Peonies…

I planted peonies in my new garden last year. Peonies were one of my favourite flowers as a kid.  I remember them fondly from our garden in the West Island of Montreal. We had lilac bushes, crabapple trees and plum trees. We had irises too. Oh yes, and tulips and daffodils. Marigolds also, I think.

peony garden portrait

This was shot at F 2.2. I wanted a shallow depth of field in order to focus on the bloom. After doing basic conversion in Camera Raw, I added an adjustment layer of Colour Lookup and added Filmlook for, well, the look of film.

But it was the peonies that won my heart for having both a delicate frilled beauty and an unforgettable fragrance, which heralded early summer and its longer, languid days. And peonies had such a short life too — they were a sweet reminder that many good things in life are fleeting, so paying attention and having appreciation is in order.

When I first saw the peonies unfurl to the sun this year, I ran out with my camera to capture them in situ. I quickly bent to have a sniff. I could not believe the scent — it was even better than I remembered. Not sweet or sickly — just perfect. I inhaled deeply. Then I went to work shooting them in the garden.

I like this one, which was shot from above, just because it’s a bit different. I used the adjustment brush to try to bring out the rain drops on the bloom.

After that, I brought one in and placed it in a clear vase. It was still wet from the rain. I took shots from many angles with different apertures, all against a white background, trying to pay attention to the composition. I was going for something pure and simple. Trying to convey the spirit of the peony.

Then I moved the vase into the kitchen so it was backed by my window to the back yard. I made some images in the golden morning light, again with different apertures, but mostly large because I didn’t really want the peonies to have to fight for attention with the back yard!

Once I was finished shooting, I began to process the raw images. I  use Adobe Camera Raw to start with and then for some of the images I played with my new favourite tool in Photoshop, Colour Lookup.

 

This was shot at F 3.2 so it’s crisper and more of the flower is in focus than at larger apertures. Here I wanted to emphasize the golden light in the background.

I don’t very often convert my flower images to black and white unless they are very contrasty. I thought I would see how a more dreamy image turned out. I like it — it’s moody — but in general, I think peonies are better in colour!

peony framed

This was shot at F 2 so it’s really quite painterly and dreamy. It evokes memories of summer as a kid, when we spent almost all our time outside — in the fields and playgrounds and backyards.  We’d come in for supper and be greeted with the scent of peonies in a vase on the table.


Processing Tip #4: Toning with the Colour Lookup Table

 

Irises

Original image

Variations

Sometimes you want to render the colour in your colour photographs exactly the way you saw it. And sometimes you don’t. In truth, often you don’t, if your goal is to create a mood or convey a feeling rather than simply document a scene.

And how many ways are there to change and tweak colour using image editing tools such as Adobe Camera Raw, Photoshop or Lightroom? So many it makes my head spin. Plug-ins, presets, actions, not to mention using curves, LAB colour, hue/saturation adjustments and of course combinations of all of these.

But one way that I have become aware of only recently is Colour Lookup. (That’s what I love about Photoshop — I’ve been using it for 6 years and there are still features I’m discovering!)

This technique is fast, easy and can yield some nice results. It can be used for very subtle effects, which I prefer to over-the-top, more extreme changes.

I decided to take my recent iris image and play with it a bit to create a few other options to my original. I think I may even like some of these better! I’m particularly drawn to the slightly warmer tones.

Below is a link to an easy-to-follow tutorial:

How to use colour lookup in PS CS6 and CC

And now for an example of how you can use the technique to change the feel of a scene.

Well, here’s to yet another tool in the ol’ image processing toolkit!

 

Processing Tip #2: The Cinematic Look

Do you sometimes feel like your life is a movie? Well, whether you do or don’t, it can be fun to make it look like one.

I ran across this article on Fstoppers.com and thought I would  give some of the techniques a try. I find the 16:9 crop really enhances some images and it’s just a couple more steps to create the “letterbox effect.”

See you in the movies!

Tips for making your images look like they’re straight out of films 

 Follow this for the “letterbox effect.”

BEFORE

before cinematic

Taken at the International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration held every summer in the Niagara Region of Ontario

AFTER

cinematic demo

Processing Tip #1: Blue-skying

I’m back in Canada now after four months of living and cruising on our sailboat, Windsong II, in Florida and the Bahamas. As you can imagine, the photo opps were astounding and I did my best to fill up my camera cards with images. Tons of images.

