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.


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.

contemplative photography Photo Journal ReFrame

A Day of “Arting”

Yesterday, I saw a shrub of some sort waving its white branches at me. I had to fill the bird feeders anyway, so I grabbed the camera and went out for a quick photo shoot. After asking on Facebook for an identification, I found out that it is privet hedge. It is beautiful and smells heavenly. I started with this image:


I applied a texture layer and used Topaz Simplify 4 to apply the “impressionist” effect, and ended with this:


I like this image. But I wasn’t done playing with the images I received yesterday. A lone male cardinal visited the feeders after I filled them. I really did not have the best lens on my camera to get this shot, but I had to try. Cardinals do not like to pose for photographs, and I was hasty. My original image was underexposed, but with a little Lightroom magic, I was able to recover enough details to work with the image. In addition, the background is busy and distracting, and I really had to work with the background to get something I was pleased with.


I cropped the image to a square. Then I used some techniques from Susan Tuttle’s book Digital Expressions to desaturate the background while keeping the color of the subject (the cardinal) and creating a vignette with a color fill layer. This is the result:


I wasn’t quite satisfied, so I played a little more. I added a texture overlay in vivid light mode and the spot light effect from the filter|Render menu in CS6. After playing a bit with opacity, I ended with this:


There is a Native American legend that says that cardinals are visitors from heaven. I suppose this little bird is such a visitor.


Textures on Tuesday

I spent the weekend with my mother at our getaway in Bennetts Point, a tiny coastal community in South Carolina. It’s located on one of the “barrier” islands in the ACE Basin. The weather didn’t exactly cooperate for great photographic adventures, but we did do a little exploring Sunday morning. We set out toward Yemassee and the Auldbrass Plantation, which is actually a quite modern plantation designed by the architect Frank Lloyd Wright. It was “tour” day, sponsored by the Beaufort Open Land Trust, and it was crowded. We didn’t stop, and I didn’t get any photographs.

Our next destination, in the same area, was the ruins of the Old Sheldon Church. We did stop and walk around the grounds for a bit. And I did get a few images. There were few people there. There were a couple of folks leaving, but there was a painter set up working on a canvas of the church. He told us that he had already spent about sixty hours on the canvas and had about forty more hours to go. And this was on the small canvas. He had a large canvas to paint the same subject later on.

Old Sheldon Church is one of many Civil War ruins resulting from Sherman’s march through South Carolina. Actually, there are two version of the story of the burning of the church. In one version, Sherman’s troops burn the church. In the other version, freemen, slaves, and white citizens “raided” the church for materials to rebuild homes after Sherman marched through and destroyed homes. After the church was looted, it was burned perhaps to hide the evidence. I don’t suppose we will know the true story.

These kinds of ruins fascinate me, not only because the history behind them, but because of the striking visual image they present. Naturally, I did not resist the urge to photograph them.


This is my final version of the image. I used two layers of textures from the Photomorphis Artistic Background and Painterly Background collections. I changed the blending modes and opacities, and painted off the textures over the church ruins. Then I applied two actions: a vintage action and a twilight action, again adjusting the opacity and painting off the effects to bring out the ruins.

I wanted to achieve a kind of “brooding” look, a little mysterious, a little ominous, to match the history of the ruins.  The ruins are surrounded by graves of folks long dead. I think again of the lines from Emily Bronte’s novel Wuthering Heights when Lockwood, the narrator, looks out over the moors where Katherine and Heathcliff are buried and says that he cannot imagine “unquiet slumbers.” I can imagine the unquiet slumbers around these old church ruins, and can easily picture the men and women who founded the church and attended worship here.

Photo Journal

Wednesday Photo Journal #2

This past week was beautiful for the most part. We had a few thunderstorms and some much needed rain, but Saturday was typical South Carolina summer—hot and humid. I went out with the camera for a few minutes to walk around the back yard and to check out the secret garden that is so secret, it doesn’t know it’s a garden. I am not the one with the green thumb here. Most of my “garden” is in planters—one red-orange hibiscus, some white and purple verbena, dianthus, and lavender (which is not blooming yet). Over in the other garden, I have sown a variety of wildflowers, but they have not matured enough to bloom yet.

