Subtlety

sbm

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I like contrast.

My instinct when processing photos is to see how strong of an adjustment works for a particular shot — whether it's adding local contrast in HDR, vast amounts of vibrance, or crushing the clarity. Pushing the sliders to their limits lets me know what I have to work with and reeling it back in is kind of like tuning a guitar string or drum head (it's best to start below the intended pitch, then raise it until it's in tune) so that I'm able to see where I want to land on the spectrum. My aesthetic preference for contrast mean that I often prefer the extremes of an adjustment — tone, color, or otherwise — even though it may make a photo feel unnatural in a way that might be displeasing, and so I won't necessarily use those outlying results. That's simply part of my post-processing process; however, this desire to pull out elements of contrast is also part of how I see things through the lens when shooting.

My eye is drawn to the edges of shadows, colorful objects that pop off their background — things that don't seem difficult to spot, truthfully. More recently though, I find myself noticing the small glint of light seeping through a window, the soft shift of certain hues, or a faint reflection in a puddle. Since I've not spent as much time capturing these types of photos, I find it challenging to translate what I see to a recorded image. I know there are technical things (exposure compensations, angles, etc.) that can help me with this, but I also think a shift in my ability to visualize these more nuanced aspects of light and color is at least as important. This is true during the capturing of an image as well as the approach to its editing after the fact. Keeping subtlety intact in a successfully scene captured requires to fighting my first instinct to enhance details in a way that, for example, destroys the beauty of sunlight being diffused through leaves.

So, I want to keep seeking out opportunities that let my try what are (for now) more challenging shots and hopefully learn which methods best suit me and my equipment. Much how I try to challenge myself with new rhythms and patterns on drums to make my playing more rich and textured, I think grasping ever more subtle ways of using a camera could enhance the surrounding skills I’ve developed, am devoloping, and will develop. If so, maybe some new depth can be infused into my images, however that presents; if not, hopefully I’ll have fun trying!

I would like to know:

How have similar kinds of growth influenced your process — seeing, shooting, processing, printing, or otherwise? In what ways do you still want to push yourself? What do you admire in others’ images that you’d like to try incorporating into your own?
 

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Andrewmap

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I like contrast.

My instinct when processing photos is to see how strong of an adjustment works for a particular shot — whether it's adding local contrast in HDR, vast amounts of vibrance, or crushing the clarity. Pushing the sliders to their limits lets me know what I have to work with and reeling it back in is kind of like tuning a guitar string or drum head
(it's best to start below the intended pitch, then raise it until it's in tune) so that I'm able to see where I want to land on the spectrum. My aesthetic preference for contrast mean that I often prefer the extremes of an adjustment — tone, color, or otherwise — even though it may make a photo feel unnatural in a way that might be displeasing, and so I won't necessarily use those outlying results. That's simply part of my post-processing process; however, this desire to pull out elements of contrast is also part of how I see things through the lens when shooting.

My eye is drawn to the edges of shadows, colorful objects that pop off their background — things that don't seem difficult to spot, truthfully. More recently though, I find myself noticing the small glint of light seeping through a window, the soft shift of certain hues, or a faint reflection in a puddle. Since I've not spent as much time capturing these types of photos, I find it challenging to translate what I see to a recorded image. I know there are technical things (exposure compensations, angles, etc.) that can help me with this, but I also think a shift in my ability to visualize these more nuanced aspects of light and color is at least as important. This is true during the capturing of an image as well as the approach to its editing after the fact. Keeping subtlety intact in a successfully scene captured requires to fighting my first instinct to enhance details in a way that, for example, destroys the beauty of sunlight being diffused through leaves.

So, I want to keep seeking out opportunities that let my try what are (for now) more challenging shots and hopefully learn which methods best suit me and my equipment. Much how I try to challenge myself with new rhythms and patterns on drums to make my playing more rich and textured, I think grasping ever more subtle ways of using a camera could enhance the surrounding skills I’ve developed, am devoloping, and will develop. If so, maybe some new depth can be infused into my images, however that presents; if not, hopefully I’ll have fun trying!

