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Showing posts from August, 2018

"Boat Tour"

On a boat tour of Western Brook Pond in western Newfoundland two women focused on the spectacular scenery while I focused on them. The pastel colors of their windbreakers contrasted with each other and with the natural tones of the land, water and sky. The image tells a strong, simple story: two people awestruck by 600 meter (2000 foot) cliffs towering over a remote, pristine lake. This image required less work than many of the others featured in this blog. It's a good example of how even relatively modest adjustments can transform a photograph from merely "interesting" to "worthy of displaying". I wanted to separate the women from the landscape - make each part of the image stand out in its own right. I was taken by the colors and textures of the jackets so I increased vibrancy a little to bring out the color and used  fine-contrast and tone curve adjustments to  highlight the fabric's folds and shadows. I added drama to the background through t


The dory, with its characteristic high sides and sharp bow, is a wooden fishing boat traditional to the northeastern United States and eastern Canada. I found this fleet of beached dories at Forrester's Point on the west coast of Newfoundland. The BEFORE image is badly under-exposed - this was easily fixed by tweaking the exposure setting of the RAW file. I brought out the detail of the flaking paint with fine-contrast adjustments. I also loved the contrasts of the gray, black and white tones - I accentuated them with tone curve adjustments. The interesting part of the image is in the right two-thirds of the frame. The content of the extreme left side of the BEFORE image is unattractive and distracting. I wanted to play up the tension between the downward curve of the foreground dory's hull, and the dark upward line of the background dory's gunwale. Similarly, I wanted to make the most of the contrast between the upside-down and rightside-up numbers. The simple

"Alaska Highway"

A lot of interesting things are happening in this photograph shot on the Alaska Highway on a spring day near Haines Junction, Yukon. The jagged, snow-covered mountains with diagonal shadows created by late-afternoon sun; the dramatic curve of the highway swooping into and out of the frame; the cloudy sky; the finger of bare, rust-colored trees and brush jutting into the photo from the lower left. The trick was to maximize the potential in each of these separate elements, and then pull them together into a coherent, believable photograph. The first thing that struck me was the strong bluish cast in the BEFORE image. I did a color balance correction to warm up the palette. But I still wasn't satisfied so I used a hue/saturation adjustment layer in photoshop to de-intensify the yellow and red tones. My goal was to strike a good balance between warmth and whiteness in the snow and clouds. Those were global adjustments. But I also had to work separately on the three distinct


Tulips on a white kitchen table with soft natural light from a north-facing window - excellent potential for a still-life photograph. As I did with the image in yesterday's post, I broke this image into two pieces, worked on them separately, and then blended the two pieces back together. As you can easily guess, the two pieces were "the tulips" and "everything else". The key was to make the tulips shine (literally!) and to separate them from the rest of the frame. I used exposure and tone curve adjustments brighten the tulips and add contrast. I used fine-contrast adjustments to bring out detail in the leaves and flowers.  I added a bit of vibrancy to the tulips to accentuate the contrast between the colorfulness of the flowers and the grayscale tones of everything else in the frame. The background was already slightly blurred in the BEFORE image, and I softened the focus further with fine-contrast adjustments. I also used a tone curve adjustment t


It's a fall day in rural eastern Ontario and a stark white church steeple seems to rise dreamlike out of a cornfield . The scene reminded me of the poet Matthew Arnold's "dreaming spires" in Oxford, England. I split the image into two parts - 1) the church; 2) everything else - and worked on them separately. In the "everything else" part,  exposure correction was  the first order of business.  I had set the camera to an exposure preserving highlight details in the church but underexposing the rest of the image, so I fixed this. I shot with a long lens (200mm) wide open (f/4) which resulted in significant vignetting (darkening around the edges of the frame). But instead of correcting for this (which I would normally do) I chose in this case to enhance the vignetting to add to the dreamy mood I wanted to create. The foreground and background were already blurred from the lens being wide open, and I softened the focus even more with fine-contrast

"Nutimik Lake"

