While on a business trip to Annapolis, Maryland USA, I was able to get out in
the mornings and evenings to photograph. I came across this scene, Figure
1, in the early morning after sunrise.
The photograph was taken with a digital SLR camera mounted on a tripod using
a medium zoom lenses. Exposure was determined by spot metering a part of
the boardwalk in the same light as the tops of the small sail boats. The
original capture was in the Raw format.
Figure 1. Original image with no
Figure 2, at the bottom of the page, shows the various
changes that were made to the image.
There are numerous marinas in this area full of large and beautiful boats,
but what caught my attention was the repeating pattern of the smaller, much
plainer, sail boats. There are three repeating patterns; the hulls, the
horizontal and vertical masts, and the shadows of the small sail boats on the
Because the diagonal repeating pattern was closer to horizontal than
vertical, a landscape orientation, versus a portrait orientation, was used.
The pattern ends in the upper left. But it begins off the image in the
lower right. I was not able to include the beginning point in the image
because the boardwalk posts covered up the sail boats in the lower right and
disrupted the pattern.
Using the zoom feature of the lens, the lower right was composed to give
enough room to create a new beginning point in the image by cropping the bottom
edge in the darkroom.
A major problem with the subject and its background is the background
consists of larger, more beautiful boats than the boats that make up the
pattern. Given the choice of looking at something small and plain versus
large and beautiful, people would rather look at the beautiful objects.
Therefore, I needed to draw the viewer's attention off the background and onto
the subject. The advantage I had was in the white of the small sail boats.
Since the background could not be eliminated in the field using composition,
the background had to be de-emphasized using darkroom techniques. With the
knowledge that the eye is naturally drawn to brighter spots and to areas in
focus than out of focus, I decided to darken the background and blur it. I
used a Curves adjustment layer to darken the background and applied a mild lens
blur to the background. Both adjustments used an intricate layer mask to
ensure only the background was darkened and blurred. I was more aggressive
with darkening the background than blurring it. I decided too much of a
blur would give the image an unrealistic look. In addition, a more
aggressive darkening would make the small sail boats stand out more since their
hulls and masts are white.
Why not use
depth of field
to blur the background? I used depth of field to get as many of the small
sail boats in focus. This resulted in some of the background boats to be
in focus also.
It was early morning and the sun was low in the sky (the sun is off image and
to the right of the sail boats). This created a strong side light that put
the tops of the hulls and the horizontal masts in direct light. It also
gave a nice contrast to the vertical masts because the right side of the
vertical masts is in direct light while the left side is in shadow. The
strong side light also created the shadows on the boardwalk. If the sun
were directly overhead, these shadows, and the pattern they make, would not
This image has almost the full range of tone from dark shadows to bright
highlights. As it turns out, tone became the single most critical element
in showing the subject and solving numerous issues.
Even though the image has almost the full range of tone, the darker shadows
were not as rich as I would like.
A Curves adjustment layer was used to force the darker pixels even darker.
Anchor points were placed on the Curve to prevent the adjustment from reaching
into the mid tones and highlights.
As mentioned earlier, the larger, more beautiful sail boats compete with the
smaller sail boats that make up the pattern. In addition, the water's
brightness also interferes with the subject.
A Curves adjustment layer with a layer mask was used to darken the boats in
the background and darken the water. They were reduced in tone by one half
stop. The mask had to separate the small sail boats, their masts and
ropes from the background. Creating the mask was one of the more time
consuming activities while working on this image. This same mask was used
to control what part of the image was blurred.
Part of the subject is the repeating shadows on the boardwalk. However,
the contrast between the shadows and the boardwalk was too weak to allow this
pattern to clearly stand out.
A Curves adjustment layer was used to increase the contrast between the
shadows on the boardwalk and the boardwalk itself. A layer mask was used
to confine the adjustment to just the boardwalk.
In the middle of the left edge is a free standing power outlet next to the
post. This power outlet is very light in tone. After darkening the
background, this power outlet stood out even more and competed with the subject.
I used a Curves adjustment layer to drop the tone of the power outlet by 2
Overall, this image has subdued colors.
There is very little color in this image, and what color there is, it is not
part of the subject. Since a viewer's attention is naturally drawn to
color, this made it even harder for the subject to stand out from its
background. This is an image where color is actually working against the
subject, not for it.
Convert the image to black and white to remove the distracting color.
Only with a complete understanding of the subject and the other elements of a
photograph could this image be enhanced to bring out its artistic qualities.
In summary, the following field and darkroom adjustments were made.
- Field - Used landscape orientation and the zoom feature of the lens so
the pattern is running through most of the image.
- Field - Set exposure so the white of the small sail boats stayed a
highlight without losing detail.
- Field - Set the
so depth of field would keep the small sail boats in focus.
- Darkroom - Darkened and blurred the background to de-emphasize it.
- Darkroom - Darkened shadows to get richer blacks.
- Darkroom - Increased contrast of the repeating shadows on the boardwalk.
- Darkroom - Darkened distracting objects.
- Darkroom - Converted to black and white to eliminate distracting colors.
- Darkroom - Cropped to remove extraneous edges.
To visually see the affect of these changes, mouse over the labels in Figure 2
in a clockwise direction. Start with Original and end with Crop. The
Cropped version is the final version.
Figure 2. Mouse over, or click,
the labels in a clockwise direction. Start with Original and end
with Crop. The Cropped version is the final version.