Methods for Dancing With the Eye:

One can create compelling photographs with any camera and any software. Of course, you want the best. But “best” can be very expensive. Here’s how I work and what I work with. Warning: this gets technical.

Camera: Canon Rebel T6i


Canon 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6. I shoot almost always at f/22.

Sigma 18-250mm f/4.5-5.6. I shoot almost always at f/22


DxO Pro 10, to convert RAW images to TIFFs, and initial tweaking

Photoshop Cloud, to pull the hidden gems from each image

Topaz Filters, to pull the hidden gems from each image:
                Adjust, Clarity, Clean, Detail, Glow 2, Simplify, ReStyle


The Things series:


I begin by shooting images in RAW mode so that I capture  the maximum visual information. About 80% of the time I shoot with the 10-18mm zoom, usually at 10mm.  Always hand-held.  Almost always I shoot at f/22 for the maximum depth of field. I often select ISO 3200 so I can get a decent shutter speed. I shoot a lot of frames, trying to find the right one, a picture with really good bones. (In post I never crop. Doing so kills the image, a horrible death.)


Once I’ve sucked the frames into my computer, a hard drive dedicated to that purpose, I open them in DxO Pro. I go through each one, marking the ones I think are contenders. I delete those that are not. Then I start culling down to just one image. All the rest go to the trash.  I export that remaining one with a few DxO tweaks as a 300 dpi TIFF file.


In PhotoShop I open that file and immediately duplicate the original layer. I save these two layers as a PhotoShop file. Most often I then open the top layer in Topaz Detail and select Detail Light ll. I repeat the filter, and name the layer. (I name each layer; it’s a discipline.) The Topaz Detail helps overcome the limitations of my adequate lenses and adequate camera. 


I duplicate that layer and then the fun begins. I open the top layer in one of the Topaz filters, trying various possibilities. When I find one that shows some promise I save it back into PhotoShop, naming it again. I may adjust the opacity down from 100%. I may leave it full up at 100%. I duplicate the layer, and turn off the duplication. Now I have a top layer that is not working, and one below it that is working; both have the same filter effect. More often than not I then turn the active layer into a layer-mask so that it’s completely hidden again. I start painting into the image those parts of the filter I like. I may paint at 100% or at a reduced flow. I adjust the width of the “brush” as needed. From time to time I turn on the top layer to see the effect of this filter over the entire image, looking for places I want to apply it. I turn off that top layer and paint the one below to add more of the effect where I think it belongs.


When I’m satisfied with this round, I duplicate the layer just below the active one, highlight it and the one above and marry them together. I delete the top hidden layer. Then I duplicate the now-top layer, go back to another Topaz filter, and start the process all over again.


I find that as I progress I apply these new layers to smaller and smaller parts. Toward the end I may add a whole layer that effects just a line here or a dot there.


Usually I finish with a “final” new layer filtered to Topaz Detail Strong ll. As I did with color, I apply sparingly, this time looking to give the viewer a visual feel of a mix of sharp and blurred. There’s something satisfying about that combination, it seems to me. Detail-Strong applied to the whole image looks awful. But a touch here, a line there, etc., works wonders.


Sometimes I will also add blurr/blending to a few places with a few drops from a layer of Topaz Detail/Dreamy.


The image seems to be done and I put it away for this day. The next day I open it up again and often see it is not yet done. So I add another layer, with more adjustments, often many times.


Eventually I decide the image is ready.  I save again, then save a copy as a JPEG file with 1500 pixels for web publishing. If I’m going to make a metal print, I make a TIFF file of the size I plan to print. For prints sized 12x18 or smaller I use Adorama. For larger prints I use Aluminyze since they accept huge files for printing. Both companies do very good work, though I have found that blacks tend to get crushed a bit by both of them. To compensate, for TIFFs for printing I lift the blacks a tiny bit.


Every full piano has 88 keys. Every pianist, even playing the same piece, makes very different music. If you follow these steps, what you create will have very little to do with what I come up with. But yours will be your own discovery. If you have the patience, you will enjoy these visual trips.


The Time-Flows series: I will post about my methods for this series this summer when I have more time, free of teaching obligations (and opportunities.) These images take a lot more time, as they are composed of elements from multiple shots, as many as 35.