Friday, October 17, 2008

Hidden captures... Taiko drums.

So during the last few days of my stay in Taiwan, I had the chance to see a live Taiko 太鼓 (you know, those Japanese drums?) by a fairly famous Taiwanese group -U-theatre (優人神鼓). My initial set of photos were rather like snapshots... I stood there, took photos to record reality of the performance but all the photos felt detached and bleh... really crappy. There was no soul, no feeling, no connection. My friend who looked at the photo couldn't feel a single thing, almost as if I wasn't at the performance, and didn't take it in... At his urging, I decided to re-process my photos, this time trying to bring out the core of the performance. Taiko is all about power, precision, and discipline... I have to find a way to bring that out of the photos and make my viewers feel as if they were there, experiencing the ground shaking performance for themselves... I don't think I achieved the final end goal, but I do think with some post processing (all done in Picasa), I did dramatically improve each of the photos. Here are a few that I thought originally were photos to be tossed but ended up being some of my favorites...

From 誠品敦南店開幕典禮太鼓表演 Eslite bookstore reopen ceremony.

About the only thing I liked about the original photo was the guy's expression. It was stoic, even with the fasted paced drumming, he didn't flinch, no reaction, no emotion... I really wanted to capture his stern face, get a sense of the discipline involved. First, the photo was too dark I thought, too gray and not enough "color" so I deepened the shadow, increased highlights and added a bit more fill light. The increased contrast helps bring out the colors more, so one problem solved. The biggest problem with the photo was that the guy was too small, too much empty space above and to the left. So keeping my friend's advice in mind ("crop crop crop!") I decided to trim the photo down a bit to give it a much tighter framing. I threw in a sharpen layer in there for good measure since I really like his facial expression (or there lack off) so I wanted to try to bring that out a bit.

From 誠品敦南店開幕典禮太鼓表演 Eslite bookstore reopen ceremony.

I wanted to change the mood a bit more here. I first played with the shadows and highlights to make it a tad brighter, but it wasn't what I wanted. So I first applied a filtered B&W layer (I think it might have been blue or range?), I just wanted something to make his skin color stand out more from the drum. I then darkened the shadows even more to darken the over all mood of the photo (and bumped up the highlights slightly... I love high contrast B&W shots and gave better definition to his muscles), gave it a tighter crop as usual... finished it off with a sharpen and film grain for kicks. The original photo seemed to document the drummer, in ready position. But I felt the processed photo showed more emotion, as if he is contemplating something, going through the next steps of the performance in his mind.

From 誠品敦南店開幕典禮太鼓表演 Eslite bookstore reopen ceremony.

In case you haven't noticed a trend... first step... CROP CROP CROP. There was way too much dead space on the right and above, the viewer ends up having no idea what to focus on or what I intended to show. Is it the drummer pounding away, or is it that gong in the background? One day, I hope to be able to compose the shot properly from the get-go, but until that day, I will have to learn to crop my photos like mad. That actually is a very common problem I see (from looking at the recent photos widget on Picasaweb), a lot of photos have so much potential, it just needs to cut away some of the clutter to make it really shine.

From 誠品敦南店開幕典禮太鼓表演 Eslite bookstore reopen ceremony.

This photo here use to be regular landscape photo, but there were far too many distraction up to, tent, business signs, buildings, trees, etc. Just took the focus away from the main subjects... None of the regular crop sizes 4:6, 5:7, etc would have solved that problem... so I just went for a manual sized cropping and made it more like a panorama... cut away the top, and the subjects becomes clear.

Here are 3 other photos I rather like... first one is basically untouched except some shadow and highlight adjustments.

In the second photo, with the skin color, drum, and building all sort of the same color, I decided to apply a filtered B&W layer to try to separate out the colors a bit. Then just really increased the shadow and highlights so that the top would be bright would the bottom would be much darker, creating some contrast. Not sure what you think... but I thought it helped focus in on the drummer more.

I guess there could be a decent capture hidden within every image... I just need to learn to see it, and crop out the unnecessary parts. This will be an ongoing lesson for me... a tough one, but one I must learn :). Thanks to Joe for keep pushing me on this!