Aug 092012

Article originally posted on The Candid Frame

The solution for most photographers does not lie in new camera, updated software, or more megapixels. A little time in “photo-meditation” will reveal that most of the problems are internal, not external. © Adam Marelli

Reading facebook this morning, I saw a re-post by Eric Kim and got a huge kick out of the story.  The moral of the story is we need to be honest with ourselves, stop obsessing over “the next camera or lens”, and devote time to photography not all of the other distractions of post production, forum arguments and pixel peeping.
While I was not planning on writing any articles on the M10 or the Monochrom, I am starting to believe that there are some things that need to be said to quell the “new camera frenzy”  and address the role that gear should play to a photographer.
Dear Charlie,You’ve asked me in evaluating your work to be brutally honest. Admittedly, it’s something that other photographers have asked for, but I’ve always been reticent about honestly fulfilling such a request. I have often perceived it as the equivalent of a wife or girlfriend asking, “Do I look fat in this?” A frank, honest answer to that question is likely not going to end well.However, you have been insistent about receiving such concise, unrestrained and to-the-point-feedback. So, I feel inspired to share with you why your pictures suck.

1. You’re Lazy
Admittedly, you talk a good game. You talk much and well about your passion for photography, deftly demonstrating both your technical knowledge and proudly showing off your latest bit of kit. You  know a good amount of photographic history and you are very insightful with your comments about the craft.

But Charlie, when was the last time you actually went out and made a significant body of work for yourself? I’m not talking about that  job you did for pay, or the workshop you attended or that photo walk where you spotted that cute brunette with the Leica M9. No,  when did you last go out and commit to producing  images that truly challenged you; images that the mere thought of creating them got you excited about getting up in the morning?

I  can tell it’s been a long time, because you seem to have put more effort into uploading images to Instagram, Facebook and Google Plus, obsessively returning to those posts to check to see how many people provided you a virtual pat on the head. “Great capture”. Really?

2. You’re Preoccupied with Gear
I get it. There’s obviously something primal in both us when it comes to new kit. I have shared that same rush of endorphins on taking a deep whiff of styrofoam peanuts when opening a freshly delivered FedEx package.

But honestly, how often have you used it since you got it? Yes, the unpacking video you posted on YouTube was wonderful. (My wife, by the way, likes the new haircut). But besides that first weekend burst of temporary inspiration, what you have done with it? What have you created that you truly are proud of? And no, fondling it and firing dry frames doesn’t count. It seems like you’ve spent more hours  reading blog posts, forums  and watching videos about the gear than actually shooting with it. And what’s this thing with you reading reviews after you already made the purchase? Aren’t your images enough to discern whether you made the right choice or not?

3. You’re Sloppy
It seems like you think that “good technique” is a filter in Photoshop. And if you defined a good photographer by how fast they can fill a 32GB CF card, you might be in the running to be one of the greats, but it’s hard to see anything in your final result that warrants even the battery being charged.

You seem to be completely absent when you press that shutter release, taking no ownership of what you include in the frame. Yes, the bokeh is scrumptious and creamy, but this is supposed to be a photograph not bloody creme brulee.

Whatever happened to good composition? Good light? Good taste?

And no, I don’t care that there is virtually no noise at ISO 128,000, the images are still devoid of anything that would even qualify it as a snapshot.

4. Photoshopping is not Photographing
Yes, Photoshop is an important and invaluable tool. We couldn’t do much of what we do without it, or its equivalent. But how long do you actually have to sit at the computer, weaving that Wacom stylus like an orchestra leader, before you admit that most of that energy is being expended on putting lipstick on a pig?

Yes, those plug-ins and actions are awesome and that compositing technique you learned from Matt Koslowski is pure genius, but I’m sorry to tell you that there is no there, there. I could wash, wax and detail that AMC Hornet I drove in college as dutifully and passionately as humanly possible, but in the end, it would still be an AMC Hornet. Those are the facts.

What ever happened to your passion for making a single good, exemplary photograph in the camera? When did everything become fodder for over-saturation, over-sharpening, over-everything?

5. You Refuse to Edit Your Own Work
Though you are asking for my feedback, you must not think much of me. If you did, why else would you inundate me a batch of good, bad and near-misses? When did it become my job to figure out what you are trying to do as a photographer?

