OBX 2021 — Part Two

Gulls in Flight — Outer Banks, NC © jj raia

In the previous post I mentioned the subject of “repairing” flaws or distractions within the frame, or blending the better parts of separate frames, to move more toward our idea of the finished image, the one imagined at that moment. The image above is a case in point. I made several attempts at panning the camera using a slower (1/4-second) shutter speed, following the flight of several gulls as they passed by, hoping to get the texture of the ocean in the background to become a horizontal blur while also blurring the gulls. The best I could do was what is seen above except the original frame edge ran through the middle of the bird furthest left; not the most desirable positioning of subjects. It was the only frame that was even close to being useable, so I made the attempt to salvage the image by adding some real estate (canvas) to the left in Photoshop (Image > Canvas Size), and using the clone tool, “drew in” the missing parts of the gull and a continuation of the background blurs in that added blank area. It was done using a soft edged clone brush at a low flow (about 12), and trying to grab areas within the original frame that mimicked the areas I wanted to fill in. At times a large brush was used, and other times it was narrowed down to blend in specific details. It was a bit painstaking to do, but if it worked out, the birds would be more centered in the frame instead of being pressed up against the left edge. If it didn’t work out, then the image would end up in the trash along with all those other failed attempts.

Earlier that same morning, just after the the sun rose, I began taking what I hoped would be some high key images looking toward the northeast instead of where the sun had just cleared the horizon. Looking to get the edge of the surf to provide a leading line into the frame for added three-dimensionality, the tripod was plopped down where it seemed most of the surf would flow to before returning to the ocean, and simply rattled off frame after frame whenever the surf cooperated. Basically staying in the same place for 20-minutes, patience was important since not every wave lines up just right, and of course, even if it provides the perfect leading line, whatever the wave action is in the background also plays an important role. So the idea of blending two frames was always a possibility, and decisions needed to be made pretty much instantly as to whether the shutter was being tripped for the waves in the background, or only for the movement of the surf in the foreground. Background waves just before, or as they are cresting, proved to be good focal points for the surf to lead toward, but if they were on the edge of the frame, those darker areas were distracting, making the edge seem disjointed and unusable. For the most part, the shutter speed was around 1/2-second to create the streaks as the surf returned back toward the ocean, or it could capture the moment it stopped coming onshore, being much less blurry. Examples of each are among the six below. I know I’ve said this often, but trying to time the shutter release as the surf begins its retreat leaves a cleaner line in the frame. Waders are also helpful in the colder months (late October) since you can continue taking photos without the concern of numbing limbs, and being able to return to the house with dry, sand-free feet.

The objective for these photos was to use the shapes of the surf for a simple, minimalist design within the frame, using the subtle pastel colors of that hazy morning, to recreate the quiet solitude on the desolate beach.

Even though only one or two of these were blended, all had some minor repairs done to areas in the clouds that seemed distracting in that they took away from the gauzy/misty look of the scene, or drew the eye away from the desired focal point in the ocean. Since the cloud cover was an evenly mottled texture, any bright or empty area of sky broke the continuity. Simply darkening the area made it look unnatural, so that option was off the table. The other option is using the clone tool in Photoshop, grabbing some of the similar color and texture from neighboring areas of the offending spot, and gently filling in those blank areas, gradually building them up until it blends seamlessly with its surroundings. In a way, it feels like being an artist, painting in color and texture using a mouse instead of a brush with paint. But it’s necessary to repair those areas in a way that, although more difficult, ends as a more believable result. Sometimes we can easily see bright areas within a frame that have been darkened to make them less obvious. But if using this technique is done right, those problem areas can become almost invisible. During the processing of several photos from this trip, they have benefited from this technique, including reshaping some breaking waves along a frame edge to make them less noticeable (previous post), or filling in blown out highlight areas or cloud gaps with the surrounding textures and colors.

Additionally, the clone tool can also be used to paint out more than just sensor spots. The beach can leave any number of distracting spots, whether it’s some remnant foam, shells or other debris. Another problem faced that morning, were the many small feeding birds (plovers?) that flitted around the surf edge. Using long exposures, they left streaks in the frame that can be easily removed, while in one particular image (in an upcoming post), many blurry birds were removed leaving only those that were stationary and crisp, making the image cleaner. I also used the tool on one occasion to remove some power lines in the distance, not that they are so noticeable, but when printed, are obvious enough and take away from the “before the hand of man” portrayal of the scene. That has always been the purpose in most of my landscape photographs: to record the scene as it could have been eons ago.

But whatever tools or techniques you use, the goal is always the same: to make each image the best it can be. And the most important tool of all, ourselves, should not be permitted to falter by not allowing for the necessary time required to do so.

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