Post Processing As A Conversation

Lenticular CloudMount Taranaki

I must admit when I heard this phrase earlier in the week, it caught my attention. With all of the one click, attention grabbing, cliche filters out there, it would seem hard to believe. But even with these, despite the briefness of the exchange, the content of the image does plays some role in the final choice of settings.

But what do they mean by a conversation? Post processing for me is a two way street. A lot of the time when I am capturing an image I already have a pretty good idea what the final image might look like. But that can sometimes limit the opportunities as much as help with the process. Why? Because as you get to know the image, the nuances, the limitations, the possibilities, new ideas can emerge. If you like, the image has its own chance to influence the final look. This is why it's like a conversation, it's a voyage of discovery and learning, where new things grow.

If we see post processing as a conversation, how would that affect the way we approach it. I think for me it stops it from being merely science and technique. In conversations, have you ever just thrown in an element or two, a phrase to just see where it goes. Something playful or surprising just for fun. Why not do this in post processing, take a risk, follow that bunny down it's rabbit hole and see where it goes.

I see it all the time in images posted on the web, people's vision outstripping their current ability, but that is the way it should be. Without vision they will never get better, they will stay in their ruts and keep having the same conversations over and over again. Simply put, you don't always have the language skills, vocabulary or understanding you need. If you want to grow, you need to learn, practice and develop, follow that vision you have. Sure the image will look pretty bad, then over time, like anyone learning a new language for the first time, you will get better at it. As long as you care about the outcome and put the work in that is.

But there is another element to this process. The tools we have that help us, which are constantly evolving and growing. If I was learning a new language, a dictionary, a phrase book and an environment where I could hear the language being spoken and try words and phrases out for myself, would be the tools I would choose. Through these inputs and exchanges I would learn faster and ultimately be more successful.

In art and photography, the process, the conversation, these tools can be seen in the same light. Seeing and hearing how others have approached the same ideas. Looking at the artwork of others, talking with them about their journey, their struggles and ideas, it all helps. It's not about technique so much, though technique like vocabulary is the means you get there. It's about creating interesting, thoughtful conversations, first with the artwork but ultimately with the viewer. It's about sharing what you found interesting, challenging or beautiful in a way that others can perceive. 

I am not saying technique is unimportant, it is, and you will be more successful at communicating with the people through your image if you learn them. In fact the more techniques you can master, the more possibilities you will see. These techniques can happily sit in the back of your mind, ready when you need them. Ready to bring out a subtlety or detail that would other be lost. Helping to develop the story.

So why did I choose the image above to go with this post. First of all I have always been fascinated with how weather and the landscape interact. How the mountains affect the weather and vice versa. Where I live in Palmerston North, the volcanic peaks often divert the bad weather away. When I saw Mt Taranaki capped by this beautiful lenticular cloud, watching it swirl and rotate, I knew this was an image I wanted to capture and share.

But the issue is always, how to draw the viewers attention to the subject in a way that works. I wanted the cloud and peak to become the centre point, the focus of the image. In this case I decided to make a black and white image to take the attention away from the foreground. To draw out the textures and details.

Making good black and white images though can be tricky. There are tools of course to help, silver efex being one them. But with latest release in Adobe Lightroom having a new colour engine, I decided to see what the new colour profiles had to offer. I soon found one of the black and white profiles that really suited this aim. With a darkening of the skies and nice textures, it was a good start on the way to what I could see in my mind. 

But one of the difficulties in turning the sky as dark as I have, is banding, and no luminosity mask or profile could resolve it. I needed a new technique, a new way to converse with the image to make it darker. In the end I chose a solid colour layer, with the colour being black, and a gradient fill to make it look the way I wanted. A little painting on the mask was the final tweak I needed to get it to a place I feel looks the way I want it.

Is it finished? I'm not sure but it was an interesting image to work with and explore. I am also working on a colour version as well. Which will be better, I'm not sure, that's part of fun, part of the journey, the conversation. One I hope to enjoy for a while.