Before and After: Exposing Hidden Autumn


“Photographs led me to cameras, and over the years the camera became an object I could think with. I could think about light and shadow, about composing the frame, and about what it meant to live in a certain way, to make decisions at many levels, and to document the world.” — from the essay “Salvaged Photographs” by Glorianna Davenport in Evocative Objects: Things We Think With, edited by Sherry Turkle

“Nobody can commit photography alone.” — from Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man by Marshall McLuhan


One of the reasons I’ve always liked photography – and why I’m often drawn to closeup or macro photography – is that viewing the world through a camera creates an opportunity to focus on sights that might otherwise remain unseen. Looking through the camera restricts my view to what fits within the frame, letting distractions fall away, and that remains true if I zoom in or out, or pan horizontally or vertically: what I see through the lens becomes what I choose to see at that moment, and most of what’s outside the frame slides from awareness as I make those choices. I might add to or subtract from that view by manipulating the camera or the lens; but when I take the photo, I’ve selected something that’s captured my interest, or struck me as aesthetically pleasing, or has frozen an instant of time that seems to matter subjectively.

After taking the shots, what I do with them now includes a set of additional (and for me, recently learned) choices that give me the chance to further refine the images toward this deceptively simple idea: this is what I saw and this is what I want to show you.

I assembled the gallery of images below from those I’ve been working on for my Flickr Reboot project; they were all taken at Point Au Roche Interpretive Center or near the city of Plattsburgh in northern New York. While I’ve been posting quite a few similar images (see Autumn Close Up: A Photo Gallery), I set these aside for a couple of reasons. First, as I was reviewing my archived photos, I had flagged every one of these (and quite a few others) to be deleted. Second, I didn’t actually delete any of them and decided to take another look once I got more experience with the tools I was learning, to see what I might do with them even though I originally thought they should be deleted. Other than being on the chopping block for a while, these images had something else in common: they were all hidden bits of autumn, subjects tucked away behind tree trunks, barely visible among shrubs, or nearly buried under fallen logs. Because they were all so hidden – and it was an overcast day as well – the exposures were pretty poor and most of the original images were very dark. I remember crawling on the ground at times to get some of these shots and was disappointed that they ended out being so badly exposed, but I kept them anyway from some vague notion that one day I would figure out what, if anything, to do with them.

With the help of new skills, I wanted to find out if I could recover each of these well enough to create an acceptable image, and simultaneously learn more about how to think about image post-processing. It can be quite a challenge to convey the thought process involved in work like this – words fail and the images help resolve the ambiguity – yet here are a few things, technically and otherwise, that I think I’ve learned:

  • There are limitations to what you can do with an image that is out of focus and most of the tools emphasize rather than reduce the out-of-focus condition. Yet still, if the composition and content of the image seem to matter, those tools that intentionally render the image with special effects (blur, softening, and grain, for example) may help you produce something that is creatively satisfying.
  • Digital cameras capture so much detail that even an under-exposed image may have embedded surprises hidden in the dark. One technique I use often is to over-adjust the image in Lightroom (setting exposure, contrast, highlights, and shadows to an upper or lower extreme) to get a look at what I might easily miss, then dial back the settings to something more subtle.
  • Composition and content rule. Spot removal helps eliminate distractions and shift a viewer’s focus to key elements of the image. And I’ve also seen how replacement of foreground elements (for example, removing a stray branch or stem of grass that seems to intrude on the frame) or blending colors in background elements to improve their consistency, both change the image to help direct the eye toward the intended subject. Changes like this also reduce the amount of information a viewer’s mind has to comprehend when looking at the image, something I think is especially appropriate for closeup or macro shots.
  • Knowing what options you will have in post-processing changes how you compose on a photo shoot. But that can be a double-edged sword and it’s a good idea to take the best image you can, regardless of what you might do with it later. It’s better, for me anyway, to think of post-processing as a way to enhance a vision or point-of-view on what I’m trying to convey, rather than assume I’ll be fixing things I did poorly while toting around the camera. This isn’t an argument against post-processing; it’s recognition that learning those techniques is as important as understanding the camera’s settings and buttons, and that the creative arc of photography extends through all the technology and tools you might use to produce your images.
  • The first gallery below includes my final versions of these seventeen images. The second gallery shows the before and after versions of each one, where hopefully you can see by comparison how I’ve used some of the ideas described above.

