Last days of the winter vegetable garden

No Photoshop tricks needed to make a winter garden harvest look yummy. Fresh from the garden to the dinner table. Last week the temperatures dropped to freezing but the garden was spared. A huge sheet of plastic left over from the 2004 hurricane season came to the rescue to make a quick greenhouse over the fence posts of our small veggie garden. The plastic came off in anticipation of a rain shower and warmer nights. I clipped a big bowl of greens after the shower Sunday but the high winds will mean the garden is unprotected for the cold night. The plastic tent should be back up this evening in time for more freezing nights. We'll enjoy it while we can! I'm looking forward to shooting through the plastic again. There were some interesting patterns from the remnants of the dried morning glory vines and chicken wire.  -pw


High Key photography - a memory of summer

Glowing Sunflower

As our small spring veggie garden faded in the Florida summer heat, a row of tall light yellow sunflowers began to put on a show at the back of the garden. To add to the display we also planted Heavenly Blue morning glories along the wire rabbit fence to add foliage and flowers below the sunflowers. Just as the sunflowers began to bloom the morning glories hit their stride and grew fast, wrapping around the sunflower stems and blooms. So much for most of my sunflower photography plans. I could have trimmed the vines back but I was too curious to see what would happen. It wasn’t pretty but the cardinals enjoyed it... Next year I’ll keep the vines in check for a bit to enjoy the sunflowers longer. I did manage to get a few individual shots. Here’s one of a sunflower converted to black and white. It’s my favorite high key photo from this year’s shots.

The winter garden got it’s first taste of rain water yesterday after over a month of drought. Where did all of the weeds come from over night? I can't wait for some garden fresh broccoli!  -pw


Current blog header photo... Florida Greeneyes

One of my favorite Florida native perennial plants, Berlandiera subacaulis, is commonly called “Greeneyes”. The small yellow flowers appear daisy-like on a thin stem raising above a rosette of foliage at the base of the plant. I usually notice them starting to flower in April when I am photographing pawpaw flowers. The eight yellow petals surrounding the green center fall off after a day or so revealing the green stage. The green fades to brown and gray as the seeds are revealed.  -pw


Pen and Ink stippling marathon is finished, until next time...

Frothy Surf (click photos to view larger)

My latest pen and ink drawing titled “Frothy Surf” has been selected for the Ocala Art Group’s Fall juried show at the Appleton Museum of Art in Ocala, FL. This art show titled “On the Balcony” is on display in the second floor Balcony Gallery from Sept. 4 through Oct. 3, 2010. The inking is approximately 15" x 8.5" and before another person asks, I simply have no clue how many dots were stippled to create the scene. Counting would slow down my stippling. ;) What I do know is that after the image was drawn out in pencil I spent around 15 hours stippling with a fine “0” weight technical pen.

As I sketched the outlines to guide my inking I realized the whimsical background could feel more dreamlike as a flat plane, like a curtain or “wall” of water. The stippling unites the realistic and stylized elements as does the gradual flattening of the wave. This is something I’m already exploring in the composition for my next inking.

“Frothy Surf” was inspired by photography I took at Ormond Beach, FL a few years ago. In fact it’s the same day’s shoot and same individual snowy egret that I referenced in the inking “Gone Forever” (a tribute to Kodachrome film). A modified version of that bird drawing is shown on my website and the back of my design firm’s business card. The card was printed at a very high resolution allowing you to see the individual stippled dots under a loupe with the snowy egret less than 2" tall. I know... who’s going to really pull out an 8x loupe to look that close? Someone curious about printing like me...

The birds seemed so comfortable hanging around me along the water’s edge that day. They were in search of a seafood snack and I kept imagining small fish washing up in the foamy waves. The inspiration for “Frothy Surf.”

I hope you get a chance to visit the art show to see the diversity of fine art by the talented OAG group and the museum’s wonderful collection and special exhibits.  -pw
Appleton Museum of Art (link)
Ocala Art Group (link) 


Photoshop CS5 Puppet Warp, camera clubs and the secrets behind a photo...

This photo titled "Hide and Seek" looks like an ordinary photograph with lucky timing in a woodland setting. A couple months ago it was entered in a local camera club's monthly competition. The competition judge thought it was a well timed shot until I mentioned during the critique that I used my retouching skills to do a bit more than finesse the saturation. I hope you can still enjoy it after the reveal. I'm not sure the judge did with his editorial background but it's within the club competition rules as long as the photo still looks photo-realistic. There's a creative category but this shot is far too realistic to compete in that category.

