Sometimes People Love The Subject, Not Your Photo - Digital Photography School

Sometimes People Love The Subject, Not Your Photo

"It's not me, it's the subject"

I admit to feeling like a fraud sometimes.

A fraud because I have people “ohhhh”ing and “ahhhh”ing over a photo of mine and when I sit back and look at it, I realize it’s not my photo skills they are astounded by, it’s the subject of the shot.

Yes, I was there and composed the shot, picked the subject matter and made sure the exposure was solid. I probably made a minor adjustment or two in Lightroom back in the office. I did have an influence on the outcome, that is for sure.

Yet, once in a while I honestly have to state, “It was Mother Nature (one of my favorite subjects) that really did all the work to make it that beautiful.” I do this because I feel like a fraud pawning off the sheer natural beauty of the scene as it was in front of me for something I created. Especially when I used no more skill than a well trained monkey would.

I bring this up to explain a phenomena novices sometimes have towards their work and their newly acquired adoring fans. One student of mine showed me a shot of a geyser in Yellowstone. He asked me, a bit baffled, “People keep telling me they really like this shot, but it seems fairly normal to me. Why is that?” I did my best to explain my take on his shot, which was that it was well exposed and had good saturation and wasn’t astounding. Just not solid use of technique.

What was astounding to his viewers were the colors in the geyser mound; burnt reds and smeared alga filled oranges streaming down glistening, dirty white surfaces with a sky that could easily apply for a copyright on the color “sky blue”. A line of emerald evergreens divided the scene.

And I had stood in nearly that exact spot just 20 feet from the parking lot and taken the same shot (on a cloudy day).

I wasn’t trying to put him down and he took it constructively. I wanted him to understand what I’m hoping might help you, and it’s that sometimes it’s the subject that people are raving about and not your photographic ability.

This next point is very important to those starting out: That need not be a bad thing. Taking a photo of something beautiful in its own right and snapping a quality shot to share with others is a noble endeavor. But it is important to understand as a gauge to know if your skills are improving.

Another example is this image by Jessica Spiegel, who runs WhyGo Italy Travel Guide. The shot is taken in Ravenna, Italy.

Copyright Jessica Spiegel

A comment on my blog post featuring her photo and a subsequent discussion on Twitter showed many people liking the photo, a lot. And Jessica will be one of the first to admit it’s not her skills, but the mosaic itself that draws people.

I can go on and on with examples and likely you know of some in your own catalogs. Photos that people love that are just “so-so” to you. Not a great photo, but a great subject. My own example is up top with a shot of Fes in Morocco that took no special talent or thought. Just a zoom lens.

Be thankful people like the photo because it brought a bit of beauty or understanding or knowledge into their life and they are happy for that. On the quest to improve your technique, make sure you don’t get caught up in the accolades of beautiful subjects and start ignoring your technique and unique view of the world.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category.

Peter West Carey is a world traveling photographer who now is spending a large amount of time going back through 6 years of travel photo and processing them like he should have to start with. He is also helping others learn about photography with the free series 31+ Days Of Photography Experiments which builds off of the 31+ Days To Better Photography series on his blog.

  • Doug

    Peter is right we do need to be aware that the praise for our great photos might not be because we are great photographers.
    Some of the praise for the family photos I took, was really due to better equipment (older point and shoots, disposble fim cameras Vs Panasonic FZ30 with its zoom, continuous shooting, anti-shake, full manual controls and a tiltable LCD screen that enabled me to get candids without anyone being aware that I was photographing them).
    Some of the praise is because no one saw all the photos that were deleted. (at least 50%)
    Some of the praise is because basic editing cropping, straightning, red-eye removal for the rare occassion I used the flash make my pictures better than their unedited versions.
    Some of the praise is because most of my christmas photos dont have a strong yellow/orange colour cast.
    (It was at this point my brother-in-law realised it could be down to equipment, until I showed him the white balance control on his camera)
    Had I believed the praise I wouldn’t have looked on this site for advice on taking wedding photos, I might not realised that my camera was not upto the job, I might not have practised and practised with my new camera, or have taken the time to vist the venues several times or show a selection of failed shots to the bride and groom. I would not have my lovely daughter-in-law saying I am fantastic on her blog or have the new in-laws all being pleased with the photos. Even I am pleased most turned out OKish and what the family cant see, I am not going to point out (..until the next time..if I cant persuade them it is best to get a professional).

