Advanced Advanced Lessons Art Landscape Photography Photography

Keep It Simple

Sometimes when taking a photo it is tempting to include a lot of “stuff” to give you more to look at. Often it is better to get rid of all the extraneous and simplify the composition.

This photo was inspired by several of the works of Joel Meyerowitz. I remember seeing these back in College and I have always been sucked in by the simplicity. The images are very meditative.

To get this image, I waited until the boat was framed between the two rock islands. I increased the overall saturation and brightness and lightened the boat. I also removed a second boat on the horizon that was distracting. I also did some other local adjustments to the sky and water. This image is not “straight out of camera”, however it is how I saw the scene at the time.

Advanced Art Computers and Software Retouching

Photo fantasy

A friend asked me for help making a Photoshop collage of her playing on a cosmic pool table (she is into cosplay). It was quite fun, and I got some ideas for images with my own photos.

I have been using Photoshop since the early days. And it is amazing how far it has come. It is a lot easier to do almost anything now. The hard part is unlearning the old way of doing things. This is one of my first images created in Photoshop. I used a number of techniques to learn how to use the program…

one of my first Photoshop experiments

Fast forward to today and I am not sure if I have become better. Maybe less patient, and my style has changed, but the concept may be a bit better…

I used a couple of images from my archives and a lot of manual painting…

This is an early working draft. I still need to correct the shadows, but I like the concept

Advanced Advanced Lessons Art lessons Retouching

Digital Retouching

The computer has enabled many fields to advance at a very fast rate, and this includes retouching photographs and digital art.

A good friend and great painter wanted to learn how to use a graphics tablet .

She had an image from an old magazine we decided to use as a learning base. This was a perfect image because it was very simple, but had a lot of elements to experiment with.

A fashion sketch from an old magazine
A fashion sketch from an old magazine

Some of the steps we did included:

  • Dodging and Burning (lighten or darken areas) to create depth in the dress and other areas.
  • Adjusting Hue, Saturation, and Contrast of the overall image
  • Adding images, such as her painting on the wall and masking is so it is behind the woman.
  • Adjusting Hue, Saturation, and Contrast of specific areas in an image
  • Adding an image behind the glass of the door and a reflection on the piano

Since she was already a painter, she understood how something should look. She just needed to learn how the various tools work. At the end of the day this is what she created:

Her retouched version. click for a side by side comparison
Her retouched version. click for a side by side comparison

for reference, this is what I did along side:

Retouched red dress image
My version of retouching the image. click to see all three versions together.
Advanced Advanced Lessons lessons Retouching

Advanced Burn and Dodge

In my pursuit of ever more control of my retouching, I have come up with a new way of “sculpting” images.

First I guess I need to explain what I mean by sculpting. Some time ago I wrote a post on basic retouching. Since then I have taken several digital concepts of dodging and burning{{1}}, merged it with the way a painter friend does glazing, and added my own twist.

In essence, I create several copy layers blurred or sharpened to extremes. I mask these layers and set different blend modes. I can then use levels of grey on the layer masks to affect areas of the image. This method is very versatile and non-destructive. meaning it can be tweaked and changed as the image evolves.

[[1]]I was largely inspired by this article[[1]]

Advanced Advanced Lessons Art lessons Retouching

Black and White vs. Colour


One of the many creative decisions available to photographers is whether to show an image in full colour, or in monotones{{1}}. Sometimes the colours in an image make it, other times the colours can become a distraction..

For this image, I have chosen a toned monotone… I converted the image to black and white, then added a subtle yellow to the flower and blue to the background. This helps separate the lily from the background. I also did some subtle “glazing{{2}}” to bring out more dimensionality.

I was originally drawn to the way the two flowers seem to almost be dancing together. They reminded me of a romantic couple.

The monotone treatment also gives the image a timeless feel.

[[1]]Black and white (B&W) is the more common term, but it is a bit misleading. It is very hard (and usually not desirable) to get pure black or pure white usually there is a colour tint. Also, very few pictures have just black or just white, usually they are a spread of mid tone “greys”. In fact it is rare that more than a small minority of tones are maximum dark or maximum light.[[1]]

[[2]]Glazing is a painting term I learned from an artist friend. In my Photoshop interpretation of it, I use a combination of burning, dodging, painting, and a few other tricks to enhance the sculptural qualities of the subject. In essence, lighter tones come forward while darker tones recede. By highlighting or darkening edges and specific areas, the photo gains a much more 3d feel than otherwise.[[2]]

Advanced Advanced Lessons lessons Photography Retouching

Goldstream image

I was at Goldstream Park the other day trying to get inspired  ;-). As I came around a corner, I saw a heron on the side of the creek. First I took a quick shot…

but I was not really happy with the composition. I thought the trees were too cut off, the line of reeds lead the eye out of the frame, and overall, the image was kind of weak.

I then backed up and tried a vertical. Now the trees give much more sense of place, the heron is still quite small, but it is not really the central subject of the image.

I spent some time on the image to enhance the impression I had at the time of the image, highlighting some parts of the image, increasing contrast in other areas. I also removed an out of focus branch from the right hand side that was distracting. If you hover your mouse over the image above you can see the before image. 

I have tried to make this image an impression of the morning. There was a quality to the light and a sense of scale that I want to emphasize. I am not sure if this comes across in a small web scale image, but once I do a bit more work, I will try making a large print for an upcoming show.

For those who are interested, here is a screenshot showing the layers and masks I used…

Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 3.19.56 PM

Advanced Basic Lessons Computers and Software lessons Photography Retouching

Do I need Photoshop?

