Cropping

This is a simple postprocessing technique but requires an in-depth look as to how it can fit into your photography. I will use Sony cameras as examples, but of course other camera systems are similar. And the focus of this discussion will be on resolution (inherent in 35mm film), which is one of the most important characteristics of good photography except in cases when you forego the sharpness of high resolution for other photographic effects.

Most experts tell us that a 10-12 MP (megapixel) camera is the equivalent for resolution of a 35mm film camera. Indeed, Sony’s original top-of-the-line fast-action camera (A7S – made to maximize multiple frame shooting rather than large frame size) had only 12 MP and cost 20% more than Sony’s then current top-of-the-line general purpose camera (A7R) with 36 MP. With a 36MP camera you can get about three times the area of a film-equivalent photograph and still have the resolution of 35mm film for each third. That means you can crop 67% away and still have a full size 35mm-film equivalent photograph (and 35mm-film sharpness). In other words, the more MPs the merrier. MPs matter for cropping.

For starters, let’s dispose of the Haiku philosophy of photographic art. It goes something like this. Photographs must be traditional rectangles (with unequal adjacent sides and a limited selection of aspect ratios) so as to impose the proper aesthetic discipline for creating fine art. That’s like saying a poem must be a Haiku poem in order to be considered fine art. A Haiku poem has three sentences with 5 syllables, 7 syllables, and 5 syllables respectively. And it’s a traditional form. But I don’t think Haiku defines poetry. And likewise, traditional rectangles (frames) don’t define fine art photography.

Indeed, cropping is the new aesthetic freedom. Cropping used to be done in the darkroom, which made it somewhat limited and generally unavailable to most photographers. Now it’s done in digital postprocessing and is quite easy for anyone to do. Even fun. Beyond just cropping and adjusting the sides of a rectangle, one can even create a photograph of any shape in postprocessing using various software techniques.

What are the considerations for cropping?

  • You don’t have to be so careful framing your photos. In fact, if you overshoot a photograph (take a photograph larger than the frame you seek), you can easily crop it to your specifications more precisely in postprocessing.
  • If hurried, you can simply point and shoot; and crop later.
  • If something is in the photo you don’t want, you may be able to crop it out.
  • Upon review, you may find a photograph within the photograph that you find more aesthetically appealing than the overall. You can crop it out.

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  • You can create various shapes of photographs in postprocessing, such as circles, ovals, triangles, and custom forms.
  • If you crop to an odd shape, you can have a metal print service provider cut the print into the shape (e.g., MagnaChrome, Concord, California has a computer-guided metal cutter that can do so).
  • With enough MPs, you can crop away a substantial portion of a photograph and still have enough left for a resulting sharp film-equivalent photograph.
  • You can crop away the upper third and the lower third of a one wide-angle landscape photograph to make a panorama.

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  • You can make different versions of the same photograph (different crops).
  • You can set a crop to a certain preset aspect ratio and print a photo that will fit into a certain size off-the-shelf (prebuilt) frame.
  • You can set a crop to a certain preset aspect ratio and create a photo that will fit snuggly into a photo collage.
  • You can use any lens as a non-optical telephoto lens by cropping away all but the small portion of a photo.
  • You can often crop to correct mistakes that you make. There are so many ways to make mistakes, even for the best photographers, that cropping capability becomes quite valuable.

How about a practical example. Sony now has a 61 MP 35mm-type camera (A7R IV). Is that too many MPs for ordinary use? No. How about using this Sony camera with a super sharp 50mm lens (e.g., Sony-Zeiss 55mm f1.8). Do you also need a telephoto lens? Or can you crop out a one-sixth portion of a 50mm-lens digital photograph and use it as a film-equivalent photograph? Something to think about.

Digital cropping brings a bonanza of new techniques to use to create all sorts of appealing photographs and to help define new opportunities in photography. That’s why MPs are important. The more MPs your camera sensor has, the more flexibility you have for cropping.

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Museum Art Photography

Some people look down on photographs that are merely pictures of other people’s art. This may seem a reasonable point of view, but like any other tenant of artistic evaluation it’s not necessarily fair. In the following paragraphs I will give you some ideas of how you might incorporate photographs of museum art into a portion of your portfolio.

