After Before Forum; First Signs of Spring

The After and Before forum is organised by Stacy Fischer, it is a place where amateurs as well as seasoned photographers explain the wow and how about their photo and editing decision.You can read more here about how to take part.

This week’s image was supposed to be of crocuses, but I was misled in believing they had flowered by the city’s Instagram feed; posting a picture from last year. Not to be disappointed I found snowdrops and thought, when you have snowdrops you can make a cool HDR.

Benjamin Rowe Wk40 BeforeI had always envisioned a flower close in the foreground with something in the background to give some scale to the picture. I choose a wide angle lens, for me 18mm, and got down as close as I could. I had no tripod but wouldn’t need one as I could just place the camera on the floor. I also added to my lens a Polarizer. Many people like to use a digital polarizer filter to make their colours punchier; I however like to use a glass polarizer as I believe the effect really can’t be replicated.

For the HDR I would need 7 exposures at one stop intervals from +3 to -3. I did this by setting my camera to bracket two stops. Once I had taken my first three photos I under exposed the scene by one stop and again over exposed the scene by one stop. This gave me 0 +2 -2, -1 -3 +1, +1 -1 +3. Although I had shots of the same exposure, when creating the HDR I can ignore those duplicated.

I bundled together my exposures and in Lightroom set the camera calibration to landscape and removed all sharpening and noise reduction. I exported the pictures to Photomatix to create my HDR. I choose to use Exposure fusion as I feel this gives a more realistic tone than normal HDR processing.


The first thing I did back in Lightroom was to apply my lens corrections, capture sharpening and noise reduction.


I really wanted the house in the background to be blurry and out of focus, this would bring the viewer’s focus to the flowers. I added a gradient blur and reduced the sharpening to -100. This minuses the effect of the sharpening I applied in the last step and then a bit more. The building was soft but I wanted it to be softer. I duplicated this gradient 3 times until there was no change in the blur of the building.
This technique creates a similar effect to a lens blur and works best with high frequency images like landscapes.
I created another gradient to increase the saturation and added it to the sky.


I made some global adjustments to try and balance the whole image. I increased the contrast to give the image some more punch. The shadows were feeling a bit hard after the HDR process and brightened them. The snowdrops had some really nice tones but the white tones were to strong, I reduced the white clipping hoping to protect the whites in the petals.
I also added a curves adjustment to brighten the midtones and lift the image slightly.


Using the adjustment brush I increased sharpening and selectively applied this to the snowdrops.


There was quite a bit of Chromatic Aberration around the Snowdrops. I carefully tried to select this in lens correction. I reduced it as much as I could, but the more aggressive I was the more it removed colours in the grass and surrounding areas.


While removing the Chromatic Abreactions I noticed some ghosting in the petals from the HDR processing. I opened the picture in Photoshop and used the pen tool to select the ghost area. Using the heal tool I selected similar areas to replace the ghosting. While I was in Photoshop I used a hue and saturation layer reducing magenta, red, blue and green. I inverted the mask to hide all and using a brush painted away the more tricky Chromatic Aberrations.

First Signs of Spring

The overall look and style of the picture is what I envisioned at the beginning when heading out to the park, except without crocuses. I like the colours that I got with the original exposures, which were emphasised more when they were combined to make the HDR image. I like the softening applied to the background and although the snowdrops are quite small in the frame there is no doubt that they are the focus.

What do you think of the image, is there anything you would have done differently? Let me know in the comments below.

Also please head over to Stacy’s blog to see the other participant’s entries into this weeks forum

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31 thoughts on “After Before Forum; First Signs of Spring

  1. Your lighting changes have changed the image’s somewhat abandoned aura to one that is warmer and welcoming. Nice work on the flowers though, for me, the grass in front is a bit over saturated so that I find myself looking at the grass rather than the blooms. Nice composition and interesting house in the bg.

    • I see what you mean with the saturation, I have just been playing around with it and noticed that the saturation is slightly different on both my monitors, ( need to recalibrate them), I found that in desaturating the grass slightly had an effect on perceiving the greens further back. I will have to spend some more time tweaking it as the saturation could be reduced slightly.

      The building is the Willa Józefa Richtera which was built in the Renaissance fashion and is currently owned by the polytechnic university.

      Thanks for your input and comment.

      • Does the software you use have an undo brush? I am using it a lot in Sagelight so that I can add saturation/detail in one area only, no layering, no masking required. Very easy.

      • I use Lightroom and I can selectively reduce the saturation. It is just, in reducing the saturation in this area the greens global feel off. If I was reducing global green saturation will throw off the entire picture. I think possibly I would need to play a little bit to find the right combination.

    • Hi Lynne, after some time looking at the picture I think I know why the green feels so green.Most of the lawn is old grass yellowed from the winters snow and the green in the foreground is fresh grass which is naturally more saturated emphasized by yellowed grass. Also looking at the full res image and then the last screen cap the green isn’t as green as it appears in the low resolution web image.
      This explains why I had a problem earlier reducing the green saturation, even selectively without creating an in balance in the image as a whole.

      Once again thanks for your comment, it has really helped in my review of the picture.

