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Author Topic: what makes some photos remind one of paintings?  (Read 18576 times)
Lisa Nikodym
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« on: June 10, 2007, 01:47:44 PM »
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I've occasionally taken photos that end up reminding me of oil paintings in appearance.  I've been attempting, without success, to figure out what it is about these images that gives me this impression.  If I can figure that out, the next step would be to try to figure out how to get this appearance whenever I want to.

Below are links to several images I've taken that most strongly have this effect.  (A few of them are very old ones I took before I had figured out how to properly use a camera or do very good post-processing, so please do not take this as a request for a critique.)

First question:  Do these photos have the same effect on you?  Do you think they have "oil painting" qualities?  (Or is it just my fevered imagination?  )

Second question:  What exactly is it about these images that gives this impression?

Third question:  How does one reproduce this effect at will?

Good luck...

Lisa

photo #1
photo #2
photo #3
photo #4
photo #5
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Eric Myrvaagnes
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« Reply #1 on: June 10, 2007, 03:49:38 PM »
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I've occasionally taken photos that end up reminding me of oil paintings in appearance.  I've been attempting, without success, to figure out what it is about these images that gives me this impression.  If I can figure that out, the next step would be to try to figure out how to get this appearance whenever I want to.

Below are links to several images I've taken that most strongly have this effect.  (A few of them are very old ones I took before I had figured out how to properly use a camera or do very good post-processing, so please do not take this as a request for a critique.)

First question:  Do these photos have the same effect on you?  Do you think they have "oil painting" qualities?  (Or is it just my fevered imagination?  )

Second question:  What exactly is it about these images that gives this impression?

Third question:  How does one reproduce this effect at will?

Good luck...

Lisa

photo #1
photo #2
photo #3
photo #4
photo #5
[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=122075\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]
OK, Lisa, I'll take the challenge (but it may not help much).

Q1: #1 is quite "painterly" to my eyes, #2 somewhat less so, #5 a little bit, and #3 & #4 not at all.

Q2: In #1 I think it is colors and tonalities (the quality of the light) that remind me quite a bit of landscape paintings by old Dutch masters (even though your photo is Florence    ). Again in #2 (and a little bit in #5) something reminds me of some painting(s) (but I can't place the particular ones or the painter), and I suspect it is again the colors and the way light is handled, especially the rocks in the water at the top of the waterfall, which are slightly veiled by mist. The fact that the others don't look "painterly" to me may simply be that I haven't seen the particular "reference" paintings that they remind you of (I suspect that unconscious memories of certain paintings may be as important in conveying this effect as conscious ones.)

Q3: That's a tough one. Imitate specific painters? Certain combinations of colors could certainly remind one of a Vermeer or of a Van Gogh, for instance. Many European landcape painters as a category do seem to have a lot in common. Of course, you could always get some brushes and a set of paints.  

I hope others will give you responses to this as well.

Eric
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jdemott
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« Reply #2 on: June 10, 2007, 04:16:33 PM »
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Hello Lisa,

Interesting questions.  I won't pretend to have definitive answers, but here are a few thoughts that may stimulate some further discussion.

Question 1.  Yes, I see some painterly qualities in all those shots, although the last one appears the least painterly to me.  Of course, the shots represent somewhat different styles and subject matters.  If they were paintings, I don't know that I would have picked the waterfall and the rooftop scene as having been done by the same painter.

Question 2.  The characteristics of paintings that differentiate them from photos (at least the ones that readily come to mind) are ones derived from the technical aspects to the two media:

A photo is taken through a lens which generally will evidence converging verticals (unless corrected), precise geometry, and limited depth of field.  The painter on the other hand sees the scene by letting his or her eye wander over the scene and then paints a composite of what the eye has seen in each area of the scene.  Often the perspective is different from a photo and depth of field will reflect the painter's notion of what elements in the scene are important rather than the precise differentiation of focus that we see with a lens.  To my eye, at least, paintings that have been made by "copying" a photo have a distinctive, non-painterly, look.

