Friday, March 30, 2012

What is Photography About?

I saw a post on the web today, I think it was on Google+, that was praising the new Nikon D800. As an illustration of how good it was the author posted a photo of a bird accompanied by a blow up of just the bird's eye with a red arrow added pointing to a darker spot on the dark eye and the words "That's me". To me it was just a darker spot but he was sure it was his reflection in the bird's eye.

Apparently this photographer feels that the test of a good camera is its ability to render detail within detail. If he's right that you can see a reflection of him in the eye of the bird he photographed that is indeed a technological wonder, but it doesn't mean it is a meaningful image. I would even go so far as to say "Who cares?". Most photographs today are shrunk down to 800-1000 pixels on the long side and posted to the web. I'd guess that the percentage of photos that are actually printed is in the single digits and most of them are still too small to see such detail. The average person can't distinguish things smaller than 1/100th of an inch. You'd need a magnifying glass and a 30x40 print to find that reflection.

Fortunately I read something else on the web today, a post to the Lenswork Daily blog by Brooks Jensen, in which he quoted an email he received from Doug Ethridge. The quote ended saying that our hope is to create "an image that is not of something, but about something". Shooting images so detailed that you can see the reflection of the photographer in the eye of a bird produces photos of without necessarily telling us anything of significance about the subject. Focusing on your subject involves more than focusing your lens.

The photo above is from last fall (October 26th) when the local landscape was brown, but not as totally brown as now. A patch of winterberry in a bog along the Hatch Rd. not far from Potsdam International Airport, a name regarded by some with amusement but it does get occasional flights from Canada. Made with a Canon 7d. BTW on the 40x60 print you can see aphids on the berries (just kidding).


  1. Keep ranting Jim. These are the sort of points that cannot be made often enough.

  2. Great rant... made me laugh out loud. I too find it amusing what is being said about the D800. You might enjoy this very funny post as it goes hand in hand with your rant...

  3. I saw that John. What's funny is that I have worked as a carpenter and never heard such exchanges. If you get into woodworking (cabinetry, furniture, etc.) however they can get very passionate over which table saw, which router, etc.