Experimental Photography

Sumac

When I was in university, taking photo courses, I enjoyed the “experimental” assignments that could range from anything from photo collages to shadowgrams. My classmates must have been equally inspired because they produced some excellent photographic art. All of us were influenced by Jerry Uelsmann.

Back then experimental photography was tough to produce because everything had to be constructed in a darkroom using an enlarger and photographic paper. With the advent of Photoshop, and other digital editors, things that used to take days can be done in minutes.

What’s even more remarkable is that several companies create Photoshop add-ins that supplement the art filters already in Photoshop. You can get psychedelic, oil painting, orton effect, and dozens of other artistic filters that can create photographic art with the click of a button.

The question is, if it’s this easy, is it art? It’s a disputable point. I’ve seen some “paint-by-numbers” photographic art that isn’t very pleasing, and I’ve seen photos enhanced with filters that look terrific.

So, the art question aside, what makes an effective presentation using art filters? I think it mainly depends on the original photo. Some photos, due to composition, subject, and innate colour, lend themselves to art-filter experiments. In all cases, these would also make good straight photographs. Experimenting with them can give them greater impact.

From my own work using filters, often multiple filters, I find I have to get just the right subject. That, however is no guarantee. You never know until you begin making the changes.

I’ve tried many experiments that never got to “Save As” in Photoshop. Although they might have been interesting, they didn’t ring true. Some products, like Topaz Adjust, can over-exaggerate effects creating works that don’t stand up well. These I simply abandon. Which is not to say Topaz Adjust isn’t useful — it simply needs to be used with a light touch.

I’ve been having fun lately with a somewhat over-the-top, free plugin for Photoshop CS5, available from the Adobe website. Called Pixel Bender, it can produce some mind-boggling effects. Also some beautiful ones. The Oil Paint module, in particular, does a magnificant job.

Both photos in this posting were done with Pixel Bender Oil Paint, plus some tweaks involving masking, levels adjustments, and a spot of sharpening here and there.

As always, I know I’ll be returning to straight photography, my favourite kind. But it never hurts to take an experimental side path to shake up the neurons a bit to fire off some creativity. Even if it’s highly augmented with click-a-pic filters.

View from my Window

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About Gene Wilburn

Gene Wilburn is a writer ~ photographer ~ humanist
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