I’m always looking for interesting shapes and textures when I travel because they keep my mind engaged in the photographic process. Sometimes I succeed in creating a compelling photograph. Sometimes I completely fail. The point is that I’m always trying. Always pushing. Always attempting something new.
Over this last weekend, I was walking some of our local beaches and found a few pieces of driftwood to photograph with my Nikon D7000. All three photos were processed in Capture NX2 using Nik Color Efex Pro 3. I used Pro Contrast and Black and White conversion.
Do you aspire to get the photo as close to perfect in the camera or do you wonder how that photo might look if you continued processing it in software? It is an interesting dilemma and one that can never be truly answered for everyone. Many people state, “I’m a purist. What I see in front of me is what I strive to represent in the camera.” Others will say, “I’m an artist and the end product is more important than what I see in front of me.”
Regardless of your feelings on this matter, I want to encourage you to “think in Photoshop.” What I mean by this is that I want you to imagine what your photo might look like after some additional work in Photoshop or Lightroom or Nikon Capture NX2. Might it look better in black and white? How about a sepia tone? What if you simply improved the color balance just a little bit and added some contrast?
Look through the images below to see what I mean. Each photo is a different rendition of the same image. The first one is what the image looked like directly out of my camera.
My point is that you can often arrive at a much better or more interesting image after working on the file in Photoshop or Nikon Capture NX2. The simple act of playing with your images in software can open up whole new worlds of creativity for you. Don’t hesitate to think in Photoshop.
Creating a compelling photo with every-day subjects can be extremely difficult. Take for example, the venerable tulip. It has been photographed in every conceivable way you can imagine. I’ve seen photos of tulips splashing in water, upside down, against black backgrounds, against the blue sky, and repeating in patterns of giant fields as far as the eye can see. How do you create something visually compelling that has been photographed literally millions of times? The answer isn’t always in taking the photo, but rather in what you do after you take the photo.
I took these two images (above and below) yesterday while practicing my “Program Mode” photography from May’s GOAL Assignment. I knew that the images weren’t going to be anything special in the camera, but I had an idea about making the flowers appear metallic. Perhaps with just the right amount of post-processing I could create something fascinating.
Capturing the Image
As you know, the great end result always depends on a great initial photo. Therefore, make sure that your photo is well exposed and in sharp focus. In this case, I used a Nikon D7000 and an ISO of 400. Since I’m spending this month shooting in Program Mode, I set my camera to “P” and began different compositions. As I took the shots, I verified that my shutter speed was high enough so I wouldn’t get any blurriness from camera shake. Oh, I also turned on Vibration Reduction just to make sure my images were sharp.
Here are the two original images as captured in the camera.
Turning Tulips to Metal
The next step was to bring the photos into post processing software. I regularly use Lightroom, Photoshop and Nikon Capture NX2 about equally in my workflow and they all do a great job. I knew that I wanted to use the solarization filter in Nik Color Efex Pro 3.0 to create the metallic effect. I also knew that I wanted to darken down the green leaves in the background. For me, the fastest and easiest way to perform these two actions was in Nikon Capture NX2 since it works with Nik’s Color Efex Pro 3.0 plug-in and it has the amazing Color Control Point technology.
Here’s my step-by-step process in Capture NX2:
1. Choose multiple Color Control Points and place them on the green leaves and background (shown below). Reduce the brightness, or”B,” slider which changes the brightness of the selected areas.
2. Click the New Step button to add a new Adjustment Step. From the pull-down menu, choose Color Efex Pro 3.0: Stylizing –> Solarization. See example below.
3. Now, you’ll need to adjust both the Saturation slider and the Elapsed Time slider (below) until you’re happy with the result. There isn’t a magic formula here so keep playing until you like what you see.
4. Done! That’s it. Now, save the photo or print it out and you have your metallic tulips! If you don’t have Nikon Capture NX2, that’s ok. You can do these exact same things in Photoshop, Lightroom or Aperture. In fact, Nik Color Efex Pro 3.0 is a plug-in that works in all four of these host programs.
Never forget that the process you apply after you take the photo is just as important as the process of taking the photo. I think it is important for us to “see with post processing eyes” so we can always be thinking about where to take our images and how to create something new.
Here’s a question I received via email from C. Osborne in the UK.
He says, “Mike, I am enjoying reading your book Nikon Capture NX2, After the Shoot. One thing I need to know is, how can I get black borders on my prints in Nikon Capture NX2?”
The answer to his question isn’t intuitive, but works pretty well. Here’s an approach that you can try.
