Memories of Staten Island

Having spent many happy hours between 2006 and 2009 visiting and photographing Staten Island, I was devastated to read about and see the photographs of the unbelievable damage that the island sustained during Hurricane Sandy earlier this week. At times like this photography is therapeutic for me, and so I went through my files and revisited all my photos of Staten Island. Even at the best of times this can be an interesting and productive thing to do, since it may well unearth photos you’ve forgotten about and never post-processed or, in this case, it helped me to rediscover photos I did post-process, but with the skills (and software) I’ve acquired in the intervening years I could improve my work on them.

I selected eight photos taken at different times over those three years, and at some point I may well go back and select more, not to mention process a few from the boat tour our Camera Club did back in the spring. Here I’m going to show you three of the eight photos and explain briefly what I’ve done in my latest post-processing round. To view all eight photos, please visit the special Staten Island Gallery I’ve created on my Zenfolio website. I’m designating all eight photos my Prints of the Month for November, which means that until the end of this month there are special sale prices on these photos. All the proceeds from sales of these photos will go to hurricane relief for the suffering victims of Hurricane Sandy on Staten Island, so please, if you’re thinking of doing some early Christmas/holiday shopping or even want to buy something for yourself, consider ordering one of my Staten Island photos.

Now, here we go:

The bright orange ferries stand out so well against the prevailing blues and grays of the water, sky, and buildings. It was a somewhat hazy day, and I just needed to intensify the colors a bit, which I did using a Levels adjustment layer. I also cropped out a bit of the sky at the top to ensure that the ferry and buildings didn’t get lost in the overall picture.

This was the first time any of these photos had had my black-and-white treatment; I wasn’t into it in those days. This lone clamshell on the sand just needed a B&W adjustment layer in Photoshop, and I chose the blue filter, which made the photo a bit darker, thereby highlighting the texture of the sand. The slight tint gives it a softer and yet somewhat more “natural” look.

The sand dunes at the Gateway National Recreation Area seemed a perfect candidate for black and white. Here I used Nik Silver Efex Pro 2 and went with the first Push Process preset.

What, no photos of the iconic Verrazano Bridge? Yes, there are two of them, along with a couple of nature photos that you’ll be surprised were taken within New York City’s borders, in the Staten Island Gallery on my website. And one of my earliest successful examples of what has since become a significant, recurring  theme for me–a historic building that played a role in the American Revolution. I look forward to your visit!

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?

A Photogenic Diner

Diners are fun to photograph. I mean the ones with real local character, not those that tend all to look as if cut from the current trendy cloth for diner looks.

I had my eye on Selena’s Diner in the Catskill village of Haines Falls, New York for a while, and a few weeks ago, after leaving a reception for the Twilight Park Artists Show, where I had pictures on exhibit, I pulled in there quite on impulse to grab a light bite before the long drive through Kaaterskill Clove and down the Thruway. The timing couldn’t have been better; nor could the place where I chose to sit, because I was at one end of the oblong little building and the early evening sun was forming these long streaks of light that led my eye from my seat into and through the length of the diner. I had my discreet little Canon Powershot S95 with me and got several images. As I left, of course, I photographed the outside as well. Here is a selection of the images and how I processed them.

I began with Raw processing, as always, and here was fairly generous with the Contrast and Clarity sliders because I wanted to accentuate those sunshine-painted patterns.

In Photoshop I continued the processing with Nik Efex Pro’s ProContrast at 40%. I aimed to keep a reasonable unity of processing styles for this little series and was intending to use the Nik Tonal Contrast for them all, but it didn’t work for this one; this image needed a smoother look. Note how I deliberately included the placemat at the bottom of the picture to establish where this was!

Tonal Contrast from Nik Efex Pro brought out the different textures in this picture. I used Highlights 24, Midtones 30, Shadows 60 (excellent for defining the areas that otherwise might literally remain “in the dark,” and Saturation 20.

This one uses Nik Efex Pro’s Tonal Contrast with Highlights at 40, Midtones 50, and Shadow 62. Saturation 20. I never overdue saturation since I rather abhor that exaggerated eye-candy look so beloved of some.

Just Do It. Now.

Back in May I wrote a blog post about my “Seen Better Days” series of photographs and the interpretive post-processing of this sort of image. Here is one more extremely important piece of advice for any of you who may be interested in pursuing the Ephemeral, the old, somewhat dilapidated building, with your camera:

If you find yourself passing a building like that on a regular basis and thinking each time, “I really need to plan to take my camera along and just get out and start shooting”–

Just do it. Don’t keep thinking about it. Do it. Sooner rather than later.

In mid-June on a brief weekend trip to the Catskills I discovered that not one but two of my “Seen Better Days” places had been changed–one of them irrevocably and unrecognizably. One was the red wooden building featured in my post in May, in which I showed different ways of processing the photo. In mid-June the door was swinging wide open and there was a huge “For Rent” sign in the window. But the other–the really heartbreaking one–was the Arkville Country Store. Words aren’t needed. Here are the “before” and “after” images.  Which reminds me–that gloriously dilapidated, weed-overgrown house I’ve been eying on Route 17 for months….



Processing Photos for Black and White


The original unprocessed jpg

Two weekends in a row I was on field trips with other photographers and both times the light was such that I knew I was going to end up doing a lot of processing in black and white. It happens sometimes, especially on a very bright, contrasty day or on a day with dull, boring light (as distinct from the kind of overcast that, say, makes colors on flowers and trees pop).

