Photographers, Not Everything is Relative

Photographers, Not Everything is Relative

We live in a day and age where the phrase "Everything is relative" is the final word for many conversations and a basis for conclusions. This kind of mentality can lead to disastrous results.

The Philosophy

"Everything is relative" sits on the throne of the conversation when one's ego has been hurt. Being said or not said verbally doesn't really matter. What matters is what occurs after the argument has been settled down this way and life continues.

The idea behind the phrase is that everyone has an opinion, a way of thinking, and a freedom of expression, but that's not necessarily the truth. While it is right to assume that people make mistakes and not every opinion is to be valued, this logic becomes a facade for the strong ego of an absolute relativist. Assuming that "everything is relative" became a synonym for "everyone is wrong about me."

Your Portfolio

People will come and tell you that either your portfolio or some of your works are bad. The "everything is relative" philosopher may deduce that these people just don't understand art. It's good to know that sometimes people are actually right and your portfolio or some of your works might be indeed not that good as you think.

There may even be friends and colleagues who will probably support your "everything is relative" attitude and will tell you: "Don't mind them, you're the best," or "Be cool, they just don't understand."

Your Pricing

Your prices are something I can't afford, some clients may say. Some photographers may instantly run a YouTube search for videos on "How to answer to a client if they say your prices are too high." And yes, there are great videos on the topic, but think again if your prices aren't really way too high for the service you provide and what kind of final imagery you deliver.

Realism

Perception of reality can be subjective or relative. Kids believe anything but the same can be said for photographers who don't have a true assessment of their work and personality yet. Taking everything personally is not a good thing. Taking everything as "relative opinion" is not good either.

There are so many generalized "words of wisdom" on social media today that if someone follows blindly, would fall in a pit or will look quite stupid. An example is "Don't allow anyone to tell you you are wrong." That's again part of the "everything is relative" mindset. It is absolutely possible there could be a case when someone is actually wrong and people advise them to take a turn from the direction they are heading.

Conclusion

Everything has to be judged on a case-by-case basis: opinions about your portfolio, your prices, the way you're doing business. There may be things worth listening to, while others may pass you by. It is hard to fight with your ego, but it's invaluable to have the ability to control it. Don't hide behind "everything is relative."

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37 Comments

This article states "The idea behind the phrase is that everyone has an opinion, a way of thinking, and a freedom of expression, but that's not necessarily the truth. "

The idea behind the phrase, in the way I have heard it most of the time, is that how one forms their opinion and makes their decisions is relative to their life experiences, their point of view and their knowledge of any given topic. Stating everyone has an opinion so dismissively as you are doesn't do the phrase justice IMO.

How the everything is relevant philosopher, if acting honestly, has to evaluate the relative expertise of whoever is giving the review as well as other factors that may be biased. It is vital to try to understand what the relative expertise, etc. of whomever is judging.

Everything IS relative and understanding the relative angles are incredibly valuable in determining markets, pricing, etc.

Example: Pixel Peepers on photo forums will decry certain equipment, lenses, etc. Their relative values don't matter to me nearly as much as the opinions of people who care less about pixel peeping and more about the how the image is cropped, how the colors and contrasts work together, etc. etc.

Your Conclusion
"Everything has to be judged on a case-by-case basis: opinions about your portfolio, your prices, the way you're doing business. There may be things worth listening to, while others may pass you by. It is hard to fight with your ego, but it's invaluable to have the ability to control it. Don't hide behind "everything is relative.""

The fact that everything has to be judged on a case-by-case basis ... is EXACTLY why one needs to understand the relative position those opinions come from. It's not hiding behind everything is relative. It is using it to understand where the opinions come from and if they are relevant.

Michael Holst's picture

"Everything has to be judged on a case-by-case basis"

That's a part of why the saying, "Everything is only relative" is important. If someone is using it only for the purpose to dismiss a poor portfolio critique, then sure, it's not being used correctly.

A bad portfolio review is relative to who is reviewing it. Maybe an art director at an agency doesn't love it. But!!! The small start-up who needs help creating content thinks it's acceptable enough to hire you.

If anything, your article makes a very strong case for the opposite of the title.

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

There's no strong case that negates the title. There are absolute truths and not everything is relative. If I go to your camera and kick it to the ground, I can tell you "I'm not breaking your gear. This is a way of expressing my admiration to your work." Will you accept it as a "relative" opinion? No, that's a harmful attitude and that's an absolute truth. If someone goes and kills an innocent human being is that something relative? No. That's an absolute thing. If you are hungry and you say "I am hungry" what would happen if someone tells you: well, that's just your opinion. In fact you're not hungry at all. I can slap your face as well and I can tell you that this is how I express my good will. Will you believe me?

