Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Week of 06/10/2013: Two for One

Print Size: 11.5 x 17
Camera: Panasonic Lumix G2
Lens: Olympus Zoom ED 14-42
ISO: 200
Print: Epson 3880/ Piezographic Inks/ Moab Lasal

Please step down…

Philadelphia is a city that is constantly in motion. The open sites, the digging in the earth, the structural skeletons of buildings going up and the ruins of old construction coming down, are often in my viewfinder. (I wish there was more re-purposing and restoration.) The building collapse last Wednesday at 22nd and Market Streets in addition to being a terrible tragedy had a further chilling dimension for me as I had been in front of the site a scant two days previously photographing it. I’ve been documenting that row of buildings in its various stages of demolition from the very beginning when the salvage company removed the ornamental façade from 2132 Market, a fantastic structure with a carved stone façade that ended its days as a pornography emporium. 

This shot is from a different spot. It was taken the previous week at 20th and Race. The building was so undistinguished I barely even noticed it in my travels. Apparently the front had been redone at some point in a glass and tile, industrial fashion, popular in the 50’s/60’s. The interior was clearly much older, likely from the turn of the century.

The combination of the white wall, the contrast-y shadows, the abundant details and textures, and the dark rubble in the foreground made this a difficult print to get right. I was close to finishing up when I just kept on looking at the print and feeling it was off, unbalanced, so I rebuilt the file, changing the cropping slightly.

A print remade and a lesson learned...

For last week’s image, I suspected I could make a stronger print and I wanted to test the limits of the image-making chain.  Even after fiddling with the existing file yet again, I was not satisfied. There was tonal separation in the dark areas of the print, which was visible in the 13 x 19 version. This is usually the result of overdoing the adjustments in Photoshop, such as radically changing the lightness/darkness or contrast of an area. You lose intermediate tones and end up with patches. Was the problem in the camera, or the software, or the way I was working? It’s easy to point the finger at the tools but my experience is that the biggest fly-in-the-ointment is often the guy behind the camera or the editing desk. I’d much rather turn deficiency into a “Eureka!” moment than blindly invest in more gear.

The original source file looked fine, but I could tell I had really bumped up the contrast in certain areas when making the black and white print. It’s very easy to overdo in Photoshop and radically changing brightness or contrast often leads to mid-tones dropping out and a non-photographic, unpleasant look.

I did an end-run around the problem by making multiple .tif files from the .raw data the camera creates, one for each problem area of the print, doing my best to get each as close to the envisioned final result as possible. The goal was to make the tonal and contrast adjustments in Photoshop as mild as possible. I then employed one aspect of a technique I often use called “layer masking.” Layer masks allow certain areas of images aligned and stacked one on top of the other, to either show or not show. The fusing of the visible areas from different layers to make a unity is often the tricky part. There are ways to automate the masking process, but each image is unique. Invariably it seems I have to zoom into the image at high magnification and “paint” the masking in for certain delicate areas. The pay-off is it allows a lot of control in manipulating the print when the ambient lighting is not quite ideal. 

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