Print is the Ultimate Editing Tool

I’m working thru a backlog of photos I took last fall. And I find a lot of good ones that are too hard to choose from. They are of the same place as I visited the same place over and over photographing in different light, different time of day, different weather.

Making selection from a large set of image close to each other is tough. After narrowing the set of picked images to about 50 I hit a wall. I could not reject any more images. This was about two months ago.

Now two months later I went back trying to reduce selection further. I was able to reject about 30 more images and get selection down to about 20. It was still too many. Too many images that looked too alike.

While working thru the backlog of the images I’ve been also getting ready for the new season of the art fairs. The first art fair of this year is not far away in just two months and really-really wanted to have some new work to show.

With no more ideas of how to make progress I did something I’ve never done before: I’ve printed all those images. I’ve laid them out on the table on the floor, wherever I could find space. One large room filled with images. I’ve started “visiting” the room. My first two visits I still could not reject any images.

Then one day I’ve decided to pull one out, the one that seemed the weakest of the bunch. Then I pulled out one more because there were two that were so close it did not matter which one to keep and which one to reject.

As I spend more time with prints it seemed my vision was unfogging and I was getting more and more clarity. In a few days I was rejecting several prints at a time thinking: of cause the remaining are better – how I could not see it earlier.

Here is one that stayed in “keep” pile.

_dsc4668

Accepting Failure

Today I’ve been going thru some of unfinished prints trying to get organized and prepared for the next year of art fairs.

Several prints have never been finished. They are odds and misses. Something is wrong with them. Maybe size does not match the frame, maybe there is a specle of dust caught in the coating. And yet I keep them.

I’ve asked myself why I keep them. The answer was not immediate and not obvious. What I came to realize was that it was hard to accept failure. I had failed those prints but I could not face it.

Instead of accepting the failure I was cheating myself into believing that I can still salvage them. A lot of effort went into making those prints. Even when I saw it not going well I would still push forward with it.

As I realized that something else dawn on me. The same thing often happens during postprocessing. Sometimes I come back from a trip and bring a lot of not so good images. It might happen for many different reasons: my mind was somewhere else, I did not feel emotional connection to the place, weather did not cooperate, I had gotten “out of shape” not photographing for a while.

Rather than saying – “oh, well, things did not work out” – I spend countless hours trying to make something of it, treaking myself with thinking that there must be something in those images. What I end up with is overprocessed images that I look at a few month later and think “what was I thinking”.

It is something I should watch for in the future. Be brutal if you wish in editing images.

Power of B&W

I cannot believe I have not published a post to my blog in so long. It is enough to slip one week without posting and then another week and then not writing becomes a norm rather than exception. Time to break out of that habit. Expect lots of image in rather random chronological order over the next couple months.

***

It is one of a rare hot summer weeks in Seattle. The temperature is constantly over 30 during day and nights are warm and humid. On the days like today I want to throw all food out of the fridge and close myself in it. It is a nice thought that I doubt I’ll ever make come true. I’m not that desperate. But that certainly makes a memory of the last winter refreshing. And that’s the memory I want to share with you today.

I love color to the point when I just photograph some color without even any subject. But sometimes the color is a distraction, a nuance that does not add anything or maybe even takes away something. In those case black-and-white image might still be more powerful. I find black-and-white especially working well in winter. One of the main reason is likely that there is not much color in winter in the pacific northwest mountains. The only color is the tone of the sun light breaking thru the clouds and that one is typically weird.

Like in this case the Sun broke thru the clouds just for a moment putting a spotlight on a bunch of trees in a valley. The color was strange but black-and-white tonality of the scene was beautiful.

ETTR or Try it before you buy it

There has been a lot of discussion of ETTR (Expose To The Right) on photographic blogs, websites and all kind of other publications. With this method you expose as high as possible with histogram touching the right edge. Here is one article that goes in depth on this method: http://www.luminous-landscape.com/tutorials/expose-right.shtml.

The idea is that this produces maximum quality digital negative. Often this produces image that looks overexposed and later in post-production supposedly you can lower exposure to get naturally looking image but with higher quality.

While it looks reasonable that this may reduce signal-to-noise ratio, I noticed that this results in images looking too flat and with washed out colors. On my last trip I took two images one normally exposed and one exposed to the right. The scene is extremely simple which helps illustrate the difference in result. In post-production I reduced exposure of the ETTR image to match exposure of the first image. No other adjustments were done to either image. Here are results side-by-side:

_MG_4863 _MG_4864

Guess which one is which? The one on the left is taken with normal exposure, the one on the right is taken with ETTR and then reduced back exposure to match exposure of the first image. As you can see ETTR image results in less color and less contrast, i.e. lower dynamic range. To confirm this here are the corresponding histograms:

_mg_4863 _mg_4864

Just by looking at histograms you can see that the range of tonality is greater in normally exposed image as well as greater separation of colors. This seems to disprove the statement that the article I linked at the beginning does that ETTR image has greater dynamic range.

