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January 9, 2013


Replies: 25

Do you need to know the settings to appreciate a good photograph?

georgewjohnson Featured By Owner Jan 9, 2013  Hobbyist Photographer
A well known photographer shot a great shot of a dying bird back in the 80's and it was picked up and published recently in a respected UK magazine. A reader wrote in and wanted to know the exact settings used to take the shot. The editorial reply was that the photographer took the shot on film, there's obviously no EXIF and it was 30 years ago so it was hard to remember the exact settings, but the photographer gave a best guess from he remembered.

I found this rather irritating that rather than appreciate a great image for what it was on a compositional and artistic level, the demand was for the raw facts and figures on the image. It was as if those raw settings had created the image alone, never mind the hard work the photographer had put into framing and composing.

I appreciate that photography is a mixture of science and art and when you want to learn from others, some find that knowing the settings can be useful but I've never found them to be that useful myself.

Do you need to know the exact settings used to take a photograph to better appreciate it? If you find it useful to know the settings, how have you used that knowledge to better your abilities and photography?

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Devious Comments

ElNaso Featured By Owner Jan 23, 2013   Photographer
Art is technique. As such, aprecciating a piece goes hand to hand with appreciating it's technique.
XFrozentearzX Featured By Owner Jan 21, 2013  Hobbyist Photographer
You dont need to know the seeting to appreciate a photo. But it helps people who want to learn from it. Great images can be taken from even Iphones these days with tweaks from photoshop =)
yangosplat Featured By Owner Jan 15, 2013  Hobbyist Photographer
You don't need to know the settings to appreciate the beauty in the photograph itself. But to understand how the photographer did what they did in the photo, it's essential to know what they did with their camera. It's like asking what kind of stroke technique a painter used in a certain section of their painting. It's just as beautiful either way, but it helps to understand how they got there. Also, knowing the settings can be great when it comes to wanting to imitate the effect in that photo.
SteveCaissie-stock Featured By Owner Jan 14, 2013  Professional Photographer
Generally, no, but I will confess a certain curiosity when it comes to images that present a technique that I’d like to learn.

On a slightly tangential note, I always list my camera settings and detail any light setups when I post on flickr; I figure the majority of that community is interested in learning the technical details. I don’t, however, reveal my post-processing techniques, simply because it would go over most people’s heads.
FallisPhoto Featured By Owner Jan 10, 2013
Apparently only a few people took the time to look up the definition of "appreciate." If you appreciate something, you don't just like it, you understand it; as in "to appreciate the difference between right and wrong." If you appreciate something, this does not mean that you can, or even should, appreciate it on an entirely visceral level, as some other people here seem to think you should.
AsaBase Featured By Owner Jan 10, 2013  Hobbyist Photographer
Back in the day when we only had film cameras, knowing your settings was essential. Certain light sources needed different settings, depending on how you want the exposure to look with the film you are using. A good photographer could expose certain parts of a shot exactly how they wanted.

Now a days in the digital world, settings are not that important anymore. Everything happens automatically, and you don't have to alter your settings. Take a star filled sky. The correct aperture opening for a star filled sky is 100% open, however you see amazing digital photos taken with F numbers like 22 or 16.

The limitations of film made settings a key factor in professional photographer.
georgewjohnson Featured By Owner Jan 10, 2013  Hobbyist Photographer
Maybe this is related to the age-old bugbear, "Great image! What camera you got?"! Should make no difference, right? If you think it's good and I tell you it's $20k medium-format or a $50 PnS, would I change your opinion on whether you still think it's great?
ChristophMaier Featured By Owner Jan 10, 2013  Hobbyist Photographer
Asking for the settings does not equal 'not appreciating it' but rather implies the desire to learn something. Asking about what camera was used is often also very informative. I am sorry, but some photographs can NEVER be achieved using a $50 P&S. If that is all I have and it took you a $20.000 camera to get THAT particular shot I will know that I cannot replicate it.
Saying that the camera does not matter for the photograph is utter BS, sorry. Of course you can create stunning photographs with a cheap ass camera, but a full blown DSLR will give you so many more options. A cheap P&S will never be able to take an image like this:
(at least not with that detail and clarity)
Having a camera/lens combo that does not allow for 2:1 macros will never let you take pictures like this:

Having a camera that does not allow doing very rapid shooting will make getting a photo like this very, very difficult:

