Monday, 23 September 2013

Make the camera your friend, not your master

I have been given permission to repeat a conversation I had with a fellow painter recently.

Here is the question posed to me:
The dog, I am concerned that maybe there isn't enough contrast or change of values to make it a good painting? Yet it's the narrow range of hues and the softness and subtlety that attracts me to it. I've already done the outline and it's ready to paint, so if this is the case, if you think it won't work as is, perhaps I could change some aspects of it from the ref pic? (eg, get a pic of a darker dog and use that as ref) I have cropped a bit off the left side to focus a bit more on the dog.

And here is the photo.  I am not a painter of animals by any means, but it illustrates some of the problems of working from photos, so I am using it here as a good example.

Firstly, squint at the photo and see how the dog's head almost disappears.  It can be an advantage rather than a problem to have one shape melting into another, but in this instance, the dog's head, and the tones and colours of the bank behind, are all of a blur when you squint. 

Then, just look at the tree on the bank.  It is all soft focus.  This is the camera focussing on the dog, and leaving the surroundings to be out of focus.  This is not how the human eye would see this scene.  Perhaps the distance, way behind the bank, could be left soft-focus, but something this close to the dog - nope, it doesn't work.

Here is a photoshop change or two.  I eliminated the tree and darkened the bank to reveal more of the head of the dog:

The image is immediately stronger.  Now what is to be done with the colour?  All "sepia" like the original photo is one option. 

 Playing around further in Photoshop with cloning, and colour, opens up your options, look:

Eliminating the bank all together, making the water and the dog the main elements without distraction, allowing some soft "sky" colour to touch the water,  plus hints of greenish stream colour, while echoing the dog's colours in the reflections and perhaps elsewhere too, gives a totally different feeling to the image.

Now this is all a question of CHOICE.  But at least the choice is now yours, not something imposed by the camera.  Why copy slavishly if the photo can be altered to achieve a much more successful, or at least preferrable, result?

Please do not imagine I am a photoshop whizz-kid.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  I do not use layers...I simply use the clone tool, and add colour, and I crop stuff.  That is IT.  And I use Photoshop Elements, not the heavy-duty Photoshop.  I like things simple!

It is easy to be lazy and accept what the camera gives you.  But like my kiln when I work on my enamels, sometimes I get jewels - sometimes not.  Same thing applies to a photograph.  Look at it critically - see if you can spot the potential pitfalls, elements in the scene which make it obvious that the camera is your master.  Then, eliminate those problems.

And suddenly, the camera can become a useful friend to take around with you.


  1. Thank you for the inspiration! - Virginia

  2. I am the originator of the question and the image at hand - and have just completed him with the colours rather than the sepia, and I have to say I am pleased with the result, and am glad you made the suggestions above that you did. Thank you - Donna


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