This post is my submission to the After-Before Friday Forum sponsored by Stacy Fisher’s Visual Venturing blog, which encourages a discussion among participants and readers on the subject of taking an original photograph as captured by the camera and transforming into the image that was envisioned by the photographer. The contributions of other participants can be found here
This week’s image is a detail of the Fountain de Medici, located in the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris. The historic fountain, despite its desperate need for a major clean-up and repair, is a popular stop for tourists and when there is nice weather, many locals take advantage of the well-shaded chairs beside the long rectangular pool. For me, the neglected state of the structure with its moss-covered stones seemed to enhance the horrific theme of the central group of statues. The great dark figure looming above the young lovers is Polyphemus, the one-eyed giant who, according to Homer’s tale, devoured several of the crew members of the Odysseus expedition when they landed on the island of Cyclops.
The weather, bright and sunny, was not in my favor and I had time only for a few quick shots. But I thought it would be an interesting exercise to see if the original image could be infused with the darker mood that I saw in that sculpture. I’m not entirely satisfied with the results, and would be interested in feedback from readers of this post. (Camera data: Nikon D800E with 24-70mm f/2.8 lens, extended to 66mm. Exposure: 1/100th sec. @ f/5.0, EV = -0.67)
The original image is shown as the RAW file came from the camera, before any changes were made in Adobe Camera Raw (ACR).
RAW Image without any adjustments
The first steps were taken in ACR, and the adjustments made were as follows:
Highlights: Reduced to -75, to tone down the bright specular highlights;
Shadows: Reduced to -44, to add shadow and darken the scene slightly;
Blacks: Reduced to -20, just to the point of clipping on the histogram, to insure there was a touch of pure black (Thanks to Stacy for suggesting this technique.)
Clarity: Increased to +30 standard on most of my images
Vibrance: Increased to +13 to give just a small boost to the greens
All other settings were unchanged. The result was then opened in Photoshop CC and looked like this:
Image after adjustments in Adobe Camera Raw
A quick adjustment to remove the slight tilt was made using the crop tool. Then a much tighter crop was made to bring the central statues closer, eliminating distractions such as the large body of water in the foreground and most of the people along the sides of the pool. At this point the statues have become the main point of interest as shown below.
Image after first crop
But more work was needed. I used a Curves layer adjustment (blend mode: luminosity) to darken the scene and inject a more somber mood. A mask was added to keep the statues unaffected by the curves adjustment with the intent of giving depth to the scene and drawing the viewer’s eye to them. This was followed by another Curves layer adjustment (blend mode: luminosity) to create a vignette, darkening the areas outside the center, in an attempt to further enhance the mood. The result at this point is shown below.
Things were looking better, but it seemed that one more step might help. One last crop was applied to bring the viewer closer to the scene and eliminate the bystander with the blue shirt on the right. The final image is shown below.
This shot is great even without the “retouching.” But I have an untrained eye still I think the original shot is just as great as the finish.
Thanks very much! No need for a trained eye around here; I’m pleased that you took the time to comment.
I think the final image has better contrast and is more focused than the original. Thanks for the processing tips in detail 🙂 It is a lovely capture.
In my version of this posting, the link to the other site didn’t show up
Sent from my iPad
Thanks, it was missing in the initial version but has been fixed. I just checked and it’s working now. You’ll need to refresh your browser to get the updated version.
Welcome back, Robin! I’m so excited to see shots from your trip, and this is another great one that you’ve shared. I can understand why it’s a popular spot.
Since you asked, I have two thoughts I’d like to share: (1) I like the longer leading lines of the second to last photo, as it gives a better feel for the size of the fountain. But, yes, cropping the tourist was needed (drat those tourists!) Would you have made the last crop at all or as deep if the tourist hadn’t been there? Were it not for the tourist, I wonder what a crop midway between the last two images would do for the photo? (2) To bring more focus to the statue (especially with a lesser crop), I might have played with highlighting Polyphemus as well. I don’t know if the result would look too contrived, but there’s so much wonderful detail there that is lost in the shadows. Anyway, just some musings, since you said you weren’t entirely happy with the results. (And you’re very welcome about the black clipping tip 🙂 )
I also want to add that I love how you post interim photos of your processing. The combination of the photos and the detailed descriptions helps all of us learn!
Thanks, as always, for supporting ABFriday!
Thanks for your comments, and I appreciate your taking the time top make a detailed appraisal. So far, I’ve had two votes for backing away (you and Dov below) and one (offline via email) for a tighter crop. So it’s pretty cool to see the different reactions to the image. Regarding the tourist, she/he would be easy to eliminate with the Content-Aware fill tool as suggested by Dov. I can also try to lighten Polyphemus more than I did and that would be worth trying.
Oh, that is interesting, Robin, and I think it’s great that you asked for, and are getting, input. If you play around and end up with something you like better, it would be fun to see it – perhaps attached to the post as an addendum 🙂
Thanks, Stacy. That’s a good idea. I’ll work these ideas and post a follow-up.
Hi Robin. Great explanation and flow for your processing. When I saw the original image, I was racking my brain trying to remember where I saw that statue.
