For some reason, I feel like talking about photography.

Here’s a shot I took from Butchart Gardens, outside Victoria, weekend before last:

The Inlet

I was going for that kind of 40s or 50s-holiday feel, an older boat, a dock that’s actually pretty new but looks older because of the sepiatone, and all that. I’m pretty happy with it. It has a 1930s feeling that I get from looking at land photos from the era.

But all of that was post-photo, because this was originally a shot with different intent – an intent that didn’t work. At all. Here’s the original:

(Technically speaking, that’s the next shot, but it’s pretty much identical.) I was trying a couple of experiments that failed in the same way, but I didn’t delete the shots from my camera, and ended up with the sepia faux historical.

In terms of mechanics, getting to the above from the below was all in iPhoto, but it works the same in Photoshop. iPhoto has a lovely biased centre-of-brightness tool they call “Shadows,” and another one biased differently called “Highlights.” The first makes shadows brighter, the second brings down highlights, and in both cases, they’ll reveal lots of lost detail if you crank them way the hell up.

The problem with this approach is that no matter what, you’re missing a lot of colour data. You just don’t have it – at least, not in usable resolution. The resulting images often look washed out and/or really grainy. This original, treated thusly, looks really washed out:

“Shadows” and “Highlights” cranked way the hell up

…which is where monochrome comes in. I went with sepia/amber here to invoke a mood, but standard black-and-white would’ve worked about as well. If you merge the colour data to a monochrome palette, you get back to a similar amount of intensity data as you’d’ve had if you’d shot the image in black-and-white to start. It looks natural, within the artifice of photography.

I’ve pulled out a fair number of concert shots this way, and night crowd shots. You get this old-school newspaper/disco kind of look. I’ll even turn up the graininess on purpose, to drive that home. And with that, a shot that looked lost can be made vibrant and interesting again.

C.f. this crowd shot, at Strowler Nights, a few years ago:

That was basically a black rectangle with highlights, on my camera. But play with the levels, edit out a stray arm in the lower left, take out the colour, and: result!

If I’d left it in colour, it would’ve been – at best – a washed-out mess with hints of colour. But taken to monochrome, and kicking up the grain so it looks intentional, and you end up with a textured crowd portrait.

Which I guess really means I didn’t want to talk about photography, I wanted to talk about art, and intent. To wit: a lot of things you think of as flaws or problems can become assets, if you just turn them up to the point where they look intentional, then fine-tune them a bit. Not everything, gods know. But a surprising number.

If you’ve done something like this, post links or descriptions, eh? Share your mistakes-turned-successes. It might be fun. ^_^