A curator for a museum, famous or obscure, is faced with certain limitations. One limitation is history. He or she has to have a minor if not major collection of historical interest, or the collection is at risk of being deemed irrelevant. This tends to compromise aesthetic value for the sake of historical value.

Another consideration is cost. Not every museum can afford to spend $75 million for a Picasso. In fact, if you’re a curator with a $75 million budget, you would probably spend it on a wide variety of lower value art rather than one Picasso. So just like a private individual, a curator cannot always have what he or she wants but must compromise due to cost.

By photographing just certain art in a particular museum (cherry picking), you can acquire a collection with high aesthetic appeal and leave out the riffraff of historical interest or low value. Or if you’re an art historian, you can do the opposite.

Condition is another consideration. Paintings accumulates a patina of various elements from the atmosphere over time. That time is shorter in the tropic zone than in the temperate zone. A painting acquired by a museum may not be in prime condition. That means its colors and allure are clouded with the grunge of decades, maybe centuries. And the museum may not be able to afford to restore it.

Restoration is important for aesthetics. Large museums restore their most valuable paintings periodically. That might be every 50 years, every 100 years, or every 250 years. A restoration can be very expensive costing hundreds of thousands of dollars. Small museums can’t afford them often, and even large museums can only afford them for a portion of their collections.

By using Photoshop adroitly, you can restore art via a photograph to its original allure in many cases, and you can often do it quickly with a minimal effort. Thus, with some postprocessing, you can improve museum art for your own collection.

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This example of digital restoration was done in less than two minutes in Photoshop. It’s not perfect because it has some inherent restoration problems. But with a half-hour of work in Photoshop, it could be significantly higher quality while keeping the artistic integrity intact.

In addition, it’s sad to say (and most people may disagree with me) that many original paintings and prints by great artists have less aesthetic value than their reproductions. It doesn’t matter whether the reproductions are color prints or digital media. If you’ve ever visited an art museum shop and viewed the posters and books, you know what I mean.

Another issue is lighting. Lighting in museums is always a big problem and is never perfect. Paintings reflect light in strange and often undesirable ways that apparently cannot be corrected. And where you stand in relation to the art also determines how you see it. Reflections are a major problem. Indeed, a painting that appears superb in one museum or one museum room if moved to another may show in a less appealing way.

If you can photograph art without the ambient reflections, you can acquire a personal art collection that’s an improvement over what people see in the museum. This is very difficult to do, however, and sometimes impossible without the cooperation of the museum.

Beyond photographing art there is the particular activity of photographing portions of other people’s art and incorporating such portions into artistic creations of your own. A painting or sculpture seems to be a self-contained entity that one would not have an inclination to break up into portions for use in another artistic creation. But not all art is necessarily self-contained. For instance, a portion of a sculpture that’s part of antique fireplace mantle might be exactly what you need to display on a metal print by itself or incorporate into some type of other artistic creation such as a poster, advertisement, or collage.

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I have used this photograph (part of an antique mantle) in a poster.

All things considered, photographing paintings, prints, and other works of art has many practical uses and can even be profitable. Here are a few ideas:

  • Curate your own wonderful collection (digital)
  • Make accurate prints
  • Make altered prints (e.g., restoration)
  • Use in another artistic creation
  • Use for illustration (e.g., in text)
  • Use in posters
  • Incorporate into everyday artifacts (e.g., business cards)
  • Sell some of the above

For fun, I’ve used the following museum portraits as my personal photograph in Facebook from time to time:

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Through careful selection I found several works of art that show a close resemblance to me.

Fortunately, most museums permit photographing. Unfortunately, modern art is copyrighted going back to the 1930s. So, you have to be careful what you photograph and how you use it. You don’t want to violate a copyright. Nonetheless, if the museum owns the copyright and allows photographs, you’re probably safe.

