We had a fabulous weekend touring Japan. For Mothers Day, I was teated to a walk through the wisteria gardens on the island of Kyuushu. Funny thing about the gardens in Japan- people seem to innately know the exact perfect time to visit the various parks when things are in full bloom. And then there’s the rest of us- the tourists. We drove three hours with four children in the car, only to discover the blooms were past their prime and, although still very impressive, not quite the photographer’s dream we had hoped for!
Never fear- Photoshop to the rescue. While I’m not a fan of faking an image, I believe there are certain circumstances where editing can be used to appropriately enhance an image. In this case, my intention was to use post-processing as a way to RESTORE the beauty of the wisteria in full bloom, even though we visited the park about 5 days too late!
Believe it or not, this was truly breathtaking when we were standing there, draped with fragrant blossoms, soaking in the sweeping vista. The lilac color simply vibrated with filtered light and served as a perfect compliment to the rolling green hills beyond. And of course, there’s nothing I love more than a pathway…
However, this image clearly does NOT capture the colors, the beauty, or the delicate elegance of the environment. And there was very little I could do to make my picture prettier. The fact of the matter was, as I was standing there, I was experiencing the wisteria in a way that no two dimensional image could possibly capture. Therefore, my intent upon editing was to try and recreate the “mood” of this scene- the delightful sound of springtime birds chirping, the heavenly scent of flowers blooming all around, the feel of the gentle breeze as it blew the misfit strands of wisteria across my face… even the colors had to be slightly imagined. Because, after all, the bloom was past it’s prime. I would have to wait another year (and drive another three hours!) to see it at its peak.
So my new self- challenge became to edit these photos in such a way as to show how these gardens would have looked in their prime.
Here’s my first attempt:
Much better, eh?
I also learned throughout the day, that the secret of shooting under these unique conditions is to SHOOT LIGHT. The lighter your image, the less contrast, and the less visible the gaps and the distressed blooms. Clearly the first image was shot too dark in order to compensate for the bright distant hills. So with this edit, I brightened the blooms quite a bit and added a layer of lavender tint, which I masked off in various places. As a final touch, I added a slight haze to the top of the frame to soften any remaining contrast.
Ready for another original?
This one was shot MUCH lighter because I wanted to play up the GLOW of the flowered ceiling overhead. But in lightening the image, I lost the brilliant lavender color. Also, it felt like the blooms were a bit too sparse, so I used the clone tool to fill in a few gaps. And while I was busy cloning, I deleted a few straggling tourists as well. Sometimes, simply taking the time to “tidy up “an image makes all the difference between an amateur shot and a professional looking one.
Again, I added a layer of lavender tone to this image, because it truly WAS glowing purple in there! The trick to adding tone is being careful to remove it from all the detail areas such as the random branches and stems of the vine. If these parts are purple, then the whole image looks processed. Again, the goal was to create a natural looking image of these blooms in their prime- not to create a processed, stylistic image (although that would have been much easier!!!)
I just love all those Japanese families picnicking under the blossoms!!!
It gives the image a wonderful sense of scale.
Last of all is another large tree. Or perhaps it s a vine. I was just enamored with the way it twisted all around itself.
Perhaps you are asking what those black corners are- it was my camera strap. Can we say amateur? Haha. I’m not sure how it jumped into the picture, but this was my favorite shot, so I worked a little photoshop magic with the clone stamp. Actually, I worked a lot of magic with the clone stamp. That little stamp is quite possibly my favorite tool in the workshop! I use it all the time. In this case, filling in the patchy grass and blossoms was easy. It’s reconstructing doors and windows that takes some serious time , effort and know-how.
Again, although image fairly is properly exposed by most standards, I felt it needed a lot more illumination to recreate that ethereal lavender glow. Again, I used a a handy tint layer. This time, I really wanted to play up the greens, which are few, but are the complimentary color to purple. So I used a little selective color pop on the bamboo, the grass and the leaves in the foreground. After all, if purple is the friend of green, it stands to reason that green is the friend of purple, right?
And just for fun, I have a closeup of a fuzzy little bumblebee that kept following me around… although I think he liked the flowers, too. Ha :) For this shot, I had mounted my 60mm macro, so it was rather difficult to capture him! First of all, I had to physically get close to him, which he did not enjoy! Second, the light coming in from overhead was extremely bright, so I had to shoot carefully in order to avoid creating a silhouette. Third, I had to use a FAST shutter speed because this little guy was QUICK!!! In this instance, I opted NOT to spot meter because I didn’t want to blow out the flowers. So I did some selective lightening in Photoshop instead.
