What is in the mind of great photographers

Messages
14
Name
Mo.Hassan
Edit My Images
Yes
#1
Trying to understand the mindset of the great photographers, how do they make some outstanding photos of ordinary scenery. I pass everyday by the countryside, I keep saying to myself, it is all green and flat, what is there to photograph. As we are moving into mid-October, I noticed mist descending over the area which made the scene really interesting to photograph. I thought to myself, I bet someone like Ansel Adams would have shot a great photo out of very flat green land. what are the traits of a great photographer?
 
Last edited:

StephenM

I know a Blithering Idiot
Messages
3,390
Name
Stephen
Edit My Images
Yes
#3
I pass everyday by the countryside, I keep saying to myself, it is all green and flat, what is there to photograph.
I suspect what you're seeing is what you expect to see - something flat and boring. Look again, without expectations. Then consider what the camera will record.
 
Messages
3,981
Name
Ian
Edit My Images
No
#4
what are the traits of a great photographer?
Care. Ability to notice. Attention to detail. But mostly care. And in the case of the proper old school guys, a ton of patience.
Thats my humble opinion anyway.
 
Messages
23,474
Name
Phil
Edit My Images
No
#5
If you really want an insight into the thought process of great photographers, the Magnum book Contact is a great start.
but I think your question isn’t that, it’s how do good photographers see a picture where I think there isn’t one.
and the answer to that is both simple and potentially impossible. You learn to ‘see’, you’ve spent your entire life looking.
the camera doesn’t record objects or scenes, it records the light reflected from them.
you need to train yourself to see that light, Just sit, on a typical spring day and watch the the shape of objects change as the light changes, at different times of the day the light will move creating shadows in different places, and the colour of the light changes too.
I think ‘care’is largely about the patience and effort put in to waiting for or creating the perfect light. Too many modern photographers think pictures are ‘made’ in some magical way within the camera and the processing, but the vast majority of the effort for great work happens before the shutter is pressed.
 
Messages
3,981
Name
Ian
Edit My Images
No
#6
I think ‘care’is largely about the patience and effort put in to waiting for or creating the perfect light.
That wasn't my meaning. I meant care about the subject of the photograph. Care about framing. Care about the light - yes, but most of all, thinking about the subject. Images of photos taken in "perfect" lighting do nothing for me if the subject isn't engaging. Well lit decor is still just decor. (It's nice for some people but it doesn't need a great photographer to make it)
 
Messages
23,474
Name
Phil
Edit My Images
No
#7
That wasn't my meaning. I meant care about the subject of the photograph. Care about framing. Care about the light - yes, but most of all, thinking about the subject. Images of photos taken in "perfect" lighting do nothing for me if the subject isn't engaging. Well lit decor is still just decor. (It's nice for some people but it doesn't need a great photographer to make it)
I think you’ve taken half a sentence out of hundreds of words just so you could disagree with me.
I find that rather odd.
 
Messages
82
Edit My Images
No
#9
I agree with Phil ... to me this is about learning to "see" a subject, rather than just looking at it. Many images judged as "good" - however you define that - are of the most mundane of subjects or have very simple content. The great photographers (again, however you define that!) can look at a simple scene, or apparently mundane subject, and see an image that others may just pass over as not being worthy of a shutter click. Add to that the matter of composition of the image, framing, the light at the time and other factors such as the photographers mood when the shot was taken - which can have a huge bearing on how he/she sees the subject at the time ...... all these things have a bearing on the finished product, and I think the great photographers somehow manage all of those things and bring them together to produce an outstanding result.

Have you read The Photographer's Eye and The Photographer's Mind, both by Michael Freeman? They give some interesting perspectives on the subject.
 
Messages
3,604
Name
droj
Edit My Images
No
#10
Maybe occasionally a great photograph can even be made by accident? But there's probably no definition of a great photograph.

Normally, one factor is a technical knowledge of how the overall imaging process can work - not just exposure in-camera but the realms of development / processing and through if required to printing. This compasses what's possible, provides a 'language' and tempers the native human abilty to see.

Another factor is an ability to recognise and have an engagement with the subject - to see it in a certain way and to be able to extract and frame it, in the context of the knowledge hinted at above.

And maybe also a willingness to experiment.
 
Messages
174
Name
David
Edit My Images
No
#11
No need to look back at famous photographers. There are plenty of current photographers with those skills. We have several at my camera club. The characteristics seems to be an artist eye in seeing. They spot shapes, lead in lines, lighting, general composition where us mortals usually miss them. They also spend more time than average out and about looking for such photographic opportunities. I would also recommend Michael Freeman.

Dave
 
Messages
6,932
Name
Steven
Edit My Images
Yes
#12
You learn to ‘see’, you’ve spent your entire life looking.
I think the great photographers see the potential the rest of us miss.
It's like passing on a picture because you know a "normal exposure" will look like crap due to the lighting... a better photographer might instead see the image that is there if they take a different kind of exposure (exposing only for the highlights). And once you start seeing the potential others miss, you can then start to see the potential in a subject that might not even exist at that moment (if the light was entirely different). That's why some photographers will return to a subject over and over... they are waiting for the opportunity to capture the potential they saw.
 
