Sunday, August 12, 2007

Yellow Coneflowers --- A Cropped Digital Watercolor

If you have any experience with Photoshop, you know that it comes with a number of digital "plug-in" filters designed to transform digital photos and scanned images in a variety of ways. Some less expensive programs come with similar filters. Some of those filters work better than others, but it's possible to get good results even when using filters which leave a bit to be desired, if you know what you're doing.

In the above image, I cropped a high resolution photo of a large bed of yellow coneflowers, in order to focus on a smaller grouping of the flowers, so as to create the sense that the photo was a closeup. Then I decided to see what it would look like if I processed it with the Watercolor filter in Microsoft PictureIt!

I have learned through experience that photos often look pretty bad when processed with a digital Watercolor filter, unless one knows what the weaknesses of such filters are and how to overcome those weaknesses.

Specifically, the Watercolor filter seems to work better with images which are lighter and less contrasty than one would normally prefer. The effect of running the Watercolor filter is to darken the shadows and increase the contrast, in comparison with the way the regular unprocessed photo looked. If the photo looks just right to you before running it through the Watercolor filter, it probably won't look very good after being run through that filter, unless you like murky looking images with no real tonal range.

Sometimes it takes a bit of experimentation to get things just right. In some cases, it may be necessary to copy the image a couple of times and process each copy in a slightly different way, and then blend the multiple copies together in order to get the best of all worlds. That's a lot easier in Photoshop than it is in Microsoft PictureIt!, because Photoshop offers a huge assortment of blend modes, whereas PictureIt! only lets you adjust the amount of transparency on the top layer. Nevertheless, I was fairly pleased with this little "digital watercolor" which I created with the Microsoft program. The final image size of the original version had adequate resolution for a 4x6-inch print. Printed onto hot press watercolor paper with a high quality printer such as an Epson 7800 or 9800, I think it would look very nice.

Later, I might try using colored pencils atop such a print in order to add details, and then scanning the enhanced print so that I could make additional prints of that enhanced version.

NOTE: The effect which digital filters have on images can vary greatly, depending on the resolution of the unprocessed images. Sometimes, such filters work better with high resolution images. In other cases, strangely enough, they work better with low resolution images. The latter situation is a bit of a drag, since it prevents one from making really big prints, unless one has a special software program (such as Alien Skin BlowUp or Genuine Fractals) which is able to enlarge an image more effectively than the standard interpolation options in programs such as Photoshop.

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