The Evolution of an Iguana

The original image of the iguana with only a few basic adjustments in Lightroom.

The original image of the iguana with only a few basic adjustments in Lightroom.

Over the past few weeks different people have asked me what I do when I process my photos, so I thought I’d share a bit of the madness behind my method (if there is one). We had a great time over the holidays with my family on a cruise. One of our excursions was on a boat ride down the River Wallace in Belize. We enjoyed spotting some wildlife and saw loads of iguanas along the way. This is one of the better images I got, especially since his eye was in clear view. I made some initial adjustments to the lighting, contrast, and clarity of the photo in Lightroom, but several things were bugging me about the results.

 

A tighter crop of the iguana, but the background still left me feeling, "meh."

A tighter crop of the iguana, but the background still left me feeling, “meh.”

So I ran the image past a few members of my cohort in the Arcanum. It’s always great to have a community of individuals with similar interests but different visions to help you hone in on your creative mojo. They ran several suggestions by me, most of which were to help me focus on the story of the image. This meant a major recomposition through cropping. I felt like I did when I write: it is very painful to cut down an image (or a piece of writing), but it often makes the work tighter and more impactful. So in order to avoid casting Mr. Iguana on the cutting room floor, I had to sacrifice his tail. This new crop eliminated much of the clutter that was distracting the viewer’s eye from the iguana’s face.

There was still some messiness in the background, though. I took the advice of my friends to work on blurring the background a bit more. I ran a gaussian blur filter over the image in Photoshop and masked out the iguana so the filter would not touch it. Then I added a tilt-shift effect in Google’s Analog Efex Pro plug-in to give a different feel to the blur. At some point in the process, I also ran it through MacPhun’s Intensify Pro plug-in to work on the sharpness and structure of the image, mostly trying to bring out the color and texture of the skin. This helped a lot with the distracting elements, but I still felt that the sky was rather “meh.”

As I was exploring what to do, two of my friends, Karen Hutton and Tanya Wallis, shared a few of their textures from an upcoming texture pack with some very lucky folks (including me). You can read Karen’s blog about the texture pack here. I took this as an opportunity to play. I tried about ten different textures on the photo with varying results, most of which didn’t do much for this particular photo because of its coloration (though they would work great on other shots). I did stumble onto two that worked, and I layered them together over the image using Photoshop’s overlay blending mode. I like to be pretty subtle when I use textures, so I dialed down the opacity of the texture layers to around 40-50%, and this is the resulting image. I love playing like this, and have learned to love the idea of creating my own reality. I know that the sky didn’t really look “like that” at the moment of capture, but I really don’t care. Photography for me is not about capturing an exact replica of what one sees in the world. Rather, photography is about expressing how one feels about a moment through a particular image. For me this image is about the cool factor of a chillin’ Mr. Iguana. I’m happy with the end result as it has more depth, interest, and impact than the original. Of course, I may not be done playing with it yet.

The "final" image after the blur effects and the addition of textures.

The “final” image after the blur effects and the addition of textures. All images ©2014 Garber Geektography.

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