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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Give Your Photos A Boost

Sometimes a good photograph just needs a little shot of art sauce to turn it into a great one

This Article Features Photo Zoom

The term "art sauce" is usually a pejorative that instructors use to excoriate their students on using gimmicks to make their work appear more snappy. Think of smothering a bland hamburger with ketchup to turn it into a hamburger that just tastes like ketchup. In this article, however, we're thinking of art sauce like Tabasco®. You don't smother anything in Tabasco®; you use a little dash here and there to bring out and enhance the flavors that are hidden within.

Moderation is the key. A fundamentally weak photograph won't magically become art just because you run it through an Instagram filter. The image may have more initial pop, but it won't stand up to further scrutiny. That's why filters like Instagram can be fun to use, but contrary to some opinions, they really don't turn junk into art. They turn junk into more eye-catching junk. If a photograph is fundamentally strong, running it through an Instagram filter may help to make it a touch stronger, but too much can kill it.

With this in mind, here are some ideas that can help give your good photos a boost.

Photos with a lot of intricate detail like fine branches and leaves don't look like much on the camera's LCD, but when enlarged in a big print, the structure is revealed. Try printing big to let that structure emerge.
Make It Big
Another favorite criticism from art school instructors is, "If you can't make it good, make it big." The dig is that a large image naturally will impress even if the actual photo is weak. But some photos don't read small; they need the scale that only comes from a large print. Think of Robert Glenn Ketchum's work. Seen small, many of his photographs from the Arctic, the Tongass and the Hudson River simply don't read well. When you see a large print of one of those images, however, it's transformed into a richly layered, highly detailed work of art. The fundamental structure was there all the time, but it took the larger print to help that structure to emerge.

When you look at your own images, think about this. We all tend to make snap judgments in the field because we do a lot of "chimping" on the LCD screen. Looking at the photo and the histogram as you shoot certainly is valuable, but don't be too eager to trash any photos until you've had a chance to look at them on a proper computer screen. This advice runs counter to many pros who suggest being a brutal editor, even in the field, to cut down on your editing time. To be sure, there's something to be said for returning home with a more manageable number of images to edit, but in many cases, if you saw something in the scene as you were shooting, don't be too hasty to pass final judgment based solely on the DSLR's LCD screen.

Similarly, when you do get home, take advantage of your photo-editing software's ability to show the image full-screen with a keystroke. Take a moment. Are hidden details emerging? Do you start to see colors and patterns that had been visible in the field, but disappear in the thumbnails? If so, you have a winner that just needs to be displayed in a big print.


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