contemplative photography Photo Journal

A New Way to Create Art

I enjoy playing with textures in Photoshop. I like the way layers of textures can transform an image to tell a new story. I have been looking at the art created by Tennessee photographer Jai Johnson, who also creates the Daily Texture collections. I’ve seen who she uses texture backgrounds with her images to isolate elements, and I wanted to figure out who to do that, too. By watching her videos, I learned that she uses Topaz Labs software for much of her work. However, I tried to do something similar in Photoshop. It’s not easy, and my results are not consistent—yet.

I’ll show you the original and the final product.


I began with this image of the butterfly and the zinnias. I took this at the end of October. I really am not crazy about the background of dead grass and weeds.

I did something a bit different. I opened a new document and set the size as 10 by 8. Then I used the Place Linked command to open the background texture. Next I used the File Linked command to place the butterfly image over the background.

Next, I used the lasso tool in Photoshop to outline the butterfly and the flowers with the stems and leaves, and then used the Select-Inverse command. I added a layer mask, The background texture is revealed behind the image of the flower and butterfly. I thought the pink flowers were a little too bright, so I desaturated the image slightly and brushed back in the color of the butterfly.

I cleaned up the edges with a soft round brush, adjusting the size and the opacity of the brush as needed. Then I added another texture on top of the image at the soft light blending mode at a reduced opacity to tie the image together.

The final result is this.butterly-with-two-lil-owl-textures

It’s different, but I like it. My younger son says it’s really cool.

EDITED: Okay, I still had to play with more stuff. I created one more “look.” I really like this one!



An Editing Walkthrough

When I started participating in contemplative photography classes and reading some books about this approach, I discovered a term: wabi sabi. It’s a Japanese philosophy of see the “perfection” of the imperfect, of recognizing the impermanence of things. It’s not about the defect itself, but about the beauty that is present there. During the last few weeks, my zinnias have been blooming in abundance, and the butterflies are covering those blooms. When I can sneak up on them, I can get a some images. And twice, I’ve found some butterflies with torn and battered wings. There is beauty there.

This is yesterday’s image of the “wabi sabi butterfly.”


The more I looked at the image, the less I liked it. It’s fine—in focus, exposure is good; black and white points set acceptably. But I thought the background was too much—too much texture in contrast with the red zinnia and the butterfly. This morning I played a bit.

After importing into the Photoshop CC, I duplicated the background layer. The I used the Quick Selection tool to select the butterfly, the zinnia, and that bit of stem connected to the flower itself.


It took a few tried to get the selection made! It’s not as easy as it looks. The I used the Inverse to select the background by going to Select > Inverse (The shortcut is Shift-Control-I on a PC).

Next I selected the Gaussian Blur filter and set the radius pretty high to get the background nice and blurry. Then I added a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer, moved the saturation slider to 0, and adjusted the opacity to give it a hint of color.


Then, I flattened all layers. I still wasn’t terribly pleased with the result. I duplicated the background one more time and cropped the image to a square. The problem I had with the edited image above is the feeling that the flower is just floating there, unattached to the ground or the background. I tried several things, including brushing off some of the blur and brushing the color back on. The subject still felt disconnected.

That’s when I decided to crop the image to a square (1:1 ratio).


The result is better. I’m not sure about that pink flower in the background. It’s still a bit “colorful. I tried desaturating that one area (not!), and adding more blur (uh-uh). Cloning wasn’t helping either, so I tried applying a Content-Aware Fill Layer. (Layer > Fill. Choose Content-Aware  from the drop-down menu.) There is just a hint of color from that pink flower, but I think I like the results better.


I’m almost satisfied with the image as it is. I’m going to leave it alone for now and see how I feel later.


Let me know what you think in the comments.


Saturday Evening Post

My grandmother used to tell us that my granddaddy would read his Saturday Evening Post from cover to cover almost as soon as it arrived.

Well, I don’t have a Saturday Evening Post to read or share. I really don’t have much to share photographically or story-wise! I have enjoyed my no-rush Saturday, actually.

