Old Friends

Periodically I look through my image files to see if there are candidates that could benefit from what I’ve learned about processing.  It’s partly a way to see if I’m improving over time and partly a challenge to “develop” an image I’d rejected previously.

The one above is an example.  I made this one in 2009, before going off to photo school.  With all of one workshop under my belt and better reading of photo instruction guides, I started trying to compose images instead of snap pictures.  At the time, though, I still assumed “good” pictures came out of the camera that way so from my first glance at this one I tagged it unremarkable and moved on.

I found it today and realized the processing skills I’ve picked up since would benefit this image.  Realizing that what initially attracted me to this scene was the contrast between the rock-solid sign and pedestal among the dynamic, chaotic water and leaf-less trees (enhanced by the word “quiet” among all the motion), I worked on emphasizing that key element.  I sharpened the edges of the sign and concrete wall and the edges of the steps in the background.  I increased the contrast of the limbs and trees to improve their dimensionality.  I even enhanced the contrast of the water ripples to make them more obvious.  Overall I expanded the tonal range of the picture, making sure there were deep blacks and clean whites with lots of grey transitions between.  Finally, I placed a faint vignette on the image, centered on the sign with a gradient darkening toward the edges.

None of this could I do back in 2009 – I doubt I even knew what I wanted in a final image.  With education, feedback, advice and a sense of curiosity I feel there are aspects of photography making sense.  And I’m pleased that “old” work can become new again.

Now if I can only master printing such an image and preserve this look……

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4 thoughts on “Old Friends

    • Much flatter, less contrast, not very interesting. I’m learning B&W is much more subtle than color. It is more about the processing of detail areas than global changes. I can’t imagine trying to do all the processing in a darkroom!

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  1. I see Kate has made the request I was going to. What software did you use that allows you to sharpen and otherwise work on specific sections of an image?
    I am a writer more than a photographer (learning both) and am struck by the notion that all creative work needs a central idea – what does one want to convey?

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    • I use a mix of software, starting with Photoshop CS5 and NIK plug-ins. For this particular image I used the NIK Silver Efex Pro 2 to make the initial conversion from color to B&W and in that software adjusted the dynamic range to get more contrast. After that I used the NIK Sharpener on the final image, brushing in sharpness only along the edges I wanted to stand out. The vignette was created in the NIK Color Efex Pro plug-in, a tool called Darken/Brighten that enables you to identify the “center” of the image you want the viewer to pay attention to and then darken all around it (a typical vignette tool forces you to use the center of the image – this one lets me place the center where I want).

      Having said all that other software can be equally useful and powerful. Lightroom has a local adjustment brush that will do much of what I’ve described (NIK plug-ins will work in Lightroom as well). Photoshop Elements (the more recent versions) can also do much of this with different brushes also.

      You’re right – a central idea is the right starting point for an image. All activity after you find it is simply technique of composition, exposure and post-processing to make sure you portray it the way you envisioned it. I imagine writing has similar challenges!

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