Photographic Punctum Throwdown

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    • #522161
      Marty E
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        @martye
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        I’ve been thinking more about what constitutes punctum in photography and found two excellent articles at: https://www.imaginated.com/blog/what-is-punctum-in-photography/ and http://arthistoryteachingresources.org/2016/05/the-rare-experience-of-punctum/.

        Here’s an excerpt from the photography article:

        “For photographers who do wish to incorporate punctum into their images, it can be a powerful tool for creating a connection with the viewer and conveying a deeper meaning or message.

        Ultimately, whether or not punctum exists in an image is up to the viewer.

        We can incorporate elements into the image to steer the viewer toward a certain emotional response.

        But it is up to the viewer to decide how they feel about the image based on where they are at in their life.”

        I’d love to see any shots of your own or by others (including stories if you wish) that made you experience punctum, something that “punched” you by emotion. I think we can all benefit from our shared experiences.

      • #522163
        Marty E
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          My family and friends keep coming back to this shot as one of their favorites. I captured this shot of this mysterious red-haired girl running through the water fountains with my cell phone.

          In Mid Air

        • #522177
          Patrick
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            • #522179
              Marty E
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                Simply spectacular, Patrick! 🙂 And so unexpected. How did you achieve that speckled effect with the light? Amazing

                • #522180
                  Patrick
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                    Thank you Marty , the photo was shot on sunday last week and i just got a chance to edit it now ,it was a foggy morning and shot with a long lens and at a very tight framing this give me the compresion , then i simply edited it with analog fx and silver fx pro.. The white flakey bits are a preset.

                    I was trying to create that look you get when looking out a window on a early cold winter morning with flakes of snow hitting and melting on the window , the blur in the corners represents the condensation from the warm breath of indoors , This is what i see and feel

                    • #522204
                      Marty E
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                        Hi Patrick, thanks for your beautiful detail of what you see and feel. You share another window into what goes into your art with us so we can see and feel it with you. I think you’re great at finding beauty wherever you are. Snow flakes are a rarity and total delight for me so your creation of this scene pierces with its mysterious soft and silent beauty.

                        Your post-processing software sounds intriguing, I’ll have to check them out. I had never heard of either one of these editors, so that’s helpful info! Another master class. 🙂 @patrickw-2

                        • #522216
                          Patrick
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                            Thank you so much Marty , i have sent you a message Marty

                  • #522202
                    davidc
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                      Thanks Marty, great word. Never heard of it. Would this fall in to the definition of it.

                       

                      • #522205
                        Marty E
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                          My pleasure, David. I think punctum is an elusive word but something worth pursuing in our photography. You’ve done an excellent job here. I love how your shot captures and immediately connects me to eyes of the backlit child beautifully framed by the red and green of the tube. Next I see the mysterious box in the foreground and think aha! What is (s)he after? Great storytelling with a mystery that’s definitely memorable. It takes me back to memories of when my children were small. I’m reminded that we’re all compelled to go into the unknown for bright and shiny objects! 🙂 @davidc

                        • #522521
                          bucweeet
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                            Not to mention the dust particles that remind me of lazy, summer afternoons as the sunlight drifts into the house setting all these particles aglow…

                            • #522648
                              Marty E
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                                I agree with you on the dust particles of lazy days of summer, @paul-3! Well-put capture for those details 🙂

                          • #522217
                            beth
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                              @loki
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                              i’ll go with this one since punctum is a small point that pierces or pricks.

                              • #522218
                                Marty E
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                                  Yeow and ouch, that’s awesome Beth!!! Love it, if that’s not punctum, I don’t know what is 🙂 BTW, your fantasy work is always amazing

                                • #522247
                                  Rob Wood (Admin)
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                                    lol – that is epic

                                • #522290
                                  Marty E
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                                    I hope all our LS experts weigh in on their thoughts about what punctum means  in photography and any of their experiences! Should we care about it when we’re shooting, or chalk it off to subjective response from viewers that we have no control over?

                                  • #522522
                                    bucweeet
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                                      Peaceful and serene…

                                      • #522552
                                        Marty E
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                                          So beautiful and peaceful, this exquisite shot has me wondering where the traveler is going. Wow, it’s a punch of serenity breaking up the current global chaos of war and climate change. To be sure, something to strive for. Thanks for sharing!

                                          • #522599
                                            bucweeet
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                                              Thank you Marty… and you’re welcome.

