16 March 2011

The Power of Suggestion

It’s great when people critique your work.  Especially if you have the opportunity to have real pros, who have been there and done that for x number of decades, review images with their finely-honed eye.  There is much to learn and they can definitely give you that proverbial leg-up by pointing out composition issues, lighting troubles, and perhaps the stray element that detracts from the effectiveness of your image.  “Watch your corners” and “Avoid bright spots” are two phrases that I have heard more often that I wish.  Once voiced, the power of suggestion being what it is, an image so identified is marked for good...at least until the problem is rectified.

Case in point: a judge at a recent competition really liked my infrared image of Manhattan shot through the cabling of the Brooklyn Bridge.  But, he also singled out a bright spot in the lower-right corner of the photo (caused by the afternoon sun shining directly on a building’s face).  I had absolutely never paid any attention to it and in fact had never even noticed it...until he pointed it out.  Then it became as a grain of sand in my eye, a pebble in my shoe.  Every time I looked at what I had thought was a pretty good image, all I saw was that small bright square in the corner.  Small it may have started; quickly it became the cyclopean eye of an oncoming train.  Using Nik Software’s Viveza I burned in the offending area enough so that now I again see the bridge and not that Macbethean damned spot.

More recently, I posted a series of images from a portrait shoot onto the critiquing forum of Photography Review.  A good group of folks ‘reside’ there who are diverse in their approach to photography and facile at critiquing images gently but accurately.  To this end, they actually offer useful suggestions on your posted images (rather than the useless “awesome photo, dude!” you see in other online venues).  One image I posted I really was quite happy about and generally the critiquers were complementary as well.  However, a couple of them dinged me on two distracting highlights that for them subtracted from the image.  I, of course, again, never noticed them until they were pointed out and then I couldn’t stop noticing them!

The ‘solution’ for these two episodes is to either not listen to people or become more vigilant at catching elements that can detract from your photographs before you snap the shutter.  I think it is obvious which direction I’ll take.  But what if the power of suggestion changes the way you see a photograph?

I posted an image online that I thought showed a very unique perspective.   I was in southern Utah in February exploring some of the new wilderness areas around St. George.  In particular there is a large swath of redrock desert that acts as a transition area of sorts between the Basin and Range expanse, the Colorado River Plateau and the Mojave Desert.  Called Cottonwood Canyon Wilderness Area, it is generally dry but there is this one stream – Quail Creek – that flows from the Pine Valley Mountains and eventually joins the Virgin River downstream from Zion National Park.  I spent the better part of a morning photographing the small pools and even smaller waterfalls against the soaring red walls.  Over one particular short fall I positioned myself to capture the water as it flowed between the five legs of my tripod and me and out and over the rock wall.  Using a 10mm at f/22 the angle is extreme capturing the scene literally inches in front of my toes, the tumbling water just beyond and below, the pool. Once posted on Flickr, I had several people comment that the perspective was very strange, to the point where they had a hard time figuring out what they were looking at.  To them, it seemed that the water was flowing out of the pool (downward in the photo) and not the reverse.  Once I understood what they were seeing, I of course started seeing the image that way as well.  In fact, it is kind of like one of those optical illusions where you see a lamp stand then two people facing each other and then the lamp stand again and then…well, you get the idea.  Of course there is no ‘fixing’ of the photo this time around, just the oscillating behind two ways of seeing it.

The power of suggestion is indeed mighty, which is why I often (but, not always) refrain from using anything other than purely descriptive titles on my work.  But I’ll leave that discussion for another post.


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