What is Beauty? Part 2…

My last post by no means was the end all discussion/definition of beauty. Mr. Dutton’s comments were interesting, inspiring, defining, but they weren’t the full answer. It was one perspective. I’m going to continue this exploration by pulling in additional pieces and adding my two bits when it makes sense and I feel so inspired.

There’s a piece by Trey Ratcliff of HDR fame, among other things. His article is entitled, 10 Principles of Beautiful Photography.

Here’s an extract to whet your appetite:

Oh, look at that camera you have! It’s so tiny and slim and techno-looking. Look! It fits right in your pocket! Oh my, you can take it to parties and to sporting events and it’s so convenient. Oh – it does 10 megapixels too! Oh my. Well that is a good camera then!

No it’s not. It’s a toy – give it to your kids or the nearest Japanese gradeschooler (for whom it was designed) and get serious.

Check it out – some thoughtful insights, spoken plainly.

What is Beauty?

First – sorry for the significant gap in postings. I’ve been confused and depressed about what I’m trying to do and if I’m going to be able to do it. If it will matter to anyone else – and if that is even important. 

I’m struggling again because I’m wondering if I can do what I want with just photography – and I don’t think I can. But that means to do what I want I need to do more than simply refine my photography skills. I need to develop my additional skills. I spent some time on that the last few weeks and made some progress. Then I let myself get overwhelmed with the sheer magnitude of what I’m trying to accomplish.

Then there is a philisophical question that has been bouncing around in my little head: What makes a work of art beautiful?  I’ve posted here and in the comments on other blogs that it doesn’t matter how you get there – it is the final image that matters. The work should be judged solely on the merits of the image, not how it got there. That was my reaction to the debate on To PS or Not to PS…

It sounds profound, and pure and well thought out – and it’s a bunch of bunk.  I hate to say this, but I was wrong.  As I’ve pondered that statement I’ve realized that we really do admire and respond to the effort and skill that went into the making of the work. The digital evolution has made it so much easier to produce high quality, amazing images. That has raised the level of, maybe not of beauty, but of qualitative beauty. To be great and significant, the artist has to raise her/his threshold, push it further.

So back to the question – what is beauty. What do we respond to? Why?

And I found the following talk on TEDS by Denis Dutton:

Virtuoso technique is used to create imaginary worlds in fiction and in movies to express intense emotions with music, painting and dance…

One fundamental trait of the ancestral personality persists in our aesthetic cravings, the beauty we find in skilled performances…

We find beauty in something done well.


Photomerge Notes

I’m exploring the different options of Photomerge in CS5. I’ll add my notes on that exploration here as I go.

Most of this is from the Adobe help and my own messing around.

How to get to Photomerge in CS5:

File – Automate – Photomerge

How to get to Photomerge from Bridge:

Tools – Photoshop – Photomerge.

Uses all images currently displayed in Bridge. If you only want specific images, select them before starting the command.

How to get to Photomerge from Lightroom 3:

Right Click – …

The CS5 Photomerge dialog screen:

The following is a direct pull from Adobe help on the Photomerge options:



Photoshop analyzes the source images and applies either a Perspective, Cylindrical, and Spherical layout, depending on which produces a better photomerge.

In the case of the examples below, Auto generated a Cylindrical merge.


Creates a consistent composition by designating one of the source images (by default, the middle image) as the reference image. The other images are then transformed (repositioned, stretched or skewed as necessary) so that overlapping content across layers is matched.


Reduces the “bow?tie” distortion that can occur with the Perspective layout by displaying individual images as on an unfolded cylinder. Overlapping content across files is still matched. The reference image is placed at the center. Best suited for creating wide panoramas.


Aligns and transforms the images as if they were for mapping the inside of a sphere. If you have taken a set of images that cover 360 degrees, use this for 360 degree panoramas. You might also use Spherical to produce nice panoramic results with other file sets.


Aligns the layers and matches overlapping content and transforms (rotate or scale) any of the source layers, without any distortion/adjustments.


Aligns the layers and matches overlapping content, but does not transform (stretch or skew) any of the source layers. Best choice for well captured images – everything is square on, perfectly aligned.



Blend Images Together

Finds the optimal borders between the images and create seams based on those borders, and to color match the images. With Blend Images Together turned off, a simple rectangular blend is performed. This may be preferable if you intend to retouch the blending masks by hand.

Spherical with Blend Off:

Collage with Blend Off:

Vignette Removal

Removes and performs exposure compensation in images that have darkened edges caused by lens flaws or improper lens shading.

