Frolic Breakdown

At the Memphis Zoo this little guy was having a romp into the water on a hot day early in the summer of 2010. I really wanted to freeze the action to get some nice water splashes. This is what I got right out of the camera.

My first run at processing the photo brought me here.

I went with an HDR-ish approach while darkening areas I wanted to downplay. There are things I like about it and things I don't. Let's concentrate on the negative.

The problems boil down to bad framing, important details getting lost in the unimportant and too many clues that this was taken in a man-made environment. (As if anyone would believe I'm an actual wild-life photographer.)

Lately I've been going for a high contract black and white look where the background is blacked out. That would solve the problem of hiding the unimportant background details with the additional benefit of being able to recompose things on a solid background.

After recomposing, the tedious task of masking starts. Drop by drop...

...until the mask looked a little something like this.

Now with the mask applied.

The hard work done, it's time to turn this into a black and white photo.

Next a global curve adjustment...

... and then a targeted curve adjustment on the water.

I cloned in a few droplets off the front paw and along the bottom where the pattern was just a little too clean.

A final global curve adjustment finishes things off.

Here's your usual before and after comparison.

Hopefully you enjoy these breakdowns. They are personally useful in helping me to document my experiments as I continue to learn more about creating these images.

If you didn't enjoy this, then you can blame +Justin Martin since he's the one who asked me to do it. :)

Wolf Stare Breakdown

To my surprise, this has become my most popular photo on Flickr in the week since I posted it there. Of course that means that I must pull back the curtain to reveal everything that went into it.

Here is the original shot...

If you're a regular reader of my blog, you won't be surprised to know that I'd passed over this photo many times in the past because I didn't really care for the pose, the dirt is ugly and it looked like the wolf had been rolling around in it.

But I do enjoy a challenge.

Here is what I ended up with after some Lightroom 4 adjustments...

Some fur detail pulled out and cropped to get rid of most of the ground. It should be easier for you to see what remains of the mud pies he'd apparently been enjoying before I got there.

To Photoshop!

The first step was to remove the dirt. I used the Spot Healing Brush Tool for this on a new layer.

Next, I removed some noise using Nik's Dfine 2 filter. This was mainly in the eyes.

Nik's Viveza 2 filter was used to punch up the contrast and structure.

Photoshop's Iris Blur was used to make the face the focal point and to really start obscuring the ground. I masked out the areas that I wanted to remain sharp.

Using an Exposure adjustment layer, I brightened the eyes, the brows, snout and nose and then finished this step off by sharpening the eyes with Photoshop's Sharpen Tool.

I felt this photo was all really about the eyes and the fur and the best way to tell that story was in black and white. Nik's Silver Efex Pro 2 to the rescue! (I know. It's starting to sound like a commercial. Sorry.)

Here are the settings I used...

A final touch of sharpening (Nik's Sharpener Pro 3. Shhh...) and some additional white masking to further hide the ground and voila'!

So side by side, here is the before and after...

If you found this at all helpful or just want to say hi, hit me up in the comments below or find me on Twitter or Google+.

"Wolf Stare" print on ImageKind
"Wolf Stare" print on RedBubble

Pachyderm Profile: If At First You Don't Succeed...

The process of creating something teaches lessons if one is open to such things. As long as you realize that there is always something new to learn, skills can evolve and hopefully improve. I think it drives the people who know me a little crazy, but I will often start from scratch on a task I've completed previously because I think I can do better.

Basically I'm telling you that if my wrinkly friend up there looks familiar to you, it's probably because you are a regular reader of this blog.

In my post "Elephant Profile" Deconstructed, I went through the steps I took to take this original shot from this... this...

And I guess that was fine. It was "better" and I learned some things, but I was never 100% happy with the results.

I've been working a lot in black and white lately. I find that where interesting textures are concerned, it has a greater impact.

In the end I've taken two paths looking to "tell a story" from a pretty lackluster beginning.

I think I've hit much closer to the mark this time. Although I can't guarantee that I won't take another shot someday.

If you're interested in displaying this image on your computer or your walls, the following links may be of interest:

For use on desktops/notebooks including "retina" class displays
Prints via ImageKind
Prints via RedBubble