Will you be a Window or a Mirror
To what extent do your pictures give a view to the subject (place, person, moment etc) and to what extent do they reflect Yourself into the image.
A thoughtful article about several issues in the photography world; an article that is even keeled, though long and even sometimes happily self-indulgent. This is not for those wanting a quick stern answer or for people looking for someone to mindlessly rally their cause.
Also keep in mind … I did not read the articles that were popular yesterday because I was busy editing 800 pictures… but I heard the rumblings… and I thought it would be best to NOT read them before I wrote my post… in order that my post wouldn’t come off quite as much of a response post or an attack post. But that the ideas would stand on their own as much as they can.
Also I must state the obvious… I am not a photography/grammar god or even a prophet. I make mistakes… even i might take issue with small parts of what I write a day or a week from now. So I invite you to understand the ideas behind what I write and not just how I write.
The Hand of the Artist
We all want to command a style and put our mark on the subject and the moment; we want to create art and for it to be uniquely our own… but it is still a decision just how much do you want the viewer to be thinking about YOU when looking at the image.
Attractions and Distractions
I am known for always talking about “Attractions and Distractions” my whole foundation of interpreting and teaching Aesthetics is based on it.
The full Jarvie Meme is: “Create attractions and avoid Distractions”
Let’s talk DISTRACTIONS
Before you start it is essential that you figure out what you want people to focus on. (Oh so very wide open to interpretation)
If there is something that takes away from that focus = Distraction
Distraction = “the drawing away of the mind” (etymological definition)
So what can we lump in the area of distractions??
There’s obvious stuff like random pieces of trash or specular highlights or un-needed people in the background or cut off finger tips, trees growing out of people’s heads etc. There’s also un-even horizons and dust spots or even just skin problems.
But Let’s go a little further:
If your picture is about a particular theme/place/subject do everything you can to bring attention to that (subject) and everything you can do to avoid distracting away from that subject.
TECHNIQUE as a DISTRACTION
If your technique (More specifically editing technique) brings attention to the edit itself and not to the subject then your technique has become a Main Focus … this isn’t by itself a bad thing… UNLESS you are trying to be a window to a moment and not a mirror.
Selective Color -
It’s one of those obvious techniques that people look at and all they can think of is: Selective Color, Selective Color, Selective Color, Selective Color… they’re not thinking of other things.
But hey if your focus IS this technique itself… then you’re golden. Because, for some people that is unique and they’ll find joy in it. But the majority of us will throw up a little in our mouths.
My guess is it was initially created to help people focus on that uniquely colored item and it theory it makes sense for them to try it… but people can’t seem to not think of the technique to give this an opportunity to work.
Background Textures -
Some people use Photoshop to add textures in their pictures. Most people look at those pictures and it distracts them a lot… meaning it takes their attention to the texture (the technique) now if that was the point… then score… you did well. If you have some tender moment that you want someone to focus on 100% then you failed. (Now we know it’s not so cut and dry as 0/100% more like 10/90 or any combination)
Note that a distraction does not mean they hate the picture. They might love love the texture. But if that wasn’t the focus then it was a distraction.
Funky Colors -
If you go for what we’ll just call “Funky” colors yes you’re being artsy and what not; and if that’s what you want people to focus on then you’ve done well. If you want them to focus on the subject and not see a heavy hand in the color manipulation it then… you guessed it… it’s a distraction.
(First off because this one is more heated topics I must state right off the bat that I’ve taken many pictures with HDR in mind but have never even attempted to make one… I’m too busy doing other things and I guess I just don’t have that drive/desire.)
OK… so HDR or any similar technique is just like all the others. If people can see the heavy hand of the artist then it can be a serious distraction to the subject/focus. Because some people will be thinking “HDR HDR HDR HDR”
But if you are doing a piece of art in which you are showcasing the heavy hand of the artist then boom goes the dynamite… instant winner.
Darkening pixels to visually direct someone’s attention to a main subject is a powerful technique that can help in the area of Attractions and building up the Focus of the image. But if it is done overtly enough then people will be caught thinking of the technique itself and if that wasn’t your aim… then this is a distraction. Unless of course you don’t mind them paying attention to the vignette.