I would like to know:

How have similar kinds of growth influenced your process — seeing, shooting, processing, printing, or otherwise? In what ways do you still want to push yourself? What do you admire in others’ images that you’d like to try incorporating into your own?
The image of the tree is fantastic! Envious!
 

junkyardsparkle

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That's a great initiation of discussion (if maybe a little broad in scope for my monotropic brain ;))... I'll assume it's ok to post thoughts about whichever of those aspects happen to be kicking around in one's head at the moment...

I like subtlety. I would go so far as to say that I seem to like "boring" pictures... not exclusively, of course, but I probably tend to spend more time looking at the ones with the softest initial impact. I have no idea how typical/atypical this is, but hopefully it sheds light on where I'm coming from, perceptually... and I also tend to find myself thinking in metaphors across auditory/visual perceptual domains. :D

I seem to be finding progressively more interest in subtle/complex tonal gradients that involve some geometry. In a recent case, I was a little surprised and happy to find that, after a long exposure, the scene had translated to "film" more or less as I was seeing/imagining it. I'm guessing this means that I'm getting a little better at seeing a scene as the dynamic range and patterns of light that make it up, with less projecting of "interest" (or ignoring busy, distracting fields or out-of-range light levels) that makes for images that don't work for me when viewed later. That still happens, but not as much.

On a tangential note, I've always felt like subtle use of color is somewhat under-represented (not to say absent) in many pictures I see. There are many technical and biological factors that might mean that different people are seeing the same image differently in this respect, of course. Still, it seems like there's a little bit of an inverted bell curve between "monochrome" and "super punchy color!!!", where I tend to like that middle ground. Maybe it's a legacy of film-think, where nice tonal ranges means shoot mono? <shrugs> I always did like the look of old hand-tinted photos...

This would be a recent example of an seeing an image posted here where I really enjoyed the nice gradients of tone in value and color. It almost kind of jumps out at me as not being overly contrasty or saturated. It will probably influence my thinking the next time I find myself pointing a camera at a neon sign.

I guess as far as "contrast" goes, maybe I tend to perceive it in more places than the ones that there are software sliders for... my thoughts on that aren't very coherent, but maybe it involves something like "meta-contrast" or whatever - the contrasting range of macro/micro contrast over the entire region of the image? Like a musical composition with varying textures moving in and out of the mix. It's easy to get burned out on Sousa marches, and I guess any image with too much of its space filled with high-frequency content seems like the visual equivalent of one to me, personally. It can seem as devoid of a point of interest to me as an entirely blurry image, but less pleasant in the process... so if anything, I probably tend to over-err in the other direction sometimes, but... hey, no accounting for taste, right? :whistling:

Ok, hopefully at least some of that was relavant to the intended discussion...
 

archaeopteryx

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I would go so far as to say that I seem to like "boring" pictures... not exclusively, of course, but I probably tend to spend more time looking at the ones with the softest initial impact.
Likewise. Most of what I find most satisfying among my own work does poorly if measured in terms of likes or other sorts of sound bite kind of engagement metrics. Conversely, I could select for dramatic conditions, hit the hype sliders in post, and produce images that would move those counters. But there's lots of people doing that already and producing more of the same isn't particularly something that's a priority for me. More subtle images are an opportunity to slow down but that also asks more of the viewer.

As recent example, this is some simple variations on two colors and two textures with an intentionally static composition and pulls in post which make it less dramatic. But I find there's enough with the diagonals and selective focus for it to be rewarding to look at for a while and tell a story, though it helps some if one's familiar with the species involved and their interactions. A lot of folks I suspect will find it probably not particularly accessible and therefore meh. I probably accomplished something similar converting this one to black and white. But that's how I saw the composition when wandering around with the tripod and, having been back and forth with both versions, it's my sense the viewing is more durable for not having a punchy green subject in the foreground and I'm willing to accept the tradeoff of not really having anything which immediately grabs the attention to get that.
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junkyardsparkle

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But there's lots of people doing that already and producing more of the same isn't particularly something that's a priority for me.
Well, that instigates me to go on another full moon mini-rant (remember, it's your fault) in answer to the "what do you admire in other's images" part of the question...

