Saturday, December 1, 2007

Light Variations

The image at left is an example of how beauty can lurk in the most common of places, if you just choose to look.

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, my family stayed with some friends. The weather was pretty blah and I didn't think there was much to shoot. I decided to take my camera out and just start shooting some things around the house. One item that intrigued me was a hanging pendant light in the front hallway. The house was built in the early 60's, I believe, and I'm pretty sure the fixture dates from that period.

The fixture was a hanging globe made out of wavy plastic. I took several shots of the fixture, first just using available light, and then using a flash. I then got the idea to actually turn the light on. When I did, I was rewarded with some wonderful shapes and shadows. I picked a handful of shots that I liked the best and proceeded to experiment with them. The image to the right is an unprocessed shot of the light when it was switched off.

As I was looking at the images in Bridge, I noticed they all had a yellow color which came from the incandescent bulb inside of the fixture. I liked the color but I wanted to see some different interpretations. In Camera Raw, I played with the white balance. I created some images which were blue, others which were more of a red orange. I also played with weaker colors and different crops. The image at the top is one example of the lighter color with a square crop. I liked the way the curve of the light goes from top left to bottom right.

The image below was created by using a stronger color:

Finally, I decided to convert one of the images to black & white. I like how the edges of the waves turned black and created some nice lines. I also like the look of the soft shadows.

All in all I'm fairly pleased with how these images turned out. The post processing was fairly simple and consisted mostly of altering the white balance, using curves to increase contrast, and using hue/saturation to intensify the colors (or use of a black & white adjustment layer to create the black & white image)

Feel free to let me know what you think about these images or to ask any questions about how they were created.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Dante's Inferno?

Dante's Inferno? Not really. It's actually a shot of the tunnel which runs between the A terminal and the B/C terminals at Detroit Metropolitan Airport. The tunnel is quite interesting. It has moving sidewalks going in both directions. On each side of the tunnel there are a series of etched glass panels which are lit from behind. Colors shift from reds to greens to blues to purples. At the same time ambient music plays and the color changes to the mood and beat of the music.

Over Thanksgiving, I found myself with some time to kill at Metro airport while I was between flights. I walked down to the tunnel to take some shots. Unfortunately the tunnel is mostly dark and all I was able to do was take some hand held shots. I wanted to capture the movement of the people, but I wanted the fixtures in the tunnel to be sharp. I tried to keep steady but wasn't entirely successful. When I was processing the image I decided to experiment with different treatments. The image above was created with a couple simple changes in Photoshop.

The first change I did was to crop the image to eliminate the top and bottom and focus on the center of the tunnel. I took this shot with an Olympus E-500 which has a 4/3 aspect ratio and the crop makes the image more panoramic. I then did some minor exposure adjustments in raw and then opened opened the image in Photoshop. From there, I duplicated the layer and selected the Linear Light layer blending mode. This created a more intense and more abstract image. I then added a Hue/Saturation layer and shifted the color from green to red. This created a darker, more ominous looking shot. Some minor curves adjustments and the image was completed. I like the way the light panels and the reflections on the floor look like fire emanating from the end of the tunnel. Since travel can be Hell sometimes, I thought the treatment was appropriate.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Ghosts from the Past

I was out driving today and I passed by a farm that I've passed by many times. The farm used to have a barn which had one end painted to look like a classic 'old master' painting. In this case, it was a famous painting of a portrait of Baldassare Castiglione done by Raphael. The artist painted several other barns in Michigan using the same idea, but using different artists. Across the road from this barn, there was one painted to look like a famous painting of Paul Revere. Sadly, the images have all faded away and in some cases the barn itself is gone. I took this shot in 1999 and some time after that the barn was torn down.

The original image was shot on 35mm slide film, most likely Ektachrome. When I was working with the image, I wanted to emphasize the image itself and less about the barn and its surroundings. I decided that a black and white image would suit the subject the best. The main colors in the original were red and blue. I didn't want the sky to dominate, so I made the blue areas dark. I let the red areas also stay mostly dark. I added just a bit of reddish-sepia tone to the image as well. To add just a bit more contrast, I took the image into Photomatix and did some tonemapping.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Grand Central Terminal

This is a shot of Grand Central Terminal in the heart of New York City. The image was taken at 7 am, just as the morning rush hour was getting started. I didn't have a tripod with me (and the transit police probably would have hassled me) so I just set my camera on the staircase railing. I wanted to use a relatively slow shutter speed to capture some movement, but I didn't want everything to be blurred. I really like the fact that there is a mix of people who are blurred, and others who aren't.

The shot of the left is the original, unprocessed image. As you can see, it was originally a color image. However, I didn't think that color really added to the shot so I converted the image to black & white.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Artistic License

Artistic License

This is a shot of a mid '40s Buick Eight automobile taken at the 2007 Concours d'Elegance auto show at Meadowboork Hall near Rochester Hill, Michigan. I have several nice shots from that show and after processing several, I decided to try something different with this particular image. One of the things that I noticed in the color original was the reflection on the front fender of a group of people standing near by. Normally I don't like seeing people reflections in this sort of shot, but I sort of liked the shape they made. I wanted to find some way to bring out the people, however 'normal' development (i.e. levels, contrast, etc.) didn't really work.

