Before and After: Flickr Reboot Edition

I have about 1200 photos on Flickr, distributed in 32 albums, that have been on the site for between five and ten years. Given all the things I’ve been learning about Lightroom, workflows, and the Nik Collection over the past few months, I look at them and … and, what? It’s not that I don’t like them now (although that’s true in some cases) and I’m not overly concerned about flaws – technical or otherwise – in the photos, but I see them differently because I feel like they could be so much better. I’ve had this idea stuck in my head over the past few days that I might like to pull them all down, re-process each one, and either replace them on Flickr or put them somewhere else. I no longer have any of the original adjustments I made, but do have all the images, so would be “starting from scratch” with each one.

When I learned about the photography site SmugMug buying Flickr earlier this year, I had no idea what SmugMug was, other than that I had heard of it occasionally but hadn’t looked into it. That acquisition got my attention, so I learned a little more about SmugMug and attended several webinars a few months ago, tutorials about how to set up a site on SmugMug, customize it, and showcase photography. Like Flickr, SmugMug features photographers at all levels of experience, and though I don’t yet have an account, I’ve explored it enough to feel like it’s similar to Flickr from a customer profile perspective, in terms of photo-sharing and engagement, and in terms of content, with a wide variety of advanced capabilities you can use in the future. There were two things I learned that I liked a lot: the way you can organize photos and treat them as public or private galleries; and the ability to create and customize your own site by building it largely from drag-and-drop content blocks (conceptually similar to the WordPress Gutenberg editor that will become available later this year). It’s fair to say that those webinars influenced me to think about my older work on Flickr and what, if anything, I might want to do with it.

In my former life as an IT Business Analyst, I was often involved in working with teams to define new projects, estimate effort, and develop timelines, so I tend to think of activities like this in project management terms. If I play around with the Flickr reboot idea from that point of view, it looks something like this:

  • Starting with 1200 photos to rework, my first assumption is that I’ll apply the 80/20 rule and eliminate 20% of the images for one reason or another, most likely for insufficient detail, composition I don’t like, or lack of focus that can’t be corrected. So I’ll end out with 960 photos to rework rather than 1200.
  • I estimate I’ll spend less than an hour on each one, with some taking just a few minutes and some taking longer because I decide to do something more creative with certain ones. So I’ll estimate 30 minutes per photo, or 480 hours to get through them all.
  • There’s overhead to consider, mostly around finding the photos in Lightroom, setting up collections or sets to keep the work organized, and figuring out the best way to store them before uploading. I’ll add 10% for overhead to the 480 hours, which gets me to 528 hours.
  • Since I haven’t decided whether to put them back on Flickr or do something else, let’s add another 10% for uploading somewhere, so now we’re at 580 hours. Because I’m not sure if 50-60 hours is enough time to upload 960 photos, I’ll include some buffer at the end for this variable.
  • I’ll add another 10% for things I’ll need to learn along the way – including the probability that I would move the photos to SmugMug and have to learn how to set up a site – and a little bit of buffer, so now we’re at 638 hours. Round numbers are nice, so let’s go with 640 hours.
  • Ah, well, now we’ve got ourselves a 640-hour project. If I spent the equivalent of five “workdays” – 40 hours a week – on this, it would take four months from start-to-finish. But that’s not realistic, mostly because I wouldn’t want to do it. Let’s say instead that I’ll spend no more than two days a week, or 16 hours, which makes the duration 40 weeks, or 10 months … meaning that if I started now, I wouldn’t finish until sometime in the middle of 2019. Yikes!

    The value of doing this – at least, the way I think about it – is the learning experience itself: committing to re-processing nearly a thousand photos with content that I’m familiar with that has personal meaning to me surely will help me grow my skills. I would also likely tell a few blog-post stories about them along the way – especially about those I took when I was working on getting my history degree – and would want to write about what I learn as the work progresses.

    There is no real downside, other than the time it would take that couldn’t be used for something else – like taking new photos! One thing I needed to consider was whether or not I’d find that the results were worth the time I invested, so I’ve experimented with ten of the photos that are on Flickr now to see what I might come up with. The experiment results are shown below – before and after versions of the ten I selected. The only thing I did to both the before and after versions was apply the same cropping so they’re easier to compare. I don’t necessarily think the after versions are final, but I was really surprised to see what a big difference I could make with a few adjustments to each photo.

