Useful resources - what to think about when making photographs

stevejack

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I thought I would start a thread to list some links to videos and resources relating to what a photographer needs to be thinking about when they make pictures. What is the purpose of your photographs, and how do you go about making images which gets that purpose across clearly to the viewer.
Some of these resources discuss the "why" of making pictures as well as the "how".

Starting with a few quotes;

When asked how one could take more interesting pictures, the photographer Jai Maisel responded; “become a more interesting person”.

Sebastiao Salgado, when asked the same, broke this down a little further; “If you’re young and have the time, go and study. Study anthropology, sociology, economy, geopolitics. Study so that you’re actually able to understand what you’re photographing. What you can photograph and what you should photgraph.”

If you pick up any book by any of the great photographers, variations of the above quotes inevitably come up. Essentially, if you want to take great pictures either photograph what you know, or get to know what it is that you want to photograph. If all of our spare time is spent researching the technical skill of photography, we’re entirely missing the point.

It comes back to the quote by David Hurn; “you are not a photographer because you are interested in photography...The reason is that photography is only a tool, a vehicle, for expressing or transmitting a passion in something else. It is not the end result.”

Keeping the above in mind, first up is a great lecture by Sam Abell.
You may find many of his pictures boring, or plain, but each one is as technically perfect as it could be given the situation in front of him.
Take some time to really listen to what Sam says about his picture making process and what makes for a lasting image. He discusses what you should be thinking about when you're making photographs. There are great insights here and all of his lectures are well worth watching, but this is a good place to start:
Sam Abell - The Life of a Photograph

A brief analysis of Lewis Hine's 'steamfitter' photograph, along with several of his other images which show a little of his thought process as he made several attempts to produce a compelling end result. Obviously these are not Hine's own words but it's a good overview explaining why this image hit the mark while his other attempts didn't.
Starting at 1:19 in this video

Lost some interest in photography lately? Can't find anything interesting to shoot? You may be lacking what Ralph Gibson calls 'a point of departure'.
This advice is often given by many seasoned and prolific photographers. Ralph explains the general concept here:
Ralph Gibson - Point of Departure

This interview with Andreas Feininger is worth a watch for anyone interested in urban or architectural photography. Feininger is famous for using a long lens to photograph street scenes and buildings, believing that the only way to truly show the buildings and their surroundings in their correct scales is to photograph scenes from afar (often several kilometres away) with a telephoto lens. Regardless of whether you agree - listen to his reasons why he does what he does.
Andreas Feininger
 
To transform photography into art, I believe you should be able to see visualize the photo in your mind before you actuate the shutter. With the photo imprinted in your minds eyes, then go through the mechanical aspect of the photography, DOF, focal length, light, shutter, aperture, iso..focus etc.

Or you can simply shoot away randomly at everything and hope to find a few good shots. Like I do. 😁
 
To transform photography into art, I believe you should be able to see visualize the photo in your mind before you actuate the shutter. With the photo imprinted in your minds eyes, then go through the mechanical aspect of the photography, DOF, focal length, light, shutter, aperture, iso..focus etc.

Or you can simply shoot away randomly at everything and hope to find a few good shots. Like I do. 😁
This reminds me of a quote by David Hurn;
"All the technical decisions in photography should be so thoughtless that the act of shooting pictures is solely concentrated on the image in the viewfinder… You do not attend a concert and expect the pianist to search for the correct keys! There has been so much practice prior to the performance that hitting the right notes is instinctive... You can learn all you need to know about photography in three days, but it takes constant practice to make it so instinctive that you are in the right position, at the right moment, with the right exposure and focus, without any thought about equipment or technique".


I thoroughly enjoyed The Life of a Photograph video. Thank you for posting it!
He explains his thought process so well doesn't he? I learned a lot from watching his lectures - mainly about composing from the back to the front... setting first, subject second.
My bird photography improved 10 fold when I started thinking about the setting before the subject. I used to be extremely reactionary, walking around trying to stumble upon a scene where a bird was doing something interesting. Now I ALWAYS choose my background first, then work out how the lighting will fall on a given subject that enters that area, position myself, and then I wait for something interesting to happen within that setting. Sure I miss some shots, but if what I want to photograph is taking place in a setting that doesn't make for a good photograph... there's little point. Sometimes there's just no photograph.
 
I thought I would start a thread to list some links to videos and resources relating to what a photographer needs to be thinking about when they make pictures. What is the purpose of your photographs, and how do you go about making images which gets that purpose across clearly to the viewer.
Some of these resources discuss the "why" of making pictures as well as the "how".

Starting with a few quotes;

When asked how one could take more interesting pictures, the photographer Jai Maisel responded; “become a more interesting person”.