Geometric Distortion Correction

Compensates for barrel, pincushion, or fisheye distortion.

CS4 Photomerge Tutorial

A new Gallery and a new PS technique

I haven’t posted in a while, but I have been busy.

I set up a Photo Gallery using the SmugMug.com tool. It was easy to setup, looks and works well. It includes a shopping cart. I like it – except for the cost part. My demo runs out and I have to send them money in about a week. I’m doing the whole feature set which runs around $160 a year. But I found a 20% off coupon – I did a google search for SmugMug and found coupons all over the place. It also hooks into Lightroom so I can manage the gallerys right from there. In fact you can get the 20% off if you hook up via the Lightroom interface. That’s nice. I pointed the ExquisiteLines domain at it, so it is the front end now, with a link to the blog. I guess that means I’m committed.

And I’ve been playing Photoshop. I found a fun technique on Kelby Training on Painting with Words, based on the ASICS commercial.

Here’s the commercial:


Here’s the almost final image Corey Barker built in the Kelby lesson:

9-16-2010 11-17-03 PM 

It looked fun so I’ve been playing with it. I can’t say I’ve built anything amazing, but I’ve learned more about paint brushes and more blending practice.

Tonight I gave up the whole word thing and just played with a couple of textured brushes and a textured background. Here’s what I came up with.


2008_1122_5846_CutOut_Thru Wall 

The process is:

  • Image of the actor with a plain dark background. The words/texture show on the background outside of the actor.
  • Final background – in this case the asphalt texture
  • Select the actor and drop in a layer mask hiding the actor’s background
  • Select the portion of the actor that will be painted over with the words/texture
    • Blur the edges of the selection
    • Fill with black on the layer mask to add it to the blocked out portion of the actor layer
  • Make a paint brush with the words/texture that you will use to paint in
  • Paint on the layer mask in white along the edges of the actor to add the effect
  • Add some creative blur – have fun

Brilliant, no, but kind of fun.

Keep in mind – the blog is my work book – a record of my explorations – the good stuff and the not so good stuff.  What ever I learn from.  The gallery is where the high end stuff will live.

Use of color arbitrarily to express more forcibly – Vincent Van Gogh

I love Vincent Van Gogh. I love his passion as expressed in his painting. Powerful, brilliant, unique. But I didn’t really appreciate the man until I read a compilation of his letters to his brother Theo. He wasn’t just a brilliant artist – he was a highly intelligent and tragically honest man.  I like people like that. Either because I’m like that or, because I think I’m like that.


I picked the compilation up tonight, opened it and started reading and found a great insight into what he was doing with color – how he expressed what he felt about his subject by the color choices he made.

Here is that section – from ‘The Letters of Vincent Van Gogh’, edited by Mark Roskill:

… instead of trying to reproduce exactly what I have before my eyes, I use colour more arbitrarily so as to express myself forcibly. Well, let that be as a matter  of theory, but I am going to give you an example of what I mean.

I should like to paint the portrait of an artist friend, a man who dreams great dreams, who works as the nightingale sings, because it is his nature. He’ll be a fair man. I want to put into the picture my appreciation, the love that I have for him. So I paint him as he is, as faithfully as I can, to begin with.

But the picture is not finished yet. To finish it I am now going to be the arbitrary colourist. I exaggerate the fairness of the hair, I get to orange tones, chromes and pale lemon yellow.

Beyond the head, instead of painting the ordinary wall of the mean room, I paint infinity, a plain background of the richest, intensest blue that I can contrive, and by this simple combination the bright head illuminated against a rich blue background acquires a mysterious effect, like a star in the depths of an azure sky.

In the portrait of the peasant I again worked in this way, but without wishing in this case to evoke the mysterious brightness of a pale star in the infinite. Instead, I think of the man I have to paint, terrible in the furnace of the full ardours of harvest, at the heart of the south. Hence the orange shades like storm flashes, vivid as red hot iron, and hence the luminous tones of old gold in the shadows.

On, my dear boy… and the nice people will only see the exaggeration as caricature.

The Beauty of the Power Game


You need to check this out. I found this in a post on Chase Jarvis’ blog.


9-1-2010 10-18-01 PM

It is a set of moving images shot with a Phantom camera, which shoots at 1250 fps in 1080HD.   The subjects are professional women tennis players – and it is amazing. I’ve watched it a half dozen times – so far.

Here’s the cast of characters:

  • Kim Clijsters
  • Serena Williams
  • Elana Dementieva
  • Jelena Jankovic
  • Samantha Stosur
  • Victoria Azarenka
  • Vera Zvonareva

Here’s the link.