    Thanks for reading and taking a look … and Stay Tuned!

    School Zone: One Room Schoolhouse in Northern New York

    Once upon a time, I was driving my camera around in a rental car near Peru, New York, when I came across this bright red building, just off the roadside in a field all by itself. As you can see from the photos, storms were moving in, and I had just enough time to snap a dozen pictures before it started raining. It wasn’t until later that I realized I hadn’t made note of the building’s location (and the camera I had at the time didn’t have GPS capabilities), and on subsequent trips, I couldn’t find it. I assumed it was a one-room school, but didn’t know if the “School Zone” sign near the front door meant it it really was a one-room school, or someone had just nailed a sign to the wall of an old storage shed.

    I recently learned that it is, indeed, a one-room school and was registered with the National Register of Historic Places as the Lyon Street School in 2013. The school is located at the intersection of Lyons Road and Rock Road, about five miles from Peru. The building is considered an example of late American Victorian architecture, with an estimated construction date of 1880 and an in-service date through the 1930s. The National Register of Historic Places Registration Form  (pdf) includes a great description of the school’s construction, has a couple of photos of the interior, and reveals a lot about how the building was used. It reads, in part:


    The school is of light wood frame construction and is clad with wood clapboard siding attached with wire nails; the siding shows signs of weathering and age-related wear. The foundation is random laid field stone which is in fair condition…. 

    The gabled roof with overhanging eaves is covered with corrugated metal which is rusted throughout and buckling in areas. The metal was laid over the remnants of an earlier wood shingle roof. An open, hip-roofed belfry sits on the ridge at the northern end; the bell is accounted for but not presently on site…. The six-horizontal-panel door has a transom light over it, and there is a round window in the gable field that has been boarded over. All openings are framed by flat trim which was also employed under the cornice and on the corner boards….

    A bank of windows is centered on each side elevation of the building, directly under the eaves. Each bank consists of five windows; the three central units are square-shaped and have nine-pane fixed sash, while the outer windows are full size and are fitted with nine-over-nine double hung sash. The two lower sash on the east elevation have been damaged and replaced by larger sash which is ill fitting. A small coal hatch, now in very poor condition, is located on the west elevation, north of the windows and approximately five feet off the ground.

    The interior of the school is largely given over to one large room, the classroom. Upon entering the building from the north facade, there is a small, roughly finished room to the right. This room was used to store coal for the stove and corresponds with the hatch on the west elevation…. To the left is a finished wall that makes up one side of a cloak room, which is accessed from the classroom. Continuing through the hall there is another framed entry that opens into the classroom. The walls and ceiling of the classroom and cloak room are finished in bead-board which has been painted over and partially stripped in areas. On the walls it runs vertically up to a chair rail that encircles the room at the height of the bottom of the larger windows; above that it runs horizontally. The window casings are formed of grooved millwork, with rosettes in the corners. At the south end of the classroom there are two voids, presumably where blackboards once hung….


    In the same pdf document, there is also a short summary of the historical significance of one-room schools:

    At the start of the 20th century there were over 200,000 one-room schools nationwide. Of those, it is likely that fewer than 10,000 presently remain. While some have been restored, many others exist in varying states of decay or alteration. The Lyon Street School is fortunately among those that remain largely intact and is a representative example of part of New York and American history that is rapidly fading.

    The Lyon Street School is one of the few still standing in northern New York that is in good enough condition to allow for repairs. In The Peru Gazette, a local community newspaper, there are several articles describing ongoing reconstruction of the building, certainly enabled by its registration as a historic site, and some photos of the restoration of the belfry, the transom, and the front door.

    My photos are nearly a decade old, hiding away in my archive folders, but I always wanted to do something with them and learn more about the building. The images below are largely unprocessed, though I did try to enhance some of the detail, especially detail that is reflected in the building’s description I quoted above. Maybe these pictures are now part of its history.

    Select the first image to see larger versions in a slideshow; and, as always, thanks for reading and taking a look!

