July 30, 2012

Photographic Creative Process - An Example

The more I have learned in my photographic journey the past few years, the slower I work. There are times when I get discouraged about how long it takes to digitally process my photos. One thing that slows me down is shooting in RAW format instead of jpeg. So every image needs basic adjustments before I start to “play” with it. Fortunately, I have progressed to the point where I usually envision the final image in my mind’s eye before I close the camera shutter. And, being a true engineer, I like to fuss over the details of my images. I don’t want my processed photos to have a typical snapshot look. When I sit down at my computer and start the second half of the creative process, it takes time. Let me give you an example. 

A couple of weeks ago in Sitka, Alaska, we staked out a rocky beach near the harbor, intending to take photos of eagles. It had rained that morning so we couldn’t go out early. We waited until the rain stopped. The tide was in when we got to our destination. However, eagles like to fish that spot along the shore when the tide was out. We saw only one eagle, and he teased us by staying too far away for our camera lenses. Drat! 

As we waited to see if more eagles would appear, I noticed two ravens going in and out of a nearby tree. It appeared that they had a nest at the very tip-top. Using a high speed setting to get a crisp image, I quickly fired off three shots with three different poses of the birds. I liked one of these best because the bird on the nest had opened its beak slightly. Below is the straight-out-of-the-camera (SOOC) image.

On face value, it is rather sad looking. Predictably, the sky was dull because it was overcast. That expanse of sky also fooled the camera meter, so the tree and birds were rendered dark. However, I wanted the tree and birds dark, and I purposely didn’t do exposure compensation. Also, the zoom lens couldn’t reach any further. But that didn’t matter to me either. I could do a digital zoom and crop as long as the image was sharp. That criterion was met because I shot it with a very fast shutter speed. 

I smiled when I clicked the shutter button. I know what you’re thinking! What on earth did I have in mind when I took this image? But I knew, as soon as the scene unfolded, exactly what I wanted to accomplish. I showed the image to Mr. Jim on my camera screen afterwards, and I told him my plan. It was perfect for creating a silhouette with a textured background! 

I decided to work on the image this past Saturday night. After some minimal RAW adjustments, I took it into Photoshop CS6. From there, I applied a silhouette filter in Nik Software’s Silver Efex Pro 2 (a black and white plug-in that works with Photoshop CS6, Elements, Lightroom, and Aperture). Then it was cleanup time in Photoshop! For the next 45 minutes or so, I filled white “hot spots” in the big bulk of leaves with black and touched up stray pixels that were not pure black or pure white. 

Once that task was over, I searched in my files for an appropriate texture layer to apply. I initially auditioned some textures created by talented Jerry Jones of Shadowhouse Creations. However, none of them really created the mottled effect that I already had in mind. So then I turned to the lovely textures created by artist Kim Klassen. I eventually found a winner with one called “pour vous” (which means “for you” in French).

The texture has antique, dapple tones and some faint script writing in the background. It is available for download on her blog HERE.

I proceeded to squish the texture file into a rectangular format, apply it to my silhouette photo, and set the blend mode to “multiply” at 100% opacity. It looked quite lovely. The only problem with this texture file was the color. I didn’t want it to be brown. Ah, but I remedied that easily by adjusting the hue and saturation in Photoshop. To emphasize the texture and new color, I applied two contrast filters in Nik Software’s Color Efex Pro 4. I also lightened and darkened some parts of the image for further enhancing. 

From start to finish, my digital editing took about an hour and a half. Gah! That’s a lot of time to spend on one photo! 

But was it worth it? And did the final result measure up to what I envisioned when I took the original image? 

Yes! It was worth it and it measured up.

I hope that you like it too and this explanation provides you some similar creative inspiration!


  1. how interesting Donna! thanks for sharing this technique..it is beautiful!

  2. That was a pretty cool picture before you started but after all your adjustments...absolutely stunning! I love that and can definitely see it in a frame hanging somewhere!

  3. Worth it? Yes!! It's wonderful! There's so much to learn and it just keeps getting better and better.

  4. ....I'm just going to throw my camera away....Hahahaaa...

    This turned out Gorgeous Girl!!!!
    I've worked on some of my juvenile creations that long but rarely tend to be pleased...Your work is really perfect!

  5. You were right Donna, we were on the same wavelength with the Raven pictures. I however am nowhere neer the photo editing sophistication you presented. I tweak the exposure in MS office picture manager now and then. I have Photoshop 7 but never took the time to learn it except for basics. You idea turned out very well.

  6. Oh yes, this one was worth every single second you spent on it. It's gorgeous. I love the color that you used

  7. It's beautiful...you've taken photography beyond mere photography and turned it into art. I love it!

  8. Donna, Donna, Donna. I'm giving up! You are amazing. I won't stop looking at your work, though. :) (and I probably won't give up - mine will be snapshots forever, but I love them anyway).

  9. Donna, that is amazing! I think you just make me jealous instead of inspire me. I love your photos, but all that seems way beyond my capabilities. With fingers crossed, that I really am through with my school/CPA license adventure (I'll know for sure in another week), I am exploring options for new or perhaps renewed outlets. Thinking photography may get some attention in the days ahead.


Marty, here! Donna loves comments, and I faithfully pass them on to her. Thank you so much for visiting!