Creative learning in the virtual darkroom

I sometimes imagine how my digital lightroom would look were it an actual darkroom. Hundreds of rolls of undeveloped raw ‘files’ would be everywhere and all over the floor. Music and coffee would be non stop. Developed images would previously be all over the place in a big mess but this Summer I created a structured catalogue, a filing ‘cabinet’, of my fine art releases. And there would be me, lost in time, tinkering with six different images at the same time as that is how my mind and creative process works. My darkroom, virtual or actual, is one creative and fun place to work. Just be careful not to step on my hundreds of rolls of ‘raw’ files on the floor.

Travel and Ethno Photography

My main passion will always be landscapes but I wish to learn travel- and ethno photography and learn it well.  I have some exciting opportunities coming up soon to be announced, that requires a higher skill in this area. So I am digging into the rolls of undeveloped raw files from Laos and have fun trying many different techniques and looks in Photoshop. It is a very different beast to developing landscapes as I find these images needs more localized work in Photoshop. It is a lot of creative fun as these images can also take a lot more pixel abuse so to speak, ending up in good, bad and just plain weird results. Here are two of the images I have been road testing many new looks and tools on in my darkroom:



I find it is always a good idea to view the original image again after hours of pixel abusing. Your reaction tells you if you took a few wrong turns. You either enhanced or ruined the essential expression in the image. Usually my reaction was was ‘oh crap, I really ruined that one, original is way better, close and no do not want to save!’.

laos girls-edit vs unedit EDIT: Here’s a version where you can see my edit versus the ‘unedited’. Well, it’s a raw file so the ‘unedited’ had to have a white balance and a bit of development but it’s very neutral. I think I desaturated and darkened the background a tad too much. This is a dry part of Laos so it is a dusty green, not jungle green. I moved the light around, added contrast and enhanced texture.

Let me know what you think of these, good or bad. It is like learning to paint again using new brushes on a new material in a new palette – and I need feedback.

PS. Hang in there landscape lovers, back on track soon, Monument Valley coming up.

8 Comments on “Creative learning in the virtual darkroom”

  1. I always find it the other way around: landscapes need a helluva lot of work in photoshop but portraits and doco require a handful of quick adjustments in Lightroom and I'm done. I think this has a lot to do with how one shoots. I shoot landscapes the way I shoot people/things, and I'm guessing you're shooting people the way you do landscapes. When you get used to adjusting your technique to suit a diff subject, your workflow will speed up.

    I'm finding the 2 photos above a bit unbalanced tone wise. The top shot with the monk isn't too bad, although you could use a touch more green/cyan (no PS where I am at the moment so just guessing on this). The shot with the little girls in it – the skin tone is a little off. Either too red or too warm generally. I think the desat is throwing me off a bit as well. What does it look like out of the camera?

    Love the pic otherwise though. What were you doing to get such great smiles?!

    1. Thanks for your great feedback Charlene. I had not thought of it like that but you are right on the money, I shoot and process people like I do landscapes. "Slightly off" is a apt description, thanks for being kind 🙂 The thing is, my style is hyper-reality and being no friend of reality I can't help trying to inject a look to my people shots, something surreal and otherwordly. Also, I have been looking at too many Joey L images.

      I should have posted before and after shouldn't I. I will edit the post today and post the original of the girls. I like the desat though because the background is so green and distracting. The original has much warmer and more saturated skin, they really had beautiful dark red-brownish skin. The original is nice but to me although the expressions are so great it's….boring to me I must admit. I moved A LOT of the light around to focus on the faces.

      How I got the smiles? I just showed up heh! Never having met a blonde fair skinned FBJ before they were rather smitted. So me showing up smiling saying "narsjang" (hello in hmong) got me all the smiles in the world. Was wonderful.

      1. Doesn't sound to me like you had the lighting equipment and assistant for the Joey L look at the time (though you might do quite soon) 😀

        I think in this case I found the desat distracting because I was expecting the background to be lushly green, in keeping with my existing knowledge of Laos and I imagine it's important in ethno photography (just guessing though since I don't really know what it is. It just sounds a lot like environmental portraiture). I reckon the desat probably contributed to the off balance toning over the original layer.

        Looking at the photo I would think you would have a lot more going straight out of the camera than you need to shift light around for. Would definitely be interested to see your originals.

        1. No, I need my light and assistant 🙂 It is actually very dry in this part of Laos, so not tropical lushness. Ethno photography is basically photographing "people in the world", usually used for portraying people's life's in other cultures. If I was delivering these images to an NGO I would keep the processing more neutral, this is more for testing my own look to these images.

          Original coming soon 🙂

          1. I reckon your original is good as it is! The difference is is super slight. Now I'm wondering if I'm being too picky about the colour balance… hmmm…

            Just opened up in Photoshop and threw a color balance layer on it and a teeny touch of cyan, plus lifting the exposure an equally teeny bit with curves. The background being blown out does actually work for the image. I dunno, that's me though. Have shot lots of people and sometimes the background doesn't matter enough for colour correction. You caught the moment and the people.

            And yes they're definitely smitten. If you don't watch out, you might give that Twilight fella with the messy hair a run for the fangirl money 😉

            1. You might be on track with the colour balance of the background being weird. I think the blown out background is perhaps less intrusive than my darkened and desat version. Will remember that next time. Glad you like the original also 🙂

              Who the heck is the Twilight fella? Must look that up heh.

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