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Does The Subject Make The Photograph?

  1. Apr 7, 2009 #1
    Does The Subject "Make" The Photograph?

    There are a lot of photography buffs here so I think it's a good place to ask people's opinions on what "makes" an effective photograph. Is it the subject or the photographer?

    Someone I was talking with proposed that the subject is, at least, 50% responsible for the effectiveness of an effective photograph, literally such that, in the case of a human portrait, the subject should be entitled to 50% of any profit from any sale of the photo, not for reasons of the rights to how their image is used, but due to their appearance constituting an artistic contribution to the image. He developed this argument by saying that this contribution consisted, not of direct artistic input, but in having "influenced" the photographer.

    That notion came up in conjunction with an image of a person with tattoos and piercings and a particular hairstyle. The person making these arguments asserted that the effectiveness of the image was 50% due to the subject having cultivated a particular "look". He argued that her "look" is what made the photo interesting, therefore she deserved 50% of the credit and profit, if things were only fair, for having "influenced" the photographer to photograph her.

    When I raised the question of how much artistic influence we should ascribe to, say, a flower, when an effective photo of that flower has been produced, this person asserted that, indeed, the flower should be acknowledged as having influenced the photograph by 50%.

    What do all you photographers think?
     
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  3. Apr 8, 2009 #2

    russ_watters

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    Re: Does The Subject "Make" The Photograph?

    It requires both. There are tons great photographs out there in the world, waiting for a photographer to capture them.
     
  4. Apr 8, 2009 #3
    Re: Does The Subject "Make" The Photograph?

    If the photograph sucks, is it the subject's fault?
     
  5. Apr 8, 2009 #4

    Danger

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    Re: Does The Subject "Make" The Photograph?

    As far as I can determine from my personal perception of photos, it comes down to the photographer's feelings. I've seen some technically lousy shots that conveyed incredible emotion and an understanding of the scene. Conversely, I've seen a lot of shots by professional photogs that were a total waste of paper. Art is in the eye of the beholder.
     
  6. Apr 8, 2009 #5
    Re: Does The Subject "Make" The Photograph?

    This is why I didn't try to further define "effective" when referring to an "effective photograph". If two people agree it's effective they can discuss it between themselves as such.

    Can you elaborate on what you mean when you say it comes down to the photographer's feelings?
     
  7. Apr 8, 2009 #6

    Danger

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    Re: Does The Subject "Make" The Photograph?

    I can try, but I don't think that I can actually do it. It's too subjective. You are an artist; I am not, so you shouldn't be asking me.
    What I'm thinking is that an artistic photographer feels a scene and snaps it with a disposable Kodak if that's all that he has on hand. That can evoke more emotion in a viewer than an identical staged shot taken by a pro with $10,000 worth of Canon equipment.
    This is not in any way meant to put down professional photographers who do awesome work. They all bring beauty to our world.
     
  8. Apr 8, 2009 #7
    Re: Does The Subject "Make" The Photograph?

    Would it be safe to say, in applying what you've said to my original question, that your opinion is that the effectiveness of an effective photograph is primarily the product of the photographers instincts and aesthetics?

    The issue is subject versus photographer. Lemme ask the inverse of what I asked Russ: is there a subject so good it is photographer-proof?
     
  9. Apr 8, 2009 #8

    matthyaouw

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    Re: Does The Subject "Make" The Photograph?

    This is what model release forms are for. They are a contract between the model and photographer setting out how the image may be used, sold etc. A lot of photographers don't like to work without them and could find themselves in a rather awkward situation if they didn't and a model objected to use of a photo, demadned more money etc...

    Does she have to split her 50% with her tattooist and piercer, who must be equally responsible for the creation of her look as she is?


    Seriously though, interesting question, It's the kind of thing I have thought about in the past. I'll input my thoughts when I'm not about to be late for work.
     
  10. Apr 8, 2009 #9
    Re: Does The Subject "Make" The Photograph?

    Yes, but the issue is whether a photographer should remotely consider signing a release in which the subject wants a 50% credit for "influencing" the photographer and a resultant 50% financial cut.

    Now you're getting a whiff of the stink here. And not just the piercer, shouldn't the inventor of the eyebrow jewelry or lip ring get a royalty? What about the manufacturer of her clothes?
     
  11. Apr 8, 2009 #10

    Danger

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    Re: Does The Subject "Make" The Photograph?

    To the first question, I think that the answer is yes, conditional upon that instinct resonating with the audience.
    To the second, there are limits of course. Would that unforgettable shot of the little girl running from a village in Viet Nam have been less effective had it been taken a few seconds sooner or later? Probably, but the overall impact would still have been there. It could have been taken with a Kodak Brownie, and still emotionally touch the viewers.
     
  12. Apr 8, 2009 #11

    JasonRox

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    Re: Does The Subject "Make" The Photograph?

