On my morning walk this morning, I came across this young woman sitting on the pavement adjacent to pond at Sharon Park – looking across the water to the fountain and a sunny Sunday morning sky.
The fountain in the pond was just re-activated a few days ago – and it adds so much to the image by creating a point of interest where otherwise there’d just be negative space. It was blessed with great timing – both her being there and the fountain now active again.
There’s a walkway behind where she was sitting which is elevated by about four feet so I walked around behind her on to that walkway and snapped a few photos with my iPhone 14 Pro Max. This is the most peaceful and Zen-like of them – and I opted to post-process into black and white to remove all of the color and focus the eye on just the contrast between light and shadow.
For many years, I’ve enjoyed seeing this old boathouse sitting out in Tomales Bay just off Inverness, California. In November 2020, we were staying nearby and I couldn’t resist pulling over along the road and snapping this photo with my iPhone 12 Pro Max. Note the white heron in the water near the right side of the boathouse!
This black and white version was first processed in Lightroom using some filters and then into Snapseed with the Drama filter applied to the lower 3/4 but not to the sky area.
Here’s the original photo from which the black and white version was cropped:
For creatives, the byproducts of our work often get swept aside once the main project is complete. The unused sketches, raw demo recordings, or half-baked concepts – these become the “sawdust” we leave behind after building something new. But what if we viewed these creative leftovers through a different lens?
Rather than discarding the residual materials from your creative process, consider how they could hold untapped potential. Just as a woodworker’s sawdust can be repurposed into revenue-generating products, you may be able to extract value from the fragments left over from your projects.
By sifting through the unused ideas, experiments, and prototypes you accumulate, hidden opportunities can emerge. Could an alternate lyric or melody from a recording session work in a new song? Might those rough product sketches contain the seed of a fresh design? With the right perspective, your leftovers can become ingredients for future work.
This philosophy of maximizing resources aligns with Jay Clouse‘s emphasis on reframing challenges. By bringing a spirit of creative reuse to the byproducts of your efforts, you can uncover new possibilities where you once saw waste.
For photographers, the sawdust metaphor could apply to all the unused or discarded photos from a shoot. Rather than deleting the outtakes, putting in time to review these images with fresh eyes may reveal some gems. Photos you initially disregarded due to small flaws could potentially be salvaged through editing. Or alternate angles could lend themselves to new creative compositions. By taking the time to re-examine your photo “sawdust”, you may find shots that warrant a second look. With some targeted post-processing or creative cropping, those photos destined for the trash could end up being featured in your portfolio. Just like a carpenter transforming sawdust into useful material, photographers have the power to find merit in the images they may have previously discarded or overlooked. I’m often surprised when I look back at old photos and see an image with “new eyes” – for me that joy is one of the best parts of photography.
So challenge yourself to regularly revisit the “sawdust” of your creative process. You may discover surprising connections that spark your next big idea. With some imagination, everyone has the capacity to transform their leftovers into treasure.
Back in 2018 I took a week-long photography workshop (“The Soul of a Photograph“) at Santa Fe Workshops led by Christopher Michel. Along with a dozen other photographers, we explored many aspects of creating images with impact while out and about in some of the beautiful venues in Santa Fe and Albuquerque. It was a wonderful week with a great teacher who is famous for his beautiful and prolific work.
For most of the week I was teamed up with Cira Crowell, another great photographer who lives in Santa Fe. We had a great time together working on our images – including a particularly great day working with a few models at Eaves Movie Ranch outside of Santa Fe.
The following year Cira taught a new course in Santa Fe titled The Language of Black and White which I was also able to attend. Cira is passionate about the power of black and white imagery and she built her course on some of the earlier work and teachings of George DeWolfe who had also taught at Santa Fe Workshops. Coincidentally, I had met George on a visit to Havana in 2013 and had several wonderful chats with him over buffet breakfast at our hotel that week in Havana. Note: Cira is planning to teach another section of this course in July 2021 in Santa Fe.
Taking Cira’s course in Santa Fe opened my eyes to exploring new techniques to apply black and white processing to my images – in particular how to add depth to my images so that they take on more of a three dimensional look even though they’re just two dimensional by nature. I shared some of my thoughts about the course on our local InMenlo blog. One of the exercises involved taking one of the color paintings of a great master and converting it to black and white – while adding depth.
This month I started an online version of Cira’s course as a follow-up to the in-person workshop I took two years ago. While being together in a classroom seems ideal, an online workshop comes pretty close in terms of providing the vehicle for teaching and understanding. And it’s a necessary approach in this pandemic era where our travel opportunities are so severely restricted. What falls away with the online approach are the social dynamics of being together – an important aspect to the workshops held in Santa Fe.