In photography, the tradition (derived I think from the characteristics of film) is to emphasize the subtle transitions in tone of the shadow and highlight areas and to regard areas of pure white (blown highlights) and pure black (blocked up) as defects.  Oil painting is more accepting of areas using black and white pigments.  Subtle transitions in tone are more difficult to achieve.

Typically, a painter will work with a limited palette of colors (as few as six up to a few dozen) in contrast to the millions of colors available in photography.  To achieve other colors, the painter will mix colors.  The result is that a painting is more likely than a photo to have a characteristic color cast reflecting the limited palette (and the painter's mixing habits) and to exhibit something like posterization since all the area painted with one stroke of the brush or knife will have essentially the same color.

In painting, at least in some styles, it is acceptable to have hard edges that have something of an outline character.

Painters necessarily often try to limit fine detail and instead just suggest it.  (Good photographers also often try to simplify their shots.)

Obviously, these differences I have mentioned are tendencies rather than absolutes.  As your photos illustrate, some photos can have painterly qualities...and of course some painters have a very realistic, almost photographic style.

Question 3.  It depends on what kind of style you're trying to achieve.  Some of the things you could try would be to shoot with small apertures, or shoot with something like a pinhole, correct obvious lens distortions, use layers and other post-processing techniques to have more posterized colors, and adjust contrast for a less photo-like appearance.

I'll be interested to see what thoughts other people have.
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John DeMott
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« Reply #3 on: June 10, 2007, 06:13:16 PM »
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I'll just add a few thoughts to this:

1. I agree that there is a painterly quality to some of these shots. I see it strongest in 4, 1 and then 2, and then less so in 3 and 5. Number 4 reminds me of Friedrich in particular.

2. I think the single biggest influence on these photos having a painterly quality is the distribution of light and shadow. The ones I have identified most strongly as painterly have areas of light and shadow that seem almost 'perfect' of beyond normal (if not unbelievable). This gives the impression that your eye is being strongly drawn to differing areas of the image in the way a painter would try and draw your eye across the canvas. I also agree that the perspective and almost full DOF gives a painterly quality as well.

3. I'm not sure what you can do other than being a patient observer of the light and atmosphere when shooting.

I should also add that you should have a look at the paintings of Mary Pratt -- they are often more 'photographic' than most photographs.
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Chris_T
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« Reply #4 on: June 14, 2007, 08:01:33 AM »
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A photo is taken through a lens which generally will evidence converging verticals (unless corrected), precise geometry, and limited depth of field.  The painter on the other hand sees the scene by letting his or her eye wander over the scene and then paints a composite of what the eye has seen in each area of the scene.  Often the perspective is different from a photo and depth of field will reflect the painter's notion of what elements in the scene are important rather than the precise differentiation of focus that we see with a lens.  To my eye, at least, paintings that have been made by "copying" a photo have a distinctive, non-painterly, look.

[{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

After reading the following, I wonder if you will still believe in your last statement:

[a href=\"http://www.csmonitor.com/2001/1220/p15s2-bogn.html]http://www.csmonitor.com/2001/1220/p15s2-bogn.html[/url]

http://rii.ricoh.com/~stork/StorkOPN.pdf
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Chris_T
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« Reply #5 on: June 14, 2007, 08:13:06 AM »
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Instead of responding to the original poster's questions, I will ask a few different but related ones:

As a photographer, how do you react to a viewer describing your work as "just like a painting"? Assuming that the viewer meant it as a compliment, do you accept it as one as well?

Personally, I cringe every time I hear such words about my work. And I make it a point never to describe a photographer's work this way.

If I want to produce paintings, I would paint.
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Lisa Nikodym
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« Reply #6 on: June 14, 2007, 12:22:57 PM »
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OK, I'll respond to *your* questions...

