Archive for the ‘Photoshop’ Category

My Tokyo Hose

Sunday, June 23rd, 2013

Blue Hose Final Version

There is something irresistibly sinuous about a garden hose, exhibiting a natural elegance as it mimics the French curve. I found my Tokyo Hose last summer in trendy Shibuya.

Blue Hose As Captured By the Camera

Always on the lookout for found still lives, this one struck me as almost perfect as originally presented, and I did not ask my subject to make any changes in her pose.  If I had it to do over again, I think I would have moved the bucket, but that turned out to be one of the easier digital darkroom operations. Taken at 17mm and f;8, ensured enough depth of field for the entire image to be adequately sharp.  Perspective was the first fix, easily corrected in Lightroom (Distortion +7, Vertical –30, Horizontal –7, Rotate –0.9), resulting in a square image that looked like it had been taken directly downwards from an impossible position centered over the hose.  This still left me with the unwanted bucket, and some unsightly reflections from the harsh midday sun, so I moved to Photoshop for some outpatient surgery.


Copying another section of tiles and pasting it over the bucket simplified the image, turning a garden scene into a near-abstract.

The next task was to take care of the unsightly reflections by copying better looking tiles, and pasting them over the ones with the bright reflections. I ended up making 4 patches like this. I created mask layers over 3 of the top 3 tile layers and then brushed black over the mask to blend in the seams.  The hose was the most fiddly part, because it needed to look realistic, but I didn’t have a dark gap to hide a transition.  I also used curve layers, (1, 2, and 3) to correct the exposure and contrast of several of these patches to more closely blend with their neighbors. My final step was to create an empty layer, setting the mode to Overlay, and filling it with neutral gray. This is a quick and easy way to make a Burn & Dodge layer, and it has the advantage of being editable.  Painting on it with a white brush, as I did in the upper left corner, opened up the darker tiles, making them a closer match to the tiles around the hose, and ensuring a symmetric and simple background. 

I’m very happy with the way it turned out. I’m not sure that Japanese hoses are innately more elegant than any other hoses, but to me, this particular bit of blue rubber tube is suggestive, even symbolic, of the Japanese obsession with elegance and form.

Route 15 Bridge Avoids Photoshop

Sunday, April 14th, 2013

Route 15 Bridge, Point of Rocks, MD

Recent posts might give the inaccurate impression that all of my favorite photos have spent long amounts of time in the digital darkroom. While this shot did benefit from the careful selection of 14 different sliders in Adobe Lightroom, along with a minor crop, it’s a single layer, and was not processed in Photoshop (or anything else).

Route 15 Bridge, Point of Rocks, MD

A lot of photographers are blissfully unaware of the degree to which their camera, or the film in their non-digital camera, is making aesthetic decisions on their behalf, and without their cooperation. If you are just using the JPGs spit out by your camera, and haven’t put any significant effort into adjusting the camera’s various processing parameters, then at a minimum, you are letting some Japanese engineer decide how colorful, bright, and contrasty your images are.

The lower image comes as close as possible to showing what the camera saw (Canon EOS 50D, Canon EF-S 17-55 f/2.8 IS USM @37mm, ISO 125, f/5.0, 1/160).  RAW, which confusingly is not an acronym so much as a pretentiously capitalized description, refers to a bitmap dumped directly from the sensor to the memory card, without any processing. Lacking contrast, sharpness, white balance, and the loving touch of a digital darkroom technician, RAW images need to be processed into JPG or TIF before they can be used. The advantage of always shooing in RAW (which is not the same as always shooting in the raw), is that you have the largest possible amount of picture data available to process at your leisure on your PC.

This misty photo of the Rt 15 bridge over the Potomac at Point of Rocks was taken through my Subaru’s window (trick: wait for the wiper to go past) during a record-setting rain in March 2011 (another trick: even if you don’t get out, stop the car—especially if you are the driver).

Old Shoes

Friday, April 12th, 2013


Old Shoes

The Lonaconing Silk Mill has become something of a photographic mecca for the mid-Atlantic. All of the judges, and camera club regulars, have learned to recognize the increasingly iconic spindles, machines, and shoes that have been cooling their heels in this crumbling site since it was shutdown without warning in 1957.

