Friday, October 24, 2014


Over the last few days I have discussed the list of adjectives that I attempt to include as elements in the photographs I take. I have also discussed the chiaroscuro style of expression for which I am always on the lookout. Another method of which I am very fond is termed pictorialism. It was all the rage in early photography from about 1885-1905. Well known photographers who were proponents of the method included Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Steichen. I wasn't aware of it, but Ansel Adams and Edward Weston both began their careers as pictorialists.

Pictorialism refers to a style in which the photograph has been manipulated so that it is no longer a straight-forward photograph. It typically includes a lack of sharp focus.  Taking a quote from a Wikipedia article, Alfred Stieglitz stated it this way: "Atmosphere is the medium through which we see all things. In order, therefore, to see them in their true value on a photograph, as we do in Nature, atmosphere must be there. Atmosphere softens all lines; it graduates the transition from light to shade; it is essential to the reproduction of the sense of distance. That dimness of outline which is characteristic for distant objects is due to atmosphere. Now, what atmosphere is to Nature, tone is to a picture." The underlying intent was often to create an emotional response to the image.

This extreme close-up of a small area of detail in an image is an example of what Stieglitz was pointing out. Over a long distance, atmosphere (high humidity in summer, for example) will break up the lines of objects. The limitations of the number of pixels representing an object in the distance will also add to the lack of detail. Fewer pixels will result in less detail. It begins to look more like a painting and less like a photograph.

Here again, my inability to see clearly when I was young may have influenced my fondness for this style of photograph. The effect can be further enhanced post production. It is almost impossible to pleasingly sharpen a photograph if it is not sharp initially. It is not difficult to further soften it, however, and I have found I like the look. If someone who is looking at one of my photographs has to stop and ask themselves if it is a photograph or a painting, I consider that a successful example of my application of the technique.

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