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.