Sunday, October 26, 2008


(Olympus E-3, 14-54mm lens at 20mm (2x crop factor), ISO 400, exposure 1/15 sec @ f/8)

Sometimes when I find myself in a creative rut I revisit previous images that I have taken to see if there is something new that I can do with them from a post-processing standpoint. The image above is one such example. The image came from a photography I made of a 1937 Cord 812 Beverly Sedan. The car was on display at the Gilmore Car Museum. Shooting in a museum is always tricky. You have lighting in the buildings which creates hot spots on the car, sometimes the lighting is dark, or other problems exist. For this image, the lights created hot spots on the car, there was a window just behind the car, and the overall lighting was sort of dark. I really like Cord automobiles, but I have never had a finished shot that I really liked. I'll sometimes get good compositions, but other aspects of the image don't work for me. In the case of the image above, I liked the composition, but I didn't like the way the lighting worked, so I didn't put any more time working on the image.

The image above is the 'as shot' image of the Cord. If you look to the left, you can see a window in the image, on the right there is light from another window reflecting off of the floor. In addition, there are little hot spot lights reflecting off of the car itself. As a 'regular' image, I just don't think this image works. However, I still liked the look of the shot. I think I like Cord's because they have a very angular design. They have interesting lines and details. If I could find some way to emphasize those features, I figured I might have a good image. Turns out that Photoshop had a filter which worked perfectly, I just didn't realize it existed!

Even though I use Photoshop on a regular basis, I tend to focus more on it's digital darkroom tools such as curves, levels, etc. I don't often venture into the more artistic filters. In general, I prefer to create photographs rather than photographic or digital art. However, it doesn't hurt to experiment. The other day, I was playing around with a new noise reduction tool. I found that when I used some extreme values I got an interesting result. Based on that experimentation, I decided to try some of the standard Photoshop filters. I ran across one that I had never used before called Cutout.

Cutout is interesting because it lets you create images which sort of look like maybe they were printed using wood block technology. You can dramatically limit the number of colors in the image, and you can play with how the edges in the image are rendered. Using different values you can get a complete abstract image if you want, or you can get something more like Andy Warhol. I found that by using this filter on images with some complex edges and colors, you could get some really cool results. I used this filter with varying settings on a variety of images. On some the effect was pretty useless, but on some of my detail shots, particular of mechanical items, the results were very pleasing.

On the image above, I used Cutout to create a highly posterized version of the image. I liked the way the color gradients came out. Because of the simplification of the color, I was able to go in and paint over the more annoying light spots. I also took out the side window as well. I could never have done this with the regular image using the clone tool because the colors were just too complex and the result would have look horrible. Some expert cloners might have been able to do things, but not me.

After getting the basic image where I wanted it, I increased the saturation a bit and added some additional contrast. I didn't need to do any sharpening, because the filter altered the image enough that sharpening would have been pointless. I simply saved the image with the end result that you see at the start of this posting.

Comments welcome.

Text and images Copyright © 2008 James W. Howe

Monday, October 20, 2008

State Theatre Marquee

This is a close-up shot of the marquee of the State Theatre in Ann Arbor, Michigan. This theatre was designed by C. Howard Crane and built in 1942. Crane also designed the ornate Fox Theater in Detroit. Most of the exterior of the theater is still intact, but inside the theater was cut up to create 4 theaters over two floors. Later the bottom two theaters were removed and converted to retail space.

I've always been attracted to the signage of this building. It has great Art Deco elements and I like the vivid colors. Even though the sign has seen some wear, it is still quite impressive. I was going through some shots I had taken of the theater and I was playing around with the zoom tool in Lightroom. I had zoomed in really close in one image and I really liked the extreme close up. It gave the image a bit more of an abstract feeling to it. I decided I needed to go back and use my 70-300mm lens (2x crop factor) and take some close up shots. I've posted a series of them on my Flickr account. I choose this one to post here because I liked the variety of elements in the shot. I like the color and shape of the sign, combined with the pattern of the brick and the shadow line along the right side.

The finished image has had some work to get it to where it is. The image above is the raw image as it came out of the camera. The shot was taken mid-afternoon and the sun was shining directly on the sign. This had the effect of creating some nice shadows, but it also washed the color out. I really wanted to emphasize both the color of the sign, but also the age of the sign as well. In order to do that I worked to improve the contrast, and pump up the colors. Most of the work was done in Lightroom 2.0. I used the blacks slider to add a bit of contrast. I used the vibrance slider to bring out some additional color in the brick and I used the individual saturation and luminosity sliders to bump up particular colors in the sign.

When I was mostly finished in Lightroom, I took the image over to Photoshop CS3. I noticed that the color of the wall seemed to have a bit of a greenish cast, so I used the color balance tool to make it a little redder and browner. The original shot also had more dark wall to the right which I felt distracted from the main element. I liked the shadow cast by the bricks so I kept that, but I trimmed away most of the dark area of the image. The other thing I did was to skew things a bit to straighten things out. I had to shoot this from down below and I didn't have the benefit of a tilt/shift lens, so I used the free transform tool in CS3 to move things around a bit. I finished up with some sharpening and a little vignette.

Image Details

The image was taken with an Olympus E-3 camera. The lens was the Zuiko 70-300 which gives a 35mm effective focal length of 140-600. The shot was taken with the lens zoomed to 92mm (184mm). Exposure was 1/250 @ f/13 at ISO 100.

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Text and images are Copyright © 2008 James W. Howe - All rights reserved