Creating Artistic Photographs
 – Part 2: An Exploration Of Color

Color is one of the great things in the world that make life worth living.
Georgia O’Keeffe

Introduction

How do you keep the passion alive when you have been creating landscape photographs for many years?  The answer is simple: you find new challenges.  You change what you do so that your endeavors are exciting rather than stale.  You do ‘new’ to replace ‘old’.  You move forward, in a direction you have not moved towards before.  More importantly you move towards creating your vision and expressing who you are in ways you have not explored before. 

In short you become more you, you put out more of who you are, more of what you like.  You reveal something about you that you have not revealed before.  You put fear, concerns and hesitations aside.  This is what makes creating new images exciting and motivating.  

Reality and Believability

I am an artist and my work is about form and color. However until now I construed my work to be about believability rather than reality.  Basically the premise was: did it happen?  No.  Can it happen ? Yes.  In other words I was not concerned with people saying no when asked if the scenes in my images were real.  However I wanted them to say yes when asked if these scenes were believable.    

Things had to change for my photography to remain interesting.  So I decided to let go of the reality versus believability tenet.  Creating believable images had become challenging.  There is a fine line between reality and believability and following this fine line was preventing me from exploring new artistic venues.  It had to go.  Having made that change I am no longer concerned about how people answer these questions.  Is it real?  Is it believable?  They decide.  I no longer care that the former is answered with no and the later with yes.  Both questions can be answered with yes, or with no, or with whatever answer people like.  It no longer matters to me.  My work has shifted in a new direction because I put an end to what had become a limiting factor. 

This decision has resulted in the creation of new and different work. Three examples of this work are featured in this essay.  Here is the first one.

First Example: Subtle Gradations of Color

CF 029142: Raw capture.
CF 029142: Raw capture.
CF 029142: June 2019 version created with a focus on believability.
CF 029142: June 2019 version created with a focus on believability.
CF 029142: September 2019 version created with a focus on subtle variations of color.
CF 029142: September 2019 version created with a focus on subtle variations of color.

About The Changes

These changes took place between June and September of this year.  The three examples featured in this essay show what these changes consist of.  This change was possible because I disregarded concerns for believability.  Technical concerns with details, local contrast and overall contrast were pushed aside and replaced with concerns for artistic expression.  While the June images were already pushed in an artistic direction (monochromatic palette, shift to yellow-orange tones and no pure whites among other characteristics) their creation still retained technical concerns in order to render them believable.  The September 2019 versions do away with these remains of photographic reality paradigm by changing my approach to the levels of detail enhancement, local contrast, global contrast and color contrast.  In the past these levels were all strong.  They are now soft because I lowered global and local contrast levels, reduced details and shifted image tonalities towards saturated but low contrast color harmonies with minor tonal variations. My concerns are now primarily artistic and my motivation is to create images that make me happy and enchant me with their tones and colors. I want to create works of art that express who I am as an artist.

Why Change?

Because I got tired of the way I expressed myself with landscape photography.  Tired of the process I was using.  This process was effective and it resulted in quality photographs but I had used it too long and the results were getting repetitive and predictable.  Predictability is the death of art.  The medium must provide me with surprises to keep me interested.

I also wanted to do something different.  I wanted to do my own thing but it had to be unlike what I did before.  It had to be something I had not explored yet.  Creating my own colors was high on that list, in fact it was a required item.  My landscape work has always been about color therefore creating new colors, colors that were more ‘me’ than the colors I created before, was high in my expectations.  I also wanted to create my own level of contrast and control the black, grey and white points. I already controlled these but I wanted to push this control further, push it as far as I could.  

Above all I wanted to free myself from the control that cameras, gear and software I felt imposed on me.  So I stopped upgrading my cameras aware that what needed upgrading was my artistic skills and not my gear.  However while I stopped buying new cameras, aware that my current gear was meeting my needs, I did not stop upgrading my software because having the latest version of Lightroom and Photoshop is crucial to my work.  Software features keep getting more and more powerful with each new release, offering ever increasing control over color and contrast.  Because these are what I want to control I cannot be without the latest version of Lightroom and Photoshop, something that my Adobe Cloud subscription makes easy and automatic. 

What I did is I start using software to make my images look the way I want them to look and process them in ways that I had not processed them yet.  In short I created a new look, a look possible because of my personal use of digital software processing. 

Second Example : Soft and Warm Tonalities

RAW Image
IMG_1799: September 2019 soft and warm tonalities rendition.
IMG_1799: September 2019 soft and warm tonalities rendition.