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As a photographer, how do you react to a viewer describing your work as "just like a painting"? Assuming that the viewer meant it as a compliment, do you accept it as one as well?

It depends on whether I was trying for a painterly effect (or, far more often, whether I had noticed the serendipitous painterly effect).  If that's what I was trying for because I thought it made for a more interesting and/or atmospheric image, then I'm happy it worked for someone else too.  If I hadn't been, then I look at the image in a new light and see if I can learn from their comment.  Either way, I don't mind a bit.  YMMV.

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If I want to produce paintings, I would paint.

Hey, lucky you!  I can't.  Something between the brain and hand just doesn't work as well as they do for some people.  I'm stuck doing it with a camera.  Not to mention, I'd crank out a *lot* fewer images on a trip if I were setting up an easel and stopping for several hours every time I wanted to create one.  Did you really mean exactly what you said?

Lisa
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jdemott
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« Reply #7 on: June 14, 2007, 03:31:35 PM »
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Chris,
I was well aware of Hockney's ideas, which have been widely reported, before I wrote that post.  I am also familiar with Hockney's photographic collages which may be an approximation of the way the brain creates a composite of smaller images.  As I said, painters all have different styles, some of which are very realistic or photographic.  There are many characteristics that might influence whether we feel that an image is either painterly or photographic--the optical perspective is only one.
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John DeMott
Lisa Nikodym
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« Reply #8 on: June 14, 2007, 11:03:15 PM »
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Upon reflection, the most important thing I've learned from the comments here is that the photos look painterly in *different* ways.  Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that something about the light and surface textures make them look not quite like photos; however, each does so in a completely different way, sometimes reminiscent of different styles of painting.  Whatever the "magic" is, I never noticed it through the viewfinder; it only became apparent in the post-processing.  It sounds like, barring further enlightenment, I will be unable to recreate the effects at will (and they are different effects for the different photos).

Thanks for your comments.

Lisa
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Ray
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« Reply #9 on: June 15, 2007, 03:46:35 AM »
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It sounds like, barring further enlightenment, I will be unable to recreate the effects at will (and they are different effects for the different photos).
[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=122917\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

I first came across David Hockney's ideas about Renaissance masters making full use of mirrors and lenses to add verisimilitude to their paintings, a few years ago on a TV program.

I found his ideas and evidence for them very convincing. In those days there was not the dichotomy and schism between the arts and the sciences that exist today.

Why would you not use lenses and mirrors to help create a more realistic effect, if the technology was new, cutting edge and available?

But in answer to Lisa's question, I'm afraid I'm going to be practical and boring. Photographs sometimes remind us of paintings for the same reason that paintings sometimes remind us of photographs. In short, one takes on to some degree the characteristics of the other.

It doesn't have to be like the other in all respects. There just has to be something about it which is unphotographic (in the case of the photograph looking like a painting) or 'photographic' (in the case of the painting looking like a photo).

Generally, any painting that pays special attention to accurate perspective, fine detail and realistic proportions and color, will be considered photographic.

Any photograph that blurs or distorts definition, exaggerates color and 'looks' a bit of a mess   , will generally take on a painterly effect.

Here's an example of my own, hanging on my wall at home, which some visitors have automatically commented, 'How like a painting.'

I presume they mean that the drifting mist is more redolent of a painting than a photograph, yet the surrounding bushes and trees are quite photographic.

[attachment=2641:attachment]

By the way, this is the tallest waterfall in Australia, Wallaman Falls in Northern Queensland.
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mbridgers
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« Reply #10 on: June 15, 2007, 06:40:38 AM »
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Here's my decidedly uneducated, non-professional opinion:

The "painterly" quality to my eyes comes from an expectation of more detail than is presented, either due to light and haze or fog, or perhaps due to a limitation of the medium.  An 8x10 view camera negative would probably show a lot more detail in the landscapes in particular.  A smaller APS-sized sensor, or even 35mm film, just can't hold the level of detail my eyes expect (or would detect) in these scenes.
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Chris_T
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« Reply #11 on: June 15, 2007, 08:34:53 AM »
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My comments meant no offense, nor are they "educated". But just my personal view and reaction about photographs and paintings.

