Some thoughts about the way we talk about photographs. As always, I think the questions are more important than the answers. I’m not looking for consensus, just giving voice to my own thoughts and questions. Yours might be different.
Thought the First.
“Nice capture,” says nothing about what you felt when you experienced a photograph. It says nothing about art. It says nothing, really, more than, “Good job.” Our hearts are in the right place, I know, but we can do better. In this language, aside from it perpetuating the language of predation (we shoot, we capture), there’s something missing: creation. Photographs are made, they are not captured. The best of them are profoundly more than just nice, or simply a matter of being in the right place at the right time. And the photographers saying the most interesting things with their photographs are not looking for praise, but for an attentive audience.
Thought the Second.
What if our first response to a photograph was to listen to the photographer? What if, when it was finally time to talk about the photograph, we did so with greater humility, even greater vulnerability? What if we used that photograph as a starting place for a discussion about what the photographer was pointing at, instead of the prevalent, “If this was my photograph, I’d have done…” to which my only reply is, “Stop talking about it and go make your own photograph.”
Thought the Third
One of the things I hear often in image discussions is how this or that element in the photograph “is distracting.” I think we need to begin these discussions with the assumption the photographer is pointing at something and our first job is to look for it. It’s valid to ask “does the photographer want me looking at X or Y in this frame, because that’s where my eye gets pulled.” To skip that and go straight to, “that’s a distraction,” skips the important step of asking what the photographer’s saying and goes straight to assuming he should have done it the way we’d done it. Photography is a language; we could use a little more listening in photography and a little less talking.
Thought the Fourth
I think we’d all make better photographs if we stopped talking so much about them, and asking others what they think about them, and go made more photographs. Unless of course it’s not photographs we’re interested in but the praise of others. Sometimes a photograph is a means to say, “Look at this!” and other times a means to say, “Look at me!” I’ve got too many of the latter and not enough of the former. The ones made for the latter will always be forgettable.
That said, Wow! I would be proud to have this image on a wall of my home. Simply stunning; as I have said before, you are one who has a true understanding of the power of elegant simplicity….
Late to the party, but I echo what David has said. Nice capture, great click and so forth are just quick mentions from a society that has the attention span of a gnat. Don’t get me wrong, they are trying to be nice, but in the end it really doesn’t help the photographer or the viewer. It doesn’t start interesting conversations about the where, what, when and why. I honesty think they would be better served to just click the like button and move along. Sometimes I will ask them, “well, what do you like about it?” Sometimes they offer insight and other times it is just as boring and uninteresting as nice capture.
When I see a photo which creates interest in me I oft comment “nice photo”. But I make a point always to explain why I say this. Maybe the emotion I feel from the photo and why I feel that, or the combination of colors in a certain composition, an art of framing which underlines something in the frame making easier to understand a point of view (presumibly the photographer’s one). Photography is communication…thanks for this post…
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Thanks for weaving your thoughts with string of well chosen golden words and putting them up for us.
While I couldn’t agree more, but the fact is that written text/thought/color/painting connect differently with different person. Same poem may get different interpretations, depending on the frame of mind/ emotional quotient/ concentration and spiritual evaluation of the interpreter.
What one says, looking at any work of art, depends on how the artworks unfolds itself, for the viewer.
I create, I forget. Lifespan of worthy art work may be longer then what can be imagined (we are awestruck by the wall paintings painted during stone age at Bhimbhetka, Bhopal, India)
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Thoughtful post and comments. I went a couple years after getting very serious into digital without posting much or looking at other photographs (besides the occasional O.P or Nat Geo). Since then I’ve gradually gotten into the sharing thing.
What you say here David is right on, but it’s not specific to photography. It is the way we go about using the web, the way we speed through trying to see a bunch of stuff in a short amount of time. And in many cases it’s only to acknowledge that you looked at the photo, did not think it stunk, and would really like it if the photographer reciprocated by looking at your photos (and liked, shared, etc.).
It’s the same with blogging. I love the act of making pictures much MUCH more than I love sharing them or swapping likes. Just like I love writing (blogging) much MUCH more than seeing how many comments or likes I get. I like viewing great photos almost as much as I like reading a great book, but neither is as much fun as the doing (reading often approaches it though).
