Blue Bath Water

Bathtub Cowboy

I suppose this all starts with the color blue. It’s the theme for week 23 and initially I figured it would be easy, after all, I just needed to photograph something blue. The fun part comes with finding something that nobody else thinks of and piques my curiosity. First I searched around for Blue Man Group makeup, then after deciding it was too messy, I turned the search to a blue spandex suit. I could throw on the blue tights, add a blue wig, then don the goggles against a blue background and have a whole pile of blueness. I didn’t feel like spending the money on props, so then I figured maybe I’d shoot in infrared and do a false color conversion to wind up with white trees and blue skies. Then of course I saw that someone else had already done that.

The challenge then became finding something blue that I wanted to work with as well as a concept to go along with it. Powerade was nice and bright. Maybe I could splash it like a Gatorade commercial? A shower cap was blue, but not much fun. I had a blue towel at home as well as a water bottle and shot a backup photo of someone possibly stuffed inside of a stove. Then I got lucky and found the Mr Bubble Fizzy Bubble Bomb that would turn the bath water bright blue. The question then became, how much did I feel like embarrassing myself? The answer, of course, can be seen below and it seems that maybe comic bathing photos might turn into a side project of their own.

The Last Days of May

Memorial Day

An $8 million Blackhawk helicopter landed in Arms Park along the river in downtown Manchester, NH for Memorial Day and given the weekly theme of “Memorial Day” how could I not take a walk with a camera in hand? I grabbed my new 80-200 mm f/2.8, my 50mm and my 8mm fisheye, stuffed them in the bag and hoped I could get a decent shot despite the bright blue skies, harsh noontime sunshine, and crowds of people.

In addition to the chopper, there was an armored Hummer, a rubber ducky race, a parade, and assorted events in Veterans Park. Kayak demonstrations were taking place in the rapids of the river, the “Legalize It” guy was walking around with his flag and marijuana leaves, and there was no shortage of subject matter for a photo. Add to that a short hike the day before to some of the waterfalls in Franconia Notch, and I wound up with a fair number of shots to process from the last days of May.

The photo I opted to use as my “Memorial Day” shot was taken in Arms Park as the National Guard walked towards the Blackhawk chopper with a mill building in the background. As the crowd thinned around the time of the parade, I got in close with the shorter lenses for the HDR images. On the walk up to Elm Street, we passed through Cat Alley and I snapped a few photos of the painted artwork before continuing on to the parade and Veterans Park. There wasn’t as much of the alley painted the last time I walked through and it’s really turned into a colorful place. As the events wound down, we ventured home and that brought the weekend to a close.

In The Fridge

In The Fridge

This past week I decided to make the jump to Photoshop CS6. Sooner or later I’ll update Lightroom as well, but for now my goal was to process a few images using only the new Adobe Camera Raw and learn a bit about using CS6 while also making use of a new lens. I started with my shot for Week 21 – In the Fridge and then played with a photo of a cat to see some of the new features. Upon launch, it’s hard to miss that the program loads much faster than previous versions and it’s nearly impossible to miss the complete makeover of the GUI. Aside from that, ACR has been rebuilt with the new exposure sliders, Oil Paint has been added to the filter menu, and there are new blur options such as the Iris Blur and Tilt Shift Blur. I didn’t check to see if the crop tool inside ACR matches the new tool inside Photoshop, but I may also never use it in ACR. I don’t really need the new blur filters when I have the Alien Skin Bokeh plugin either, but I have yet to compare the two. Also new is the option to save in the background and continue working, all of which I definitely like.

The above images show a few of the new options and menus along with the new darker theme for the interface. Included as the last two photos is In The Fridge, the first showing the layers I used to create it and the second being the result. I was only working with a single flash and wanted to illuminate the bottles in the fridge from below, so tripped it off twice in two different locations. I then layered the images and masked them together, one for the left side and the other for the right. From there I created two more layers, one of which I sharpened, the other of which I applied the Oil Paint filter to. With another layer mask, I removed the oil paint effect from the kombucha bottle to keep it nice and sharp and called it complete. It’s simple, it’s colorful, and I got to play with new software and a new lens.

Post Processing: Walking a Fine Line

The Embodiment of Vibrance

Pick up any magazine and there on the cover is an airbrushed model or a scene that’s been otherwise fixed for consumption. The photographer, art director, and retoucher all play their part and Photoshop has almost become a bad word. Its use has become so commonplace that Photoshop is now used in our language as a verb. When we see an obviously edited photo, we just accept it and say that it’s been Photoshopped, but at what point should we draw the line? Often enough we see the rush jobs that hit newsstands with retouching errors or the blatantly edited photos that no longer resemble the model or actress, but it’s more ubiquitous than we realize. There’s even a website dedicated to Photoshop failures.

Most of us though aren’t shooting a magazine cover, so how does post processing play into our everyday images? For all of the portraits, sporting events, landscapes, and weddings that are shot everyday, how much of a role should Photoshop play? Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s an answer. Unlike journalism, where any editing of an image is frowned upon, the rest of us are only subject to our tastes and the tastes of our customers. That leaves a wide range of opinions, and like most, I think I sit somewhere in the middle of the road.

