Real world landscape photography versus the ivory tower photo technicians

When you visit photography forums, especially the ones devoted to camera equipment, PLEASE, PLEASE PLEASE, dismiss ninety-percent of what you read as hokum.

I’ve been frequenting a few over the past few weeks as I waited for my new camera body to arrive. I was more curious about when customers were receiving them as they were in short supply than I was about the customers/photographers experience with them.

To read most of these websites you would think that photography was an exact science of modulation transfer functions, diffraction limits, etc. than it was about the actual act of creativity that is involved in taking a picture. Truthfully, I could still be shooting film with my old Canon Ftb and getting results that I like. Instead, today I have a state of the art digital camera with a lens that is far sharper and more corrected than ninety-nine point nine percent of us will ever need.

These websites are populated by the same kind of people that frequent sports discussion boards. They’re all expert managers and coaches. They all know what trade was effed up and what they would have done. My question is, if they’re all such experts why aren’t they practicing what they’re preaching?

It’s much the same with the photography. Put these “expert photographers” in the real world and let’s see where the chips fall. They’d have you believe that if you are capable of taking a technically excellent exposure that nothing else matters and judging by the photos that I’ve seen by some of these “photo experts”, sharpness is all that matters.

For example, one poster was asking how best to bracket their exposures to avoid mirror shake. Huh? Mirror shake? The last thing that I am concerned with while chasing a storm or a sunrise and looking for the best angle/light is how much my image will be degraded by mirror shake. If there’s any kind of detectable difference in image quality when I enlarge an image to 30 x 40 inches it can easily be fixed up however negligible it theoretically might be by sharpening it slightly in Photoshop.

You can use almost any kind of equipment you want to get great landscapes. An extreme example of how image quality is NOT what makes a photo great are the photos taken with old black and white film and cheap Soviet cameras with plastic lenses. In this case, the image degradation is desirable.

I think that when it comes to judging a photo, it’s ninety percent creativity and 10 percent technical quality.

Stats are for statisticians and not real world photographers.

Happy shooting,


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~ by Dan Jurak on July 9, 2012.

7 Responses to “Real world landscape photography versus the ivory tower photo technicians”

  1. If I’m looking at a photo and thinking “wow, that lens is sharp” or “those corners are a little soft” or “that slight “moustache” distortion is bothersome” – then it’s not an interesting photo. When I thnk of some great photos that I have viewed over the years, the technical merits never crossed my mind. I was reminded of that with a recent museum visit where I viewed examples of early photography by Stieglitz, Steichen, White, etc. and the technical merits of the photos would be criticized to no end in todays forums and blogs.

    Now I do like gear. I like to try new gear and see if it will work for my needs, which is more of a handling thing then the quest for ever greater quality, but I do that by just going out and using it for taking photos like I normally do, no 100% blowups of a streetlight or my cats eyelashes ( I don’t even have a cat). I am not a landscape photographer, I instead take pictures of old buildings and things and I will post photos on my blog and mention the fact that I was trying a new piece of gear. But most of my viewers don’t care about or even notice the technicalities, they just like the photography – much as I do when I visit here!

  2. I wonder if some of these photographers purposely over complicate photography to weed out the competition. If they focus on gear, some will avoid taking up photography because it is way too expensive for them. If they focus on the technical aspects, some will avoid taking up photography because it is too complicated. Who has the time to learn how to operate these expensive DSLR’s? There are a lot of people who are very artistic and creative but have been led astray by the idea that you have to spend thousands of dollars and spend countless hours with a manual to create frame worthy images. Your last statement sums it up nicely: A good photograph is 90% creativity and 10% technical quality.

  3. @ DGuidas, I agree. When I am looking at someone else’s photos, the last thing I am thinking about is what did he/she use to take that photo or is that pin cushion distortion I see?
    Well said.

  4. @ Andrew, I’m not sure if there is so much competition that some people purposely try to over complicate things. About learning to use an expensive DSLR, I don’t bother with 90 percent of what the other things the camera does. My needs are very simple and uncomplicated. For example, video, a complete waste for me. The same goes with all the various focusing methods. I don’t even use auto focus. LOL The emphasis SHOULD be on taking photos and being creative. Sadly, that seems to be lost on most websites.

  5. Agree wholeheartedly.. for me I want to look at photos that produce an emotional response, whatever the genre… and when I’m taking a photo I feel it as I see it..

  6. @ Helen, exactly.

  7. I think the three most important things, that make a good photo are good light, good light and good light.

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