It seems to come in waves, but we often get questions with a sample photograph and tags like "photoshop", "post-processing", "photo-editing" and the base assumption that the photographer's primary effort was in a computer technique (possibly just choosing the right software filter — with "filter" being another often-selected tag even when there is no strong indication that a filter, software or otherwise, is essential to the photograph).

Other times, they assume that there's some magic camera setting which will Make My Photos Be Like That.

Recent examples:

And a few older ones:

(And so on....)

We can answer each of these with "actually, that's lighting / composition / timing / artistic vision", but that gets tedious. Half of the answers end up being about the basic lesson in photography (sorry, no magic button) — and then that doesn't necessarily help with what the asker actually wanted to learn. We can close them as unclear, but really it's fairly certain what was wanted (usually, how to actually learn to get the desired result — but sometimes, just still the magic button). Or we can edit the questions drastically — but that's a lot of work and will generally completely change them. Is there a better way? (Perhaps a custom close reason?)

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    \$\begingroup\$ I suppose if I ask a lame "how did someone do this?" question just for the fun of it(to get you all hot and bothered), it would turn into another shoe question - photo.stackexchange.com/q/41921/4892 But in all seriousness most of these questions are annoying and I'm not sure of the solution. They require quite a bit of skill on the "asking" side which we normally see the opposite of in these specific cases. It seems like all of the OPs think Instagram is the only thing ever used to achieve a photo. \$\endgroup\$
    – dpollitt
    Dec 31, 2014 at 4:01

3 Answers 3


We should answer such questions.

However, most of these questions fit into a few generic types. We could write one question for each type, answer it well, then close others as duplicates pointing to that one. This would work for questions like Photography editing style and secret, where the answer is basically, "No, there is no special magic post-processing technique. This is artistic style.".

Others really are about post-processing to create a certain look. Since there are many different post-processing options and therfore many different looks, one generic answer won't work. However, we can have one generic answer about post processing options and some of the effects resulting from them. Individual questions can then be answered with the specifics, like "Black is made a little bluish, colors desaturated, and contrast reduced. For more about post-processing see xxxxx.". For example, see How is this effect created in Photoshop?. This should not have been closed, at least not for being unclear, since it wasn't. Note also that I only gave a very brief answer. This would have been a perfect place to reference a generic post-processing discussion if there was one.

In other cases I took more time and decomposed the sample image to show how the original was probably processed. For example, see What is this "Dreamy" effect called and how can I achieve it?, and How do you create a washed out effect with deep blacks?. From the number of upvotes to my answers, it is clear that not just the OP appreciated them. There is nothing wrong here, nothing to "fix".

The basic point is that these are legitimate questions, even if they seem redundant to us. They are on-topic for this site. You can't fault people for not knowing the answer when they ask a question. If you consider them tedious, then just don't answer them. We are all voluteers here, and are free not to answer any questions without any obligation to explain why.

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    \$\begingroup\$ It's not that people don't know the answer, it's that for this class of question, the answer is always a lecture about it not being Photoshop, which gets in the way of a helpful answer about how to actually get similar photographs. It would be much better all around to put these questions temporarily on hold so the asker can rephrase to ask what they really want to know. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Nov 29, 2014 at 15:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ Additionally, I'm definitely going to keep voting to close questions which link to a set of examples without describing them as "unclear", because those links won't last (and in fact often change to point to different photos), and because I've seen several cases where people wrote what appear to be good answers but which don't address what the asker wanted after all. They were unclear, but the answerers thought they weren't because of different assumptions. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Nov 29, 2014 at 15:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm actually unclear on your answer here. You start with an unambiguous "we should answer them", but the go right into saying that we should close most of the questions I'm talking about as duplicates. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Nov 29, 2014 at 15:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ And, finally, your last paragraph suggests that poorly described questions as-is can just be passed over and do not cause harm to the site. I disagree. They make it harder to find actually helpful and relevant information when searching, and they encourage more of the same, bringing down the average quality. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Nov 29, 2014 at 15:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ I see the contradiction between answer them and close them as dups. I realize now I wasn't clear enough, but I meant that closing as a dup to a deliberately created and well-answered question is a form of answer, even though it may not be a "answer" in the strict sense of the mechanics of this site. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 29, 2014 at 16:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ Closing as duplicates of deliberately created and well-answered questions seems fine with me, but I don't see that happening. If we want to make a concerted effort to do that.... maybe. :) \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Nov 29, 2014 at 22:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ Also, I want to clarify — I thought it was clear, but maybe not — that your two examples in your "In other cases..." paragraph aren't what I'm talking about here. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Nov 29, 2014 at 22:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ I know I'm late to this party and not nearly qualified as the others, but for what it's worth, I really enjoy these questions because it gives me an opportunity to study another photographer's approach. I have to noodle through how that photographer planned a shot, developed their style or their technique, etc. Recently, when my I learned that one of my guesses was wrong, and the photographer approached it completely differently than I thought, I was actually quite encouraged because I learned something new. \$\endgroup\$
    – B Shaw
    Dec 4, 2014 at 4:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ @BShaw I'm totally not opposed to these questions. They're just asked in a way which causes bad answers, and they almost always also fall into the situation of badly describing what is wanted. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Dec 6, 2014 at 0:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ @mattdm - I completely agree with you regarding that questions are poorly written such that they are too vague or they seem to imply a different question, altogether. As a side note, you are one of the most patient answerers / explainers / teachers I know, on any forum. Kudos to you. So, the fact that these are become tedious to you shows me there must be something we can do. I just don't know what exactly that is myself. Although, I was thinking, and this is not a fully formed thought, of a way to point those folk to a set of super-questions / answers about their topic. \$\endgroup\$
    – B Shaw
    Dec 6, 2014 at 3:18