Setting Limits

In the process of making these changes, I did not set limits to what I do to my images because setting limits would have reduced my creativity.  I may or I may not have used all the software features available to me so far, but that does not mean I will not use them in the future. Whether I do or not will depend on the creative direction I take, not on the decision to close my eyes on some of the digital processing opportunities available to me.

Concerns For Audience

I was asked if my audience likes my new work as much as they like my previous work.  Preliminary indications based on emails, personal and social media feedback and sales of my new work indicate that my audience does like it.  It is always tempting to believe that continuing with the same style will continue to generate the same level of success.  Fact is this is rarely the case.  Success in art in regards to audience response is largely based on being able to continuously reinvent yourself and produce work which is surprising and interesting while retaining your core values as an artist.  Such is the case here.  My work is about color and form and my new work pushes both color and form to new heights making my audience realize that my work has reached a new level of achievement. This makes it both more enjoyable as artistic expression and more valuable as an acquisition.

Third Example: Soft Orange And Mauve Rendition

RAWFinished
IMG_0938: September 2019 soft orange and mauve rendition.
IMG_0938: September 2019 soft orange and mauve rendition.

Conclusion: Controlling The Medium Instead Of Letting The Medium Control Me

My current work is an artistic exploration into the many ways of processing my images.  It is, as demonstrated by the examples above, an example of not letting the medium control the outcome.  Instead, I take control of the process by deciding what I want the final image to look like.  This approach is based on having a specific goal and of going for it instead of relying on auto settings or happenstance to make things happen.  This is not to say that there are no ‘happy accidents’ in this process.  However, if they do happen these happy accidents are the icing on the cake and not the cake itself.

Exploration and inspiration go hand in hand in my approach to art and photography. One informs the other and vice versa.  I think of my current work as exploratory being more about investigating new possibilities than about creating final pieces. In these new pieces light, weather, composition, exposure, etc., basically all the trimmings and characteristics of film paradigm photography, are less important than the color, black point, white point, grey point, luts, camera calibration, local and global contrast treatment. For example, right now I am experimenting with different color palettes, different color settings and different levels of blacks and whites.  In doing so I fully embrace the digital photography paradigm while moving further away from the film paradigm. 

Today’s software allows me to craft an image to a specific color harmony by using more and more powerful processing techniques.  As a result, my work is currently about creating new and different color harmonies.  These color harmonies are created in relation to my mood both at the time of capture and at the time of processing. 

Skill Enhancement Exercises

This essay is about my current work.  It is a personal reflection on the artistic process I follow.  Reflecting on your work and your artistic process is important.  Here are some exercises that will help you do that: 

What is your work about?

Which changes did you introduce in your work over the past 6 months to a year?

What processing workflow do you follow?

What artistic decisions do you make when creating your images?

What would you like to change in your workflow and in your artistic approach that will make you happier about the look of your photographs?

About Alain Briot

You can find more information about our workshops, photographs, writings, and tutorials as well as subscribe to our Free Monthly Newsletter on our website at http://www.beautiful-landscape.com.  You will receive 40 free eBooks when you subscribe to my newsletter. 

books

I create fine art photographs, teach workshops with Natalie and offer Mastery Tutorials on composition, image conversion, optimization, printing, business and marketing.  I am the author of Mastering Landscape PhotographyMastering Photographic Composition, Creativity and Personal Style, Marketing Fine Art Photography and How Photographs are Sold.  All 4 books are available in eBook format on our website at this link: http://beautiful-landscape.com/Ebooks-Books-1-2-3.html.  Free samples are available so you can see the quality of these books for yourself.

Workshops With Alain And Natalie Briot

If you enjoyed this essay you will enjoy attending a workshop with us.  I lead workshops with my wife Natalie to the most photogenic locations in the US Southwest. Our workshops focus on the artistic aspects of photography.  While we do teach technique, we do so for the purpose of creating artistic photographs.  Our goal is to help you create photographs that you will be proud of and that will be unique to you. The locations we photograph include Navajoland, Antelope Canyon, Monument Valley, Zion, the Grand Canyon and many others.  Our workshops listing is available at this link.

more books


 

Alain Briot
September 2019
Alain Briot
Glendale, Arizona

Author of Mastering Landscape Photography,Mastering Composition, Creativity and Personal Style, Marketing Fine Art Photography, and How Photographs are Sold. http://www.beautiful-landscape.com [email protected]

Article Type: Tutorials, Columns, MISC

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