When All Else Fails

Perhaps I should rename this Blog as this is the third time I’ve posted about Pixel Bender. I think there is a potential danger in overusing this effect, much like HDR.  Nevertheless ….

When I set out to capture an image, I almost always have in mind to produce a photo of magazine quality.  But often ‘operator error’ or extreme conditions result in an image with otherwise ‘good bones’ that just can’t be coerced into yielding a fine photograph. If it is ‘operator error’ and I know it, I can try to recompose and shoot again. But with 70 year old eyes and the small playback screen on my D70, I often don’t know if I got what I wanted until I get back to my PC. (I’ve upgraded to a D7000 since this post was originally published)

While some of my favorite subjects are stray bits of light falling on unique objects, sometimes light can be a difficult oponent. For example, high in the mountains sunlight can be too harsh except for brief periods at the start and end of the day which doesn’t leave much time to find and capture interesting subjects.

When I get back to my ‘photo lab’, I have to decide if I have something worth working with or not. Hopefully, it will require only RAW processing and minor adjustments in Photoshop. But after finessing the image with every RAW and Photoshop technique I know and still not getting the quality I want, I start to explore other avenues. If, as I said earlier, it has ‘good bones’ I am reluctant to discard it. It’s then that I start to apply more extreme tools to try to salvage something.

I generally start with some of the many filter effects in the complete NIK Software collection. Tonal Contrast can bring out details and textures that the original exposure couldn’t capture. Glamour Glow can create dreamy, soft effects that are primarily used in portraits but can be useful on other subjects as well. Applying the presets in Topaz can give ideas about how an image might be tweaked to create interesting interpretations.

When all else fails I’ll try something like Pixel Bender which I have written about previously. In the photo above, the bikers didn’t get started until the sun was high in a cloudless sky. The trails ran down a northwest facing slope and gave no opportunity for re-positioning the camera. The range of tones was so great that details in the shadows were impossible to recover and at the same time the highlights were burned out. And the riders were moving too fast for effective HDR techniques.

But with some ‘jiggery pokery’ I was able to emphasize the shadows on the ground and then use Pixel Bender to convert the inherent blur of the bikes and riders into a more defined motion effect while twisting the background details to complement the nature of the ‘ride’.

Through persistence and lots of trials and errors I can often find an Easter Egg where there was only chicken scratches before.


Thanks, Ed, for reminding me about the before image.

4 thoughts on “When All Else Fails”

  1. John, I really like your notion of a photo that “has good bones”. I’ve had the same experience many times – I know there’s something great about the photo, I just can’t seem to get it “out in the open”.

    It would be interesting to see a “before” of this shot for comparison, but it looks like you did a fine job of converting it into an abstract, artistic rendering of the scene. Ed

  2. Cheers & greetings from Texas! I just found you on Google+ and really like this post as it’s spot on in my opinion! Identifying and reworking those “Easter Eggs” can be very gratifying to say the least! I’m looking forward to exploring more of your work! I hope you’re having a great weekend!

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