It’s no secret: I firmly believe that ridiculous, overinflated art language does little to help people understand or appreciate art. At best is alienates viewers who would be more receptive if you just told them what you mean. At worst, it makes you sound ridiculous. Shame On You, Artspeak highlights those latter moments.
The captured oil paint, placed with conviction, permanently shows off the cleverness of the stroke.
Really? How is a stroke ever clever? Velociraptors are clever. Strokes? I remain less convinced.
The Intended Message:
It’s a little hard to tell here, but in the context of the page where the captioned image is illustrating the usage of copal painting medium, I think maybe something like:
The use of this medium lets the detail in these strokes show cleanly, and adds durability to the paint that’ll let it last longer.
But, again, who can tell? Artspeak saw to that.
But despite the presumption of veracity that gives all photographs authority, interest, seductiveness, the work that photographers do is no generic exception to the usually shady commerce between art and truth. Even when photographers are most concerned with mirroring reality, they are still haunted by tacit imperatives of taste and conscience. [...] In deciding how a picture should look, in preferring one exposure to another, photographers are always imposing their standards on subjects. Although there is a sense in which the camera does indeed capture reality, not just interpret it, photographs are as much an interpretation of the world as paintings and drawings are.
Susan Sontag, On Photography
Via my old friend Chris I’ve been picking at Susan Sontag’s nearly forty year old essay on photography, written well before I was even born, and it’s a little dismaying how fundamentally different things aren’t now. Some things really don’t change much. Well worth a read if you, like me, had somehow not been shown it before.
Whew. Seriously, the last day of 2013 already? What a year, folks. And, rather than bore you with a recap of it, here instead is a list of thoughts I’ve had rattling around about photography as you encounter it on the internet. A lot of these are inspired by my time spent recently trawling around 500px looking for some lighting inspiration, the rest come from helping customers at the day job. As always, my perspective is as a fine art and portrait photographer, I don’t consider any style where simply being in the right place is the entire first half of the battle (photojournalism, sports, travel) to be governed by the same rules as the styles where you’re out to create
and not just record
a moment. But that’s a separate issue all together.
So, without further ado, some thoughts:
Good gear is always worth what you paid. I promise. Yes, better gear is worth more money. It’ll last longer, make your life easier, give you more options, let you spend less time swearing, and (often) will be more versatile.
Flipside: I would only ever recommend buying what you expect to need, with about 10-20% more than you currently think you do. Take the money you’ll save by not going to a higher price point needlessly and apply it to another piece of good gear that does something else instead.
In general, you’ll know when to move up to a higher price point because it’ll become the only thing you can find that does _______ that you’ve been trying to. Unless you can already fill in that blank with something, I’d stick to the middle range gear aimed neither at beginners nor at bored doctors and already-famous fashion photographers. The middle of the pack is a sweetspot for most photography, and there are some real gems to be found in it.
When you’re getting started, spend most of your time figuring out what it is you want to do. There’s a lot of gear, and a lot of advice, and it’s all pretty much bunk if you don’t know what you want to do. My kit is very, very different then it would have been if I had decided to spend my time shooting birds instead.
There’ll come a point in gear shopping when it can’t be avoided, but as often as possibly avoid unitaskers. It’s true when Alton preaches it, and it’s true in photography too. A tool with a dozen uses is always a better return on your money than one thing that only has one purpose. You’ll get a lot better shots by reacting to what you’e given that by trying to make circumstances fit the narrow slice your unitasker demands.And, for what it’s worth, I will insist until my dying breath that every prime lens on the market is a unitasker. It gives you one look. You will find with regular use that there’s one type of photo it consistently gives you that it excels at, and a lot of others it never will. A good quality constant-aperture standard zoom is only more expensive until you realize you need five primes to pull the same weight. Buy primes hesitantly, and only when you’ve hit a wall where you just can’t get that look without them. Or, if you’ve just fallen in love with that one look that they do and you’ve decided to commit a bulk of your photography to it. That second one’s not for me, but I’ve seen people who can flat-out rock it.But when someone tells you to skip a zoom and just buy a 50mm prime, be really, really skeptical. Especially if you haven’t decided what it is you want to do yet.
[Personal note, the biggest benefit to primes is f-numbers faster than 2.8. Past f4, I dare you to pick out the difference between most primes and good zoom at the same focal length. Buy a zoom or two, shoot around. Find what focal lengths you shoot at most, then buy a prime in there for those times when you need shallower DOF.]
The single best thing you’ll ever do is to start putting the lighting first. The second best thing you’ll do is learn the light should come from the sides and not above.
