Here’s a fun step-by-step post for you.
There’s a AMAZING, fabulous, incredible, BEAUTIFUL Japanese park in my little town that positively astounds me every time I go there. I am so blessed to live in this random rural town which boasts one of the most exquisitely elaborate Japanese gardens I’ve ever seen in Japan (Kyoto aside, that is…)
Photo opportunities are positively endless- as demonstrated by this picture I snapped yesterday…
And if you think they were taking photos of the flowers, every one of those cameras was pointed directly at US!
I thought it was only fair to return the favor :) Ahhhhhh, how I love Japan!
But I digress…as the day faded into night, we found ourselves walking along the river under a string of illuminated Japanese lanterns. Now I have hundreds of pictures of these lanterns. But if you are an photography addict (as I am) you know that hundreds isn’t enough.
Besides, a photographer’s favorite picture is never be the LAST one they took, but the NEXT one…
so keep shooting!
Anyhoo, seeing as I didn’t have my tripod (I never have my tripod- a habit that I’m hoping to change, along with preparing more crock pot dinners…) I thought I’d give my on-camera flash a try. Otherwise, the entire tree branch would be in complete silhouette.
In fact, even if I’d had my tripod, the breeze through the trees was just strong enough that a long exposure would turn out blurry. The lanterns and the leaves would sway in the wind. So I popped up my flash, lowered the brightness level in- camera and dialed down the exposure.
Not bad, right? If you are a westerner like me, you probably find Kanji (Japanese writing) totally enchanting. Each symbol is, by itself, a piece of art. I also happen to know (by a very reliable rumor mill) that the writing on these lanterns is mostly advertising for various Japanese stores and products. And supposedly a few even give directions to the toilets! Ha.
But this shot was perfect because, in my (very) limited knowledge of the Japanese language, I DO know that the three symbols framed by the leaves reads “Iwakuni City.” (Yes, that was intentional.) Anyone purchasing this print can rest assured that it doesn’t say Mr. Donut or advertise for a Pachinko Parlor on the side.
Most of the time, when I shoot an image, I have an editing idea already in mind. In this case I wanted to make an art print- possibly in black and white, definitely with blues and pinks… maybe a little haze, or dust scratches… So I ran it through a couple of processes in Snap Art. You can also achieve a paint effect using the filters in Photoshop, but Snap Art gives far more options and precise control over adjustments.
I love the painterly quality, but I wanted to draw attention to the Iwakuni symbols.
So I layered the original photo over the painted on in Photoshop and created a black mask.) Black conceals, White reveals. Anything behind the black mask remains hidden until you paint over it with a white (reveal) brush. With the brush set to Normal, about 22% opacity, I gently “defuzzed” those three Kanji symbols, being careful not to over-do it. I wanted to create a sharp focus area without losing the painterly quality or making it look disjointed.
It’s subtle, but it makes a difference.
Next, I converted the entire image into black and white. For those of you who know me, black and white is not my style preference. Besides carrying my tripod and making more crock pot dinners, I also have the goal of generating a series in black and white. For this conversion, I used “Shades of Gray” from the MCP Fusion set.
Now for the soap box. You will hear me say this over and over again. I simply adore MCP actions because of their architecture!!! They are soooooo organized, and every action is set up the exact same way. It gives you complete control over the image because every action has the same set of layers. Brilliant.
Okay. I confess. I LOVE this! I could stop here, but I still have the vision of adding back some muted colors, with blue and pink overtones. SO heeeeere’s where it gets a bit tricky.
Again, I leaned on the MCP Fusion set to accomplish my end-state. Namely because each action comes in such a neat and tidy package. I know EXACTLY what layers I will need to adjust and how much. SO I ran my all-time favorite action, “Jenna’s Sweet Shop.” It tones the shadows blue and the highlights pink. I love love LOVE it!
The tricky part is tweaking all the layers. I spent about thirty minutes going back and forth between the Jenna’s Sweet Shop layers and the Shades of Gray layers. I even rearranged the layer orders in my palette to see how they affect each other differently. In the end, I dimmed the black and white and allowed the colors to peak through. But the colors are muted by the gray tones, which is exactly what I wanted. And the gray tones are scratchy from the Snap Art conversion. Everything works together to give the final image a “processed painterly look,” which I adore!
Last up, I added some selective color pop. I wanted to pop the red and the green in the leaves, without over saturating the yellow, incandescent lantern light.
I LOVE IT!!!! What a fabulous Iwakuni Souvenir!
Before I begin my rant, let me apologize up front for this post. This is a bit of an experiment for me, and I hope we can all learn a lesson from it. OK. Deep breath. Here goes…
Have you ever read those photography blogs from so-called (self-appointed) experts who go on and on (and on…) about white balance? I mean, some of them literally PREACH about the dire necessity of getting your white balance absolutely perfect before shooting (and, of course you must never shoot JPEG (gasp!) lest your imperfect color cast be unalterable in Photoshop. And while I agree that yes, it’s important to get your image right in-camera, I have to disagree about the definition of “perfect white balance.”
And who, exactly, is the person who will weigh and measure what that perfect balance is, anyways?
The answer is simple. It’s YOU. The artist. The photographer. Never forget it’s YOUR image, your capture, your vision. And if you want everything shot indoors to have that vintage red incandescent hue then, hey, that’s your choice. As an artist, I have to say, I’m a little tired of those soapbox photographers who feel the need to constantly teach others how to “do it right,” when the truth is, THERE IS NO RIGHT. And that’s precisely why photography is an art.
Art is personal.
And not everybody likes the same style.
So shoot WHAT you love in the WAY that you love.
And stop worrying about what the “experts” say.
To prove my point, I would like to present to you my own personal white balance dilemma. These images were shot at dusk, on a rather overcast day. I kept toggling back and forth between different white balance settings because I simply couldn’t decide what I wanted. Sometimes I love rich, warm images. Other times I love crisp, cool ones. In this particular instance I was gripped with indecision, so I shot both ways.
And even now, as I sit here in post-processing, I can’t decide.
So I tried a little experiment.
I wanted to see the results of editing two different white balance images the exact same way.
The photos are nearly identical- same setting, same focal length, same subject. the only thing that changes was the white balance. At first glance, I prefer the warm one, because it’s so soft, gentle and light. But after I look at the cool one for a while, I prefer the crisp colors of the flowers. The vibrant colors really pop against the gray stone. The cooler image also offers more color variation in the water… the greens and blues. I was also intrigued by how the cooler image seems underexposed, while the warmer image seems properly exposed, even though the exposure is exactly the same.
Then, in Photoshop I used a color action from OhSoPosh Bohemian Symphony Collection, called Petite Treat. This action does a few things- it adds a center light, creates a vignette, creates rich contrast and pops the color while playing up the warm tones. It’s basically a nice, general color action with no overt color twists, hazes, or processing style.
First off is the before and after of the Warm image. It does cool the background stones a bit
and adds some drama and balance to the otherwise soft and ethereal original.
Here’s the cool edit, using the exact same action and processing steps,
although not all the layers were adjusted to the same opacity.
(Actually, I was surprised how much variation there was in the layer adjustments
in order to make the two images read comparably.
I’ve intentionally created lots of space in this post between images to allow your eyes time to adjust separately to the color cast. Stare at the warm one for a while and it will be your favorite. The cool one will look harsh. The stare at the cool one for a while and the warm one begins to seem muddy. Back and forth I go. Back and forth :)
So here they are, the final edits, side by side.
Which one do you prefer? I still can’t decide. I guess that’s just part of the photography journey… part of the LIFE journey, really- finding your balance.
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!