Thursday, September 9, 2010

A Photo Edit - Black and White Red Fox


I've meant to do more posts like this one. A quick take on the edit techniques used to process an image. Doing this for a straightforward image with little edits doesn't offer much. But for many images that I make there's a decent distance between what the camera captured, and how I've interpreted it, edited it, and then produced the final image.

Here's a composite with the final image on top. The bottom two images are from the raw file and are the basic images, reset to defaults in Lightroom and then color (default) and grayscale.
for blog

One of the main problems with the source image was it wasn't that sharp. It was the sharpest of the bunch from the encounter, but at 1/30th of a second at f/4, and a mix of handheld and resting on my car window/beanbag - it was hard to get a sharp shot.

red fox edits

The sharpest part is his nose, and the DoF falls off pretty quickly. As a straight color image his eyes and attention are gripping but the image itself isn't refined enough in my opinion. The above is overly flat due to no processing, but shows signs of animal behavior and intent and that'x what drew me to the photo/moment.

red fox edits

Switching to grayscale removes color and distraction, and elements that might make the mind wander. Color is a strong element on its own but for this image I really wanted to narrow the scope of it to just the fox. Converting to black and white, even though I have black and white on the brain lately, was probably a very justified move.

OK - so that's the setup. That's what I had to work with. I had seen the fox and due to the low light was shooting at pretty slow shutter speeds and wide open. My personal preference is to shoot wide open at ISO 400 and SLOW shutter speeds and let the cards fall where they may on sharpness. I don't always stick to this rule, but I try to avoid shooting at any ISO above 400. There's something about my D300 and D300s that ISO500 or beyond, just make me concerned regarding noise.

Anyway... I've been reading a book. I got it probably a year ago and just picked it up again. The book is Vincent Versace's "Welcome to Oz". In it he describes using Photoshop to turn a source image in to an artistic vision, an interpretation, something where the source file is just the starting point.

I highly recommend everyone listen to this podcast with Vinny (as I hear he's called).

Some of the concepts he talks about are how the eye moves through an image - light to dark, high contrast to low contrast, etc, etc..... Things that make sense but not what you might be concerned with when processing an image where you are really trying to (for me anyway) showcase a subject (often an animal) and show to others what you see.

So - here's the final black and white edit. This was done in Lightroom, and I used the adjustment brush a few times with different levels of lightening and darkening.

Bombay Hook NWR, DE

A few key edits I did were to darken the image and edges, and brighten the eyes and his nose. I also darkened the original bright spot on tht right. Having done that edit, I removed some noise in PS with D-fine, and added my logo.

It's fine to want to get it all right in camera and I shoot for that too. Heck I shot jpg for like 3 years! Now that I shoot RAW and manual mode I strive for getting the source file as good as possible. However there's often much more to an image than that.

Let me know what you think. I'm not looking to stir up the purist's who'd capture it in camera and do NO edits ever... What do folks think about editing images to enhance and convey, and make an image become an artist photo?

-Jon / Jon


Matt said...

Purest's are outdated! You've got a great process. Not what I do, but just cause it's different doesn't mean it's wrong.

Along the lines of your topic, a perfect article about editing:

Great work Jon!

Nikographer said...

While I do agree with that post Matt, I also want to share something regarding my images. They are NOT just what I saw many times. I like to be true to the location and subject or animal, but, it often doesn't come out of the camera like I post it. I don't clone and copy and remove with abandon... but.

While I know that, and you probably know that, I think some others may not.

And what I also wish others did was post when they used bait or calls to lure in subjects for images. While I as a rule don't use bait or calls, others do, and often get images that are both unnatural and unreal compared to what you might expect to get if you stumbled upon the same subject....

So, I don't share the edit technique purely to share how I did it - but to share the fact that often work is done on images to MAKE them - and if you aren't aware that these steps exist you may never get a similar photo of your own....

Make sense? hope so.

Matt said...

I totally agree with the baiting and such. Same with tame animals...that's just not wildlife! Might at well just go to the zoo if you're going to do that or at the very least make it known to people viewing the photo.

I am torn on calls though. I use calls hunting and it's one of the most effective ways to hunt and it's considered an ethical technical across the board. Never have used one photographing, so I just have no knowledge on that aspect.

I agree and understand with clearing things up for you said, "I and you know it, but other's might not."

Very true.

Joe (vidular) said...

I like what you did, the fox head is much more the center of attention compared to the color image in my opinion. As for cloning out distractions and cleaning up parts of the image, I agree. Sometimes distractions are just not seen when composing or cannot be avoided. Unless you are documenting a crime scene they detract from what you "saw" when shooting so I feel it is justified to do such cleaning. Very nice work.

Joe (vidular) said...

Nice work and good description how Lightroom can be used with this type of image. I agree that to portray the image one "saw" in their mind when composing with the camera it is reasonable to clean up the image removing distractions that were not seen during composing or could not be avoided. The B&W processed image does pull my eye much more to the fox's head compared to the color image. I would describe it as stepping the composition towards minimalism, if even just a little. But I think that is just good composition - with the camera and/or with post processing.

DADFAP said...

Great process, I am just starting to work in B&W, so any hints that I come across are gold to me right now.

Jean said...

I struggle with how much artistic license to take. For instance, I have an image of a muted sunrise scene. I like the image, but it is stronger when I adjust the the color temperature in the RAW imaage. The blue cast from the adjustment looks natural, and the rest of the image is as shot. So, am I an artist who paints the scene how she fits best? am I a photographer capturing the moment, or some combination thereof? To what extent does nature as a subject (versus people or product photography) compel the author to publish more truly to what came out of the camera.

I have accidentally overexposed scenes and the results were striking. So is a "happy accident" any more or less acceptable than changing the light temperature or removing an extraneous element (like a distracting branch)? Does the photographer have an obligation to share their artistic license with the viewer if they have made lighting changes, cloned elements, etc? Seems like a matter of degree...

On the fox - very effective's often the small adjustments in contrast and light levels that help direct a user's eyes and draw them through the photos. Well done!

Nikographer said...

What's probably strange is - when I hear "remove that branch" or "you should have cloned out that..." that bugs me more than if I or someone were to adjust the light levels all across an image.

I think light levels are like volume on a sound, the sounds are the same. And removing something by cloning it out, that's more like rewriting the image... IDK.

Occasionally I might clone a little something here or there, but I avoid that generally. I will always adjust exposure levels, and WB to "get it right", and when I feel adventureous I will edit the light levels with a more granular bit of control. And I do that too with sharpness - adding sharpness to just some of an image.