Paying the owner $75 for the privilege of being able to go wherever we wanted, and move whatever we wanted to,  Elizabeth and I joined a group from the local camera club on a bitter cold January morning several years ago.  I found my favorite scene in a cramped locker room on the top floor.  Golden winter sunlight was streaming in through a grimy window, lighting up the contents of open cubbyholes containing shoes and other personal effects that had been left behind for over a half century.

Old Shoes

I experimented with several different pairs of shoes, but the red shoes, which looked more like some pope’s Italian loafers than a working woman’s practical footwear for the factory, contrasted nicely with the darkened old green locker.  Getting my tripod as close to the far wall as I could, while still being able to see the LCD, I took a bracketed series of exposures.


It took me 8 layers to create an image that approached what I’d seen when I was actually at the mill. Dealing with the cramped quarters and not wanting to block the golden light, I ended up a slightly skewed perspective that I corrected with the Transform tool, ensuring that the bottom border was square with the sides of the photo.  I had first experimented with an HDR image, but just didn’t like the way it came out. However, I did end up superimposing the HDR version on top of the normal version, and selectively unmasked it, providing some additional detail in the shadows at the back of the shoes (see Brighter shoes layer above). This version of the red shoes was missing the top of the open bin, so I copied it from a different picture, pasted it on top, and then used the Transform tool to correct the horizontal perspective, and straighten it so that it would be square with the photo and the other 3 borders.  I used a curves layer to match the exposure to the other 3 borders.

A bright object next to the shoes had to go, I cleaned the chalk marks off of the upper wooden piece, and then I did some local corrections, burning & dodging in an overlay layer, and an adjustment layer masked to the #75 label improved its contrast. After saving the multi-layered composite as a TIFF, I made some global adjustments in Lightroom, dialing some yellow back in to restore that nice golden glow. Using my favorite Velvet Fine Art paper, I made a 17.5 inch wide print, and matted it with Rising white.

Lonaconing Silk Mill Exterior

All Aboard: 20 Layers in Photoshop

Thursday, April 11th, 2013

All Aboard

A few pictures leap right out of the memory card, through your printer, and into the eyes of admiring viewers, looking just like you expected when you took the picture in the first place. Very few.  Most digital images benefit from some time in the digital darkroom, and sometimes it can take several hours of computer work to create a finished image that is worth the price of a sheet of fine art paper.

The intriguingly rusty interior of  Shaker Heights Rapid Transit Car #76, a Pullman-Standard special for that line which served from 1947 to 1975,  motivated me to setup my Canon DSLR on a tripod and spend some time exploring angles and exposures.  For each of several different angles, I took 3 bracketed exposures, recognizing that the tonal range exceeded the capture ability of my camera.  The image below shows the ‘normal’ exposure for that image without any manual attention in Photoshop.

RAW image before postprocessing

My first step was to combine 3 images into a single HDRI image using Photomatix, and then tone map it back into a standard bitmap for editing in Photoshop.  The advantage of HDRI is that it allows you to equalize out the exposure, even on a high contrast scene, such as this shadowy streetcar interior surrounded by the bright sunlight.

High Dynamic Range techniques allow to pull a lot of detail out of the shadow, without blowing out the highlights. It is also an effective way to emphasize texture, so it is well suited to grotty and rusty subjects.  Its also easy to turn a photograph into a cartoon, with distorted and unnaturally vivid colors, and terminally high levels of dirty-looking mid tones.  If I was going to reprocess this image, I think I’d tone down the HDRishness, but printed on Velvet Fine Art paper, I’ve had nice compliments on this image, and it one a first prize at a camera club end of year competition.


The image above shows the multiple layers required to pull these surprisingly complex image together. The black & white rectangle visible to the right in most of the layers is a mask, allowing me to apply the effect to selected parts of the image.  I did a lot of local exposure correction to make the steps visible, to ensure that the seat was well lit, to open up some of the details, and to highlight the incredibly filthy window.  I ended up reconstructing the metal strip along the left side of the image to neatly frame it, and I copied the ‘rd’ from the mid-car door, pasting it here to complete ‘Aboard’.  I also pasted in the window and reflection behind it.  Some of the above layers were tonemapped through Photomatix, and some are from a single exposure. Confronted with different textures, I ended up doing different levels of sharpening to different parts of the picture.