  • Andy

    Peter, in my opinion, you said more with this post than you’ve said with all the others you’ve put up put together…& you generally say good stuff…

  • http://www.richspc.com Richard

    Peter, I think most photographers agree with you on this one. My last wedding gave me the same insight. At the final meeting, with the bride, we talked it over and had our plans set. As she left the table she said…” Make me look beautiful!”. She was young, svelt, energetic and in short… “beautiful”. After the wedding, she, her mother and groom all gushed over the photos and was very happy with them. After looking at them several times, I realized that they were standard shots and didn’t take much on my part to get the moments. Even the formals were easy. It was the subject that was beautiful. It wasn’t so much my skill with the camera, or the ability to time the shots right as it was the subject that made the shots. But then again…. isn’t that the job ( and the fun)? Isn’t that what photographers do? Find the beautiful (even in the “ugly”if there is such a thing) and capture it?

  • mark

    Interesting topic Peter. I think one of the most overlooked aspect of photography is the logistics. Whether its building a set for a photoshoot or traveling to another country to take photos it’s still on the photographers initiative when and where to point his/her’s lens and press the shutter. With the overload of information available we get so caught up with which lens to use or which angle or composition and all that…..we forget that we first need to get that something or someone that inspires us to shoot in front of our camera.

    The things you choose to photograph tell more about you than the technique you use, after all the camera is just a device that records images and the techniques are just there to help you record it better. The subject you choose to photograph tells your story as much as the subject itself.

  • http://juanitalruffner.weebly.com/ Juanita

    Great article! I believe it is what you see first that inspires-then the rest is up to you! The beauty you see of the beauty of the subject….

  • http://www.arcx13.com ARC

    true but sometimes its the person, not the skills, neither was it caused by mother nature as you claim. More popular guy get more positive feedbacks than its lower popular counterparts. Happen everytime, at least in my experience

    :)

  • Linda Bon

    Well, shoot! Here I thought I was the next Ansel Adams!

  • Kathleen Mekailek

    I consider this only partially true. While good subject matter is needed to draw people in, good technique is important to produce a high quality photograph. No matter how interesting the subject is, if the composition, exposures and all the other technical aspects are off, people are not going to be interested, just polite.

  • http://contextphoto.com/ Martin Kull

    I get this sensation when I shoot Architecture; I am then merely someone depicting the real art that is the building. Of course my addition is to do the composition and the proper lighting and all of that, but I think that the real artist is the Architect who already had my photo in mind when he created his piece.

  • Tiara Marie Hanna

    Thank you for this topic! I can definitely understand some instances where this applies, personally it makes me just as happy if people like it for the subject not my photo quality, it means that in some way it brought them joy and thats what matters most. :)

  • Prachi Jaiswal

    You make a very valid point :).. I have often asked myself that question as well, which is how I started to learn the more technical side of photography. :)

Some older comments

  • ARC

    December 12, 2011 08:50 pm

    true but sometimes its the person, not the skills, neither was it caused by mother nature as you claim. More popular guy get more positive feedbacks than its lower popular counterparts. Happen everytime, at least in my experience

    :)

  • Juanita

    October 3, 2011 01:15 pm

    Great article! I believe it is what you see first that inspires-then the rest is up to you! The beauty you see of the beauty of the subject....

  • mark

    August 9, 2011 03:25 am

    Interesting topic Peter. I think one of the most overlooked aspect of photography is the logistics. Whether its building a set for a photoshoot or traveling to another country to take photos it's still on the photographers initiative when and where to point his/her's lens and press the shutter. With the overload of information available we get so caught up with which lens to use or which angle or composition and all that.....we forget that we first need to get that something or someone that inspires us to shoot in front of our camera.

    The things you choose to photograph tell more about you than the technique you use, after all the camera is just a device that records images and the techniques are just there to help you record it better. The subject you choose to photograph tells your story as much as the subject itself.

  • Richard

    August 8, 2011 03:21 am

    Peter, I think most photographers agree with you on this one. My last wedding gave me the same insight. At the final meeting, with the bride, we talked it over and had our plans set. As she left the table she said..." Make me look beautiful!". She was young, svelt, energetic and in short... "beautiful". After the wedding, she, her mother and groom all gushed over the photos and was very happy with them. After looking at them several times, I realized that they were standard shots and didn't take much on my part to get the moments. Even the formals were easy. It was the subject that was beautiful. It wasn't so much my skill with the camera, or the ability to time the shots right as it was the subject that made the shots. But then again.... isn't that the job ( and the fun)? Isn't that what photographers do? Find the beautiful (even in the "ugly"if there is such a thing) and capture it?

