Small Differences

Two Dancers, Windy Ridge, Near Alma, Colorado, 2015

Two Dancers
Windy Ridge, Near Alma, Colorado, 2015

I can’t count how many times I came close to tossing this image into the trash can.  It sat on my desk for months, never looking quite right to my eye.  Several times I picked it up with the intention of discarding it, but something always held me back.  There always was a nagging little voice telling me that there was something solid here, something worth keeping, even if I couldn’t quite put my finger on it at any given time.

Then one day, I discovered what my hangup was.  I really liked looking at the image from a distance, but not so much up close.  I realized that what I liked about the image was the forms and the lines of the trees and the distant mountains, but not the texture of the grasses and the bark.  When viewed from a distance, the forms and lines dominated the composition, which was why I liked it.  When viewed close up, the grass and bark textures were really noticeable, which is why I didn’t like it.

So, I used various tools in Photoshop (the dodge and burn tools, several curves layers with the effects selectively painted in on layer masks) to reduce the contrast in the grass and bark, mostly by burning down the highlights and midtones so that the overall tones mellowed out into a shadowy evenness.  Then, I slightly upped the global contrast in the image, which further emphasized the lines and forms of the trees and mountains as compared to the background sky.

You can see the prior version – the one that sat on my desk for months – below.  The differences are small, but to me are what made this image a keeper versus one that ended up in the trash.


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  1. Rick G February 26, 2016 at 11:21 am #


    The procedure you went through here would seem to be the very definition of the artistic process. How many times have we all been attracted by a subject only to discover afterward that our attempts to capture its compelling nature were in vain. At that point the snapshooter says, “Too bad, it just didn’t translate,” and moves on. The photographer more serious about the craft asks, “Why not? How can I get closer to what I saw and felt?” The latter path leads to improvement and eventual mastery. The former yields a hard drive full of decent snapshots.

    I have a few subjects that interest me more than all the others, and sometimes go out with the intention to do “studies” of them via heavy experimentation and serious analysis of the results afterward.
    Recently a fellow photographer, impressed by some of these results, asked how they were achieved. I spent a few minutes describing how I had refined my attempts and where I was at currently in the capture process. When I finished, he looked at me blankly and said, “Yeah… I don’t want to work that hard.”
    I had to smile at his honesty!

    Very nice image, by the way. Great composition, as always.

    • admin February 28, 2016 at 10:45 pm #

      Thanks, Rick, really appreciate it. It would have been easier just to let the image go, but the funny thing is it wouldn’t let me, I just couldn’t bring myself to do that. I’d like to say I soldiered on to realize my vision, but the truth is it’s more like the image ordered me to keep working on it until I got it right!

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