I would like to discuss the aesthetics of photography...

Started May 24, 2013 | Discussions
Calinature
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Re: I would like to discuss the aesthetics of photography...
In reply to Great Bustard, May 25, 2013

Great Bustard wrote:

Calinature wrote:

Thanks for the interesting discussion.  Here's my take:

The human mind selectively sees just a few objects/scenes at any one time.  A good photograph should limit the scope of presentation through selective composition, effective contrast of lighting, etc.  Perhaps modern digital photography has fostered an overly ambitious, overly expansive, overly saturated look...because we have the technology to do so.  Mark Twain once said of Bierstad's paintings that they were better than the original. When I see photos like Galen Rowell's (which was originally film), I wonder if these brilliant scenes would eventually be too much as a print on a wall?

Another way to express this concept is fractals. Landscape studies have shown that an intermediate level of complexity is more appealing that either too simplistic or overly crowded, detailed scenes. Perhaps the appeal of black and white is that one element, color, is removed to that the composition can be accentuated.

Question:  which camera would be the ideal for landscape photography, all else equal (that means we are not figuring size, weight, price, and other operational considerations into the decision):

  • 6 MP
  • 12 MP
  • 18 MP
  • 24 MP
  • 36 MP
  • 35mm Film
  • Medium Format Film
  • Large Format Film

Of course this depends upon the size of printing. I have gotten spectacular photos with my Oly e five (12 mp), various SHF lenses, and using genuine fractuals to pixel up. My style of photos is to emphasize a few themes, such as an interesting fore or mid ground, with detail in the background. One might think of these as environmental portraits. I have toyed with the idea of a Nikon 800 or a medium format camera, but can't really justify the expense giving my style of photography. I might tend to stitch together several photos if I wanted something larger.  Of course, I would like to have a sensor with more dynamic range and low light/action capabilities, but that I reserve for the OMD.

Good photographs, as "art", should be somewhat stylistic/impressionistic/symbolic that leaves a little imagination for the particular viewer.  With too much detail and clutter, one cannot see the forest for the trees.  Or perhaps showing just a few trees is more effective than a whole forest. This is not to say that detail isn't important in some parts of the photo.

So, for example, you are saying landscape photos are best taken at wide apertures where portions will be outside the DOF, or very narrow apertures, where diffraction will soften the whole photo?

No, not for me. I simplify/reduce fractal dimension through other methods. To date, I haven't done much wide open/shallow depth of field photography.  I may in the future, but as a biologist/naturalist, I aim to depict realism in nature through composition, play of light, and color. In other words, simplicity can be achieved through more than one approach.

Is too much dynamic range also contributing to a digital look? Is lifting too much shadow giving a flat look to photos?

Just because you can push the shadows does not mean you should.  Just because you can shoot wide open doesn't mean you should.  Just because you can stop down to f/22 doesn't mean you should.  This is not a digital vs film thing.

You might be right: digital photography just gives one the option of going many directions, depending upon the purpose.

Again, thanks all for your many insightful comments.  JEFF

Thanks!

Thank you!

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ROC124
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Fine Examples, and Thanks
In reply to Great Bustard, May 25, 2013

Nice range of examples with wide aperture. You clearly have a good eye. I haven't directly and systematically compared the effects of small aperture diffraction vs. large aperture/shallow dof softening, so thanks for your observations.

Thanks for starting the thread; it generated a good many insightful and helpful comments. Thanks also for the compliments on my galleries. All thoughtful comments pro or con are appreciated; improvement is a never-ending challenge.

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Jeff
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great thread!
In reply to Great Bustard, May 25, 2013

Now that this conversation seems to be winding down, let me say this was one of the most interesting and provocative (in the good way!) threads I've witnessed on DPR.

Thank you, GB. This is how it is done.

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Brev00
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Re: I would like to discuss the aesthetics of photography...
In reply to Great Bustard, May 25, 2013

Great Bustard wrote:

...based on this post:

http://www.dpreview.com/forums/post/51516317

Particularly, this paragraph, and particularly the portion I highlighted in bold:

I had a recent (very successful!) gallery show of prints up to 20"x30" from the E-3. Got many comments about how "natural" the prints looked. Several people said they didn't realize at first they were photographs. They used terms such as "relaxed, smooth and inviting" to describe them. Several, including other photographers, thought they were from film, though the photographers said they were puzzled by the lack of film grain. They were surprised to hear they were digital. Several, including buyers, said they generally don't like prints from digital cameras because they are too "self-conscious" in that they have too much unnecessary detail, too obviously photographic, and too unpleasant to live with on the wall, even if initially striking.

