I’m in Bar Harbor, Maine on vacation and took a stroll into some “art” shops featuring photographic prints. I was struck by the extreme over use of Photoshop and so called enhancement filters. I am fascinated by the idea that nature needs enhancement. Don’t get me wrong – most cameras certainly need help with dynamic range and color balancing an image. But for me, the idea is to make the photograph look natural unless you are going for a purposefully abstract modified look. In most cases, I believe the photoshop user is seeking to make the picture “much more better”. Make the reds redder and the yellows as bright as possible! Sharpen those edges and make that picture pop off the paper! Really? Have we removed the word “nuance” from our vocabulary? We’ve gone from crafting the moment of image capture to crapping up any old image in the computer. Pile on those filters! If +10 looks good, +20 certainly must be better, right?
It doesn’t look better, it looks different. It is a stylized imaged that has novelty, but no staying power because it is artificial. Once you’ve seen an effect – it loses its fascination in the same way the pet rock went out of fashion. Especially, when a style becomes overused it quickly goes out of fashion. Take instagram for example. Right now, it is all the rage. Wait a few months and people will tire of the old time look and want something “new and fresh”. When your goal is novelty, you will always be changing up to some new effect. But it isn’t novelty that makes a great image. Novelty only makes an image interesting for a short time. A great image tells a story, captures a moment and calls up a memory that evokes emotion.
In the case of a multi perspective image, in addition to calling up memories it can instill a memory or experience in a way that a regular image can’t. When we see space, we perceive the image in a different way. This is where effects become magnified in a way that is very interesting and reveals a lot about novelty and seeing things that capture our attention. I believe that a lot of motivation for adding effects to an image, comes from the fundamental lack of space that a single perspective has. Something [space] is missing so people are naturally compelled to add something to it. But an effect isn’t the solution. Adding realism, going for natural color and dynamic range – and adding a spatial component can breathe life into an image that isn’t artificial. A true to life image has the most staying power if its content and story say something.
So, here I am in Southern California and it is simply great! There is so much to see and experience. And there are a considerable number of tattoo artists out here. Shop after shop after shop after shop… everywhere you look there is a place to get a tattoo.
On the flip side, looking at people walking on the sidewalk, in the shopping areas, at Starbucks and in restaurants I can tell you that there are a lot of mediocre tattoos out here. And there are many BAD tattoos out here. By bad, I mean sloppy, blurry poorly spaced and shaded – ugly coloring… stuff where little thought was obviously given to the work.
I think many people simply don’t have a good frame of reference. How do you know what an amazing tattoo looks like if you don’t experience them? Many people can’t recognize what makes an artist an artist. Granted, for some people a tattoo isn’t about the art, it is about the ritual and the tattoo is sometimes nothing more than a mark of defiance or rebellion. A way to be different and stand out in a crowd.
But there is also the potential for GREAT art to be achieved in the form of a tattoo. Living art on a living canvas. Emotional art, spiritual art, inspirational deep meaning and even dark and scary – a tattoo artist can go in many directions and tell a story with imagery that is unmatched and unequalled in any other medium. I’ve seen it first hand, where tattoo artists have already transitioned to creating unique designs, illustrations and hyper realistic tattoos that are unique in all the world. There is definite potential for this artistry to reach new and meaningful height surpassing and defying traditional drawing on traditional media.
As I continue my journey, capturing the dimensionality of tattoo artistry with my 36 perspective camera array, I am starting to reveal to myself and others what is possible – to capture a moment in time where a living piece of art can be revealed, studied, enjoyed and experienced. It is a privilege to photograph something so new and unique in a way that preserves the true look and shared space experience that is a tattoo.
The best tattoo in Southern California? I’m looking for it… I know it’s out here somewhere.
A significant amount of information is lost when a photograph of a tattoo is smaller than real life. So, why not make your images large and take a photograph with life size in mind? You might argue that your portfolio needs to be small and fit into a notebook – but isn’t it important that your portfolio represent (in the best way possible given the equipment you have) what your tattoo looks like? There are limitations with regards to the camera equipment you might have. For example, if your camera doesn’t have enough resolution to capture the tattoo and print it at life size then you can’t expect good results scaling it to a larger size to print it. You need a 20+ megapixel camera to create an image with enough resolution to print a sleeve, leg or full back tattoo at life size. If you don’t have a 20+ megapixel camera, then you can take and print multiple images at life size to represent at least pieces of the tattoo at life size.
Quality lighting can breath some life into a flat two dimensional photograph. For the best results, don’t mix and match light bulbs or light sources because each light source produces a slightly different color balance which negatively effects the look of a tattoo when printed. Use the same bulbs and take a minute or two reading about white balance as it relates to your camera. As a general rule, “auto” isn’t the best setting. If you are using tungsten lighting (typical non-flash lighting) a tungsten setting on the camera will produce a better look. If you are using flash, use the flash setting for your camera. What else? Try lighting from the side to help create a sense of roundness. A straight on flash is generally not the best way to photograph a tattoo. Shading as the light passes around the arm or leg or back will help to represent that sense of shape and roundness.
So, the hardest problem? Showing the tattoo as it goes around the arm or leg or back, etc. So far, the hack solution is to piece together strips of the image with each strip showing a slightly different angle of the tattoo. This is not a very good solution because nobody I know can look at three or four different photo strips and assemble that into a single image in their head. So, what are the solutions? Well, many many years ago that problem surfaced with maps and showing a map of the whole earth, which is round, on a flat map. If you really want to see what the earth looks like, you need to look at a three dimensional sphere… or an image that can depict depth like a hologram or super high quality lenticular image like AMPED 3D–or you can use motion picture images (video). So for tattoos, you can either map the tattoo on a statue or mannequin, or you can split up the image (like those weird map images, and strips of image), or you can shoot video of the tattoo while the person rotates, or you can go with a hologram or AMPED 3D image. The only problem with holograms or AMPED 3D images are that you must hire somebody to do them for you. Short of that, the best alternative is video.
My recommendation based upon the above is to shoot life size where possible and shoot video to show the roundness – or have a hologram or AMPED 3D image created.Last but not least, photoshopping your images is not recommended. Artificial saturation, contrast enhancement (oh, so you discovered “levels”) and other various photoshop filters remove the “realness” that is inherent in tattoo art.
Got an opinion? Let me here it…
Part One: PROBLEMS!
How do you capture what a tattoo really looks like in a photograph?
Like me, you’ve probably looked at many tattoos in real life. Then, when you look at an artist’s portfolio you inevitably see several strips of images that attempt to show a tattoo from various angles. But looking at those image strips is so far removed from looking at the tattoo in real life that it is confusing and difficult to assemble in your mind’s eye. Other photographs show the person posed where you can’t really see the whole tattoo design. You can get a sense of what the tattoo looks like, but you know it would look different and much more impressive in real life.
Many times there is a shadow and the lighting just makes it difficult to get a good look.
Then there simply is the fact that the photograph is much smaller than the tattoo in real life, so the design has a look that sharpens it in a way that looks unnatural. Furthermore, magazines photoshop the images like they do for fashion magazines and soften the details and boost the color to make the image “pop”. But this gives the tattoo a look that often takes on a cartoonish look.
Considering all of the above, most just ignore the problems and shrug shoulders accepting that there isn’t any way to do better. Just be happy with what everyone does and leave it at that.
Sorry, but I can’t go along with that attitude. An amazing tattoo deserves an amazing photograph. How is it possible to gan an amazing tattoo photograph? See Part Two: Getting better results with the equipment you have.