During these hopefully late stages of pandemic life I’ve been doing a regular morning walk around Sharon Park and the pond.
Last week the City of Menlo Park drained and cleaned the pond. It’s looking fresh again after a summer with some algae growth.
The last couple of early mornings have been foggy which adds a moodiness to the scene. And it’s usually pretty quiet early in the morning!
I’ve recently shared on Instagram a couple of photos taken on these recent morning walks. These photos have been post-processed using the iPhone Photos app along with DistressedFX+ and Snapseed. These apps have become my usual workflow for processing on my iPhone. These tools are quick and easy to use plus they help add some drama and a painterly effect to the images.
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.
Recently the city of Palo Alto has opened up access to Foothills Park which for many years has limited access only to residents of Palo Alto. I’ve never been there so this morning – a grey one here on the San Francisco peninsula, I decided to take a quick drive to visit Foothills Park and see what it’s like. In particular, I was interested in seeing the small lake – Boronda Lake.
Last week I finished up a workshop led by Dan Burkholder on iPhone Artistry. Dan reawakened my interest in capturing and editing photos just on my iPhone. I made the following image using the Camera app on my iPhone 12 Pro Max:
I then used the free Snapseed app that Google provides to edit and stylize this image. Dan had walked us through the capabilities of Snapseed during his workshop so I put many of the tools he taught us to edit this image – here’s the list of tools that I applied:
I was particularly intrigued by the Grunge tool – one of my fellow workshop participants was a fan of the tool and shared some of his techniques with us. Using the Grunge tool, I was able to colorize and texturize the image resulting in the final version:
Earlier today, Om Malik shared a post comparing the iPhone camera with the old Kodak Brownie Camera – see Why the iPhone is Today’s Kodak Brownie Camera. It is amazing what these small “supercomputers in our pocket” are capable of in terms of image making and processing. This morning’s image of Boronda Lake is just my latest example.
Recently, I’ve been doing a lot more post-processing of portraits that I’ve taken over the years. There are some finishing touches easily applied in Lightroom that can be very helpful in making a portrait look great. Here are some of my favorites…
One of the things I’d like to do better is to remember (!) what kind of editing I’ve done to take a photograph from the original in-camera capture to the “final” posted image that I’ve shared or published. I’ll often finish editing and image – publish it – and come back across it months later only to wonder how exactly did I edit this photo!
In the spirit of trying to do a better job remembering, I will share some examples of the process I’ve used for photos that I’ve recently edited. The first two posts use photos taken in New York City – over five years ago – during a workshop I was fortunate to take with the great photographer Jay Maisel.
Recently I’ve been playing a bit more with image modification that takes a photo from its straight out of the camera look and modifies it to emphasize more interesting parts of the image: typically light and color.
Much of this process involves simplifying the image using tools that remove details (which I often find add distraction to the essence of an image. I’ve been encouraged by some of what Eric Kim has been doing.
On my Mac I used to experiment using Topaz Simplify for this kind of work. But today I’m almost always editing quickly on my iPhone and sharing the results to Instagram. It’s amazing how quickly this yields fun results.
Here are a few recent examples made using the Priism app.
I was recently in Hong Kong for a week of street photography. While there, I used a different mobile-centric workflow for my images – and, while it wasn’t perfect, it definitely simplified things. Here’s the basic idea:
Gear: I traveled with my MacBook Pro (with LR CC), my iPhone, and my iPad Pro (both with LR Mobile). At home there’s an iMac with my master photo library managed by Lightroom CC Classic. For this to work well, your hotel (or AirBnb, etc) also needs to be “well connected” – especially in terms of upstream bandwidth.
Workflow: After a day of shooting, I used Adobe Bridge on my MacBook Pro to import images from my camera’s SD cards into a date-based folder hierarchy on the MacBook’s SSD. Separately, I used Image Capture to import photos from my iPhone – and copied those images into the same date-based folder hierarchy. (Alternatively, I could have simply opened LR Mobile on my iPhone and imported the iPhone images I wanted into LR from my Camera Roll). Each day I had a new folder with all of the images from my cameras and my iPhone.
Next I opened Lightroom CC (LRCC) on my MacBook Pro and import the new images from the folder hierarchy (e.g. the images imported using Bridge and Image Capture in step 1). LRCC will import these images and immediately begin uploading them with the cloud. For this uploading to be efficient, you’ll want to be sure you’re using hotel WiFi with decent upstream bandwidth – something that worked very well for us in our Hong Kong hotel – but which could be problematic at less well connected hotels.
As LRCC uploads the images to the cloud, several good things happen:
The images are also sync’d to LR Mobile on my iPad and iPhone. They just start showing up as the syncing completes. The images are also sync’d to Lightroom CC Classic running on my iMac back home. If Lightroom Classic isn’t open on my Mac (or if my Mac is powered off), the syncing begins when Lightroom Classic is next opened on my Mac. LR Classic will download the images from the cloud and save them to a special folder – which I’ve pointed to a folder just for this purpose in my images folder hierarchy. In LR Classic preferences, I’ve also clicked the “use date hierarchy” box so that the downloaded images will be stored in a date hierarchy folder structure within that specified download folder.
When I get back home, I can open LR Classic and move the images from the download folder into the normal date-based folders in my image library. LR will remember that these images – although they’ve been moved – are still synced to the cloud. Thus, any changes I make to an image will be sync’d everywhere – including any ratings updates, any photo edits, cropping, etc. Even deletions will be sync’d everywhere.
The net effect of this workflow is that I avoided having to do the old catalog import workflow from LR Classic on my MacBook Pro into LR Classic on my iMac when I got home.
But the BIG benefit of this LR CC-based workflow was having my images quickly available for reviewing, editing, rating, etc. on my iPhone and iPad while I was traveling in the field. In addition, any images I shot on my iPhone could be imported into LR Mobile on my iPhone and they’d automatically be sync’d into the Lightroom cloud and down to my LR Mobile on my iPad and to LR Classic my iMac back home.
I should also mention that once the images have been imported to LR CC on my MacBook Pro, they can be deleted from the folder hierarchy on the MacBook. Once the originals are sync’d to the cloud by LR CC they are no longer needed locally on the MacBook Pro. Of course, I didn’t do any deleting while traveling – as I wanted the redundancy (in addition to keeping the SD cards) – but I could have – and will at some point back home!
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