Of Cakes and Plugins

White Sands Black & White

I recently published a short essay about the photograph above on Luminous-Landscape.com  (you can read the essay at this link). This essay brought a question about which plugin I used to convert this photograph to black and white.

Fact is, I don’t use any ‘creative’ plugins. When it comes to the expressive aspects of my work, I do everything from scratch.

All my work is done in Photoshop using layers. I tried plugins a long time ago and what happened is my style became the plugin style. No more of that for me. I’m only interested in my own style!

For me art is about freedom and I found that I have the most freedom when I use layers that I create myself. I want to be guided by my inspiration, not by software designers.

Of course, you don’t have to use plugins with presets. While that is an option, you can also modify the presets and make your own settings.

Eventually, this thing with using plugins with presets, or using plugins and making your own settings, or not using plugins at all (like I do) is comparable to baking a cake. You can buy a ready made cake, or you can buy a cake mix and add butter, milk and a few other ingredients, or you can make your own cake 100% from scratch.

Only option three is entirely your work and that’s my favorite. It takes longer, requires more knowledge, and necessitates more efforts, but it is the only one that results in the most personal and unique creations.

Certainly, doing everything from scratch does take more time and  since ‘time is money’ this requires more financial resources as well.   While this is certainly accurate, that is not how I see things.  For me, creating fine art is not about saving time.  It is about creating the finest image possible.  This means getting out of my way and spending more time than most would when necessary.

My goal is to create the finest quality images possible, not the largest quantity possible. In any given year, I produce somewhere between 10 and 25 images that I consider to be fine art.  I do take thousands of captures, if not tens of thousands, but those numbers are attempts, not final images. The number of final images I create is in the 2 digits.  So far this number has been between 10 and 25 yearly.

The case can also be made that it is inevitable to use some plugins such as sharpening, CS5 Photomerge, noise removal, and the like.  This is a valid point.  However, to me using these plugins does not affect style.  They are more ‘practical’ in their functions than ‘artistic’.  Their use is not an end in itself. They are means to an end rather than a personal style ‘crutch.’  They are used for practical reasons, not for inspirational reasons.

The plugins I stay away from are those that affect the three parts of color: hue, saturation and luminosity.  I also avoid filters that impose a texture, or other visual effect, onto the image. In short, I avoid ‘creative’ plugins, those that change my style.  However I do use ‘practical’ plugins because they make my life easier.  My goal is not to make this any more difficult than it is.  My goal is to make this as creative as possible.

Art is not about saving time.  Art is about saving emotions.  Art is about preserving what we experienced and sharing it with our audience in in a work of art, a photograph in this instance.

Alain Briot
April 2011

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Lensbaby Composer

These photographs were taken with the Lensbaby Composer at the Speedworld Dragstrip in Surprise, Arizona.

I used the f/8 Aperture ring for all of them.

Edelbrock

Hoosier

Bel Air

Alain Briot
April 2011

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Personal Style and Portrait Photography

I hear a  lot of portrait photographers today tell me that newcomers are taking away their business even though they only have a fraction of their skills and knowledge.  That all it takes for these up and coming photographers is purchasing basic equipment and learning how to market their products.

That is, unfortunately, very true and for 2 main reasons. First, I always say that ‘a poor photograph well marketed will always outsell a good photograph poorly marketed.’ This applies to all of us. It is not uncommon at all to see fine photographers make a very poor living. Similarly, there are a lot of excellent products out there –books, portfolios, etc.–  that are fantastic and yet are not selling very well, if they are selling at all.

Making the best product possible is not what generates sales. Marketing is what generates sales. And for most photographers, marketing is basically saying: “Here it is. I have this available and it is great.” Hoping to sell something with this approach is not only delusional, it is plain ridiculous.  This is why learning marketing is so important when you make your living by selling your photography.