Some things to Consider
- Just because they Can be a distraction doesn’t mean they automatically are.
- People are distracted in varying degrees… for instance, people that hate the technique on principle will be really distracted by them.
- Don’t underestimate the power of un noticeable edits… edits no one will think about but that drastically change the viewing experience.
- The more subtle the application of any of these techniques then obviously the less probably they will be distractions to another cause.
- Sometimes part of the art that you want someone to view and think about IS the edit.
- What is your focus?
- Sometimes the artist wants people to notice and spend time focusing on their edit/technique. = Not a distraction
More examples using the topic of HDR
HDR is a perfect thing to talk about. It is unique to the majority of the population, most non-photographers are intrigued by it and they often love it. There are very few HDR images that do not show the heavy hand of the edit of the artist. There are varying degrees of implementation. HDR does have a place in being able to show the dynamic range that cameras naturally are not capable of it fills a need.
Imagine me doing wedding pictures with HDR if I wasn’t really slick with it then everyone would look at the pictures and think every other thought with these three letters. H. D. R.
Photographers would just wonder how it was done, they would have their natural reaction to HDR dominate their thoughts, non-photographers would just be wondering “how did he do that” or “what is that”. The photographer or non-photographer might really like the picture but it will usually be because of their opinion about the technique of the edit … for me this would cause problems because I stake the foundation of my work on people being able to see Personalities and focus on them when they look at my pictures.
Now for the topic d’jour: WATERMARKS
Are Watermarks distractions in pictures?
An emphatic YES!!!
IF your intention is for them to focus on the image and not be thinking about you.
An emphatic NO!!
IF you want them to think about you … at least a little bit.
The bigger or uglier or the more misplaced the watermark the more it will be difficult for people to focus and take joy in other aspects of the picture.
Other creative solutions that can stand in place of watermarks
Are their other creative solutions that might do the same thing a watermark does without marking up the picture? Yes.
Possible Solutions in given scenarios:
- You can work towards having a unique and noticeable style that people will notice on sight.
The issue comes if you want someone that has never viewed your work before to know that it was you that took it. But for the people familiar with you they’ll get it
- You can make sure to control in depth the usage of your picture everywhere online.
Giving detailed instructions on how to represent your pictures in all the sites and mediums out there. Hyperlinks and “photo by” statements.
This can be a pain to some people and they don’t have the attitude to interact with these place or time to do this.
- You can not worry about people knowing.
You can just put your work out their for the pure pleasure of knowing someone is enjoying seeing what you did. A very altruistic measure for sure.
And perhaps they like it enough they search and ask for who did it… and you can hope people direct them appropriately.
As for myself and how I handle watermarks.
as you might notice on Google Plus I am not always consistent because it’s not a life or death thing for me… and sometimes I just don’t care.
Many pictures have them and many don’t.
If it’s a picture that a client is going to rt click and use on their blog or facebook I want all their hundreds of friends to know it was me, I’ll add it.
I don’t want a watermark to interefere with the important parts of the subject so I figure a small good looking watermark in the bottom right will rarely interfere directly.
But I do understand it will indirectly take attention away from the subjects and place it on me for a moment.
Again… Does it distract from the focus of my picture?
Yes it does… it takes attention away from the focus of the picture and puts it on the thought “JarvieDigital” and in those cases I am ok with this.
I am ok because I don’t want to have to be in control of my image at every moment… I don’t want to spend half my days sending emails to brides telling them that for every picture or at least every album they should hyperlink to my site or at least make sure they say “photo by jarvie”
Doing this work is a perfectly acceptable method… just not what I am willing to do.
Yes I allow any client to rt click and save and use my pictures for anything online. cc-nd-by-nc (For FB I consider the “by” part to be having a watermark on them)
My travel pictures
Now if it’s Fine Art / Travel stuff I really don’t try to put watermarks on them. Will I still do it… sure… sometimes. Sometimes there is no reason except I happened to pull it from a place where the watermark was on there from ages past.
