The accessibility and ubiquity of digital cameras and the Internet have both good and bad sides. The ability to pick up a phone and take a picture allows everyone to produce a photo. Work in progress can be easily documented and shared directly from the studio. A Pinterest board or Instagram can represent your work. Or does it? When does easy and instant imaging mislead makers into thinking that they have done all they need to do?
I've been thinking about this a lot recently. Every phone brand brags about more and more pixels -- Is that all there is?
In April, 2017, opportunities from CNN and KQED required quick access to images of work in progress that could only come from my phone's digital camera. A few weeks ago, I had a chance to compare photos side-by-side from my phone and from my professional photographer, Philip Cohen.
Above and below are a couple of examples with my phone image on left and Philip's image on the right.
O.K., passable on the left, but better on the right. Then a further hurdle of photographing "Fabricating TRUTH" Fruit Crate with the three bracelets -- an impossible shot with a small digital camera or phone. Lighting, the background, and an extended depth of field with the precise focus all become critical factors that an amateur quality, consumer phone camera can not "auto focus".
I am convinced that professional quality photos are essential, but what is your opinion?
If the quality and range of digital capabilities are discernable, what are the consequences to your art or craft future when photos are good enough .... or are they?
Dave Yoas recently invested in professional quality photography for his artwork. He realized that he had been tolerating "good enough" and wanted to improve his images. In the following photos, Dave agreed to share his D.I.Y. photos (left) compared to the photo magic of professional photographer Philip Cohen (right).
Dave Yoas told me that he was using a digital camera with a tripod to take his own photos. Those are good steps. But you may not be conscious of the D.I.Y. quality without seeing the comparison. Notice how the colors seem so much more vibrant in the professional photos. And the whites are whiter.
In the side by side examples above, I formatted the image comparison so that the objects were close to the same size, but the comparison between the D.I.Y. of Dave Yoas and a professional photo goes further. In the next side by side comparison, note how the object is framed within the photograph. The photo by Dave Yoas fills the frame of the photo close to the edge. In contrast in the photo by Philip Cohen (right) there is more breathing room around the object rather than crowded to the edge.
This extra margin of space surrounding the object is very practical for posting on social networks where cropping may be outside of your control. The extra margin of space within the frame is also visually more comfortable. In the photo below you will see what happens in the example photo (left) when the frame of the image feels as if it is cutting off part of the object. Cropping the object too close to the edge of the photo feels crowded and cheap, kind of like a crowded exhibition where the work doesn't have room to feel important.
Again, the colors in the professional quality photography are much more vibrant.
Close-ups can also be a critical component to sharing your work online or in a juried opportunity. It gives the viewer more information about the texture, materials or techniques. Dave Yoas told me that he thought the details by Philip Cohen were images that he was incapable of capturing on his own.
There are many tricks available to the professional photographer. Highlights from a shiny or reflective surface can be fixed in Photoshop by the professional.
In the photo below, Philip Cohen photographed each object with the same lighting, and then assembled the triptych in PhotoShop. This avoids that difficulty of finding one large wall big enough for displaying all three artworks at the same time. The lighting can be consistent and even over all three artworks avoiding highlights and dark corners when photographing a large wall.
I am convinced that professional quality photos are essential for anyone who is truly serious about their art or craft. The ease and convenience of your digital camera or cell phone are amazing, but they are not a substitute for professional quality images. The consequences of sub-quality photography may be costing you more than a professional photographer.
I asked Dave Yoas why he decided to spend (no, I mean, invest) in professional quality photography?
"To tell you the truth, I have spent “many” hours trying to capture the “essence" of my work. All the books and tutorials, all the equipment, light diffusers, and hours lost were not worth it. Philip's work is a good investment." After buying the equipment and spending the better part of a day in photography, the resulting images were still "not representing my work."
Yoas also mentioned that it has become increasingly rare to walk into galleries these days to show our work. "Everything is electronic." The photographic images represent our work.
What are your thoughts about professional photography?
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This post was updated on December 13th, 2021.