Second, today just about anyone with a DSLR, a couple of flash heads and a computer can do what only professionals could do in film days. Getting high quality portraits and wedding photos was hard with film. Getting a white dress to be white in print was a challenge. Getting soft contrast was difficult. Getting nice skin tones was difficult. Tutorials were hard to come by, if they were available at all. All this is a lot easier with digital. The bar has been raised significantly, and those who insist on approaching the portrait business the way they did with film cannot expect to stay in business long, provided they are still in business. And if your plan is to buy the most expensive gear out there and hope that it’s going to make the difference, you’ll just be out of that much money because anyone can buy the same gear.

What this all means is that the only way to truly stand out today and make a good living is by having a unique style and vision and marketing it adequately. This is not something you can buy at a store or get through software. Instead, this is something you have to work hard for and learn through dedicated study. That’s why hardly any ‘up and coming photographers’ have a personal style, and that’s why those who do put in the time and effort to acquire a personal style can market their work effectively and have little competition.

The thing with marketing is that it can’t be improvised. It has to be done right from the start.  Errors are costly.  Attempts to fix a marketing program after the product has been launched are as ineffective as trying to fix the rocket booster seal on the space shuttle after takeoff. The disaster is inevitable. Your fate is sealed at the start.

Since 2001 I have been focusing on teaching personal style and fine art photography marketing through my workshops, seminars, and  Mastery DVD series.  I have developed a system that has been extremely effective in helping students develop their own style and learn to use marketing to increase their profits.  If what I wrote here echoes in you, if you can relate to all this, I encourage you to look into my workshops and tutorials.  I believe you will find the help you have been looking for.

Alain Briot
http://www.beautiful-landscape.com

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About Art Competitions

About Art Competitions

What to do
Only you knows what you want to do.  All I can do is help you do it by teaching you what I know.  What I can say is this: without a plan of action that includes specific goals and deadlines, you are unlikely to get anywhere.  My “big break” happened when I made a plan about how to get what I wanted in photography.  To this day, everything that I achieved came out of this.

Waiting to win an art competition is like waiting to win the lottery.  Granted, you have more chances of winning an art competition than a lottery, but either way you are not in control.  The judges are in control. All you can do is submit your work then hope for the best.

The first thing you need to do is take control of your destiny.  Stop waiting for others to make you successful, and take control of your own success.  That’s what I did.  I didn’t enter competitions, I didn’t try to get awards or win anything, I looked for ways to sell my work myself and make an income.  Money is important, because photography is expensive.  Without earning money from my photography I would have been forced to stop.

This meant I had to study marketing.  That was my second big break. By studying marketing, I learned how to sell my work.  Knowing how to sell is not innate.  I wasn’t born with that knowledge. None of us is!  It’s something we have to learn, all of us, if we want to sell.

From there, things fell into place.  I also had to learn how to deal with criticism.  But that’s another story.  Here too, it is not innate.  All of this has to be learned.

Notice that none of this has much to do with photography. Eventually, while photographs are what we do, they are not the only thing we need to focus on.

Alain Briot
http://www.beautiful-landscape.com

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Vision

Vision

Vision

Vision starts with personal taste. It starts with a conscious awareness of what you like and don’t like. One of the first exercises you can do is make a list of what you like and don’t like in photography and which photographers you like and dislike.

Vision is about your personal taste, as well as your personal opinions, expressed visually. it’s about taking a stance and expressing it through a 2 dimmentional visual medium.

We all have opinions. We all have taste. The first issue here is knowing what our opinions and taste are in regards to photography. The second issue is learning how to express our taste and opinions in a visual language.

The visual language of photography is really what has to be learned. This knowledge is not innate, and unless we grew up among artists or went to art school, we are not familiar with it. It is like learning a foreign language in a way. The challenge for many is accepting that while we may intuitively know what a fine art photograph is of, because we are familiar with the subject matter, we do not know intuitively how it was made.

Learning this is one of the very first steps, and definitely one of the most important ones as well.

Art is one of the very few endeavors where your opinions can help you create great work!