Hide and Seek (click photos to view larger)

The reality is I seldom if ever add elements to my personal photography. I might remove something distracting with Photoshop if it wasn't practical to do it before shooting. I had recently photographed green anoles near my studio as illustration reference. When I selected this rust photo for the competition I had the anole's tail in mind as a test for the new Puppet Warp feature in Adobe Photoshop CS5. Neither of the lizards were present for the pipe shot though I could imagine them playing there. The top anole's tail was straighter as shot. In this composition I felt it would look more interesting to have it turn down and mingle with the leaf debris on the pipe. The Puppet Warp tool worked exceptionally well allowing me to bend the tail naturally once the anole was silhouetted.

The rusted pipes were shot during a camera club field trip to a long forgotten Florida ghost town called Kerr City. I've been a member of the camera club for several years. I knew there was a local camera club or two but until I met a club member while shooting a hot air balloon event with a friend I didn't know who attended the meetings or what the club did. The main requirement is an interest in photography. We both took up the offer to check out a meeting or two and have been members since.

I highly recommend photographers of all skill levels check out their local camera clubs. You will meet some interesting people that share your excitement for photography and maybe learn or share a few tips along the way. The clubs are always in need of motivated volunteers, speakers and mentors. When our club's competition changed from prints to a digital projection this year I started competing more often. I love real prints much more for their craftsmanship and physical presence. The digital entry requires no mounting and matting or dealing with damaged prints from the handling at the meeting. Everyone's shot is viewed at an impressive size. Projectors do have their limitations but our club's Spyder calibrated Epson does a nice job when the room lighting is low enough.

So what happened in the competition? "Hide and Seek" took second place in the color B category. I was on the edge of my seat when I heard it was tied for first. Without knowing it the judge chose a straight from the camera shot over my illusion of reality. It was a good call. ;)  -pw
North Central Florida Photography Club (link)
more Kerr City ghost town photos (link)


Photoshop CS5 and a relaxing day at the lake

Sunset at Lake Kerr
Yikes! The weeks have flown by... 
Adobe Photoshop CS5 was launched a few weeks ago and I am very happy I upgraded. Installation was uneventful and the new software is relatively bug free running on OSX 10.6.3 Snow Leopard. No show stopping bugs so far. Take the new Photoshop tool demos with a grain of salt. Like any photo demo, they were careful when picking which images to feature. Content Aware Fill can make a wonderful mess of a fill as well as save lots of time on a different shot. Adobe has already released maintenance upgrades to CS5 and, especially of interest to photographers, Camera Raw 6.1 with lens correction. You will need CS5 to use Camera Raw 6.1. Lens distortion correction and improved noise reduction are just a few of the great improvements.

Last weekend I didn't want to mess with multiple lenses at a lake party. The 70-200mm telephoto zoom worked great most of the day until I saw this huge sunset. Don't forget you can stitch multiple shots together with software like Photoshop to make a panoramic image when you can't get everything to fit in the viewfinder. Panos are not limited to making a wide horizontal image. This sunset is a combination of five hand-held overlapping shots processed with CS5's Photomerge. That sure beat swapping lenses in a light rain. -pw


Exploring light and shadow

Slipping Away (click photos to view larger)

I often find myself shooting for reference, hopefully for a potential painting but more often to simply document what I've seen like the vegetable garden I've been working on or a small pawpaw plant tucked away in the woods beside the studio. These shots are seldom shared and far from artistic. They tend to be busy with distracting elements. My mindset is different when I look through the viewfinder at those moments. I tend to work more hurried and have less sensitivity to light and composition. If I suddenly see something special that warrants more care I slow down and think about what I want the shot to express (when time allows). I trust my eyes more. I explore shooting options, and I try to set an objective for the shot. "What was it that sparked my excitement?" is the first question I try to answer. It's not always something the camera can see like my eyes. This was the case with Slipping Away.

Stripping away the color wasn't something that passed through my mind when I took the shot. It turned out to be key to expressing what I wanted to share with the image. When I shot this fleeing caterpillar I was amazed by the cast shadow, the way its body crossed over the leaf and how the light sparkled. I'm easily amused... At that moment my eye's didn't focus much on the leaf itself. It's actually a staged shot to an extent. Several camera club photographers were meeting to shoot caterpillars and moths and the goal was for the cat to sit still in the calm, cool morning air and strike a pose. This little fellow was sensing the warmth of the day and the brighter light and became uncooperative as he wondered off. Normally this means the end of shooting. This time it was an opportunity. I had to shoot fast.

