Friday, March 6, 2015

Cut and Polish!

      In one of my earlier posts I likened photography to mining for diamonds. A lot of time, expense and effort can be put out finding beautiful and interesting subjects to photograph not to mention trying to find great light. Just like mining, you usually have to dig through a lot of dirt to find that rare diamond in the rough.
     Finding your perfect subject is only part of the equation. Straight out of camera images rarely convey the beauty and emotion you experienced while at the location. Cameras just are not able to pick up the dynamic range that the human eye can. There is no emotional impact button on the camera. This is where post processing of images come in, the cutting and polishing of your diamond..   
      The vast majority of photographs you see in magazines and travel brochures have been edited to enhance the beauty of a scene. Some a little, some a lot. The point is, if you want to create a photograph with impact, they need to be enhanced. This is especially true if you shoot in RAW format as I usually do. In RAW format, as opposed to JPEG, the camera applies no enhancements to the file, so the photos are usually flat looking. They are bigger files, containing much more information which are to be processed to the liking of the photographer.
     I would like to share with you an example of how the 'cut and polish' portion of creative photography can be really beneficial. The photograph below was taken about six years ago when I was starting to get a little more serious about my photography. I had a small camera that was able to shoot RAW but it was not a DSLR. Unable to change lenses, limited f-stop values and a small sensor made it a challenge at times. But great results were still possible if I spent a little time with this 'diamond'.

photo #1

       What I liked: The subject- This mountain is known as the Monarch. It is in B.C. but I am standing on a rarely used trail in Alberta. Lot of effort went into this viewpoint, I had the blisters to prove it. The composition- The rocks, the forested slope and the mountain itself create triangles, which are great compositional elements. The story- I called this shot "Outcast" because the foreground tree was alone in this rock debris field far away from the densely treed slope below.
      What I didn't like: The crop- It's too tight. It looks a little bottom heavy to me and there should have been more room on the left hand side of the image. The emotion- It just doesn't seem to convey the feeling I had when I was standing on this small trail high in the Rockies. It looks a little cooler than I remember. The sky was more dramatic. I remember the light was more brilliant. Good thing I shot in RAW and am able to work on some of these deficiencies.

photo #2

      Using Lightroom, I made adjustments in contrast, clarity, highlights, exposure, and shadows that really started to make the image 'pop'. This formed a great base for my next phase of polishing.

photo #3

      This is where the image really started to take shape and become more dynamic in my opinion.  Unfortunately, I couldn't do much about the tight crop on the left. Lesson learned. Get it right in the field! In Photoshop, I used the transform tool to stretch the photo up. It looked more balanced to me. I could have cropped the sky but it would have changed the aspect, making it more square. Tougher to frame a print. I also warmed the image up, and using brushes, I brought in more 'light' from the right side because in reality, the mountain did seem lit up.

photo #4

       Now all I wanted to do was fine tune the photo. Using clarity, color saturation and sharpening I tried to add a little more impact. These adjustments were small but can be noticed when the photo is enlarged. This is definitely more like what I had in mind when I took the shot. I am happy with this result and usually would stop here. But sometimes you just get on a roll and have to push it just a bit more.

photo #5

     I added a little glow to the shot and also a texture. The image is a little softer but the colors seem richer and deeper. Maybe a little less realistic from the last one but some may find it more 'artsy'. It may be pushing the limits for some people but it's fun to try different things when you process and edit your images. After cutting and polishing diamonds, they don't all look the same. There is variety, appealing to different tastes. It's really no different in fine art photography. Thanks for looking!

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