Sunday, October 25, 2020
I wasn’t expecting to be back in the blogs again today, but my plans changed slightly after my whirlwind trek late yesterday into Surry County. Since I was going to be working on the pictures and blog entry until the early morning hours of Sunday, I decided to post some teaser cell phone pictures to Facebook to get interest sparked for the upcoming images. I posted a picture of the barn under the stormy sky that I loved so much and followed that up with my test image for the boat that I finished the evening out with. This simple cell phone shot was what I used to determine roughly how the composition would flow taking into account the elements that I chose not to include in the scene. There was nothing special about it at all, and the exposure was pure auto in the phone. It was a good gauge in deciding how I wanted to approach the scene.
This was the image that I posted to Facebook and it started to get rave reviews almost immediately. Of course this is a very low quality image that would fail miserably upon printing, but it seemed to go over very well. That made me happy because I knew that I had basically this image stored and ready to process a short time later. When I did get to that series of images in Lightroom I started to look at how they looked on the screen. I had some reservations with the horizontal approach that I had started out with while at the scene, and those concerns were still present looking at the “real” images on the computer.
The main problem that I had with this was that it was very confused with all of the colors, textures, and lighting. The image looked off balance because the small structure in the midground got lost in the frame with no light on it. Since the boat was pointing out of the frame to the left, my eyes just naturally hovered there in the left half of the image and then the sky started to compete for the secondary attention. That left the right half of the frame kind of useless for a composition. It wasn’t negative, or even blank space, it was cluttered space that just didn’t tell any part of the story, and was a dead zone for my eyes. Fortunately, I had seen this as a possible issue while in the field and had changed my approach for the composition.
I really wanted to have the eyes stay on the boat which filled the frame more. in order to do this, I flipped the camera on its side and framed up a portrait composition that I thought fit the scene much better. This did several things to the design of the image. First and foremost, it accepted the fact that the boat was going to be the primary interest in the image. Nearly half of the frame was taken up with the boat which I preferred. Secondly, it eliminated the building that really didn’t add much to the scene as well as the associated clutter around the building. Lastly, it helped to make sense out of the trees at the top of the frame as they followed along with the vertical feel of the image. The visual flow of the composition was entering at the bottom left corner, moving through the boat and then up into the sky before the bright boat pulled your eyes back into the frame once again. It was a simple but effective composition.
I also liked the fact that the amount of color that was in the image was a supporting element that framed the boat which kept the vegetation from being too distracting in the frame by introducing too much information for your eyes. I just provided a frame within a frame that was rich in textures and tones. I really liked the balance that was achieved here and much preferred it to the test shot concept so that was what I went with. I committed to editing this image and really loved how it turned out. Even with fresh eyes the day after, I am liking it even more. But that was just me.
As I was going through comments and feedback through Facebook I was shocked that my test image was actually getting more positive responses than the edited capture which I was so proud of. Sure, it might be due to the way Facebook is distributing the images in the feed, and I’m used to that. However, I was starting to get feedback that while the vertical image was nice, the horizontal test shot was better. I still didn’t see that as being the case, but it did prompt me to want to go in and give the files a second look. This is something that I typically do after the editing process anyway just to make sure that I didn’t miss a good image in my haste to work through the files.
I looked at the RAW captures again. I had shot two versions of the composition with a slight elevation change to show more of the deck of the boat. Both were very similar, and both just seemed very off balance to me. There was that annoying vacant space in the right side of the frame that made the boat look very much shoved over to the left of the frame. Ideally, I would have had more breathing room to the left of the frame, but with the other elements in the yard to contend with, that was not a possibility. Technically, the image was correct with a great exposure, and the focus was dead on, it just was missing excitement. I still picked the best of the two and pulled it into the Develop Module and started to play around with it.
Some things came to mind right off as I was looking at it. First of all, the boat was the brightest thing in the scene since it was white. My eyes naturally went there first. It was all the color and texture around it that really didn’t add to the story that I found distracting. Since the main subject was basically devoid of color, by introducing so much color into the remainder of the scene, there was a competition for what exactly to look at which I didn’t like. A quick look at a snapshot will not present this issue as you see the main subject and that is it. For my images, I want everything in the frame to compliment my main subject and to help tell its story. I started to realize that the composition wasn’t bad here, just the use of color. Actually, there was no conscious use of color at all, it was just a byproduct of the composition which made it even less important to the image.
I started the process of converting it to monochrome and chose to apply an orange filter to the black and white settings to change some of the tonal relationships. That gave me a rough starting point, but I still didn’t much care for the image at this point. I continued working with it and doing quite a bit of local adjustments and some dodging and burning until I had an image that I thought looked pretty good. It started out life as a more even exposure since the light levels were higher when I shot this one so there was no need for any grad filters just yet. The light on the landscape was nice and even which is usually a problem with monochrome photography, but I was able to change the individual color channels to affect the contrasts within the scene. I matched the exposure slightly between the boat and the structure in the background to fill that part of the scene in a bit better. The sky actually required nothing at all in post with the exception of pulling the highlights down a little bit. It took me about 30 minutes to get this image converted and finalized which wasn’t too long at all.
After seeing the finished image I have some new thoughts on the composition. By taking the color out of it, it became much more balanced which I liked. I had made the right decision to keep the lower edge close to the boat and then minimizing the amount of brush that was included . By shooting from an elevated position, the deck of the boat was more visible which gave you more to look at in the image to keep your eyes happier. The line of the hull drew your eyes to the building in the midground which was a very important factor here to link the two elements that were strongly separated by the weeds. The horizontal composition still didn’t do much for the repeating patterns of the trees at the top, but I was fortunate that there were two full trees that acted as bookends for the bare trees that helped to keep your eyes within the frame and not follow the line of trees right out of the side of it.
Monochrome images are great to work with when it comes to tones and contrasts. It is much easier to adjust these in monochrome without making the image look all funky. It was that ease of adjustment that allowed me to really put the right focus on the building by taking advantage of the existing light spilling past the roof on the right side. It was that splash of light on the far side of the building that allowed your eyes to follow the lines in the hull, and go past the weeds by jumping to that light. Once you were there, you would come back into the image to finish looking at the building. Had it not been for the sky above and to the left, your eyes would stop there, but with the brightness, they again would make the jump to go to the top of the frame before landing back on the boat. There were three main elements here that the eyes would gravitate to, and by eliminating the color, I have allowed that path to be made.
I know that it seems like I am going overboard with the attention to detail with this image, and I might very well be. However, an image is just as good as its design and my purpose for these images is to provide something that you want to look at for a very long time repeatedly. If it is not pleasing to the eyes, even a great subject will be forgotten in time. The eyes have to have a path to pursue through the image, and each element must support the other and tell a story. I feel that I have finally realized that goal with this horizontal image. I’ll probably get flack for not leaving it in color, but my creative choice was based on what I wanted to see out of the image.
Do I like this better than the color vertical one? No, I still like the color one better as it really has a nice and natural flow to it. I can see the merit to the horizontal composition and I am glad that I was prompted to really dig back into it. I like the mood that it displays, and the fact that without color, the time of the picture is no longer readily apparent, and neither is the age of the scene. It introduces quite a few new chapters to the story, but when it comes to which one I would want on the wall, the color one will win out here.
Thanks for indulging me in my little self critique of these images and I hope that you do like the new addition.
Until next time…