Revitalizing Uninspired Photos Into Interesting Photography and New Artwork


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By Wing Tong
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Shooting digital sure makes it easy to learn and enjoy the art of photography. You can take as many pictures as you like, experiment with your shots and immediately learn from your experiences every time. You’re not limited so much by the cost of disposable materials of the past like film and dark room equipments and chemicals. You’re only limited by the lifespan of your camera’s sensor which is anywhere from 50,000 to 300,000 actuations depending on your camera model, YMMV. When I got my first digital SLR camera, a Canon Rebel 350XT, I shot over 10,000 pictures the first year alone, most of which were of our newborn baby which was the original motivating factor in getting a dSLR. Since that first Canon Rebel, I’ve also owned the Canon 40D and now the Canon 7D. All tolled, I’d say I’ve shot about 20,000 pictures in the last 3-4 years! Of course not all of those are “keepers”, in fact, I present only about 400 of those 20,000 pictures. That’s about a 2% rate! I’m either just very picky or a bad photographer!? Well, for better or for worst, I’ve kept all those 20,000+ photos and it’s a good thing disk storage is not so expensive these days. So what do you do with 20,000 photos? Keep them in storage until future aliens discover and use them to piece together the human civilizations of the past? Perhaps. But perhaps you can make better use of them for some more immediate creative artwork. This blog will introduce some of the artwork I have been able to create, mostly from those remaining 16,000 unused photos that were slated for alien abduction!

So far, I’ve used 3 primary means of creating new artwork from my old photos. There are more, but I just haven’t been creatively motivated to try them, so please don’t use this blog as gospel, it is only where I’m currently at with my photo creations. The first creative use of my old photos is simply and obviously to “Clean and Enhance” the photograph. The second is kind of a continuation of the first, and that is to give the photograph a “Creative Crop”. The third is to create a completely new work by “Photo Composites”.

Clean and Enhance

When I first started shooting digital, I couldn’t understand the world of post processing and how one can sit through so many images just to process them, which in my case would be 20,000+ in 3-4 years. I shot in the jpg file format the first year but then one day I started playing with the RAW file format just to see what it was all about. It was an immediate epiphany. I know some would argue, if you shot the photo correctly in the field, you wouldn’t have to shoot RAW and you wouldn’t have to post process it. To that, I say apples to oranges. Look at post processing as the darkroom of the old masters and the RAW files their negatives. Traditionally, photographers shot their photos in the field as perfectly as they can then brought the negatives back to their darkroom and made magic from it! And as much as we think we can shoot perfectly with digital, the fact is, most are nowhere near perfection especially with little or no photography experience. And even the old masters used the darkroom to their advantage as part of their photographic process. But I digress. The point is, post processing or editing a photograph is a vital part of photography just as the darkroom was in the “old” days.

I recently spent some time going through my old photos and found a number of photos that I thought had new found artistic value. This had alot to do with my better understanding of post processing and editing of photos, but it also had as much to do with my ever changing artistic vision. When I first started shooting in digital, aside from shooting my newborn (hmmm, this phrase can be miscontrued! lol), I was infatuated with shooting birds and specifically birds in flight. I shot alot of other subjects as well, but they seldom made it to my “keep” pile. Luckily I kept my “not interested” pile in digital storage which as I see it now, has become my palette! And that is the beauty of this whole process, creating artwork from something that was once thought to have no artistic value!

The Cleaning and Enhancing process involves little more than the knowledge I accumulated as I post processed my photos for the past few years. I shoot with a Canon camera and the camera came with 2 primary software that I use to do my editing, they are Digital Photo Pro (DPP) and Zoombrowser (ZB). I also use Photoshop (PS) to do some things that the Canon software can’t do. I use DPP primarily for post processing RAW files so it has little application in the Cleaning and Enhancing of photographs for the sake of this blog. I do however use ZB pretty extensively as it is easy to use and does about 80% of what I need it to do. I first start off lowering the brightness as I’ve found most of my photos to be too bright and washed out to begin with. Then I add contrast and try to get a good balance between brightness and contrast without completely killing all the midtones. I know there is a scientific way to do all this especially if you use PS, but I tend to rely on my eyes which if nothing else will give a more personal attribute to the process and the final finished artwork. Just by using these two tools, the image starts to pop! If I wanted more drama, I may lower the brightness down a bit more and increase the contrast. This usually has the effect of darkening the background while highlighting the subject in the foreground. For added effect, the saturation tool does wonders but I am always hesitant to use it as my eyes tend to want bright saturated colors but the world and the printed photo seems to be in the opposite! If the photo requires some cloning to get rid of unwanted spots, I would bring it into PS since ZB doesn’t have a cloning tool. The final step in my Clean and Enhance process is to add as much sharpness to the photo as the photo will take before digital noise starts to become a problem.

