Recording Rhode Island’s Industrial History

My friend Bill Patenaude is the Chief Environmental Engineer for the State of Rhode Island and a prolific and challenging blogger on environmental issues and ecotheology. He’s also a lifelong resident of an area of the state that’s rich in industrial history and has the buildings to prove it. Some of those buildings are still used for their original purposes; others have been creatively repurposed; and others are, alas, in ruins. In June Bill took me on a tour of this area, and after a summer of preparing for my exhibits, talks, etc. I’m finally getting back to what I love best next to the photography itself: postprocessing the “keepers.”

Thus far I’ve produced a total of six postprocessed images from our June tour: three original images, each of which I’ve processed in two ways, all using Nik software: first, the Bleach Bypass preset in Nik Color Efex Pro, which I find interesting for the way the saturation can be creatively tweaked; and then the Wet Rocks preset in Nik Silver Efex Pro 2, to which, in each case, I added just a hint of tint.  (As you can see, I was going for some consistency here.)

Our first stop was the Original Bradford Soap Works in West Warwick. Bradford was founded in 1876 and named after Bradford, England, which was the center of the textile industry there just as Rhode Island was in the New World. The company moved to its present premises in West Warwick in 1931. I’ve processed two of my photos of  the Bradford Soap Works, and here I’m showing you the two versions of one of them.

Bradford Soap Works - Bleach Bypass processing

Bradford Soap Works – Bleach Bypass processing

 

 

Bradford Soap Works - Silver Efex Pro

Bradford Soap Works – Silver Efex Pro

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Royal Mills is the site of a historic textile mill on the banks of the Pawtuxet River. While textile manufacturing here goes back to 1809. the present structure dates from 1921. When the textile industry suffered, the site was virtually abandoned until it was taken over in 2004 and converted to an apartment rental complex. In that same year Royal Mills was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.

Here is the one photo of the Royal Mills I’ve processed thus far, again in its two versions.

Royal Mills - Bleach Bypass Processing

Royal Mills – Bleach Bypass Processing

Royal Mills - Silver Efex Pro 2

Royal Mills – Silver Efex Pro 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now here’s where I invite you to participate: For each of the two pairs of images, which version do you prefer? (If you prefer a different version for each of the pairs, that’s OK.)  Please state your preference(s) in a Comment. And now for the prize: If I get at least five replies, those who commented will be entered in a drawing to receive a 5 x 7 print of one of these images — the image of their choice. I will choose not one but two winners at random. Your replies will help me decide which of the images to offer for sale on my website. You must reply by September 15. I thank you in advance!

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 You are invited to my exhibition — “Natural and Historical Landscapes” — at the Cottage Place Gallery, 113 Cottage Place, Ridgewood, New Jersey. The reception is on Sunday September 14 from 2 to 5 pm.  Hope to see you there, if you’re in the neighborhood!

 

 

 

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Ashokan Deep Winter: Win a free print!

Photo 1

Photo 1

I love shooting at the Ashokan Reservoir, that once-controversial body of water in New York State’s Catskill Region whose creation necessitated the obliteration of several villages in the Esopus Valley in order to supply water to New York City. The above image, made yesterday in bone-chilling temperatures, is arguably the finest in my Ashokan Reservoir collection. This version of the picture is the original postprocessed version, done first in Raw and then in Photoshop CS5 using a few adjustment layers.

Photo 2

Photo 2

Then, just out of curiosity, I brought the photo into Nik Color Efex Pro 4 and used the Tonal Contrast preset, which gives values of  25% (Highlights), 50% (Midtones), 25% (Shadows), and 20% (Saturation).  To my eye the result–here it is above–seemed a bit of overkill, but I saved it along with the original.  Then–and here is always the insidious trap with these plug-ins–the more I looked at the two versions, the more “normal” the Nik version looked, and the more “boring” the original. Not a good thing–to me it issues a powerful warning about the potential for plug-ins and filters (or at least, I should clarify, their overuse, especially in nature images) to influence what the eye will accept.

