I've volunteered to have this question closed (and leave the substantial answer rather than delete it) because indeed it is an XY question. I proposed to post a substantially improved new question, but then I saw a comment that it should be closed:

...because it is about using a camera as a measuring device rather than about photography.

Have guidelines been established about photography that produces photographs for the purposes of measurement? Photography to enable the counting of baby wildlife (needs counting and size estimation), viruses or cells (photography through microscopes before analyzing with ImageJ , or stars are off-topic? I'm looking for some guidance before I post my non-XY version of my question. Thanks!

4 Answers 4


The test I like to apply, and argue should be our standard one, is the same we've generally settled on for videography/cinematography:

The important thing is the intention, not the equipment used. This site is about the art, science, hobby, and business of photography. Photography is the making of pictures by means of a camera. If you are making or doing things that are not photographs using the same equipment (or file types, or software), this just isn't the place for it.

Here, you ask Is photography for technical documentation and/or measurement off topic? On the face of it, photography "for technical documentation" is on-topic: the goal is, after all, to make a photograph; and "for measurement" is off-topic: the goal is to have a measurement.

When it comes to photometry, photogrammetry, computer vision, and other topics, the true answer is often "cameras made for photography are a terrible choice for the thing you want to do, because the precision you want isn't a design consideration". It gets frustrating for everyone involved when that's the answer over and over again.

On the other side, when the question is about technical details of a camera module made for embedded use, the answers are unlikely to be of any interest or relevance to people who are looking to use cameras designed for photography for photography.

Because Stack Exchange tends to be technical in nature, born as it was out of a programming Q&A site, I think we need to be extra-firm in this. There are other places on the network which cater to those engineering challenges. As @dpollitt's answer explains in more depth, keeping this site focused makes it more interesting for and attractive to people interested in the main topic itself.

On the other hand, just as with video, if the question can be put in a frame (heh) which is generally relevant for photography, go for it. In fact, I think this is an excellent exercise: if you find that putting your question in the context of making photographs results in answers that aren't relevant to your use case, your use case probably wasn't on topic to begin with.

  • 1
    FWIW, I didn't downvote; I tend to reserve that for questions which are actively bad — hostile or extreeemely lazy or similar.
    – mattdm
    Feb 6, 2017 at 15:21
  • 1
    I can see you thought hard on this answer! So for the test case of the wildlife photographer where the ultimate goal was to document the number of young (requires counting and measuring) using high quality photographs, it may be OK to let that information slip in the second paragraph, but the question "Which camera is the best for measuring penguin height?" would fly no better than the penguins themselves.:)
    – uhoh
    Feb 6, 2017 at 15:28
  • 1
    @uhoh Yeah, something like that :)
    – mattdm
    Feb 6, 2017 at 15:30
  • 2
    I think the test you mention is really useful - might want to codify it, or at least keep track of it. "if you find that putting your question in the context of making photographs results in answers that aren't relevant to your use case, your use case probably wasn't on topic to begin with."
    – uhoh
    Feb 6, 2017 at 15:32
  • I find this unnecessarily arbitrary. Who cares about a dictionary definition, and why should it limit the interests of a community?
    – N. Virgo
    Feb 12, 2017 at 4:05
  • 2
    @Nathaniel It's somewhat arbitrary, but I don't think unnecessarily so. Having a focus on photography makes the site more interesting to the community I want to have here. We don't necessarily need to use this particular definition, but we do need a definition.
    – mattdm
    Feb 13, 2017 at 16:32

In the past there have been more than a few such questions that were received well, or at least tolerated well. More recently there seems to have been strong resistance to such questions from a small but very vocal and active minority. One of the weaknesses of the SA format is that it only takes 5 users who are very active, or even a single mod, to shut down specific types of questions if there isn't a groundswell of support for such questions from a much larger group of users.