Alain Briot
http://www.beautiful-landscape.com

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Waiting for Talent – Part 2

Waiting for Talent
Part 2: Making a Plan

It can be said that many people make plans.  It can be said that artists, and more appropriately here, photographers make plans.  Certainly.  I am not by all means saying I am the only one who makes plans.  However, what I am saying is that there are plans and then there are plans. The important question is, which one did you make?

For example, It is easy to say on January 1st: “This year I will start a photography business.”  Or “this year I will complete a specific project.”  Anyone can say that.  It’s no different than saying “this year I will stop smoking” or “this year I will exercise regularly,” or loose weight, or kick off other unhealthy habits.  Announcing it  is certainly an important step, but the most difficult part is doing it. The real challenge is making a detailed plan about how you are going to accomplish this, how you are going to stick to your decision through thin and thick, through easy times and hard times.  In other words, the difficult part is making a plan that will generate success in the long term.

Making a long term plan is not just saying “I am going to do this.”  Certainly, saying that you are going to do something is better than not saying anything.  It is taking an important decision, making a commitment and, hopefully, getting started. I say “hopefully” because many people take decisions everyday but not all of them carry these decisions to completion and become successful.

It is fair to say that we all have goals. However, it is also fair to say that some of us will reach their goals while that others will not.  After all, things happen.  For example, some goals are simply unrealistic.  And, things happen along the way to reaching our goals: we get discouraged, we run out of steam, we lose interest: what once was something we had to achieve at all costs now seems relatively unimportant.   Life does get in the way. Unexpected things happen, things that need to be taken care of immediately, things that force us to push aside less important things, such as new year resolutions.  As the saying goes: ‘the best laid plan . . .’ The implications being that no matter how well we plan, things often work out in unpredictable fashion.

But the best laid plan should have built into it the possibility that these things can happen.  The best laid plan should have built into it the possibility of failure.  Not all of the things I just mentioned need to be accounted for because not everything happens to everyone, but some of these things should be expected to happen.  In other words, a good plan, a solid plan, a plan designed for success, must have built into it provisions for adversity.

Adversity is something we must expect.  It is not a matter of if, it is a matter of when.  Adversity will strike, we just don’t know when or where.  And if we are poorly prepared, if our plan does not have built into it provisions about dealing with adversity, we will most likely quit whenever we encounter it.  We will quit not because we want to quit or because we are “natural born quitters.”  We will quit because we do not know what to do in front of adversity.   Rather than fight back, we resent it.  We believe that this was not expected to happen.  What was supposed to happen is being rewarded for taking the decision to do something difficult. As it stand, or so we believe, we are being punished for trying to do what others do not have the courage of doing.

Perhaps.  Certainly, as logic would have it we should be rewarded.  But then, life is not always logical.  And after all,this is not be about reward.  Instead, it is about perseverance and tenatiousness. In other words, doing this is not about someone  owning us something.  It is about us us owning something to ourselves.  And this something that we owe to ourselves is reaching our goal and sticking to our plan.  You can put it a variety of ways, but in the end it is about not quitting.  It is about moving forward, regardless.

Alain Briot
http://www.beautiful-landscape.com

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Waiting for Talent – Part 1

Waiting for Talent
Part 1: Talent and Success

In art, there is a lot of talk about talent. This is certainly a fascinating subject and I am not blaming those who talk or write about it.  In fact, I spent a fair amount of time myself reflecting on talent, as demonstrated in my recent essay: Rethinking Talent (click here to read this essay).

However, while we can spend a lot of time talking about it, talent is something we cannot neither define or explain. Personally, what I am more interested in is success.  Unlike talent,the causes of success can be defined: success comes from having a plan, putting it to action, not giving up, and working hard.

When talking about success, it quickly becomes obvious that talent and success are unrelated.  The evidence is the large number of talented but unsuccessful people.  This is particularly common in art.  What is uncommon is finding an artist who is both talented and successful.

