Side-By-Side Photo Comparisons: Colorful or Discordant?
December 30, 2010
Some comments during this series of "Side-By-Side Comparisons of Different Photos" prompted me to add comparisons of photos with colored backgrounds.
The use of colored backgrounds in photography of art or craft is not simply a "black and white" issue. There are too many considerations.
For this post, I will only use photos of my work to illustrate solid colored backgrounds (so no one else feels like a guinea pig in this public critique). Feel free to respond however you want about my examples.
[Note: A couple of future posts will discuss backgrounds with texture or other extra content. Stay tuned.]
The photos immediately below are from a pre-digital era. Yes, the left photo was actually photographed on a yellow background paper at my request by my photographer Philip Cohen. The photos were taken in 1990 -- before digital manipulation could easily replace the background with a different color.
Image 8a. Image 8b.
Patchwork Quilt, Small Pieces of Time ©1989 by Harriete Estel Berman (left and right images) Photo Credit for both images: Philip Cohen.
Patchwork Quilt, Small Pieces of Time
©1989 by Harriete Estel Berman
vintage steel dollhouses
1990 Cover photo for Metalsmith
Photo Credit: Philip Cohen.
The yellow background photograph was used for the cover of a summer issue of Metalsmith Magazine in the early 1990s. It was my idea to photograph on yellow and a very scary idea. A bright yellow background breaks completely with the established standard of gray-to-graduated backgrounds, then and now. I used the yellow background that one time and have never used it again in 20 years.
At the same time, I had the same sculpture photographed on a more standard gray background. Thank goodness! The gray photo has been used over and over in many shows, books, and magazines.
I felt then and still feel that the yellow background really makes the work POP! But let's get really honest! -- the vast majority of the art and craft community do not view work on bright yellow backgrounds as serious work. The general consensus seems to be that a brightly colored background is perceived as decorative, overly dramatic, or superficial. Or, am I mistaken? What do you think?
A key consideration is your audience. The yellow cover of a summer issue of a magazine might work one time, but it definitely doesn't fit my audience every time. A stimulating image to one group may be too much for another group.
Here is another example of colored backgrounds. The same necklace is in every photo. The background is not Photoshopped, each is an original photo.
Black and White Identity Bead Necklace © 2006
Photo Credit: Philip Cohen.
This comparison is striking. The necklace and the reflection are eye-catching. Every photo is lit perfectly. If you could submit one photo of this necklace, which photo would you use? What happens when your career depends on the decision?
Here is my appraisal of each photo.
The subdued gray of this photo is well within a standard photographic background and a fabulous photo, but lacking the drama of the black and colored options. Do you think this is as good a photo as the black background or blue?
I've never used the graduated light gray background because I thought it was boring. Indeed, one of the previous comments suggested that white, gray, or graduated black backgrounds are boring.
The turquoise blue background is a really dramatic image. The blue is a contrasting color to the orange spacer beads. The combination of the necklace, reflection, and striking background makes the entire image very attractive.
I've submitted the brilliant blue background photo to several books and shows but it has never been accepted. The blue background seems to break too many unofficial rules.
The only photo that has been accepted by either a publisher, Internet article, or show has been the necklace on the black background.
This photo seems to capture a high level of drama within the image yet focuses attention on the work.
The goal of your photograph is to have the viewer focus on your art or craftwork, not on the image itself. Which background enhances the viewer's perception of the work without stealing the spotlight? Does the background become overly dramatic? Is there a prejudice against colorful backgrounds as not serious enough?
How do you interpret the issues presented here?
Previous posts in the series Side-By-Side Comparisons of Different Photos:
Side-By-Side Comparisons of Different Photos: Black Hole or Super Sophisticated?
Side-By-Side comparisons of different photos - the graduated background. Stunning or stupefying?
Side-By-Side Comparisons of Different Photos - the white background. Trendy or Technique?
Are You Being Judged by the Style of Your Images?
The photographers are revealed!
More posts in the series are coming...
The book images and links are from Amazon as affiliate links.
The world of photography is changing rapidly. Is your photography up to date? Is it an effective tool?
• Are you being judged by the style of your images?
• How much post-production is acceptable and who should do the work?
• Current trends in background and composition.
• The model or the pedestal?
• and much more……
These issues were discussed at the Professional Development Seminar titled, Photography in Flux.
This post was updated on January 26, 2022, to provide current links.