Here are some observations:

1. Each medium has its own attributes that the other cannot match.
2. There are creators of one medium striving to emphasize or make use of such attributes so that their work are distinct from the other medium.
3. There are creators of one medium attempting to emulate the other medium.

Creators_3 probably would like their work to be described as "like the other medium". But creators_2 would feel differently.

As a self educated photographer, I learn by looking at others' work and often emulating them without better reasons other than "I'm impressed", or "I can do that too".  Recently, I spend more time reading books on photography critiques, and begin to learn more about its attributes. It leads to viewing photographs differently from paintings.
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Dale_Cotton
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« Reply #12 on: June 15, 2007, 08:48:17 AM »
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Lisa/nniko wrote:

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Hey, lucky you! I can't. Something between the brain and hand just doesn't work as well as they do for some people. I'm stuck doing it with a camera.
Whether or not Chris does, I do happen to have the option of either painting (as I did for many years) or doing "straight" photography or doing Photoshop-edited photography. Painters have quite a few options too, and if a painter opts to work in a representational style she has the option of projecting a slide onto the canvas, sketching the outlines, then using the slide as a colour reference.

Quote
Not to mention, I'd crank out a *lot* fewer images on a trip if I were setting up an easel and stopping for several hours every time I wanted to create one.
Of course your emphasizing the number of images per unit of time is facetious, but from the painter's point of view there is none the less a very real issue involved. Part of the reason you take a picture of a certain place is the congruence of lighting, weather, and perhaps transient subject matter at that location and at that moment. We know as photographers that we are all too often in a race against the motion of a cloud or the setting or rising of the sun, etc. to set up and get in one or more shots. Imagine, then, how that is for a painter. If the magic that caught your eye depends on a passing cloud, a painter can often hardly sketch in a few lines before the scene has radically changed. Painting is in its natural element when exploring an inner landscape of the imagination; to the degree that the painter wants to record an outer landscape she is swimming against the current. For the photographer it's pretty much the reverse.

My point is that whether a person is "lucky" to be able to paint or not has more to do with whether that person is targeting inner or outer landscapes than most people probably realize. Yes I could do painting instead of photography, but I choose to do photography instead. There was certainly a tactile satisfaction in the manual task of pushing a pencil or paintbrush, but after enough years I had my full measure of that. When I contemplate going back to painting now, I don't even bother to make the trip to an art supply shop to pick up materials. I know I would find the lag time between visualizing a picture and realizing it in paint to be too much an irritant.

In spite the hoighty-toighty of painters and gallery owners the ball is by no means entirely in their court.
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Lisa Nikodym
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« Reply #13 on: June 15, 2007, 10:00:09 AM »
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Busy night on this thread!

Chris:

Quote
My comments meant no offense, nor are they "educated". But just my personal view and reaction about photographs and paintings.

Here are some observations:

1. Each medium has its own attributes that the other cannot match.
2. There are creators of one medium striving to emphasize or make use of such attributes so that their work are distinct from the other medium.
3. There are creators of one medium attempting to emulate the other medium.

Thanks very much for elaborating.  In my case, I believe I'm mainly in category 2, but now & then I'm tempted by category 3 for particular images that I believe would be made more interesting by it (which is what prompted this thread to begin with).  Unlike most established photographers, I don't have a "personal style"; I prefer to be constantly experimenting with various different styles (and I don't mean emulating other photographers, I mean trying for different effects in my own photography).  I don't sell my photos, so I have no need to cater to the market, only to my own entertainment.

Ray:
Quote
It doesn't have to be like the other in all respects. There just has to be something about it which is unphotographic (in the case of the photograph looking like a painting) or 'photographic' (in the case of the painting looking like a photo).