The Whiteshell region in eastern Manitoba is spectacular in autumn when the hardwood forest starts to change color. I stood at a narrows where a fast-flowing stream emptied into the lake. A long exposure (4 seconds) blurred the rushing water. But I wanted the water to look even more silky-smooth - in contrast to the fine detail of the forest - so I softened it (and the sky) by turning down the level of fine-contrast (using a tool in DxO PhotoLab).  While softening the appearance of water and sky, I wanted to retain the sharpness and detail of the forest. I made two copies of the image - one with the softening effect and one without - and layered the softened one on top of the other. I then erased the forest area from the top layer. I had to be especially careful when using the photoshop eraser tool at the border where the forest meets the sky so that the blending would be smooth and seamless. I turned the opacity setting of the eraser down to 25 percent to accomplish this

"Bank Street Bridge"

Built in 1912 and restored in 1993, the Bank Street Bridge is the most attractive piece of civil engineering in Ottawa, Ontario. Beautiful lighting makes it especially eye-catching at night. Odd-looking color casts are always an issue when shooting in artificial light. Your camera's white-balance settings may help but probably won't solve all the color problems in situations like this so corrections with image-editing software are necessary. To get rid of the yellowish-bluish cast in the BEFORE image I desaturated and darkened the yellows,  reds, blues, cyans and magentas. But while I wanted to reduce these colors in some parts of the image, I was careful to retain them in other areas. I didn't want to lose the yellow lines on the road, the red streak of tail-light, the yellow sign above the arch on the right, the yellows/reds in the foliage and the subtle color variations in the cobblestones. A photoshop layer mask allowed me to precisely target the areas where c

"Caged Cat"

Several explanations might account for this cat having its back up, but I chose to believe it was because he didn't like being caged at a cat show, and that's the story I wanted the photograph to tell. On the one had you have the natural, elegant lines of the cat and its beautifully patterned soft fur. On the other hand, you have a harsh, man-made environment quickly assembled to confine and display the cat: the harsh, cold structure of the cage, the white plastic cage liner, the number card, the flimsy blue backdrop. On show for humans, the cat looks alone and vulnerable. There's an uncomfortable tension here and I want the photograph to accentuate it. I made the bars of the cage more prominent through exposure and tone curve adjustments.  I added vignetting - centered on the cat's face - to make it look as though a spotlight was being shone on the cat. I complemented this by blurring the image around the cat while keeping the cat in focus. I made tone

"Two People"

A young couple, the woman with arms crossed, neither person looking at the other, strides across a lawn on the Toronto waterfront in 2008. Their shadows trail behind and an abandoned grain elevator, screened by four small trees, dominates the background. The ingredients are in place for a thought-provoking photograph, but there is work to be done. The BEFORE image is tilting to the left. This is easily corrected. Straightening the image forces me to crop it, which is fine because there's too much empty foreground in the BEFORE shot. I want the two people and - just as important - their shadows to be more prominent. So I crop the image even more, from the bottom. I want to create a mood - or rather, enhance a mood I see as being already present in the initial image. I see two people looking disconnected and uncommunicative. (Was that the real story? Who knows? It doesn't matter!) The grain elevator, now appearing larger after I cropped the image, hovers over the sce

"Woman & Dogs"

Once in a while the photography gods smile on you, and this was one of those moments. It was a beautiful early-autumn day in 2011 on the western shore of Lake Michigan at Grand Haven. This woman happened to be standing in front of me, arms akimbo, her dogs running toward her from opposite directions through the sand. Perfect.  In the moment I didn't choose the best exposure settings so the image is under-exposed. But when you shoot in RAW format, exposure settings can be easily corrected in post-processing, which is what I did. The original image also looks dull, because of under-exposure and because the light at that time of day was flat. I corrected this with fine-contrast and tone curve adjustments that give the image some "pop". I also made separate tone curve adjustments to the woman and dogs, brightening them and bringing out detail, especially in the dogs. In the BEFORE image the depth of field appears infinitely wide. Everything is in focus, from t


While travelling in Oklahoma in 2014 I stumbled upon a rodeo in the town of Chandler. This photograph of a young cowboy wrestling a steer was one of my favorites. I cropped the image to make the cowboy and steer more prominent and create a more intense feeling of movement.  The cowboy and steer are more off-center in the AFTER image and the diagonal line extending from the puff of dust through the cowboy's extended leg and torso draw the eye nicely from lower left to upper right. And the AFTER image has a stronger tension between that same line and the opposing diagonal line formed by the steer's tail and backbone. I adjusted the color temperature to remove the yellowish cast. I made fine-contrast and tone curve adjustments to create more separation between the background, the cowboy/steer and the cloud of dust.


