Friday, August 28, 2015

Show Me the Picture

I'm going to start by confessing something. I was in Europe this summer and as much as I was blown away by the scenery, after a while I did start to get burned out. Maybe it was the gelato or the afternoon naps or the 8 course lunches but in retrospect, I know I could have been a lot more diligent in exercising my craft.

Now that I'm home I do have a few images I'm deliriously happy with but I still get this nagging feeling that I could have worked harder, done better, paid more attention to details and come up with more. In atonement, I'm poring through my Lightroom library, looking for shots I might have missed.

Meh. Not even close to what the scene looked like.

Here's a dim memory. At first glance, not much to write home about but as I think back, the details of the day start to coalesce. It was really, really sunny and hot. We'd been hiking from one end of the town (Matera, Italy) to the other. If you've ever seen an MC Escher drawing, this place could have been the inspiration for it. The map looked like a maze from a children's activity book and even though we had a guide, there was lots of wheezing as we trudged up and down the hills the town is built on.

Click to enlarge. Not the easiest place to find your way around...

I was charmed by this scene. A bunch of kittens frolicking in the common area between the houses. A few older cats jealously guarding their turf. Some geriatric dogs looking mildly amused at the whole thing. The afternoon light was doing amazing things as it got progressively more golden and washed over the buildings. On the other hand, the folks in my group were plainly tired and looking forward to an ice cold espressino. I only had a few seconds to raise the camera and fire off a quick snap before moving on.

So here it is. Badly framed, under exposed and sadly desaturated.

And here's where I get to say that professionals don't do this. They put the time and work and planning so much that the reality of the picture exists to such an extent that snapping the shutter is almost a formality. I'll quietly forgive myself for failing those standards and not spending my vacation chained to my camera.

Lightroom lets you routinely do some amazing things by way of post processing. The kit lens on my  Sony a6000 is pretty substandard piece of glass with lots of distortion and vignetting (just look at the fish eye curvature and dark marks in the the corners!). One click on lens correction and magically that all goes away.

Next I need to frame the image in some way that makes sense. No point retaining the hot and sweaty group on the left. Zoom in, straighten out the horizon line and they're gone.

One of the elements that initially drew me to the scene was the sight of the cats marching lock step into the image.
Hmmm. Maybe there's a shot here after all.

When I was a kid, one of my jobs was holding the rabbit ears on our Magnavox so the picture wouldn't break up. (If you're under 30 you've got no idea what the hell I'm talking about.) When I got to be good at that I graduated to playing with the color, tone and contrast knobs so the TV picture looked presentable as well. Who would have thought that it was going to prepare me for a career in post processing?

The develop module in Lightroom has sliders that work almost exactly the same way as the image controls on my dad's old TV.

No details in the shadows? Slide to the right to make them visible.
Highlights blown out? Move it to left please.
Color? Needs some temperature (warmer) and saturation (more) to come up to speed.

Highlights and shadows are pushed to opposite ends.

Finally, I can zoom in  just a tiny bit more, crank the sharpness all the way up so the details start to pop and I've got this:

Bingo... what I remember it looked like.

Not bad for 10 minutes. Now if I could just get a decent cup of espresso.

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