  • Andy

    August 7, 2011 02:54 pm

    Peter, in my opinion, you said more with this post than you've said with all the others you've put up put together...& you generally say good stuff...

  • Doug

    August 7, 2011 04:16 am

    Peter is right we do need to be aware that the praise for our great photos might not be because we are great photographers.
    Some of the praise for the family photos I took, was really due to better equipment (older point and shoots, disposble fim cameras Vs Panasonic FZ30 with its zoom, continuous shooting, anti-shake, full manual controls and a tiltable LCD screen that enabled me to get candids without anyone being aware that I was photographing them).
    Some of the praise is because no one saw all the photos that were deleted. (at least 50%)
    Some of the praise is because basic editing cropping, straightning, red-eye removal for the rare occassion I used the flash make my pictures better than their unedited versions.
    Some of the praise is because most of my christmas photos dont have a strong yellow/orange colour cast.
    (It was at this point my brother-in-law realised it could be down to equipment, until I showed him the white balance control on his camera)
    Had I believed the praise I wouldn't have looked on this site for advice on taking wedding photos, I might not realised that my camera was not upto the job, I might not have practised and practised with my new camera, or have taken the time to vist the venues several times or show a selection of failed shots to the bride and groom. I would not have my lovely daughter-in-law saying I am fantastic on her blog or have the new in-laws all being pleased with the photos. Even I am pleased most turned out OKish and what the family cant see, I am not going to point out (..until the next time..if I cant persuade them it is best to get a professional).

  • Bader alwazeer

    August 6, 2011 11:30 am

    Well, in photography it is always about the subject. Because we only capture the light in our sensors.

    But it doesn't mean everyone can capture the beautiful image just because it has a beautiful face or subject.

    You can't give the whole credit for the subject it self and say the picture is nice because the subject is nice not because I'm a good photographer.

  • Mark

    August 6, 2011 02:56 am

    I think there is more to it than this article states. I shoot wildlife and I often get comments like "how do you always find eagles?" or "What an unusual bird. What is it?" or "Who knew that (some animal) lived here in our state?"

    For me the scouting of locations is important to my craft. On any given day I can find an eagle in Missouri. I can even find a location that is best in morning light or best in evening light. This is what sets me apart from the newbe. Yet I am constantly searching new locations at every chance I get. State parks, National Wildlife Reserves, Conservation Areas. It is almost "work" but it is fun work for me because you will get the occasional surprise like a mink or a rare woodpecker. I keep praying for a black bear or cougar in the wild. They are here, but they are very elusive. If I was healthier, I would hike in to their most likely home and wait for them to show, but I cannot hike that far or camp that rustic anymore since I am disabled. But I expect one day Creator will reveal them to me and that is the day I pursue.

  • Lynn

    August 6, 2011 12:35 am

    Oh boy I know what u mean about sometimes feeling like a fraud. I'm 1 of those folks who likes to mess around in photoshop which can make a ok shot rather good - but I find I win and place in contests not because I'm a great photographer (and I've beat out great photographers) but I sometimes just get a sense of what judges might like - especially in themed contests. I just get a sense of what works.
    I also do a fair amount of shooting on the back of a motorcycle. This means there is very little time to think, the scenery can go from mundane to interesting or even amazing in a split second, especially if you are going up or down hill on a curve, leaning going 30 to 80 miles an hour. Then there is bike vibration to think of. My main concern is clean glass, shutter speed, ISO and get the shot. Needless to say in these circumstances I end up cropping and straightening a lot.
    Some great comments! Especially the pots and pans analogy

  • Nick

    August 5, 2011 10:00 pm

    I suppose a challenge then is to find something that people will 'ohh' and 'ahh' about in the mundane. I always admire those people who can take a shot of a grafiti covered wall or paint peeling sun bleached building and make a really great shot out of it. Sometimes I think I need to look closer at what there is to photograph in my own neighbourhood and try to experiment with that rather than giong on trips to well photographed landmarks to get the same shot millions of others have before. If I photograph something unique then it feels more like it belongs to me and less like a postcard.

  • Anurag

    August 5, 2011 05:58 pm

    A great article and for a novice photographers like me...It's most valuable :)

  • Mindy

    August 5, 2011 07:37 am

    I completely get what you are saying, Peter. It makes me cringe when I look at people's Facebook photos (usually blurry, terrible lighting, poor expressions, etc.) and see the comments, "Great photos!" or "You're an excellent photographer!" Argh. We need to educate the general public about what makes a good picture. And, I'd venture to say, most of the "shoot and burn" gang also need some suggestions in this regard - there are several "photographers" in my area who call themselves by that name but can't seem to produce a well-exposed, clear, attractive picture. Their friends give them lots of positive feedback on their Facebook pages, though.