Images that make my heart flutter when I look at them and they bring me back to the feelings of awe and wonder I experienced daily.

Images I now have to go through and delete or process.

I shoot RAW so I don’t have a choice about processing — I have to do it because the image straight out of the camera (SOOC) is not already processed by the camera in the way that jpegs are. A raw image is  like a digital negative and has to be developed in the same way that film negatives have to be developed and tweaked in the dark room.

Processing demands myriad decisions on the part of the photographer about how to present your image to best express what you saw and felt when you clicked the shutter and what you want to share.

Sometimes what comes out of the camera just doesn’t reflect what you saw — because our camera does not have the dynamic range of our eyes or because we didn’t expose properly for the conditions or for some other reason. So we fix things up during the editing process…

I’m always learning about processing — it’s a never-ending journey that I derive so much pleasure from. I’m constantly searching for better ways to achieve and express my vision in my images.

I gather information and ideas from books, other blogs, podcasts, video tutorials, e-books and online classes. I’m forever trying out new techniques. Some I keep and return to over and over — some do nothing for me. To me, editing is not a necessary evil — it’s part of the joy of the creative process.

I’m thinking that many of you are like me and it might be fun to share each other’s experiments.

So I decided to launch a new series of processing tips, in which I share some simple processing techniques that I pick up and test out. I mainly use Adobe Photoshop CC, Adobe Camera Raw and Lightroom.

I’ll share the link to the source of the information, which will contain the how-to’s so you can try it out too — and I’ll share my results.

So, on to Tip #1…

I saw this tip on Lightstalking. It’s great for pepping up those washed out or bland skies that we all struggle with from time to time.

Now, of course there are many other ways to achieve the same goal — both in camera, using filters and through processing. But this is a quick and easy way to deepen the blues of your skies in a natural looking way. By combining targeted changes to the exposure and saturation, the result is very pleasing.

Here is my image — before and after. See what you think…

I’d love it if you’d share your go-to methods for doing the same thing, in the comments or on your blog.

BEFORE

 

overdraught - sqbf

Before

 

AFTER

 

overdraught - sqafterfin

After

 

A time for refinement…

crab

The feeling of an evolution is a constant for every artist who is pursuing the search for refinement and enlargement of his/her own means of expression.

Andrea Bocelli

I was very much into using textures to process my images a year or two ago. I loved the painterly look that you could achieve and the soft dreamy quality of so many textured images.

I’m still drawn to these images and I admire and enjoy the texture work on the blogs and sharing sites of so many artists and photographers I’ve met online.

But I stepped away from it myself, and this is why…

At one point I realized that I didn’t want to use heavy processing with textures as a crutch when I didn’t know what to do with a less than stellar image. So I decided what I needed to do was spend more intensive time learning and practising and honing the craft of photography — which is really what I’m in love with. I wanted to take full advantage of my equipment and make better base images — by honing key skills — exposure, composition and framing, and focus, for example. I wanted to do a better job of getting my images right in camera.

I also wanted to delve deeper into the hard work of discovering and developing my own unique approach and vision. This has challenged me to become more contemplative and intentional in my image-making, as well as more experimental and risk-taking. I feel I’ve seen an improvement in my images and while many of my experiments have not seen the light of day, they have also yielded some happy results and taught me so much. And not only have I gained ground by working on simplicity, abstracts, double exposures, long exposures, ICM, etc etc etc, I’ve also truly enjoyed every moment. The more I can master the craft, the more my images will become a means for expressing myself.

Over the next while I intend to continue to strive for the best image quality I can get from my camera, I also want to return to spending time refining my processing techniques. For example, I want to learn luminosity masking and make better use of Adobe Camera Raw for raw conversion. (ACR is basically the same as Lightroom, without all the photo organization abilities.) I just learned a few new ACR and Photoshop techniques from a video with Ben Willmore on Creative Live that have me quite excited.

And so just for fun I hauled out my textures the other day and had a play with a few recent crabapple images. I’ve learned that when I start off with a better quality image, I am generally happier with the results of adding textures. My taste is at the “less is more” stage so I went fairly light on the processing of this image to let the beauty and delicacy of the crabapple blossoms shine through.

What are you refining these days?