This is why there are absolute truths and there are relative truths and everything has to be judged on a case by case basis.

When it comes to art, there are many relative truths, but there are things that are disliked by the 99.9% of the public (a taped banana, for example). Does that make that "art" relative? No. It's not art. It's just a provocation :) and no, that's not art.

There are "truths" that have been layered and layered while they became accepted truths but in their root they are lies. Does this make them absolute? No. In order to judge if something is true or false in the root one has to stand on an absolute measure for true and false.

Michael Holst's picture

"When it comes to art, there are many relative truths, but there are things that are disliked by the 99.9% of the public (a taped banana, for example). Does that make that "art" relative? No. It's not art. It's just a provocation :) and no, that's not art."

I'm sorry but this is a really bad example.... I think the banana is art... and additionally, that "art" can be in the form of provocation. The difference between it being art or not is therefore relative. It doesn't matter if I'm the only one who thinks this way. It is automatically relative because I exist as an exception to your perceived absolute.

A case-by-case basis means that it's relative to the perspective of the viewpoint. Each viewpoint (opinion) would be a case among other cases. If I say I'm hungry, I cannot force you to accept that I am telling the truth. You either take me at my word or consider me a liar. It doesn't matter if I'm hungry or not, as soon as an outside perspective has to decide on what they accept, it is relative.

The only thing that is truly absolute is that everything is relative.

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

"The only thing that is truly absolute is that everything is relative."

When you cross on a red light, tell that to the police officer. Tell them: it's your relative opinion. That's not an absolute truth.

When you are in a pitch dark room and you're asked by a client to make a photograph without any light on a moving philosopher at ISO 100, don't dare to tell your client there's no light. That would be an absolutely relative opinion of yours. It's not an absolute fact.

When you jump out of bed in the morning and you see the sun, don't you think that's a day light. No. It's not daytime. It's your relative opinion. Your neighbour may think this is night and the sun light is just relative. It's not showing the day. It's just there by accident. Tomorrow in the morning there may be moon light.

You got on a job 2 hours late? No problem. It's all relative. Tell the client that according to friends of yours in a two-hour zone further on west you're right on time. Tell them their opinion is relative. Nothing is absolute.

Tell your clients that your price is relative. There's no need to pay you the full price. They can pay you $1, because everything is relative. That's not an absolute 1 dollar price. It's all in your imagination.

When you get paid with exposure, it is again a relative thing, of course. When your tax authorities ask you to pay your taxes, you can pay them with exposure, because taxes are relative and money is relative. You can absolutely get paid with exposure and pay taxes with exposure. Tell that to the authorities that this is just a relative view of money and see how relatively easy they will make an absolute decision to put charges against you.

Go in the store and buy food with exposure. Yell at them that they don't know anything about relative philosophy. Their opinion is totally relative and you have the right to express your relative freedom of paying with exposure (you'll say good things about the store on Yelp).

And your name is Michael? I doubt that. It's a relative opinion. For me your name may be Jane, regardless of what your parents say. Their opinion is just relative, right? Not an absolute truth.

So, everything is relative? Of course, when it's convenient, unless an absolute fact crosses your path and becomes a threat to you or your possessions. Then suddenly the real world becomes real and the absolute facts become very very clear.

Michael Holst's picture

In very example you've provided you are using some authorities (relative and or subjective) judgement as absolute fact.

The point is that when applying meaning/significance to something everything, everything is relative. Your article is making points about subjective and relative opinions that affect photographers. Mainly, portfolio critique and setting pricing which will always exist as relative because good/bad or cheap/expensive are comparisons based on a position that is relative to the person who is making that assessment.

Timothy Gasper's picture

You are correct sir..."A bad potfolio review is relative to who is reviewing it." That's the whole point. Since photographic portfolios, and photography in general, is subjective, then one will get various 'reviews..

Michael Holst's picture

Yes, which means that it's relative.

Timothy Gasper's picture

Yes, and....? Symantics. As long as we know what we're talking about. It's all the same. Was not trying to argue that issue.

Michael Holst's picture

Just pointing out that the article actually makes a better case for everything is relative in it's content.

You're arguing that not everything is relative by... advising people not to take aphorisms to heart, and assess critique and advice on a case-by-case basis... Thus, disproving your hypothesis. Congrats, you outdumbed yourself.

