Recently, I stumbled upon a simple flower photo I took years ago on vacation. It was snapped just for fun as I was walking along a path at a Michigan ski resort in the summer. At the time, I was happy with it – in fact, I thought Id done a great job. Since that time, my retouching skills and editing curiosity have grown significantly, so I thought Id take another crack at it. Actually, I decided to take several cracks at it to see how different styles worked across the same photo.
Re-Working a Past Photo
The way that a photographer styles a photo is key to invoking the mood and tone of the subject. There are many ways that you can style a photo, and it can be good practice to sharpen your retouching skills by exploring various styles. Although its always good to have a signature style of your own, or even a handful of signature styles, it is also good to constantly challenge yourself and develop your artistic range.
Here is the original photo:
The Many Styles Possible
Let me state up front that it is not my intention for this post to be a step-by-step instructional article demonstrating how to technically create each look; rather, its a general exploration of possible styles in order to inspire you to experiment with your own existing body of work. Most of the editing was done in Photoshop, with the addition of some external plug-ins to help with the effects.
Let’s get to the goods and explore the numerous ways I was able to style this innocent, unassuming image.
Style 1: Bright and Colorful
With nature photos, choosing the bright and colorful path is often the more obvious direction many photographers take. Theres nothing wrong with that – its often where I start. In fact, doing so creates some really eye-catching work. Emphasizing the bright, colorful hues, increasing the contrast, and applying some selective sharpening are often the natural steps with these photos and it pays off beautifully. Above is the result. In retrospect, I would probably tone down the yellows in the petals of the flowers. Apparently, I got excited!
Style 2: Dramatic Black and White
As much as bright vibrant colors can show the natural beauty of the outdoors, creating a black and white version adds an entirely different mood to the scene, turning it into a more introspective piece. In this case, I made sure there was an adequate amount of contrast between the black and white tones.
Style 3: Introspective Vintage Style
While I was on the introspective path, I decided to try a vintage look as well. Going back to the original photo, I tweaked the black and white tones using a Selective Color adjustment layer within Photoshop, and then added a slight vignette. I kept the vignette subtle but enough so that it still draws the eye to the center and adds that vintage finishing I wanted.
Style 4: Moody and Mysterious
Next, I wanted to see if I could create something moody and mysterious more so than the previous black and white and vintage versions of the photo. Going back to the original photo, I used the Alien Skin Exposure Plugin, and then I applied and fine-tuned an effect that gave the flower image an altogether different feel. This particular edit mimics an early color process from the early 1900s made by combining layers of dyed potato starch grains on a glass plate. To finish it off, I added a light effect to the right side of the photo to emphasize to the moody, introspective feel of the photo.
Style 5: Whimsical and Artistic
Because I can’t leave an image well enough alone, I decided to go back to the original image yet again and experiment with something new. I really wanted to push myself and add my own personal touch for this one. I used the Alien Skin software again to apply some dust and scratches, and then added some of my own hand-painted-turned-vector splatters. As you can see, the image began to approach a digital painting feel. Ive long since learned not to suppress my instinctual desire to express emotion by crossing the lines between photography and art, so I just rolled with it.
The Verdict: Have Fun Experimenting!
Theres no doubt that many of us have old photos that we already retouched years ago. Looking at them now, we can easily recognize some re-retouching potential in them. Newer technology and a more developed artistic eye can turn some of these old photos into new favorites.
Taking time to experiment with different styles is not only fun, but can help you to define your personal style and create your own brand of work. Depending on the type of work you do, or the particular shoot, you can find the one (or ones) that resonate with you. This is precisely what played a key role in photographers like Jeff Rossi and Trey Ratcliff finding their own techniques and approaches to editing. Discover what styles work and don’t work for you. Developing your unique set of styles is a constantly evolving process.
If you haven’t already, I highly encourage you to dig up some old photos and have some fun with them!