DIGITAL DARKROOM

DO YOU CRAVE SHARPER IMAGES?

I haven't paid too much attention to sharpening my images to date.  Which is rather odd because I am a huge fan of beautifully sharp landscape images.  In fact, I recall pestering everyone I could at the very first photo workshop I attended with my burning question of "how do they (they being the big name landscape photographers I admired) get their images so wonderfully detailed and crisp?"  No one seemed to have an answer for me so I back burnered the issue.

Until this week when I serendipitously discovered Mark Metternich (via his guest posts at Visual Wilderness) and his positively stunning images.  Even better, I've found that he has some wonderful tutorials (a few free and even more available for purchase) on sharpening that I found really really good.

I watched both his Raw Sharpening and Ultimate Web Sharpening video this week and selected an image I made in Banff recently to try out what I learned.  All I can say is WOW and bless you Mark Metternich!  I am so thrilled with the result I got using his raw sharpening method.  Of course I still have much to learn but I am excited to finally have the knowledge to achieve the look I've been chasing for the last 3 years!

BANFF MOUNTAIN TIMBRE - Eureka!  Break through! I finally know how to get the sharp detail I've been pining for!

Since I am no expert, I will not even try to give you details on how to do this but instead will happily refer you to Mark.  Be sure to check out his website and videos if sharpening is something you'd like to learn more about.  

And mind you don't slice your eyeballs on those mountains up there ;) 
Happy image making folks!

 

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I WANTED NORTHERN LIGHTS PHOTOS. I GOT INSPIRATION.

Landscape photography (like life) is unpredictable.  Sometimes you are presented with weather and conditions that are neither what you expected or hoped for.  I ran into this last weekend.  My hopes were high for capturing the Northern Lights.  The forecast was promising but sadly nothing materialized in my area.  Fortunately I didn't come away completely empty handed. 

With no new images to work on today I found myself digging back through my archives.  As I worked on this image of Toronto my hopes of catching the aurora in action must have seeped into my subconscious (cue the Rolling Stones).  

While the universe didn't present me with the aurora images I wanted, it did provide me with heaps of inspiration.  

 

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ELEMENTS OF BLACK AND WHITE - Simplicity

This is my 5th and final image for the Black and White Challenge. 

It’s entitled WINTER'S ICY GRIP. Last December for two days mist and rain fell as temperatures hovered in the perfect zone for precipitation to freeze on contact, coating everything with a 3cm layer of ice.  Many trees were unable to withstand the ice load but those that did were beautifully encased resembling a scene out of “Frozen.”  For this image I isolated the branch by moving until the background was a simple dark colour and set the aperture to a low f-number (2.8) so that branch was in focus and the background was blurred.  Check out my tip here for more on shallow depth of field.  

The image worked in colour, but when I converted it to black and white the details in the ice suddenly popped.  The story in this image IS the ice and the black and white version tells it best. 

High impact monochrome images have a simplicity about them.  The subject is clear and distracting elements are removed.  Many photographers will tell you that when they shoot for black and white they purposefully look for simple subjects and isolate them in the composition.  But sometimes, converting a colour image to black and white can also have the effect of simplifying.  As is the case with my image.

Participating in this challenge has taught much more than just the technical process of making a monochrome image.  I’ve enjoyed how the challenge has impacted my thoughts on creativity, making art and photography. I now know that:

  • making art and posting every day takes discipline and commitment
  • doing something completely different from what you normally do can boost your creativity across the board
  • good black and white images are not made from poor colour images
  • the elements of contrast, texture, pattern and simplicity play a key role in producing high impact mono images
  • the elements of good art are the same as for good photography (not sure why this is such a surprise)

Have a wonderful week my friends - may you find your own challenges are ones that inspire.

INSPIRATION THIS WEEK:

 

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ELEMENTS OF BLACK AND WHITE - Texture

Sometimes it's ok to flip things upside down.  

This is day 3 (or more accurately photo 3) of the Five Day Black and White Challenge for me. Though perhaps I should call it the white and black challenge today.  I've always thought that impactful black and white images skewed to the dark side but the image I made today proves this is not always the case.  Sometimes the exact opposite can be just as impactful.

ELEMENT #2 - TEXTURE
Monochrome is perfect for highlighting textures.  A smooth white space surrounding the rough base of the trees creates visual interest.  In the original photo above, the snow was littered with little bits of dirt which I carefully erased so that the eye can travel smoothly over the snow and linger on the coarse ridges in the cedar bark.

