposedly). Again, too much contrast.

Opinions will be opinions of course. There is no right or wrong and sometimes a photo that looks great just looks great. Learn with an open mind! Situations will rarely be perfect, but knowing the “perfect” situations can give you an edge and not miss wonderful chances!

Take a photo, but only take a good one. Or not.

This is for the more photographically inclined, and the number of people this will probably reach is limited. So let’s see if I can connect this to life in general shall we?

The nice thing about having a window in your room is being able to see the nice weather when it’s nice. The bad thing about having a window is being able to see the nice weather when it is nice. Paradox? You bet. With regards to photography, it’s a bit of a pain in the rear end. It’s a pain because I have a tendency to feel guilty and think: “It’s such a nice day, I should go out and take photos.” The particular thought had always come across but I never really thought about until I read this article on “The Online Photographer“. The example he uses rang quite a bell to me. As an Arts student with quite a number of Commerce Faculty friends, business like conversations are quite common for me to hear. The blogger, Mike, talks about how persistence doesn’t necessarily guarantee success. It’s a bit counter-intuitive to what we’re usually taught: hard work pays off. It’s true, hard work does pay off, but one also needs to identify when the effort that’s being put in is worth it, or not. The same applies for photography.

Remember back in the day when it was only your mom trying to capture “the moment”? You know, making you pose for that “Kodak” moment: your 5th birthday, 6th birthday, 7th birthday, 10 birthday, elementary graduation, and even your wedding when you’re old enough. Now you got folks such as myself with fancy shmancy cameras taking photos willy nilly all over the place taking photos. Over time, you begin to ignore the snaps and you become less weirded out by that. Awesome. Now, don’t get me wrong. Having a friend who is basically the designated photographer of your birthday, party, event, or whatever the heck it is that you’re doing is awesome (even for the photographer)! Done right, it can bring back memories, laughter, smiles, and general happiness when others see them on the spot in the camera or later on on Facebook. For the photographer (and any person basically), getting reactions of basically “wowwww” is ego boosting and just pure awesome. That I won’t lie about. The point I’m getting at, is sometimes it gets distracting.

Posed photos engage the subjects as well as the photographer. That’s probably a better way for a photographer to get involved while taking photos. Now if your style is a mix of posed shots and candid shots, then you’re going to be less engaged and everybody else is going to know that. Photographers for the most part pride themselves on getting good (or bad depending on your opinion) candid shots. It’s one of those “gotcha” moments or “GOTCHA HAHAHA”. When it comes to candid shots, the photographer basically has to become invisible. He/she does this by making sure that everyone is comfortable with them taking photos after getting accustomed  to their presence (and the camera’s presence). Once this happens, the people begin to ignore them. Photojournalists and event photographers work this way and it becomes a mutual understanding of “I won’t bother you and you won’t bother me” for the most part.

On the photographer’s side, the camera DSLR, point&shoot,and anything else that takes images becomes a barrier. Think of it as a being in a box, when the eye is brought up to the viewfinder (or LCD screen) you’re concentrated on that rectangle where the image is. Bring it away from the viewfinder and you’re back in reality where everything is happening in real time. But, one may argue: “you’re still seeing things real time! How can it be a barrier?!” If you’re serious about photography and not just snapping away absent-mindedly, it is just like being in the zone. There really is not other way of describing it. Your focus is all on capturing that moment, and yes if there is excitement in the air it is felt but it just is NOT the same as participating in it.

Photography was my way to socialize more. If you’ve read this far, you may be thinking “what? I thought you were talking about how you can’t socialize when you’re taking photos”. All of the above has been true. Except for me, socializing was an extremely hard concept. Being “ignored” while taking photos, for me, was THE perfect transition point. After a while, I began to notice all the “symptoms” I had been talking about earlier. I felt a mix of jealousy, happiness, and confusion all at once. To say the least, it was pretty annoying. Photography had helped me become more social, but it had reached the point where it started making me unsocial. Again, paradox. Paradoxes run my life, what can I say?

