News and Views from Dave Wilson

Hamilton Pool (post Willmore)

by on Apr.06, 2008, under Uncategorized

Hamilton Pool, originally uploaded by David A G Wilson.

I finally got a chance to play with some of the techniques that Ben Willmore talked about during the Photoshop seminar last week and here’s what I came up with. I’m very much happier with this version of the image than I was with the original since the sky was always rather overexposed for my liking. It’s incredible just how much difference using a more saturated sky and a subtle vignette makes to the overall image.

If you are interested in what I did, read on for the play-by-play…

When I was originally working on this image, I had tried to replace the sky but ran into problems generating a mask that handled the tree area on the right well. Despite using some techniques that Dave Cross had talked about in a previous Photoshop seminar, I couldn’t get rid of some nasty fringing. With the move to CS3, however, and the magic eraser tool, it was no problem to fix this now. I duplicated the image and used magic eraser to get rid of the sky then used the resulting layer to create a mask.

The new sky actually comprises two layers. There’s the basic sky itself and a gradient to darken it somewhat towards the top right. Rather than applying the mask I created to both layers separately, I used a clipping group with the bottom layer generated from the mask and the two grouped layers above it for the sky and gradient. This way, I only have 1 layer to modify to refine the mask rather than 2 independent layer masks which just happen to contain the same thing.

Although the new mask did a great job around the trees, I wasn’t too happy with the edges around the rock overhang – a slight fringe was visible – so I tweaked this using a technique I learned a couple of years ago. I made a selection containing the areas that showed the fringing then added a 1 pixel Guassian blur to the mask in that area. Keeping the selection active, I then used Curves to increase and decrease the contrast of the mask. This has the effect of very slightly expanding or contracting the mask and let me tune the edge very precisely.

After this, I added a new Curves adjustment layer to bring out some of the texture in the foreground rocks and a second to vignette the image and draw attention to the waterfall and overhang area in the centre. In the past, I would have used a soft black brush, painted black into the areas I wanted to darken and used either Normal, Darken, Multiply or Overlay blending mode and a lowish opacity (20-40%) to apply a vignette. Using a curves adjustment layer and a layer mask provides far more subtle results, I reckon, and will definitely be the way I do this in future.

Overall, I really feel I got my money’s worth last week and now have a version of a well-loved image I am finally delighted with.

2 Comments for this entry

  • Fran

    Personally, the original photo looks much more natural and less artificial than the one you adjusted/modified/adapted using Photoshop. The beauty of photography is accepting a natural photo with all of the positive elements intact and the supposed “flawed” ones as well, that is unaltered.

    I guess I’m just old fashioned, having grown up in a simpler era in the 1950-60s and am now in my 60s. My very first camera at age 9 years old was an old Kodak “boxy” instamatic camera that was plain, simple and basic like this one: . However, it took great pictures! Another favorite camera of mine was an Olympus 3x zoom camera from 1988 ( ). It took absolutely stunning and fantastic photos of a professional type quality. I still have this camera today and it still works perfectly.

    In this present age of digital cameras and digital photography, I see photography moving toward an “artificial” stage where photographs are manipulated to the point of looking very abnormal and atypical and artificial. I find myself wondering, “What did the original photograph look like?” and asking myself, “Why was this photograph manipulated to the point of appearing nearly unrecognizable from its original format?” I truly believe that “natural” and unaltered photography is still the best method.

    • Dave Wilson

      Photography (or art in general) is a very personal thing and you are more than welcome to prefer the original over this version. I could get into a long conversation about what “natural” photography is, though. Since the dawn of photography, people have been taking black and white images (surely unnatural?), dodging and burning in the darkroom, choosing different papers to give different colour palettes to the print, modifying contrast and doing a whole slew of weird and wonderful stuff to their images. In the digital age, we can now do the same on a computer.

      Regarding your specific question about what the original photo looked like, there never was a single exposure of this scene that looked “right”. The camera just can’t capture the scene the way human eyes can so, although I could see detail under the overhang and in the sky at the same time, I had to use 3 exposures and blend them to recreate the scene the way I remembered seeing it. I don’t consider this cheating or overprocessing because the result, in this particular case, reminds me of the scene the way I saw it rather than the limited way my camera could record it.

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