Tag Archives: layers

The Answer

29 Jun

In Wednesday’s post, I asked you guys to identify which of the two “red house” photos was processed as an HDR image. It’s time for the big reveal. 🙂

The answer is, the first image was processed as an HDR pano. The second was processed using layers and masks.

The reason I bring it up though, is that despite being processed in two very different ways, the images have some very similar qualities.  Let’s start with the first image:

The House on Grass Island

The House on Grass Island

This image is actually two HDR images stitched together. The first thing I did is run all 6 of the original exposures through Lightroom for basic chromatic aberration correction and some sharpening. Those images were them run through an HDR algorithm and the two HDR composites were then stitched to create a slightly wider view of the scene (and a nicer leading line to the bottom right corner).

From there, I adjusted things such as the curves, levels, saturation levels and some noise removal. The lower half of the house still seemed grainy and dark, so I masked in a lighter exposure and blended until I was happy with the look of the house. I’m sure there were a few more tweaks here or there, but in a nutshell, that was the process.

Beach House

Beach House

Now for the second image, I tried a comparative edit.

The second image was a layer and mask luminous blend. The first steps in Lightroom were exactly the same. From there, I pulled up PhotoShop and opened the medium exposure for the centered red house image. It was well exposed for the sky, so that was my starting point.

From there, I layer on the lighter (over exposed) version and masked the image so that the sand (and the lower half of the house) from the lighter exposure and the sky from the medium exposure both showed on the same image. On top of that I layered the darkest version but adjusted the layer to somewhere between 5-10% opacity, so that it was adding texture to the shadows without darkening the overall image. This gave me a decent exposure for the whole image, and a good starting point.  A base image, if you will.

From there, I added curves, layers, saturation and other tweaks. The thing that really lent the image an appearance similar to the first photo, though, was a reduced opacity base layer copy set to overlay blending mode. Overlay blend does two things at once by combining Photoshop functions – it brightens the lights and darkens the darks, in essence bumping the contrast without affecting the base colors.  It gave the image pop, noticeably sharpening the detail of the photo. (Note, beware the halos when you try this!)

Overlay Example

Overlay Example

Just like anything else in the world of art, there are so many ways to get to your final image.  Edit experimentation is one of the many ways I use to find new ways to express myself through my photography. The more I practice and play, the more confident I am in my ability to apply polish to photos.

I truly believe we never stop learning in life.  Education enriches our life, keeps us healthy and feeds the things we are passionate about. So I encourage you all to practice, to play and to learn! As my good friend and monthly collab co-host Nick says, “Live Life::Love Life – Refuse to settle for anything less than your best self.” 🙂

The Stanley Cup Playoffs!

22 Apr

Oh.  Wait.  That’s what I’m watching, not what this blog is about. (Go B’s!)

This blog is about a little thing called texture as it pertains to photography. Visual texture is the illusion of having physical texture. (Apparently no one told The Wik you can’t define a word with the word. So, as a supplement to that…)

Texture [teks-cher] (noun): the imitation of the tactile quality of represented objects. (Dictionary.com with the assist! Do they have assists in hockey?)

Ok, so now that we know what it issssss, how does it apply to photography?  And more importantly, why?

Texture – or rather, the appearance of texture – is generally applied to photos to either add interest and mood, or to help emphasize and isolate the subject of an image.  The first instance – of adding interest or mood – works in conjunction with color balance an image.  I’ve talked about that in the past here.  The texture aspect of it helps to give the viewer an impression of something.  For example, a grungy texture by itself may give the original image an edge to it.  Combine that with an underexposed image, desaturated colors or a color balance heavy on the blues, and you have instant moodiness!  It’s another tool in your arsenal to convey a message with your art.

If your intent is to help isolate a subject, rather than direct an emotion, then the texture is applied with a similar mindset as vignetting. You want to use the textures to draw the eye to the subject by creating white noise – which your brain will ignore – throughout the rest of the photo.  The part of the image that is left without texture…aka, the subject…will be the focal point.

The term texture can apply to pretty much anything that you would care to layer on top of a photograph for the aforementioned purposes.  This can be anything from a built in texture option in PhotoShop to another image – bokeh, crinkled paper, patterned fabric, greenery, construction materials…whatever – layered on top of the original photo.

The quick version of “how” is to open your original photo in Photoshop (or any editing software that does layers), and to create extra layers with the textures you want to include.  From there, you adjust the opacity sliders and mask out the sections that you want to leave untouched.  You may also want to adjust things like the warmth and contrast of the image.

There is no “right” way to texture an image.  Just like all other aspects of art, it’s a matter of taste.  You have to find what works for you, and the individual photo.  In this particular case, the intent was to emphasize the cement behind the subject, and to add to the moodiness of the image.  I used both Film Grain and Dust/Scratches options found in PhotoShop.  The image was desaturated and color balanced, and the normal portrait edits were made to remove obvious blemishes, sharpen, etc.

With Film Grain and Dust

With Film Grain and Dust

And for comparison purposes, the image without texture.

