Before and After: Bernadine Clematis, An Illusion

From Photographically Speaking: A Deeper Look at Creating Stronger Images by David duChemin:

“The camera will create an illusion the moment we release the shutter; if we want a hand in creating that illusion, we need to understand it. That illusion is created by every element in the photograph and every decision made. Elements and Decisions: that’s what we have. It’s what you do with what you have, as it is with every art.”

From On Photography by Susan Sontag:

“Although there is a sense in which the camera does indeed capture reality, not just interpret it, photographs are as much an interpretation of the world as paintings and drawings are.”

In April, I posted a series of photos of a Bernadine Clematis, a new addition to my garden for 2019. The last image from that post was my favorite: the composition appealed to me because of the balance created by the two prominent blooms and the intrusion of large petals from a third bloom in the upper right corner. You can see the photo on that post, or view a large version here.

This is what that photo looked like coming out of the camera:

The blossoms, just a few days from blowing away, were nearly spent and — especially on the foreground petals — showed evidence of deterioration in the form of rusty-looking stripes. This rust — as well as other dark spots on all the petals — barely registered when I looked at the plant in “real life” but created an overpowering distraction in the photograph. Funny how that happens. Because I liked the composition, though, I wanted to see if I could create a version I was satisfied with by using some of my Lightroom skills and a few magic potions from the Nik Collection.

I made some typical adjustments in Lightroom to add saturation and brightness to the more subtle colors and to darken background elements, keeping those changes to a minimum since I knew subsequent processing in Color Efex Pro 4 would emphasize image colors and increase background fading. I then used Lightroom’s spot removal extensively — first to eliminate small (mostly circular) spots throughout the petals, then to remove larger rust-colored stripes. Spot-removal can be used for more than just dust spots, pollen spots, or lens dust: it can also be used to pick out larger areas of disinterest and blend them away by replacing one area with pixels of similar color and texture elsewhere in the image, usually pixels that are near the original and are … less flawful. 🙂

Here’s a screenshot from Lightroom showing the extent to which I used spot removal on the RAW image. You’ll see what looks like steel pin-heads (as opposed to circles like the one on the upper left side) that represent areas where I re-blended the colors and textures in order to remove the appearance of rust. It became a bit of a game: tracking down offending spots, zapping them or outlining them with the spot removal tool, then adjusting Lightroom’s chosen replacement when I preferred to use a selection of my own.

Here you can see some of these corrections for a magnified section of the photo. The before image is on top; the middle image shows how I defined an area to replace by dragging the tool around and creating a wiggly-shape, then selecting an area with better color and texture to replace it with; and the third image shows how this section looked after re-blending that area (as well as some of the areas nearby). Most of these changes had to be done at various zoom levels, creating a bit of dissonance where the overall composition seemed to disappear because I was focusing on areas of color and texture only. And at this magnification level, there were plenty of rust spots still showing … but I wasn’t done yet!

Here’s the image after I finished correcting many of the rusty flaws, at the point where I was done adjusting the RAW file in Lightroom and was ready to use the Nik Collection to apply some special effects.

In Color Efex Pro 4, I applied color and contrast adjustments using White Neutralizer, Brilliance/Warmth, Pro Contrast, and Darken/Lighten Center. The combined effect of these filters was to brighten whites and reduce yellows, enhance contrast, and further darken background elements to give the blooms greater presence. I also applied a filter I don’t use very often — Glamour Glow — which increased brightness and softness, and added luminosity to polish and shine the blooms.

These adjustments weren’t selective — that is, I applied them to the entire image — so they enhanced any rust spots remaining on the photo. Coming out of the Nik Collection, I found plenty of additional areas where I still wanted to blend out rust and spots. That effort — which I used to create more consistency among the colors and textures — looked like this:

After all that — about three hours worth of work — I got to the final version of the image, an “illusion” based on the original subject, here:

If you would like to see the transition from out-of-the-camera to the final version in three steps, select the first image below.