I like the added contrast that you gave to it. I agree with SPFischer about the last crop. Since you were in PS maybe you could try cloning out the tourist or using content aware fill. Then you would have more options in the final crop. Also, for me, the thing that works against the darker mood, is the bright sunlight. With the final crop you eliminated the vignetting you put into place, perhaps a little bit inherent final may add a bit of “darkness”.
Just my 2 cents though.
Take care – Dov
Hi, Dov: Thanks very much for your thoughts on this image. There does seem to be a variety of views on how to handle this image, as I noted in my reply above to Stacy. As you suggest, the content-aware fill would take care of the tourist. You’re also correct that going to the last crop lost much of the vignette effect. I did darken the sides some more, but probably not enough. I also think that the central statues would be more dominant in a large printed version, but of course one can’t do that here. Anyway, I’ll work on some of these suggestions and possibly do a follow-up post. Again, thanks for taking the time to write up your thoughts. The feedback is very helpful.
I think it’s great that you asked for, and are receiving, input. From reading the comments I see I cheated by not delineating the steps I took in my After and Before. I like your approach and will probably try to do the same next week, with interim photos. I have to say I liked the tight crop until Stacy had to mention backing off a bit. Now I like it looser. I’m so easy!
Thanks Emilio. It has been very gratifying to participate in this discussion and thanks for joining in. The varied suggestions underscore that there is no one “right” way to present an image. In addition, it has helped me–and hopefully other readers–think about the impact of certain steps in the processing such as the cropping, etc. I’m glad Stacy has launched this forum, looking at the approaches of other contributors, seeing their rationale, and getting feedback from viewers has all been quite illuminating.
Nice processing, I like the addition of the second crop, for me apart from removing the tourist it also removed the trees to the sides of the image that were also distracting. The image has nice contrast although personally i would have lightened the water and the reflection, although this is personal taste.
Thanks for your thoughts. The feedback is much appreciated. I think the water and reflection could be lightened a bit. I’ll see how that looks.
I loved watching the transformation and how you describe what you did and why. I do agree with another writer that the final version is a bit too dark. The steps appear almost black and take the eye away from the most interesting part of the fountain: the statues.
Thanks very much for the comments. Given the interest in this discussion, I hope to have some follow-up variations in a few days and I’ll see what can be done with those stairs.
Hi Robin, you do a great job detailing your process, and it gives all of us an opportunity to learn. I might tried the content-aware and cloning tool on the tourist as I like the extra space and leading lines of the 2nd to last image. It is my favourite way of eliminating the other tourists! But your final images is wonderful. Thanks for sharing your process with us. I will hope over to the other blog to see some of the other images.
Thanks for joining the discussion. I think you’ll find some strong images in the other contributions. I was impressed by the group’s efforts. It’s been an interesting experience getting the thoughtful feedback from folks. In addition, the act of setting down the steps and explaining the reasons helps clarify my own thinking about how to work with an image.
Hi Robin! First of all, I have to say you did a great job (as usual)) editing this Photo. The very final version is a gorgeous image full of details and with a great 3D effect obtained; nothing to say about that.
However, frankly, I don’t see you’ve made any particular interpretation of the Fontain de Medic and, therefore, I don’t consider it is an authorial photograph. I mean, what we see is the work (and merit) of the sculptor, not the photographer’s. In this respect, I’d go back to the image after the first crop and would let the edition work you did till that point but with no more cropping than the first one, just to remove the slight tilt. Then, we’d have a good and beautiful travel photograph, tourists included (as it normally is), in the way it actually was taken.
Hi, Jamie: Thanks for the very thoughtful evaluation. I’m not familiar with the term authorial, but if you mean something along the lines of the photographer’s intent, that is a really interesting discussion topic. One way to approach it is to ask whether the photographer’s intent (or the intent of any creator/artist) is relevant when viewing a work of photography. Some would say what is central is the interpretation of the viewer and that his/her interpretation is a reaction provoked by the creator who made the work. So,it sounds like your your reaction is that the image doesn’t succeed in getting to a point that you are looking for, that the departure from a more or less documentary (i.e., postcard) image didn’t get you to that other location that you were hoping for. If so, one solution, as you suggest, is to go back to the documentary version. But another solution is to push forward and strive for that quality you don’t yet see. So here is the question for you: is there something you might suggest to impose a photographer’s vision on this subject? Again, thanks for your feedback and for taking the time to post it. It is an excellent comment.
Certainly Robin, I’m talking about photographer’s intent, because every photo has an (author’s) intention. But you’re right, that’s a very interesting and controversial discussion topic.
I assume photography as an art and, in consequence, as an act of creation as well as a mean of expression. Then, I’m always looking for what the artist (photographer in this case) tries to tell me or (as you said) to provoke on me. The Authorial term refers to the concept (Idea, intent, feeling) on which the author based his/her work. Let me make it clear that it’s my personal approach and that, in no way, I’m trying to influence on any other photographer’s vision.
Thanks, Jaime: Sorry for the typo on your name last time. Anyway, I appreciate your additional comments. I agree that any photographer has an intention whenever she/he creates an image. Once created, however, what is the response of the viewer? Does the viewer seek the author’s intent or instead reflect on what his/her own reaction is to the image itself? Or both? But books have been written on this subject so I expect it will continue to be debated for some time to come.