As part of an experiment, I played around with various filters just to see what effect they might have. This particular image was created by using a couple different 'threshold' filters which were used to reduce the image to its most abstract.

To the left is the image as it existed after I had done some processing to the raw file. The developed version had some more constrast, and additional corrections to bring out the proper color balance. From this starting point, I experimented with applying the threshold filter in order to create the very high constrast image seen above.

The first thing I did was add a Threshold filter adjustment layer. I slid the slider back and forth until I got the look I wanted. Too high of a value and the image was too dark and lost all detail, too low and the image was too light and without detail. For this image, a threshold of 77 seemed to look good, at least on part of the image. This threshold value did a good job of dealing with the top of the car, but it made the bottom almost completely white. As a result, I created a layer mask and masked out all but the very top. The key thing for me was keeping the headlight detail and also to keep the word 'Special' visible.

At this point I still wasn't quite happy with the way the top of the fender looked. I wanted to make sure I could see some of the curve and with the first threshold layer this area was pretty weak. I added a second threshold layer and used a value of 230. With this setting, the bottom of the image was mostly black so I masked out most of the bottom. Effectively I was putting a threshold on my threshold. It really only had the effect of adding some detail to the top of the front fender, up by the 'Special' emblem.

I created a third, and final, threshold adjustment layer using a value of 114. This did a nice job of bringing out the silhouettes of the people reflected in the fender. Overall I thought it did a nice job of abstracting the care without losing detail.

When I publish an image for the web I normally put some sort of simple border around it just to provide some separation between the image and the usual white background on which it is normally displayed. In this case I decided to leave the border off so that when displayed on a white background, the background would flow into the image. Similarly a black background has the same effect.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Happy 50th!

Happy 50th

This is a shot of the Mackinac Bridge which connects the lower peninsula of Michigan to the upper peninsula. The bridge is the 3rd largest suspension bridge in the world and the entire bridge is almost 5 miles long. This year is the 50th anniversary of the completion of the bridge.

This particular shot was taken on a late summer evening. I set my tripod up and aimed the camera at the bridge. I had a 45-150mm zoom lens (90-300 35mm equivalent) on the camera and I set the exposure for 60 seconds. During the exposure I counted to 10 and then zoomed out just a bit, waited another 10 counts and zoomed out a bit more until the timer closed the shutter. The water wasn't calm that night, so I didn't get nice reflections off of the water, but to me, the zoom effect makes the bridge almost look like fireworks bursting in the sky. Somehow I think it's appropriate for the 50th anniversary of the completion of the bridge.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Red Belvedere

Red Belvedere

This image of a 1957 Plymouth Belvedere Convertible was taken at the 2007 Concours d'Elegance auto show held at Meadowbrook Hall in southeastern Michigan. There were hundreds of classic automobiles at this show ranging from very early to brand new. I love shooting older automobiles because they have such interesting details. Even cars that I may find ugly when seen in its entirety can have some really striking design elements. For this particular car, the first thing that struck me was the red paint and how I really liked how it contrasted with the chrome. I took several detail shots of this car, but I think this was the best.

The finished shot you see above is almost what came out of the camera, but I did make some adjustments in post processing which improved the image. The biggest change had to do with the chrome areas. For me the shot relies on the contrast between the red, the chrome and the black areas. In the original shot, however, the chrome had less of a silver color and more of a greenish cast. The green cast came from the fact that the car was parked on grass. The processing I did was designed to remove the green cast and ensure that the contrast between the red and the chrome matched the strong impression I had when I took the shot.

The first step I took was to use a curves adjustment layer to increase the contrast in the chrome areas. I used a moderate curve and then applied a layer mask so that the effect was limited to the chrome areas. The increase in contrast brought out some details in the headlight, as well as making some of the dark areas in the grille area a bit blacker.

The next step involved adjusting the saturation value in the chrome areas. I wanted to remove the greenish cast, but I didn't want to completely remove all color from the chrome areas. As you can see from the settings, I reduced, but did not eliminate the color. I also made a couple minor tweaks to the hue and lightness settings. I basically made minor changes to these settings until I had the color I was looking for. To ensure that the saturation only applied to the chrome, I used the same layer mask that I had used in the previous adjustment layer. I simply did an alt-drag on the layer mask to get it to apply to the new layer.

If you look at this image, you can see that the greenish cast is mostly gone, but there is still some color left in the chrome areas.

At this point I thought the image was looking pretty good, but I felt that the red was actually just a bit too harsh. Perhaps I didn't get the white balance just right or something, but it just looked a little too strong. Because of this, I decided to tone down the saturation just a little bit.