  • Mike

    August 5, 2011 05:47 am

    First time I've left a comment here at DPS. This is a subject that I feel I must be misunderstanding as a low level hobbyist photographer. I don't do anything great with my stuff, I just dabble with it for my own interest right now. Eventually I'd like to try and self publish my own book at one of these online "publishing" websites though.

    The reason I'm leaving this comment though is this: I've personally thought that photography is mostly the act of taking a shot of a specific subject that people will find pleasing and the secondary objective (a close second) is of taking that shot in such a way to bring out another level of beauty.

    A landfill, for instance, is quite often going to be a hard subject to get people to be interested in even with the best of techniques. "Oohhh, joy, a pile of garbage". I only say this because to me it's all about finding that image that people will stop flipping through the book and say "ooooohhh, I like that one" I would think that the only people who really notice the technique would be fellow photographers.

  • Tim Lamerton

    August 5, 2011 05:43 am

    Good article, it is important to understand, use and improve your craft, but if the subject is not worthy why bother taking the picture? Its my experience that only other photographers care how an image was taken, everyone else just loves the picture ..or not ..and that suits me just fine.

  • Nikki

    August 5, 2011 05:43 am

    Isn't this the point though? We are capturing something, not creating it. Pausing time - not inserting into it. It may be that the subject is what draws people in, but if it didn't what would be the point?

  • tdsutter

    August 5, 2011 04:46 am

    Years ago I read a story about well-to-do woman who lived on Manhattan's upper east side. She invited a number of friends to her home for dinner. She also invited a young photographer whom she had recently met and who's photography work she admired. As everyone looked over the photographer's portfolio, the host made the comment, "Your pictures are beautiful. You must have a really nice and expensive camera." Later, when the meal was served, the guests commented about how delicious the food tasted. Our young photographer, however, made the comment, " Te food is utterly delicious. You must have some really good and expensive pots and pans."

  • Lyn

    August 5, 2011 04:27 am

    I think that's where the phrase 'well seen' comes from. Although the image may be opportune, it is not necessarily random. Usually a whole heap of training the eye as well as learning the technical aspects of exposure and composure has contributed to the shot.

  • marty

    August 5, 2011 03:16 am

    This subject is really worth a book - dealing with the photographer, his subject, & the resulting image; the viewer & his reaction to both the subject & image; & how all these overlap either overlap or not.

    How does this play out if the subject is pine needles on chicken wire or a coiled-up vacuum cleaner electric cord? There is nothing "beautiful" (in the conventional sense) about these subjects. If anyone responds positively to shots like these, it becomes a matter of positive/negative space, line, pattern, texture, etc. - the graphic elements that make up composition. A beautifully rendered macro of a bit of flower & a long stem may elecit "What a beautiful flower," when the same graceful curve of an electric cable gets nada from most people.

    If one accepts that the basis of good composition has to do with the graphic elements (assuming competent exposure, focus, etc.), regardless of the subject/scene (being essentially just a "carrier" of said elements), a viewer's natural affinity with a subject/scene will be enhanced or diminished by composition. Sometimes (as noted various times in the above comments) the affinity is so strong, any image will do. Conversely sometimes their affinitiy is so lacking (can't get pat the "What's that?!"), a sublime image (to some) will be ignored (or even criticized) by others.

  • Rob

    August 5, 2011 02:38 am

    hi mods
    Can you do something about comments here used to promote their websites that having nothing to do with the subject. i'm talking about the first comment here that i have seen many times on various articles. These comments are just modified slightly into an ambigous form so as to promote their website. Maybe you should charge for the advertising. Its takes credibilty away from the article and its author.
    Thanks

  • rd

    August 5, 2011 02:00 am

    I would imagine that most people seldom care about a photographers "skills" - unless they are looking for someone to take a family or wedding pictures - then they might check out your reputation and look over your work. Some are awed by say the close up of an eagle that they know is flying high over head or sitting on a nest fifty feet off the ground - that is some skill - but i'm sure much of it is equipment. I'm sure other photographers might be awed by your skills - but the regular folks that see or might purchase - they are interested in the image and the subject - most likely.

