The Posterization of Photography

To satisfy users apparent insatiable needs, camera manufacturers reward us with ever increasing millions of pixels resolution along with lenses of superb quality, allowing us to obtain images that, corner to corner, provide an acutance that is entirely beyond that of human vision. The startling sharpness of our images can be, and most often is, accompanied by color saturation that is entirely beyond the realm of Natures palette.
Our cameras and software are simply tools to allow us to create fine art or garbage as we see fit and personally I have never believed that images should try the impossible task of mimicking the world around us. I do however have concerns that the fine tools that we have before us are leading us away from images with feeling and emotion and into a mode of posterization.
Painters had to learn that it was not necessary to always use the finest brush against a very long tradition, we should keep their lesson in mind. Whether on the street stalls or the prolific on-line galleries I find myself overwhelmed with tack sharp, glossy, metal clad, images in brilliant and extraordinary hues that are designed, for a price, to flatter our home walls … and like a disease I find that this style permeates much of the photography that I see around me.
I would be interested to hear the views of others regarding this subject.


Thanks for introducing another thoughtful topic!


I guess I’ve always been a fan of holding on to ridiculous precision and range as long as you can, until you don’t need it or can’t support it. Then, the transform to mediocrity can be done with the larger set of information, making considered choices about what to either get rid of or crush. This thinking predates even my earliest photography experience, when I was cobbling together stereo systems. Just because my speakers only produced a certain range didn’t mean I wanted the signal out of the tape deck to start there…

I’d assert that ‘essential exposure’ photography doesn’t look to me like it yields what you’re concerned about. That’s probably added by the advertising agencies and other attention-getters. I personally am not too interested in things like “look” profiles; right now my attention is on faithful reproduction with somewhat limited equipment.

So, I’d say, consider that ‘posterization’ in the mainstream may be attention-getting contrivance, layered upon the technical advances.


To get the conversation going, I will make a brief remark and follow up with it later.

I think this comes from the Industrial_Revolution and Consumerism, where our instinct is to want the latest and greatest. Doesn’t matter whether we need it or not, we need our sound system to have the highest fidelity possible that even our pets could hear the music in their auditory range. If the subwoofer has a microwave for our home entertainment needs such as popcorn, even better! Don’t forget about the heated flooring and the LG 4K laser projector that works from just two inches away from your wall! The flawless and gorgeous partner with their arms around you, pecking you with a million kisses. Much wow!


I’m going to subdivide this a bit…

@afre’s comments are spot on regarding this.

This part, I’m thankful for. While I don’t use glasses, my eyes aren’t quite what they used to be, and seeing things with the sharpness I used to see them with is welcome.

This is the part that concerns* me. Grossly exaggerated saturation transforms our real world into some sort of cartoon universe. Thanks, Instagram! Too bad that people with high quality cameras feel the need to emulate this cartoonery.

*: concerns → bothers, annoys, pisses me off, …

First of all I’m not sure what you mean by posterisation in this context. The rest of your post I hope I understand.

There are multiple parallel universes these days. What you are exposed to depends on your geographic location, cultural context, friends, websites you frequent etc. Plenty of people would find themselves exposed to mainly soft light, pastel desaturated colours etc. (young fashion conscious people) Others near only black and white grainy and blurry photos (street aficionados)

One powerful strand in this world of photography is indeed a sort of National Geographic over saturated but still technical look. It’s quite popular and inspire emotion in some. It is I guess striving for some kind of conventional beauty.

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He’s using it figuratively. In “counting pixels” we neglect the other aspects of photography such as “feeling and emotion”.

Isn’t a cover on NG considered for many an ultimate goal?

I agree. I was born in a tropical country on one side of the Atlantic and now I live in another tropical country on the other side of the Atlantic, where you find over saturation all over the place.

Over saturation is the norm.

Pastel light is rarely, rarely seen, if ever.

