Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Photography as painting

One of the things I had thought about when I started this hobby was to produce actual art that looked more like a painting than a photograph. There are all sorts of tools to digitally manipulate images, and I'm gradually learning about them. Everybody knows about Photoshop of course, but I know very  little about how to use it. I figured that learning to actually use a camera to reliably produce good images was a start to produce 'paintish' images.

There's an old joke where the punchline is "I know it when I see it." Probably many jokes, come to think of it. Looking at and appreciating images I like is easy. What I'm trying to learn is to look at images that don't strike me the same way, and appreciate them for what they are. I suppose if one wanted to get technical about it one could graph one's feelings about an image onto a grid. One axis is  'how much do I personally like an image regardless of it's artistic merits,' and the other is, 'Would this be generally considered a good image?' The quadrant of good images you don't like is where you're going to learn the most.

I'm gradually building a style of my own. Generally I slightly underexpose my photos in camera. Lightroom makes them brighter than I'd like so I usually tone town the exposure a bit, then tweak the other settings. Mostly I aim to make it look like I saw it, especially with things like flowers, which can be really tough. We all know what a pink or red rose looks like, and if you push the colour so much you blow out the texture it looks weird and people know it. Red is hard.

Other things have quite a bit more latitude. A particular landscape scene can look dramatically different depending on the time of day and the quality of the light. One can take a drab scene and dress it up the way you think it ought to have looked, and it will still look natural. Or you can push it a bit further, or tweak HDR settings to match a vision in your head. Some people might like it, others not.

Then we get into all the other stuff that makes a good image, composition, balance, lines, shapes, textures, and everything else. One element might catch your eye, then it wanders around the image and you gradually come to appreciate how good it is. Sometimes everything comes together and you're just gobsmacked from first sight. Or you look at it and shrug. Just because the photo is of something pretty, doesn't mean the photo is pretty.

Even in my own work I look at some images and know they're good. It's instantly obvious, and the number of likes and comments on social media indicates I'm right. But sometimes I look at an image and wonder what on earth I was thinking when I aimed the camera.

The below pair of images are a good example. They're from a mid October walk in Fish Creek near bridge 3. It's a bit of a swampy area, so not what you'd normally think of as photogenic. Still, I got some nice shots out of it, but this one I completely passed by during editing.

Then I looked at it again for whatever reason. I think it's because I was specifically looking for images with strong leading lines, and I realized this one has them. Lots of them. Maybe too many, who knows. In the original image they are hidden because the photo is so dark. Trick is, that's the way the real scene looked. It was an overcast day, I was in full shade, and I probably underexposed it.

Then I dropped it into Photomatix and just about lost my mind. So far this comes closest to one of my photos looking like a painting. The bright colours in the background look like splotches of paint rather than leaves. Parts of the image look like they have a bit of canvas texture, especially when you blow it up or look closer. (more so on the upper left.) I like how the green tree reflection isn't quite in focus, yet we know the image is in focus from what we see of branches and bark.

Of course what I saw wasn't quite as bright as this first image, but it could have been, and it was certainly brighter than the first camera image. This is what is fascinating me more and more, is trying to understand the choices I'm making when I edit a photo. How bright? How sharp? What emotions am I trying to evoke, or what story am I telling?

When I started looking at it with different Photomatix filters I quickly narrowed it down to about 4, and there I was stuck for a while. As I looked at the subtly different images flicking from one to the next, I began to appreciate it more and more. Usually there is only one obvious filter and I go on from there.

I've only had one other photo where I was stuck on which filter to choose, only for this one I was cycling between all of them, including the black and whites. It looked equally good. In the end I went with a particular evoked emotion. Some of you might remember it from about a year ago.

Tell me if you agree about that first one being a painting, almost. Could that last one be a painting?

1 comment:

  1. The first could definitely be a painting. The balance of lines and colours is gorgeous. The last, not so much, IMHO, but it's still a really lovely and evocative image.

    Look forward to seeing what you get up to in November as well. I've put together a partial list of topics to write about but not sure I can capture the images I want to go with them. Time will tell!


Looking forward to reading your comment!