"Only a Sith deals in absolutes." And fascists. And narcissists.

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

> "Only a Sith deals in absolutes." And fascists. And narcissists."
So my question is: Is this an absolute or a relative truth? If it's an absolute, you are a fascist. If it's a relative, it can be assumed as something false by those who want it to be false.

When there's nothing absolute your logic will go in circles and will be very easily made fun of.

It's an observation. Of course it's subjective. Everything is.
Are you that delusional to think that everything that comes out of people's mouths is absolute truth to that person? That's how narcissists think.

There are no absolute truths. Science doesn't recognize absolute truths.
We perceive and experience the world and life through our senses which are subjective and fallible.

Timothy Gasper's picture

Well, I've been wrong before and will certainly be wrong again. The important thing to me is that I don't make the same mistakes. As for any of my portfolios...I have gotten various reviews from various potential clients. Which ones were right and which ones were wrong? Can YOU tell me? Good thing now is I don't give a shhiitt. Being retired has a way if solidifying that frame of thought for me. I shoot what I want and how I want. Don't care about reviews anymore. Have fun shooting and just be yourself.

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

Being more down to earth and realistic is something very common for everyone who grows with their experience .The newcomers are usually the ones who take everything quite personally and defend anything theirs with any means. The truth is you may be right or you may be wrong, as you have said. It's good to know which of those two you are, so you don't make the same mistake again.

Timothy Gasper's picture

This is correct sir. It is true that the newcomers usually take things more personally, not the only ones though, but it comes with not feeling secure with themselves and their choices. Perhaps we should all ask ourselves this; 'I took this photo. Why did I take this photo?' Their answer will tell them if they made a mistake or not. BUT...don't be afraid of mistakes. If you feel you made one...stay with it..look at it and tell yourself what you could have done to improve the image. Hell...it happens all the time.

Daniel Medley's picture

"Everything has to be judged on a case-by-case basis: opinions about your portfolio, your prices, the way you're doing business. There may be things worth listening to, while others may pass you by. It is hard to fight with your ego, but it's invaluable to have the ability to control it. Don't hide behind "everything is relative.""

The above statement seems to be contradictory.

At the end of the day, everything is relative, at least to some degree.

I wonder if you had replaced the word "relative" with "subjective" it may be more in line with what you're trying to say.

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

Subjective and relative are identical terms in this case. In "relation to the subject," if I have to put it in a different way.

Of course, I don't see the paragraph you've quoted to be contradictory, but on the topic of "everything is relative, at least to some degree," I can't agree, because there are absolute truths we step as a basis of true judgement. For example daylight and night time ambience is something we can call an absolute truth. There are dawn and dusk that are similar, but are neither day or night. That's an absolute truth. Judging that a portrait has a Rembradt type of lighting is not subjective. You can't call it split lit or butterfly lighting, because we know the absolute meanings of those.

There are subjective things as well, which I refer to as "relative truth." One is "the right price" for a photoshoot. For some, the right price is $500, while for others it can't be less than $5,000. That's a relative thing and we can all absolutely agree on that.

This is why I don't say that everything is relative even to a certain extent. There absolute truths. There are relative truths that are absolute to the majority of people ("a nice landscape"). There are relative truths that are absolute only to a few people (a taped banana which is called "art").

Daniel Medley's picture

"Of course, I don't see the paragraph you've quoted to be contradictory." This exemplifies my point. Two different people viewing something in two different ways.

Granted, in many things it can be black and white. Dead is dead, living is living. Where it becomes subjective is exactly what "dead" is or means; as an example. When looked at from top to bottom, everything is relative. Or, perhaps I should say, most everything is relative. Yes, 2+2 =4. Period. Full stop. But when it comes to matters of an artistic nature, it is all subjective.

I'll grant that an assertion that EVERYTHING is relative is misguided. Where it becomes subjective is the impact or meaning it has on different people; hence my qualifier "to a degree."

I do believe that though there is a fair amount of gray in the world, there is a lot more black and white than many would lead you to believe. But when it comes to matters of an artistic nature, it's subjective.

When, for example, it comes to the quality of a portfolio, it's completely subjective.

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

I agree and you explained it nicely.

Timothy Gasper's picture

Yes sir. And that's just the point. Photos are all subjective to the one viewing them. Who is to say what is good or not good? A photo of a simple field with some trees could be mundane as hell to most people, but for one person it could be the most beautiful image they ever saw. Why? Any number of reasons. It happens to me quite a bit as the photo would remind me of some thing or place or person, etc. So...is there really such a thing as a bad photo? That is the question we all must answer in the presence of the photo in front of us.

