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02-13-2013, 03:20 AM   #1
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Philosophy of photography

What are you all trying to achieve when you take a photo? One that's not make with profit, family needs and wants or other practical purposes in mind.

Are you trying to capture the beauty of the scene you see before you?

Are you trying to capture some other value you feel is inherent to the scene?

Are you trying to use or manipulate a scene to convey a value of your own feeling or choice?

Are you trying to produce an image that is visually pleasing?

Are you trying to produce an image with thought-provoking graphic elements? Or with thought-provoking content?

Do you consider it to be art? Documentary? "Artsy?"

When I started photography 20 years ago I thought all these questions would resolve in time. But they haven't yet. I look through my own photos (and admittedly, through internet forums) and just dismiss things... happy snap... camera club crap... "artsy" conceit. On the latter note I catch myself with the same dismissive attitude visiting exhibitions and viewing photobooks.

Potentially all of this says more about my own psychological baggage than it does about the wider world of photography. But I'm curious.

What's the point?

(I did a little google before posting.. ethnographers take a pretty dispassionate view of all sides, which I suppose is their job... e.g. "CAMERA CLUBS AND FINE ART PHOTOGRAPHY: DISTINGUISHING BETWEEN ART AND" by DONA BETH SCHWARTZ )

02-13-2013, 04:30 AM   #2
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QuoteOriginally posted by russell2pi Quote
What are you all trying to achieve when you take a photo?
It all depends....

QuoteOriginally posted by russell2pi Quote
Are you trying to capture the beauty of the scene you see before you?
sometimes
QuoteOriginally posted by russell2pi Quote
Are you trying to capture some other value you feel is inherent to the scene?
"other" than what?
QuoteOriginally posted by russell2pi Quote
Are you trying to use or manipulate a scene to convey a value of your own feeling or choice?
Often
QuoteOriginally posted by russell2pi Quote
Are you trying to produce an image that is visually pleasing?
Sometimes but not often
QuoteOriginally posted by russell2pi Quote
Are you trying to produce an image with thought-provoking graphic elements? Or with thought-provoking content?
No - not consciously.
QuoteOriginally posted by russell2pi Quote
Do you consider it to be art? Documentary? "Artsy?"
If by "it" you mean photography in general than all of the above and more.
QuoteOriginally posted by russell2pi Quote
What's the point?
Hopefully to capture and/or convey, on some level, meaning?

Last edited by wildman; 02-13-2013 at 04:50 AM.
02-13-2013, 04:41 AM   #3
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QuoteOriginally posted by russell2pi Quote
What are you all trying to achieve when you take a photo?
I do it mainly to please myself, if someone else likes it good for them! It gives me a reason to get away from home and especially my father in law living with us. It relaxes me, even if I just take some shots of my toes, which I do quite often.... or just to try out that first @#$%^ kit lens again, to see if it got any sharper after lying on the bottom shelve for a few months
02-13-2013, 05:01 AM - 1 Like   #4
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Personal pleasure and gratification is enough, but appreciation by others is also nice. Doing it as a hobbyist or enthusiast there is quite different motivations to the craft than pros who rely on its income to survive.

02-13-2013, 12:49 PM   #5
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QuoteOriginally posted by Ash Quote
Doing it as a hobbyist or enthusiast there is quite different motivations to the craft than pros who rely on its income to survive.
This is very true. Years ago, I attended a workshop that had quite a few newspaper photographers enrolled. In my individual critique, the instructor said, "You're very lucky because you get to do photography for the pure joy of it. I've sat up all week with the newspaper guys and every one of them wants to know how they can get to the point of doing just personal work." In personal photography, you don't have to please anyone but yourself. In professional photography, you have to please the person paying the bills.
02-13-2013, 12:53 PM   #6
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Taking photos for the lenses.

If you are seriously addicted to buying lenses,you need to take photos to justify buying lenses. Every lens setting on the shelf wants to be used.
02-13-2013, 01:01 PM   #7
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Actually, there is no justification necessary for having lenses if it's a hobby or personal pursuit. Of course there should be a monetary or value justification for having a lens professionally, as I mentioned before.

