Photograph of the Week: Subtle Coloring…

My camera was in the shop.  My D300 and wide angle lens had to go in for deep cleaning after my recent trip to Zion.  It needed it.  It just so happened that while my Nikon was having a spa weekend, there were wondrous things taking place at my neighbor’s house.

I have been working on a collection of photographs of Cacti in Bloom, taking advantage of what is expected to be a unusually showy season for cactus around Southern Arizona.  Some of the shots I can get from the trail, but there are many varieties concentrated in private yards around town.  I have a couple of neighbors who have nice collections and I’ve been watching them for blooms.  One particular neighbor has a couple of nice Easter Lily Cactus specimens in his yard which produce a gorgeous bloom.  I watched and waited, studied the light and took note of the best times to shoot so I’d be ready when the flowers came in.

Then they arrived.  Tall trumpet shaped flutes stood tall and opened wide revealing beautiful, delicate pinkish-purple petals.  The blooms came during the night, and were boldly welcoming the sunrise the next day.  As the sun climbed, it cast it’s rays toward the flowers and they seemed to glow with the morning light.  I walked over several times that morning to watch, to study…but my camera was in the shop.  Damn it!

Thinking I would get my camera back soon, I watched the flowers all day.  It could make for a dramatic sunset shot if the light was right.  This was an exciting prospect.  As the day wore on I anxiously waited for my camera, I even considered taking shots with the D70 but felt that wasn’t going to cut it.  Late in the afternoon I still hadn’t heard from the camera shop and disaster struck.  The beautiful blooms were wilting.  The flowers closed and drooped in a tired, spent surrender to the midday heat.  There would be no sunset shots, maybe no shots at all if this cactus didn’t have the resources to bloom again this season.

My camera returned from it’s luxurious spa treatment the next day, but there was nothing to shoot.  But I kept my eyes on the cactus and eventually it bloomed again.  This time even bigger and better.  I caught them in the morning again and quickly scrambled to collect my gear and run to the neighbor’s house to catch it early while the light was still nice.  I took a series of shots, most with the tripod…but a few required me to contort myself into odd positions with my head and hands precariously close to other cacti in the yard.  I was really happy with the results.

Photograph of the Week: Adjustments in Lightroom

I’ve asked around and it seems that people really do like the “process” side of the Photograph of the Week just as much as the story side, so I’ll walk through the process a little more on this one to show how I treated the image.  I shoot in RAW on my Nikon so I can work the fine details in Lightroom.  Shooting RAW generally delivers a very dull image as it essentially ignores basic camera settings that would normally apply to tiff or jpg images (no in-camera processing for white balance, hue, tone and sharpening are applied to the NEF file).  It’s a digital negative, and requires processing (developing) just like film would.

Photograph of the Week - Easter Lily - RAW Image

You can see the RAW image for this shot is dark, flat and doesn’t have any vibrance of color to it.  One of the first things I do in my developing process is to create contrast and depth by reducing the Shadows and increasing the Blacks.  I will then adjust the Clarity setting for the image and see if I need to fine tune Shadows, Highlights, Blacks or Whites to balance the image.  Once I’ve got those basics dialed in I play with the Vibrance and Saturation settings if needed.  Sometimes, these don’t need to be adjusted but I will often boost at least the Vibrance setting which works well to bring out the glow of morning or evening light.

On most images, there isn’t much else I have to do.  In the case of this photo, I didn’t touch anything else except the Sharpness (I always push for heightened sharpness in landscape images).  With all of that dialed in I had a really nice, sharp, clean, colorful image.

Photograph of the Week - Easter Lily - Lightroom Image

Photograph of the Week: Finishing in Color Efex Pro

I recently started playing with the Nik Software plugins for Lightroom.  These were recommended to me by Moab based photographer Bret Edge who has talked about his workflow using Nik Plugins on his blog.

In order to edit the file in any of the plugins it must export to a TIFF file.  Then it opens in the selected plugin allowing you to make your fine adjustments.  I opened this file in Color Efex Pro to drop a couple of filters on it and create some subtle enhancements.  I played with a few things, but I created a nice recipe that worked for this set of images.

I wanted a couple of subtle adjustments, nothing too dramatic since I was really happy with everything I did in Lightroom.  Anything too heavy would overpower and ruin the image.  But I wanted to help boost the “sunrise glow” the morning had and I felt like I wanted to slightly adjust the color to bring out the flower’s natural hue.

I started with the Reflector Efex filter giving the highlights a soft golden glow, fine tuning the settings to keep it subtle.  Then I dropped a purple graduated Bi-Color Filter over the whole image setting the opacity very low.  This solidified the pinks but also further softened the glow from the Reflector Efex by giving the golden highlights an extra dose of purple color.  I toyed with tonal contrast, but dropped it as it seemed to create too harsh of an effect.  Then looked at what the Detail Extractor would do and ultimately left it out as well.

In the end, I feel like I managed to develop an image that highlights the delicate beauty of the bloom and really creates the feeling of a warm sunrise.

Photograph of the Week - Easter Lily - Final Image

 

Specifications:

  • This image was shot on a Nikon D300 with a Nikon Nikkor 24-120mm lens.
  • Exp: 1/160, F/6.3, ISO-200, 45mm.
  • Originally shot in RAW format and processed in Adobe Lightroom and finished in NIK Color Efex Pro 4.

Here’s the full Cacti in Bloom Gallery 

Cacti in Bloom – Images by David Creech

Dave Creech is a successful business owner and entrepreneur based in Phoenix, Arizona. He shares his personal story and lifelong passion for travel and rugged outdoor adventure through his blog at WildernessDave.com. David’s focus has been on trip stories, gear reviews, Wilderness Medicine and a series of articles aimed at introducing Yoga to hikers and backpackers as a path to staying fit, healthy and injury free.

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Comments

  1. Hi Dave, thanks for the additional process tips for LR. It’s really helpful to see and understand more about how you work it, since I’m still learning. Great Photos!

    • Mark!

      Glad to help. You’ll pick up on it pretty quick, you already have from the looks of it. Just don’t be afraid to play with the settings and see what they do. Just be careful, it easy to push an image past a point of realism. Have fun!

  2. I love how sharp the main flower is. Beautifully captured my friend! Also, Color Efex Pro is my new go to thanks to you as well!

  3. David,

    Just stumbled onto your site and have enjoyed looking around as another Arizonian who loves the outdoors. Thanks for sharing.

    Ben

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