Side-By-Side Comparisons of Different Photos: Black Hole or Super Sophisticated?
December 28, 2010
In this extended series of side-by-side photo comparisons, we have discussed the white and the graduated background. The black background is the polar opposite of the white background. Just to clarify here, I am referring to the digital #000000 black, or total black. It has many of the same problems as white, few benefits, and is even more problematic for capturing a great image of art and craft.
Some makers regularly photograph their work on a solid black background holding the opinion that the black background highlights light-colored or silver work.
Chicken Ring ©2009 Andy Cooperman
This photo is not a solid black back-
ground, but uses the reflection to
give the work a foundation.
Photo Credit: Andy Cooperman
On solid black backgrounds, the work may be lost, or fade into the background. The dark edge of the work becomes hard to see, if not impossible. Capturing the edge with precise lighting is essential. Another problem, especially if the work is silver, is that the reflections in the work are dark or black. Thus the photo ends up extremely dark overall.
This issue is more acute on the Internet where the images are often smaller and with less information. The dark or black background all too often loses the nuance of the printed images and becomes a dark hole. The artwork ends up looking like it is being sucked into the background.
Black and White Identity Necklace
© 2006 Harriete Estel Berman
Post Consumer recycled tin cans,
vintage plastic, polymer, electrical cord,
Photo Credit: Philip Cohen
If you want a dark background, two options may help. The graduated dark background. or black with reflections/shadows under the work (left images). With proper lighting, you can still get light on the work with shadows/reflections to give a solid footing to the work. Assuming the work is properly lit, the image will look much better.
Side-By-Side Comparison (cropped for exact comparison of two photos.) NOTE: I noticed in Photoshop that the right photo with reflection is a little lighter/brighter in some areas, yet, the handle is a little too dark. This is the way I received it from the artist so I didn't change this exposure. (The post continues below...)
The black to very dark background is sometimes considered neutral, arty, or sophisticated. The Museum of Art and Design has a large portion of its collection photographed on a black background (as in the image to the left). At the time of writing this post, the website itself had a black background that the images were placed on. The edge of the black background photo disappeared into the background of the site. Unfortunately, it made the entire site seem rather dark and dreary. They have since updated their site and now have a white background which is a much better look.
Some of the work on the Museum of Art and Design website is photographed on a solid dark gray background. This isn't much of an improvement. I know because of an image of my bracelet (above right). For some reason, the photograph of the work is dark and muddy.
I created all the images above in Photoshop transitioning the background from solid black #000000 to solid white #FFFFFF. While the center photo is not the traditional graduated background, it is considerably softer in appearance than either absolute white or black.
Any opinions about your preference?
What do you think? Do you have a comment or insight to add to this discussion? If you don't agree with me, please share with me your SOLID BLACK background images along with a comparable shot in a graduated or lighter background. I'd love to compare the images side by side.
Additional discussion about the black background can be heard in a lecture by three photographers during the 2011 SNAG Professional Development Seminar titled "Photography in Flux". Scroll down for the lecture Photography in Flux (Photographers Opinions).
The next post is about colored backgrounds.
Previous posts in the series Side By Side Comparisons of Different Photos:
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...
As we reflect on the past, present, and future of craft, I recommend the book Makers: A History of American Studio Craft. This is practically required reading if you're wondering what is the current direction and the economic picture of craft. In particular, the comments about the economy of craft over the past 150 years are insightful. This tome is not easy reading....nor something to balance on the treadmill. Carrying the book is more like a weightlifting activity, so pace yourself for months of interesting insight.
This link to the book Makers: A History of American Studio Craft is an affiliate link. Purchasing this book may provide this blog with a few pennies.
This post was updated on January 26, 2022.