The gloom of winter is almost over, but as in the opening lines from T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, “April is the cruelest month . . . ” so the final days of an Oregon winter often feel cruel and drawn out to me. The people around me, seemed to flee to warmer climes, while I stayed rooted to these desolate days of February and March, plodding onwards, one leaden foot at a time. My heavy spirits, the rain and cold, prevented me from getting out a lot to photograph, or feeling truly inspired, so I used the time to work over old photographs that needed something extra – distracting backgrounds that need to be toned down or have texture added to them.
I liked this photograph of a Mariposa Lily I had, but the background stem and foliage were distracting, and I didn’t like the masked flower on a plain white or black background either. So I decided to a mottled, painterly background. using various hues, opacities and brushes in
I also had a few flower pictures that I wanted to add a textured background too. For these, I used various other photographs I had to create a black and white texture that I then added as a duplicate layer to the particular flower image I was working on. I played around with the layer effects (multiply, soft light, etc) until I got the desired effect. I pasted the original layer over the added exposure and added a layer mask to control the portions of the texture and flower that showed through. I often take pictures of various textures I like, (tree bark, rocks with color variations, cracks and crevices, grass), and these pictures were perfect to be experimented with for use as a texture layer. You can change the layer to black and white, or blur or emboss it, and it often makes for a nice consistent but not symmetrical background (unlike the preset textures in Photoshop).
Here are a few examples of the results:
I also used the time to try out the trial versions of Nik products which I am interested in using as plug-ins with Photoshop. I was interested primarily in the HDR processing and color effects, but after watching some of the videos, decided I would try out the whole suite, which I’ve done, except for the sharpener. The collection includes: HDR Efex Pro 2, Color Efex Pro 4, Silver Efex Pro 2 (black and white photos), Dfine 2.0, Viveza 2 and Sharpener Pro 3.The software is fairly intuitive to use, although I’m sure I will still have a learning curve ahead of me.
I was pleased with the results – so much so, that I plan to buy it next month. I especially like the Silver Efex and Color Efex. To give you an example of 2 various HDR effects from the HDR Efex, see the following. I should say I started with 5 exposures (slightly different angle on each picture) but kicked out the brightest exposure.
I always feel like the HDR results need to be toned down (my preference), but the program gives you enough versatility that you can use control points to tone down effects in certain areas of the photo. I’m not a fan of extreme effects, so on afterthought, I merged one of the original photos (best exposed) with the end HDR result, to tone down the effect even more. This probably can be done in the process (but I will need more time to play with it).
I was especially pleased with the results from Silver Efex which will make converting a photo into black and white much faster and more fun than in Photoshop. Color Efex was also great fun to use. I like the fact that both of these software programs (as well as Viveza and Dfine) automatically create a new layer, leaving your original layers intact, and even labeling the new layer for you. The photograph on the left below used Silver Efex, while I added an enhanced the photograph on the right by using Color Efex.
I did like the Viveza and Dfine products. The noise reduction worked well on several pictures I tested in Dfine, but there were a few that I preferred the results using the noise reduction in Photoshop RAW or Photoshop programs. It is faster in Dfine, but there are times I feel that I have more control working with a mask and paintbrush in PS, especially when you want to preserve some details (eyes, etc). Again, after I buy the software programs and became better acquainted with using them, these reservations may change, but I suspect that, as with all tools and processes, some are going to work better on some photographs, while other tools being used for the same function work better on other photographs. For more information about NIK, click here.