Photo 3

Photo 3

I decided to experiment with creating a third version. This is, let me emphasize, not so much a compromise as an alternative interpretation. Again it uses Tonal Contrast in Nik Color Efex Pro 4, but here I’ve changed the values to 20%, 25%, 20%, and 20%. Here it is above.

DSC0229 BW Bl

Then came the inevitable step: a black-and-white conversion. Again, an alternative interpretation, not something to replace the color versions. I first tried it with a B&W Adjustment Layer in Photoshop but didn’t particularly care for any of the results I was getting, so I went with–guess what–the B&W preset in Nik Color Efex Pro 4. Why? Because it’s a nature/landscape image, and I’m perhaps a bit wary of falling into an overly “artsy” interpretation were I to use Nik Silver Efex Pro 2, which I especially like for my old and historic buildings. Here I used 60% (Filter Color) 34 (Strength), 8 (Brightness), and 44 (Contrast), as well as 31 and 20 for the Shadows and Highlights sliders respectively. Here you see the results.

Now comes your opportunity to win a free matted print of one of these images. Just reply in a comment to this post and tell me (1) which of the three color images you prefer; and (2) whether you prefer the color or the black-and-white.  There are no “right” or “wrong” answers–just call it a marketing survey. Please identify your preference by the number given in the caption — Photo 1, Photo 2, Photo 3 — to avoid any misunderstandings. From the replies received by February 17, 2013 to both questions I will randomly choose two persons to receive a 5 x 7 print, matted to 8 x 10 and signed by me. Each winner will receive the version he or she preferred.

All images are printed on high-quality professional Lustre paper, carefully matted and inserted into a protective sleeve before being carefully packed and shipped. I will notify the winners by email to request their mailing address.

Thank you for participating in my marketing survey! — Oh! At the top of the blog I described the Ashokan Reservoir as “once controversial.” You can well imagine that the destruction and flooding of such a large portion of the Esopus Valley evoked strong feelings, heartache, not to mention the loss of many homes and livelihoods. Then I recently watched an excellent DVD by renowned historian/film maker Tobe Carey on the construction of the Ashokan Reservoir, which eloquently depicted the effects this project had on the lives of those who were displaced by it. Near the end of the film, a man was interviewed who observed that if the reservoir had not been built here, this area would undoubtedly have been subjected to massive development. “What would you rather be looking at,” he asked, “this beautiful reservoir or a shopping mall?”

To this observer, anyway, that’s a no-brainer.

Some Quick B&W Conversions

Cardinal Timothy Dolan is coming to St. Anastasia’s parish in Orange County, NY to celebrate the centennial of our parish cemetery, and I’ve been asked to provide photos of the cemetery for use in the Commemorative Book and to photograph the event itself. In return for my services, the Centennial committee has kindly given me a free full-page ad in the Commemorative Book; I just had to supply the ad copy.

I selected five representative photos, added the text, and arranged it all into what I think is a really attractive design; hopefully the printer can tweak it a bit.

Then I realized that the ad would be printed in black-and-white, not in stunning color. And I thought, I want it to be my black-and-white, not the printing firm’s default B&W. Back to Photoshop. I made my own B&W versions of each photo and reassembled the ad. Here below are three of the five images and how I did quick (very quick — they needed them urgently) conversions of each.

For this autumn image of Cooper Lake I used the Neutral preset in Nik Silver Efex Pro 2, set the Brightness to 5 and the Contrast to 10 to ensure definition of what otherwise might have appeared as murky shadows.

What to do with a fall foliage image of New Hampshire’s beautiful Shelburne Birches that depends primarily on color for its effect? Relying on the whiteness of the tree trunks for definition, I simply added a B&W adjustment layer in Photoshop and used the “Lighter” preset to ensure some detail in the leaves.

It’s usually somewhat easier to do a B&W conversion of a non-nature image. This one is from my “Stieg Larsson’s Sweden” collection. With more time I would, and probably will, give this one more thought for a more “artistic” rendition, but for now I used the “High Structure (smooth)” preset in Nik Silver Efex, left the other values at 0 but set the Structure at 20.

Not leaving anything to chance, I provided a print-out along with the images on a disk. At first I set the printing option to “Use black cartridge only,” but this really muddied up the blacks, especially in the Cooper Lake image, so then I tried leaving it at the “High quality” default under the Color tab in the printing dialogue and this worked.

