Would it take a thousand words to describe Mona Lisa’s smile?
Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘Mona Lisa’ has been capturing the hearts and imaginations of people for centuries. Since the early 16th Century, in fact. Her smile, in particular, has been the subject of many a dissertation. Mysterious seems to be the most common descriptor. But if you were asked to describe this painting in words… well, I’m thinking that would take a lot of paper and a thousand words at the very least!
It seems that all languages are peppered with colorful idioms, but surely English has an over-abundance of these little ditties. Today’s case in point is the oft quoted, “a picture is worth a thousand words”. Used as early as March 1911 (in print), this expression originated in the United States. It is attributed to several sources, but whomever thought it up, was spot on. One quick picture can say more than pages and pages and pages of prose. Even a picture that is clearly out of focus. Or sideways.
Take puppies. We all know puppies are cute. Some, undoubtedly, cuter than others. Like this one… how cute is he? The deely boppers are hilarious. The look on his face clearly indicates that he isn’t finding this late afternoon photoshoot nearly as funny as is the photographer. Deely boppers or no deely boppers. And, by the way, said photographer thought it was all just hilarious!
Milo and His Deely Boppers
Then again, how about this little sweetie pie? One hates to play favorites, but she is clearly far more adorable than the little guy in the first picture. Partly because he was over a year and a half old at the time the picture was taken; well past those prime puppyhood days. Partly because he was clearly not amused by the entire process; a party pooper through and through. And partly because he was a known entity; he’d been living with us for over a year. This little girl was not yet three months old, which in and of itself, is a huge advantage. It was her first night in her forever home, and we were entranced by her every sound, movement and antic. Well that, and she is ridiculously cute.
Bella Setting in to Her New Home
Oh, oh. Now we add another little face to the conversation. Yes, I know, are we nuts? Three dogs?!? My argument is that between them, they don’t yet weight 30 pounds. But that whole issue aside, and again, without acknowledging playing favorites (which would be totally wrong), is this not a most adorable puppy? One who can’t help but make you smile? Melt your heart? Make you wish puppies would stay puppies forever? In size, that is… not in bad habits. I’ll chat about our chewed up baseboards at a later date.
Ruby Joins the Pack
So, even while knowing that puppies are cute, one has to admit that some are cuter than others. Perhaps more photogenic? Certainly more charming. And while all of these pictures clearly show the subject matter at hand, there were dozens of pictures that did not.
Which brings me to today’s actual discussion. Photographing jewelry and the perils therein. Really, this should have been called “The Agony and the Ecstasy”.
Some pundit or another has said that it takes about 10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery. Malcolm Gladwell, to be precise. Easily believable, but how does one know when one is safely across the 10,000 hour finish line? And ever if one has put in their practice time (and then some), there are no guarantees that perfection will be achieved.
The photos below are some of the my very first forays into the ‘art’ of capturing jewelry on film. Ok, in jpegs, but you get my drift. The first one… is that a picture of earrings or of a nasty plastic basket? The texture of the basket keeps the eye so busy that the earrings almost fade in to oblivion. Too bad, because they were kind of cute. Next up we have a gemstone bracelet. I cannot help but wonder if it was taken on a grey background, or if the camera settings were so off that it just looks like that is the case. Followed by a pyrite necklace. And seriously, the picture doesn’t even make it clear that we are looking at a necklace. The last one just cracks me up. Like, is it a picture of a pair of earrings, or of a key holder? The earrings are such a small part of the photo that they are practically lost against the background. And yet, all four of these items were purchased by some very trusting customers. All of whom have my undying gratitude!
Not Quite Photography 101
I can assure you I have complied with this whole 10,000 hours thing. And while it would be foolish to say that no improvements have been made, I cannot begin to explain the emotional highs and lows of this practice. Ask my husband. He could spin you tales that would make your toes curl. Another idiom; again of American origin. Apparently first seen in the written word around 1901. But, I digress.
The one thing you hear, repeatedly, about selling online is pictures, pictures, pictures. Similar to, and yet completely unlike, the battle cry of anything brick and mortar. That being location, location, location.
