Evolution of "Pavement Patterns"

I’ve been playing with the image “Pavement Patterns” on and off for a couple days now and every time I look at it, I see ways to improve it. Instead of sitting around and wondering if this a sign of a weak or a strong image, I decided that I’ll show the various steps that I’ve gone through.

Here is what the original from the camera looks like. I took this image at 8:30 am on a cloudy day, so the lighting is quite flat and uninteresting.

20070912_87170orig.jpg

In the raw processor and adjusted the white and black points, then the brightness and the contrast. Since there was not much color to begin with, I thought of a black-and-white conversion. I set the saturation to -100, then backed down to -80. I then played some with the white-balance till I got to that nice and subtle brown tone and then cropped to a 3:4 aspect ratio. A slight bump in the curve for brighter highlights finished off the first round of editing:

Pavement Patterns (version 1)

Quite a bit better, don’t you think? The next step was to open the image in Photoshop and paint away any dirt or other irregularities.

Now I was done with the easy parts and had to ask myself “What is this image about?”. My answer was “The pattern of the broken-up asphalt and the four different pavement materials” so I had to find a way to draw attention to these elements. My first idea was to darken the lower edges of the image and to lighten it in the middle. For further emphasis I sharpened the parts of the image that I had lightened and blurred those that I’d darkened. There — that was not bad at all, so out came the second version.

Next I decided to darken all of the asphalt in the upper left as it was drawing attention away from the middle. While I was at it, I played some more with the lower corners, which all of a sudden looked too dark. Good that I was doing all this dodging and burning on a separate layer, so I didn’t have to start from scratch every time! This was version three, and I thought I was done:

Pavement Patterns (version 2)

But a day or so later the bright cobble-stones started bothering me. I tried more dodging and burning, but since the stones were already so bright, burning didn’t work. I went back to the raw image again, made a copy of it and processed it so that the cobble-stones looked right. I then inserted this new image as a layer in my Photoshop document and masked all but the stripe with the cobble-stones. Now everything was looking very good! Well, almost everything — the cracks between the cobble-stones had become too dark, so I dodged these till I got most of the details back. The final image is here, and you can click on it to see a larger version.

Phew! This was a long process, but “no pain, no gain”, right?

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