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Implausible, Whimsical, Photographs

Eagle Nest Lake
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

Fake” photographs.  Famous Wildlife and Landscape photographer, Art Wolfe found himself in some controversy some years back with the cover of his book “Migrations,” where zebras were digitally pasted or blended (“photoshopped”) into a photograph. The thing is, he and this kind of thing is not unique (nor, in my mind, is there necessarily anything nefarious about it in the correct context).  These incidents, when they occur, re-ignite the long-lived debate about “truth in photography.”  Few viewers, would find my image of Eagle Nest Lake plausible.  It would be the first ever spotting of a whale breaching in a New Mexico mountain lake (really more of a pond, by Great Lakes’ standards).  And the scale of the balloon isn’t really believable.  This composite was made from 3 images, made years apart, with different media.  I did it for fun.

This post is all about manipulation, implausible edits and, for lack of a better term, “photoshopped” imagery

From almost the beginning of my blogging here, I have posited my thoughts on the use of “digital darkroom techniques” to “enhance” my own images (Get Real,  Has The Digital Medium Changed Everything?, and Photoshop Is Not Evil).  I think “truth” in anything is important.  But the real question is:  “what is the ‘truth’ and when is disclosure required?” That is – in my mind – a grey area.  There are some perhaps well-defined lines, of course.  But if I put a photo out there and do not disclose something I may have done and call it “art,” then disclosure, in my mind, is optional.  🙂

Balloon in New Mexico
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

Just to be clear, this post is all about manipulation, implausible edits and, for lack of a better term, “photoshopped” imagery.  I recently purchased and downloaded ON1 Photo Raw 2018, and have been scrabbling up the learning curve on this software.  A part of the software that has intrigued me is its “Layers” module. I had read about it and intended to experiment on my older copy of the software ((formerly called “OnOne Perfect Layers”).  One of the things I like about the ON1 folks is that they have provided plenty of online content (lots of U-tube videos) on techniques and examples, and one the them which piqued my interest was the ability to composite using their layers module.  Of course this is not really something new.  Photoshop has had layers for many versions, and compositing is commonly done using the Photoshop software.  What I was curious about, though, was whether ON1 made it easier.  I think it does (though PS CC keeps adding things and getting better and I know there is an algorithm in the newest update that allows for easier mask – selection for “fiddly” subjects).  The “Perfect Brush” feature in ON1 Layer’s masking brush, is really pretty cool.  It makes masking a relatively clean object really easy as it selectively chooses the pixels around the edge of the object and paints them only, without getting into the object itself.  On more detailed subjects, its utility is not as readily apparent, but I have been fooling around with blending modes, and in some cases, that seems to help (unfortunately, due to some technical issues, the ON1 experiment was ultimately a bust for me and I obtained a refund).

I think “truth” in anything is important … But the real question is:  “what is the ‘truth’ and when is disclosure required?”

The balloon against red rock image is a composite from two different images, photographed at separate times (in fact, years apart).  One is a film image and the other, digitally captured.  Both were shot in New Mexico.  “Perfect Brush” pretty much flawlessly painted the edges on this balloons.  It is “possible” that this scene could actually have ocurred.  It didn’t, but the image “happened” in my mind and then on my computer.  🙂

“Lost” in New Mexico
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

On my first trip to San Francisco, we were fortunate to be in town during an annual Navy event:  “Fleet Week.”  One week each fall, the Navy sails some of its ships into San Francisco Bay.  One of the highlights of Fleet Week is its air show.  We stood out in the athletic field just east of the Presidio and got some pretty amazing shots.  One of the things I tried – mostly unsuccessfully – to capture was the “bloom” when a fighter plane broke the sound barrier.  I captured just one that I was happy with; the fighter in the image here.  Obviously, this is not San Francisco Bay.  🙂  This use of “Perfect Brush” was a bit more challenging, as the bloom is pretty transparent, and shrouded the wings, making it difficult to find edges.  There were contrails off the end of each wing in the original image, and the bloom feathers out further.  I wasn’t able to make them look realistic, so I decided not to include them.  This is in a canyon in the Rio Grande and while I wouldn’t be surprised to hear a Navy pilot tell me s/he could do this, I think it is probably implausible. 🙂

Eagle In Rome
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

The base image in the Rome composite is one of my favorite images.  I was in the right place and time to catch this young man walking in this alley.  What was really serendipitous was the contemplative expression.  What was he thinking?  What was he looking at?  Could it have been his incredulity at seeing an American Bald Eagle flying through the alley above him?  🙂

If I put a photo out there and do not disclose something I may have done and call it “art,” then disclosure, in my mind, is optional

I have composited before.  The best example is the LightCentric Logo.  This was partly an experiment to play with the ON1 features, and partly an exercise in trying to find subjects there were either implausible together, or possible, but highly unlikely.  Perhaps sophomoric.  Perhaps a waste of bandwith here.  But thanks, Leslie Gore, for inspiring me with my frequent (but admittedly plagiarized – or close) exit line:  It’s My Blog and I’ll Post if (what) I Want to ….. 🙂


Detours; a Last Look

Tug Boat
Copyright Andy Richards 2014

The last couple posts have treated the concept of “detours” in a literal, or at least near-literal way.  But there is certainly another way to look at the concept.  When we come to a subject we often have a pre-concieved idea of how to depict it.  We are often looking at the “big picture” (pun absolutely intended 🙂 ).  And when we do that, we often miss what may perhaps be the real image.  Sometimes we have to take a conceptual “detour” from the conventional way of photographing things, to see “our” image.  In life, detours are often an inconvenience.  Detours in photography, particularly conceptual detours, open up creative opportunity.