Thanks for reading and taking a look!

Found Flowers (Set 3 of 3): Captivating Canna

The gallery below contains photos of a canna lily from my garden, the last of three galleries of reprocessed images from my archives.

The first set in this series is here: Found Flowers (Set 1 of 3): Marvelous Mandevilla.

The second set is here: Found Flowers (Set 2 of 3): Luscious Lantana.

Here are links to earlier posts containing some of the other “found photos” I recently reprocessed:

Wordless Wednesday: Five Found Flower Photos
Before and After: Tiny Bubbles
Wordless Wednesday: Hibiscus, Hibiscus, Bug

Thanks for taking a look!

Found Flowers (Set 1 of 3): Marvelous Mandevilla

“Mandevilla” …. the word just rolls off your tongue, doesn’t it? I’ve previously posted pictures from a folder I recently found in my photo archives, of plants from my garden taken about ten years ago, resurrected and reprocessed with Lightroom and the Nik Collection. I’ve grouped the remaining photos into three galleries — this one, of mandevilla, that I’m posting today; and second and third galleries of a canna lily and additional lantana that I’ll post in the next few days.

This mandevilla variation was a Sun Parasol White Mandevilla, known for its giant blooms, large leaves, and rapidly growing vine. As you can see from the photos, the flower buds start out as mostly white with pink tint, then open to reveal a bright yellow center surrounded by white and a diminished pink frost. Mandevilla variants available to me locally are normally annual, so I buy at least a couple new ones each year, varying colors among white, pink, and red — the colors I typically find at garden centers nearby. Occasionally, if the winter months are warm enough, the mandevilla will return for one extra spring, a bonus I usually embrace by repotting the plant … and buying a couple more!

Here are links to the previous posts containing some of the “found photos” from my archives:

Wordless Wednesday: Five Found Flower Photos
Before and After: Tiny Bubbles
Wordless Wednesday: Hibiscus, Hibiscus, Bug

Thanks for taking a look!

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!

Before and After: Soft Steel

From The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Quest for What Makes Us Human by V. S. Ramachandran:

“[If] art is about realism, why even create the images? Why not just walk around looking at things around you? Most people recognize that the purpose of art is not to create a realistic replica of something but the exact opposite: It is to deliberately distort, exaggerate — even transcend — realism in order to achieve certain pleasing effects in the viewer. And the more effectively you do this, the bigger the aesthetic jolt.”

From Photographically Speaking: A Deeper Look at Creating Stronger Images by David duChemin:

“Stories move forward through conflict, but photographs — limited to one frame, one moment in time, and no possibility of a character arc — move forward and imply story through contrast. Contrast in photographs occurs in two significantly different ways. The first is visual contrast. A high-contrast black and white image is one in which the extremes — the blacks and whites — are strong and prominent, and what lies in between — the midtones — are fewer. With color images, that contrast occurs between colors at opposite ends of the color wheel — blue and yellow, for example. Similarly, conceptual contrast is about the extremes of ideas, and the point at which they clash. Both can be called contrast, but to distinguish them I will call the difference in tones and colors contrast and the difference in concepts juxtaposition.

“Contrast, a strong difference in tones or colors, is what pulls the eye. Our eyes function on contrast and look for areas where those contrasts are the strongest. Even perceived sharpness in images is a function of stronger contrast. Where there is a slower gradation of contrast, i.e., blacks slowly turn to gray and then white, the eye sees it, in a photograph, as less sharp. In color, as in black and white, contrast pulls the eye, and that pull will be read as intentional…. Awareness of the visual pull of contrast allows us to orchestrate the image in the most intentional way possible, pulling the eye to key areas with greater contrast and pushing the eye away from areas with lower contrast….

Juxtaposition also draws the eye, but it has more to do with engaging the mind as it’s less a contrast of visual elements and more a contrast of concepts. Where tonal contrast is about the difference between blacks and white, juxtaposition — or conceptual contrast — is about the differences between ideas…. Why this matters is the same reason tonal contrast matters: we pay attention to it…. The contrast draws our attention.”