My first look at the image in the RAW converter was a big let down. The exposure and focus were good so I didn't give up hope. The light was indeed remarkable though the shot simply looked flat, the leaf opaque and the body more silhouetted than I remembered. I worked it up in color and noticed the veining of the leaf was really working for this backlit shot. I took it to an optimal sharpness, then moved onto other photos.

This month "shadow" was the theme for the camera club competition and this caterpillar shot came to mind. I toyed with some other ideas and actually shot a series using a basketball in motion with the shadow of the hoop and net. It felt too staged and uninspiring in the end. I decided to see how Slipping Away translated to black and white for a monochrome entry. I was working in the Dcam4 color space so I used a negative chroma Variant to desaturate the image followed by a slight adjustment Curve. Wow! Without the color the leaf took on a new life. The caterpillar's body revealed more roundness and depth. The shot had that special feeling I was longing for. What had once been a detailed leaf was now a delicate, paper thin glowing surface that looked like a fine lace veil hiding part of the caterpillar, the shadow revealing just enough to leave one wondering. My eyes were no longer seeing just a caterpillar on a leaf. I had found the spark! -pw


A lesser known photo sharpening method can reveal subtle detail

How do you sharpen your digital photos? Using the camera's sharpening settings for a jpg shot is the simplest solution, but only suitable for small snapshots. If you're exploring sharpening techniques for your RAW format shots you will discover that sharpening usually takes place at multiple stages. In the RAW converter the aim of sharpening is to minimally restore critical focus of the camera's capture (not to be confused with making up for poor focus). Next, after the RAW conversion, the sharpening goal is often to enhance detail during any final color correction and photo manipulation. This may either be a global adjustment to the entire image or on selected areas like the eyes in a portrait. Sharpening at this stage is often overlooked. When it's time to print or after resizing for the web we apply any final output sharpening. It's that middle stage that we'll explore today.
Click on the luna moth photo to see it larger. Additional USM was applied after scaling.

The latest RAW converters can eliminate some of the mid-stage sharpening for many shots with their tools to enhance micro contrast. When you need to enhance the detail in subtler transitions and textures, like the blades of grass on a golf green or the furry back of a moth without over sharpening the entire photo, try the High Pass filter technique. I used it back in the 90's to bring out detail in drum scans. It's a perfect process for recovering fine detail in today's high resolution digital photos.

Photoshop's High Pass filter doesn't produce anything attractive on its own. It's designed to be used with certain layer blend modes like Overlay, Soft Light and similar modes that alter the image based on the luminosity of the layer. A 50% gray value has no effect on the layers below in Overlay mode. The further from 50%, lighter or darker, the greater the layer changes the image below. Let's see how High Pass is used.

The High Pass filter technique is simple. In Photoshop you make a copy of the RAW converted photo on a new layer. I'd suggest only using enough sharpening in the RAW converter to restore focus and staying in 16-bit. Go to the Filter pull-down menu, to Other, to High Pass. There's only one slider. Try a low setting of 2 as a test and click ok. Don't panic. The result will look very ugly. Next we want to remove any remaining color in that layer to protect the color of the photo. Simply use the Hue and Saturation tool on this gray layer, dragging the saturation slider to the left. Now the fun part. Change the blend mode of that filtered layer to Overlay and move the opacity slider. Watch the detail increase in subtle areas as the opacity increases. Too much and things look unnatural. You can use a layer mask to target certain areas of the photo with this sharpening.

Before and after - the high pass technique shows greater clarity in the hairs. 
High Pass sharpening is not for every shot and not a substitute for final output sharpening. Experiment and you will find the settings that work best with your workflow and camera. -pw


The story behind my design firm's name...

Drawn By The Light sounded just curious enough for the name of my new design firm in 1998. I've drawn all of my life and illustration would be one of the core services. Oddly enough, drawing wasn't what actually inspired the name.

During the day I was a commercial artist employed under assorted titles for over a decade, working with a variety of clients and winning some awards, but it left me unfulfilled in many ways. To achieve a balance I worked at night as a freelance designer from my home studio. This allowed me to work on other types of projects and deal directly with clients. As I prepared to go freelance full time I knew I needed a company name that was intriguing and symbolic.

The night hours have always been my favorite creative time. My studio was lit by the moon, my desk by a lamp, the monitor glows with illuminated pixels. Light was a part of the process and a key symbol I was looking for in my quest for a name. When I wasn't working on a client project I was often up late beta testing software for an early developer of Photoshop plug-ins and graphic software. One of these projects was a 3D modeling application called KPT Bryce. It was intended to render photorealistic landscapes but, as an imaginative beta tester, I modeled all sorts of things. Some of those images can be found in the sample galleries on the early install CDs. As Bryce rendered the final image, a yellow line would slowly move across the screen (computers were so slow in those days...), row by row, showing the rendering progress of the pixels receiving light and shadow. It could take many hours. I'd often start the rendering, set the monitor to sleep and hit the sack. Waking the monitor up in the morning was always exciting.

