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

 

The challenges of winter photography & a new perspective on art January 24, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:15 AM
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FOR A BLOGGER like me who incorporates so many photos into her posts, blogging in winter in Minnesota presents special challenges, the primary obstacle being the weather.

Simply put, I don’t like freezing my fingers, navigating icy surfaces, dodging snowflakes or battling frigid winds to get a photo. And when you live in Minnesota, you just can’t escape the cold, ice, snow and wind, especially not this week.

Yesterday I glanced outside to see a fresh dusting of snow sparkling like fairy dust in an enchanting scene. For a moment, as I slipped half my body outside to retrieve the morning paper, I considered bundling up to photograph the magic. But thoughts did not transform into action.

Later, though, after lunch, that fairy dust still danced in my brain so I zipped my fleece and stepped onto the patio to photograph the snow. I didn’t expect fantastic results; heck, the results rated as immediately deletable:

The original sparkling snow image, unedited except for down-sizing.

The original sparkling snow image, unedited except for down-sizing.

But then I worked my magic, trying several editing tools—sparkle effect, colorizing, cartoonifying and changing the contrast—to transform a blah image into an abstract work of art:

Sparkling snow in my backyard transformed into abstract art with photo editing tools.

Sparkling snow in my backyard transformed into abstract art with photo editing tools.

What’s really interesting about this entire process is that I’ve never been a fan of abstract art. I’ve always been inclined to view an abstract work and then blurt, “I could do that” or “That looks like the work of a kindergartner.”

I doubt I’ll ever quite stop thinking that.

But, through this digital editing process, I’ve discovered a part of me appreciates abstract photo art and the process of creating it. Temporary brain freeze perhaps?

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS on cold climate photography (as in Minnesota cold), abstract art, digital photo editing or anything along that line? (And don’t feel you have to like my abstract photo art.)

I prefer to shoot winter photos from the comfort of a building or a vehicle, as evidenced in these images I shot in March 2012:

I converted this image to black-and-white and upped the brightness. This was shot on the Minnesota Highway 19 curve just north of Vesta, my southwestern Minnesota hometown.

I converted this image to black-and-white and upped the brightness. This was shot on the Minnesota Highway 19 curve just north of Vesta, my southwestern Minnesota hometown.

I used the same photo editing techniques on this scene captured on the same date just south of Echo, which would be north of Vesta. We were on our way to church.

I used the same photo editing techniques on this scene captured on the same date just south of Echo, which would be north of Vesta. We were on our way to church.

The day prior, en route to Vesta, I photographed this barn between New Ulm and Morgan.

The day prior, en route to Vesta, I photographed this farmyard between New Ulm and Morgan.

To the east, also en route to my hometown, I photographed this rural scene just west of Waterville along Minnesota Highway 60.

To the east, also en route to my hometown, I photographed this rural scene just west of Waterville along Minnesota Highway 60.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A chicken even I can love December 14, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:13 AM
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SOMETIMES I TAKE photos and then have nowhere to weave them into the fabric of a blog post. So you never see them.

Take two images I shot last Saturday afternoon at the Faribo West Mall in a store selling a hodge podge of collectibles, clothing and other, well, stuff. I can’t tell you the name of the place because I don’t recall seeing a business sign. And when I purchased two items (not these), the shopkeeper simply stuffed my five $1 bills into his pants pocket.

All of that aside, I spotted so many objects that I wanted to photograph simply for the color, the art, the shape, the uniqueness, the nostalgia. But, I also did not feel comfortable clicking away unfettered while other shoppers browsed.

Thus, I focused my camera on only two pieces of colorful merchandise—a rainbow-hued glass elephant and a vibrant wind-up chicken.

When I show you those two unedited images, you might be impressed. But probably not. Here are the original untouched photos:

Except for resizing, I've done nothing with this photo of a glass elephant.

Except for resizing, I’ve done nothing with this photo of a glass elephant.

The original chicken photo, only resized.

The original chicken photo, only resized.

Then I opted to play with my photo editing tools, of which I understand little. I once edited and posted some winter photos here and then a reader asked “How did you do that?” Seems she wanted to duplicate what I had done. I could not tell her.

But this time, oh, this time, I am going to exercise my smartness by telling you I simply clicked on the “posterize” editing tool and these were the results:

I clicked on "posterize" and this was the result.

A bolder and more modern looking posterized chicken.

Isn’t this fun?

Ta-da, the posterized elephant.

Ta-da, the posterized elephant.

I took plain ordinary images and, with the click of my mouse, transformed them into works of art that really don’t resemble photos at all.

I’m especially smitten with that chicken. And for me to admit any fowl love…

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS on these two transformed photos or photo editing in general? Do you use photo editing tools to enhance your photos and/or create art?

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Photographing the magic in a dance performance February 29, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:09 AM
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SATURDAY AFTERNOON I found myself kneeling on the floor of the Faribo West Mall to shoot photos of young dancers performing.

If my orthopedic surgeon had observed the way I crouched and bent my hip, he would have scolded me, even warned me that I could pop my 3 ½-year-old artificial right hip right out of place. Such an admonition would be well-deserved.

But in those photographic moments, I forget about the health consequences and pursue shots from a perspective that best tells the story. With kids, that typically means I get down on their level, on the floor. Now getting back up, well, that can be more of a challenge.

Let me show you three photos from that dance performance. They’re not your typical “proud parent” type shots and I’m certain more than one parent questioned why I was scooting around on the floor of the mall.

You won’t see the dancers’ faces. Rather, you’ll notice the stance, the clasp of hands and other details that tell a story from a broader perspective. See for yourself and read how, with my minor photo editing skills, I tweaked each photo.

It is the pose of this little girl, holding her hands close, eyes fixed on the older dancer, that show her admiration, her "I want to dance just like her someday," wonderment. In photo editing, I cropped the image just a wee on the left to cut out a distracting red EXIT sign. I sharpened the photo slightly and lowered the saturation of the yellow. While an entire crowd of onlookers ringed the two dancers, in this frame I opted to focus solely on the two dancers to emphasize the magic I saw between them. It was as if they were all alone in the mall, at a private dance lesson.

Here I crouched as low as I could without lying on the floor to capture this moment. This scene takes in all aspects of the performance from performer to the audience to those two little girls who look forward to someday dancing solo. The only editing change was a minor sharpening of the photo.

When the older girls took to the mall dance floor, I wanted to showcase the movement to tell their story and to truly engage you, the reader. So I set a slower shutter speed and focused on their legs. I cropped the frame on the right and then edited the distracting colors from the image. The sepia tone adds to the dreamy, artsy quality of the photo.

AFTER THE PHOTO shoot of the dancers, I stopped by my local public library where I found a photography guidebook that I’d highly recommend, Expressive Photography: The Shutter Sisters’ Guide to Shooting from the Heart.

Check out the Shutter Sisters’ photography blog by clicking here.

Their book is packed with tips about lighting, perspective, photo editing, composition and more. It’s one of the best photography books I’ve read.

And don’t you just love the cover?

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling