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Shooting Red, A Photo of a Photo

Photo of a Photo - the Story

This pastel, All Our Finery 2: Survivors of the Storm Surge, 18" x 24", is a still life loaded with personal symbolism and very red. (We'll come back to the red in a moment- first, I wanted to talk about the symbolism.) It's a hodge-podge of items: vintage beer cans, toppling tea cups, and a small black-and-white photograph. I might add that the photograph is really a photo of a photo. You see, I'm from SW Florida, and last year, Hurricane Ian did a number on my Dad's house. The storm surge ripped through and like many in his area, 3 feet high water destroyed his house. One of the many lost items was our family photographs.

Generations of family photographs were lost. Heart-wrenching. Devastating.

On a visit the year before, we had gone through photos, and while I didn't take any of these treasured items, I did photograph some of them.

Photograph of a photograph.

The other items play into my Tall-Tales series. Reoccurring motifs, the vintage beer cans contrasted with the tea cups play into my identity and family identity as well.

Ultimately, this still life is about survival and what is left behind as families age and pass. Stories, memories, mementos, and of course beloved Tall - Tales- their importance cannot be overlooked.

Shooting Red

I own a Canon Rebel and a snazzy iPhone, and they are not friends with shooting red. Well, from what I've learned, most digital cameras aren't. The problem is that they overexpose reds- blowing them out. Red areas lose their definition and detail. It can be maddening.

This pastel was no different. It is particularly important to catch accurate coloring because of the layering. The shadows aren't just black but layer upon layer of related "shade" colors to create the final effect. Each time another layer of pastel is put down- it mixes with the color before. Not in the sense that they are smudged or smeared together- but through the open/ loose/ application.

In this detail notice the red area above the cup shadow. This is a perfect example of the camera overexposing the reds. While the red is beautiful and glowing- that is not a true representation. The red area above the cup has more color variations and is slightly darker.

What are the suggested fixes?

  • Lighting

  • Shoot RAW

  • Use White Balance

  • Editing Software

On the left in this photo- all the tips were applied. The image is slightly darker (yes), but that's closer to the painting. The cups have variations of white that keep their forms alive, the beer can is grey and not white, and the shadows have darker color variations running through them- but most importandly the red isn't blown out. It retains the highlights on the fabric where the harsh light hits the fold- but other areas are not washed out.

And while it was tempting to leave the colors as they were (in the first image)- that wasn't a true representation.

Ultimately, my iPhone couldn't handle the reds. My camera didn't do a great job until I set the white balance and completed the final touches in Lightroom.

Lessons from this pastel: Good photographs take time. Red is tricky. Store photographs high...

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