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As an artist I get a lot of enjoyment out of watching, listening and analyzing media from outside of the world of photography. But there’s so much “stuff” to consume now in the digital age that it’s amazing anything even sticks with us. Somehow we manage to find the movies and the music we love even though we are surrounded by advertisements for everything all the time.

How do you discern between two pieces of art or music or whatever it is when both things are created to perfection? On an even playing field, how do you decide what song you like more? Well, you probably almost always pick out the thing that you have an emotional response to. You probably always pick something up off the shelf at the store because you like how it makes you feel.

If you’re like me then I bet you have some emotional response to all of your favorite things. Let me give you some examples.

I played Skyrim the other day and I remembered it’s one of my favorite games because it’s so epic and endless that it makes every other game look unfinished.

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Granted, I will say that the developers at Bethesda Game Studios spent years and years and years bringing this game to a fine polish in a way that not a lot of other game studios can even afford to do. It just has this epic quality to it that really pulls everything together and adds this extra level of realism and depth and a mood that you can only get from mixing a bunch of different things together. You can’t really point at any one aspect of this game and say “well, it’s great because the textures all look really nice” no that’s not it. That’s part of it but definitely not the whole thing.

For Skyrim it’s the time period, the vikings, the axes, swords, dragons, magical spells, traps, dungeons, the changing of the weather and feeling that every NPC in the game has a story of their own and that they have just as much purpose and weight in the game as the player does. There are no seams, when you play this game you feel like you are completely immersed like a dream you can’t leave. Everything in Skyrim holds up against the close prying eye of the player. The devil is in the details and the details deliver.

There’s a difference between being able to create something visually stunning and being able to also capture a specific mood or a specific feeling and have it translate to the viewer. Bethesda has done exactly that with Skyrim and it’s something not a lot of artists can do well. My favorite thing and biggest challenge in art is making something beautiful that doesn’t just make you feel something but makes you feel the same thing every single time. That’s why we play the same games over and over or watch the same movies or listen to music right? Because we like the way it makes us feel. That’s why we remember some things but not other things and how we find the things we love despite having a million different choices.

Blizzard Entertainment’s dungeon crawler RPG Diablo II is also a very good example of a game being able to capture a mood and deliver it to a player. D2 is perhaps one of the most atmospheric, dark, creepy, epic games of its time. I love cloudy, rainy disgusting days because of this game. It’s extremely difficult to put into words exactly the feeling I get from this game but it’s there every time I sit down to play and still inspires me to this day as I progress with my own art.

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You know you’ve done something right if your game or your art/music can force someone to not only be in your shoes but also feel the way you intended them to feel. Not a single dark cloudy day goes by where I don’t think “it’s looking very diablo 2 out today.” I’m so far beyond excited to continue my next big project which is almost wholly inspired by Diablo 2.

I think I’ve also mentioned Lord of The Rings in another post but I’ll mention it here too. Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies have this same immersive epic effect that I’ve found in these games. To watch these films though you have to make sure you turn your phone off and give the film your undivided attention or else you lose the illusion. Just like if you’re at a theater production and someone comes in through the side door halfway into the performance. You remember you’re not really where the play is taking place and it takes probably about ten or fifteen minutes to regain your suspension of disbelief.

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Peter Jackson could’ve made Lord of the Rings into one film but he didn’t because he knew it would’ve lost something. You just can’t capture the vastness of a story like that in one go. By the time Frodo ditches the ring at Mt. Doom (spoilers) you really feel how he feels, like it has taken forever and it’s been difficult but they did it. If the trilogy was only an hour and a half it would not have seemed like it took a year for them to finish their quest, it would’ve felt like a few weeks at best.

For me, this is what drives my love of art. Anyone can make something that looks good but it might not elicit an emotional response. Some artists just want to make something to make something. How something looks and feels and sounds is all part of the artist’s intention. You can make whatever you want.

I love the stuff in between, not so hot and not so cold. Art that feels like something about fall and winter that you can’t quite put your finger on but it’s there staring you right in the face. That thing that makes you do a double take. For stills in particular, although I have complete free reign over everything you see, I don’t have the benefit of sound or developing a story over time (at least not in one single picture anyway). But it’s all part of the fun, part of the challenge and part of the boundaries and limitations of my medium and I enjoy it for what it is.

 

More often than not, I know what I’m going to do for post processing on a photo after I shoot it, but sometimes it’s a hard call. I don’t know if I want black and white (which for all intensive purposes in this post, will include Sepia toning, just for kicks) or color in the end result. There are a few things I like to bare in mind while making this decision:

  1. What do I want the viewer to focus on
  2. What mood do I want to convey
  3. Will the color in the picture take away from it as a whole

If I want the viewer to focus more on lines, expressions and contrast, I’ll opt for a black and white picture. Also, if the color in the photograph is not particularly appealing I might also convert to monochrome. Color is one of those things that, a lot of the time, is only noticed if it is really good, or really bad. So, if I can’t somehow glean a few decent colors (as in colors that wouldn’t otherwise detract from the overall picture) from my RAWs during post, then I’ll either re-shoot whatever it is, or convert to black and white, or not use that shot at all and start over.

Another good example would be if I happened upon an Escher-like staircase somewhere, but it was a vibrant, neon green, I would also then convert to black and white. The color is distracting from the subject, which would mainly be the lines and contrast/tone of the stairs.

Since we’re dealing with still images, nothing moves, so you can look and look and look at the smallest details. One thing I’ve noticed, is that maybe there’s a tiny imperfection in your lens somewhere, and it shows up in your photo. The problem I run into is, once I’ve seen something like that in my picture, my eyes are immediately drawn to it every time I look. This same problem could potentially come up with color, if it is particularly bad. I suppose it could come up with just about anything else in pictures too.

Some folks may argue that monochrome pictures look a little more “fine artsy” and “precious” which is kind of dumb. It seems silly to all of a sudden label something FINE ART when its black and white, like it somehow becomes more complex when there’s no color to ogle.

Just a few things to keep in the back of your head

-Alex