Obviously there's a long tail of little things too numerous to ramble on about, but there's a big thing that trumps all of them, and for lack of a better name I'll call it the "Welcome Unexpected": capturing an image of a scene or a thing, not in itself particularly noteworthy, which is pleasingly disruptive to any numbing psychological invisibility the subject may have previously embodied for the observer. This is something I admire any time I encounter any amount of it in other people's images, and it inspires me to keep trying to see it in things around me, whether I have a camera in hand or not.

The closest thing I've seen here to a topic thread for this is show Miksang - Finding Beauty in the Mundane
 

archaeopteryx

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The closest thing I've seen here to a topic thread for this is show Miksang - Finding Beauty in the Mundane
I'd agree and would say some of the good eye into slowing down and paying enough attention to pick up on subtlety, though my automatic association with contemplative photography is working with view cameras. Spending half an hour to an hour composing and devoting an entire afternoon or several days to finding the right light offers some time for that. (Without payment to the Miksang Institute, too. ;))

To go back to the OP's questions I'd say it's really about not pushing myself. I do that enough in the 100k or so images I deal with each year for my work. So a dedicated pursuit of recreational photography isn't particularly exiting. What makes it not like work the absence of pressure to produce, which lends itself to trying to find more in the everyday.
(remember, it's your fault)
Naw, not my place to carry that.

I'm unsure this qualifies as subtle but it's what happened going out to the recycling earlier today and it's plausibly less of a push than most leaf images in the genre. Maybe a bit understated in a relative sense. It's also a simple full height crop of a 4:3 SOOC jpeg to 1:1. Didn't feel it needed anything other than the bit of stillness I tend to associate with squares.
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sbm

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Excellent examples so far! So much of what's being shared resonates with me and I want to respond to a lot of it at some point, but for now I'll just point to these...
Most of what I find most satisfying among my own work does poorly if measured in terms of likes or other sorts of sound bite kind of engagement metrics. Conversely, I could select for dramatic conditions, hit the hype sliders in post, and produce images that would move those counters. But there's lots of people doing that already and producing more of the same isn't particularly something that's a priority for me. More subtle images are an opportunity to slow down but that also asks more of the viewer.
Though I don't consider the likes during the process, I know exactly what you mean about which ones drive those besotted metrics. Maybe that's partly why my eye is drawn to those things (seeing these examples so much). I know my love for clarity (as in the adjustment) and its aesthetic consequences is driven somewhat by its use by a mentor, but he's certainly capable of dialing it back and capturing softness. I don't necessarily care about being popular, but I do care about what I think is cool — I guess it's just a matter of how much that overlaps with the zeitgeist.
I guess as far as "contrast" goes, maybe I tend to perceive it in more places than the ones that there are software sliders for... my thoughts on that aren't very coherent, but maybe it involves something like "meta-contrast" or whatever - the contrasting range of macro/micro contrast over the entire region of the image? Like a musical composition with varying textures moving in and out of the mix. It's easy to get burned out on Sousa marches, and I guess any image with too much of its space filled with high-frequency content seems like the visual equivalent of one to me, personally. It can seem as devoid of a point of interest to me as an entirely blurry image, but less pleasant in the process... so if anything, I probably tend to over-err in the other direction sometimes, but... hey, no accounting for taste, right? :whistling:
I know I'm partly drawn in by your musical metaphor here, but it puts this idea in a way that translates quite well (to me), and as someone who once spent months practicing a Sousa march's snare drum part for an audition, I can tell you they can definitely get old (as awesome as they are). To me, it's probably as important to have variation in style as much as it is to achieve subtlety within that style. Something I often wonder when I come across a photographer whose galleries don't seem very diverse is whether that's something I want (through developing a recognizable voice in my shots) or if it's something I want to avoid by constantly trying new things. I suppose I'm better off worrying about the process than the results, but the cumulation of images as a whole that becomes a portfolio is difficult to dismiss.
 

junkyardsparkle

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I probably don't have enough mental energy for a decent, comprehensive reply to the discussion at this point, but there's just enough full moon left to justify a little more ranting, so...

