Image Processing: The Overton Technique

My photographer friend Roxanne Overton has pioneered using an easy technique in Photoshop for creatively merging multiple images of the same subject. Doug Kaye wrote about the technique – and how to do it – on his blog a while back.

While multiple images taken from slightly different positions often generates the most interesting results, you can sometimes be surprised by the simplest approach.

Here, for example, is an image taken with my iPhone along the San Francisco Embarcadero yesterday that I processed using the Overton Technique. It was generated from one image. After opening the image in Photoshop, I duplicated the layer and then horizontally flipped it – creating a mirror image. Auto-blend then combined the two layers to generate this results – which I tweaked a bit further back in Lightroom to black and white, etc.

If you’re an Adobe Creative Cloud member and have both Lightroom and Photoshop, give this technique a try. After playing with a few image sequences, you might find one that feels downright brilliantly creative!

Adding Presence to Black and White Photos

Three years ago I was in Havana participating in a person-to-person cultural exchange organized by the Santa Fe Photographic Workshops. One of the photography group leaders at that session was George DeWolfe. While I wasn’t in his group, we did share breakfast a couple of days and I really enjoyed getting to know him a bit more.

After that meeting, I’ve followed George from a distance – and I particularly enjoy the work he’s been doing for years around the notion of adding “presence” to black and white images. I haven’t been using his techniques, however – but a blog post that I read this morning by Julia Anna Gospodarou brought me back to George and re-learning one of his simple techniques for adding presence to an image in Photoshop.

Last night I processed the top image below taken on a photo walk with Doug Kaye in San Francisco last Thursday. We often find the Muni bus stops along San Francisco’s Market Street to be good “stages” – and we await for interesting actors to appear. I was pretty happy with the image last night but when I looked at it again this morning I found it a bit “flat”.

Reading Julia Anna’s interview with George got me motivated to try a quick version of one of his techniques for adding presence – using the Color Range tool in Photoshop to separately adjust the brightness and contract of the highlight, mid-tone, and shadow areas of the image. This is a super easy technique – using the Color Range tool to create a selection of, for example, the highlights in the image – then use a Brightness/Contrast adjustment layer to tweak the brightness and contrast of just the highlights. Do the same thing for the mid-tones and then for the shadows. Takes about 2 minutes to adjust the image this way – and it does help reduce the flatness and spread out the tonality of the image to make it more appealing. The second image below shows the result of my quick adjustments this morning.

There are other ways to accomplish this – with much finer grain control, for example, you can use Tony Kuyper’s Luminosity Mask technique to also do this. But the quickness of using Color Range with a few Brightness/Contrast adjustment layers makes for a very speedy workflow. Thanks to George DeWolfe for sharing this technique – which he first wrote about back in 2007, almost ten years ago.

Life’s a Rowboat

Life's a Rowboat - New York - 2015

Here’s an image from June 2015 – walking through Central Park in New York City.

As I processed this image, I first brought it into Photoshop CC 2015 and then used Topaz Simplify 4 to create a black and white simplified later – which smoothed the water and the foliage. Next I used a luminosity mask to have the simplified layer apply primarily to the darks in the image – having the lights and a bit of color punch through.

I like the effect – hope you do too!

More Multiples in San Francisco Street Photography

Clay Street Shooter - San Francisco - 2015

Last week I did a post about multiples in San Francisco street photography. It’s a fun – and, frankly, a pretty lazy technique. Why do I say lazy? Because you simply plant yourself at an interesting location (a carefully chosen interesting location!) and shoot away. The goal is to capture a series of images of the same area over a period of several seconds. Depending on your gear, you can fire away in single shot mode – or you can set your camera on burst mode – and just hold down the shutter button.

On my Fujifilm X100T, I typically set the Drive setting to Low burst and it works great. But you can just do this with your iPhone – simply hold down the shutter button and the iPhone will fire off a burst of images. The iPhone 6 fires at about 10 frames per second – so you’ll get quite a few images in just a few seconds of holding down the shutter button.

Doug recommends putting your camera in manual for these kinds of shots – so that the camera isn’t choosing different settings in between the shots. He’s more of a perfectionist in this regard than I am. I mostly just don’t worry about it.