At this small size, it's probably hard to see the difference between the image above and this image, but the red has been toned down just a bit and the overall saturation is a little lower as well.

At this point I still wasn't quite satisfied with the red so I actually ended up adding back a little saturation to just the red portion of the image. I used a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer and selected 'Reds', bumping the saturation just a bit.

To finish the image, I applied some mild sharpening and created a simple border. If I were going to print this image, I would not use the border, but for publication to the web I felt that some border would be beneficial. I created the border by first expanding the canvas by 15 pixels using a white background, and then I expanded it again by .2 inches using a black background. When I add this sort of border, I like to use two thin borders. If the image is mostly dark, I'll just use a thin white and then a slightly wider black. If the image is fairly bright, I might use a thin black to 'contain' the image, and then add another thin white and then a thicker black. The border is added as a final step and I keep a borderless copy of my PSD file so that I can produce bordered or borderless images from the completed image.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Taliesin Landscape - Compositing

This is a shot of a portion of the farmland at Taliesin, taken during a tour of the Wisconsin home of Frank Lloyd Wright. I was struck by the curves of the freshly cut fields and how they complimented the architecture of the house itself. Since I was on a tour, I didn't have much of a choice in when I took the shot, or have much time for composing the shot.

The day I was there, the weather was sunny and clear. It was mid-afternoon, and while the sky was blue, it was a somewhat muted blue. When I originally processed the file, I focused on the graphical nature of the farm fields. I decided a sepia-toned black & white suited the shot. However I wasn't completely happy with the final image. I decided that it would have been nice if there had been some clouds in the sky when I took the shot. Since there weren't any clouds in the sky, I decided to try to create a composite image which combined the landscape elements with a new sky.

In general I don't like doing composites, my feeling is that in photography an image should be created from what was there. I don't mind images that have had certain distracting elements removed, but I shy away from adding elements that weren't there. It is somehow disappointing to see a beautiful image and then find out that it was merely a construction. So, why did I do the composite? Mostly because I wanted to see if I could do one.

The shot you see here is the original, unprocessed, uncropped image. You can see that the light is moderately harsh and the sky has some blue but doesn't really provide much interest.

The first thing I did was play around with different croppings. I decided that a panoramic crop did the best job of capturing the curves in the field and removed extraneous elements. The image you see here is the starting point for the finished image.

When I took the shot, there was a row of vegetation between me and the fields. With the image cropped, a bit of that vegetation encroached on the image. I thought that this was distracting to the overall composition so I decided to clone that portion out of the image. In this case, the clone wasn't really adding something that wasn't there, it was just removing an object which was blocking what should have been visible in the first place. In this close-up, you can see the area that I needed to repair.

This next image shows the areas which received cloning using the Adobe Camera Raw 4.1 clone tool. With this tool, you draw circles and the tool selects an area it thinks is similar. Since I wanted to get rid of the bush, I simple selected pixels from the grassy area nearby. These pixels were consistent with what would have been visible if the bush hadn't been in the way.

The next step for me was to find a sky image that would suit the image. Recently at home there was a late afternoon sky which I thought would work, so I took a drive out of town to find an open skyline which was similar to what I had taken at Taliesin. The time of day was a little later than when I took the shot at Taliesin, but the angle of the sun was reasonably close. I took shots both to the north and south. At Taliesin the original shot was toward the south. After looking at my shots, I decided that the one taken toward the north looked nicer.

By selecting the northern shot, I created a minor problem for myself. Since the Taliesin image was taken toward the south in late afternoon, shadows would be cast to the left. However, the northern sky would have shadows on the clouds on the right. Fortunately this was a fairly easy problem to deal with. I took the original of the sky image, cropped and stretched it to fit the Taliesin image. I then did an Edit->Transform on the layer and reversed the image so the direction of the sun would more closely match the direction of the sun at Taliesin.

Having selected my sky image, I then placed the sky image on it's own layer. Reducing the opacity, I used the Move tool to drag the horizon line to a reasonable place in the main image. Once that was done I then created a layer mask and proceeded to mask out the bottom of the sky image to let the main image show through.

Once the basic composite was complete the next step involved improving the quality of the combined images. The first thing I did was do a minor contrast adjustment.

The next step was to use a black & white adjustment layer to create the sepia toned image. I adjusted things in this layer so that the curves of the field stood out. I then added a fairly strong sepia tone to the image. I particularly liked the way the sepia made the tree leaves look.

The final touch before completing the image was to add a subtle vignette. For the vignette, I used a technique described in the book The Photoshop CS2 Book for Digital Photographers, by Scott Kelby. I created a new layer and filled it with black. I then used the rectangular marquee tool to create a selection. I used the refine edge and used a large feather value to create a very large but diffuse selection. I hit delete to knock the center out of the selection and was left with the vignette.

To complete the image, I resized, sharpened and gave it a simple border. The border was created by extending the canvas with a thin white band and then expanding again with a slightly thicker black band. The final result is what you see at the top of the article.