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?

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“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?