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What Makes It MY Photo?

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    Posted: 08 January 2018 at 23:19
I often wonder how much credit I can honestly take for producing 'my' photos. After doing this thing called photography for several decades, it remains an open question. I was reminded about it recently when I commented in a DPReview thread about several aspects of a particular photo that I thought should be credited to the efforts of others rather than the photographer. I eventually nagged myself into reviewing some recent photos of my own with the same question in mind, and thought some of you might also find it interesting. (I also added it as an article on my website.)

I chose this small sample of five images that were shot in numeric order during one afternoon and the following morning of a pleasure trip back in August, and that I consider reasonably successful (meaning only that I continue to enjoy looking at them). These photos were not planned at all. They just happened during the course of my wandering around ... and that's one of the reasons why I hesitate to claim them as mine with any conviction. If I had preconceived a tableau, gathered its components together, arranged them, lit them, and recorded the result, I wouldn't have trouble considering myself the creator of that photograph. But when I'm just reacting to things encountered in the world as they turn up, ambiguity enters the picture. (GPS location data is embedded in all five shots for those interested. Thank you, A55.)

This first one of the group was an unremarkable shot of sand dunes from a seaside parking lot. Not particularly good weather, nor a particularly good time of day for it. I was aware at the time that I was failing to do justice to the scene, but I still wanted to shoot something. So, we see things that Mother Nature put there, and we see things that people put there: a fence, a sign, a pathway, and lots of footprints. Nature and a bunch of strangers are the ones who created that tableau. What was my contribution? I think I stood on something to get a slightly higher than normal POV, and I chose a composition. Later on, I also goosed the colors and contrast in PP. In other words, my contribution was to operate the camera and Photoshop in a particular way. Question ... Did I create anything here?



Number two was shot about an hour later at a business that buys and resells wine barrels. The light has improved, so there's a bit more drama to the scene. Everything except the light was made through the actions of other people, and those actions were based primarily on pragmatism, not esthetics. In phase one it was, "Make your quota of wine barrels today, the same way we made them yesterday, and the day before." Then, a long time later in phase two it was, "Unload today's haul and put them over there with the others." What did I do here? I framed the shot and pressed the shutter button, then cropped it a bit in PP later. Yay for me.



I don't really remember shooting number three ... but EXIF says it was another hour later. I wonder what I was thinking when I composed it. When I look at the photo now, it seems to have a lot of nothing in it ... yet my eye jumps uncontrollably from the rocks to the distant stuff and back again over and over, sometimes resting for a bit on the dirty-looking water. Is that good? If so, maybe I was in a zen state of consciousness. Or it was just dumb luck. Well, I also sneakily presented it as a filtered B&W conversion so I could exaggerate the contrast. It seems this oddly empty shot that I don't remember taking is the one that's most 'mine' so far.



The next morning I stumbled on a goldmine, number four. I cut my photographic teeth decades ago prowling the infinite streets of greater Los Angeles, finding jumbles of crap like this pretty much every day and visually eating them up. From within this one scene I can pull at least five distinct and different and exciting (to me) compositions. Other people created and 'arranged' every object in the scene; but the great thing here is that almost nothing in it was designed with the intention of being noticed at all. It's just the necessary but mundane, embarassing stuff of human effort that only gets seen accidentally. The few exceptions - clearly put there intentionally by nutty people for the enjoyment of folks like me - add the perfect ironic contrast. Although I am extremely happy to have found and captured this shot, I don't take one iota of credit for its creation.



