Friday, July 15, 2016

Reflecting on a photo in Garfield Park

Those of you who have looked in on this blog for a while know that Garfield Park in Indianapolis is a favorite place of mine to shoot. The park is easy walking distance from my home, and each time I visit it, I challenge myself to find something different to photograph.

Light Co., makers of the new L16 compact camera that already is sold out until 2017 (according to its website), sent me an invitation recently to compose a blog post devoted to a favorite image of mine ... a post that would tell the story of how the image came about. The post will be a part of Light Co.'s Vantage Point Project on Pinterest, and I want readers to know I am not receiving anything in return except, perhaps, for a little exposure. That is the genesis of this post.

Of the thousands of pictures I've made in Garfield Park, the one that jumps to mind first when I think of my favorites there was taken during a pretty heavy snowstorm in February 2011. My challenge that day was the snowfall itself -- specifically, seeing if I could get something creative using the barrage of falling flakes around me.

The shoot also happened to represent one of my first forays into shooting scenes that I would later process in high-dynamic range (HDR) software. HDR, for those not familiar, is a process of melding multiple images of different exposures to cull maximum detail out of the very bright or dark portions of a composition. Often, especially in contrasty lighting, a "normal" exposure will have very blacked out darks or blinding whites. HDR gives you a chance to get detail out of those light extremes.

To accomplish this, I bracketed all of my shots that day, taking three exposures of each -- one at "normal" exposure (the one my light meter told me was correct), one a full stop less light than the normal exposure, and one with a full stop more light than the normal one.

There were only a handful or so of shots that I really liked from the shoot, but the one that stood out for me I got by pure luck; it was not something I could have planned. Because it was snowing so heavily, for the first 20 minutes I was shooting in the park, I didn't see another person on foot (like me) anywhere -- and very few motor vehicles. I was pretty certain I was the only person foolish enough to be out in that weather ...

... until I approached the park's iconic pagoda, where I thought I'd go to craft some shots integrating the ornamental ironwork installed around the perimeter of the concrete floor. There, a lone individual clad in denim slacks and hooded sweatshirt -- I presumed it was a man -- stood next to the fence portion of the ironwork while staring out, apparently in reflection, to the snow-covered meadow. I came upon the scene from the rear, so the person didn't see me right away. I immediately, and quietly, positioned my tripod on the sidewalk below a set of steps leading up to the pagoda platform, where I had a great angle to compose a shot of the individual in reflection.

I took two or three photos of the person before walking up the steps and composing the landscape shots I originally had planned, starting on the opposite side of the pagoda from where the other person was standing. This time, my back was to him or her. At some point, that person left, unbeknownst to me. By the time I turned around to look to move on to other areas to make pictures, he or she was gone.

I took the picture seen in this post using a Canon 7D equipped with a Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 lens set at maximum focal length (75mm). The aperture was set at f/9 and ISO at 100. My shutter served as the variable to get me my three different exposures. For the normal exposure, I used a shutter of 1/160, so I'm presuming my "minus" and "plus" exposure shutter speeds were in the vicinity of 1/125 and 1/200.

Processing the photo proved to be quite deliberative. In fact, it extended over two editing sessions. This was the shot I was most interested in when I finished my swing through the park, so after I got home and pushed the image through Photomatix software for the HDR treatment, I was pleased with how the ironwork framed the individual, and that the snowfall blurred the background -- especially those trees just above the lower ornamental fence -- even more so than the blur in inherent depth of field blur. And I liked the footprints on the platform in the foreground; I had the feeling that the prints told a viewer where the individual came from before settling at the position shown in the picture. And, of course, there was that meditation thing going on ...

I made both color and monochrome versions of the picture, and the monochrome version appealed to me the most. So much key to the image was either black (the ironwork) or white (the snow) that it seemed natural for monochrome to be the way to go. The little bit of color in the composition ... particularly the pagoda ceiling and some playground equipment in the very far -- and low -- background (both of which are undetectable in the monochrome version) ... struck me as distracting. However, I did like how the in-focus colors in the individual's clothing contrasted with the black and white softness around it, and the colors better brought out the detail in the snowflakes on the clothing. Yet it didn't occur to me at that point that I could have the best of both worlds. So at that first editing session, I settled upon the black and white image and moved on.

A couple weeks later, I happened to come across a tutorial of some sort (I can't remember if it was online or at a photo club meeting) on the use of selective color in images. I was very interested, because I'd seen such images before but never pursued it myself. I hunted around on the Internet to find a YouTube video on selective color using Photoshop Elements, my primary editing software at the time. As I watched the video, the pagoda image came to mind as something I could use this on -- to get that "best of both worlds" idea that occurred to me weeks earlier.

So, I did another edit session on the image, following the process delineated in the video. The process, as I recall, involved first converting the color image to black and white, then using tools found somewhere in the bar at the top of the Elements edit window to restore color to just the areas I wanted.

I liked the outcome a lot, and I tried selective color on another dozen or so of my images in the weeks after. Perhaps oddly, I haven't used it much since, though. That's not to say I wouldn't ... if the idea to do so struck me. As I composed this post, I decided to try to do it again. I have a much newer version of Elements now, and I tried to replicate my actions in 2011, but I didn't find the tool I needed from the editing window tool bar.

I did, however, find another YouTube video that got me up to date, and I'm pleased to say it worked ... although in this video, you don't convert the image to black and white first. You deal with the color version, use the smart brush tool after selecting the black and white option from a drop-down menu in a pop-up that appears when selecting the brush tool.

As always, click on the image to see a larger, and sharper version; this is particularly important if you access the post from a mobile device.

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