Saint Peter’s Episcopal Church

The Scene:

The Kenai Peninsula is located just south of Anchorage, Alaska and offers visitors an enormous number of natural and cultural activities. I enjoyed an evening at Thorn’s Showcase Lounge in Seward where I drank a few adult beverages while gorging on a “Bucket of But” (halibut, that is). The next morning I photographed Seward’s Saint Peter’s Episcopal Church as my way of seeking forgiveness for my indulgence the previous evening.

Composition:

The church was set against a terrific backdrop and looked beautiful in the morning light. A 210 mm lens was mounted on my 4 inch x 5 inch view camera (150 mm is a “normal” focal length for 4×5 cameras) to compose a photograph that emphasized the beautiful church in its beautiful environment.

The primary subject of my photograph was a building so it was important to avoid unnatural geometric artifacts that would detract from the natural beauty of the scene. One of the many advantages of a view camera is its ability to easily adjust image geometry using simple bubble levels on the camera. Another adantage of view cameras is their ability to position a lens’s focal plane within a scene.

The film plane was aligned parallel to the vertical plumb using one of the camera’s bubble levels to eliminate geometric artifacts of parallax. Next, the camera was aligned parallel to the horizontal level (left-to-right) using another bubble level on the camera. Third, the lensboard was tilted slightly forward to position the lens’s plane of focus within the scene so that both the foreground gravel road and the background trees were in focus. All three of these alignments were completed in about thirty seconds.

Next, I recorded a few light meter readings with my 1-degree spot meter. The darkest areas of the trees were placed on Zone II (very dark with slight detail). The front side of the church fell on Zone V (middle gray) and the church’s white trim fell on Zone VII (bright with plenty of detail).

These brightness values were what I wanted so I wrote N (normal) development on the film’s exposure record. One sheet of Tri-X black & white film was exposed for 1/30 sec at f/32.

Scanning/Editing/Printing:

After development, the 4 inch x 5 inch film was mounted in fluid and drum-scanned at my usual resolution of 5,000 ppi (pixels per inch) and 16-bit pixel depth to obtain a high-resolution black and white digital image of nearly one GB in size.

The image obtained from the scanner without editing is shown below. Image tones were pretty good and no difficult image areas were present.

A Levels Layer was opened in PhotoShop to explore the image. The user’s interface for the Levels Layer is shown below with gray tones that progress from black-to-white beginning on the left side of the histogram.

The image histogram of the scanned film shows that nearly every gray tone was occupied with pixels. However, the pixel populations near both ends of the histogram were quite small.

Because the population of extremely bright pixels was very small, I reset the white point of the histogram by moving the white slider to the left (from 255 to 249) to produce a slightly larger population of pure white pixels. Similarly, I reset the histogram’s black point by moving the black slider to the right (from 0 to 11) to slightly increase the population of pure black pixels.

The Levels adjustment made the image more crisp (this effect may not be visible in the low resolution web image shown here). The image below includes the histogram adjustments.

Next, I opened a Curve Adjustment Layer. The Curve interface is shown below with gray tones that progress from light-to-dark beginning at the lower left corner. The light diagonal line from lower left to upper right represents the original linear “curve” for the image whereas the dark line with circular set points represents the final curve set by me.

The histogram shows that the majority of image pixels are concentrated in three regions of the histogram. The small peak near the bright end of the histogram corresponds mostly to the church’s white trim. The tall peak near the histogram’s middle gray region corresponds mostly to the church’s roof, walls and the foreground dirt & gravel road. The series of jagged peaks which collectively occupy a fairly broad region in the rightmost quarter of the histogram corresponds mostly to the trees on the hill behind the church.

First, I focused on the small peak near the bright (left) end of the histogram (the church’s white trim). I moved the white slider to the right to increase the population of pure white pixels a bit. Then, I bent the curve adjacent to the white slider upward so that nearly white (but not pure white) pixels were darkened a bit to enhance structure within the white trim.

Next, I worked on the largest peak near the middle of the histogram to modify the church’s roof, walls and foreground dirt & road. The curve in this region was pushed upward to darken the roof, walls and foreground.

Next, the dark trees behind the church looked good and thus were modified only slightly by moving the black slider slightly to the left to increase the population of pure black pixels. Note that my final curve (dark line with circular set points) was nearly the same as the original “curve” (light diagonal line) in the rightmost quarter of the histogram.

