Monday, March 28, 2011


St. Patrick’s (Selective Color), 2010

I try to avoid doing too many tricks with pictures. It’s tempting when you first start working with a program like Photoshop to start tarting everything up. You want to try out every trick and every trick looks new and cool and original to you.

Until it isn’t any more. That’s when you realize you’ve gone overboard and everything you’re doing with your pictures looks like a trick, not a picture.

There’s nothing illegal or unethical about this. Hopefully, though, it’s like a lot of things. It takes you a while to get past the ham-fisted stage and start using the tool a little more delicately.

High dynamic range (HDR) photographs are a fad right now. Knowing how to use HDR can be useful. But done poorly, HDR images have an unnatural look. If you happen to like that look, this is fine. But for most people the trick starts to be more visible that the content of the picture. I, for one, won’t be unhappy when people back off of using HDR quite so much.

I was looking through some pictures the other night that I’d taken in New York in February of 2010. To be honest, I was giving them the “final look” to decide whether there was some reason to keep them or whether I should just discard them.

When there’s no obvious merit to the photo, part of this final judgment process involves trying to remember what it was I thought I could do with this picture when I took it.

This is what I remember about the moment St. Patrick’s (Selective Color) was taken: it was damned cold; my feet were wet; the snow had turned to sleet mixed with rain. I should have been indoors enjoying someone else’s company, taking a catnap or enjoying a drink in a convivial setting. But instead I’d been driving for more than seven hours and was anxious just to get outdoors and move around a little and take some pictures.

Weather like that can be ripe for taking pictures. Rain puddles have cool reflections. Snow can be useful for framing and contrasting. It was just early enough in the evening that a lot of people were still at work. So windows in some of the office buildings still had the warm glow of incandescent light.

This picture was taken in New York from courtyard of the Villard Houses looking westward out the gate onto Madison Avenue and the back side of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. I’ve taken some interesting pictures from this position before and wasn’t anxious to repeat them. Yet there’s something comforting about the scale of that courtyard that always draws me in and gives me a brief respite from whatever chaos is going on just outside the gate.

I took a bunch of pictures. Some had obvious merit and some didn’t. This was one of the pictures that fell between, lacking an obvious reason to share, but not so worthless than I knew to discard it immediately.

Looking back at this picture over a year later, I can only imagine that what caught my eye was the color of the umbrella. But in its original form the other colors were distracting. So I desaturated them so that only the purpose umbrella standards out. I wish I’d taken the picture a second or so earlier so that the person with the umbrella would have stood out more. But there’s only so far I can go back in history.


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  2. Love the umbrella pop of color, and the light from within the window. I don't think I've ever seen this back view of St Patrick's--I'll have to look next time I'm there. My aunt and uncle were married in St Patrick's years ago, in one of the smaller chapels.

  3. Love what you did with that shot, Chris. Just the right touch of color.

    The title of your page describes what I was trying to do when I first got interested in amateur photography a couple of years ago; what I saw through my view finder. A retired pro decided to take me under his wing and show me the ropes but he was always trying to push me into more relying on editing software. When I explained that I was trying to share the natural beauty around me, not manufacture an image, he told me I would never be a serious photographer until I learned to rely on the software. I guess I will never achieve his level of proficiency.....and that's alright with me.

  4. The manipulation has turned this photograph into a work of art. You as the artist know exactly how and when to do that.
    I agree with what you said about HDR. They can be really interesting, but again I think that I am more fascinated with the process and the wierd appearance of the photograph rather than really looking for what is really important in the photograph.