I did play with some textures and overlays with some photographs. hibiscus

I made this image earlier this summer. (I love my red hibiscus! I just need to find a home for it inside this year.) I used several layers of textures. I splurged and bought the Gigantic texture bundle from Design Cuts (more than 2,000 files of textures and brushes and whatnot for $29.00). The bundle has more stuff than I’ll use in a year, but there are so many goodies.

Another good resource is Sebastian Michaels’s Photoshop Artistry class. It was from Sebastian that I learned that I can blend the textures more seamlessly by adjusting the opacity of the brush itself and not just the opacity of the layers and changing up the blend modes of the layers.

So, I think I’m going to poke around in my photo archives some more and find some other images to play with!


Black (and White) Friday

I am not rushing the Christmas shopping season with a Black (and White) Friday blog entry! Gracious, I’m all for waiting until Santa rides down Fifth Avenue in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade before I start the Christmas season.

No, I’m talking about Black and White conversions in Photoshop and Lightroom.

I chose two images from my recent trip to the mountains of North Carolina to play with. I used two methods of converting from color to black and white. The first method was done in Lightroom, with some tweaking and fine tuning in Photoshop, and the second was done in Photoshop. I’ll start with my process in Lightroom.

Mountain trip 2016 (10 of 17)

This is the original color image. I like this look. One reason I wanted to play with black and white treatments for this image is because it is already monochrome (with the exception of the green moss and the sprinkling of leaves).

First,  I began by setting the black and white points with the appropriate sliders in the Development menu. I have found that making these two adjustments does more to improve my images than anything else I do. Then I made the adjustments with the Shadows and Highlights sliders. This last bit is simply done “to taste.” Sometimes, I do not mess with these sliders at all. And usually, though, the adjustments are very slight, no more than 7 or –7 in most cases.

Next, I used the Clarity slider and pushed it pretty high. On this image, I think I went up to 70. I left the Vibrance slider alone. Then I went for the conversion. I moved the Saturation slider all the way to zero. My last Lightroom adjustment was to the Curves, and I applied the Strong Contrast preset. Then I imported it into Photoshop for a few minor tweaks to levels and curves and contrast. This is the result.


The next image I used was also the Linville Falls. I am fascinated with the narrowness of this section of the falls and the texture of the rock formations.

Mountain trip 2016 (11 of 17)

Again, I like the color version. Like the previous image, it is also basically monochrome in nature, with a little pop of color from the fallen leaves. I decided to give this one the Photoshop treatment. But first—yes, I made my basic edits in Lightroom—adjusting the black and white points, the shadows and highlights, and the curves. I used the Medium Contrast preset on this one. Then I sent it to Photoshop for the rest of the edits.

I used a Levels adjustment layer to tweak the whites and the blacks by dragging the sliders to the left for whites and to the right for the blacks. Because of the adjustments in Lightroom, I had very little to do with this layer. Then I added an Brightness/Contrast layer and boosted the contrast to about 20 and tweaked the curve in a Curves layer by drawing down the highlights and raising the darker areas. Finally, I added a Hue/Saturation layer and completely desaturated the image. Here is the final result:


The black and white works for both images because the images have a monochromatic feel to begin with. I’m still working on perfecting my black and white conversions.


Technique Tuesday—Part Two of the Planner

Yesterday, I wrote about how I’m trying to be a planner. One thing I do with my planner is keep “memories.” As I’ve said before, I have scrapbooked, and I still enjoy making the large 12 by 12 layout and playing with paper and embellishments and photos and words. But I’ve scaled down, too, to putting images in my planner instead of the larger scrapbook. Here is one thing I do.

After I make my basic edits in Lightroom, I save them in sizes that I can post to emails or to Facebook or to use in blog entries. (I use the For Email—Hard Drive setting in the Export menu of Lightroom). Then I have fun.

Now, I’m all about easy. There are templates and such in the Lightroom Print module to create photo film strips and collages, but you can’t beat the ease of the online app at It is seriously “easy as pie.” First, I select the images I want to play with and upload them to BeFunky.

Then I choose the Collage Maker option. image

From that point, I select the kind of collage I want—a Facebook cover (I haven’t done that yet) or a grid or some other option. Then I choose the autofill option, let the app plug in the photos, and rearrange them if I want to by dragging and dropping into place.


