Friday, January 17, 2014


We tend to like our own pictures more than other people do. We see things in our pictures that other people do not. It is often something of a surprise when other people do not like our pictures. We naturally assume that what we see is obvious to everyone, and it is a bit of a shock when others do not see what is right in front of them, and so obvious!

The same logic applies to phototographers that we like. Having developed affection for a photographer, we tend to see the things in their work which please us, and we tend to overlook the things which do not.

This gets deeper when we start to talk about specific techniques a favorite employs. Now we're not just looking for things we like, but those things which the photographer does. We look for their lighting trick, or the approach they have to arranging things in the frame, other tropes which the photographer uses and re-uses. Because we like the photographer, because we arrive at the picture with the idea that this is a good photographer, we tend to conflate the photographer's signature style notes with actually being good.

An odd consequence of this is that a photographer can go downhill for quite some time before anyone really notices, and can go downhill more or less indefinitely before everyone notices. There will always be a few hangers on who insist that so-and-so still has it, whatever it is, and everyone else just cannot see what is right in front of them, and so obvious!

Another variation is community standards and norms. The camera club, the Ansel Adams aficionados, the HCB fans, the online forums, any social group which spends some time with pictures will tend to have a set of norms. These folks will tend to conflate their norms with quality. The Ansel Adams fan will dismiss any picture without a full range of tonal values, and without texture in both the highlights and shadows. The camera club member will probably dismiss any picture that lacks a single well defined subject placed at the intersection of 1/3 lines. Worse, the Ansel Adams fan will tend to think any picture is good if it has the hallmark Ansel Adams tonal range, and a few other notes (black skies, white clouds, and a mountain will usually suffice).

As with the loved photographer, we tend to conflate conformance to specific identifiable standards with actually being good.

Breaking out of this is a bit of a trick, to be sure. I don't have any really good answers. Obviously I don't think that I am subject to there silly infatuations and dumb standards. Nobody does, our prejudices are astoundingly invisible to ourselves.

Step back, look at the whole picture, and try to react to it as a child.

How do you feel?

1 comment:

  1. I think the consequences of what you are saying about standards of a community are even worse that you might believe. I have been part of several groups, and you might be suprised by how much these standards are a weight on the back of someone aiming at doing things that do not fit. It can be a real brake for creativity and personal development. This being said, I have not the pretention to say that I do original stuff, as it coud turn out that what I am doing is plainly boring or dull, but at least I do now stuff that please me.