From Strange Tools: Art and Human Nature by Alva Noe:
[We] make pictures. We don’t find them. They aren’t natural occurrences in the way that reflections in the surface of a pond or on the chrome of my bicycle handle are natural occurrences, or the way a shadow on the wall is a natural occurrence. We don’t stumble upon pictures. We produce them. They are artifacts. Bits of manufacture. Many of our picture-making devices — the digital or photographic camera — exploit phenomena of natural image making, reflection, and the like…. [Pictures] are products of human handiwork, and picture making is a technological practice.
From More Than a Rock: Essays on Art, Creativity, Photography, Nature, and Life by Guy Tal:
Photography — or art in general — should not be something you practice only with your camera, only on weekends or holidays, or as a distraction from other things. Instead, make it part of who you are. Think creatively, whether or not you intend to make an image. Remind yourself at random times throughout the day to think about interesting visual elements in your surrounding, challenge yourself to compose them in the most favorable way, seek ways in which visual elements may serve as metaphors for concepts, ideas, and emotions, regardless of whether they make a “good” image, or whether you’ll ever actually point a camera at them. The goal is to increase awareness of your environment and the ways in which it is (or can be) meaningful.…
To photographers of natural subjects, among others, composition is a constant challenge and always limited by constraints that are beyond the photographer’s control — the actual, and random, arrangement of visual elements in a found scene. The same is not true of painters, who may render their compositions with as much precision and as few distractions as they please. In addition, I also consider an image to be its own (aesthetic) experience, which is related to, but not a substitute for, the actual experience of the photographer at the scene. It follows that precise visual transcription of a scene — ostensibly, photography’s greatest power over painting — is not, in fact, my primary goal….
For this gallery of Landmark Citrus Lantana and two upcoming galleries — as well as three sets of Mary Ann Lantana images that I’m still working on — I’ve been selecting a few photos from each batch to transform with Lightroom’s graduated filters, radial filters, and brushes. I wanted to practice using these tools where the backgrounds were fairly complex, to get accustomed to masking areas for adjustment and figuring out what combinations of exposure, detail, and color enhancements satisfied me the most. The last three photos in the gallery at the bottom are examples; here are the before and after versions of those three images side by side.
I had previously written (see Before and After: Bernadine Clematis, An Illusion) about using Lightroom’s Spot Removal tool (it’s not just for spots!) to alter and re-blend colors in an image’s background, and I often use that technique to remove blobs of color then fade them out-of-sight using Nik Collection’s Darken/Lighten Center filter. This approach works well in many cases, but its effectiveness is limited when blurred background elements are a blend of shadowy dark greens, reds, or grays; or when color crosses over the borders of the main subject. The first two before images above show that prominently: the center-right and center-left portions have some green and reddish swatches that are behind the pair of small leaves in the middle, that are difficult to alter using spot-removal since they touch the edges of the leaves.
In another earlier post — Before and After: Yellow and Green (and Lightroom Radial Filters) — I described learning to use Lightroom’s radial filters, which I continued to experiment with for these lantana photos. With both radial and graduated filters in Lightroom, you can use brushes to extend (or reduce) the coverage of the filter’s effects. The first few times I tried using brushes, I found the experience very frustrating (and time-consuming); but — like most of Lightroom’s advanced magic — working with brushes got easier with practice. I also attended a B&H Event Space tutorial by photographer Clifford Pickett — Advanced Techniques for Post-Processing Your Images in Adobe Lightroom — and watched how effortlessly he used brushes to define image areas for adjustment. Seeing someone else use Lightroom’s brushes showed me that I was trying too hard to draw a precise area around the image’s main subject, that mistakes were easy to correct, and that I could rely on Lightroom to adequately mask the background area without intruding on the foreground.
Here’s how masking looked for the third image above. The circle with the pin in the lower left shows the area I initially selected for adjustment by drawing a radial filter over the shadowy leaf in the original. I then used the brush to “paint” the rest of the background (it’s a lot like using a crayon in a coloring book!) until most of the background behind the leaves was filled in with the mask (shown as bright green below).
The Auto Mask setting kept the brushes from intruding on the four leaves and tiny flower buds that I didn’t want adjusted. After a bit of practice and slobbering on the photo, I figured out that — instead of trying to trace around the leaves — Auto Mask worked best if I dragged the brush perpendicular to the leaves’ edges until the masking looked like it had been painted behind the leaves. The mouse movements reminded me a bit of painting walls in my house …. where I had to be careful (but not TOO careful) to roll paint over masking tape but not so much that it might seep through.
With the area masked, I then worked down this panel, adjusting Exposure, Contrast, Highlights, Shadows, Whites, and Blacks until the background shifted fully to black. It’s not always necessary to adjust all six settings; but in this case, I did that since there were some subtle greens and white or gray pixels behind the leaves. Adjusting Texture, Clarity, Sharpness, and Noise helped “smooth out” the pixels so that artifacts didn’t appear when I passed the image from Lightroom to the Nik Collection for additional changes, or when I viewed the images at larger sizes or on devices (such as an iPad) that use different color spaces than my computer monitor.
Here are the first fifteen Landmark Citrus Lantana images, showing the flower buds as they’re just starting to appear. The symmetry of the emerging bud is typical of most lantana varieties, but the Citrus color variations are unique among the four kinds of lantana in my garden. The flowers appear even at this early stage to have multicolored blends of magenta, purple, red, yellow, and orange that will transition to dominant shades of lemon-yellow and fruity orange as the buds grow. You’ll have to wait for the second gallery to see that transition…. 🙂
And excellent discussion and exploration, as usual. It also works as a casual tutorial. As you know, I use DxO, but the concepts are the same and the procedures are quite similar. More recently I have gone away from having a pure black background and have gone to selectively allowing just a vague hint of some of the out-of-focus context to remain. Sometimes.
Thank you! I’m glad to have gotten comfortable with this approach using radial filters, as it gives me some additional choices. I often (obviously) like some background elements too … but now I know that if I want to get rid of them, I can! Good times!