A “Good” Image ~ What is the Standard Today?

Ganges Fishing Boat

As mentioned in an earlier post, as the barriers of entry to photography have fallen and technology has improved,  the number of “photographers” has grown exponentially. But, at least in my opinion, the standard of what is considered “good” photography is lower. Our cameras are smarter than ever and the software we use to process our images is nothing short of phenomenal. So why?  I can think of three possibilities.

First, we tend to judge our work with that of our peers. And if the average quality of the work we are seeing is trending downward because of the shear number of people taking and publishing pictures then our concept of what constitutes “good” work will also tend to drift downward as well. Regression to the mean.

Secondly, we probably recognize the names of many of the earlier giants of photography such as Henri Cartier-Bresson, Paul Strand, Edward Weston, and of course, Ansel Adams, along with many others. But, unfortunately, the influence they had over the photographers of a generation or so ago has now faded and will soon be lost. I am afraid we concern ourselves more with how many megapixels our camera has, how fast our lens is, or if we have the new, new software. Who are the iconic photographers of today? Will they be able to fill shoes of their predecessors mentioned above?

Lastly, the print. In the past the captured image wasn’t completed until it was printed. In other words, the standard of what constituted a “good” image was the final print. If printed large enough, the true character of the image is shown through, warts and all. The photographer’s creative vision was tested by how well the image translated into the print. Not anymore. Very few images ever get printed. Most are and will be viewed at 72dpi on a computer monitor or smartphone. If printed, most photographs will be uploaded from the camera’s card to a commercial printer such as Walmart. Thus, the print is only as good as the software in the camera and the equipment at the printer. Many photographers will never have the pleasure of seeing their images as a finely crafted print.

Being a “good” photographer has to be more than a low res experience on the web. It must include learning from the giants that have gone before. Also required is passion,
patience, and practice. Hasn’t it been said that to just begin mastering a skill it takes 10 thousand hours?

More Essays on Photography are here.

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  1. carol July 16, 2012 at 8:35 am #

    All good points above. Those who are passionate about photography and motivated by self satisfaction with their work will continue to strive to make it the best it can be (without the recognition and financial incentives possible in the past – when the field was less crowded.) BTW – the subject matter, colors, and composition of the above photo are exquisite.

  2. Ron July 16, 2012 at 5:52 pm #

    Carol, you say it so well. We are fortunate to be able to follow our passions. Thanks for commenting.

  3. Gilly Gee September 12, 2012 at 5:57 am #

    You are absolutely right, I don’t believe there will ever be another generation of greats like you name. There are so, so many people producing good work, helped by our ability to travel to places once exotic or remote that a truly, truly outstanding image is a rare thing.
    Having said that I love your work, it’s the standard that I aspire to but will never reach, because I have quite a good eye but not enough time to hone the technical skills.