Saturday, 24 July 2010

He Ain't Heavy

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Statues are always a challenge for me, and perhaps least of all a technical one.

For me, the main thing I want to do is... actually twofold. First of all, I want to get away from the idea that it's a piece of cold lifeless stone or metal or whatever, and interact directly with what it is the sculptor has tried to represent, such as figures, an emotion or an event.

And then I want to show how the piece has affected me as the observer, which is a direct compliment to the original artist - I want to show them that their work, and by extention the actual artist - has moved me to the point where I wanted to add my own personality to it in some way.

Injecting this extra dimension is vital I think, otherwise it's just a direct representation of someone else's work, which at best is laziness and at worst plagiarism.

These days there are so many ways of interacting with someone else's work and adding something of your own there's really no excuse!

Traditionally speaking, there are all the classic techniques you can think of such as choosing an interesting angle, framing it originally, using creative blur or selective focusing and so on. From the modern post-processing point of view, the options are even greater.

From the second photo, which I have brightened up slightly from the original, you can see that there was great scope for simply reproducing, badly, someone else's statue! A hunk of rock on another chunky block, a bunch of flowers in the foreground, shocking flat lighting, and hey presto, one of the most boring photos you could ever imagine!

So first of all I did a bit of scouting and sniffing around. I looked at the statue from all angles, checked for any inscriptions that might give me a clue as to what was going on, and spent quite a while just 'being' with the sculpture, as it were. I tried to pretend that this event - the rescuing of an injured fellow quarryman - was actually happening in front of my eyes. I then looked for the best way to convey what they might be feeling, as well as what I might want to add to the shot myself to emphasise or even exaggerate these impressions.

As you can see, I've gone for an 'up-close-and-person' approach, where you can almost feel the stench of their sweating bodies and imagine the glistening of their dust-encrusted bodies as they struggle to get their comrade to safety.

The hand on the arm and the head-to-head support I find very touching and wanted to focus on that. This angle also highlights the drawn body with the bony shoulder and extended ribcage in evidence, adding to the gritty reality of this thankless way of life.

Technically, the original photo, the one at the top of this page, was terrible. There's a lot to be said for silhouettes, but in this case the outline doesn't say enough on its own and, thanks to shooting into a bright sky, practially all detail has been blown away. Looks like a job for Post-Processing Man!

I've pulled out (an even invented - hehe!) tons of detail in the weathered stone by playing around with a few of those funny little options hidden away in the menus, whilst trying at all costs not to lose the impact of this hard-hitting image. The greatest danger with after-the-event fun on the computer is that the special effects take over and people just want to know which one you used, as opposed to being impressed by the power of the image itself. Personally I'm terribly upset when all anyone wants to know about my photos is what programme I use. It's inevitable that you will get these questions, but from a phototgrapher's point of view I loathe them and sometimes wish computers didn't exist at all!

But you have to move with the times, and if you do use special techniques on the computer you should expect people who don't know any better to ask about them. And feel somewhat flattered that they want to know - I think it's their way of saying the like the image!!!

Anyway, I guess the most significant creative choice I made here after a slight crop top and right to get rid of some irrelevant sky was the colour modification.

As I write this I'm switching this window from one screen to another and realising that on an older screen the image looks almost totally monochome orangy-brown, whereas on my newer laptop screen it still retains hints of olive-green as I intended. Tinting in one colour range is ok, and can be very effective, but sometimes I want to retain hints of the original colours whilst moving them towards a dominant sepia tone, for example. Here I really wanted little bits of green to come through on the top of the heads, to suggest algae, and in the fuzzy leaves to suggest, well, leave, and that would have been lost if I'd just tinted everything orange or brown.

Click to visit the Parc Montsouris Photo Quiz (coming soon) Paris Photo Walks!

Sab's Quick Photo Hints & Tips

   1) Don't photograph sculptures and statues - photograph the things people have sculpted!
   2) Use any techniques you like to add something original to other people's work.
   3) Avoid including the plinth or support in the shot unless you really do need to show it is 'a sculpture'.
   4) Delve deep into all those obscure menu options - there is magic to be discovered in there!
   5) Keep your colour manipulations within the realms of reality - seen a bright purple stone statue recently?

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