Well said, but I believe some commentators are still not getting it, thinking that you contradicted yourself.

To begin with, let me just say that their are many things that are plain black or white. That being said, art is very subjective, …but no one ought to be subjected to a US$20,000 banana taped to a wall. 😉😆😁😀😄 That ain't art; that is a display of nature, and a poor display at that.

But the main thing I see people getting wrong in this discussion, is the difference between «hiding behind, “everything is relative”», and, «Everything has to be judged on a case-by-case basis….» There is no contradiction here.

One is a dismissive attitude, and the other is an attitude of critical analysis. One is, “I don't have to listen to you because everything is relative, and I feel differently about it. Your words are invalid in my world.» The other is, “I hear what you are saying, and I will try to place your words into the context of from where one is coming, to see if there is something in there which I can apply to my world, and perhaps something in which I can grow.”

If someone says that one's portfolio sucks, but offers no insight as to why they say that, then it is not a very useful criticism. If they say, “it is a bad portfolio because one has too many of a similar image, not enough range shown, and the best images are in the middle, but ought to mostly be in the front, and perhaps one at the end, to leave a good first impression, and leaving with a nice flavour in the mouth,” then, even if one disagree with their assessment as to the quality of the collection, there is still a takeaway in which one can possibly grow.

In the above criticism, there are some very subjective terms; “too many of a similar image,” “enough range”, and “best images.” How much is too much? How similar is too similar? What precisely is one's range? How precisely can one display such range? Which images are indeed one's “strongest”? However, it would be a mistake to simply respond with, “That's your opinion. Everything is relative. It works for you, but you can do you, I'll do me.” Nevertheless, there are some black and white areas. Too many of a similar image is not good. One ought to display one's range. One ought to put their best foot forward.

There is no contradiction in your conclusion.

Michael Holst's picture

I don't think anyone will disagree with your statement. The issue most people are taking is that the author stated that "not everything is relative" and backed up that assertion by giving examples where everything was indeed relative.

His title should have said something more like "Photographers, Everything is Relative is a bad excuse".

From my relative point of view, most of the criticism in the comments are people pointing out that just because it's not a good excuse, doesn't mean it's not still relative.

AUTHOR: «…opinions about your portfolio, your prices, the way you're doing business. There may be things worth listening to, while others may pass you by.»

Yes, opinions, about your portfolio, prices, & business model are, by virtue of being an opinion, is subjective, and relative. However, the assertion is, the criticism is worth listening to, because not everything within an opinion is relative, as I had pointed out.

If my opinion is, “it is a bad portfolio because one has too many of a similar image, not enough range shown, and the best images are in the middle, but ought to mostly be in the front, and perhaps one at the end, to leave a good first impression, and leaving with a nice flavour in the mouth,” then that is a relative matter as I pointed out above. …But there is still quite a lot in there which is NOT RELATIVE.

Therefore, the concluding statement was NOT, «backed up… by giving examples where everything was indeed relative.» It was saying precisely what I said; listen to the constructive criticism, (subjective/opinion/relative), critically analyse it, and consider the facts (non-subjective/facts/absolutes) therein.

That is why statements such as, “Your portfolio sucks,” does not constitute “constructive criticism,” and why it is useless, and ought to be ignored. It contains no facts. Of these two opinions, one falls into the category of, «There may be things worth listening to,» while the other falls into the category of, «…others may pass you by.»

So listen to the criticism, analyse the criticism, and make a decision on a case-by-case basis.

Michael Holst's picture

"If my opinion is, “it is a bad portfolio because one has too many of a similar image, not enough range shown, and the best images are in the middle, but ought to mostly be in the front, and perhaps one at the end, to leave a good first impression, and leaving with a nice flavour in the mouth,” then that is a relative matter as I pointed out above. …But there is still quite a lot in there which is NOT RELATIVE."

Sorry, but no. It's all still relative because the next critique might say something different depending upon the background or understanding of the person providing the opinion. No one is saying not to take constructive criticism seriously. The point I'm making is that how valuable the critique is, doesn't change if it's relative or not. Those are two different things.

I think you're missing the point. The article is titled "Not everything is relative" but goes on to argue that opinions or creative taste. The title should have left out any mention of relativity and just said, "Some opinions might be more valuable than others for your development".

«…opinions(are always relative) about your portfolio, your prices, the way you're doing business. There may be things worth(value is relative) listening to, while others may pass you by.»

