Musings on Photography


Posted in the art world, Websites by Paul Butzi on January 12, 2010


Via this entry at Andreas Manessinger’s wonderful blog, I got pointed to this article on Ken Rockwell’s website. It’s about what makes a great photograph. Everything that’s in there, I probably agreed with at some time or another. I don’t think there was a time when I agreed with all of it, let alone a majority of it. Right now, reading through it, I disagree with almost everything he’s written.

One thing I’ve never agreed with, though, is this:

It’s not about the subject

Here’s another secret: in photographic art, it’s never about the subject.

It’s always about the underlying compositional structure. Subjects that may be there are chosen because they support or create a structure, not the other way around.

What a subject does in real life is irrelevant. In a good photo, subjects are chosen to provide the shapes or colors we want to lay down the basic design of an image.

What might look like a door is really only used because it’s a rectangle, or two squares. If we shoot it at an angle, now it’s a trapezoid, or a truncated triangle.

An ocean liner? If you use the whole thing in a successful photo, its because it’s used as a shape that works with whatever else is in the frame.

This is why I’m known as a toilet photographer. I don’t care what my subject might be in real life. When I look for photos, I’m looking for shapes and colors. It just tends to happen that bathrooms and garbage cans tend to get lit up in great light at the end of the day, so if they’re in good light, I shoot them.

The actual subject is meaningless because you’re mind’s subconscious eye can’t even recognize it from a hundred feet away.

Your photograph must have a strong enough structure so that structure is obvious to the subconscious That’s how you grab people to get the ooohs and aaahs.

The actual subject doesn’t matter. Your choice of a subject should be made to give a strong underlying design to the image. What that subject is or does consciously is irrelevant. As far as photographers are concerned, photos subjects are used purely as big colors and shapes, exactly as you’d cut these colors and shapes out of construction paper to make a composition.

Here’s my dirty secret – I think it’s about the subject, and I am not ashamed to say so. I think what the subject does in real life is significant. I also think that the idea that photographs should grab someone and get the ooohs and aaahs is arrant nonsense. This disagreement might reflect a difference in goals. Mr. Rockwell seems to think that the goal of photography is to “be able to take awesome, award-winning shots with any camera.”

And I don’t.

Show me yours

Posted in Websites by Paul Butzi on December 19, 2009


Got a personal photo website or blog? Post a link in the comments, please. Remember, personal sites/blogs only.

Same words, different melody

Posted in Websites by Paul Butzi on September 19, 2009


Matt Alofs tweeted about having just put new work up on Flickr. I went there, and saw this photo. It immediately made me think of my recent photo, shown above. Well, what it made me think was that I liked Matt’s photo better than mine.

This is amusing. I am not at all sure there’s a causal arrow, and if there is, I’m not sure what direction it might point, nor what it might mean. I’m certainly aware of being influenced by the photos made by other photographers. It’s difficult to imagine someone being influenced by mine, but I suppose it might happen.

But mostly it just made me laugh.

Changing My Mind

Posted in My Main Website, PDF, Websites by Paul Butzi on August 17, 2009


Way back in 2004, I wrote:

The WWW is not a book

In a book, the author and editor contrive to make the best possible decisions about every variable. Not only is content subject to great editorial scrutiny, but every aspect of the graphic design is controlled by the folks publishing the book – graphic design, the exact layout, type style, type size, how the type is set, what paper the book is printed upon – the list is endless. The WWW is not like this, because not only is it not possible for the author/publisher to control many of these variables, the web is a place where many of those variables are explicitly under the control of the viewer.

Some (many, maybe even most) web sites try to set the absolute font size. Generally, they set it to be reasonable (or maybe a bit small) for a lower resolution monitor, with the result that the web site is unreadable on a high resolution monitor. Setting absolute font size is a Very Bad Idea, because it conflicts with the idea behind the WWW – “The publisher provides the content and make suggestions about presentation. The viewer controls how things are displayed.”

On the web, all of the technologies for ensuring that the viewer sees exactly what you want her to see are obnoxious and bad. A good example is PDF – Adobe’s answer to ensuring that something looks the same no matter what. In the beginning, PDF was bad because search engines couldn’t index PDF content. Now they can, but PDF is still bad because it’s slow, requires a plug-in to work, and the plug-in is obnoxious and slow. If you want to provide PDF versions of documents that can easily be printed, fine. Just don’t think people will like it when your entire website is done in PDF files, because they won’t.

I might be in the process of eating those words.

Here’s the deal: I’ve been looking at a lot of PDF files lately. Nearly all of them are ‘photo books’ but some of them are PDF photo ‘portfolios’. Don’t ask me to distinguish between a ‘book’ and a ‘portfolio’, because I can’t except in a very vague way.

