Side-By-Side Photos - The Graduated Background: Stunning or Stupefying?
December 23, 2010
The graduated background has been around for quite a while as a standard professional quality photograph for three-dimensional work (over the past 30 years). At one time, the graduated background was the demarcation of the professional photographer since the appearance was only possible through careful lighting. This is no longer the case as paper printed with a graduated appearance has made the graduated background within the grasp of less experienced photographers.
The graduated background can be light to dark or rotated, dark to light. With careful lighting of the artwork, it is relatively easy to create a light shadow so that the work is firmly grounded. With careful placement on a graduated background, the work stands out from the background, avoiding the problems of totally white or black backgrounds (where the work sometimes dissolves into the background). The graduated background can be manipulated effectively to give 3-dimensional work a solid foundation highlighting the work.
At this point, the graduated light to dark background has become an industry standard for art/craft photography. Looking through recently published books and magazines reveals graduated backgrounds in all its variations, page after page. This can be both good and bad.
The good side is that the graduated background is considered neutral, easily assigned to the background, and ignored adding little or no commentary to the artwork. We have become accustomed to its appearance and for this reason, it is perceived as "neutral."
The opposite point of view is that the graduated gray background may be considered boring, old-school, or even out of date by some groups. This seems to be especially true for the D.I.Y. community that appears to prefer projecting a new identity outside of the mainstream. Rejecting the orthodox or standard graduated background for colored or eclectic backgrounds is an attempt to give photographs energy and pizazz.
Scan from the book Manufractured
(Clockwise from top left) Kathryn Spence
Paper Towels 2003; Sonya Clark
Twenty-One 1998; Laura Splan Prozac,
Thorazine, Zoloft 2003; William Sistek
Bubbleware #1 2007
Groups of photographs with graduated backgrounds are another issue. Good or bad, the delineated square or rectangle of the photos creates a grid of images (see image to the right). If the backgrounds are not identical, the grid appearance may look mismatched.
Page from recent American Craft
Magazine, Page 060 Dec/Jan 11
Images of clay and fiber work by
Photo Credit: Douglas Kirkland
Page 99 from the book Manufractured
All images cut out from the graduated
background of their photos by the graphic
designer Gregory Hom of fishbowl design.
Artist: Harriete Estel Berman
Photo Credit: Philip Cohen
The graduated background also looks much better when all images have a similar background. In the image to the left, the works look like a cohesive body of work by one artist. A definite plus! You don't want the background of your photos to compete with the artwork or look like a Crayon box of colors.
A downside to the graduated background is that much more editing skill and time may be required to remove the background from the photo to isolate just the object on the page (right.)
An important factor that may dictate the use of a graduated background for photos is the background color of your website. I've noticed that graduated backgrounds look better on websites with darker colored backgrounds. The photo backgrounds appear to complement the style of the page.
We still have more to discuss about photographic backgrounds. What about the black background favored by many? Does it make your work "pop", or is it a black hole that sucks in the light? The issues about photographic backgrounds are varied and complex. But I hope to raise awareness of what works well and what detracts from your artwork.
Stay tuned for the next post.
Previous posts in the series Side-By-Side Comparisons of Different Photos:
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...
Example photos in the series Side-By-Side Comparisons of Different Photos are repeated below for easy reference.
Image 1 a. Image1 b.
The brooch in the above photos is “Sleeper Cell” © 2009 Andy Cooperman. Burlwood, sterling, gold leaf, stain. The left photo is by Doug Yaple. The right photo is by Steven Brian Samuels.
Image 2 a. Image 2 b.
The brooch in the above photos is “Potter” ©2009 Andy Cooperman. Burlwood, sterling, 18k, stain. The left photo is by Doug Yaple. The right photo is by Steven Brian Samuels.
Image 3 a. Image 3 b.
Pendant in the above photos: Black Heart ©2009 Jennifer Hall Sterling silver, silk ribbon. Both photos by Doug Yaple.
Image 4 a. Image 4 b.
Ring (above) ©2009 Andy Cooperman. Sterling, gold, copper, copal amber. Both photos by Doug Yaple.
Image 5 a. Image 5 b.
Necklace in above photos by Marcia Meyers.©2009 "Homage to Sliced Green Pepper", reticulated silver, sterling, and coral. Both photos by Doug Yaple.
Octagonal Bracelet ©2009 by Harriete Estel Berman (left image) Photo Credit: Philip Cohen.
Oreo "Unlock the Magic" © 2009 by Harriete Estel Berman (right image) Photo Credit: Steven Brian Samuels.
Image 7 a. Image 7 b.
Orbit Black and White Identity Necklace #2 (left image) by Harriete Estel Berman
Photo Credit: Steven Brian Samuels.
Orbit Black and White Identity Necklace #1 (right image)by Harriete Estel Berman
Photo Credit: Philip Cohen.
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.
PHOTOGRAPHER'S CONTACT INFORMATION IS LISTED BELOW.
Philip Cohen, Photographer
Steven Brian Samuels, Artist/photographer
Doug Yaple Photographer
This post was updated on February 5, 2022, to provide current links.