Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Perils of Photographing for Web Display

The above photo is of my 'work wall', a space where I tack up 14x17 prints of the most recent photos I've made (at least the ones that have made the 'first cut' in the editing process). There's a reason why I cling to making prints and looking at them on the wall, as opposed to just editing on the 30" monitor I use.

I've spent quite a bit of time looking at the archives of photobloggers, and for many, there's a sort of evolutionary convergence where they start out the photoblog making images that I suspect look great as medium sized prints (that is, they're working to the print aesthetic), and then over time their work swings around to what I think of as the 'graphic web style' which takes into account the relatively small image size and the dramtically lower resolution of web display, as well as exploiting the fact that a screen is a light emitter rather than a light reflector.

The latter issue is one I've struggled with as I spend more and more time editing work on-screen as opposed to making prints and shuffling them around on my work wall. It's something of a peril that comes with the digital workflow.

So I've stuck with my habit of making prints, and sticking them to the wall with blu-tack, and taking time to look at the wall frequently. It seems that no matter what you do, in order to get the results to be the best you can in the format you're aiming at, you have to make some effort to actual view the work in that format, so that your photography doesn't evolve into what looks good in your image browsing program on your monitor.


Blogger Paul Butzi said...

Gordon McGregor comments via email:

I think there is something else at work, other than the image size as well.
I think part of that is the web medium too. There are plenty of web sites to look at. Millions of photos on line. So images tend to need to be arresting, high impact, dramatic to get attention. That's certainly particularly true of the small frame JPEG size, but also the attention span of typical viewers.

There isn't much room for an image that requires some time to grow on you, likely by that point you've hit the 'next' button to the next image, next gallery or next photographer.

At least that's been my experience in sharing images on the web. So this combination of fast turnover and small frame pushes more and more towards a high impact graphic style. Sort of a pop-art photography if you will.
Certainly an understanding of colour theory and its application in those directions helped me move forward that way as well - winning web contests and the like.

But it ends up being quite profoundly unsatisfying, at least for me, at my stage of development. Superficial, nothing to savor or spend time with.
No depth. I love looking at photography in a gallery or large format book and taking the time to explore the details and enjoy the image. A web version just never gives me that experience.

I again seem to have the same problem in reverse, I have a hard time getting satisfactory prints, because of that lack of back lighting. I wonder if there is something to be said to printing on translucent papers and backlighting ;)

10:32 AM  
Blogger chantal stone said...

I'm a photoblogger, and after reading this (article AND comment) it has me thinking about the motivation of photobloggers in general. First and foremost we are photographers....we shoot because we love the medium, then photoblogging comes along and provides us with this outlet for display.

I'm really curious about how many of us fall into that trap---of shooting for the web. There most definitely have been times when I was out somewhere shooting and thought "this would look so great on my blog"....but most times that's not the case.

I shoot film, so 95% of the time I have prints first, I linger with the print, then scan and post to the web. I found scanning negatives and processing digitally to be very unsatisfying. It doesn't feel like 'enough' for me.

I understand what Gordon talks about...about the lack of lingering with the image when crusing photoblogs. It's a pity, because so many great images get overlooked because the viewer has moved on to the next 'big hit of the day'.

8:09 PM  
Blogger Paul Butzi said...

The issue Gordon and Chantal comment on (that 'quiet' images don't hold up well in situations where the image gets ignored if it lacks 'punch') is certainly noticeable on photoblogs, but it's by no means a new issue.

Until not long ago, most juried shows wanted submissions in the forms of slides. Generally, they gathered all the slides for all the entries, put them in several carousels, and the juror sat down and went through the slides, looking at them in succession, taking just a short time for each work. If your work didn't catch the juror's attention in the few seconds, it was "click" and he/she was on to the next slide, and your work was out. This puts a heavy premium on images with lots of immediate impact, and lays a huge penalty on quieter images that need to be looked at for more than a few seconds.

I've noticed several photographers adjust their printing style to accomodate this problem, with them 'turning up the volue' in their printing. In some cases, it's an improvement. In other cases, I think they were better off with the quieter printing style.

1:36 PM  

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