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Evolution of a dramatic photo

I thought I'd share a little of my thoughts and process as I create a photo with lots of special effects. For my more realistic shots, my process is pretty straightforward - I check to make sure the focus is good, I crop if necessary for a pleasing composition and since I shoot in RAW I do slight editing to make it match what I saw.

But when I want to create something dramatic, my approach is much different. My husband and I went for a hike. I noticed a lone tree in the forest preserve prairie and the sky had some interesting clouds. I knew this would be a good image with which to start. Let's call it my canvas. But it started out pretty ho hum. When I looked at this on the computer a few things went through my mind as I reviewed it.

The clouds fascinated me, but I wanted to highlight the textures. The foreground of the prairie was WAY too dark and that did a few things I didn't like. The tree got lost and my eye was drawn to that mass of dark area. Given that it was the absolute least interesting thing in the image, that was not good.

So I started to create. First I used Adobe Lightroom to bring out the texture in the clouds - that also added a depth to the color. For those of you who use Lightroom, I worked with Contrast, Clarity and Dehaze. Then I play a little with the shadows and highlights. I upped the exposure - very, very slightly. This is the result. I liked the start, but still found that my eye was drawn to that dark area - trying to figure out what it was. And the tree was still lost. I used something called a radial filter to highlight and lighten the grasses. This was getting closer to what I wanted.

I still wanted more drama, more wow. And I wanted it to look more like a painting than a photo. My next step was to edit in Adobe Photoshop. Earlier this year I purchased a software app called Nik Collection. There are a lot of presets which can be further customized. In this case, I used a function that extracts detail. I don't often use it because if tends to look artificial - but that was EXACTLY the effect I wanted.

After I adjusted that a little, I took it back into lightroom and did very slight adjustments to exaggerate the effect even a little more. This is the image I ended up with - EXACTLY what I envisioned when I first captured the image.

It is extreme and out there. The tree is the focus, but the viewer has to look at the piece for a while to find it. It's stark, but rich at the same time. It's full of texture, and looks somewhat artificial. EXACTLY what I wanted.

Let me know if you have any questions about my methods for creating this image. I hope you found this interesting.




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