    Wordless Wednesday: Red, White, and Blue

    Before and After: Blue Window

    I was browsing through some old photos on my computer the other day, and came across this one that I took about a half-block from Oakland Cemetery a few years ago. The building shown in the photo has since been demolished, but I remembered taking the shot because I liked the color of the boards covering the window and the suggestion of similar colors in the siding. I never did anything with the photo, just kept it, but thought it would be fun to see what I could come up with by experimenting some more with Adobe Lightroom and with the Nik Collection that I downloaded last week.  Here is the original, unedited photo:

    My first step was to use the Transform panel in Lightroom to shift the photo to a perpendicular perspective, so that it appears you are now looking straight toward the window rather than at the angle shown in the original. The transformation also resulted in a segmenting the photo almost equally into three distinct elements: the siding to the left, the window in the center, and the leaves coming in from the right side and partially covering the window.

    At this point, in Lightroom, I made some exposure adjustments to brighten the image overall, to deepen the contrast, and to increase color saturation on the colors in the siding and on the window. The focus on the leaves was not great, so I adjusted sharpness, clarity, and noise reduction to try and repair some of that, but it didn’t really help. Even though the siding and window boards are clear with reasonably good detail, the fact that the leaves were originally out of focus is still very apparent. But sometimes you gotta work with what you’ve got, and see where you end out when you end out there.

    I used this image to become more familiar with different capabilities in the Nik Collection filters, but didn’t keep close track of each incremental adjustment. However, the key changes that got me to the result shown below were these:

    • Adding structure to create additional detail in the siding on the left third of the photo, which also brought out the scraggly vine running up the wall;
    • Using the Remove Color Cast filter to eliminate cyan color from the photo, which shifted the siding colors to blue/gray, purple, and magenta and the window boards from a washed-out light cyan/blue tone to a deeper blue;
    • Using the Remove Color Cast filter to remove most yellow color from the photo, which shifted the leaves on the right side into a richer and more consistent green color rather than a yellow/green blend;
    • Adding the Classical Soft Focus filter primarily over the leaves and slightly over the window boards to reduce the impression that the leaves were out of focus, and create a soft transition from the leaves to the window boards.

    With these adjustments done, I returned to Lightroom and added saturation to purple and magenta colors for the siding and blue for the door, to emphasize three individual color panels in the final image. Here’s where I stopped, with this substantially different representation of the original photo. Click the image to see a larger version.

    To see the progression as a slideshow from the original unedited image to the stylized version shown above, click on the first photo below:

    Thanks for reading and taking a look!

    Wordless Wednesday: Four Snake Eyes

    Before and After: Angels and Lilies

    The four photos I have experimented with in this post are from Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta. Here I take two passes at each of the original photos, the first to make initial improvements using Adobe Lightroom, and the second to have my first experience with a set of plugins that can be used to apply creative effects to images, described below.

    In Lightroom, I emphasized the angel statue by working on the background first: reducing exposure, clarity, and sharpness using graduated filters; and reducing saturation in some of the background colors. I then added a little light and a bit of sharpening to the angel faces using a radial filter. Removing spots followed that and was quite a challenge in these photos; but by zooming into sections of each image, I could eventually differentiate spots of debris from texture in the statue’s plaster, enabling me to remove those that created bumpy shadows or were a distraction to my eye. Lightroom does an awesome job with spot removal, and even though it took a while, the effort did seem to improve the photos while retaining most of the detailed texture of the statue — without damaging the structural smoothness of the angel, her wings, or her gown. As the last step, I adjusted overall sharpness then removed a final few spots that only popped out at the higher sharpness level. I applied similar effects to the single photo of the lilies; though it was the foreground that I de-emphasized since the flowers are set toward the back.

    Click the first image to begin a slideshow showing the original, unprocessed images followed by the Lightroom edits described above.

    I’ve been wanting to learn more about the Nik Collection 2018 plugins for Lightroom and Photoshop for a while now, ever since I read about them here: Bluebrightly Wanderings and Observations — so yesterday I watched these two YouTube videos about the software. The first one provides an introduction to the seven tools in the collection, and the second a more detailed overview and demonstration of the individual plugins:

    Nik Collection Plugins Review

    Introduction to the Nik Collection

    There are an enormous number of functions in the collection, and I’ve barely scratched at the surface, but the two videos gave me an idea of the workflow for using it and enough information to get me started, so I downloaded a 30-day trial of the plugins from the DxO website, here: Download the New Nik Collection by DxO.