My thinking is that my travel pictures will typically remain and be viewed on MY Website, MY FB, MY Google Plus and therefore the viewer should be able to figure it out… assuming their older than 8 yrs old.
Now if your work is finding it’s way all over the place AND you want people to make that connection to who the author is… then you need to think of a solution.
Where I could do better:
GooglePlus vs. other sites
Unlike FB or my blog or my SmugMug site… google plus is not the place my clients will come to get their digital versions of the pictures… and so you probably have seen that I don’t often put them on. (Or at least a lot less) And on google plus I have a majority of people that are photographers. Plus my work remains on my own profile normally and so how hard is it to know who was the incredible mastermind artist?
For a while now I’ve wanted to jump in Photoshop and make my watermark smaller.
Locate them better
If I had more time I would make sure to place my watermarks in less problematic spots if the rt hand corner doesn’t work.
If my watermark was abt half the size I think it would still do it’s job and direct people my way… just as long as it’s legible. If it’s not legible then it causes even more problems because people will be very distracted trying to read it. If people can read it and be back to viewing the rest of the image in a micro second then all the better… says me.
Not Black and White
Notice how I’ve stayed away from incendiary statements, notice how I didn’t represent the world as if it were black and white, good and bad; That their are reasons behind so much of what we do. I try hard to give context in what I talk about.
I know how much attention incendiary statements get… I know they could ink me a ton of fans that feel really passionate about different subjects. Who also like someone fighting blindly for the causes they believe in as well. And I ask you to think about this when I usually try to stay calm and cool, and when I take my time to make sure I cover the bases and allow for derivations to my points. When I respect that rules are meant to be broken.
Photographers that put a heavy hand in their pictures (say with doing a lot of HDR work) and then make a blanket statement that “all watermarks are evil” should never be trusted to teach you anything and are foolish hypocrites.
(That was for all those wanting me to make a good fun incendiary statement.)
Now do I really believe it? Sure… kinda. Meaning I try to understand both sides of the statements and pull from them the ideal principles. I think someone that doesn’t try to understand the other side isn’t normally a fit teacher at least in that matter… and this can call into question other areas… but this does not mean the other areas of teaching are correspondingly circumspect. (But you should be wary)
Do I understand why they make blanket statements?
Well because this is how people seem to get motivated to ACT.
More people are bound to make the decision to not use watermarks by someone saying they’re a fool if they do and getting that bully pressure; more than by listening to my even keeled approach regarding the principles of attraction and Distraction and being motivated to perhaps go for a more creative solution or put more thought in what they want their clients to focus on.
But I’ll continue to just put the information out and let people choose for themselves.
(Except for the times when I don’t. I mean I have my soapbox moments like the idiocy of event or portrait photographers only supplying a chronological gallery … but even then I account for the instances it is appropriate.)
My answers will never be short
That’s just not me. I want people to think things through and approach things from several angles.
I’ll try to stick to the principles; and these principles don’t often come down 100% for either side… NOT 100% for or against HDR or not HDR or 100% for or against watermarks or even 100% for or against selective color.
Loss of Respect
While I will continue to be friends with people on both sides of any of these issues… I will continue to look for the principles behind both of the sides.
In some cases I loose a tad bit of respect for those that aren’t capable of understanding the other side of the matter and choose to go the incendiary route.
Heck, this goes for religion, politics and our every day interactions with people.
You wanna know why I don’t have many enemies in the photography world? I suppose we can only guess.
It’s probably because of the way I share and teach.
So I will have little pity on those that make enemies and complain about it… because they chose to say what they wanted to say in the way they said it. Often that means incendiary and not taking the time to understand and deal with the other view points. There are ways to share and teach and not get the ravid enemies. (Or as many)
There have been times people didn’t agree with me and were nonplussed with my stances but I can usually count that as me not doing enough to really share my point in a way they’ll understand and in a way we can find common ground. Either that or they’re just rude jaded people. (Which of course does happen and they’ll just want to bring anyone down to their level) haha
You can make a lot of good points with these short and sweet blanket statements… but it does come at a price.