Messages
4,777
Name
Dave
Edit My Images
No
#13
... it is all green and flat, what is there to photograph.
Photograph the flatness and the greenness. Not easy, but nobody said making good photographs is easy.

There are no short cuts to developing your individual way of seeing.
 

KIPAX

Seriously Likeable
Messages
20,320
Name
KIPAX
Edit My Images
Yes
#14
I pass everyday by the countryside, I keep saying to myself, it is all green and flat,
I see and think the same ..so I dont photogrpah landscapes.. therefore I would suggest the answer is that the person taking a good photo of a landscape likes the subject more than we do..

There is a lot of photogrpahy i find boring and therefore I probably wouldnt do a good job of taking a picture.. others who find it inspiring to look at scenery or a pot of jam will do a better job


Just IMHO but I think it's that simple..
 
Last edited:
Messages
106
Name
Malc
Edit My Images
No
#15
I think it can be summed up by something my old art teacher said at school some 50 years ago.
It's the difference between looking and seeing, just the same as it's the difference between hearing and listening.

Photographically, I had to learn how to see, not just look, and it took a long time in my case. But now, I see.
 
Last edited:
Messages
21,731
Name
Alan
Edit My Images
No
#16
I struggle as a lot of the time I can't photograph what I see to get the end result I want. I very often look at the end product and pick faults with the framing or the aperture or maybe the ISO has gone too high or sometimes the lens doesn't render the exact look I wanted.
 

sirch

Official Forum Numpty 2015
Messages
8,692
Name
Chris
Edit My Images
Yes
#17
Yesterday driving home there was a guy with a camera on a tripod at the end of one of the roads I drive up near home. He was photographing a bench beneath a tree which had dropped bright yellow leaves around the bench. I drive past that bench every day and have cycled and walked past it many times over the years and I never once even thought of taking a photo of it under any circumstances. I might have a look myself now but the point of this ramble is that I think the greats are always looking for the photograph in whatever is in front of them, it might not be there, it might not be good enough but then again it just might. They have a highly tuned critical eye, why does or doesn't this photo work, what would need to change to make the shot.

Have a look at https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/0821221841/ref=cm_sw_em_r_mt_dp_U_gKEQDbWHEYB77
there are some real insights in there even though a lot of it might not be terribly relevant today
 
Last edited:
Messages
4,777
Name
Dave
Edit My Images
No
#18
Yesterday driving home there was a guy with a camera on a tripod at the end of one of the roads I drive up near home. He was photographing a bench beneath a tree which had dropped bright yellow leaves around the bench. I drive past that bench every day and have cycled and walked past it many times over the years and I never once even thought of taking a photo of it under any circumstances. I might have a look myself now but the point of this ramble is that I think the greats are always looking for the photograph in whatever is in front of them, it might not be there, it might not be good enough but then again it just might. They have a highly tuned critical eye, why does or doesn't this photo work, what would need to change to make the shot.
A lot of that depends on what the individual considers to be a good picture, and their ideas about what are suitable subjects for good photographs. The broader one's thoughts in that respect the more things become potential subjects.

https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/283282
 

sirch

Official Forum Numpty 2015
Messages
8,692
Name
Chris
Edit My Images
Yes
#19
BTW, obviously there is no single thing, for Cartier Bresson it was the decisive moment but for others it might be a desire to show people the beauty of nature or to document a war or just ordinary people doing ordinary things.

Edit> cross-posted with Dave above so not a reply per-se
 
Last edited:

StephenM

I know a Blithering Idiot
Messages
3,390
Name
Stephen
Edit My Images
Yes
#20
I use one Elliott Erwitt quotation in my signature, which is relevant. As is this one:

To me, photography is an art of observation. It's about finding something interesting in an ordinary place... I've found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.
 
Messages
13,392
Name
Toni
Edit My Images
No
#21
Pardon the pun, but an observation I've made is that it is very hard to see anything special about the familiar, and the harder you look for it, the more it will hide from you. I love travel photography because it takes me places that are new, where I can see things for themselves rather than through expectation of experience. When I've been a few days in the same place it's much harder to see a photo than when I've first arrived. That's not to say that I don't remember a local place where I want to return under the right conditions for a picture, but that's relatively rare. Neil B gives a good example of how that works: https://www.talkphotography.co.uk/threads/empire.702533/

But I also suspect some of the thoughts going through a "great photographer's" mind are on how they're going to pay the bills next month.
 
Last edited:

sirch

Official Forum Numpty 2015
Messages
8,692
Name
Chris
Edit My Images
Yes
#22
Another thought...

I think some people are just lucky in that the opportunity, skills, personal attributes, interests, desires, etc. all come together for them and they have the opportunity to become great.
 
