Leaf Dance (A Mobile Tutorial)

I was standing on the front lawn, waiting for a friend to pick me up. Rather than wait in the house, I decided to take the few minutes I had to capture the fading leaves of the trees along my street. It was windy and partly cloudy, the sun dancing in and out of the clouds and the leaves dancing in the breeze. Stalking the trees for a few graceful branches against an open sky, I finally found the right scene.

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This edit, Leaf Dance, feels nostalgic to me. Vintage memories of autumn, from a year that already seems long gone. Capturing the leaves in transition is already poignant, but vintage processing can make it even more so. I thought I would share this edit as a mobile tutorial, so you can see the challenges and phases an image goes through along the way. I usually can’t see where it will end up. I just have an idea of the next step I should take at each phase.

Lets’s start with the original image. I really liked these reaching branches, but was impossible to get them with a blank sky. The trees of the neighborhood were too close. So I endeavored to frame the branches against the clouds with some space between any other trees. Did I mention it was windy? I probably have 10 shots of the same scene because the branches were moving around. This was the best one.

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The next step was to remove the distractions of the other neighborhood trees. If there is a gap between the distraction and subject of interest, it is much easier to accomplish. I used the Retouch feature of Handy Photo to remove the trees, crop in closer, and the remove a few of the branches in the background. Here’s the next phase:

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Because of the lighting, the leaves and branches look like a silhouette but I want to pull out more detail. In Snapseed, I start with a global adjustment for brightness, but that didn’t do quite enough for the leaves, so I add a selective adjust to increase the brightness only on the leaves. By doing this, I pull out the details in the leaves, both color and texture, but don’t adjust the sky any further. I want the clouds as is. It looks very odd at this point, my eye can tell it’s wrong, but since I know it’s a transition step I don’t worry about it. Things sometimes have to look worse before they look better.

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Next step is through Snapseed’s Grunge filter. I dialed the texture way back and scrolled through the options to see what colors felt right for the image. Purpleish-pink! I also played with the center spot and adjusted the location and radius to make sure the focal point of the image was clear, while the less important corners were darkened and fogged.

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Time for some texture! I pulled the image into Pic Grunger to see what I could do. This app can overwhelm images with its default settings, but if you play with dialing it back a bit you can often find a great aged texture effect.

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It is almost there. I’d like to pull the focus more tightly in on the branch, minimizing the pull if the brighter sky in the upper left. I pull the image into XnView FX and play with some of my favorite textures. These textures often give just the subtle effect I’m looking for, and this time was no exception. It darkened much of the sky but left the brightness where I wanted it – under the branch. This provides great contrast to pull your eye right to the intended area of focus.

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Both the color and processing of the final image leaves me with a romantic, vintage feel. Exactly what I was looking for! Unlike most of my mobile tutorials, there was no blending in this edit. It’s just an image, a couple of apps and the willingness to imagine and experiment. That’s all you need to create mobile art!

Looking for Your Input

On Wednesday I wrote about my shift to offering my eCourses On Demand, but I’ll still be teaching Instructor Led eCourses too, just not as frequently. I’ve decided to teach one of the Find Your Eye series eCourses this fall as Instructor Led, and I’d like to get your input on which one!

** CLICK HERE TO FILL OUT SURVEY **

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Class registration will open late July for the chosen eCourse, which will run in September-October.

Which do you think it will be?

Will it be Journey of Recognition? This one was the first in the series, and the first eCourse for me EVER. It was written while I was in Italy, in the early flush of discovering myself an artist, which makes it dear to my heart.

Or maybe it will be Journey of Inspiration, the second one written in the series, which captures my transition home. I had shifted from the amazement of recognizing myself as an artist to finding my inspiration.

Or will it be Journey of Fascination, the most recent in the series, which really captures so much of my journey of transition, finding myself “home” and developing my ongoing fascination with photography.

Each Journey eCourse has it’s own flavor, energy, and focus since they are based on my personal journey at the time they were written. I can’t wait to see which one is selected!

Framing a Flower: Another Process of Elimination Example

Happy Sunday! I usurped my usual Exploring with a Camera wrap up post on Friday to celebrate my 1000th blog post (don’t miss the giveaway!), so I’ll finish up this month’s exploration of the Process of Elimination today with another example sequence from my recent trip to England.

First let’s look at the final image, and then let’s talk about how I got there.

