Near misses

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Today’s thoughts are on a slightly unusual topic, especially;y given my usual obsession with curation – after all, your audience can only see the work you choose to show, not all of the work you shot. I also realise that I say plenty about what I believe a good photograph should include and exclude, but not a lot about why some things don’t work – and worse, what constitutes the kind of near miss that I’d reject (or at very least, not show at all). So, at the risk of showing the ugly side – today’s post is illustrated with images of mine that seemed good in theory, but didn’t make the cut in execution for whatever reason. It’s probably also helpful to talk through the initial idea at capture and some of the context – this is not always obvious, and often the reason of an image’s failure to meet the intent of its creator.

Let’s take the header image, for starters: in person, there was very strong layering created on the physical background objects due to the angle and intensity of the sun; the shadows were perceived to be almost as dense and solid as the physical objects themselves. Moreover, the sense of spatial separation between shadow, physical object and reflection off the floor was a lot stronger than in the image, no matter how it was processed. I had to increase black density to give the shadows the same sense of solidity, desaturate to create abstraction and remove the distraction of certain color highlights in various portions of the image, but somehow lost that sense of spatial separation. I don’t believe it’s a tonal zone problem, because the shadow, reflection and physical object zones only overlap just enough to create continuity in the image (say I-IV, IV-VII and VI-X respectively).

The problem is actually a physiological one on the part of the viewer – both viewer of the scene and viewer of the image – in that the focal planes of the various elements are slightly different (reflection effectively further away) but the overall focal distance is quite close, meaning that 3D spatial perception from two eyes comes into play. This is a large contributor to our perception of depth and dimensionality – especially when it comes to reflections in objects, since they are further away than the (physical) foreground. Using depth of field cues to suggest separation does not work as you lose definition that your eyes have – and which creates that sense of surrealism of superimposed objects or images. Conflictingly, I am attracted to these kinds of subjects for precisely that reason; unfortunately, they rarely work in 2D capture.

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