Finding the treasure within

Recently, I came across this tree, which stood out from its surroundings by its bright red colouring. To the eye, the scene was compelling but as is often the case, the camera records it without the same emotive and creative characteristics that the mind adds.

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Raw

I took the picture planning to bring out the same striking effect I felt when viewing the actual scene.

My first attempts were disappointing and I put it aside for later. Then, some months after taking the image, I returned to it with fresh eyes and made another attempt.

I felt that it needed a strong departure from the original to enhance the aspect that made it interesting. I started by running the single image through Photomatix Pro HDR software. Although primarily used for multiple images, this software can yield some very satisfying results from individual frames.

Tonemapped

I was happy with the way the red tree now jumped out more from the image and the slightly painterly feel it had, however the regular green trees surrounding it had also been enhanced to the point where they competed for attention with the focus of the image.

Here, I again turned to LAB mode, which is perfect for separating and working with different colours. I decided to desaturate everything but the red tree, which is easy in this colour space.

I duplicated the background layer and then desaturated the original background layer. Then, it was simply a matter of opening the Layer Styles palette, (right click the duplicate layer and choose “Blending Options”) and moving the left side of the Blend If slider for “This Layer” of the A channel to 128. This blended anything on the duplicate layer that had any green component, leaving only the red of the tree from the duplicate layer and the desaturated remainder from the background.

Worked

After flattening the image, I tweaked the contrast with Curves and sharpened, however I still felt that the image needed some extra element to really make it “pop”. I finally hit on the idea of using Photoshop’s Lens Flare filter (Filter>Render>Lens Flare). Filters such as this are often quite rightly maligned when used badly. If used carefully on the right image however, this filter and others can be just what is needed as the final touch.

Final

So from a quite dull original, what I think is a striking and effective image is produced, which not only gives the feel I experienced with the original scene, but also adds to it.

Here is another example of how to use the LAB Colour Mode to create images with impact.

So it is up to you to bring some life and interest to those shots that, on a first impression, lack of a specetacular air. How you do this?

I am a news media photographer living in Brisbane, Australia. I have worked professionally as a photographer since 1982 but also enjoy producing some creative pieces outside the constraints on my day-to-day work, when I can find the time. I have extensive knowledge and experience with Photoshop and use both a Nikon D700 and Pentax 645D for my work. I am always happy to have feedback on my images and welcome questions.

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