I always wanted to be an artist. You know, paints and brushes, sketch pads, pencils, charcoals, and so on. I never had the patience. Also, I think there are skills that you need to develop and I didn’t have the ambition for that. When I discovered that, with photography, you could do artistic work and it was fast (just click)…well, that did it for me. But, I still had that desire to be able to create something that was a brush strokey4 step away from the reality that a photograph contains.
I recently acquired Topaz Lab Impression. It’s software that lets you take a photograph and apply effects that make it look like a painting. There have always been these kinds of programs. I’ve tried variations from press-here-dummy to a highly hands-on-ish painter program from Corel. I wanted something in between and Topaz Labs came along with a nice deal. I tried their trial version, loved it, and the rest is what follows.
So, is this art? Well, I suppose folks could debate whether something like this is or isn’t real art based on the effort and skill that goes into it. I don’t care what they think, though. It’s what I like and, in the end, that’s all that matters.
If I can create something that’s in my head when I take a photograph, then that is very compelling. Many times, the photo isn’t the end of the line for me. I’ve tried HDR, HDR with pumped up effects, triptychs, and Corel Painter. All got me close, but Topaz Impression gets me closer and does so quickly. I like quickly.
Take the trees above as an example. I had this image in mind when I asked my brother to pull the car over so I could jump out to make a photograph. I saw these trees in the snow from a distance, but it was the abstract of those trees that I felt when I asked. Standing in front of them, I knew I could do something. During my trial test of this new software, this image style was one of the ones that was featured; it’s called a Da Vinci style. I had my a-ha moment when I saw the example. The tree image here is just what I envisioned when I first spotted them.
Likewise, when I was driving around New Hampshire one day with the June Hike Photo Club Gang, I asked if we could stop at a field of wild flowers. As a photograph, this image was OK. But, as I was clicking the shutter, I knew that the photographic detail would be too much. Modern cameras are just too good. I wanted to bring out the feel of the flowers – my impression of them. This effect, when I finally saw it in the software, is just what I know was in my head when I clicked the shutter.
I don’t think every photograph can be made into this kind of faux-art, painting-like presentation. But, for me, those that can, should. Now, I just have yet another tool in my arsenal to do just that.
Charcoal And Sketching
I’ve always liked sketches in pen or charcoal a lot and Topaz Labs Impression provides for this in many ways. The image of birdhouses works for me so much better as a black and white, and the added benefit of the sketch effect takes it a bit further. If it were just a B&W photo, for me, it would be OK, but it wouldn’t have the impact I now feel when I see the image for real in front of me.
This image of the trees with cyclists in the background is so much better as a charcoal rendering. When I took this photograph up in Turners Falls many years ago, I displayed it in color on my website. But, now I have this image just for myself in a form that I really like so much more. The cyclists fade into the lightness of the background providing a hint of the human element that this kind of study needs.
Here are some more examples of this kind of thing…
The middle photo has, perhaps, the most detail in the sense that the brush strokes of the effect actually mimic the streaks of water fall from the water wheel. The original photo has these streaks in abundance. I like how this effect blends the real with the sketched.
The upper photo has lots of mood and mystery. The interpretation for anyone looking at this, because color and detail are stripped away, allows for the image to interact with personal experience. If you’ve ever been on a beach looking out at the ocean, I think this version of the photo is better suited to letting your imagination fill in the details.
The last image is really like a sketch book page…an image that is the first step in an artistic process that could, someday, lead to a more detailed version. Here, though, that can’t happen. The detailed version exists, but I don’t think it’s as good as the sketch.
Feeling It, Just Feeling It
I feel the flowers more than observe them as they stand upright on this hill. From a distance, the image looks like a photograph, possibly because the stems and blades of grass look so sharp. Come in close, and an impression takes over because the flowers look more like suggestions of flowers.
The shadow on the wall waits for the sunlight to move it along on its journey into the night. There’s just enough detail in the image to let you make up your own story about where, when, and why.