    • My Pleasure Amy, I usually take 7 or three exposures it really depends on the scene and how much I need to widen the dynamic range. Sometimes I will only take underexposed shots as that is where the detail is. I am glad you like the final image and thanks for taking the time to comment.

  2. I like your processing. I do have to agree with Lynne Ayers in that the grass is over saturated and the greens have a strong yellow tone on my computer. It then takes my eye to the grass and not the snow drops. I love the background and your processing there.

    • Hi Raewyn, I have been going over the picture again and I think I have found what could be the reason why you are seeing yellow and greens mixed in the grass. Reviewing other pictures taken on the same day I have noticed that the lawn area was actually not fresh but yellowed from the winter snow. The green in the foreground is fresh tufts and this is why along with the use of the polarizer on the lens has lead to it being more saturated. If you look at the last screen cap you can see the colours of this are better. I think the resolution smaller resolution has led to the colours not looking their best.
      It has been a great exercise to understand why the colours look so different and your input was great for making me look closer at the image.

      • You are welcome. I have a photo where I have a similar problem, especially with the processing. The leaves are turning yellow on the willow tree which does play havoc with the processing.

  3. I love to read about your processes and I like your final image, but at the risk of being awkward, I actually like the before image better. It’s a really great image, nicely exposed sky and I like the colour of the building, although I do like the way you have made the background blurry in the after, that is very effective. Maybe I like bits of both. I guess I’m still not sure about HDR.
    I know what you mean about taking pictures with a flower in the foreground, many years ago, I tried to get a photo of a clump of daffodils in front of a gravestone (I was young!) with my Olympus PenEE and failed miserably, I could see what I wanted in my mind, but it just wasn’t happening. This is much nearer to the effect I was going for. Maybe this will spur me on to fix loose ends!

    • Hi katie, there is nothing awkward in liking the before picture, that is art and personal taste. I would agree that the before has a good exposure, but in editing there would need to be; the opening of shadows and the adding of saturation. I think those adjustments would be the little brother of what I have produced with the HDR. Although the HDR is not a full HDR with tone mapping, just exposure fusion taking the best tones from each exposure to create an all round well exposed image. I think HDR is something that you find a taste for and there are some crazy HDR images out there that I find too much.

      The soft blur big background is with small subject in the foreground is an effect that is very pleasing.I would go out again and try it, use a small aperture to have a shallow depth of field and focus as close as you can to the subject.

      Thanks for commenting Katie.

      • Thank you for taking my comment in the spirit it was intended. You are quite right, art is very much down to personal taste. I suppose as we see more HDR images our brains get more accustomed to seeing them as the norm.

  4. Ben, it’s so interesting to read everyone’s reactions to the HDR processing. I want to make sure that I’m understanding your workflow before I add my two cents – is the photo at the very beginning the result of running the images through Photomatix? I’m asking because, like Katie, I tend to prefer the more muted tones than what is coming through as very saturated colors from the LR edit. Perhaps this is the look you were aiming for or perhaps recalibration of your monitor is overdue? That being said, again like Katie, I do like what you have done with blurring the background – and it’s a good technique to point out layering of selective adjustments in LR. Overall, it’s a great composition with the great idea of balancing these delicate snowdrops against a strong, but blurred, background.

    • Hi Stacy, I think there are a lot of factors that has lead to quite an interesting conversation about the colours in the picture.
      The before picture is the 0 exposure straight out of camera and the first screen cap is the image after photomatix with no colour adjustment. In photomatix i didn’t adjust the saturation and the colours were what I was getting with the polarizer on the lens and what I was looking for, nice and punchy. In reviewing other pictures taken from this area on the same day I have noticed the lawn was yellowed from the snow and the area around the snowdrops was a fresh tuft of grass. Since it is fresh the colour is also more saturated.
      I don’t think the problem is my monitors as I have checked the picture on my laptop and other devices and the image is pretty close to the original. I have noticed that in the higher resolution image zooming into 100% the colours do look less saturated, an exampling being the last screen cap, where you can see the greens close up.
      HDR is a topic full of opinions.

      I am glad you like the soft blur effect and it is a good use the local adjustments, small steps to create big effects.

  5. Beautiful job, Ben. And even though I don’t use Photoshop, it’s starting to make sense to me! You are an excellent teacher and I’m sure your students appreciate you! I do!

    • I am glad you find my post educational. I remember the first time I used photoshop about 10 years ago. I was told to use it and was given no guidance, as my college was still focusing on film and digital was something we could do if we wanted.

  6. Excellent idea and execution, it is always rewarding when we get what we aimed for. Blurring of the background helps placing the focus on the snowdrops.
    I have another question – are you in a stage where you can be comfortable getting down on the ground in a public place and spend as much time as you need it to take a photo you want? I am slowly coming to that place, but there is still some self-consciousness at the back of my mind that is hard to shake off.

    • Hi Lore, I throw off all my inhibitions when I have a camera in my hand. I have been found lying in rivers to get a shot that I wanted. Although that was an extreme situation, doing some product photographing. One thing I think when doing things on the floor, if people look at you wield it’s their problem for not seeing a great picture.

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