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Pushing the Envelope

Barns in Winter
(original color image)
Copyright Andy Richards 2011

Some months back, I mentioned “winter doldrums” in my photography. There are, I suppose, all kinds of excuses I could call doldrums (boredom, sameness, lack of ability to travel to “new” places, etc.).  But in my particular part of Michigan, as I have oft mentioned, we are already in perhaps one of the flattest, brownest places in the U.S.  Add dreary, cold, sometimes grimy snow cover (or worse yet, no snow, but otherwise grey, winter conditions) and the motivation to get out and shoot gets sketchy, at best.  My good friend, Al Utzig, suggested that this period was a good time to “experiment” with my images and software.


The Photoshop “glow” image was made from my B&W Composite which was two layers, to brush in the red colored barns and tank into a B&W rendering.  I think the “glow” is really more photographic than graphic.


Barns in Winter
(Photoshop “glow”)
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

This year, I took his challenge and began to explore not only Photoshop, but some other software, including the popular plug in software, the Nik Collection, the up and coming ON1 software, and the scaled down version of Paintshop; Painter Essentials.  I started out trying to learn  a bit about B&W conversion of digital images.  I have had some fun with it and learned some rudimentary things. The B&W foray motivated me to purchase ON1 Photo Raw 2018.  I had some fun with this software, and I think it would have been a nice edition (at a reasonable cost) to my tool kit.  Alas, for reasons I note below, I was unable to continue using it.

Barns in Winter
(Painter Essentials Detailed Painting)
Copyright Andy Richards 2018


These Painter Essentials images were made using the “autopaint” feature in the software.  The first is its “detailed painting” preset.  I hand “brushed” some of it to make it a bit more refined.  I am not sure it is distinguishable from a photographic rendering (you have to click on the individual image to see the larger version to really see the effect of these renderings).  The second is the “color pencil drawing” preset.


Barns in Winter
(Painter Essentials Colored Pencil)
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

That pushed me into experimenting with “painting.”  Again, I may have scratched the surface on this area a bit, but still have a way to go.  I am (I know this shocks my friends 🙂 ) “old school” when it comes to learning.  One of my big disappointments is that as we move away from the “print” world, to the “digital” world, there is more and more, a complete lack of printed documentation for new software.  Likewise, I find printed “how to” books, less and less common.  I know there are economics involved, but it is still disappointing.  So, for the ON1 software (in fairness, there is a pdf documentation for the ON1 suite – but it is lacking in useful detail), and the Painter Essentials software, you have to learn basically by internet research and U-Tube videos.  And there is really no single, organized source and there are literally thousands of U-tube and other “how to” pieces out there.  I am looking for a book (ala, the Martin Evening Photoshop Series books) for Painter Essentials that would help me “get under the hood.”


I have played around with the filter gallery in Photoshop before, but never to the degree I did in this image.  Here are 3 “painterly” renditions of the image that I liked (there are many more options in the software, but these seemed to work best for me).  I created these on layers and in some cases, adjusted the opacity of the layer a bit.  I did not play around with blending modes, which opens another whole area of experimentation.  I like the first one the best.

Barns in Winter
(PS Brushstrokes1)
Copyright Andy Richards 2018


Barns in Winter
(Photoshop Brushstrokes2)
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

Barns in Winter (PS Brushstrokes 3) Copryight Andy Richards 2018

But what has this all got to do with the “envelope” I allude to in the title?  I have known for some time that there was pretty much the capability to accomplish all the results I got from the supplemental software programs mentioned above.  But not without some work and experimentation.  And some experiential learning.  Or, what maybe in my case I better called “playing.”  In doing so, I have been able to pick up on some fundamental things.  One of them is that there is a certain type of photographic image that just works better with the graphic/art rendering of an image.  It seems to work best with an image that has strong graphics, including shape and size and color contrasts.  Like the image I used in last week’s blog of Barns in Winter in Frankenmuth.  This time, I used the estimable “filter gallery” in Photoshop and began to experiment with some of its many image rendering choices.


