This is a fantastic image with strong potential. As presented in its color form the image stands on its own but (for me) it is dancing on that fine line between "wow"
. What I mean by this is it can go either way, depending on how much work I am willing to invest in the viewing.
It is a complex subject against a busy background with little but color to separate the two elements. Those two elements, when viewing their silhouette, have very similar features; undulating curves that flow in a very organic manner. Strip away that color difference and suddenly it becomes harder to distinguish one from the other. If you blur your eyes just a bit and look at the monochromatic image of your flower you can see how it almost blends into the background. If this is the intent, then we can stop here and consider it a success. Of course, people with vision problems will probably hate you for it. Critical analysis
To bring this image from "huh?"
and cross it over, firmly planted, into the "wow"
some analysis is needed. Since this is a visual medium I like to teach my students by the compare and contrast
method. Look at the image, compare it against your expectations and try to determine what, in your own estimation, doesn't work well. To put it another (rather inaccurate) way; what is wrong
with the image? Once a more critical analysis has been made it becomes a little easier to determine what the steps are to correct
it. If this were my image here is a sample line of questioning I might go through after asking, "what is wrong with this image?"
- The subject doesn't stand out enough from the background. Why?
- The textures are too similar. The only thing separating the two are their colors but the water obfuscates the submerged part of the flower. What can be done to clarify the image?
- Change something between one or the other so that the subject stands out more. What can be changed?
- I can change the composition to put emphasis on the flower more but that would alter the overall look and I like the interplay. What else can be changed then?
- I can change the texture or the color or the luminance of either the subject or the water. All viable solutions but which one is best?
Quick Analysis Tools
For images requiring that extra attention in processing I typically default to two quick analytical tools; grayscale and luminance contrast. Each can be done very easily with just about any editing software. In my case I prefer to use IrfanView, a great little image viewer with very limited editing capabilities. It allows me to do quick modifications to an image in order to problem solve issues. The first is shown above, grayscale;Grayscale
By stripping away color we are left with texture and the interplay of light and shadow. This allows me to easily see how textures are working within the image. In this case you can see how similar the textures are between the flower and the water. This also give me a preview of the luminance balance between subject and background. If I really want to understand that luminance I'll take the image to the next step;Luminance contrast
This second image, at left, was done by pushing the contrast slider in IrfanView all the way up (some images don't need to be pushed that hard, adjust accordingly). The objective is to find out how the light plays through the image. The goal is to pull the viewer's eye to the subject. For a full explanation on this you can read the tutorial, 3 tone guide to composition
Not a 'tool', per se, but more of a technique is to half close your eyes into a squint to 'blur' out your image. This reduces the image into tonal areas and indescript shapes. Since it can be done at any time, occasionally leaning back in the chair to squint at your image during editing will tell you if you're still on the right path in your editing.
All these tools, alone or together, helps to break down the image into a simpler composition for analysis.
Solving the problem
Through our question and answer above we came to the conclusion that we can possibly change the texture, the color or the luminance of either the subject or the water. The answer lies in, "which one and why?"
If our subject was at a distance from the background we could easily blur the background to change the texture even more. That 'if' isn't available here so changing the texture is going to be difficult, if not impossible, taking texture
out of the equation. That leaves color
, both very viable solutions.
Since the colors have been saturated we know there is room for manipulation. We could desaturate the background but a fuschia color on gray would look gross (not to mention that technique has become cliche.)
The green of the water, theoretically speaking, could be changed to blue. After all, water is normally thought of as blue, but that creates two cool tones next to each other (fuschia=cool, blue=cool) removing the dynamic play of warm/cool present in the original. Green being the warm tone. We also lose too much of that ambiguity found in the original. The flower, while it does stand out more, stands out too much, killing the original intent. A happy medium is a likelier choice for this image.Subtlety is best
The problem with both examples above is that the manipulation is very obvious. Suddenly it is not
about the image but about the manipulation. For this image, I feel that ruins it. The solution lies somewhere in between. A slight shift in both color and luminance.
Referring back to the top monochromatic image, we can see how the texture of both the flower and the water are similar. We can also see that the luminosity of both are also similar. Furthermore, on the color spectrum, the fuschia and that medium/dark green are similar as well (the grayscale confirms this.) Changing the chroma
of one will offset it against the other, but which one?
If we make the flower darker it will start to look muddy and make the overall image look underexposed, considering there are so many dark patches in the water as it is. It will, however, increase the luminosity between the water and the flower. Aha, a clue...
So instead of darkening the flower we can lighten it? No, we will get a worse effect as the flower will look overexposed and obviously edited. Something to be avoided. That leaves the flower out. The water then becomes the other choice. Specially since it offers us a lot more latitude for change because of its inherent reflective properties. If we raise the luminosity (changing the chroma) it changes the medium green to a brighter green, increasing luminosity contrast and
increasing the warm/cool contrast between the two elements. That allows us to retain the original feel
of the image but making the viewer work less at distinguishing the subject from the background.The results
In order to isolate the water from the flower I need a mask. The easiest (fastest) way possible, I decided, was to let Photoshop handle the bulk of the work for me. I went to the Channels
panel and turned off visibility on all but the first (red) channel and looked at the image. I then turned off/on the green then the blue channels. From those three choices I selected the best channel that came closest to isolating the water from the flower. In this image it was the blue
channel. I then selected the image and copied it to my clipboard.
I reset visibility back to full RGB and returned to the Layers
panel. I created a new empty layer and pasted the blue channel I had copied into it. While not a 'perfect' mask the blue channel comes closest to what I need it to do. I just need to take it one step further by increasing the contrast and changing it more to a true black and white mask. This is easily done with curves. I went to the menu "Image/Adjustments/Curves"
and adjusted the curve until the majority of the water was black and the flower area was relatively white. Again, not perfect but close enough. I then selected the results (CTRL + A) and saved it to the clipboard (CTRL + C).
Now for the image adjustment. I selected Color Balance
from the Adjustments
panel and ALT + Clicked
on the layer mask thumbnail to enter the mask editing screen. I pasted the modified Blue Channel into the layer mask. Since black hides and white reveals the effect of the Color Balance
I need to invert
the mask (CTRL + I or CMD + I on a Mac). To exit the mask editing screen I click on the layer thumbnail (or ALT + Click the layer mask thumbnail again). At this point I don't need the Blue Channel image I adjusted with curves so either delete that layer or hide it (click on the eyeball icon).
All that is left is to adjust the color of the water and you're done. You can see in the image at left I modified the Magenta/Green channel and a little of the Yellow/Blue channel to both lighten and warm the green in the water. This effectively changes both the luminosity (brighten) and the color (lighter) of the water without affecting the flower. The image retains the original feel but ads a little less ambiguity. The nice thing about this is that the amount
of ambiguity can be adjusted by controlling the Opacity and/or/ FIll levels. In this case I dialed the Opacity back a bit by about 20%.
I hope this information gives you something worthwhile to ponder over. Of course, it's all subjective or, as I like to say, "just my two bits."
Here's the original to avoid scrolling back and forth...