Generally, any painting that pays special attention to accurate perspective, fine detail and realistic proportions and color, will be considered photographic.

Any photograph that blurs or distorts definition, exaggerates color and 'looks' a bit of a mess  , will generally take on a painterly effect.

Right on.  I think this is the best summary of an answer to the original question so far, though I would replace the "and" in your last sentence with "or".

BTW, I love your waterfall photo.  Gorgeous!  (Though in the small web image, I don't particularly see the painterly effect.  However, it may come through in a large print; my image #3 does that too, I realized after I included it here.  The surface texture on the farther buildings looks "smeared", with less detail than expected.)

Dale:
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We know as photographers that we are all too often in a race against the motion of a cloud or the setting or rising of the sun, etc. to set up and get in one or more shots. Imagine, then, how that is for a painter. If the magic that caught your eye depends on a passing cloud, a painter can often hardly sketch in a few lines before the scene has radically changed. Painting is in its natural element when exploring an inner landscape of the imagination; to the degree that the painter wants to record an outer landscape she is swimming against the current. For the photographer it's pretty much the reverse.

Interesting observations from the standpoint of a painter.  I would think, though, that even if the moment is fleeting, the painter would still have the scene in his/her mind's eye (perhaps even with some optional improvements), so that it could be reproduced at leisure, a luxury that photographers don't have.  Or doesn't it work well that way in practice?  Or is that what you're sort of implying later in the paragraph?  It wasn't clear to me.

Quote
Painters have quite a few options too, and if a painter opts to work in a representational style she has the option of projecting a slide onto the canvas, sketching the outlines, then using the slide as a colour reference.

I have to laugh.  That's exactly what I did in high school art class, since, as previously mentioned, I can't draw (though I did take great artistic liberty with the colors).  Thank goodness for technology!

Lisa
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blansky
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« Reply #14 on: June 15, 2007, 01:47:33 PM »
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I guess my simple definition would be when a "common" scene has a slightly surreal impression to it.

A lot of photographs often have a "postcard" look to them. Some of yours have a painterly look because of the lack of "snap" to them or sometimes overly "snappy" in the case of the mountains.

Usually this is achieved by the light in which you shoot in.


Michael
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Ray
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« Reply #15 on: June 16, 2007, 10:34:58 PM »
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Ray:
Right on.  I think this is the best summary of an answer to the original question so far, though I would replace the "and" in your last sentence with "or".

BTW, I love your waterfall photo.  Gorgeous!  (Though in the small web image, I don't particularly see the painterly effect.  However, it may come through in a large print; my image #3 does that too, I realized after I included it here.  The surface texture on the farther buildings looks "smeared", with less detail than expected.)
[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=122987\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

Well! Thank you Lisa for praising my attempt at art. Your photos are also impressive. I remember well my time in Florence. That bridge is much photographed. However, when I was there I never came across interesting lighting. When I visited the Ufizi, I was frustrated I was not allowed to take photos, but I managed to captured that bridge from a high-up window. (I wish my file organisation was such that I could find that photo almost instantly, but alas it's not).

One point about artistic styles; we've got them on tap in Photoshop, but not much seems to be made of them. I rarely use them myself. There's something rather unsatisfying about them which is difficult to pinpoint, but I would suggest it's their uniformity. Perhaps we need an introduction of randomness.

However, I did use them once to great effect (so I thought in my vanity). I'd paid to photograph a couple of models, nude females. I was using my Canon 20D with 50/1.8 lens (effectively 80mm on 35mm format and ideal for portraiture).

However, someone had placed a greasy thumbprint on my lens just prior to the shoot. Was it one of the models who had been eating a packet of greasy potato chips? Who knows? It's water under the bridge. But the effect was a definite blurring of part of the image. The model on the left would be clear and sharp but the model on the right would be blurred, and similar effects on all the images.

