Blank Black

Does it matter if you gathered your gear together, ventured out in the darkness before dawn, drove to a location, and never took the camera out of the bag? In landscape photography, it probably happens more often than you would think. There can be many reasons you were uninspired that particular day, and there’s probably no need to list them all here, but several immediately come to mind: uncooperative conditions, unexpected impediments, unable to reach a desired location (locked gates), or even just a simple lack of inspiration without the need or desire to take a photograph that day. So, if all you’ve gotten out of your excursion is something similar to the image above, you can always explore possibilities with some older work that may have been languishing in your library. Work them like a painter, changing coloration, textures or anything you wish… create!! I’m sure most of those who read this will have far more experience and software to do these explorations, but even so, I gave it a shot the other day when there were no new images to process… only older work that may have sparked an interest in giving it a try.

After searching the mental library, and actually being able to find the image, I settled on a simple, almost minimalist, foggy scene from a few years back on a trip to South Carolina’s Charleston area (below). It looked like there was room within the drab colors and uncomplicated design for some severe explorations.

Foggy Inlet — Isle of Palms, SC © jj raia

The main changes for the first image (below) were made in Photoshop with separate Curves Adjustment Layers for each color: Red, Green and Blue (RGB). The beginning mechanics of this was to take the darkest point in the lower left of the linear graph, and push it to the top, and do the opposite with the brights, bringing them from the top of the graph to the bottom. These made severe changes to the colors of each curve and manipulations to spots along the linear graph continued until I was satisfied with the color combinations. These drastic movements were probably necessary because the original (above) severely lacked much in the way of color to begin with. Then it was brought back into Lightroom where more adjustments were made with a wide variety of brushes, radial and graduated filters, with the result leaning toward a Rothko painting containing simple blocks of intense color, the interplay of which is the main objective. But the textures of the marsh grasses give it a slight sense of place that propels it a bit beyond a simple abstract. Wild colors reside here.

Rothko — Isle of Palms, SC © jj raia

The following image from the same original was entirely done in Lightroom using the Tone Curve, again singling out each color and wildly pushing the limits of each to the opposite end of the graph as was done in Photoshop for the previous image. This caused some difficulty when trying to make brush adjustments locally since some were adjusted opposite of the desired effect; namely, to darken an area with a brush, the exposure had to be increased! But others, such as Highlights or Shadows seemed to work as intended using brushes. There was a lot of trial and error! Colors remain strong.

Rothko Sunset — Foggy Marsh at Isle of Palms, SC © jj raia

But this second one had the addition of an actual sun to really give it the sense of a landscape design, using a brush of appropriate size with minimal feathering with the Temperature pushed toward yellow and with some added from the color picker in the box at the bottom, along with the necessary increased saturation. Once the circle was made, the bottom was erased slightly, a bit at a time, until it appeared to be just above the layer of fog.

Rothko Cool Morning Fog © jj raia

The next exploration, the vertical above, which could actually be cropped even more to a square, colors move in a completely different direction. Instead of some strong warm colors, I went for something softer, in a cooler pastel palette. Additionally, I decided to add some interest in the sky by adding a photo from the previous Sunday’s outing. After reprocessing the original file (below, left), I realized that a recent sky image, which I took because of it’s soft appearance (below, right), was very close in color to the reprocessed original image. Adding the sky was accomplished by expanding the height of the canvas above the original, on which was pasted the sky on a separate layer with an associated layer mask, and blended the two together. Additional thinner strips of the sky were added and blended in the same manner as the first, and then any excess canvas was then cropped into 5:4 ratio. The sun was added differently than the previous image using a much larger feather to emphasize a hazy or foggy atmosphere.

The final image below began with the same original at the top of the post with altered colors, and then added the sky above whose color was changed to be almost identical, and then blended together again, as done in the photo above. One difference however, is the band of yellow along the horizon line and through the sun, and the band of very light blue running through the water between the near and far marsh grasses. Both were done with a separate fill layer of appropriate color, and blended in with layer masks and opacities.

Rothko Hazy Summer Sunrise © jj raia

These explorations focus mainly on changes in color; some are more intense and dramatic, while the final two frames have a more calming feel. The overall color of each exploration projects a particular mood onto the viewer that may vary according to the moment in time of each viewer; or the exercise in color can be simply a way of producing something to compliment the colors of a room. Whatever the reason may be for going through this exercise, I’m sure you could spend quite a bit of time adjusting the colors according to your own taste or purpose, increasing the idea of fog, maybe even adding a few ducks in the sky or a fisherman in a boat, wherever the imagination of your world takes you, and I may continue further with these explorations. Even though we might not be able to get out as much as we would like to do some photography, exploring some older work with a different intention or seeing with new eyes, is much better than a Blank Black image from the inside of your camera bag.

Post Script —

I suppose I could not resist the temptation of adding a sun to the original image from above, and continued the exploration of it in Photoshop about a week later. By adding a fill layer of yellow beneath the original image with an added layer mask, I was able to peak through to the yellow below by using a brush to “erase” the image itself and reveal the yellow color below. By varying the size of the brushes used, along with differing opacities and feathering, a sun with surrounding haze and a sunlit cloud above were formed. A reflection of the light was added on the water’s surface along with a brightening of the grasses on the opposite side. A few other minor changes were added after a few days when the new eyes were again brought to bear to see the inadequacies and repairs needed. All in all, a useful mini-project.

Rothko Fiery Sunset © jj raia

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