Failed photos get one more chance

Every photographer has surely on occasion come upon a beautiful scene, set up her camera, taken the photo and left, only to establish later that the photo is not exactly what she had expected. This happened much more often in the era of film photography, when one didn’t have the luxury of immediately inspecting the result; it can still happen today if one is in a hurry or not careful.

It has happened to me more often than I would like to recall. I have many such photographs lying around, photographs which I took with high hopes, only to be disappointed when the slides/prints were produced days later. I recently spent some of my spare time trying to salvage three such photographs with mixed results.

All three were taken in north-western Greece in an area called Zagori, which has several villages called Zagorochoria. This is a particularly beautiful mountainous area with rivers and lakes where one can swim, a long gorge which can be traversed on foot, beautiful mountain peaks to be conquered and numerous villages that are maintaining their stone built houses and traditional architecture. The area is protected by natural boundaries (the mountains) and therefore has not been disturbed by conquerors during the centuries and has enjoyed relative independence and economic prosperity during the 17th and 18th century.

So anyway, there I was several years ago spending 3 days in Zagorochoria and taking lots of photos, some that I liked and some that I didn’t. Out of all of the photos, there are three that I was most disappointed about, because the scenery was spectacular but the photo wasn’t. Here is the first one:

The Vikos canyon - original scanned photo. Canon EOS 650, ND Grad filter, Velvia ISO 50

The Vikos gorge- original scanned photo. Canon EOS 650, ND Grad filter, Velvia ISO 50

This is a photo of the Vikos gorge as seen from an observation platform near one edge of it. The gorge is spectacular. Around 20Km long with an average height of 900-1000m, one really needs to be there to get a sense of scale. It was midday when I got there, the sun was very strong, the sky almost white instead of blue. I set up the camera used an ND Grad filter to darken the sky a bit and took a couple of shots. You can see why I was disappointed. The ND grad filter had noticeably darkened the top part of the gorge but hadn’t prevented the sky from being overexposed to a complete white. So the slide was left forgotten in a slides box until scanned (at which time it became even worse) and then the .jpg was left forgotten in a hard disc until recently. Some days ago I dug out this image determined to fix it by correcting exposure, colours and sharpness and then to replace the sky with something better. Given that apart from guerrilla photography, we amateurs also practice guerrilla image processing and not proper image processing, I had limited time and resources to do all this. So after quickly correcting exposure, etc., I found a freely available sky photo on the internet and adapted it to my photo. I then spent a considerable time changing colouring, lighting, blurring and sharpening on this sky to make it a more natural fit to my photo, getting in the end this hideous result:

Can't get much worse than this.

Can’t get much worse than this.

This is even worse than the original and it is funny how sometimes you get so caught up in the processing that you don’t step back to realise what awful stuff you are actually processing. Lesson learnt: not every sky fits to every image. For my next attempt, I picked another sky with smaller clouds and merged it to my original photo, this time with minimal processing, mainly trying to equalise white balance between sky and ground:

Second attempt at making the sky more interesting.

Second attempt at making the sky more interesting.

I thought this one was better, although knowing that it is artificial made it look artificial to me. My third attempt at fixing the photograph was to apply a preset filter to the original, after having corrected a bit exposure in the background (to compensate for the effects of the ND grad filter). After testing several preset filters I chose this one:

Photo processed to remove effects of ND Grad filter and then bleached.

Photo processed to remove effects of ND Grad filter and then bleached.

I actually like this one. It is rougher, harder. The mountain looks more menacing and the sky is not completely featureless. So I consider this one an improvement over the original. As an afterthought I decided to take the second attempt at a blue sky and try some more filter presets on it. After some trial and error, I came up with this one that I liked:

Bleach and dark contrast filters applied at different amounts in various photo areas.

Different amounts of bleach and dark contrast filters applied to various photo areas.

The sky still looks a bit artificial, but its colours blend with those of the ground better now.

The second photo I was disappointed with is this one:

Background mountain colours completely off. I don't even know what that strange bell shape on the right is anymore. Canon EOS 650 with Velvia ISO 50 film.

Background mountain colours completely off. I don’t even know what that strange bell shape on the right is anymore. Canon EOS 650 with Velvia ISO 50 film.

The scene here was spectacular mainly because it had rained some time ago, then the sun had come out and the tree was sparkling in the sunlight. This in combination with the mountains in the background and the roofs in the foreground made for a wonderful scene. I should have shifted a bit to keep the tree out of the centre of the photo but anyway. I was shooting against the sun with no time to really think about it, so the sky and the complete right side of the photo were overexposed. In addition, after scanning the slide, the mountains in the background came out in a completely different tone than those in the foreground. All in all … a mess. To make matters worse, I processed the photo years ago and did not keep the original scanned photo. After a second attempt at processing and at fixing the colours again, I gave up and decided to convert to B&W and change the feel using preset filters. This is the end result:

The tree unfortunately is still in the middle...

The tree unfortunately is still in the middle…

The right hand side of the photo has improved and the conversion to B&W has lessened the foreground-background color mismatch problem.

Then, there is this one:

Very picturesque house in dense vegetation. What you can see from it anyway.

Very picturesque house in dense vegetation. What you can see from it anyway.

This photo came out exactly as planned. The problem is that the composition is wrong. I remember sitting in a cafe drinking coffee and seeing this and thinking “What a nice house within all this lush vegetation”. The photo however, unlike what I saw with my eyes looks very clattered. The foreground leafs just make the photo tiring. This was not the first or the last time I made this mistake, I actually have another photo from a recent excursion with just the same problem. I am going to show that in another post. So not being able to do much about this, I am moving on to the last one for today:

Bell tower in the forest hit by strong sunlight at midday.

Bell tower in the forest hit by strong sunlight at midday.

I like this one as it is. I have processed it just a bit in order to increase contrast and make the shadows stand out even more. In doing that, I have sacrificed the bell and the area under the lower arch. Had I shot this one with a digital camera in HDR or even in a single RAW exposure, I might have been able to bring out the shadow details, but so be it.

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