Doug Stockdale's Singular Images

July 28, 2007

My refined CS3 B&W workflow

Filed under: Art, Photography, Projects/Series — Doug Stockdale @ 4:38 pm

Cross and two Butterflies

Cross and two Butterflies, Nevada (from the series Bad Trip – Sad Trip)

Having used CS3 for the last month and half, I now recoginize that I have changed my digital workflow to create my Black and White images. When I made this photograph (Cross and two Butterflies) last year with my Canon XTi, Phototshop CS did not have the RAW converter that could read the Canon RAW files. Adobe had upgraded CS2 for compatibility, not CS, and since I was expecting the release of CS3 shortly, I was not going to buy the CS2 upgrade.

To make a long story short, I used a RAW conversion process that was about idential with the Canon Digital Photo Professional to convert a copy of image into a TIFF, then open in CS to create a Photoshop file. For this image, I had tried about every trick that I knew to try to save the dead looking open sky. My final image had a washed out open sky, thus this image went into the HOLD file.

With CS3 and the Black and White adjustment layer, a whole new ball game! As a part of my process, I always make a “Save As” of the RAW file, then off load the original RAW file on my backup Hard Disk. So I could then retrive the original RAW file for another ACR 4.1 conversion. For the following, I always stay in the color mode and I do not convert at any time to Grayscale.

ACR conversion: I look at the colors in the image and pre-visuallize what is the final image I want regarding the tonal seperations. First I make ACR adjustments to for highlights and shadows. I do this while watching the effects on the historgram. I want to pull all of the image data into the histogram (eliminate shadow and highlight clipping) as a global tonality adjustment, then later with a curves adjustment layer I will deciede where I want my shadows and highlights to fall. Next I decied if I need to increase saturation to change tonal relationships. For this image, I wanted to boost the saturation to create a “brighter” blue sky, knowing that I will be adding the Black and White adjustment layer that I can adjust the blues to create a darker sky and create contrast with the small cloud on the bottom of the horizon.

After completing a “save as” for a new file, I then follow the late Bruce Frasers recommendations to add a new duplicate layer (luminosity) for capture sharpening, to correct the slight softening created during the original image exposure. The unsharp mask is very low at 150% for 0.3 and 2.

Next I add the Black and White adjustment layer. For the sliders, I make the adjustment that is the most important and then the corresponding tonal relationships. For this image I wanted the light butterfly to brighten (yellow slider adjustment) while increasing the background contrast, which for this desert, was a red slider adjustment. Then I made blue slider adjustments for darkening the sky and contrast with the cloud on the horizon. Then I made other color slider adjustments as I watched the image and saw the tonality seperations occur.

Next is adding a Curves adjustment layer (Luminosity), where I made some additional global tonality changes. First looking at the shadows and then the highlights. With CS I would have first added a Levels adjustment layer followed by a Curves adjustment layer, but the new CS3 Curves adjustment layer eliminates the need for a Levels adjustment layer. Then I adjust the curve for the shadows and when that looks good, adjusting for curve for the highlights.

Next adjustment layer is a Hue/Saturation (Color) layer and for this series, I use the same settings, Hue at 38 and saturation at 19. I keep this layer on the top of the layer stack as I have noticed that having this layer below any of the layers effects the color.

Now I look at the image and decided where I need to make the local tonality changes. Before I add another adjustment layer, I first go back to the Black and White adjustment layer to see if making any color slider changes can give me the changes I feel I need. Next I will re-tweak the first Curves adjustment layer curves. If the image still needs some more changes, then I start the process of local changes with aditional masking and Curves adjustment layers.

By the way, when photographing something, this is one of those sistuations where as a photographer, what changes do you make? I think we agree that you can alter the image by the perspective you choose by where you set up your tripod and make the exposure. Do you leave the transit odd bit of blowing trash in the image or do you remove it? Are you a totally documentary photographer as the newsfolk now need to be so that you do not edit anything out? I alter a photographic image a LOT. So editing what I am about to photograph is also within my artistic control, such as removing a the bit of blowing trash or maybe pulling an odd weed.

In this case, every time I have stopped here over the last year and a half, the plastic butterflies have all fallen off their mount. I have photographed the butterflies where they lay in the dirt and as you can see, where they were before they fell out again. (The metal stems are getting corroded and the mounting hole is very shallow, so a good wind gust will knock them out). I stand here at this memorial and in respect, try to make right a little of natures continuing entropy. Then I later decide which image communicates the feeling I am trying to convey. I do not claim that this is a fully truthful doumentation of what I found, but it’s pretty darn close, and I feel made within my artistic control.

Best regards, Doug


  1. I don’t think you (or anyone else) should be ashamed of refining the image to achieve the artistic goal. I don’t look at “Bad trip – Sad trip” as a record of different road side memorials, but rather a documentary of the phenomena, and how people keeps the memory of their loved ones alive with. The state of the memorial is maybe a direct representation of how the memory is kept by those left behind. Sooner or later the memory gets weaker, and the memorial whithers, and eventually disappears. Life goes on, as it should.

    I don’t think the fact that you move a fallen butterfly a few inches to one side to get a stronger composition makes any difference to the value of the project, but it makes the image more interesting to watch. If you had remade each monument to mint condition, it would have been a different story.

    I’d say. Make sure you show the true essence of your subject, and make the photograph interesting enough so people would want to see. A photograph that no one bothers to look at is of very little value, even if it the subject is important.

    Comment by Kjell H A — July 30, 2007 @ 10:11 pm

  2. Thanks, I like your insight into the meaning of this series and you have put into words what I have been trying to accomplish. I think that this is going to lead to another blog entry very shortly :- )

    Comment by Doug Stockdale — July 30, 2007 @ 11:56 pm

  3. I just noticed the link to your artist statement, and after reading it I must say I hit spot on with that previous comment. I can assure your that I didn’t read the statement before I wrote the comment. I say this as a compliment to your photos and your series as it is a great achievement to get me to understand your purpose so well by just looking at the images. I’m usually very ignorant with these thing, failing to see even the most obvious.

    You also write in your statement that it is a phenomena unique to the United States, and there I must disappoint you. I have also seen them in Greece and southern France. Quite numerous in Greece, which comes as no surprise as they all drive like there is no tomorrow. I’m sure they occurs in other countries as well. In Norway they occur very seldom. Usually only when there as been a terrible accident involving young people, but I don’t think they get maintained very long after the accident.

    Comment by Kjell H A — July 31, 2007 @ 9:27 pm

  4. Kjell, I am in the process of updating my Artist Statement for this series and this is a part that is going to be changed regarding where these memorials occur. Now I just need to get some Grant money or a nice donation to travel to Southern France and Greece to continue this project. Maybe just drive around Europe for a while and make sure that I did not miss anything! Thanks.

    Comment by Doug Stockdale — July 31, 2007 @ 10:35 pm

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