Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Photo art magic February 1, 2013

IF THERE’S ONE THING I’ve learned about photography, it’s that you never stop learning.

Take, for example, my recent discovery that even not-so-good bad images can be salvaged via the magic of digital editing.

Well, you’re probably thinking right about now, “Duh, Audrey, everyone knows that.”

Sure I am aware photos can be cropped, sharpened, contrast changed, etc. I’ve used all of those basic editing tools.

But how about transforming a ho-hum, out-of-focus and/or low-light photo into a work of art? It can be done with minimal effort. I basically just play around with artistic and other editing tools until I achieve results which please my eyes and fit whatever mood or effect I’m trying to achieve.

Most important, I approach my photos from an artistic, rather than a purely photojournalistic, perspective.

Now I know everyone is not going to like artsy photos. When I gushed to my husband about the images I’d edited, he viewed the “before” and “after” and stated emphatically that he preferred the originals. I wasn’t about to sway his opinion. He was clear on that.

That said, here are some original and reworked photos from Louie’s Toy Box Farm Toy Show held recently in St. Peter. I aimed primarily for a more vintage look, in most instances, given the subjects are vintage collectibles. With other photos, I emphasized strong lines and colors, or lack thereof, for a more modern art approach.

BEFORE:

Problem: Focus and glare issues.

Problem: Not bad, but some focus and glare issues.

AFTER:

Solution: Apply cartoon tool to reduce glare and lend a more vintage look.

Solution: Apply cartoon tool to reduce glare and lend a more vintage look. (That’s a rotary lawnmower, BTW.)

BEFORE:

Problem: Out-of-focus and boring photo.

Problem: Out-of-focus and boring.

AFTER:

Solution: Simplify by converting to black-and-white and then apply the posterize tool. This emphasizes the element  of strong lines.

Solution: Simplify by converting to black-and-white and then applying the posterize tool. This emphasizes the element of strong lines without the distraction of color.

BEFORE:

Problem: Totally out of focus and in need of cropping.

Problem: Totally out of focus and in need of cropping.

AFTER:

Solution: Apply the posterize tool to divert the eyes from focus problems, thus emphasizing the interesting lines and strong colors in this image. Also crop.

Solution: Apply the posterize tool to divert the eyes from focus problems, thus emphasizing the interesting lines and strong colors in this image. Also crop.

BEFORE:

Problem: This photo of a child's Gilbert Chemistry Experiment Lab does not have issues and could be published unedited.

Problem: This photo of a child’s Gilbert Chemistry Experiment Lab does not have issues and could be published unedited. But I wanted to give it a more vintage look.

AFTER:

Solution: With the cartoon tool application, I added a subtle vintage vibe to the image.

Solution: With the cartoon tool application, I added a subtle vintage artsy vibe to the image.

Now if I was particularly tech savvy, which I am not, I’d be capable of producing even more creative photo art. But I’ve much to learn still and that keeps photography interesting.

THOUGHTS?

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Where the men & boys shop: At a rural Minnesota farm toy show January 31, 2013

OH, TO BE A FARM KID again, steering toy tractors through imaginary fields, corralling cattle into a replica barn, pretending to be a farmer just like Dad.

A trio of brothers dressed in John Deere attired waited while their dad signed up for a Massey Harris tractor raffle from Rice County Steam & Gas Engines, Inc.

A trio of brothers dressed in John Deere attire wait while their dad signs up for a Massey Harris tractor raffle from Rice County Steam & Gas Engines, Inc. The youngest was camera shy.

I imagine many of the kids tagging along with Grandpa or Dad to Louie’s Toy Box Farm Toy Show at the Nicollet County Fairgrounds in St. Peter last weekend were farm kids wishing for a new toy tractor or other piece of farm equipment to role-play their futures, or their ancestral pasts.

Masses of shoppers among a mass of merchandise.

Masses of shoppers among a mass of merchandise.

