Three Quick Questions vs The Enjoyment of Photography

Started Jan 2, 2013 | Discussions thread
CharlesB58
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Re: Three Quick Questions vs The Enjoyment of Photography
In reply to Detail Man, Jan 2, 2013

Detail Man wrote:

Great Bustard wrote:

If I'm not mistaken, this is a technical forum, is it not? Wjy so snippy on a discussion of the technical matters of photography? There are other forums to discuss the artistic end in, not that one cannot do that in this forum, but to chastize me for discussing a technical point in a technical forum, well ...

As far as I am concerned, my own "emotional responses" to images having a higher Signal/Noise Ratio are more positive than my "emotional responses" to images having a lower Signal/Noise Ratio.

GB (from my personal "emotional perspective") is an accomplished photographer. There is no mathematical equation for "artistic adeptness". A photographer could be a technical genius, but others may not find their personal "emotional responses" tickled. So what ? That "cuts both ways".

To say that differences between "exposure" and "brightness" matter not is to say that image Signal/Noise Ratio matters not. That's fine, I suppose. Some people really do like "grainy" images ...

The Zone System surely makes a lot more sense as a mode of reasoning when one is struggling with a specifically limited Dynamic Range, Signal/Noise Ratio, and a specific non-linear transfer-function where the mid-tones absolutely must be properly "squeezed in" between the "shoulder" and the "toe" - but it becomes a lot less relevant and seemingly a lot more arbitrary in the age of linear-response digital image-capture with increasingly high Dynamic Ranges and Signal/Noise Ratios available to the user - available, that is, if the user understands what it is that they are actually doing ...

(Besides), what does the "Zone System" have to do with "emotional responses" - except where specific technical realities regarding photographing with film as a medium are concerned ? ...

The Zone System was designed to allow photographers to meter, expose and process a 3 dimensional, full color scene into 2 dimensional, monochromatic representation in a way that communicated their personal interpretation of the scene. Ansel Adams certainly felt this way, but his failure to use a professional editor when writing his early versions of his books led to them being very technical, without adequately demonstrating the final, aesthetic goal of the techniques. Adams admitted this himself.

The result was a widespread misconception that the Zone System was intended to prioritize the technical process of the Zone System  as the primary determinant in the quality of the photo. (A photo failed if it lacked adequate number of zones or the subject fell within the "wrong" zone.) This was never Adams' intent for the Zone System. It was his effort to compensate for the fact that a B&W print presented a very subjective and ultimately unrealistic representation of the scene. The Zone System was to make sure photographers had as much subjective control as possible through technical mastery. Yet, as is the case with any art form, people came along and made the technical mastery the goal in and of itself.

Many great photographers have been critical of the Zone System as a result of the misunderstanding of Adams' goal for the System. Master photographer Andreas Feininger left any mention of the Zone System out of his classic book "Light and Lighting in Photography" because he felt it "made mountains out of molehills" when it came to producing photographs which both technically and aesthetically satisfied the photographer's vision.

So the Zone System, as Adams originally intended it, has a great deal to do with emotional response. When observing a scene with the intent of applying the Zone System, the photographer should be asking himself "What is the intended effect I want this photo to have on the viewer?" Once he answers that question, he then decides "Which zone(s) should be the predominant tonality of this photo to achieve that effect?" (Determine the aesthetic goal, then apply the technique necessary to achieve it, straight from any Photography 101 course.)

Instead, what some photographers tended to do was look at a scene and ask "How should I expose this scene in order to have the widest range of zones present in the negative and print?" In short, the technical question which should serve the goal of the aesthetic question instead becomes the aesthetic question. We have had generation after generation of photographers who apparently think the aesthetic and technical goals are one and the same, or even that the technical goal is more important than the aesthetic goal.

There is nothing inherently wrong with basing one's enjoyment of photography purely on the technical aspects of a photo. A great body of photographers do just that. Yet, when we look at those who are considered masters of the craft, they went beyond technical prowess inasmuch as they used it as a starting point for realizing their goal for a given image. It's a common understanding in music: learn the rules so as to be able to bend or break them to good effect, not so as to always follow them.

Giving technical advice is certainly helpful. Some people do in fact need to gain a better understanding of certain technical fundamentals. Competent technique is the foundation of nearly all effective photos. However, care must be taken to not assume that the majority of viewers will share in the appreciation of the technical aspects of a photo if there is no emotional connection made through effective aesthetics.

Therein lies the conundrum for those who favor the "tech" side of photographer over the "artistic" side: the majority of people who ask tech questions want to learn the tech side of things to improve their ability to realize their aesthetic vision for their photos, not just for the sake of enjoying technical competency. For them, it's not enough to say that FF will have less noise at a given combination of ISO, shutter speed and aperture than m4/3, unless that statement can be effectively linked to how it will affect photos of their daughter's violin recital, or the sunset photos of their vacation in Aruba. Yet tech people can tend to offer the tech advice as though that alone is an answer to the query. Sometimes it is. But most people who ask questions want to know more than the how (what it does). They want to know why (what's in it for me).

What complicates things is that some tech-oriented people seem to think that if a person says "technique only serves to facilitate my artistic expression" that we are saying that technique doesn't matter. That's not the case. We just put it in perspective of our personal goals for enjoying photography.

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