The Process of “Making” a Picture

A friend of mine (not to mention world traveler, master educator, keynote speaker, master photographer) once said in one of his photography workshops, that there was a difference between TAKING a picture and MAKING a picture. It’s the reason for the title of this blog article.  I struggled between “The Process..” and “A Process..”  The rolled better though it is not the more accurate phrasing.  Each photograph that I publish on Facebook, Instagram, Flickr or that I choose to print, is developed by a process that depends on the particular challenges it presents and the outcome that I am working toward.  So the follow is the process for making a particular picture of a Great Blue Heron.



First is the original photo that I took while walking along the Mine Creek Trail, part of the Capital Area Greenway in Raleigh.  This is one of about 20 photos taken as I followed the bird trying to get clear shots through the trees and other growth between us.  Of those, I picked images to post process based on classic and also unique positions or postures.  This one I liked because of the classic posture, but also the motion that the rising left leg implied.

Blue Heron 1
Blue Heron 2

This is a fine snapshot of a Great Blue Heron. However, I want to celebrate its Heron-ness, and there is too much distracting space in the photo that prevents the viewer to from subject. So I use Lightroom to crop the photo down to a 1×1 ratio, a square.  


There is still too much activity around the bird that is distracting. It is mostly the leaves and pine needles. So I load the image into Photoshop and use the healing tool to remove them. Sounds like magic? The software takes a marked object find imagery near it that matches its surrounding and then stamps that over the object.  I also used the healing tool to enlarge the surface of the moss.

Blue Heron 3
Blue Heron 4

In image four, I have used a blurring filter in Photoshop to make the background less interesting / less distracting. This probably seems strange since I blurred the entire image. But that’s going to be fixed by one of the coolest tools at the photographers fingertips.


 Before blurring the image (4), I had made a copy of the clearer version. These two versions were layered on top of each other. Of course, the layers top is what I saw and would would be saved. To re-clarify the parts of the image that I did not want blurred, I created a mask. This is essentially an additional layer that is all white. The white doesn’t show. However, any part of the mask layer that is painted black essentially creates a hole through which the layer beneath shows. So using a black digital paint brush I painted the rocks, water, under wash of the bank and part of the moss. Then I carefully painted in the bird’s head and neck so that they would be detailed. What’s cool about this process is that if you make a mistake and blacken too much, then you simple fix your mistake by painting the problem white.

Blue Heron 5
Blue Heron 6
In image six, I wanted to punch up parts of the image with more color. To do this, duplicated my working layer and then turned up the color saturation on the layer beneath.
 7. For seven, I asked the top, less colorful layer and then I painted through only the parts I wanted to increase the color for – the rocky sandbar and the bird. 
Blue Heron 7
Blue Heron 8

 For image eight, I didn’t like the dark area at the top, so I cropped that out.


 9.  I’m close now, simply fixing small things that bother me, such as the unexplainable dark area in the top left corner. So for version nine, I used the healing tool to bring in some more moss. I also made a duplicate layer, increasing the exposure on the bottom layer, making it brighter. Finally, I used the masking tool to paint in the parts of the bird that I wanted to brighten up.  I also decreased the color saturation after bringing it back into Lightroom, to make it a little more real.  
0HeronProcess031117 1a
Blue Heron 9

Like so many things, you are never done. There is always something else you can do to make it better, especially when you come back to it hours or days later. But typically, I am done when the photo interests me, when I’ve come close to capturing what it was that inspired me to take the picture.

Visit to the Museum

A picture of Mona Lisa rendered with spools of thread and scene through a crystal ball

It might sound more like the truth to say the Brenda got me out of my office yesterday for a visit to the museum, but it was actually my idea. The North Carolina Museum of Art has recently moved into a new building. I would love to say that it is a beautiful structure, but my most honest observation is that that it’s strange and interesting — which is often what I say about art that I like.

I’ve come to see art museums differently since some folks I met at a conference took me to a an art museum in Shanghai for a visiting collection from Europe. Three things struck me anew as I looked at those works, painted hundreds of years ago. First, I suspect that locals as they saw these works back then, must have been in awe. Pictures were probably not very common and the skill of rendering them may have seemed magical.