John Loengard – what is a photograph?

Today, at ScottKelby.com, John Loengard posted for Guest Blog Wednesday.

(who is John Loengard – check out this post by Joe McNally who works for/with him)

Some amazingly beautiful images. I loved the portraits of Georgia O’Keeffe. Check them out.  She was so stunningly graphic as a person – simply in the way she dressed and carried herself. Of course it doesn’t hurt that she was photographed by some of the best photographers of the age.

The following are quotes from his article that honestly and clearly define what it means to make a photograph.

It is not important if photographs are “good.” It’s important that they are interesting. What makes a photograph interesting? I’ll count the ways: It can be our first look at something. It can be entertaining. It can evoke deep emotions. It can be amusing or thrilling or intriguing. It can be proof of something. It can jog memories or raise questions. It can be beautiful. It can convey authority. Most often, it informs. And, it can surprise.

Before I became a picture editor, I assumed that “good photographers” took “good pictures” because they had a special eye. What I found was that good photographers take good pictures because they take great pains to have good subjects in front of their cameras. (Reflect a moment on what cameras do, and this makes sense.) Good photographers anticipate their pictures.

This quote reminds of something Jerry Garns, the first photoographer I worked for told me: ‘If you want to take good looking pictures of people, take pictures of good looking people’.  I’ve always remembered that.

No photographer can go out today and take a photograph that sums up the Obama Administration. Photographs don’t generalize. But a detail, when photographed, often conveys a sense of a whole. A finger, the man. A leaf, the tree. A curbstone, the city.

Read the full article here.

Inspiration vs. Creativity

Chase Jarvis posted this excerpt:

“The reality is that it’s easier to be inspired than it is to create an original idea and we are hardwired to take the path of least resistance. It’s easier to jump onto a design inspiration gallery site than it is to sit down with a blank sheet of paper and a pencil. It’s easier to follow a pattern than it is to test-drive new options. It’s easier to copy a style or idea that works than try something that might miss the mark or outright fail. Above all, it’s cheaper mentally for us to rally around what’s already been done and emulate it…”

Read the whole post here, at Viget.com – don’t forget the comments.

I loved this comment from Rob Gilgan:

My own experience has been those with a traditional arts background tend to lack originality and produce largely derivative work. I have colleagues who are short on education and long on space and form conception – they produce, by and large, stunning work without a debt to other artists.

I always impart the anecdote from a show I produced, where a local art educator and ‘expert’ couldn’t determine if he liked a piece until he found out where the artist had trained.

Now – I’m not ripping the value of education – I just think that we use it as to much of a crutch. It is somehow easier to read a book, take a class, read a blog rather than go out and shot, draw, build. I know I fall into that trap.  It makes us feel like we’re improving our selves, but at the end of the day, we haven’t produced anything. That is the true test.

Portland LDS Temple

We spent the day at OMSI watching the kids run around and have fun. I sugar crashed about 1:30 local time and crawled into the cafeteria (not literally, but sure felt like it) and ate the first thing I could find. That was not so fun.

On the way in we saw the spires of the Portland LDS temple sticking out of the trees. I mentioned this to our friends who are hauling us around and they said we would stop by on the way back. Which, of course, we did.

Here’s a couple of pictures I took. Both low key HDR. Not a great lighting moment, but I’m determined to prove you can take reasonable pictures during times when the light isn’t perfect. Since that is most of the time and, secretly, because I don’t have to get up at 5:00 in the morning to catch bad light.

All in all, I liked the results. They won’t make anyone gasp in amazement, but they are worth looking at.

Quick hey – La Costa Resort in Carlsbad

I haven’t spent much time at home the last couple of weeks. We did two family reunions and I did a week long Sales Meeting for work in San Diego. 2 days at home and tomorrow we’re leaving for Oregon for our last vacation trip of the summer. Out of money and out of PTO so its time to call it quits.

I did a lot of shooting. I took about 240 portraits and 12 group shots at the sales meeting. I’ve been spending a lot of time cleaning those up – just finished tonight. This was my first time shooting outside with a light and umbrella. It went great until the cloud cover broke. I was shooting so fast that I didn’t notice until way late and I shot a bunch way over exposed. I managed to save them all, although some are a little interesting. Kind of a high key look. And the colors are very vibrant.  We learn best from our mistakes. I did much better the second day – chimped after every shot and adjusted when I started to lose my whites.

The sales meeting was at the La Costa Resort in Carlsbad. While I was wondering around I shot a few shots of the resort.

We’re doing the Oregon coast this week end. I hope to get some good shots.