After Before Friday Forum Week 30

Each week, Stacy Fischer of Visual Venturing sponsors the After-Before Friday Forum which provides anyone wishing to participate to exchange ideas about the creative power of post-processing.  There is always something new going on and I encourage you to check out the submissions by the other participants here.

My submission this week is dedicated to several readers who offered some helpful suggestions to the ABFriday post last week and also in Week 28. I have incorporated those suggestions into the image from last week and that image now has a new look.  All work was done with Photoshop CC.  I’ll be interested in hearing reactions to the changes.

First, as a reminder, here is the starting point for the revisions.  The image below was the “Final Image” in last week’s post.

Robin Kent ABFriday Week 30 BeforeStarting Image, Uncropped

Last week I asked readers about the cropping decisions on this image and I received a number of ideas, all involving removing a portion of the sky with some of those also suggesting taking a bit off the sides.  One person suggested a 1X1 format, similar to the typical Instagram default size.  That seemed like the most radical change and that variation is shown below.

Robin Kent ABFriday Week 30 Before 01

 Cropped to 1 X 1 Format

Those with excellent memory will recall that two weeks ago (ABFriday Week 28) a reader asked how the “ripped border” effect on the Week 27 image was accomplished. (That post can be found here.)  I didn’t recall (5 years is a long time) but said I would attempt to find out..  After 2 weeks of fruitless searching, Janice Foreman came to my rescue with a “how-to” guide that she had found.  The technique was similar enough that I was able to add a few tweaks and produce something that was pretty close to the original ripped border effect.  For those who are interested, the guide Janice found can be located here.

I should note that using this tool will require some experimentation because the effect varies according to the size of the starting image.  The image size used for this demonstration was 2800 X 2800 pixels at 300 ppi.

To begin, one needs to add a white border around the image.  One way to do this is the following:

> Use Image->Canvas Size which opens a small dialog window (see below);

Robin Kent ABFriday Week 30 Before 02

Canvas Enlargement Steps

>Choose Percent (red arrow) for both Width and Height and enter a number greater than 100 in the boxes for Width and Height (blue arrows). Make sure the Canvas extension color is white (yellow arrow);

>Click OK and a white border should appear.

> Using the Rectangular Marquee tool (feather set at 0 px), select an area just inside the image border;

> Click Select->Inverse.  The result should look something like the screen capture below

Robin Kent ABFriday Week 30 Before 03

Detail of Selection Area

>Click on Filter->Filter Gallery and a full screen dialog window will open.  The controls are found in the upper right corner (see detail image below) and the image will appear in a large Preview section on the left (not shown).

Robin Kent ABFriday Week 30 Before 04

Filter Gallery Adjustment Panel

>Select Distort->Glass from the list of effects (red arrows)

>Select Frosted as the Texture (blue arrow)

>Adjust the other controls to your taste and the effect will be shown in the Preview Window.  In this case, Distortion is set at 11, Smoothness at 3, and Scaling at 131%.

>Click OK and it’s done.  The Final Image is shown below.

Robin Kent ABFriday Week 30 After

Ripped Border Effect

The result is close, but not identical,  to the effect achieved in the Week 28 image.  However, the Photoshop Filter Gallery offers a wealth of options and is a great place to play during a rainy afternoon.

Once again, thanks to Stacy and all of the participants in this week’s Forum.  I hope you will check out the others at Visual Venturing ABFriday Week 30.


After-Before Friday Forum Week 22

Robin Kent Before Week 22 Giverny

Original Raw Image

Stacy Fischer’s blog VisualVenturing hosts the weekly After-Before Friday Forum that provides a unique opportunity for photographers to exchange ideas about post-processing their images.  There is always something new to learn from this exchange. This week’s Forum will be up later this morning and can be found here.

My submission for this week’s Forum was taken a few years ago in Claude Monet’s gardens in Giverny, France.  It was a cloudy day which can be really helpful for photographing flowers. But, as usual, the gardens were crowded with visitors so the best strategy was to search for individual blooms.  This little fellow was seemingly calling out for a portrait so I gave it a try.  The “Before” image above is the original RAW file with no adjustments.

A quick inspection indicates that, unless some special effects are being considered, the image does not seem to require any heroic measures.  The standard workflow began with the Adobe Camera Raw dialog window.     It seemed that the image needed to be a little darker overall to capture the mood of the cloudy day and also could use some added contrast.  The contrast slider by itself was too harsh, so after experimenting with a combination of the Whites, Blacks, Shadows, Highlights, and Contrast controls the most appealing combination resulted in the settings shown in the screen capture below.

Robin Kent Before 02A Week 22 Giverny

Adjustments in Adobe Camera Raw

 The changes were as follows:  Exposure decreased to – 0.40;  Contrast increased to +35;  Highlights decreased to -28;  Shadows decreased to -3;  Whites decreased to -15;          Blacks increased to +11;  Clarity increased to +24;  Vibrance increased to +27.  The resulting image is shown below.

 Robin Kent Before 02 Week 22 GivernyImage After Adobe Raw Adjustments

The image was then opened in Photoshop.  The only step remaining was to create a vignette to help bring the viewer’s attention to the central subject and give the image a little more depth (3-D effect?) to separate the subject from the background.  There are many ways to create a vignette and these were the steps I followed (see image below).