A couple of nights ago I had a dream that Wordless Wednesday was a real thing in the real world, not just a blogging meme on the internet. On Wordless Wednesday in the real world, people stopped talking for twenty-four hours once a week. Interactions among humans were done without spoken words: everything from going to the bank to meetings at work to running errands took place with hand signals, writing notes, and showing each other pictures. Phone calls were out; text messages with emojis were in, bigly. Wordless Wednesday had evolved into a cultural practice that — in the backstory of a dream — was simply accepted, like so many norms, as the way things were done.

You never really know what precipitates certain dreams, but they often seem to arise from intense mental experiences. Maybe I’ve spent too much time on the blog lately, which could be true since over the past couple of weeks, I put in quite a few long hours prepping this site before migrating followers from Or it may be from a subconscious current that started flowing as I was reading the Chaos Walking Trilogy by Patrick Ness — which I loved and tore through all 1,300 pages earlier this month — where the characters (humans and animals) can hear each others thoughts, communicating words, images, and events without speaking aloud. The capability is called Noise — a term that in itself creates an interesting juxtaposition (opposites and contrasts!) since it occurs in the mind and not in the auditory physical world. As the novels progress, and the characters develop their Noise capabilities, they shift more and more from using words in their thoughts to communicating in images … so just imagine the Wordless Wednesday possibilities….

The images I posted on Wednesday were taken some time ago at the Atlanta Botanical Garden, where a series of large leaves crafted out of steel are attached to the wall of the visitor’s entrance. These photos are among many still lurking in my archives that I’ve not previously done any work on, potential candidates for deletion that I come back to now and then to see what I can create. The original images always bugged me because they were under-exposed and certain background elements seemed intrusive or badly colored and once upon a time I didn’t know what to do about that.

Here are the original images (click one to see larger versions in a slideshow):

Other than the generally mushy backgrounds, the upper left corners of the images in the second column needed attention; but I couldn’t crop those elements and shadows out of the picture without clipping too much from the main subjects. So as a first step I used spot-removal in Lightroom with some carefully-adjusted feathering to blend the colors and shadows in those corners out of existence. I also spot-removed out the bolts used to attach the leaves to the wall, since I knew from experience that they’d get emphasized when I added saturation to the images in the Nik Collection.

For most of the images I’ve posted here on my blog, I’ve typically used a Darken-Lighten Center filter in the Nik Collection to shift emphasis to a focal point and draw your eye to that point by — as the filter’s name suggests — darkening the background and lightening the center. After applying contrast and color adjustments, I tried the same approach with these four images, but the results weren’t good: the shadows cast by the leaves looked raggedy and grainy, creating inconsistent vignetting around the edges of each image and splashing too much reflected color from the leaves onto the backgrounds. No matter how much I fiddled with the Darken-Lighten filter’s adjustments, I couldn’t get to a result that I liked.

So … what do you do when the way you always do things just doesn’t work? Try doing the opposite.

Instead of darkening the backgrounds and lightening the centers, I switched to lightening the backgrounds and darkening the centers — which removed much of the color cast from the backgrounds and eliminated most of the vignetting, leaving only some subtle shadows behind each leaf. As a last step, I applied Classical Soft Focus, which does just what the name implies: it softens the appearance of primary image elements, which, in this case (with backgrounds now largely a single color) softened and brightened each of the steel leaves while leaving the backgrounds unaffected. The result, I hope, was to “achieve a certain pleasing effect” for you, the viewer.

Select the first image to page through a slideshow and examine the before-and-after versions. You won’t regret it! 🙂

Thanks for reading and taking a look! Bye for now….

Flickr, Rebooted

A few days ago, I deleted 1,200 old photos from Flickr – as the last step in the Flickr Reboot project that I started back in July. I had originally thought I would reprocess and recreate 800 to 1,000 images, but ended out at 2,000 — building new Flickr albums that included many of the originals plus about 1,000 photos from my archives, to which I added photos taken this year that fit well in the albums.