    Personally, I think it's only the photographer. I have to say that those who say both, or the subject, are wrong.

    Professional photographers know how to make great pictures out of bad subjects. A small example of that is wedding photos. If pay for a good photographer, you're basically guaranteed fantastic pictures.
     
  13. Apr 8, 2009 #12

    JasonRox

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    Re: Does The Subject "Make" The Photograph?

    Yes, if she's very attractive and naked, that should do it.
     
  14. Apr 8, 2009 #13
    Re: Does The Subject "Make" The Photograph?

    http://massthink.files.wordpress.com/2009/02/ut-vietnam-girl.jpg [Broken]

    As you can see, the photo actually gains in impact for being somewhat unsharp and grainy in that this contributes to the sense of panic, danger, and violence. Shows with "gritty" subject matter (take NYPD Blue) are deliberately filmed to manifest an overly grainy image and hand held camera effects for this very reason. (Also used a lot in the battles in Saving Private Ryan.) A Kodak Brownie, with it's much larger negative size and fixed focus lens would almost certainly have produced a better image, given the same steadiness of hold. 35mm's would be preferable to the Brownie under battle conditions because you can get more shots per roll and advance the film much more quickly, not because you can get better pictures.

    As for timing, the photographer really caught a dramatic composition and the expressions on the girl and boy's faces could probably not be more horrified.

    I expect this shot was selected by the photographer, Nick Ut, from the series clicked in sequence, and that there are shots from the seconds before and after:

    http://www.digitaljournalist.org/issue0008/ng2.htm

    There, too, you'll see a shot of her getting treated, which has nothing whatever like the impact of the famous shot despite the subject matter being no less horrifying in principle.

    Taken altogether, it's a monumentally great photograph and probably contributed more than any other single thing to Americans withdrawing their support for that war. It seems when you look at the photo that it's inevitable, that anyone standing there could have taken it, but in fact, of the three professional photographers there, Nick Ut was the only one who did: "Nicky, you got all the photos," said David Burnett."

    However, all that is digression since that picture falls squarely into the category of photojournalism and I'm more interested in the situation of a voluntary model and photography that's going to be presented as photography, per se.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  15. Apr 8, 2009 #14
    Re: Does The Subject "Make" The Photograph?

    I would say that the quality of the photograph depends upon the photographer. A subject could theoretically "make" the photo but it depends on the photographer's skill just how much the subject contributed versus the photographer. I would say this is why certain photographers get more for their photos. Generally a photographer pays a model a certain amount for their services in anticipation of how well the photos will sell. Esentially the value of the model's contribution is determined in advance.
     
  16. Apr 8, 2009 #15

    Astronuc

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    Re: Does The Subject "Make" The Photograph?

    There are benefits to photographic non-human subjects. :biggrin:

    The issue of rights and contract has been addressed, so it's not necessar to repeat.

    I don't if the person being photographed is entitled to 50% of revenue or royalties, but perhaps it depends on whether or not the person is the subject of the photograph, which would the be the basis of negotiation about terms of the release. If the photographer is lucky, he gets a release without any requirement for compensation or royalty, or he pays a one time affordable amount.

    As for subject vs photographer effect on the quality of the photograph, it's probably a combination of both. The subject is what it is, but the photographer chooses the setting (and background), lighting intensity and type (sun, overcast, natural, mercury vapor, tungsten lamp, . . . . ), depth of field, focus, proportions (closeup, distant, . . .), orientation of subject (full frontal, 3/4, 1/2, profile, . . . ), . . . .

    I've taken some interesting subjects, but for one reason or another, the lighting was poor, the focus wasn't quite right, . . . , and so the quality of the image wasn't good. For a photograph (film), the quality extends to the type of paper (graininess, glossy vs matte, etc).
     
  17. Apr 8, 2009 #16
    Re: Does The Subject "Make" The Photograph?

    Well known supermodel, Albert Einstein in the hands of a great photographer:

    einstein.jpg

    Same supermodel, lousy photographer:

    albert_einstein_2.jpg

    Einstein didn't make the first photo great and he can't make the second photo not suck. Regardless, someone might pay more than peanuts for the rights to the second photo simply because it is Einstein.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 24, 2017
  18. Apr 8, 2009 #17

    JasonRox

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    Re: Does The Subject "Make" The Photograph?

    Photographers don't simply get one shot anymore. They take hundreds, so if the subject is bad at any particular moment, that's fine. Just take a dozen more.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 24, 2017
  19. Apr 8, 2009 #18
    Re: Does The Subject "Make" The Photograph?

    It boils down to this, no? Someone may assert a given subject is inherently interesting, but it is completely in the hands of the photographer whether or not this in apparent in the photograph. You look at a thing and it seems inevitably photogenic, but it isn't. We know this from the horrible shots of very attractive people often seen on the front pages of tabloids, if from nothing else.
     