For this image I used the filter gallery preset called “cutout.” It feels like the Japanes anime art form to me.  I have clicked on this a few times in the past and never really liked the result.  Until this one.  I could see this one being used as an illustration, or on a notecard.


Barns in Winter
(Photoshop “cutout”)
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

Nothing I have shown here is “new.”  Much of the capability has been with Photoshop since its emergence back in 1988.  And it has all be “done before.”  So, as I have said before, my work here may be, to many observers, nothing more (and perhaps less) than sophomoric.  But is is “new” to me, and I hope it has broadened my approach to the art of photography.  The last image really kind of pushes it.  I would not ordinarily like something like this, but if the owner liked purple, I could see this as a night image.

Barns in Winter
(Photoshop “neon” filter)
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

I hope at least some readers enjoy it. 🙂


[A NOTE ABOUT MY EXPERIENCE WITH ON1 PHOTO RAW 2018.  I don’t want to officially “review” this software.  It has so much promise as a “Photoshop-alternative” photo-editing program.  But it didn’t work for me for technical reasons.  If it did, my review would likely be very favorable.  I was initially intrigued by ON1’s ability to render B&W images, and equally by its layer and local adjustments capability.  Touted as a “complete” image editing program, it appears to be a deserving competitor to the Adobe Suite (Bridge, Lightroom and Photoshop) in an all-in-one package.  I really wanted to like (and learn) this software.  It is stand alone, as opposed to the Adobe Cloud approach and that has some attraction.  I did occasionally find myself “needing” (perhaps a function of learning curve) to take an image into Photoshop to make additional adjustments however.  And alas, ON1 ultimately did not work for me. It had a glitch that would randomly, but more and more frequently, fail to render any image on screen and would, instead, give me an opaque rectangle.  I have 2 computers I work with, one is a Microsoft Surface Pro 3 and the other is an HP desktop.  Both have integrated Intel graphics processors.  Neither would work with the ON1 program.  I found their tech support – though always courteous – not very responsive and not very helpful.  Their answer was to upgrade my drivers.  I tried that, both through Intel and my computer manufacturers.  They (ON1) even sent me a link to driver update (which ultimately gave me the message that it was unable to install).  Ultimately, I was informed that my drivers were up to date and there were no new updates applicable.  While both computers are now about 3 years old, I have not had a single issue – ever – with graphics drivers, on any other photo editing or graphics software.  While I know there are logical fallacies out there, my deductive reasoning is that this is an ON1 issue.  They have refunded my purchase.  Again, I think they have a lot of promise and I may return later.  But right now, it is a no go for me.]

 

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Renditions

Barns in Winter
(blue sky rendition)
Copyright Andy Richards 2011

Do you have a place or subject (or multiples) that have intrigued you as a photographic venue, but you just haven’t been able to “see” it through the lens the way your mind’s eye does?  A couple weeks ago, in my “Detours” blog, I spoke of a scene near where my office used to be, in Frankenmuth, Michigan, with red sheds against a weathered barn backdrop.  I probably drove by the scene several times a week and visualized it as an image.  A few times I stopped and “scouted” different angles and views and even took some “test” images.  Couldn’t get excited about any of the results.

I mean “manipulation” in the “good” – Ansel Adams – sense

And then one marvelous late spring morning, we had one of those totally unexpected snowfalls.  Probably a couple inches of wet, heavy snow following warm conditions.  It sticks to everythingSnow is one of those useful  elements that hides things in photographs that we don’t want to see.  So I had to take a “detour” on my way in that morning and was able to make a few “nice” images of the scene.

