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The Quest for the Perfect Shot

When capturing a photograph, what makes the perfect shot? Is it the lighting? The subject? The background? A combination of all three?

Maybe it’s the camera. Is a DSLR or mirrorless camera better than a cell phone? Is film better than digital? What defines better?

As a landscape photographer, my idea of the perfect shot may not be the same as if I were a portrait photographer. What may be the perfect shot for one landscape photographer may not be the perfect shot for another landscape photographer. Photographers are artists, and art is subjective.

A couple of years ago, I visited the Getty museum in Los Angeles. There were many great exhibits, but one particular piece caught my eye. The piece was a group of 17 silver gelatin prints, photographed by Robert Kinmont, and titled My Favorite Dirt Roads. The photographs themselves were not anything special, experts would even call them amateurish (this was intentional, by the way), but they made me feel something.

To me, that’s what makes the perfect shot. That connection, that feeling. It doesn’t have to be technically perfect. It doesn’t have to be large enough to hang above your living room couch. It just has to resonate with you on a level that makes you remember it years later. You may not even remember what the image looks like, but it makes an impression on you that lasts. Sometimes, we can’t even define why a particular image makes us feel something.

With My Favorite Dirt Roads, the connection was clear. I grew up in a small town in the middle of nowhere, and the piece made me remember my own favorite dirt roads. The dirt roads by my childhood home, leading to the trees I used to climb and the pond where I caught tadpoles. The dirt roads to my family farm, where I fed cows in the winter and cut hay in the summer. The dirt road up the canyon, where we herded cows every spring and went camping as a family.

I even began photographing my own favorite dirt roads as an homage to Robert Kinmont’s piece. I have since abandoned the project, but I may return to it in the future. The idea still makes me feel something, and I want to pass that feeling on in my own work.

I know such a project won’t resonate with everyone, but it will resonate with some. Maybe we shouldn’t always be concerned with getting that perfect shot, that photograph or artwork that will be loved by the masses. Maybe we should just focus on what resonates with us. We may not sell as many pieces that way, but art isn’t really about sales, is it?

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Understanding Image Usage Rights

Disclaimer: The contents of this article are meant as a guide only, and should not be construed as expert legal advice on copyright law. Any specific questions about copyright and intellectual property rights should be referred to a lawyer with expertise in United States copyright law. Copyright laws differ slightly from country to country, so a lawyer familiar with International copyright laws may also be required.

Product or service names mentioned herein may be the trademarks of their respective owners. Their inclusion in this article should not be construed as an endorsement.

Imagine you are working on a project for a major client. You’ve spent days getting the design just right and now you’re looking for that perfect image to make the project complete. You search through your image library, but nothing feels right. You try image after image, but they all fail to meet your expectations.

We’ve all been there. Like most designers, you probably turn to the Internet. A quick Internet search yields the perfect image for your project. You visit the website, download the image, and turn your finished project over to the client. The client is happy, your boss is happy, and life couldn’t be better, right?

Wrong. You forgot something.

That image you downloaded and used in your project belongs to someone else. You had no legal right to use that image and now you, your company, and your client find yourselves in court for violating someone’s intellectual property rights.

But the image was on the Internet, so it’s free for anyone to use, right?

Wrong again. Unless the image is in the public domain, any image posted to the Internet is automatically protected by United States copyright law, with or without a copyright notice. Even sharing that image on your Facebook page without permission is a violation of the author’s legal rights. While some claims of copyright violation are more difficult to enforce than others, any legal trouble can mean bad news for a designer. Your company may survive a lawsuit, but your job and reputation likely will not.

So how do you avoid this type of situation?

The first thing you can do is avoid using images found in an Internet search. While some of these images are either public domain or specially licensed for commercial work, most are not. A better approach is to subscribe to a stock photo service such as iStock or Shutterstock. Services such as these allow almost unrestricted use of their photos for either a monthly fee or a per-photo fee.