    Given their relative simplicity, the angel statue photos seemed like good candidates for this experiment. To produce the after-results in the slideshow below, I applied several filters to one of the images, including a soft focus filter, a darkening filter, and a whitening filter. One of the powerful features of this software is that you can apply the filters to the entire image, then pick “control points” to reduce or eliminate the filter effects selectively from parts of the photo. In this case, I applied the soft focus filter to the whole image, then removed it from the angel’s face. The effect, of course, should be to draw your eye to the face as the intended focal point of the image, while further de-emphasizing the background yet still keeping it as part of the character of the photo. Once I was satisfied with one photo, I used the plugin’s “save recipe” function — which saves all the filters and settings — then applied the recipe to the other photos in this set.

    Select the first image below to compare the images as edited in Lightroom with the effects I applied using the Nik Collection plugins:

    The effects, of course, create a completely different kind of image, and the creative options provided by the collection seem to be pretty close to endless. I only used three or four of about 60 effects available … in only one of the seven plugins. Select the image below to see larger versions of the end result (or, the end result for now until I learn more!)

    Thanks for reading and taking a look!

    Secrets Inside a Grapevine

    Earlier this week, on a hot and sunny morning, I wanted to find out what I would see if I stuck my head and my macro lens into the interior of a Catawba Grapevine, behind the broad leaves and long stems twisted throughout an old iron obelisk trellis in one corner of my garden. The Catawba Grapevine is one of two I planted years ago as an experiment; the other is a Concord Grapevine, growing in a four-foot tall ceramic pot, winding up and through the bars of a fan-shaped trellis. Neither one produces grapes any more, but the Catawba has been returning every year for four years, and the Concord has grown back each spring and summer for eight years. In their first couple of years they both produced grapes, though the grapes never matured beyond the size of a pea: birds loved the tiny grapes and it was common for me to see a flurry of wings and beaks jabbing at the grape clusters until they were picked clean.

    Both vines continue to grow and develop new leaves, stems, and tendrils until cooler fall weather sets in, when the leaves turn pale yellow, light orange, then brown as they begin to fall off. I looked for some of the tinier subjects to photograph; the photos below show some of the emerging leaves and the lines and curves of the tendrils as they search for places to attach. Sunlight, while very bright when I took these pictures, was filtered through the leaves, caused some harshness and clipping that I adjusted out of the photos as much as possible. At the same time, the sunlight also created some interesting background shapes and colors. Where you see a lot of white in the new leaves, that’s because they’re white on the bottom and shades of green and yellow on the top side.

    The tendrils were a challenge to photograph, as the slightest breeze pushed them out of focus, and I’ll likely make another attempt at similar shots on a calmer day. The white clipping on the last photo was driving me crazy: I kept trying to de-emphasize it but couldn’t get it right without creating distracting artifacts in the image. I ended out emphasizing it instead by blurring and darkening the background, so it looks like a little flame instead of a … flameout.

    These tendrils seem delicate but in reality are quite strong. The Catawba attaches itself tightly to the iron bars, and frequently latches onto the branches of Chinese fringe flower bushes that are growing nearby. I always thought it was just wind, coincidence, and a bit of stickiness that prompted the tendrils to attach to something, but I learned while researching this article that the plant follows a chemical and physiological process called thigmotropism to seek out and hook to attachment points. The tendrils can discriminate between the plant itself and other attachment points, favoring external attachments over self-attachment. This process can occur quickly: according to The Secret Life of Plants by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird:

    “When the tendril … finds a perch, within twenty seconds it starts to curve around the object, and within the hour has wound itself so firmly it is hard to tear away. The tendril then curls itself like a corkscrew and in so doing raises the vine to itself.”

    There is a description of this process, and some of the research behind it, at The Guardian, here: Scientists unwind the secrets of climbing plants’ tendrils; and an illustrated guide to the parts of a grapevine here: Grapevine Structure and Function (pdf).

    Select any of the images below to begin a slideshow. As always: thanks for reading and taking a look!

    Wordless Wednesday: Coral Bells