Mark Bargen  

"Are There Elves Here?" by Mark Bargen

May 2022 - "Are There Elves Here?"

May 2022 - Mark Bargen


About the Image(s)

From the Kancamagus Scenic Byway, which cuts across the White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire, it's an easy fifteen minutes hike to Sabbaday Falls. The trail ambles alongside the Sabbaday Brook and continues for several miles beyond the Falls. Last Autumn, my photo objective was the Falls proper; I've shared an image of the flume at the bottom of the Falls made on that occasion. Returning to the car in late afternoon, I remembered to frequently turn and look back up the brook and was rewarded with this glimpse of light breaking through the dense woods. It felt magical. I hastily grabbed a couple of shots and the light was gone.

Canon EOS R5, 1/6 second at f/7.1, ISO 125 105mm using RF24-105 F4 L IS USM, cropped in post to approximately 3/4 x 7/8.
Handheld (!)

The image is seriously technically flawed: the center of the image is soft and has blown out highlights. Ideally, I would have set up the tripod. I should have used a tighter aperture and a CPL. Handheld I would have had to bump the ISO to get the shutter speed fast enough. Still, there's much that I like about the image, and I very likely will attempt it again next year around the same time.

The tale of post processing is something of a saga. The first chapter was all about establishing some tonal and hue balance using LrC, as well as the crop that stayed with me to the end. From there I was off to Topaz Sharpen AI, addressing different degrees of motion blur, softness, and good old fashioned out of focus issues, outputting four different files using different models, and stacking and blending them to suit in Ps. Back in Ps, first efforts were geared at toning down highlights, at least the ones I could. The scene is pretty chaotic, with skinny branches going every which-a-way; these I burned down by painting through selections based on a luminosity mask. Other distractions were dealt with by burning and/or desaturating. A lightly applied Orton effect, with its impact constrained using edge masking, helped restore much of the "magic" that got lost when I damped down the highlights (but it did exacerbate the problem with the bright mosses). I wanted some more red/orange in the floor of the forest; for this I used frequency separation and "color dodged" in some red/orange tones on the color layer. At this point, I was still aware of motion blur in the leaves and needles, so I took it back over to Sharpen AI to get yet another file, back into Ps to stack it in and blend it in very, very carefully. Having done that, I found still more distractions I needed to tone down, and cloned out some annoying rocks creeping in from the bottom.

Clearly, the image isn't suitable for competition due to the technical flaws; one might wonder why I bothered with all that effort but I really like the feeling of the image, even after the fading away of my fond memory of the moment. (This, by the way, is one of the reasons I often let a file lie fallow for weeks or even months before I try to process it.)

Definitely interested in hearing from you folks.

16 comments posted

Dawn Gulino
I can see why you like this, it has a nice flow to it. Can you share the original? Will be interesting to see how you ended up here. I like the spot of light coming through and can imagine the work you did you highlight it. Did you try a vignette to see if that would help bring the focus more to the light rays? I find it interesting that on quick glance most leaves look in focus (good job) and like the movement with the bunch on the bottom right.   Posted: 05/07/2022 13:15:28
Mark Bargen   Mark Bargen
Thanks, Dawn. Turns out you were seeing the original. I messed up the submission, but Ed fixed it for me. The "final" image now appears. Would be interested in your thoughts on it.   Posted: 05/08/2022 06:50:40
Dawn Gulino
Hi Mark,
Now it makes sense with all the edits you first mentioned! I was wondering, hence the ask! I think the time you spent was worthwhile. I like how the light moves you through the image just as water would! It doesn't look over processed to me and like how you worked the light.

For some reason, I keep going back to the original and liking the red/orange-ish leaves. I think they help with eye circling around the image.   Posted: 05/08/2022 23:18:51
Mark Bargen   Mark Bargen
I agree regarding the leaves that got cropped out. Unfortunately, they're unsalvageable ...   Posted: 05/09/2022 08:44:28

Mark Bargen   Mark Bargen
Thanks, Dawn. Yes, here's the original. You will find that the tonal adjustments are individually fairly minute, though they do add up to what I think was a significant enhancement. I felt during the processing that it was important to not overdo things (well, that's always important, but ...) so as to not lose what felt magical to me. Yes, there's a vignette. And a lot, I mean a lot, of dodging and burning, color stamping, etc., but I hope that one would have to be comparing the result to the original to be able to discern where I did what.   Posted: 05/07/2022 16:39:01
Mark Bargen   Mark Bargen
Hang on ... having trouble getting the right image to upload ...   Posted: 05/07/2022 16:40:02