After a few more moments of conflicting thoughts and emotions, I began to pull myself away from the camera. I still took photos mind you, but there were moments where I would raise the viewfinder to my eye, pause, and then bring it back down without even taking a photo. Quite often, I missed moments that “would” have been picture perfect. The first couple of times, I cursed myself for that but after a few more moments like that I began to smile more and more with every single moment I “missed”. The thing is, each “missed” moment was never really missed. I was there, I saw it, and most of the other people there (if not all of them) saw it. Sometimes, experiencing that moment and not capturing it on an image (and even possibly forgetting about it in the future) is something in itself. If you try to capture EVERY single moment, you’re not really enjoying yourself. Laughing at those moments you did capture, and I would argue sometimes they’re better when they’re few and far inbetween, is perhaps more rewarding then having an overabundance.

Now, there are moments I don’t even bring the viewfinder up to my eye. I watch the events unfold, laugh, smile, make loud noises?, and enjoy just being there. I pick and choose what I want recorded and what I don’t need recorded. The first time I realized this was an epiphany; it was like walking out of an extremely smelly stuffy room and into fresh mountain/seaside air with wind. I could feel the change in the though processes that I had whenever I took a photo. It was, for lack of a better word, amazing.

It’s all come together to become my philosophy with regards to photography (and even life in general): Take a photo, but only a good one. Or just don’t bother at all. Life is worth enjoying. If it really is that you enjoy life by taking photos all the time, by all means, go for it.

I still get comments such as: “It’s so nice, you should take a picture!”, “Get a picture of that!”, or “You missed it!”
Sometimes I take a photo, sometimes I don’t. All I can say is: “Yep” and smile. I know I’m enjoying everything as they are.

About photography.

I hope you like porn. Camera porn.

Source: engadget

Source: engadget

Seriously. Camera porn exists, basically it’s just photos upon photos of cameras (usually more fancy cameras such as the Leica brand). How suggestive do you want that to be?

Anyway, I’ve been getting tired of blogging about “me”. It’s nice sometimes, but a lot of the time it just seems rather pointless so how about I try something new? I’m just going to be writing about photography. No, not how to take photos, but just thoughts on it. Kind of like that academic paper you should be writing up right now (but you’re here so big whoop).

Where is photography going? With technology rapidly making DSLRs (and DSLR quality cameras) cheaper, more numerous, and packed with more features, pretty much anybody can get their hands on one at some point if they wanted to. Heck, the cameras in your phones are getting better and better too (they’re pretty close to Point&Shoot cameras now). In fact, the most commonly uploaded “camera” on Flickr is: *drumroll please* the iPhone.

Yellow is the iPhone 3G, so not including the current iPhone 4 here. It’s dropped quite a bit on the graph, but the differences are there. The pink line is the Nikon D90, green and black are the Canon Rebels, blue the Canon 5D. I mean, LOOK AT THE DIFFERENCE.  Source: Flickr Camera Finder.

In photography, composition goes a long way. That simple placement (or replacement if that is the case) of the subject can make the photo/image look exponentially better. Before, photography was a hobby/skill that was accessible by the super rich or the super talented (that said, there are always exceptions). Not only did one have to understand how to take photos, but one had to understand how to develop the film and then make prints on an enlarger (know what an enlarger is? Congrats, you are aware of tech from the film era). Or at least, know someone who would be willing to do it for you for either a fee or for free. The learning curve was much much steeper before digital as well. Is film dead? Not at all. There are still old farts who stick with film. There are also those from the current generation who love film (but also use digital) and let’s face it. If you meet someone who knows how to develop film (or still takes photos with film) your mind kind of goes “woah”. I shoot film here and there and I still think that.

