Being Italian and Polish, it usually takes me twice as long as the average person to learn new techniques. Notice I didn’t say completely learned; just to begin to be learned. One of the main goals of this blog is to have a place I can document my successes and my failures so that I can go back and review and hopefully reduce the number of times I have to relearn my lesson. Below represents a partial list of items I feel are important to me and my evolving art. Most of these are refreshers. For all of the years I have been doing my art, I have heard many of these tips before. Unfortunately, sometimes when you hear these tips you a) don’t quite understand them, even though you convince yourself that you do and therefore dismiss the tip, or b) you understand the tip, choose to implement it for a while, then read some other conflicting opinion about that tip which causes you to abandon it. And finally there is c) where you read the tip, partially/fully understand it, but dismiss it with the notion that your art is trying to achieve a different goal.
Since art is a very subjective medium, it becomes all too easy to convince yourself that your art is different, and of course it needs to be in order to stand out from the millions of other artists attempting to use the same medium/goal to convey their message. But that is the trap. Yes. There are times when you are doing a project that is truly unique and pushes the envelope of artistic creditability. However, there are many times when this is not the case. Only you know the honest answer.
Having an audience in mind for a specific project is critically important. Not all projects will appeal to the same audience, unless that is your goal. And that is OK, but it is important to you as an artist to have this issue resolved before your project has completed or your project impact may suffer.
So, what I have attempted to do here is to present a list of generic reminders that form the basis of artistic creditability. It is by no means a comprehensive list. These are the ones that I feel are important to me right now with my current artistic direction.
Strive for a degree of realism
Most audiences want to at least meet you half-way in determining their interpretation of your work. Because of this, a certain degree of realism is expected to help the audience in this regard. The final work’s presentation must demonstrate at least the possibility that the final depiction could actually be natural within the context of the work itself.
First, an analogy. Years ago in music recording, before CD’s came along, recording engineers were responsible for ensuring that the whole spectrum of sound volume was maintained within the specific work. Without offsetting lows for the highs the work tends to lose its sense of dimensionality, its sense of depth. Today’s music tends to always be “in your face” at all times, from start to finish. At first, you tend to be overwhelmed with a sense of awe. But after hearing the tune each time after, many of these tunes simply lose their appeal because the “glitz” has greatly diminished. Remember, over saturation may at times become critical for a certain work or project, but to oversaturate as a guiding principal to be used universally for all of your projects may become a debilitating feature as you move onto your next project.
Eliminate noise as much as possible
Let’s face it, not every picture is captured under the best conditions all of the time. Sometimes, capturing the picture at all is more important than capturing it with perfect technique, often at the expense of missing the capture. That said, blowing the image up to 100% and higher and looking in the shadow areas will help identify the presence and amount of noise which tends to detract and degrade the image’s impact. Although you can easily convince yourself that this is truly the look you want to enhance the final presentation, it is still worth asking yourself if this is eroding the sense of realism, discussed above.
Eliminate halos as much as possible
Like noise, the presence of halos around the edges of your images erodes the sense of image realism. Unless you are trying to achieve some sort of religious experience with your presentation, halos should be avoided. Halos are often the result of over-sharpening or overusing the clarity slider, as in Lightroom, and is best identified as a white, software-induced foggy edge above the legitimate edges in your image.
Avoid blown highlights
How many times have you been in a situation where you had one chance to take a shot of someone/something backlit by a bright light source, like a window? Yes, you exposed perfectly for the source of interest in your image, but the window is too bright and featureless. The result here is that the degree of brightness can detract from the overall impact of the image. One easier way out of this dilemma is to open the image twice in camera raw and develop the first one for proper exposure of the image source of interest. Then, open the same image in camera raw again and reprocess for the blown lights, trying to recover as much detail as possible. Once these two versions are done, these can be opened as two separate layers in Photoshop and then blended together to achieve the desired goal of realism.
Retain some detail in your shadows
How much detail should you retain? I think it depends on the particular image. The point is, most audiences expect, for realism purposes, to be able to discern something identifiable within the shadows. If your purpose is strictly silhouette, then this may not be important. But you still must question the lack of detail in relation to the goal of realism.
What’s under that hat?
People and their hats can make for some interesting compositions. Once again, you have succeeded in exposing correctly for the overall image only to have the person’s face be too shaded or dark. Most audiences are curious and interested in what the person looks like or the expression can help the viewer form their personal interoperation of the image. This alone can reduce overall image impact, potentially losing your viewer. Again, one of many solutions might be to develop the image twice, one for the details and one for the highlights as already mentioned above.
Avoid letting the image background compete for attention with the image impact goal
You must be clear in your own mind first what the image is about. Don’t delude yourself into making a generalization. The danger here would be that the background might be mistaken as an integral part of the image’s impact. Steps should be taken to reduct the clutter, luminosity, hue, etc.
In summary, all of the above tips can be subjective and difficult to identify. Patience and constance practice is needed to train your eye to identify each malady. It is easy to find examples in the various photo image internet sites. Then, you can decide if the malady is an intentional rule broken to achieve an image goal or not.