The image shown below includes the effect of Curve adjustment.

The Curve adjustment increased the vitality of the image. In particular, I was happy with how the church walls and foreground were strengthened.

Next, local retouching was performed using PhotoShop’s Burn, Dodge and Clone tools. The original image layer from the scanner was duplicated, named “Retouch” and placed directly above the scanner layer.

Small white flowers blooming in the foreground were brightened by Dodging. The reflection of the bright steeple on the church’s roof was brightened by Dodging. The cross on the roof at the church front was brightened to nearly pure white by Dodging. Two scanning defects on the church’s roof were darkened by Burning. Large dark areas of trees were lightened a bit by Dodging. Numerous small specks in the image were removed using the Cloning tool. The image after retouching is shown below.

Next, I worked on four specific areas of the image. PhotoShop’s Magnetic Lasso Tool was used to select one area and then an adjustment layer was opened to modify that area. The process was repeated for each of the other three layers.

First, the stained glass window on the front of the building was selected using the Magnetic Lasso Tool and a Brightness/Contrast Adjustment Layer was opened for the window. The user interface for this layer is shown below.

The window contained a lot of areas that were quite bright so the Brightness slider was moved to the left 31 units to darken all of the stained glass in the window. Then the Contrast slider was moved to the right the maximum amount (100 units) to increase contrast within the window.

Second, the building that is very close to the church on the image’s left side was selected using the Magnetic Lasso Tool and a Curve Adjustment Layer was opened for the selection. The user interface for the Curve adjustment layer is shown below.

The histogram for the selected building contained only midtones and dark tones. My aim was to darken the building and reduce the contrast of its structural features so the building would blend with tones of the background trees. However, it also was important to keep the church’s white fence very white and I worried that selection errors could make the fence look unnatural. To avoid this problem, I moved the white slider far to the right to prevent the brightest selected pixels from being darkened. The rest of the histogram pixels were darkened and the curve was largely flattened to reduce contrast within the selected area.

Third, the building that is very close to the church on the image’s right side was selected using the Magnetic Lasso Tool and a Curve Adjustment Layer was opened for the selection. The user interface for this Curve adjustment layer is shown below.

The approach used for this building was similar to the approach for the previous building. That is, the brightest pixels were preserved, the rest of the pixels were darkened and the curve was largely flattened. Again, the goal of this adjustment was to darken the building and reduce the contrast of its structural features so the building would blend with tones of the background trees.

Fourth, the glass panes of the church’s front door were visually strengthened. The Magnetic Lasso Tool was used to select each of the 22 glass panes and a Curve Adjustment Layer was opened for them. The user interface for this Curve adjustment layer is shown below.

The goal of this curve adjustment was to substantially darken the 22 glass panes of the front door. However, I avoided rendering the panes pure black to retain more realism. Consequently, the curve was bent upward greatly to substantially darken the panes but with a fairly wide range of dark gray values.

The following image includes editing using all four Magnetic Lasso selections.

The four specific areas of adjustment using the magnetic lasso tool helped strengthen the image considerably. Reducing visual strength of the two side buildings so they blended in with their surroundings helped focus attention on the church. Increasing the visual strength of the stained glass window helped elevate its visual importance. Darkening the glass panes of the front door helped draw visual attention to the church’s entry to help the church feel more welcoming.

I opened a second Curve Adjustment Layer and placed it directly above the first Curve Adjustment Layer to increase vitality in two areas of the image. One area was the church’s outside walls and the other area was the foreground vegetation.

The user interface for the second Curve Adjustment Layer is shown below. It can be seen that a wide range of gray tones in the middle and brighter areas of the histogram were brightened a bit by dragging the curve downward. Most of the darker tones and some of the brightest tones were not changed by this adjustment.

The image below includes the second Curve adjustment and final edit of the photograph.

Summary:

The subject of this photograph was a beautiful church in a beautiful setting in Alaska. I think my image did a good job of capturing the beauty that I saw at the scene. Any comments you might have about “Saint Peter’s Episcopal Church”, the photographic approach used for it, its composition, or image workup will be appreciated. For a slightly better view of this photograph, visit here.

Randall R Bresee

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