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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.]



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 ….. 🙂

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.