  • rd

    August 5, 2011 01:43 am

    Unless you are setting up a still life or posing a person pr group for a portrait - it is all what you find in front of you, a flower, a landscape, a sunset - being there at the right time, understanding your equipment and perhaps your photo editing software. We are never "responsible" for the sunset or the mountains and most assuredly for the flower - not even if we planted the seed. the selection of the subject, the composition, the snapping the shutter, perhaps a little post editing, cropping or enhancing, THAT makes it YOUR photo. A bad photo of a good subject - people will not oooh and aahhh over, but a well taken image of the subject they like - yep - it gets them every time - although perhaps - it just happened to come out good by accident.

  • Alex Gac

    August 5, 2011 01:09 am

    Great article, Peter. Thanks for your perspective. I'm personally very torn on this point, so I love reading about it. :)

    I have two very large, very well framed photographs in my living room. One is a close up of my dog's face, and the other is a shot of the sunset taken from my driveway. Neither or them are technically superb, however they both get a LOT of attention from my guests. Why? Because my dog was a stray before I adopted him, and his face tells the story of a very hard life alone being replaced by love and companionship. And because the sunset is composed so that, while sitting on the couch, the perspective is exactly as it would be through a window towards the sunset-- so in the dead of winter, I always have a warm and golden sunset. On those two photos, it's 100% subject that makes the prints priceless.

    BUT!!! Would many people have taken the care to compose a shot like my personal sunset? Or who would see the scars on my dog's face as something more than just a cause for sadness? A photographer would; an artist would.

    So I completely agree that the subject is what attracts most most of the "OOos and AAhhhs", but it takes a photographer to consistently see the interesting subjects.

    -Alex

  • Alex Gac

    August 5, 2011 01:08 am

    Great article, Peter. Thanks for your perspective. I'm personally very torn on this point, so I love reading about it. :)

    I have two very large, very well framed photographs in my living room. One is a close up of my dog's face, and the other is a shot of the sunset taken from my driveway. Neither or them are technically superb, however they both get a LOT of attention from my guests. Why? Because my dog was a stray before I adopted him, and his face tells the story of a very hard life alone being replaced by love and companionship. And because the sunset is composed so that, while sitting on the couch, the perspective is exactly as it would be through a window towards the sunset-- so in the dead of winter, I always have a warm and golden sunset. On those two photos, it's 100% subject that makes the prints priceless.

    BUT!!! Would many people have taken the care to compose a shot like my personal sunset? Or who would see the scars on my dog's face as something more than just a cause for sadness? A photographer would; an artist would.

    So I completely agree that the subject is what attracts most most of the "OOos and AAhhhs", but it takes a photographer to consistently see the interesting subjects.

    -Alex

  • Rey

    August 4, 2011 06:37 am

    No way that a non-photographer would come to see your picture and say I love how the wb was set, or the aperture used was amazing. They always look at the subject.

  • Photo_Novice

    August 4, 2011 03:46 am

    Hello Friends,
    Am a novice photographer – but absolutely enjoying the learning process. – especially the tips and tutorials at this site (in fact this was the first article i read 3 months back).

    Would request you to visit my Flickr stream and provide feedback/critique of the first few pictures I uploaded based on a church visit. Any improvements or constructive input and your time is much appreciated.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/65728881@N08/with/5978888467/

    Thanks in advance!!

    Read more: http://www.digital-photography-school.com/learning-exposure-in-digital-photography#ixzz1TzNhCd4d

  • Marcie

    August 4, 2011 12:50 am

    Isn't photography like most other arts, where the skill and technique should be good enough that the photographer can make even the most difficult shots look effortless? Good writing, good music, good art...they all strive to connect emotionally with the audience, and more skilled artists can make that effort nearly disappear. Stunning subjects sometimes do speak for themselves, but I'm sure it's easy to find examples of pyramids or waterfalls that are just awful, where the beauty of the subject was ruined because of bad technique.

    I like what Joel said, that the audience, the subject, and the know-how are important. Are you shooting commercially with a client to please, are you shooting to practice and want feedback from professionals, are you shooting to share with friends and family? Not that you can't apply correct technique and make interesting compositions when you're just wanting to share vacation pictures with your Facebook friends, but chances are none of those viewers is going to care what settings you used. They just know whether they like the photograph or not.

    If your audience is members of the public at an art show, unlike any professionals who also attend, most of those viewers aren't going to appreciate the technique either but are going to react emotionally to the subject. The technique can help create the emotional connection, like what Justin said about bokeh creating a beautiful picture, but the average viewer isn't going to realize *why* they like the photograph, only that there's something about it that catches their attention.

  • Justin Burke

    August 3, 2011 11:50 pm

    @Trentreznor
    "No one is going to approach you because he likes the aperture-shutter speed-combination you chose.
    “Wow, what a crappy subject but I love how you dialed in those settings”
    Not gonna happen."

