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07-03-2008, 11:01 AM   #1
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Are people required to be in a picture to make it a good picture?

A co-worker and I were having a debate about photography. For the most part he ended up agreeing with what I said but we did have a sticking point. He contends for a photograph to be a good photograph it has to have a person in it somewhere.

He is an old film photographer who basically gave it up a while ago and is thinking about taking up photography again.

The discussion moved on to what I generally shoot and I go for basically flora, fauna and scenery and I mentioned I dont like taking pictures of people. He said how will you become a photographer without taking pictures of people. To which I said, you dont have to take pictures of people to become a photographer. He argued that I wouldnt learn the 7 rules of portraiture without practicing on people (he then went through them, which were interesting). I argued back that those rules would make me a better photographer of people but that isnt where my interest lies. To which he said photographs require people in them to be a good photograph, they lend scale and the ability for people to relate to them.

My opinion on the matter is no people are not necessary in photographs, I do think some photos may be better with people in them but in many cases people just get in the way.

But what is everyone else's thoughts on this?

07-03-2008, 11:06 AM   #2
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is he an old guy or something?

a picture is a picture is a picture

a picture without a person in it is just not a portrait... LOL

what about landscape shots? marketing shots (of food, or furniture), architectural photographs of buildings, of physical designs, statues.

id roll my eyes at him for making such a strong statement that not having a person in your photo somehow strips you of the right to call yourself a photographer.
07-03-2008, 11:06 AM   #3
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Brad, I don't think you have to ask that question here - go to Photography - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia and it will answer your question and solve the argument.
07-03-2008, 11:26 AM   #4
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He is a bit older (mid late 50's) I just thought maybe this was oldschool thinking so I asked here. No I am not calling everyone here old I also thought maybe that knowledge might really be required.

Personally I am working towards being good enough for me to consider myself a photographer, my wife says I am since anyone who takes such an abnormally high intrest in learning about photography has to be one.

07-03-2008, 11:29 AM   #5
Damn Brit

A good picture 'always' has a person in it, the photographer.
07-03-2008, 11:32 AM   #6
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From your friend's definition of a "good picture", all macro pictures are bad!!
07-03-2008, 01:18 PM   #7
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Plenty of us older than 50 here, including myself and I ain't old - am I? hehehe.

And that is certainly NOT old school of any kind - your friend is dead-set on HIS definition and that's what counts in his book.

07-03-2008, 01:23 PM   #8
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I'm just curious where this mindset of his came from.
07-03-2008, 01:37 PM   #9
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I'm late 50's and as far as I know, that's not an old-school film thing, that's just his opinion. Some of what I consider my best photographs over the years do not have people in them. In fact, people would have ruined them.

07-03-2008, 01:40 PM   #10
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Ansel Adams must have been a terrible photographer...
07-03-2008, 01:50 PM   #11
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Must a person be in a picture to make it a good picture?

Is that an old school idea? That depends what you think the purpose of a photograph is. Is a photograph art? A document? a moment of history captured in silver?

My wife thinks a photo should have a person in it - why else would I take it? She tolerates my constant stopping to take a photograph of a thing!! (My wife is who she is - and I can respond if I need to by asking why she writes fiction - she is published. Of course I'd be on firmer ground if I ever sold a print).

Sometimes it helps to try to understand WHY someone would have such an opinion - what is the history and where did it come from? Then at least we can rationally present an argument for consideration.

I once had a conversation with my mother-in-law, an accomplished watercolor artist descended of a recognized American Impressionist painter, but very old-school on this topic.

She said at one time some people thought a picture that didn't commemorate a person, or an event at which a person was present, was wasteful - they thought of a picture as a document. She also said that photographers had to earn a living and people paid for pictures of themselves, and unless there was a commercial outlet, few other images were taken. People thought of photography as commercial and painting as artistic.

Think of 19th C. and early 20th C. photographers - so many of them were portraitists, and wealthy people had their portraits done in photos, just as they had them done in oils. My wife has a stunning 1910 Bachrach studio portrait of her grandmother hanging in her study. It IS ART!!

Over time, the commercial reality of the photography business, coupled with the artistic instinct of the best portraitists, led to the cultural belief that ARTISTIC (GOOD) photographs had to have persons in them.

Without a person, a photograph would likely have had no commercial outlet except to support sensationalist journalism.

Matthew Brady was truly a pioneer using the camera to document the Civil War ACTION, not just the people. He sold to Eastern news distributors.

William Henry Jackson was a pioneer documenting 19th C. railroads - but he was in the employ of the railroads. His work illustrated pamphlets in the east that the railroads used to encourage people to come west.

Ansel Adams is the given pioneer of using photographic images as art pieces for the sake of the art; using the printed image as an artistic medium. This concept was every bit as novel in its time as the first French Impressionists were in theirs.

Who bought Adams' work? Who bought Monet's? Who bought John Singer Sargent's?

Who buys yours?

Is National Geographic an art magazine (to me it is) - but art requires philanthropy if there is not a commercial outlet for its product.

My mother-in-law told me that her father, a well-to-do and educated businessman (but flinty, Presbyterian New-Englander), saw and even appreciated the art in Ansel Adams' work, but was dismissive of its value.

Of course today we believe differently. So what makes a good photograph?

A good photograph is a combination of subject, composition, light, grayscales or color and the technical talent of its maker, the photographer. It needn't have commercial value, but it probably would to someone.

And it most certainly needn't have a person in it to be considered a good photograph.

My conclusion is that the question should be asked of all art, not just photographs. It is a metaphysical question that has been asked by artists since the dawn of man's time - see the Kipling quotation in my signature - the question is,

What makes good ART?

Last edited by monochrome; 07-03-2008 at 08:05 PM.
07-03-2008, 03:18 PM   #12
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good picture is a good picture. No matter wether with or without people. Sometimes people give character, or scale or mood to otherwise boring shots. Sometimes inclusion of people in the shot just spoils it...
07-03-2008, 03:43 PM   #13
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QuoteOriginally posted by Talisker Quote
Ansel Adams must have been a terrible photographer...
That's great!
07-03-2008, 03:45 PM   #14
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It is hard to belive that somebody would be so stubborn as to claim a picture is not a picture without a person in it. My photography instructor has a prefrance of shooting black and white with older tlr's, 4x5, and 8x10 format equipment some with people and some without as she says it is all about the "elements in the shot". When we review my work it is about what is captured not anything else. Your co-worker is narrow minded.
07-03-2008, 04:52 PM   #15
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A co-worker and I were having a debate about photography. For the most part he ended up agreeing with what I said but we did have a sticking point. He contends for a photograph to be a good photograph it has to have a person in it somewhere.

But what is everyone else's thoughts on this?
Your co-worker is an idiot.

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