I found this old, beautifully decaying Coca-Cola sign in Paris, Texas in 2014. Originals like this are few and far between. My initial instinct, given all the distracting elements in the initial photograph, was to not waste time working on it. So the RAW image file sat untouched on my hard drive for four years until, looking at it a few days ago, I decided to see what I could do. I corrected the perspective distortion that resulted from pointing the camera up toward the sign. After the correction the sign no longer seems to be tipping backward away from the camera. The building occupies too much of the frame in the BEFORE image. I solved this by cropping. Detail in the building also distracts the eye from the sign, so I softened the focus of the building and darkened parts of the wall. The biggest difficultly - which discouraged me from working on the photograph in the first place - was the electric cables and the shadow created by one of them on the sign. They are ugly a


At the end of a gravel road off another gravel road off a secondary highway,  the lighthouse at Cape Pine, Newfoundland is one of the quietest, loneliest places I have visited.  Not a breath of wind on this day (a rare occurrence, I'm sure), and not a person for miles. I corrected the under-exposure of the original image, and fixed the vignetting (the darkness around the edges of the frame). I adjusted the color temperature to remove the magenta/blue tones in the sky. I cropped the image slightly to give the lighthouse a little more prominence but I didn't crop a lot because I wanted to retain a sense of the landscape. The light was flat, so I used tone curve adjustments to add a little contrast to the foreground. I gave some extra brightness to the lighthouse and the two buildings next to it, and enhanced the red stripes and red rooftops slightly. I also added a little brightness to the gravel road to help it stand out from its surroundings.


This scene on Varadero Beach, Cuba struck me as simultaneously ordinary and surreal.  What could be more ordinary than people wading in the surf on a beautiful day? On the other hand there was something strange about the momentary arrangement of the four vacationers - physically close to each other but also seemingly isolated from and unaware of each other. There's a dreamy feeling. To convey "dreaminess" I used a tool in DxO PhotoLab that I like a lot - fine contrast adjustment. Sliding fine contrast down close to zero doesn't so much blur the image as it creates a wispy, soft-focus look I felt was perfect for this photograph. And I added the pelican.  I  had a series of photos of this group of people - the bird was in one of them. I wanted to balance the image with something on the right, above the horizon, as a counterweight to the people on the left, below the horizon. I also thought the bird added to the overall dreamy feeling. So I copied the bird


The isolated coastal village of Trepassey, Newfoundland sits in the southeast corner of Canada's eastern-most province. The vantage point of this photograph makes for a classic Newfoundland scene: a sliver of human settlement poised between sky and sea. Ethereal, other-worldly: I wanted to capture that feeling. Because I had pointed my camera slightly upward to get more sky in the frame, I had to correct the resulting perspective distortion - notice in the "before" image how the lines of reflected light closest to the sides of the image are twisted away from the center.  I fixed the color temperature to eliminate the strong bluish cast. I corrected the vignetting - notice how the "before" image is significantly darker at all four edges. I cropped from the bottom of the image to bring the bottom border closer to edge of the reflected lights. How do you convey "ethereal"? For me the key elements were delicacy,  l ightness, and a sense of &qu


I love old neon signs. I found these in Union Station in Portland, Oregon. First decision: which lens? I wanted narrow depth of field to make the TELEPHONES sign stand out against a blurred background, so I used an 85mm lens at f/1.4. The untouched image is still a long way from doing justice to my subject.  Old neon signs make me think of  film noir , but there's no sense of darkness, menace or mystery in the photo. And  t here's boring empty space on the right-hand side of the frame, while the heater and trash receptacle intrude at the bottom. (I wasn't able to frame the image more tightly because I would have lost too much of the interesting reflection on the left side.) So cropping is the first order of business. Apart from removing unwanted elements, the crop also creates interesting geometry - the image is now composed of three vertical strips. The remaining adjustments aim to further enhance the prominence of the neon signs - especially "TELEPHONE

"Foster Hotel"

