OCT 2011 IMAGE OF THE MONTH
Each month I publish an Image of the Month with the intent of providing behind the scenes information with insight into some of the tricks of the trade and full disclosure on how the image was captured and created.
I never imagined I would be using Aspen Reach as one of my Image of the Month selections. After all, this seemed to be one of the most straight forward, simple images I have created is some time. However, the more I interact with customers in the gallery and at one show after another it is one of my images that continually draws lots of questions. Usually, “How did you do that?”, or the old tried and true “Did you Photoshop this?”(I’m still not sure what that means. But if you have been a follower of my work, or have read my “My Bio Info” on my web site then you already know exactly how I feel about that tiring question?)
After I get those kinds of responses I usually try to dig a little deeper in an effort to discover where the mystery is. With this image it has come down to two items of curiosity or confusion.
The first is the question of What is up? and What is down? After all we seem to always think of photos being taken on a horizontal plane, not a true vertical plane. When one sees an image that is shot straight up they are always trying to figure out where the ground should be. Most viewers find the image a little disorienting but seem to really like the finished product. Additionally, they seem to back that last part up with the sheer number of times the image has sold.
Secondly, the viewer appears to be a little disoriented because the leaves are not tack sharp and most of the questions are around “How come part of the image is sharp but not all? Was there something wrong with your lens?”
( CONTINUED FROM E-LETTER ARTICLE )
So, let’s take them one at a time. First, the Up and Down issue. Aspen Reach is one of only a hand full of images I have created that can literally be viewed from any of the 4 normal orientation points. Left side up, Right side up, Upside down or like you see it. It has been really fun because on two occasions I have made a sale when a potential collector saw a vertical matted and framed print and commented on how much they loved the image but were really looking for a horizontal image to fit that perfect space in their home. Its great to simply take the vertical image off the wall and turn it to a horizontal perspective and then watch the look on their face when they realize it really is the perfect piece and it does exactly what they hoped for. You just can’t do that with very many images and get away with it.
Now for the second issue regarding the soft, moody look and feel of the leaves in the trees. When I finished working on the image in PS it was painfully sharp. Every leaf, twig and vein, within the leaves, was visible. I vividly remembered my experience and the emotions of lying on my back beneath that stand of aspens. Feeling the sun on my face, listening to the sound of the aspen quaking in the gentle breeze, watching the branches barely sway and the vivid blue sky contrasted against those stark yellow leaves of autumn. Somehow the tack sharp presentation did not reflect the mood of the scene that I remembered. I closely reviewed the image and decided to lightly blur portions of it to soften the overall presentation.
I selected areas within the image that needed to be softened, made a layer mask of those areas and then applied varying degrees of adjustment using the “Clarity”, “Vibrance” and “Saturation” adjustments. *( there really isn’t a recipe for how much of each one would/could use. I have found it is really all about the visual accomplishment of tweaking each until it is exactly like I saw the final output in my minds eye).
Did I enhance the Saturation of the piece? Yes, I did and here’s why. Every image captured in the RAW format is by its nature a relatively flat, dull image. The RAW world is designed to be that way to ensure the absolute maximum collection of as much information, across the exposure spectrum, as possible. Every RAW image will require a small amount of increased saturation to bring it up to the level of the actual scene you are trying to record. (That adjustment is usually made by using the Levels or Curves adjustments in PS) The trick is to not over saturate an image so that it begins to look weird. There is a saying in the digital world that goes something like this: “ If it looks like it’s been Sharpened or Saturated, then you went too far”. The biggest mistake new and inexperienced photographers make is over Sharpening and Saturating their images. If you just back it off a bit, your images will look much better.
The technical side of how the image was captured is also straight forward. I found the location while shooting in the Steens, in Southeast Oregon. It had been a hot day and when I walked into this grove of Quaking Aspens I immediately saw the potential of a diminishing perspective image using just the trees, leaves and the unbelievably vivid blue sky beyond. I lay down on my back and began to compose my shot. I was shooting hand held with my Nikon D700 with a 14mm fixed 2.8 lens with Polarizing filter. My ISO was 200, and the shot was taken at f-11 and a 250 sec with auto white balance.
The composition of the image was the most challenging. I placed the longest tree trunks so that they were coming out of the corners of the image which created a diminishing perspective of the limbs moving toward the upper center right of the overall image. This composition provided the strongest and most pleasing structure with strong diagonals coming from three of the four corners of the image. The eye is naturally drawn up the trees to a Center of Interest that certainly includes the vivid blue sky. I shot about 30 frames with different compositions, formats and exposures to give me lots to play with when I got to the post processing phase of the images.
Aspen Reach was shot about 4:30 in the afternoon. It had been a really long day, as I started shooting well before sunrise. As I laid on my back, below this fantastic scene and fussed with camera, lenses, exposures and all the other stuff I felt the need to simply take a moment and soak in the scene, the wind, the leaves, the trees and the sounds of such a great location. I spent a few minutes laying there with my eyes closed just listening to the sounds around me, feeling the suns warmth, enjoying the moment. I was startled to realize that my wife was calling my name as she tried to figure out where I had gone. It was at that moment that I experienced that flash of disorientation one gets when they wake up and aren’t quite sure where they are?? I had actually dozed off ! What a great experience and I relive it every time I look at my Aspen Reach print hanging in my office. Don’t we wish all of our images could evoke that kind of memory or emotion, each time we look at them? Such a simple image, but what memories !