In addition to basic Clean and Enhance techniques, alot of creativity can be realized through PS by using their filters and other third party filters, but we won’t get into that here since all we want to do here is Clean and Enhance the photo. Further, truth be told, I seldom use filters. Most of my photo artwork is accomplished by using simple PS editing tools like the aforementioned brightness, contrast, saturation, and sharpening tools but using them in an exaggerated manner such as I did in “The Eye of the Tiger” below:

At this point, readers may ask, so why don’t you just use PS instead of ZB? Well, as well organized as PS is, it has alot of stuff that I don’t need and which ultimately makes PS a little more difficult to use when most of what I need to do can be achieved by ZB alone. Also, PS is a relatively expensive software while ZB is free if you’ve already bought the Canon camera anyhow. I may not always have PS in the future, but as long as I buy the Canon camera, I will always have ZB.

Creative Crop

Next, we look at Creative Crop which is one of the easiest ways to get more artistic value out of your photographs. I generally perform a creative crop on all my photos in post process these days but there are alot of old photos that I did not bother to crop. And you’d be surprised to see what a simple photo cropping can do. It is as much a personal artistic expression as it is a formulated process. But for me, the formulated process has always given me what the next photographer had to offer so I force myself to try cropping the photo in ways I would otherwise not want to do. It’s somewhat hit and miss but as soon as you “hit” it, you know you’ve created something special. Again I use ZB for this process as it allows me to quickly create a cropping window and move it around the photo and crop it at will. If I find I don’t like the crop, I can do it all over again. In other words, I can experiment with the cropping and see it visually without obliterating the original. If I find I need to rotate/straighten the photo, I would use PS since ZB does not offer that tool. Of couse, there is just so much image you can crop before you cannot print it at any reasonable size anymore. So a high resolution camera with a professional grade lens is a must. My three cameras are 8mpix for the 350XT, 10mpix for the 40D, and 18mpix for the 7D. Unfortunately the older photos that I am renewing by Creative Crop are mostly of the 8 and 10 mpix variety so I am somewhat mpix-challenged. Also, it doesn’t make sense to crop a photo very much if the original image is not sharp to begin with since cropping will have the effective result of enlarging your photo for the same size print as you would with the original. And enlarging a blurry photo is not pretty…then again, if you think the glass is half full, you may create something interesting from the blurred photo as well – there is no limit to creative photo editing!

Below are photos that I’ve performed Creative Crop on.

1. White Flower 2

2. Eyes Through the Canyon of Time

3. Fabio
animal, animals, wildlife, nature, outdoor, lion, lions, cat, cats, king, kings, jungle, kenya, africa, safari, serengeti, wing tong, wingsdomain, portrait, portraits, mane, lion mane, fabio, zoo, zoo animals, king of the jungle, predator

4. St Patricks Catholic Church SF

Photo Composites

So far we’ve been making an existing mediocre photo into something photographically more interesting just by cleaning and enhancing and cropping the photo. Now we really get creative and have some fun while we’re at it. Photo Composites can create whole new worlds and elusions that will astound your viewers. You are limited only by your imagination and your stockpile of photographs which in my case numbers around 16,000. What once was slated for either alien invasion or the trash can now becomes your palette! I found the below landscape photograph I took a few years back that was somewhat interesting in its own right but always lacked a focal point or enough points of interest to keep my attention, so I basically scrapped it at the time.

As I looked at this photo recently, I found it had some unique features like fog, water, and some interesting pointed rock formations. So I went into Clean and Enhance mode thinking I can get a photo with more pop and interest. I tried a number of different editing combinations on the photo, but they all left something to be desired. It needed something that didn’t exist in the photo. The photo itself was misty and somewhat dark which led my eyes to see a moon in the scene. So the process of photo composites began. One of the assets I do possess is a form of photographic memory. I tend to remember everything I see but not so much in remembering names, so if I’ve met you once before and I run into you in a future date, my acknowledgement to you would usually be “how are you!?” Which really means, I don’t remember your name! LOL The point is, I can remember what’s on each of those 16,000+ photos I have, the challenge now is to find the image of the moon within that 16,000+ photo palette of mine! Before I added the moon, I also resized the photo vertically without keeping its ratios so that the resultant photo is stretched vertically since the moon needed some space to keep it in the picture. I normally would not recommend stretching a photo as this tends to be a little tricky and can only be done in certain scenes like landscape without creating something that looks obviously wrong. You wouldn’t want to stretch a person for example! The pixels in the photo can do weird things too when you stretch a photo. But in the case of my photo, I think it came out ok and it actually added some drama to the rock formation in the background. These are some of the procedures and thought processes I go through on a continual basis, alot of it is trial and error since you are trying to create something that doesn’t exist. So it is important to know how to use your editing tools well and mix and match them in order to get the results you want. By the way, I pulled out the big Photoshop gun for this photo editing exercise as Zoombrowser simply does not have these more advanced editing tools. Below is the photo stretched into a portrait orientation with the moon inserted, along with a series of darkening, contrasting, and sharpening. It became an interesting mystical landscape I named “Moon Over Rodeo Beach” as the landscape photo was taken at Rodeo Beach in the Marin Headlands, California.