Someone in one of my LinkedIn groups asked this question and recieved a torrent of information.

Most of the replies broke into one of two camps:

  1. You should get everything correct in camera
  2. To be a “pro” you need to use photoshop

First lets put aside the term “pro” and say instead that you are sereious about your photography. You may or may not sell your images, but you are proud of what you produce. Lets further stipulate that we are talking about printed images, as viewing on a screen, especually via a website (facebook or your own site), introduces too many complications to deal with here. And to keep things simple, lets not deal with reportage and photojournalism, as the post production for those images has very specific requirements.

First, you should try to get the best digital file out of your camera as possible. The better your initial file, in terms of sharpness, dynamic range, colour balance, etc, the better the final image will be. Software can enhance in image, it cannot really repair a bad image (we are of course not talking about repairing damaged prints and the like). Garbage in, Garbage out. Once you have this optimized digital file, every image can be made better. By better, I mean the final image will more closely match the photographers eye, and will communicate what the photographer wants to say more clearly.

Do you need photoshop to be a photographer?

I don’t think you need specifically Adobe Photoshop, but to get serious prints{{1}} you need to use some kind of image manipulation software. This image manipulation software must have a number of features to be able to work efficiently.

  • It must be able to work on selective areas. Some parts of the image need different approaches. For example, you may want to do some micro-contrast adjustment on some foreground rocks, but not on the distant sky.
  • Layers, once understood, make things so much easier to organize and tweak. This is one area Adobe gets very right. combined with adjustment layers and masks, you can work on an image and fine tune all of your adjustments
  • an easy way to script (automate) processes used on a regular basis. Again, Photoshop leaves the competiton behind in my experience.

Of course there are many other important things to consider, and some of these considerations will be different for different photographers and artists. For me, Adobe Photoshop comes the closest to what I want and lets me achieve my results in the least number of steps. Unfortunately for the sake of competition, most photographers agree with me.

So do you need Photoshop to be a photographer? Kinda, until something better comes along….

[[1]]Serious prints communicate the intent of the photographer more clearly than a straight print. It is a hard term to define, but every great classic print photographer, from Ansel Adams to Ernest Haas did some post processing. And this was in an era when post processing was much more difficult than it is now.[[1]]

Advanced Art Shows Computers and Software Retouching

new image

My daughter and I were playing with one of her photos and, after a lot of experimentation, came up with this…

a very manipulated photo
a very manipulated photo

What are your opinions?

Advanced Advanced Lessons lessons Photography Retouching

Why I like Goldstream Park

(This is the post I started to write when I noticed I had written 99 posts on this blog)

The main part of Goldstream Park (that is, the banks of Goldstream Creek) is not that big, but it always seems to provide good photographic material.

This image really leads my eye into the thick undergrowth in the background:

There is a strong vertical compositional movement with a few visual pit stops on the way. I used a wide angle lens (20mm) to emphasize the depth, and then I spend some time in photoshop  emphasizing details to provide more depth{{1}}. I used two basic techniques here, I make the top third and background cooler (more blue) to help it recede, and I used tone to paint depth. Bright tones tend to look closer, while darker tones fall back. This is where my pen and tablet are useful. I use my “glazing” technique to paint tonality.

In this image, the same wide angle lens was used  to create a sense of space:


I used the same glazing technique here, but I also gave some form to the trees. I lightened the edges using a very soft graduated brush. This enhances the roundness of the trees. I increased the contrast of the water drops against the dark background, and darkened select trees in the foggy background.

If you are paying attention, you may notice that I used the same technique for opposite effects in these images. In the top image, I lightened to bring forward and darkened to push back. For the second, I lightened the edges of the main trees to emphasize their roundness. In other words to push the edges of the trees back. I darkened background trees to bring them forward.

So what is the lesson here? Tone can be used to shape, as well as to separate elements in space.

How do you learn this? Study art, especially masters. The Rembrandt and Ansel Adam each understood this, and used various techniques within their medium to achieve this. With digital imaging, various programs such as Photoshop give us the tools to copy the techniques from other art forms.

But by far the most important skill to learn is how to look at your images objectively and critically. And of course this is probably the hardest skill of all to learn…

Oh, and why do I like Goldstream Park? It continues to teach me subtleties…

[[1]]An introduction to painting for depth is here.[[1]]

Advanced Advanced Lessons Computers and Software lessons Retouching Uncategorized


In one of the LinkedIn groups I follow, Davesh asked for help with this image taken with, I am guessing, a cell phone camera with a dirty lens:

 with a couple of minutes in Photoshop (or any other retouching program)

I found the original a bit pasty an flat, in addition to the light flare from the dirty lens, so the first step was an overall contrast and saturation adjustment.

Next I tackled the faces covered with flare. I simply made another curves adjustment layer, matched the tone of the “flared” area to the unflared area, then masked off everywhere else.

Last step was to darken the background. Again I used a curves layer with a mask to control what was adjusted.

As a final last step, I was not happy with a couple of the faces, so I touched them up a bit more.

All in all, it took me much longer to write this description than to retouch the photo. Yes I could fix the photo quite a bit more. There is a lot of fine tuning I could do, but sometimes a quick “down and dirty” job is good enough…

PS. One of the responses in the above discussion mentioned that the background light is distracting. I agree, but removing it with the clone tool for example was a bit more work than I was willing to put into the image. Another poster had a better suggestion anyway, just crop off the top… makes a better composition anyway…