I have a black and white sketchy version of this image. I prefer this version, though. I guess you call this monochrome instead. I think that, if I were an artist working these images by hand on paper and on canvas, I would have all these images in various staged of completion. From pencil sketches to charcoals to color. The software lets you actually go through these stages.
Even though the computer makes it easy to have these versions for consideration, and it may feel like I’m cheating, that’s OK. I have a result that I like.
So many times I had passed this house when I lived in Spencer, MA. I photographed it several times, but the detail that the camera provides left me wanting. I couldn’t really produce what I felt about this place. Then, the software presented me with this interpretation and I knew that I had it. There was always something off in the images: too much snow detail, the sky not right, the power lines to sharp. The options I had available in the software let me vary how the various effects and styles work. I found what I liked in this version.
This is the back yard of the home we had when we lived in Spencer. One day, I saw this amazing rainbow. I grabbed my camera, put on a wide-angle lens, and made the shot. It sat in my collection of images and would still be there, not to be seen again by anyone. Everyone gets to see rainbow pictures. But here, with the painterly brush strokes laying in the colors of the rainbow, made me appreciate the image elements in a different way. I wish I had the skills to have done this with real brushes and real paints, but if this is as close as I can get, then I’m happy I have this.
Some of the effects, especially the Da Vinci, lend themselves to abstracts. In this photo, taken at the Comcast Center in Philadelphia, the main lobby has these mannequins up on girders. You don’t ever really notice them unless someone points them out. (There is a massive TV screen in that lobby which commands your full attention as its show progresses, so you won’t notice what over your head.)
I have seen many photos of this feature in the Comcast building and it wasn’t until I processed the image that I captured the feel of the place.
I guess abstracts get a the essence of something, which means I’m repeating myself because I’ve already stated this in Charcoal and Sketching. But, I think abstracts takes such things a bit further into the world of, well, the abstract.
This is a beautiful, new bridge in Maine, the Penobscot Narrows Bridge. I liked this interpretation because it doesn’t look like a bridge. However, the essence of what makes the bridge special, to me, is it’s style. I think that is shown here but not so much its function.
I watched a video about some advanced techniques for using the Topaz software. One of the suggestions was to combine effects inside of Photoshop using layers. That way, one could blend the effects that best render a portion of an image.
Here, I used an Impasto style for the sky (think heavy brush strokes oozing with paint) and a sketch style for the building and lamp. You might recognize the image as some kind of street scene, but perhaps not necessarily the historic Bethlehem Steel plant in the background. Had I used Impasto for the entire image, the street lamps and plan would have been more obscured by the brush work.
Saving The Day
Not far from where George Washington crossed the Delaware are some delightful Pennsylvania towns. We visited Frenchville and it had a long, narrow park running along the riverside. This bridge is shot from the New Jersey side and the original photograph was some what unusable because of the harsh contrast. The section under the bridge was way too dark and it really took away from the quality of the image. I was surprised at how the effect I used managed to mitigate the darkness by blending and bleeding and producing this nice surprise. I like this image so much more than the original and not just for the painterly effect, but for the fact that the harshness from too much contrast is a non-issue.
This tree was one of the largest white oaks in New England and was, in fact, the largest in Massachusetts. It no longer stands, having fallen victim to arson recently. When I took the photograph, I wasn’t happy with what I had. Once again, the detail that modern cameras have built-in obscured the special quality this tree possessed. For one thing, it’s base was large. You could stand possibly ten people around it, shoulder to shoulder. The tree bark got lost in the leaves of the forest vegetation. The Topaz software, however, and whatever effect and adjustments I chose, saved the image for me. When I look at this, I see the tree standing on its own, separated from minute background details. The brush strokes that now are leaves and bark works so nicely to tell the story of this tree’s majesty. It has a kind of Hercules Unchained vibe to me.
So, I have two images that I like a lot that I would have not displayed otherwise. All because of effects that help bring out the essence, feel, simplicity, and mood of camera images that, in their original form, are too good at what they do.