Barns in Winter
(original color image)
Copyright Andy Richards 2011

But there were still some elements of the image that just didn’t “work.” One was the leaden, grey sky.  As the opening image illustrates, I had images in my collection with clear blue sunny skies too, so I looked at the metadata.  I recalled that what actually happened is that the morning of the snowstorm, it was overcast.  I hadn’t thought of the image in monochromatic terms, because – well – I haven’t tended to think other than in color for most of my years of photography.  Until recently.  My “mind’s-eye” image had blue sky for color contrast.  But the sun did shine the next day and I got out there again, before things melted, and was able to get the blue sky.  Not sure it was an improvement 🙂 .

some elements of the image … just didn’t “work”

So, the barn scene was an addition to my collection of barn images, but it wasn’t until my recent, winter-doldrums, experimental phase, that I started looking at it again and seeing some possibilities for image manipulation (yeah, there’s that “nasty” word again).  I mean “manipulation” in the “good” – Ansel Adams sense.  So I began trying some different renditions.  Here, I show the progression of my photographic images.  In a future blog, I will show where maybe I crossed the line or went over the top, or something like that 🙂 .

Barns in Winter
(B&W Conversion)
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

As I worked with the image, I could see that it had some characteristics that I have come to believe lend themselves to monochromatic presentation.  There are some prominent graphic shapes here to work with.  And in spite of the denuded trees in the background, there is not a whole lot of fine detail in this image.  There are some really good contrasting colors:  black, white and red.  As I thought about the post-processing of this scene as a B&W image, I felt that the red really needed to stay in.  The original image, post-processed in PS ACR and then Nik, shows a surprising amount of color.  It is spring and there is a lot of red in the new growth of the tree branches.  The sky, though grey, shows tones of magenta and even blue.

I hadn’t thought of the image in monochromatic terms, because I haven’t tended to think other than in color for most of my years of photography

I used Nik Silver Efex to render the image in B&W (a turn away from ON1 – more on that in another blog).  With B&W, I have learned that more is better in many cases, when it comes to contrast.  So I turned back to ACR first, and re-worked the raw image, “goosing” up the contrast.  In Silver Efex, I didn’t use any of their presets, but “worked” it to my own liking.  I then used a couple of the other Nik modules to do some “local” editing, adding some contrast and “structure” (which is, as I understand it, contrast adjustment aimed more at the middle tones).  I like the result.  But it it isn’t “spine tingling.” 🙂 .

Barns in Winter
(“colorized” B&W)
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

That’s o.k.  I knew I was moving toward the “colorized” image here.  Using PS layers, I painted the red back in, and made some additional local adjustments to contrast and brightness.  I added a lot of structure to the snow in the foreground, along with some brightness.  The end result is an image I really like.  And it finally approaches the “mind’s-eye” image I visualized that spring morning.

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.

Barns (Part 3)

The Moulton Barn, Mormon Row, Grand Teton NP, Wyoming, is perhaps the most photographed barn in the West.
Copyright Andy Richards 2012

As we move west in our vast country, the look and character of barns changes. My only opportunity to photograph barns in the West so far has been in Grand Teton National park in Wyoming. I have read and viewed wonderful photographs of barns and farms in the Pacific Northwest; especially in the Palouse region of Washington. While this area is on my photographic “bucket list,” I have also read that many of the wonderful old barns are being razed and in some cases, replaced, with less photogenic new structures. I can only hope I will get there while there are still some left.

Thomas Moulton Barn, Grand Teton NP, Wyoming
copyright 2012 Andy Richards

While in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming in May of 2012, I had the good fortune to photograph two of the more famous barns in the United States (indeed, the first “Moulton Barn” pictured is reputed to be the most photographed barn in the world), the “Moulton Barns” in Grand Teton National Park. While these barns are both traditional “Western” barns, what makes them spectacular is the backdrop of the Grand Teton Mountain Range. We got lucky, finding snow covered peaks. Unfortunately, we worked and worked for it, but couldn’t find any dramatic skies. I will be back there.