Sebastiao Salgado, when asked the same, broke this down a little further; “If you’re young and have the time, go and study. Study anthropology, sociology, economy, geopolitics. Study so that you’re actually able to understand what you’re photographing. What you can photograph and what you should photgraph.”

If you pick up any book by any of the great photographers, variations of the above quotes inevitably come up. Essentially, if you want to take great pictures either photograph what you know, or get to know what it is that you want to photograph. If all of our spare time is spent researching the technical skill of photography, we’re entirely missing the point.

It comes back to the quote by David Hurn; “you are not a photographer because you are interested in photography...The reason is that photography is only a tool, a vehicle, for expressing or transmitting a passion in something else. It is not the end result.”

Keeping the above in mind, first up is a great lecture by Sam Abell.
You may find many of his pictures boring, or plain, but each one is as technically perfect as it could be given the situation in front of him.
Take some time to really listen to what Sam says about his picture making process and what makes for a lasting image. He discusses what you should be thinking about when you're making photographs. There are great insights here and all of his lectures are well worth watching, but this is a good place to start:
Sam Abell - The Life of a Photograph

A brief analysis of Lewis Hine's 'steamfitter' photograph, along with several of his other images which show a little of his thought process as he made several attempts to produce a compelling end result. Obviously these are not Hine's own words but it's a good overview explaining why this image hit the mark while his other attempts didn't.
Starting at 1:19 in this video

Lost some interest in photography lately? Can't find anything interesting to shoot? You may be lacking what Ralph Gibson calls 'a point of departure'.
This advice is often given by many seasoned and prolific photographers. Ralph explains the general concept here:
Ralph Gibson - Point of Departure

This interview with Andreas Feininger is worth a watch for anyone interested in urban or architectural photography. Feininger is famous for using a long lens to photograph street scenes and buildings, believing that the only way to truly show the buildings and their surroundings in their correct scales is to photograph scenes from afar (often several kilometres away) with a telephoto lens. Regardless of whether you agree - listen to his reasons why he does what he does.
Andreas Feininger

The Sam Abell video is worth an hour of your time. One of my favorites!
 
To transform photography into art, I believe you should be able to see visualize the photo in your mind before you actuate the shutter. With the photo imprinted in your minds eyes, then go through the mechanical aspect of the photography, DOF, focal length, light, shutter, aperture, iso..focus etc.
That is somewhat possible for certain types of photography, but can be difficult for many mostly males, men and I am one mostly think logically, yes some men have a artistic flair but they are an exception to the norm.

As such if you are a male which I am assuming you are the best way to find subjects that are male related to photograph or attractive to males.

Over the years I have moved around a number of genres ranging form nude to vehicles and now to what I call industrial photography, that is to say the construction of anything with an emphasis on the men and women doing the work while including the tools they are using.
 
That is somewhat possible for certain types of photography, but can be difficult for many mostly males, men and I am one mostly think logically, yes some men have a artistic flair but they are an exception to the norm.

As such if you are a male which I am assuming you are the best way to find subjects that are male related to photograph or attractive to males.

Over the years I have moved around a number of genres ranging form nude to vehicles and now to what I call industrial photography, that is to say the construction of anything with an emphasis on the men and women doing the work while including the tools they are using.
Yeah I've always been more of a technician than an artist.

I never really got into it for the art.
 
That is somewhat possible for certain types of photography, but can be difficult for many mostly males, men and I am one mostly think logically, yes some men have a artistic flair but they are an exception to the norm.

As such if you are a male which I am assuming you are the best way to find subjects that are male related to photograph or attractive to males.
At this forum and its predecessor, it surprises me how many men take pictures of flowers. It shouldn't, though. I believe that creativity flourishes when a variety of mental processes are working. That would mean stepping away from stereotypes and studying what would make a worthwhile photo regardless of your chromosomes or your pronouns. I'm female. Was I being masculine, did I cross a line, in making the image below? I don't think so.

pipesbldg10.31.20.jpg
 
At this forum and its predecessor, it surprises me how many men take pictures of flowers. It shouldn't, though. I believe that creativity flourishes when a variety of mental processes are working. That would mean stepping away from stereotypes and studying what would make a worthwhile photo regardless of your chromosomes or your pronouns. I'm female. Was I being masculine, did I cross a line, in making the image below? I don't think so.

View attachment 15543
I think it's because flowers are easy targets.

Unless you're referring to making effort to go to a botanical garden for the purpose of shooting flowers.

For me, they're basically everywhere.
 
I think it's because flowers are easy targets.

Unless you're referring to making effort to go to a botanical garden for the purpose of shooting flowers.
I didn't have any particular setting in mind. Some shots are from purposeful visits to parks and nature preserves, others from home gardens, all kinds of places. Men even set up floral still lifes. Right, flowers are easy targets because they're easy to find. We can still ask what appeal they have that makes them targets at all. I mean, license plates are everywhere, too.
 
I didn't have any particular setting in mind. Some shots are from purposeful visits to parks and nature preserves, others from home gardens, all kinds of places. Men even set up floral still lifes. Right, flowers are easy targets because they're easy to find. We can still ask what appeal they have that makes them targets at all. I mean, license plates are everywhere, too.
I'm a huge fan of license plates. And leaves. Especially dead veiny ones on the ground. And hot women. Not dead veiny ones on the ground.
 
Don’t get hung up on gender or sex, unless, for example, your photography expressly sets out to make some type of related commentary. Yes, our life experiences can seep into our work, whereby, among other factors, one’s gender and sexual orientation can play a crucial role in our perceptions and creativity vis-à-vis art (even if these factors involve arbitrary social constructs).

And yes, throughout much of recorded history, our exposure to art has largely been curated by patriarchal prejudices that heavily favored male artists, creating a considerably skewed norm in the process. But before this goes sociopolitically awry (perhaps too late), I’m stuck wondering in the game of gender stereotypes how one would even qualify landscape, or wildlife, or photojournalism, or portraits, or urban photography, or Ohlook’s photo above, or, or, or…

I would also suggest not getting hung up on “art”. Photography is a visual medium, and it is most effective when there is an aesthetic component that draws the viewer’s interest irrespective of the genre, straight up documentation notwithstanding. Design in even the mundane or utilitarian can still produce compellingly expressive form. A building can look this way or that way. A computer can look this way or that way. A car can look this way or that way. We aren’t talking ‘art’ here, at least not in its basic understanding, but nor are we ignoring the artistic elements demonstrably involved.

If you’re spending thousands of dollars on equipment, you’re doing so to presumably take decent photos. But if you seek improvement beyond the technical, how do you personally define better? And if you want to improve, how will you approach this improvement? Your subject matter might already be visually arresting, but how do you add aesthetic value or originality to the photo? If you’re not trying to do any of this, then this thread is probably not for you. But we all know that a boring photograph (as in how you subjectively perceive your own photograph) is not going to be rescued by better gear.

As for resources, I would simply recommend looking through the works of notable photographers in your genre of interests. What about their photos made them standout, or were they just blessed with a nepotistic break in the business. Composition, timing, lighting, contrast, color, geometry, movement, emotion, humanity; all things to possibly consider. And then look at the work of photographers outside your general interests. Why is this wedding photographer’s photos so engrossing when I don’t even know the people getting married? And if your adventurous, take a gander at art in general; paintings, music, sculpture; the whole shebang. Ultimately, absorb the language through analysis of photos, yours and theirs. Good or bad. With practice and experience some of this will become so engrained that you won’t even have to think.
 
Don’t get hung up on gender or sex, unless, for example, your photography expressly sets out to make some type of related commentary. Yes, our life experiences can seep into our work, whereby, among other factors, one’s gender and sexual orientation can play a crucial role in our perceptions and creativity vis-à-vis art (even if these factors involve arbitrary social constructs).

And yes, throughout much of recorded history, our exposure to art has largely been curated by patriarchal prejudices that heavily favored male artists, creating a considerably skewed norm in the process. But before this goes sociopolitically awry (perhaps too late), I’m stuck wondering in the game of gender stereotypes how one would even qualify landscape, or wildlife, or photojournalism, or portraits, or urban photography, or Ohlook’s photo above, or, or, or…

I would also suggest not getting hung up on “art”. Photography is a visual medium, and it is most effective when there is an aesthetic component that draws the viewer’s interest irrespective of the genre, straight up documentation notwithstanding. Design in even the mundane or utilitarian can still produce compellingly expressive form. A building can look this way or that way. A computer can look this way or that way. A car can look this way or that way. We aren’t talking ‘art’ here, at least not in its basic understanding, but nor are we ignoring the artistic elements demonstrably involved.

If you’re spending thousands of dollars on equipment, you’re doing so to presumably take decent photos. But if you seek improvement beyond the technical, how do you personally define better? And if you want to improve, how will you approach this improvement? Your subject matter might already be visually arresting, but how do you add aesthetic value or originality to the photo? If you’re not trying to do any of this, then this thread is probably not for you. But we all know that a boring photograph (as in how you subjectively perceive your own photograph) is not going to be rescued by better gear.

As for resources, I would simply recommend looking through the works of notable photographers in your genre of interests. What about their photos made them standout, or were they just blessed with a nepotistic break in the business. Composition, timing, lighting, contrast, color, geometry, movement, emotion, humanity; all things to possibly consider. And then look at the work of photographers outside your general interests. Why is this wedding photographer’s photos so engrossing when I don’t even know the people getting married? And if your adventurous, take a gander at art in general; paintings, music, sculpture; the whole shebang. Ultimately, absorb the language through analysis of photos, yours and theirs. Good or bad. With practice and experience some of this will become so engrained that you won’t even have to think.
I don't shoot for anyone but myself and as a technician, I find satisfaction in technical execution. I don't care if it's a macro of a thumbtack or paper bag (yes I've made these exact photos), I enjoy that more than a technically poor photo of anything else.

