Thoughts on Image Value and Effort

Rain Fingers Above the Bonneville Desert, Utah

How often do you see photos posted in online forums or hanging in a gallery, accompanied by a description wherein the photographer recounts the miles hiked, grizzly bears fought off, violent storms encountered and years of preparation before they were finally able to create the image before you?  I see it on a regular basis.  Usually, I have no doubt about the authenticity of the story.  Other times, the claims are a bit dubious.  Regardless, a recent experience left me wondering whether the effort expended to create an image is somehow tied to the value viewers place on an image.  Is a photograph made deep into an inhospitable wilderness more inherently valuable or artistic than an image where the greatest physical effort expended was simply pressing the shutter button?

The image you see above was not photographed in a wild and remote location.  I didn’t backpack 30 miles wearing a 100 pound backpack in stinging rain with lightning crashing all around.  No, all I did was pull to the side of I-80 so my son could go pee.  I saw potential in the cracked mud, mountains and ominous sky so I casually strolled to my truck (in flip flops) where I reached in, grabbed my camera and tripod, then walked 30 feet to the very spot where this image was made.  My biggest challenge was wrangling a persistent 2 year old who was intent on peering through the viewfinder and making his own photo while I tried to nail the composition before the fast moving storm in the distance was upon us.

I posted this image on flickr and, to date, it has received 793 views, 41 favorites and 21 comments after flickr added it to the explore page.  If you’re familiar with flickr you’ll understand that 800 views is nothing compared to what truly popular images receive.  For me, it’s a bunch.  I didn’t mention that I made the photo mere feet from a busy interstate with cars and semis whizzing by at 80 MPH.  I wonder if I had, would the photo have received so many likes and comments?

What are your thoughts?

7 thoughts on “Thoughts on Image Value and Effort”

  1. I like the idea of a compelling story as a tie-in with the photo, but I also like the reality that many photo opportunities are all around us. Your example proves the point!

  2. Some photographic competition judges (and let’s not go there) insist on no caption or details so that they can respond to the image only (if looking at a small image on a screen for a few seconds can be seen as responding). There’s an argument for that. Then some images are enhanced (or our responses are enhanced) because there’s a story attached – true or otherwise. Is either way right or wrong? No. Am I a relativist? Absolutely not :)

    I am enjoying your images and words …


  3. Great post and image Bret!

    I personally don’t believe it matters where an image was made or what physical lengths were taken to get to the location. At least for myself, it doesn’t change my reaction to the image. I’m more interested in the amount of effort put into the image creatively and artistically. The experience is the photographers decision based around personal choices and interests. I’m interested in seeing an image that has personality and a strong story… it doesn’t matter where it was taken.


    1. Thanks, Kyle. It seems your opinion on the matter is consistent with my own. A strong image is a strong image. One that requires epic physical exertion may be held closer to the photographer’s heart but I can’t say that the general audience is all that much concerned about it.

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