Style... there's been a metric f-ton written on the topic, I'm just going to try to define terms a little as far as my own usage. For "clarity" (another very suspect term). I tend to think of personal style as a way of approaching things which inflects everything you do even if you wish it didn't, as opposed to something you adopt intentionally. In that sense, you can pursue all the variety you want, and it will happen within the context of that style unless you excercize a whole bunch of discipline to the contrary. The capacity for that discipline varies widely, it seems to me. I don't claim much, myself.

Generously given all of that, variety in what you try to collect through a lens can only be a good thing, right? Some of it might not work out the way you hoped, and you can weigh how important that something is to you, and decide to pursue it further, or just decide it's not your thing, or whatever... but in my way of thinking, it all happens within your style, to the extent that it happens naturally and without effort to the contrary.

I'm expending a fair amount of that effort as I type this, because my personal style doesn't always lend itself to verbal clarity. For exchanging points of view in forums of people you don't know, it seems well worth putting the effort in. OTOH, sharing images might in some ways be a cathartic antithesis to this, where you can ignore all concerns with the zeitgeist, just let it all hang out, and let the chips "likes" fall...

Anyway, we hope you enjoyed this episode of Keep Bumping the Thread Untill More People Show Up. :whistling:
 

sbm

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I tend to think of personal style as a way of approaching things which inflects everything you do even if you wish it didn't, as opposed to something you adopt intentionally. In that sense, you can pursue all the variety you want, and it will happen within the context of that style unless you excercize a whole bunch of discipline to the contrary. The capacity for that discipline varies widely, it seems to me. I don't claim much, myself.

Generously given all of that, variety in what you try to collect through a lens can only be a good thing, right? Some of it might not work out the way you hoped, and you can weigh how important that something is to you, and decide to pursue it further, or just decide it's not your thing, or whatever... but in my way of thinking, it all happens within your style, to the extent that it happens naturally and without effort to the contrary
Nailed it. :thiagree: I’ve actually written about this before. Since the blog it’s from is ded, I’ll just quote myself here. :rolleyes:
“Sam” said:
Flags on the Waldorf was not the first painting I had ever seen by Childe Hassam; however, it was the first time I had ever seen a painting and, having never seen it or any of its reproductions, knew what artist it belonged to. You see, the first time I saw a painting by Hassam in person, the first thing that struck me about it was the strokes used to create it, and how much they reminded me of one of my very favorite artists, Vincent van Gogh.

Was I absolutely certain, upon seeing this piece, whose hand had created it? No, but I was confident in this instinct (and, as it turned out, correct).

In this same way, I can hear a guitar riff for the first time and be pretty sure it's Jack White's fingers producing the sound, or I can see a photograph and have little doubt that it was taken by my friend Joe.

There is just something about art that lets the artist show through. Each piece contains a part of its creator. True art expresses something. Art is human.
 

Walter

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@sbm
"There is just something about art that lets the artist show through. Each piece contains a part of its creator. True art expresses something."

I absolutely agree with you here, Sam.
And here's one of the few, whose photos meet your judgement.
I've seldom come across more intense and creative portraits of musicians (above all the in-camera double exposures in ever new variations). Enjoy ;-))
re-note

"If beauty is in the eye of the beholder ...":
It's not necessarily the beholder who is the adequate judge in this field. The tastes of the masses do not coincide with true art. As with Van Gogh you mention (and thousands others, photographers included) it's time and the ages that sieve true art from make-believe.
 
