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Hammer and Nail Set © jj raia

Hammer and Nail Set © jj raia

A quick assignment from the photo group was to make an image that had to do with the word “set”. The word has an awful lot of definitions with many not easily translatable into a photograph; as in “The concrete hasn’t had time to set up.” In order to not come up with something expected (and boring), as in a set of glasses, I came up with a subject I always referred to as center punch, but is actually called a nail set. It is used with a hammer to drive a nail further into wood without putting a dent into the wood with the head of the hammer. The resulting nail indentation is then covered over with a matching color filler, and it almost disappears.

The hammer that was used in the photo is one that has special meaning, not because of its age, but because of the history behind it. It was given as a Christmas gift when I had finally reached the age of realization that gifting was reciprocal, that it was not a one-way street. I probably wasn’t more than twelve years old when I unloaded some of the money I’d saved from the piggy bank, rode my bike down to the local Sears & Roebuck, selected this one from many options, wrapped it in a shoebox, and proudly gave to my father that year. I had matured a little that holiday. About forty years ago, that hammer was added to my own tool collection, and has sat alongside the hammer my father gave to me just before I got married. It was the one thing I took to remember him by after he passed away a few weeks later. It shows its age, but still works like a hammer.

It was simple to place the two objects on the floor, but quickly realized they couldn’t just be plopped anywhere; the point of the nail set needed to be placed within a lighter area so it wouldn’t blend into some of the dark wood grain. A white board was placed opposite the window light coming from the top left corner to fill in some of the shadows, while the reflections were controlled with a circular polarizer. The unprocessed version below on the left, is flat, despite some highlights on the hammer and set, but more depth was added by incorporating some “lighting” to mimic shadows and increase the 3-dimensionality. By darkening the floor along the edges of the subjects opposite from where the light is coming and creating “shadows”, they appear separated from the wood as seen in the image on the right. And at that point, the photo seemed satisfactory.

But I decided to take the photo a step further in the processing by trying a general method I hadn’t used yet, but had seen used by Alister Benn from his Expressive Photography You Tube Channel. In Lightroom, the idea is to darken (really darken) the entire photo, and then increase the whites to create more contrast, impact and added drama. So, after the usual processing of lowering of highlights and increasing the shadows, and setting the white and black points by increasing the whites and decreasing the blacks, and arriving at the photo on the right, I followed his suggestions. I lowered the exposure by about 1-1/2 stops, which was untouched from the original, and added 21 to Whites to +74 from +53. Each of these were done to taste, so there is no specific formula. The result is the photo at the top. Those two extra steps gave the entire image much more pop, and the steel of the hammer looked colder and more realistically metallic. I’m not sure these extra steps will help every image, but it is something to keep in the back of your mind to try if the final result comes up just a little short of where you would like it.

Looking forward to this coming Sunday post, these two extra steps will be tried on a landscape image that had never really reached expectations.

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