Photo Discussion Friday - Week 45

Swiss cheese goes Australia

PDF Week 45/2015: Iphone 6, 4.15mm (=29mm), 1/100, f2, ISO 50.

2015 - Week 45 (6/11/2015)

Before all the rules and instructions of Photo Discussion Friday were officially out and communicated properly, Marc Sommer, sent me one of his photos to be discussed publicly. Thank you so much for participating.

What does the picture mean to the photographer in his own words? (translated by GPO)

The picture is a holiday photo. It shows my footprints in the sand. They are my Swiss feet (hence the cheese in the title) out there in the big wide world. It is the statement: 'I was here'. On one hand it is romanticism in pure form. On the other hand, being travelling on my own, I terribly miss my family. It is a personal statement voiced at the [other] end of the world: from where I am at the moment, there is no step ahead...standstill, last footprints.

Why did the photographer want GPO to comment on it?

Sending in this this photo is aimed at finding out, what an Iphone with auto-correction can do, basically.


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And this is what GPO has got to say

Trying to understand the language of photos, emotions, finding and following relevant stories, that's what we do. Did the photographer put my stories into the picture on purpose, are they carefully crafted (or made up by me), to what extent and on how many layers. Marc is a personal friend and I know his background. So, I can be extra hard on him, as hard as he makes it with his photo for me. I see elements in the photo that are very promising but I would hardly call it a sensational shot. It doesn't have to be. But let's still blame Apple for any possible shortcomings! The camera sensor measures 4.80 x 3.60 mm. Compared to a 24 x 36 mm format of full frame DSLR camera, everybody understands that this may lead to different results. In my opinion, the iphone could not cope with this difficult situation. Don't get me wrong. The iphone and compact cameras with small sensors can take great pictures. They are fine if a choice of such camera is able to support the message and deal appropriately with the light conditions. Let's have a look!

What worked for me

+ Extraordinary linear symmetry clearly indicates a thought-through, crafted picture (horizonal lines including boat dividing up the picture in clear segments). The arrangement of important elements (artificial foot prints, boat, sun, reflections, waves) makes them communicate with each other, e.g. boat above right foot mark, boat with sun, waves and boat etc.

+ The picture holds some extremely powerful stories being camouflaged quite well. The superficial viewer might only find a hardly 'above-average', 'trying-to-be-nice' picture. Beyond that - and many viewers won't even go there - the picture holds various clues that a very personal story is being told quite loudly. Why can't we see the person that is represented by the footmarks? Where has the person gone? Was that person alone (like the boat in the wavey sea)? Why aren't the footprints closer to the water? Why are they arranged in such a static way, showing no movement forward or backwards? Why are they bigger than the other artificial element, the boat, almost looking alien? Is it a coincidence that the footprints are very big, deep and dominant in the picture? Why would a photographer reserve half the picture to place two footprints in a dark, sad bottom half of the picture? Why does the photographer and the light in the picture draw us away from this cristal clear, but dark area to the more appealing, but disasterously unsharp top half of the picture? The very moody, warm area with beautiful sun colours reflecting in the wet can be an anti-statement to the tidy, clear, but dark, gloomy, and mysteriously sad area. Frankly, I was hit by those stories, to the extent that I was worried. Those are not the feelings you want a friend to experience.

+ Working cliches is a tricky business. Most beach foot shots, the various sand message shots are simply regurgitations. They may make nice private memories but are difficult to advance into new ideas for the public (so they can be copied over and over again, celebrated in every private and public gallery). To me, this version had a surprising twist showing some individuality and depth by being linked to a not-so-trivial photographic narration.

What didn't work for me or what I would have done differently

- For me an absolute let down is the softness, the hazy, milky blurr and the censorship of details by the iphone in the upper half of the picture. I need more definition in the sea and especially in the boat, not a sharp focus but more definition. Even if the visual pixel atrocity is an artistic element bearing a meaning, that statement is not clear enough. I'd probably use additional elements, e.g. a warm monochrome filter on your iphone, to clarify that.

