Single Frame: Autumn Close Up

From the essay “In Plato’s Cave” in On Photography by Susan Sontag:

“The photograph is a thin slice of space as well as time. In a world ruled by photographic images, all borders (“framing”) seem arbitrary. Anything can be separated from anything else: all that is necessary is to frame the subject differently…. Through photographs, the world becomes a series of unrelated, freestanding particles…. The camera makes reality atomic, manageable, and opaque.”

Below is a photograph of three isolated red leaves — an image I imagine many people would associate with autumn — taken in northern New York one October. You may see the image as having a certain 3D quality to it … that’s a bit of an illusion, an enhancement the brain makes because of the focused foreground and out-of-focus background, with the strong color contrasts emphasizing the illusion. If you close one eye (which eye you should close varies by person), the 3D effect may be strengthened depending on what kind of device you’re using to look at the photo. You may have never tried this before, but it’s often true that you can see this sort of 3D magic when viewing just about anything on a screen that displays in HD quality or better, by using only one eye. Apparently the brain’s not so crazy about seeing the world in two-dimensions, and the realistic image quality of modern screens cause it to over-compensate for the sense of “flatness” that ought to be created by closing one eye.

Here’s a before and after version of this same image; click the first one and page back and forth to compare the two. You can see the 3D quality is somewhat present in the original, and contrast and color enhancements jazz up the illusion: some of the Color Efex filters in the Nik Collection include settings for “perceptual saturation” that can be used for that purpose. You may also notice I removed some spots from the leaves … because, well, I can’t help it!! 🙂

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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.

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Twisted Trees and Woodlands

The Point Au Roche State Park in northern New York contains a nature preserve with hiking trails, covering about five square miles along the shores of Lake Champlain. The hiking trails take you through distinct landscapes that change dramatically as you walk from the nature center entrance to the lake, and include a marshland (see Frogs on Logs, whose pictures were taken as the frogs soaked up some sunshine in the marsh);  areas full of shrubs and wild vines; a peaceful pine forest with a thick bed of discarded pine needles covering the forest floor; and shoreline trails where the effects of the wind blowing in from Lake Champlain have a unique twisting impact on the trees growing nearby as well as on the remnants of those that have fallen and broken.

I’ve always enjoyed exploring woodlands; there’s nothing quite like entering the shaded quiet of a few acres of pine trees as a hush falls around you. Sometimes I’ll walk the same trails both with and without a camera. Without a camera, I think I get a better sense of the scope and complexity of the woodlands. With it, I tend to look closely at the details: shapes, colors, textures, and contours that — for me — evoke a sense of what that space was like to stand in and observe.

I have several thousand pictures of this area. I pulled out a few, continued my Lightroom experiments and jazzed them up a bit. Enjoy!

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