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Challenge: landscape images that dissapoint us: "Otaga Penninsula": edit, don't crop!

Asher Kelman

OPF Owner/Editor-in-Chief
Why some landscape images give trouble: An analysis of "Otaga Penninsula".

Hi Nathaniel,

You raised a very important question as to why a scene that's so compelling to look at can leave one questioning when one looks at the resulting picture.

I have not looked to see whether you sell such pictures or whether you are an accomplished wedding photographer or actually design cameras. All I know is that I and many others have done the same thing! So it was very much worth my while working on this problem as if it were my image. To do so, I wanted to get your O.K., which you kindly provided. So now here we are!

My first approach when I looked at this was to imagine that in your picture there where a number of different separate compositions that you had seen and so it was just a matter of choosing them from the wide shot in the comfort of home. That first idea did not work. The problem was that each time I tried to get more than one image, there were unsatisfactory results except for one main image in black and white and then several derivatives of smaller crops.

In effect you were either inspired by the shapes and tones of things in shades of black gray and white or else you were taken by a composition in color. My hunch is that you did not imagine this scene in B&W. I do, so I can also show such possibilities.

Let me presenting that first picture again unaltered and then with areas marked which I'll explain.


© Nathaniel Alpert 2007

Now the marked up version I have made dividing the image to three zones for our attention, A, B and C. Then there are features numbered 1 -7.



Edits by Asher Kelman 2007_03

A is the bright area of the "roof of the picture", here there's the sky and below it hillsides in the sunlight. Below that the hills are dark and appear to have rock formations and or shrubs.

B The main thrust of the image. This is where the power is likely emanating. The zone contains the docked boat, the lines of posts in the water, perhaps part of a larger dock structure in better time. This portion of the scene is likely what attracted Nathaniel's eye in the first place. So this is central to the success of the image.

C The left part of the scene. This adds some context. Without the ramshackle hut with its patched rusty roof and blue trailer, the scene might be idyllic, but these are there, so there is sense again of better times but of weathering the elements and continuing to use that boat even as nature reclaimed the materials.

So this part of the image is like a commentary on the main central focus of the picture in Zone B.

So why do things seem to not work well to have a unified picture?

The problem is that the elements separately fight for attention and the colors of the man made material are not in any harmony with the rest of the picture.

So lets come up with a solution, dismiss the color and tame the distracting clutter. So here's a B&W transformation by simply using the "Adjust", "Mode" options in Photoshop CS2 to go to Adobe Gray Scale and discarding the color information. With this we have already made the scene more harmonious and perhaps it does work better.



Edits by Asher Kelman 2007_03


However, we can do better, perhaps by not removing color information, rather assigning color information to different tones. So lets take the blue caravan trailer, for example detail # 1 and the rusty roof, detail #2, these can be assigned to lighter tones. Other hues are assigned progressively until one has a more harmonious but realistic looking scene. Adding an S curve layer in CS2 and some minimal sharpening one can achieve what to me is a more impressive picture even without cropping.


Edits by Asher Kelman 2007_03

Now what did we do? Let's do it by the numbers:

#3, #5 and #7 are important reflections that have been developed so they are clearly noticed but not overwhelming. Rather they must be there but subtle. There is now more dimensionality to the scene because the assignment of each color to tonality is made by trial and error iteratively until the image seems to have more substance and presence. Now we are doing with tonality what perhaps our mind does when we come across this scene. The brain assigns all kinds of different values to each part. We must do the same to evoke the same powerful responses when we revisit the scene.

We do not have the benefit of being able to have the picture prove it's real by it altering as we move out head. So we have to somehow embed this dimensionality and we do this by the distribution of tone. When we assign colors to tonalities we have given ourselves a huge new set of tools to regain what is lost on flat paper or a flat screen.

# 4 and 6 are the boat and posts. The latter has been enhanced to a degree. These need to be isolated and enhanced further as you will see in the next part of this discussion.


I do hope this is helpful as an approach to getting the most out of a complex shot. I feel that what was seen by Nathaniel was powerful but very challenging. While unlikely to have been imagined, I believe that the final B&W developed version is satisfying and much more interesting and would make a good print.

Now what do you think?

Asher


The next part of my discussion ideal with the core features of the image, the strongest components, but in color. Finally we'll revisit the site to retake the picture, knowing what we now know!
 
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Asher Kelman

OPF Owner/Editor-in-Chief
Please give your reactions to this image. The above is only my take. Yours may be different.

Did you like the image as is? Nathaniel didn't!

What do you beieve didn't work in the image?

What changes if any would you think of making, but without cropping at all. (Cropping will be later).

Feel free to try!

Asher

add Edited by you under this particular image this time as I have.
 