And that’s it! I hope this offers you some encouragement. Not all of us can hike a mountain and camp out for three days waiting on that perfect sunset (or in this case, rent a van, drive three hours across a foreign country in search in order to catch the peak blooms.) But we can use our mind’s eye to “see” how it might have been, and we can use our editing tools to recreate a slightly more beautiful image. Perhaps this is not the purist’s attitude, but if you view photography as an art, as I do, then just as any art form, the subject is open to interpretation by the artist. Never be afraid to use the tools you have to create something different than what you originally captured!
Remember, if your image doesn’t perfectly capture the mood you were hoping for, you can simply create how it could have been… how it should have been!!!!
It’s been a while!
I finally had an opportunity to dust off my camera during a long and arduous journey. I may very well be the first person to ever travel from San Diego to Japan by way of the Redwood Forest. But I simply couldn’t leave California without saying goodbye to the most beautiful place on earth! Sadly, most of my days were filed with paperwork, phone calls and errands, but I did manage to sneak a few shots of the trees now and again.
Seeing how I was traveling yet again, (this time with two kids, a dog and fifteen pieces of luggage… with the added bonus of selling my car en route,) I wasn’t able to carry the arsenal of lenses required to truly capture the incredible beauty of Northern California. No macro images of exquisitely spiraled ferns as they unfold. No fabulous family portraits within the giant cathedral of trees. Since I could only choose one lens (sigh), I opted for the wide angle… an obvious choice for capturing the wild and rugged scenery of the NorCal coast.
I’ll start with the mid day shot of the staircase we descended to the beach. I’m obsessed with staircases. I have literally hundreds of pictures of them. Seriously, I can’t get enough. Of course, I was working against the sun on this one, but managed to get a little sun flare which is always fun.
I’m not sure which I enjoyed more, descending the steep cliffs to the beach or climbing back up into the majestic forest. Either direction, this was truly a stairway to heaven!
As for the deep forest, I FINALLY captured an image I have shot dozens of times before, but the light was never right. This time, as I stood there pondering, the heavens smiled upon me and this little sliver of golden afternoon light shined across the trail. It was glorious!!!
While the first image deals with sun flare and haze, the second image needed to be treated with bold, rich color. If you’ve ever walked through the redwoods, you know that the entire forest positively buzzes with life and everything is dripping with endless hues of green. This time, I was fortunate enough to be visiting in early spring, when the new growth was bursting forth in delightful shades of lime and yellow! Oh the warmth, the deep,rich smell of the earth, the rejuvenating freshness of new life, the magic of winding trails beckoning us to explore…
This image was edited with an action called Simply Charming, in the Bohemian Symphony collection by Oh So Posh Photography. Her actions are amazing is you are really looking for richness of COLOR. Most of the time I have to use pretty low opacity with these actions, but they can take a lifeless image from blah to wow if you use them right. This action adds a lot of gold, and really packed the color punch that I wanted, without overdoing the green. The forest reeeeeeeally does look this vibrant in person!
Just for fun, I handed my sons my iPhone camera, just to see what they would capture. It is always interesting to see the images they come up with, to discover what captures their attention. And I am always amazed at how different their vision is from mine. Children are so utterly unfettered by rules, traditions, or norms and they feel absolutely zero pressure to be “creative.” What I wouldn’t give to feel that kind of unbridled artistic freedom!
So I came around the bend and found my son, down on his hands and knees, shooting UP from underneath a clump of wild mushrooms. Here’s the image. He was so proud!
Pretty cool, huh?
Having a firm grasp that the best ideas are often somebody else’s, I immediately (and unapologetically) grabbed my big ol’ DSLR and attempted to produce something similar.
What I learned was:
1. A DSLR is not an iPhone.
2. To get this shot, I either had to lay, face down on the forest floor, or fire my camera without looking through the eyepiece. I chose option B… because have you SEEN the critters on the forest floor???!!??
In order to get some much needed light underneath, I popped up my on- camera flash and turned my DSLR up-side-down. That way, the flash was as close to the forest floor as possible (and facing upwards.) Although I couldn’t get underneath the undergrowth, I sure did have fun trying, and I loved fiddling with this new perspective!!!
The lesson? Take inspiration from wherever you find it, even if it’s from the mind of a 10 year old child!
You just may find that unconventional is exactly the breath of fresh air you needed.
We can all benefit from a change of perspective from time to time!