A french painter who came with the King of Portugal to Brazil during Napoleon wars, Nicolas-Antoine Taunay, had a hard time trying to document nature and landscapes (he was the Court painter), and he never managed to produce any significant work here, simply because he didn’t know what to do with such light and saturation, having been formed in typically European pastel light.

The paintings that he produced here are terrible attempts to reproduce an aesthetics and techniques that simply didn’t fit to the place. (It’s not me who says that, but an academic work:

The images below are not attempts to draw a comparison between styles, but only to show that the real truth from the country and aesthetics arise only when you accept the given natural conditions and start from there.


Modernist Tarsila do Amaral:

The first image shows either a failed attempt to reproduce a landscape or a colonial wish to transform the place as if it were Europe.

The second one tries to bring to us something genuinely Brazilian, and asks us to abandon an aesthetics that doesn’t fit to us.

I know this is not the main point here, but I think it’s important to stress that aesthetics is somehow relative to place and culture, as @nosle put it.

NOTE: Another minor point to illustrate that: what skin tones are targeted in some of our software when they refer to “skin tone”?



I don’t think it’s exactly to satisfy users needs that manufacturers push the limit of their products.

It’s actually to create needs. It sounds like a subtle difference, but, to me, it’s huge.

Also, @afre pointed out how this issue is related to consumerism which, yes, I agree on, but I think that’s only part of the reason why the whole industry keeps moving in that direction. In other words, the whole idea is a cultural condition, which is the assumption that more technology will make us a better photographer, graphic designer, artist, and so on. I’m repeating what I wrote in the other thread (film vs digital), but it is a misunderstanding of the tools which have now become our extensions. Someone with fancy gears will most likely, at first glance, be considered a pro by many, even if no one has seen his/her work yet.

As for the over-saturated images, I don’t think it’s the manufacturers to blame in this case, but rather the social media conformism (where, by the way, lots of users shoot with their phones) which, to answer @nosle on the “multiple parallel universes” idea, there aren’t actually so many. In fact, most of the commercial plugins for LR or PS come with presets or styles in order to match the current trends (Fade, Hollywood or the so-called teal/orange, Street, Vintage and so on). In other words, to be fair has more to do with how we use the software than the cameras. In a way, it’s more like comparing Ansel Adams to Robert Frank.

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Photography as an art form, may have very little benefit of things like perfect color management, massive amounts of pixels, the best denoise algorithm etc. I agree with @davidvj on that point. As long as you can produce something with a certain appeal or style things are fine. Whether you do that with a crappy camera or the world’s best, and either with a lot of post processing or without, doesn’t matter for the end product.
The point about saturation is rather moot, because in this scenario you are using photography as a tool to evoke some emotion of convey some feeling. However you manage to do this is fine. The real world equivalent doesn’t matter

However, if you go for a more analytical approach, then you would like to capture the world as it is. You do want perfect colours, little noise, extreme dynamic range, many pixels, little distortions, etc. It’s simply a different school of thought in my mind, and should be treated as such.

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Does that not appear to be a little boring? I do not want to try and match nature. Do we not want to be creative?

Only in a different way I think. If you shift the focus from the creative to the technical, you can find equally interesting challenges and need to be very creative to deal with limitations inherent to the capture of physical objects and light.
Hence my term, analytical photography.

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That still falls under consumerism (and related notions under the banner of capitalism). You could also throw in positivism as it relates to technology; I wonder if there is a term for that.

That is an opinion and a preference. To me, capturing things as they are is also a creative pursuit.

Technical photography could be done for artistic reasons and not necessarily analytical. To me the term analytical would indicate that you are using photography as a tool such as for remote sensing, though we could use the satellite and flyby imagery for PlayRaws too, as we have done. :smile_cat:

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There’s plenty room for creativity in framing, subject etc.

Photography can be primarily about the image in itself or about showing something. Good photography is often both.


Indeed, that was what I wanted to say but didn’t. :blush:

PS Move this to Lounge and added tags.