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Thread: Are we training ourselves to be "distracted"?

  1. #1
    terrib's Avatar
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    Are we training ourselves to be "distracted"?

    I am a relative newbie to evaluating images. It seems one of the most common comments that people make in C&C is to say something like "that piece of grass" or "that bit of light" or whatever "distracts" me. And then we all proceed to figure out how it can be cloned out or cropped out, etc.

    Now, I'm not trying to rehash the argument of PP vs good initial composition. But I am wondering if because we can do so much in PP these days, if we are training ourselves to be distracted by things that we wouldn't normally be bothered by. I know I am inexperienced but so many times, I, the viewer, am not distracted by things that you guys point out. (I am referring to when I am viewing other people's work, not trying to evaluate my own). If the subject is clearly defined, is interesting to me and has sharp focus then those bits of grass around the edges don't bother me a bit... at least not yet.

    Were the pros in the film days this picky?

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    Susana's Avatar
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    Re: Are we training ourselves to be "distracted"?

    It's funny that you just posted this because just this morning I was comparing one of my images (I'm at work now so can't post it) with the images in Brenda Tharp's book "Creative Nature and Outdoor Photography" and trying to figure out if she had any bits and pieces of branches in her compositions that don't belong, and she most definitely doesn't, so I came to the conclusion that either she moves things around onsite, or she clones it out in PP or she is incredibly lucky. I can most definitely say that I have never come across a composition that was perfect without any strenuous bits.

    BUT, I have to say that these bits bother me now and they didn't before. I also can say that when I started taking pictures my brother would quickly glance and say "your horizon is crooked" and then refuse to comment any further. It used to really bother me that it bothered him so much that he didn't care about the rest of it, but now if I see a crooked horizon it really bothers me even if it's off just a tiny bit. So not sure I'm answering your question but I think awareness is built little by little and some of us will notice different things and different things will seem jarring in a composition depending on where we are at.

    I also think it's a lot easier to see those jarring bits on someone else's image because your image is your own and you see what you think you saw, not necessarily exactly what's in front of you and someone else might notice a tiny bit of a branch or whatever that you just didn't notice at all.

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    Re: Are we training ourselves to be "distracted"?

    A long time and extremely competent worker who must have been going in film days explained to us that a pair of scissors was essential equipment for a photographer working where grass was to be encountered

    I question your use of the word 'pro' in the question. Because some of the best photographers I know are amateurs and when working I came across some pretty incompetent pro's with limited experience.

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    Re: Are we training ourselves to be "distracted"?

    You make some good points, Terri. As we become more critical during the post-processing phase of creating an image, part of that critique involves becoming more discriminant about what we like and dislike. That aspect, in turn, involves becoming more knowledgeable about what we like and dislike. That's taste and it's understandable that our taste may or may not change over time, depending on our experiences.

    You asked if pros during the film days were so picky. Ansel Adams, as an example, is noted for scouring every square inch of a really large print and working in the darkroom until he got everything just the way he wanted it. Many of the accomplished pros today using digital sensors were equally accomplished using film before digital photography offered the quality that it provides today. They were no less discriminating using film than using digital photography.

    One mistake I think a lot of people make today is that their sense of what they like is developed viewing only photos that were made recently. To have a fully informed opinion about what we like and dislike, I think it behooves us to review at least the widely recognized photographers, if not the less well known photographers, going all the way back to the birth of photography. That's close to 200 years of photography. Once we do that, we appreciate the changes in both culture and technology that affect the general quality and style of photographs being made over time.

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    Re: Are we training ourselves to be "distracted"?

    Hi Terri, you raise a very valid point. I do feel that the film professional photographers were as concerned about getting the image exactly the way they wanted it but without the benefit of digital post processing, when they didn't get it right in-camera, it meant hours of airbrush work on the negative.

    Many years ago, a commercial film photographer friend of mine was berated by an advertiser for having an outstanding image of a model in a cashmere sweater that had to be excessively airbrushed, almost to the point of not using the image at all, just because there were some stray hairs on the sweater!

    Today, there is still a strong emphasis on getting the image right in-camera and the professionals still take hours in some cases, just to get a single image. Some will wait for weeks or even entire seasons just to get the conditions they seek for an image. Even the most meticulous photographers miss details and there are times when they must sacrifice the details in order to get the fleeting image.

    What about the typical CiC Forum photographer? For most of us, this is a hobby. Many of us shoot for the pure pleasure of producing a pleasing image.

    Most of us can more easily (more affordably?) take a few minutes to adjust the color balance or clone out an offending object than to spend hours behind the lens waiting for just the right clouds and lighting, or using a soft brush and tweezers to clean up the area around a macro shot.

