Clutter Profiles In Fine Art Photography

Fine art photography how-tos by photographer Craig Boehman.

There are numerous "profiles" in the world of photography post-processing. Color and noise profiles are two common ones. But there's another one that I'd like to point out, which really isn't talked about in general post-processing, a profile that likely fits more comfortably into the genre of fine art photography. Clutter Profiles I've never read about this type of profile anywhere; it's one that I've come to recognize after a few years of editing my fine art photography work. Street photographers may pick up on this right away: clutter is all the crap in your image that you wish wasn't there. By crap, I don't only mean trash and unwanted objects and persons, but also photo imperfections like blown highlights in pixel clusters, bright and dark, colorful spots, or anything which distracts from the main subject. As a side note, I'm defining "fine art" here as any heavy editing work which normally wouldn't be acceptable in documentary photography circles and other newsy-type editorial genres. The subject matter and general aesthetics aren't important for the sake of this conversation. "You're Responsible For Everything In Your Frame"

I don't recall where I heard this phrase before, but it's a mantra of mine that I often consciously focus on when I'm editing my images. It serves as a reminder to me that I must check all corners of the frame for things I may have missed and which may need my attention in some way.

This way of thinking is perfect for defining one's clutter profile for any given image. And what do I mean by determining the clutter profile? Let's take a quick look at the original image, which was only lightly edited in Camera RAW (mostly for some light noise & lens corrections) before I imported it into Photoshop for the bulk of the post-processing work.

Besides the lack of lighting and color treatments, do you notice anything that stands out in this shot? Look at all the white pieces of scrap (crap!) in the foreground of the auto-rickshaw. If you look closer, there are bright objects in the background, inside the rickshaw itself as well as on the rickshaw in front of it. Additionally, there are small tears and nicks and dings on the rickshaw's interior and exterior which distract from the main subject, our driver.

The red circles indicate a few of the individual pieces or zones in which I used the Spot Healing brush tool to remove.

If you compare both images side-by-side, you'll notice that I didn't remove every single little spec of crap or distraction. And this is exactly what I mean by a clutter profile; it's the minimum negation of distracting pixels in order to enhance the main subject.

Within the context of being being "responsible for everything in the frame", this simply means that I covered the frame at 100% magnification or more in order to remove all the obvious and perhaps some of the not-so-obvious crap (for all the pixel-peepers!). If I've done my homework correctly, then there will be no need to re-edit for silly mistakes caught in the future.

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