30 September 2020

Work on a turtle

 We're getting close to the last quarter of 2020 end I have not made a single post. Then, due to Covid-19 this has been a strange year. Not going out as much, also means less photos. That does not mean I have done nothing, I have spent some nice time doing my favorite thing: processing photos. I have set my first steps in compositing beyond replacing the sky.

But that is not the topic in this post. In this post I want to talk about a turtle. Or better the photo of a turtle. Some professionals make these nice video's about their workflow, sometimes free, sometimes paid. For free you could watch Unmesh Dinda on PiXimperfect. I think he is a very good teacher. I had books and seen video's from Scott Kelby, also an awesome teacher. Or Matt Kloskowsky, yet another fine teacher. I am no where close to these guys, so will refrain from making video's. But I can share a bit of how I precessed the turtle here:


The original

My original photo was shot at Almere Jungle, where there was a pool with turtles. This particular one was sitting a bit at the front, nicely on his rock. So out comes the camera (okay, I had that already out) and one click later we have the following photo:

For the ones wanting all the details, the following can be said:

Camera: Nikon Z6
Lens: Nikon 28-300mm 
Aperture: f/8
Shutter speed: 1/30
Focal length: 112 mm
ISO: 800

It is a kind of photo I regularly shoot, rfairly zoomed in on the subject, without much surroundings. Even then, the surroundings are - to me - still distracting here. Specifically that bright part above the turtle. So, to make this photo presentable to my taste, work needs to be done. And therefore: after the camera comes photoshop.

Step 1: the turtle

The first thing I did was make a selection of the turtle plus stone and copied that to a new layer, where I used the Camera Raw filter to do the mostly usual settings. This means more contrast, lowering highlights, opening shadows, adding vibrance. In this case I also added texture and clarity.

As that was done only on the layer with the turtle and the rock, the background is still unchanged. This was mostly meant to make the turtle stand out a bit more.



Step 2: the background

Now it was time to get rid of that bright part. I could have darkened thins, work with the brush, but I went for a simple thing. I just added a gradient. So I selected as foreground color a green tone from where I wanted to start removing the background and as background black.

With the colors set I added the gradient. This did of course also remove the lower part of the background and that was solved by adding a mask to keep the lower paert unchanged. This technique works fine because the background is already unsharp so it more or less fades away to darkness. The layer with the gradien was placed above the original photo, but below the worked on turtle.

Step 3: let there be light

In many cases I am just pondering what I would do to improve a photo, but in this case I knew I wanted to play with light rays.

Light rays are easy to fake. Just paint the rays on a new layer with white and then set the blend mode to screen. Even easier is to download an overlay where someone better already made the rays. And you can guess what I did: I downloaded an overlay. Basically an overlay is just another image, it can really be anything. And that image is then placed as a layer in photoshop. The blend mode defines how it interacts with the other layers. I did set the blend mode to screen, so it would lighten up the layers below, giving the impression of a ray of light falling on the turtle.

Step 4: set the color

As I looked at it, it felt like one of those spy movies, where the agent is interrogated with a super bright white light shining at him. This did definitely not work. There was light, but no atmosphere.

A better atmosphere was gotten by changing the color and brightness of the photo. The latter is easy by adding a curves-layer and simply dragging the line a bit downward. That also saturates the colors a little bit, but does not change the color itself.

Changing colors can be done with for example a hue/saturation layer, but I picked once more for a simple thing: a curves-layer. Besides changing all colors, you can also pick the channels red, green or blue.

So my image went more yellow, by lowering the blue channel. As in the color wheel yellow is the opposite of blue, that has as effect that my image gets a more yellow color. Warm tones consist mostly of yellow and red, so I raised the red curve a bit. This is also prevented the image from just getting a too yellow tone.

Step 5: top right

The top right corner became obviously devoid of anything. That in itself was fine, there doesn't need to be objects everywhere. In this case I would say that objects would mostly distract. But I also did not want it to be this empty.

Besides light rays there are also light leaks that can be used. So I got myself a light leak of a few circles in a new layer. I changed the blend mode to screen, so they would brighten the background. The original circles gave a purple color, so I adjusted that with, you guess it: a curves layer, where the blues were reduced to almost zero and the greens raised.

The effect is minor, but to me it makes the photo more coherent.

Step 6: Orton

Another minor effect was the Orton effect that I applied. I like the glowing effect it gives, but did not want it all on the photo. Be aware that the Orton effect is created by blurring, so it is surely not wanted where you want your photo to be sharp.

In this photo I masked the layer to only affect the shield of the turtle. Like the light leaks before, the effect is pretty minor. But having both photos, it is surely visible. As an advice to everyone: I tend to over process my photos, and minor changes is what you often want to go for. Creating the Orton effect is explained in the link before. I personally happen to have Tony Kuyper's TK7 panel for luminosity masking and that one can do that as well.

Step 7: colors again

One of the fun things I have is the photoshop plugin called Infinite Color. It does some random color grading and I like to try it out and see if it comes with a nice look.

In this case it threw out this reddish coloring. The effect was pretty strong, but when I lowered the opacity, thereby reducing the red tint, I came to this point. And to be honest, I think these colors look much better than my original ones.

As you can see, that was luck and had nothing to do with skills. But if you don't tell anyone that you just had some lucky random thing, nobody will know and they will all assume you had this all planned.

Step 8: a bit more

I felt I was close to a nicwe result. But somehow I missed something. The answer came to me in the form of a texture overlay. Now, you might wonder what is the difference with a normal overlay. the answer is: nothing. The texture on it was actually like a light ray.

So, like the other overlays it was added. This layer was placed below the layer with the turtle, as I did not want it to interact with the turtle. It did bring out some kind of glow around the turtle, and also showed the light leak a bit better. The last part was now okay, as otherwise it would have been overpowered by the light effect of this last overlay.

At this point I felt the image was completed. Most of the steps were not thought out up front, but just were added as I felt there was somethign to improve in that direction. The tries not giving any nice results are omitted from this post, as that would be really boring.

If you want to make the most awesome photos, it probably pays off to think about what you want to show before doing any editing. Or even better, before picking up your camera. But luckily, for people like me, tools as photoshop have come a long way and allow you to really transform images. This brings of course the question: is this real? I would answer that with yes. Most of what's in the photo, is recorded by my camera. And there is hardly a photo in a magazine that is not edited. For a fun fact: if you shoot a photo as a JPG-image, your camera is actually doing post-processing already, and changes things as contrast and saturation.
To me, the question itself is not important. I want to enjoy myself with my hobby and get a result I am satisfied with. Which I think I managed on this photo.

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