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Making “Art” Images from Photographs

Barn, Saginaw County, Michigan
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

I continue to experiment with digital “painting” on my photographic images.  As I mentioned last week, I have been using Corel’s Painter Essentials 5.  The full Painter program looks pretty awesome, but a bit rich for my blood.  But I have been impressed with the estimable “light” version in Painter Essentials.

I made the barn image a few years ago, driving around my home county in Saginaw, Michigan.  While it caught enough of my attention to stop and photograph it, I never really thought much of the resulting photographic image.  As I began working with the paining programs, however, it seemed like maybe this was an image that had some possibilities.  I used the “impressionist” paint filter in Painter Essentials, and then brought the image back into Photoshop to do some final editing.  I like the final result.

Clearwater, Florida Scene
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

The Clearwater image was made with my cell phone, while meeting some friends from home who were visiting Clearwater Beach a couple years ago.  This was the view from an outdoor bar at their hotel, overlooking Clearwater Harbor.  I played with several different modes in Painter Essentials, eventually landing on this “watercolor” rendering.

Red Jack Lake
Hiawatha National Forrest, Michigan
Copyright 2018

Painter Essentials has a mode called “illustration.”  It rendered this image with an impressionist look.  This is an image that has, off and on, been featured on my website, Facebook Page and this blog.  I have always liked the photographic rendition.  But this is pretty cool. too.

 

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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!

Playing

Venice, Italy Rooftops
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Lately, it seems like I have kind of run out of material.  I have never really done this right.  By definition, a blog should be short.  Punchy.  Something that commands the usual surfing reader’s attention (with a typical attention span for online content which is very, very  short).  Short is something I have never done well.  🙂 Other than the odd, current controversial or otherwise interesting content, most of my posts have more recently been almost travelog style, of my photos from places I have visited.  Nothing wrong with that, but I cannot travel to new places, 24-7.

By definition, a blog should be short.  Punchy

Recently, as I was post-processing images from my latest European trip, I noted a couple of photos that might be good subjects for some experimentation.  I have been thinking about spending some of my winter months trying some new post processing techniques for a while now.  So this will segue into that phase.  In 2013, we visited Venice for the first time.  I made an image on the Grand Canal somewhere (I couldn’t tell you where it is) and began “playing” around with my NIK plugin, ColorEFX and its “detail extractor” and essentially by happenstance, “saw” a kind of oil painting look, which became a very large, print which now hangs on the wall of our living room.  I thought I had discovered a new “technique,” but as I “played” with other images, soon realized that not every photographic image lends itself to the treatment.

Short is something I have never done well.  🙂

Unfortunately, I know very little about my main processing program (Photoshop, with NIK plugins), other than how to optimize photographic color images.  So my work here will, in all probability, be pretty amateurish – at least to start.  Critique (constructive – obviously 🙂 ), will be welcome, as will references to sources of learning.  But here we go.

The opening image was taken of the Venice Rooftops, during a less interesting portion of a tour of the Doge’s Palace.  The yellow umbrella drew my attention.  I didn’t really see the “oil painting” until much later, during the post-processing stage.  But is is one that I think lends itself to that kind of treatment.  I am not sure I pulled it off.  🙂

Beach on Amalfi Coast
Amalfi, Italy
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

The Amalfi Beach image looks to me like one that could be a painting.  I added some grain to it, but it still looks awfully “photographic” to me.  I can see I need to do some studying.  I also note that the colors in many of these images are pretty vibrant and I am not sure that they are realistically within a painter’s palette.

Burano, Italy
Copyright Andy Richards 2013

By decreasing the contrast and saturation in the Burano image, I think I may have come a bit closer to a painter’s palette.

Daisies
Copyright Andy Richards 2013

By decreasing contrast and saturation, I was able to create a more “pastel” look for these Shasta Daisies, captured in my yard.  But I not that the NIK software does some color conversions that I don’t care for, and I will have to learn more about how to control that.  I particularly note that the whites tend to turn grey and a bit dingy.

Colorful Buildings
Burano, Italy
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

For these buildings, I was trying to obtain a pastel look.  Again, I think the color seems a bit luminous for my taste.  But simply changing global saturation and contrast would not allow me to get the look I sought.  I have work to do.  🙂

Santorini, Greece
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

For the Santorini image, I again fiddled with global contrast and saturation.  I then used NIK’s Viveza to add back some pinpointed saturation for the colorful buildings.  I added grain again.  It is closer, but still appears a bit “photographic,” at least on my monitor.  It may well be exactly what I would like in print.  I will have to experiment a bit with my inkjet printer.