I had expected this project to continue through the middle of 2019, but a couple of discoveries moved it along at a faster pace than I anticipated, enabling me to pour on some speed:

First, I figured out that by sorting the photos by capture time in Lightroom, I could often copy adjustments from one photo to a group where the original exposure characteristics were similar, then tweak settings on individual photos in that group, rather than starting from scratch. There were even some settings – sharpness and noise reduction, for example – that I was able to apply across dozens of photos simultaneously and achieve the results I was looking for. With those basic settings applied and tweaked, I could then focus on changes that required more time – such as spot removal, healing, and color adjustments like those I described here: Before and After: Exposing Hidden Autumn.

Second, I got in the habit of creating recipes in Nik Collection Color Efex – the Nik Collection tool I spent the most time with – for photos of similar subject matter, so I could then work on as many as twenty photos as a batch. Like copying settings in Lightroom, these recipes enabled me to apply changes more quickly to a group of photos, then focus on image-specific changes like adjusting colors, lighting, contrast, and any additional sharpening or detail enhancements. While I didn’t keep track of the time I spent overall, there were days I was able to get through as many as 100 photos and make a serious dent in producing results. It’s been a whole lot of work, and a whole lot of learning, but it’s also been the most fun I’ve had at a computer in ages.

Fun Finding Photos

When taking on a project like this, I always try to find ways to streamline parts of it, to “automate” some tasks to help eliminate the cognitive overload associated with task-starting and task-switching. The question I try to answer is this: which steps can I reduce to checklist items and just repeat them every time, without having to think about much more than execution. Other than the two time-savers I described above – that were only partly repeatable – organizing the work with a series of identical steps helped push things along.

A big hurdle I faced was this: how do I find the images from Flickr in my Lightroom catalog of 15,000 photos? I needed the original image files for this project, since the Flickr versions were smaller in size and had been created with Lightroom adjustments no longer in my catalog.

At first, I was simply displaying the Flickr albums in a browser, then typing the file names in Lightroom to search for the photos … very time consuming and, honestly, so mind-numbing I felt like I might abandon the whole project. But I figured out how to do this instead: I displayed the album on Flickr, copied the entire web page, then pasted the whole page into Microsoft Excel as plain text. By manipulating the rows of data a bit, I could extract the file names and create a string of names that I could then paste into Lightroom’s search box. Once I found the photos using this trick, I created a collection in Lightroom containing the photos from each Flickr album. This worked for all but one album – where I had renamed the photos before posting them on Flickr – and worked well enough that I took a couple weeks to find all the photos and put them in corresponding collections in Lightroom before moving forward with the project. The collections looked like this:

With the collections created, I went through all my photos and added related images to each one, images that I had never done anything with but were taken more recently and were of the same subjects. That’s how I ended out with 1,000 newer photos to process and upload to Flickr. I hadn’t intended to do that when defining the project, but I kept remembering that I had more recent images of some of the subjects; and it proved its worth to me in terms of building albums with a mix of older and newer photos in each one. 

Fun Fixing Photos

And then … I started working through the photos, one collection at a time, repeating the steps for 2,000 iterations. It went something like this:

  • I cropped each photo to a 16:9 ratio. I had decided early on that I would do this because I now tend to take photographs with the camera set to 16:9, wanted to create a consistent look that would blend well with future photos, and found that using that crop factor typically created an image with better focus on the subject without losing key detail.  

  • I processed each photo in Lightroom, straightening some images, adjusting exposure, enhancing colors, applying sharpening and a wee bit of noise reduction, and using spot removal or healing to eliminate distracting elements.

  • Once I was satisfied with the results in Lightroom, I moved on to the Nik Collection, where I first ran each photo through Dfine to remove any additional noise. The value of this step proved itself very quickly, especially with closeup and macro photos, where Dfine smoothed the appearance of soft backgrounds and improved the image for the next step.