    I don't know if I fully agree with this. There are definitely times where the subject doesn't necessarily appeal to the viewer, but a stunning bokeh in the background will set the picture off as a great shot. If it were the same picture that was taken at a higher f-stop, it would be a mundane shot, but the use of aperture is sometimes what creates amazing pictures. Even if the viewer can't relate to it

  • simon

    August 3, 2011 08:48 pm

    I do quite often wonder how much of the subject vs the actual photograph comes into play with my images... although the majority are models, their beauty in all its variants is once again from mother nature.. I didnt create how they look I took a photograph of them. And ok put some serious work into making the photograph look how I want ... but the building block of each image ... the foundation is the model herself...

    So each image really is a collabaration , betwixt subject matter and then the photographers art .. (and personally I sometimes think more credit belongs with the model but thats a whole different thread)

    ~simon

  • trentreznor

    August 3, 2011 05:10 pm

    "It was the photographer’s skill of looking and seeing a beautiful image even before the camera is out of the bag. Sure, some snap-shooter could accidentally get the same image, but their chances are one in a thousand"

    Sure, but people are gonna like the photo just as much even if a trained chimp took it. People care about the result not the process of making the photo. No one cares if you camped two days at a location to wait for the right moment or if you just happened to be there. It's the result that matters. Skill improves your chances to capture a good photo but no one cares about the story behind the picture except fellow photographers.

  • Photo_Novice

    August 3, 2011 01:44 pm

    Hello Friends,
    Am a novice photographer - but absolutely enjoying the learning process. - especially the tips and tutorials at this site. Would request you to visit my Flickr stream and provide feedback/critique of the first few pictures I uploaded based on a church visit. Any improvements or constructive input and your time is much appreciated.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/65728881@N08/with/5978888467/

    Thanks in advance!!

  • Mei Teng

    August 3, 2011 10:29 am

    I think there both sides to this i.e. there will be people who will love th subject but don't know how to appreciate the photographer and vice versa. We just need to know it but at the same time, improve on our overall technique/skills as a photographer.

  • Tom

    August 3, 2011 09:18 am

    All wrong. It was the photographer's skill of looking and seeing a beautiful image even before the camera is out of the bag. Sure, some snap-shooter could accidentally get the same image, but their chances are one in a thousand. A "photographer" not only sees the potential, but takes the time to properly compose the image and ensure all the technical aspects are properly set.

    Sure, the subject has a lot to do with how an image will be perceived, but a properly done image will bring out those attributes that made the subject interesting. Never think that you just got lucky or resign to the fact that you are just another smuck haphazardly snapping pics and getting lucky now and then. Banging off a few thousand pics in hopes of a good image is not photography.

  • scottc

    August 3, 2011 09:07 am

    Great article, this needed to be "said", and I'm "Guilty as charged".

    This is the most viewed photo in my photostream, certainly only because of the subject.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/5174151519/

  • Johnp

    August 3, 2011 08:24 am

    Yes I've found that photographers may view an image differently to others. I tend to look for technical perfection as well as subject matter whereas most people are really only interested in the subject matter.

  • TrentReznor

    August 3, 2011 06:57 am

    People almost always like the subject not your craftsmanship as a photographer. No one is going to approach you because he likes the aperture-shutter speed-combination you chose.

    "Wow, what a crappy subject but I love how you dialed in those settings"

    Not gonna happen.

  • Jessica

    August 3, 2011 06:56 am

    Thanks for the comment, c - it was a really low-light church, & I don't travel with a tripod, so I used a stone column as one third of a tripod by leaning against it with my feet spread out a bit in front of me for stability. And the mosaics are really that bright - no post-processing required!

    I will say that although I agree with much of what Peter's saying in this post, one thing I think he might be overlooking is that intangible "photographer's eye." Whereas the average person might have looked at that hillside of multi-colored houses in Fes and seen nothing more than rundown buildings, Peter's "photographer's eye" knew to zoom in and make the viewer look at the detail and the colors, thereby making the scene something worth looking at. Similarly, other photographs I've seen of the same mosaics in Ravenna that I captured are (for the most part) trying to capture the whole scene rather than zooming in and forcing the viewer to focus on something specific.

  • Trudy

    August 3, 2011 06:35 am

    I have to admit that subject obsession versus interest in the full photograph can become annoying to me though. I posted a screen shot of a tweet from comedian Sinbad to me that he was "digging my photography" and that screenshot got more "likes" than some of the actual images he was referring to. People act the same way when the photograph contains a celebrity. I find this really annoying because the obsession with celebrity is already somewhat of a disease with some people in this country so to have to watch how it plays out in photography is quite the yawn-inducing annoying affair.