What do people think?  It's a very interesting observation, in my opinion.

I get the feeling from this quote that the buyers are not referring to all digital photography but a type of digital photography that they have grown to dislike.  Not knowing other types of digital photography, they developed a bias from some negative experiences and expect all digital photography to be this way.  What way this is exactly is not really described in detail and I have a sense we may be jumping to conclusions as to what these people do not like.  It may not be sharpness or detail, per se, but a sense of clutter and poorly composed details.  Perhaps they have seen some overly processed hdr's or other types of images that are heightened and saturated so as to break the connection with reality.  It can be difficult for me to let the image speak for itself without adding too much stuff.   I am just guessing that it is not digital photography they object to, but overly processed versions of it.  The op presented natural images processed with a light touch and received praise as film-worthy, high praise from these folks.

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Great Bustard
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Re: I would like to discuss the aesthetics of photography...
In reply to Brev00, May 25, 2013

Brev00 wrote:

Great Bustard wrote:

...based on this post:

http://www.dpreview.com/forums/post/51516317

Particularly, this paragraph, and particularly the portion I highlighted in bold:

I had a recent (very successful!) gallery show of prints up to 20"x30" from the E-3. Got many comments about how "natural" the prints looked. Several people said they didn't realize at first they were photographs. They used terms such as "relaxed, smooth and inviting" to describe them. Several, including other photographers, thought they were from film, though the photographers said they were puzzled by the lack of film grain. They were surprised to hear they were digital. Several, including buyers, said they generally don't like prints from digital cameras because they are too "self-conscious" in that they have too much unnecessary detail, too obviously photographic, and too unpleasant to live with on the wall, even if initially striking.

What do people think?  It's a very interesting observation, in my opinion.

I get the feeling from this quote that the buyers are not referring to all digital photography but a type of digital photography that they have grown to dislike.

Were that the case, then I'd have understood completely.

Not knowing other types of digital photography, they developed a bias from some negative experiences and expect all digital photography to be this way.

Except these were people browsing a gallery show of prints, and buying them.  You'd expect that they had quite a lot of experience in the matter.

What way this is exactly is not really described in detail and I have a sense we may be jumping to conclusions as to what these people do not like.  It may not be sharpness or detail, per se, but a sense of clutter and poorly composed details.  Perhaps they have seen some overly processed hdr's or other types of images that are heightened and saturated so as to break the connection with reality.

Again, what galleries are these people frequenting that these are the types of photos they're used to and have forged their stated opinion on digital?

It can be difficult for me to let the image speak for itself without adding too much stuff.   I am just guessing that it is not digital photography they object to, but overly processed versions of it.

One would hope.  Then again, Ansel Adam's processing was far from light.

The op presented natural images processed with a light touch and received praise as film-worthy, high praise from these folks.

The implication being that the majority of digital photos displayed in galleries are "excessively" processed, which has not been my experience at all.

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Great Bustard
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Re: great thread!
In reply to Jeff, May 25, 2013

Jeff wrote:

Now that this conversation seems to be winding down, let me say this was one of the most interesting and provocative (in the good way!) threads I've witnessed on DPR.

Thank you, GB. This is how it is done.

Kind of you to say!  However, a great deal of the credit, if not the majority, must go to Robert Cole (ROC124) who's post inspired this thread.  And not just his initial post, but his additional posts in this thread.

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Great Bustard
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Re: Fine Examples, and Thanks
In reply to ROC124, May 25, 2013

ROC124 wrote:

Nice range of examples with wide aperture. You clearly have a good eye.

I have an eye for knowing which photos to post, and which photos not to post. 

I haven't directly and systematically compared the effects of small aperture diffraction vs. large aperture/shallow dof softening, so thanks for your observations.

I have to say that I've not done narrow aperture photography myself, due not merely to the effect of diffraction softening, but also due to the lower shutter speed which would require the use of a tripod much of the time.

Thanks for starting the thread; it generated a good many insightful and helpful comments. Thanks also for the compliments on my galleries. All thoughtful comments pro or con are appreciated; improvement is a never-ending challenge.

I very much appreciate your post that inspired this thread, as well as your subsequent comments in this thread.  Cheers!

