So, we've got a lot of questions like:

These aren't awful, and they're generally moderately-well voted up and answered.

One problem is that they're not searchable, at least not with the current state-of-the-art in web search. I (and other people) have tried to edit the question titles to be more descriptive than they often come in, but even still, I question their future usefulness to other visitors.

But more importantly, it's as if Stack Overflow were full of questions like:

I really like this software. Can anyone tell me what techniques are used? I'd like to make something similar. Will an object-oriented technique work? Can I do it with my current programming language? If not, what programming language should I buy?

Questions like How to make transparent liquid on white porcelain visible? are far more valuable and interesting. I want to do this thing, and I tried and got this. What can I do to get better results?

Now, I don't want to tell people curious how something someone else did was done to just go away. But is there some way we can encourage them to try first and then post their own examples? If we had a question like that every day, that (plus good answers, of course) would all by itself by an awesome site, let alone everything else we do.

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A related observation: it seems like a common theme is such questions assuming that some crazy post-processing is at work, and the answers always again going over the much-worn territory of "well, it actually looks like a certain lighting setup setup and some simple curves adjustments, maybe even in camera".... –  mattdm May 27 '12 at 23:35
    
Just to be sure I understand what your goal is: Is asking them in comments to try out what they are asking about and post some samples of their results an unacceptable way to initially respond to those questions? If they don't, and the question stagnates, we can close. If they don't because they really can't, then it seems the way things are going now is acceptable. If they DO try it out and post samples...well, then...problem solved? –  jrista May 28 '12 at 0:27
    
Regarding the most recent question that I think initiated this meta post...for a novice, I think it is far more logical to assume that they will conclude post-processing, rather than lighting or some other in-camera technique. It takes a while for a novice to learn that you can achieve a LOT of effects with just a bit of artificial light and some fancy camerawork. –  jrista May 28 '12 at 0:29
    
@jrista — comments might be the answer, although I think a lot of jump-on-the-post commenting tends to be off-putting to new users, even as polite as we try to be. It'd be nicer to at least have something (like say an answer here) to link to, to affirm that this is a community policy rather than just one person's ax to grind. Something other than commenting might be even better, but I'm not sure what. –  mattdm May 28 '12 at 13:22
    
In this list of examples, two of the askers are only looking to understand the technique, not to immediately create a similar image (one of them states it explicitly). So in these cases, trying to make their own image would be an extra effort, making asking the question harder. To be fair in demanding this, we should set an example and accompany our answers with examples of our advice applied. See also: Why do so many questions lack images? –  Imre May 29 '12 at 4:43
    
@Imre: I'm not sure that's really better. "I'm not asking to re-create Microsoft Word. I just want to learn what techniques are use to program it, so I can adopt something similar, but tweaked for my taste." :) –  mattdm May 29 '12 at 10:18

2 Answers 2

I think you have the right idea, but the wrong suggestions.

"Questions like How to make transparent liquid on white porcelain visible? are far more valuable and interesting. I want to do this thing, and I tried and got this. What can I do to get better results?"

That's a great question, not because we know what the person already tried, but because it's very specific, and not so limited that it won't be useful to anyone else.

To be frank, I don't care what you already tried, because the next person that comes along is not going to have done the same thing. Showing an example of what you already tried is definitely a good idea so we know exactly what you're talking about, but the question shouldn't be about that.

Pulling some question titles from the top-voted here at photo.SE:

  • What are the best techniques for photographing overweight people?
  • How do you photograph rain? / How should I photograph falling snow?
  • How do you photograph a lunar eclipse?

These are great questions because they invite general answers that can apply to anyone, not just a person who took a photo one time. That's not to say that specific answers containing a specific picture and the steps to create it shouldn't be welcome - those are valuable too. But as far as being a general Q&A site, we should be looking for answers to be useful long after the asker read them.

So for example, these questions:

  • How was this black and white photograph of a calm ocean done?
  • How do I take a shot like the flooded tree by Andrew Tallon?

are very similar; I'd say a question like "How can I get a completely smooth ocean and sky?", with these shown as samples would be pretty good.

Referring to your fake SO example, that's certainly bad because it's way too vague. Saying what you like, getting more specific could make that a good question. But at the opposite end of the spectrum is questions like "Why doesn't this code I wrote work?". Questions like that often get an answer in 2 minutes saying "You put this line in the wrong place" or "You forgot a bracket here". And that could be the absolute 100% correct answer. But those kinds of questions and answers are really not useful in the long term.

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I think it's worth noting that in some cases, works by a particular artist have a very distinctive - and ineffable - aesthetic.

To make an analogy, in musical works it's common for new artists to be described based on what well-known artists they sound similar to. Anyone who ever does an a capella song modified by a vocoder will invoke constant comparisons to Imogen Heap's unique hit track "Hide and Seek" which doesn't sound like anything else. On a music StackExchange, it would make sense to have a question like, "How can I reproduce the effect used in Imogen Heap's "Hide and Seek"?"

Likewise, many photographic aesthetics that are difficult to describe are permanently associated in the minds of critics and fans with particular artists, and questions about how to reproduce their style are actually probably more searchable than similar queries using a vague description of the sought-after effect.

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Yeah, putting the artist's name there is a good idea. –  mattdm Jun 10 '12 at 14:26

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