Before and After: Glowing Fern

green, fern, leaf, Shenandoah, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
Glowing Fern : Prints Available

The feathery fronds of a green fern leaf.

“Glowing Fern” is one of my favorites. For starters, I love ferns, partially because I picture them as part of the landscape of forest with a thick canopy of dense leaves and the forest floor covered in a rich carpet of moss and ferns, and this is where I imagine fairies would live. So part of me associates ferns with magic, and the all green color scheme and soft focus of this shot really make it seem more magical, which fits the subject perfectly.

The original straight-out-of-camera image is a little more boring. But all it needed was some brightening, a tweak with curves, and a subtle diffuse glow filter applied to soften the image and make it have that ethereal, glowing, magical quality. And voila, the final image, shown at the top of this post, is easily one of my favorites!

Before and After: Winston with Stick

My dog is one of my favorite models, but that doesn’t mean photographing him is easy. In general, I probably really like one out of every hundred shots I take of him – not because he’s not cute, but because I usually mess something up. The focus will be off, the image will be blurred, or I’ll crop off a body part unintentionally. Winston doesn’t have the best recall – he’s easily distracted by things more exciting than his mom trying to take pictures – so we are mostly limited to shoots in our small, fenced in backyard which is full of rocks, wood chips, mulch, sticks, and plants, some of which are protected by wire fencing, and usually accented with a grill, garden tools, and the random dog toy. Even when I get everything right, getting a shot with a clean, aesthetic background can be tricky.

This image, taken with a 300mm f/2.8 lens, somehow managed to do my boy justice and avoid all the distracting elements in our backyard, but straight-out-of-camera it needed some work. I warmed up the white balance, brought up the exposure, leveled the horizon, and cloned out all of the pesky mosquitos hovering around Winston’s face (if only you could eliminate mosquitos so easily in real life). I also tweaked the shadow areas slightly to bring out some detail, and I used a neat free action I found on the Hair of the Dog photo blog to brighten up the eyes. As a final step, I completely eliminated Winston’s dog tag using the clone tool (in the “Before” image above I actually quickly cloned out the text before posting online, so it’s not exactly SOOC); I typically always edit or clone dog tags before posting online just because people are creepy and I don’t want my (or any of my friends’ or clients’) information out there. I always do this as a final step so I have that detailed info should I choose to print the image and want to keep it on there for sentimental reasons.

Before and After: Friendly Bucks

This Before and After is a bit more dramatic than the last one I shared. Unlike the autumn shot near Tippin Rock, I actually changed the scene a bit for my shot of “Friendly Bucks.” It’s not something I do very often, and these days I’m more tempted not to use a shot than to change it significantly, but in this case I justified altering the background due to the unique context of the subject and the fact that the background alteration drastically improved the final image.

The original photo was taken in 2006. I loved the moment captured, but the white corner of sky in the background was very distracting.

To improve the straight out of camera version, I fixed the white balance, leveled the horizon (which resulted in a slight cropping of the edges), and cloned the mountain part of the background to fill in the white sky. All of my images have slight tweaks to exposure, shadows/highlights, blacks/whites, contrast, clarity, and vibrance/saturation, but this one required a little more work than that.

The end result is something that is much more breathtaking.

White-tailed Deer, deer, buck, in velvet, Odocoileus virginianus, Big Meadows, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
Friendly Bucks : Prints Available

Two White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) bucks in velvet nuzzle one another while taking a break from grazing in Big Meadows at Shenandoah National Park.

Now there are certainly folks who would frown on the level of manipulation inherent in changing the background of a photo. I don’t disagree with them, and I would never enter the edited version of this photo in a nature photo contest like the Wildlife Photographer of the Year Contest, which requires that photos are not heavily manipulated or altered, or claim for it to be a photo documentation. By adding or removing an element of the scene, it is altered beyond the point of standard adjustments, and I am honest about that and would never try to pass it off as an original representation of my camera’s view at that time. I don’t regret capturing the scene from this angle, because by doing so I was able to get both bucks in the same focal plane, which might not have been possible if I had shifted slightly to have a cleaner background. This interaction also lasted just seconds, and the fact that I captured it at all is something I am proud of.

The goal of my photography is to show the beauty of the natural world and capture moments in my life that are important to me. This photo does just that. Changing the background results in focus falling right on the two deer and prevents the viewer from being distracted by a bright part of the image that detracts from the subject. It enhances the beauty, and accurately represents what someone standing next to me might have seen. Since the point of the photo is the interaction between the bucks, altering the background helps me accomplish my goal. To me, making this change on this photo was, and still is, the right decision.

Before and After: Autumn Tippin Rock Sunset

This is the first of a new series of Before and After blogs I will be doing, showcasing the straight-out-of-camera (SOOC) images vs the final edited and post-processed versions. I’ve always been mesmerized by Before and After images, especially since I started paying more attention to pet photography and realized that many of the beautiful, dreamy photo illustrations I have seen of pet dogs on Instagram and social media are actually the result of a lot of work behind the computer. The reality is, a lot of the beautiful images you see have been carefully tweaked in post processing, some more so than others of course. Photography is inherently a creative process; the very act of choosing what to include and not include as you compose a scene, the settings you select on your camera, and what film to use or the defaults picked to covert your RAW images in Lightroom are all aspects that alter a photograph’s representation of reality.

I have always advocated for truth in photography, and will forever completely disclose any and all edits and manipulations and tricks used to create any photograph if asked. Not only is honesty important, but I feel that the public and other photographers can learn a lot about what goes into creating an impactful image. Typically, photographers (myself included) won’t reveal every and all details used to create an image in the caption or every time the image is shared or shown, because that simply isn’t realistic, but the goal of my Before and After blog posts is to shed a little more light on the post-capture creative work that goes into creating a final image.

To start, I am going to share this recently snapped photo of a fall foliage scene in New Hampshire. As you can see, there are some pretty trees but my camera didn’t do a good job of capturing the subtleties of the colors of this scene.

In the edited version, I brought out some of the color and texture in the sky, increased the contrast and saturation of the image slightly, and cropped the view further, to emphasize the colorful trees on the distant mountain and de-emphasize the green foliage surrounding the edges of the frame. I’ve also added a slight vignette by darkening the outer edges of the image; I do this frequently with wide landscapes and images with a clear animal or human subject as it helps prevent the eyes from wandering and pulls them into the image.

None of the edits I made were particularly drastic and I didn’t end up adding or removing anything from the original image, but the overall impact of these changes is significant. The straight out of camera version is one that doesn’t encourage a second look, while the edited version encourages eyes to linger.

One of the reasons I chose to share this image is because it is not very dramatic or exciting. Truthfully, if I had gotten out to shoot more this autumn this might not even be an image I would end up sharing. Yet, it shows the big difference even a little editing can make.