But what about artists? What might they think about people photographing their art without compensation to them? Well, Rembrandt painted pictures that he knew would only be viewed in a patron’s home. At best his art might be on view in some public building, where several thousand people at most might see it over the decades. How would Rembrandt feel if he knew that one day two billion people would view and enjoy his art in the privacy of their own smart phones, tablets, or computers. I for one will speculate that he would likely feel much more fulfilled as an artist than he was in his own time knocking out aesthetic knickknacks for the rich.

Photographing paintings, prints, and even sculpture in a museum is a learned craft, not a happenstance snapshot. That is, it does take some skill. And oddly enough, your photographs of other people’s art are copyrightable. There dozens of ways to take photographs of other people’s art, and therefore the method you use and the resulting product is copyrightable. The law recognizes that photographing art is not necessarily a copycat endeavor.

So, photographing art in museums as well as art in other places in the physical world is a perfectly legitimate photographic endeavor whether used for one’s own collection, to share with friends and family, to create additional art, or to make a profit.

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A stained glass window in the Louvre, one of my favorites. Backlit stained glass almost always makes an attractive photo.

Your Photographer Name

I wrote about naming your photographs, but I neglected to advise on how to use your own name. You need to change it to fit the situation. This idea encompasses much more than this writing can cover, because an artist can use an “brush name” just like a writer uses a “pen name.” That opens a lot of possibilities. But in this writing I will confine my comments just to using variations on your own name.

Here are some examples using my name, Joseph Sinclair:

Jose Santa Clara – use for quasi-Mexican, quasi-Spanish, or Southwest US situations (e.g., exhibits)

Joseph de Sancto Claro – use for quasi-French or elegant situations (e.g., museums)

Joseph Santo Clare – use for quasi-Italian or romantic situations

Joseph St. Clair – use in England

Joseph Sinclair – use in Scotland, Canada, and the Southeast US

Joe Sinclair – use in situations where you’re dealing with half-wits or good ol’ boys

Джозеф святой Клэр – use when dealing with the Russians

Just type English [whatever language] into Google, and you’ll get the Google translator. Then translate your name.

If you’re building a brand, switching names doesn’t work well, of course. But it’s difficult for one person to build a brand. So, why not change the ambiance of your name to fit a particular market or clientele?

When selling photos in Santa Fe, why be Joseph Sinclair when I can be Jose Santa Clara? When selling at Trump Tower, why be Joseph Sinclair when I can be Джозеф святой Клэр ?

Your name can fit your photos too. If I’m doing knock offs of Henri Cartier-Bresson, Joseph de Sancto Claro might be my best name. If I’m doing photos reminiscent of Caravaggio, Joseph Santo Clare might be my best name.

Tips for Naming Fine Art Photos

by Joseph T. Sinclair

Vrille Naturel
Vrille Naturel ©Joseph T. Sinclair

Names Matter

In the best of all possible worlds, a fine art photo shouldn’t have a name. The art should speak for itself. When you add a name, however, the words become part of the work of art, like it or not. And words are powerful. Unfortunately, in Western civilization there is unwritten pressure to name works of art. Rembrandt Kunstwerk 112 is not very satisfying. Consequently, you do need to create a name and understand that the name itself becomes part of your photographic art.

Yet most career photographers need to sell their fine art. And marketing is a different matter than art. Most photographers need a marketing element in the names for their photos. Thus, a thoughtful combination of poetry and ad copy is a good way to think of naming photos. If you’re serious about your art and about selling it, naming it is not a trivial task.

Don’t Fall in Love with It

Don’t fall in love with a name. Pick a name that fits the theme of the show you want to enter. As a consequence, a photo may end up with more than one name (i.e., entered in more than one show). This is extra work, but it’s more work to find a good photo that matches a show theme.

Translate It

If you can’t think of a good name, pick a pedestrian name. Then translate it into French on Google. No one will understand it, yet it will add a touch of elegance to your photo. Or use Spanish, Italian, Romanian, or Portuguese. But no other languages, please. I named one of my photos Vrille Naturel (French) and was happy to do so. Sounds kind of cool, but I can’t remember what it means. It would be přírodní kontury in Czech, not quite so engaging.

