A while back, while feeling rather bored and uninspired photographically, I came across some spilled oil in the ditches on the estuary. The colours and shapes were lovely, and I could see how I could turn them into abstract images that might suggest dreamlike or fantasy landscapes. Initially I thought this was a one-off in terms of the oil spills, but every time I’ve been down that way since then there has always been oil mixed into the ditchwater. I don’t know where it comes from, and it’s a little worrying environmentally, but it’s got great potential photographically. It’s taken a while for me to go back with a camera, but I finally got round to it the other day.
I showed the original set of images at a student/tutor critique that took place on a study weekend, and the tutor in question liked them but was disappointed when I said they’d been heavily processed. When I asked why, he said he felt the world had enough beauty in it without having to artificially enhance it and suggested that I take more photos but not process them so much. Well, I could see where he was coming from and I tried it with this latest batch, but I didn’t feel it worked nearly so well.
This is the straight-out-of-the-camera image, looking very flat and rather dull:
My typical normal workflow would be curves, possibly a little bit of cloning, some burning and dodging if required, and finally sharpening. I didn’t sharpen any of these, because it made the small irregularities much too obvious and I wanted a softer effect. I did a tiny bit of cloning on some if there was an intruding piece of grass, for example, and a few of them looked better for some dodging and burning. That leaves curves, and the following shows the same image after using a SmartCurve plugin:
It’s a lot better, but it doesn’t have the look and feel that I wanted – I find it too harsh. What I wanted to do was add some luminescence and strengthen the colours, while softening any gritty textures in it. If I remember rightly, I made a duplicate layer, blurred the copy layer with Gaussian blur, and blended the two using softlight – or it may have been overlay, I can’t be sure. I also did some minor dodging to bring out the lighter parts of the ‘splash’ and I added a little vignetting. The result is exactly what I wanted, with a somewhat surreal look to it:
This is what I saw in my head when my eyes registered the objective reality of the oil spill in the ditch. It’s far removed from reality (whatever that is!) but it’s the equivalent of the feeling I had at the time and is a much better expression of that than the less processed version. Of course, so much is subjective when it comes to these things and there are bound to be some who prefer the middle one or even possibly the first one, but that’s the way it goes. I filled a whole memory card with these, so there are lots left to process – this is my first selection.