    We are all trying to improve our photography, even if we aren’t all required to make a living at it and what may be a fantastic image for one may still have room for improvement for another.

    Perhaps we are too distracted in some cases by minor things for some viewers to consider but the fact that someone has taken the time and effort to thoughtfully consider the image and provide hopefully helpful feedback is an indication that it is an issue worth considering by some of the viewers.

    I may not apply all the recommendations I get for my images but I certainly welcome all of the suggestions and feedback I receive.

    And as always, I hope this helps.
    Last edited by FrankMi; 22nd August 2012 at 04:05 PM.

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    Re: Are we training ourselves to be "distracted"?

    Aesthetic judgments are subject to fashion, and styles come and go all the time.

    Professional photography is driven by market forces, especially the needs of advertisers for pictures of their products, and the needs of print media picture editors who are in the business of selling audiences to advertisers. Here you will find a lot of talk about the 'wow' factor, where an image jumps out to grab the attention of consumers.

    Photographers are also employed in the social marketing of cultural products, such as weddings, where the photographer not only presents the event in the most optimistic colours, ignoring the rat already gnawing at the pillars of the wedding cake, but even stage-manages parts of the event itself, shepherding participants into socially defined groups in which all will enjoy saying cheese. As with the photography of corporate jollies, a realist documentary style will get you no further orders.

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    Re: Are we training ourselves to be "distracted"?

    Well Terri, I would say "kinda sorta" to that ;-)

    One sure thing about drawing people's attention to 'distracting' aspects of their photos, and suggesting ways that these 'defects' can be fixed with post processing: given the difficulty of retouching such photos effectively, I am sure this has driven many a novice photographer to vow that, in future, they will look carefully before capturing an image and take the time to remove those offending twigs and blades of grass BEFORE they ever approach the post processing stage!

    I very rarely try and remove 'distracting' elements from my photographs; which is not to say that I don't often see things I wish I had noticed when I was taking capturing images. Instead, what I usually do is to take time while framing my composition to make sure my foreground is nicely placed against, and relative to, the available background; and then I take a moment after framing my composition to remove any twigs and sticks or blades of grass (particularly the blurry ones that are too close to the camera and that I might not notice at first when framing the shot) that pull the eye in ways other than the composition I intend should be directing the viewer's attention.

    For instance, sometimes when taking a portrait kind of shot outdoors, shifting one's position just ever so slightly can change the background from something that the person's face almost disappears into, to something which makes their face clearly the center of attention. Or, perhaps the difference might be between something that would be very difficult to edit separately from the face (something of somewhat the same color or luminosity) and something that would allow one to easily do selective 'touch ups' to the face without affecting the background very much.

    This cuts down immensely on the amount of post processing needed. You are right, though, to question all of this; it is all too often an assumption in photography that distractions need to be eliminated from images. On the one hand, it can and does make composition stronger; on the other hand, it makes the image a little less 'real'; so there can be a balancing act there that photographers maybe should consider more closely.

    Another consideration is, what about elements that seem at first to be extraneous but which were included by the photographer specifically because of the way in which they draw the eye? A prime example would be objects included in the foreground of a landscape just because they 'anchor' the eye within image, or draw the eye into the composition. Learning what works as a detail in photographs can be as important as seeing what doesn't belong; and again that is a balancing act where we have to question ourselves as photographers about what we like to see and why we prefer to see something in one way rather than another.

    So I would say that it is a valid exercise to question the elements that make up an image; but necessarily just because things should be excluded which inevitably make their way into our photographs. You are perfectly correct to ask this question, Terri, and I think that we could all polish our photographic skills a little bit more by considering this matter a little more deeply!
    Last edited by John Morton; 22nd August 2012 at 05:33 PM.

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    Re: Are we training ourselves to be "distracted"?

    Quote Originally Posted by Susana View Post
    It's funny that you just posted this because just this morning I was comparing one of my images (I'm at work now so can't post it) with the images in Brenda Tharp's book "Creative Nature and Outdoor Photography" and trying to figure out if she had any bits and pieces of branches in her compositions that don't belong, and she most definitely doesn't, so I came to the conclusion that either she moves things around onsite, or she clones it out in PP or she is incredibly lucky. I can most definitely say that I have never come across a composition that was perfect without any strenuous bits.

    BUT, I have to say that these bits bother me now and they didn't before. I also can say that when I started taking pictures my brother would quickly glance and say "your horizon is crooked" and then refuse to comment any further. It used to really bother me that it bothered him so much that he didn't care about the rest of it, but now if I see a crooked horizon it really bothers me even if it's off just a tiny bit. So not sure I'm answering your question but I think awareness is built little by little and some of us will notice different things and different things will seem jarring in a composition depending on where we are at.