Make It Long

Make it a long name. If properly imagined, it can add a lot to your photo. But capitalize the first letter of each word. Otherwise it might be read as a caption, not as a name. Example: Candle-Lit Impressionist Color Portraiture Study of a Mother on a Theme by Sandro Botticelli. Otherwise you might have to name it Madonna confusing it with the Rabelaisian pop star.

Steal It

If you run across good names in photo shows or in publications, write them down for future use. No one can copyright art titles. But don’t steal from photographers in your own geographic area or in your own photo organizations. Bad manners. And don’t steal famous names (e.g., Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico). Fatuous. You can steal book titles and song titles too (neither are copyrightable).

Photographers steal images; how many times is the image of the sun’s rays streaming down through the haze into Antelope Canyon taken each day by different professional photographers? Answer: about eight dozen. That’s about 35,000 professional photographers a year who shoot in Antelope Canyon.  So, why not steal names too?

BTW, if you’re looking for a name for your Antelope Canyon photo, try this one: About Noonish in Mr. Slot Canyon. That’s a good one, and you can steal it from me.

A Gift from the Literary World

Advertisers use sex to sell. Why not photographers? Check out Writers in the Storm, a blog for novelists. It provides a huge list of common words in its Sensual Word Menu that may suggest sex:

https://writersinthestorm.wordpress.com/2011/06/10/sensual-word-menu-2/

You can use most of them in your photo names with complete innocence and without seeming indecent. Example: Sultry Sunset Afterglow on the Bosom of the  Mountain. Buyers will line up at the door.

Less Can Be More

There is one naming strategy for fine art portraits. Use only a first name such as Isabelle or Jacob. Such names convey an ambiance of mystery. Who the hell is Isabelle? Who the hell is Jacob? It’s not quite the same ambiance for Isabelle Smith or Jacob Jones. Let the viewer’s imagination run loose. Let the image itself do the speaking. Use only a first name alone. Keep in mind also that for fine art, the name of the portrait doesn’t have to be same as the name of the subject (model). In other words, use an evocative first name that fits the portrait.

Number It

This highly advanced promotional technique is appropriate only for the most aggressive photo marketers. A photo named Study of the Desert Sublime Number 17, if a compelling image, will leave the viewers thirsty for photos 1-16 (or more). It’s irrelevant whether numbers 1-16 exist or not. If such photos exist, they will have the attention of your viewers and may lead to interest in your other photos too. If photos 1-16 don’t exist, you simply represent 1-16 as being unpublished, and refer viewers to your other photos.

Streets

Developers and municipalities name streets after states (Idaho Avenue), places (Park Place), English counties (Devonshire Drive), famous people (Ted Kaczynski Boulevard), and animals (Raccoon Court). This is not a good precedent for naming photos. Leave it alone.

Shooting Horses

by Joseph T. Sinclair

I had occasion recently to visit a small ranch to shoot horses, and I learned some valuable lessons that I will pass on to you.

First, if your camera has a shutter click, you will need to wrap your camera in a beach towel or something comparable to muffle the click. You don’t want to spook the horses.

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© Joe Sinclair

Second, horses respond very well to common courtesy.  You’ll need to bring some sugar. Two pounds per horse is about right.

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© Joe Sinclair

Third, don’t let the horse flies bother you. Yes, there a lot of them, and yes, they have a nasty bite. But remember, you’re a professional and must remain concentrated on the shoot.

Fourth, wear shoes that you want to throw away. Otherwise you will have an unpleasant cleaning job when you get home.

Fifth, if you get suckered into riding a horse, make sure you have plenty of Eczema Honey Healing Cream at home to rehabilitate your backside.

Sixth, if you ride a horse, be sure to mount it on the left side. If you mount on the right side, everyone will know you’re a dude, and PETA may single you out for horse harassment.

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Let’s make the ride short, pal. I have some grazing to do.

Seventh, take a telephoto lens in case you happen to spot a barn rat. Barn rats make a unique photo-op that you don’t want to miss.

Finally, never walk in back of a horse. Horses are related to donkeys. If you’re a Republican and the horse knows it, the horse may kick you across the barn. Your camera would be OK because it’s wrapped in a towel, but the kick may knock some sense into you.

Good luck with your shooting.

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THE END

 

 

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