Number five provides a lot of food for thought. In its original state as a blank wall, that scene would have been similar to number four, though not nearly as interesting. It would have been so ignorable that it might never have been photographed by anyone; but in 2015, a mural artist (Jeff Raum) completely changed it. A photo of that wall now is primarily a photo of that mural, which is the artist's creation. But the other complication introduced here is the human figure, my wife. She becomes a new component that changes the scene and the viewer experience quite a bit. I don't remember if I asked her to stand that way in that spot or if I just shot it as I saw it. Either way, her posture, with her camera hanging unused at her side, appears as someone standing in front of a lonely zoo exhibit of a not particularly interesting animal. It does occur to me that I might very well have taken this shot with her in it - and maybe enjoyed it as much or more - even if there had been nothing but white paint on the wall ... if I had preconceived the tableau instead of stumbling on it as we walked by. The fact is that the mural is really what drew me to do something, so the mural and the muralist deserve most of the credit. I can also thank the coincidence of sunlight casting shadows that enhance the illusion of a three dimensional dinosaur. In the end, I can only take a tiny bit of partial credit.



Comments and/or photos touching on anything related are welcome.
 



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Photosopher View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Quote Photosopher Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 09 January 2018 at 03:18
Highly satisfactory all around. Good with the words you are. The ghost you poke is a trickster that not everyone so eagerly questions. I'm glad you did. I have myself, though I cannot promise the answers I resolved will satisfy your inquiry.

Clues are found in the words you use to state the question. "Take credit" you may after it is given. For you made a photograph. Go ahead and give credit to the muralist for the mural, and the architect for the building. Go ahead and personify sunlight to the extent you believe it may also deserve (and can accept) credit for the part it played. None of them made the photograph that you made.

I never liked the idea of taking a picture. We make them. At the galactic quantum level, yours will always be different than mine. For the laws that govern sunlight to reflect upon a muralists pigment are the same laws that prevent you and I from standing in the same place at the same time. I suggest that prevents any credit from ever being taken any more than a picture can be taken. Responsibility is earned with every picture you make. But you don't get credit until it is given to you by another.

I give you credit for the photograph you take responsibility for. You take responsibility because you made it. Responsibility and credit are not the same for you can pass away and leave/transfer responsibility to another, and they will still give the credit of making to you.

Were I to share your picture with others, then I do well to give you additional credit. Pictures are more like thoughts than things. They travel to spaces and times beyond ourselves. We don't take thoughts. We make them. We expect new thoughts will be birthed from the original. And even though a thousand thoughts down the road we may not can know the original thinking, we still give them credit.

I like the way you processed these images. Reminds me of Ektachrome.

Edited by Photosopher - 09 January 2018 at 03:21
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Post Options Post Options   Quote Steve-S Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 09 January 2018 at 05:41
It's also worth noting that there are artistic and documentarian objectives in photography; that when you are documenting, doing so successfully rather limits the artistic elements and renders such questions -- is it "my" photograph -- rather keenly: if you have made it "yours" have you imposed too much of your own vision, and failed to document what is?

Let's ask your question with (for example) the iconic "sailor kissing girl" photo in Times Square at the end of WWII... Sailor in uniform (a bit tipsy), filled with exuberance at the end of the war, sees & kisses a nurse in uniform.

A photographer happens to be there, and snaps the shot.

Is it "his" photograph? A grabbed shot, of a grabbed girl, in a grabbed moment...

(and it's likely worth noting this in light of the current social climate, too)
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Post Options Post Options   Quote Aavo Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 09 January 2018 at 08:13
I tried to define:
my photo is my photo, if made by me in what ever situation with what ever equipment/software and brings satisfaction.
   


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Post Options Post Options   Quote pegelli Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 09 January 2018 at 08:37
Good question, but my take on it has always been that you need to differentiate between the photo (on paper, on screen, as a file on your computer, in the old days an image on film) and the scene or subject that can be seen in the photo.

1) It's my photo, I determine what's on it and what not, I determine the point of view from where I take it, I determine when I take it, I do the post processing to my liking etc.

2) The scene on the photo, landscape, building, equipment, artwork, people etc. is never mine and when known/justified I will credit the creator of that scene in the caption of my photo.
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Post Options Post Options   Quote Steve-S Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 09 January 2018 at 09:25
Take a look at this image (not mine):
http://www.toledoblade.com/image/2004/03/28/600x600/Toledo-Ballet-takes-on-the-most-elaborate-production-it-has-ever-attempted.jpg

Professional dancer -- YEARS of work in that physique & learning the intensity/emotion/etc.

