Over the last few weeks we have discussed art and craft photography and some of the tried and tested variables. The current arguments consider the impact of the "standard" graduated background or going for a bolder statement in the photograph with non-standard backgrounds.
Today's post discusses backgrounds with texture or pattern. To avoid offending any particular artist or maker by selecting their photo for critique, I searched for example images of colored backgrounds with texture and pattern in high-end magazines.
This purple background with a contrasting reflection of "leatherette texture" came from a recent Departures magazine. Obviously, the photographer and jewelry manufacturer thought this was a great photo that effectively showcases the pendant.
The photo is excellent. The pendant is properly exposed without strong highlights to wash out the color. There is just a hint of glimmer to let you know the enamel and metal are shiny and smooth. A little darkness below the pendant gives it a strong foundation. It does not float but clearly lays on the fabric.
Now consider the purple-colored background with a textured appearance. This textured background is no different than using felt, wrinkled fabric, stones, leaves, or wood. The background is something the photographer chooses carefully to complement the pendant. But will the viewing audience like or dislike it?
The background material certainly adds a significant element to the photo. The viewer is driven to consider the background in addition to the work. Is it a distraction? Is this a fabulous photo, or too much personality detracting from the work? When your photos include a patterned or textured background, will people judge your background before the work when they have 2 seconds to look at the image?
The next photo uses a brilliant red background with a thematic element that echos the diamond pendant. In this case, it is a Cartier flower pendant with similar flowers in the red background. The general parallel would be photo backgrounds consisting of water scenes, moss, stones, grainy wood, or leaves -- any background that adds information. Is this added information an enhancement or a distraction? You may like it, others may not. Regardless, the background is now part of the like or dislike assessment.
A thematic background may be well done, but is it appropriate to art and craft photography. Step back and ask yourself: Is the background essential to the presentation of the work AND TO AUDIENCE? What is this photo going to look like during a juried review or on a website with 20 other photos?
Examine the red photo more carefully. One may wonder what an expensive diamond pendant has to do with tropical orchids besides the form. As a marketing device, perhaps it is trying to sell a lifestyle in which the work is promoted as a signature accessory. Or like car commercials that show us the lifestyle of "wind in the hair" or driving fast like a "professional driver on a closed course." "Do not attempt at home." Maybe the lifestyle sells better than the work. The addition of the word and brand name Cartier to the photo is a "marketing device" that I think artists and makers should avoid.
Artists and makers have been trying all varieties of colors, patterns, and textures to add warmth, style, or other desirable dimensions to their photos. In whatever form, it adds information to the photo. Is it a distraction? What message does the background say about the work? Does the background help sell the work? Will your background be judged instead of the work? Does a background pigeonhole your work into a specific context? Is that where you want to be?
Previous posts in the series Side-By-Side Comparisons of Different Photos:
More posts in the series are coming...
This post was updated on January 26, 2022, to provide current links.