Big Bay Lighthouse
Michigan Upper Peninsula
Copyright Andy Richards 2009

I “worked” this one (maybe overworked 🙂 ) pretty hard.  After using the NIK ColorEfx detail extractor, I decreased global contrast and saturation.  It was still too in-your-face for my taste – especially the lighthouse brick.  So I created a layer mask, severely reduced contrast in Photoshop, and then brushed it back in around everything but the lighthouse and the clouds.  Note how the lighthouse trim and top goes to gray?  I need to figure out how to preserve the whites.  I created a second layer/mask and did some work to make the railroad ties less realistic looking.  It will be interesting see how it prints, though I am concerned that the clouds will not print well.

Temple Rokuon-Ji
Kyoto, Japan
Copyright Andy Richards 2015

The last of my first run at these; the Rokuon Temple in Japan, again was a lot of “working.”  I found it especially difficult to make the foreground grasses and the water look “painted.”  I used Photoshop’s “oil paint” filter, but will need to do some serious homework in order to really understand what the settings do.

I will come back to this early in 2018.  I also would like to work on some B&W conversion (but find that one pretty intimidating).  Would love to hear comments and be pointed to good resources.

As 2017 comes to an end, I am, once again, appreciative at how many blessings we have.  One only needs to watch the news to know that as often as we bitch and moan, many of us have an awfully good life, and I personally have had many blessings, wonderful family and friends.  It also makes me pause a bit and think about the many folks out there who don’t have such blessings.  I have been able to do a number of small things for others over the year, including participation on some foundation boards, and giving to a number of charitable organizations.  But it is never enough.

Merry Christmas to all.

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.

More Santorini


There were, of course, many shots other than the blue-domed churches.  As the view from our cruise ship shows, the Island of Santorini (which is composed of 3 villages) is entirely build along the top of the volcanic rock (the Caldera) which comprises the island.  Santorini is part of the Cyclades Islands, and is approximately half-way between Athens on the mainland and the Isle of Crete

Santorini, Greece
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

In years past, the only way to the villages from the harbor was on foot, or by donkey up the steep, winding path shown to the left of the photo.  Pathways in the Village of Oia likewise show the steep foot paths down to the Agean Sea. The Greek Isles are full of white stucco buildings with very colorful accents, and often colorful flowers in addition.

Santorini, Greece
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

The pathway up into Oia from the back side had traditional Greek windmills, and shops and homes that are very colorful and picturesque.  I am continually amazed at the Mediterranean methods of building shops and dwellings into the steep cliff faces.

Santorini, Greece
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Santorini, Greece
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Like the other Greek Islands, the inhabitants of the Island like splashes of color and particularly, colorful, blooming flowers.

Santorini, Greece
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

George took us to a spot that he believes is not well known to many tourists, but provides yet another sweeping view of the island.

Santorini, Greece
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

He also opined that, although the blue-domed church images are sought-after and iconic, he believes this image is the next “famous” Santorini shot.

Santorini, Greece
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

After seeing many gorgeous sights in Santorini, George took us to a local restaurant of the proverbial beaten path, and far from the tourist areas.  It was a beautiful, quiet, oceanfront restaurant with outstanding food and local wine.  Over the years, we have had a number of very good guides.  Indeed we have have an overwhelmingly positive experience with our guides.  But George will be one of the more memorable ones we have had, with a lively personality and a great enthusiasm for Santorini.  His quirky sense of humor can pretty easily be seen here.  I want one of these t-shirts 🙂

Santorini, Greece
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

 

The Great Santorini

Santorini, Greece
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

I know.  Lame takeoff on “The Great Santini.”  But I have to say, Santorini was great, and everything I had hoped for.  This is the place where all of the images of the blue-domed, white churches are taken with the Mediterranean in the background.  And I took a lot of them.

Santorini, Greece
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

When doing my research for this destination, I was dismayed to learn that many of these shots are not easy to find.  Having been there, I am not sure I agree with these readers’ assessment, but a little local knowledge goes a long, long way.  Our guide (“George,” for the second day in a row – not the same George), it turns out, did some time as a professional photographer, and he not only knew where the shots were, but when to get us there so the light was most flattering (within the parameters of our time on the island, of course).  If I were viewing these images as a third-party, I might be inclined to accuse the shooter of overuse of his circular polarizer.  But I did not have a polarizer attached.  The Aegean skies are just that blue.  Like the domes.

Santorini, Greece
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

So, let’s get the blue-domed churches out of the way from the get-go.  It looks like Santorini will be a two-blog post.

Santorini, Greece
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

We started the morning at a spot very near where George picked us up.  It was a spot that he said was not well known, but it was our first blue-domed church, with our cruise ship in the background.  A nice start.

Santorini, Greece
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

George took us the opposite direction of most of the other tour groups, coming into Oia, where the churches and view are most prominent, from the back way.  Not only did this get us to the spots before the huge crowds came, but it was really the right place to be for the morning sun (though, as I have noted in previous blogs, we are rarely in a port during the best light of the early morning or late afternoon).

Santorini, Greece
Copyright Andy Richards 2017