The Images of Edward Sheriff Curtis

This afternoon I began exploring the images of American photographer Edward S. Curtis archived at the Library of Congress. You can learn more about him here.

There’s a treasure trove of public domain images in his collection at the Library of Congress – and I was looking for new subjects to experiment with some Photoshop post-processing techniques. So I picked a couple of his images and went to work.

The first is this image he titled “Kutenai Duck Hunter” – below is my processed version:

Kutenai Duck Hunter - Adaptation of Edward Curtis - 2011

I ended up with fourteen or so layers in Photoshop making adjustments to this image. It was a fascinating experience as I tried to apply some of my recent learnings to this image!Here’s the original image – before I began my tweaks. Off to the right, you can see my Photoshop layers as I adjusted and re-adjusted to complete the image.

3a47161uScreen Shot 2011 11 27 at 7 50 13 PM

This is such a beautiful shot by Curtis that even the poor quality of the original doesn’t interfere. It’s just a perfect composition.

After opening it in Photoshop, I first spent a bit of time using the Healing Brush to clean up blemishes and spots on the photo’s Layer 0. Next, I began adjusting colors and brightness through a series of Curves and Color Fill adjustment layers. Then I used Nik’s Viveza 2 to add structure to the canoe itself and the reeds in the water next to it. The Color Efex 4 layers tweaked tonal contrast and detail definition. The final set of layers adjusted the final brightness and colors.

I think this image sets my personal record for the number of layers used to adjust a photo – and it wasn’t even my photo to begin with! Maybe that’s why I found it so much fun – I wasn’t tied to my remembrance of the actual shot – I could just vamp on the subject and have some fun!

I next tackled another one of Curtis’ images – this time of an Eskimo woman named Ola. Here’s her original image – again, you can see my layers in Photoshop on the right of the original image.:

3b36211uScreen Shot 2011 11 27 at 8 08 14 PM

This was a simpler photograph – beautifully composed and shot by Curtis – and I took a simpler approach to post-processing it in Photoshop.

I first did a couple of adjustment layers to add a vignette before applying a Photo Filter to add a bit of color and a couple of Curves layers to adjust the brightness and bring out the pupils of her eyes. A final bit of color toning completed this image.

Here’s the final result:

EdwardCurtis Ola Noatak

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