    More soon; thanks for reading and taking a look!



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    Atlanta Botanical Garden Views (Set 3 of 3)

    The gallery below contains the third of three sets of photos from the Atlanta Botanical Garden that I’ve completed for my Flickr Reboot project  — using Lightroom and the Nik Collection by DxO.

    The first set in this series is here: Atlanta Botanical Garden Views (Set 1 of 3); and the second set is here: Atlanta Botanical Garden Views (Set 2 of 3).

    Other photos from the Garden are here: Atlanta Botanical Garden category. The work I’ve been doing on my photography archives is documented here: Flickr Reboot.

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

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    Atlanta Botanical Garden Views (Set 2 of 3)

    The gallery below contains the second of three sets of photos from the Atlanta Botanical Garden that I’ve completed for my Flickr Reboot project  — using Lightroom and the Nik Collection by DxO.

    The first set in this series is here: Atlanta Botanical Garden Views (Set 1 of 3).

    Other photos from the Garden are here: Atlanta Botanical Garden category. The work I’ve been doing to jazz-up my photography archives is documented here: Flickr Reboot.

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

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    Atlanta Botanical Garden Views (Set 1 of 3)

    Hello! Below is a gallery containing the first of three sets of photos from the Atlanta Botanical Garden that I’ve completed for my Flickr Reboot project  — using Lightroom and the Nik Collection by DxO.

    Other photos from the Garden are here: Atlanta Botanical Garden category. The work I’ve been doing to reprocess millions and billions of photos (possible exaggeration!) from my photography archives is documented here: Flickr Reboot.

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

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    Before and After: Flaming Feathers

    I think it’s possible that flamingos may have lost some of their social standing over the years — in North America at least — as a result of their objectification as plastic lawn ornaments and even, occasionally, as Christmas decorations. Their presence at the entrance of many zoos — and their ubiquity as unnatural icons on many lawns (not mine!) — made me feel like they were sort of a zoo-cliche and that I might just discard their photos from my collection. But then I thought: ah, well, it’s not the birds’ fault, is it? — and decided to run a few pictures I had from Zoo Atlanta through my Lightroom and Nik Collection workflow to see how they came out. After a bit of trial and error to get the colors right, I ended out with a “look” to the photos that I liked: one that brought out the detail and thickness of their feathers, emphasized the contrasts between pink, orange, and red on their bodies, and rendered them almost as pretty as Fancy Beasts and Snakes on a Blog.

    With one exception, Lightroom adjustments for these photos were pretty standard as I felt like I would want to do most of the color and contrast adjustments using the Nik Collection Color Efex filters. So other than basic exposure adjustments and sharpening, I decided to remove most of the shedded feathers scattered throughout the backgrounds or in the water as they were distracting to my eye, and I knew the filters would emphasize them and make them even more obvious. Lightroom spot removal to the rescue! Though I’d hate to calculate how much time I spent removing tiny clumps of feathers from each of these images, it was true that they acted like little light-catchers in the Color Efex filters — as I learned after missing some and having to continue the spot-removal effort even after I thought the photos were already done.

    Among other things, the Nik Collection filters excel at enhancing colors, creating contrast improvements, and correcting color cast. In the Before and After gallery (scroll down a bit), the third picture in the second row shows a substantial color cast, where the yellow and brown from the background permeate the whole image, likely because of sunlight throwing a reflection across the scene. The fourth picture in that row shows how it looks after correction, where the yellow/brown is gone and the original colors of the bird and rocks have been restored. The filters I used to create a relatively consistent look across these photos were: White Neutralizer (which corrects some of the color cast and emphasizes whites); Brilliance/Warmth (which adds saturation to the colors and also helps separate background and foreground elements); and Pro Contrast (which completes the color cast correction and enhances contrast throughout the photo). For some of the photos, I also used Darken/Lighten Center to add brightness and create a focal point in the picture, to draw the viewer’s eye from the background to the main subject. The effects of this filter are most evident in the last four photos in the Before and After gallery below.

    Here are the final versions of the twelve flamingo images; select the first one to see larger sizes.


    If you would like to see how the images looked before and after the processing I described above, select the first image then page through the slideshow:

    Thanks for reading and taking a look!

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