Detours in photography, particularly conceptual detours, open up creative opportunity


I made a “full” image of this tugboat; several of them in fact.  But none of them were really the image – my image.  What attracted me to the boat in the first place was much more abstract.  It doesn’t really matter if it is a boat (though there is plenty of context here to make that clear).  This image was primarily about color, contrast and context.  Maybe a little about shape.

In 2011, we did a Napa Vineyards tour.  I tried to get a “big picture” image that would tell the story of the vineyards.  I never succeeded to my satisfaction.  But I did see shapes and forms in these vines.  So, after trying to show the vines in a sweeping, “landscape” context, I took a detour and focused in on what I “saw.”

Grape Vines; Napa, California
Copyright Andy Richards 2011

The colored doors in Ireland are an example of both a physical and conceptual detour.  These doors are a pretty common sight, particularly in and around Dublin, where we spent several days.  Our last two nights in Dublin were actually in the suburb of Clontarf.  Most of the things “to see” in Dublin are really in the city, which is quite photogenic.  I spent a lot of time walking the streets and shooting while there.  This particular morning, I went out early, in search of a cup of coffee, with no real particular photographic idea in mind.  But I of course, carried the camera.  And of course, when I saw this row of colored doors, I had to make an image – or two 🙂 .

Colored Doors; Dublin, Ireland
Copyright Andy Richards 2014

Again, to me the picture here was about the doors and color.  But my real favorite image was the one of the single door with the approach.  My first approach was to try to get the entire building in the image.  But my “detour” took me to the true subject, that red door.

Colored Door, Dublin, Ireland
Copyright Andy Richards 2014

We have spent some time in Venice, Italy.  It is a magical place, where essentially everywhere you look is “eye-candy” for the photographer.  And it would be easy and forgivable to get completely caught up in the grandeur of the place and just shoot the “big picture.”  But again, a detour from this concept, and at times physically away from the main drag, will be wonderfully rewarded.  On one of our walking tours, we walked through the famous fish market.  I knew I had to go back one morning and shoot.  I made many images there, and this one is just one that seemed somewhat representative.  It is an image that is “off the beaten path,” both physically and conceptually.

Fish Market; Venice, Italy
Copyright Andy Richards 2013

Sometimes a “detour” in photography involves seeing things in your surroundings that were not part of the primary objective.  It involves slowing down, and looking.  In 2012, my friend Rich and I (and spouses) took a trip to Grand Teton National Park.  We were there to photograph the grand scenery:  Oxbow Bend, The Beaver Pond with peaks in the background, the Moulton Barns, Elk, Buffalo, maybe some bears and moose.  But driving down the road, we saw this guy (obviously also “capturing” the big picture), and we knew there was a photographic “story.”  Just a small detour.

Painter, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
Copyright Andy Richards 2012

In 2015, my wife and I purchased a second home (now our only home) in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area of Florida.  Our small community which is essentially a suburb of Clearwater, Florida, is near the Gulf of Mexico, and there is a State Park I often visit to capture the sunset: Honeymoon Island, State Park.  I see a lot of shots of Gulf side sunsets with water and sky.  Although it is tough to argue that the sunset skies are incredible, I really think there needs to be some foreground interest to make a “good” florida sunset image.  So I am always trying to find that element.  There are some reefs that work here.  While looking for a good composition, I saw this couple sitting on the reef, watching the sunset.  While making a few images, I kept my eye on them, having a “feeling” that at some point they would create an opportunity for me.  I knew the light would sillouhette them, which was what I wanted.  Sure enough, they stood and faced each other.  And I made the image.  A small detour from my original plan.  A pretty good detour.

Honeymoon Island State Park, Dunedin, Florida
Copyright Andy Richards 2015

On our recent Mediterranean Cruise, we saw a lot of very beautiful sights, with nothing better than Santorini (perhaps competing with Venice as my favorite “eye-candy” site).  But we had been to Athens a couple times and seen all the famous historical sites.  So we opted for a walking, food tour of the city.  It was a fun time and I would happily spend some time getting to know the old city of Athens.  I took a few images of the buildings and some of the quirky things like the ancient churches with huge modern structures build around them.  As we stood in one of the squares, I saw this mural and felt compelled to capture it.

Athens, Greece
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

My trip to Newport, Rhode Island was all about the ocean, lighthouses, and nautical themes.  And we were fortunate to be there during the Newport Boat show.  Which meant we saw some incredibly massive boats, both power and sail.  Newport is a sailing place and some of the sailboats were to me, previously unimaginable.  And I felt like I had been on some pretty good-sized sailboats on the great lakes over the years.  So I burned a lot of pixels shooting some if these impressive vessels.  But again, occasionally, I would drill down and take a detour away from the big picture, to some interesting detail.

Sailboat Hardware
Newport, Rhode Island
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Opportunities for detours come when you look for them, and and when you are willing to “think outside the box” just a bit.  One of the things I look for when I am photographing is signs.  I often make sign images just to help me remember about places I have been.  But I think my first fascination came when I shot a shop sign hanging along the walkway in a rural Virginia town that said “Open.”  But it was upside-down.  It was quirky, so I shot it with some street context.  That was back in my B&W days in college, so I was able to develop a print and I framed it and hung it in my dorm-room with the sign right-side-up.  It made for an interesting image.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t a good saver back then.  Maybe someday I will have an opportunity to re-create it.  I like to think I have a pretty good sense of humor.  So when I saw these two signs juxtaposed, I couldn’t help myself 🙂 .  There are sooooo many thoughts.  I will leave it to your own interpretation.

