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Friday Slide Show: The Rose Garden Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

11 September 2015

We found ourselves in the Rose Garden at Golden Gate Park a few days ago as the sun was dipping lower in the west late in the afternoon. We will, on Sunday, shoot in the Dahlia Garden again, as we enjoy doing every year after Opera in the Park. But this quiet afternoon, it was all about roses.

A Rose. By any other name would pose as neat.

There was just the buzz of insects and the sound of electronic shutters as we wandered among the rose bushes and photographers. How can you not photograph these beauties posing in the sun?

But there's something different about taking a photo when you're the only one there from taking the same one as six other people with cameras and nine with smartphones. There's a little comfort in not using the same gear as everyone else (nobody else used a polarizer) but not much.

What's so special about your shot, you wonder.

This is a problem with photo walks, too. And we find it a compelling reason for not offering walking workshops around the city. The money would be nice, the company compelling but it would take all the fun out of the photography.

But there's something different about taking a photo when you're the only one there from taking the same one as six other people with cameras and nine with smartphones.

Except, you know, the capture is only half the fun. The other half is post-processing. You know, the half almost nobody does.

The Rose Garden provides a good example.


Framing these posing beauties with a usable exposure won't distinguish you. OK, maybe you have better bokeh than the next guy (but likely not and who really sits around admiring what's not the subject of the photo anyway?). And you're still stuck in about the same shooting position outside the bed as the next guy who sees what you did.

There is a little deviation in what you choose to shoot. Are you a sucker for the white roses? Can you camera handle the red ones? Are the variegated beauties what peel your eyelids back?

Do you get a few leaves into the shot to balance the big flowers? Do you shoot buds in portrait mode? Do you frame flowers in sets of three?

Do you get the whole bush in bloom? Do you sneak in for a macro shot? Do you shoot with the sun behind you all the time or do your backlight a few petals?

Do you shoot the beds in the order in which they appear? Do you bounce around or go in rows? Are you assembling a show? Or just a portrait gallery?

Choices. That's what makes it an art.


And there are a lot more choices in post production. Which are not, we hasten to add, merely technical.

Post Production. Lightroom settings for one of the images suggest our deviations from the average capture.

We can't tell you how many times we've been charmed by a camera capture, some quality of light flattering the subject that was obvious even in the little JPEG thumbnail of our Raw capture. That's all we wanted. A straight conversion.

Until we worked on it a bit and saw a little more contrast heightened the effect and opening the shadows made it more interesting. And why hadn't we noticed that warming it up a bit would make the sale?

One little thing or another and before you know it, you have an image you love even more.

But even that sounds a little technical, doesn't it?

The real questions we ask every time we process a Raw image is just how sharp do we want this to look? How much overall contrast should we give it? Should we darken the shadows or open them up? Are our blacks black enough? Are the highlights safe and sound? Should add saturation or knock it back? Or should that be vibrance we're talking about, protecting certain colors?

You don't schedule a debate to discuss the merits of each of those questions. You fiddle. You move a slider left and then right, right and then left. You watch the histogram for clues but you keep your eyes on the image as it transforms in front of you.

How do you tell which setting is best? Simple. It's the one that appeals to you most. If it doesn't matter, then it doesn't matter.

In this slide show, we didn't touch Saturation at all but our manipulation of the other basic values intensified the color and tonal values of these afternoon portraits.

Color and tonal values aren't the whole game. In this sequence, we remembered what trouble we have shooting square (something obvious when we shoot buildings but hidden when we shoot flowers). So we asked ourselves if we shouldn't assume a few of these might be rotated. In some cases, that made a world of difference.

Crop & Rotate. We changed the aspect ratio and then rotated the image.

Nor should you be restrained by the aspect ratio of the capture. Not for a slide show, anyway, although a print may (but may not) have its own restrictions. Ask how tight a crop, how loose, what must remain and where should it sit on the canvas.

Frankly, one of the things we have the most fun with at Photo Corners is making those thumbnails for the parade at the top of the headline and index pages. The crop reveals the image in such a new way that it becomes a different image.

So play a bit, surprise yourself.

In a little while you have something beyond what you started with, something beyond a mere JPEG capture, something you created not some algorithm.


Just as every writer is obliged to use words but not cliches, so every photographer is obliged to shoot familiar subjects but not necessarily only as the camera records the scene. That's just where it all starts, like a rose bud whose beauty only time and a little effort will reveal.

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