Recently someone asked me what was my ‘big break’ in regards to being successful.  I answered that my ‘big break’ was when I made a plan about getting what I wanted.  That was my break.  From there, I started looking for what I needed to make this happen. I continue doing this today. I wasn’t lucky. I wasnt’ at the right place at the right time.  I had a plan.

Certainly, luck and being at the right place do play a role, but they don’t play a role over 10 years and they don’t make miracles happen.  What plays a role over a long period of time is having a plan and sticking to it, not giving up and working hard.  Those are the things that will generate success because by doing these things you are taking control of your destiny instead of expecting events out of your control to make you successful.  That is what makes all the difference:  taking an active role in making your own success, instead of waiting for something or someone to make you successful.

Personally, I don’t like to wait. That’s why I took control of my life instead of waiting for fate, luck, or some form of happenstance to take control of it.  I just didn’t like the idea of having to wait for any of these things to happen.  I didn’t like the idea that I wouldn’t know what was in store for me until it happened. I also didn’t like the idea that I may be waiting for something that would never happen.

Doing so is like playing the lottery and waiting to win.  You never know if you are going to win or not. And even if you win, you don’t know ahead of time how much you are going to win. Not knowing bothers me.  Waiting, expecting something out of my control to happen or not happen bothers me. In short, not having control bothers me.  I’d much rather make a plan and stick to it.

. . . to be continued in Part 2 – Making a Plan.

Alain Briot
http://www.beautiful-landscape.com

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A Follow up on ‘Photographing Watches’



There is what we think of the product advertised (watches in this case but by extension any luxury product) and then there is how the photograph of this product was made. Notice I said “made” and not taken. There’s nothing about a photograph being “taken” here. It is made. Even better, it is constructed. Carefully, and craftfully, constructed.

The problem with expensive objects such as watches and other luxury products is that they represent a want rather than a need. Unless we are the intended audience, meaning those who purchase these products, we tend to look at them with a certain disdain.  We tend to approach them as objects that blasé people purchase because they have everything, because they are bored, and because they find excitement in owning what we consider to be  totally superfluous and unecessary.

This may or may not be true, it all depends where you are at and what you believe in. However, what is important is that just as much work goes into photographing a Big Mac (to take one example among many) as goes into photographing a luxury watch. Look carefully at the BigMac photographs the next time you are at a McDonald restaurant. The sesame seeds each looks perfect,  there is no “bald spot” and all the seeds are matched in color and shape . Hamburger buns don’t come that way. In regular buns seeds are randomly spaced. Some are missing. Some are split in half and others are afflicted with a variety of defects: wrong color, wrong shape, wrong refletance levels, etc. So what is done is the perfect seeds are picked from a large number of buns, then glued one at a time, using tweezers and a minute amount of glue, onto the bun that will be photographed.

The same is done for the cheese (goal: the perfect melt), the meat, the “special sauce”, the lettuce, the onions, the pickles, etc. Nothing is left to chance. Yet, this product is a need, not a want, provided we look at a Big Mac as food (we need to eat) and not at being a particular type of food (we may or may not like fast food or McDonalds).

The moral of these remarks? Photographs used to sell the products offered by large companies are not accidental and do not depict reality. Like cars and like a multitude of other products that are sold on the basis of an image, when we buy a Big Mac we never get one that looks like the one on the advertising.  No BigMac looks like the one that makes us want to buy.  That one is a construction, an idealization.  No matter how real it looks, it is not real.  The goal is to make it look appetizing, not to make it look like the ones coming out of the kitchen.

P.S.: This is a follow up to a previous blog entry titled Photographing Watches that you can read here.

Alain Briot
http://www.beautiful-landscape.com

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Photography is Changing

Photography is changing from documentation to expression

It is quite obvious to me that photography as we have known it until digital took over is over. However, a new photography is emerging. What it is is still in the making, the actual emergence being hampered by the ongoing and constant technological improvements and changes. Now that these have slowed down, and that we have a relatively stable platform to work from, I expect to see this emergence take a more easily recognizable form.

