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Implausible, Whimsical, Photographs

Eagle Nest Lake
(Composite)
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
(Composite)
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
(Composite)
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
(Composite)
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 ….. 🙂

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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.

More “Playing”

Canal, Venice
Copyright Andy Richards 2013

I “discovered” the “oil painting” look primarily by accident. I was post-processing images from my first visit to Venice back in 2013 and while working on this canal image, was using NIK’s ColorEfx Pro plug-in to Photoshop to “enhance” color.  There is a filter in that program called “Detail Extractor,” which my friend and talented photographer and Photoshop user, Al Utzig, had once recommended I try.  As I played with this filter, I saw the effect, here, which reminded my of an oil painting – especially the buildings in the background.  But as I played around with it, I was not able to reproduce that effect over the entire image.  That was o.k.  I rather liked the kind of “hybrid” nature of the image.  Enough so that it is printed quite large, framed in gold, and hanging in our Florida Living Room.

The lesson here is to take advantage of the fact that some people much smarter and more talented than I am have already done the heavy lifting

This experience intrigued me enough that I have played around a couple times with other images, and set them aside, for a time when I had more time and interest in “working” them. Over the holidays, I have been spending a little more time working with the idea of making some of my photographs into “paintings.”  My blog a couple weeks back was my “freshman” foray into this area.  This image was made using the NIK Color Efex Pro Plugin’s “Detail Extractor.”  Those who saw it a couple weeks ago may have read my friend, Al Utzig’s comments and note that I took his suggestion and removed the “halo” that was present between the mountain tops and sky.  While I rather like this image, it was not the “look” I was seeking.  There is too much luminance and saturated color, especially in the umbrellas in the foreground and the people in the image.  Too “photo-realistic.”

Amalfi Coast
NIK Color Efx
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Photoshop already has many features that allow painting and filters that add different “looks” and textures to images.  But I have never found them easy, or intuitive to use.  There is, for example, an “oil paint” filter that has been in Photoshop for some years now.  I thought that it would convert a photographic image into at least a basic oil-on-canvas look (something like the conversion to B&W that can be done).  I expected work would have to be done to make it look like I wanted, but at least a basic start.  That was not my experience.  Try as I might, I could not make the filter look like my vision of a painting, though the one here came closer, only after I really worked it with some layers, and added a texture layer, to at least give it a canvas look.

I did what I always do.  I bought a book :-).  While that was interesting and entertaining, it was still not really helpful for “hands-on” tinkering.  Indeed, many of the example projects in the book did not work the way they were “supposed” to in the book.  But one think I did pick up was that most of the stuff that was getting closer to the look I wanted, was made first, by using another software program; Corel Painter.  As I looked at more and more examples, I saw that others were using this software and that it was really designed with tools for doing some of the things I wanted to do.  So maybe the lesson here (I learned it with NIK some years back) is to take advantage of the fact that some people much smarter and more talented than I am have already done the heavy lifting.  I looked at Painter 2018, but the $450 (discounted!) price tag was more than I wanted to jump into.  But I did find Painter Essentials (for those who, like me, early on looked for an affordable alternative to Photoshop – this was before Lightroom – and started with Photoshop Elements, I think this is a comparable choice).  I am using the free trial right now, but think I will purchase it and the $29.00 tag is more palatable – at least to a beginner.  Will I jump to the “pro” program?  We will see where this goes (probably not).

Amalfi Coast, Italy
Corel Painter Essentials
Copyright, Andy Richards 2017

Using the “auto-paint” feature on the Amalfi Coast image, I immediately started to see results more like I had imagined.  I have a lot to learn about this fairly simple program.  One of the things it does in its default mode is to add edge effects, like the image here.  I tried a couple different “paints” and ultimately, was drawn to this one (“colored pencil”).  But it still wasn’t the final look I wanted.  So I used this image as a layer on my original photograph, and blended it into the photograph.  After playing with some adjustment layers to work with the sky, clean up some color and saturation issues, and to add some blur to the final result, this is the composite I came up with.  It has a few “issues,” but it is much more what my “mind’s-eye” saw as a painting of this scene.  This is new for me.  There are probably many of you out there who have this down far better than I do.  I would be happy to hear from you.

Amalfi Coast, Italy
Composite
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

I will be back at this 🙂

The Rear View Mirror – 2017 in Review

Santorini, Greece
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Most years, it seems like I get to this.  2017 was again, an eventful year, photographically and with related items.  This wasn’t a year when I planned a dedicated photo trip.  But I did manage to get to some new places, and back to some old ones.  For the most part, I carried my Sony RX100 small camera, and it gave me good service.