    Conversely, if someone has 1 last photograph of someone they love before the person passes away, even if that photography is a sloppy mess, it can mean the world to a person.

    Thus, I see how this idea can strike varying chords with me.

  • LJOP

    August 3, 2011 06:04 am

    Hmmm, I guess I never thought of people admiring my skills when they admire my photos. Nor do I think wow, I'm so skilled when I catch something cool. I usually think wow, I was lucky! Although I do berate my lack of skills when the pictures don't look as good as I thought they should.

  • GradyPhilpott

    August 3, 2011 05:54 am

    Choosing a subject is as important as any other aspect of photography.

  • C

    August 3, 2011 05:01 am

    I think Jessica's shot required some skill. It looks like it could have been a somewhat low-light scene, but she managed to expose it properly and without blur, noise/grain, or built-in flash. She uses a nice tight crop and applies the rule of thirds, while an amateur would probably try to fit the whole thing in. And I'd be surpised if she didn't do a little post-processing to make the colors richer.

  • Ferran

    August 3, 2011 04:49 am

    Joel: "when it comes to emotions, that’s where you have to get artistic with the photo and not concentrate on reproducing reality"
    That's exactly what I wanted to say (and my wife, by the way...) That what makes a picture to blow is how you capture the "feelings" so wee there, not just the subject.

    Erik, for what it worths, I love this picture too!!!

  • javan

    August 3, 2011 04:45 am

    We see this same thing in portraiture...we all know you don't take a photo of a person close up with a wide angle lens but everybody is sticking their cell phones in their loved ones faces and snapping away. I actually saw a cellphone picture blown up for use at a memorial service! Familly members stood around saying what a good picture it was and I am thinking "I hope they do better at my memorial." I have a relative who buys every picture at the Portrait Mills of their Grandkids no matter how bad or repetitive just because it's the grandkids. When I shoot family pictures she has to see the LCD after every shot and I don't dare delete any.
    As photographers, we see more than the less observant...its a curse and a blessing

  • Erik Kerstenbeck

    August 3, 2011 04:32 am

    Hi

    Interesting take on psychology of a customer. I have had many shots that I would consider to be techically marginal and yet people just love it. I shot this one at the Horse Races over the weekend, and many of the folks I was with just love it - I think they just like Horse Racing and this brings them to an emotional moment where they are reminded why they like it so much!

    http://kerstenbeckphotoart.wordpress.com/2011/08/01/and-the-horses-are-approaching-the-gate/

  • Joel

    August 3, 2011 04:29 am

    What I forgot to add above is that without artistry, the above situation I described doesn't show the exhilaration of the climb that the hiker experienced while he's asleep in the cabin -- without art, composition, technique, and skill. It doesn't show the desperation for rest, or the joy of having completed a hike, or the comfort of a friend's cabin unless that artistry really goes beyond just taking a photo. Sometimes to do this, we need a hyperreality that we create for our audience.

    Subject can be good and cozy. Might not convey everything.
    Subject could be normally boring (someone sleeping), but a photographer could apply composition and artistry to the situation and bring all that out.
    Subject could be amazingly interesting with perfect composition, subject, artistry but the resulting photo still be boring because of a lack of technique behind the camera.

    Everything has to come together for that sweet spot photo.

    Now if only I could do what I just said :-D

  • Joel

    August 3, 2011 04:22 am

    My thoughts about the subject vs the photo is that a good photographer knows:
    - Their audience
    - What to shoot
    - How to shoot it

    Ferran -- when it comes to emotions, that's where you have to get artistic with the photo and not concentrate on reproducing reality. Cameras never reproduce the real reality exactly -- they take a limited snapshot of something. We have to create the reality that we want to portray. Even the best made HDR is a sham on true reality. No peripheral vision, no rush from climbing that mountain with wind nipping at the bead of sweat on the end of your chin. No jarring adrenaline as your lungs fight to breathe in high altitude while blood is rushing to your bruised thigh after tripping on a rock. The next scene of someone snoring and sprawled on a beanbag chair, covered with a plaid throw, a raised swollen knee in a cabin that has a freshly lit log fire and has only started to thaw out from the most thrilling hike of the season... doesn't necessarily portray the hot/cold nipping sensation of that fire and deep sleep unless we create that sensation.

