Photographic "Level of Detail"

I haven’t seen this discussed in the photographic blogosphere so I thought I’d comment on it.  One reason may be that it is difficult to illustrate given the photo posting resolution that we often limit ourselves to on the web.

You can experience a very good example of what I’m trying to write about here when you visit an Ansel Adams print exhibition in person.  For instance, viewing his "Winter Sunrise " from across the room, the print looks well composed and shows the overall scene of some mountains with areas of light and dark.  Depending on how far away you are, most details are obscured by distance.  As you slowly come closer, the details start to emerge.  The closer you come, the greater the detail, until when you are standing right next to the print, you can see all sorts of things you didn’t see from across the room – subtle clouds, interesting light on the horse and trees, etc.  The emergence of detail draws you into his photographs.

This experience – the discovery and exploration of a photograph is quite interesting and pleasant and is hardly ever possible on the web.  On the web, we get one look at a photo – the low res "across the room look".  The high res, up close version, where the subtle details emerge, is saved away on our hard drives, mostly due to worries about theft of our copyrighted, intellectual property (photographs).

The "level of detail" effect is something we all should strive for in our captures, prints and displays.  When we do this well, there are a myriad of things for the viewer to discover as they view our prints.  And while it is easiest to observe in a well made print, we should also try to make it an interesting thing on the web.  When we achieve a good "level of detail" capture, how do we show it off?  Here’s a couple of recommendations:

1.  Study examples by the masters and and use them as we strive for this effect.  Use it to draw in our viewers and keep them coming in for more.  Print our work and hang it up where people can see it.

2.  When we have a nice photo with some good detail and want to present it on the web, present the normal low res web version, along with a high res detail insert or two, like this:
Gator - whole print
Gator photo: "Across the room view"

Gator - partial crop
Gator photo: "Middle of the room view"

Gator - close in detail
Gator photo: Close in detail view.

3.  I haven’t tried this, but another solution might be a video of the photo using a "Ken Burns" type of special effect.  A "zoom in" motion video seems like an ideal way to showcase this type of photo and protect the intellectual property that everyone seems so worried about losing.  Does anyone know of a ready made solution already out there?

P.S. There is also a very interesting inverse effect to what I’m talking about here.  You will really enjoy visiting an exhibition of Ansel Adams prints at the same gallery with paintings by Monet .  Monet understood the human mind’s ability to "fill in the details".  If you approach many of his paintings from across the room they will look very real at first and they gradually dissolve into impressions in the middle distance and paint strokes when you are very close!  This is a wonderful contrast to Ansel Adams prints, don’t you think?

©2009, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.

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