You do make a difference… I respect that
But cheers to those that put themselves out there on a subject they feel passionate about.
With their short quips they will make more changes than me… usually for the better more than my even keeled approach.
They with their sometimes stupid, incendiary, thought-impaired statements will make impacts with the many of the dramatic problems that haunt us; issues like the big huge watermarks that totally ruin the viewing experience for so many of us. (Do you like how I’m kinda pushing myself to be a little incendiary for the fun of it?
There are for sure many photographers that desecrate their images making it hard for us to think of anything else but their watermark. A mirror so reflective that we can Only see the photographer.
And in turn this conflict between the offenders and the so called “gate keepers” ruin it for the rest of us who try hard to our needs through methods that are tasteful.
Now everyone is going to learn to hate (like the incendiary bunch) and those of us that have appropriate reasons for watermarks will suffer and be counted along side “the bad guys”.
I guarantee people will now be on the look out … like hawks… to see if there is a watermark or not… Regardless of what side of the issue they’re on.
They’ll thank me for sticking to my guns and keeping my small tasteful watermark on. I’ll be a symbol of fighting against “the man” to some and loose all sorts of respect for ruining my pictures to others when I choose to keeps them on.
And if I go the other direction some will loose respect for me for Folding while others will appreciate me for supposedly “coming to my senses”.
What really suffers
… and what will suffer is the attention to the actual picture… the theme, the subject of my pictures.
Less time spent on the moments I try so hard to capture and more time spent on stupid thoughts and worries.
My work is so very much about being a window to a moment and the people.
It’s for people to think about the person in the picture or the love of the couple.
Why do people say that many of the pictures I have taken are the best they’ve ever had of themselves? Because in my pictures they really see themselves… there’s no flowery edits to tint that window towards their personalities. It’s bright it’s clear and it’s them and yes there is often a little mirror in the bottom right hand corner; which by the way so many of my clients are very proud of to the point some ask that I make sure that I will have it on there when they put it on FB. Even if it wasn’t there those in-the-know can still tell it’s me that took the picture if they thought about it.
Understanding my Clients
Now I’m not really so concerned… because my clients don’t know the arguments us photographers have. Well except that about half of my clients these days are photographers or aspiring photographers.
Keep in mind the role of distractions in photography… and to do this understand what it is you want the viewer to put their attention towards.
Understand that what you with your editing can improve the picture even at the expense of showing your hand in the work and bringing attention to itself. This could be good or bad… but it depends on what you want to happen.
I know that even those making these blanket statements are just doing it because there are real honest problems with people and their choice of edits to their pictures. (Like Watermarks)
I would stand up in front of a crowd and have many of the same sentiments that they have about many people’s poor choices… I have railed on terrible overbearing watermarks in the past.
I know that if approached with reason they will be understanding and not really as hard-lined as they seem to be.
They will make a difference and all this at the cost of their own reputation in the eyes of many… many will loose respect for them for the way they approached the subject. It’s not something I’m willing to do myself. It’s not something I want to do… I choose to help people understand how to think things through … so in the future with the next issue they will be able to figure things out… and not be stuck to waiting to listen to the likes of me.
I am not a photography-ideas crack dealer.
I hope to empower people to understand principles and make educated conclusions for themselves… and not have to come to me for my opinion on every matter.
Smaller but greater impact
I understand I’m speaking to a smaller audience. Why? because not everyone will even attempt to read all of this. It’s over 3400 words!
I decided I don’t care… I don’t feel an insatiable desire to teach Everyone… I realize that the beautiful gift of this art will be overabundantly rewarded to those that fight and work for it. The rest of you can Suck It! haha
I speak instead to those that:
- Connect with my style of teaching…
- Trust me and my approach…
- If they really want to know more…
- And of course are willing to spend the time commitment.
There are few that will and to those I say congrats on making it through… I hope the journey was fun and even better… beneficial.
Now who are you again?