The fun comes after importing the images into Lightroom and then editing them as layers in Photoshop. Photoshop’s auto-align will correct for any hand-held movement between the images. You’ll end up with a layer stack of images – all aligned. Now you need to look through the layers and decide how to blend them – to bring in details from various images/layers. That’s the fun part – and it can take a while to get it right.

The image above was shot by me standing behind Doug Kaye as he was using this technique on Clay Street in San Francisco’s Chinatown.

The image below is one that I constructed using these techniques while just standing along Stockton Street and capturing individual shots as people moved through my frame. One of the characteristics of these images that you’ll notice in this one is that people look just too close together. That’s because they weren’t – actually!

Busy Morning - San Francisco - 2015

Revisiting Paris in the Fall

Paris in the Fall

Last fall, I attended a wonderful street photography workshop in Paris led by Valérie Jardin. On one of our morning walks, there had been a bit of rain overnight which provided a lovely sheen to the streets. By mid-day, it was gone and the day turned sunny and bright. Turned out to be one of the gifts – a morning after the rain with the payment still wet and the skies beginning to clear.

Last night I revisited this image to post-process it again. I’ve recently subscribed to Lynda.com and yesterday watched one of the courses about Photoshop taught by Adobe’s Bryan O’Neil Hughes in which he revisited many old techniques and brought to light new and better ways to do things. As I watched his lessons, I was using this image as my test case. One of the points he stresses is using a non-destructive workflow in Photoshop – something I’ve not been doing but will certainly make much more use of in the future. With this image, I’ve got all of the layers saved in the TIFF file which is now in Lightroom. At some point in the future, I’ll come back to it – and continue a bit more post-processing doing some dodging and burning through luminosity masks.

I’m having fun revisiting Paris as I post-process this particular image. It was a quick “grab shot” at the time I took it – as I had fallen behind our group and was trying to catch up. Sometimes it’s better to be lucky – this was one of those times!

Moments at Drakes Beach – Experimenting in Black and White

Moment - Drakes Beach - 2013

I been doing a bit of experimenting over the last few days with black and white conversion techniques. I particularly find the work of Joel Tjintjelaar of interest – see his Joel Tjintjelaar Flickr Stream and his BWvision web site.

Joel’s latest work is based on a combination of masking techniques – traditional “hard selections” combined with luminosity masking techniques pioneered by Tony Kuyper. I’m intrigued with the notion of applying these techniques to street photography and will be experimenting more to see if we can create even more vibrant black and white street photographs using modifications of Joel’s and Tony’s techniques applied to street photography.

Here are a couple of additional examples from my experiments over the last few days:

Luke - Drakes Beach - 2013

David W. Packard Electrical Engineering Building - Stanford - 2011

Playing with Sepia Toning of Highlights in Monochrome Images

Moody #2 - San Francisco - 2014

I recently got reacquainted with the beautiful monochrome work of Michael Kenna. His images have a number of striking qualities – mostly long exposure, his use of grain, and the square (and small 8×8 inch) print size. But for me it’s the light in his images that grab me.

Doing a bit of reading of interviews of Kenna, he has spoken about his he uses a light sepia toning in the highlights of his images – and how, by doing so, the mind’s eye sees the highlights as a bit forward in space while the shadows are pushed back – adding a sense of dimensionality to an image.

This is an image of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge shot from San Francisco’s Embarcadero with my Fujifilm X-E2 on a particularly moody February morning. I used it as an example for applying this kind of technique – sepia toning of the highlights. To do so, it’s an easy process in Photoshop CC. Select the RGB channel to create a selection, then add a gradient map adjustment layer – the selection will automatically be loaded into the adjustment layer’s layer mask. Then select the photographic toning Sepia 1 tone – and you’re done with the highlights.

I took it a bit further, duplicating that process but inverting the layer mask to add a Selenium 2 tone to the shadows – pushing them further back in the mind’s eye.

Below is the original monochrome version of this image – you can see the difference. Click on either to see a larger version.

Moody - San Francisco - 2014