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THE BEAUTIFUL SUBTLETY OF A GESTURE

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I’m periodically surprised when I discover a great image despite not looking for one. Typically, photography is a purposeful practice. There’s intent behind it. I set a date and time, prepare my equipment, travel to a destination, and make photographs. It involves a commitment of time, and concentration dedicated entirely to my creativity. 

For obvious reasons, the opportunity for such moments decreased dramatically over the past two years. Yet when it did, I made the most of it, regardless of time limitations or subject matter. I still needed the satisfaction and joy that comes from photography. 

The choice to always have a camera with me became important. If I couldn’t enjoy an extended time for photography, I needed to find moments during the mundanity of my day. It could happen while shopping for groceries, walking the dog, or going to a doctor’s appointment. I learned to be open to a potential photograph even under ordinary circumstances. 

The photographs that were the result of this time were surprising and satisfying. Spotting a scene and seeing its photographic potential created a visceral thrill. During a day of chores, duties, and an endless to-do list, such a moment felt like a beautiful small gift. I wanted to honor it with the best photograph I could. 

AT A BEACHSIDE DINER 

That was the case during a recent visit to Laguna Beach, California. We drove down the coast to a gallery exhibiting the work of Syd Mead, a legendary concept artist who influenced the look of classic sci-fi films, including Blade Runner and Aliens. Later, we sat down for a late lunch at a beachside diner. 

It was a partially cloudy day, but the sun peeked through the cloud cover. It had begun to move down toward the horizon, and its illumination was cut and shaped by the outdoor umbrellas around us. It produced a contrast of light and shadow, adding vibrancy to the various saturated colors. 

I was excited by the color contrast between the woman’s orange/yellow blouse, red hair, and the blue wall behind her. The presence of the shadows accentuated the color contrast and eliminated several distracting elements, including the items on an empty dining table. 

There were several challenges, for example, the dominance of shadow could skew the exposure, and cause overexposed highlights. So, I applied a stop of underexposure to prevent that, knowing that this would result in the highlights being more prominent. 

The other issue is that there were people at the far edge of the frame. Luckily, they were either in shadow or wearing dark clothing. I knew cropping or burning this in post would minimize their potential for distraction. 

I composed the photograph with her in the right third of the frame. It not only ideally positioned her but, if she became aware of the camera, I could feign taking a photograph of something behind her. 

I made a few initial photographs, but it wasn’t until she raised her hand to her face that I believed I’d captured something interesting. Though the light, shadow, and color had initiated the picture making, her hand’s vulnerable gesture added a unique sense of humanity to the moment. It wasn’t something I’d anticipated, but I knew the image wouldn’t have been the same without it. 

BUILDING ON THE STRENGTHS OF THE IMAGE 

The resulting RAW file had all the elements I wanted; however, it fell short of the image I’d imagined and required further refinement in Lightroom Classic. Luckily, I had a great starting point, because I’d controlled my exposure and carefully considered each object within the frame. My postprocessing would be about building on the strengths of the image rather than repairing its faults. (KelbyOne members can click here to download a smaller DNG version of this image for practice purposes only.) 

THE PROCESS

STEP ONE: After opening the image in Adobe Lightroom Classic, go to the Basic panel in the Develop module. Click on the Profile Browser icon (four squares) in the upper right of the panel. In the Adobe Raw set, choose the Adobe Landscape profile, which increases the overall contrast while retaining important shadow detail. It also boosts the vibrancy of the colors. Click Close to close the Profile Browser. 

STEP TWO: Adjust the overall look of the image by setting Highlights to –37, Shadows to +3, Whites to –4, and Blacks to –42. These adjustments begin obscuring the figures on the far left and right of the frame, and also make the woman and the blue wall more prominent. 

STEP THREE: Next, tweak the midtone contrast by going to the Presence section in the Basic panel and increasing the Texture to +13 and Clarity to +8. 

STEP FOUR: Further decrease the detail in the dark shadows by going to the Tone Curve panel. Using the Parametric Curve option (the first icon to the right of Adjust), set Darks to –18 and Blacks to –6. This decreases important details in the woman’s blouse, but we’ll address this later when making selective adjustments. 

STEP FIVE: The saturated reds, yellows, blues, and greens are essential to the image; however, the appearance of the colors should be adjusted to create a better balance. In the HSL/Color panel, click on the All tab, and in the Saturation section, set Orange to +6, Yellow to –4, Aqua to +33, and Blue to +20. Next, go to Luminance and set Red to +12, Orange to +25, Yellow to +20, Aqua to –34, and Blue to –24. The resulting look is comparable to what you’d expect using slide film, such as Kodachrome. 

STEP SIX: The appearance of the shadows could benefit from a slight blue tint. To achieve this, go to the Color Grading panel, click on the central control point in the Shadows color wheel, and drag it to set the Hue to 221 and Saturation to 40. To make it easier to enter precise settings, click on the word “Shadows” above the color wheel to view the Shadows color wheel by itself, which also reveals fields for Hue and Saturation. Set the Blending setting to 68 and Balance to +23. 

STEP SEVEN: As with all RAW images, the file can benefit from some pre-sharpening. In the Detail panel, set Sharpening Amount to 79, Radius to 0.9, Detail to 58, and Masking to 45. 

STEP EIGHT: A vignette further reduces the presence of the figures at the edges of the frame. In the Lens Corrections panel, click on the Manual tab, go to Vignetting at the bottom, and set the Amount to –29 and Midpoint to 6. 

STEP NINE: The global adjustments have done wonders for the overall image, but it reduced essential details of the main subject. Let’s address this by applying a selective adjustment. Click the Masking control (gray circle with dotted outline below the Histogram panel) and click on Select Subject. This adjustment creates a mask, and a red overlay appears. Though it includes other areas of the frame, that’s easily corrected. 

STEP 10: In the Masks panel, click on the Subtract button, and select the Brush tool. Paint over the areas that shouldn’t be included in the mask, leaving just the main subject covered by the red overlay. 

STEP 11: Next, go to the settings panel for the mask and adjust Exposure to 0.10, Contrast to –14, Highlights to –26, Shadows to 54, Whites to 3, and Blacks to –1. This adjustment reveals details on the shadow side of her face and details of her blouse. 

STEP 12: The table at the center of the frame is too bright. Another selective edit addresses this. Click Create New Mask at the top of the Masks panel and select Brush. Set Exposure to –0.47, Highlights to –7, and then adjust the brush size using your keyboard’s Left or Right Bracket keys. Paint over the table to darken it. You can also turn on Auto Mask, if needed, to help you constrain the brush to the table. 

There’s a great sense of satisfaction from found images like this. It’s not just about the finished photograph, but also that I recognized the moment’s potential and was ready for it. It provides me with a wonderful moment of self-affirmation that feeds my hunger for more.

ALL IMAGES BY IBARIONEX PERELLO