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Sixth and final part in this series. (On the theory behind my practice of digital image-making) (Earlier posts: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5)


Detail is an important part of every work of the visual arts. In digital photography, detail relates to “micro-contrast” (or “sharpness”). Enhancing micro-contrast/sharpness will create the illusion of more detail, too, but, “technically” and for what it’s worth, detail is not the same thing as sharpness, and relates to the resolution of the sensor inside the camera (infamous “megapixels”), and to the quality of the lens we use.

The important thing about detail, in the present context, is that it helps to both communicate the emotional content of the image and attracts the viewer’s attention. The same short article that I already mentioned in two previous sections (on Contrast and Color) also describes how sharp, detailed focus against a blurry background mimics the way our eyes work. So, presenting sharp detail in only a limited area of the image is a good way to connect with the viewer.

And yes, detail, just like all five elements (L-C-C-C-D), can be applied selectively to different parts of the image by using a simple layer+mask technique in Photoshop. In doing such selective application, I have found it incredibly liberating to use an electronic pen and tablet instead of a mouse. I use this pen as a brush with which to paint each of these five elements onto specific areas of the image. (Continued below.)


To summarize the key points of this series, and add one:

* Digital photography enables the making of photo images (=works of image-ination) beyond the taking of photographs.

* I use five elements L-C-C-C-D (Light, Composition, Contrast, Color and Detail) as a checklist in deciding how to capture, develop and critique an image.

* To adjust these five elements, I try to think like a painter. How might I have rendered this scene if I was using a physical brush, paint and canvas? I can probably duplicate the effect with camera field work plus digital darkroom adjustments.

* In the digital darkroom I work mainly with Adobe products such as Camera Raw converter and Photoshop CS but adjustments can also be made with any number of other image processing tools.

* I work on a screen calibrated to international standards.

* I use an electronic pen and tablet to selectively “paint” each element in parts of my image.

Beyond these, the other most important step in my workflow is time. I try not to publish an image the same day that I develop it, so that I can take time to see it, if at all possible, like someone who wasn’t there with me, during the capture of the original scene.

It is the image alone (as I develop it) that must carry my message. I have no other way but the image itself, with which to communicate, across space and time, the feelings and memories I associate with the scene.

For me, personally, 24 hrs after first development is nowhere near long enough to see an image with “fresh eyes,” either. A week is better. And I do re-visit my images every few months and/or years, to see if I want to re-process them with newer tools or techniques. As it turns out, more often than not, I do.

When I first noticed that, I thought …perhaps there was something wrong with me… why can’t I “get it right” the first time, every time? Then I realized that developing an image meant as art, isn’t about “right” or “wrong” but about reconciling the image we see with our eyes to the one we see with our hearts and minds; our imagination, our ‘vision;’ the mood and emotion that the scene elicits in us. And that vision matures with time and experience.

Not surprisingly, re-working their own photo images was also common practice among the giants of this art. Ansel Adams re-processed and altered his most famous image Moonrise Hernandez many times, to adjust some of these same five elements we reviewed in this series. So let us also not fear to keep developing our own art as we explore new ways to express our imagination.
Above all, an artist must never be too easily satisfied with what he has done.” (Henri Matisse)

I wished to copy nature. I could not. But I was satisfied when I discovered the sun, for instance, could not be reproduced, but only represented by something else.” (Paul Cezanne)