  • I used Color Efex Pro to make substantial changes to each image, though generally those enhancements affected color saturation and intensity, contrast, and detail. For many images, I used one of the filters that lets you brighten the primary subject and darken the background to direct the viewers eye to the subject and also create a high-definition or 3D look for some of the photos. 

  • The last step! Almost! I ran every photo through Nik’s Output Sharpener to put some subtle sharpening on each one or to enhance detail on parts of a subject. One of Nik’s powerful features – control points, available in all the tools – lets you choose a circular area of the image by color and apply effects very selectively – enabling, for example, increased sharpness on a portion of the main subject without adding sharpening throughout the entire image.

With Lightroom, of course, you export photos after developing them, so I created a folder structure on my computer that mirrored the collections I had built inside the application:

Because I was using some of the photos in my blog posts, and would ultimately upload them to Flickr, I exported the photos as 920 pixels on the short edge — one third of the maximum pixel dimensions for a full-sized image coming out of my camera — rather than full size. This resizing produced satisfactory detail for blog posts and Flickr without the additional storage space required for full size. I have an Office 365 subscription, and I exported the photos to OneDrive so I’d have an instant backup, and so that I could easily review the photos using a mobile device (an iPad), which in some cases helped me find flaws I just didn’t see on the computer monitor.

Fun Flinging Photos onto Flickr

I didn’t upload any of the photos to Flickr until I had completed them all. Before uploading, I changed the existing Flickr photos to private so they weren’t publicly visible and renamed all the old albums to keep them separate from the new ones. I hadn’t uploaded to Flickr in a long time and my ancient memories of the experience weren’t pleasant – but it worked better than I remembered, and over a couple of days loaded all the photos, put them in new albums (named to match my Lightroom collections and computer/OneDrive folders), and created three collections to group the albums.

Final Feelings

So that, as they say, is that! With Flickr rebooted and the old photos deleted, I plan to continue using it and adding new photos – some featured here, some not – even if I build a portfolio site at some point. You will see more references and links to Flickr here also – there are still stories and histories to be told – and I like the slideshow/carousel function WordPress provides and will continue using that to display photos with my blog posts.

After spending so much time over the past six months experimenting with Lightroom and with the Nik Collection, here’s one thing I learned: what we call “post-processing” is both an extension of working with the camera and simultaneously a way of learning more about the camera and how to use it better – not just technically but also aesthetically. The continuum from taking a picture to working with the image is perhaps best understood from this starting point: There is no such thing as an unprocessed photo, and there never has been.

Even if you skip back over the most recent technological history of photography-as-digital to the film era – not so long ago! – it’s apparent that every photographer had plenty of choices at their disposal that would affect their photographic output, everything from choices of cameras and lenses to ISO ratings for films to variations in color and saturation produced by films from different manufacturers. Even the type of paper chosen when you developed film affected the final look of the images. In the digital era, it’s no coincidence that imaging software uses terms in their workflows that hark back to the previous eras’ choices, including the emulation of different types of film that used to be available, or terms like dodge and burn, or the imitation of techniques a photographer might use to introduce things like blur or motion into otherwise static images. The darkroom — along with many other technical and physical characteristics of photography — has been encapsulated in tools like Lightroom.

As important to me, though, has been the learning associated with developing workflows that blend technology with creativity, learning that I can expand on as I continue to use these tools. Back in July when I started this project, I was intimidated by all the choices available; I no longer feel intimidated and have a much better sense of which options to choose to obtain certain results. All of this also satisfies, for me, a restless learning and technological itch that I’ve always felt but can now use to produce images that let me play with cameras, lenses, composition, color, and light.  And play, you know, is The Thing.

To wrap up….

Here’s a link to all my previous blog posts about the project:

Flickr Reboot Category

And here’s the link to my new Flickr albums page:

My Flickr Albums

If you are on Flickr and follow me, I will greatly appreciate that and will follow you back.

Thanks for reading! Longest blog-post ever!

Bye for now….