Converting One of My Favorite Photos

One of my most popular photos (as well as one of my own personal favorites) is this one of a colorful street in Providence, Rhode Island. It’s just across the street from a historic Baptist church. I think the vivid colors combine with the downward slope to create interest and dynamism. Someone once criticized the fact that there were people in the photo but hey, you know what? Providence isn’t a ghost town! It’s a state capital! People live there! I did desaturate the man’s shirt somewhat so that the bright red wouldn’t draw unnecessary attention to him, but removing the people seemed an unnecessarily pedantic move.

As I said, the colors are obviously one of the image’s strongest features. And yet, because of my ongoing “Rhode Island in Black and White” project, I wondered how such a monochrome version would look. Maybe the variety of shapes and designs would enable it to succeed.

I tried four different versions, all with Nik Silver Efex Pro 2: three straightforward B&W and one sepia, since I definitely wanted a sepia in the mix. The three B&W versions all turned out to look remarkably alike–which, I think, shows that I had a certain vision for the image and ended up achieving it in three different ways. The one I’ve chosen is the one below, because it showed the most detail at one critical point. This was with the Fine Art preset, with Brightness, Contrast, and Structure adjusted to 0, 24, and 65 respectively.

For the sepia version I went with Soft Sepia, again with the Nik software. Here I adjusted the settings to Brightness 0, Contrast -23, and Structure 56. Note that the default Structure setting for this preset is -35, so that’s quite an adjustment. The rationale: If you dial down such an important feature as the color in this image, you have to make the best use of the other characteristics; the “softness” of Soft Sepia wouldn’t work, and I had to maintain the structural details–the lines, patterns, designs. Here is the result. What do you think?

“Seen Better Days”: Interpretive Postprocessing of Photos

I was going to call this collection “Dilapidation” until I got a deliciously evocative shot of an alleyway in a rundown town and I didn’t think “dilapidated” really described alleyways. Whereas my historic collection captures the Enduring–buildings such as at New Paltz’s Historic Huguenot Street or in nearby Hurley or the Kingston Stockade District that have been deliberately and lovingly preserved for their aesthetic and historic value–“Seen Better Days” rather preserves the Ephemeral–before the building gets demolished or renovated or succumbs to the ravages of the weather.

My “Seen Better Days” collection lends itself particularly well to black-and-white processing. This can be classic black-and-white, some version of sepia or another “antiquing” sort of look. Some photos can be processed in multiple ways, depending on the interpretation I want to give them. Here I’m going to show you one photo in three different interpretations.

The location of the building is best identified vaguely as “somewhere in the Catskills.” It was for sale and I understand that it has recently been purchased, so obviously I needed to do my work before the new owners do theirs. As I pointed out in my previous blog, if you shoot in color, before you can make a successful monochrome image you have to start with an acceptable color original. The color version here was processed first in Raw and then in Photoshop CS5: some cropping, straightening (it can be difficult to attend to such details during the actual capture when you and your tripod are standing in the middle of a road), enhancing the contrast (and, in Raw, always the clarity), vibrance, and saturation.

I wanted the first monochrome to be a starkly clinical black-and-white image. Starting with the color image here, I processed it with Nik Silver Efex Pro 2, choosing the Fine Art Process preset and increasing the structure to 72. Even though it’s “starkly clinical,” I consider that it nicely straddles the line between Fine Art and Documentary work. (I’d appreciate your comments on this!)

Then I wanted to “reproduce” an old, faded photograph that someone may have kept because they, or their family (parents? grandparents?), lived there a long time ago–during those “better days.” Again using Nik Silver Efex Pro 2, I chose the Antique Plate preset, increased the brightness to 60 and decreased the structure to -4. (I’m obsessed with high structure these days and so it was an exercise in artistic discipline for me to see that I can occasionally live without it and still produce a satisfactory photo!) As a “crossover” I think this interpretation is also a candidate for my Fine Art “Modern Vintage” series.

I’ve sent the photos to some friends and have received different opinions on which ones people liked best. I’d like to hear from you: Which one is your favorite, and why?