Autumnal Wanderings

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I’m sure that there must be really good uses for the various film emulation software that is available, matching the look of a project that was started in film and transitioned to digital might be one, but for me they are not much more than very expensive presets that let me try out various looks very quickly.

I can’t say that I’m overly sold on the ‘film look’ either but it’s fun to play and occasionally I stumble into something that I like. I think the more that you play with these kinds of tools the more that you’re able to imagine what the possibilities are for processing after the fact.

While I would like to think that I know what a particular lens will do, I’m a long way from this kind of fluency with the myriad of options available for post-processing. Knowing what draws you and and what repels you certainly is one way of narrowing the available options. Restricting your options to a distinct palette of tools is one way to create a signature style. This is something that I’m in the very early stages of working on but I’m having fun thinking about how it all fits together.

Black and White: 2014

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I was pleased to find out recently that the image above ‘After the Storm’ was selected to be included in the on-line annex portion of the Black and White: 2014 exhibition at the Black Box Gallery in Portland. The show opens Friday Sept 5, but images are up on the web now.

This is one of those images that almost never was. There are times when I ‘see’ images that I have to make even though they don’t fit follow the ‘rules’ of photography. In fact, depending on how quick or slow I am there is an internal battle that happens prior to taking the photograph that argues whether this image is interesting and why and whether I should even bother. If I’m fast enough I just take the shot and move on. If I’m too slow, fiddling around with a tripod, getting the right lens etc. there’s time for the doubts to start to take hold. With time, I’ve learned to listen to the doubts, acknowledge them and then take the shot anyway.

Developing Projects

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I’ve been going back through the archives looking for images that could be used to extend exisiting projects and identify themes to be developed for new projects. It can be a nice surprise to find images that were previously overlooked, a little bit like finding money in a coat when you wear it for the first time in a long time.

One of the things that I’ve been doing while I look through my images is to set up smart collections in lightroom that will be populated when certain criteria are met. I have a simple color scheme that I use to label my photos – I mark images that I’ve worked on green, ones that are to be worked on yellow and ones to be deleted red. All the photos labeled green (the keyboard shortcut to do this on the mac is simply by pressing the number 8) will then appear in my smart collection folder ‘selects’. I’m in the process of refining this collection using keywords that will then put images into project folders – ‘coast’ captures the images at the coast that I like so much, ‘trees’ is my tree project that is slowly coming along and ‘water abstracts’ is a project that came to light as I was going through the archive. The image above is one from the water abstracts collection. A screen grab of this collection is below.

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There’s definitely a ‘one of these things is not like the others’ element to this collection that I will need to resolve at some point, either by punting the offending image or building additional images into the set so that it is no longer a singleton. Having a number of clarified projects percolating in the background means that I’m sensitized to the opportunities for adding to these projects which will hopefully allow them to mature more rapidly.

How about you? Are you thinking about the images that you make in terms of projects? Any approaches, tricks, techniques or thoughts to developing projects that you want to share? I’d love to hear them

Friday Inspiration: The Year in Review

I’ve been enjoying looking at other photographers ‘best of 2013’ selections and thought that I’d share a few of my favorite collections here. What are your favorites?

John Paul Caponigro: My Top 12 Images Of 2013

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Michael Frye: 2013: My Top Ten Images

Waves in the Merced River near Happy Isles, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

William Neil: My Favorite Photographs of 2013

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Harold Davis: My best of 2013

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Practicing at Practicing

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I recently upgraded my copies of Lightroom and Photoshop which of course brought with it the headache of making sure that all the plug-ins that I have for both programs were installed and working properly. In photoshop my plugins are ‘grayed out’ and unavailable to be fired up unless you have a photo open. So to solve that problem I opened one of the leaf pictures that I had intended on working on but hadn’t gotten around to it. I opened the leaf image and started OnOne Software’s “Perfect B&W’ plugin. I tried some of my favorite black and white presets. There are lots panels with lots of sliders that you can use to further tweak the image. One panel that I wasn’t familiar with was the ‘blending’ and so I spent some time playing with the various options and was surprised and pleased to discover that using the overlay mode gave me the image above. I liked it so much more than the image I started with which is below.

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Could I have gotten there with just Lightroom or Lightroom and Photoshop? Maybe… I realized that the image out of the OnOne plug in had a vignette (easy to do in Lightroom), and was a bit crunchy – had either a lot of contrast or clarity or a combination of the two added.

Adding a vignette was easy – I generally use ‘Post-Crop Vignetting’ and dialed in -33 using the highlight priority option in LR5.

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Cruchiness wasn’t so easy. I thought that clarity would give the effect that I was looking for. Ramping clarity up to 100% gives the crunchiness I was looking for but there’s still something missing.

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Adding a strong constrast curve gets us closer but the image is too green.

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Finally desaturating a little using both saturation in the Presence panel and also the green slide in the HSL panel gives the image below.

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A vast improvement over the original and I like it better than my target image. I found this to be a useful exercise in exploring the power of Lightroom which I’m sure will come in useful.

Focus Stacking to Extend Depth of Field

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I thought that focus and depth of field were pretty simple. For things where you want to blur the background, focus on the subject, use a low F number (f4 or lower) and you’re good. For flat planes or things that are far away, focus on the subject and use a mid F number (f8 ish). For the grand landscape shot where you want front to back in focus, focus a third of the way into the scene and use a high F number (f22 or above).

This is probably as much as you really need to know to make very good photographs. However, like many things that seem to be simple, if you want to pick away at this and go deeper you can.

In the case of depth of field the only thing that is in focus in your photograph is that which you focused on and everything else on that plane. The rest of the stuff in your photograph that you think is in focus is actually ‘acceptably’ out of focus. For medium and large format cameras, cameras that have ‘movements’, that allow you to tilt the plane of focus this means that you really can get front to back focus, this is an application of the Scheimpflug principle. Those of us using DLSRs are out of luck unless we have a tilt shift lens that will allow you to do the same thing.

So, how to get front to back focus? Easy, take multiple images with different focus points and then blend them together in Photoshop to get what you want to be in focus, in focus. For this kind of shot rather than set the lens to f22, I would recommend that the f stop you choose be the one at which the lens you’re using is optically the best. As a rule of thumb this is usually 2 stops away from wide open, so for an f4 lens this would be f8.

So you’ve taken your shots – in this example I was exploring rain drops on some maple leaves. The images were shot at f4 to blur the background. In one image I focused on the front set of leaves and in the second I focused on the back leaves. Click on the images to see them larger.

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The first thing to do is to open the images in photoshop and load them into separate layers. Once you’ve done that you can then go to the edit menu and select auto-blend layers:
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then stack images in the dialog box that appears next.

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This gives the blended image with good depth of field from the front to back leaves.

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A bit more photoshop to remove some of the distracting elements to give the final image.

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