  • 3
    OK I'll see what happens. Speaking generally - I'm never sure where the strong "this question must not be asked here" individual passion actually comes from. If a question might be generally accepted, and might get a useful answer, what is the motivation or concern? It's almost like some people think if a question is a bit different, it is somehow "unfair" because it's not so easy to answer, or to have fun making suggestions, and since they don't have the potential to get points or fun from it... Anyway, like Churchill said stackexchange is the worst - except for all the others.
    – uhoh
    Jan 31, 2017 at 13:38
  • Is there a coherent summary version of the rationale that's being presented (or assumed) for these types of questions which are recently claimed to be off-topic? Feb 3, 2017 at 14:52
  • In general the down voters just say, "I'm voting to close this question because it is about machine vision/microscopy/lithography/etc. and not about photography."
    – Michael C
    Feb 3, 2017 at 14:55
  • 1
    @benrudgers thanks for the wide-angle shot. I find the stackexchange ecosystem fascinating. I'm waiting for Stackexchange - the Movie, or HBO miniseries, or even a rock-opera. As a model for getting productive yet opinionated and noisy people to work together, perhaps one day a form of government - the first settlement on Mars perhaps.
    – uhoh
    Feb 5, 2017 at 4:15

Is photography for technical documentation and/or measurement off topic?

No, it is not. It is, in fact, "technical photography" and should be of interest to most people holding a camera. Technical photography is an important discipline which includes imaging for insurance purposes at accident scenes, evidentiary photography at crime scenes, field imaging for natural scientists, and interval imaging for engineering projects. All of these disciplines have unique and interesting imaging problems that should be of interest to any photographer looking to improve their own photography skills!

  • 2
    I agree with your sentiment 100%, but "on-topic" in a stackexchange site has a more nuanced meaning beyond "should be of interest". It's something that's carefully cultivated, adjusted, refined, occasionally jarred, expanded, or contracted, to maintain the quality of the site. And the quality of the site is a little hard to completely define as well, because at least presently, there are no reliable metrics for angst, tyranny, confusion, or babble. I think there will be in 5 years through.
    – uhoh
    Feb 8, 2017 at 17:05

As normally is the case, I seem to generally agree with mattdm on this one. He stated in a comment on the original question:

If it's 90% engineering and photometrics, that scares away people interested in composition, lighting, storytelling, etc. That doesn't mean there can't be highly-technical questions; I'd just like to see that within the frame, as it were.

I'm not personally scared, but I am uninterested in as he said engineering and photometrics.

As you noted yourself:

I'm never sure where the strong "this question must not be asked here" individual passion actually comes from. If a question might be generally accepted, and might get a useful answer, what is the motivation or concern?

My passion comes from steering this community to the pieces of photography that I am interested in - but I also keep in mind the meta conversations and the community direction at large since I'm well aware that 5 votes is all it can take to turn away a good user or interesting question.

The specific focus on the art of photography is what drove me to this site and what keeps me here. If this site somehow took a 180 towards more scientific usage of imaging, I personally would have little interest in sticking around. My own usage is browsing the homepage for interesting questions and topics, if its filled with uninteresting things for me I just wouldn't come here any longer.

FWIW I didn't downvote or vote to close your question, nor do I vote to close most in this vein but at any rate I thought I'd share my opinion since you were asking.

  • Thank you for your answer! Keeping some semblance of composition and balance in the distribution of questions in a stackexchange community is a noble pursuit, hats off to you! Mine wasn't a very pretty question I have to admit, and what happened is good - help and guidance, and resistance to doing "wrong stuff" (in this case trying to generate approximate - no, actually faux raw data). I'm still doing my homework on this one.
    – uhoh
    Feb 6, 2017 at 2:17
  • "I'm personally uninterested" is a terrible rationale for arguing something should be off topic on an SE site, and would also be a completely invalid reason for casting a close vote.
    – N. Virgo
    Feb 12, 2017 at 4:04
  • 2
    @Nathaniel This site is the community. So yeah, I'm only a small fraction of the community at large but my interest(+1,000 others interest) is exactly what should drive what is on topic. Would you rather one person decides what is on topic, what makes money for SE drives what is on topic, or something else? Not sure what you think should drive the topics here if not for each of our interests. Also, as I said in my answer I keep in mind the opinions I've collected from others in the community when deciding what is on topic. I didn't just show up here last week (or even 4mos ago like you).
    – dpollitt
    Feb 12, 2017 at 4:16
  • 1
    That's what down votes are for. Close votes are for implementing site policy as agreed through consensus decision making on meta. I've been a Stack Exchange user since 2014 if not before. (I'm new on photo.SE but none of this is specific to this community, and in any case I'm no less a member of it than you are.)
    – N. Virgo
    Feb 12, 2017 at 5:00

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .