Tuesday, August 2, 2011


Our daughter Michelle and her friend Tobias were here for a visit this last week, and on Thursday, July 28, the three of us went up to Harrington Beach State Park for the afternoon.  Tobias is a professional photographer, so we took our cameras along to see what might be available to shoot.  When we left home the temperature was in the mid-80s.  When we got to the park, which is on Lake Michigan 25 miles from our home, we were surprised to find that a breeze off the lake had sprung up and that the temperature had dropped to the low 70s.  The high humidity had generated a significant amount of fog, which affected the kind of shots we began looking for.

In presenting some of the photos I took, I thought it might be helpful to show how I wound up manipulating them in post-production.

One of the first shots I took was of a clump of grass perhaps 30 yards back from the edge of the water.  I took the shot at a low angle, more or less directly behind the grass, facing the fog-shrouded lake.

[Recall that each photo can be enlarged simply by clicking on it.  To return to the post, just click on the "back" arrow.]

Perhaps because of the fog, the grass did not have much punch.  Also, the composition lacked balance with not much going on on the right side of the image.  So I decided to increase the contrast significantly and to crop the photo on the right and the top.  Here is the result:

Still not much of a shot, but I did like the hint of another "layer" of grass behind the clump in the foreground and the fact that the fog muted any other features that might have been in the background.

Another early shot I took was of weed/spider web combination that caught my eye.  Here is the original shot:

I took this with a tripod at an aperture of f/4.  That served to blur out everything behind the weed, while leaving it in good focus.  However, the shot looks pretty dull, again perhaps because of the fog and overcast.  So I increased the contrast and also "warmed up" the white balance somewhat.  Here is the result:

I thought this helped the photo quite a bit, allowing the soft, diffuse light to provide a nice three-dimensionality to the main stalk of the weed.

Even though the weather was fairly cool and foggy, there were a number of people enjoying the beach, many of whom were most likely camping in the park.  Here is a beach scene that I shot.  Washed out, to say the least.

I am still uncomfortable taking shots of people without their permission.  I'm also uncomfortable asking for permission.  In addition, it would not have been practical to try to get permission for such a shot.  As a result, I felt that I had to take the shot without spending much time on composition, as is obvious from the fact that people are cut off on both the left and right of the image.  Moreover, everyone is obscured by the fog, as this was taken from a fair distance (at the full 120 mm focal length of my 24-120 mm lens).

To improve the image, I decided to crop out the (half) person on the far left and also cropped the foreground.  Second, I decided to convert the shot to a black & white and to increase the contrast to compensate somewhat for the fog.  Here is the result:

Besides the increase in contrast, the B&W I think creates a very different--almost exotic--feel to the shot. I also like the fact that the shot is totally candid--everyone is engaged in doing whatever without any regard for the camera.  It helps, too, I think, that everyone is looking out to the lake.  I would have liked not to have cut off part of the person on the right.  However, I felt that that little group was too important to the shot to lose any of what I had.  The key focal point, I think, is the girl with the sand pail on the left of the shot.

Harrington Beach State Park is also known for its small lake formed by a quarry operation that ended sometime in the first quarter of the 20th century.  And that is where we headed next.  On the way we passed a clump of trees that were backed by an open area lit by the filtered sunlight.

This shot really didn't seem to have much going for it.  The trees were very dark and largely indistinguishable from one another.  However, when I lightened up and sharpened the image, the light from the left shining on the trees provided some depth, and the open area in the background provided some context that gave definition to this little stand of trees.  I also cropped the left side to provide better balance.  Here was the result:

It helped that there was good depth of field for the trees featured in the shot.

The pleasant walk around the quarry lake is about a half mile long.  Michelle pointed out one of the trees along the bank of the lake that had an interesting "defect."  Here is the shot that I took:

We liked how the light shone on the margins of the defect and revealed an interesting texture on the interior of the defect.  This shot does not show well the features we were seeing, so I increased the exposure and also warmed up the white balance.  Here is the result:

Finally, I took some shots of the trunks of groups of trees along the bank of the quarry lake.  I was attracted by the fact that the fog obscured the lake and opposite bank, allowing focus on just the tree trunks.  Here is one of those shots:

There is very little color in this shot (other than the pine needles toward the top of the image), so I decided to convert it to a black & white.  I also cropped the shot a little on the right to improve the overall balance.  Finally, I lightened and sharpened the shot a bit to bring out more of the texture of the bark of the trees.    Here is the result:

I like the fact that, although the fog largely obscures the lake and opposite bank, there is enough there to inform the viewer of the lake setting.

There are some who feel that any modifications should be minimal and that photos should faithfully reflect what the camera captures.  Others feel that in the world of digital photography virtually anything goes, that the end product, however it is generated, should be judged on its own artistic merit.  Personally, I fall closer to the latter position.  Some modifications are to correct a problem or limitation when the image was captured.  These would include cropping and leveling, changing exposure and white balance, and, to a limited degree, modifying contrast and sharpness.  Other changes go beyond "repair work," such as significantly ramping up saturation and contrast levels or converting to B&W or some variation thereof.  Although I like to "find" the images as they are rather than staging them, I feel that most digital modifications are OK--the test is in their intrinsic aesthetics.  Perhaps that's a reflection of my inability to get things right when I am taking the shot.

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