You probably need a bigger light source. I mean, yeah. Probably. And, if you’re in doubt what to do about lighting, then you definitely need a bigger light source. Buy a parabolic umbrella, you won’t regret it.
The third best thing you’ll do is admit that every single in the history of ever has been dicked with, adjusted, or altered. There’s no such thing as an honest photo, and learning all that boring stuff like black clipping, gamma, saturation, sharpening masking, and yadda yadda yadda will give you way more results than any lens or body ever will. A copy of Adobe Lightroom was the single most cost-effective thing I ever did to push myself up a notch. People were willing to swear I had bought a new camera. Just saying.
If you can’t take a good picture of a pretty person, you have some real issues you need to work out. They’re doing the heavy lifting for you, as far as most viewers are concerned. Not to say you should get discouraged, I’ve taken plenty of unflattering pictures of pretty people and “I’m making sure the camera thinks you look as good as you do” is common patter for me at shoots anymore. But, still, if you’re taking pictures of good lookin’ folks and they don’t already look halfway to stellar, I’d hold off on hanging that shingle out just yet…
Corollary: It’s really stupidly easy with good light and pretty people to take good photographs. People will love them and you’ll get lots of empty comments and likes. But if that’s where you stop, they will be boring and immediately forgettable. Any photo of a pretty person in pretty light that doesn’t also have ambiance or meaning is just a fashion ad. And the thing about ads is they’re meant to have text on them. You know, to give them a purpose.
Ambiance trumps concept every time. Concepts are sticky things, and I’ve seen a lot of otherwise decent photos fall into the Deep Well of Hokey because they couldn’t let the concept go. Ambiance is better, and it’ll make a viewer linger. Concpets tell, but ambiance asks. And asking is good. Photos should make me ask questions. Just not “What the hell were they thinking?” That’s the wrong question.
Light everything as if it were a nude. What is it about nekkid people that makes photographers break out an A-game they’ll leave on the table unless a model piles clothes on it?
Speak of nudes, do you really need boobs to sell it? Your image, that is. I mean, I like boobs as much as the next guy, and I’ve shot boobs. But, in my trawl for lighting references lately it’s become obvious that “boobs” are conflated entirely too much with “art.” Here’s a helpful reminder, if the only reason you have a naked person in your photo is because they look hot, that’s porn. There’s a time and a place for porn, and you can have artful porn, but don’t go thinking you can just insist it was Art and it’s somehow different. If the person’s only there to get someone’s juices going, you’re shooting porn bucko. (Hint, this actually extends to boudoir and lingerie shoots too.) (Bonus hint: all lingerie ads are basically porn. They may be the most valid reason to take well-lit pictures of a tall gal in her knickers, but the back of your mind should always be reminding you the reason she’s in her knickers is to look sexy. It’s right there in the last word: sex. Don’t lie to yourself.)
Megan inserts at this point that she thinks the previous disclaimer is a fairly male assessment, and she’s never looked at a lingerie ad and thought that. I counter that even when targeted at straight women the point of them is to show how you would better attract the male gaze, which is sorta the flipside of the same coin. I’m also assuming, based on portfolios I see online, a very large chunk of people shooting lingerie stuff are dudes, which colors it a bit more. This may apply less for women shooting lingerie as that power dynamic is different, but hey, YMMV.
One last thought here, and it’s a bit more rambling so bear with me. Most nudes I see are more what I’d think of as studies. There are some really good reasons photographers love shooting nude forms. Doing so will teach you how to control lighting very, very quickly. It will do so because all of a sudden you’ll actually pay attention to what it’s doing, something you mostly won’t when clothes are helping pick up the slack for you. But, keep in mind that drawing students also spend a lot of time with nudes. Most of them don’t fill a portfolio with those sketches though. Shoot them, learn what you need to, show them on your blog or Flickr or what have you. But there are a lot of nudes out there, unless you’re doing something more than “celebrating the human form” with them, maybe skip the portfolio and just accept that they were studies.
You suck at titles. There’s no shame in numbers, untitled, or titling a photo for the model. But, you’re shooting hundreds to thousands of pictures a year: they don’t all need titles. Honestly, none of them do. Spend more time shooting, less time being cute. Blue Dream, White Queen, and Sacred Shivers aren’t photo titles… they’re next year’s featured fragrance lines.
Your photo is going to get stolen. Take a deep breath, calm down, and admit that now. If it’s online, it’ll get stolen. Period end. No amount of watermarking will stop that. Don’t believe me? Remember that time Capcom stole the cover for their own game off of a blog?