Anyways, digital is the way to go for the masses. I’m not saying film should be waved aside, but I’m more concerned with the photographic process. Ok, so for the most part, cameras are extremely accessible to the masses, they’re digital, and we have the internet (well Facebook and Flickr). What do we have?:

  • 5 billion – Photos hosted by Flickr (September 2010).
  • 3000+ – Photos uploaded per minute to Flickr.
  • 130 million – At the above rate, the number of photos uploaded per month to Flickr.
  • 3+ billion – Photos uploaded per month to Facebook.
  • 36 billion – At the current rate, the number of photos uploaded to Facebook per year.
    (Taken from Internet 2010 in Numbers)

So looking at the numbers, that’s one hell of a lot of photos. And this is only on the two largest photo sharing websites. NOT every other single freakin photo sharing fanfare OMG PHOTOSSS website.

I think it’s safe to say, with the increase in the number of people in photography we got going, there is also an increase in the number of people who are pretty darn good at photography as well (on the flip side you also have an increase in the number of people who are just plain terrible at taking photos, regardless of the camera). In other words, to be considered “up there” in photography, you either have to be a well known name in photography (such as Joey L) or you have to have that style that people just know when you look at it. In this case, Joey L has both (at least I think so). Of course, you can be pretty good within your circle of friends only. That’s perfectly fine since everybody has their own style, be it in commercial, family/friend snapshots, photojournalism, or whatever the hell kind of photography you do.

Like I said earlier, composition goes a long way. You can “lack” creativity and still take good photos with good composition. With Photoshop, you can take crap photos and still get an interesting result. Is that photography? Some would argue yes, others no (throw in some contrast, random colors, or vignetting; it’s art!). For now, that’s a different story. Main thing is, the bar that is set is increasing each and every day. It’s pretty easy then, to just go: “ah it’s pretty easy to take photos now, I’ll just let someone else do it”. There IS a satisfaction to be gained by being able to capture that “moment”. That “moment” is basically yours. Sure, the scene could have been seen and photographed by thousands of other people, but it was your viewpoint from exactly where you were standing (sitting, crouching, lying, however you took the photo). It’s the photo you can look back on and remember. That’s one of the things you can do with photography. It may not look fantastic or all that interesting. But it’s yours, it’s something you can look back on when you’re…what…90? Heck, show your grand-kids and bore them to death if the photos really aren’t that good.

Another thing to do with photography (if you’re pretty good) is to help others capture that moment. It might not be “their own”, but seeing an image does bring back memories regardless of whether or not you took it. And let’s face it, even though digital cameras are extremely commonplace, there are still those who either can’t obtain one or just don’t give a damn. Help them out, friends, strangers, or acquaintances.

Let’s face it, some photos look like another/other photo(s) that someone else took, or if you’re just unlucky it looks like thousands of other photos that have been taken (*cough*camwhoreshots*cough*). Seriously, I see some photos and they’re good, but I’ve seen something similar many many times before. So, there are those who have their own style that you see and you just know that it’s their photo. Either they’re seen a lot, or they just have that look.

The bar for quality is set pretty high, but that doesn’t make photography any that much less interesting. It’s a way of expression and in the end, if you’re content with your photos, that’s all that matters. If you’re not, well you my friend, have the quality bar set pretty high. Aim for it, and accept nothing less.

There are snapshots of a moment that exists only for those that were there, there are photos that have underlying themes. Some photos are just vain examples of “look at me!”, others show beauty that otherwise wouldn’t have been seen. Others mean more to the people looking at them than to the photographer that took the photo and vice versa. Many photos are just meant to make scenes/people pretty, some capture a moment that otherwise would have gone un-noticed. That’s the beauty in a lot of the things people do in life. Not just photography.

So where is it going? I don’t even know if I answered that in the large blurb I got going here, so let’s try and condense it. Increases in technology is making photography more accessible to the general public. At the same time, it is beginning to push some ideas about photography aside. Why take a photo when I can get a video WITH SOUND!? (didn’t mention that, so I’ll refer back to it later). More people are getting better at it, but it also sets the bar pretty high. It weasels out the non-serious in the sense that those who are in fact serious with photography can push themselves to a new level that can make their photography different and, perhaps, express more or help others much much more. The way photography is done is changing, but the desires to capture the world around us remain the same for the most part. In the end, that’s all that really matters.