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The quest for the interpretation of photographs (after the fact or post production), either imaginary or real, through traditional methods was always somewhat limited due to technical aspects and time constraints that basically created a barrier to the Photographer or Artist to represent what he or she had in mind.
With digital Photography – the combination of camera and software – this quest became cleaner, faster and richer.
Birch Trees. by Celso Bressan on Light Stalking
And, since we are only talking about post-processing, Photoshop (among other photo editing tools) not only mimics almost everything from traditional Photography but also extends its power to beyond unimaginable limits.
Another jump was and is the constant introduction of filters like Oil Paint in CS6, Topaz Adjust, Topaz BW, Topaz Simplify, various filters from Nik Software, Filter Forge, Photoshop itself and many, many others, all of them capable of transforming the most sophisticated (and why not – crazy) ideas into something visible.
In fact, there are so many filters on the market that it is almost impossible to name or even use them all! Personally, I use a small subset in combination with HDR, HFR and hand painting. This means that the post-processing with filter effects is a never ending process of experimentation and apprenticeship where a digital picture and imagination are just the starting point and the whole way is paved by the combination of effects until I get a work that is artistically satisfying and technically different.
Usually, the technicalities are easy because we just need to read the manual (actually, who does that?), set sliders here and there and press buttons in order to get different effects. Whether the result is artistically pleasant or not, that is another question!
Montmartre at Night by Celso Bressan on Light Stalking
My point here is that we still need to have some amount of art because just like the painter that uses his or her artistic freedom to properly compose the work, we can artistically remove, add or alter the contents of our pictures as we are the artists and what we are going to do is something quite close to a painting (a disclaimer here: always deal with your own pictures as you are free to do whatever you want with them). By using filter effects in Photography, my ultimate goal is then to produce something that resembles a piece of art without taking much into account – Photography accuracy, limits and purity.
The Raw Materials
It all starts by selecting photographs for work. While some pictures were just “made” for the job, others simply do not render anything interesting at all. Conversely, some filters work better with specific kinds of photographs.
There is no scientific criteria here (this is art) but some guidelines can be laid out:
- Try following the same basic understanding used for regular Photography (technique, art, vision, etc). In fact, painting and photography have a lot in common in terms of “rules.” This is not a strict rule, but it helps.
- Some filters work better and are more sensitive to photographs with lots of details. Lowering the resolution of the picture helps to “activate” the filters;
- Low resolution images seem to produce surprising and interesting results. Images produced by old digital cameras or iPads (the ones with low resolution cameras) are excellent starting point;
- Noise is a interesting resource and may introduce interesting twists;
After you get acquainted with the whole process of filter application, it becomes more and more predictable which images work better with which filters. In this way, images can be “prepared” specifically for those filters.
The Pond by Celso Bressan on Light Stalking
The Hard Work
Once a photograph is selected and prepared for work, you can start applying the filters approximately with this not so precise recipe in mind (you can change it at will):
- First, apply the filters that you consider the primary ones, that is, the ones that will define and give the final aspect of the work;
- Second, if you are working with a low resolution image, increase its resolution to the desired one. If you reduced the resolution, it can be the original one or one that is your most common;
- Third, apply the secondary filters to smooth out the image and finish the work. Remember that filters tend to add plenty of details and they will recover the lost details if you enlarged the image;
- Fourth, textures can be applied as well to give a richer aspect to the image. This step is far from mandatory as not all pictures require them;
- Fifth, you can give that final artist touch (literally) by applying some good amount of hand painting to enhance or correct details or parts of the image.
What you consider to be primary or secondary filters will depend on your own work. There is no rule of thumb here specially because you can simply apply one filter once or apply several different filters many times in sequence.
Working with filters takes a lot of time and occasionally the results are simply so bad that you would decide to abandon the work and start over with other filters, other sequence of work or even with a different picture. Also, after the application of an effect or a series of effects over an image, some unpleasant details or “defects” emerge and become quite noticeable thus forcing the whole re-processing of the image. These anomalies show up not because of filters themselves but because they were in the image and the filters just enhanced them.
The Hard Walk Towards the Light. by Celso Bressan on Light Stalking
Some effects take hours to be produced even if you can count with plenty of memory and good processing power. To minimize the time, images are split into two or four parts, processed separately using the same settings and then put back together by means of Photoshop or other tools.
Some effects are so complex and random that, if needed to go back and do it again, more often than not it would be quite difficult or even impossible to obtain the same result again unless careful notes are being taken about every single step used. But, then, what is the fun of not being able to re-discover things every time?