                                          • #522658
                                            Frogdaily
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                                              Everything about this exquisite image bucweeet strikes a cord within me! Beautifully captured and wonderfully processed! Definitely should be printed and hanging on a wall to enjoy!

                                              • #522682
                                                bucweeet
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                                                  Thank you very much Frog!

                                            • #522536
                                              Patrick
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                                                One photo from my very first day shooting street photography in 2019 , i remember shooting frames of both the Lady and the man before this frame , looking at all the photos together of these folks you can see the story build , the photo i know is of very poor quality but it remains one of my own fav photos.

                                                • #522553
                                                  Marty E
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                                                    Great storytelling shot, Patrick! Classic 🙂 Seems like it would be a fun one to make up stories about. What does each person represent (without knowing more about it)?

                                                    • #522556
                                                      Patrick
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                                                        Indeed Marty , Thank you .. I wondered what was said.

                                                    • #522600
                                                      bucweeet
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                                                        Not sure what you mean by ‘poor quality’, Patrick.  Some photographers spend lots of time in post trying to get that finish/quality.  People sell presets with this ‘quality’… and some software automatically add the ‘quality’.  (OK, I do know what your mean by ‘poor quality’)

                                                        But I really think the ‘poor quality’ adds both drama and essence to the image.  I think if it was ‘tack sharp’ the image would not be as successful.

                                                        I think it’s a great image that tells a story and makes the viewer wonder…

                                                        • #522604
                                                          Patrick
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                                                            Thanks Paul i agree with your words about getting the certain look , it is a look i like very much , i got some advice a long time ago from Elin and it was don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good and i have took this advice and never worried about getting the perfect shot since , i do try to improve my seeing in general and try my best each time but i stopped losing sleep about the technical stuff.

                                                            Thanks again for the nice feedback mate.

                                                            • #522647
                                                              Marty E
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                                                                Thanks for your thoughts @patrickw-2 and @elax. I’ll add “don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good” to my photography goals 🙂

                                                                • #522683
                                                                  bucweeet
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                                                                    As will I, Marty,

                                                                     

                                                          • #522650
                                                            Patrick
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                                                              • #522653
                                                                Marty E
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                                                                  I love your sense of humor, @patrickw-2! You’re the greatest, this definitely qualifies as punctum in my book lol

                                                                  • #522655
                                                                    Patrick
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                                                                      Haha , Thank Marty , You know for me i rarely see humor that i can capture on the streets it is much harder to see it than you would think.

                                                                • #523687
                                                                  Kenneth Wong
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                                                                    Thanks for introducing me to this term Marty.

                                                                    I have a few thoughts about this which may sound a little harsh, but please understand that it’s not my intention to criticize or belittle anyone else’s opinion or creative process.

                                                                    IMHO, it’s easy to over-analyze the creative process that goes into making a good picture. Photography is nothing more than a form of communication. Many people probably don’t realize that word itself is taken from the Greek words for light — “photo” — and writing — “graph”, literally meaning “to write with light.”

                                                                    As a former professional news and sports photographer, I’ve been trained to tell stories with my images. I’ve noticed that my most successful images are ones where I had a clear idea of what I was trying to communicate and how to convey that message to the audience. Those that have failed are ones in which I either didn’t have a clear idea of what I was trying to say or couldn’t come up with a simple, concise way of conveying my message to the viewer.

                                                                    This is probably why some of the most iconic images made have been pictures with very simple composition and have very few elements. A good example of this is the most famous picture ever taken, “Afgan Girl” made by National Geographic photographer Steve McCurry. There is a single element in this picture: the girl.

                                                                    In the first article you mentioned, the author says that punctum isn’t something you can control, as every person will have a different emotional response to a picture. I take that to mean that you can only try to convey what you or your subject(s) felt at the time you made the photograph. Whether that includes “studium” — which I would refer to as “environmental elements” — or not is up to you. The decision of what — if any — environmental elements should be included would likely depend on what you feel is the best way to convey the message to your audience.

                                                                    I’ve included a few examples I shot on a few of my news assignments to help describe my creative process and how I apply what I’m talking about below.

                                                                    This image was made at the scene of a possible homicide:

                                                                    The man in the middle of the frame had just been told that his son had been found dead in an office building. As the police line they were behind was a distance away from the building where the body had been found, I felt that using a long lens — in this case a 400mm lens — and focusing tightly on the family member would best convey the grief that the man felt as he was given the news. Including the police officer and the tape line helped provide some context to the image.

