Photography and the APE

Before reading this, look away if you’re not interested in recognising that there is a problem with online egos.

I wanted to shed light on a topic that seems to be spreading like a disease in the online photographing community. The contentious issue is that of the arrogant digital photographer ego (I’ll call it APE since I’ll be using the term quite a bit). The disappointing and somewhat confusing aspect of APE is that its size is often (certainly not always) inversely proportional to the skill of the photographer. To understand this phenomenon , let me describe how it has affected me.

A photograph’s journey from scene to web takes place in several steps.
1. The first step is capturing the scene. The process may vary from capturing the essence of a wonderful landscape, the challenge of composition for difficult subjects and the challenge of sometimes making something out of nothing in a scene. Getting to the scene (especially in landscape photography) and simply being there is often more powerful for me than actually taking the shot. There is no APE at this early stage of the journey.

2. The next step is looking and modifying the image that brings out what you want in an image. The rewards here are multiple ; a scene that needs little modification straight from the camera is highly rewarding, a scene that looked hopeless out of camera but was processed into even a passable image is also rewarding. It has meant that I have learned much more about the importance of post processing than would have had I just been content at the end of step 1. I used to belong to the school of thought that the less you did to an image, the better the final outcome was as it was more ‘real’. I am not a photographic genius who gets it right 100% of the time ‘in camera’ so I can say that many of my images out of the camera actually look nothing like the original scene. Post processing can in fact make an image look more ‘real’ even if its about hiding the flaws. For those who subscribe to the line that photoshopping is somehow cheating, I would ask you to do some research as to how Ansel Adams processed his images and where names of many of our photoshop tools derive their names (dodge burn etc). If Film photography had a darkroom for processing, digital photographers have software tools  for post processing (albeit it is far far easier to manipulate in this day and age). Don’t get me wrong, I don’t ‘like‘ images that are supersaturated HDRs and dawn waterscapes . I don’t like composites for composites sake. I don’ t like airbrushed portraits with bucketloads of gaussian blur in the background to compensate for the original depth of field. However,  I don’t develop a sudden urge to purge the photographer for performing the manipulation either.

3. The final step for me is then showing the photos to the world. Satisfaction comes from many sources in this regard. Marianne and I hang photos around the home to beautify our rather plain house , we exhibit our works maybe once or twice a year if we’re lucky but we also play the online exposure game. By that, I mean that we have this site, a flickr site, a smugmug account and are regular contributors to several different forums. APE is of course most evident in this step of the photographer’s journey and this is where it can become ugly.

The satisfaction of having images at home is for a sense of achievement on different levels . We hiked ‘x’ days to get  to the place , we captured the image and we are hopefully reminded of the journey whenever we look at the photo. For us, we hardly have any guests over so the images we tend to hang at home tend to be the ones we like on a more personal level. APE doesn’t play a part in this satisfaction – a 0.1/10 for the rare occasions people drop by our place.

The satisfaction of displaying images in the public comes from getting feedback from viewers and recognition that we have created something that has pleased the eye of others. In this regard, we are sometimes slaves to what we think others’ opinion of our images will be. Sure it’s nice to make a buck or two from the images if they sell, but thankfully for us, our full time jobs support our journeys and our display costs. We’re quite new to this area but I find that APE starts to play some role. I’ll be completely honest. Sometimes when I walk past exhibitions, the thought in my head is quite often the harsh line of ‘this is just crap, we could do better if we put our images on display here’. However, more often than not, I’ll actually think to myself ‘I don’t think I can display my images here, the stuff that gets displayed here is just in a different league to our efforts’. I think that this internal criticism drives me (I can’t speak for Marianne) to constantly improve everything about our photography ; getting to those composition opportunities  in the middle of nowhere, getting sharper and properly exposed images, processing them with more style, exposing our work more and presenting the images more immaculately.  In this stage, I rate my APE a measely 3/10.

Now where do I start about online exposure and APE. Firstly, I’ll rate myself a 6-7/10 APE here but really the angst of this post is directed to the 9-10s out there who often make life for others miserable. Sooo, what makes displaying online images fun? I do it for exposure, recognition, feedback and yes , to fuel the beast that is my APE! Marianne and I both want our photography buisness to provide us a hobby that brings something joyful to our lives and can benefit us financially. Hence, we play the exposure game. I submit 1-2 photos a day on flickr, she updates our everlook gallery and we both display images on facebook in smaller formats. We enter competitions and dream of one day winning one.  The world of flickr I believe has improved my photography no end. By looking at some of the images online, it has given me no end of new compositonal ideas and for those who post their post-processing steps, it has helped me with my photoshop skills.To summarise the flickr game, these are the steps one takes to flickr immortality:

– Take an image that will look good on web. It might not be printable beyond 4X6 but heck it looks great on the web!

– Post it and add a million tags to the image, add it to a gazillion vaguely related groups to the image’s subject

– Enthusiastically post on everyone’s images whom you’ve listed as a contact using superlatives like ‘awesome, fantastic, great, incredible’ and finish the sentence with exclamation points and smily faces often wishing them a great day or weekend.

– Sometimes, instead of posting an image, post an image of a poster made from the site depicting your pictures which have made it into the flickr holy grail of ‘explore’

– Once your image has 200 comments, often from groups that require you to “post an image and award or comment on 5” , there’s a high chance that it will be on explore, so publicise that by addding that bit of information to the image description eg. “Explore front page 2/4/09 – thanks guys!”

– Make every man, woman and neanderthal your contact and make sure you leave those comments with superlatives on every one of their photos every day religiously in the hope that they’ll do you the same courtesy.