The last few times I’ve gone out to ramble with the camera, I’ve taken very little gear with me. I choose a lens before I go out. This time, I chose the Lensbaby double optic with the Composer Pro. I took the macro filters with me to use—if the spirit moved me. And it did for a few images, but not many. One of the things I like about the Lensbaby double optic is that it is like shooting with an 85mm lens. It is a 50mm lens on a full-frame camera, but my Canon 7D is a crop sensor. I almost get the effect of a macro lens without the filters. The two filters are 4mm and 10mm each. I think I mainly used the 10mm.

Here are a few of the images:



I have been playing around with the Topaz Labs plugins for Photoshop. I especially like Simplify because I an achieve some painterly effects, as I did on these first two images. The old barn is on my father’s-in-law property. I have been photographing this old barn for a while now, and each time I get a different effect. for this image, I chose to use a watercolor effect. It needs a bit a tweaking yet, but I like of like it. (I even cloned out a building on the right side of the image so that barn would be the star.


I love the texture of hibiscus. You can see the veins in each petal.


I tried to create a vintage look for this rose, but as I wrote last week, red is a difficult color for me to photograph well and to process well. I think I may tweak this image more and use the Topaz Labs BW Effects. I love the Opalotype effects. I think that would give the image a vintage look. What do you think?



Even though I walk around the back yard and the ponds frequently, I always see something different, something new. That’s what I love so much about contemplative photographic practices: it’s all about seeing the world through eyes that are wide-open, receptive to possibility.


A Tuesday Technique and a Texture Tuesday


I wrote about my cherry blossoms on Saturday. Today, I’m using one of the images to made Saturday. I played with my Lensbaby Composer Pro and Sweet 35 optic and a set of extension tubes to try for some macro photography. Let me tell you, it is sometimes much harder than it seems. There was a light breeze that kept shaking the tree branches. I knew that shooting wide open (2.8 on the Sweet 35) would allow me to use a fast shutter speed, which would minimize the shake. But I had to put the camera in the branches, and I kept bumping them. I finally resorted to hauling out the tripod. Even then I still had some problems getting close enough to the blossoms to make the image I wanted. I had hoped to get some images with the water drops from the rain that morning.

So, I chose the image above to work with. The first thing I did was make a few adjustments in Lightroom—white balance, tone, exposure, contrast, clarity. I have to admit that I make adjustments “to taste” as opposed to formula or correctness. If it looks like I want it to, I call it “correct.”  I also cropped the image to focus on the larger bloom. After my basic adjustments, I opened the image in Photoshop. (I may be one of the few photographers who still use CS6 rather CC.)

One of my favorite actions is the Levels Boost Action from the girls at Love That Shot. I’ve used this action for years. I think it boosts the contrast just a bit more and brightens the image. Then I had fun applying textures. I like textures with some kind of script on them. I think these old-fashioned papers can give the image a vintage look.


I used a vintage postcard paper from a collection of textures and overlays. I use a free action from MCP Actions to place textures (texture applicator). I used that MCP texture application action, set the blending mode to soft light with an opacity of 60%. I did not like the script over the flowers, but I wanted to retain the color of the texture. I took a Clickin’ Moms’ class last summer, and I learned a trick that helps me retain color but lose texture. Here’s the trick:

1. Make sure you are working on the image itself and not the layer mask. This is important.

2. Use the lasso tool and outline the area where you want to remove the color.

3. Select Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur. Pull the slider to a high number—10 or higher. On this image, I think I pulled the slider to the right to 25. This removed any traces of the script but left the color.

Then I added Kim Klassen’s Magic Texture (KK2). I reduced the opacity to 30% and set the blend mode to soft light. I brushed a little of the magic texture off the lighter portions of the image. 

By the way, the water drops are evident in the cropped version.