  20. Apr 8, 2009 #19
    Re: Does The Subject "Make" The Photograph?

    That's true, but the point of those two pictures is to demonstrate that the first photographer really understood how to light and pose Einstein, while the second had no apparent feel for the subject or the photograph as portait in general and Einstein could not "make" that second shot not suck.

    When I first got my digital camera I once took well over a hundred shots of a very cute girl without getting one good one. She looked uncomfortable and self conscious, and not particularly well lit in all of them. Later, after many more subjects and experimentation, I started getting a clue.
     
  21. Apr 8, 2009 #20

    Danger

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    Re: Does The Subject "Make" The Photograph?

    Sorry; I misunderstood the parameters of the original post. The only reason that I mentioned the Viet Nam example is because out of the hundreds of thousands of photographs that I've seen in my life, that image is the only one that has never vacated my head. (No, wait, there's one other; the students on the lawn at the Kent State massacre.)
     
  22. Apr 8, 2009 #21

    matthyaouw

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    Re: Does The Subject "Make" The Photograph?

    I'm not too experienced with portraits and models. It's not something I've tried. I am quite interested in "street photography" however. The kind of thing Cartier-Bresson did. It's largely candids of people going about their daily lives, usually in an urban setting.

    Take this photo as an example:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/luiscv/3382828564/
    One of my favorite images of recent months.

    On the one hand, the person (and dog) make the photograph. At another part of their his/her stride, or with the dog by their side or walking at a 45 degree angle to the stairs, this image would be changed completely. The thing is though, by their very nature these kind of photographs are un-posed. The person who is the subject possibly didn't know their photograph was being taken and almost certainly didn't make an pysical efforts to appear photogenic. In this sense, it is the photographer that makes this kind of image. They see the potential for an image in a location, compose their shot, select the exposure and wait for the unwitting subjects to position themselves accordingly, then click.
     
  23. Apr 8, 2009 #22
    Re: Does The Subject "Make" The Photograph?

    This kind of guerrilla photography has a large element of controlled accident. The hunter is limited to that prey which happens by. But, simply by selecting one passerby rather than another the photographer is making an artistic decision that results from his taste, and manifests that taste to others. Here, there is also considerable decision making about the visual rhythm resulting from all the steps, and also a major strange cropping decision that strikes me as dictatorily harsh, leaving no doubt in my mind who authored this photograph: the photographer, and not the subjects. (Personally I don't care for it: the decapitation strikes me as arbitrary.)
     
  24. Apr 8, 2009 #23
    Re: Does The Subject "Make" The Photograph?

    This is the only photo I still have from when I was taking pictures.
    amber2.jpg
    I'll concede that the model probably helped out a bit. ;-p
    Its not that great though really and the print quality is pretty bad.
     
  25. Apr 9, 2009 #24
    Re: Does The Subject "Make" The Photograph?

    Print quality aside, it's a great shot. We are instantly riveted by the model. But the fact that anyone looking at it becomes riveted by the model is actually a tribute to the photographer.

    Because, if you show this picture around all of a sudden lots of people are going to want you to take their photograph.

    It's understood deep down by all that a photo like this is essentially a filtered fiction, that the photographer has lit and posed the subject such that fascinating, attractive, alluring elements and features are emphasized and undesirable elements neutralized or played down. The whole atmosphere is controlled and we are instantly prey to the illusion of a surge of intimacy with this person. You, the photographer, made the decision to either lead the model to this, or to allow her decision to go there. You are the director and editor: you have final cut.

    People want their pictures taken by photographers who are most in control of all the filtering that automatically takes place when you point click the shutter, and can direct that filtering to to their, the subjects, advantage, or, alternately, who are going to take their image to someplace artistic and fascinating even if it's not primarily flattering.

    A good photo session is driven by confirmation bias. The photographer has to be deluded into believing the subject is eminently photogenic or he won't apply his skill in pushing and readjusting every parameter to confirm that. That delusion is a product of the mind of the photographer, and is out of reach of the model.
     
  26. Apr 9, 2009 #25

    Danger

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    Re: Does The Subject "Make" The Photograph?

    Oh, great... now I have to go out and buy a printer. Thanks, you bastard. :grumpy:

    Seriously, I think that the print quality contributes to the effectiveness of the shot rather than detracting from it. Grainy is good in a monochrome picture. That is truly a very hot shot. It's a lot more seductive than if she were nude (although I wouldn't ignore one of those).
    As an non-artist viewer, I will say that the lighting is ingenious, as is the way that both her necklace and her hair blend into the jacket. The only possible complaint that I have is that maybe the highlight on her left tit could be toned down a notch; it's maybe just a tad too bright. Absolutely beautiful photo, though. (I wasn't kidding about making a print of it.)
     
    Last edited: Apr 10, 2009
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