Fixing a Big Problem


“The Overseer”
Watercolor 22 x 30 inches
After finishing my painting, “The Overseer,” last week I was perplexed by the total lack of color variation in the shadows and the harsh contrast in the painting. I worked hard on Photoshop to try to correct the problem to no avail. After much consideration, I decided to repaint the entire painting. There were a few small compositional fixes I could make, such as the fire hydrant in the foreground and the dark car on the left margin. Both needed to be moved inboard a bit. But those were the least of the problems. My biggest difficulty was what was happening inside my expensive camera . . . .
I have learned from a photographer friend that digital cameras average and compress the exposure data in a picture. That is, the necessary aperture setting for white areas are smaller, or less exposure time is needed, than for black. When an image has both white and black, as well as middle values, the camera must measure what is required for the extremes and average them to affect an acceptable exposure. The problem is that in that averaging, much of the collected data is compressed and some is actually discarded in order to arrive at a JPEG image. In that process, any subtle color shifts are typically lost.
So my problem was two fold: I had exposure problems and a painting problem where I had not expressed the necessary color variation well enough and had too large of a value interval (black to white) in the painting. Both had to be fixed. I went back to the easel vowing to keep my goals of keeping value extremes to a cautious minimum and to put more recognizable color variation into the painting. I could not go into that state of ecstasy that takes us painters away to another planet for as long as we are applying the paint. I had to stay alert.
In the end, the painting was an improvement over the first one. The difficulty then was to find out how to get around all that compression and averaging inside the camera. I found the solution in photographing in “RAW” mode. That is, every pixel is recorded as is, in Red, Green or Blue, without modifying or averaging the data. I have found that most professional photographers use this mode for that very reason. I had some studying to do to learn about this and to decipher my expensive camera to be able to pull it off.
I often marvel about how much I have had to learn about other stuff than painting in order to produce a decent painting, or photo of one. I have been struggling with photo issues for decades! Then there is the other stuff, too, like priming canvas, or the mediums in which different paints are suspended, or comosition, or what ever . . . .which I won’t go into here. It all has to work in concert.
Surely, you can see the difference in the two versions above. Do you think I was right to step up and re-tackle the whole thing?

10 thoughts on “Fixing a Big Problem”

  1. Mike, you have switched from a contrast of intensity color strategy to a harmony of intensity one (all grayed to the same degree.) In doing that you have switched moods and content. I like the switch because I think the overseer in the painting is in a very passive mood. Am I right?

  2. The overseer will be happy to have lost a few pounds in the repaint!

    Perhaps this post highlights the dangers of painting from one photograph (assuming that you did).

    I recommend taking a bunch of photographs of any subject, with varying zooms and angles, sometimes even varying lights, with only one general composition reference shot. This way there is less danger of being trapped into reproducing a photograph; I believe that the "artist brain" is much more engaged when the photographs give details and reminders only.

    The other detail that might have been overlooked in your working is the principle of taking that which caught your eye (what made your heart sing when you spotted the subject) and exaggerating it. When the photograph, no matter how expensive the camera, dictates choices then the artist gives away that "X-factor" that takes a painting from workmanship to WOW!

    Most respectfully, Kay.

  3. I rather like the high contrast and think it should be embraced, but I can certainly see what you mean. And this is something photography wise that I keep struggling with too…

  4. Ah, Kay! You are sooo right about working from more than one photo. In fact, I did. One was Black and White. My original goal was to exhibit a strong value composition with the inverted dark "T" . . . .along with the coolness of the shadow. As do most painters, I got lost in the paint . . .and not the photograph . . .and the darks got away from me in the first painting. Just one spot got too dark . . .and it was too big to lift . . .I had to glaze over much of the painting to compensate for the sudden shift in value. Once done, the piece was ruined.

    Lesson: Keep your head about you, Mike !!

  5. News! I chickened out! Yep! Threw in the towel. The painting just didn't pass muster to compete with the best in the world.

    So, instead of "The Overseer," I entered a very solidly composed non objective piece. That piece, for its composition, transitions and subtleties should stand with the best. At least, I think so. We shall see.

  6. Dare I challenge you Mike? The piece was not "ruined" as you say, but simply did not live up to YOUR expectations. I quite like it, and I am a pretty harsh critic!

    🙂 We all get carried away at times, I've done exactly the same thing with darks in acrylics just recently.

    Thanks for sharing both paintings.

  7. I actually like the higher contrasting painting, Mike, and find the second one less interesting, rather monochromatic. I liked the fire hydrant where is was – more intriguing. Kudos to you though for re-painting it. You learned a pile of things you didn't know, and you'll be a better painter for it. I enjoy your work. Thanks for sharing.

  8. The difference between jpeg and RAW is amazing. I have been griping about the poor quality of photos of paintings, and this is certainly a large part of the problem. Thank you very, very much!

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