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.


Problem: Focus and glare issues.

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


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.)


Problem: Out-of-focus and boring photo.

Problem: Out-of-focus and boring.


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.


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

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


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.


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.


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.


© Copyright 2013 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


Traveling photography February 23, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 9:14 AM
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The clouds, the lighting, the red buildings slung against the sky drew my eyes and camera toward this farm along I-94 in western Minnesota.

I WASN’T ALWAYS a fan of winter photography. Honestly, who likes to navigate snow and ice and freeze your fingers off to shoot images? Not me.

But, since discovering on-the-road travel photography—meaning I actually fire off frames while riding in a vehicle traveling at highway/interstate speeds of 55 – 70 mph—I’ve come to embrace winter photography.

I started clicking my shutter when I saw this picturesque farm in the Avon/Albany area. This is frame two.

By the third frame, this beautiful fieldstone barn came into my sight line.

In winter the landscape lies exposed, giving a photographer ample opportunity to see and photograph subjects which, in other seasons, remain hidden. And I, for one, appreciate that openness and vulnerability.

My eyes fly across the landscape as I ride shotgun, camera in hand set to a fast shutter speed (the sports mode in automatic settings), poised to click the shutter button.

The weathered barn and the lighting around the silos drew me to photograph this scene.

Farm sites, specifically barns, cause me to lift my ever-ready camera from my lap, focus and shoot. Sometimes I get the shot, sometimes I don’t. It’s all in the timing and the ability to compose on the fly.

Consistently, the quality of these on-the-road photos surprises me, in a good way. Often I couldn’t have gotten better results had I stood still in front of the subject, focused and composed with care and shot many frames.

Of course, I’ve missed plenty of photo ops, too, because I’ve been daydreaming or talking or been too slow to react.

I honestly thought I'd missed this shot. But when I saw the results, well, I was pretty pleased.

A recent trip along Interstate 94 to and from Fargo gave me plenty of time to practice on-the-road photography as I focused on farm sites, the landscape and whatever else I found of interest.

An added bonus comes once I download the images into my computer and notice details I failed to see while photographing scenes.

The next time you hit the highway as a passenger on a long road trip, consider trying this type of photography.

Clean your windows, adjust your camera, buckle up and you’re set to roll.

Just one more farm along I-94 that I couldn't resist photographing.

TELL ME, HAVE you ever photographed using this method? What works/doesn’t work for you? And what do you like to photograph?

NOTE: Except to downsize the above images, I have not edited them.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Tips for on-the-road photography April 2, 2011

HOW OFTEN HAVE YOU been traveling along a roadway, saw a subject worth photographing but were in too much of a hurry to stop?

That’s happened to me more often than I wish. However, I’ve found a solution that’s worked well with some incredible photo results.

I’m issuing a disclaimer here, though. I’m not advocating photographing and driving. This photographic option should be used only when you are a passenger because you’ll be operating your camera while your vehicle is moving.

First, set your camera at a sports action shutter speed, place it on your lap, grip the camera body and be prepared to snap away at a moment’s notice.

Click. Click. Click. With a fast shutter speed, you can quickly fire off three frames before you’ve bypassed the intended subject.

OK, it’s not quite that easy. You must anticipate just the right moment to take your photos. That means paying attention to what lies ahead of you along the roadway. Click too soon and you miss the shot. Click too late and you miss the shot.

It’s partially luck, partially skill that will nail a great photo.

I’m always watching too for telephone and electric poles and roadside signs that can obstruct an otherwise good image.

I’m also always trying to balance my photos so they are well-composed.

All of this moving of the camera and adjusting the lens and framing the image must happen in a split-second. I can’t even begin to tell you how many shots I’ve missed because I’ve moved too slowly or failed to notice a photo op until it passed me by.

That’s the other part of successful on-the-road photography. You need a watchful eye for subjects that will make interesting and great photos. Too many people look, but don’t really see, what’s around them. Perhaps because I’ve grown so accustomed to viewing my world through a camera lens and because I’m a writer, I notice more than the average person.

Yet all of this effort will be wasted if you’re shooting through dirty vehicle windows. Clean your windows. If you live in a state like Minnesota, where road spray from sand and salt and melting snow is a problem, you may just have to abandon this traveling photo option in the winter.

Unless you’re traveling through a town, at low speeds, I don’t recommend opening your window. You risk getting dust or dirt into your camera sensor.

That said, here’s a trio of photos I shot in early March along U.S. Highway 14 between Essig and Sleepy Eye in southwestern Minnesota while traveling at 55 mph.

Other than downsizing these images, I’ve not edited them.

Here’s why these images are so good. The exposure is perfect. The photos are well-composed. The horizontal line of the railroad track in the first two frames sits at an eye-pleasing one-third position. The color contrasts of red against gray and blue make these photos pop. The subject is beautiful in its simplicity.

If you’re never tried traveling photography, give it a shot. You may be as pleasantly surprised as me with the results.

FYI: I shoot with a EOS 20D DSLR Canon camera. Yes, it’s a “fancy” digital camera, not a point-and-shoot. If you ever see a photo on Minnesota Prairie Roots that you are interested in purchasing, please contact me via a comment (won’t be published) or an e-mail.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling