Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Removing problems from an image

Tonight I am going to illustrate how you might fix some design flaws in a painting. I am photoshopping some photos to remove the problems that I see in them. I would handle these problems the same way if they were paintings. Below is a shot looking at Mt. Washington from the Saco river, a location painted by the Hudson River school painters in the 1860's.

In the version below I have removed the big white pine that looked way out of scale and drew too much attention to itself. I want to make a picture out of the mountain and the river, the white pine is so assertive IT becomes the paintings subject. I often tell myself, "when in doubt, take it out". The shoreline at the lower left formed an unpleasantly vertical and geometric looking line so I rearranged that too. I also threw a few little spots of water out into the middle ground to indicate that the river runs up through there. That also leads the eye into the painting and out to the mountain.

Below is a shot I took yesterday up in Jefforsonville, Vermont. It looked to me like a Metcalf. It did have a problem that I needed to deal with. The two fence posts in the foreground kept you from getting into the painting. So I removed them.

I also removed some sticks that I felt were too assertive and distracting over in the left foreground. They seemed to clutter that area and draw attention, keeping the viewer out of the area to which I wanted them to go, the group of trees in the middle of the scene.

My last example is this scene up in the White Mountains with a cloud that is unfortunately placed so as to continue the line of the mountain. There is an unintentional and mechanical looking correspondence between the two.

Here I have taken out the offending cloud out and the problem is gone.

The thing I want to illustrate to you tonight is how often removing an offending element can fix a problem composition. None of these pictures worked quite right "off the rack" but with a problem removed, they do. The willingness and the ability to edit a scene before you in nature, rather than just copying it, makes the difference between a scene that works and one that doesn't.

What this does is vastly increase the number of paintable scenes in nature. If you can fix the problems in a painting you don't need to drive around endlessly hunting for a PERFECT VIEW. You will begin to say to yourself, "well if I take out the............ I can make that work"


mariandioguardi.com said...

I am so happy that you are talking about changing design and taking things out..now my painting buddy (who likes to remain anonymous, ..Right, Will.) may not tease me so much when I do that. Left out a big fir tree the other day and mad a sunny day out of a transitional cloudy day.I may not be painting appreciatively better but I am learning more and having more fun.
By the way..I say the same thing (when in doubt-throw (leave) it out).

Arrgh! Yes, I did that indoor art yesterday.I can scarcely believe my discipline. Anyway, it had to get done and it got done. So now, my "palette" is clear" for a few more plein air studies. I am also hoping to get out in the snow this year and I will, as long as I don't end up with another broken wrist. You can paint indoors with a broken wrist, by the way.

Chard is big and green and leafy with a nutty, meaty flavor with a long growing season. With no apologies to Popeye, it's MUCH more delicious than spinach.

JAMES A. COOK said...

This post helps me out so much stape.I never got any of that from books untill you showed us how it is done in photo shop. The most important thing you have tought me through your blog is the sensitivity and the awareness I must develope as a painter. This post is an example of that. Both of these areas have improved greatly with me because of your blog. THANK YOU VERY MUCH.
I got the LeFranc White you suggested during your workshop. I love the way it handles, A much better white than I have used before. I have your 14 steps to better painting hanging on my easel. Number 10 is most important to me, PAINT PAINT PAINT and then PAINT SOME MORE.

Paul said...

Hi stape - Been reading your blogs daily and look forward to them - all very educational. Just wanted to comment about the middle pic with the fence. I totally agree the composition looks more pleasing and Metcalf-like without the fence - but I'm not sure it's a "better" picture because of it. I recall fences being used occassionally when representational art was popular - the fence being a sort of social commentary - man vs nature. I often find myself enjoying that aspect of some of the old landscape artists that I don't see so much nowadays.
Just another "perspective" on the whole thing.
Thanks again for your always enjoyable posts.

willek said...

OK, Stape, now you have edited the compositions of the photos, but how are you going to edit the color? I think camera blues, for instance are not true to what we see. I probably would have left that cloud as those clouds often form off of the tops of peaks, in my experience. (National Geographic) ...and made a weaker picture. The eye would also see into those deep shadows on the left but the camera masses them to almost one value.

Marcelo said...

Great post. I also read your blog everyday, and I love all the differents subjects you go through in it. Please, keep writing. Marcelo

Unknown said...

Hey Stape, this is as good as Foster Caddell's "problem/solution" approach to landscape painting instruction, which I think is just genius in its simplicity. Since most of us (I assume) are highly visually oriented in learning style, this is a great way to SEE the solution and apply it to our own problem scenes..
great stuff. thanks.

Philip Koch said...

That spot where the cloud lined up too well with the mountain looks like a fabulous place to paint. No wonder the old 19th century painters dragged themselves up to New England so much. It's rumored the Muse has a summer home up there.

Stapleton Kearns said...


You know what Miles said: Its not what you play but what you don't play.
If that charred thing is like spinach it is likely a vegetable. The only vegetable I will eat is a cigar.


Stapleton Kearns said...

Thanks, how did that picture you were reworking from the trip come out? Don't forget that last step!

Stapleton Kearns said...

The problem is not that it was a fence, but WHERE it was a fence. If it wasn't standing on the rabbet of the frame and against the front of the picture frame it might have been very nice.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I am with you.I pretty much ignore the in a photo and install my own.
Sometimes I convert em to black and white.Ives Gammell,hated color photography.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thanks, I have some new subjects I want to go into soon, but first I need to do some art history.

Stapleton Kearns said...


I wonder what Foster Cadell would make of my blog? He may not be a computer guy.

Stapleton Kearns said...

It aint no use if it aint got that muse!

There are a lot of places up there that look like that. I have forgotten where that one was though