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Letting Palo Verde Pop

Today I want to illustrate a few simple photo editing techniques that can make “okay” photos pop.  The only tool in my box today is Adobe Lightroom, which is my favorite organizing and editing tool for photos, and the only tool I use 95% of the time.

To see where I’m going with this, here’s the before and after of a palo verde tree in bloom:

The original image is straight out of the camera. My camera, like many, produces RAW files that are rather dull and unexciting. The goal of the RAW file is to capture as much data as possible. My goal when I get home is to make it look like the scene I saw in my head when I pressed the shutter. So, a little post-processing is in order.

First, the big stuff: the exposure and white balance actually look about right to me. The whites aren’t blown out, there are no deep, black shadows, and the yellow is the right color, just a bit dull.  So, I don’t need to mess with those.

The third setting I usually use is the Clarity slider. Now, normally with landscapes and such, I bump up the clarity a bit to give things a nice sharp edge, but in this case, a lot of the photo is out of focus, because of a shallow depth of field.  So let’s lean into that a bit and encourage a kind of dreamy, summery feel to the image, and just drop the clarity down to about -50. It kind of takes the edge off of everything.

What stands out to me at this point is that the branches are looking quite gray. Both because I remember the branches/twigs/whatever being much lighter, and because I’m feeling fond of high key photos right now, let’s bump up the Whites slider to about +50.  (I don’t just pick a number, honest, I play with the slider until I get what I want. Today, it just ended up being +50.)  That makes everything feel a bit brighter.

Let’s see… now what? Ah, that big blue blob in the background, otherwise known as the sky. I’m not crazy about it intruding. Normally, blue and yellow provide great contrast, but it’s off to one side and not really adding much… and the photo still feels a bit meh, so let’s just crop it out.  And take some off the top for good measure, so that the whole focus of the image is on the good stuff: the flowers.

Oh, yes, so much better.

There’s still some blue in there, and it looks a little… weird. Let’s lose it. Down in the HSL panel, let’s drag down the saturation slider for blue to, oh, about -71, to take the edge off those blobs.

And one last, subtle touch.  Let’s bump up the Vibrance to about +31. This make the yellows feel richer, as it helps fill in some of the places where the light on the petals washed out the color.  (If you have trouble spotting the difference with the photos side by side, focus on the top petal of the flower that’s almost dead center in the image, the one that’s in focus.)

There, I’m going to call that done :)


Dreaming of a White Christmas (Yeah, right!)

Since I’m stuck in Houston for the holiday – and since there’s nary a snowflake in sight (as usual) – I’m revisiting my admittedly limited archive of snow-filled photographs in an effort to get into the holiday spirit (seriously, a Christmas tree feels really weird when flowers are blooming outside the kitchen window).

This bit of snowfall surprise hit us in May in the mountains of Montana. The day before, we’d been hiking in short sleeves, and then we woke to a foot of snow on Big Mountain.  We of course took the opportunity to throw a few snowballs, and then set off in the car to explore.  For hours more that morning, the snow continued to drift down, and the hills were wreathed in clouds.  It was very quietly beautiful.

So here’s to dreams of snow (that you never have to shovel), and to peaceful, lovely days all around.  Merry Christmas!

Trees in snow and clouds near Hungry Horse Lake, Montana. May 2013

Trees in snow and clouds near Hungry Horse Lake, Montana. May 2013

Floating on Clouds

In May we were up in Montana for a family vacation.  Our first day in Glacier National Park was absolutely socked in, raining, cold, pretty miserable.  It was rather disappointing, really, because we knew – knew! – there were these incredible mountains around us, but we couldn’t see them!  But we stuck it out, hoping the weather would clear, and rather enjoying the change from the already-muggy spring weather down south.

We stopped to eat a picnic lunch on the premises of a lodge that was still closed for the season.  Halfway through  the meal, I dropped my sandwich and ran for my camera, because the clouds had briefly parted to reveal a lone ridge of rocks and trees floating in the clouds high above us.

Glacier National Park, May 2013

Glacier National Park, May 2013

I really prefer color photography in general, but I knew this was black-and-white as soon as I saw it. There was hardly any color to the day anyway ;)


My first thought when I turned around to walk back toward the sun was, “Oh, wow, a field full of dreamcatchers!”

Spiderwebs, lit up by the early morning sun, had been strung among the tallest blades of grass on this little piece of prairie in Brazos Bend State Park.  Moments like this almost make me willing to forgive Texas its hot, muggy summers… almost ;)


Water, water, everywhere

Want to know how humid it is in coastal Texas?  The water won’t stay on the ground where it belongs!  ;)

On a cool morning (well, relatively; mid-70s will do) fog rolls across the fields and lakes, and then the rising sun sets it alight.  The whole world feels surreal.  Add in a tree full of birds and a few alligators steaming back and forth across the lake, and you’ve got my new favorite place to watch the sun rise ;)

Pre-dawn light over Smithers Lake, southwest of Houston, Texas

Pre-dawn light over Smithers Lake, southwest of Houston, Texas

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