Rich Pomeroy contemplating his shot of the North Moulton Barn, Mormon Row, Grand Teton NP, Wyoming
Copyright Andy Richards 2012

He thinks my judgment is flawed, but my favorite image of the second Moulton Barn is of my best friend and photo-traveling buddy, Rich,contemplating the magnificence in front of him.

Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

When photographing these barns, it is easy to overlook a couple of the other barns nearby.  These barns are in an old settlement known as “Grovont.”  The first one is an old homestead just beyond the second Moulton Barn.

Grovont Barns, Mormon Row, Grand Teton NP, Wyoming
copyright 2012 Andy Richards

The other is directly across the road from the iconic first Moulton Barn. I am told there are some other photogenic barns and ranches in the near vicinity and will seek them out for sure on my next trip to Grand Teton NP.

Barns (Part 2)

Barns, Frankenmuth, Michigan

Vermont, you may have concluded over the years, is one of my favorite places to shoot just about anything.  But of course it is not the only place with barns. Barns in the Eastern half of the United States, seem to vary significantly in character and architecture.  What they look like stems from their function. Vermont Barns, by and large, were built for livestock and livestock feed storage. Further into the west, in states like New York, Western Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, Michigan and Missouri, cash crop operations are more plentiful and some of those barns look different. In all of these states, the traditional dairy operations appear similar. Wisconsin, notably, has many similarities to Vermont and is a substantial dairy state. I know there are some wonderful farm images to be made there and I will do that someday.

Michigan’s “Thumb” is well known for its fertile, flat, crop lands where cash crops like edible beans, corn, wheat and soybeans are produced on thousands of acres. Nearly every farmstead has its own grain storage facilities.  I liked this image of a traditional, hip-roofed barn, with a small red shed in the foreground and massive grain bins in the background.

Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

Snow is a “great” equalizer, covering imperfections and making otherwise cluttered scenes viable. And nothing sets off a red structure like pure, white snow. I drive by this image several times a week and have been looking for a photo opportunity for several years now. In the early Spring of 2012, we had a surprise snowstorm and I was front and center on a work morning, dressed in my suit, but unable to pass up this opportunity.

Barns, Frankenmuth, Michigan
Copyright 2011 Andy Richards

This barn is actually an old wheat threshing shed, which is commonly seen in the mid-Michigan landscape. This barn sits nearly in the middle of residential Frankenmuth, Michigan. I drive by it twice a day on my commute to and from work. I have waited for several years for an opportunity to shoot it. In the summer of 2011, the farmer planted wheat for the first time I can remember, and when it was ready to harvest in July, I found my chance. The yellow wheat sets of the rusty red roof and the weathered wood structure.

Threshing Shed; Frankenmuth, Michigan
Copyright 2011 Andy Richards

Barns

Copyright 2010 Andy Richards

One of my favorite photographic subjects is barns and farmsteads. Old barns, shiny new barns, grain bins and silos are all photogenic in my view, but I particularly like the old, weathered wood and rusted steel, slate, or shingle roofed barns that have some “character” to them. The opening image is the farmstead of my Uncle, Holden Doane, and his son Tennyson, who have farmed this working Vermont Dairy farm for over 60 years. I have never gotten an image of the farmstead I was satisfied with. Playing around with my newly-acquired Nik Viveza software a few months back, I found I was able to make adjustments to this one that made it as pleasing an image as I have been able to make of this farm so far.

There are barns I have driven by many times with the thought that I would like to photograph them. Too often, I am on my way somewhere for work, or with family members, or passing during a time of day when the light is just not right. Often, the barns are visible from a highway and I pass them 55-70 miles per hour, thinking that one day I will have time to slow down, explore and maybe find a vantage point from which to shoot them. Other times, I have actually found the time to stop and spend some time photographing them. I have accumulated a few barn photos in the last several years. I recently did a major upgrade to my Light Room Software (from the original version all the way to LR4 in a single step). After struggling with the upgrade to the catalog file, I decided maybe simply starting from scratch was a better idea, and used the opportunity to better structure my image management categories. Barns became a category, and as I collected them, I started to see images I had, frankly, forgotten. The next few Blogs will be a series on barns.

