"Pay attention to the world." -- Susan Sontag
 

Late Summer Color: Mary Ann Lantana (Gallery 1 of 3)

It seems hard to believe, but here in the U.S. southeast the days are already shortening, as we move from summer toward a fall that’s not too far away. Of the four varieties of lantana on my property, Mary Ann Lantana is the most prolific bloomer; it continues to add new flowers through late August and well into September (sometimes even October!). After that, I cut it back — almost to the ground — to get it ready for cooler weather so it can rest over the winter.

For these photos, I used the same post-processing approach that I described for images of my Landmark Citrus Lantana (see Making Pictures: Landmark Citrus Lantana (Gallery 1 of 3), relying heavily on Lightroom’s radial filters and adjustment brushes to emphasize the blooms and, in some cases, darken or eliminate backgrounds. Here are before-and-after versions of four of the eleven photos, those that I transformed the most. The last one’s my favorite!

Funny thing happened as I was assembling this blog post: I realized that I had written several times about my “Miss Huff” Lantana — but as it turns out, I don’t have Miss Huff, I’ve got Mary Ann. They’re very different; see here versus here. Several blog posts, tags, and brain cells have been corrected…. 🙂

Below is the first set of Mary Ann Lantana images. Thanks for taking a look!

Making Pictures: Landmark Citrus Lantana (Gallery 3 of 3)

From my third gallery of Landmark Citrus Lantana, here are the before-and after-images of four of the most transformed photos. Page down for the full gallery of seventeen images.

Here are my final Landmark Citrus Lantana images. The previous galleries are: Making Pictures: Landmark Citrus Lantana (Gallery 1 of 3), where I describe how I processed the photos; and Making Pictures: Landmark Citrus Lantana (Gallery 2 of 3).

Thanks for taking a look!

Making Pictures: Landmark Citrus Lantana (Gallery 2 of 3)

From my second gallery of Landmark Citrus Lantana, here are the before-and after-images of four photos that I transformed using the same electronic sorcery I described in the previous post, Making Pictures: Landmark Citrus Lantana (Gallery 1 of 3):

It’s been a few weeks since I took the photos and completed the first round of adjustments … so I didn’t realized how much I’d altered them until I reset all the changes made to the originals. The last of these four pairs above, especially, show a photo that once upon a time I would have considered unusable, since it was so over-exposed. Yet with some highlight, texture, contrast, and color adjustments — along with using radial filters to remove the background — I ended out with a pretty decent close-up image of that brightly colored bloom. If you would like to see the four before-and-after versions in larger sizes, select the first image above to begin a slideshow.

Here are the second fifteen Landmark Citrus Lantana images, showing the flower buds a few days after they first appeared. With these images, it’s easy to see how the plant earned its “citrus” name: the larger flowers show how magenta, purple, red, yellow, and orange transition to lemon-yellow and orange-orange as they grow up.

Thanks for taking a look!

Making Pictures: Landmark Citrus Lantana (Gallery 1 of 3)

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 PickettAdvanced 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.

With Auto Mask set on, Lightroom makes it easy to select background elements for adjustment. The Feather and Flow settings enable speedy but controllable brush movements with the mouse.

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…. 🙂

Lily of the Nile (Baby Pete): Gallery 1 of 2

Several times each week during the month of May, I took a series of photos of a lily that I added to my garden in April, as a way of chronicling its growth. It’s a variation of Lily of the Nile, a hardy plant that builds clusters of blooms on tall green stems, and so far has produced about a dozen such clusters since I got it. I don’t know why it’s called “Baby Pete” — but I assume someone somewhere had a good reason for that.

According to Wikipedia, a Lily of the Nile may live 75 years. Which means! When I’m in my 120s, I’ll still be taking pictures of this plant — by then most likely with my eyeball camera and macro contact lens, followed by post-processing with Adobe Lightroom sensors embedded in my fingers, then direct uploading from my networked brain stem. Good times!

No special notes to provide about how I processed these photos. I made use of radial filters as I described in Before and After: Yellow and Green (and Lightroom Radial Filters) then passed each one through Nik Collection’s Color Efex Pro, mostly to remove color cast and improve contrast. This first gallery shows the plant up to the point where the flowers were just starting to stretch open; in the next gallery, I’ll show the clusters in bloom.

I’m working on the companion piece to Before and After: Yellow and Green (and Lightroom Radial Filters) where I’ll write about how I used Lightroom’s mysterious Tone Curve panel, and add my contribution to the general confusion on the web about what this function actually does. I’m also working on 134 photos of the four kinds of Lantana in my garden, the images that I kept after culling about six hundred that I took of those plants.

134 photos! Argh! This may take some time….

Thanks for reading and taking a look!

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