I considered the shoot a write-off, and of course kicked myself for not checking the lens before shooting. Was it possible to redeem them? I tried the 'artistic' styles in PS and found a formula that I though was a definite improvement. When I later showed the prints to the models, they were also enthralled. I got the impression there was something here more interesting than a mere photograph.

Of course, I can't show such photos on LL. The morality police would be up in arms and threads would be closed left, right and centre.
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Rob C
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« Reply #16 on: August 05, 2007, 12:09:32 PM »
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Ray, ever the tease! Donīt you think the morality police have already given up on this site?

Paying models. That is not as simple as it sounds. I have earned much of my living working with les girls and there is a hell of a psychological difference between paying for them with a clientīs money as paying through oneīs own nose. I find that the creative freedom that Mr Client buys one opens the mind to all manner of directions; paying on oneīs own account seems to stifle the ability to think out of the box, as the expression used to be. There is awful pressure to play safe and not blow the dosh. So not a lot new or exciting happens. So one does blow the dosh.

And that is the value of a muse.

The trouble is, when one is far from oneīs male peak (whatever level that reached) the ability to charm such a creature into sharing the experience - of being the muse - is exponentially lowered as the years roll past.

I can quite appreciate the lure of working with non-human materials! But I donīt much want to.

Ciao - Rob C
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Ray
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« Reply #17 on: August 05, 2007, 09:23:17 PM »
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Ray, ever the tease! Donīt you think the morality police have already given up on this site?
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Rob,
The other reason I wouldn't show such photos is that, that was part of the agreement. There has to be some trust somewhere. The digital camera has created a certain degree of privacy in the sense that a bunch of guys in the processing lab is not going to set eyes on the photos, as would often be the case in the days of film if you didn't have your own wet darkroom.

However, the ubiquitous presence of the internet has created a new danger to such privacy.
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Rob C
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« Reply #18 on: August 13, 2007, 03:25:53 PM »
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Rob,
The other reason I wouldn't show such photos is that, that was part of the agreement. There has to be some trust somewhere. The digital camera has created a certain degree of privacy in the sense that a bunch of guys in the processing lab is not going to set eyes on the photos, as would often be the case in the days of film if you didn't have your own wet darkroom.

However, the ubiquitous presence of the internet has created a new danger to such privacy.
[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=131685\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

Security. Yes indeed! I would never have trusted the local labs here in Spain with my transparencies of models and never felt the need to because they couldnīt process Kodachrome, naturally enough.

On the other hand, I feel you were a bit short-changed if you both paid and agreed not to show the results. Of course, you must have had your own ideas at the time, but, with that old hindsight thing, it never pays (the photographer) to agree to anything but total rights!

Ciao - Rob C
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pixelpro
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« Reply #19 on: August 15, 2007, 03:24:38 PM »
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This is only my opinion.......no arrows please!

Image one :   The sky in this one reminds me of early 16thC Dutch paintings. We have all seen them in picture form and in galleries. Even if this is something you don't specifically remember its in your subconcious.

Image two  :   This image reminds me of the Impressionists. Blurred imagery and it has to do with the colour palette of this image.

Image three, four and five   : For me this is not painterly at all but rather "Chocolate Box" the sort of scene they used on biscuit tins, boxes of chocolates, postcards etc. These sorts of images are also stored from early childhood and often remain faviourites by association to good times.

I make photographs that have a painterly quality and in order to do this I refer back to painters Edward Hopper, and the painters who inspired him all the way back to Rembrandt, Caravaggio, Vermeer. I note their lighting sources and methods, and other ways they worked then put my own spin and interpretaion on it. When I print something done this way I use Hahnemuhle Photo Rags
which give the prints a painterly quality. Digital manipulation can be used in the mix as well. Sorry I don't  show my work on internet but many of the photographers doing similar work are in galleries. Look at Craigie Horsfield, the UK based photographic artist. You may recognise the one directional lighting and the moods created from some of the artists above. Jennifer
link http://www.frithstreetgallery.com/horsfield_3.html
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