And at the same time, the urge to redo my static website (did you know I have a static website?) remains. I’ve started the revamping several times, and each time it comes down to not being quite sure I want to invest a lot of effort in material I consider dead, or outdated. And I’m more and more convinced that the static photo pages I have suck because of their very staticness, and at the same time I hate the web gallery thing where you get a little slideshow or you click and it goes through fancy transitions a la Powerpoint. And I’m doing these book things, and it occurs to me that maybe what I want is for the photos on my website to be in PDF portfolios. Maybe the PDF portfolios for some of the work would be display resolution/more easily downloaded versions of the book/portfolio, and you’d be able to buy a copy of the book off Blurb.

I’m thinking out loud, here, not stating conclusions. But much has changed since 2004, and part of it is how much PDF has become a standardized thing that most people have either built right into their browsers, or plugins that most people have installed.

At the same time I thinking PDF as the display mechanism for these portfolios, I’m wondering about all that static text – old reviews of obsolete equipment, essays, etc. Don’t know what to do about all that dreck. I get emailed questions about it regularly, so clearly people are reading it. Beyond that, though, it feels like dead weight.

Got thoughts on this? Share’em with me, please.

Kreative Blogger

Posted in Blogroll, Solo Photo Book Month, web issues, Websites by Paul Butzi on November 3, 2008

Andreas Manessinger, way over in Vienna, Austria, has awarded me with the ‘Kreativ Blogger’ award.

 Photos 407829749 Gtwgi-O

Andreas gives me this award for SoFoBoMo. I’m grateful for the award, and I appreciate the recognition, and I’m happy to accept with one proviso – I accept the award on behalf of ALL the participants in SoFoBoMo 2008, both those 60 who finished a book and those who didn’t finish a book but had the courage to try.
I think the drill is that I’m suppose to list six things that make me happy, and then list 6 blogs that I think deserve the award themselves.

Six things that make me happy:

  1. my family
  2. Fall in the Pacific Northwest of the US
  3. taking a walk with a camera and a dog
  4. my old, creaky, non-usm Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens and my EOS 5d
  5. my home, complete with my photo garden
  6. reading a good book

That’s a bit of a fudge, because the camera and the home don’t actually make me happy, but they let me do things which make me happy. Close enough, as they say, for government work.

Herewith six blogs that I think merit a Kreativ Blogger award:

Colin Jago’s blogs on Not just photostream, but also his other blogs, for always getting me thinking in new ways about all sorts of stuff.

Amy Sakurai’s blog LovelyAngel, for her candid descriptions of integrating photography deeply into her daily life.

Doug Plummer’s Dispatches, for his insightful sharing of all the details of his creative process.

Oren Grad’s Things Seen photoblog, which continues to delight and amaze me as well as show me new ways of seeing.

Paul Lester’s Photography, both for his insight into the link between spirituality and art, and for his uncommon capacity to make photographs that get me thinking.

Frank Armstrong’s Pitchertakin‘, for his wonderful photos and his direct approach to just about everything.

Static Website

Posted in web issues, Websites by Paul Butzi on May 30, 2008


I’ve been more quiet this week because I’ve been going through and doing an overhaul of my static website. I’m not done (heck, I’m not even halfway through). But going over that material has driven home some interesting points.

I’m surprised at how embarrassingly dated some of the material is. A review of an Olympus C2000z, the first digital camera I bought, is essentially of zero interest now. Articles on putting together a website – hopelessly out of date. An article on doing theatre photography using film – wow, that’s out of date.

So clearly a lot of stuff will get left behind as I make the transition from doing the website with Microsoft Frontpage to just hand coding the pages (using Coda on the mac, for those who care).

At the same time, other stuff is getting ripped out. The begging for contributions – part of a sort of experiment to see how easy it was to monetize website traffic – that’ll all go. Quite a lot of stuff is staying but being substantially cut back. In the end my plan is for the static website to be quite a lot smaller than it is now.

And the photos – it’s way past time to update the galleries again.

Going through all this stuff has made me keenly aware of how much better a blog is for certain kinds of content. One thing that’s nice about a blog is that every single entry is dated. I’d give a lot to know exactly when I wrote some of the stuff that’s on my static website.

There are problems with blogs – for example, most blogs don’t do a lot to make it easy to find the backlog of content. But I think that with a bit of effort those problems can be fixed.

At the same time, I’ve become even more aware of things that a static website can do well that can’t be done well with blog posts. Galleries of photos are an obvious example.

