Final Vision vs. Final Version

Rain-Soaked Forest — Chatham County, NC © jj raia

The image above was not what I had in mind when I tripped the shutter. What was there was something completely different from the final vision I wanted it to become; the frame is simply how it appeared to the camera.

On the day in December I went out, it was supposed to be a foggy morning, and there was fog around after some pretty heavy rains the previous day and through the night. But the fog never really reached ground level, remaining just above the treetops when viewed from a long distance. So I drove around, searching for a location where there was thick fog at ground level, but just never came across any. So that idea was a bust.

What I did come across though, was an entrance to a new home development with a grove of very tall, rain-drenched pine trees on either side of the road, with an understory carpeted with needles soaked to a beautiful orange glow. It was an interesting spot deserving of getting out to search for a composition; something I didn’t see from inside the car. After walking along the road several times, there were a few possibilities that really didn’t pan out because of unbalanced or blocking trunks. Eventually, I decided on the scene above, with intentions to alter it in Photoshop later.

<< After — Before >>

The 70-300mm lens was used to narrow the angle of view and keep the sky from peaking into the scene, and to focus more attention on the singular deciduous tree standing among all the vertical lines of the pine trunks. Once the composition was set, a few frames were taken with a polarizer to ensure there were no overexposed highlights, and other brighter exposures in case they were needed for blending or HDR. Certainly nothing overly unique in technique. The fun would occur later in the post-processing.

The first step was to do some global and local adjustments in Lightroom for proper color and contrast; basically to bring the RAW file to life. Then it was on to Photoshop where, on a duplicate layer, a filter for motion blur was applied (90-degrees, vertical), and with a layer mask, the intensity of the blur was reduced in specific areas, using a brush set at very low opacity so that some of the crisp frame below showed through, giving the pine needles on the forest floor more texture and definition, as well as around the subject tree leaves. The remainder of the blurred areas were left alone.

An Intentional Camera Movement would not have worked here because every part of the frame would be blurred without the ability to adjust the amount of blur where I wanted less of it. So blurring it in Photoshop allowed more control over the amount of blur globally, and how much to reduce the blur of the tree leaves and needles on the forest floor. Once that was completed, it was back to Lightroom for the envisioned lighting. The thought was to create something similar to theatrical lighting, of a “spotlight” on the the main subject or focal point, keeping the surrounding areas darker to create the intended drama. One more step was to add a bit of blue toning to the forest, excluding the pine needles and the tree leaves to enhance the opposing warm and cool tones making the tree stand out and just a bit more depth. And finally, the image was flipped horizontally to read better.

On the image directly above, to see the original blurred version imported to Lightroom from Photoshop, slide the selector to the right; to view the final version with the addition of the lighting, slide it to the left. Even though the original blurred image had the intended blur and was properly exposed, it lays limp on the screen, lacking any drama nor initiating any emotional response. With the addition of the intended lighting, those problems appear to have been resolved. There is no question as to what the main subject is since it stands out much more from the surrounding darker and moody forest, and the final “vision” was realized.

Sometimes the final version just doesn’t live up to the final vision you had in the field, and more work needs to be done. But if the final version does match, or at least comes close, you can be satisfied with the achievement of capturing the necessary data in the field (or studio), and mechanically altering that information into an image that matches the vision for it. What remains is if that same impact you felt comes across to other viewers; but the only real importance lies with your own satisfaction.

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