For a break from evening work and play (the beta testing and drawing being the latter), I'd find myself at the kitchen sink for a glass of water, looking through the window into the darkness outside. Looking back at me were moths attracted to the light, keeping me company as my family slept. The drawn by the light name just clicked one night.

I always dreamed of seeing a luna moth at that window. A luna did show up in my logo. The moth element has become very stylized in my current logo. I do get to enjoy real luna moths up close each summer by raising a few from eggs.

Years later I still find new ways light is impacting my work. Most recently it has been through my study of studio lighting. Not long after the turn of the Century I began shooting digital photography. It was the first time since my youth working in the basement darkroom that I was serious about photography as a craft. It complemented my illustration, art and design perfectly. As with so many other parts of my creative process the camera was using light to bring a vision to life. There's simply no avoiding it. I am drawn by the light. pw


RAW Developer by Iridient Digital updated to 1.8.8

For all of you Macintosh users shooting RAW files I highly recommend you try the demo of RAW Developer by Iridient Digital. It's a powerful RAW converter with some nice touches. Version 1.8.8 was released this week adding a couple more cameras and squashing a couple bugs. The control this converter allows makes it well worth reading the comprehensive Help section. Iridient Digital is fast to add new cameras. Their list of supported RAW capable cameras is exhaustive.

One of the often mentioned benefits of RAW Developer is the high level of detail this converter can pull out of a shot. I must agree. DNG files are supported and the input profile can use the DNG metadata style camera color rendering. The camera profiles can be tweaked for those wanting advance control. Batch processing is in there too. The workspace layout options allow for plenty of customization. You are not limited to 3 output profiles, like Adobe restricts us to. There are numerous color space profiles included or you can add your own as I do. I use Joseph Holmes' DCam4 RGB color space as my working space and use the DCam Chroma Variants to adjust global saturation on my important shots. It sounds complicated but is extremely simple and addictive. Adobe's workflow would require I export to 16-bit ProPhoto RGB and then convert to the DCam space, one more step. There are a set of Chroma Variants sold for 16-bit ProPhoto use. I just stuck with DCam4 since it works so well for me. See the link below to Joseph's site for more details on the Chroma Variant approach.

RAW Developer includes multiple sharpening methods (R-L seems even better than USM for RAW sharpening), noise reduction controls, and highly flexible black and white conversion options. These tools are winners. The Chromatic Aberration control with RAW Developer is great without any sliders. About the only tool I find missing is the Vignetting slider which I only use as a creative effect for the cropped sensor shots I take. Give it a try! pw
RAW Developer features link
RAW Developer demo link 
DCam RGB info link


A perfect location for a Toxic Landscape

Toxic Landscape
When I cropped this image in the viewfinder I was imagining a fall landscape, blue sky, and silhouetted trees at the edge of a lake. The shapes are loosely formed by the rust and paint remnants. I love this shot on so many levels. For weeks during the construction of the small building that would eventually become my studio I walked past the portable trailer dumpster only to look inside for useful scraps. I was too focused on the construction project to see past the contents. At one point we moved it to help a subcontractor and the imaginary scene caught my eye. I only took a few shots and went back to work. Now I wish I had shot an extensive study of the surface. The next day we had to move it again and the light was never the same and the leaves had moved.
I've had the print hanging in my studio since a photography show. It looks fantastic with the acid stained concrete floor. A few months ago I decided to rehang a watercolor print by Robert H. Way featuring the downtown square of Keene, NH where I grew up. My brother's family was making a trip to that very spot and since I couldn't be there the watercolor was the next best thing. My Toxic Landscape needed a new home. I carried it around the corner and found the perfect location (hint: read the lettering on the Toxic Landscape photo. - thanks Ron!). pw


photography, art, and the occasional luna moth

Welcome to Drawn By The Light "the blog"
Hey, wait... "What about your design firm with a similar name?" you ask. The photography and fine art focus for this blog easily fits under that umbrella name which I incorporated under well over a decade ago. The design firm remains my main focus. I plan to explore and share many of my odd interests and obsessions right here. Amazingly they don't all involve pushing pixels and letter kerning but do have a tie to light in some way. I hope you will enjoy my ramblings. pw