My Latest Obsession: Photography (Now With Lists!)

Notice I said "Photography," not "Cameras."

That's key.

Truth be told, since just before my birthday, when I bought myself a Nikon D100 with a (nice) 28-70 close-up lens, my obsession was cameras. And for some time afterward, too. In fact, for a time, I was regretting the D100 and wishing I had gone with a Lumix LX3 or a Canon G10, instead. But then my musings shifted from which box had the best hole in it to a question of how to best let light into that box.

Much like with music, I have no aspirations to be "professional", whatever that means: this is just another hobby for me. Ultimately, perhaps, I would like to be able to draw/paint my own photos--recall, if you will, that I plan to retire into professional art--but that's further down the road. But as of right now, my goal is to build a portfolio of great shots. Photos that like-minded people would see and remark: "Wow. Nice."

To that end, I wanted to understand what I personally consider "great".

I've spent almost every night since my birthday drifting off to sleep looking at photos on flickr, and have amassed a rather bulky-but-well-honed collection of favorites. I've subscribed to a few photography blogs and twitter feeds, too. Typical obsessive behavior for me. : )

As a result of that study, I've noticed a few patterns in what works for me. Of course, the obvious things count: you must have the right focus/depth of field/shutter speed/exposure, and a good subject. But here are the things that really work for me, specifically:

  • Details: things others probably overlooked.
  • Remarkable subjects. That which makes me think, "I want to see that myself." Even a weak photo with an intriguing subject still works. This includes "I would like to know that person," "I would like to go there", "I would like to do that," and even "What's going on, here?" ...that last one particularly through juxtaposition.
  • A sense of mystery.
  • Relatively simple composition. Perhaps I'm just too easily distracted.
  • Texture.
  • Isolated, bold colors. Isolated, mind you. Too much is... too much.
  • Muted colors. I really love photos with smooth, desaturated reds and yellows.
  • A sense of place, context, or interaction. I like it when there are (unidentifiable) people or animals in the shot. I like being reasonably sure where the shot was taken, or at least what it's like there. These add meaning, time, zeitgeist. Of course, that meaning matters, now: I don't like aggression, for example.
  • Art happening: painters painting, photographers shooting, dancers dancing, crafters crafting. It makes humanity feel redeemable.
  • Glowing tones. This works especially well in B&W.
  • Narrow Depth of Field. Sure, sometimes a wide DoF is warranted, but by and large, I will be more fascinated with the narrow shot. Even tilt and shift, for example [wiki][example] works well for me. Someday I'll own a view camera.
And here are the things that really DON'T work for me (aside from the typical stuff like wrong exposure/DoF/composition, bad subject, or clipping the subject):
  • Tilting the camera to be "artsy". Some people really like this: I am NOT one of them.
  • Copyrights. Seeing a copyright, name, or logo plastered along one edge of an image makes me fume. Seriously: if you insist on posting a copyright with your photo (and I would argue pretty vehemently that cc-by-nc-nd is a far better option anyway), put it in plain text far enough OUTSIDE your image so as to avoid disturbing it. It is unprofessional to do otherwise. Some people go so far they make me violent... particularly when they have ruined a fantastic photo with this kind of bullshit. HULK SMASH!
  • Clich├ęs, for the most part. There are a few exceptions for me (trees in fog, for example), but typical stock photography styles make me click "next" quickly, even if the shot is great in every other way. Sunsets, for example. It has to be a really spectacular sunset to warrant my time. ...This may be due to the fact that I live in New Mexico, though. : )
  • Smiling at the camera. It is exceedingly rare that I like a photo where the subject is looking at the camera and smiling.
  • Subjects (people, specifically; dogs too) that I probably wouldn't spend 10 minutes with in real life. Sorry: if you're shooting people (/dogs), your photo will be judged on the subject as much as on the photo. Such is life.
  • "Guess what this is." Thanks, no. If it's not clear from the shot, I tend to click "next" regardless of how nice the composition may seem. If you really want to do that, paint it.
  • Color shots that were supposed to be black and white. Call me old-school. If the color isn't fantastic, make it B&W (or sepia, sure).
  • Dead-center subjects. Some people do this for "symmetry", so perhaps that's what I don't really like...

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