So I’m very tactile, and when I am in a store looking for something in particular, I touch nearly everything I pass. Even if I’m not looking for anything in particular, I touch. To gauge texture, temperature, and some days, color. I know it sounds silly, and of course you can’t really tell color with your fingers, but still and all, there seems to be a lot of information transmitted in that touch. However brief.
And when I’m looking at jewelry, in particular earrings, it is a total touch fest. How does the metal feel? Is it too heavy? What does the piece looks like from the front? From the side? From the back? Is it too light? How does it sit on the display card? How does it move when jiggled? What does it sound like when it does move? Does it jingle? The wait staff often suggest holding earrings up to see what they look like in the mirror. I do, mostly just to humor them, as the aforementioned process gives me far more information.
There is no way I’m the only person on the planet who shops in such a manner. Tactile. Fingerprints ALL over the place. Filling each and every sense with the products set out for purchase. And therein lies the rub. Seriously, how does Shakespeare sneak in to every blog? And how, how, how does one capture those qualities in a picture? The feel of the design? The smoothness (or roughness) of the metal? The essence of the item? Well, simply put, one cannot. So, with that in mind, the next best thing is to work on one’s picture taking skills. You know, those 10,000 hours. Again.
I’ve bought books, DVD’s, and watched countless YouTube videos. Chatted with people online and had my pictures analyzed by some wonderful, helpful people. I’ve practiced. Endlessly. By the time one of my designs hits my shop, it has been photographed at least fifty times. At the very least! And most days, it would be correct to refer to those sessions as Fifty Shades of Frustration.
And then, there are props. To use or not to use? Do they help focus the mind or do they detract from the item being photographed? Should the background be white? Textured? Organic? Black? Relentlessly sterile? Hopelessly decorated?
My son thought this ‘prop’ looked like a piece of bread
Should I fill the whole frame with the item being photographed? Or is it better to take a longer shot and then crop it silly? I remember, when all this began, my fabulous web guy saying, ‘Don’t crop too much.” Too much? Is that a quantity? What does that mean? A full crop is out of the question? Just nip a little at the corners until it is centered? And why is getting the picture the right proportion, once cropped, so ridiculously difficult?
And then there is the whole centering debate. Like, slap dab in the middle or a little off center to create tension. Tension?!? Right. I find it fascinating how many times a picture looks perfectly centered as you click… and then how hopelessly off kilter it actually is when viewed onscreen. Like completely cattywampus.
Every now and then, I read a little tidbit or watch a tutorial and think, “Eureka!” I’ve finally got it. Oh yeah, I’ve got this whole thing licked. There will be a flurry of retakes of various pieces, relabelling and reposting. I’m tickled. I’m excited. I’m… wait, what?!? Of course, I inevitably notice that there continues to be plenty of room for improvement. Perhaps, in all honesty, this piece should have been entitled “The Perils of Perfectionism”.
And so, the process goes. F stop, shutter speed, lighting, etc. Every now and then there is a bright spot and I can turn my room off with a smile.
One of those bright spots!
Just to round up what I’ve learned so far. Brass, though lovely to wear, is near impossible to capture in a picture. It is so highly reflective it is kind of like taking a picture of yourself. Like, in the actual earring. Silver earrings can be snuck up on, and captured to my satisfaction. Sometimes. Mixed metal earrings, in theory, should be easy. Apparently that depends on what soap is used in the tumbler. Don’t ask. Gold is lovely, as always, and falls somewhere on the scale between brass and silver.
Can you tell I was wearing a pink top?
Gemstone necklaces are fun to shoot, getting a sterling silver chain to do what you want it to do is a little like herding cats, and photographing silver that has been melted on copper is neigh on impossible.
This is SO not what this pendant looks like!
So, dear friends, it’s really all a bit of a crap shoot. One with highs and lows. Victories and defeats. And I must admit, some days the camera can just sit in the dark and think about what it’s done.
And those thousand words? Here’s hoping that every picture posted is filled with enough words to tell a story. Hopefully with as much information as is necessary to impart what that particular design is trying to say.
Clearly it is an evolutionary process. And using the Darwinian timeline, I’m not sure I’m even out of the water.