Outtakes and imperfections

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I posted the image above to Instagram this week, mentioning how I was less and less interested in perfection as I get older. That’s not exactly true though: I don’t think I ever really was. But it’s part of the learning process to at least strive for proficiency—understanding and applying the rules of photography, aiming at a sort of pinnacle in terms of technical prowess. At some point however, once the rules become ingrained, those imperatives recede; the goalposts move sideways, our craft gets more diffused. Subjective maybe? That’s as good a way to describe it as any. Or we could point to a kind of intangible nature, increasingly taking centre stage, replacing the tyranny of pristine frames. 

After all these years, I still I have no idea what makes a “good” picture. Scratch that, the word is way too loaded: what makes an “interesting” picture. I know I feel it when I see it, like a vague shimmer deep down, almost electric. Mostly I know it’s never, ever about perfection. It might be, for some, and there’s nothing wrong with this. I simply don’t react to that sort of thing.

The images today are from last summer’s UK trip. I went back through the folders, looking at previously dismissed files. And as is usually the case, I found a few outtakes that caught my eye the second time around. Some are entirely new, others offer slightly different angles that didn’t feel interesting at the time. All are decidedly imperfect

But I still get a buzz just the same.


Shot with the X-T3 and XF 35mm f/2 R WR



DISSECTIONS


Meh…1/250s, f/11 at ISO 640.

Meh…1/250s, f/11 at ISO 640.

This is a new section I’m adding to essay posts: let’s call it a peek behind the curtain. It’s similar to those case studies I usually add at the end of my ebooks. I won’t necessarily do this systematically—certain things need to end in silence—but I want to try and get into a habit of sorts. In-depth technical posts are fine but 1) they require a fair amount of time and 2) they’re not always connected to any specific set of images. Doing it as an addendum to an essay should provide more context.

So...let’s go back to that opening image. Mainly because it is decidedly unremarkable, as you can see from the original file. It was shot through a plexiglass panel, on the pier at Weston-Super-Mare. The panel is scratched and dirty which makes the shot look slightly unfocused (it’s actually pretty much nailed on the lady at the front) ; there’s also a drizzle and tons of wind. I was shooting Eterna so the colours are flat...but they would’ve been anyway in this weather. Right off the bat, this screams black and white to me.

In Capture One, I have five layers applied to this image:

- Layer 1: shadow boost on the first two faces (radial gradient mask+brush).

- Layer 2: white point boost (linear gradient mask+levels) 

- Layer 3: milder shadow boost on the blond lady (radial gradient mask) .

- Layer 4: highlight and brightness control on the blond lady’s hair (brush).

- Layer 5: shadow recovery on the front lady’s coat and purse (brush). This is basically correcting the effects of the high contrast in the BW preset I applied.

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When you look again at the original, you can see there’s a ton of shadow detail that is now just gone. Obviously, I like this. I like the black ink blot of the couple’s coats and the blond woman’s face fading into those same shadows. It looks like an error when you see the original file—it doesn’t if you don’t. Reality is ours to shape. This also hides the fact that her tongue is sticking out. As always, I could’ve gone somewhere else entirely with the processing. But that’s the joy of it IMHO: aligning whatever it is we first saw, whatever made us pull the trigger, with results that feel right. 

One more thing: I used Capture One’s Silver Rich grain at Impact 67 and Granularity 62 on all the images. This is much stronger than I would usually choose but I felt it fit the mood and created a unified space for this rather unconnected series.

Hope this was helpful. For more info on the software: Capture One Pro 12