Unleashing the Mad Scientist Within

September 23rd, 2010 by Bret Edge

Tonight I feel a bit like a mad scientist. For some unknown reason I got an itch to try something totally new in Lightroom and Photoshop. I made this image of bison grazing in the meadow at Mormon Row in the Tetons while there a couple weeks ago. Straight out of the camera the image wasn’t terribly exciting but I felt it had potential. Those of you who are familiar with my work know that my images are generally pretty straightforward. I don’t apply creative effects and I process the images to look more or less like the scene did when I photographed it. A little tweak of contrast here, add some saturation there, darken a sky now and again and do a little dodge and burning – voila, the final image appears. I have nothing at all against images that have been heavily manipulated. Photography is an art and we should feel free to create our art on our own terms.

Now, I have obviously taken some serious creative liberties with this image.  For starters, my camera doesn’t make square photos.  I used a fairly heavy digital grad filter to darken the sky with a heavy dose of clarity to give more separation in the clouds, added some global negative vibrance to mute the colors, made a curves adjustment to increase contrast, dodged the bison to make them stand out a bit more from the meadow, added a vignette and some “grain” – all in Lightroom 3.  I exported the image to Photoshop CS4 and experimented with different blurs using the gradient tool to keep the bison sharp-ish while blurring out the background.  I didn’t like the results of any of those efforts.  What to do?  Hmmm…

I decided to see what Nik Color Efex Pro 3.0 could do for the image.  I used their “Classic Soft Focus” filter first, painting on the effects only where I wanted them.  I was getting closer but something was still missing.  I tried a few other filters that didn’t work out before discovering the “Glamour Glow” filter.  A very subtle application gave me the results I was looking for, again brushed on sparingly.  I used Nik Viveza 2 to add some additional global contrast and whiten the whites.  The final step was to use Nik Sharpener Pro to sharpen only the bison.  What you see here is the final result of all that wackiness.  Total processing time: about 35 minutes.

I think one of the greatest attributes of digital photography is that it has opened up a whole new world of creativity, both in the field and in post-production.  When it doesn’t cost a penny to click the shutter most photographers are more willing to try new things, experiment with composition and stretch the boundaries of what they’re comfortable with.  Things get even more exciting in the digital darkroom with panoramic image stitching, HDR, blended exposures, an endless variety of filters and plug-ins, not to mention what is possible with nothing more than Lightroom and Photoshop.  And, if you don’t like the results of your weird science, it’s real easy to go back to square one and start all over!

What do you think?  Some have said this image is “too flat”.  Some simply don’t get it.  That’s cool.  Certainly, this is not the kind of processing that is going to appeal to everyone.  I’m just really curious to hear your comments as I really stepped out of my comfort zone with this one.  Be as harsh and critical as you dare.  I’m a big boy and I can take it.  What have you done to experiment and broaden your creative vision? Let’s hear some ideas!

You can learn more about Bret, view his wonderful images, and read his blog here:  Bret Edge Photography

You can find out more about Bret's workshops here:  Moab Photo Workshops

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