Shouldering my way through packed aisles Saturday morning, I couldn’t determine who seemed more excited—the men or the boys. And they had every reason to thrill in the mass of ag-related merchandise displayed by 43 vendors from Minnesota, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois.

Johnson Hall, site of Louies' Toy Box Farm Toy Show.

Johnson Hall, site of Louie’s Toy Box Farm Toy Show.

I didn’t know quite what to expect when I entered the unassuming pole-shed style Johnson Hall at the fairgrounds. But I didn’t expect to find so many people (an estimated 2,000 weekend attendees), so many vendors and so much merchandise crammed into such a tight space. This venue is definitely too uncomfortably small for a toy show of this size.

Vending John Deere toy tractors.

Vending toy John Deere tractors.

That aside, I managed to wiggle my way through mostly throngs of men sporting caps and sweatshirts advertising ag companies. John Deere, which marked its 175th anniversary in 2012, showed a dominating presence in apparel.

But when it came to merchandise, I expect every line was represented.

My first look at the farm toy show left me feeling overwhelmed.

My first look at the farm toy show left me feeling overwhelmed.

Upon first entering the toy show, I just stood there, overwhelmed by the stacks and stacks and stacks of boxed tractors and other toys stretching out before me. Honestly, I thought I’d made a mistake suggesting to my husband that we come here. I may have played with toy farm equipment as a kid, but it doesn’t especially interest me as an adult.

Maneuvering the aisles proved challenging.

Maneuvering the aisles proved challenging, especially with a camera bag on my hip and a camera in hand.

I wandered for awhile like a lost sheep, wondering where to focus, how to best work my way through the crowd. Arrows taped to the floor to direct traffic flow would have helped. But eventually I figured it out and backtracked the other direction, easing into the line of shoppers (which did include some women and girls).

An edited photo of vintage matchbooks. Love those graphics.

An edited photo of vintage matchbooks. Love those graphics.

Another edited photo, of a 1950 calendar.

Another edited photo, of a 1950 calendar.

Eventually I found my niche, not in the toys, but in graphics gracing vintage matchbooks, calendars, literature and other advertising items. When I examined a 1950s vintage calendar and balked aloud at the $98 price tag, the vendor informed me that 10 years ago he would have asked even more. I couldn’t bring myself to shell out that kind of money or even $10 for a teeny tiny matchbook. I’d need to be a serious collector to justify such expenditures.

Shortly thereafter I met a serious collector, Wendell Bakker of Renville, whom I observed filing through stacks of magazines, about a half-dozen notebooks stuffed in a back pants pocket and another open notebook in his hand. Because I’m nosy, and I admitted that to Wendell, I initiated a conversation. This former crop, dairy and hog farmer and recently-retired field rep for the Minnesota Farmers Union has been collecting issues of the Allis Chalmers Landhandler and other farm magazines for 50 years.

One of Wendell's notebooks, noting which magazines he already has in his collection.

One of Wendell’s notebooks, noting which magazines he already has in his collection.

“Everybody has a bad habit,” Wendell surmised, not that I would term collecting magazines a bad habit.

I didn’t question any of the other shoppers about their reasons for attending the farm toy show. But, based on the bulging bags most carried out of Johnson Hall, I’d guess many are collectors. As for me, I didn’t purchase anything, just added 94 images to my photo collection in 1 ½ hours. Total cost: the $3 admittance fee.

BONUS PHOTOS:

Toys, sign

A vendor’s sign.

A vendor in training.

A vendor in training.

I don't smoke and don't like smoking. But I sure do I like vintage ash trays like this one from my husband's birthplace.

I don’t smoke and don’t like smoking. But I sure do I like vintage ash trays like this one from my husband’s town of birth.

We were tempted to buy this lighter from Faribault, for a business we'd not heard of, but the $18 price was more than we wanted to pay.

We were tempted to buy this lighter from Faribault, for a business we’d not heard of, but the $18 price was more than we wanted to pay.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about show organizer, Louie’s Toy Box, click here.

Check back for more photos from the toy show.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling