Before and After: Fun with Big Rocks

At the base of Whiteface Mountain in northern New York, on the road to Whiteface Mountain Ski Resort, just before you cross a bridge over the Ausable River and where your eyes widen to take in the size of the mountain close up … there is a large dirt and gravel parking lot. If you park your car and walk up the mountain road, you just might miss the forest opposite the lot: it’s hidden behind rows of birch trees and ferns that have gathered in the sunlight and grown right up to the left edge of the road.

After you step beyond the birch tree gateway and through the knee-high valley of ferns, your feet land in a blanket of soft needles discarded by pine trees that have been growing and shedding for decades. Your sense of hearing is instantly altered: the pine needles absorb and mute sound from the road and river nearby just as if you’d walked through a doorway and closed the door behind you. Your footsteps make no sound. Bird-call that you didn’t hear just a few minutes earlier is suddenly everywhere, accompanied by the rhythm of a breeze fluttering back and forth over the landscape.

Inside this forest, many of the birch trees that likely grew in before the pines took over have become degenerating deadfall, scattered across the forest floor or leaning against the rocks, and the rocks … well, they’re just enormous. You’d need a ladder to climb onto most of them; their surface textures range from smooth but finely pitted to rough like sandpaper to something that feels like it was spit from a volcano — but was more likely created by snow and ice and the slow roll of glaciers that molded the Adirondack Mountains. The rocks with flattened tops have given life to their own miniature forests, where ferns, small shrubs, and even tiny trees have taken root.

Some of the pine trees have grown so close to the rocks that the rock surface and the tree trunk are barely separated: you couldn’t fit your hand in the space between the two. That’s the case with this blue-green monster that blocks your view of the river, poised as it is just a few feet from the cliffs that dive about thirty feet almost straight down. It’s striking that rocks this large are so far above the river, that they remained on higher ground while the river carved and deepened its path.

You wonder about the tension between the rock and the tree if the rock shifts and as the tree continues to grow, then you walk around them both to the clifftop and views of the boulders in the river below. The first few steps feel pretty comfortable; the second ones get your legs a little rubbery as the speed of the water flow seems to increase; then you’re just glad you brought a zoom lens.

After a few shots, you reel the zoom back in, step back into the quiet of the forest, make your way back to the parking lot, and regret that you have to leave, because:

Between every two pine trees there is a door leading to a new way of life. — John Muir


If you got this far, thanks for reading and taking a look! These photos are among the landscape images I’m reworking; more about that project here: Flickr Reboot. If you would like to see before and after versions of the images that I processed for this post (including two bonus boulders not shown above), select the first photo below to begin a slideshow.

Before and After: Swamp Things

There are two galleries below: the first includes a set of images from a woodland swamp in northern New York, and the second contains the before and after versions of the same images, showing the differences between the original and final versions processed with Lightroom and the Nik Collection.

For the first two images, I tried to emphasize the detail of the beaver cuts on the tree trunks, while still conveying the aged, worn smoothness of those cuts. My approach to the third image was to highlight the pair of trunks topped with moss by adding green saturation and increasing focus and lighting on the trunks to separate them from the background.

With the wider angle images of the swamp, I started by treating them as low-key photographs by significantly darkening the backgrounds. As you can probably imagine from looking at the before images in the second gallery, the gray in the backgrounds — once darkened — would give the scene a heavily shaded, foreboding appearance. Not a bad look overall, and I may still do a set like that. But then I thought it might be interesting to try something else: convert the images from scary-swamp to happy-swamp by intensifying the colors and creating high contrast between the water (and the thick, green algae on the water’s surface) and the twisted deadfall throughout the scenes. The result, I think, suggests a greater sense of standing at the edge of the swamp, with the eye tracking from the greens in each foreground to the depths of the swamp and the trees in the backgrounds. The intensified saturation and contrast also brings out many more colors present in the images that weren’t evident in the original photographs.

I included the last four images from the same area just because I liked them. What photographer can resist a colorful clump of fungus (with a big bug in the middle!), some bright red leaves, and an old Ford truck partly buried in the woods?

