Making a Good Impression

I posted these photos on Facebook the other day and got a lot of nice compliments.  So I wanted to pull back the curtain a bit and demonstrate how you can take pretty blah photographs and turn them into interesting pieces.  First of all, let’s talk about something which I get asked all the time.  “If you manipulate it like that is it still a photograph?”   The answer is absolutely YES.  Now if you are a photojournalist, most services absolutely forbid any retouching, or editing once the image is captured.  Now photography is as much about choosing what is left out of the frame, as it is in perfectly capturing what you want to see.  As photographers, you point the camera this way, not that and that is the first step in editing.   But back to digital manipulation, the scene I imagined in my head was not the fairly dull impact of early fall, especially in the really flat light of mid-day.  I really enjoy the Impressionist artists, especially Monet.   I even got to visit his garden outside Paris.  Here is a little secret, his garden looks exactly like his paintings, a 360 degree riot of color and shade, light and shadow, texture and contrast.  I’ve played with converting pictures into impressionist like works before using Photoshop.  Water lilies were a natural subject, but that process takes quite a bit of time.   So I wanted to see if I could reproduce the effect using Adobe Lightroom® (LR) only.

Here folks, is the original photograph as it came out of the camera (Editors note: that is mostly accurate, as I applied lens profile corrections and landscape settings as we’ve written about on other days). 

See how flat the light is.  Shadows are a critical element in making pictures interesting.   When the sun is overhead, it is just not interesting visually. 

Since LR does everything non- destructively and also allows you to make multiple virtual copies of your work, I can show what I did.  I am going to pretend that you have LR and have a basic grasp of the editing tools.

Step 1:  Decrease the exposure and push up the blacks up to create more contrast

Step 2:  Adjust the clarity slider into the negative side.  This makes the boundary areas between shades much softer.   This is also a great technique to use on people’s faces especially um, mature women as it really reduces the wrinkles.  Here is Clarity set to -100%.  A bit much, so I settled at -49%

Step 3: Push up the Vibration  and Saturation.  Saturation is really the intensity of the color.  100% effectively doubles the value you started with.  I cranked it all the way to 100% and it looked completely cartoonish.  So I backed off to 83%.  To me this looks like someone had painted this instead of taking a mediocre photograph. 

I liked this effect so much; I saved the settings  as a “Preset” so I could use it again.  What’s a Preset, well that sounds like another blog.