The tools of our trade matter. They do not make us better or worse, but they do limit what we can do. And knowing what was used to get an image will tell me if I can recreate something like it or not.
georgewjohnson Featured By Owner Jan 10, 2013  Hobbyist Photographer
Without even zooming in on the race car, just looking at the thumbnail, I can appreciate it from an artistic level as a really great action shot. The speed of the machine, the sleek way it's coming around that bend, screams raw power, speed, excellence in engineering a superb capture of a tricky subject. I got all that from that one tiny thumbnail, I sized it up from a purely artistic viewpoint. If I knew exactly what camera, exactly what lens focal length, aperture, ISO, position to the sun, file size, etc would I change my opinions from those above to, "Oh, I see, I don't like now then!", of course not.

My point was, that if something is described by an almost generic comment like "Great image.", me knowing the camera ( and settings ) change my opinion of "Great image." to "Oh OK it's a Canon 1DX with the ultra fast frame rate, oh well it's OK in that case, don't think I really like it anymore to be honest!". Of course not! When I first look an image I make artistic judgements, I take in an image and I make a decision on whether I like it, whether it stirs my soul and appreciation of its content.

When everyone else was going for smaller, newer compact cameras the French master photographer Eugene Atget was was still lugging his huge film plate camera about, his images are no more or less artistic than his compact camera wielding counterparts, they can be appreciated for what they are, great artistic images irrespective of the kit used.

On a purely technical level, dissecting an image and how it was created for educational purposes is completely different exercise. That has a specific goal and you have made a conscious decision to disregard the artistic appreciation for the moment ( or completely ) in favour of the purely technical. Not to say you won't come back to the artistic but that you suspend it in favour of the technical for a period of time.
hedwards Featured By Owner Jan 9, 2013
No, definitely not.

You only need that information if you're trying to improve your photography and you see an effect that you haven't seen before. Otherwise it isn't going to make any difference. And really, thinking about such things tends to detract from the work.
rockTheSky Featured By Owner Jan 9, 2013  Hobbyist Photographer
I don't necessarily have to know the exact settings for any photograph I see on blogs or photography showcase websites. In fact, the EXIF data is usually supplied on blogs more than it is showcase websites. However, I do like to know what gear a particular photographer shoots with. At the very least the camera make/model and main lens.

What I've typically found since upgrading my digital camera to one that can have the ISO set high without producing a lot of noise, is that EXIF data can actually be incredibly misleading. For instance, if I look through Bridge at some of my photos, I can see that I have a photo of a back-lit bottle at f/8 and 1/50 shutter. The ISO is set to 1000, because I forgot to change it. But If I look at the RAW settings, I can see that I underexposed the image by an entire stop. Also have some ISO 1000 photos under exposed by 2 stops if I continue to look on

The point is, its often easy to forget that the image we're seeing is not necessarily the picture that came straight from the person's camera, with no settings changed in post. So knowing EXIF doesn't necessarily help at all.
rcooper102 Featured By Owner Jan 9, 2013
It doesn't matter how an image was created. It doesn't matter how hard it was to make. It doesn't matter what self imposed limitations the photographer used. All that matters is the image. If the photo is good or not is completely dependant on that.

I often get tired of people who purposely limit themselves then claim that as a reason they are better than the average person even though their work is mediocre at best. If you insist on only shooting with an iPhone or a Holga, all the power to you. But in the end whether your image is good or not has nothing to do with what tool was used to make it.

The same is true with appreciating an image. IF it is great, it is great, knowing how it was made does not make it any more or less great. Knowing about the settings merely presents a learning opportunity,

The only exception to this in my opinion is if the image is being touted as something specific that could be easily faked. For example photo journalism. If you claim it was a shot made in a war torn jungle in africa it better have been made in a war torn jungle in africa and not in a local park with clever lighting, props, and models.
Delahkel Featured By Owner Jan 9, 2013  Professional Photographer
Completely agree with this.
kippa2001 Featured By Owner Jan 9, 2013
I am clueless with regards to doing hdr images of sunsets and wouldn't mind asking what settings people used for that kind of stuff and how they deal with moving water in HDR. Not sure whether to do -1 0 +1 or -2 0 +2. I'll probably play around with different settings myself, when it gets a bit warmer, and close to summer. :D
MichaelRowlandson Featured By Owner Jan 9, 2013  Professional Photographer
Gallery showings dont show camera settings and people go to look at the photography.
xyloz Featured By Owner Jan 9, 2013
The settings are pointless, really as most of the settings are just judged by the tog under the conditions of the day.
Plus after dark room tweaking the contrast and brightness can be altered.