Messages
11,829
Name
Mark
Edit My Images
No
#24
Even Ansel Adams might have struggled in East Anglia...... He was blessed with having some of the most stunning landscapes in the world on his doorstep. But even so he had to work hard to create the body of work that he did. And in my opinion some of his work doesn't really work either......

Constable and Gainsborough seemed to manage pretty well.
 
Messages
13,527
Name
Keith
Edit My Images
No
#27
I always liked this

"The beginner thinks it's all about the camera
The enthusiast thinks it's all about the lens
The photographer knows it's all about the light"

I have no idea where I heard or read this or who wrote it originally, but I think it says a lot. As Phil stated earlier, good photographers just know, through experience, how best to manipulate the light no matter the subject.
 

sirch

Official Forum Numpty 2015
Messages
8,692
Name
Chris
Edit My Images
Yes
#29
I just read a quote in a photography book: "In any language, if you want to learn how to write, you must first learn how to read."

I imagine pretty much all of us tried "writing" photographically before we could "read" and many people never seem to even bother trying to learn to read.
 
Messages
9,375
Name
Jeremy Moore
Edit My Images
No
#30
I always liked this

"The beginner thinks it's all about the camera
The enthusiast thinks it's all about the lens
The photographer knows it's all about the light"

I have no idea where I heard or read this or who wrote it originally, but I think it says a lot. As Phil stated earlier, good photographers just know, through experience, how best to manipulate the light no matter the subject.

I remember a long discussion here about this quote or one very similar to it. The one thing missing from the statement is the subject matter. Maybe the great photographer knows his/her subject matter.
 
Messages
1,122
Name
Stephen
Edit My Images
Yes
#33
To me, photography is an art of observation. It's about finding something interesting in an ordinary place... I've found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them. Elliott Erwitt
 
Messages
4,777
Name
Dave
Edit My Images
No
#34
Indeed. It wouldn't have the mass appeal to photographers or viewers though, would it?
Which raises a number of questions. Who are photographs for? Do they have to have mass appeal? Questions which maybe should be asked before taking photographs?

It's a complicated game, thinking about photographs!
 
Last edited:

sirch

Official Forum Numpty 2015
Messages
8,692
Name
Chris
Edit My Images
Yes
#36
Do they have to have mass appeal?
I would have thought that the "greats" in any field have to have a fairly wide ranging appeal, we often hear about the musician's musician and sometimes the photographer's photographer but often those are not considered "great" in a wider context.

Not disagreeing though, we all take the photos that we want.
 
Messages
2,024
Edit My Images
No
#38
Occasionally they tell us what was on their mind, as in David Hurn's excellent On Being a Photographer. Here he's discussing Miners' Week, Barry Island, which you can see here:

https://pro.magnumphotos.com/C.aspx?VP3=SearchDetail&IID=2S5RYDZUKYE5&FRM

'Let me first say that this image is part of a major series on the changing culture of Wales. A section of the Wales project is on coal mining. A subsection of coal mining is the one time of year when all the mines close together for the annual summer holiday. I was at the beach for a specific purpose: to depict a miner at play with his child during his vacation at the seaside. Everyone on that beach was a miner or a member of a miner’s family. So I already knew what I was looking for. That’s important. Having seen this miner with his daughter I was struck by the warm relationship between them. My initial reaction was to choose an angle of approach, to move into position from which I could clearly see the relationship - isolated from the confusing background, lit effectively so that the faces were revealed, and forming an interesting shape in and of itself. The next decision was: how far should I move towards or away from them? Too close and I would eliminate the idea that they were playing on a crowded beach; too far away and they would lose dominance and become just another small element. So the correct distance was quite precise. Then I looked for another element in the background which I would call a “significant other”; some small object or person or something, anything, which had visual appeal. I am now watching the relationship between father and daughter, and at the same time keeping an eye on the background element. I shoot pictures when a gesture, expression or whatever in the foreground is balanced by a shape in the background. I can barely control these two factors, especially if the secondary element is moving. I might have to shift six inches sideways or back and forth, shooting several frames in order to keep the elements in balance. What I cannot do is keep track of every element in the background. My eye is making rapid flips across all these details to check on the overall pattern but basically I’m centered on the foreground/background element relationship. I have to see the contact sheet to know what has happened. I know that the foreground is fine because that is what I have concentrated on but my choice of image to enlarge will depend on the geometry or pattern of the general background, which I cannot predict. A painter can compose the main elements and then add the significant details in precisely the right places. In photography, you cannot do that. You are hoping, almost by instinct, that the small details which make or break the picture are going to be in the right positions.'
 
Messages
2,844
Name
Mark
Edit My Images
Yes
#40
To me, photography is an art of observation. It's about finding something interesting in an ordinary place... I've found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them. Elliott Erwitt
That’s an excellent quote, I’ve always summed it up as finding the extraordinary in the ordinary.

I know what photography isn’t and that’s hauling your gear from one beauty spot to another, lining up with everyone else for your turn in the well worn tripod holes in the floor and coming back with images that everyone’s seen a thousand times before the shutter button is even pressed.
 
Top