In the workshop, we’ve been exploring post-processing in Lightroom – converting a color image to black and white – and using some of the tools available to move beyond just the default conversion from color to black and white. Below is an example – a simple color photograph of an orange on a countertop being converted to several different versions of black and white.
One of the important lessons in this process is understanding the difference between the values in an image versus the tones in an image. Different tones can result in the same values – creating some unusual situations such as red converting to the same tone as green, for example. If you have a red subject on a green foliage background, for example, the subject will almost disappear into the background.
This can be visualized by looking at these two images that depict the luminance values vs the color tones. You’ll notice that the reds and the greens have very similar grey tones while the yellows are much brighter grey and the blues are much darker greys.
Learning the language of black and white is all about learning how to translate these hues into greys so that the image of an image is enhanced.
When converting a color photo to black and white in Lightroom Classic, the color sliders can be used to change the tonal values of the different colors. You can actually adjust the colors first in color before converting to black and white and then take the image through a quick round trip through Photoshop to preserve your color edits before then converting to black and white and editing further. This technique provides the most control over the translation from hue to tone in the greyscale image.
A final round trip through Photoshop can also be used to add depth to the grayscale image. In Photoshop duplicate the background layer and change the blend mode to Soft Light. Adjust the opacity to a low value – say 15% as a starting point. If need be you can add a layer mask and control more precisely where the effect is applied. If you want even more you can duplicate the layer again and see how that works. Then save the image back to Lightroom Classic for any final edits.
And remember, black and white isn’t “plan b” – it’s an intentional approach to creating classic, more timeless looking images.
Here’s an example of the kind of both photography and photo editing that I’ve been doing using my iPhone 11 Pro Max.
Heading south from Half Moon Bay on Highway 1 a couple of miles on the right is Miramontes Point Road which heads down to the Ritz-Carlton Hotel and, along the way, a parking turnout for coastal access to a paved walkway that winds through a golf course to a cliff area above Manhattan Beach.
On a recent overcast morning, I parked my car at the turnout and walked on a portion of this walkway where, along the way, it crossed a bridge which spanned a creek leading out to the beach. I used the built-in Camera app in the iPhone 11 Pro Max to make this initial photo:
I liked the framing that the tree provided but also, being a street photographer at heart, wanted to better capture the sole individual walking along the beach in the distance. So I switched to the telephoto lens on the iPhone 11 Pro Max and made this photo:
I found the composition of this image intriguing and opted to process it in black and white to remove some of the distraction of the colors – especially the green vegetation in the lower right. Using both the Photos app on my iPhone 11 Pro Max along with the Snapseed app I made this edited and framed version of that image:
As it turns out, I completely cropped out the lower portion of the image to remove all of the distracting vegetation and to better isolate the beach walker at the top of the image. I also removed the distant sky and much of the ocean to better balance the image.
It is amazing just how much fun photography on the iPhone is with the capabilities of these recent models! Being able to make images and edit them anywhere on my phone is a delight.
One of my favorite places to visit for a peaceful quiet time is the forest area at Fitzgerald Marine Reserve in Moss Beach, California – just north from Half Moon Bay along Highway 1. I especially enjoy visiting Fitzgerald’s forest on overcast mornings – there’s something special about the soft light that adds to the moodiness of the place. Most days there aren’t others around – making the stillness and solitude of this location a real joy. With all of the current hubbub around the coronavirus outbreak, this was a wonderful place to just get away and enjoy some time outside and alone!
Here’s an image I made on a recent overcast morning visit using my iPhone 11 Pro Max. Edited in the Photos app and Snapped on my iPhone.
Below is another image made at Fitzgerald – this time looking 180 degrees behind where I was standing for the image above. This image was made with my Fujifilm X100V.
About a half mile north of Filoli is the entrance to the Pulgas Water Temple – a tribute to the Hetch Hetchey aqueduct system that brings water to the city of San Francisco (and many other cities on the Peninsula) from the snow pack of the high Sierras. Opened in the 1930’s, the temple marks the end of the aqueduct where the fresh water falls into the Crystal Springs Reservoir. Note: the temple area is only open limited hours (9:30 AM – 3 PM weekdays).
While I was waiting for the Anderson Collection at Stanford to open one recent morning (at 11 AM) I walked around back behind the Cantor Arts Center to Richard Serra’s Sequence sculpture. It was a bright sunny morning so I played a bit with the light and shadows on the curves of the steel.
These images were all made with my iPhone 11 Pro Max and processed to black and white using Snapseed. I especially like using Snapseed for monochrome conversion because of the color filters it provides.
As I was walking from the Anderson Collection to the Cantor Arts Center on a recent morning, I noticed these shadows from the palm trees lining the street. I loved the abstract nature of this image – and tried to bring out that mood further by processing into black and white. Once again, I made this image using my iPhone 11 Pro Max.