Copyright Andy Richards 2015


More Detours

Soo Locks; St. Mary’s River
Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan
Copyright Andy Richards 2005

Sometimes photographic “detours” are actual detours 🙂 .  In 2005, my buddy, Rich and I went north to the Michigan Upper Peninsula, to photograph Tahquamenon Falls (purportedly the second largest drop in the eastern U.S., after Niagara) in winter conditions.  I had a catastrophic equipment failure – broken tripod leg – and we determined that our best opportunity for a replacement was going to be Sault Ste. Marie, Canada, where there were two camera shops.  We had rented a cabin (of sorts) for the full weekend, but we had already made many images of the falls and were ready to seek some better accommodations anyway, so we headed off to Sault St. Marie (called “the Soo” by most U.P. natives).  After a successful (if eventful – another story for another time) trip across the border into Canada, we explored the area around the famous Soo Locks.  It looked like it had good potential and we started our next morning at sunrise there.  I liked this shot and even liked the lens flare spots.

Babcock State Park
West Virginia
Copyright 2011 Andy Richards

In 2011, Rich and I took a long weekend (and a very long drive) to West Virginia, to photograph the famous Grist Mill, in Babcock State Park.  We just missed an internet based group that had been there earlier in the week, but the group leader was still in the Park and one of the things we planned to do was meet him.  As we spoke, he told us about a couple other “attractions” in the park that were not so well-known to photographers, including this overlook where he graciously – but perhaps unknowingly – agreed to be a prop for my image. :-).  A takeway from this:  Take purposeful detours from the main attraction.  Explore the overall surroundings and look for opportunities to photograph.

Take purposeful detours from the main attraction

The application of this resulted in another image that should be familiar to readers here.  In 2007, my wife and I took an overnight trip to Skyline Drive in the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.  I had been up there a couple of other times, but only for day trips.  My planned shooting was to get a sunset shot of the receding mountains from up on one of the overlooks, which I did on the evening of our overnight.  I am an early riser and was up before dawn, to explore.  Again, I was primarily looking for some “grand landscape” image opportunities.  As I waked through one of the meadows, I saw a road, and decided to head down it to see what I would find.  As I got to the road, I could see the shafts of light coming down through the trees and I knew this little “detour” was going to yield a nice photograph.  That photograph is part of the banner for this blog.

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
Copyright Andy Richards 2007

One early Summer morning, I set out at about 4:00 a.m. to photograph a lighthouse a hour plus from my house, in the early light.  It is a very photogenic lighthouse, with an octagon tower and a red brick house.  But it has an odd placement, basically being on shore, almost like a cabin.  It needed to be photographed from the breakwater wall out on Lake Superior, and I thought the sunrise would light it nicely.  I spent some time there, and got some nice shots.  Then, with what appeared to be developing, beautiful day, and still some morning light left, rather than head straight home, I took a detour north.  I knew there was another light and had never been to it.   I found it and along with the find, made a rather nice image.  I felt especially fortunate to have the blooming lilac bush in the foreground and the wind was very cooperative, giving me the full view of the Stars and Stripes.

Point Au Barques Lighthouse
Copyright Andy Richards 2008

For nearly 20 years, I “manned” and managed my law firm’s “branch office” in the small community of Frankenmuth, Michigan, about 25 miles from our main office in Saginaw, Michigan.  Frankenmuth is a small settlement which is surrounded primarily by farms.  I lived in Saginaw during that period and commuted every day.  After work, and during lunch periods I often drove the roads around Frankenmuth, looking for photographic subjects.  On such subject which always intrigued me was an old grey barn, with several bright red outbuildings in its foreground.  There was a problem with it as a photographic subject though.  First, there was a lot of “junk” foliage around it that obscured parts of it when in foliage and just didn’t look very good during the year.  There were some old, scraggly brown vines (maybe grapevines) in front of it that just seemed to detract from the overall image, which was really about shape, form and contrasting color.  It needed something:  snow.  When we did have snow, I just couldn’t seem to “see” the image I wanted.  This barn was south of the office and not something I would go by every day.  But when we got a surprise snowstorm one late march morning, I knew I needed to take a detour on the way to work that morning.  All the winter snow had been gone for some time and it was warm.  This surprise storm was a sticky, wet, blanketing snow and everything was covered.  As I approached the scene, I could see the image I had been imagining for several years.  The only thing missing here was perhaps a more interesting sky.  As I re-visited this image for this blog, I saved a copy into my B&W working folder.  Maybe ……

Winter Barns
Frankenmuth, Michigan
Copyright Andy Richards 2011

In a similar vein, during the fall, it was not unusual for me to “drive the backroads” on my way home from the Frankenmuth office.  This often involved trying new roads; often out of my way.  Generally, I was looking for fall color, perhaps hay bales, cattle or something of interest to add to the otherwise flat, Saginaw County Landscape.  One evening while doing just this (I cannot to this day tell you what road I was on, nor do I think I could find this again), I happened upon this “classic” combine.  I knew this was a fleeting opportunity, as the sun was setting and I might only get one pass.  I quickly pulled to the shoulder of the road, and grabbed my camera from the front seat next to me.  I would only have an opportunity to shoot this hand-held, out the car window.  One little trick I have learned over the years when shooting from a car is to to shut the engine down.  You can usually brace against the window ledge, but a running engine will introduce vibrations.  I believe these are soybeans being harvested, but what “makes” this image in my own view is the chaff filling the air and filtering the otherwise strong directional backlighting.