Costume design -- many hours

Costume creation/constructon -- many more hours

Makeup artist -- again, many hours.

ALL of whom are skilled artistic professionals; ALL of whom probably put in more time than the photographer, even including post.

Whose photo is it?
(well, OK: legally, it clearly "belongs" to the Toledo Ballet Co.)
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Post Options Post Options   Quote Miranda F Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 09 January 2018 at 09:30
There are several aspects to this:

Legally: Roughly speaking, if you are the photographer and don't have any legal agreements in place to transfer ownership, the picrture you take is 'yours'.

Artistically: If you choose to stand at the observation platform above Niagra falls and take the same picture thousands of other people have taken, and in exactly the same conditions as perhaps a hundred others that day, you may be justified in feeling the image doesn't have much of your creativity in it. Snapping the shutter at random in a strange town can be similar.

Philosophically: My personal view is that every time you click the shutter you are doing more than just freezing an image on the rolling scene of expereience (though that is what many poeple intend to do); your choice of lens, focal length, viewpoint, aim, aperture, shutter speed, colour settings and the rest are *creating* an image.

That is not to say the the image you create has any value, either to you or anyone else (I would probably delete several of the pictures you've taken!) nor does it say that the image is unique in any significant way, but it could be.

Example: When I was young my parents both had SLRs and when we went somewhere new with an interesting view, we would all wander about taking pictures. Dad would take colour slides, mum would take prints, and I could be doing either or b/w. I would take pictures from several angles, my father would wander around for half an hour and take *one* picture, and when I finally found the perfect place to get the best view, I would find my mother already standing there.

The point is, that much of the time you can snap away anywhere you like without much thought (as it appears you did, if you will excuse me being rude!), but to create an image worth looking at usually needs some thought. And sometimes the elements of a scene that attract you are quite difficult to capture in a single image. That is where the artistry lies (certainly in landscape photography) - capturing the important parts of the scene, in the right proportions, to make the scene recognisable and beautiful, or maybe to illustrate aspects of the scene that you wouldn't notice casually. Sometimes this needs a lot more care than others, but when it works well it is very satisfying.

The digital camera has lowered the cost of capturing images, and made the playback instantaneous, freeing us to expeiment far more than we would probably have done in film days when colour pictures were expensive. But I feel there is a donwside too, in the temptation to snap away without much thought rather than spend time searching for the best image we can find.


Edited by Miranda F - 09 January 2018 at 09:35
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Post Options Post Options   Quote pegelli Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 09 January 2018 at 09:48
Originally posted by Steve-S Steve-S wrote:

Take a look at this image (not mine):
http://www.toledoblade.com/image/2004/03/28/600x600/Toledo-Ballet-takes-on-the-most-elaborate-production-it-has-ever-attempted.jpg

Professional dancer -- YEARS of work in that physique & learning the intensity/emotion/etc.

Costume design -- many hours

Costume creation/constructon -- many more hours

Makeup artist -- again, many hours.

ALL of whom are skilled artistic professionals; ALL of whom probably put in more time than the photographer, even including post.

Whose photo is it?
(well, OK: legally, it clearly "belongs" to the Toledo Ballet Co.)


I don't think artistic effort (time & energy) determine whose photo it is.

In my mind the photo is from the person holding the camera and clicking the shutter. However the question what he can do with the photo like publishing or even making money from it is a different matter. That depends on many other things including (but not limited to) the contract or agreement he made with the person in the image or the organisation she belongs to, model release of the dancer in the image and the agreements with the costume designer/creator (either with the photographer or with the dancer/organisation she belongs to).

But the same is true for the dancer or organisation she belongs to. They can only use that photo along the lines of the agreement or contract they made with the photographer.
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Post Options Post Options   Quote Winwalloe Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 09 January 2018 at 10:03
In photography I think we "take" a lot. Even more so indeed in documentary photography.
When it comes to portraits that's why I think that as photographer we're required to give as much dignity as possible to our subjects.

