Running... Again?

  If you know me you know there was a time about 10 years ago or so where I was running. A lot. At least 5 days a week and at least 5 miles a run. I wasn’t training, I wasn’t preparing for a race or a marathon. I just found myself enjoying the time spent running. I wasn’t obsessed with numbers, but I kept track of them all and liked seeing improvements in time and distances. It was good physical health and mental health. Then I tweaked my knee. Not bad enough that I couldn’t walk on it, just a tweak that told me I needed to back off of running for a little bit. So I decided on 2 weeks. At the end of 2 weeks I aborted a run very early as the pain was still there. 2 weeks became 3, became a month, became 5 years. 

Forcing a Photo

Archway HDR
A decent, but VERY processed shot

**Disclaimer: Today's post is kind of long.**

I recently decided to try my hand at a competition I saw on Google+, the +10000 PHOTOGRAPHERS 1st Contest - Natural Water Photos being put on by +10000 PHOTOGRAPHERS. There's no tangible prize except notoriety on what some think is a ghost town social network. Shortly after having made the decision to enter this, and deciding I wanted to use a new photo for the competition, Digital Photography School published this post about dynamic landscapes by +Todd Sisson. The post itself is a teaser for his newly published book Living LandscapesFeatured in the article was this image which instantly caught my eye.
Sunrise Over The Moeraki Boulders
Sunrise Over The Moeraki Boulders, Otago New Zealand by Todd Sisson

I really liked the colors, composition, clouds, and the dynamic look of it. It feels like the water is actually moving in the shot. So then I looked at the components of the shot; rocks, beach, water, and sunset. I have access to all of those, but I didn't want it to be a direct copy of the shot so I had something else in mind. I'd still use the aspects of this shot that caught my eye in the first place, and that are talked about in the article, but I'd make it mine. Except I didn't.

The very top shot is my first outing in trying to recreate this. There are a lot of things wrong with it, in my eyes. Mainly my eye isn't sure what to look at: the rock on the left that really has nothing going for it, the rock on the right which has some great light on it, the archway which looks to be background material, and then finally the water. The sky is the exact opposite of bright and colorful, looking dull and dirty instead. Color in general just isn't popping. The top shot is an HDR composite, because the reality of the situation looked like the shot below, and my old habit of fixing or saving a shot using HDR came back.

Not very eye pleasing
Again, all kinds of wrong with this shot, the least of which is the positioning of me versus the setting sun, my timing of tides, and just generally there not being anything here. But that didn't stop me. I figured I could rescue the HDR shot in post processing. And in a way I did. On first glance the re-processed HDR, having gone through a barrage of Topaz plug-ins got to something resembling eye catching, but not in a good way. It's important, in my defense, to tell you what I had in my head. Basically I had those wonderful colors of Todd's shot in my head and I was superimposing them on my shot, whether it was during the actual shooting or during the post processing. And this was my biggest mistake.
Ugly HDR Archway
The photographic equivalent of plastic surgery
So what'd I do? I went crazy wanting those tones and colors from Todd Sisson's shot. In particular I wanted purple. So much so that in Topaz Labs Lens Effects I used a graduated color filter (a filter, physical or software wise, that goes from clear to a chosen color) with, you guessed it, purple. I was getting my purple one way or another! This was after Topaz Adjust-ing, Clarity, DeNoise, and InFocus. The problem is that this photo in no way existed in real life, and it looked like it. I think every photographer has a line that they won't cross with photos. The line that separates acceptable pixel manipulation and unacceptable. For me I think of it as the line between manipulation and destruction, and I crossed that line. I wasn't comfortable with that. In fact it's hard for me to post this shot. Even worse is looking at it 100%. I didn't just massage the pixels, I destroyed them. I was trying to get something out of them that just wasn't there.

So I decided I'd scrap these shots and try again. This time I found a good time for high tide to come in so i could get closer to the arch without fear of my camera and tripod taking a dive. But sadly the clouds weren't cooperating with me. It was a flat, dull day; there was no way I was getting purples, reds, and oranges out of it. So I did what I should have done the first time out and evaluated what kind of shot would work with the environment I had. Color shots would work, but they would be so dull and boring it would make the shot dull and boring. I was considering calling it an early day when I thought that maybe black and white would work. I put on the my neutral density filter and set my camera to C1, which takes customized black and white JPEGs and color RAW files so I can get an idea for what a shot will look like in black and white.

B&W Archway
Un-edited, straight out of camera
This shot was one of my first shots of the black and white series and I knew I liked it more so than the purples and oranges and reds that I thought I wanted so much. The long exposure gave me streaking, brilliantly white flowing water contrasted against the stark, dark rock formation. I liked the contrast of the moving water moving into the relative still water. Being able to get closer took a lot of the distractions away. I was happy with the shot in the camera before I even brought it into Aperture, and that usually means good things will come after. But more importantly recognizing what can and won't work makes this picture a more compelling shot. Even if it doesn't have purple!

So, after all this what did I learn, and what can you learn? As a photographer who is still trying to figure out what my style is I find I'm very impressionable, and that is both good and bad. When I read up or see a style of photography I like I tend to go in a phase where I try to shoot everything in that style. I need to slow down and evaluate more. Take the photos in that style I'm into currently, but not to forget those styles I've used before that maybe I understand better.

My thanks to Todd Sisson for letting me borrow his photo here on the blog. Be sure to check him out over on Google+ and his website with just an amazing number of great shots of New Zealand.


  1. I did lots of HDR before (now I'm shooting portraits), so it's always nice to read about fellow HDR user's line of thought. I'm curious what the final B&W image looks like :).

    Anyway great read!

    1. Here's the final image on today's post:


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