1. Open the photo in Capture NX2.
2. Process photo so it looks “good.” In other words, do all your white balance, brightness, contrast, conversion to black and white, etc.”
3. Choose the Lasso Tool. More specifically, you’ll need to choose the “Minus” rectangular lasso too. This is important because the “minus” tool allows the border to appear on the outside of the selection. Conversely, the “plus” tool will allow the adjustment to occur inside the selection (you don’t want that for this example).
4. Adjust the Edge Softness to your liking. An amount of 0 pixels will produce a hard-edge border and an amount of 50px to 100px will produce a soft-edge border.
5. Draw your marquee selection around the perimeter of your photo. Obviously, you’ll want to keep the box away from the edges of the picture. The distance the box is away from the edge will determine the width of the border.
6. Coose Levels & Curves from the New Step that was created after you drew the marquee border.
7. Take the black levels slider control (left side) and move it almost all the way over to the right side. This will cause the areas in the selection to turn black. This forms the black border for the photo.
By the way, this same approach will work in just about any image processing program. You can easily do this in Photoshop using the rectangular marquee tool or in Lightroom.
Since I was creating borders, I tried it on another image below. This is my small barn in the back of my house in Gig Harbor, WA on a cold morning a few weeks ago.
One of the traditional artforms in Tanzania is wood carving. Artists create all types of carvings such as faces, masks, people, bowls, bracelets and animals, but my favorite carvings are of faces. Makonde is the best known type of carving in Tanzania and is typically created using African Blackwood, or mpingo.
Mpingo is very dense and fine-grained, which allows the artists to create extremely detailed carvings. Buying carvings can be a great way to contribute to the local economy and prices for these pieces of art can vary between $10 USD to $10,000 USD.
Artisans are able to create emotions and expressions in their work that always amaze me. In fact, staring into the face of some of these carvings can be completely mesmerizing. Just like any good piece of art, I often find myself captivated in thought while viewing the carvings.
The images I show here were taken of carvings at an art center in Arusha, Tanzania. Since most of these pieces are outside in the weather, they are are beat up from years of sun and rain. I like the added texture derived from the weather and think it enhances the overall look of the carvings.
I processed these images in Nikon Capture NX2, using Nik Software’s Color Efex Pro 3.0. I added just a touch of Bleach Bypass and increased the saturation by a few points. Bleach Bypass added to the grittiness of the images and the small punch of saturation returned a bit of color that was eliminated by the bleaching effect.
I think all photographers should keep current on software and post-processing methods. In the “old days” of digital photography we had to create everything in Photoshop. We learned all kids of tricks and methods to produce frames, grunge looks, cross processing, etc. Now, all we need to do is spend a few bucks on a software plug-in and viola! New photo!
My favorite plug-ins by far are Nik Software’s suite of products. One of the products that I deem indespensible is Nik Color Efex Pro 3.0. I could write an entire novel of tutorials on how to use all the different settings, but in the interest of time (and my sanity), I’ll just show the results from a simple setting called Bleach Bypass.
The photo directly above shows what the image looked like directly out of my Nikon D7000 camera. I opened it in ACR (Adobe Camera Raw) and brought it into Photoshop CS5. The photo is “ok” but really needs some additional punch. So, I activated Nik Color Efex Pro 3.0 from the Filter menu in CS5 (shown below).
The next step (below) is to choose Bleach Bypass from the left hand column of choices. Then, play with the sliders until you are happy with the result. In this case, the metal background was blowing out a bit, so I moved the highlight protection slider up to bring back some detail.
After you are finished modifying the image, click the OK button to return to Photoshop. At that point, you can save the photo as a new image and prepare it for output.
Since I was already having fun with Bleach Bypass, I decided to try it on another photo of a bike rack (below). This time a bit more intense with the contrast and overall effect.
Mt. Kilimanjaro above the town of Moshi, Tanzania. November, 2010. I took the image with my Nikon D700 and 24-70mm f2.8 lens during one of my African Safari trips. In the computer, I processed it Photoshop CS5 using ACR, Nik Color Efex Pro 3.0 Polarizer and Nik Silver Efex Pro Sepia conversion.
This summer, my hometown of Gig Harbor commissioned some very talented street artists to create sidewalk chalk drawings along our main walkways. The art was all very well done and it was a colorful event. I had fun taking images of the art.
Today, I took a few of those images and worked on them in Nikon Capture NX 2 using the Nik Color Efex Pro 3.0 Plug In. I used the Film Effects plug in and chose the Agfa Optima 400 film type. I like the saturated and gritty look of the film and think that it improves the overall look of the images.