"Pay attention to the world." -- Susan Sontag
Before and After: Bernadine Clematis, An Illusion

Before and After: Bernadine Clematis, An Illusion

From Photographically Speaking: A Deeper Look at Creating Stronger Images by David duChemin:

“The camera will create an illusion the moment we release the shutter; if we want a hand in creating that illusion, we need to understand it. That illusion is created by every element in the photograph and every decision made. Elements and Decisions: that’s what we have. It’s what you do with what you have, as it is with every art.”

From On Photography by Susan Sontag:

“Although there is a sense in which the camera does indeed capture reality, not just interpret it, photographs are as much an interpretation of the world as paintings and drawings are.”

In April, I posted a series of photos of a Bernadine Clematis, a new addition to my garden for 2019. The last image from that post was my favorite: the composition appealed to me because of the balance created by the two prominent blooms and the intrusion of large petals from a third bloom in the upper right corner. You can see the photo on that post, or view a large version here.

This is what that photo looked like coming out of the camera:

The blossoms, just a few days from blowing away, were nearly spent and — especially on the foreground petals — showed evidence of deterioration in the form of rusty-looking stripes. This rust — as well as other dark spots on all the petals — barely registered when I looked at the plant in “real life” but created an overpowering distraction in the photograph. Funny how that happens. Because I liked the composition, though, I wanted to see if I could create a version I was satisfied with by using some of my Lightroom skills and a few magic potions from the Nik Collection.

I made some typical adjustments in Lightroom to add saturation and brightness to the more subtle colors and to darken background elements, keeping those changes to a minimum since I knew subsequent processing in Color Efex Pro 4 would emphasize image colors and increase background fading. I then used Lightroom’s spot removal extensively — first to eliminate small (mostly circular) spots throughout the petals, then to remove larger rust-colored stripes. Spot-removal can be used for more than just dust spots, pollen spots, or lens dust: it can also be used to pick out larger areas of disinterest and blend them away by replacing one area with pixels of similar color and texture elsewhere in the image, usually pixels that are near the original and are … less flawful. 🙂

Here’s a screenshot from Lightroom showing the extent to which I used spot removal on the RAW image. You’ll see what looks like steel pin-heads (as opposed to circles like the one on the upper left side) that represent areas where I re-blended the colors and textures in order to remove the appearance of rust. It became a bit of a game: tracking down offending spots, zapping them or outlining them with the spot removal tool, then adjusting Lightroom’s chosen replacement when I preferred to use a selection of my own.

Here you can see some of these corrections for a magnified section of the photo. The before image is on top; the middle image shows how I defined an area to replace by dragging the tool around and creating a wiggly-shape, then selecting an area with better color and texture to replace it with; and the third image shows how this section looked after re-blending that area (as well as some of the areas nearby). Most of these changes had to be done at various zoom levels, creating a bit of dissonance where the overall composition seemed to disappear because I was focusing on areas of color and texture only. And at this magnification level, there were plenty of rust spots still showing … but I wasn’t done yet!

Here’s the image after I finished correcting many of the rusty flaws, at the point where I was done adjusting the RAW file in Lightroom and was ready to use the Nik Collection to apply some special effects.

In Color Efex Pro 4, I applied color and contrast adjustments using White Neutralizer, Brilliance/Warmth, Pro Contrast, and Darken/Lighten Center. The combined effect of these filters was to brighten whites and reduce yellows, enhance contrast, and further darken background elements to give the blooms greater presence. I also applied a filter I don’t use very often — Glamour Glow — which increased brightness and softness, and added luminosity to polish and shine the blooms.

These adjustments weren’t selective — that is, I applied them to the entire image — so they enhanced any rust spots remaining on the photo. Coming out of the Nik Collection, I found plenty of additional areas where I still wanted to blend out rust and spots. That effort — which I used to create more consistency among the colors and textures — looked like this:

After all that — about three hours worth of work — I got to the final version of the image, an “illusion” based on the original subject, here:

If you would like to see the transition from out-of-the-camera to the final version in three steps, select the first image below.

Thanks for reading and taking a look!


  1. Thank you for taking us through your process. Great to learn of new Lightroom Techniques that I can add to my post-processing. I was not familiar with Color Efex Pro 4 so will give that a look as well. The end result just pops!

    1. Dale

      Thank you, Lisa.

      DxO Labs has recordings of two webinars I attended last year that provide excellent introductions to the Nik Collection and will give you a feel for the workflow:



      You get seven plugins with the Collection. One of their strengths lies in how you can apply adjustments: either globally to an entire image, or by selecting areas by color and applying the effects to that color with blending or feathering. They show how that works in both videos.

      I use these three plugins on every photo now:

      Dfine 2: For noise reduction, with automatic noise reduction that does a great job, but you can also selectively reduce noise on areas of your choice.

      Color Efex Pro 4: Includes about 60 different filters or presets, with all sorts of adjustments you can choose for any of the filters.

      Output Sharpener: for global or selective sharpening, contrast adjustments, to add focus (more fine-tuned than sharpening), has settings for display sharpening and print sharpening.

      Sometimes I use Viveza 2, which lets you globally adjust exposure, shadows, and colors, or apply settings to a specific areas of the photo by color, and alter the level of detail.

      These three I’ve used but only a little:

      Analog Efex Pro: lets you apply vintage camera and film filters, create bokeh and other kinds of blur, add different kinds of vignetting, convert to black and white (with many variations).

      RAW Sharpener: a different way to sharpen than Lightroom’s, lets you choose areas to sharpen by color and also shift sharpening from large sections of the photo to edge detail.

      Silver Efex Pro 2: focuses on black and white conversion, includes 38 black and white filters, each with their own settings for brightness, contrast, colors, and structure (detail enhancement).

      I haven’t used HDR Efex Pro, but it’s for creating an HDR photo from several with different exposures.

      I think you can try out a fully functional version of the Collection for 30 days … have fun if you decide to do that!

  2. Very nice tutorial and a gorgeous photograph. It’s interesting that you and I use different software and different techniques to achieve very similar ends. Shows that there are multiple options in the choice of technique in the removal of the dermal layer of a catfish.

    1. Dale

      Thank you! I had to think about “removal of the dermal layer of catfish” for a second … but then I got it! 🙂

      It is interesting about the different software and techniques … I’ve been thinking about taking a look at DxO Photo Lab because I saw that you used it for your photos. What I’ve seen of DxO so far — the technology in their Nik Collection — makes me wonder if I’d like it better than Lightroom…..

      1. I like it better than LR. And if you get the elite version, the prime noise reduction is the best noise reduction I have ever seen. Period. I do all the blemish removal using various tools in Photoshop. And any “interpretation“ is also done using just standard Photoshop tools: mainly selective sharpening and blurring and various layer blending techniques.

        Glad you got it on the catfish. Many people think that saying is referring to domestic felines. Never!

Leave a Reply to DaleCancel reply