Shaker Rapid #71 & #76

I love all the details in the interior, with the handset on the floor, and some kind of control box lying on top of a driver’s seat with a lot of miles under and over it.  The rust and grime, and decay are evidence of the authenticity of use and time. It did feel like I put a lot of Photoshop work into this image, but in comparison to the amount of time Ansel Adams spent in the darkroom on some prints, a couple hours isn’t so bad.  It’s the price you pay when you enjoy found subjects, instead of studio subjects, where light can be much better controlled.

World’s Most Interesting Coal Stove

Tuesday, March 26th, 2013

Iron Stove

Graufthal’s protestant church contained the most extraordinary heating appliance I had ever seen. An eglise mixte until 1904, an unusual arrangement offering both Lutheran and Roman Catholic services in the same facility. Cold and crumbling, the non-descript, non-ornate, and apparently non-profitable sanctuary looked like it had seen better better times. Elizabeth and I were in the small Alsatian town to see its one tourist attraction: the Troglodyte Houses, or Maison des Rochers (the Rock Houses).

Manufactured by De Dietrich & Cie, a 17th century industrial dynasty that remains in business today, the church’s stove was photographically irresistible. Apparently shut out of the French railroad market after the 1870 German annexation of Alsace, they returned to their historical roots in cast iron and began making consumer durables, including stoves. The somewhat shorter entry mentions specially that their cast iron ovens were produced in nearby Niederbronn. the location appearing on the stove’s door,  after 1848.  The company still makes home heating and cooking appliances, along with industrial equipment.

Elizabeth didn’t come in with me, so I didn’t dawdle, but just snapped a quick shot and left.  That wouldn’t be the first or last time that I failed to fully explore what would turn out to be one of the more visually interesting subjects of a trip. Returning home and reviewing my pictures, I realized that this one might have some potential. I ended up spending far more time in Photoshop than I did in Graufthal.


The lighting was very uneven, with a ray of sunlight falling across the middle of the stove, burning out the highlights on the rusty/shiny metal, while leaving some of the shadows almost pure black. This was more dynamic range than a Canon 50D DSLR can capture in one shot, and I regret not having taken at least 3 bracketed images. Lacking the ability to do an HDR image, I ended up instead spending an afternoon in Photoshop, burning, dodging, masking, and correcting, until I’d ended up with a realistic stove. To balance the composition, I picked up the wall sconce and moved it about a foot to the left.   My day in the digital darkroom resulted in 18 Photoshop layers.

It’s a fascinating thing, and I love the spiraling triangular elements. I’ve never seen a stove like it, and haven’t been able to find anything specific online.

Here’s the before image, showing what the camera saw before processing it in Lightroom and Photoshop:

ISO 1600, 1/30, f/3.5

Garlic Still Life

Saturday, March 23rd, 2013

Garlic Bulb

The truth be told, I have little patience for doing still lives, but I took one of my favorite photographs in a makeshift studio in my backyard in 2011.

The garlic growing experiment turned out to be a great success, providing dozens of medium-sized garlic plants without any significant interference from deer or woodchuck.  The idea of photographing the garlics started with my admiration of the scapes, the elegant gooseneck shape at the top of the stem. Harvesting the bulbs, I found that the underground part of the plant was even more interesting than the top.

Borrowing a very heavy slate that was sitting unused in a neighbor’s yard, I set it on the ground as a natural backdrop for my vegetable portraits.  With indirect sun coming from one side, a white poster board against the fence on the other side provided some fill light.  I set up a tripod, with the arm extending horizontally, to hold my camera still. I’ve got a lovely old Micro-Nikkor 55mm f/2.8 close up lens that I found in mint shape on eBay, which is where I also bought a Nikon lens adaptor for my Canon 50D.

Some photographers have been surprised to learn that this is a High Dynamic Range Image (HDR), or more precisely, it is a TIF that was tonemapped from an HDR image created by combining 3 exposures.  HDR techniques can emphasize the mid-range contrast, greatly enhancing texture, which really enhances the roots in this image.  After processing the image in Photomatix, I removed some spots from the slate in Photoshop.  The conversion to black & white was done in Lightroom.

It clearly works better on matte paper than glossy. I experimented with half a dozen different fine art papers and finally settled on Canson’s Montval Aquarelle, a cold press paper without any optical brighteners. That 310 gsm watercolour paper really makes it pop, giving it some life and dimension.  I like the way the picture comes out on the screen, but I love the way it prints.