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David Hull
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Re: I would like to discuss the aesthetics of photography...
In reply to Great Bustard, May 25, 2013

Great Bustard wrote:

...based on this post:

http://www.dpreview.com/forums/post/51516317

Particularly, this paragraph, and particularly the portion I highlighted in bold:

I had a recent (very successful!) gallery show of prints up to 20"x30" from the E-3. Got many comments about how "natural" the prints looked. Several people said they didn't realize at first they were photographs. They used terms such as "relaxed, smooth and inviting" to describe them. Several, including other photographers, thought they were from film, though the photographers said they were puzzled by the lack of film grain. They were surprised to hear they were digital. Several, including buyers, said they generally don't like prints from digital cameras because they are too "self-conscious" in that they have too much unnecessary detail, too obviously photographic, and too unpleasant to live with on the wall, even if initially striking.

What do people think?  It's a very interesting observation, in my opinion.

But, I think it is hardly a new one... Didn't we fight this battle (or something quite similar) 100 years ago with the protagonists being the likes of Group f64 and the pictorialists (represented perhaps by the Brotherhood of the linked ring in the UK , Photo-Secession in the US)?

Whether or not detail "works" or not depends on the photograph it would have been nice to be able to look at the images being discussed.

Your quote reminds me a bit of the things you read in Stereophile Magazene (and elsewhere) regarding the  warmth, beauty and "truth" of a good vinyl recording that is somehow lost in the digital process.  I think that your paragraph comes close to the photographic equivalent.

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Alleg1
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Re: I would like to discuss the aesthetics of photography...
In reply to Great Bustard, May 25, 2013

Great Bustard wrote:

...based on this post:

http://www.dpreview.com/forums/post/51516317

Particularly, this paragraph, and particularly the portion I highlighted in bold:

I had a recent (very successful!) gallery show of prints up to 20"x30" from the E-3. Got many comments about how "natural" the prints looked. Several people said they didn't realize at first they were photographs. They used terms such as "relaxed, smooth and inviting" to describe them. Several, including other photographers, thought they were from film, though the photographers said they were puzzled by the lack of film grain. They were surprised to hear they were digital. Several, including buyers, said they generally don't like prints from digital cameras because they are too "self-conscious" in that they have too much unnecessary detail, too obviously photographic, and too unpleasant to live with on the wall, even if initially striking.

What do people think?  It's a very interesting observation, in my opinion.

Apologies if I'm repeating other comments, I've not read all of the previous posts,

but in my opinion,  what may appeal about traditional  prints from film is that they do seem to be a little softer/smoother than those from digital sources.

As you and others have suggested, digital images can appear "artificial" especially if oversharpened, which many seem to be.

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Jack Hogan
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In reply to d3xmeister, May 25, 2013

d3xmeister wrote:

They all thought it looked wonderful and they used it for the movie. How can this be ? The 5D Mark II barely make it to true 720p.

Don't want to spoil the touchy-feely mood so I will not be providing proof, but for people who have no better than 20/20 vision and view an image at no closer than 'standard' distance (its diagonal), all our lowly visual system can resolve in a 1:1.5 format is about 1600x2400 circles of confusion (call them pixels): that's about 4MP

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ROC124
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Re: I would like to discuss the aesthetics of photography...
In reply to Brev00, May 25, 2013

Brev00 wrote:

I get the feeling from this quote that the buyers are not referring to all digital photography but a type of digital photography that they have grown to dislike.  Not knowing other types of digital photography, they developed a bias from some negative experiences and expect all digital photography to be this way.  What way this is exactly is not really described in detail and I have a sense we may be jumping to conclusions as to what these people do not like.  It may not be sharpness or detail, per se, but a sense of clutter and poorly composed details.  Perhaps they have seen some overly processed hdr's or other types of images that are heightened and saturated so as to break the connection with reality.  It can be difficult for me to let the image speak for itself without adding too much stuff.   I am just guessing that it is not digital photography they object to, but overly processed versions of it.  The op presented natural images processed with a light touch and received praise as film-worthy, high praise from these folks.

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I think this is exactly right. The same folks might have different comments in a larger market with more diversity of photographic styles available. OTOH they might be responding to the huge number of digital images around today, not just those in galleries, many of which have been heavily processed in some way, whether through Instagram, in-camera "Art" filters, background textures or just highly saturated OOC jpegs. Just my view, but it seems like these techniques are often used to disguise  inherently mediocre images.

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KLO82
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Re: I would like to discuss the aesthetics of photography...
In reply to Great Bustard, May 25, 2013

In case of movies, IMHO too much details/ resolution distract from the story and emotions. But what do I know? Movie makers find 720p insufficient and are going for 4k, 8k etc. Personally, I find anything above 480p/ 720p unnecessary and distracting.