Finished Product

It all started as I climbed a steep cobblestone street in Hebden Bridge, and noticed this lonely pink flower. I was attracted to the bright color and the contrast it provided against the brown of the town and green of the foliage. I took 19 frames of this scene in all, playing with the different elements. I won’t share all 19, but I’ll share enough for you to get the idea of what was going on in my head. All of the photos except the final image are straight out of camera, so ignore the exposure and focus on composition.

#1: Flower against the background of the town below.

The background, even with a shallow depth of field, is too busy and doesn’t give the contrast I was seeking. I changed my point of view to capture the flower against the brick and slate of the building. I have four images with various compositions similar to #2.

#2: Flower against the background of the building.

While this image has an uncluttered background (good elimination!) the images seemed flat to me, so at this point I stepped back to get the wider scene I was seeing. There was so much great texture in the hand rails and cobblestones as well. I took four more images with various horizontal compositions, similar to #3.

#3: The wider scene.

I liked the diagonal lines and the textures, but the original reason I was attracted to this scene, the flower, seems to get lost. I tried again with a vertical orientation, which puts more focus on the pot and flower. Closer!

#4: The wider scene, vertical orientation.

From there, I explored including or removing the different elements that remained in the frame. The hand rail posts and the tree were the main elements I was excluding/including, through both the focal length of my lens (zoom) and the angle of view. #5 is one with more of the tree included, while #6 is one with less.

#5: Including more of the tree and handrail at left.

#6: Excluding much of the tree and the handrail at left.

After 10 vertical images, playing with placement of the tree and handrails relative to the pot, I was ready to move on. This was an extremely steep cobblestone road and it was starting to rain, I was worried about slipping on my way back down.

The best image of the sequence was #5 above, and here it is again with the final crop and edit.

Finished Product

What I like about this is the frame created by the tree in the upper left, the slate roof at top, and the handrails at left and right. These elements frame the pot and bring your eye to it, where you (hopefully) see the lonely pink flower pop out in contrast with the surrounding colors and textures.

If I were able to go back in time, I would try a couple of things that might further help the “framing” of the pot. First, I would see if I could get a little more separation between the leaves of the tree and the pot, by moving myself to the left. I would have to balance that with the space between the pot and the right handrail getting smaller, but there appears to be ample room. Second, I would see if I could get a little more separation between the leaves of the tree relative to the slate of the roof, by getting down a little lower. I think the slate of the roof would make a better framing element to contrast with the brick and frame the pot.

Since I can’t go back and try again, I am happy with the end result. Between the exploration I did with composition in the field and the further review and adjustments at home, I have an image I like that successfully conveys what caught my eye. I’ve also learned a couple of things from the exercise, around paying more attention to the framing elements relative to each other, which will stay with me the next time I go out and photograph.

So, what have you learned in this exploration of the Process of Elimination? Can you see how this kind of intention and attention to detail can help your photos? Share a link to your exploration or let me know what you’ve learned in the comments below.

The Benefits of Space

As we finish up this month’s Exploring with a Camera: Allowing Space, I can see that we’ve all learned a lot. We’ve learned how space can give you room to breathe in a photograph. How the subject can be highlighted and enhanced by the space we allow around it. How a simple, open composition can lead to strong emotional impact.

Many of us have also drawn parallels between our photography and our lives with this exploration. We’ve noticed how allowing space can make room for other things to grow in our hearts and minds. I especially love how Gina put it: “Allowing space in our hearts, homes, and minds is really one of the keys to happiness.” Yes! Whether it’s physical space in our environment, space in our schedule or just space in our thinking processes, it’s all beneficial to us.

Let’s all take a deep breath, allowing space in our bodies as air fills our lungs, and enjoy the benefits of space in our lives, in any way, today. You can still link in your photographs through the end of the day. I’d love to see what you have found in this exploration!


The Black and White Landscape

We got up early. The clouds were low and the morning was quiet as we hiked to Avalanche Lake in Glacier National Park. We encountered a few photographers with their tripods at the bottom of the trail, photographing the falls, but there were few others around at that time of day. It had rained the night before and the trail was damp. The only noise was the sound of our bear bell and the rushing water, when we were near the stream flowing from the lake.

After a two mile hike, the valley opened up into glacier-fed Avalanche Lake. Amazing waterfalls crashed down cliffsides from the glacier invisible above. The clouds reached down and touched the mountainside around us, muting the colors. There were layers upon layers everywhere. In the rock…

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…and the ridges…

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…and the mountains themselves.

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Many of the images from this morning’s hike seemed to call for black and white. I’m normally a fan of color, but I can see how landscapes like these are perfect for black and white. You see the texture and variations in light in a completely different way. I’m not sure that these images are “done” in terms of processing. I edited them a couple of weeks ago and I tweaked them again today. I think I still have much to learn about creating an effective black and white image, but recognizing the possibilities is a start.

