Faking It – Four Views of Firenza

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6:00 AM. Mind is a blank. No good light outside. Must write – discipline requires it.

I started to reminisce. That usually produces something.

Thinking back to when we travelled down to Tuscany from Vienna with Claudia Spitzl and her companion Helmut, I looked through my photo archives for something interesting.

I came across this photo taken by Claudia of the river in Firenza (Florence). The tone is dark, as is the mood. In some ways, it’s not a bad photo. The composition itself is excellent. The sun was low and the atmosphere was hazy. I like the look of it and the way it made me feel – the memories it evokes.

I began to wonder what I could do with this very interesting starting point:

Claudia Spitzl’s photo of Firenza (Florence)

Firing up Photoshop, I started off with radical settings of my NoiseNinja Pro filter. It’s designed for reducing noise (the modern equivalent of the old photographer’s nemesis – grain). However, if you push some of the settings, you can get interesting artsy effects. (You will need to click each image to enlarge it so that you can see the effects that I will discuss.)

This rendition has a bright, almost primitive look to it. It’s very flat – perspective is absent. It’s an interesting effect, but aside from its bright colours, it’s not what I’m looking for:

Claudia Spitzl’s photo of Firenza (Florence)

Next, I tried the Ink Outlines filter after increasing the contrast and brightness. This is closer to what I’m looking for, but I lost the hills and sky at the right and much of the detail in the dark areas dropped out. The edges of objects also have an unnatural sort of jaggedness that doesn’t look like something an artist would strive for. Have a look:

Claudia Spitzl’s photo of Firenza (Florence) with the Ink Outlines filter

I was trying to remember the filter that I needed, but there are so many of them! I finally stumbled on the Poster Edges filter and it rang a bell. After adjusting the exposure, gamma, brightness, and contrast to get a fairly contrasty image with a well centred histogram, I applied Poster Edges and fiddled with it for a few minutes. Voila! Just what I wanted:

Claudia Spitzl’s photo of Firenza (Florence) with the Poster Edges filter

This one has a painterly look to it. I had to blur the sky and hills to get rid of some posterization artefacts. It worked out just the way I wanted. The foreground is bright and details are sharp. The background becomes less distinct and hazy with muted colours. This give it depth and perspective. It becomes almost three-dimensional.

I think it’s fascinating how one can recreate the effects that the old masters used to bring life to their paintings. Though I’m completely incompetent to draw or paint anything, I do understand the techniques used by painters to achieve certain effects.

It is a cheap, but satisfying thrill to be able to create images that evoke the moods you seek to induce in the viewer. This is what the old masters learned over centuries. We can now enjoy mimicking these techniques on our modern computers in a few minutes.

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