                                                                    This image was part of a project about a woman who had been swimming at a YMCA pool every day for several years:

                                                                    Each day I spent photographing this woman, she would do these strange looking sit-ups at the side of the pool. The pose she struck while doing this exercise was very funny looking. In contrast to the image of the grieving man, I chose to get in low and close with a wide angle lens to really bring the viewer in close proximity to the woman and give the audience a sense of her light, friendly personality. I also chose to include some elements of the pool and one of the swimmers she was sharing the swim lane with for additional context.

                                                                    It’s my opinion that if you have the define each element in your pictures with terms while you’re in the process of creating the image, you’re probably over-analyzing the situation and likely to miss a lot of nice moments.

                                                                    Photography doesn’t have to be that complicated. If you can find a way to make a connection with the subject in your picture and you can convey that connection in a simple way, there’s a good chance that your audience will as well. What emotions they take away from the image is entirely up to them.

                                                                    I hope this is helpful.

                                                                    Ken

                                                                  • #523725
                                                                    Kenneth Wong
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                                                                      Here are some other images where I had hoped to convey the emotions of the subject(s) to the audience.

                                                                      Louis Pasteur said that “chance favors the prepared mind.” I was REALLY lucky to have this happen and I was prepared to capture it:

                                                                      I was really dreading this assignment, as I don’t like shooting graduation ceremonies. After walking around for a few minutes, I didn’t see anything that wouldn’t be a cliche. I was on a tight deadline, so out of desperation, I pointed my camera at the “most energetic” of the students as they filed in for commencement. As luck would have it, he pointed his fingers at someone in the audience, so I immediately fired my camera.

                                                                    • #523746
                                                                      Marty E
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                                                                        Hi Ken, glad to see you active on this thread! Thanks so much for your thoughts, pointers, and great examples. I’m new to thinking about punctum and street photography when I do my own shoots, so I appreciate your generous expertise! I’m looking forward to seeing more of your work. 😀

                                                                      • #523753
                                                                        Kenneth Wong
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                                                                          Thanks for your kind words @martye.

                                                                          In all honesty, I don’t believe it’s necessary to put a label on or strictly define the elements you include in your images. In the nearly 40 years I’ve been shooting, I never defined the elements of my image with the terms “punctum” or “studium” and have never heard any of my colleagues mention them. It’s always been about communicating a message to the audience.

                                                                          In other words, for me, photography is like writing a essay, book or letter: determining what it is I’m trying to say and finding the best way to say it.

                                                                           

                                                                           

                                                                          • #523756
                                                                            Marty E
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                                                                              Words well-spoken, @kwongphotography. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I think we each have our own unique ways of communicating to best get our point across. I like to think of balancing the creative and technical aspects to make connections, whether it’s writing or taking photos. If my work is not creative, who cares? And if it’s not technically adequate, the errors detract from what I’m trying to get across.  I like what you have to say about planning ahead to get yourself in the best position to get your shots. One thing I’ve heard from judges in local competitions for several years is that “intent” matters which I think points to your “determining what it is I’m trying to say and finding the best way to say it.” If I don’t have intent, chances are that I will miss a great shot. Imho

                                                                          • #523762
                                                                            Kenneth Wong
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                                                                              Hey @martye,

                                                                              IMHO, people shouldn’t take what judges in photography competitions say too seriously. I can’t count the number of times that I’ve seen contest-winning pictures that at best, were extremely mediocre images and judges have passed on much stronger, compelling pictures.

                                                                              I’ve also found that it’s also not a good idea to judge your skill or success on contest results, as the same picture will be received differently in different contests.

                                                                              On another note, I’d also like to point out that I’ve recently seen a very new and strange criteria used to judge pictures: “difficulty to make.” At least one U.S. national contest tries to determine how “difficult” it was to make an image as part of their evaluation.

                                                                              On the surface, many pictures appear to be “easy” to make when that may not be the case. Even the most experienced photographers can’t always make that determination. Also, what some consider to be “easy” others will find to be “difficult” or vise-versa.

                                                                              In other words, to me, this criteria isn’t really applicable and is really just a bunch of BS.

