Interpretations – Magnolia Glow

March 27, 2012 · 7 comments

Magnolia cambellii ‘Strybing White’

I was recently commissioned to photograph a very special magnolia in a very special, private garden.  The resulting photo was to be a surprise gift and I was only allowed access during one afternoon when the owner was away.

I wrote about this adventure on my Gardening Gone Wild blog but did not go into much detail on how I decided to interpret what I found.  I will do this here, on Mental Seeds, where I allow myself to explore new avenues of photography, mostly personal, and mostly initiated by new perceptions I have had since my eye surgeries.

I still see lots of blurs; let’s call it a glow for this exercise.  For interpreting this photo I played with a new digital techniques.  I almost said ” new digital trick” but in truth, I really feel I am not tricking but interpreting.

Trying to find a photo that tells a story of the magnolia on that bright sunny day meant working with the sun, not my favorite light.  It meant working with what the garden could give, and recognizing that whites comes clean in sunlight.  Hmmm, what might work ?

An interpretaion was in order.  I would make a blurry glow.  Here is the original frame, contrasty and raw.

Then using Bridge (Photoshop CS4) in Adobe Camera Raw I cropped the photograph so that I could fill the frame with just the right composition.

Working with the tools, I adjusted all sorts of things:  added fill light, adjusted light and dark levels, tweaked the blue, but the most dramatic effect was moving the Clarity filter to minus 100, which gives the diffuse glow. Too diffuse in some areas, but solved by adding some black.

I really felt I was on to something.  But as I studied the photo I realized the spot of yellow became too prominent and the branch across the upper right was a confusing and unnecessary element.  I needed to unleash the full power of Photoshop:

Same photo but now in the PhotoShop window.  Note I opened a new layer, really important whenever you want to make adjustments, which I named here: ‘remove branch’.

Now clone tool to the rescue.  The real trick of using the clone stamp tool is to use it like a brush, smaller than the area you want to affect; and when selecting the area to clone out, be sure to replace it with selections very near for color match. AND go back and repeat, in effect blending the blend.  Of course when you are working in an area that is soft and out of focus, there is lots of leeway since no-one will ever notice if you screw up a bit.

Removing the yellow blob, still in Photoshop, was done by going to the tool bar: Image > Adjustments > Hue/Saturation > Yellow and remove about 80% saturation.  Then using the erasure tool I put back some of the yellow highlights (erased the adjustment) in places like the underside of the blossom in the far right.  Voila.

Magnolia cambellii ‘Strybing White’

I debated inside myself if I really liked the obvious glow, which is most noticed around the edges of the more out of focus flowers, but it reminds me that I do see things blurry.  Interpretations in my work.

As an added bonus to this lesson, a different way to interpret: silhouettes.  I do love botanic illustrations.  Much, much fun in using the Topaz Simplify3 tool to mask a photo and get to a flower’s essence.

Magnolia cambellii ‘Strybing White’


Details one day if anyone is interested in another lesson….

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Nancy Jones March 28, 2012 at 4:49 am

Thank you for this lesson, beautiful! I would love to know how you do the sillouettes!


Saxon March 28, 2012 at 6:46 am

Nancy – I will be doing a lesson for my e-book and will have a teaser for it when that is done. I did a post at Gardening Gone Wild last fall Leaf Quiz that shows some of the technique. – Saxon


Philip March 28, 2012 at 3:04 pm

Very interesting post, Saxon, and with good effect – you are a master with the clarity slider and the cropping certainly was needed. There is another method to bring an overall glow to the picture of which I’m sure you know, but if I may indulge for those unaware; when in Photoshop make a copy layer, then apply the Blur/Gaussian filter and set the layer mode to “lighten”, then adjust the opacity as desired. This creates a lovely soft glow that only affects the highlights and not the shadows.

P.S. Whilst reorganizing a bookshelf in my family room recently, I came across your excellent book on grasses with Nancy Ondra – Great Photography!


Saxon March 28, 2012 at 7:20 pm

Philip – Thanks for dropping by; I do appreciate your comments. I confess I have not used the gaussian blur on lighten but can immediately imagine how you suggest it. I will play around with this soon. I do like that minus Clarity softens shadow though not really with a glow. Thanks for noticing my book with Nan. The publisher did a great job with layout and use of white space in the design. – Saxon


Donna March 28, 2012 at 7:25 pm

I really like your isolated image. It really has the feel of a botanical illustration. I was just asked to do an advertisement using this technique one of my images and it came out quite successful. I prefer your use of the gray gradient though, mine was on a black background for maximum pop at the request of the client.

I came via GGW and this was a nice followup to that post. Much appreciated. I do like the whites against the blue sky, even though I have been learning this is not the best situation for a professional look. In fact, I just saw this situation on Peter Lik’s TV show and he explained why it was not ideal.


Saxon March 29, 2012 at 7:19 pm

Donna – Thanks for following thru GGW. It is great fun to swap out background once the work of making the silhouette is done. Personally I like doing them on white background to emulate an actual botanic drawing.
I don’t follow the comment about white on blue not being professional. But it doesn’t matter. Interpretations are entirely personal; but as a professional photographer I think clients pay us to be creative, not doing what is necessarily expected.


Donna March 30, 2012 at 7:24 am

I guess I was a bit vague with my remark and it is hard for me to explain it too. It really was about the time of day a shot is taken and a sky with little or bland interest. I have only been just learning the importance of this. Not so important on a closely focused or cropped shot though where the sky is not meant to be important. Like you mentioned on GGW that you did not have the best time of day to shoot the image, but you made a very wonderful image despite that. Also, in large landscape shots, to have an interesting sky, that was the reference to Peter’s TV show. He showed the difference in images, ones with great skies and those with flat blue skies. I finally got what he meant by this by seeing the comparison. Like I see how you made the best of your image even thought you might have preferred a different time to shoot it. Seeing how you work through is the best way for teaching I think. I am looking forward to your book.


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