Saturday, June 1, 2013

Visual Literacy and Photographic Education

Ansel Adams had it partially right when he describe the process of "pre-visualization."  Ansel posited that we should pre-visualize the image because that would lead to technical decisions regarding exposure of the film and development of the negative.  It was sort of a backward process whereby we are supposed to understand where we were going so that we can implement a workflow that will get us there.

I've come to realize that we may be teaching photography backwards.  We do a great job of teaching our students "how" to do something technically but we do a terrible job of teaching them "why."  By this, I mean that great imagery is not the result of editing, it is the result of being able to look at a "raw" image" and see its potential and what needs to be done to it to realize that potential. And then having the technical skills and tools to implement those decisions.

The above set of images show the original and the final.  Knowing how to dodge, burn, clone, adjust contrast, etc. will not get to the final image unless you have a concept of what the image needs in order to make the visual statement you wish to make.  (I'm setting aside luck!)

Others are free to make different decisions about the image but the things that I saw were the potential of the sky, the texture of the tree, the highlight on the rocks, and the separation in the distant mountains.

I spent a lot of time working on the separation of the clouds in the sky.  It was extremely important that the tree be sharp and have really good contrast.  Since sharpening can sometimes create halos around an object, I spent hours cloning out the halos around the limbs of the tree.  The highlights on the rocks was enhanced to lead the viewer into the image and up to the tree.  And the near foreground and the right and left edges were burned (darkened) slightly to keep the eye in the frame.  The distant mountains were contrast and brightness adjusted until they gave a sense of distance but were but not competing with the foreground.

This is a long way of saying that all the Photoshop skills and great equipment will not create visually interesting images.  Visual literacy and understanding the potential of an image may.