Step One in making a photograph occurs before you press the shutter button. It's about the eyes, not the camera. Step One is seeing something that has the potential to be a photograph. What attracted me to this scene in Portland, Oregon? The juxtaposition of the old painted brick wall with the new brick of the parking lot; the diagonal line; the bold lettering at the top of the wall. I thought I could do something with this, but knew it would require a lot of post-production to create a photo worth looking at. The challenge was all the distracting elements. Yes,  I could have framed the shot more tightly to begin with, but that would not have eliminated most of the unwanted items. I cropped out as much as I could, and changed the aspect ratio to 3:4 from 2:3. This got rid of the expanse of empty sidewalk, the sky, tree, streetlamp and most of the street sign.  Next, I used the Photoshop cloning tool to get rid of the remaining distractions:  the edge of the street sign

"Blue House"

The French-Canadian village of Grand-√Čtang on the west coast of Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia has a few brightly colored cedar-shingle houses that I have always found very striking. This one, with its electric blue walls and neat white trim, is a beautiful example. My challenge was to make the house stand out from its surroundings. I wanted to eliminate distracting visual elements. I blurred the surrounding field and hills while leaving the house sharp. I cloned out the barn behind the house to the left, the two utility poles immediately next to it, and the chairs at the extreme right. But I kept the little storage hut because I liked the juxtaposition of the larger blue house against the smaller drab structure.  I cropped the image a little to make the house more dominant. But I didn't crop too much because I wanted to maintain the feeling I had of the house in its landscape.  I made some lighting and contrast adjustments in order to, among other things, make the shad

"Red Dress"

Sometimes you have to be lucky. There I am, in the trendy Hawthorne District of Portland, Oregon. Across the street is a stylish young couple waiting for the light to change. The hem of the woman's brilliant red dress is wafted up by a momentary breeze. The red of the dress just happens to be complemented by the red hand of the traffic light, and the red marquee of the 90-year-old Bagdad Theater, a Portland landmark. What are the odds? First, I strengthen the position of the dress as the visual center of the image. That's easy: I crop. I want the red of the Bagdad marquee to frame the image at the top, and the yellow center line of the road to frame it at the bottom. I also want to leave enough in the frame to give you a sense of the street. And I don't want to lose too much of the lettering on the marquee. To get it right I change the aspect ratio to 4:3 from the original 3:2. Now I want the couple to stand out even more. I darken and blur the part

Welcome to "The After-image" - a blog about digital image editing

"Taking" photographs is easy. Making photographs is hard, but worth the effort. Through examples from my own work I want to show you that the image captured by your camera and stored on your memory card is just one piece in the larger puzzle of producing a photograph worth looking at. "The After-image" illustrates the "before" and the "after" of digital image editing. It isn't a "how-to" with step-by-step instructions on transforming the RAW image into a finished product. That would be like trying to write instructions on how to tie your shoes! Instead, I illustrate what can be accomplished by showing BEFORE and AFTER images from my own work.  Each post features an untouched BEFORE image direct from the memory card followed by the AFTER finished piece.  (I also provide brief comments on the main issues I faced in working on the image and how, in a general sense, I tried to deal with them.) I hope this will inspire you to invest


The dunes in Great Sand Dunes National Park in southern Colorado are as tall as 750 feet (230 meters) - the tallest sand dunes in the United States. My wife and I visited on a sunny (and thankfully not too hot) day in early June and spent a couple of hours climbing and exploring. It is a magnificent place. Early morning  would have been t he best time for photography. Low-angle light would have accentuated the textures and contours of the dunes. But we arrived around noon when the light was flat, as you can see from the unprocessed "before" photograph which was also underexposed. You can't be everywhere at the best possible time for photography - the only option is to make the best of what is available. Through adjustments for contrast and exposure, I was able to bring out detail in the dunes even though the light was flat, and I compensated for having underexposed the original shot. I also cropped the image and changed the aspect ratio, elongating the image. T


Lots of interesting lines and angles in this 70-year-old wooden truss bridge spanning the Little Bouctouche River in New Brunswick. An extremely wide-angle lens (12mm) allowed me to stand on the bridge and still fit much of the structure within the frame. But a wide-angle lens creates significant perspective distortions. Notice the odd angles of the upper cross-beams in the "before" image. I could have avoided this by standing right in the middle of the bridge and pointing the camera straight down the center, but I thought that would have made for a boring composition. I twisted the image until the cross-beams appeared horizontal. This made it necessary to crop the image - so you see that the "after" image is much tighter to the bridge structure than the "before". The tighter crop makes the curve of the arches more dominant and leads the eye nicely into the frame. The original image was underexposed and looked "flat". I made brightness a