So white balance,
Shutter speed
Film speed
Are based on what kind of lighting is around.

DOF is down to the lens so maybe an idea of what aperture to combine with the settings would make a decent emulation but even still you would have to mimic the lighting to the right levels to get any where near similar.

The information is just something that is nice to know.
stay-sick Featured By Owner Jan 9, 2013  Hobbyist Photographer
I concur with your final point; the settings are useful to know, and a working knowledge of your camera and photographic techniques/jargon do help.

But there will always be that part of every photographer, no matter how experienced they are with a camera's settings, that can pick out an attractive subject and frame it, compose it to create a beautiful photograph.
xyloz Featured By Owner Jan 9, 2013
And the same can be said of happy snappers with a Kodak.

Just photography is a way of seeing.
stay-sick Featured By Owner Jan 9, 2013  Hobbyist Photographer
Olda-G Featured By Owner Jan 9, 2013  Hobbyist Photographer
Clearly the artistic appreciation of an image does not reside in the technical details and the image can certainly be appreciated without knowing such things.

Still, I think it is natural for photographers to be curious about how an image we really like was taken and processed. Personally I'm more curious about the thought behind an image and how the photographer went about pursuing the image they sought to record. I really enjoy books where the photographer can discuss this at some length. I'm interested in knowing about lighting was used because I am pretty ignorant in that area need to learn more about it. I'm also often interested in the lens because just because the rendering of different lenses is of interest to me personally.

I find that if you express appreciation for an image, most photographers are eager to discuss how they achieved it.
JackMolotov3 Featured By Owner Jan 9, 2013  Hobbyist Photographer
if your just appreciating a photo, no

but other photographers want to know HOW, so they can improve their own photos.
FallisPhoto Featured By Owner Jan 9, 2013
You don't have to know the settings to appreciate the photo. Looking at a photo that I *REALLY* like, I tend to break it down in my mind and try to figure out the f/stop, lighting, and so on though. I do this so that I can recreate it, if I ever decide to, if the opportunity arises, and if I want to go for that effect. Given that, I suspect that the guy you are annoyed with just might have appreciated that photo even more than you did.
foreverCTY Featured By Owner Jan 9, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Do you need to know them? Absolutely not. A good photo is a good photo as long as the beholder finds it so.

However, does knowing the settings increase my appreciation for the image? I'd have to say yes, to an extent. Most of the time I've been asked about settings, it's usually from photographers looking to see how I managed to pull off a certain photo, and the same would hold true if I asked someone else for their settings, or looked them up. To use one of your own images as an example; Your photograph that made DD of a city skyline at night is a great image, and I admire it from an artistic/ composition point. But I have been trying to get such images on my own so I will confess looking at the EXIF that deviantArt has provided to see what kind of techniques you may have used that just evaded me because I lack common sense. I think the same basic theory is what's going on in some photographers' heads when they ask for the EXIF.

Then again I won't lie and deny that there are probably some people out there who think that just by asking for EXIF it makes them better photographers, or look somehow intelligent. After all, there are always two sides to a coin.
Delahkel Featured By Owner Jan 9, 2013  Professional Photographer
Never really thought about it that way.
Settings usually do not interest me, but I do sometimes ask for them, depending on an element in the photo, I'd ask what lens at what aperture was used to create the unique bokeh, I'd ask what shutter speed was used in a photo where the water/clouds are just the perfect amount of blur (not too much, and not too little). I do also ask for which filters were used, and I do ask how a shot was lighten. I don't do that cause I want cold hard facts and the artistic doesn't interest me, on the contrary, I ask because the artistic interests me so much, that I want to learn to do those techniques myself to use them in my own photos.
nokari Featured By Owner Jan 9, 2013  Professional Interface Designer
I think you're making a big assumption that the person who asked the question didn't also appreciate the image itself. People ask photographers what settings they use because they admire the photos taken and want to figure out if there's a way they can recreate the conditions for making their own photos look as good. Obviously different lenses, apertures, shutter speeds, etc, will all have different results. Whether or not all this information is useful is up to the person who interprets them. Frankly, it shouldn't make any difference to you as long as you know what you're doing.
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