Tuesday, November 25, 2008
George Fulton: Master of Characterization
George Fulton’s hyperreal imagery has brought him considerable notoriety, but his work goes much deeper than any superficial technique
It’s not often that people balk at being characterized as a master, but that’s what George Fulton did. He was fine with the “master” part, but when we told him we wanted to call him the master of commercial HDR, he hesitated.
“I’m concerned because I’m trying to appeal to clients on the basis of content rather than technique,” Fulton explains. “Thinking in terms of terms is dangerous. It’s much healthier to focus on the ‘feel’ of the particular image that’s being worked on. I really avoid thinking about the look too much or giving it a name, but obviously there’s postproduction in my work. Over the years I’ve heard people call me a hyperrealist, and I suppose that works. But I tend to just think of what I do as characterization. I focus on characters in situations. It’s the most rounded term to me because it doesn’t attempt to sever the aesthetic values of my work from the techniques that may or may not be employed.”
By whatever name you call it, Fulton is definitely a master. Pulling together complex productions, lighting elaborately (or at least perfectly), postprocessing precisely to create just the right look and wrapping it all up with a witty sense of humor, he’s the very definition of a master.
The problem for a photographer who has perfected such a great look that sells and sells and sells is that it can be too easy to become pigeonholed, known only as a one-trick pony, for just that one look. The editorial upside of his refusal to be typecast, though, is that Fulton isn’t afraid to divulge his Photoshop secrets. It’s because he readily knows that his “look” isn’t just about some digital postproduction technique.
“There’s a bunch of steps that I go through,” he explains of his digital regimen, “starting with an image with a wide tonal range, where both shadows and highlights have ample texture. I usually have people on separate layers from their backgrounds, and props are usually on separate layers as well. This takes a tremendous amount of masking as I build out the image and create shadows that tie everything together. This gives me a composite file that maintains the wide tonal range from which I’ll work later.
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