Santa Fe photographer Dan Gerth has perfected a way to create photographs that have an uncanny resemblance to oil painting.
His display in the Fuller Lodge Art Center’s Portal Gallery called “Sculpting with Light” presents still lifes with ethereal lighting. Join the artist at an Opening Reception 5-7 p.m. Friday Aug. 14 at Fuller Lodge Art Center.
After setting up a subject, Gerth turns off the lights. He then illuminates small portions of the subject with low intensity LED flashlights making photographic exposures in the otherwise dark room. Depending upon the complexity of the subject, the final image may contain several dozen individual parts. These individual exposures are combined in Photoshop to create a composite image that is a combination of photography and painting.
In light sculpting, masks are used to add elements. Because the light source is large relative to the area being illuminated, the light is soft, creating the diffuse shadows and saturated, but muted, colors. In addition, by raking the light over the subject, normally unseen surface detail is enhanced, resulting in an increased perception of three-dimensionality; this is why it is called light sculpting instead of light painting.
“My intention is to merge the ability for modern digital cameras to capture incredible detail and the old-world painterly look of soft shadows and rich, saturated colors,” Gerth said. “My subjects are varied – from traditional and non-traditional still life compositions to outdoor scenes and flora. This collection is designed to demonstrate the potential of the technique.”
So are these images photographs? Technically, they are composite images built of individual photographs. Each part is integrated into the final image to create a painter-like rendition; the photographer has complete control of the lighting direction and intensity for each element similar to what a painter can achieve.
“I do not pay particular attention to creating a defined light source, but instead light each element as needed,” Gerth said. “I think the mystery of the light source location adds to the impact of the image. The result? I leave that to the viewer.”
Below each of Gerth’s finished sculpted images in the exhibition, he has placed a small photo of the subject with normal lighting. The difference can be quite dramatic. At the Opening Reception, Gerth will share a video that demonstrates his photographic process and answer questions.