Rocks on Lake Superior Beach
Copyright Andy Richards 2004

Whenever possible, I try to carry a camera with me.  Most often, when I plan to shoot, I shoot according to a “plan.”  That doesn’t mean I have an outline, or road map, but I generally have an area and at least a general subject in mind.  But I have always tried to keep an open mind (or perhaps, “open eye”) for subjects that I hadn’t planned to shoot, or hadn’t thought about.

it is often the “detours” we take that yield some of our best results

Readers here know that I have been experimenting a bit with alternative presentations, including exploring B&W.  In my exploration, I purchased a B&W book by Harold Davis; “Creative Black & White Digital Photography Tips & Techniques.”  As I was reading that book, something he said that was not particularly restricted to B&W photography resonated with me.  He notes that it is often the “detours” we take from our planned capture of a scene, image or area, that yield some of our best results.

Mineral Pools
Yellowstone National Park
Copyright Andy Richards 2012

Now, “best” I think we can agree, is a relative term, at least in art.  Maybe in the context of this post, “favorite” might be a better word.  But I can say that a couple of those “favorites” have actually resulted in image sales.  So maybe he is onto something.  Or – maybe when we deviate from the “expected” image and follow our own thoughts and approaches, we produce the true, unique imagery that makes it ours – and makes it different from the pack.

Best is a relative term; Favorite might be a better word

As I contemplated the word, “detour,” it occurred to me  that it really can have some different meanings in this context.  Sometimes, a “detour” in photography is driven by conditions or necessity.  The opening image of rocks on the shore of Lake Superior in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, was the result of a frustrating day during trip to photograph a waterfall and fall foliage.  The day turned out to be a complete washout, with steady rainfall, and grey skies.  Everything, including us and our gear, was soaking wet.  But not wanting the day to be a complete failure, I turned to looking for images of the small stuff where not only did the sky and background not matter, but “wet” was actually a plus.  It has continued to be one of my favorite images and has resulted in a couple of sales.  I have been fortunate over the years, not to have many outings like this.  The one other one which has stuck with me was my trip in 2005 to Vermont (the year color never happened).  I photographed a lone Maple Leaf laying on the ground, and back home on the computer screen, this became a part of the composite image that has become the logo for LightCentric Photography.

LightCentric Photography Logo image
Copyright Andy Richards 2005

The Rome City Center image is another favorite.  The “detour,” here was just a matter of “right time – right place.”  We were on our last day in Europe on our first – shortened – Mediterranean Cruise.  We had taxied to Rome to catch an early flight out the next morning, but had just an afternoon to walk around some of the high points in Rome.  We packed in a lot, including the Coliseum, the Trevi Fountain, the famed Spanish Steps and some of the ruins.  We were headed back to our friends’ hotel where we would catch the subway and a bus to our hotel near the airport and I was lagging behind, looking for things to shoot.  I saw this court from where we stood on a street above, and waited until this young man walked into the part of my frame I wanted.  His contemplative look was just pure serendipity.

City Center; Rome, Italy
Copyright Andy Richards 2013

Sometimes the “detour” is almost sudden and unexpected.  That sounds good, like the definition one might find in an insurance policy.  The truth is it usually isn’t “sudden” and in most cases shouldn’t be “unexpected.”  But it often does develop and happen fast, and catches us unaware (if only in many cases, because we weren’t open to planning for the unexpected). We were standing on a rocky cliff on the eastern shore of Naragansett Bay in Newport, Rhode Island, shooting a rather famous lighthouse in the area.  There were numerous photographers crowding the area and all of us were concentrating on different perspectives and compositions of the lighthouse, in the changing light.  I got mine 🙂 .  I took a break and started to look at the scene around me.  The orb of the sun had just sunk below the horizon.  I saw the sailboat (it was actually an excursion sailboat on a sunset sail, and I knew it would be heading back into port as the sun went down).  I shifted my tripod and camera in the direction of the boat, catching the orange sky in the background.  It developed quickly, with the fast moving boat and fading light, I was able to get just a couple shots.  This was by far my favorite image made during that several day trip.

Sailboat; Naraganset Bay
Newport, Rhode Island
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

My best example of this was a lesson for me.  We were on our first ever cruise; the Inside Passage in Alaska.  In Ketchikan, my wife had found and signed us up for a “Deadliest Catch” cruise.  I expected some “Disney/Hollywood” from this, and there was some, though it was actually pretty well done.  The operator had re-purposed an actual boat used for fishing in the Bering Straits, which had  been wrecked.  They set up one side of it with theater style seating, and showed us the different fishing methods used on the other side.  But for me, the memorable part of this excursion came at the end.  When we walked off the cruise ship and were greeted by our tour guides, one of them spotted my camera and lens (I was carrying the Nikon and a relatively large, zoom at that time) and remarked, “we are going to get you some great photos today.”  Like “best,” “great” is very objective, and I was skeptical.  Nothing I saw on the ride out changed that outlook.  I did get some “interesting” shots of their show.  But I was thinking we were heading back in to port and I didn’t have anything “great.”  I did see some Osprey nests in the distance, but nothing else.  Then the one of the guides mentioned that we were going to make a stop on the way back to port.

We need to always be prepared for a detour

We slid along an island that was not inhabited by humans.  There were a bunch of dead trees.  The guide noted that we were in waters that had – by treaty – been turned over to a local native tribe and were not subject to U.S. laws.  That meant that it was legal for them to “bait” the eagles that were around.  I then heard the plop of bait being tossed into the water. In a very quick moment, the sky was full of Eagles, divebombing for the bait, and avoiding mid-air collisions.  I had never been this close to a non-captive bird of prey (and probably never will again).  And – folks there is the lesson.  I really wasn’t ready for this.  I hadn’t thought it through and didn’t have the settings made on my camera.  It all happened so fast that all I could do was shoot with what I have.  I probably made 100 images in what couldn’t have been 10 full minutes.  I have only 4 that I thought came out well enough to be “keepers.”  This is my favorite.  My takeway:  We need to always be prepared for a detour.

