The other night I got on my bike and rode deep into the forest to do some shooting at an enclosure named Ulvedalen. Ulvedalen translates to Wolf Valley, which sounds dramatic, but there really are no wolves. I don't know if there ever were. In return, there are foxes... or rather, their gloves. Foxgloves. The most magical clearings full of purple and white foxgloves. This was absolutely delightful for a photographer. I unfolded my tripod and got to work, thinking these images would be stellar.
They were not.
This is what one of the better images looked like straight out of the camera:
Now, there's nothing unusual about a RAW image looking less than amazing without at least a few enhancements, but this? What a horrendous mess! Looks like someone sprayed youghurt on the camera lens.
I was not pleased and almost marked it "Rejected". This was nothing like I remembered the scene. Where was the magic that I had felt when I was standing there? The whole scene had been so spellbinding that even the risk of having to ride my bike home through a pitch dark, unknown forest hadn't been enough for me to quit shooting. And now it looked like it had all been for nothing. Not even my usual arsenal of post-processing tricks did anything to improve things. I needed to completely rethink my editing in order to save this disaster.
Well, the first thing the image needed was a good cropping. The center of the image actually hid a pretty good composition, with the curved leading line of foxgloves disappearing into the background. In return, all the dead branches that, on the scene, I'd thought constituted a wonderful foreground had to go. Not so with the tree stub on the right and the thick branches coming out of the ground like some creepy forest monster. Those work really well as a contrast to the pretty flowers.
Thinking back on the scene, I remembered it as being much darker and with the foxgloves drawing all the attention like little, colorful lanterns. That's what I needed to recreate. The background behind the trees, in particular, needed to be all but eliminated with some serious darkening. In fact, everything in between the foxgloves needed to be darker and much more contrasty to the bright foxgloves. Plenty of Orton effect in Luminar and darkening brushes in Lightroom were among the tools I used to ensure that. The foxgloves themselves, which I remembered as being very purple and beautiful, and not the rather pale shade of the RAW image, also needed lots of work. I not only saturated them, but also brightened them - to make them seem almost glowing - with a tool I hadn't used much before: Color Efex Pro, which is part of the old Nik tools collection.
Finally, in order to make the image less messy, I had to remove several stray foxgloves here and there. Same thing with a few branches that were working against the general front-to-back direction of the image. This is the final result:
Phew... it's been a long time since I worked this hard on one image, but I really wanted a reminder of that beautiful evening. And I think I managed that quite well. It's quickly becoming one of my favorite shots of the month of June. For me it's a great example of the difference between what the camera sees and records and what your brain remembers.
The above image may not be how it actually looked and what was captured by the camera lens, but, by God, it is much closer to what I felt while standing there. And to me, that counts above everything else. So let this also be an illustration of 1) how I do not have any ethics when it comes to how much you are "allowed" to change an image in order to make it look the way you want it to - none.- and 2) apparently I do not have the photographic skills to make an image look right coming out of the camera. I rely a lot on my post-processing skills.
Do I have a problem with that? No. Does that make me less of an artist? Some would say yes. I choose to say no. (Not that I necessarily am one to begin with, but that's another discussion.)
[…] A return to the location of my ill-fated trip in May. This place had so much potential that I had to see it in better light, so I straddled my bicycle after dinner and rode deep into the forest on this beautiful summer evening. Not only was the dull light replaced with beautiful golden hour sunshine, the free-roaming cows I had met last time had been replaced with free-roaming horses. Another highlight was the blooming foxgloves growing between the pine trees. But they were difficult to capture. The image included at the bottom didn’t come easy. […]
[…] enjoyed myself tremendously. My first stop was Ulvedalen (Wolf Valley) in the middle of the forest, a location I have talked about before. The free-roaming horses were still there, but that wasn't the only thing that caught my attention. […]