This process is no different than the process that followed the emergence of photography itself. At that time it was claimed that painting was over. Certainly, painting as it was known prior to the invention of photography was over. However, a new painting emerged, and this new painting was characterized by no longer being responsible for representing things as they were. Photography could do this a lot better. Painting therefore took on a different role, that of representing what could not be seen. The abstract, the impressionist, the surreal, etc. became the subject of this new painting.

What is happening with photography today, is that just like painting before it, the responsibility to represent reality is fading away. It appears that this reality is now falling upon the shoulders of video. This change is made possible in part by the emergence of HD video which gives us a more believable image, especially on TV. It is seconded by the difficulty of manipulating video on computers. While possible, it takes a much more powerful machine than is required to manipulate a photograph. The knowledge necessary is also far less mainstream than for photography. While nearly everyone is familiar with Photoshop, few can name software used to manipulate video, and far fewer actually use this software.

This is seen in many different photography fields. Clearly it is present in fine art, because it is about expression rather than documentation, but it is also seen in reportage, wedding, etc. People who want reality now turn to video. People who turn to photography expect something different than what they see or what they can capture on their own.

Alain Briot
http://www.beautiful-landscape.com

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Photographing Watches

Reflections on Photographing Luxury Watches

Watch photography, when done at the top level like photographs created for companies such as Breitling, Rolex, Blancpain etc., is very work intensive and requires specific knowledge.

Because watches are constructed with several different materials, each material requires a specific type of lighting to look its best. This implies several different captures, each for a specific material. On a single watch, at that level of photography, there will be at the very least a capture for the watch metallic parts, one for the bezel (the glass part), and one for the band if it is leather or rubber. In addition, there will be several captures for the metal parts if markedly different metals or finishes are used. Finally, there will be at least one capture for the background. Often, the background is shot separately and added as another layer.

With film this was done through in-camera masking using large format (4×5 but mainly 8×10 Sinars – only large format allowed the precise masking required). Today this is done in Photoshop by layering the different captures.

Here is an interesting example:



Romain Jerome Titanic DNA watch

At 300k for a single watch, the watchmaker will purposefully spend a lot of money on photography and advertising. One of the basic concepts of marketing is the more expensive the product or service is, the more you can spend on advertising it.

While I don’t know who did the photography and digital processing, I have no doubt the photographer alone charged a six figure fee. The advertising campaign must have cost several millions $.  Whether selling a luxury watch made from bits of the Titanic is in good taste or not is an entirely different matter. It did cause a stir when it was released in mid-2008.

It also has become common practice for “big companies” to use CAD (Computer Aided Design) in place of photography for advertising. This is commonly done for cars for example because car photography is very expensive (significantly more than watch photography which as I mentioned earlier isn’t cheap) and because cars cannot always be placed where the ad director would like. For example, most of the Hummer “photos” were done with CAD, only the tires and wheels were photographed on site, carefully placed to be located exactly where the Hummer will be in the final image.

That way the car can be shown in locations where it would be very difficult to physically drive it, either because of adverse terrain, or because permits cannot be secured (in National Parks for example). I have seen ads for Jeep that show cars where I know I can barely hike to, where driving is impossible, and where commercial photography is not permitted. This means CAD is how they were done.

Food for thought for the next time we buy a car on the basis of a photograph! Hint to car buyers (all of us I suppose, unless we are committed to using bicycles or public transportation for the rest of our lives): buy the vehicle based on how it drives, not only on how it looks, and certainly not on the basis of any photograph. All car photographs make the car look better than it can ever be in reality. You are basically sold an image, not the actual product and definitely not how the car looks in reality (hint: images are not real. Only reality is real. Even then, some question that too but that’s another story altogether) . This is true for many products, watches being one of them.

Alain Briot
http://www.beautiful-landscape.com

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