The second of the weekends began at Sandy Hook in New Jersey. The historic Sandy Hook Lighthouse is the oldest in the country, and there I was, looking at it in the most boring light conditions imaginable. But this wasn’t going to stop me–I like to photograph lighthouses and I was determined to make something of it. Fortunately there was a pretty decent hint of clouds, not one of those pale, totally blank skies. OK. Let’s go for a composition that’s a bit different and that has the clouds surrounding the tower. After all, I had been to Sandy Hook twice before on bright, sunny, blue-sky days and taken the typical “postcard” compositions.

Another problem was that the lighthouse appeared to have acquired considerably more rust stains than I remembered from my last visit in January 2010. Those would have to go.

Russian composer Rimsky-Korsakov, who was also a master orchestrator, said that you can’t orchestrate well what hasn’t been well composed. This observation has more than one application in photo processing. For one thing, you can’t take a poorly lit photo, add a B&W layer (or slide the saturation lever all the way down), and think, presto, problem solved. You need to do some optimizing of your original first, preferably starting in Raw. Increase the contrast, increase clarity, work with Levels. Only then can you begin to work with theB&W.


The processed image

Sometimes when you decide to process a photo in B&W you may be open to anything, have no particular notion of what you want your end result to be, and so you try the presets in the B&W layer in Photoshop or (for the adventurous) the whole gamut of presets in Nik Silver Efex Pro 2 until you find one that’s a good starting point, then you start tweaking various settings until you get a result you can live with. (I’m currently in a high-structure craze and sometimes deliberately force myself to try something “soft” just to remind myself that there are other ways of making my photo look.) Better yet, though, is when you start with an idea of how you want it to look, then try the presets until you find the one that corresponds to what you envision, then do the necessary tweaking.  That’s what happened with this lighthouse photo. I wanted that dark tone and contrast in the sky–then, as an experiment, decided to see how bright I could make the lighthouse (including giving it a digital “paint job”). The Red Filter did the trick. This was done with a B&W adjustment layer in Photoshop; I wasn’t envisioning anything as adventurous as what you can get with Silver Efex Pro–not just now, anyway.
If you want a great wealth of B&W tips from the really top pros, let me recommend two things. First, Harold Davis’s book Creative Black & White. Harold is a superb teacher. Check out his website too. Also, Rob Sheppard has been getting into a lot of B&W work of late, and he teaches an online course at BetterPhoto. Rob, too, is an excellent teacher, and this course has videos as well. Check it out, and check out Rob’s fine nature and photography blog.

Wealth of Photo Potential at Highland, NY

It was by accident that I discovered what I believe is the only spot on the shore of the Hudson River that has a good view of both the Walkway over the Hudson and the Mid-Hudson Bridge. It’s at the new Highland Landing Park and is reached via a steep downhill drive from the main road. The fact that I arrived later than planned worked in my favor: too early would have had the rising sun glaring directly at me–maybe nice for a classic sunrise view from an elevated spot, but not when I’d deliberately chosen a vantage point from which everything I’d be shooting was above me.

With two bridges, a railway line, and a shore, there were plenty of lines to create interest as well as tension. I deliberately underexposed my first shot in order to emphasize these lines as well as to accentuate the moody sky (one of my trademarks).

In the next two images I used lines in a different way: to zoom in for close-ups, almost creating abstracts. This was a technique learned from one of my great mentors, Kerry Drager: virtually stop thinking of your subject as a particular object and conceive it, instead, as a pattern.  In both of these shots I moved the clarity slider in RAW way up to emphasize all the lines, and later, in CS5, applied some Unsharp Mask.  The first image I kept in color, having tweaked the white balance a bit in RAW to warm it slightly, but even so it resembles a tint rather than a true color image.

The second image, inspired by the work of another mentor, Harold Davis, I turned to B&W in CS5, experimenting with different settings until I decided I preferred the high-contrast red filter.

This industrial riverfront location offered still other kinds of photo opportunities. I’ll describe them in my next blog.

PRINT OF THE MONTH! My Print of the Month for February is Journey into Autumn, a favorite that has been exhibited and has just been purchased for corporate use. It’s available at a special 10% discount in three different sizes through February 29. To purchase, please visit my website. Here’s a preview:

What a Difference a Night Makes

Sachuest Moonlight

In April I had the great fortune to be on the Rhode Island coast during the spring high tides. The full moon combined with high wind to produce some really dramatic surf at Sachuest Point, one of my favorite places on earth.

The evening’s fading light allowed me to use relatively slow shutter speeds to capture some silky water textures as the waves either shot into the air upon impact with the rocks or rolled over the rocks when their power was spent. Here is a shot I got with an aperture of f 8, ISO 200, and shutter speed of 0.3 second.  It was quite an exciting experience because when I was looking through the lens at the wave action I had no idea what was happening immediately around me–one of those waves could have been about to engulf me and I’d have been quite unaware until after the fact!  Such are the adventures one has for the sake of one’s art.

The following morning brought bright sunlight and still the strong wind. (Is there ever a time without any wind when you’re near beautiful Rhody’s coast?)  I returned to the same spot, and here I was able to use a shutter speed of 1/1000 second to freeze the wave action and get quite a different effect. 

It seems paradoxical that by freezing the action you actually convey a greater sense of action, but so it is. I never tire of shooting somewhere along this amazing, rocky coast.