Mark Bargen   Mark Bargen
Folks, I just realized that I "screwed up" and failed to attach my "final" image in my email to Ed. As I suspect there's no way to replace it now, here it is:   Posted: 05/07/2022 16:49:59
Comment Image
Ed O’Rourke   Ed O’Rourke
Mark, you are in luck. I can load images thru the 7th, and I got this one with a few hours to spare. So I've been able to load the original and final for you.   Posted: 05/08/2022 00:14:32
Mark Bargen   Mark Bargen
Thank you, thank you!   Posted: 05/08/2022 06:48:47

Ed O’Rourke   Ed O’Rourke
Mark, you are too modest about your photos. I read what you said about this "not being competition quality" and as a result I can see the issues you raise. However the first thing I try to consider when looking at a photo is artistic/interest generating features and I think this photo has it in spades. I don't consider the flaws you mention as being significant in regards to the overall impression of the photo.

I like the way you have the light coming in from the upper right and then taking my eye down to the water and foliage in the lower left. I think the bright portion of the water, rocks and foliage when contrasted with the darker section of the forest adds a lot to the sense of enchantment of this forest scene (and makes me think, perhaps elves really do exist). I also see a lot of color saturation which in my opinion adds to the impression of this image, as well as your sharp focus and significant depth of field. I can see why you like this photo, and thanks for sharing it with us.   Posted: 05/17/2022 11:53:09
Mark Bargen   Mark Bargen
Thanks, Ed. One of the many rewards I receive fro participating here (and in Study Group 29) is exposure to a wide range of responses to my images. I find it very helpful to hear from perspectives that see shortcomings in them, and I also find it very reassuring to hear from folks such as you, who bolster my confidence that I'm heading in the right direction.

I'm new at this (two years and counting), so I'm still developing, but one thing is becoming apparent: what appeals to me in an image, what I try to evoke in the viewer, is complex, and can leave one viewer quite excited and another entirely unmoved. All in all, I think that's a good thing.   Posted: 05/17/2022 14:09:41

Darcy Quimby   Darcy Quimby
In my opinion this reminds me of a Thomas Kinkade painting. I also agree with Ed how the light makes you hopscotch down the trees to the water. Thank you for sharing   Posted: 05/17/2022 15:32:42

Neil Bellenie
The aspect that jumps out at me is the way the picture has been changed to show a column of light illuminating the scene, similar to the way an old master would craft light in a classical work of art (I just got back from visiting the National Art Gallery in DC where I was reminded how the old masters were truly masters of light).

The truth is, I am poorly qualified to comment on this picture. The changes wrought in post are profound and I have no idea how to go about using PS to achieve most of what has been done here. If I were to criticize the overall picture at all, it would be to comment that it does not look real. It is too idealized.

  Posted: 05/20/2022 14:25:03
Mark Bargen   Mark Bargen
Thanks, Neil, it sems to me that you're well qualified to comment. I don't think one is obligated to understand, or for that matter even to care, what was done in post in order to review and respond to the final product.

I'm quite interested in two aspects of your comment. First, you allude to changing the image to show a column of light ... and second, that it does not look real. Do you suppose I could impose on you to take a look at the original, without referring to the final, and assess whether or not, and if so, how strongly you have a similar reaction?

The reason I ask is this: I captured the image for the very reason that it looked magincal, not real, at the time. My subsequent processing was all aimed at reproducing that sensation on the two-dimennsional result (and trying to rectify some technical flaws). I do sometimes go overboard, sometimes intentionally, and sometimes not. This was not one of the occasions where I did so intentionally, so I'm paying close attention to what the image evoked in you.

Thanks   Posted: 05/20/2022 14:58:18
Neil Bellenie
Mark, I had your original picture open next to the final image. It looks to me as though you succeeded in bringing out elements in the original (especially certain fir tree branches, the tree trunk just to the lower left of the center of the picture, the pool just below that etc) that creates the strong impression of a shaft of light from the upper right entering the scene. I see this as a big difference between the original and final images.

As for not appearing real. I understand the magical grotto aspect of the scene, and it is present in the original. I was referring to the look and 'feel' (not a great adjective when talking about photographs!) of the final picture (the colors, the contrast, etc).   Posted: 05/20/2022 15:49:37
Mark Bargen   Mark Bargen
Thanks, Neil.   Posted: 05/20/2022 17:05:36


Please log in to post a comment