P.S. (the thing with taste)

In my previous post, I made a snide remark in the footnotes: “given the amount of positive reactions that highly saturated landscape photos and overcooked HDR images still get, there is clearly plenty of bad taste out there. :)”

I’ve added that smiley to make clear that I’m joking… and for what it’s worth, it’s only the photographers who get so obsessed about over-processed images, usually (as I’ve already said). But I feel that I should elaborate about this whole “taste” thing a little bit. <taking a deep breath>

Solitary Cottonwood tree on the pastures of Lake Henshaw at sunset, near Warner Springs, California. August 2014.
Solitary Cottonwood tree on the pastures of Lake Henshaw at sunset, near Warner Springs, California. August 2014.

There is no good taste or bad taste.

Of course not. But there probably is something like an “expert taste” and a “layman’s taste” (or an “educated” taste versus an “uneducated” taste, mind you I put these words in quotation marks, don’t take them literally).

When I was a boy I listened to pop music on the radio. I liked it (but everything was better back in ye olden days). As I grew older, I became interested in making music myself* (on the computer) and as I learned more about making music, I began to recognize how simple popular radio music was. And I became more interested in different kinds of music, from the complex compositions of progressive rock to the intriguing, multi-layered arrangements and sound wizardry of psychedelic trance, to the minimalistic essences of ambient.

I had gained an understanding of the process, and it had changed my taste. The majority of the population still listened to pop music on the radio though, and me and my friends would occasionally fret about how cheap it was. How could people be so dumb, and listen to that? It was the oenophile frowning at the folks drinking Two Buck Chuck. It was the gourmet frowning at fast food. And so on, and so on.

And the over-saturated landscapes and overcooked HDR images** are appealing to non-photographers because they don’t know the process. People who like these images don’t have bad taste. They simply can’t tell that it’s rather cheap to crank up the saturation and/or detail extraction in software. It’s only the photographers who get agitated about it though.

And while I’m comparing music with photography, there’s another similarity: in music, there was something going on that was called the “Loudness War” (Wikipedia). It was about mastering records with dynamic compression so much that they would sound louder, as a whole. I guess we’re seeing something similar in “pop” photography – the color war. When an endless stream of images scrolls by on social media, the “louder” ones stand out more. It’s the ages of principle of attention seeking.

Creatives of the world, get over it.

Popular things are often cheap and don’t appeal to those of us who have refined their tastes through dedication to a craft and art. And that’s all.

*) a creative outlet that I eventually gave up in favor of photography, but if you’re interested, have a look at my Bandcamp page.

**) I think it’s safe to say that a certain type of HDR, done well, even has become a technical style (like low-key or high-key).

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9 Responses

  1. Very nice photo, wanted to comment on G+.
    But you are a bit wrong with the name and email only. If wordpress links your email to a wordpress account you have to sign in there to. ;)

  2. Interesting. I also think that one of the reasons some non photographers like the over saturated surreal looking images (HDR or otherwise) is they simply haven’t been out in nature enough to know what a sunset actually looks like. If you aren’t familiar with how the scene actually looks, judging the “realness” of a photograph is going to be much more difficult.

  3. But there probably is something like an “expert taste” and a “layman’s taste” (or an “educated” taste versus an “uneducated” taste, mind you I put these words in quotation marks, don’t take them literally).
    Your music analogy is spot on. With education comes change.
    Should we assume someone creates over saturated photos because of ignorance or …perhaps it’s the decision to dispose of accepted rules of fine photography? . A photographer may completely understand the parameters needed to produce such work, but decide it is not part of the final message.

    1. The reasons could be many, Mark.

      I think we all look for some kind of validation and acknowledgement, and it’s easy to post a crowd-pleaser photo that “works” on social media (in the 1-2 seconds of attention it gets as it scrolls by) and collect the reward of comments, likes, favorites, +1s, etc.

      Also, many photographers sell workshops and classes, those who market themselves via social media may find it more beneficial to draw attention to themselves via an easily digestible, happy and colorful photo.

  4. I do not understand why a photographer would want to change an image into something it’s not. I guess if your going for impressionism or some such but the beauty or horror of reality is enough for me. I’m pretty literal and don’t understand the need to change reality. However I happen to love reading sci-fi and fantasy, go figure. Help me out here.

    1. Very complicated terrain here with room for a lot of philosophical questions! :)

      What is an image, and what is it not? And who gets to define that? For example – what about black & white? Is that an illegitimate interpretation already? After all, “reality” is in color for most of us.

      But which color? We humans have built-in “white balance”, but in reality, color temperatures differ wildly. Which is correct? The “real” color of the world, or the world as we see it with our own, flawed perception?

      And is the “real” capture as the camera sees it, without post processing, or is what we think we saw and what to convey, after post processing?

      It’s not that simple. I interpret my photographs freely and artistically, as I please. Photographs never accurately depict reality, anyway. We live a linear existence in a three dimensional world and the camera freezes one moment of that, two-dimensionally. How could that be accurate?

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