But don't undervalue your action... You choose the framing (as Pierter say) and also the time of the photograph. What we might think as permanent is often temporary, not just clouds in the sky of our landscapes, but also entire neighbourhoods that might be destroyed in a matter of months.
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Post Options Post Options   Quote waldo_posth Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 09 January 2018 at 11:44
Interesting discussion.

Digital photography certainly has changed the subjective experience of the effort that is invested to produce a photograph (including PP). Just think about creating the same series of images by using a 4x5 in. field camera. Instant upload to Instagram via smartphone (you do not even need a camera to practice photography!) would indicate even less effort (Instagram filters for PP and up it goes!). Be serious: You don't have to go out for a "pleasure trip" - just stay at home and create screenshots of surveillance camera feeds which you can find surfing on the net! See here or here.

What makes it MY (YOUR) photo? A couple of years ago I began to collect photographic estates of families (from the 1950s-1990s). It is amazing how many really bad images can be found in these estates (unsharp, bad colors, bad composition, not to forget the tilted horizons). Obviously nobody bothered throwing them away. And obviously they had a meaning within the family, its biographies and the trajectories which they moved through, particularly holidays, vacations - and "pleasure trips". So MY photo is something that has been added to my and my family's memories, it's my biography illustrated, thanks to technological advances.

Of course, that's probably not the answer which might satisfy the OP. If the five photos would be the product of an assignment for a professional photographer (not really a "pleasure trip") one could still discuss their quality or the rationale of the assignment (can one make money with photographs of boring parking lots? Yes, certainly! It's art!). But the question: Are these MY photos? would have been answered already by contracts, leases, copyright fees etc. Well, there is this puzzling case, but it's exceptional.

The funny thing is: the OP already included the answer in his post. It's in image #5: A person with a camera is standing in front of an information panel about "feeding time". All reality is feeding photographers with subjects, potential images - at the end the photographer cannot withstand the urge to actuate the shutter (that's one of the reasons why we can now see image #5) - and rather take one more if it's digital images (there will be ever more harddisk space!). But this does not mean that the photographer ist just a neutral agent depicting reality as it is. There is creative autonomy involved in this act (responsibility just sounds too conservative for me) - why this angle, why this composition, why this boring parking lot? Creative autonomy has to be added to reality! Then it will be bigger than life - it will be 3D! (Have a closer look at the T-Rex!). If anyone is looking for some elucidating comments: That's how you climb the ladder to art, starting from images of flower pots at the bottom.

So this is my answer: If you are neither restricting your photography to the illustration of your biography nor practicing it professionally for earning money my guess is that you are just ambitious! You want to climb the ladder, at least some rungs. Art is skillfulness or at least it's based upon it.

There is one huge drawback, though. Reality has already deeply absorbed the fact that it will be photographed and has changed it looks for that reason, subjectively. The boring parking lots have already been ennobled by famous art photographers. You no longer can be naive photographing them. That makes climbing the ladder so hard.

Edit: added links!


Edited by waldo_posth - 09 January 2018 at 12:10
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Post Options Post Options   Quote owenn01 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 09 January 2018 at 11:49
Wow - 'Dyxum: the home of Philosophical Argument'

There are so many potential layers to be peeled back debating what aspect of image taking makes it 'Your' or 'My' photo surely; I agree that taking images of artistic works does not, necessarily, make it 'your' work but that of capturing an image of another's efforts. But by the same token, one has also imprinted upon that piece of work your own interpretation and character to bring out what makes it special to you as an observer and that is what you want to communicate to those who look at your photograph. I suspect in that situation, it is then 'Your' image of someone else's work.

Similarly, looking at the examples above, as pegelli points out you have moved around; taken the choice to observe and take the image from possibly different perspectives and heights - in all these cases this is your interpretation and observation of a scene (albeit made by Nature or even, if you feel that way, a greater Being) and that, by that argument, and the fact you chose to stroke the shutter at that precise moment in time, makes it 'Your' image and no-one else's.