Eagle In Flight
Ketchikan, Alaska
Copyright Andy Richards 2010

Book Review; Black & White Digital Processing

Creative Black & White; Digital Photography Tips & Techniques – Harold Davis  –  Recommended

Black & White Photography; The Timeless Art of Monochrome – Michael Freeman  –  Suggested

It has been a while since I reviewed a book here.  Indeed, these days, to think the ever younger population would even be interested in a hard-copy book might be simply quixotic.

Followers here know that I have recently ventured back into the genre of B&W imagery.  Rather than review one book here, I am going to tackle two books:  “Black & White Photography; The Timeless Art of Monochrome,” by Michael Freeman; and “Creative Black & White; Digital Photography Tips & Techniques,” by Harold Davis.  I have a rationale for reviewing these together.  For one thing, I think reviewing them separately will cover already “ploughed” ground, and would make for a couple of repetitive blog posts.

There is no such thing as a “complete” textbook – on any subject

But perhaps more importantly, if fits with a philosophy of learning that I will espouse.  I should first acknowledge (as I may have alluded to at the beginning of this post) that we all learn differently.  I have many friends who shoot, and who have never (or at least rarely) picked up a book on any photographic topic.  I suppose I am not preaching to them, but in some cases, I still believe they might be pleasantly surprised at what the “deeper dive” might reveal in terms of pleasure and interest in topics photographic.  But for those of us who are students and learn by books and written materials – either because they learn best that way, or because they have too, I hope my thinking resonates.

I am not a fan of the “star” rating system Amazon uses

There is no such thing as a complete textbook in any subject.  Indeed, when I see “The Complete….” anything, in a book, its credibility immediately erodes a bit (though it is just a title, and I do try to keep an open mind about what might be between the covers).  As a teacher and writer (both on a relatively small scale, but nonetheless contributing to some hands-on experience and knowledge), I know that it is not possible to find a “textbook” that is complete in its coverage.  Every subject needs to be supplemented and augmented by other materials; often written.  As a college student, my more rigorous instructors routinely assigned a “reading list” of books which were not the institution-chosen and assigned textbooks.  This is because they knew none of them alone were going to really impart the rounded subject knowledge necessary to become proficient.

I reviewed these books on Amazon and made the same observation.  I gave them both 5 stars because I thought they both deserved it.  As an aside, I am not a fan of the “star” rating system Amazon uses.  As a writer of two eBooks, myself, I have seen how that rating system can severely skew the perception of the book and I suspect skew sales in the same way.  That is why my rating system is different, and I think more useful to the purchase decision.  In so doing, I am not suggesting that either book is complete, perfect, or even without some shortcomings.  They both have them.  But what I want to know as a reader is are they worth the purchase?  Will they be a worthy addition to my resource library, and is there enough worthy material to justify the purchase of the book.  In both cases, I believe the answer is yes.

  My rating system is different, and I think more useful to the purchase decision

Freeman and Davis are both accomplished professional photographers and writers.  The former does not automatically beget the latter J.  There is some pretty pedestrian stuff out there.  Too many books today are just a re-hash of basic photography and Photoshop principles, in the guise of something specialized.  They may have their place, but I tire of picking up a book that purports to “take my – you fill in the blank – to the next level,” and then spends 75% of the book telling me how “f-stops” work, what the depth of field and focal length relationship is and how focal length relates to sensor size.  I also tire of the books spend an inordinate portion of their pages on basic techniques in Photoshop and other software.

Don’t get me wrong.  We need books on those topics.  I keep Martin Evening’s “text” on Photoshop CC right next to my computer and consult it often (“Adobe Photoshop CC for Photographers;”).  But it does not purport to be a specialized book.

So it is a pleasant plus to note that both of these authors tell you these are not “Photoshop How-To” books.  And other than showing us steps as they specifically relate to the topic, they require at least an intermediate knowledge of the underlying software (mostly Photoshop and Lightroom).  I found myself lacking some of that knowledge at times and having to consult my Photoshop generalist book(s).  That’s ok.  My knowledge base is from numerous accumulated sources.

I bought and will keep both of these books in my library

What I am looking for in books like these are whether they impart what they purport to – in this case, teach me something about Black and White imagery, in the context of digital photography.  And, when they do, do they impart enough (quantity and quality) to justify their purchase.  I think both of these books clearly do.

Black and White Photography; Michael Freeman – Suggested

Interestingly, both of these authors chose to divide their books into 3 major sections, dealing with some of the background of B&W photography; Digital theory and Techniques; and then a “Creative” section.  In Freeman’s case, they are chapters 1 -3.

The first “Chapter,” entitled “The Black and White Tradition,” covers some history of black and white photography.  But it does so in a manner that is brief enough not to lose the reader, who – after all – probably bought the book to learn about digital black and white techniques.  But there is enough information there to bring context.  I think Freeman does this really well.  He also talks about the “theory” of black and white, and how concepts like tonality, shape, texture, and lighting greatly affect the black and white image.

Chapter 2, entitled “Digital Monochrome,” delves more deeply into the digital side of things.  As a base for understanding, Freeman explains how the digital capture sensor is built and notes the difference between the “linear” response curve of digital capture and the traditional response “curve” of film.  While this may seem overly technical for the stated purpose of the book, I think it is important to understand why we make the digital “moves” we do when operating the software.  This is well done and illustrated, with again, just enough information without overwhelming the reader.

