Radio Flyer


As it sat beside the koi pond, the little red wagon seemed both out of place and lonely. Two girls played in the distance, amused by the orange, red, and white fish in the depths of the still waters. A silent statue stood indifferent in the midst of the lagoon. The radio flyer turned its attention down the brick footpath ahead and an empty park bench stared back in a daze. In the distance, the afternoon sun was waning, darkening the blue sky and dancing through the trees. Splashes of light warmed its wood and metal parts but the touch of the sun wasn’t enough to drag it away. The wagon sighed.

The intent was to shoot the scene with bracketed exposure (-2, -1, 0, 1, 2) and consider HDR in post. I wanted to keep the sky from blowing out to white and capture the details in the shadows, however, my memory card had other plans and ate a couple of the images. I was left with -2, -1, & the +1 exposure of which I had no desire to run through Photomatix for tone mapping. The other two files were corrupt. I liked something about the scene and wanted to save the sky and draw the eye to the wagon, so I figured I’d give it a try and here’s where the walkthrough begins. Stick around to see the final product at the end of the post.

I opened my remaining photos as layers in Photoshop, which is as simple as a right click in Lightroom. After I aligned the layers with the Auto-Align Layers command under the Edit menu, I then dropped black masks onto the top two layers with the brightest exposure on the bottom. Using a white paintbrush, I painted on the mask to reveal the parts of the image that I wanted to blend together, essentially the entire top left corner as well as some selective darkening. The outline of the wagon is visible in the mask. Once I was set with the exposure blending, I merged up to create a new layer and ran ColorEfexPro to punch up the contrast and saturation and bring out the details. Here’s a before and after…

Still not satisfied with the relationship between the lights and the darks, mainly in the logo on the wagon, I duplicated the layer and dodged and burned. The logo started out muddy and slowly stood out as white. The pathway needed some lightening as well, while some of the flora received some darkening, however, I couldn’t darken the upper left corner and the trees far enough without destroying the pixels. At this point I duplicated the dodge and burn layer, applied a black mask, and changed the layer blend mode to multiply. Again, with a white paintbrush, I painted in the areas that I wanted revealed and was happy with the far darker trees and water. A touch of overall sharpening followed and I considered myself done.

As it stands, I’m still unsure of this image. I feel as though a shallow depth of field may have emphasized the lonely wagon just a little more, but it’s the details in the background that make the wagon feel so much out of place. I’m sure other stories exist to explain its presence by the pond as much as I’m sure other people must have walked past it without even noticing. Maybe it just spoke to me at the time. Thoughts?


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