Gary Potts: Making Images With Impact

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Today's guest blogger is Gary Potts. Take it away Gary!

When I was with Rick in Oregon in September, along with co-host Alex Morley and both their lovely wives, Rick opened the first night’s group dinner with the question “What do you hope to achieve during the workshop/tour?” My answer was immediate—“I want to create images with IMPACT”.  Rick smiled and said there’d be numerous opportunities to do just that.  But what does it mean to shoot with IMPACT?  You hear the term all the time, especially when the judge at the salon or competition remarks, “A fine image, good color, interesting subject, but the overall presentation lacks IMPACT”.

Webster and others online tell us that IMPACT refers to abruptly changing something, or significantly altering our perceptions of a scene or subject, or maybe even making us say the proverbial “wow”.  One author failed to define IMPACT but rather tried to show it by a series of example images.  I think IMPACT can be defined, and my simple definition is—IMPACT (the noun) refers to the key aspects of the image that make us remember it, want to view it again and again, and cause us to differentiate it from other images of the same subject matter.  Let me give an example:

Opening Image: This is, as many of you recognize, the famous Oregon coastal scene called Thor’s Well.  It might be the equivalent of Utah’s Delicate Arch or the Smokie’s Oconoluftee Overlook or…you get the picture.  How to take it with IMPACT, especially with mid-afternoon sun and high contrast?  I took many, many frames—the joy of digital photography.  Don’t fear filling your cards; just bring plenty of cards!  This image was post-processed with one of my favorite filters, Nik’s Detail Extractor, located in Nik Collection>Color Efex Pro 4.0>Detail Extractor.  The image is a good record, but it lacks IMPACT by my definition above.

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Above: For this image, the motor drive was on Continuous High (for us Nikon shooters!) at 1/640th second, f8, 28mm lens, ISO 400.  It shows the decisive moment when the sea fills the well hole and erupts into the air—quite a sight if you haven’t seen it before, regardless of the light.  Again, Nik was used, and normal post-processing of Levels, Curves and a final sharpening.  We’re getting there!

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Above: I decided a human element might help out, and how can you go wrong with red?!  Fellow "Las Vegan" and friend Steve Casey stepped into the scene, and I took several with the sea doing various things in terms of eruption from the well.  This one has more IMPACT, perhaps…but then again, maybe the human element isn’t adding value here.  Ah, our photography is so subjective, isn’t it!

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Above: A bigger eruption of sea water with Steve in the frame adds another dimension of IMPACT.  The technical details are the same, with Nik being used throughout along with standard post-processing of Levels and Curves and sharpening.  What a pity that Steve was unwilling to move about six feet to the left and get ever so slightly closer to the well hole!  Some might argue you have two subjects here, Steve and Thor’s Well.  You might be right.

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Above: The image with greatest IMPACT might be the one above, taken by Alex Morley who stood behind two of us during our shoot.  He converted the file to monochrome and used the two human elements as a frame for a significant eruption from the well.  The sunburst adds to the drama, and our silhouettes don’t distract from the central action.  THIS image has IMPACT in my humble opinion, and thanks to Alex for sharing it with us.

When we ended this workshop, we all brought 5 images to the conference room for a final showing.  I remember a few of them very, very well and thought to myself as we all do from time to time “wish I’d taken that scene”.  Those images, the ones with lasting  memories of techniques used, lighting conditions, composition, and all the other tools in our bag of tricks are truly the ones with IMPACT.