Possibilities

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Hazy Dawn — Jordan Lake, NC © jj raia

In early 2014, about 18 months after switching to digital, I did a few experiments with what I called blurred images, but have since learned they are properly identified as Intentional Camera Movement, or ICM. Even though I had done some previously with a basic digital point & shoot camera about five years earlier (below), there were plenty of limitations using that camera and wanted to experiment with the new DSLR having much more control over the shutter speed, aperture, etc. It was a method I would eventually use extensively later that year on a month-long trip photographing the golden leaves and white trunks of aspens in autumn.

Dancing Irises – © jj raia

But that initial attempt in 2014 was pretty much a dismal failure, especially comparing it to the final version above by moving the slider from side to side within the frame comparing the two at the end of the post. Switching from a wide-angle view to a 70-200mm lens, the grasses growing around the edges of Jordan Lake were to provide a soft texture in the foreground water, with the rest of the lake, sun and reflection draped in a light fog, filling the upper portion of the frame with a gauzy atmosphere. While the grasses came out as desired, the sun turned into a hideous streak, altering reality a bit too much, and not what I wanted at all. I was looking for a soft, ethereal feel to the image that was more representative of what the actual conditions were like, but in a more painterly style, rather than the sharp and in focus “normal” photo I had taken just moments before (below). But I was not able to eliminate that streak in camera that morning, and that file never saw the light of day for over seven years.

Note – Now I realize, two separate frames could have been used, with one blurred and another normal, blended together as layers with a layer mask in Photoshop. Rather than going back to retry the shot (with the slim possibility of duplicating the conditions from that day), I thought I’d give it a try to get to where I wanted to take the image using the more difficult, one frame approach, rather than the easier aforementioned two-frame method. Why do it the easy way, when the more difficult option is available.

Distant Mist — Jordan Lake, NC © jj raia

During the intervening years, I’ve picked up a few Photoshop possibilities, meaning what is possible using the program’s tools and utilizing only the skills I’ve acquired so far, leaving about 98% of the remaining possibilities within the program still a mystery to me, and thought to make an attempt at eliminating that sun streak by painting it out using the clone tool (type-S). Beginning with a soft-edged brush at a medium to low opacity, samples were taken very close to the streak, and began blending, and blending, and blending from both sides, until I was completely satisfied with both the elimination of the streak, and its believability. But now the image lacked anything to represent the source providing all the central brightness and resulting reflections within the image, so it had to be improvised. Changing the brush to 100% opacity along with a sharp edge and appropriate size, the brightest yellow (almost white) was sampled and placed as a replacement for the sun. Then with a slightly larger brush, switched to a very low opacity and very soft edge, a slightly darker yellow sample was taken and placed directly over the sharp “sun”, adding more and more opacity with each click until enough was there to provide the desired soft glow around it. The final step was to continue with the same brush of differing sizes, and stretch out the brighter area to mimic the mist around the “sun” in hopes of giving it a tiny bit more realism, along with just a few small specular highlights reflecting in the calm water.

<< left – final | original – right >>

A few minor adjustments were then made back in Lightroom to reduce the contrast and lighten a few areas, especially along the lower edge, to maintain the soft, misty view of the lake, but not much else was done in the way of sorcery. It was Photoshop’s basic clone tool that made it all possible. For a tool that was initially used simply to eliminate sensor spots and a few stray distracting tree branches or shells on the beach, it has expanded since then to sharpen slightly blurred birds (click here to read about that), and even people in one instance, as well eliminate some minor haloes. But using it to “paint” is truly one of its most expressive attributes. The combination of camera movement with painting, no matter how it’s achieved, can be a powerful force in creating images with a more painterly style. And though there was a failure in the field to achieve the vision, it was finally realized after some salvational brushstrokes of the clone tool, albeit seven years later.

Now, if only I could acquire the remaining 98% of Photoshop’s Possibilities in an instant…


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