Freeman spends a little time mentioning some of the software applications available other than Photoshop, including the NIK Silver Efex and the ON1 programs, among others.  This is a nice, if small, departure from what is the “norm” in books with an overwhelming emphasis on Photoshop.  I have Photoshop and am not sure I could “live” without it.  But I sure know a lot of photographers who do not have it and get along perfectly well.  So it is nice for a change to at least have some “honorable mention” of alternatives out there.  I think that Adobe Lightroom and the up and coming ON1 RAW suite are going to give most photographers every tool they really need.  And today, if I were going to have to pick, I would lean toward ON1.

The next few sections dealing with black and white processing are really the meat of the text.  They describe several methods for conversion of digital images to B&W, and a number of useful adjustment techniques using the powerful tools available in software.

It is here where the book should shine.  And content-wise, is does not disappoint.  However, the presentation, unfortunately, leaves a little tarnish on the shine.  There are numerous instances where the author makes reference to an illustration, or a Photoshop tool that he relies on, as if it were presented as an illustration in the book.  But the illustration is nowhere to be found.  At times it seems like it should be an illustration and it is just plain missing, leaving the reader at first searching for it and then scratching her head, wondering what the ….? For example, he will often say something like, “as the histogram in this image illustrates …..” and then rather than having a histogram as an illustration for the image, the book will show the image and occasionally some sliders for the suggested adjustment.

A number of times, he walks us through the process he uses to enhance an original image, and notes that the final image is “better” because …. And then the original image is not shown to us in the book.  It just seems logical that you would do that in order for the reader to see the beginning and the result of the steps he has taken us through.  Sometimes the “stages” are illustrated but not the original image.  This is not consistent throughout the book.  Perhaps some more rigorous editing would be in order here.

But look, both of these books warn the reader that they are not Photoshop tutorial books, and that the reader should have at least an intermediate grasp of Photoshop and digital post-processing.  So it is easy enough to “infer” in the above instances, and I certainly would not let it deter me from purchasing, reading and using the book as a reference.  On balance I felt there was a lot of knowledge imparted, and a fair amount of inspiration to forge out on my own.

Creative Black & White; Harold Davis –Recommended

I think this is a book that is well worth the price for any photographer who (like I do) likes to learn by reading and likes to “get under the hood” a little bit, and wants to work with Black and White digital processing of their images.  Interestingly, this is a 2010 book (while Freeman’s is a 2017 publication).  One would think it is becoming dated, but it is not, it is still very much applicable and useful.

Much like the Freeman book, this book is divided into 3 major sections.  Freeman goes into some detail about B&W photography history comparing film to digital capture.  Davis, instead, uses his first section more as a “philosophy of B&W shooting” piece.

I thought the first section in Davis’ book could be thinned by about 2/3.  It just seems to repeat itself, and repeat itself.  He also has a tendency toward “flowery” language.  At times, I found myself noticing that, instead of the information it was trying to impart.  To me, that detracts from the mission.  But we all speak and write our own way – and to each his own.  None of the criticism here should, in my opinion, deter a purchaser.  This is a very good addition to my own library, and I learned (and will no doubt continue to learn) a lot from it.

Once I got into the second section – which is really the “meat” of the book in my opinion, I forgot about any negative tendencies and it very much held my attention.  Davis does a great job – almost in a “cookbook” formula, of illustrating a number of ways to handle B&W conversion, along with the whys and hows.  He gives – in most instances – a step by step explanation of how he does the processing (mostly in Photoshop) with enough information to see and accomplish the result, without getting into an “in-the-weeds” tutorial on Photoshop.  I like that.  The second 2/3 of this book did everything it promised and was everything I expected.  I will have this book on my bookshelf next to my workstation and will no doubt consult it often.  I am looking forward to experimenting with the techniques I learned in the book and truly believe it is worth a photographer having in his or her library.


I bought and will keep both of these books in my library.  You may have noticed that I rated the Davis book higher.  It is a book that has a lot of “hands-on,” practical information and applicability to what the prospective reader is likely looking for:  how to process my images to B&W in the best technical way.  In that sense, I think a photographer who is looking at learning about B&W conversion of digital images (and maybe even an experienced person) will find this an immediately useful “cookbook” for this purpose.  That is why I recommend it.

The Freeman book, much like all of his books, is more theoretical, and in my view looks more to inspiration and aesthetics.  That is why I “suggest,” rather than recommend it.  It will not be everyone’s cup of tea.  In one sense, it may get a little too far “under the hood.”  That is something I like because I am wired that way.  But many people would rather let someone else do the mechanics and concentrate on the driving.  I think Davis’ book fits the latter bill better.  I personally look for inspiration and some of that detail, and I enjoyed Freeman’s book every bit as much as the Davis book.  I will keep them both and both rated 5 stars on the Amazon review process.  To use a currently popular “texting” phrase, YMMV.

As always, thanks for reading and I would welcome comments.

More B&W Images

Nightime Canal
Venice, Italy
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

Since last week, I have acquired ON1’s newest offering:  ON1 Photo RAW 2018.  A version or two back, the ON1 folks moved from their “Suite” Of layers and effects, to a raw converter suite, which competes with Lightroom, Photoshop, Capture One, and the like.  The “develop” module in ON1 Photo Raw allows for essentially the same basic raw adjustments as Lightroom and Photoshop’s ACR (Adobe Camera Raw), as far as I can see (Capture One offered me its suite a couple years back at no cost as some kind of deal they have with Sony for Sony camera users – while I have played a little with it, I was too lazy to try to learn a new interface at the time, but I suspect the raw conversion there also has a lot in common with these other programs).