Then I save the completed image to my folder with the originals, and, Viola!, I am done. I can print out the image on my printer or just hold on it. The app also allows you share on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or Tumblr.

I used some images from Sunday’s Trunk or Treat at my church to create a couple of quick collages to put in my planner:

Trunk or Treat

Trunk or Treat 2

BeFunky is free, as are many photo editing apps online, but there is also a premium version that gives the user more options. I opted for the premium version, and I am glad I did. It is worth the $25.00 annually for more options and more ways to “express” myself with the images.


Long Weeks, Shorter Days

It’s Saturday, and I am noticing a change in the air. The days are getting shorter, but the weeks seem longer. Perhaps it’s because I’m back at work for the September mod at Remington College.

It is September. In just two or three days, the autumnal equinox will occur. Now, I confess I’ve forgotten more than I ever knew about equinoxes and solstices except the summer solstice is the longest day of the year and the winter solstice is the shortest day of the year. I’m not sure what the equinox means anymore (except they fall between the solstices. I guess someone had to have a name for those “in-between” times).

Here’s what I’ve been doing since my last post.

1. Teaching. I’m still teaching composition courses for Remington College. I do so much enjoy teaching the adult learners. This mod, I have a whole slew of students! Twenty-two, in fact. Now, coming from a public school background, twenty-two may not sound that bad; I had up to thirty-six students in some of my high school classes. But for this small career college, a class of twenty-two is large. In fact, we had to change classrooms because I ran out of chairs and computers.

2. Photography classes. I am retaking Galia Alena’s Camera Craft series, which began in June. I will finish up the final lessons next week. This course series is “technical,” but not so technical that it ignores the more artistic side of photography. In the first four weeks, the emphasis was on the basics—composition, exposure, post-processing, and similar topics. The last four weeks focus on light, and not just the theory and technical aspects. I think I could take this course every year and still learn something new. I enjoy the more artistic aspects of the course, focusing on the aesthetics rather than the correctness.

3. Reading. Okay, I admit that I get in a rut when it comes to reading. I love Regency romances, those novels set at the beginning of the nineteenth century involving the aristocrats and nobility of England. These novels are pure fluff, brain candy, entertainment. I love a story with a happily-ever-after ending. But I have read a couple of things with more substance, although the entertainment value is still there: a couple of Steve Berry novels, including The Lincoln Myth, and the last Dan Brown novel, Inferno.

4. Learning some new Photoshop and Lightroom techniques, such as converting color images to black and white and using luminosity masks. I know converting to black and white is not really new. I’ve tended to use actions developed by others for Photoshop or presets for Lightroom or the black-and-white adjustment layer in Photoshop. But at the encouragement of Galia (see #2 above), I am trying other ways. And luminosity masks are rocking my world right now!


I took this image of the sun shining through the corn leaf at the beginning of the month. I used a luminosity mask in the blue channel, and lo! and behold! I found some detail in the sky! Oh, my goodness! The sky was pretty blown out when I started the editing process. And then I used the saturation slider to remove the color in Lightroom, the black and white sliders to set the points for pure black and pure white, and the highlights and shadows sliders to adjust for details. I really like the results. Just for fun, here is the original.

egret (2 of 5)

See what I mean? You can’t see the clouds in the sky.

The second image I played with is of some pink crape myrtle blooms. I used the same basic process of conversion to black and white in Lightroom that I described above, but then I took the image into Photoshop for additional manipulation. I used the “Render” filter to add a lens flare. Adding the lens flare added small bits of color back into the image.

crape myrtle for web egret (1 of 5)

I love both the black and white and the color image. It’s hard to choose a favorite.

And the last thing I’ve done in the last few weeks is get my computer tweaked again. Our friendly, neighborhood computer technician Cale H put in a new solid state hard drive and increased the RAM in my five-year-old Toshiba laptop, and she’s running like a young deer now. I’m  happy! I’m glad I didn’t have to replace my computer.

Days are getting shorter, but in reality, the weeks are not getting longer. My goal is to keep learning something new each day. Maybe that’s why the weeks are longer. I’m filling up each day with so much goodness.