Say cheese! How bad photography has changed our definition of good pictures

Originally published at: Say cheese! How bad photography has changed our definition of good pictures | Boing Boing


Don’t lose any sleep over your photography skills, all of us likely don’t have any to begin with.


They’re not bad intentionally, they’re are just capturing the moment.
now a lot of video podcasts are made poorly… background light sources seem to be the biggest error.


If you see Impressionist paintings after seeing paintings that adhere to the standards of the 19th Century Academy, you’ll recognize the same principle.

The Impressionists would deliberately break the rules of composition and intentionally blur many elements as a way of creating a sense of a scene that was only momentarily glimpsed.

The effect later became a cliche – think of all of the cheap, dashed off paintings in cheap hotel rooms. But when it’s done right, it’s incredibly powerful.


Sounds like this is a little focused on shit housing Instagram pictures. Or at least focused on flashier effects and aesthetics.

But a lot of what was early on considered “bad”, or even today outside of bounds, is fairly basic to the ins and outs of manipulating photography for artistic effect.

Everything from narrow focus, to exposure that doesn’t perfectly match reality, to less than perfectly even, flat contrast is a “flaw” from the early conception of photography as a perfect recreation of what the eye sees.

But they are the core things one manipulates to take photographs well. Almost everything we might regard as good in any other photograph than a haphazard snapshot is wrong from this look. And the ability to manipulate all of these things to pleasant effect is the entire thing with being a capable photographer.

That is the very first thing you learn about this subject in formal training. Every photograph is inherently manipulated. Every image is inherently a lie. To be good at is it, is to control the hows and whys.


This is another take on an old topic. When photographs were new and people argued about whether this or that photo was “art” there was a school of thought that insisted that unless you could see the hand of the photographer (the deliberate altering of the image) then it wasn’t art. They used to have all manner of post processing techniques-- printing on colored paper, double exposures, etc. etc. etc. Then a new group came along that believed that no manipulation of the image was needed for a photo to be art. Probably the most famous (today) of this “f64” group was Ansel Adams. But even he eventually came around to the idea that everything he did, like using colored filters, for example, to deciding on exposure time, was all part of the same process of deliberately creating an image.

I’m in the process of scanning many family photos from the early 1900s and I have come to the conclusion that lousy photos are the rule in my family. Why stand close for a portrait when you can have sky in the top 50% of the composition? Why wait until you can see every face in the group portrait before you click the shutter? MOST amateur photos I see lack even the most rudimentary thought before-hand and that’s been true in my family since long before I was born. It seems to be the case generally, too. Is it art? I don’t care to debate it. Slap on a filter, decorate with emoji and post it!


I’m not sure about rules - I do know if I see something good, I take a picture of it. Here’s a few of mine from the past few weeks. Sometimes I think about the years I spent before the phone, without a camera on me at all times, all those missed moments.


I have at least 8k in camera equipment that at the very least makes me feel like I have photography skills. My photos likely say otherwise…


As someone who grew up with 35mm and occaisionally shoots a roll for fun, the most amusing thing is the shots at the beginning of the film that light leak has ruined. 25 years ago you would have put the print that came from that shot in the bin, If you post those accidents to instagram the response is ridiculous.

I love the idea that in 30 years time peole will be nostalgic for filters being used now that emulate artefacts from the 20th centuary.

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That’s funny, I associate it with corny advertising.

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Then again, a lot of the pictures I never took are quite vivid in my mind. I have started to make notes on some of them, the idea is to paint/draw them sometime. Or maybe re-create the situation when feasible and take a picture.


Thanks for sharing the photos - I especially love the one of the family gathered around the table.

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About the same amount of stuff here - and I’m eating up more. Sometimes I realise that I will never understand, let alone use, 90% of the features Sony put behind the unfathomably cryptic interface on the back of their cameras and I might be a bit out of my depth.

But every now and again, I get a photo that I love which is also (say it quietly) technically a good picture.

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Crumudgeon here: Everything that was considered good in photography 20 years ago when I learned it is good and Art. Every change since then is obviously bad. Except the ones that I like; those are good.

(More seriously…)

OK, listen, photography is art. But there is a lot of bad art out there. You might be good at art. You might be bad at art. But it is important that you still make art. Even if it is bad art. There is always more bad art out there than good art. And a lot of times, the person making what will be considered great, majestic art in the future thinks they are creating bad art now.

Sometimes you want to capture what exactly is before you. Sometimes, you need to capture it and bend reality a bit to your will to capture your vision. Sometimes you need to create something from very, very different elements. It’s all art. (At a certain point, it stops being Photography and starts being digital art, though.)

It doesn’t matter what people think is good art. Just be yourself, and express yourself.

Pic for attention. Because we all want attention. :slight_smile:


I have four in particular that I wish I had taken. Three of them were street photos, and I just don’t have the personality to take a picture of a stranger when they will obviously notice what I’m doing. The fourth I missed just because I was too lazy to drive back home and get my camera.

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My dad who shot and developed B&W photos for fun in the 80s - has a lot of these kind of opinions. Even using DOF to focus attention on something in the foreground he sees as a mistake. You def can have everything in focus and use other tools of composition to have a focal point - but that is not what defines ‘good art’. Does it make the viewer feel something? Did you communicate something? That’s art.

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I disagree that bokeh is artifice. I believe that it appeals to us because it is closer to how we naturally see the world, with most of our optical and neural hardware focused on the subject of our gaze at that moment, and the rest of the scene coming in low and slow.

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Getting everything in focus with a large format camera is an art–sometimes involving “movements”. No selective focus here.

I like using selective focus with my (rapidly aging) DSLR, but ever since smartphone manufacturers started to fake it, sometimes pretty badly, I’ve been a little bit leery. There are other neat photographic tricks one can do to show off ones’s optics-- hyperfocusing on a subject’s eye, is one of them, though that’s really hard to do with bird photography.


Agree completely. I too think that photography can be art, and can also be utter crap.
Main thing is, do what you like and feel is right, and to sheol with conventions and definitions. When you get a good picture you will know it, and even if you’ll be the only one to do so that will be perfectly fine.
End of rant, and another pic for attention:


Not a song, actually.