Finally - if one has two people, stood side by side, looking at the same scene and taking the very same shot at the very same time, would they be seen as 'identical' images and interpreted as being the same? No - by a strict argument they couldn't be as one will have a slight but perceptible difference in viewpoint, viewing angle, detail and shadow shape and form (pixel peeping would help here...). So they are similar but not identical, and each would surely be seen as each individual's own interpretation of the scene before them. Both would equally be 'My' picture for each photographer.

It's an interesting argument - taken to an ultimate level - and I think the challenge for all of us is to impress something of our own personality and psyche into the scenes we see before us - of whoever's creation ultimately - and create an image we are proud to describe as 'Ours'.

Best regards, Neil.

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Post Options Post Options   Quote Aavo Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 09 January 2018 at 12:45
Just to add - my photo of my design :)
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Post Options Post Options   Quote sybersitizen Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 09 January 2018 at 17:25
Thanks for the responses! For now, I'll pick just a few to expand on.

Originally posted by pegelli pegelli wrote:

In my mind the photo is from the person holding the camera and clicking the shutter.

I agree that my contribution - both in these examples and in all other situations - is owning, carrying, setting up, and operating the camera equipment plus any other hardware and/or software I might have used for PP. Over time I've developed a certain level of knowledge and skill in handling these things, and that is the undeniable contribution that I bring to the table. But by acknowledging all that, it brings up another complication. It reveals that I am also reliant on the providers of the hardware and software I use. The capabilities built into those tools undeniably influence what I produce. If I had inadequate or unfamiliar tools, my results might be very different and less satisfactory.

Originally posted by waldo_posth waldo_posth wrote:

Just think about creating the same series of images by using a 4x5 in. field camera. Instant upload to Instagram via smartphone (you do not even need a camera to practice photography!) would indicate even less effort (Instagram filters for PP and up it goes!).

Exactly! I am always indebted to my toolmakers as well as to those whose work resulted in subjects for me to photograph.

Originally posted by pegelli pegelli wrote:

However the question what he can do with the photo like publishing or even making money from it is a different matter.

My focus here is on the ethical fine points of creativity, not really on ownership rights. However, that comment immediately reminds me of this recent legal battle.

That involved the complication of a non-human participant, but valid questions can exist as to who 'owns the rights' to an image where a photographer set up every aspect of the capture, but someone else in the final moment might have pressed the shutter release. (But again, that's not really what my focus is here.)

Originally posted by Miranda F Miranda F wrote:

I would probably delete several of the pictures you've taken! ... you can snap away anywhere you like without much thought (as it appears you did, if you will excuse me being rude!), but to create an image worth looking at usually needs some thought.

I appreciate your candor. I might need to clarify that I didn't post these examples as representative of my best work, and although I do enjoy looking at them, I fully acknowledge that many viewers will be unimpressed with their artistic value. Also, as I originally said, I feel much more confident in claiming a larger stake of 'ownership' of photos in situations where I preconceive the whole thing and construct it to my own specifications.

In any case, the separate idea that thought matters in photography is worthwhile to consider. I don't even remember taking #3 at all; but is that so bad? Considering that I've been doing photography since the 1970s and have probably performed something in the neighborhood of 100,000 shutter releases over that time, I suppose in many cases my decision to release the shutter today can be largely automatic and almost subconscious. In traditional arts like painting and poetry, the flow of the subconscious with as little interference as possible from the filter of conscious thought is often valued highly. Why not with photography?

Edited by sybersitizen - 09 January 2018 at 18:24
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Post Options Post Options   Quote pegelli Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 09 January 2018 at 18:32
I think every artist in every field will always depend on contributions from others. At this moment I can't think of an example where that's not the case. But that doesn't change the ownership of the art the artist created.

For instance your second example, someone owns the barrels and even the way they are set up in the space they stand. But it's your picture because of where you stand and what to include/exclude from the picture and when you take the picture. The owner of the barrels as well as the person who set them up contribute to your picture, but it's not their picture, it's your picture of their barrels.

That is probably as fine as I am able to split this ethical hair
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