Secondly, I am fascinated much of the art that I see up close, because it’s like going back in time. You are looking at a scene through the eyes of someone who is there. You see that this is what they thought of themselves, not what historians think of them. I guess the history teacher in me would call it primary source documents.  But it’s a lot more organic and immediate than that.

Finally, I am astounded at the cleverness of their world, their houses, farms, towns, cities… They probably weren’t up to code, but I suspect that their houses were constant works in progress. They needed an extra room, and the found a way to add it, even if it meant digging it into a hillside.

The two biggest differences that I see between my world and the ones I saw through the eyes of those artists yesterday is that they lived without electricity and we’re living without large animals among us. 😉

– Posted using BlogsyApp from my iPad

There are Always Consequences

Mapping an appurtenance point during a GIS field trip on Auckland — photo by Cristel Veefkind (( Veefkind, Cristel. “GIS Field Trip.” Flickr. 14 Mar 2007. Web. 15 Jan 2010. <>. ))

I was just scanning the news and saw “West Virginia Expands Science, Technology, Engineering, And Mathematics Education with ESRI Software.”  I think that this is great and that West Virginia and other states should invest in ramping up their STEM programs.  But am I the only one who feels a spasm in my back as we STEM here and STEM there and continue to be feed the line that Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics are THE key to a prosperous future?

We are not in this state of near desperation today, struggling to fund education and other essential services, because people didn’t have enough STEM.  This happened because some educated people thought that they could game the economic system for their own selfish and greedy gain, under a “see no evil” administration, and that they could do it without consequences.

What history teaches, is that THERE ARE ALWAYS CONSEQUENCE

Interestingly, I find that the article, appearing in The American Surveyor, was actually written by ESRI, the GIS software that West Virginia is licensing for its schools, and that the focus of its use and the state offices that are promoting it are all social studies.  I guess that “West Virginia Expands Social Studies with…” doesn’t have the right punch — that it wouldn’t make us more “competitive” in the culturally diverse global market place.

Am I the only one who is afraid that the cost for STEM is Art, Music, Drama, and history, culture, geography, and economics?

Thinking and problem-solving are over-rated, if you don’t have a valid context to think and solve within.

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Sometimes It’s Practical! Sometimes it’s Not!

Textorize Photo
Click to Enlarge
I’m trying something new with my keynotes.  Usually, I kick things off by trying to find something funny to say — usually about my southern’ness.  But in the spirit of my frequent demands that we, as educators, model ourselves as master learners — that we bring something into our classrooms everyday that we just learned — I’m trying out a little three or four minute demo or explanation of something I’ve learned in the last 48 hours.

Yesterday, it was an article from the Boston Globe, referring to an upcoming paper being published in Nature Neuroscience about how Magicians have understood for years, something that neuroscientists are just now beginning to discover.  Co-authored by five practicing magicians, the paper describes our body’s literal limits in how it perceives the world.  For instance, it claims that our optic nerves are capable of the visual resolution of a typical cell phone camera.  Yet we see the world so much more clearly.

It’s our minds.  Our minds fill in the blank spots, building the richness of it, and our minds can be fooled.  Enter magicians, who are experts at tricking our world building attentions away from the reality building activities happening up their sleaves.

Made with the app
This Textorize was made with the Mac download app
I’m not really sure I did that one justice in three minutes.  This morning, during some explorations of a topic I’ll likely be blogging about soon, I discovered a tool called Textorizer.  It’s a clever hack, created by Max Froumentin, at  Simply used the online version to point to an image, paste in some text, tweek some of the configs, if you want to experiment, and “Textorize!”  See above.

There are also downloadable apps for Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X.  Initially, I wanted to slip this one into my “Nearly No Practical Applications What So Ever” drawer.  But after playing with it, I found myself thinking about what I wanted to say with it.  With only a little time, I chose my current standard profile photo.  But a spent a little time finding Education Revolution‘s Manifesto, 25 Rules to Live By as my text.  Students could find appropriate photos to the poem they just read, and mix them together.

They might like this, here in Houston.