So I’ve been saving this image for a rainy day… but seeing as it never rains here, I’ll just go ahead and post it. We happened to stop at an unnamed beach along the Oregon coast. OK, I’m sure the beach has a name, but I have no idea what it is. And it happened to be a super moon low tide, which means the tide was way out. Waaaaaaaaay out. I’ve never seen anything like it!!! The experience was positively magical.
If you’ve seen any of my previous posts, you probably know two things about me. 1. I LOVE to shoot the light. Any light. I’m quite obsessed with it. and 2. Every image needs an infusion of purple. I can’t help it. I’m quite obsessed with purple, too. But enough about purple, let’s talk about the light first.
Here is the original image (SOOC), shot just before sunset. This is an interesting time of day because it is not quite the golden hour, but the sun is not directly overhead, either. A custom white balance would be ideal, but I didn’t bring an Expo Disc and in my excitement, didn’t bother to manually balance the color. After a few test shots, the daylight setting looked the closest to reality, so I went with it, knowing full well I would add some warm hues in post processing.
The purpose of this shot was not so much to capture the rock- although it IS amazing (and did I mention I am also obsessed with rock formations?) My main intent was to capture the LIGHT.
Now a word about light. If your subject is backlit, don’t be afraid to shoot it! Light is glorious! It is the source of life. It is energy. It is our friend.
In case you were wondering (which I’m sure you were), the word Photography has its roots in the Greek language. Photo means light. And Graphia means writing or drawing. So as Photo Graphers, we are literally “light writers.”Capturing light is our job, so let’s embrace it!
Besides, backlighting can make ordinary images extraordinary!
To capture this image, I employed that little light trick I’ve been telling you about. Position yourself so that the sun is JUST peeking out behind your subject. You will probably need to maneuver around a bit to get it just so. I usually set up the shot by hiding the sun completely behind my subject, and then slowly allowing more and more light to peek out. Suddenly, BAM! Sun beams will shoot out all over the place when you’ve got it just right.
As for camera settings, the smaller the aperture (higher f-stop number) and the slower the shutter speed, the more light beams you will see. This was shot at 1/30, f/14, ISO 320. Take note: 1/30 is below the recommended shutter speed for hand holding, but if you exhale deeply and stiffen your arms against your chest, you can get the shot. Just make sure it’s not the ONLY shot you take in case you blur it.
Although sun flare does cause you to lose contrast and definition on your subject, never fear. Sunflare does NOT plunge your subject into a dark, featureless silhouette. (In fact, silhouettes shots are quite intentional; they don’t happen by accident.) As you may have read in previous posts, the explosion of sun from behind your subject does something magical. It illuminates the front of your subject!
As for the edit, all I did was tweak the colors with a few of my favorite actions. If you shoot it right in camera, the editing is easy! First, I ran an MCP Fusion action called Ellie’s Field of Dreams, The color portion of the action increases the cyan, blue and magenta tones, particularly in the shadows. The One Click portion allows users to customize richness (brown gradient map), brightness, color intensity, etc. So I played around with each setting. Next, I ran a few actions from Oh So Posh’s Bohemian Symphony Collection. First up was Live Happy, which adds red tones and (surprise) purple. These I turned down very low, but you can see them in the shadow on the sand. Next I ran Petite Treat which basically adds a warming tone. Again, LOW OPACITY.
For the finishing touch, a little selective color pop on the sunbeams, and some sharpening.
Voila! Another fabulous experience in Light Writing!
Close your eyes and try to imagine:
You and your family take a vacation to a place you’ve never been, and will likely not return any time soon. In anticipation of the new scenery, you tote along all your camera gear, dreaming of the dramatic photos you will take on the journey. In preparation for a day of sightseeing, you try to pack efficiently. After all, you’re carrying not just your 80lb DSLR, but the water bottles, snacks, a first aid kit, sunscreen and the kids’ sweatshirts, just in case.
You are, in essence, the family pack mule.
As is often the case on such family adventures, it will be the extra camera gear that (sadly) stays home. So you pick the best lens, format two 8- gig memory cards and fully charge not one, but TWO batteries. After all, how could you possibly need more than two fresh batteries?
Finally, after a day of touring, snack breaks, trinket shops and potty stops, you find yourself in an exquisite location. The sun is angled just so, and the light is positively glowing. You excitedly set up your dream shot and fire away… until your battery unexpectedly dies. Of course you have no idea HOW it died because you charged it the night before, but, no problem. You brought a backup, right?
