In 2016 LensWork hosted a fine art community book project called Seeing in SIXES. Nearly 1,900 6-photo entries were received and 50 were chosen for publication. Even though I expected the competition to be even more fierce this year I entered my own B&W photo set. For my subject I chose a walk through part of the conservatory at Longwood Gardens during the annual Orchid Extravaganza.
Longwood Gardens was started by Pierre S. du Pont in 1907. The original gardens have expanded to over 1,000 acres with a 4.5 acre conservatory. One of the annual events is the Orchid Extravaganza. I would like to take you on a walk through the East Conservatory to some orchids on display.
The primary entrance to the 4.5 acre conservatory is on the east end.
Inside the entrance is a reflecting pool with an arch of orchids.
Looking back at the entrance.
The floor is usually covered with a sheet of water to provide interesting reflections.
Orchid balls are suspended under the glass roof.
The final destination—a spray of orchids.
Way back in the mid-70’s I shot B&W film and color slides. This summer I dusted off my old Minolta SR-T 101, found a battery that worked in it, and bought a roll of Tri-X 400. After I shot the roll I sent it off to Old School Photo Lab to be processed and scanned. While I miss the smells of working in a chemical darkroom, I don’t miss dodging and burning when making prints. Here are the steps that I used in Lightroom CC to clean up one of my scanned photos.
Here is the original scan. I received a 3130 x 2075 pixel JPEG at 512 dpi. There is a thin white strip at the top of the image (barely visible).
The first thing that I did was crop the image to 4 x 6. This trimmed the strip at the top and removed some unwanted background.
Next I made some adjustments in the Basic menu. The highlights are too bright so I dropped the Exposure a hair to -0.05, pulled the Highlights down to -48, and increased the Shadows to +24. I like crisp B&W images so I also increased the Clarity to +4.
I’ve been experimenting with tone curves. I click on the curve and move my stylus around (I use a Wacom tablet) until I see something that I like. In this case I left the Point Curve on the default value of Linear (I haven’t tried other curves yet) and ended up with a Lights value of -65.
The original image has some noise and this processing has made it worse. For example, the windshield looks like it is dirty. For the final step I used the Nik Dfine 2 plugin with the default values to reduce the noise.
The final result is one of my favorite photos of 2016.
Before and After
The original image combined with the final version for easy comparison.
Last year I entered some photos in the Maryland State Fair. Later some friends asked me why I hadn’t entered the Harford County Farm Fair. My answer was that the farm fair is about 4-H, baked goods, prize pumpkins, and tractor pulls. Well, I competed this year and earned several ribbons.
Chief Mate’s Stateroom on SS John W. Brown
This picture won 1st place for Black and White, Other subject and was Champion B&W. It’s a stateroom on the SS John W. Brown Liberty ship that was built in Baltimore in 1942. It’s a 3-shot HDR processed with Google/Nik HDR Efex Pro 2. It’s one of my favorite photos from my first visit to the ship.
This colorful photo of the Tower Bridge over the Thames in London looks really nice on aluminum. However, because of the rules I entered an 11×14 print. It earned second place in Cityscape. I like how the bridge is painted.
I entered this Great Egret at Cape May Point, NJ in Birds and animals other than pets. It did not win anything, although I like how its neck matches the bend in the surrounding grasses. I plan to enter a version on canvas in another competition.
Wow, there were over 80 entries for Black & White in November. I used B&W presets in Lightroom, then edited the settings a little for the effect that I wanted. (The original pictures were in color.)
These condominiums are near Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. I like the abstract look and the shades of grey.
The light and lines of this picture of the Greenway Trail draw your eye to the two people who are walking.
Memorials in Greenmount Cemetery
Greenmount Cemetery is very old and has many stone markers and statues. I chose this picture because the statue in the foreground is sharp and white while the obelisk and dark tree are out of focus. The obelisk is a counter-point to the statue, which stands out against the dark leaves.
The original version of the condominium picture is all shades of blue and grey.
My formal training was in B&W film. I think that’s a great way to learn the basics like composition and depth of field. It takes more effort to visualize the final image instead of thinking, “Oh, look at the pretty flower.” While some scenes cry out for B&W, such as trees in the snow and other high-contrast images, I’ve found that some bland pictures can be enhanced by converting them to B&W. That’s what I attempt to demonstrate here with some pictures I took along the Little Gunpowder Falls in Gunpowder State Park.
The first picture is a covered bridge. Perhaps if I were better at using Lightroom, I could do more to improve this picture. This is an old covered bridge, but there is nothing special about it. The color is fairly bland and it blends into the greyish trees behind it; the modern road sign is distracting; and the stone foundation is probably the most interesting part of the picture.
Here’s my B&W version. I increased the contrast to make everything sharper. The bridge has more character now and looks older. Best of all, the road sign is no longer a bright yellow distraction. It could be darkened or even removed entirely.
B&W Covered Bridge
The next picture is of a modern bridge that was nearby. It’s made of brown steel and is framed by bare trees, rocks, and concrete. It’s halfway to being B&W already.
Here’s my B&W version. The emphasis is now on the lines of the bridge rather than the rocks or trees. In fact, the jumbled rocks and random trees serve as a nice background.
B&W Steel Bridge
This factory is an abandoned mill. The windows are broken or boarded up, the water tower is rusty, the bushes are overgrown, and a large, bare tree looms over everything. It’s already quite desolate, but I wanted to make it feel grittier.
I think that getting rid of the red brick and the color of the leaves and bushes really adds to the empty feeling. The buildings seem older and this picture could have been taken during the Great Depression.
Architecture as abstract art
My very first entry is a scan of an old negative from college. I didn’t have much time, and I’ve always liked this picture. It is an abstract view of a staircase and certainly qualifies as being Simple.