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Brev00
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Re: I would like to discuss the aesthetics of photography...
In reply to Great Bustard, May 25, 2013

Great Bustard wrote:

Brev00 wrote:

Great Bustard wrote:

...based on this post:

http://www.dpreview.com/forums/post/51516317

Particularly, this paragraph, and particularly the portion I highlighted in bold:

I had a recent (very successful!) gallery show of prints up to 20"x30" from the E-3. Got many comments about how "natural" the prints looked. Several people said they didn't realize at first they were photographs. They used terms such as "relaxed, smooth and inviting" to describe them. Several, including other photographers, thought they were from film, though the photographers said they were puzzled by the lack of film grain. They were surprised to hear they were digital. Several, including buyers, said they generally don't like prints from digital cameras because they are too "self-conscious" in that they have too much unnecessary detail, too obviously photographic, and too unpleasant to live with on the wall, even if initially striking.

What do people think?  It's a very interesting observation, in my opinion.

I get the feeling from this quote that the buyers are not referring to all digital photography but a type of digital photography that they have grown to dislike.

Were that the case, then I'd have understood completely.

Not knowing other types of digital photography, they developed a bias from some negative experiences and expect all digital photography to be this way.

Except these were people browsing a gallery show of prints, and buying them.  You'd expect that they had quite a lot of experience in the matter.

What way this is exactly is not really described in detail and I have a sense we may be jumping to conclusions as to what these people do not like.  It may not be sharpness or detail, per se, but a sense of clutter and poorly composed details.  Perhaps they have seen some overly processed hdr's or other types of images that are heightened and saturated so as to break the connection with reality.

Again, what galleries are these people frequenting that these are the types of photos they're used to and have forged their stated opinion on digital?

It can be difficult for me to let the image speak for itself without adding too much stuff.   I am just guessing that it is not digital photography they object to, but overly processed versions of it.

One would hope.  Then again, Ansel Adam's processing was far from light.

The op presented natural images processed with a light touch and received praise as film-worthy, high praise from these folks.

The implication being that the majority of digital photos displayed in galleries are "excessively" processed, which has not been my experience at all.

not your experience--exactly my point.  Our eyes are guided by our preconceived notions formed by our experiences and later justified by the resulting myopia.  Self-fulfilling prophecies, if you will, and the desire to always be right.  Just normal human behavior.  All they needed was one exposure to some overly saturated, busy digital prints and a lovely discussion over tea afterwards and that might have set the bias firmly in place.  A bias with group agreement is pretty strong stuff.Trying to open each other's eyes to some small degree is called teaching, a noble if usually frustrating endeavor.  You have taught these people something which may carry over to the next set of images they see.  If they are overwrought, their eyes may snap back to the previous bias.

I can see how their bias may have formed.  But, there are so many wonderful digital images (okay, way outnumbered by the not so wonderful), that, hopefully, I learn something new every day.

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jcharding
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Have you seen the iPhone camera commecial
In reply to Great Bustard, May 25, 2013

Google iPhone camera commercial and you will find it.

Ignoring the technical merits of the iPhone camera, the commercial IMHO perfectly capture a great deal of the photographic arts - that ultimately photography is about either capturing moments (magical moments sometimes) or emotion/story telling - and preferably both.  It is about the photo capturing his/her emotions and thoughts, and if well done conveying those to others.  It is about composition, not dynamic range or megapixels.

All too often on these forums we get into holy wars about mirrorless or full frame, depth of field, equivalence, high ISO, dynamic range, or whatever, and we utterly ignore that first and foremost photography is about composition, emotion and conveyance of those things.  All of these things have some importance, but ultimately all of these things and indeed your initial query regarding too much detail all are unimportant when compared to composition, emotion, story-telling and conveyance to the viewer.

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In reply to ROC124, May 25, 2013

Easy to separate other photographers from potential buyers at the galleries: the photographers have their faces close to the prints looking at the details, and potential buyers are standing back looking at the whole image!

not just photographers---painters with paintings and sculptors with sculptures, too.  I take close focus binoculars with me to museums.  I get some weird looks, but I'm fixin to buy these : http://www.johnmuirlaws.com/store/pentax-papilio-close-focus-8-5x21-binoculars

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Well, a distinction needs to be made between aesthetics....
In reply to Great Bustard, May 25, 2013

....and taste alone.  Aesthetics includes taste, usually capital T taste, but has other components that are more objective and quantifiable.

Much of what the original referenced comment(s) seems to me to have to do with were taste (small t) considerations.

