Thinking back on my journey as an artist so far I think the biggest and hardest lesson for me to internalize was that we, as artists, are responsible for everything that goes into an image. This includes removing distractions that detract from the image like dust, blades of grass and other things.
“But Dave!”, you may reply, “You out in a field in an environment you don’t control, with wind, and dust, and furry creatures great and small. Surely you can’t be responsible for everything!”
Yes, I do, and I’ll explain why.
Distractions Distractingly Distract
One don’t have to spend much time on social media to understand that people are very good about overlooking the message and skip to pointing out the flaws. One of the side effects of photography is that flaws get accentuated. This is doubly true for toy photography where everything in the image is magnified. With toys a spec of dust becomes huge in camera.
My goal as an artist is to get people’s attention so they will take a moment to look at my images. If they spend those precious seconds being distracted by the flaws instead of studying the subject matter, I’ve failed.
So, as the artist, if I ensure they won’t be distracted so they can spend their energy enjoying my photograph, I am that much closer to my goal. That is the responsibility I am speaking of.
I am of the opinion that my images do not need to be perfect. However I also believe that I need to decide if those imperfections help or harm the image. If they harm it, they need to go before I show it to others.
So, let’s look at some practical things we can do to make our images distraction free and become food for our viewers eyes.
Things to Consider
The edge of the frame is the boundary between our images and the rest of the world. Things that cross that boundary need to make sense to the image. Common issues with this are tree branches sticking in from the side of a frame that appear to be floating.
To combat this I make it a habit to scan my image borders for distracting elements and remove them, either in camera by recomposing, or in post-production by cropping, or using a cloning tool.
Along with the frame edge, I also like to scan the edges of the model for distracting elements, especially if I am shooting outdoors. It is very easy for a stick or a blade of grass to sneak in front of the model.
Due to differences in scale, a small blade of grass can become a huge distraction and obscure large parts of a minifig. It is a lot more important that these distractions are removed in camera, and not in post production.
Backgrounds are important as it provides a sense of location. However they can be both a blessing and a curse. These are some things to consider with backgrounds However before you click the shutter ask yourself if the background make sense for the image. If not, you may wish to move the model, or recompose the image in camera, to change the background.
Alternately you can change your depth of field to minimize it (See Lizzi’s excellent tutorial on this called Aperture Science).
Another thing to consider with backgrounds is that if your model is placed in front of long slender shapes (tree branches, fence posts, light poles etc.) it can give the appearance that the long slender shape is growing from the model. Check the following image for an example.
This is a subtle but annoying distraction. The viewer may not even identify it, but they will just sense something is a bit off. The easiest way to avoid this is in camera. Simply move the camera, or the model, sideways until the lines in the background don’t intersect with your model in odd ways.
This last point I’ll cover more in a future post on light, but if your background is brighter than your model, it can draw the eye away from the model. There are valid reasons why your background may be brighter than your model (silhouettes for example), so you need to determine if it is a distraction or not for your own image.
However if it is a distraction, one way to deal with it is to add some light to your model. I carry a small tactical flashlight in my kit for this exact purpose.
Dust is something most photographers don’t worry about too much, but is the bane of existence for us toy photographers. If a human sized model has a speck of dust on their shoulder, it may not even show up in camera. However if a LEGO minifig has even the smallest spec of dust, it shows up as a huge bright spot on the model in camera. A single spec of dust has been enough to ruin many a shot for me.
The best way to deal with dust is to remove it from the scene before you take the photo in the first place. James has a great post on how to deal with dust in his post “Got Dust? Here’s The Secret Weapon…”.
However you will inevitably get dust somewhere in your image eventually. Fortunately many photo editors have tools for removing dust specs. The spot healing brush in Photoshop for example is my goto tool for dust removal.
Homework time! (Completely voluntary of course). Take a look at the last 10(-ish) images you shot, and consider if they contain any distractions. You may wish to start by asking yourself the following questions:
- Is the background appropriate for the image? Does it have too much or too little detail? Does it have distracting lines or bright spots? If so, how could I have changed how I shot and/or processed this image to reduce or remove the issues?
- Is there anything poking into my image from out of frame that is causing a distraction? How about anything covering the model? How could those be dealt with?
- Are there any dust specs or other bits of dirt that are causing distractions in the image?
If you have any questions or comments, please drop them in the comments. Otherwise I’ll see you next month!
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