Thursday, May 29, 2014

Topaz Experiment

As most know I frequently rant about the proliferation of photoshop 'actions.' Not so much the actions but the tendency to think that applying an action will raise a photograph from mediocre to art. It is like any other technique, whether or not it is appropriate is the degree that it adds to the content of the image. What happens is that we see an image that is 'improved' by an action and tend to think that all similar photographs are improved if that action is applied. That is a big leap of faith and most frequently incorrect. 

On the other hand I am frequently impressed with photographs of my friends that have a more avante garde appearance than my old fashioned looking images. As I have frequently mentioned I am not interested in 'true color.' Color is an emotional component of a photograph and I feel free to change that to suite my personal preferences. Sometimes my personal preferences lean toward something not quite so stale as what I am able to normally process. This is simply a brief reasoning (probably to make me feel more justified) that explains why I have traveled farther to the dark side by purchasing three Topaz softwares; Adjust, Clarify and Detail. It is more appropriately called rationalization. The jury is still out on how much I am going to like or use them but there are now there for my entertainment. My first impression is that they are slow and clumsy but maybe that is just me.

I have been playing with them for a couple of days but this is my first attempt at making a side by side comparison. Most of the stuff I have tried with them just doesn't work for me. I decided to take one of the photographs from the cemetery in Galveston that I had not processed and see what I could do. I will admit I only tried a limited number of the action presets but I did come up with a combination that I feel is an 'improvement' or at least more interesting over what I would usually do. Plastic flowers in cemeteries is one of my favorite subjects--I could probably write reams on the possible content of such photographs but I won't. Suffice to say that the content of the flowers in my 'normal' process and the content of the flowers in the Topazed image are considerably different. Even though I feel that the content is viable in each, in some ways I do like the one from Topaz better. I just think it is more interesting, more emotional--or maybe emotional in a way that is appropriate for cemeteries. I will never (please, I hope, I hope) never come to rely on actions or a specific action as it seems many do but I am warming to the idea of using someones presets rather than my own processing to add to my photographs.

Here is the sequence. Please note that I did not start with the SOOC (straight out of camera) image to begin the action; nor did I end by accepting the action carte blanche. I processed prior and I processed after. Otherwise I would have felt that I was turning the creative process over to someone other than myself.

This is the original SOOC images. It is fairly accurate as far as what the scene in front of the camera presented. It is no where near what I wanted the photograph to be. There is no 'drama' and I want drama. It is flat, uninteresting. It is supposed to be about a gravestone and the flowers someone left to honor the deceased. It says good things about both the person who left the flowers and the person interred. That is a pleasant message, maybe it is difficult to see cheerfulness in a cemetery but a cemetery only makes the leaving of colorful flowers more cheerful--contrast of symbols in the elements. I was also in many of the photographs I took that day trying to contrast the artificial flowers with the yellow wild flowers that blanketed the ground--as seen in the background--another contrast, plastic and living flowers. There is also contrast in bright and dull colors--contrast is what creates the content of a photograph, both tonal contrast, color contrast and symbolic or metaphorical contrast of the elements of the photograph. Those contrasts are here, maybe not strikingly emotional, but potentially emotional. They are in the photograph but they are not well defined--this is where post processing enters the picture--to add what I, the photographer, wants the photograph to convey which requires more than simply clicking a shutter button.

This image is more what I wanted the photograph to be. It is my photograph so there is darkness to hide the background , to hide the unpleasantness of the scene--the sadness of loss, the finality of death, the stone that confirms both. There is brightened colors to hopefully carry the message that the interred is still loved and missed; that those left behind still honor the memory of the interred--otherwise why place flowers, even plastic flowers, at the grave? It is a message that speaks favorably of the individuals involved.

I received a comment on a photo that I posted recently that mentioned that you had to look into the photograph, study the photograph to see what was there. I greatly appreciated that comment because that is among my intents in making dark photographs. There are others but that is an important one. In this photograph finding that this is not a vase of flowers, but upon looking harder at the image and with the discovery of the tombstone the realization that they are plastic flowers in a cemetery. That is an important part of the photograph to me. Sure I could have told that same story with a clearly visible tombstone, but that would have lost the impact of the discovery. It would have lost involving the viewer in the photograph. Life is more exciting when it is discovered rather than being shoved down our throats. Such it is with photographs.

This is straight Topaz, what the image above produced using a single Topaz Adjust present.

I browsed through many of the presets. There are (I think) six or eight groups and within each group are upwards of twenty action selections. Additionally, each of the selections is pretty much infinitely adjustable beyond the simple preset. Some produce only subtle differences. This selection was under the group Toned and was called Black Rose.

The differences in the 'message'? The cheerfulness is gone. The colors are faded. There is a greater contrast between the faded plastic flowers and the bright yellow living flowers. In all, this is a much sadder image and probably metaphorically talks about how the memories fade with time and how we will each eventually be forgotten--faded into past history. It is an interesting image to me, just different.

This is the final processed photograph. I have darkened areas that were not important. I have toned down the bright yellow flowers since they are not important to the statement that I want the image to convey. I have toned down highlights except in the flowers, a sad image does not need unnecessary brightness. I just feel that the additional work helps to make the 'action' mine. I really doubt that anyone could write an action that would work for me without additional work.

Out of curiosity I used this same action on another photograph from the same shoot. It was a photograph of two headstones with the wall of a mausoleum in the background. Didn't come anywhere close to working.

I do not know that anyone will find reading about this 'experiment' interesting. If you do, let me know and I will possibly share some of my future experiments.

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