Select the first image below to begin a slideshow, then skip to the second gallery if you would like to compare the before and after images.

Orchids Collection (Set 4 of 4)

The gallery below contains the fourth (and final!) set of orchid photos I’ve completed for my Flickr Reboot project  — using Lightroom and the Nik Collection by DxO to develop and enhance originals taken at the Atlanta Botanical Garden.

I’ve been documenting the project and my workflow using this category: Flickr Reboot.

The previous sets of orchid photos for this project are here:

Orchids Collection (Set 1 of 4)

Orchids Collection (Set 2 of 4)

Orchids Collection (Set 3 of 4)

So what’s next?

I figured out a slightly awkward way to extract file names from Flickr albums, put them in a document to create a text list, then copy and paste the list into Lightroom to filter my photo library. By doing that, I found all 1200 original images and have them organized in Lightroom Collections which I’m consolidating by subject, culling to remove images that I don’t want to rework, and adding some newer photos I took but never processed or posted anywhere. To keep the project interesting, I think I’ll take on subjects of a different kind: photos of Oakland Cemetery (because of the art and architecture of the site, the research I’ve done on its history, and the stories I can tell) or Zoo Atlanta (because … animals!), so I’m going to jazz up a couple dozen examples from these two subjects then decide which one to dive into. Stay Tuned!

Select the first image to begin a slideshow …. thanks!

Orchids Collection (Set 3 of 4)

The gallery below contains the third set of orchid photos I’ve completed for my Flickr Reboot project  — using Lightroom and the Nik Collection by DxO to develop and enhance originals taken at the Atlanta Botanical Garden.

I’ve been documenting the project and my workflow using this category: Flickr Reboot.

The first set of orchid photos for this project is here: Orchids Collection (Set 1 of 4). The second set is here: Orchids Collection (Set 2 of 4).

Many of the photos in this set (and the fourth and final set I’ll post tomorrow) were taken in lower lighting than those in the previous two sets. I was able to compensate for the darker conditions (and additional grain in the photos) by softening and darkening the background with contrast filters in the Nik Collection Color Efex Pro tool, then increasing center brightness to emphasize the flowers as focal points. As a last step, I used Sharpener Pro — selecting specific sections of each flower using control points available in all the Nik tools — to accentuate detail.

Select the first image to begin a slideshow …. thanks!

Orchids Collection (Set 2 of 4)

The gallery below contains the second set of orchid photos I’ve completed for my Flickr Reboot project  — using Lightroom and the Nik Collection by DxO to develop and enhance originals taken at the Atlanta Botanical Garden.

I’ve been documenting the project and my workflow using this category: Flickr Reboot.

The previous set of orchid photos for this project is here: Orchids Collection (Set 1 of 4).

Select the first image to begin a slideshow …. thanks!

Orchids Collection (Set 1 of 4)

Hello! Below is a gallery containing the first set of orchid photos I’ve completed for my Flickr Reboot project  — using Lightroom and the Nik Collection by DxO to develop and enhance originals taken at the Atlanta Botanical Garden over several years. I’m holding off on making a decision about reloading the photos to Flickr or hosting them somewhere else until I’ve finished several sets of different subjects, so I thought I would post what I’ve done so far here: the first 20 — of 80 — today and the rest throughout the week in three more blog posts.

The workflow to get through the all 80 images remained similar to what I described in this post: Before and After: Flickr Reboot – Orchids, using mostly the same filters from the Nik Collection, though varying settings on individual filters depending on the color and focus characteristics of the original images. There are certainly some cases where I’m “pushing the pixels” quite a bit, especially since the original photos were taken as jpeg images rather than RAW, and sometimes in low light conditions. Still … I’m pretty satisfied with the results, and I hope you enjoy looking at them as much as I enjoyed jazzing them up.

I’ve added a Flickr Reboot category to this site, updated past posts about the project with this category, and will use it as I continue to work through the 1200 images. Progress is being made!

Select the first image to begin a slideshow …. thanks!