Some photos just don’t need to be edited in post. When great lighting and color and subject matter all fall into place, it might only need some simple tweaks in the raw file and a touch of sharpening to make it stand out. If the photo begs for a natural look, it’s too easy to edit the life out of it with Photoshop. Other photos demand a little more attention. Blemishes, dry skin, hot spots, and even distracting backgrounds are common things to tackle in Photoshop to improve the quality of the image without changing its nature. Beyond those simple things, depending entirely on my intentions for an image, I find that post processing becomes questionable.

Am I trying to be artistic? Maybe I’ll give myself some leeway. Am I trying to salvage an uninteresting image? I should know enough to stop. Am I trying to change reality? There are techniques and plug-ins to smooth skin, change facial features, and even re-shape bodies, but do I need any of it? It’s nice to have the option, but for me some of it goes too far. Do people all need to look as perfect and fake as the standards of beauty created by the magazines or can we step away from post processing just a little? Of course this touches on larger issues in our media and society as a whole and that’s not somewhere I want to go, so I’ll conclude with something simple. Photoshop is merely a tool, and that being said, it’s not always the right tool.

About The Photos

All of these photos are HDR of some sort and therefore relied heavily on post processing. Photomatix, Photoshop, and Nik ColorEfex all played a part to create a look that I liked. The featured image is actually composed of 42 shots that were merged, tonemapped, then stitched together into a panorama before taking its final form. The last two images are included to show a before and after. From the original raw file, I created a copy that was underexposed to bring back the color in the sky, layered it with the original and masked the two together to create a greater tonal range. After cropping, I warped the right side of the photo to lengthen the fence and isolate the house. A content-aware fill in Photoshop removed the houses and a selective focus plugin helped to blur areas of the photo.

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The Spicy Bikila Burger


I could re-title this post “A Mind at Work.” As I delve further into this 52 week photo project, I find myself observing my creative process and I’m entertained by it. It might sound strange, but my first idea for this week’s theme of “Shoes” was to have bodies buried in the backyard and have different legs and shoes sticking out of the ground. I’d pick up a bag of dirt, add a shovel, and use a remote trigger. Of course I’d wind up dirty and have to do a little compositing, but it might be fun. That’s when I saw the weather. It was supposed to rain all week, so I realized I needed to think of something else.

Last week, for the shadow theme, I shot three different ideas because I couldn’t make up my mind. The first was of stuffed animals with an ominous shadow behind them, but it’s hard to tell a story that way. I played with the shot by way of the Orton effect and decided I needed something else. Shadows, to me, call for something dark and creepy, and I tried to come up with something along those lines. I underexposed the downstairs entryway, crouched in the corner and fired a zoomed low power flash over a hoodie with some horns to create a shadow. Unsatisfied, I then also suspended a softbox from the ceiling to create some mood lighting and a shadowy self-portrait.

But back to the shoes. Maybe I could show the shoes running and water flying. I’d catch it with a flash to freeze it, use the back steps with all of the puddles, and remove my legs and feet in post. It doesn’t sound half bad, but I think maybe it’s too much like the floating coffee cup from the coffee theme. For a minute I consider a stupid idea. Do I really feel like pulling out the goggles and creating a character with six legs? I decide no.

Let’s Google the word “shoes” for ideas. Reflections could be cool. Keep the reflection but remove the actual object. Maybe I should just keep it simple. Most of my photos for this project so far have been heavy in post, some of them not so much that it’s overkill, but how about leaving Photoshop out of the equation? I could try lightpainting the shoes but I don’t have any cool flashlights or laser pointers.

What if I just put a shoe someplace it doesn’t belong? In the microwave or on a plate? What if eat it? This thought of course led me to putting it on a plate inside a hamburger bun. It wasn’t the most appealing sight due to a lack of color, but I didn’t have any lettuce handy. Fill in the space with a banana, no, string cheese, no, some crackers. Add a fork. For what? Eating the shoe burger. Might as well add a knife to go with it. Where does the knife even go? Skewer the thing. It still doesn’t feel right, so add some ketchup.

How about the other shoe? I could drink out of it. Aren’t there straws around here somewhere? I stick a bendy straw in the shoe and wish I could fill the shoe with liquid. Oh well. I set the plate up in the kitchen, position the “shoe juice” next to it, and decide it’s time to grab a camera. Out comes the Nikon with a 50mm still attached, I drop it on a tripod and look through the viewfinder as I move things around. I settle on a composition based somewhat on the golden mean rather than the rule of thirds and get the feeling that there’s a hole in the right side of the image. I need to put something in there to fill the void, but what? I glance at one of the shelves in the kitchen and grab a bottle of hot sauce that catches my eye.

I begin to see the image as some sort of menu because I want to justify the amount of black space at the top. I add in a few barefoot or minimalist themed food items and hit save. With the image done, I begin to think that maybe I need to start getting some brightness and color back into my photos. We’ll just have to see what happens next week.