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Throughout this title, I'm going to be referring to visual vocabularies. What do I mean by a visual vocabulary? Each visual medium, sculpture, painting, photography, and so on, has a set of unique features that defines it. For example, the medium of painting has expressive brush strokes, canvas, and paint texture, a simplified representation of reality, and so on. These visual elements are the nouns and verbs that make up the visual vocabulary of paint. Likewise, photography has a unique visual vocabulary that defines it.
Sharp focus, lens distortion, depth of field and so on. I'm going to use the notions of these mediums' visual vocabularies to show you how to translate one medium into another. In effect, using Photoshop, you'll be interpreting a photograph into a painting using your own expressive voice. Let's use these two examples for comparison, to show you what I mean. Both are of the same subject, a classic turn-of-the-century mansion in the Scottish Baronial style.
Let's start with the photograph and take a look at some of the key vocabulary elements. A wide-angle lens was used to take this photograph. As a result, the optics of the lens severely distort the building, exhibiting a lens artifact known as keystoning. This is when the verticals of the architecture are all oriented towards an imaginary vanishing point located some place up in the sky. Now look what happens in the distance, at the right. The carriage house retreats and there's little detail. We can tell that the architectural style is similar to the mansion, but not much more.
Looking closely at the photograph, we can see that the camera records detail in a continuous fashion, making no judgement with regard to what is important in the scene. Now, lets compare how the painting handles detail and subject focus. Like the photograph, the painting uses detail to draw the attention of the viewer's eye. However, unlike the photo, the detail is not continuous. Rather, it is indicated through a simplified rendering of the scene via brush strokes. Compared to the fine detail of the photograph, the painting is not nearly as complex.
The artist has simplified the scene by indicating with brush strokes which areas have greater importance. The artist has added new elements to the scene: a tricycle, ball, a young child in the upper turret window have been added. These additional objects introduce a story-telling element to the image. Who is this girl? Why is she inside and not playing with her toys? Is she being punished? Is she a ghost? This is left up to the viewer's interpretation. Both of these mediums portray the same subject matter, yet how each renders meaning to draw the attention of the viewer's eye is very different.
The photographer has utilized the camera's wide-angle lens to emphasize and distort the perspective of the mansion, giving it an imposing down-the-nose appearance. The artist's painting has interpreted the unflinching continuous focus and distortion of the camera, and rendered it to a simplification of form and brushwork that indicates a greater level of detail. Unlike the photograph's perfect recording of detail, the painting supplies enough detail, like dots, for the viewer's mind to connect. It is this additional creative playfulness that imbues the painting with the expressive interpretation of the artist.
By understanding how each medium uses it's vocabulary elements to create a scene to be viewed, we can translate one medium's vocabulary element into another's medium. In this case, photography and painting. As we go through this title, I'll describe the various key vocabulary elements of each, and show you how we can translate a photograph into a painting.
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