                                                                              • #523817
                                                                                Marty E
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                                                                                  I appreciate what you’re saying @kwongphotography. I’ve been participating in contests since 2019 with the motivation of learning what constitutes a “winning” shot” as well as improve my own camera craft and creativity. There were some first places and best-of-shows over the years that I’ll admit I said “Humph, I don’t get it while shaking my head.” But I realized that I needed more thinking outside the box with my own photography. The question for me became what can I do that’s unique compared to the status quo (ho-hum, we’ve seen that a thousand times before). Beautiful but boring doesn’t cut it.

                                                                                  That being said, I appreciate the judges’ comments afterward. They usually admit it’s subjective (as in the recent judge who waxed rhapsodic about the student shot of a guinea pig – and said she wanted it to be best of show because she’s madly in love with her own pet guinea pig). The one recent comment I found helpful in this year’s judging was that there were a lot of outstanding entries with great creativity which forced them to be really picky on the technical details to determine the winners. So overall, my experience with contests has been valuable to help me gain knowledge and confidence to move to a higher level of expertise. I can now look back and understand why my photos that received no awards didn’t place or win. “Failures” can be a great teachers! I still shoot what I want and submit what I want, but I’m all about getting feedback from professional experts to help me improve. So putting my work out there is all win-win for me. And that’s why I love Shark Tank! Honest feedback is critical in my path to find excellence.

                                                                                  • #523879
                                                                                    Kenneth Wong
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                                                                                      I’m glad to heat  that you’re able to get something out of contests @martye.

                                                                                      Personally, I’m avoiding them for exactly the kinds of reasons you mentioned with your guinea pig picture story. It disturbs me to hear that people were being judged on technical details because the judges couldn’t determine the winners based on the aesthetics of the entries.

                                                                                      It’s been my experience that many “working professionals” are often successful not because they’re actually good photographers but because they’re connected to the right people. I’m sure you’ve heard that expression, “it’s not what you know, but WHO you know.”

                                                                                      I’ve also known several successful photographers to troll others in online forums while under the guise of “helping” up-and-coming photographers.

                                                                                      IMHO, experience is the best overall teacher, and that involves a lot of trail and error — i.e. failure. Photography is a lot like learning to drive — you can read all the books and get all the input on the subject you want, but until you get behind the wheel of a car, you’ll never actually become a good driver.

                                                                                    • #523922
                                                                                      beth
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                                                                                        marty – your judges aren’t always experts.  i judge photography for my the 4h exhibits at the state fair.  i’m the only one who’s a photographer.  my neighbor brought me on to the judging panel.  he teaches archery and he judges the photography too.

                                                                                        i’ve learned more from harshly judging my own photos than from someone else judging them.  and i remember what i did wrong last time when i’m shooting again.  feedback from others is great, but i always try to look at what they’re saying objectively and see if it’s something that i agree or disagree with, or if they’re just talking crap.

                                                                                        • #523940
                                                                                          Patrick
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                                                                                            I agree with every last word you wrote Beth

                                                                                          • #523946
                                                                                            Marty E
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                                                                                              Well-spoken, Beth. Thank you! I am my own worst critic, and at the same time I appreciate criticism/feedback from critics. In the contests I participate in, all of the judges are professional photographers with different areas of expertise such as landscape, studio, portrait, and fashion. The judges are also different every year so my work gets fresh pairs of eyes and different perspectives. I apply what I think is useful especially about the fundamentals and discard the rest if it seems either subjective or biased.

                                                                                      • #523949
                                                                                        Kenneth Wong
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                                                                                          I forgot to point out that unlike other professions where there are licenses involved, when applied to photography, the word “professional” is only an indication that a person is PAID to make pictures. The label has absolutely nothing to do with a person’s abilities or skill set.

                                                                                          I used to trade messages with a guy on Flickr was was a “professional” sports photographer in my area. He shot professional and collegiate sporting events all week long. I used to consistently come back with stronger images when covering the same events, and it had been years since I’d given up my full-time career in photography. In fact, at the time, I was lucky if I could get out and shoot once or twice a week.

                                                                                          Also, as photography is an “art,” opinions can be VERY SUBJECTIVE. Even if people can agree that an image is “good” they might not like the picture for the same reasons. The same can be said when a picture is labeled as being “bad.”

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                                                                                            Marty E
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                                                                                              Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this @kwongphotography, you make some good points. I’ll keep your perspective in mind. As my English professor used to say, “De gustibus non est disputandum” – there’s no accounting for taste.

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