Nicolas Claris

Administrator/Moderator
My dear Asher

The original picture suffers from the lack of light, cloudy day on a scenery that our power of imagination would think to be normally sunny, sculpted by light.
In that regard, Nathaniel did quite a good job, his image, despite low light is appealing...

As usual I don't think that B&W adds anything there...
It is the illustration of what I've previously said in other threads in OPF, deleting color informations to a color pic, doesn't make it automatically art!

I tried to work a bit on the image:
- warming all
- saturate a bit more
- enhance general midtones contrast
- enlight the montains in the upper left corner:

I think it now looks a little bit too much like a postal card, but it is not that easy to work on a low resolution image...
 

Asher Kelman

OPF Owner/Editor-in-Chief
Hi Nicolas,

I appreciate that you tackle the color since no one more than you would seek to protect it. You have added zest to it. Yours is a great improvement.

Thanks for the contribution!

Asher
 

Fred Spencer

New member
Thought I would have a go at this one. I think the real problem is where it was taken from. I suspect a better composition could have been achieved from a different position.

Asher's explanation about black and white is also very interesting. It's not something I have had much interest in before; always thinking it to be old fashioned, or obsolete even, but now I'm not so sure.

Anyway, here is my 'straight' version. Click the image and it will take you to several variations. Any comments would be appreciated.



Original (c) Nathaniel Alpert 2007
Edited by Fred Spencer 2007_4
 
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Barry Johnston

New member
For my money, I just don't like the blue shed (period)... sorry, but I think it is just too much. The left hand side of the photo is also very cluttered and messy in a photo that is trying to display calmness and serenety.
Anyway, I hope you like what I have done.

Trial 1


Let me know what you think.

Best Regards
 
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Dawid Loubser

New member
Barry, I think your second crop is highly over-processed... Not sure what you wanted to achieve?

Asher, I really like how you added interest by assigning different tones to different hues (and I guess this is where the real skill of using coloured filters on B&W film in the old days was shown - to "see" this before taking the image). I agree that desaturating a colour image does not automatically make art, but in this case, it's one of two ways of removing the colours not in harmony with the rest of the scene, as you state.

In my eyes, the main problem with this image is the original composition. Though the water, shore and reflections add interesting detail, it is quite top-heavy, giving me an uneasy feeling. I think, in this image (a very pleasing image, I might add), the only way I see some balance is by darkening the shoreline:

 

Asher Kelman

OPF Owner/Editor-in-Chief
Dawid,

Yes, you made a great addition to the picture. The darkening of the shoreline, especially in the foreground, adds some structure that gives the picture much more unity.

I almost feel we have to fly over there to rework this!

Which version did you use to add your magic to?

Asher
 

Phil Marion

New member
the problem clearly is the light on the yonder hills - the eyes are naturally drawn towards the light which takes our attention away from the main focus.
 

Asher Kelman

OPF Owner/Editor-in-Chief
Another fine contribution! Thanks Jack!

Isn't it interesting how much room there is for expression even after the shutter has been tripped. Never before has the darkroom allowed so many variations to be expressed with such little cost in time, space and money.

Still, I have an urge to visit this Otago Bay sometime in my life and scout, climb around, set up a 4x5 camera.

Asher
 

Allen Maestas

New member
My take

I love things like this, because of the challenge and the practice. I felt the overall image was too bright not just the sky. Used curves to darken the overall image, then used a layer mask to darken the sky just bit more and blended. the just did small tweaks to sat levels, contrast, and a bit of shadow/highlight recovery but not much.

I then converted to B&W. I like contrasty B&W's so that's the way I went. I used selective dodging and burning to taste.

I don't know they are different anyway.







 
Allen,

I add my wellcome to you. I find your treatment of the photograph the most appealing so far. And I am speaking of the color version, which I prefer to the B/W. It seems that darkening the photo has had the effect of simplfying the composition. It has also intensified the blues and reds, just the opposite effect of some of the other treatments.
 

Joe Thibodeau

New member
I like the original and I tend to look at photographs of this nature as documentary as well as landscape. I am a glutton for contrast these days and here is my interpretation of this image. I spent 15 minutes. I felt the sky and sky reflection were essential for balancing the subject which for me is the boat.



I like Allen's interpretations.
 

Markus Glück

New member
my contibution:

everything in the image is panoramic and wide: the house, the boat, the water and the pontoon.

so I cropped away the hills in the back ground and the water at the bottom.

 
Marcus and Jim,

It's nice to see that there is still some life in this thread. Marcus's crop has better integrated the dock, with its strong horizontals, into the composition, .athough it's a pity the light on the hillside had to go.

Jim a bit of whimsy never hurts.

