(Flat but sunny Winnipeg, MB)
To Observe or Experience? Better Photography by Watching TV
What do CSI Miami and Law & Order have to do with better photography?
Let me give you a hint. It’s the difference between observing life and experiencing it. Let’s think about the TV show Law & Order first.
If you watch the show, you know that many of the story lines are gleaned from real life headlines and crime stories. But if you watched the “trial of the century”- the OJ Simpson on TV – a real life trial that was recorded and broadcast on TV, Law & Order seems just so much more dramatic and exciting.
Despite the fact that the OJ trial was REAL, the lawyers were monotonous, their presentations wooden & dull, often leaving big gaps of silence as they shuffled papers and read notes. The court room, lit with fluorescent office type lighting was harsh and flat looking, and the entire proceeding was not beautiful to watch nor was it enthralling (at least not till the very end). What’s the difference between real life and a real life simulation like Law & Order?
Example #2: CSI Miami is reportedly the most watched TV show in North America these days. No wonder! Dramatically styled sets, moody lighting, female crime investigators that look like runway models, and show up at the crime scene in high heeled pumps, mega cleavage, and skinny jeans! The guys are too hunky too, with bodies right out of the gym. HOT!!! Despite the wooden dialogue, and formulaic script, the show is just fun to watch. But it’s not even close to real life.
Compare this to a real crime lab: a typical office environment with cubicles for miles, ugly and flat fluorescent lighting, brightly lit labs with long benches with black melamine counter tops…Investigators show up on the scene in black or white totally unfashionable coveralls Nothing at all like what you see on CSI.
And yet if you were actually a lawyer AT the OJ trial, or working IN a real life crime lab, you wouldn’t really care about the lights or the décor – your work would keep you attentive and engaged.
So what does all this have to do with photography? Well, unless you are EXPERIENCING real life, observing it in two dimensions such as on TV or a photograph is just plain boring, flat and dull – just like the real OJ Simpson trial on TV.
To make your photographs an experience you need to EXAGGERATE everything. Because we (the viewers) are not immersed in the experience, we are automatically missing 90% of the experience – no sensation, no smell, no sound. Just what we see in your image.
It’s up to you as the photographer to ADD back some of the missing ingredients, just as the producers of CSI punch up the show by designing architecturally stunning sets, highly stylized lighting and production values, and over the top apparel for the cast.
So if exaggeration is the key, how can you implement this without making your images look totally fake; or worse, plain dumb?
The easiest way is to punch up the saturation of your images just a few notches or two. You can easily do this in Photoshop by going to Images>Adjustments>Hue/Saturation.
If you have custom picture settings on your camera, like the new Nikon D300 and D3, you can make your adjustments right in the camera. In these Nikons, on your menu, go under the shooting menu (the little camera icon) and scroll through till you find the item for picture controls. There is a pre-set called vivid which for landscapes and nature photography works like magic! Best of all you can tailor these setting for your own needs.
Finally, there are some Photoshop Actions that you can create to automate this process in your post production workflow.
So if you really want to make better images, watch more TV – the week I was sick with the flu it was all I could do – and many of the popular TV shows have given me 100 new ideas for creative ways to add EXPERIENCE to your images!
Look at this image first. Try not too scroll to see the second one yet. Observe this for a few moments. Then look at the second one.
If the second one looks flat and a little dull it’s because that’s what it really looked like!
Next time specific tips for adding “punch!”
Be sure to leave your thoughts or comments, and your experiences using the exaggeration technique!