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archaeopteryx

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I don't necessarily care about being popular, but I do care about what I think is cool — I guess it's just a matter of how much that overlaps with the zeitgeist.
For me, depends what I'm doing. All the nonprofits I do work for either like or actively want social media content. Images for that are really all about driving views and getting reactions to move filtering algorithms, which is rather the electronic definition of popularity. If I'm out with a camera just on my own focusing on what others are going to think tends to detract from the experience---moves it back into looking for images I can use for work. So the images I've retained rights to don't seem to intersect with the forum zeitgeist much. ;)
What do you admire in others’ images that you’d like to try incorporating into your own?
Within this forum's age demographic? Mostly being retired and having more time and freedom. After 30 something years of photography the bulk of the content posted here isn't fundamentally new to me. It's still a way of reviewing what I'm doing, though, and sometimes incremental improvements result. They're often pretty mundane but, for example, I do find Picolay a bit more useful than Helicon.
In that sense, you can pursue all the variety you want, and it will happen within the context of that style unless you exercise a whole bunch of discipline to the contrary.
And, sometimes, avoiding variety ends up highlighting it. Some of the motorsports folks here are regular posters in a few of the threads I follow and I've noticed they produce images which are all essentially the same. The photographic points on their local tracks don't change and the whole point of having a track is to drive around it over and over and over again. The repetition has become kind of an interesting exercise in subtlety. Sure, it's the same bike on the same turn several weeks in a row but the bike and rider positions and lighting are a little different in every image. If the images came all at once it would be repetitive or monotonous. But one or two from a race, then another from a race a week or two later, not so much.

This didn't turn out as subtle as I'd hoped. Running the stack around 1/4 rather than 1/20 would have produced about the leaf-water texture difference I had in mind.
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gnarlydog australia

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Hmmm, I don't think anybody has mentioned display medium of our images presented here or elsewhere.

Unless a photograph is printed we can not have even field of observation from the public of an electronic display of an image. Impressions and appreciation will be judged by the display used. Yes, they will!
I view all images always on a monitor of not less than 24", no exceptions.
When somebody shows me a "nice" photograph on their phone (I never view them on mine) I refuse to look at it: it does not give the image nor the author the credit a decent photograph deserves.

So, coming back to contrasty or subtle images, one that has high level of detail (landscape for example) or one that has bold shapes and garish colors. If I first view an image in thumbnail form it then looks totally different when enlarged to full screen.
For giggles, go to Flickr and grab a page of images. View them in thumbnail size and form an opinion, then go back and click "Full Screen" at F11 (keyboard key, no margins) and suddenly the same images look totally different to me.
The ones that I would have initially skipped because kind of meh, when viewed in large format can often reveal the subtle message and become real form of art instead of just a mundane snapshot.
I urge anybody to drop their phone (well, not literally) and treat themselves to a real display, possibly calibrated.
We huff and puff about resolution, dynamic range and other trivialities (Full Frame? :hide: ) and then lower ourselves down to dismal mobile device viewing?
Ah, the irony of it all :rolleyes:
 
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archaeopteryx

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One of these is not quite like the others.
 

archaeopteryx

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I was going to put this in the fog thread but, upon reflection, I think it fits better here.
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archaeopteryx

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A leaf and a twig. And lots of other leaves.
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agentlossing

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I'm a little confused about the real subject of this thread, as it seems to me that the word subtlety is being used in a couple of different ways:

  1. The idea of subtlety in post processing or initial composition, as distinct from bold colors/processing/contrast.
  2. The idea of subtlety in details and theme, i.e. looking for what is initially missed or passed over by the photographer's eye.

So, the one seems to be strongly related to technical aspects, while the other is purely a matter of vision. Of course, both overlap in practice. I think I've been trying to work on the vision aspect of it lately, although how I tend to categorize what I'm doing is more based on bucking conventional genres and looking for a simpler, more spontaneous and "unlearned" kind of photography. Looking for subtle things is a part of that, especially because the subtle things often fall out of the commonly recognized genres. I am definitely not worrying about likes and popular esteem.

I think subtlety within one's own style is important too. There can be photographers who have a very unique style, producing work that is widely recognized as "different" but who sort of create a stereotype within that uniqueness, and seldom produce anything outside of that rut.

I think what I really like to see as a practice of subtlety is a subtle expanse and variability within a vision that is outside of the box. Think of someone like Sally Mann (not all of whose work do I like, but who has a really unique style that doesn't fall into a rut), or indeed Cartier-Bresson. Or numerous others.
 

archaeopteryx

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subtlety in post processing or initial composition ... subtlety in details and theme
For me these intergrade and often aren't readily distinguishable. I saw the above, for example, all at once.
 

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