Wordless Wednesday: Hibiscus, Hibiscus, Bug

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Before and After: Tiny Bubbles

Every now and then I like to prowl around in my photo archives to see if there are some images I’ve forgotten about that capture my imagination, freshly. The photos I posted on Wordless Wednesday last week (Wordless Wednesday: Five Found Flower Photos) came from one of those prowling expeditions, when I discovered a folder containing about 200 photos that — despite all the photo rework I had done for my Flickr Reboot project — I had overlooked. They were all taken nearly a decade ago, one fine spring day, when many of the flowers were in bloom, and include bee balm, butterfly bushes, coneflowers, hibiscus, lantana, and mandevilla. I’m working through them all now, and will upload a few galleries throughout the week, but I finished this set of lantana blossoms that all had tiny bubbles in common, and decided to post them now.

I think these are photos of Mozelle Lantana — though I’m not entirely sure. I’ve grown many lantana varieties, some perennial, some annual, and some that were technically annual but came back for a couple of years anyway. If I could tell from the photos where on my property they were taken, I’d know for sure; but, as you can see, there is no defining background detail so I’m guessing the plant’s name based on the variety of colors in the blooms. I had just watered the garden, and when I noticed how the water droplets attached to the flowers as little glassy bubbles, I abandoned my gardening chores and brought out the camera instead.

The first gallery shows the final versions of these eleven images, after processing them through Adobe Lightroom and the Nik Collection. Select any image to see larger versions; and if you would like to read more about how the photos were processed, scroll down.

The second gallery shows the before-and-after versions of the eleven images above. I like to write these before-and-after posts (which are now assigned to their own category on this site) to help me think about what I’m doing with image processing and give me practice explaining it. One of the key things I’ve learned from all this practice, though, is this: subtle changes can improve a photo as much as drastic ones, but the cumulative effect of a set of subtle changes can be pretty dramatic.

Cropping and straightening are the first two things I do to every image in a set I’m working on, to set the images to 16×9 aspect ratio if I didn’t take them that way in the camera. Once that’s done, I use Lightroom’s automatic tone adjustments, letting Lightroom adjust exposure, contrast, highlights, shadows, whites, and blacks. I then apply the same level of sharpening and noise reduction to every photo.

These initial adjustments establish a starting point for the rest of my workflow in Lightroom and the Nik Collection. After completing them, I refine Lightroom’s automatic adjustments, typically reducing exposure slightly if it looks like Lightroom has over-exposed the images. With these photos, I also darkened both shadow levels and blacks, which emphasized color in the flowers without adding saturation or luminance.

Since it was High Pollen Season in Atlanta when I took these photos, the before images show a yellow cast from the pollen dust as well as artifacts that collected on the camera lens and the flowers — which present as dark dashes (if on the lens), black spots (if in the shadows) or white spots (tiny-bright “light catchers” from the sun). I removed some of the yellow color cast by adjusting white balance to a cooler (more blue) setting, then used spot removal to clean up the artifacts and dust. As a final step in Lightroom, I adjusted the sharpening mask, which has the effect of applying more sharpening to the image foreground and less to the background, reducing the appearance of background noise. In Lightroom, you can press the right-slash (/) key to compare the before and after versions of any photo you’re working on, so I used that to perform a quick visual check on each one, to make sure I hadn’t strayed too far from the original image with my adjustments. Then I selected each image for processing with Nik Collection’s Color Efex Pro.

From all my practice with Color Efex Pro, I’ve settled on a handful of filters that I apply to photos when I’m trying to enhance realism but not necessarily add creative effects. To make the process more efficient, I have a recipe set up in Color Efex Pro to apply the effects to each photo simultaneously, then work through them to adjust settings on individual photos:

  • White Neutralizer, which brightens whites without altering any of the other colors.
  • Brilliance/Warmth, which increases saturation and has a setting called “perceptual saturation” that enhances the three-dimensional or depth-perception character of the image.
  • Tonal Contrast, which I use to soften backgrounds if I want to further reduce background detail beyond Lightroom adjustments; or Pro Contrast, if I want contrast adjustments but want to retain background detail.
  • Darken/Lighten Center, which I use to shift visual focus to a specific area of the image and create additional background shadowing.
  • Remove Color Cast, to remove any color cast that has been created by the other adjustments — which, for these photos, consisted of ridding the photos of too much yellow or green shading.

