The vocabulary of photography
Video: The vocabulary of photographyPhotography looks like photography, because of its unique visual vocabulary. We can dissect and isolate these vocabulary elements to provide a consistent framework for interpreting a photo into a convincing painted result. Failure to properly eradicate an image's photographic language will result in a painting that has references to both vocabularies and weaken the final image. Knowledge of both vocabularies is essential for a satisfying result. In this video, we'll examine the visual vocabulary of photography.
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Learn to think like a painter and render images that look like they were created with oils or acrylics, using the latest digital artist's tools. Author and artist John Derry introduces the process of interpreting a photograph into a painted work of art. He begins by explaining his system of visual vocabularies, which describe how to replace the visual characteristics of a photograph with that of expressive painting, and also shares the custom brush sets and actions he uses to achieve these results in Adobe Photoshop. The course also covers working with filters, layers, effects, and more to add further detail and texture.
- Setting up a Wacom tablet
- Removing lens distortions
- Correcting distracting image elements
- Making shadow and highlight adjustments
- Simplifying details with filters and Smart Blur
- Modifying color
- Cloning layers
- Using a traditional paint color swatch set
- Using custom actions
- Working with canvas texture
- Creating physical surface texture effects
- Painting with custom brushes
The vocabulary of photography
Photography looks like photography, because of its unique visual vocabulary. We can dissect and isolate these vocabulary elements to provide a consistent framework for interpreting a photo into a convincing painted result. Failure to properly eradicate an image's photographic language will result in a painting that has references to both vocabularies and weaken the final image. Knowledge of both vocabularies is essential for a satisfying result. In this video, we'll examine the visual vocabulary of photography.
Now, the first one I'm going to talk about here is sharpness, sharp detail. Particularly, if you come from a photographic background, this is your gold standard, your stock in trade. Typically, you want to portray detail in sharp focus. That's why there's so many different lenses for cameras, and good lenses, and bad lenses. The better the lens, the better the focus, and so a photographer typically works very hard to get all of this sharp focus in an image.
But the difference, and we'll talk about this more when we talk about painting, is not all about sharp focus. So when I say sharp focus, what do I mean? Another way to look at an image is in terms of what they call frequency domain. And in frequency domain, high frequencies are detail, and that's where there are rapid changes in contrast. So wherever there's a light and a dark close to one another, that is an area of sharp focus, and that is high frequency detail.
In other areas of the image, and in this image just to start off, we can use the sky. There are not rapid changes in the contrast of the image, and that is what's called low frequency information, where there are low amounts of change in the image. And just to show this off, I've created a sharpness map, and I just used some filtering to do this, and let's zoom up a little bit so you can see this. I'm going to turn on this sharpness map, and this shows you, these are the sharp areas in this image, and this is typically, you'll see it looks like a drawing, because a drawing is, by itself, all composed of high frequency information.
So, by filtering out everything except the high frequency detail, you get what essentially looks very much like a drawing. And so, all of these areas are the sharp focus within that image. Anywhere where you're not seeing anything is not sharp focus. And so you can see that, basically, what you would think of as a drawing is largely the sharpness in an image. So, that is what you want to largely get rid of is all of this sharp detail, and it's very hard, especially from a photographer's perspective, to eliminate that detail since they worked so hard to achieve it.
But that's one of the things you need to understand, that sharpness is the enemy of a painting. Next we'll take a look at another element of photography, and that is motion blur. The camera captures a moment in time, and depending on how long the aperture of that lens is opened will determine how much of a slice of time you capture. So, image like this, where there was motion within the image, it gets captured because the lens was left open long enough for the trains in this scene to change position.
But then the people standing there, and the columns in the subway don't change at all. So in this case, the photographer's taking advantage of contrasting motion with static detail. And it, so it gives an interesting illusion of motion within the image, as well as highlight the static parts of the image. So, motion blur is distinctly a photographic verb. It's something that is part of the language of photography. You can paint in such a way to kind of create the look of a blur, but then at that point, you're borrowing from the language of photography and applying it to painting.
And I'm not saying you can never do that, but if you want to eliminate the language of photography from an image, so things like motion blur and even depth of field are the items that you want to eliminate from an image prior to translating it into a painting. And then we're just going to talk about how a photograph looks, and why it looks like it does. And in this case, this is an image straight out of the camera. And so, the range of densities that we see in it, even some of the colors are photographic in nature.
Every sensor, just like film used to do, has a certain bias of color within it. And so, images from photographic devices, will retain some of that color quality. And so there's always a basic range of color that is associated with a photograph. Now, what I've done is I've taken this same photograph, and used HDR, or High Dynamic Range, allows you to stretch a lot of what's going on in a photograph to get much more out of it.
And so, here's that same image, and I'll toggle it on and off, but look at the difference. There is the way the camera sees it. Playing with HDR, and this is something we look at in the course here, is you can use HDR to start to break out of that photographic look that is common from cameras. So you want to take advantage of techniques, like we'll look at in the title here, High Dynamic Range photography, to be able to break away from strict photographic color.
Now let's go a step further and take a look at this image as a painting. Here's another painting, I mentioned Kathryn Stats earlier, here's Kathryn's work, and similar subject matter. We'll turn this on and off, this is little out of a typical photograph, but it's still photographic in nature. When you look at a painting, it's what I call indication, and we'll be looking a great deal at indication. An artist indicates, they don't draw every leaf on a tree. They don't draw every branch on that tree.
They don't draw every pebble and rock in the scene. They do it through an economy of stroke, where very little amount of stroke can say a lot, and part of being an artist is learning how to indicate more than is really there. The human mind and brain and visual system delights in connecting the dots. It's like a puzzle, and one of the things that creates interest in a painting is when there's some of this connect-the-dots aspect of the image built into it.
The brain will just engage, it wants to connect the dots, it's just natural for our visual systems to do this. So by providing a painting that says enough to distinguish it as a tree, but not provide every leaf on that tree provides the dots for the mind to connect in order to see a tree in this image, even though it's in fact, very, very, almost abstract. So these are some of the elements of photography, and we're next going to look at some of the aspects of painting, and the goal then is to, once you understand these two vocabularies, what we are going to be doing is essentially acting as an interpreter between photography and painting, and you are going to translate expressively that language, photography, into this new language, painting.
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