Blossom Road Reclamation

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Every so often I undertake what I like to call a “reclamation project”. These result from not doing a good job of things in the field. They start when you are looking at your image catalog in Lightroom and you say, “I wish I had…”

It has been a over a year since my trip to Andalucía, Spain, and I am working on my next book in earnest. I am planning something along the lines of my Santorini book. I was looking at the two pictures above (which have not been post-processed, so they still look quite bland) and trying to decide which one I liked better—they are too similar to include both. And I am not sure that I like either of them enough to give them a spot in the final book the way they are.

Hmmm.

Then I had an idea—an idea that subsequently consumed about eight hours of my life. What if I merge them into a panorama? So, I gave it a try in Lightroom:

The fact that there is so much distortion as Lightroom tried to merge these is a definite result of the fact that I had no intention of merging them when I took them. I didn’t want to just crop down from this because it would clip the bottom off the tree on the left. So, one approach is to use some AI magic to fill in the nondescript grass in the foreground, but I chose to let Lightroom warp it to fill a rectangle for me:

I kind of liked it! The composition is nice. Sweet!

Wait. Uh oh. That’s not good:

Right down the middle of this closeup there is a clear seam where Lightroom joined the two pictures which, unfortunately, were not focused very similarly. Lightroom doesn’t give you any way to tweak this.

But now that I had seen the composition I really wanted, I wasn’t about to give up easily.

Neither was it.

So, I took the pre-warped version from Lightroom and put it into Affinity Photo to use as a template for how to warp the images manually. I did that successfully.

But it still didn’t look very good. There just wasn’t enough depth of field in the left hand image to make it look much better than Lightroom’s attempt.

So I tried an f/22 version of the left hand image instead. Despite listening to a podcast this week where someone said that everyone’s obsession with avoiding diffraction from small apertures was silly, the blossoms in the foreground were very not crisp. It didn’t look very good.

So I found yet another version of the left hand image that actually had crisper blossoms than the first one (I think it was focused a little closer). I was clearly worried about the depth of field when I was there, which, in retrospect, was a good thing.

I ended up using a combination of three separate versions of the left hand image that were not at the same aperture and focusing point with one version of the right hand image. After lots of manual masking and cloning and other unpleasantries, I was happy! I brought it back to Lightroom to work on the colors…

Wait. Uh, oh. Ugh.

There was a hard seam right down the middle of the photo. I was incredulous. I don’t know what I did, but I screwed something up along the way and couldn’t sort out exactly where or how to undo the error in the huge stack of layers that I had in Affinity Photo.

Starting over was too horrible to contemplate, especially because I had thought I was done. It seemed (and was) easier to just repair that. Sigh.

More selecting and warping and patching and…yuck. But I was committed now. It was either me, or it. I was not cutting bait.

Finally, I moved it back to Lightroom and copied over the post-processing I had already done and fixed it up a little more and ended up with this:

Blossom Road. A road meanders along a hillside through the almond orchards of Andalucía, Spain.
Nikon Z7 with Nikkor Z 24-120mm f/4 S at various settings.
Four-image largely manual stitch and merge.

Is still isn’t perfect, so I think printing it three feet wide would be pretty risky, but I don’t think any defects could be discerned when printed in a 10-inch wide book. The fact that the blossoms were moving around in the breeze between images further complicated things, but I am pretty happy with the result (although not the time it took). On the bright side, I did figure out how to do some things in Affinity Photo that I didn’t really know how to do before.

I can’t guarantee that it will make the book, but at this point I will think long and hard before leaving it out.

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4 responses to “Blossom Road Reclamation”

  1. A fascinating insight into your thought and other processes. I like the end result, and it would have a worthy place in your book. What interests me, though, having seen you in action is that the work you have done in this exercise could be at the expense of other, great(er) images that I guess you have stored away. Are there times when you gently discard an image that is basically OK but not to the exacting standards you set yourself?

    • Sometimes gently, other times ruthlessly, and still other times bitterly! But to better answer your question, working on a book is an interesting process. For example, I think every section in my Santorini book had 9 to 13 images. Certainly nothing sacred about that, but having a section that is twice that size probably isn’t a good idea. Of course, in Spain we had two full days at the almond orchards, a full one-quarter of the trip! I could easily include 25 pictures from the almond orchards, but I think they would likely get repetitive…I don’t want the person reading the book to ever give up mid-section. One reason I like the image in question is because of the road. There is another picture that has a dirt road winding up a far hillside in the background, but this image is the only one I have where a road has any real prominence, so it has some welcome uniqueness among my collection. Anyway, that’s my motivation on this one, I think.

      Thank you for your comment, as always, Rob. And I am glad that the fourth time was the charm for you going to Egypt!