Sunset Like a Window Upon Fire

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What a person actually needs is not a tensionless state, but rather the striving and struggling for some worthy goal. What he needs is not the discharge of all tension, but the call of a potential life-meaning waiting to be fulfilled.  Paraphrased from Victor Frankl

I find these words of Victor Frankl to be profound and inspiring. It reminds me that a complete lack of stress or tension does not help a person to grow or to develop their potential.  The goal, he explained, was for each individual to find their ideal level of stress or tension, the amount that stimulates growth of their abilities and provides meaning and purpose to their lives without being overwhelming.

Frankl was an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist who was a survivor of German concentration camps during World War II. While in a concentration camp, he made many observations regarding human resilience and determination of spirit.  In his subsequent book, Man’s Search for Meaning, one of his conclusions is that people thrive on a certain level of stress, which varies from person to person. Less stress than this causes them to feel bored, lethargic or hopeless; while excessive stress causes people to be incapacitated mentally, emotionally and physically.

The remainder of this post focuses on the sunset photo at the stop of this post, which occurred several months ago near San Diego, California. Yes, it really did look like that. I have never before seen a sunset like this, with so much color concentrated in such a localized area. This photo received very little processing. (Specifically, Adobe Camera Raw was used to reduce noise, mildly increase “clarity” and slightly pre-sharpen). Almost all of the processing was to synchronize the position of the waves, as this is a two frame panorama. (During the time that the camera is swiveled to take the second frame, the waves move closer to the shore.) For this wave adjustment, Photoshop Elements was used to clone stamp, copy & paste waves. Finally Nik Sharpener Pro 3 was used to apply a little sharpening for display/web output.

I welcome comments and suggestions/criticisms.

I am available to assist photographers just beginning their experience with photo processing.

J. Michael Harroun©2013

Sunset of Golden Rays over the Pacific Ocean

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Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.  – Anais Nin

This sunset image was taken several months ago near San Diego.It is the result of quite a bit of processing, as the original appeared dull and flat. It was an example of digital images (RAW files) being inherently low contrast, appearing soft (unsharp) and flat with a limited perceived depth. (In spite of this, RAW files are generally the most desirable format because they contain so much image information that a plethora of post-processing functions can be performed on them with excellent results.)

(Jpg images are different. They are processed and sharpened within the camera at the time the photo is taken. The degree of sharpening depends on the setting that you have chosen for sharpness in the shooting menu. This is an advantage if a person sure that they will never want to enhance or further process their (jpg) images. Otherwise, RAW file capacity is an advantage. (As EvaUhu of lightshadowcolor.wordpress.com commented below, the best file format to shoot depends on the intended use for the image.)

Sharpening is a form of increasing contrast. Specifically, it is a very localized increase of contrast between adjacent dark light pixels (such as at edges). Some other modes to increase contrast, besides the actual “contrast” sliders, are: pre-sharpening, levels, curves, dodging, burning, white point, black point, gamma setting, tonal contrast, detail enhancer, detail extractor, structure and output sharpening. This is only a partial list. The fact that there are so many different ways to adjust the contrast of digital images reflects the degree that raw files suffer from poor contrast.

When I took this photo, the in-camera histogram indicated correct exposure for both highlights and shadows. However, when the RAW file was downloaded, the appearance was flat, dull and somewhat underexposed. Here is that original image, cropped but otherwise totally unprocessed.

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(My thanks to Kyle Kuns of of hikingangelesforest.wordpress.com and to Heather of rapidcityrecess.wordpress.com for recommending that I include this original image)

To create the image at the very beginning of this post, contrast was added in six different ways. These were: first in Adobe Camera Raw for brightness and (1) pre-sharpening; then with Color Efex Pro4 adjustments for (2) curves, (3) tonal contrast and (4) darkening the side edges and finally with Nik Sharpener Pro 3 (5) adaptive sharpening for display output. Each of the first 4 steps (except for the pre-sharpening which was purposely kept very weak to avoid halo artifacts) improved the appearance, but not enough. The final image, however, looks pretty good to me.

My point is to explain that digital images, shot as RAW files, require processing in order to look their best. Even the best shooting technique does not overcome this limitation.

I welcome comments and suggestions (criticisms).

J. Michael Harroun©2013