- Also, I don't like your - or your phone's - choice of focus. I would aim higher, and would close the lens in exchange for a longer exposure. That would slightly blurr the moving sea and boat understandably and as a welcome consequence.

- Despite some nice colours and reflections, the sunset to me is a disappointment. Mate, you're in Ozzy land! In my opinion, the statement would gain from more and more intense colour painting. I would put my DSLR on a tripod and use a longer exposure maybe a bit later that evening, chosing the location according to the light. I would not mind a deliberate grainyness from a higher ISO either and even some blurr. Of course, the iphone settings are totally inadequate (open lens but high shutter speed on an extremely low ISO setting) and being on automatic, they are probably hard to influence.

- While I admire the concept of the photograph the execution seems a bit random and pointing to a hasty shot rather than a well-planned and worked execution of an idea (e.g. choice of camera, poor sunset, technical issues, details of arrangement). I would try to be careful in tying the elements of the picture together, e.g. different focus, time the waves better, find a more perfect perspective with more accurate light and line placement. I'd work the scene, moving left and right to explore better angles, going closer or slightly further away (try being more precise about feet to boat size ratio, too) until all elements fit (or almost fit).

- Holiday photos normally don't play with difficult messages and stilistic artistry. While your intuition seems quite extraordinary and the stories worth telling, I think it is a good idea trying to figure out the limitations of your phone, sorry camera. You might have gotten away with that picture, if you already had a big public followership, a proven record of your photographic skills and if we could reliably expect that the imperfections are a stylistic element (even then a lot of people will hate the photo, see

- Titles - in my opinion - are a part of the picture but should not lead the viewer to a correct interpretation and to understand the message of a picture. Being Swiss doesn't do anything to the picture outside a very personal context. Apart from that the cheesy title even ruins my own much smoother but still unnecessary interpretation of the tidy, uniform sand around the feet accurately representing Swiss mentality and culture. I doubt that a wide audience (including Swiss) would feel comfortable making the link from cheese to feet.


- Well done, Marc. If any photographer - using any camera - manages to transfer the intended message, in my opinion he or she has done something right. That's what you did. Reader should know, that my analysis of the picture perfectly matched the picture description which I only read later.

- I would love to see the same idea worked on photographically. The stories are extremely powerful but there are some technical issues as well as some areas that would deserve some more care.

- Although I might not be an authority on what an iphone 6 with auto-correction can do, my discussion would indicate that the outcome for this situation was definitely pushing the limits too far. The automatics gave the picture a pleasant overall look. However, the details suffered a lot. The iphone didn't handle the light really well compared to what a manual DSLR or big sensor system camera can do, combined with a few minor post-editing twitches. Maybe a more experienced handling of the iphone, knowing and working around its limits could improve results.

- In my opinion, it is better to have a fair holiday and facebook picture than no picture at all. Keep the photo on low resolution displays or small prints and you'll be fine for non-commercial applications.

- I love the fact that the discussed picture falls into a category and was taken with a camera that most of us are familiar with. It gave me the chance to point out the limitations and dangers of automatic, small-sensor cameras. Like automatic cars, they are handy under most normal conditions. But by doing so, they seduce the general public to never learn how to choose and drive a car on the race track, the Australian outback or the snowy Swiss mountains. Looking beyond that, Marc has created a holiday photo with a twist, not just a superficially 'nice' picture!

I am greatly indebted to Marc for this contribution. There are many hidden talents out there who I'd encourage - referencing Mark's picture - to go the step towards the open, wild sea of photographic (or marine) exploration. Go raw on a larger sensor, go manual for all photos that are not solely intended for easy documentation or private use! And for the more expert audience: look beyond your pixel addiction, reference mania and ivory tower rules. After all, photography to a certain extent is about emotions and art, which sometimes can be more than simply 'pleasing' an elite constituency. It needs to involve the public even if they use a phone instead of a camera.

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