Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Technical vs. Emotional (Intermediate)

In my view, a photo's emotional qualities generally trump its technical qualities.  I took the shot above to sell my helmet.  Technically there are many flaws with the photo -- the light stand is showing up in the photo, there's flare, the postprocessing is excessive, the noise is excessive.  Yet it's the one I chose over a much cleaner shot because I liked the emotion that it generated in me.

I started out with the idea of shooting the helmet with a spotlight type effect, with the helmet emerging out of the shadow into the light.  To do that I used a snoot on the flash which I positioned with a light stand.

I next wanted to work on illuminating the face shield --  I wanted a reflection that showed its nice clean shape.  To illuminate a reflective object like that, you don't illuminate the object itself. Instead, you illuminate the object that you want to be reflected on the surface.  See Light: Science and Magic.  Based on photos of helmets on the manufacturers' websites, it seemed like a large square or rectangular light source would be needed.  I didn't have anything like that, so I thought about illuminating our patio doors to put vertical lines on the face shield.  When I was trying to put the flash in the right position, I got this image:

Not what I intended but I liked the light in the background and the flare it created. It seemed more exciting.  Until now I didn't really understand those photos in the Strobist Flickr pool with lights in the background.  For this shot, I liked the effect it created.  I went back to the original concept a few times but kept coming back to this shot.  

When I later tried to recreate the flare, I had trouble getting it at first, even with the flash aimed at the lens (credit to the Tamron 17-50 VC's flare resistance).  It wasn't until I increased the power by a couple of stops when the flare started to show up.  I then illuminated the patio doors to get lines on the face shield.

I felt that the visibility of the light stand, which makes the shot look a bit crude, was consistent with the devil-may-care emotion of the shot.

In postprocessing, I continued with the in-your-face feel of the shot by using a lot of local tone mapping, high pass sharpening to create a gritty look.  It created a lot of noise in the dark areas of the shot but I thought it was consistent with the edgy theme.

By comparison, here is a similar shot, executed more cleanly (I used bounced light to illuminate the face shield and helmet, and also amped up the local tone mapping):

I think it looks ok too. Definitely cleaner from a technical point of view.  However, I think it has a more 'pop' feel than a 'grunge' feel, and I think the grunge one may be more appealing to the target market.

Here's another example where in my view emotion trumps technicalities.  First, the conventional shot:

Compare that with this abstract shot by my brother-in-law at our toddler's birthday (with a D3S no less!), which I really like.  I feel that it captured the emotion and energy of the moment better than any of the other shots of that scene.

Being more of a technical person myself, I will endeavor to be more mindful of the emotional aspects of a photo.

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