It was a bland and blustery afternoon.
“Let’s go for a walk by the river,” she said.
“Ok,” I said, silently thinking, “Why?” and, “No!”
“You need the exercise,” she said, reading my expression.
“How true, and how kind …” I might have thought on a less bland and less blustery afternoon.
We walked by the river doing what we often do. She plays adult Where’s Wally looking for birds, bees, butterflies, and wild flowers, and I look for potential photographs.
We see things very differently. She sees real features and identifies their actual species. After over twenty years learning about photography, I now see features and ask, “I wonder if I could develop that into something that has visual impact.” I see what is, but also more of what might become.
We saw the mud. She looked in vain for the elusive waders. I saw the sun shining on the surface, the wrinkles and textures, and more potential in the clouds. I started to carefully compose the picture – the line of the rivulet leading the eye into the picture, the foreground detail of the bottom right post anchoring the viewer and also drawing us in, the high horizon creating a sense of drama that a middle horizon would have lost. As she walked on, I paused to take the shot.
It was very windy, but I knew that there was enough light to avoid camera shake, and I knew that my iPhone would cope well with the range of brightness in the scene.
The result was averagely pleasing. It represents the kind of average shot that anyone with half an eye for composition and a half-decent camera (i.e. any of the modern smartphones available, let alone specialist equipment) could take. It is brown and grey, and the horizon is not straight. It doesn’t say, “Look at me for more than a second.” An average bland shot from a average bland afternoon. It needs some umph, and I knew that once I got it home I might be able to improve it.
For the first edit, I did three things.
- I straightened the horizon. OK, I know that there are many occasions when things don’t have to be straight and where you can create interest by deliberately throwing a few angles. But this occasion didn’t seem one of them, and having a slightly off horizon just seemed sloppy. So, I pressed the Rotate button on the free app Snapseed, and adjusted the bank on the opposite shore.
- I wanted to bring out some of the texture hidden in the darkness and pressed Snapseed’s HDR button. The automatic result was a bit strong, so I reduced the effect slightly, but it did bring out a bit more detail, especially in the shadows.
- I know from experience using Snapseed that it is often worth pressing the Drama button, just to see what the effect is. In this case it produced a lot more texture in the mud and a lot more drama in the clouds. Again, I needed to slide down the automatic settings to make the image less surreal.
If you look closely at both shots viewed large, you can easily see the difference.
I knew from experience (and personal preference) that monochrome shots can have more impact, especially in portraits and in other shots where there are strong composition features in place (as in this case). Removing colour focuses the attention on structure giving it more impact.
In the third and final edit I did four things.
- I produced a monochrome image. I did this in Snapseed by pressing the Black & White button and experimented with the different filters and strengths.
- On this occasion I felt that pure black and white was a bit harsh, so I used one of the available Retro filters to tone the image slightly.
- I used the Tune Image button to increase the contrast further and give the image more bite.
- I wanted to vary the flat light, so I used the Snapseed Vignette button. This slightly darkens the edges of the picture and increases the brightness of the centre. I moved the centre marker to where the rivulet joined the main river. I tweaked the default settings to increase the centre brightness and the outer darkness. This increases the overall light range in the picture. In addition to the rivulet and lines of posts leading the viewers’ eyes in, they also instinctively move from the darker edges to the centre light. The picture is no longer averagely flat. The light and the composition combine to give it a visual depth.
You may not be overly impressed with the result, but I much prefer it to the original shot. I want to look at it for more than a second.
What do you think?