– You know you’ve made it to the flickr pinnacle when you post a image or pure crap, don’t submit it to any groups and your 5000 contacts proceed to complement you on the beauty of your crap.

You might ask how I know all of this. Well hey , I admit it, I had dreams of being on explore for flickr and having the recognition that goes with it. I make no excuses for why I never got to that pinnacle save for the obvious reason that many of those people really do have simply gorgeous images. In fact most of them are the nicest people in the world but I think if one is investing that much time into flickr, one could be sharing images in other ways. While I can sit for hours and stare at beautifuil online images, this does not substitute looking at a magnificent wall sized panorama in the flesh.  Call me a snob, but I tend to only accept contacts whose images I know I will want to comment on and learn from. I don’t want to have that list of 3000 contacts whose images I feel obliged to comment on.

Where APE is problematic is on forums and on competition sites. Often people don’t even realise that their inner APE has taken over.  I’m not talking professional sites, I’m talking sites that cater for all levels of photographer. Sites like dpchallenge, dgrin, and to a degree , flickr. I’ll finish off with a few examples of the APE gone insane in those who have taken their online personas a bit too seriously.

This image was submitted to dpchallenge’s weekly challenge of ‘fauna’ where only basic editing was allowed. There are no prizes for this competition I might add. The image, I thought was pretty crap – I liked my composition enough to enter it, but the light was harsh and the flamingo wasn’t even in focus fully. Someone who rated the image poorly, then reported me for ‘cheating’ (ie doing more to the image than was allowed by competition rules). So not only did he not like the photo, he then took it as an affront that I was cheating and remarkably bad at it? I’ve even had to submit the original RAW file as a result of this complaint. hmmm, strange ….APE score, 9.9/10

The 'Cheat' image

This image was one of quite a few I admittedly submitted to the wrong group in flickr. The group was titled SA photographers and I thought that it meant images from SA photographers (I had been submitting to this group for many months). The group was actually for images taken in South Australia. So , instead of letting me know politely, one particular member of the group took it upon himself to find as many photos of mine as he could and write sarcastic comments about them as to why they didn’t belong in the group. eg. raging APE score 9.5/10

"Beijing : you must mean the one on Gouger Street?"

"Beijing : you must mean the one on Gouger Street?"

I have to give credit to some people who actually point out aspects of images that I didn’t even notice. This image of barr smith library was one of the first I had taken with the 5d mark II and I was quite chuffed with the detail of it all. I didn’t really realise that the horizon was a little crooked and that the black bag could be a little distracting in some people’s eyes. APE score 0/10 – I consider this to be useful feedback as opposed to efforts above.


And to finish off with, an image of mine that I rate highly and will probably submit to this year’s ANZANG competition for nature and landscapes. Self APE rating 9/10

Mersey River banks, Tasmania

Mersey River banks, Tasmania

Now I’m off to flickr and to go feed that APE of mine before it starves to death 🙂 . Let me find my thesaurus of superlatives first……..


Posted on April 4, 2009, in Random Musings. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Yes, the APE annoys me too. I was a member of some flickr groups and have since left because of the APEs. I’m far from the “flickr pinnacle” though. I prefer to get feedback from the people I have built up a relationship with. My thinking is that you shouldn’t give people a chance to rubbish your work or they most likely will. I don’t have enough time to keep up with it all anyway – I’d rather be out taking photos, lol!

  2. so true cain 🙂
    I’ve been up all night editing photos from a recent fight night -I’ll blog that coming up hehe

  3. cool, Muay Thai right?

  4. some of the fights were , some were under ‘sanshou’ rules

  5. This is a wonderful post. For a number of us out there who enjoy photography, you have captured our sentiments with such concise and precise brevity. Rightly so that “…the satisfaction of displaying images in the public comes from getting feedback from viewers and recognition that we have created something that has pleased the eye of others.”

    However, there will always be those who, driven perhaps by envy, will never see the merits of just keeping their opinions to themselves let alone provide constructive critique.

    Nevertheless, regardless of what those ‘9-10 APEs say’, I enjoy your photostream and moreover, I learn from them. Thanks – commendable piece of ‘random musing’. 🙂

  6. I totally agree with MM Andamon. I think the term APE is very appropriate for some people. They should keep their opinion to themselves, but it seems they let their fingers take over their brains, hopefully without thinking fully, but I doubt it.(They probably would never say it to the photographers face)
    I have a pretty nasty story about DPChallenge as well and to this day I wish I hadn’t bought a subscription, but I really don’t visit it much and I sure don’t enter their challenges.
    As far as flickr is concerened I think of it as my ‘photo-ego-booster’, but talk about time consuming….. whoa
    I really like the style of photography and writing that you and Marianne do. Keep up the good work.
    peace n abundance
    p.s. I feel flattered that you enjoy my photography on flickr, and please don’t ever feel that you ‘have’ to comment, cause thats not how I learn.

  7. I love feedback -even the highly critical (often justified). I do not profess to being skilled and I’m just lucky if one in a thousand images is reasonable. It’s not lack of equipment with me just lack of skill, time and locations (I don’t drive -a major handicap) and living in the flattest county in the UK! I do APE but in the smallest way -last time I checked I think I had four followers (they must have been desperate:-) or misplaced)! I take the view that if it’s worth commenting on I do – if not I don’t, I can’t criticise too much with my level (lack of) skill but sometime I do spot how an improvement could be made …as for crap images – I’m your expert check out (maybe not a good idea):
    Thanks for posting this an interesting read and comments.

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