Monday, January 26, 2009

Dissection of an image

The above image was the starting point of an odyssey that I'm sure a lot of photographers have experienced: Finding different ways to look at the same image. The "anatomy of a single image" below tells the story of one such odyssey -- some successes, one surprise and one "I'm not sure sure about this."

The top image isn't anything spectacular or unusual. It was taken inside the Garfield Park Conservatory in Indianapolis in a tropical plants exhibit. The foliage was dangling from a boulder from which a very modest waterfall was spilling. I got behind the waterfall and shot into the light behind it. Dodging the light was nearly unavoidable; the conservatory is a glass-surrounded facility, so no matter what angle I chose to shoot -- unless it were straight on -- I would have had to take into consideration the presence of backlight -- and decide whether I wanted to compensate for it by overexposing, or shooting for silhouette. I chose to overexpose slightly because that day, I wasn't interested in a silhouette; I wanted to capture the color in the foliage and the waterdrop cascade. I wasn't surprised afterward when I saw a lot of the reflective circles -- the result of flare. But I chose to use those to my advantage in this little project.

Again, the shot at the very top is the original image. Right below it is the same frame with a slight increase in the color saturation and contrast. Not a huge difference, but enough to bring out a little more red in the leaf and darken the dark green foliage shadow on the left. Next, I took the same frame one more time, boosted the highlights and increased the saturation (only a little less than the first time). The result is the image above. The red leaves, especially, are beginning to pop out in the frame, which was the objective in the first place. It's fascinating what just a tweak in highlights and saturation can do when you're looking to distinguish elements in an image file.

While studying those three images, it occurred to me that I could crop this frame into smaller segments and create several whole "new" pictures. First, I concentrated on isolating -- and accentuating -- the vertical nature of the leaf foliage itself. So I created a copy of the original image and cropped it to isolate just the leaf vine.

Again I went back to the saturation, highlights and contrast and tweaked with those ever so slightly to effect the vertical version at left. The one thing I didn't like was how the crop drew unwanted attention on the bright white spot in the upper right corner. I figured that if I really wanted to display this version, I could address the white splotch by applying a frame or border to the image, harnessing a bit of the white. Two things I did like about this version:

1) It gave more prominence to the hefty water cluster near the bottom of the red-leafed vine, the heart of the cluster falling right on top of the series of horizontal reflective circles.

2) It played up two solo reflective circles -- one just above the third leaf down, the other on the far left side of the frame, providing a sort of balance.

Next, I wanted to create an extremely horizontal frame. At the far left side of the rectangle, I placed the lower portion of the leaf cluster; on the far right, the green foliage with the white circular spot. So I created that crop off the original, went to the color curves and played up the reds ever so slightly and the greens a bit more and came up with the horizontal slice you see at left. I liked that it maintained the prominence of the water cluster; what I didn't like was that it possibly introduced confusion as the real subject, or focus, of the image -- was it the leafed vine, or the foliage on the right? My initial hope was to include the two for balance, and again initially, I thought that because the leafed vine would be in focus and the green foliage out of focus (beyond the depth of field), that it would be clear that the leafed vine was the focal point. But after making the crop, I wasn't so sure that got accomplished.

I saved the most enjoyable sectioning for last. It was the super-crop of just the horizontal row of reflective circles on the far left of the original image (the one dissected by the unleafed vine).

With only a few droplets in the image anywhere close to being in focus, it left me a challenge to find something to make this version appealing. So I pushed the color curves to the extreme -- and came upon this strikingly dual-shade purple abstract. It did fetch a few comments at my gallery (in the Manipulations folder). The only drawback to this crop was that the image file is so small -- relative to the original, anyway -- that I probably couldn't squeeze a print larger than 5x7 out of it, and that might be stretching it.

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