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Oh, and our quiet, misty morning hike? By the time we left the lake, the clouds were dissipating and the crowds had arrived. While we saw almost no one on the hike up to the lake, we saw a steady stream of people on the hike down. We had just beat the rush of people and just captured the clouds as they were lifting. Timing is everything.

Living Real Life

July 1st, our one year anniversary of moving home to Oregon from Italy, came and went with a whisper. We marked the date as a family, and talked about what we were doing a year ago, but we were busy heading off on vacation and didn’t give it too much fanfare. We have a life to live in the here and now, and Italy seems like ancient history. A year and a lifetime away.

The passing of this anniversary got me to thinking: What have I learned in this first year back? It’s been a hard year, and an easy year, depending on my point of view. There are definitely some lessons and revelations that have come with repatriation. In so many ways, our time in Italy was not “Real Life.” It had a definite start and end, and when you know you have limited time you behave differently than you would otherwise. “Real Life” continues on and on, with it’s ups and downs and twists and turns. You can put just about anything off for two years. And we did… we lived a life of travel and excitement, in the moment. We didn’t worry about saving for retirement. We didn’t worry about negotiating obligations to family and friends. We didn’t worry about long term career choices. We had two years, and made the most of it.

Returning to “Real Life,” without an end date, changes things. Some things cannot be sustained or put off indefinitely. I’d love to travel like we did for two years but the reality is we don’t have the vacation time or the funds to visit someplace new every other weekend. Or, let’s face it, the energy. But I miss the travel. Oh, how I miss visiting interesting places all the time. Seeing something new around every corner. That fueled me creatively in a way that I’m not sure I’ll see again. And that’s ok… that’s what made the time so special.

Beyond the financial though, there are personal things that I put off too. The old saying, “wherever you go, there you are,” is very, very true. You can fool yourself for a while in a new situation, thinking things are different, but sooner or later you realize that the issues you face come from within and they will be there no matter where you live. So while I focused on this wonderful personal growth that came from my creative journey while in Italy, that was only part of the story. My journey must continue to address the issues I tabled or ignored for those two years. The thing about personal growth is that you don’t always get to pick and choose the direction you grow, like I did during those two years. Sometimes “Real Life” chooses for you.

It turns out that’s fine though, because I’ve also learned another important thing about growth. It stays with you. What I learned and gained from the connection to heart and soul has not left me in the return home, because wherever you go, there you are. It works both ways, positive and negative. When change is real and true and internal, it’s with me always. My fears about going back to being the person I was two years ago were unfounded, because the place does not make the person. Our experiences in a place and time shape us and leave us indelibly changed.

I see that in my art too. My photography was changed by my time in Italy, and it has changed as I return home. There are things that I have carried through: my love of real life still life, texture and history. Among my subjects you’ll still see potted flowers, peeling paint and interesting door locks. There are changes though, because my environment has changed. The materials and scenes that make up my life are different now, and since my photography is a reflection of the world around me, it’s had to change. I still love scooters, but the sightings are fewer and far between. I’ve found new subjects that intrigue me, things like mail boxes and brick buildings. I’ve created new images that I love just as much as some of my old ones. And there is so much more that I’ve been able to do since returning home. Without the cultural and language barriers, I’m learning to be an artist in the real world as well as the online world. I’m exploring new realms of photography, through print and presentation in exhibitions. I’m moving in new directions, influenced by all of the places and experiences that have come before.

Porch Flowers, Astoria, Oregon

The lessons of the last year have not been easy. At times I’ve been filled with such longing and sadness it’s overwhelming. And then, at times, I’m grateful to be where I am and leave that time behind me. I’ve had to learn balance in a new way with starting a creative business and finding the time for Kat Eye Studio, my corporate job, my family, friends and, oh yeah, I need to still practice and create my own art too. I’ve had to let go of unreasonable expectations and take each day, each hour, each moment… one at a time.

It might be that the biggest and most important lesson of the past year is that I am still finding my way. I will always be finding my way, no matter where I am. And I have to find my own way: in art, business, life. No one else’s path is going to work for me. I can learn from other’s experiences, from my past experiences, but I am the one who must choose the direction I move ahead in the future. The journey that came before influences where I go next, but my past doesn’t decide my future. I decide my future, a moment at a time. I am the one living this “Real Life” in real time.

There is no where else I would rather be, than where I am right now.