What am I supposed t make of this mish-mash of portraits, landscapes, close-ups, abstracts and those picture of your cat (which, okay I’ll admit is just adorable)? I have a hard enough time trying to edit and assess my own work, much less yours. I just needed to see 10-12 images I wasn’t expecting the entire photographic catalog of the International Center of Photography. If I wanted this kind of punishment, I could just put on a pair of headphones and listen to Debbie Boone singing ‘You Light Up My Life” on a continuous loop for 24 hours.

If you can’t sit down and decide which of your photographs captures who you are and aspire to be as a photographer, how do you expect me to? I am challenged in just finding a pair of matching socks in the morning.

I could say more, but I think I should show a little restraint.

I know you love photography as much as I do. You couldn’t spend as much time and effort, subject yourself to the occasional ego-bruising, if you weren’t as in love as you obviously are with making photographs. But the reality is that becoming a good photographer, hell becoming a good anything, involves commitment, diligence and the willingness to regularly fall on one’s face. You obviously have some of that in you, because you are still around making images, when everyone else has taken up golf or knitting.

I hope that what I shared is helpful to you, but if it wasn’t,  I completely understand.

There’s always Flickr.

Posted 5 days ago by 

  9 Responses to “This is why your pictures suck”

  1. Great article.

    That reminds me, I’ve been meaning to ask you to have a look at some of my images :)

  2. Hey Adam, do you know if there is a 1.5 overlay for photoshop that could help with cropping photos? Or even a handheld portable 1.5 grid for composing shots with? Something that correspond with a crop sensor like canon 7d? Me and Math never got along well in school- and I’m abotu as handy as a football bat when it comes to tryign to create something

    • Hey Naz,

      There is no overlay in photoshop, but its easy to make yourself. You can make one template and change its size depending on your image. If you want we can set up a One on One and I can show you how to do it. Drop me an email at
      Then you can have a grid for everything you shoot.

  3. Thanks Adam, that would be a tremendous help for my compositions- the grid in my canon 7d is kinda wierd, not really 1/3, and not really golden means either I don’t think- so it’s hard to compose in the viewfinder, but if there was pwerhaps some kind of handheld grid or something- but I don’t know how it would corrspond to the viewfinder once the composition was worked out i nthe handheld grid?

    I know that’s different than a grid for photoshop- but UI think it would be better to get the composition right in camera or at least pretty close-.I use ‘Golden Crop’ for photoshop which gives soem guidelines which are adjustable- but I don’t think the grids and angles correspond with some of the more sophisticated compositions used by folks like Henri Bresson? Here’s a link to hte golden crop which shows most of the lines i nthe grid minus the golden spirals Does that look like it might be close to what the masters used or not?

    But again, I think some kidn of handheld composition guide for framing before takign the shot might be better- especially for trainign hte eye to see compositions correctly- but again, I wouldn’t know how to use such a device and hten get the viewfuinder to see exactly how the guide compose the scene?

    Bresson definately used some sophisticated compositions- but did he just see them in his mind’s eye? Or did he have soem kind of guide to set up the scene with?

    • Naz,

      Shoot me an email and I will see if we can sort something out. I could probably explain this to you in a way that you could make photoshop work for you without having to buy anything else.

      The golden crop program is not going to be of much help. Computers programmers would need to take a painting class to understand how the crop overlays should work. Adobe does not understand this yet.


  4. Thanks adam, I sent an email. One more quick question- Can ratios liek the 1.5 fit into common paper sizes like 8.5×11? or be close enough? It seems to me that a lot of the crop shots turn out really wierd sizes, and of course once they are printed to sopmethign liek 8.5×11, they lsoe the proper composition when the printer resizes to fit hte paper?

  5. The sock problem is about mathematics.
    If you have 5 different colors of socks in your drawer the chances of finding a match is just 10%.
    I buy black socks and white gym socks. Even with my eyesight of a mole I get matching pairs with nearly no effort. The other solution is to get different color socks and wash them warm with a pair of jeans.

    I am on your site because it’s been a while I took my camera out and I am looking for Inspiration.
    You gave me one not so long ago. The result was my wallpaper for a couple of months and it made one girl very happy…

  6. this one

    you are quite a techer, you

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