I don’t know about you by I’d rather expose right than expose to the right. This is just another case to demonstrate my main principle in photography: do what you like, what feels right to you. And no matter how convincing a new idea you read somewhere sounds, try it before using it, get your own feeling for it. If you really like it, use it, just make sure it is because you got your own understanding of it not because someone else told you to do it.

UPDATE: I’ve got requests to include original ETTR image with histogram. Here it goes.

_MG_4864

Capture

Pastel Colors of Fall

Finally, the colors of fall foliage is behind us. It is my favorite time of year. For photographers October is like August for farmers – time to collect the harvest. The reason I’m saying “finally” is because I felt burnt out pushing myself too much trying to capture it a s much as possible. For some time I tried to keep up with post-processing but then gave up – I was not getting enough sleep that way. And that was combined with two more art shows that I needed to get ready for.

Now, when fall foliage is almost gone in Pacific Northwest and my last art show of this year is behind me, I can catch up on post-processing, blogging, planning.

***

For a few months I’ve been fascinated with pastel colors. I like their subdued soft feel. So, this fall I’ve done several images with intent of having pastel colors.

An important thing about photographing color is to be clear that the subject of a photo is color, not individual branches, leaves or trees. To me it means getting rid of all those details in an image.

One technique to do that is to take photos with long exposure handheld and intentionally move camera in some direction. It seems to work the best when moving camera along visually strong lines such as tree trunks or branches.

On Fire
On Fire

Fall Butterflies
Fall Butterflies

Fall Forest
Fall Forest

Image vs. Print

This question bugged me for a while: is an image an ultimate goal and result of creativity or execution and presentation are important as well? And I came to conclusion that execution and presentation are important.

Let’s talk about paintings for example. I think of paintings not only as two dimensional images. There is a third dimension – brush strokes. They capture artist hand motion and his emotions as much as color, composition or subject. When I look at those strokes I can imagine how the artist hand was moving, and that passes artist emotions to me. The brush strokes can be powerful, forceful, angry or they can be casual, light and soft. A reproduction of a painting can have accurate representation of an image but does not capture the brush strokes as well and in some sense erasing that third dimension.

I grew up in a fairly provincial town seeing only reproductions of paintings in books. Seeing them later in museums changed my perception of them completely. I remember how seeing one of van Gogh’s self-portraits in Seattle Art Museum (in a temporary exhibition) made unforgettable impression on me. Much of van Gogh’s face was not painted. Either skin-toned paper was used or paper was covered with skin-toned paint. And then on top of that van Gogh painted his beard, eyes, hair. It was like the face was already in that skin-toned paper, van Gogh just helped me to see it in a few brush strokes. No reproduction has been able to show that.

Now the paintbrush strokes can be meaningless too. For example, I have some cheap painting hanging in my house. It may have been produced by printing on canvas first and then laying paint on top to make it look like painting, the paintbrush strokes just random and “don’t fit”. That’s kind of example of good image bad painting. Another example of good image and good painting but where strokes don’t mean much [to me] is Pointillism which branched off Impressionism. In paintings that I’ve seen in museum executed with this technique application of dots looks very mechanical. While technique is interesting it did not give enough freedom to artist hand.

Same goes to photography but in photography it is a matter of technology and not directly related to us. Platinum-palladium print has incredible tonal range and looks like the image is in paper, where print from inkjet printer looks like image is coated on top of paper, like a polaroid emulsion transfer (in some sense). All that is left to us is to choose what matches what we want the best. And don’t get me even started on paper, I have ton of paper samples at home and I just enjoy looking at them and feeling their texture.

Is this important to most of people? No. Paintings are not much of importance either. And even famous ones. Have you been to Musée du Louvre and saw Mona Lisa? Have you looked at the crowd? How many people were looking at the painting and how many were actually with their backs toward the painting taking infamous “hey, I’m 10 feet from Mona Lisa painting” photo? And using flash despite all “no flash” signs? I like this statistic from Wikipedia: “Visitors generally spend about 15 seconds viewing the Mona Lisa.” Is it really worth only 15 seconds? (Granted it may have lost its value as painting and has become something else. Sadly.)

So what can we photographers do? We can do our best explaining this and teaching everyone to see this. Even if the rest think we are a bit crazy.