«It's all still relative because the next critique….»
You missed the point, and the previous post. Re-read. There is QUITE A LOT in there which is NOT RELATIVE, and I spelt it out already.

Michael Holst's picture

Facts are only absolute until they are interpreted and meaning derived from them.

If an image is warm (fact) someone might advise that it should be cooled down (subjective opinion) the next person might say I think this isn't warm enough (subjective opinion). Each opinion is relative to the other in its value perceived from the person receiving the advice.

opinions don't exist by themselves. It's all relative when it comes to the points made by the article. I've spelled it out very well.

Yes, opinions don't exist by themselves, but, no, they are not «all relative when it comes to the points made by the article.» You are conflating the actual opinions, collectively, with the thoughts behind any single given opinion.

…Oh, and facts are ALWAYS absolute!

Taking your own examples….

BIM: “Your image is too warm, it should be cooled down.”
BAM: “Your image is not warm enough.”

Two useless opinions, which ought to be ignored, as they do not give any insight as to from where they are coming. They are both akin to, “Your portfolio sucks!”

TIM: “Your image is too warm. The skin tone of your subject seem too red, almost like they are under a dim incandescent light, but you clearly have them well exposed. Do some WB correction to make the skin-tones more natural.”

TAM: “Your image is not warm enough. Your subject is clearly standing in an outside patio during a deep red sunset, but it seems that you light them with possibly a daylight balanced fill-light, or something. I think you matched the direction of the light quite well, but it still seems that this is a composite, due to the WB difference with the background. Make their skin-tone warmer, and it will look more natural. It will also make a more spectacular sunset.”

So Bim & Bam fall into the, «while others may pass you by,» category, while Tim & Tam fall into the, «may be things worth listening to,» category. Bim and Tim had the same opinion concerning the image being too warm. Bam and Tam had the same opinion concerning it not being warm enough. You are arguing that these opinions are relative to each other, or facts are relative, or this-and-that, etc. That is NOT the point at all.

The point is that NOT EVERYTHING which Tim said is relative, and NOT EVERYTHING which Tam said is relative. A lot of what they said, despite having different opinions, are quite factual, solid, unchanging, objective, truths, and, whether one agrees with the opinion concerning what to do with the WB, one ought to pay attention to Tim & Tam, and not dismiss them with, “Everything is relative.”

Indeed, Bim & Bam are to be dismissed, but not because “everything is relative,” but because they did NOT give any constructive criticism. They gave no factual, solid, unchanging, objective, truths, but subjective statements without context.

[EDIT]
P.s., an image being “warm,” is not a fact; it is an opinion. Growing up in the tropics, I, for the life of me, could not understand why North American photographers would speak of a, “pleasing, warm glow,” with red skin on white people. I always found that glow unpleasing, and unnatural.

They also call “daylight balanced,” 5,000K, where I would put it at no less than 5,800K, but closer to 6,000K.

Daylight in the tropics is much “cooler” than daylight in New Hampshire. What NA calls, “neutral white,” is way too warm to be reasonably considered “neutral” to me and my tropical eyes. So, no, “warm,” is not a fact, but an opinion. “5,800K is cooler than most strobes, at 5,500K,” is a factual, objective statement about relative values. “5,800K is too cool,” is a subjective opinion about an absolute, factual value.
[/EDIT]

Michael Holst's picture

"Oh, and facts are ALWAYS absolute!"

Sure. While I could go on about how facts are an abstract thing made up by humans. "If a tree falls in a the woods and nothing is around to hear it, does it make a sound?" I'll give you that facts are absolute. You're effectively saying that an opinion that states some sort of quantifiable fact as makes that opinion fact by association which would be a poor way to go about assigning truth. As soon as you say something that is an opinion, it automatically becomes subjective. Someone is then assigning meaning from that fact but is still a personal interpretation.

"They also call “daylight balanced,” 5,000K, where I would put it at no less than 5,800K, but closer to 6,000K.

Daylight in the tropics is much “cooler” than daylight in New Hampshire. What NA calls, “neutral white,” is way too warm to be reasonably considered “neutral” to me and my tropical eyes. So, no, “warm,” is not a fact, but an opinion. “5,800K is cooler than most strobes, at 5,500K,” is a factual, objective statement about relative values. “5,800K is too cool,” is a subjective opinion about an absolute, factual value."

That's irrelevant to my argument but I'll go along with you.

BIM: "That photo is only at 5,800K and is too cool."
BAM: "That photo is at 5,800K and is not cool enough!"

They both state a subjective opinion about an absolute factual value so are they both absolute?

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