After a little digging through your messy bag (What? Yours isn’t messy?) you grab, with relief the fully charged second battery, smugly giving yourself accolades for bringing a spare. Then, to your horror, after only a few shots, this battery poops out, too. WHAT?!??!??? How could this be?!?
Panic ensues. You dig frantically through your bag, hoping against hope you accidentally dropped a third battery inside, knowing full well you did not. No battery equals no photo. No photo equals crushed hopes and dreams.
Despair sets in. And desperation.
So you reach for your husband’s iPhone, weird color filters and all.
Desperate times call for desperate measures…
Well, I know what you’re thinking.
That will never happen to me. Real photographers always are prepared for a camera crisis. We’re talkin’ backup memory cards, multiple batteries AND a spare body just in case…
And then there’s the rest of us.
SO my question to you is this: When was the last time you checked the DATE on your batteries? In other words, how old are they? In a perfect world, rechargeable batteries last forever. In reality, each time you charge them, they lose just a TEENSY bit of their staying power. By the time you’ve charged and recharged them (over the years) they eventually poop out. The rub is how they do it. You pop in a freshly charged battery, and the image on your LCD reads full power. Terrific! But it’s a half truth.The battery may be at full charge, but it’s the AMOUNT of charge that is in question. You see, both my batteries were fully charged, but neither one held more than 25% of their original capacity.
Here are a few ways to help yourself out, since DSLR batteries are expensive!
1. Always deplete your battery ALL THE WAY. How many times have you recharged a 50% battery in anticipation of a shoot? After all, there’s nothing worse than missing the perfect shot in order to change batteries. However, your batteries will live longer if you follow this simple rule and allow them to drain completely. On a shoot, try keeping your backup battery in your pocket so you can presto-change-o in a few seconds flat. Or save your half empty batteries for non-essential shoots such as kids birthday parties or still-life images.
2. Mark the DATE on each new battery. I always use a Sharpie and write the YEAR on my batteries when I purchase them. If you have several batteries purchased in the same year, give them an additional identifying feature- A, B, C or something like that. More often than not, you will discover that Battery 2011-A is performing better than 2011-B. Come up with a system to rotate them. As my batteries get older, they become secondary, and then tertiary backups, etc
3. Don’t wait until you need ’em to buy new batteries! At $40-$60 each, they are an investment. So set a schedule. Buy a new battery each year, or every six months, etc, depending on frequency of use
4. Keep your batteries out of the cold! When shooting in cold weather, you will notice your battery life is half of what is normally is. Keep your spare batteries in your coat, or up against your body somehow (as opposed to in your bag) as their power depletes rapidly in the cold. Of course we were in the desert, so cold was NOT an issue!
On a positive note, I DID get a shot that I’m proud of- before my battery died.
This was a time when it sure paid to know my camera settings!
My main goal was to capture the sun flare coming through the Joshua Tree. Smaller apertures coupled with long exposures allow a camera to capture the light beams as they travel. Since I didn’t bring my tripod, I had to hand hold the shot. So I knew I didn’t want to go below 1/50 shutter speed. Otherwise I would risk camera shake & blur. For this shot I maneuvered myself so the sun rays would burst forth from behind the tree. I got two decent shots before the battery died.
Today is a day of mourning for me.
If all goes according to plan, a piece of me will die this afternoon and everyone around me will be celebrating. It’s a long story.
For me it’s much worse than the sale of a house. It’s not even my house. But it was my home. My home away from home.
We wander the earth like gypsies, but until now, there was always a place to return to. A place of peace and refuge. A place of dreams and wonder. A place to play in the trees, climb through the hayloft, breathe the fresh county air and feel truly ALIVE. The smell of fresh cut hay, the sound of a distant tractor, the feel of the low-lying fog on your face. The warmth of the wood burning stove. The brilliance of a sky full of stars. The horses grazing out the front window. The cat curled on the end of a quilt-covered bed. Vintage photographs hanging on the walls. An old piano missing an ivory key. Antique typewriters. Homemade apple pies. The hammock under the walnut tree. The ticking of the grandfather clock. Dust swirling lazily in the afternoon sunlight. The iridescent spray of farm irrigation at sunset. The last vestiges of childhood- both mine and my children’s. Gone.
I suppose we all have to let go at some point. That feeling of “home” is something we have to make ourselves. Home is not something we can return to. Life marches on
No, I wasn’t born in a barn, but this is my tribute to the last place on earth that felt like home.