My least favorite meaningless comment is “nice/good/great work” When making pictures becomes work, I’m selling my camera gear!
Thought the Third
Perfectly said. Perhaps the narrative is the entirety of the photograph, not just the presumed focal point.
This article has made me stop and think about what I am trying to say with my photos. When I post I think I am saying “Do you see what I saw?” and “Have I been able to show you what I saw” I have been guilty of the “nice capture” phrase often because I am not confident enough to say anything else. Too little time to really see what the photographer is trying to say….
Might be time to slow down, TL. It would be no crime to look longer at fewer photographs. Probably do us all some good to do so. 🙂
My favorite is, “you must have a really good/nice camera”.
This post is spot on. What I find disturbing is that the vast majority of photographers have no idea how to talk about what is happening in their images. I fall back on the elements and principles of design (Color, line, shape, direction, texture. Balance, repetition, contrast, harmony, etc.) to discuss what is going on in a photograph. One can easily add light, focus, and aspect ratio to the discussion for photography.
The majority of the talk is about “gear” and “how” because that is more tangible and objective. You don’t really have to think to talk about gear. Just regurgitate. The “what” really forces us to think critically about photographs – which most of us are far too lazy to actually do.
A little harsh, I suppose, but the more I think about it, the more I feel you have made a really good point, one that bears introspection…
David, I really like what you are saying here. It mirrors my own personal learning curve in trying to make better images. Thanks!
These comments are wonderful! Love this conversation and am appreciative of all of the thought provoking folks taking the time to engage!
I think “Nice Capture”, “Great Snap” etc have become almost a meme for something to post, just for the sake of posting.
The only thing any worse is “Great Sanp. Check out my images at ….”
I honestly do not believe that these phrases are used for actual praise. More like some of us say “How are you?”or “How’s it going?” when we shake hands. We are not REALLY asking. We just feel rude for not saying anything.
I think that if you are moved by the image, take a moment to tell the artist and why, otherwise, remain silent.
The part of the brain that separates us from animals is that ours contains a more developed sense of language. Through exercising this part and using it to define, in greater depth, our understanding of art. We can also force a greater understanding of ourselves and our relationships to art and how it connects us to each other.
First of all I simply LOVED the photo you used to illustrate your post. It’s beautiful! I love the feeling it gives me!
Second, I think what you’re saying is basically to treat a photograph the way we treat a work of art. No one approaches a painting thinking ‘oh, if i were this painter, I would do such and such a thing instead’. Maybe because photography is newer medium than other types of art and all kinds of people use it… I don’t know. But I agree with you. I just think not everyone is creating the kind of ‘ look at this’ photograph instead of ‘look at me’ as much. Great post! :c)
I think it is our relationship with our own work that colors how we talk about others work. Some of the most amazing photos should leave me speechless. I should sit and study them to try to learn what the photographer wants me to see in the photo and how they want I to see it. But instead I project my need for validation on them and feel obligated to offer an empty compliment or praise.
Thanks for making my think David
I find my inner reaction to other peoples photos that I really love is “I wonder what that experience was like” or “Wow, I feel like I am there.” The problem I have with my own photos is often when I am editing a shoot I try to convey the feeling of the place but as soon as I post a photo I begin looking for “feedback crack” anxiously waiting for others to approve or disapprove of my offering. It is a very hard habit to break, and balance. Getting your work out and visible to the public but not being dependent on their blessing for your happiness.
I came back to read the article again and the newer comments, and it hit me how much nature’s details mimic human’s and vice versa. When I looked at the photograph at the top of this post, I didn’t see trees reflecting in a lake. The trees and reflection of the trees with the horizon line appear as a woman’s lips and mouth at the moment before a smile, seemingly enjoying the peace and serenity of the moment.
Thank you for this as well… Always teaching.
Nicely said, I couldn’t agree more. Check out, if you are inclined, a G+ community called West Michigan Photography Enthusiasts. I think we are getting toward what you said.
I would love your thoughts.