Nighttime Canal
Venice, Italy (“toned”
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

For the Moment, one thing ON1 offers, is the ability to purchase and own standalone software, where Adobe has essentially now moved entirely the cloud-based model.  There were a lot of us in the beginning that were very wary of the online model.  Some of us still have some misgivings, though I will say I have been using Photoshop CC for a couple years now and really haven’t found a problem with it – yet.  I do like the periodic upgrades they push through from time to time, and I find that it generally works pretty smoothly, even with my low RAM Microsoft Surface, when I am not able to work on my desktop PC.  ON1 is seeming to bring the best of both worlds to entice Adobe users.  It intelligently loads (if selected) as a plug-in to both Lightroom and Photoshop, and the process of moving between the software is “relatively” seamless.  I say relatively, because some of the layer-based files can be tricky and it takes a bit of a learning curve to understand what is going on (a curve, I will readily confess, I am at the very low left end of 🙂 ).  The other thing that intrigues me is the ON1 browser/cataloging capability.  I have used LR for cataloging only for the most part.  I may look at migrating that function to the ON1 software.  But that is another topic for another time.  I wanted to play with the ON1 software, primarily for B&W images, but I can see that I will be working some with other aspects of my color images in the software.  But for now, the images here were made using some of their templates, and one with my own conversion.

The ON1 Software presents a learning curve for me; one I confess I am on the low end of

The Venice Canal is the canal where we stayed for our 5 days in Venice in September, 2017.  My buddy and traveling companion, Paul, saw the color version of this image and thought he might like a B&W Print.  So I thought I would play with it, using a couple of the “templates” that are built into ON1’s Black and White conversion process.  I used their masking process to “paint” in some texture and detail in a couple areas and to paint areas lighter and darker.  Otherwise, they are just two different templates.  The second image adds a little “warming” color, which still retaining the monochrome overall image.  I am not sure which one I like, though I tend to lean toward the more dramatic and stark B&W in all these images.

Navy Ships
Fisherman’s Wharf; San Francisco, CA
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

One of my goals in the Navy Ship image was to work a bit with the color channels to see how they affect the image look.  Most of the color version here is pretty much a neutral or slightly darker gray.  But there were a couple of red objects, and on part of the ship on the bow that was bright green.  I fiddled with the sliders a bit to brighten those colors for some contrast to the otherwise gray.  I also darkened the water a bit.  This pre-set template I used here is called “Paparazzi” and it reminded me of some of the B&W images I made back when shooting for our college newspaper many years ago.

Navy Ships; Fisherman’s Wharf
San Francisco, CA
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

The second version is one I actually made first, using NIK Silver Efx in Photoshop.  In this case, I really preferred the ON1 version above.  I suspect that with enough knowledge, I could achieve essentially similar results in either program.  But I am warming to the ON1 software and process as I continue to use it.

Barns; Glen Haven, Michigan
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

The “D.H. Day Barn,” in Glen Haven, Michigan is just off the coast of Lake Michigan.  I spent a couple hours here one autumn afternoon, intending to photograph the barns in front of a wash of fall color.  The color was nice, but not spectacular.  But there was a lot of color in the foliage to the right side of the image.  I also like the repetition of these barns which get physically small, and recede in the distance as well.  This is one of the few images I have made in the past couple years that I thought would render well as a B&W image someday.

D.H. Day Barn
Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore; Glen Haven, MI
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

I worked this image in ON1, using the “develop” and then “effects” modules from a raw image.  After adjustments to contrast mainly (I used the “dynamic contrast” filter), I converted this to B&W.  The ON1 effects module uses layers (much like the adjustment layers process in Photoshop CC) to add these “filters.”  Each layer has a lot of individual adjustment capability within it, and there is a great masking brush set of tools to achieve local adjustments (I am being repetitive, here, but I am just beginning to understand the potential of this software and trying to compare and contrast how it matches up to Photoshop.  But I see myself using both softwares for the future).  I wanted to do my own conversion here, rather than using a pre-set template.

My goals were to bring out the color contrasts in the sunlit area; build a little drama in the sky, preserve and highlight the white barns, contrasting against the black roofs, and enhance the texture and brightness of the grasses in the foreground.  I feel like I succeeded in all but the last, in the ON1 program.  I am sure I could have accomplished that too, with a little added knowledge and experience in the ON1 program.  But I have to catch a plane in a couple hours to head back to the frozen tundra of Michigan :-).  So I got a little lazy, and to the image back into Photoshop and my trusty NIK suite, adding some brightness and structure to the grass. I am new at this.  Be gentle 🙂 .  But I was pretty pleased with the result.  Lots to learn and looking forward to more experimentation with this stuff.  As always, thanks for reading.

The Urge to Play Continues

Japanese Maple Leaves
Copyright Andy Richards 2013

For those who follow here, you know I have deviated lately, from my photographic depictions, in an attempt to create art.  I emphasize “attempt,” because I have never seen myself as particularly artistically talented.  The closest I have come over the years is a serious appreciation of art.  When I make a nice photographic image, I have to give a lot of  credit to nature, and a small amount of technical knowledge.  I am hopeful that continued study and experimentation will open my photographic views.  And besides, I have been having fun with this stuff.  So, however inartful the images here might be, I see myself continuing to “play” for the foreseeable future.

However inartful the images here might be, I see myself continuing to play for the foreseeable future

I have recently read Michael Freeman’s book on B&W photography: “Black & White Photography: The timeless Art of Monochrome in the Post-Digital Age.”  I gained some insight into digital conversion, but I have a lot of experimentation and learning ahead of me.