    I also think it's a lot easier to see those jarring bits on someone else's image because your image is your own and you see what you think you saw, not necessarily exactly what's in front of you and someone else might notice a tiny bit of a branch or whatever that you just didn't notice at all.
    I am in total agreement with you, Susana. Crooked horizons, or anything out of kilter bother the heck out of me now. I can relate to what Terri is saying. I find myself really analyzing everything in every shot I make, which I guess is a good thing, right? Becoming aware of what others see in a photograph helps ME improve, or so I hope. Slowly but surely, I am becoming more cognizant of each aspect in any photo I take. Having read several books on composition and exposure has also helped me see more than I used to see back in the film days. Then I was happy to have a photo that was in focus...lol. Looking back at some of my old prints, they look a lot less appealing due to little things like leaves and branches..and the every present spot of light that is in the wrong place. GRRRRR..... Oh well, we just have to keep learning and practicing.

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    Moderator Donald's Avatar
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    Re: Are we training ourselves to be "distracted"?

    A fascinating topic and well done to Terri for asking the question.

    I think John's final paragraph encapsulates what, so far has been a highly informed, objective and sensible discussion (that's why i stick around in CiC)

    Quote Originally Posted by John Morton View Post
    So I would say that it is a valid exercise to question the elements that make up an image; but necessarily just because things should be excluded which inevitably make their way into our photographs. You are perfectly correct to ask this question, Terri, and I think that we could all polish our photographic skills a little bit more by considering this matter a little more deeply!
    There is one additional 'element' I'd throw into the mix.

    The development of technology has afforded so many more people to become not only photographers, but through forums such as this, to become critics. Now, I believe that that, in itself is a good thing ........ if we all retain critical faculties and don't all follow 'fashion' or start repeating what others who we respect have said. we must always be able to make our own mind up about something and be content to express that, albeit it is done in a constructive way. It is also the case that in our development we will 'borrow' from what others have said.

    The point behind this is that I wonder if sometimes we apply 'rules' or pre-conceived notions and if the thing we are observing transgresses from those 'rules' then it must be deficient. In other words, and to use the example first offered by Terri, if we have taken on board, through reading other comments, that 'that piece of grass' is not correct, then we apply that same judgement to every such 'piece of grass' that we see. That we don't critically appraise each work on its own merits.

    I can well envisage images in which 'that piece of grass' is indeed just 'wrong' and shouldn't have been in the composition. But in another image it may be right and add a balance or point of interest that just carries the image.

    So, yes, I think there is an argument to suggest that we sometimes do display a learning trait that leads us to consider that we are distracted. Critical appraisal is all.

    But, in my view, none of the above should be considered as a counter argument to all the points made above. It is the over-riding responsibility of the person making the image to be its harshest critic and to create a work that is not full of distractions that create imbalance or a lack of harmony. That is achieved through work that is done with the camera in hand and at the stage of processing either the film or the digital file.

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    Re: Are we training ourselves to be "distracted"?

    I think that we now have forums like this to comment on photography, thus we have perhaps become a bit more critical. Or perhaps we were always as critial but didn't really have anywhere to voice our criticisms.

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    Re: Are we training ourselves to be "distracted"?

    For better and worse, the answer is yes.

    Better because it's worthwhile to pay attention to even the small details, if you are the creator.

    Worse, because the small details are, well, small. Dwelling on them too much as a viewer can prevent appreciation of an otherwise strong image.

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    Re: Are we training ourselves to be "distracted"?

    I'm old enough to have learned photography using film and routine darkroom techniques. While dodging and burning were comfortably within the reach of any B&W photographer, even simple removal of unwanted objects with opaquing was an art that almost no-one was able to do without making the image a lot worse.

    ISTM that a lot of our increased standards reflect the fact that any fool can do a quite creditable job of post-processing most aspects of a digital photo, and it's just laziness that would keep him from doing it. If I am asked to critique a photo that shows such sloth, I am not inclined to be charitable -- if the photographer doesn't show me the courtesy of spending five minutes to make his work presentable, why should I show him the courtesy of dancing around his feelings?

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    Re: Are we training ourselves to be "distracted"?

    So many thoughtful responses. I love this forum.

    I've said in other threads but want to reiterate that I do believe as John and others have pointed out - that these critiques, if nothing else, cause us to evaluate more fully in the field to get the best composition we can. This is a very good thing and I for one appreciate every single comment and would not wish to indicate otherwise. I think as we progress, we learn to make purposeful decisions about how our photo is presented.

