Gerard Blair  

Salt flats in Namibia by Gerard Blair

September 2020 - Salt flats in Namibia

About the Image(s)

Salt flats in Namibia

f/5.6 1/800 ISO 100 70mm - Canon EOS Rebel SL1 - Canon EF70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM

This is part question, part rant - many images upon which I receive comments (in other contexts) are said to lack a
clear subject - or to have a subject lost by distractions. I wrestle with this in that paintings that I admire are often hyper-complex with layers and surprises that can be found only after close inspection. Often it is the details in the corner that excite the most comment. Take a Jan Steen's disfunctional household - the best bit is normally the cat drinking wine under the table.

So here is a land.sea -scape - I see interest in the lines of the foreground (irregular though still leading ) complemented by the lines in the mid-ground which are straight and diagonal (crossing). Is the picture flawed because it lacks a subject? Does it lack a subject? Does the little house and its reflection add an interest or distraction? Since the eye does not rest, do we look away or can we embrace the whole?

Your thoughts please (?)

4 comments posted

Dan Mottaz   Dan Mottaz
Hi Gerald, I like your question/rant. It makes for great discussions about photography, composition trends and art in general.
As I see it, the current trend in photography is "simplicity". Compositions with lots of negative space and no distractions is one of many ways to define this trend. It also means the main subject or point of interest is often understated. This allows the viewer freedom of interpretation.
With that said, your photo, is not necessarily simple, but it doesn't have that dominate center of interest. That's not bad at all. As you said in your description, there's lots of fun surprises in your image. I really like that. Every imagemaker wants people to keep returning to their picture to have a closer look.
To me, your image is about lines, triangles in particular (which is also trendy). The lines serve nicely zig-zagging their way across and up the frame until my eyes reach those small cabins just below the horizon. That's the nice surprise in your shot. I feel it makes the viewer appreciate your image more. I wish I had that kind of sensibility. It shows that you have respect for your viewer by not having your main subject scream at them.
I also like the story presented in your photo. In a way, it's a bleek, stark environment. It's such a large area with those small looking cabins. Existence there seems hard.
Keep going with this theme. You'll hear criticism about it, but take it with a grain of salt. I feel you're on to something great.   Posted: 09/05/2020 10:25:16

Robert Atkins   Robert Atkins
Gerard, I too like your questions. I think that while it is useful for the Group to provide detailed suggestions on improvements to individual images (and I have received already amazing suggestions that I would not have otherwise arrived at), I think it is also very useful to have broader, more philosophical discussions. Your questions provides the opportunity for that - several discussions actually, like "complexity vs. simplicity in images", "the implications of trends in photography", etc.

Behind a lot of those questions though is the fundamental issue of what we want in our photography vs. what others want (where here "others" are judges, the mass of other photographers, etc). We've all probably had the experience of an image we really hold particularly dear receiving poor scores or other lack of praise in the eyes of others. The dilemma when that happens is sorting out whether the masses are right or not. By that I mean, are there "things wrong" with our image that we would see if we were not so biased about our own image, or is the issue that it is "different" and doesn't conform to the current trends or thoughts of the masses in the photography community. As an example, in my local photo club, it is pretty impossible to receive top scores on an image unless the saturation is pushed to 11 (or you shoot a portrait of a bird - but that is a different rant). Try to do a subtle landscape with soft colors and it is almost sure to score poorly.

The easy thing to say is to ignore the critics, stick to your guns, and do the images you want. But again the difficulty is sorting out when you should be improving things in your images vs. just conforming. And there is no hard line between the two. It helps when the criticism is specific (vs. just a bad score), but even then things are not clear. Take the criticism you mention receiving about not having a clear subject - who says an image has to have a clear subject? Well, pretty much everyone, which is the problem. Is not having a clear subject "something wrong" or is it just not following the mass trend.

I think you can probably sense that I share some of your frustration. I think the photography community encourages creativity only so long as it stays within pretty narrow bounds. And certain sub communities can be even more narrow minded in those bounds. I'd love to hear others thoughts on this challenge. I think sorting out when to listen to the masses vs. not becomes a little easier as one gains more experience. The only other thought I'd add is to keep coming back to an image. If it brings me joy to look at an image, in a way that I want to keep looking at it and exploring it, and if I still feel that way a month later, and six months later, then I conclude it is compelling to me. It might break rules, and it might not win contests, but I try to be ok with that, realizing that I am my own tough judge and that the image somehow moves me.   Posted: 09/12/2020 10:37:43

Emily Kawasaki   Emily Kawasaki
Wow Gerard, this is a really cool image. I love how you captures how the trenches/walls (?) form a pattern of separate pools/fields (?) of salt. Personally, I think the diversity of details - which do stay within a consistent theme - are what make the image really visually striking. For example, the lines in the surface of one section/pool/field (sorry if that is not what they are called) run diagonally in one direction, while the lines in the adjacent section/pool/field run diagonally in the other direction. The walls/tranches all run in different directions, but pretty much horizontally (or slightly diagonally). The muted tones of the sand are interspersed with some slight shades of muted purple/red in the pools of water in the foreground as well as the field in the mid-ground, which also shows the reflection of the house. I know that photography and what people consider to be good subjects or compositions is highly subjective. But, honestly, I LOVE this image. I like that is doesn't just have one subject, but a definite grouping of visual elements that all together make sense for the composition. Great shot and perfect capture of a unique and amazing scene!   Posted: 09/14/2020 10:24:17

Dale Yates   Dale Yates
Hi bring up an excellent question to consider. In my opinion, much in photography reviews today appear to focus on one single point of interest or fixation point. I agree with this to a point. However, I also believe there can be a primary point of interest and many secondary points of interest as well. I also feel that at times the entire image, especially a landscape image, can collectively serve as the center of interest. The beauty of photography is that the photographer presents his or her vision of the subject at hand. As far as your image, I like the overall sharpness and detail throughout. The sky also has a layering effect in the clouds that compliments the land itself. The only suggestion that I would offer is to look at re-cropping the image to show more of the sky, perhaps the horizon at the top 1/3 line. Well done, and good question for discussion. Topics like this are also good for discussion in the Group 96 bulletin board.   Posted: 09/21/2020 13:14:11


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