Here to There

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Solo Kayaker Original Frame © jj raia

Solo Kayaker — Original Frame © jj raia

You would be hard pressed to find an actual kayaker in the photo above because at the moment, there isn’t one to be found. But, this photo is one of the most beautiful, impactful, emotional, majestic, colorful and spiritual images I have ever taken in my entire photographic life!! In addition, should you happen to actually believe the previous sentence, there’s a bridge I have available for sale in which you may be interested.

Actually, as a stand alone image, it is very poor. Its intention however, was to be used as the darkest of a 3-frame bracket to be blended together to more realistically record the wide tonal range of the dramatic light and fog over the lake that morning. But even if all three were blended together, overall it would have been better exposed, but still a pretty lackluster image for several reasons.


Over a decade ago, I heard an accomplished photographer declare that he was not a landscape photographer, although all the “photos” I saw of his appeared to be made by one; but rather, he considered himself a landscape artist. Using his own photographs, he chose various elements from far reaching locations and times, and merged them together to create a realistic moment in time that had never occurred, at a location that doesn’t exist, with bits and pieces picked from various images in his library.

More recently, I saw a You Tube photographer (Andrew S. Gray) who uses Intentional Camera Movement (blurred photos) to create numerous iterations of a single scene, and merges several of them together in various ways during post processing to create abstract landscapes. I believe he still does Tuesday night edits live on You Tube where you can follow along as he creates some of his work, or you can view previous edits on his You Tube Channel. Watching him manipulate several images into a single, finished photo, he masterfully layered several frames with varying opacity, and even rotated or resized some of the layers to utilize only the portion of the frame he wanted, to create what he was after from the beginning.

Many months ago, when I made my own meager attempt to simply flip one of several layers in Photoshop, my skills were so weak that all the layers flipped, when (at least I thought) only one of them was supposed to. So the idea of combining these two approaches was shelved for quite some time until this most recent attempt.

Not very long ago, I was shown how to transform, resize, rotate or flip a single layer without affecting the other layers; so with the free time currently available, I wanted to make another attempt utilizing these new found skills. The idea was to use only the single image at the top (trying to keep it as simple as possible), to create the background, and from another image taken earlier that morning, insert a single kayaker into it, combining the two approaches mentioned earlier. Here’s what happened…

Solo Kayaker — Jordan Lake, NC © jj raia

Solo Kayaker — Jordan Lake, NC © jj raia

With the frame in Photoshop, the first step was to make a duplicate layer of the original (just a good overall practice to protect your original file), and then on that layer, lighten all the fog and water below the brightest areas of the frame, namely everything below the sky and partially hidden disk of the sun behind the fog. Then, that lightened layer was duplicated, rotated nearly 180-degrees, and placed so that the top of the sun now appeared as the sun’s lower half of a nearly complete disk peeking from behind the fog, and the additional bright clouds previously above the sun on this lightened layer, were now underneath those of the identical layer below. After proper placement and lowering the opacity a bit, the edges of the frame, and the areas above the sun, were removed with a layer mask and gently blended into the background layer.

At that point, the area around the two halves of the sun appeared too much like a mirrored reflection, when the desire was to make it appear as though a separate fog bank lay out over the lake, also being lit by the sun underneath the thicker line of fog stretching across the middle of the frame; or, that the darker fog was a separate line closer to the viewer. How it actually appears is dependent on each viewers perception.

This is where the “painting” began, using the clone tool in Photoshop, at various flow rates, softness and size, to create a larger area of sunlit “fog” below the sun, changing its shape and texture to give it a natural appearance, and added appropriate reflections in the water. As seen in the original at the top, there was nothing lit below the sun at all, so it was all improvised. The addition of the kayaker from a photo taken a few minutes earlier, was used only to give the scene a bit of scale or a point of reference, and needed to be dropped in properly sized as a smart object, and the reflections blended into the water to appear as realistically as possible.

Then it was back to Lightroom, using a few radial filters and brushes, to make some adjustments to the lighting, and darken the kayaker to appear to be in the shadow of the sunlight coming from behind.

All this was made possible by others generously sharing their knowledge of what could be done in Photoshop, and the mechanical steps to make it happen. So a big thank you to those who showed me the way… you know who you are.

 

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