Pencil Orchids © jj raia

Pencil Orchids © jj raia

Since there is no rational reason to relentlessly continue the Throwback Thursday posts without pause, a brief respite seemed in order this week. It appears that it has already come to my wife’s attention that my walking aimlessly around the house has become noticeable. Reluctant (VIRUS!!) to go out of the house for spring landscape supplies (dirt, lots of mulch, flowers, new lawnmower, which is another story), and continue the normal spring spruce up in our yard, like many folks around the world, I have found some extra time on my hands. And as with any void, we try to fill it. So I grabbed the camera and photographed the most obvious subject in the house to be found: a recently acquired orchid. Nicely in bloom, but being basically white, it lacked much impact that color might have provided for any photo with it as the subject. So this whole time-filler was beginning with one foot over the edge of the cliff above the abyss of failure.

The only critical problem photographing these flowers was to expose them brightly enough, yet retain all the delicate detail, shadings and textures in each petal, without blowing out any highlights.

First attempt. In order to photograph only the flowers, the stem needed to be released from the thin stick to which it was attached, and let it stand freely to avoid the stick being in the frame. I suppose it could be removed in Photoshop, but why waste all that time when there are important things to do… like wander aimlessly around the house! I did the usual hold a piece black foam core behind the flowers as the shutter was tripped. But in order to avoid the variations in texture of the foam core that have shown up in images from the past, I moved the foam core while the shutter was open, and it worked beautifully; just as intended (solid black). Three separate images focused on three separate buds… done! Simple and straight forward. Not really!! As I flipped quickly through the images, I saw that the flowers had listed slightly between each frame since they were not now tethered to the support stick. Sadly, they would not align for focus stacking. Being basically lazy, I didn’t bother to retake this frame group, figuring to use the single frame with the main flower in focus and the others slightly out of focus, to bring more attention to it.

Second attempt. To solve the problem of listing orchids, a simple twist tie attached the stem to the stick loosely near the middle, to stop any movement between frames for focus stacking should I choose to go that route. But this time, the flowers were placed in front of a blank wall in a slightly different composition. Still simple and straight forward.

Processing with the black background. Viewed at 100%, it’s amazing how much lint appeared on the petals. So off to Photoshop to take care of all the tiny imperfections (apologies to Fran D, no wabi sabi here). Back to Lightroom for the final editing which resulted in the image below. A literal recording with a little drama, but basically a yawn.

Orchids — jj raia

Orchids — jj raia

Processing with the green background. Same thing in Photoshop to rid the image of lint after using the Lightroom Soft preset, which accentuated the shading of the petals, and combine the three differently focused frames. But after all that, the photo seemed to be severely lacking (see dull image below), and some of the wall color bled into the petals, especially the flower near the top of the frame. Not very satisfactory. So, with the available free time afforded by this virus thing, I dove headlong into some Photoshop filters, which after much trial and error, confirmed why I never wanted to go down that rabbit hole in the first place: too many possibilities and too many variables. Let’s just say, after lots of exploration, only one filter was used, but it was applied twice! Can’t it ever just be simple and straight forward?

Orchids — Original Unprocessed © jj raia

Orchids — Original © jj raia

I was looking for something to give the image a sense of having been hand drawn, maybe with colored pencils. I finally came across filters > render > fibers which, depending on the placement of the slider for Variance, along with the Strength slider set to maximum, created a separate layer with a series of vertical lines that resembled the short strokes of a pencil. It finally seemed some progress was being made to get to that unknown place I wanted to discover. All that was needed was a mask to avoid the “texture” being applied to the flowers, or allowing just a bit of it to make the flowers appear to have been drawn as well. The following step is what actually brought the image to that unknown place.

Luckily, I was recently shown how to make an object into a “smart” object, and have the ability to rotate or resize it without endangering the pixels (?), so the fiber layer was duplicated and rotated 90º. By varying opacities, both textured layers were visible and appeared similar to cross-hatching; a technique in drawing where strokes of a brush, pen, or pencil are drawn at angles to each other, as in a series of vertical lines crossed with more lines at right angles, or any chosen angle. Then back into Lightroom where (more travel down the rabbit hole) the High Contrast & Detail preset was applied. Finished, you say? Not yet!! Since the preset made everything grainier, I didn’t want much of it on the actual flowers, so back to Photoshop with two identical frames; one with, and one without the preset. And another mask to decrease the affect on the flowers again. Will it ever end?!!

Orchids — Original Combined © jj raia

NO!!! Once the color version was completed (so far, anyway), it was on to sampling some Lightroom B+W presets. Yet another (insert your favorite expletive here) rabbit hole!! I really liked the High-Contrast preset since it made the texture seem grittier and more pronounced, but the Soft preset again brought out all the light value variations and textures in the petals lost in the high-contrast preset. So back into Photoshop again where the two could be combined as discussed above. With the high contrast frame as the top layer, it “disappeared” revealing the soft preset flowers in the layer below by using an inverted, or black mask (Command/Control-I). Then using a very large, white brush at very low opacity (around 3%), slowly revealed the darker, high contrast, top layer around the edges of the frame, darkening the background textures surrounding the flowers, creating a vignette as well. Now the image was a monochrome pencil drawing (at top), and more toward what was originally sought after, although an unknown destination when all this began.

So, many thanks to Mike, Barbara and Lynne who, through the magic of Zoom and the extra time we all seem to have lately, taught me some valuable techniques in Photoshop. I hope this post is a way of paying those lessons forward.

Also, one other thing this virus lockdown allows, for good or bad, is to ramble on, and on, and on, and on…





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