Crystal Beach Pier
Crystal Beach, FL
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

I ended 2016, and rang in the New Year with a series of images from a small public pier, just up the road from our Florida home.

Southernmost Beach Resort
Key West, FL
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

In January, we visited a “bucket list” location; Key West.  It has held pull for me at least since I became a “Parrot Head,” and certainly after I read a couple of Jimmy Buffet’s novels.  We celebrated my January birthday at Louie’s Backyard, a rather elegant restaurant with a wonderful outdoor deck seating area, and a great menu.  The sunset was – as is common in Florida – pretty spectacular.  Key West is a destination for eating, drinking, and people watching.  I would not put it high up on the photographic destination list. 🙂

Sunset from Louie’s Backyard
Key West, FL
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Speaking of sunsets, these images got me thinking how much I have always loved both ends of the day, but generally preferred sunrise to sunset.  It spurred another post featuring some of my sunrise imagery.

Tokyo Sunrise
Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Bay Bridge Sunrise
San Francisco, CA
Copyright Andy Richards 2014

Sunrise, Hateras National Seashore, Hateras, NC copyright Andy Richards

As I went through my image library, it occurred to me that some of my images had some things in common.  For example: Shape.

Whitefish Falls
Trenary, MI
Copyright Andy Richards 2007

Rocks, Lake Superior Shoreline
Copyright Andy Richards 2004

And, Color.

Shop; Istanbul, Turkey
Copyright Andy Richards 2014

Shop; St. Maarten
Copyright Andy Richards 2012

And shape and color. 🙂

Just in time for Fall Foliage, my good friend, Carol Smith and I released our 2nd Edition of “Photographing Vermont’s Fall Foliage,”  which can be purchased via the link on this blog.  This is the cover image.

Craftsbury Common, Vermont
Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Finally, we embarked on our much anticipated, 3rd Mediterranean cruise.  The single most anticipated image for me was the opening image here of the whitewashed, blue-domed churches that dot the landscape of Santorini.  But there was so much more to see.

Ravello, Amalfi Coast
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Positano; Amalfi Coast
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Amalfi; Amalfi Coast
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Santorini, Greece
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Mykonos Greece
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Night Canal
Venice, Italy
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

As we ring in the New Year, I want to thank all the readers here, especially those who have the patience and perseverance to visit regularly.  I want to thank all those persons who mentor and support me in my photographic endeavors.  I want to thank my great friends (you know who you are so I won’t “out” you publicly), who traveled with us this year – we had a great time with great company.  As I said last week, I am very grateful for my blessings in life.  I wish to all, a Happy New Year, and a prosperous and successful (as you define “success”) 2018!

The Amalfi Coast

Positano, Amalfi Coast
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

This was our last port of call on our 2017 Mediterranean Cruise.  I looked forward to it, partly because the last time we were there was our shortened cruise, and we missed our tour.  While we did hire a cab to take us up the coast, our only stop that day was in the town of Amalfi.  This trip, we planned to go further up to Ravello, and then stop at Amalfi and Positano.

Ravello, Amalfi Coast
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Ravello, Amalfi Coast
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

I have a friend who spent a week in Ravello one year, and highly recommended it.  Our guide knew that the best time to get us there was early in the morning, and he took us in on back roads.  We basically had the beautiful little mountain village to ourselves that morning.  That was the last time we would see that kind of serenity for the day.

Ravello, Amalfi Coast
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Ravello, Amalfi Coast
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Ravello, Amalfi Coast
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

I just walked around and made a few images.  I can see why my friend was enchanted with this little town and why it might be very relaxing to spend a few days here.

Ravello; Amalfi Coast
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Ravello; Amalfi Coast
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Ravello; Amalfi Coast
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Ravello; Amalfi Coast
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

 

I was pretty amazed, both times I traveled here, to see how they build these communities into the the rugged mountainside.  And each of them have sweeping and beautiful views of the Mediterranean Sea.

Ravello; Amalfi Coast
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

One surprise to me was how much this destination appears to have grown in popularity in 4 years.  We were there in 2013, about the same time of the year.  But this time, the crowds in Amalfi and Positano were at least double what we saw in 2013.  There is an incredible church in the middle of the square in Amalfi, that was nearly impossible to photograph because of the crowd of people.  I was able to get up over some heads and get a couple shot, and then isolate the tower.