Robin Kent Before 03 Week 22 Giverny

I used the Elliptical Marquee tool to select an oval shape around the central flower, making sure the “Feather” was set for a high number (usually above 50 pixels).  But since the area to be darkened is everything outside the oval selection, the next step was to click on SelectàInverse.  (See yellow arrow) I next opened a Curves Adjustment Layer, set the Blend Mode to Multiply and the Opacity to 50%, and changed the layer name to “Vignette.”  (See red arrows).  The curves histogram was not changed from the default setting.  Depending on the effect you are looking for, there is a lot of flexibility by using the controls for feather in the selection and the amount of opacity in the layer.

The final result is shown in the image below.  As you can see, the difference with the vignette is quite subtle.  Thoughts from readers would be welcome.

Robin Kent After Week 22 Giverny

Final Image with Vignette Added

Once again thanks to Stacy Fisher for keeping the Forum on track.  The other submissions can be found at her Visual Venturing post here.  Please check them out.  And don’t miss this Forum next week; there will be a “twist” to the proceedings.   Stacy has sworn us all to secrecy, but it should be fun.

After-Before Friday Forum

ABFriday Forum Week 09

This is my submission for this week’s After-Before Friday Forum.  The Forum is managed by Stacy Fischer of Visual Venturing and is enables participants and readers to exchange ideas about bringing their vision of an image into reality.    The submissions for this week can be seen at this link to her site later today.

Normally, taking this photograph from this location is not permitted.  It shows the Reading Room in the Library of Congress and was taken from a balcony overlooking the room.  The Reading Room is probably the most spectacular space in the Library and the balcony provides the best overall view of it.  And the only view for most people because access is restricted to researchers with a Library-issued ID card. Photography is prohibited here (so as not to disturb the readers below) many other parts can be toured and photographed during open hours.  Details can be found at the Library’s website.

The reason that I was not hauled off in handcuffs for taking this photograph is that twice each year, the Library has an “Open House” and visitors are allowed into the Reading Room and pictures can be taken there and from the balcony.  These two days are usually on the weekend of the President’s Day and Columbus Day holidays.

So with only two chances per year, one doesn’t want to mess up.  The “After” image here was processed first in Adobe Camera Raw and then final changes were made in Photoshop CS6.  The original RAW image, before any changes were made, is shown below.  In this case, the main challenges were the lack of a tripod and the strong contrast in lighting: the overall room was relatively dim while the mid-morning light coming through the stained glass windows above was extremely bright.  Consequently, I chose a relatively high ISO and underexposed the scene by 1 stop.   (Nikon D800E with 14-24 mm f/2.8 lens; exposure: 1/60th sec. @ f/4, ISO 800, EV= -1.0)

Kent Before Image Final 5240Original RAW Image

The first set of changes were made in Adobe Camera RAW, where the dark shadows were opened up and the very strong highlights were dialed back.  The results at this stage are shown below.  As you can see, the difference is not enormous, but more detail is apparent.

Kent Before Image 02 Final 5240Image after changes in Adobe Camera Raw

The specific changes in ACR for the above image were:

Highlights: decreased to -43 (to reduce the brightness in the skylights, allowing more detail to show)

Shadows: increased to +28 (to show more detail in the dark areas of the lower section of the room

Clarity: increased to +26 (in my usual range of +20-30)

Vibrance: increased to +23 (to add some warmth)

The next step was to transfer the image to Photoshop.  At the time, I was using the CS6 version and the first step was to correct the tilt with the crop tool.  Next, some adjustments were still needed in the brightness levels of certain sections of the image.  The area below the skylights was selected and a Curves adjustment layer was applied (Blend Mode = luminosity).  The screen shot below shows that a moderate increase was applied.  (The left side of the library image is cropped out in the screen shots to make the Photoshop details a little easier to see.)

Kent Before Image 03 Final 5240First Curves Layer Adjustment Applied

 Next, the blown out window in the upper right corner still needed improvement and after selecting this section, another Curves adjustment layer was applied (Blend Mode = luminosity).  The image below shows the amount which was a fairly strong pullback.  It brought some improvement but it’s not perfect; I think more work may be needed here.

Kent Before Image 04 Final 5240Second Curves Layer Adjustment Applied

Finally, the ceiling dome is still a little flat, even after the dash of Vibrance applied during the ACR processing.  This was remedied with a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer Blend Mode = saturation) as shown in the image below.  The overall saturation was increased a moderate amount to +25, giving a more accurate rendition to the color of the dome and surrounding walls.

Kent Before Image 05 Final 5240

 Hue/Saturation Layer Adjustment Applied

 The final version of the complete image is shown below.   Comments and questions are welcome and I will do my best to reply.  Thanks again to Stacy Fischer for managing this forum and also to the other photographers who participate.  I have learned a lot from all of their examples.