Vermont is a good place to start, since I have probably photographed more barns in Vermont than in any other place. In Vermont, barns were often built so close to the road, it sometimes seems they are on the road (indeed, there is a barn near Stowe where the road actually passes under it). This barn was on Route 15, just outside of Hardwick, Vermont. I drove by, turned around, and came back, finding a place a ways down the road where I could get my car off the road and out of the image, then hiked back along the narrow shoulder with my gear, to set up almost in the traffic lane to get this image. There is no doubt this image would be nicer in better light, but again, Viveza to the rescue, yielded a passable result.

Copyright 2006 Andy Richards

There is no “barn scene” that says, “traditional Vermont working dairy farm” better than the Hillside Acres Farm in Barnet, Vermont.

Copyright 2006 Andy Richards

Barns can play a critical part in a pastoral, or village scene, especially, it seems, in New England. Two famous village shots involve barns as a central element. Waits River Village, a scene, made famous by (among others) Massachusetts photographer Arnold John Kaplan, uses traditional, gable-roofed, weathered barns to frame the church in the center of the village.

Copyright 2005 Andy Richards

In this oft-photographed view of the quaint, “Northeast Kingdom” Village of Peacham (home of famous photographer Robert Brown), the rustic, old, traditional hip-roofed red barn counterbalances the white “New England” church and gives the scene its essential rural Vermont character.

Copyright 2005 Andy Richards

One of the things that can make a barn stand out is its traditional, red color. Red draws the eye, is an active color, and emerges in any image. I liked the way the red barn balances the sweeping fenceline and the lone, grazing horse in this image.

Copyright 2006 Andy Richards

The small, red, barn on the Upper Hollow Road in Stowe, Vermont is another iconic traditional Vermont Barn. This barn is maintained by a conservancy and is perhaps one of the most photogenic barns I have ever shot.

Grand View Farm, Stowe, Vermont
Copyright 2010 Andy Richards

Red barns, and weathered wood barns are ubiquitous in the United States. But another Vermont tradition is the whitewashed barn and there is no better specimen than this barn on Burton Hill Road in Barton. This is far and away my favorite “Vermont” image.

Copyright 2010 Andy Richards

Early Spring Surprise

Barns, Frankenmuth, Michigan

There is a saying in Michigan: “if you don’t like the weather, wait a minute—it will change.” I grew up in Northern lower Michigan, and one of the things I have hated, since I was a kid, was the way Spring would “tease” us and then, just when we thought maybe it was finally here, we would get hammered with a Winter storm.

I drive past this scene 2-3 times a week, and for the past several years, I have been thinking about it as a photograph. It has drawn my attention each time, as the two smaller red barns contrast against the weathered wood of the larger barn. But I have never found time to “work” the scene to find the best perspective. My drive-bys are always at mid-day. The scene faces north, and it seemed to me that the best light was probably going to be early morning sun. Another challenge was that the ground around the barns, as well as the foreground, is kind of cluttered. When I would visualize the scene, I struggled to isolate the elements that drew me to the photograph and could never really imagine the vision.

The morning of this storm, I went to another barn I thought would look great in the fresh snow, and then decided to have a look. The resulting image is one that I really like. The fresh snow is a “great equalizer.” It hides many imperfections in the details around a photograph, and often gives it a nice, simple, clean look. I think that happened here. I like the image despite the plain grey sky, because the white snow, red barn and tree details and weathered wood on the big barn creates enough interest and contrast to counter the negative space created by the gray sky.

Barns, Frankenmuth, Michigan

The next morning dawned clear and blue, and on the way to work, I drove by again and took this image. I like the first one better.