SoFoBoMo Business – Blogs

Posted in interesting blogs, Solo Photo Book Month, web issues, Websites by Paul Butzi on February 16, 2008

Colin Jago has made a very useful post which includes links to all the known blogs of SoFoBoMo participants. If you’re signed up and you have a blog, but it’s not on Colin’s list, get in touch with Colin and I’m confident he’ll add your blog to the list.

I’d like to encourage people to blog their SoFoBoMo experience. With a blog, it’s easy to just put your thoughts out there, as you have them. Others can read what you write, and they can respond to it in the comments or in their own blog. It’s easy to put up photos, there’s no limit to how often or how infrequently you write. With virtually all modern browsers supporting RSS feeds as well as a host of really good RSS feed readers, it’s easy to keep up with what everyone is saying.

Best of all, you might find that running a blog is fun, and continue with it beyond the end of SoFoBoMo. You can start a blog at zero cost at (that’s what I use), at blogger. com (also used by a fair number of photo bloggers) and probably at other places I don’t even know about.

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Laketrees 101 Top Art Blogs

Posted in Blogroll, Websites by Paul Butzi on January 30, 2008

Laketrees has posted her most recent update to the Top 101 Artists’ blogs.

There are a few photography blogs in that list. (Note that this blog is the first blog in the ‘Top 30 Rank’ block). Most importantly, I guessing that there are lots of *interesting* blogs on that list.

I suspect I’m going to spend some time visiting the blogs listed. Ok, I confess – probably lots of time.

I’m hoping I’ll be able to make a wicked twist on Groucho Marx’s observation that “I find TV to be very educating. Every time someone turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book”.

Ten Years on the Web

Posted in web issues, Websites by Paul Butzi on January 25, 2008

Sometime this spring is the 10th anniversary of my photographic presence on the WWW. Sometime in the first quarter of 1998, I created a very small website – one photo and an article on VC printing (which had been published in Photo Techniques back when Mike Johnston was editor). My motivation was simple – I’d just faxed a copy of the article to an email correspondent in Germany, and it cost me something like 25 bucks to send the fax. Putting the article on the web meant that when people asked for copies of the article I could just point them to the web site.

Over time, that web site grew, changed URLs several times, and ended up at It’s been through several major design revisions. It’s due for another, and overdue for new, fresh content. It’s been languishing, because most of the time and energy has been directed at this blog instead.

That’s partly because about a year ago I started thinking that I’d have more fun with a blog than I did with the fairly static website. Blogs were new, I thought. My thoughts on this solidified somewhat when Colin Jago referred to such websites as ‘legacy’ websites – websites that represented a different era in WWW history.

So, for a host of reasons, the number of updates to dropped off to zero, and this blog became the main focus. Round about the middle of the year, I examined the statistics for both the old website and the blog, and it appeared that by the end of the year, the traffic at the old website would have dropped off substantially, and the traffic on the blog would probably hold steady. I thought of this as confirmation that I was pursuing the right path.

Earlier this week, though, I was browsing the statistics for this blog, and thought to go and check the statistics for the old website. And, to my surprise, my prediction for the old website was wrong. Traffic there hasn’t dwindled down to near zero – it’s increased steadily. It will take a little analysis to figure out what’s going on, but as a first take, it seems to be that much of the increased traffic is hitting the galleries of images. If true, that would be darn interesting.

Anyway, I think I’m changing my mind. Old, ‘legacy’ websites aren’t dead. Mine seems to be going strong, just racking up the hits without my investing much energy in it. And the blog traffic just seems to keep on growing, slowly but surely. The blog gets some number of hits that come over from the old website, and it appears that the converse is true as well.

I don’t have any firm conclusions yet. But it’s got me thinking that blogs and more static websites are really two faces of a complete web presence, and that I should go ahead and invest the effort into bringing the website up to date and in getting the blog and the website more closely and sensibly integrated. Blogs have the advantage that there’s always lots of nice, fresh content, but the disadvantage that often the content is somewhere between completely disorganized and poorly organized. For most blogs, it’s easy for the author to update the content and hard for the viewer to connect with the content except on a daily visits viewing the freshest content. The older content just seems to languish, because it’s so hard to find.

Just food for thought.

Something to brighten your day

Posted in interesting blogs, Websites, whimsy by Paul Butzi on December 28, 2007


Dave Beckerman clearly has too much time on his hands, and sent me a link to his video production, titled One Print with the Epson 4800, which you must watch.

It’s only three minutes sixteen seconds long, but it’s packed with emotion. Tension, innovative camera work, and excellent choice of musical backing seem to convey the anxiety, drama, tension and tedium of fine art inkjet printing. This is a masterpiece you’ll remember forever.

Or something. I suspect that Dave broke the legal fun limit when making this thing.

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