Thank goodness I took a few field notes when I was photographing this last summer—"Snow in Summer - small white flowers with greyish green leaves." I would have never remembered the name of the flower. I rarely have access to someone who knows what the flowers are that I photograph, other than myself if I've grown a few flowers of my own. But having a small notebook in your camera bag (and a pen!) is rather handy for location notes when you need to remember something.
All the images in this post can be clicked on to be made larger. Some of the subtle changes I make probably can't be seen on a phone at thumbnail size.
About the Image - Snow in Summer
With this article, I'm lifting the veil to reveal how I went from the original image to the final edit showed at the very top of this post. While I won't be going into exhaustive detail (I'm wanting to strike a balance between those of you who just like looking at pretty pictures and those of you who enjoy photographing things), you will see the results of each editing stage and read about my creative thought process. And as the saying goes, there is more than one way to skin a cat. This is my process for this image. There is no formula. This process today is what I felt best interpreted my vision for this image.
For a future blog post, I will show and explain some of my thinking while shooting these little lovelies. I have a lot of images from this "session", and I think it would be interesting for you to read why I selected this particular image to show to you. But that will be for a future blog post.
Step 1 - The Capture
I could have photographed these little flowers for hours. Not sure why. Maybe I was attracted to the monochromatic foliage, or how small these flowers were (I believe they were less than 1/2" or about centimeter). The white petals had a bit of texture to them (or "wrinkles" is maybe a good word, too). They were cute. What can I say?
Yep, this image is underexposed. I often shoot in manual mode, specially with still objects. And my best guess is my camera was metering off of the white flower, which was fooling the camera's light meter into thinking "OH! it's way too bright. Your correct exposure should be lower!!" And this is when you need to be smarter than your light meter!! On this day, I wasn't smarter. :) But I also knew I wasn't far off, either.
Step 2 - First round of edits within Lightroom
There are many programs out there to edit your photographs in. I started using Lightroom about four years ago. It is my primary editor, which means every photo gets edited in some way with Lightroom. (I shoot RAW images, not jpgs. The difference? I have to edit my RAW files, kind of like processing the negative from your old film camera, except without the harsh chemicals. If you shoot jpg only, your camera does the editing and thinking for you. Neither is good or bad. There are pros and cons to both.)
Now this might be a quick and easy edit, or it might be the first phase of my editing process like it was with this image.
You can see that I increased the exposure a bit, and I also corrected the white balance to eliminate the green color cast created by the green foliage. There are some other subtle differences between Steps 1 and 2 that involved disguising some distracting dark areas with the healing brush. If you go back and forth between the images, you can see a few places where I did this.
What's wrong with the dark areas in the image?
For this image, that darker green "triangle" in Step 1 draws your eyes away from the flower. You can call this background clutter. And while I try as best I can in the field to position myself so I have a distraction free background to my main subject, that isn't always possible. In this case, I was photographing in someone elses garden, and it would have been extremely rude to do my own landscaping. ALWAYS respect where you are photographing!
Step 3 - First edit in Photoshop
After finishing in Lightroom, I brought my image into Photoshop. This Step 3 is very subtle. As all I wanted to do was bring out some detail in the flower only to give it a little "pop". The flower is a bit sharper and the green tones show more. I used a specialty piece of software called HDR Efex Pro, and then limited the effect just to the flower. I wanted the rest of the image to retain it's soft, muted quality.
I would say overall (but not always), I generally go for a subtle effect over something in your face obvious. My images are created to be something a bit more than what was there, but not so far from reality that it changes the essence of the subject. (And obviously things look more drastic here because I've shown you the original image and the final image, which are quite different. But if I'd have never shown you my process, I don't think it would be as obvious or drastic to you.)
Step 4 - Adding a Decluttering Layer
If only decluttering our homes were as easy! While there are numerous creative options to achieve my goal, I felt the easiest, based on the overall color scheme of the image, was to add a basic white layer over the entire image. This gave me a wonderfully simple solution to my problem of all the angles and lines creating a busy background to my flower. (Not to mention the name of the flower just begs for a smoother, whiter background.)
Now I didn't want to totally eliminate the foliage background. My flower still needed to have an organic-looking backdrop. So I reduced how "see-through" the white layer was so that I could see the flower image. By comparing the images in Steps 3 and 4, you can still see the shapes on the ground, but they are less intrusive now to your eyes. The background is less cluttered, less distracting. Your eyes go to the flower first.
But...now I don't like that the organic, real nature of the image isn't as present. I have a couple options. I can further reduce the see-throughness of the white layer, but when I did that, then my original problem was coming back. What do I do now?
Step 5 - What the Layers Look like in Photoshop
I knew I could bring back a little visual texture, that bit of "organicness" to my image by adding what is called a "texture layer". It's basically a photograph of a texture. That image might looking like paint strokes, it might look like tree bark, it might look like rust, anything.
Since that white layer took away a lot of the detail, I added that layer you see above called "BF-Morning Fog". This was a soft, gentle texture, just enough to bring back the subtle "textured" feel to the image.
For you photographers out there, here's the photo information: Nikon D700; Tamron 180mm macro lens; f/5.6, 1/2000 sec (it was a bit breezy), ISO 800; lighting - overcast; processed in Lightroom and Photoshop, textures by Belle Fleur Textures.
And, the final image - Snow in Summer
I can almost hear a friend of mine saying "but I like the original out of camera image". I've got no problem with that. We like what we like. Creativity takes many, many paths, and there is no correct one.
I want YOU to take YOUR path.
Did you like reading a blog post like this that was more tutorial-like? I don't want to bore you. You can comment below to leave your feedback.
~Barb Kellogg, photographer, tea drinker, and dark chocolate lover