It's actually the process of "figuring out" aka self taught learning that I enjoy more than the end result. I gained similar satisfaction from learning how to diagnose and repair my vehicles, including the semi truck.
 
I don't shoot for anyone but myself and as a technician, I find satisfaction in technical execution. I don't care if it's a macro of a thumbtack or paper bag (yes I've made these exact photos), I enjoy that more than a technically poor photo of anything else.

It's actually the process of "figuring out" aka self taught learning that I enjoy more than the end result. I gained similar satisfaction from learning how to diagnose and repair my vehicles, including the semi truck.

Yep I'm definitely guilty of the same. I get a lot of pleasure from making a 'technically perfect' photo, and my wife is always reminding me that no-one cares how difficult a photo was to make, they only care about how they personally feel when they view the work. I think other photographers can appreciate a technically well executed photograph, but non-photographers are really only concerned with whether or not the subject matter is interesting to them.

I was watching an interview with Albert Watson recently about portrait photography and he said (somewhat paraphrased); "there's a great weakness in photographers where preparation means 'I've got the batteries, I've got the camera + lenses, I've got a tripod - We're all ready to go'. That stuff shouldn't even be considered.. you're a damn photographer of course all of your equipment should be in order, if your'e going on a long trip you've got to have gas in the tank and air in your tires, it's a given. The important thing is what the hell are you going to do. A lot of photographers say 'well I like to be spontaneous and create on the spot'. That's fine if you're a creative genius, but if you're going to wing it your photos had better be damned good. You've got to plan and think about all the different ways you could be photographing your subject so that when you're there you have something to work towards."
 
Yep I'm definitely guilty of the same. I get a lot of pleasure from making a 'technically perfect' photo, and my wife is always reminding me that no-one cares how difficult a photo was to make, they only care about how they personally feel when they view the work. I think other photographers can appreciate a technically well executed photograph, but non-photographers are really only concerned with whether or not the subject matter is interesting to them.

I was watching an interview with Albert Watson recently about portrait photography and he said (somewhat paraphrased); "there's a great weakness in photographers where preparation means 'I've got the batteries, I've got the camera + lenses, I've got a tripod - We're all ready to go'. That stuff shouldn't even be considered.. you're a damn photographer of course all of your equipment should be in order, if your'e going on a long trip you've got to have gas in the tank and air in your tires, it's a given. The important thing is what the hell are you going to do. A lot of photographers say 'well I like to be spontaneous and create on the spot'. That's fine if you're a creative genius, but if you're going to wing it your photos had better be damned good. You've got to plan and think about all the different ways you could be photographing your subject so that when you're there you have something to work towards."
Yeah some people like to make way too much of it. I guess that's how they feel special.
 
Yeah some people like to make way too much of it. I guess that's how they feel special.
More likely they just live and breathe the work... and have probably faced the consequences of unsuccessfully trying to wing a commissioned shoot more than once in their career.
 
I find satisfaction in technical execution. I don't care if it's a macro of a thumbtack or paper bag (yes I've made these exact photos), I enjoy that more than a technically poor photo of anything else.
Here's another way of coming at it that also puts the subject in second place. I often shoot humble objects like litter on the ground or things left accidentally in public. What the thing is doesn't matter if it makes a visually interesting composition. Technique only serves the goal of getting a result that looks good.
I think other photographers can appreciate a technically well executed photograph, but non-photographers are really only concerned with whether or not the subject matter is interesting to them.
Sad if true. But a well-done photo can make something interesting. To appreciate photos of street scenes or musicians, for instance, you don't have to know the people.
 
More likely they just live and breathe the work... and have probably faced the consequences of unsuccessfully trying to wing a commissioned shoot more than once in their career.
This implies one aspect is superior to the other.

Wedding photographers are basically winging it all day long. The good ones excel at it.

The cool thing about photography is you can buy the gear then enjoy it however you want no matter what anyone else thinks.

Heck you can buy it just to stare at it on a shelf if you're so inclined.
 
At this forum and its predecessor, it surprises me how many men take pictures of flowers. It shouldn't, though. I believe that creativity flourishes when a variety of mental processes are working. That would mean stepping away from stereotypes and studying what would make a worthwhile photo regardless of your chromosomes or your pronouns. I'm female. Was I being masculine, did I cross a line, in making the image below? I don't think so.

View attachment 15543
Nice shot with many interesting shadows.
 
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