Kent After Image Final 5240

Final Image

Saying Goodbye

Yesterday was the last time I’ll see the inside of the Old Post Office Building for at least two years. And even if I go back after 2016, it will be a totally different building.  But today her time is growing short; in about two weeks she will be closed to all visitors and begin a lengthy transformation into a luxury hotel.  (Check my post of 20 February 2014 for background on the circumstances.)

The Old Post Office is a unique building with a long-running history of many narrow escapes from the wrecking ball of progress.  So it seemed like she deserved one last visit before she began her new life.  As I approached the front entrance, nothing seemed amiss.  Tourists, looking for a way in, pulled fruitlessly on locked doors, confused by signs claiming that the observation tower was open and mystified by the wrongly aligned directional arrows.  But I knew her secret; a below-grade doorway on the east side. This was where the security guard inspection station had been located when federal agencies occupied the building just a few short months ago. Back then, everyone had to undergo a TSA-level check, even if they only wanted to buy a soft drink.


A statue of Benjamin Franklin overlooks the almost deserted front entrance

                  But now the x-ray scanner was turned off.  A single guard, relaxing on a chair, waved me through without a second glance at my large black backpack.  I walked into the atrium, a 10-story open space that was almost completely deserted. All of the fast-food establishments and souvenir stores that had been there for years were now gone, their doors and windows shuttered,  A single custodian was sweeping the floor of the food court, each of the forlorn tables topped by one or two upside-down chairs, symbolic of a closed restaurant.  Peering up toward the glass-covered roof, it was obvious that all of the federal employees who used to work in the upper level offices were gone.


The empty food court and commercial pavilion

                  A few persistent tourists who had found their way inside ambled toward the small space housing the National Park office where a ranger welcomed them.  I followed and he pointed us to the elevator to the observation tower where a spectacular 360-degree view of the city awaited.  The elevator, with a curved glass rear wall, carried us to the 9th floor and we could see the entire atrium as we ascended.


Elevator at the 9th Floor, but only halfway to the  top

                 We disembarked and followed the signs to the small elevator to the 13th level.  As we waited for the second lift to appear, we looked at the set of thick bell ropes, which are used by the bell ringers to peal the set of bells hung on the 10th level.  I recalled an evening, years ago, in the observation tower while the bells were being rung.  I could feel the entire tower move gently in response to the movement of the enormous bells.

There was nervous laughter from the tourists as the second elevator shuddered and groaned from the effort to take us up. It was as if it knew it was nearing the end of its life. Then, after what seemed like a malicious pause, the doors rumbled open and we were struck by the brilliant light of a sunny day and a blast of chilly air.  Even when you know that the tower is open to the elements, it is always a surprise to emerge from the cocoon of the elevator and be slapped by the outdoor reality of wind and cold.


View from the top, looking toward the Washington Monument

                  Here, nothing seemed to have changed.  The tourists checked out the views as they moved slowly from one vantage point to the next.  The openings are protected by an acrylic sheet or closely-spaced vertical wires.  The latter make the space essentially open to the elements and the lack of protection from reality is what makes this place special. The vertical strands prevent birds from flying in or anyone from leaping out, but wind, rain, snow, or whatever element Mother Nature has in mind that day become part of the experience.  It was sunny and mild —in the low 60s—but it was windy.  For me, as the wind whistled through the cables, it was a perfect day for a farewell.


View to the east, showing Pennsylvania Avenue and U.S. Capitol*

                  As always, the Park Ranger on duty was friendly and informative.  At present, the plan is to close the tower in April, the exact day not yet official.  At about the same time, the Washington Monument will reopen after a lengthy repair project made necessary by the earthquake on August 23, 2011.  Again, no official date has been set but I’m looking forward to a visit there in the near future.

*Technical footnote:  There is a trick to shooting through wires, so don’t believe the folks on Trip Advisor saying it is impossible.  No Photoshop trickery is needed.  The technique works best with a telephoto lens, but this was done at 70mm.  Use the widest aperture available on your lens, in this case I set it for f/2.8.  Then focus on a point in the distance.  Bring the lens as close as possible to the wires, touching them gently if possible. If all works as it should, the wires will be so out of focus they will disappear.

What’s the deal with the banner photo?

While I spend time figuring out how to operate in the WordPress environment, I might as well tell you a little bit about the image at the top of this page. I live in Northern Virginia, just upriver from Washington, DC.  So the city is where I do most of my photography, usually at this time of day (twilight) and often with a lunar or solar theme.  Aside from the fact that this image could squeeze into the aspect ratio dictated by WordPress (1000 X 288), it also evokes my approach to photography.

This was taken on a 14th floor balcony of a building in Arlington, a few minutes after the moon came up on August 23, 2010. It actually is six photographs taken in sequence as I panned from left to right with the camera on a tripod.  The single panorama was created using the “Photomerge” tool in Photoshop. (Technical data: Nikon D700, 70-200mm f/2.8 lens extended to 122mm, exposure was 2 sec at f/16, ISO 200.)

Here is another image taken less than 15 minutes later. Things change quickly at twilight.Washington DC at Twilight

In upcoming posts, I’ll talk mostly about photography in Washington, suggesting possible locations and the best times to be there.  I suspect there also will be occasional stories about the “Tripod Police” as well as the images that got away. Comments and questions are always welcome.