If money is an issue, there are many sites which offer free photos, but the image quality and resolution is usually not the same as those found through a subscription service. Sites like morgueFile and Wikimedia Commons offer free access to thousands of photos, many of which are restriction-free or require only that you provide attribution to the photographer. Also, with the exception of government trademarks and logos, images created by an officer or employee of the United States government as part of that person’s official duties are not subject to copyright.

The most important thing to keep in mind is to pay attention to an image’s license. Many artists have licensed their work with a Creative Commons license, allowing others to use their photos with specific restrictions. If you can’t find an image’s license, you should probably assume it is not available for use.

This article was originally published on the LearnKey Blog.

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Painting the Manti Temple using Imprimatura

I have little formal training in painting, so most of what I know I learned from articles on the Internet. I have been reading about imprimatura in painting and I wanted to try it out.

Imprimatura is an underpainting process where the painter creates a monochromatic stain of color on the canvas and uses the color to establish values of dark and light. Usually an earth tone is used, such as raw sienna or burnt umber. When painting, the artist is careful to not completely cover the imprimatura with paint so that some of the earth color shows through in the final painting.

Once I had decided on my subject, I began my painting by creating a basic sketch on my canvas board with a pencil. I then traced my sketch with ink so that the lines would show through when I put down my imprimatura layer.

Manti Temple painting - sketch

I created my imprimatura layer by mixing water and acrylic paint at close to a 1:1 ratio. I then used a foam brush from the hardware store to spread the thinned paint onto my canvas board. In retrospect, a foam brush was not the best tool for the job because it caused streaks in the paint. After brushing on my imprimatura layer, I used a paper towel to wipe the sky out so that the paint would be lighter in that area.

Manti Temple painting with imprimatura

Once the imprimatura layer was dry, I began by painting the sky and the temple. I found another use for my foam brush while painting the sky. I found that if I put tiny drops of paint on the sky, I could use the foam brush to create cloud streaks. There are probably other ways to do this, but I really liked the way the streaks looked when using the foam brush.

When the sky and temple dried, I painted in a brown foreground and added dark green trees.

Manti Temple painting - first layer

To finish off the painting, I lightly painted over the trees with a lighter green color to give some depth. I also lightly painted over the ground with a light green color, allowing some of the brown to continue to show through.

"Manti Temple" (2020) by K. Bradley Washburn

And that’s how I used imprimatura to create this painting. Did I use the technique correctly? I have no idea, but experimentation and creativity is what art is really about anyway.

This article was originally published on Artistic Imposter Design.

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Image Resolution

Many people get confused when it comes image resolution and image size, and how they relate to the amount of pixels versus pixels per inches (ppi, also known as dots per inch or dpi). In my two-decade career as a graphic design professional, I have even known many professional designers who didn’t understand the difference.

Photoshop users have it easy. The Image Size dialog box automatically calculates the inches for you based on the resolution you need. The most important thing to remember when changing an image’s resolution from 72ppi to a printable resolution is to uncheck the Resample Image checkbox at the bottom of the dialog box. If the box is checked, you will pixelate your image and it will be unusable.

To figure out the measurement of a picture in inches, you will need to divide the number of pixels by the resolution. A 3000 × 4000 pixel image at 72ppi will be roughly 41.6″ x 55.5″. When the image resolution is changed to 300ppi, it will be 10″ x 13.3″.

When it comes to image size, the resolution is not important – the total pixels are. The resolution can be changed, but the total pixels need to stay the same to avoid pixelation. A 3000 × 4000 pixel image at 72ppi can be changed to 300ppi, but the 3000 × 4000 pixels must NOT be changed. There are techniques to get around this in a pinch, but changing the amount of pixels should be avoided unless absolutely necessary.

And remember…not all images need to be printed at 300ppi. 300ppi is the standard resolution for print, but it really depends on the project and the printer. Posters and similar items not meant to be seen up close can get away with as low as 150ppi. Also, anything larger than around 350ppi will increase your digital file size with no improvement in print quality.

This article is an updated version of an article originally published on Artistic Imposter Design.