Need more than an isolated incident (even if somewhat notable) to convince you? Why not trawl PhotoshopDisasters posts where stolen stock photos made it all the way to production with the watermark in place?
Starting to come to grips with the fact that it will be stolen? Good. Now, instead of putting a huge watermark on your images (which will do nothing to actually stop it being stolen, clearly), if you’re worried about losing money to this take the actual steps of shelling out and copyrighting your photo. Embed your copyright info in the meta. And then if you must keep watermarking your photos still, show some reserve and decorum and keep it small so I can actually see your photo, k?
And for the love of the gods, pay someone to make you a logo and don’t just type your name in the lower corner in papyrus. There is no quicker way to spot an amateur playing at being a bigger fish. NONE.
If your HDR image looks like a newly-discovered Thomas Kincade, you’ve gone too far. HDR is both the Kincade of photography, and the solarization effect of the new millennium. It’s not going to age well, and it’s going to turn off more people than it turns on. Or, at least, I hope it does. Just… show some restraint, yeah? Used right HDR is a wonderful tool, especially at night, to fill in the dynamic range our eyes can see but our cameras can’t. Used wrong, and, well…
So, it’s been a while since I’ve actually posted, you know, other people’s art out here. And it’s like Christmas Eve and stuff, so, I’ll keep this short.
This isn’t Basquiat. Heck, I don’t really know the name of this artist, she just goes by “AbstractCelebrity” on Reddit and Etsy, but Basquiat’s primitive style was one of my early influences in my style and I love seeing someone who can nail that look far better than I can.
Good job, AbstractCelebrity, whoever you are. Now, if you also like this, head on over to her Etsy and buy it, therefore assuring my jealousy as I can’t currently swing the money to myself thanks to a recent gear-glut.
Determining the worth of art is hard. It just is, always will be. Do you charge by the hours involved, and what your time is worth? Unless you’re a big name, no, probably not because no one wants to spend that kind of cash on something from an unknown. Do you make up a price based on subjective qualifiers like how much you like it, or how much people say they want it? Do you keep prices high in case you get picked up by a gallery, or do you undercut your value to make rent?
Honestly, I don’t think any of those are right, but none of them are wrong either. It’s a delicate balance of understanding your own finances, your budget, and why you’re making art in the first place. As for me, I’m not going to pretend I make a living off fine art. i don’t, I have a day job doing commercial work same as most people. Sure, some of what I do is still art, but a commoditized, on-demand style of art called design. But, I’m lucky, my design pays my bills, and buys my paint. My fine art is free of the burden of needing to be marketable that many full-time artists have. Downside to that is it’s also a hard sell over the guy who spends all his time tapping into zeitgeists for works people want to hang over the couch. So, I’ve put a lot of thought into it, and ahead of my show at New Day Meadery I would like to announce my new pricing policy. My prices will now support my assertion that art should be attainable for the masses, and unless my financial situation destabilizes and I need to lean more on the value of my paintings I will price them to be reachable, and not what they’re worth in time and work.
For paintings, I’m going to go ahead and admit the direct relationship between my ability to afford beer and my love of painting. So, I’ll charge one good six pack (currently $12… I’m much closer to a yuppie than a hipster, and besides, I was a snob about beer before it was cool to be snobby about beer ;) per square foot of painting, plus materials and, in some cases, a charge to accommodate for the fact that the work is in some way irreplaceable. Like Naught But An Odd Tree, which is made on the remnants of a flat-screen projection TV, and would be really hard or costly to do again. But most paintings won’t need that, and you’ll find that it yields some pretty darn affordable totals, I feel. A typical 4×2′ painting, for example, will only be $130 under the new pricing. The massive 6×4′ 54-33 would be $330.
For photos, the equation will be what it costs me to print and frame it, plus $20. For a 16×20″ print, this puts the final price at around $60 in a poster frame. Again, I feel that helps make things very affordable for the average joe, and maybe it’ll help people understand that the barriers to collecting and appreciating art are all artificial, they’re their to keep prices high for people who can afford it and who can benefit from it. But art’s more than that. It’s expression. it’s me seeking to connect with you, and I can’t do that if I charge more for my work than you paid for your first car. So, unless I fall on hard times, I’m not going to. I’m putting my art where my mouth is.
At least until it’s on your wall. You probably don’t want my mouth on your wall, come to think of it.
Art is a lie and we are all liars.
Pretty much exactly that, yeah. There’s probably some more nuance under that, but, if you need a one-sentence summary of art, that would be it.