No Textures

No Textures

Break Down

13 Jan

Did you hear the second guitar riff?  The one buried in the back of the song, beneath the drums, lead guitar, vocals, mandolin, lap steel, banjo, oboe and didgeridoo?  Yes, conversations like this really do happen in my life…the musicians in my life are very passionate about their craft.

Did you feel the horse shift his weight from his front end to the hind legs when you reset the head and sit deeper in the saddle?  Can you feel his muscles relax as you ride through the serpentine?  Did you push him into the circle with the inside leg, while holding with the outside leg and supporting with your seat?  Yes, I have conversations like this with my barn-friends too.

It seems that with most things we are truly passionate about, we become interested in the smallest details, appreciating the little things that others may miss.  In part, I think this is because mastering the details is a step on the road to mastering a craft.  Photography, of course, is no exception.

As we’ve already discussed, one of the things that separate the photographer from the hobbyist is the work a photographer will put into getting an image just right.  “Good enough” is never good enough.  One of the driving forces behind that, I think, is passion.

Often, I find myself appreciating the minute details of other photographer’s work – the decisions they made on depth of field, exposure, etc  are both interesting and educational to me.  I remember watching one of Trey Ratcliff’s videos in which he talked about editing an image down to, in essence, the pixel.  Such intricacy and detail was a striking example of the work a photographer puts into getting an image right.  I have since carried that lesson with me, determined to apply it to my own photos.

This week, I took a drive to Portland, ME and stopped (of course) at the iconic Portland Head Light.  It is a highly photographed lighthouse, with limited options for POV because of safety fences (which of course I respected!).  As I looked through the camera, I kept thinking, “This angle’s been done.”  So, I determined that if I couldn’t come at the lighthouse in a way that was fresh, I would at least make my version – which ended up being a composite of both two exposures and a pano series – accurate to my vision, down to the smallest detail.

Portland Head Light

Portland Head Light

Turns out, that meant three days of editing.  At times, that also meant editing to the pixel.  I must have re-blended the exposure layers 15 times until I have happy with the masking gradients.  In the end, however, I think it was worth it.  It may not be revolutionary, but dang it, it’s solid! =)

Item of the week (because it’s nice to think about being warm!):  http://www.zazzle.com/cozumel_postcard-239914153140274747

To HDR or Not to HDR?

30 Nov

…That is the question.  As High Dynamic Range photography continues to grow in popularity, “To HDR or Not?” becomes an important question for several reasons.

First…what is HDR? The short, layman’s term answer is a process meant to create an image with tonal range that is more comparable to what the human eye can see, as compared to an image captured with standard digital techniques. Often, with standard digital techniques, it is difficult to expose all parts of a scene properly at the time of image capture. For example, without filters or some sort of post processing, a landscape shot taken on a sunny day would likely have either areas that were blown out or under-exposed.

The process of HDR photography combines multiple images of the same scene, all with different exposures, through use of an algorithm that pulls the best pixels from each image to create a composite that has a greater tonal range than any of its individual components. That’s a checkmark for the ‘pro’ column!

Non-HDR vs HDR

Non-HDR vs HDR

Now for the ‘cons’…  In my mind, most photos are improved by a wider tonal range. In fact, the problem many people seem to have with HDR images is not the concept of a more dynamic range, but rather, it’s the individual artist’s application of the process. 

The major complaint I’ve heard time and again is that often HDR images, as a result of tone-mapping and color saturation decisions, look “fake”.  Tone-mapping is a process of compressing the brights and darks of an HDR composite image, and as one photographer put it, over-compression makes the image look like “HDR on drugs”.  Along those same lines, some artists over-saturate the already-wider range of tones to create images with colors that seem unnatural.  Truly, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and every photographer must create images that are true to their style…but if the intent is to create a photo that is closer to what the human eye can see, then over-compression and saturation misses the mark.

While there will forever be disagreement between traditionalists and non-traditionalists, there are arguments to be made for HDR beyond that of greater tonal range.  From a marketing perspective, HDR is growing in popularity.  Whether you embrace the change or not, our current consumers are showing appreciation for HDR and while it may not become your signature style, it wouldn’t hurt to have some knowledge of the process.

Furthermore, if you are the sort to plan for the long term, HDR images often have an appearance that is similar to the computer generated images seen in video games and movies.  That means that the younger generations (AKA future consumers) will easily identify with HDR images, and in time, may even prefer them to images processed with traditional techniques.

That being said, at this time, while I often bracket when shooting, I treat every photo as an individual during the editing process.  Many times, my personal preference is to try to create images that have greater tonal range but have a more natural feel than something that has been noticeably tone-mapped and has heavy saturation.  If I can accomplish that with layers and masks, I will.

Layers and Masking

Layers and Masking

On the other hand, if the photo calls for HDR, then so be it.  I’m an equal opportunity photographer!  But that’s just me…  What I want to know is, how do you feel?

To HDR or not to HDR…?  That is the question.