The “Backpack” Plan

Backpack is a picture I snapped while on a short family hike near the Pacific Crest Trail’s half way point. We wanted an afternoon excursion and this one gave me the perfect opportunity to field test my new Black Rapid Metro strap. My wife carried the afternoon’s supplies in my old backpack. This thing has been around for almost 20 years, and in almost the exact same condition! It used to haul my books to class back in high school, now here it is as a day pack lugging around granola bars and what-have-you on an awesome trail in northern California!

Anyway, the final image turned out a lot better than what I originally captured and I thought I’d share an overview of the post-processing plan that produced it.

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The original photograph is simply a snapshot of my wife’s backside (sorry, Honey) as she was ahead of me on the trail.

In fact, I was shooting in Auto mode, paying more attention to my family than to making pictures. The camera was along mainly to capture memories. If we saw something truly amazing (I’m not saying my wife’s not amazing – she is) then I’d start playing photographer, but at this point I was just shooting photo album material.

Looking at the original pic, there’s a bunch of things that needed to be done to make it more than just a snapshot.

The first thing I did was crop the photo to give it a more interesting frame. Obviously, the subject went from a woman hiking on a trail to a backpack and a woman’s hands resting on her hips. By zooming in we lost a lot of the environment and defined the subject matter more specifically.

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In an effort to improve my photography and Photoshop skills I’ve been watching a lot of Phlearn videos. They’re excellent! One thing I really appreciate about Aaron Nace’s workflow is that he takes the time to make a plan before he gets to work. I never thought about doing this in such a visual way before. Having direction is always a good thing! Even if I veer from my plan, at least I have an initial goal, and I’ve found that it helps with efficiency when I’m in Photoshop._DSC0113(2)

My plan for this image consisted of a variety of adjustments. In a nutshell: the jeans and parts of the jacket were far too dark. I enhanced the highlights on the top of the shoulders and the outer areas of the arms.  There were a lot of little areas of clutter that detracted from the actual shape of the subject — a strand of hair, dangling backpack straps, excess jacket material, and even my son in the background, not to mention little blemishes on the material.  Removing these areas made for a cleaner final image. I like all the wrinkles in the three different types of fabric (jacket, backpack, and jeans) and wanted to make  all those darks and lights (the contrast) pop a bit more so dodging and burning was in order. I tweaked the levels and curves, made it black and white, applied a cool gradient from the bottom and a warm gradient from the top, and put a vignette over the whole thing.

My plan didn’t account for the color tones on the black and white. That was decided on the fly because straight black and white was a little too flat. Another thing I did that wasn’t a part of my initial brainstorm was to increase the blur of the background in order to better enhance the subject, separating her from the environment ever so slightly. The effect is subtle, but it helps draw your eye to where I want it to go, which… in this case, I guess, is my wife’s butt… Well, that’s awkward.

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The difficulty level of the Photoshop work that went into this image is definitely basic. Adjustment layers, masks, blend modes, and the brush, clone stamp, and healing brush tools pretty much sums it up. Even basic adjustments can go along way!

Well, that’s that. I hope you enjoyed this brief overview of what went into creating Backpack. To see more of my work check out my 500px gallery. Follow me here to read more posts like this one in the future.

Many thanks to my wife for letting me showcase her backside on the interwebs.

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