-Nat
 
As usual here is my "overdone" version, using painting on neutral layers, 2 content edit scaling, a bit of level adjustments (2). and a bit of transform tool to change the photographers point of view.


 
Could have done better by reducing the impact of the shed and boat (basically their size compared to the general picture), but, even if the content aware scale is a great tool, it affects the general balance of the elements. So in that case it would have been even worse.
 

Mike Shimwell

New member
Could have done better by reducing the impact of the shed and boat (basically their size compared to the general picture), but, even if the content aware scale is a great tool, it affects the general balance of the elements. So in that case it would have been even worse.
Sandrine, in no way personal, but at what point does this cease to be a photograph?

Question remains open to all!

Mike
 

Asher Kelman

OPF Owner/Editor-in-Chief
Sandrine, in no way personal, but at what point does this cease to be a photograph?

Question remains open to all!

Mike
Michael,

I would answer that one with the idea of presentation. One cannot always find the right light if one is traveling on a schedule. So preparing the image becomes so important. Even in perfect evening light, the contrast curves and sharpness may be locally adjusted. For a studio shot, however, except for getting wanted distortions removing skin blemishes and the like, the shot should be perfect!

Asher
 
Clearly, I placed my post AFTER you said we can crop. It was like screaming "yippee" at a wild mustang. you said it !
In fact the point was to show certain possibilities of the "content aware scale", That is one of my favorite of the CS4 additions. I maybe not the best of commercials for Adobe. And at one point, I stated my uselessness in achieving digitally what I would have done (at my point of view) with this scene, if I had the luck to be there. But apart the fact that the left side is a little dull - and others achieved very well the retouching - I find that image is worth be carefully printed, beautifully framed and hanged proudly on your wall.
 

Mike Shimwell

New member
Sandrine,

Please do not take any offece. This is a question that enuinely interests me as there are as many interpretations as there are photorgaphers. I am not so naive as to pretend or believe that any approach is 'true' - we always make pictures - but I am interested in how we choose to modify the original file and still describe the outcome as a photograph. By the way, I wasn't aware of content aware scale in CS4, so you have taught me something interesting today.

As for the thread, it's ful of good and interesting examples of different approaches to bringing life to the original file.

Regards

Mike
 
Sandrine,

Please do not take any offece. This is a question that enuinely interests me as there are as many interpretations as there are photorgaphers. I am not so naive as to pretend or believe that any approach is 'true' - we always make pictures - but I am interested in how we choose to modify the original file and still describe the outcome as a photograph. By the way, I wasn't aware of content aware scale in CS4, so you have taught me something interesting today.

As for the thread, it's ful of good and interesting examples of different approaches to bringing life to the original file.

Regards

Mike

If you knew me better, you would know that I NEVER take any offence of anything. I was just stating truly, as honestly as possible, the pros and cons of the method.

I am not posting here to cry out "hey look at me, I'm so goooood", I can do that myself ;-). I'm just posting because I have fun sharing things with others, I often learn stuffs from posts that have nothing to do with photography, I learn things from sources that don't even mention the use of a computer. So you'll never hurt my feelings, It'll never happen. I'm doing things for fun, to make friends if possible. Sharing the sense of humor and the positiveness is a way far more interesting path than being grumpy and cynical. I'm not...
 

Mike Shimwell

New member
If you knew me better, you would know that I NEVER take any offence of anything. I was just stating truly, as honestly as possible, the pros and cons of the method.

I am not posting here to cry out "hey look at me, I'm so goooood", I can do that myself ;-). I'm just posting because I have fun sharing things with others, I often learn stuffs from posts that have nothing to do with photography, I learn things from sources that don't even mention the use of a computer. So you'll never hurt my feelings, It'll never happen. I'm doing things for fun, to make friends if possible. Sharing the sense of humor and the positiveness is a way far more interesting path than being grumpy and cynical. I'm not...
Excellent - I was afraid for a moment I might have offended you!

Mike
 
I am also aware of the lacking of my English, and above all, the subtleties around the culture of communication.

For example here in GB, people hug a lot, which is, to me, a bit disturbing, but they don't talk that much to each others about no-nonsense stuffs, which they would find really intrusive and very rude. And that is the way we use to talk in France. (in the south of France, one of your friends can tell you're an idiot without anybody take any offence, if, at that time, it's really true you're an idiot...)

There's always misunderstanding between brits and I. Not because of the words (can be partly) but because I don't grasp the un-said things. It can be even worse with US people, I don't know.

And as for hugging, there was a lot of them yesterday, and a lot of tears because the English team is out of the competition in the Football (soccer) world cup in South Africa, and THAT is a national disaster. ;-).

I say that for the others because, you, you know ;-)....
 
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