Amalfi; Amalfi Coast
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Amalfi; Amalfi Coast
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

It was pretty clearly the tourists.  There were few people on the beaches, even though the temperature was well into the 80’s.

Amalfi; Amalfi Coast
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Amalfi; Amalfi Coast
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Positano, we were informed by our guide, is where the rich and famous go to be seen and to shop.  We spend only a few minutes here, walking down into the town among throngs of humanity, and high end retail shops.  We wanted to see if we could get a view of a church.  We weren’t really able to find a good view of it.  Most of my images were taken on the outskirts of Positano.  There road down into the city center is a kind of mult-circular, winding road.

Positano; Amalfi Coast
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Positano; Amalfi Coast
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

We finished out our day – and our cruise – dining in a nice restaurant on the outskirts of Sorrento, at a family-owned restaurant known personally to our guide.  Again, we enjoyed near-exclusive dining and wonderful, fresh, local Italian cuisine.

Sicily; 2017

Port of Messina, Sicily
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

After 4 eventful days in Venice, we boarded a train for Civatavecchia, the seaport for Rome, where we would board our cruise ship.  The  cruise was touted as a “Greek Isles” cruise.  But before we could get to the actual Greek Isles (there were 3 on our itinerary), we had a couple of prior stops; Sicily, and the independent nation of Malta.

Messina, Sicily
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

As I have noted here in the past, one of the downsides of cruising is that you usually only get one short day in every port.  Knowing very little about either of these destinations, we booked a private tour in Sicily, and nothing in Malta.  With a lot of ground to cover and a few hours, we had to choose some destinations.

Taormina Italy
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

In addition to a little bit of time in Messina, we went to Taormina, the quaint and mountainous little town where some of the scenes in Francis Ford Coppola’s original “The Godfather,” were shot.  We happened upon this adorable little Dachshund being photographed.  At first, I thought it was somebody just photographing their pet, but as I looked more carefully, later, it was apparent that this was probably an advertising shot of some type (note the light being held to one side).

Taormina, Sicily
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

At the top of the village is a beautiful church, with an incredible view.  As we walked back down, I could see myself sitting and having coffee or lunch at one of the outdoor destinations and seeing the grand view.

Taormina, Sicily
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

We traveled to Mt. Vesuvius, where we saw the volcano from a distance.

Mt. Vesuvius
Sicily
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

We also stopped for some honey and wine tasting, before finishing our day back in Messina.

Messina, Sicily
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Burano, 2017

Burano, Italy
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Murano and Burano are part of the Venice archipelago, though they are far enough from Venice that they cannot be connected by bridge. But they are both in the Venetian Lagoon. The very capable Vapparetto (water bus) system in Venice gets one to both of these islands with relative ease. We have learned that the daily pass (we bought a 3-day) works very well on the Venice public transportation system. Each actually is its own archipelago; Murano having seven islands and 8 canals, all connected by footbridges, and Burano having 4 islands and 3 canals, also connected by footbridges. Obviously, boat and foot traffic are the mode here, as on Venice.

Burano, Italy
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Murano, as the story is told, became what it is today because of the very real risk of fire on Venice. Originally known as a fishing port and salt-making venue, it today houses the famous Murano glass makers. There is no land-based fire fighting equipment in Venice and in 1291, all of Venice’s glassmakers were required to move their operations off the island. They went to Murano. The island has become very much a tourist destination, but there is still a thriving industry of glass-blowing (primarily art and decorative items). Murano glass is pretty, and expensive. I spent a very short part of my 2013 blog on Murano, and will not repeat it here. My primary takeaway this trip was how commercial the island has become and just how much the retail tourist shops dominate the landscape.

Burano, Italy
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Burano is a different story. While it certainly has its share of retail influence (some of it very “high-end”), it has impressed me on both trips as a much quieter, more pastoral destination. Perhap the fact that Burano is famous for its colored houses, and they are quite photogenic influenced that. But it just seemed more “laid back.”

Burano, Italy
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Again, originally probably mainly a fishing port, Burano is today known for its lace production (though we are told that you have to be careful that you are indeed getting locally made lace; and that the local product is expensive). We wandered the streets, stopped for a glass of local wine, and perused some of the lace shops.

Burano, Italy
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

But again and again, what attracted my eye, was the very colorful buildings; particularly along the canals.

Burano, Italy
Copyright Andy Richards 2017