I’m really thrilled to be part of a friendly HDR Collaboration with a group of talented photographers. Each week or so, one of us offers a set if his own set of bracketed images for us all to put his own spin on. This week was my turn. I chose an image I shot about a year ago and a good old-fashioned corner store in Lowell, Massachusetts.
Cote’s Market has been in operation, by the same family for 98 years. They sell a good variety of basic groceries, but specialize in home-made meals and soups including beef chili, pork pies, spinach pie, american chop suey, and especially their fresh baked beans, which are sold fresh at Cote’s and several other stores in the area.
What, never heard of american chop suey? Its a New England thing. Its a thing of beauty. A staple at school cafeterias throughout the boston area (at least when I was a kid). Elbow macaroni, tomato sauce and fresh ground beef.
I chose this image for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I love HDR, not only for the richness in tonal value you can extract from a scene, but for its ability to enhance texture. This image is a perfect example. Secondly, I’m attracted to images that let you get lost in the details. Maybe its the “Where’s Waldo” in me. I don’t know.
Anyway, without further ado, here is collaboration: Pork Scrap:
As I mentioned above, I love the “Where’s Waldo” aspect of this image so I processed it, pretty much, naturally and evenly. In Photomatix, I enhanced the textures, but pulled back on saturation a bit. I added a bit of detail enhancement using Topaz Detail.
For this set of brackets, I wanted to try to create a final image that made me feel like I could reach into the image an grab on of these cool stamps. That meant keeping it real! That is, no fancy over-processing this time. It meant maintaining the colors as closely as I could, with just a bump up in vibrance. To create depth, I spent some time hand brushing (with my wacom tablet) shadows in all the right places to make the image appear as real and natural as possible.
I had a clear goal going in, but the final result was the result of a happy accident. The image screams for realism and detail. I tried several treatments including a black and white version. Each color treatment twisted the colors just slightly from the true colors in the original image because I did not want to overdo the color manipulation. Each treatment was saved as a separate layer while I was working. At one point, I tried blending 2 color layers. I didn’t love the result, but forgot to set the opacity of the top layer back to 100%. I then turned all the intermediate layers invisible and, as a result, accidentally blended the top layer with the black and white. The color layer had a mild cross processing effect, and the black and white layer had strong structure and detail. This is the result.
Sometimes, a scene is so absurd in nature, to overdo it with heavy handed stylization would detract from it. That is why I decided to simply accentuate the details already found. I brought out the wood grain of the background, which also helped bring out the texture in the wooden handles of these ridiculously labeled stamps. I also kept everything to its original earth tones, choosing to pop the shadows more than anything else.
At first, I wasn’t aware how to approach this composition, as there seemed to be no clear path for the eye to follow through the image. There are just rows of stamps, and the eye darts from one to another, reading all the labels. It was difficult to find a resting place.
Rather than trying to get cutesy about leading the eye, I decided to try to bring out the best in each stamp, making them as organic and three-dimensional as possible. Each stamp has a history that should be seen and celebrated.
In order to do this, it was necessary to distinguish the stamps from the background as much as possible without making the scene look overly contrived, and to tone down certain distractions such as the bright red and DOT-orange $2.25 labels.
The image was constructed of twelve layers and associated +/- masks, probably one operation per stamp if I were to count them all up.
I had big fun with this bracket set, and will fondly remember this as the day I went Vegan.
There were three things in this image that I wanted to bring out. The first being the “Pork Scrap” labels above the bottom row of stamps – used selective dodging and burning to do so. The second was the wood paneling – I love wood grain, eve inn paneling. Used a high pass filter with hard light along with burning in the shadows. The HP/HL filter also helped with the third element – the ‘Owl Stamp Co.” lab in the center ‘Beef Chili” stamp. Also applied a selective blur to the outside to draw the eye toward the 3 areas of focus.