So the next day I came back to the edited photo as I oftentimes do to see if I can do more to further enhance it. As a landscape scene, I thought it was fine. But then with its mystical atmosphere, I started seeing animals in it! Yes, a mystical menagerie of sorts. So again, I dug into my 16,000+ photo palette and found a number of animal photos I could use for the scene. The first part of any composite is to carefully select around the subject you want to use and leave the rest of the photo behind. The magic wand tool in PS works well if the background is more or less of a single color like it was with the moon. But with these animals, the background was too busy with random imagery so I used PS’s lasso tool to carefully and painstakenly surround the image of each animal which I then copy and paste onto the landscape photo. Once in the landscape photo, the animal images had to be blended into the scene so that it looks natural, as if it always was part of the scene. This blending process involved a series of darkening, contrasting, and desaturating of each animal. Below is the finished artwork I named “The Menagerie”.

And just to have some more fun with the artwork I’ve created, I performed a Creative Crop on it and got the below artwork I call “The Menagerie 2”. It gives you a closer look at the animals and without the moon, it becomes a slightly different night light scene.

The fun and imagination doesn’t have to stop there, below is another piece of artwork using the same landscape background but with flying pelicans which I named “Three Pelicans”.

Here are some more TOP Art and Photography from my website, pick on image to purchase.  You can find my entire collection of museum quality Art and Photography prints at www.wingsdomain.com.

Featured - Frank and Friends Goes To The Vintage Havlins Theatre 25 Cents Matinees Everyday 20140812 square by Wingsdomain Art and PhotographyFeatured - When Pigs Fly by Wingsdomain Art and PhotographyFeatured - Barnum and Baileys Fabulous Road Trip Vacation Across The USA Circa 2013 5D22705 with text by Wingsdomain Art and PhotographyFeatured - Home Sweet Home 20130713 Fractal Heart v1 by Wingsdomain Art and PhotographyFeatured - San Francisco Vintage Streetcar on Market Street - 5D19798 - Black and White and Yellow by Wingsdomain Art and PhotographyFeatured - Reds Java House and The Bay Bridge at San Francisco Embarcadero . 7D7712 by Wingsdomain Art and PhotographyFeatured - If You Are Going To San Francisco Be Sure To Wear Flowers In Your Hair 20140665 Square by Wingsdomain Art and PhotographyFeatured - Hollywood Walk of Fame Alfred Hitchcock 5D28961 by Wingsdomain Art and PhotographyFeatured - American Gothic Resurrection Home Sweet Home 20130715 by Wingsdomain Art and PhotographyFeatured - A Word From The CEO Steampunk Machines Celebrating 200 Years 20140515 Red v2 by Wingsdomain Art and PhotographyFeatured - San Francisco - Union Square - 5D17938 by Wingsdomain Art and PhotographyFeatured - Vintage Steam Locomotive 5D29110 by Wingsdomain Art and PhotographyFeatured - 1958 Chevrolet Corvette . 5D16217 by Wingsdomain Art and PhotographyFeatured - Bugatti Veyron - 5D22869 by Wingsdomain Art and PhotographyFeatured - Ford Mustang Fastback - 5D20342 by Wingsdomain Art and PhotographyFeatured - 1962 Chevrolet Corvette 7d15515 by Wingsdomain Art and PhotographyFeatured - 1986 Ferrari Testarossa - 5D20028 by Wingsdomain Art and PhotographyFeatured - Nostalgic Rusty Old Ford Truck . 7D10281 . sepia by Wingsdomain Art and PhotographyFeatured - The Racer - 20130207 by Wingsdomain Art and PhotographyFeatured - Harley-Davidson Motorcycle . 7D12757 by Wingsdomain Art and PhotographyFeatured - United Airlines . Flying The Friendly Skies by Wingsdomain Art and PhotographyFeatured - Oracle Racing Team USA 76 International Americas Cup Sailboat . 7D8071 by Wingsdomain Art and PhotographyFeatured - Summertime At Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk 5D23905 by Wingsdomain Art and PhotographyFeatured - The All American Pastime 20140501 Long v2 by Wingsdomain Art and Photography

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