Motivation is a photography blog that discusses the creative aspects of photography. The posts will include thoughts about images and their interpretation, photographers and their work, technique, workflow, my ongoing projects, and perhaps even the occasional off topic rant.

Genesis Of an Image

People sometimes ask me how some of my images got to look a certain way, particularly when the finished photo does not appear as we naturally see things, such as a black and white image. So I thought I would use the blog to show the genesis of an image that really changed quite a bit on its way from camera to print. When I took this picture, I originally envisioned it as a toned black and white print. I had actually visited this location to make this photograph several times, but initially was unable to get a good exposure either because the wind was blowing the leaves around or the lighting was too harsh resulting in high contrast and deep shadows. Ultimately, I ended up visiting on a bright overcast day, giving me just the right conditions to take the photo.

Here is the image as it came out of the camera and the processed RAW file:

Three Trees In Schenley Park, Pittsburgh

The Image Straight From The Camera

Although I had initially planned on including the whole height of the trees, I found the sheer volume of leaves distracting, since what drew me to the scene in the first place was the placement of the trees in relation to each other and the shapes of their branches and trunks. So I decided to go with a rather severe crop.....much more than I usually would. Sure, I wish I had thought of that in the field, but sometimes the insight just doesn't happen until later. And luckily I use a Canon 5D MKII camera which has enough pixels to allow me to throw away all that data and still retain enough information within the crop to make a large sized print. I am not recommending random shooting and severe cropping after the fact, but sometimes it just happens that way!

Here is the image after the crop:

Image After Cropping

Cropped Image

I think the crop really pulled the image together and brought the focus to what attracted me to the scene in the first place. Looking at the picture reinforced the feeling I had from the start that this should be a black and white or toned black and white print. The sheer amount of 'green' simply distracted from the shape of the trees in much the same way that the volume of leaves had. So......I tried making black and white versions using both the Photoshop black and white layer technique as well as by using the Nik Silver Efex Pro plug-in, and, while they both gave pleasing results, I liked what I was able to achieve with the Nik version better.

Black And White Version

Finally, came the toning. I thought a sepia tone would give an 'old fashioned feel to the picture' and though I generally don't like vignettes that are bright (if I use a vignette it is typically one that is darker than the image in order to force the viewers eye into the picture), in this instance I thought that a bright vignette added to the old photo look. I actually did not like the vignette that Silver Efex generated and so I modifies to it by 'painting in' a bit of brightness along the bottom of the image in addition. Here is the result of the toning and vignette:

The image following conversion to black and white and toning.

Toned Image

Of note, depending on the accuracy of the color calibration of your monitor, the exact toned color you see with your computer may or may not be correct, and this is particularly an issue with monochromatic images.  On my carefully calibrated "Photoshop" monitor the photo has a nice sepia tone while on my cheap laptop it has an odd pinkish brown hue.  The actual print is sepia/brown toned.

The last, somewhat subtle (at least in this small web-based image) thing I did was to remove the toning from the brighter highlights. I find that I generally like my brighter highlights white, as opposed to the bit of muddiness that toning can add to the brightest areas of the image. And, thus, we have the finished image:

The final image with the brightest whites excluded from the toning process.

"Standing Firm" - Final Image

Copyright Howard Grill

A slightly larger version can be seen on my website, here.