Imagining Light and Re-Creating It
There might be times when you'll stumble on a location that whispers, "Go ahead, shoot me." But there's nothing there. You take a long, hard look and begin to sense something—the light's not great, but there's a potential image here. Then, slowly, it starts developing in your mind. You take a few shots and move on, but the excitement is growing and suddenly you can't wait to get to the PC and make the picture that wasn't there. Here's an example.
Fig. 5 shows an office building on Coronado Island that whispered to me. There's nothing special about it; the architecture is mildly interesting but the photo is basically a dud destined for delete. So what's going on here?
Fig. 5 Before (dull daylight snap).
Something about the stairs and that isolated door told me it could make a slice of noir. If only it were night...
Here's what I did to get the photo I saw in my mind (Fig. 6). I opened the image in Photoshop and selected the sky using the Quick Selection Tool. With the sky selected (and some distracting trees in the background), I pressed the Delete key. Bye-bye daylight. Using the Color Picker, I chose a dark shade of blue as my foreground color and made the background color white. Inside the selection, I dragged the Gradient tool from top to bottom, creating a gradated night sky with a faint glow on the horizon (Fig. 6). The area to the right of the stairs was a distracting mess so, with Burn tool in hand, I made the area a solid shadow.
Fig. 6 After (cool noir night).
I made the entire building into a selection and used the Contrast slider to darken it. For the final touch I took the Dodge tool and lightened areas around the door and the stairs so they appeared to be lit by an unseen source. Now the forbidding door became the focus of the photo. Presto!—twinkle, twinkle little noir.
The lesson: Take the time to imagine a photograph. Find the potential image in a photo that seemingly missed the boat. Available light doesn't always cooperate, so consider manufacturing your own.