Aspen Grove — Dixie National Forest, UT © jj raia
When I first switched over from film after buying my first real digital camera about 3 years ago, I knew very little about the digital darkroom. But what really shocked me was viewing my images on the computer after having shot everything in RAW format, as I learned you should do in order to get as much information possible when you trip the shutter. To say I was disappointed by what I saw was a gross understatement. The relatively dull, lifeless RAW images on the screen were nothing like I had seen through the viewfinder! Some of my first photographic work done with a computer was scanned film and I was able to compare on-screen with what I could see in my medium format chromes. Now when I begin to work on an image, since there is such a vast difference between what I’m seeing on the screen and my recollection, I’m relying on that memory. Originally I thought that was not the optimum method, but have now reconsidered to find it to be one in which your own personal vision and emotional response to the location has a better chance of finding its way into the final version. There is a liberation in that; being free to let your own creativity take hold, whether you’re trying to be true to the original scene or stretching that a bit.
My initial limitations and lack of knowledge in the workings of Lightroom and Photoshop were, over time, replaced with a better understanding of what was possible using particular methods and tools within each application after watching many, many youtube instructionals, online workshops and reading books on the subject. I now feel confident enough to try to correct areas of past photos that have gnawed at me because of my inability to correct a particular area to my satisfaction, and have begun revisiting some of them.
In the first (film) image, the leaves in the top left were a bit blown out, drawing the viewer’s eye to that corner (at least in my mind). My initial attempts at darkening left them appearing flat, having a gray, murky look and were just as distracting to me as when they were brighter. So I repaired them as best I could. Recently, in an attempt to correct what I viewed as a small problem, I discovered that lowering the exposure a bit less, adding a color, warmer temperature and a few other tweaks to the brush used in Lightroom, I was able to lower the light value, keep the texture and create the original color of the leaves that was there without dulling them down. At last, I was completely satisfied with the final version. To most folks, there might not be a discernible difference between the original and the final, but to me, it bothered me enough to attempt a “fix” when I had finally acquired the ability to do so.
Slate Wall — Smoky Mountain National Park, NC © jj raia
In the second image, I learned a bit about sharpening and incorporated that into this image even though it was sharp to begin with, and utilized the same method of painting in some color into a few of the small rocks that were too bright and distracting for my taste.
In the image below, software didn’t really play a major role, although I added some minor tweaking to get the color balance right. Originally, it swayed too far towards magenta so I made a needed adjustment to get it back to reality. I then decided on the square format as a way to illustrate the closeness of the family of firs within the sea of deciduous trees. Using the whole frame, which added another solitary fir on the right, made them seem lost in that “sea”, made the idea of family less immediate and created a double focal point rather than a single one, while the firs took on a secondary role to the mass of the hillside. Sometimes the software doesn’t help much, but the revisit may allow you to realize that the original image does not convey what you wanted to express.
Family of Firs — Smoky Mountain National Park, NC © jj raia
Rock Wall Detail — Smoky Mountain National Park, NC © jj raia
These last three images were from my first trip to Smoky Mountain National Park in the fall just after I got the new camera. What I discovered, in addition to my inabilities within the imaging software, were the realities of using this particular camera and lenses. I had been completely familiar with my Mamiya after 20 years and knew what to expect. Now, I found I really needed to do all I could to eliminate camera shake when using long lenses. A cable release was always used in my film days, mainly because it was a bit awkward to press the Mamiya’s shutter release when it was on the tripod, but I hadn’t gotten one for the new camera to take on this trip. When viewed on the screen, many of the photos that I used an old, very sharp 80-200mm manual focus lens were a bit soft. And as luck would have it, the one image I really liked had that softness!! By using some of the settings I had learned recently to create more sharpness, I was able to bring this image into the realm of acceptability, and may even print it some day, although not in a very large size. I bought a cable release right after that trip! and now use the mirror up feature as much as possible, something that helps in creating tack sharp images using any lens. In addition, I learned how to use very, very local adjustments to make the thin trunk stand out a bit more from the rock. Getting the blue tones in those rocks was something I learned long ago photographing some rocks in Maine’s Acadia National Park. Maybe I’ll get into that in the next post.
Sculpted Dunes — Great Sand Dunes National Monument, CO © jj raia
This last picture was made possible by learning to create space along the edges of an image in Photoshop. By increasing the “canvas size” (under the image menu in Photoshop) along one particular edge, you can add visual real estate if it’s needed. This image was taken back in the late 1970’s, hand held! I was able to sharply capture the ripples in the sand, but because the sunlight severely limited what I saw through the viewfinder, I ended up not having enough space above the upper dune. Now, being able to expand the canvas on top and filling it in easily with black using the clone tool, the dune was properly placed within the frame without the original crowding. I also did this in a sunrise photo from one of my earlier posts (Lemonade from Lemons) where I discovered a circle of water ripples at the very bottom edge of the image that occurred while taking the picture, but I never knew it was there until I saw it at home on the computer. That was the first time I ever added space to an image; I added a little to the bottom to eliminate the crowding and took a small slice from the top to keep the same aspect ratio. In this photo, software made changing it into black and white possible with the simple click of the mouse.
I hope I continue to learn and improve my post production skills in the future, and believe me when I say I have a long way to go. I also have a long way to go in learning all that is possible with the camera and knowing all the variables available in the vast array of menus and layers within them. But for now, I’m happy just to get what I want on the memory card in order to explore the possibilities that lie ahead.