This is a situation where I don't really think our current system is broken, just the way some are using it.

If they link to photos only and don't describe them, close as unclear because links are not dependable. Similarly, if they give multiple examples and there is no clear similarities between them, close as either unclear (if they think they are the same and they aren't) or too broad (if they are asking for multiple techniques in one question.)

If the photos are linked, described and have a consistent style, it is a perfectly valid question. I would challenge that answers that simply lecture that it needs to be an artistic thing without actually going in to answers to the question are the problem, not the question itself. Such answers should be downvoted and removed as they do not answer the question.

It is valuable to make sure the poster knows that, but we could make a standard post about the importance of artistic vision in photography and then make a simple "Related..." comment linking to it to make sure the OP understands the importance of artistic skill and vision in accomplishing high quality photography.

A well scoped and defined question on how to achieve a look is a good question. If it isn't well scoped and defined, we have other close reasons already. An answer that doesn't explain how to do it is a bad answer.

I suggest this question as our go to Q/A as a reference. Please feel free to add your own answers to it or edit the question to further improve it's coverage of the general case.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I agree with most of what you're saying here, but I don't think that the close reasons give enough guidance, and actually I think that's part of why we get lecture-y answers. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Dec 4, 2014 at 15:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ @mattdm - yeah, it does raise a question of user education on how to use the system properly, but I think being better about making sure we downvote while also providing a Q/A that we can regularly reference would help address that problem. Close reasons I think are more intended for standardized explanations to the OP about why a question is bad. They aren't for educating the OP about a common misconception on an otherwise good question or for explaining to answerers that they aren't really answering. I agree we have an issue, just think this is the wrong hammer. \$\endgroup\$
    – AJ Henderson Mod
    Dec 4, 2014 at 15:12

One suggestion would be a custom close reason:

This is a "How do I get pictures like this?" question which presumes a magic button. Don't assume a photographer's work is due to the application of a certain camera setting, a software filter, or post-processing. Instead, describe the effect you see in as much detail as possible, ideally with examples of your own attempts for comparison.

Ideally this would be a close reason other than an off-topic explanation (I agree with Olin that they're topical; that's not the issue) but as I understand it, that's the only place we have custom control, so, oh well.

I think this is superior to closing the questions as duplicate, because it encourages the poster to improve the question towards what's actually wanted — many of these questions leave us guessing in any case. Then, if they do turn out to be duplicates, we can easily identify and match them. And it's better than closing as unclear, because it gives guidance on what exactly needs to be improved. (And, as noted, in many cases it's not really that the question was unclear, just predicated on a wrong assumption.)

  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm good with that. It would, however, use our last open slot for custom close reasons so I would like to see a few more people weigh in first. An alternative might be a custom post notice, but I'm not sold on that. \$\endgroup\$
    – Joanne C
    Nov 28, 2014 at 14:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ JoanneC: How many post notices do we get? Is there a way for high-rep users to take advantage of them without needing mod interventions? \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Nov 28, 2014 at 21:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ We don't have a specific limit, that I know of, but adding to them requires a change by SE, mods can't add. \$\endgroup\$
    – Joanne C
    Nov 28, 2014 at 22:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ JoanneC: I think it might be nice to have such a template, beyond this more specific situation, which could be attached to all of the bare "What's this effect?" questions. Something like In order to get better answers and to help future visitors, please see our PSA on “What's this effect?” questions, and edit your post accordingly. Thank you! \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Nov 29, 2014 at 2:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ PS: I'm open to alternate wordings here. "Magic button" might be too harsh. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Nov 29, 2014 at 23:01

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