    Photos typically don't show all that in one photo. That's where artistic license has to come in and portray what cannot be seen. Good photographer, good scene and good artistry can show all of that in one picture.

    That's where the artist has to come out and play.

    Darn, now I want to go do that and take that shot myself. :-D

  • cpando

    August 3, 2011 03:44 am

    I agree with you that sometimes the subject of you pic may be the reason you get people to love it, instead of an amazing technique. But there was a reason for that geyser shot to stand out; yes, the beauty of the scene might have been the most important factor and some luck to be there on a nice day rather than a cludy one, but I can think in a bunch of ways I could ruin that shot. What would have hapened to Jessica's photo if she had fired the flash (as I think most people will do)?

    What I want to say is that technique might not always be the reason for a catching foto but the lack of it might easily ruin an otherwise nice capture.

  • Bekah

    August 3, 2011 03:18 am

    Yes..definitely have experienced this---or people who just love the photographer like Kenton Brede mentioned and they will just love the shot even if it has bad exposure, over saturated, etc.

    Definitely a good article though...because it's easy to take a good (not incredible) picture of somewhere/something exotic most viewers haven't seen--and they'll love it, because they never saw it in person.

  • Ferran

    August 3, 2011 03:03 am

    Yes and no.
    Sure people like the subject, but how many times have you seen and stunning subject and, no matter how great it looks in person, you are not able to reflect it on a picture? I hate to take pictures of great places because, no matter how hard I try, I am not able to pass my "feelings" to the camera. Everybody can compare the picture and the real subject and say "this is your best"???
    Lot's of times my wife will look at my pictures and will say "you know what, this is not what I saw there...".

  • Dave

    August 3, 2011 02:57 am

    This is the way I feel about virtually all of my images. I shoot nature and landscape images. The beauty is already there. All I do is see it differently or try to capture it in a unique way. The subject is static. My only input to the photograph is the interpretation of what I see.

  • Peter Toner

    August 3, 2011 02:09 am

    There is another similar phenomena that has always astounded me. You mentioned that you had taken a similar picture. Well, I have lost count of the number of times when I took a photo that I was pleased with, but didn't run around showing off, when a friend or co-worker would show up with the exact same shot, everyone patting them on the back and bragging for them on how they are such a great photographer, later when they see MY version of the same shot, everyone always says the same thing 'Wow...you must have a good camera'. WTF!!! Howcome the other person has skill, but I just have good equipment?! It's always astounded me.

  • Toni Aull

    August 3, 2011 02:01 am

    Nature have always been ready to pose...all we have to do is shoot it (freeze frame)

  • Doug Sundseth

    August 3, 2011 01:58 am

    This is the other side of National Geographic photographer Jim Richardson's comment, “If you want to be a better photographer, stand in front of more interesting stuff.”

    One of the primary skills of a good photographer is to be able to identify what "stuff" is "interesting" when seen flat, with a limited color gamut.

    This is not to say that I disagree with you. There are places where any fool can take a beautiful photo, and I have been that fool at times. (Bryce Canyon after a snow comes to mind.) Even there, though, you have to be able to compose to reveal the image, which my experience, both with my own photos and looking at the photos of others, indicates is harder than it sometimes seems.

  • Kenton Brede

    August 3, 2011 01:58 am

    Along the same lines, another title could read, 'Sometimes People Love The Photographer, Not Your Photo.'

  • Laura

    August 3, 2011 01:49 am

    I run into this a lot. I take concert/gig photography for musicians, and the comments I typically get are from fans, saying how awesome the photo is, when what they're REALLY saying is that the artist is good looking, or a great performer.

  • Mark K

    August 3, 2011 01:44 am

    Peter, I get that a lot in concert photography, its often a great shot because the performing artist made it great, either I just caught them at the right time, or the light was right, but sometimes I do have the same sense that it's the subject they love.

  • THE aSTIG @ CustomPinoyRides.com

    August 3, 2011 01:39 am

    This is something I would have to agree to, but not 100%, at least for my case.

    I do Car Photography for my website http://CustomPinoyRides.com

    I do recognize the fact that it's the subject of the photo that strikes conversations and keeps the people coming back for more. It makes me able to write articles and writeups about the cars and stuff. But then if the photos I put up are not as pretty as the other guys who took photos on the same event, chances of my photo/article being shared on Facebook or reTweeted or what have you will be slim. But the better the photos, the more the photos spread and people see the watermark on the photos, getting them interested and in turn, they visit my site. So as you said, I try not to focus on the accolades and still try to pursue learning and improving my photography skills. Thanks!

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