I rarely get any comments that contain constructive criticism or an explanation of why someone enjoys one of my photos. I still make it a point to leave more detailed feedback in the hopes that it is reciprocated, but I’m not at all offended by “nice capture” or “LOVE!!!.” I take a photo for me, and because I felt something when I took it. I share it because I hope someone else sees what I see, but I don’t feel anything is lost if they don’t come out and say it. Feedback can certainly help a photographer grow, but so can continually shooting without letting criticism or praise influence out photographic vision.
Once again your ability to put eloquent words to your thoughts, regardless of how harsh you may think them to be, is a gift that I always feel so lucky to read. You always manage to write about these things at times when, from a selfish point of view, I need them the most.
For me personally, in life, not just photography, I have been guilty of number four, and at times, I probably stll am. Thank you for putting it into words so that I may become a better person.
Insightful as always. David, thank you for making us think.
The take-vs-make debate is an extension of the gear-vs-vision dilemma. It’s the trap of focusing on the wrong thing….the mechanics of the capture, the equipment, the software, etc. Those are the empty calories of photography. A super-sized McImage value meal. A nice capture.
One tastes the good stuff when one scratches below the surface. When one slows down. So you can think. Can see what’s authentic. Can decide what story to tell. Can experience the scene in front of you, whether from behind your own camera…or when viewing the image of another photographer.
Doing so helps one make better photographs. Equally as important, it enables one to appreciate the humbling challenge of making great pictures. This deeper sense of the challenge, I find, helps me better appreciate the work of other photographers. To seek to understand their creative choices. To listen to their story; especially when our perspectives diverge. To learn from them.
So I agree. Less talking and more listening. Less how (gear) and more what (vision). Less taking and more making.
a little less conversation a little more action…..
Yes, you nailed it with all 4 Thoughts.
Right at the beginning:
“As always, I think the questions are more important than the answers.”
This alone helps me in so many ways right now.
Don`t stop doing this.
I think that these thoughts can be applied more broadly than just photography. What if we applied them to all of our interactions with pieces of art? What if we applied them to all of our interactions with other people?
Well said. Exactly what I was thinking. Not that I haven’t been guilty in photography and other endeavors of “nice capture” equivalents myself. I for one pledge to have more meaningful conversations, or not to bother.
Good points all, and I must admit I have been guilty of the “nice capture.”
That said, Wow! I would be proud to have this image on a wall of my home. Simply stunning; as I have said before, you are one who has a true understanding of the power of elegant simplicity.
The picture made me say, aaaah, a Turner. The mist, the color, and what are those spires in the left middle of the frame? Churches? Buildings? Smoke stacks? Ah, no, trees. It is so peaceful, ethereal, and makes me wish I could see something this beautiful in my lifetime.
I’m constantly struggling with myself with wanting to be polite and comment on a contact’s photos if they comment on mine., even if i’m not particularly moved by the photo. Especially on Flickr, it seems there’s this unwritten etiquette about comments. So that’s where the “nice capture” happens for me. A polite way of saying, I saw your photo.
Thanks for the distinction between “look at this” and “look at me” it’s something I want to work on.
As always, straight as an arrow. With no shortage of cameras and cameramen (I am consciously avoiding the word photographer) around us all the time, all screaming “look at me”, it is so important to ask what’s the intent of making that photograph. Is it only for bragging rights or to satisfy that yearning which forced them to stop and take notice of light, action, drama or whatever that intrigued them in the first place?
Nice article, and food for thought. Personally, I never cared for the statement “nice capture” and see it all too often in blogs and on Facebook, especially. I prefer to look at the photo and the creative process to come to the end result, the “photograph”. “Nice Capture” is hollow and does not lead into more discussion, it a passing glimpse, non-thought provoking and brief. “Photographers” that post photos on Facebook without descriptions is also hollow. I see this often as well. Sometimes, really beautiful work of photographic art goes without descriptions, without the photographer’s comments and thoughts about making the image, and often gets passed by, not even with a “nice capture” comment. Alan.
“Nice Capture” sounds pretentious to me but is really meant to be ” i like this photo”. The speakers meaning and the listeners response are often different especially in one way conversations on the internet. So I am not offended by this term, I just don’t like it. In the same way I don’t like the expression ” I reached out to _____”. It is the receiver’s issue I think – not the speaker.