Japanese Maple Leaves
Adobe ACR Greyscale Conversion
Copyright Andy Richards 2013

My software tool box holds Photoshop CC, Painter Essentials, and the NIK Software Plugin tools.  I also have a legacy copy of OnOne Photo Suite 7.5, and just recently downloaded the newest version 10.5.  I understand that NIK (which was purchased by Google some years back) – or at least its technology – is now owned by the folks at DxO.  I am not sure what that foretells for my “now, legacy,” copy of the NIK plugins.  I surely hope they continue to be compatible with Photoshop, as I have come to depend on them for their ease of use.  For me, the”jury” is still out on the “new” On1 Suite.  It is a new interface for me, but it looks like it not only may have the same old tools, but maybe a bit more intuitive and easy to use.  I will be looking harder at it in the weeks to come.

Japanese Maple Leaves
OnOne Perfect B&W Grayscale Conversion
Copyright Andy Richards 2013

For now, one of my photographic colleagues noted that he uses the NIK Silver EFX plugin nearly exclusively for his B&W conversions.  Freeman notes in his book (which should be intuitive) that every conversion engine yields different results.  So I thought I would experiment a bit.

Japanese Maple Leaves
NIK SilverEFX Grayscale Conversion
Copyright Andy Richards 2013

Obviously, if you are going to try to do “apples to apples” comparisons, you are going to need to use the same image.  So the the images in this post may look a bit repetitive.  I used an image shot with my Sony, with a Carl Ziess lens that I like very much just as a color image.  The bokeh is nice and the colors and contrast are rich.  It prints nicely.  Being a “color photographer,” it is an image that feels like it is in my “wheelhouse.”  I certainly did not visualize this in black and white.

Japanese Maple Leaves
Copyright Andy Richards 2013

Old habits die hard, and even though Adobe Lightroom has come forward from its infancy to become an estimable photographers’ stand-alone software, I still use Photoshop as my “go-to” post-processing tool. So I started with Photoshop’s ACR raw image converter, using its B&W converter.  I shoot almost exclusively raw format images, and use ACR as my primary raw converter.  Adobe users probably know that the Lightroom converter is essentially the same engine, and I suspect that the Lightroom raw converter would yield an essentially similar B&W conversion.

I am not sure I am competent to judge how “good” these conversions are, so I will try to stick with what I “like”

For comparison, I opened a copy in standalone OnOne “Perfect Black and White” (I used version 7.5), and another using NIK Silver EFX as a Photoshop Plugin.  I am not sure I am competent to judge how “good” these conversions are, so I will try to stick with what I “like.”  And though I found them all aesthetically acceptable, the Silver EFX was most pleasing to my eye, right out of the box.  Of course another method of “conversion” would be to simply bring the image up in almost any processing program and just move the saturation slider all the way to the left.  But that doesn’t do a very good job of preserving color relationships and contrast, in my opinion.

Japanese Maple Leaves
Copyright Andy Richards 2013

Here is where the “playing” comes back into the mix.  I wanted to see what I could do with various adjustments in photoshop, with the numerous “presets” in both Silver EFX and On1 (“Perfect Black and White” has now been replaced – or maybe more accurately, merged into what is now called “On1 10 Effects”).  In the end, I thought the version above (labeled simple “B&W”) which just a bit of added contrast from the Silver EFX original version was most pleasing.  But a guy’s gotta play 🙂 so I kept going.

Japanese Maple Leaves; “colorized”
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

In last week’s post, I used a technique I had often read about, but never used, isolating a “where’s Waldo” (as my friend, Lou commented) yellow umbrella which had caught my eye when shooting the Venice Rooftops scene, even though at the time I was thinking “in color.”  Perhaps a bit sophomoric, but new to me nonetheless.  Besides, this is my blog and I can post what I want – right? 🙂  So in keeping with that same theme, I thought I would try my hand again, “colorizing” the bright scarlet leaves with water droplets in the monochrome version.  Some may note that all the prior versions are copyrighted in 2013.  That is because that is when the image was actually made.  And without getting into too much technical/gear talk, it is the monochrome version that is actually created by the camera sensor itself.  The colors are created by the RGB filter on top of the sensor.  Just saying.  🙂

I am not sure when “processing” crosses over into “creating,”

The thing is, I am not sure when “processing” crosses over into “creating,” here.  So I am going to say – arbitrarily – when I start “painting” things and doing them differently than the original image was intended (in my mind’s eye), that I am “creating.”  Hence the current copyright.  My thinking may not be wholly consistent – but then again, only about 3 people in the world even care 🙂 .

Japanese Maple Leaves
Painter Essentials Rendition
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

I just couldn’t stop there.  So I fired up my new toy, Corel Painter Essentials, and tried playing around with that.  The first version here is just “painting” the original color image with Painter Essentials.  Lots of color there. I need to learn how to make some painting adjustments in this program.  There are some areas of color contrast (like the green patch that kind of comes out of nowhere in the top middle of the frame) that are garish and perhaps jarring.  That could stand to be cloned out.  I will figure it out eventually.

Japanese Maple Leaves
Painter Essentials
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

Next, I tried to “paint” my “B&W” version in Painter Essentials.  I refined it as much at the program would allow, and it gave it a pretty photo-realistic look; perhaps a bit more gritty.  I kind of like the result.

Japanese Maple Leaves
“colorized” composite
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

I wanted to see how my “colorized” B&W version would play out in Painter Essentials.  One thing I learned was that my relatively clumsy job of painting/masking while making the colorized photographic version was really highlighted.  Painter Essentials uses the underlying photo as a source for normal image conversion/painting.  My source had the layers of color showing through, and there were remnants of green and scarlet blobbed around the image.  My path to fix this was to take both the “messy” image and the B&W image back into Photoshop, layer the B&W on top of the messy image, and paint the leaves back in again.  I am pleased with this final image.  It has more “punch” than the other colorized images, with plenty of contrast and very saturated colors (maybe Al Utzig would even say: “oversaturated” 🙂  ).

More to come. . . . .