    Quote Originally Posted by Donald View Post
    The point behind this is that I wonder if sometimes we apply 'rules' or pre-conceived notions and if the thing we are observing transgresses from those 'rules' then it must be deficient. In other words, and to use the example first offered by Terri, if we have taken on board, through reading other comments, that 'that piece of grass' is not correct, then we apply that same judgement to every such 'piece of grass' that we see. That we don't critically appraise each work on its own merits.
    Donald, you said it much better than I did!

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    Re: Are we training ourselves to be "distracted"?

    Quote Originally Posted by Donald View Post
    if we have taken on board, through reading other comments, that [fill in the blank]
    It's really important that each of us recognizes the potential for a forum such as this one to develop group think and that we avoid it. Photography is a creative process and group think is the bane of creativity.

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    Re: Are we training ourselves to be "distracted"?

    Quote Originally Posted by Mike Buckley View Post
    It's really important that each of us recognizes the potential for a forum such as this one to develop group think and that we avoid it. Photography is a creative process and group think is the bane of creativity.
    I agree that the tendency to 'group think' should be avoided, but it should also be recognized that this type of forum also produces a 'think tank' environment where suggestions can stimulate folks to contribute creative ideas that might not have been considered in isolation.

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    Re: Are we training ourselves to be "distracted"?

    Terri - Donald’s comment is very much in line with my own thoughts. Technology has enabled us to improve our work to a point that was simply not achievable before the popularization of cost-effective digital hardware and software. As with many other examples with technology rolling out to the masses, the base expectations have gone up. What was state of the art yesterday is quite ordinary today. I recently looked at a book of Ernst Haas’s work that absolutely thrilled me when I first looked at it when I first got into photography many years ago. His pioneering work now looks rather ordinary and dated.

    When I take pictures, I do remove stray blades of grass, move chairs and pluck offending leaves from flowers. Correcting the shot before it is taken is usually much more effective that dealing with it in post. Unfortunately, my brain /eye coordination is not perfect and I certainly do find I have missed things during composition that need to be fixed in post. Other times, there are things in the image that I know I will have to get rid of later on (electrical wires tend to be the worst offenders and are hard to move


    So how does this all relate to that blade of grass that is out of place? Whenever I look at an image, I start fresh, looking at the overall composition. After that I will delve a bit deeper, looking at distracting elements. If there is an element that my eyes keep jumping to, and it is not the subject of the image, it likely should not be there, but if it does not, then it either adds to the image, or worst case is neutral to the overall effect. I tend to be a very harsh critic of my own work but tend to treat the work of others a bit more gently.

    We photographers more picky in the film days; I think the answer is yes. Most PP in the film darkroom days tended to be cropping, dodging and burning; a rather limited set of tools. Shots weren’t “free”; a roll of 36 shots cost money to process, so I would not work a shot nearly as much as I do today. I certainly did not work a shot nearly as much as I do today; I couldn’t afford to. That being said, I think I am a much better photographer than I was, because I can afford to bracket and work a scene, but often find that my first shot of the scene is often my best.

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    Re: Are we training ourselves to be "distracted"?

    I know what you mean and I think might be a more American phenom. Like with models in magazines. We (women anyway) hold themselves to this image which is insane. Especially when we know the picture of the model as been PP.

    I've gotten to the point that I hate posed pictures of any kind. I want to see the people's faces and expressions as they are when they are engaging in life. I want to see pets that aren't groomed and rooms that aren't prepared for Architect's Digest.

    I think it's easier because I file everything I do under "art" --in which the rule is to break rules. So, it's easier for people to accept imperfection or strangeness. Photography replaced the portraiture and landscape artist who were commissioned to recreate reality for their patrons. Important people had to have their likeness documented for history and their own self-gratification. Homes and buildings had to be documented for the same reason. So, you'd think people would want photography to mimic reality --but old portrait arts tweaked things as well, to please their patrons. But they don't, they don't want to be embarrassed by a mole on the face or a crack in the ceiling --all having to do with current social standards.

    Portraits of George Washington show him as a sloped shouldered, when in reality he was a bign srtrong man who broke and trained horses. But at that time in history, the well-to-do did not do physical labor and were show in portraits to be physical weaklings. go figure . . .

    So, in the end I think whether art or photography, it is something that has to please the viewer. It makes a difference if you are doing it for pleasure or for a business. Personally, I think perfection is boring.
    Last edited by ggt; 23rd August 2012 at 09:18 PM. Reason: mechanics

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