Oh yeah, and the source comic also pretty much sums things up, but isn’t nearly as perfect as it’s title. Funny, that.
Good designers are problem solvers, not artists. Great designers are both
Brent from Ommyo
There’s an old saying: “You can’t steal something from me that I willingly give you.” It has its limits, of course, but how much happier would we be, how much stronger would our own work be, and how much more would people enjoy seeing our work, if we remained committed to the idea of art as a gift. Some will pay for my work, some will not, and others will steal it. Either way, the gift keeps moving.
If I tried a dozen different drafts over the next few months, I couldn’t say as succinctly and perfectly why the bulk of my work here is released under the Creative Commons BY-NC-SA license. Full article via the source link. It’s a good rant.
We’re not here to capture an image, we’re here to maintain one. Every photograph reinforces the aura. Can you feel it, Jack? An accumulation of nameless energies.
Don Delillo, “White Noise”
In turn from a nice article by David White on Oxford’s Tall Blog.
File this under nothing to do with anything, but I was reading into some stuff about the Marvelverse after hearing more about Joss Whedon’s upcoming S.H.I.E.L.D series, and things got a bit tangential (as they are want to do after Wikipedia enters things). Long story short, I was reminded of the character X-23 when I learned they’d paired Gambit with her for a while. And, I wasn’t sure how I felt about this.
For those of you even less up-to-date on Marvel than I am, X-23 is the ‘successful’ version of Wolverine, except with boobs instead of mutton chops. She’s a clone of him, with all his powers, except she was actually successfully programmed to be a weapon. The driving interest in her character is that once that program cracks, she sets out to redefine herself as a person. And that’s cool, it’s a neat, interesting idea. But, well, there’s that thing where she can really be most easily described as Wolverine with boobs. She’s not really her own person, she’s another, more popular character… but female. And she has no moral compass or personality, which leads to her always being told what she should or shouldn’t be by stronger male personalities (hence my indecision about how this would work with Gambit, Marvel’s greatest Lothario.) It’s a bit of a mixed message, for sure. They were clearly going for a commentary of some kind, but it gets lost under all the typical comic book cheescake. And boy is she guilty of that:
Seriously, I haven’t seen such a delicate balance of pleather and unabashed sexualization since Eliza Dushku was a regular on Buffy:
Unlike Faith, however, whose fashion changes as her character matures and becomes more comfortable with her own self, that is X-23′s post-revelation outfit. Save it’s not exactly her personality that’s getting revealed. So, I guess in the end, she comes across to me as Marvel’s equivalent of a Not Quite Feminist Phil meme. She’s got a lot going right, but then it all gets horribly subverted and Marvel’s left not getting why we’re giving them a funny look.
Ultimately, she seems sorta like the anti-Outlaw to me. I won’t lie, Outlaw is easily one of my favorite Marvel characters, despite being so minor. And part of that is because of her particular variety of cheesecake, I won’t deny that either. But here’s the thing: Outlaw clearly started out as just a good cheesecake-y character to put across from the very bro Deadpool. She’s not only got only the most generic of mutant powers (some poorly boundaried enhanced strength and durability stuff), but she looks like this:
And, not only does she dress like a stripper, but her character’s bio specifically includes stripping in her past occupations (before being a person who kills other people, much like X-23). But unlike X-23, who’s supposed to be serious but the sex keeps undermining it, Outlaw’s supposed to be sex, but they keep undercutting it with her actually being a person. The boobs she admits herself are fake, for her own confidence. The hair is a wig. She wears jeans and hoodies these days when not on the job. She has an apartment somewhere. She hates being called by her childhood nickname because she still has esteem issues from it. You know, relatable stuff. All around, she’s a person poking out from the cheesecake veneer. She’s Inez, and Outlaw is just a veneer and she’s bluntly honest about that.
Heck, let’s compare farther. Here’s a nice tender/quiet moment between X-23 and a male co:
Gambit: relaxed, at ease. X-23: stiff, vacant gaze, doing her best impersonation of a real doll. Now, one with Outlaw:
Note how despite there being actual sex involved with Outlaw, she still manages to come across as less of a sexual object than X-23. It’s that, it’s exactly that. X-23 is supposed to be some awesome commentary about finding identity in a world where she’s always been told what to be, which should have been some awesome feminist commentary. Except it gets totally undermined by the cheesecake and the patriarchal ‘guidance.’ Outlaw, in contrast, was supposed to just be a sexy blonde before something happened and they gave her humanity. X-23 makes me uncomfortable, but I root for Outlaw any time she shows back up these days. Funny how that goes, right?