TIP:
There are many ways to clean up spots on an image - be it from dust on your lens or small bits of dirt or debris on the ground.  I like to start by removing any easy spots in Lightroom with the spot removal tool.  Sometimes this tool won't work on a particularly tricky spot so I then move the image into Photoshop and give it another go with the Spot Removal tool in the Camera Raw filter.  If I am still unsuccessful with that then I will give Photoshop's Spot Healing Brush tool a go.
If all this sounds like too much work, then I invite you to just stare at the image above for a bit and relax (if you click on it you can see it bigger).  However if dust or spot removal has plagued you and you long for more detail on how to out out those damn spots, Pye at SLRLounge.com has a tutorial that should get you moving in the right direction.

 

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ELEMENTS OF BLACK AND WHITE - Strong Contrast

DARK AND STORMY NIGHT IN BLACK AND WHITE

The first roll of film I shot was colour but the first photograph I fell in love with was a black and white.  It was the one known as "california kiss."  It kicked off a long run of creating colourless documentary style photos of my friends and family which ended when I shot my last roll of Ilford in 1999.  At that point I made the move to digital and recommitted my affections to colour.  

Participating in the 5 Day Black and White Challenge has inspired me to take a closer look at what kind of black and white landscape photos I like.  After collecting these on a pinterest board for study I've discovered that the ones I find impactful share some common elements. Over the remaining days of the challenge I thought I might share these with you.  

ELEMENT #1 - STRONG CONTRAST
Very black black's and very white whites are perfect for giving the image real pop.  Without colour to provide the vibrance, strong contrast steps in to provide that umph!

TIP:
When working on a black and white image in Lightroom, did you know that if you hold the 'alt' or 'option' key down while sliding the black or white slider it will give you a visualization of how your image is being adjusted.  You can then adjust the slider until just enough true black or pure white is showing in the image.  Here is a great article at digitalphotographyschool .com that illustrates what I mean.  So handy right?  I also watch my histogram carefully when I play with the adjustments and I have noticed that with black and white landscapes I prefer to have it skewed to the left or on the dark side.   Ahhh yes... the dark side is powerful.

 

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ROSE COLORED VIEW - using filters real or digital to enhance the beauty

I have a pair of sunglasses with lenses tinted the perfect shade of rose.  When I wear them my view of the world is fantastic.  Everything looks picture-worthy.   These glasses are ridiculously big on me and my kids have informed me they lend me a certain air of wackiness but vanity and sanity be dashed - I’m hooked on the way they make my world look beautiful.

This enhanced outlook got me thinking about lens filters and my image making.  I don’t typically use filters on my camera. I tend to like to keep things rather simple when I’m out there - in fact sometimes I don’t even like to use my tripod or change the lens as much as I should.  But I figure if my world can look this good through a pair of sunglass lenses then perhaps I should try applying this rose-brown colour to some of my images.

So I spent a bit of time playing around with a few images I took recently, adding colour filter effects in post processing to see what I might be able to get. I found I liked the simplicity of using some presets I have from Trey Ratcliff’s collection right in Lightroom.  I always start with my images in Lightroom so testing out different ideas there was really simple and fun.  For the image below I started with Trey’s “Fading into the Red” and tweaked the sliders until it started to look like what I was after.   I then moved the image over to Photoshop to clean things up and make some final refinements (spot removal, Noiseware, Color Efex Pro and sharpening).  

I love the way that creative inspiration can come from the most unusual places sometimes.  Anyhow, hope you have something fun planned for the upcoming weekend. And if you find yourself in need of a bit of inspiration or a rosier view, perhaps consider trying out some filters (digital or real).  Or maybe just treat yourself to a pair of cheap wacky sunglasses.

SOURCES OF INSPIRATION FOR THIS WEEK:

  • This image from Kerry-Ann Lecky Hepburn.  I got to watch as Kerry-Ann tried out her new ND filter at sunset over on our Toronto G+ Photowalk a few weekends back.  In addition to the ND filter, she was also experimenting with what is called a black-card technique.  Here is a link to understand how this works.  
  • The rosy hues of this image posted by National Geographic Travel caught my eye and the article got me dreaming of travelling to a place where midnight safaris are possible.  
 

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