That’s it! Thanks for reading and taking a look!

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Fringe Flower and Holly Fern: Five Views Each

Fringe Flower:

Holly Fern:

Thanks for taking a look!

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Let’s Pretend It’s Spring! (Photo Set 2 of 2)

The galleries below contain the second series of photos I took last week, of signs of spring life that are starting to appear in my gardens.

The first post and a bit about how the photos were taken and processed is here: Let’s Pretend It’s Spring! (Photo Set 1 of 2).

Thanks for looking!


Gallery One: Climbing Hydrangea

Climbing Hydrangea is often seen growing as a showcase flowering vine on large trellises, but mine are in two four-foot tall urns with lattice supports on opposite sides of my courtyard. Planting them in pots was one of my gardening experiments: the plant — while producing only a few flowers — grows wonderfully with a few hours sunlight in the morning and shade in the afternoon. Most of the leaves drop off in the fall after turning bright yellow (see the third image here: Wordless Wednesday: Fall, Fading) but then regenerate from these tiny buds every spring, the buds often starting to appear in late January or early February.


Gallery Two: English Ivy

English Ivy has achieved the distinction of being common, pervasive, and often, invasive. Some people believe that if you take cuttings and throw them on the ground, they’ll grow right where you threw them. While I tried that and it didn’t work, I think it could if the soil was damp and soft; I’ve put a few strands in a jar of water and seen them generate long roots in just a couple of days.

Many of the homes in my neighborhood were built above street level on lots held in place by three-foot retaining walls. As you walk through the neighborhood, it’s very apparent that the same landscaping style was established at about the same time, as the retaining walls were created from similar stone that has aged to nearly identical colors and textures. The front yards, including mine, were planted with English Ivy instead of grass, and the ivy is typically encouraged to cascade over the walls. Near my sidewalk, front porch, and front gardens, I keep the vines at bay with pine bark; trimmed back and bordered by the bark, it’s not hard to keep it from consuming the gardens (and the house!) because the sticky fingers it produces are easily detached from the bark chips.

It grows all year round, though much more slowly during the winter, and isn’t a bit intimidated by frost or freezing temperatures. Once a year, in late February or early March, it puts on a show with a blanket of new leaves in luminous green or yellow-green, similar to the smaller leaves in the last two photos. Then, after about a week, the leaves get larger and the colors blend into a darker green, and rapid spring growth begins for real.


Gallery Three: Catawba Grape Vine

The Catawba Grapevine winters with these tiny, hard, darkly colored nubs that are just starting to show signs of growth. The Catawba was previously featured here on my post Secrets Inside a Grapevine.


Gallery Four: Bluebird Hydrangea

Bluebird Hydrangeas — like many hydrangeas — can always be counted on to over-winter some buds and push out new ones as early as January, even if it’s a little cold. It’s almost hard to believe that from a couple dozen stems like this, a fully leaved five-foot wide blooming shrub will fill one section of my garden. Bluebird Hydrangeas were featured on this blog last year, here: Bluebird Hydrangeas from My Garden.


Gallery Five: Honeysuckle

I have one honeysuckle in my garden, due for replanting from a pot to soil this year, or at least to a larger pot. Honeysuckle produces clumps of multicolored flowers in a variety of complex shapes and sizes; this one opens blooms in orange and light purple — colors similar to the bud in the last photo — that look like tiny trumpets suspended from the branches. At this early stage, the new leaves push out from various points along the plant’s woody stems, starting out as sage or blue-gray in color, then gradually changing to contain more and more green as the leaves mature.


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