The larger question of what constitutes a set of aesthetics for photography as a medium distinct from all the other visual arts is sort of an interesting one----was definitely interesting about 40 years ago. In 2013, an age of mixed media, mash-ups, and meta everything maybe the discussion is displaced a bit into another one with a wider scope?  Is an aesthetic discussion about photography qua photography a little quaint now?  Not that we shouldn't do it....

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RoelHendrickx
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I'm bookmarking this now for further reading
In reply to Great Bustard, May 25, 2013

Great Bustard wrote:

Jeff wrote:

Now that this conversation seems to be winding down, let me say this was one of the most interesting and provocative (in the good way!) threads I've witnessed on DPR.

Thank you, GB. This is how it is done.

Kind of you to say!  However, a great deal of the credit, if not the majority, must go to Robert Cole (ROC124) who's post inspired this thread.  And not just his initial post, but his additional posts in this thread.

I thought the OP was provocative (in the good sense of the word : thought-provoking).

And I want to take my time to read through responses when I am at my leisure.

My personal experience is that the average viewer does not give a damn about an image being produced from a digital file or from a frame of film (negative or slide).  Heck, the average viewer does not care either which camera an image is made with.

Images create a connection (an emotional or aesthetic or cerebral response) or they don't. And that is it.

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panos_m
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Re: I would like to discuss the aesthetics of photography...
In reply to Great Bustard, May 25, 2013

Great Bustard wrote:

...based on this post:

http://www.dpreview.com/forums/post/51516317

Particularly, this paragraph, and particularly the portion I highlighted in bold:

I had a recent (very successful!) gallery show of prints up to 20"x30" from the E-3. Got many comments about how "natural" the prints looked. Several people said they didn't realize at first they were photographs. They used terms such as "relaxed, smooth and inviting" to describe them. Several, including other photographers, thought they were from film, though the photographers said they were puzzled by the lack of film grain. They were surprised to hear they were digital. Several, including buyers, said they generally don't like prints from digital cameras because they are too "self-conscious" in that they have too much unnecessary detail, too obviously photographic, and too unpleasant to live with on the wall, even if initially striking.

What do people think?  It's a very interesting observation, in my opinion.

When I first read the OP an interview of French director Jean Renoir came to my mind. That is why I made earlier a comment about realism. Now that I read the other responses I don't know if it's relevant but I link it here because he had a very interesting opinion about the technical progress in art and maybe the participants here may find it thought provoking:

Jean Renoir - Parle De Son Art (part 1)

Jean Renoir - Parle De Son Art (part 2)

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PeterJon
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Re: Have you seen the iPhone camera commecial
In reply to jcharding, May 25, 2013

jcharding wrote:

Google iPhone camera commercial and you will find it.

Ignoring the technical merits of the iPhone camera, the commercial IMHO perfectly capture a great deal of the photographic arts - that ultimately photography is about either capturing moments (magical moments sometimes) or emotion/story telling - and preferably both.  It is about the photo capturing his/her emotions and thoughts, and if well done conveying those to others.  It is about composition, not dynamic range or megapixels.

All too often on these forums we get into holy wars about mirrorless or full frame, depth of field, equivalence, high ISO, dynamic range, or whatever, and we utterly ignore that first and foremost photography is about composition, emotion and conveyance of those things.  All of these things have some importance, but ultimately all of these things and indeed your initial query regarding too much detail all are unimportant when compared to composition, emotion, story-telling and conveyance to the viewer.

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Completely agree.  My experience with (looking at) photography is from NYC museums and galleries, which show work that purports to be fine art.  Like the photo above from the ICP.  (Not sure how old it is, what technology was used.  Honestly I don't love the photo but it helps make my point.)  Clearly most of this work is about composition, story, cultural phenomena etc...  That highly detailed "digital look" would be a distraction if not properly contained.  "IQ" is just not the point.

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GaryW
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Re: It's the way of digital
In reply to Lumixdude, May 25, 2013

Lumixdude wrote:

...It reminds me of the story of the reference speakers when it comes to producing sound, put a good pair of reference speakers next to the average person and they'll think the sound coming out of them is garbage, but that's because most people aren't prepared to do the work to get the sound of the speakers that they're capable of.

You have a lot of systems that boost the bass and treble to try to get a "good" sound.  A good system sounds good completely neutral.  I have an EQ, but I don't bother using it, as it's pretty smooth already.

Most people aren't prepared to play around with a parametric EQ... Well the same can be said of digital photos, most people aren't prepared to go to the lengths of extracting the best possible image out of the histogram. They want the cheap fix and so we see people complaining about the nature of digital.

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