Photo: ...Descending...
Pinkham & Smith Visual Quality Motion Picture lens-- 75mm f/3, on Nikon D3


Here you will find information on my use of soft-focus and Pictorialist lenses, and my techniques for mounting, using, and processing images from these lenses in this very digital world.

In addition, I will expound from time to time on the subject of "The New Pictorialism", and the development of a reflective style in current circles. Topics from Google Plus posts will find a home here, and perhaps some relative permanence in the ever-renewing world of social networking.

--Bruce Hemingway

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Pictorialism & Post-Processing: the making of ...Descending...

My banner image ...Descending... has elicited many comments and questions, so I've prepared a step-by-step example of my work, and hopefully, my thinking about the presenting of this image. The old Pictorialists used many techniques to achieve their stylistic ends, such as the use of multiple image printing, heavy manipulation of negatives, soft-focus, and the use of techniques such as gum bichromate printing, all of which were intended to  lower the detail and produce a more artistic image. My use of post-processing techniques seems mild in comparison...

Here is the my post-processing sequence:

1. Original Photograph, Pinkham & Smith lens,  Lightroom "Nikon-Neutral" profile
This original image is lovely, and can stand on its own, showing the look of the Pinkham & Smith Visual Quality Motion Picture lens, and the context of the scene with the windows and lighting fixtures. It has no post-processing added, being as neutral a conversion of the digital raw image as I can accomplish. Some viewers, for various reasons,  may prefer this image to the end result, which is perfectly fine.

 While I really liked the image, I was bothered by the question of what the subject of the image was-- is it the windows, the stairway, or the figure? I chose the figure as the center of interest, and cropped to an 8x10 aspect-ratio:

2. Contrast and black levels adjusted

Details seemed less important than Chiaroscuro, hence the adjustments of contrast and blacks. But the window line above and the step line below bothered me:

3. Added post-crop vignetting  to fade edges to dark
Some isolation at the edges solved those problems; now I wanted to emphasize the qualities of the light:

4. Split-toning warmth added
To emphasize the light, I added some toning. I chose to leave the image as color, just adding tone to it. Now the image looked "too close". I wanted to pull back and re-frame...

5. In Photoshop, increased canvas size, adding and offsetting image
I added negative space around the image and off-set it to use as a desktop background.

At this point, the image was too harsh and needed something else. I wished for some great shaft of light, like the wonderful light in Josef Sudek's St. Vitus Cathedral images. To accomplish that, I resorted to the use of Digital Film Tools' wonderful plugin, RAYS. Rays allows the user to move and manipulate a light source inside or outside the image boundaries, and control various aspects of the ray-traced light beams:

6. Using a plug-in called "RAYS" to add light diffusion
Here is my initial result:

7. First result using RAYS
After staring at this version for several days I decided it was over-done and the angle of the light was wrong. So I re-did the treatment:

8. Final result using RAYS; now the light comes from a better direction
Finally, I changed the crop to a square format:

9. Final square crop: ...Descending...

Comments are always appreciated. Too much? Too little? Is manipulation useful, or even appropriate?

What do you think?


  1. Who's to say if manipulation is appropriate, besides you? It's your your vision, your art, your decision. :) With a journalistic image, accurately reporting an event, then manipulation which altered the reality would not be appropriate IMO, but I believe it is here. I saw the finished version of this a while ago on Google+ and loved it. Having seen the original, I like that too. It's interesting to see your thought process when editing, so thanks for sharing. FWIW I prefer the edited version.

  2. Thanks, Ian. I'm liking the original image more since I have been looking at it here. I may do another version, with the light source in the picture...Just have to figure out the cropping. I like the 4x5 aspect ratio over the 2x3 original...

  3. I think that removing the light source adds a sense of mystery, which I like - where do the steps lead? I had no idea that it was inside a building before, so the window gives it a whole new context. However you crop this one though, I don't think you'll have a bad image, just different. :)

  4. If I might add my two cents...

    I would agree with Ian with regard to whether or not manipulation is appropriate. In this case I like both the original and the final. But, for me, an intermediate step between 4 and 5 would have been where I would have stopped. It would still give the original its showcase, but adds something else that might leave the viewer to continue looking into this world. Also, a bit of technical critique if I may; The sliver of the last step at the bottom of the original is a little distracting when the image is offset on the larger canvas. It sort of reveals the original space and takes away from the rays that were added in the last steps. You mentioned it and softened it with vignetting in step 3, but it seems to have crept in again in the subsequent images and especially the final image. Perhaps just removing that last sliver of step all together? Very awesome work though! Keep it coming.

  5. Thanks to you both, Ian and Eric, for your excellent points.
    Ian, the window as context is important, I think. I'll need to consider that as story-telling.

    Eric, now that sliver of bottom step is most noticeable to me. Perhaps it should disappear.

    I think the final chapter of this image's tale has not yet been written...

  6. Are you still following comments on this image?

    1. Yes, I do. And I use this material as background in my course at UW:

  7. I agree with Eric Lane's comments, although he's more articulate than I would be. The original is a wonderful image, and the steps up to 4 and 5 are all (to me) reasonable manipulations to the original. Once you add the rays (again, imho), they were simply not there in the original image. As I learn more about the history of photography, I see this debate re manipulations, adding to the image, and "art" have been going on nearly from the start and will no doubt continue. I guess my personal line (subject to change!) is I'll manipulate anything that is there originally, but am reluctant to add to the image things that were not there when I took the photo. In any case, wonderful image and thanks for sharing how you created it.

  8. I have a Nikon D7000, and am interested in creating pictorialist-style photos. I'm a LR user and am semi-solid technically (PhD mechanical engineering). Do you have any suggestions for lenses or other equipment that would allow me to create photos (portraits, close-ups of symphony, miscellaneous) of that style? Thank you.