Getting to the point of doing something just for the joy of it usually requires it to be a personal pursuit, which sometimes means a holiday or retirement venture. Travel is also a great opportunity for it. Indeed few people have jobs that they are 100% happy to do at all times, even photographers passionate about the craft.
02-13-2013, 02:08 PM   #8
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I'm an unapologetic hobbyist. Ultimately, this means that--while I weigh other people's opinions--I do not seek any outside approval or justification.

But what is the hobby? There are many of them, different hobbies in their own rights, that entail photography. Considering myself an "amateur photographer" gives me motivation to get out and do things when otherwise I might be content to sit in a chair and read. Carrying a camera with me makes me more attentive to my surroundings, whether I'm out nominally to take pictures or just happen to have a device in my bag. I like the sort of meditation that occurs when my brain is working full time on the scene in front of my eyes--meaning that I'm not thinking about daily issues--making it a bit of an opiate. I also geek out on the tech stuff; I used to be fascinated by mechanical watches and clocks, simply in how amazing they are, but cameras take that to a whole new level. I like the history of the technology, and how it is developing at a very rapid pace with no specific future that anyone can predict. I like the challenge of using that technology, whether a Spotmatic with a prime lens or a DSLR with a phenomenally complicated zoom, and working with the different post-processing techniques to more fully comprehend all of what's going on in an image. And I love those few images I've captured that just work for me, and I enjoy looking at other people's photos to find even more fantastic pictures.

As far as my current approach to imaging, I aspire to making pictures that take the viewer (mostly me) beyond the subjects portrayed visually into ideas or feelings that merit exploration. I want there to be a "that reminds me of something else" moment. I don't identify a "something else" then go try to shoot for that; I just like keeping my mind as blank as possible while out with my camera, precisely so that my mind can be drawn away to unpredictable somethings for me to try to capture.

When it comes to other people's photography, I figure to let them do what they want to do. I can criticize or advise, but I try not to do that without explicit invitation. When I see a picture that doesn't do anything for me--a ho-hum flower, a painterly HDR, or most abstract images--I simply move on to the next one. I look at photos for enjoyment, so if I'm not enjoying myself, whether due to the photos being uninteresting or me being in a harsh mood, then I simply move on to doing something else. Like the tactile joy that comes from focusing a good manual lens, or the quietude of going outside and feeling slightly sad that the photographic medium isn't sufficient to capture all of the beauty that surrounds us.

02-13-2013, 02:36 PM   #9
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I was gonna say all of the above, but I guess that's the wrong answer.
02-13-2013, 02:37 PM   #10
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I do it because crack cocaine is too expensive.
02-13-2013, 03:05 PM   #11
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I always try to remember the two aspects of photography: TAKING pictures and MAKING pictures. When I am taking pictures, I take as many as possible of anything that remotely looks interesting. It is largely a technical and mechanical process; the goal being to capture the best possible image.

Making a picture is another process of its own and usually happens in the “darkroom” after the picture was taken. To make a picture, the captured image must convey a message of some sort; at least to the photographer. Hopefully others will be able to see the same (or different) message. The image must transcend itself and be something more that its elements. It should engage the viewer in a dialog. For me, at a minimum it should “communicate” its title.

Not all messages will be received or understood by everyone. That’s fine, but the most powerful and successful images are understandable by everyone.

Another way to describe the process of making a picture is to see it as a discovery journey, with the photographer being the explorer. When you encounter something worthwhile, you make a picture, otherwise you keep going.
02-13-2013, 03:44 PM   #12
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My wife is a documentary photographer - she has over forty years of prints she has taken (as well as another 80 or so years' worth she inherited) arranged in binders. She regularly refers to these photos to illustrate changes in her and our and our children's lives and those of her antecedents. She has been happy to use a series of point and shoots and now an Optio A40 I gave her a few birthdays ago (I once opened an eBay box with a K2DMD inside and she said, "I want a cool camera, too!!"). She scans her prints and illustates blog posts she makes which are read by our far-flung nieces and nephews, who gain some history of their family. Her photography philosophy is every bit as valid as mine.

I like to USE Pentax cameras and lenses. I enjoy the sound of the shutter and the feel of the lenses and the bodies, especially the film cameras I wanted in my youth but couldn't afford. I am content to take inelegant photographs that I wouldn't ever really show to anyone - I enjoy the taking more than the seeing of the output. I haven't the patience to really learn Photoshop. If I thought I had a good enough file and I wanted a print - I would actually consider paying someone else to develop and print the digital image - sort of like in the wet lab days. (I know I can shoot in-camera jpeg - that isn't a solution that appeals to me. That would be like fly fishing at a stocked pay-to-fish ranch).

In a way my philosophy of photography resembles my philosophy of fly fishing. I am content to tie my own flies, get out on the river, make good casts to places where I expect there to be a fish - maybe even to get a rise and get a fish on - but I couldn't care less whether I actually land a fish to photograph (I release them anyway when I do). I just want to cast vintage rods using flies I tied and make up my own leaders and fish with them. The pleasure is in the fishing, not in the catching.

[EDIT: Reading demp10 above me, I enjoy the TAKING but not the MAKING]

Last edited by monochrome; 02-13-2013 at 06:26 PM.
02-13-2013, 05:12 PM   #13
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QuoteOriginally posted by russell2pi Quote
What are you all trying to achieve when you take a photo? One that's not make with profit, family needs and wants or other practical purposes in mind.

Are you trying to capture the beauty of the scene you see before you?

Are you trying to capture some other value you feel is inherent to the scene?

Are you trying to use or manipulate a scene to convey a value of your own feeling or choice?

Are you trying to produce an image that is visually pleasing?

Are you trying to produce an image with thought-provoking graphic elements? Or with thought-provoking content?

Do you consider it to be art? Documentary? "Artsy?"

When I started photography 20 years ago I thought all these questions would resolve in time. But they haven't yet. I look through my own photos (and admittedly, through internet forums) and just dismiss things... happy snap... camera club crap... "artsy" conceit. On the latter note I catch myself with the same dismissive attitude visiting exhibitions and viewing photobooks.

Potentially all of this says more about my own psychological baggage than it does about the wider world of photography. But I'm curious.

What's the point?

(I did a little google before posting.. ethnographers take a pretty dispassionate view of all sides, which I suppose is their job... e.g. "CAMERA CLUBS AND FINE ART PHOTOGRAPHY: DISTINGUISHING BETWEEN ART AND" by DONA BETH SCHWARTZ )
Interesting questions! Two books which have helped me are The Practice of Contemplative Photography by Andy Karr and Michael Wood, and The Zen of Creativity by John Daido Loori. Each is about trying to cultivate a way of seeing so that one can spend a bit more time capturing moments of simple perception - whatever flashes out at us as we walk around - rather than starting off the day with a whole lot of conceptual baggage about taking beautiful pictures or the ultimate sturm und drang street shot. Flash of perception, look, really look at what precisely flashed out, shoot, let it go and move on. I suppose it's just a record of experience but at least this approach has a good chance of being raw and direct rather than contrived. I like it, anyway, though there are a thousand other ways of going about taking photographs. I try not to look for reasons because often there aren't any.

I also like some of the articles on the Luminous Landscape website. Some very good pieces on there. A recent one was on applying the techniques of Chinese landscape painting to photography, for example. Haven't tried that one yet but it's another take on keeping things interesting.

Last edited by mecrox; 02-13-2013 at 05:17 PM.
02-14-2013, 10:27 AM   #14
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I am a hobbyist. For me, photography helps me look at something in a different light (no pun intended). I think it can be relatively easy to take a photo of a spectacular sunset, or other beautiful natural scene, and that can often be enough to satisfy me. More often than not, however, I want to look deeper. I look for the unusual, or try to find something that is often overlooked. It can be the thrill of "the hunt", and being patient enough to wait for the exact moment the light is perfect, or getting the right angle. It's as much an artistic desire, wanting to make an aesthetically pleasing image. Also, since I love to spend time outdoors, photography also gives me just one more good reason to get out there. It's purely a self-indulgent activity. But of course If someone else likes my photos, it's all the better.
02-18-2013, 05:18 PM   #15
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QuoteOriginally posted by russell2pi Quote
What are you all trying to achieve when you take a photo? One that's not make with profit, family needs and wants or other practical purposes in mind.

Hmm...good question. For me, it's a bit like asking, "Why keep a journal or diary?" The simple answer is, "Because I enjoy it...it gives me a creative release...and it relaxes me." That is enough for now.
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